How to spend time off for a Mental Health break

How to spend time off for a Mental Health break

You finally get the courage to recognise you need time out.  Work is off the menu.  Now what?

“The first days were a total blur. I rested a lot, cried a lot and got help. Gradually I introduced a bit of routine and spent time with friends which helped”.


Suddenly, after spending so long craving the escape from the workplace, you now actually have a void of empty days ahead of you.  In my experience, it felt like it got worse before it got better, I simply didn’t know what to do with myself!  I slept A LOT, but found sleeping all day everyday didn’t really work in the long run.   But if I do nothing? I continued to worry.

Here’s a collation of the research discussions I’ve had with others who’ve been there, as well as what I (eventually!) found useful to support me in getting back on my feet:

  • Firstly, if there is something more underlying that needs exploration, or maybe therapy, take some time to think about how you want to deal with it.  If you ignore it now, then anything else you do will just be a sticking-plaster over the top.  How we spent our time out for Mental Health
Summary of responses to the survey question “What did you do on your Mental Health break?”

The brain loves routine, and it’s even been found that Everyday Routines Make Life More Meaningful. So, make a list of what you will do each day, with timings.  This will also give you a sense of achievement when you get it all done.

What should you include on that list?

Be really specific, detailed and most importantly, be sure it is unique to you, and how you like to do things.  Some ideas for what to include in your day:

  • Review the core well-being factors to form the base:
    • Make sure to prioritise Sleep. Get to bed at a regular time, and equally important, get up at the same time too
    • Personal grooming.  Brush teeth and shower  – even if you don’t really feel like it.  Get a haircut, cut your toenails, file your nails!  Do things that make you feel tidy and good about yourself
    • Connect with those you trust; in research from Matthew Liebermann, we are Wired to Connect
    • Plan your food and drink; eat properly and at regular times.  Keep hydrated although watch out for over reliance on alcohol, caffeine or sugar
    • Keep active – where possible get outside, even if its just for a short walk each day.  A quick google search will throw up all the evidence you need on the mental and physical benefits of exercise!
  • Then start to build in some bigger activities:
    • Do something different – book up to do something you either never had time for, or haven’t ever tried before e.g. art, pottery, sheep shearing.  Learning something new means we get into a state of “flow”, which is great for a “brain cleanse”
    • Begin a basic gratitude practice and mark achievements e.g. celebrate having a shower or getting out of bed if you didn’t really want to – you DID it, you took control

Some ideas to measure your progress:

  • Keep a track on emotions, what the triggers are and how to shift them. Personally, I have found the Mood Meter to be a really powerful tool in helping me label emotions, as well as showing me that I can choose to take a little control and decide what I want to do about it.
  • Start a super quick “TLC” journal, this could incorporate the gratitude practice above e.g. write 3 things at the end of each day for each Thanks, Learnt, Choice. These can be small things you:
    • are Thankful for e.g. sunshine
    • Learnt e.g. found a new footpath
    • made a Choice on (even if it was which type of tea to drink!)
  • If you are struggling with the current world pandemic, and wanting to understand more about the root of the emotions, you may like to review this article I wrote in March 2020 exploring Whats Behind the Pendulum of Emotions around COVID19

Once you are feeling a little more like yourself, here are some other activities/reading you might like to consider (if you haven’t already come across them already):


And if reading really is your learning modus operandi, then do have a chat with my incredible friend and fellow coach JC Bowers-Brown – Biblio Coach

This article is part of a series:

Sheela Hobden

Sheela Hobden is a Coach at bluegreen Coaching.  Following her own mental health battles, she now coaches individuals, runs training sessions and speaks at conferences.  She has a real passion for helping medics and healthcare professionals take as much care of themselves as they do their patients!  She has a PGCERT in Business and Personal Coaching, holds ACC member status with the ICF and is CIPD qualified.She challenges herself with ultra distance running and Ironman.  Find her at or swimming in the sea, in Poole, Dorset

Get more ideas and tips by joining her newsletter tribe – sign up below!

How to have that difficult conversation you’ve been putting off…

How to have that difficult conversation you’ve been putting off…

How to have that difficult conversation you've been putting off...
Sheela Hobden
Uncomfortable Conversations

I have previously written about working out how to decide when it’s time to take time out for your mental health.  One of the biggest barriers I found was the thought of the conversation with my line manager.  I wanted to write about that to help others in a potentially similar situation.  Beyond that, there are often many things we don’t want to have a conversation about and the model I share is perfect for any such situations.  I hope therefore, that this helps you now and in the future.

The content turned out to be a whole lot longer than I anticipated as I invited experiences from others who’d “trodden” that sometimes very muddy path.  So, I split the piece in two:

1 – Reflections on what makes it so uncomfortable and;

2- How to structure a conversation you don’t want to have [this could also be about many other things!]

I decided to leave the reflections piece because I thought that if you are in that stuck place, you are probably not interested in the hindsight, you just want some help “feeling better”.  So, let’s move to how to do it.

The model is a simple one based on NVC (Non Violent Communication).  It is here:

How to have that difficult conversation you've been putting off...
Sheela Hobden
Visual guide on stages of the process

I first heard about this on my coach training, with John Perry, but its origins are from Marshall Rosenberg.  His simple explanation stuck with me and I share it with many of my clients when they are facing a difficult situation.  We then work together to populate the segments to structure a conversation they want to have.  I have since heard the model described in other forms by Liane Davey and Dr Roxy Manning and I found these provided a little more depth.  I will add links to their work in the resources section at the end. 

What follows is what seems to have been working for my clients and I, as well as from collecting nuggets of wisdom gathered during those conversations.

How to have that difficult conversation you've been putting off...
Sheela Hobden

NOTICE (Observations):

This is all about observation.  Observable, factual pieces of information that anyone would be able to see.  Caveat to that is that there could be things that are visible to you but not others (e.g. what is happening when you are on your own) or maybe the issues are with someone else’s behaviour and they aren’t/don’t have the self-awareness to spot it.  For example:  what if your line manager is part of the problem?  The chances are that they may not be aware that what they are doing is having an impact on you.  This is of course, why it’s SO hard to put these points across.  If you don’t though…who will? 

So, what are you noticing happening around you?  What are the triggers.  This could be systems, processes or the behaviours of others.

NOTE:  If you are looking at this from the perspective of “do I need time out”, then please do take a look at the first article in the series for the things people were noticing changed too.

How to have that difficult conversation you've been putting off...
Sheela Hobden

 IMPACT (Experiences/Feelings/Behaviours):

This section is about the impact that whatever is going on,  is having on you personally.  Nobody can argue with the experiences, feelings and thoughts you are having because they are yours.  We can use the messages our body gives us and the impact of that (e.g. my heart is always racing when I hear you say xx).  It can also be expressed with the root as well (e.g. I feel x, because of y) which as an example, might sound like “I feel frustrated because I don’t feel I am heard”.  Having said it is the personal impact, there may be things that you are noticing where the impacts are more observable impacts and you could include those too.  For example, “I see x happening, and that is/has the potential to impact patient care”.

NOTE:  Again, if you are reading on from the article “do I need time out?”, take a look at what people said was the impact on them and what their eventual triggers were.

How to have that difficult conversation you've been putting off...
Sheela Hobden


What is it that YOU need?  This could be what you need to do yourself or what you need from others around you.  If it’s hard to clarify what you need, then it will be very difficult for anyone to provide any kind of support or change.  The context for every individual of course, is different.

Example – I need a couple of weeks with nothing to do with work.  I don’t have the resources to deal with it.  I am worried X might happen if I don’t take care of myself in this way.

During my time out, I found that messages or mails, which on the surface were enquiring as to how I was, were enough to tangle up my thought process.  However well-intentioned the mail might have been, my mind was in a place of “they are pushing me to get back to work”.  I still remember that sick feeling of seeing the name pop up in my inbox.

NOTE:  Take a look at the previous article, which shared the things people did that helped them recover, as this might give you some ideas on what could be helpful.

How to have that difficult conversation you've been putting off...
Sheela Hobden


What exactly is it you are asking for from the other person?

Following on from above request example, that you need time out from work.  The ask might be “I request that I receive no communication in any form from work”. 

You might need to be explicit about that. 

If that need is important, then what is the request of yourself too.  What might you need to ask of yourself?  (For example, if your habit of scrolling social media is dragging you down, what might you need to do to begin to address this?).  It’s a really good idea here to have several ideas for the request so that everything is not riding on it and you have a plan b.

For Mental Health, there are of course legal, reasonable adjustments that can be requested (do check NHS Health at Work or MIND site for further details).

So, now you have a plan for what you want to say but any conversation is two-way, so we need to DO BOTH SIDES: there’s also another way to apply this model which is super helpful given we may not be in our “rational” thinking zone. 

During the conversation pay attention to the 4 stages:

  • NOTICE – What’s going on?  What did they ACTUALLY say? Take a moment to process what has been said in any conversation to check for bias or selective hearing/conditioning.  You may have assumptions you are taking to this conversation and its really important to try to hold back from those and notice the facts.
  • IMPACT – What impact is this conversation having on them?  It may be making them feel uncomfortable.  Whilst this is not your responsibility, it will impact the conversation so being able to see any shifts will be useful to recognise.  It is worth noting that taking on differing perspectives of the situation is not only a strength, but supports your well-being.  In studies (Valk, 2017), it was found cortisol reduced by 51% where people practiced this (and other things such as non-judgemental listening and mindfulness).
  • NEED – What do they need now? They may need further information from you, they may need time to digest what has been said. There is nothing wrong with taking a pause, in fact, its likely to be highly beneficial to give everyone the thinking space to process.
  • REQUEST – What is the mutual request between the two of you?  In Liane Davey’s work, she talks about “how do we solve this from here?”. So often, needs and requests are left hanging and there is great work to be done in partnering, to come to an arrangement that is mutually beneficial, an agreement that both parties can make sense of.  We both have a goal in this situation,  finding the level where that mutual goal sits and how you both connect with each other’s goal is really key.

What is the difference between NEED and REQUEST?

The phrase she used in one of the listed in one of the recommended resources is:

“how do we solve from here?” 

Liane Davey, The Good Fight

It is so often in conversation that the observations and impacts are identified but it doesn’t go deeper, into the “so what do we do about it?”.  The closer we can get to each other’s needs, values, beliefs, and find connection, the smoother the ride will be.


This all sounds very organised and planned which is not usually how we might be acting at difficult times.  The clearer we can be on what we actually need to resolve the situation however, the more chance we have of getting our needs met.

  • If you don’t – who will?
  • How long will you wait?
  • What will happen if you do nothing about this?

YOU are the only person that can take control and do something about this.

It may not feel like a choice because the alternatives feel so difficult but ultimately, there is a choice. 

What now?


As I set out earlier, I gather information on lots of topics in support of others  however I am not an expert, so here are the resources and reading I mentioned:

How did this land with you?

I really would like to hear, so do get in touch and share your experience or comment.

Sheela Hobden

Sheela Hobden is a Coach at bluegreen Coaching.  Following her own mental health battles, she now coaches individuals, runs training sessions and speaks at conferences.  She has a real passion for helping medics and healthcare professionals take as much care of themselves as they do their patients!  She has a PGCERT in Business and Personal Coaching, holds ACC member status with the ICF and is CIPD qualified.She challenges herself with ultra distance running and Ironman.  Find her at or swimming in the sea, in Poole, Dorset

Get more ideas and tips by joining her newsletter tribe – sign up below!

When is the right time, to give your mental health a break?  A guide to help you decide

When is the right time, to give your mental health a break? A guide to help you decide Sheela Hobden Mental Health Coaching
Feel like you’re drowning?

My guess is that you’re here because either;

a) you know deep down you need time out and, you’re seeking external evidence to justify it or;

b) you’re experiencing some really uncomfortable emotions. Although, you can still just about do your job, function day to day, you are looking for answers on “how bad” things have to be, before taking action or;

c) maybe it’s a combination of the above.

First off, what gives me the credibility to be writing about this? I stopped, stepped back and got help.  I am here to tell the tale.  In a sense, I’ve been there, done it, worn the t-shirt. Its now “framed”.

It was actually pivotal in changing the way I live my life. I am proud I did something about it, and now spend a chunk of my life supporting others to look after themselves so that time out is either prevented, minimised or, doesn’t take as long to heal as I did!

For chunks of time, I felt trapped.  It was what I can only describe as a pulsing blender of confusion!

The dilemma was that I didn’t feel “bad enough” to take time out.

Thinking back however, I don’t know how bad I thought I needed to be, to justify it. After all, waking in the morning with a pounding chest, crying every day before and during work (I knew the ladies’ cubicles far too intimately!) doesn’t really seem like normality. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t “that bad” though.  My mission since stopping to take time out for myself to heal has been to help other people get the space and support they need sooner, so they don’t get hit as hard.

The question has always sat with me though…

Feeling a bit foggy?


At what point is it right, to take time out?

How do you decide?

If you know that if you don’t take time, things really will get out of control, the result could be that it might not be you making the decision any more. Maybe that is what suits some people better though, to have the decision made for them?

I recognise that everyone will have a different context, however I feel that, the part that is really, really hard to determine, is the right point to say “I need time out”. As I mentioned, I experienced a sense that I wasn’t “bad enough” to need time off, despite a feeling of dread every morning, crying in the shower, struggling to hold back tears at work and feeling like I’d lost control of myself. Even with all of that, I was somehow managing to go about my day to day, get my job done. I will add however, that I was exhausted at the end of every day, not wanting to see anyone, do anything or go anywhere. No-one really noticed anything was wrong, so why would anyone believe I needed any sort of break?

As I set out to write this, I wanted to check if it was just me, or if other people felt similar about this, so canvassed opinions and experiences of others in my network, and of course, found parallel stories.

So, it goes a little something like this. It feels like there are “two of you”. A big confident part of you is saying keep going, and is trampling all over the quieter voice, gently suggesting that you need to take time out.

The big “others perceptions” voice keeps winning the “argument” though…

  • That’s weak, you’re a failure
  • You’ll be letting everybody down
  • You’ll be “leaving them in the lurch”
  • It’ll go against you
  • You’ll be labelled as having Mental Health “issues”
  • If you stop you won’t ever go back
  • You’ll lose credibility and status

And so, you “soldier on”. The voice returns. You know your GP would sign you off if you went but…

  • What exactly would I say is wrong?
  • How long would I be signed off for?
  • How long would I actually need?
  • What would they write on the note?
  • Would it go on my record?
  • How would I tell work?
  • Will I ever get better?

The “conversation” continues…

  • You’re drinking too much and eating junk but its OK, it helps you through
  • You’ve stopped connecting with people, but that’s OK because you’re just busy
  • You’re just tired, you cry when you’re tired
  • The lack of sleep is annoying, but you can manage on a little less sleep…
  • It’s only a headache, sometimes stomach ache, I’m a bit snappy, its not “THAT” bad…

The worries niggle on, keeping you crawling along…

  • The workload will be even worse when I go back
  • What would I say to people?
  • What would people think of me…they’ll think I’m weak, a failure
  • It would mark the end of my career…how will I get a job in future?
  • What if I lost my job, how would I cope financially?

Until the day you find…

  • You’re drinking way too much and eating mostly junk
  • You’ve stopped connecting with people
  • You’re crying every day, for most of the day
  • You’re paralysed with paranoia
  • You’re so tired you can’t do basic tasks
  • You’ve totally lost empathy for patients and co-workers
  • You’ve shouted and sworn at your boss/patient/client
  • You break down at work
  • You can’t physically get out of bed
  • You are in a hospital bed
  • You’re thinking it would be easier to get knocked down by a car than go to work

From the people I spoke to, the below graphic shows the symptoms they were experiencing, the final trigger that meant they took time out, along with the time they were out for.

One sign that came up for almost everyone was being tearful and crying, without being able to control it. That was closely followed by lack of sleep or insomnia.

Sleep is SO critical to our well-being (I’d go as far as survival), that it’s not surprising it’s a feature of needing time out. Its another topic for discussion on what comes first e.g. is it a lack of sleep that causes the mental health issue, or the mental health issue that causes the lack of sleep. Possibly a combination – but definitely too much to explore further here (check out an article I wrote on Sleep after reading Matthew Walkers “Why We Sleep” for more and some NHS resources here).

Taking Time Out Sheela Hobden
Taking Time Out: Signs & Triggers

A question I asked the participants of my survey was “do you wish you’d taken time out sooner?” and the answer was YES, to the tune of 85% of people I asked.

What is actually going on though? Why do I feel so bad?

From the training, reading and research I have gathered over the years since suffering myself, I believe there are a few potential roots. One is that we may have lost connection with something or maybe never had it in the first place, and/or, our resources to deal with the lack of it, or having to handle life without it depletes us further of those resources. There are too many areas to list here in this article, but you can read more about some of them in this article.

Watch out for burn out!

A note on burn out

A few facts about burn out – it’s not you, its them! The Gallup survey said the top reasons for burnout are unfair treatment at work, unmanageable workload, lack of role clarity, lack of communication and support from their manager and unreasonable time pressure. So, actually if you are experiencing any of the thoughts described in this article and you can link it to any of these, you’d do right to do what you can to address these challenges.

For more on burnout, check these useful links: Maslach Burnout Inventory and article on “Workplace not people”

So, how bad does it need to be?

Now that you have seen some of the things other people experienced ahead of taking time out, what are you thinking about what you need right now?

Here are a few questions for consideration:

  • Do you sense that if you don’t do something now, something very bad is likely to happen?
  • How “bad” do you need to be? How much longer can you survive like this?
  • What happens if you do nothing? What impact will that have on your body? Those around you?
  • If someone you know, or in your team was experiencing the same things as you, what would you be suggesting?
  • What is your worst fear about taking time out? If that happens, what would you do [yes this is difficult to think about, but it will at least face the fear head on]?
  • How many people are worried about you right now?
  • Who has already tried to help you or suggest something?
  • Are you afraid to speak about your feelings for fear of breaking?

The answers to these questions will help you to build a picture of what is happening for you right now, and what might happen, depending on what you decide to do.

I remember thinking things like “I’ll take time when this project is done…” or, “I’ll be OK after my holiday” but now can see that there really never will be a “right time” to take time out, there will be what is “right for you”. So, if you draw the conclusion that you need to preserve your resources, or that if you keep on placing demands on them that they will get depleted, then it is time to take preventative action and give yourself the space you need. It is a very hard decision, however it is something you are in control of, and actually that recognition alone will be the start of your recovery process, because our sense of control is an important element of resilience, which impacts our well-being. So, to be clear, there is a choice, only YOU can make it, though it is for your future self.

The longer you leave it, the harder it will be to think clearly about what you need, and as you have seen from my research, other people start suggesting the decision for you!

If you are still unsure and need to think a bit deeper, then download my free kit to help you reach that decision.

Where my thinking originates from:

As I’ve grown the body of research on well-being, a couple of resources have become the corner stones. They are Johan Haris’ Lost Connections and Griffin and Tyrells’ Human Givens (Emotional Needs), then the practical training coming from the Wraw tool, that I am a practitioner for. All of these key works are integrated in my MOT4U concept and are integral to many of my one to one and group programmes.

💡 There are a couple of things I can offer at this point:

How did this land with you?

I really would like to hear, so do get in touch and share your experience or comment.

Sheela Hobden

Sheela Hobden is a Coach at bluegreen Coaching.  Following her own mental health battles, she now coaches individuals, runs training sessions and speaks at conferences.  She has a real passion for helping medics and healthcare professionals take as much care of themselves as they do their patients!  She has a PGCERT in Business and Personal Coaching, holds ACC member status with the ICF and is CIPD qualified.She challenges herself with ultra distance running and Ironman.  Find her at or swimming in the sea, in Poole, Dorset

Get more ideas and tips by joining her newsletter tribe – sign up below!

“Why do you wake up in the morning?”

“Why do you wake up in the morning?”

I’m sitting in my first ever “Humans First” meet up.

I’d been encouraged to go by two separate (wonderful) people that I have met over the last few years of being down in Dorset.

This group however, is VERY global.

Online, you don’t really feel like the “newbie”, because people don’t sit in clumps or gather by the coffee! You don’t have to “nudge” your way into a conversation.

Welcomed by waves, or hellos’ in the “chat box”, it already feels friendly. Its so much easier to integrate and I just melted in. Of course, the person that had joined from the beach, planning a swim straight after helped me feel at home too! There was an intro from one of the hosts, and I introduced myself. I change what I say every time (contrary to all advice about having a “pitch”!).

Not the sort of group for a “pitch” anyway to be honest, it is what is says on the tin – humans; like-minded people gathering to talk about what drives them as human beings. We were invited to discuss a question “if you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you start doing?” and then…”what is stopping you doing it now”. That is a regular coaching question when I partner with clients and brought a rich discussion in itself, but what really got me going today, was the next one:

“Why do you wake up in the morning?”

Subtly different to “why do you GET up in the morning?”., it makes you think a bit more.

With three of us in our breakout, we eased into the conversation with talk of our shared ditching of corporate jobs and the things that might keep us from sleeping. One of our group had just started a new job as a waiter and reflected on his last worry before bed being whether he had given a customer the toothpick they asked for! He couldn’t recall too much trouble getting to sleep that night.

Reminiscing about my days as a waitress, I’ve always thought of it as one of the jobs I enjoyed the most, you never know who you might meet, the conversations or how busy it would be. A real memory of a thriving feeling. Back to the question. My answer, which I’d kept to myself to this point (for fear of it being a bit jokey) was:

“when I have had enough sleep!”

It didn’t feel profound enough.

Being the newbie too, I was reluctant to share. However I, in turn, was asked the direct question, so I gave my answer with a chuckle. You’ll see from my other posts that I like to be light hearted, but also, how much I know about the importance of sleep, so that was on my mind as I answered too!

What I was thrilled about, was the discussion it opened up. When I have had enough sleep, I am ready for the day, excited about what it might bring, what I can offer, and what I can glean.

We talked of curiosities for the day ahead. What might one wear? What happens if I choose left over right? Who might I meet? What might change? The word curiosity is still ringing in my ears. THAT really got me fired up.

Go back a couple of years, and I would never have said “when I’ve had enough sleep”. I never felt like I’d slept well. I had many years of anxious/depressed mornings, waking up with the weight of the world, bags of worry (that didn’t even have any labels).

I have worked very hard over the last few years on my own self-awareness to get to a place where the morning is not something to be fearful of. Through exploring what I need to do to help myself feel good, I have found it enables good sleep. It is different for everyone, I know that from coaching others to find their own ways (forgive me, I am not a magic pill giver I’m afraid!).

Waking up in the morning feeling that I am READY and EXCITED for the day is quite a revolution. That moment, or maybe more as I reflected during the day afterwards, I flooded with gratitude. I have always been curious, and as the conversation unfolded, I filled more and more with that zest for life; that “what might be around the corner?” approach.

It reminded my of my values, leading with curiosity, following with growth, creativity, connectivity, and of course…humour. Values are such an important part of who you are. If you don’t know what they are, it is really hard to know if you are being true to them, or what you need in your life to meet them.

In working with many people who think they know who they are, we still spend two or three sessions honing it down, because they weren’t as clear as first thought. Once we nail it, it is truly is revolutionary. Re-igniting mine fuelled my thinking for today and reminded me that I have purpose in each and every time I wake, “BE CURIOUS” and let me tell you, that feeling is something to be really grateful for.

I think its the permission that purpose can be big, but it can also be small, and the simpler it is, the easier to keep real and apply frequently.

So, let me ask you;

Why do you wake up? and as you reflect on your answer…

What is that question sparking for you? and if you want more…

How much do you know about your values and purpose? share this post with a friend – what is their answer?

If you want a super quick exercise to find out what you value, do this:

  • Go look at your bank statement – what are you spending most of your money?
  • Go check your diary – what are you spending most of your time doing? [OK that might be work, so is it what you really love?]
  • Think through the people around and in your life – do they bring whats important to your life?

What did you conclude? Lets talk…(or write to me…)

Sheela Hobden

Sheela Hobden is a Coach at bluegreen Coaching.  Following her own mental health battles, she now coaches individuals, runs training sessions and speaks at conferences.  She has a real passion for helping medics and healthcare professionals take as much care of themselves as they do their patients!  She has a PGCERT in Business and Personal Coaching, holds ACC member status with the ICF and is CIPD qualified.She challenges herself with ultra distance running and Ironman.  Find her at or swimming in the sea, in Poole, Dorset

Get more ideas and tips by joining her newsletter tribe – sign up below!

How to adopt a more optimistic outlook in a few simple steps

How to adopt a more optimistic outlook in a few simple steps

Can smiling really help your wound heal faster?

Sheela Hobden "Everything is going to be alright" Optimistic

Martin Seligman is a huge positive psychology guru and I was first introduced to his work when his book “Flourish” appeared on the reading list for my coach training. Again he appeared when a friend was studying the impact of optimism in project management. It is certainly fair to say that he has some pretty interesting and useful things to say. So, at the chance of meeting him, I jumped. OK, so it was online, and there were a few thousand others with us, but hey, I saw him, “drank tea with him”, and heard his new puppy dog!

I have summarised the key points I picked up and they largely fall into these categories:

  • Research and musings (a great deal explored the current pandemic too)
  • Questions to ponder
  • Hints, tips, models and exercises for people not feeling so great and those that feel they have no hope

This session aired during the COVID19 pandemic, a time when we all really needed to have some belief that we have a future too.

Research and musings:

Research from Sheldon Cohen suggested that, in a pandemic, the biggest predictor of how an individual will experience an illness is their feelings e.g. those who generally feel happy or cheery (e.g. smiling), and who have lots of fun, will experience colds less severely. He also measured optimism. Whilst it wasn’t a predictor for how we might experience colds, it did show that people who are optimistic come out and recover faster (e.g. wounds).

Furthermore, research shows that when recovering from a wound, healing is faster in those with a higher well-being. They also take less medication after surgery. I looked into this a little more, and found a few more things. Did you know, for example, that there’s even a thing called “PJ Syndrome”? This covers the situation where those that stay in their PJs in hospital, do less, than those that get dressed. Stands to reason therefore, that they would take longer to heal too. For a bit more depth on this, take a look at the research showing the detrimental effect of psychological stress on wound healing – that’s pretty scary.

So what is a higher well-being? Seligman describes some people as being sun spots, full of energy, good cheer, optimism.

Sheela Hobden PERMA Model

The model that he developed is called PERMA. It represents the following (see image for further details) – Positive emotion, Engagement, Relations, Meaning, Accomplishments. PERMA brings better health and resilience not only to you, but to those you care for and having a belief that you can change important events in your life (agency and efficacy) relate to progress (how well we do in our day to day life). You can even take a “test” on his site to see how “PERMA” you are.

What is so difficult about thinking positively? Martin explained that we have an ice-age mentality. That is, we are wired for catastrophisation e.g. “famine is coming”. It works well when we might get attacked by a bear, but not so much for day to day “threatening” emails or even flourishing situations. An example; when was the last time you woke to a glorious day and said “great, every day will be like this from now on…”?

Many people ask Martin, “What is the best route to a meaningful life?” and he shared his clear answer; helping other people. And his advice for someone who is depressed is to ask themselves “What is one thing you can do for someone else?”. He also discussed “What is the difference between realistic and outright optimism?” . Instead of answering, he demonstrated it using a technique people could apply:

  • Visualise your route to success on a particular project or situation
  • When is pessimism appropriate? (by the way, my friend found in project management, that this was in estimating project costs, so as not to underestimate right at the start and run out of budget later)
  • What are the consequences?
  • What is the cost of failure? E.g. if you are going to the pub without a mask right now (in the middle of the COVID19 pandemic), the cost of failure is high, maybe catastrophic, so a pessimistic view is useful here…

Questions to ponder:

What sort of person do I want to be?

  • What is the best part of myself that can show up today? Richard Layard, founder of Action for Happiness was in conversation with Martin and recommended that we connect with the best and deepest part of yourself (resolve the fear!), find your “god” within (NOTE: all types of “god” are available, interpret this as you wish!).

What HAS the pandemic brought us?

  • There is nothing like coming face to face with death (the pandemic) to focus the mind. It draws us to ask “What do we really care about?” Richard Layard posed a suggestion – Imagine if the happiness of people was a government objective? The closest I think I have seen to this is when New Zealand announced a budget for well-being.
  • Things have been done that we never imagined possible (Nightingale hospital in London, numerous other NHS projects have been fast-tracked), so what else is possible now?
Sheela Hobden Optimism Exercise


He shared some advice and techniques based on questions raised in the Q&A:

An exercise to put things in perspective:

Think of a situation that you are concerned about.

1. Conjure up in your mind, the very WORST thoughts, what is the absolute worst that could happen?

2. What is the best possible outcome?

3. What is the most realistic?

What is the best way to help people who are really struggling to find ANY hope or joy right now?

  • Ask the person, “before the pandemic, what gave you the most joy?”. Support them to generate a list of as many ideas as possible, right to the smallest thing, like enjoying your favourite tea. Sometimes it’s gone without us even tasting it.
  • Then ask them, from the list, “What can you do now? Who could you help?”

How can I help family and friends? Invariably, people have worries about what they see or hear in the media. My favourite personal phrase is that “worry is a mis-use of the imagination”! One thing that can help these situations is to counter the worst news they are imagining, with as accurate view as possible of reality. Here is where the perspective exercise can be useful. Share it with them, and explore the options together.

How can we work with Learned Helplessness? (this is where a person has experienced a stressful situation repeatedly. They come to believe that they are unable to control or change the situation)To answer this question, Seligman neatly pulled together most of the earlier content. He talked about “fighting our way out” (if you check the definition of fight it makes sense; overcome, eliminate or prevent). We can get back in control by building PERMA. We can get closer to reality by doing the perspective exercise as well as find things you love and DOING THEM (or more of them!).

I hope you have found this as insightful and thought provoking as I did. I think my three key take outs are:

  • SMILE and choose how you show up
  • Be more PERMA
  • Do more of what you LOVE

The positive effect of the simplest thing as a smile will have far reaching beneficial impacts. So, what will you do TODAY that puts a smile on your face?

The session was recorded, so you can fill in the blanks by watching on YouTube, and of course share further with those that you think might benefit.

Sheela Hobden

Sheela Hobden is a Coach at bluegreen Coaching.  Following her own mental health battles, she now coaches individuals, runs training sessions and speaks at conferences.  She has a real passion for helping medics and healthcare professionals take as much care of themselves as they do their patients!  She has a PGCERT in Business and Personal Coaching, holds ACC member status with the ICF and is CIPD qualified.She challenges herself with ultra distance running and Ironman.  Find her at or swimming in the sea, in Poole, Dorset

Get more ideas and tips by joining her newsletter tribe – sign up below!

How to see past the “fog”!

How to see past the “fog”!

On my misty, drizzly walk to the beach this morning, I reflected on the stark difference from only 5 days ago. Bournemouth hit the news for its swarms of people, piled on top of each other, with the associated illegal parking and anti-social behaviour, not to mention the 33 tonnes of rubbish left behind (on ONE of the days).

Today the very same stretch of coast was bereft of humans, empty car parks, no litter or views to be seen.

Yet the sea, the sand, the fresh air are all still there.

Views of beauty simply hidden under the fog. Any people I did see, scurried along, hunched over with scrunched up faces, avoiding the rain.

We shelter from the fog and complain of the rain.

The similarities struck me. How we feel and treat ourselves, when “under the weather” or suffering from a little “brain fog” seems the same. What has always been there; our skills, abilities, motivations and self-belief seem to disappear under those “weather” pressures.

Sheela Hobden

What if we could still see behind or above the fog on those days?

What if we could see a way through the drizzle and hold our heads high?

Going outside in such weather conditions is a physical reminder of what we have and honestly, there is not better way to feel alive than to be in nature and really FEEL it.

An outdoor exercise instructor once said “your skin is waterproof” and it really stuck in my head. It use it to get me outside!

I started musing again, and wondering, how can we “lift the fog on the brain” and experience the current truths and realities when things do “grey over”, so here are a few quick tips I came up with:

  1. Try this super short meditation on “feeling alive”. I ALWAYS with a virtual trip to a Cumbrian Mountain, in a snowy blizzard, slicing into my face, you might find another lively space
  2. Brain fog often puts us into “fight or flight” when “rest & digest” is where clarity lies, so use breathing to send physiological messages to the body to calm, with this 7/11 technique
  3. Visualise sun beaming onto your face, soak it up, imagine it feels warm, and ask, what would be different now?
  4. Write down all the things that feel like fog. Examine them. Are they just drizzle? Or heavy rain? Let the drizzle float away, and collect the heavy rain in a bucket – plan a suitable time to deal with it, rather than drown in it now!
  5. Literally take yourself outside. Go for a walk. Choose something to focus on e.g. what flowers can I see? Suddenly you see all the flowers, it’s amazing what appears with some focus. Switching tasks not only gives your brain a rest, but it helps practice focus, which can be used when you get back to your tasks. Subconsciously, your brain will be sifting an prioritising too, so things may feel lighter on your return.

I hope these are useful ideas to give the brain a rest from the fog!

What other tips work for you, that you could you add to the list for yourself?

Sheela Hobden

Sheela Hobden is a Coach at bluegreen Coaching.  Following her own mental health battles, she now coaches individuals, runs training sessions and speaks at conferences.  She has a real passion for helping medics and healthcare professionals take as much care of themselves as they do their patients!  She has a PGCERT in Business and Personal Coaching, holds ACC member status with the ICF and is CIPD qualified.She challenges herself with ultra distance running and Ironman.  Find her at or swimming in the sea, in Poole, Dorset

Get more ideas and tips by joining her newsletter tribe – sign up below!

5 steps to stop feeling like you “should” all the time…

5 steps to stop feeling like you “should” all the time…

As if a blog post could be about the word “should”!?

Take a moment to think though.

  • How many “should”s do you put pressure on yourself with on a daily basis?
  • To what extent do they weigh on your mind?
    • How often do you ignore them?
  • What is the result of doing, or not doing them?
    • What is the impact on you, or others?
  • And finally, where do they actually come from anyway?

Firstly, what inspired this post?

I set myself a target of writing a post to my website once a month. Until now, I think there have only been a couple of occasions where I hadn’t found a juicy topic I felt compelled to write about. It got to the end of the month, I cobbled something together and posted, proud of the date stamp it afforded me, but maybe not so proud of the content!

In conversation with a friend i heard the “should” word! “I really should go and write this months blog post, its nearly the end of May, but I can’t think of a topic…”. She asked “why don’t you write about that, the sense of need to do it?”.

Mulling it over, I thought actually, it is quite topical right now, so this month, inspired that conversation, I am writing about “should”. There are a lot of “should”s floating around right now actually (NOTE – this is written during the 2020 COVID19 lockdown!), here are some I know of :

I should…

  • be able to home school my children (whilst setting up the iPad for them)
  • learn a language, become an expert baker or have a Chelsea Flower show worthy garden (furloughed people!), but then turn the page in your book. (I’m not even furloughed but got the Babbel app to learn Spanish, pulled along with the tide – but will admit to doing nothing with it!).
  • get fit or train for a 5k (whilst lounging around)
  • eat healthily (whilst munching on the home-made bread you’ve been experimenting with)
  • slow down and appreciate things more (like “others” are saying)

​I could go on, I am sure where are many more.

What are some of yours? Where do they come from?

The question to be explored is; “should” according to who?

  • Social media? Do we feel we “should” do what everyone else is posting about too?
  • Future you? “I should go for a walk”, because future me knows that I will feel better afterwards
  • Parents? I really should call my parents
  • Society? It’s the way we do things, so I should too?
  • Our own beliefs? We all have our own set of beliefs collected through our lives, which rarely get challenged, yet some, could be untrue.

Is it really any of these things?

What would “they” say if you chose NOT to do the thing you feel you “SHOULD” do?

How much does the answer bother you?

What it feels like…

Having reflected on this a little whilst writing this post I realised that there is a heaviness about feeling I “should” do something. On asking a couple of people what it really means, a definitive answer wasn’t forthcoming. I landed on “something you know is going to be worth it in the end, but there in that moment, you don’t feel like doing it“.

Depending on the task, once we do get on and complete it, there can be a sense of achievement, whilst equally we can feel deflated at the loss of time and effort.

What does it feel like to you?

Let’s look at what the dictionary says…to put a stake in the ground:

“indicate obligation, duty or correctness, typically when criticising someones actions” or “to indicate what is probable”.

Dictionary definition of “should”

The line “when criticising someones actions” is interesting. It definitely has a critical tone, as well as a sense of resentment towards the task in hand. In the case that started this post, I think I fit into the “duty and correctness” category. The belief I hold is that my website will look correct if there is a post every month, thus bringing a sense of duty to those that follow the blog. A “belief” behind that being that I thought regular updates were “expected”.

There wasn’t time to test out the truth of that, although now, as a “reader”, maybe you could confirm what the truth is?

Another element; “indicating what is probable” is intriguing too. In this way, are we using it as a procrastinators tool e.g. I really should go for a run? Right now, we don’t feel like it, but it is probable that it will happen later, so a way to put things off for a while!

Why would we want to do something about it?

The sense of resentment I mentioned earlier could be the key here. Take something you feel you “should do”, and maybe know you will have to at some point, but don’t really feel like maybe? Do you find you get tangled up in putting it off, even though you know you will do it later? OR, something we feel pressure to do, we can end up frittering a chunk of time in playing the pro’s and cons of it, when deep down we know the answer?

Both can consume a lot of brain space (which to note, could be used on other things we WANT to think about!). Again, I don’t know about you, but the should can be accompanied by a series of thoughts around “how can I get out of, or, around this?”, again, a lot of effort and thinking time, if we end up doing it anyway?!

What can we do about it? – 5 steps to try

  1. Cut into whether the “should” is:
    • an obligation (I committed to doing this)
    • a duty (it is my responsibility)
    • a correctness (a fact or truth)
    • a probability (it is likely to happen)
  2. Once you have defined the category, then ask, is this true?
  3. Not sure how to decide if something is true or not? Use your personal values, does it meet them? or ask does it fit in with my overall purpose? (Not clear on these? – get in touch, I can share some free tools to help, then of course there is coaching!)
  4. Research what it means if it is true or false, and whether you will or won’t do it (if you won’t, go directly to step 5!) Otherwise, move to the next step.
  5. Want to make it happen?
    • What do you need to do to make it happen?
    • What help do you need for it?
    • How much time do you need?
    • What is the best time to do it?
    • When will you do it?

Now you have a decision and or, a plan, set that brain space free for the things you WANT to do

What’s the science behind this?

Our need for a Sense of control . Having the sense that we have personal control over situations has strong research backing its usefulness as a resilient tool which, when exercised has a positive impact on our well-being. So, taking charge of what we are choosing to do, is a perfect example of this in application

Values – having a sense of purpose or direction is another resilient tool, backed up with evidence of its impact on well-being. If we operate through a set of values that we believe to be important, we can live our lives in accordance with them, and thus feel we are meeting our own personal goals in life.

The sense of achievement linked to that is another measure of well-being.

“Should” is a word I often challenge people on when they come to coaching, and through exploring where the “should” has come from can open up a whole conversation around beliefs and assumptions. It enables people to raise their self-awareness on what they really want to do.

I hope this article has helped you remove a few “should” from your day and switch to “I will” or “I won’t” and be happy with your stance.

Sheela Hobden

Sheela Hobden is a Coach at bluegreen Coaching.  Following her own mental health battles, she now coaches individuals, runs training sessions and speaks at conferences.  She has a real passion for helping medics and healthcare professionals take as much care of themselves as they do their patients!  She has a PGCERT in Business and Personal Coaching, holds ACC member status with the ICF and is CIPD qualified.She challenges herself with ultra distance running and Ironman.  Find her at or swimming in the sea, in Poole, Dorset

Get more ideas and tips by joining her newsletter tribe – sign up below!

SLEEP – What’s the big deal?

SLEEP – What’s the big deal?

We all hear that sleep is important right. But why?

Having recently finished reading about this, the criticality of it hit me full force. I felt compelled to share. The top 5 things I learnt, that stopped me in my tracks, in terms of why we would give it more attention are:

“If sleep does not serve an absolutely vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process has ever made”

Dr Allan Rechtschaffen
Sheela Hobden Sleep Coaching
  • Poor self-awareness: One of the first things to go when you are lacking sleep is self-awareness – so you often don’t even recognise the tiredness (until its too late!)
  • Increased Food Consumption: We eat on average, 300 extra (unnecessary) calories a day when tired
  • Capacity: The impact of turning up to work on a severe lack of sleep can be equated to being over the alcohol limit (check out the section on performance)
  • Caffeine: It has a quarter half-life. Translation: Drinking a cup of coffee at 12 noon means a quarter of it will still be in your system at midnight. Imagine how much is there when you drink coffee later than this!
  • Safety: Attempts at staying awake are now banned from Guinness World Record attempts – it is deemed TOO dangerous – check out this video on what happens when we don’t sleep (4 mins)

The structure of this post shares the research that stood out as being particularly interesting, personal experience and impact as well as some key points. We can adopt simple hacks to do it better. Scroll to what takes your interest and I hope there’s at least one thing in there for you.

First, some interesting facts and figures:

  • Poor sleep costs the UK economy about £38bn. This figure is derived from the increased mortality risk of individuals sleeping an average of less than 6 hours a night, and lost working days (productivity) from absenteeism due to insufficient sleep
  • Disasters such as Chernobyl happened as a result of tiredness
  • Edison (light bulb inventor!) used to nap daily. He would take a doze with 2 ball bearings in his hand, hovering over a steel bowl. As soon as his body slipped into sleep and his muscles relaxed, the balls would drop and wake him up. That’s when he’d begin scrawling down all the creative thoughts he could extract from his mind from the effects of sleep.
  • If you want to form a habit, the best time to start is in the morning, when we are well rested and our brain is at its most receptive. There are many different numbers on how long habits take to set in, Vicki Culpin says 66 days

Further facts and research:

Circadian rhythm

Image courtesy of Blind Veterans UK

We all operate on a circadian rhythm – otherwise known as the twenty four hour cycle of day and night. Whilst primarily its responsibility is in determining when you should sleep and when you should be awake, it also coordinates eating, drinking, moods and even core temperature. I knew about circadian rhythm before embarking on this book and having read that certain organs peak their activity at certain points in the day, I already schedule my day around that. For example, the heart is at its peak function during 11am through 1pm and to make the most of that high energy, it’s a great time to have meetings. Each day, I schedule the first meeting at 11am and work either side of that, keeping the start of the day for creative thinking and the end for “sending out”. Lots more juicy facts, but I will get back on topic!

Back to sleep! The rhythm relies on melatonin being produced gradually during the day, so there is enough built up by the time we are due to sleep. The more regular our sleep pattern is, the easier it is for the circadian rhythm to manage it. The cycle peaks in early afternoon. I was particularly intrigued to read that it’s no coincidence that, this is the time of day many athletes break Olympic records. We don’t all operate on exactly the same rhythm (I’m definitely not on the same as Paula Radcliff for example!!), which is why some people are at their best in the morning (larks) and some are better much later (owls). It was very interesting to read in Matthews book, that organisations like Google are actually integrating people’s preferred patterns, so people can work to the hours where they are most productive.


This area is fascinating. To this point, my reading had led me to believe that the purpose of dreaming is to reset our innate templates. I had understood that we have a set of templates about how things “should be” and if things had happened that weren’t normal, or to be expected, a good nights sleep would enable the body to reset them, so that the next day , we were refreshed and back to what we could expect. I applied this to my work in anxiety and stress: if you spend many days in “stressful” situations and then don’t sleep very long or very well, your body doesn’t get chance to reset the templates. The body begins to assume this is “normal” and the vicious cycle continues – hence the importance of regular, quality sleep.

After this, my favourite piece of research, from the same book, Tyrell (from Tyrell and Griffins’ “Human Givens”) was so interested in his dream research, he would wake himself after a dream, put lights on and make notes in his book, much to the detriment of his marriage. It hit a critical point when his wife expressed her severe dissatisfaction at the constant nightly disturbances for dream tracking. After heated words, he was excited to learn what his dreams would contain, only to find no dreams were to be had. This is a short summary, but the conclusion drawn was, if, during the day, all our emotions or thoughts are expressed, there is no need for dreams to “diffuse” them.

Sleep, the brain and our emotional control:

In Taylors book he discussed studies showed that in sleep deprived adults, there is an increase of 60% in the amygdala (responsible for emotional triggers and the “fight or flight” modes). That is strongly coupled with the pre-frontal cortex (responsible for rational thinking and decision making). In under-slept people the pre-frontal cortex is almost temporarily “ousted” – so rational thought is removed. Further studies showed that lower connectivity between the two meant that there were huge pendulum swings between positive and negative emotions, as the amygdala kept “its foot on the gas” and the pre-frontal cortex was not connected enough to “put its brakes on” and slow things down.

Adolescent development

Children and teens need more sleep, and more REM sleep (that occurs in the early hour of the morning). In studies where school education start times were later, there was a reduction of traffic accidents.

Names of key researchers

In recognising that this is a snapshot article, there’s a need to highlight the many more sleep researchers. The key ones (if you want to do more of your own research) are:

Further facts:


In “The Wake Up Call” (see reference below), research was conducted amongst working people that were sleep deprived and the following came up:

People were less able to stay focussed in meetings (69%), take longer to complete tasks (68%), find it hard to work with challenging colleagues (65%), find it challenging to generate new ideas (60%), less able to manage competing demands (59%). I could go on…

Negativity & Emotions

The same report outlines the emotional impact on sleep-deprived people:

84% felt more irritable, 75% feel more stressed (this does beg the question does stress cause sleep deprivation or the other way around?), 71% become frustrated more easily when a project is not going to plan.

The brain already sees the negative NINE times more than the good, and when sleep deprived, that gets worse. I’m thinking to repeat the good stuff nine times over to start to counteract that!


In the same study, 69% felt like they wanted to be left alone. This presents its own issues. Sleep is already impacted by loneliness. It comes down to safety. If we look at early days in our development, we would work in tribes, one person taking watch, whilst others slept. Those basic survival needs are still there, despite evolutionary advances. Ultimately, loneliness feels like no-one is “watching out” for you, so the ability to go into deep sleep is restricted, for fear of attack (all subconscious of course). So, if we are already lonely, and lack of sleep makes us want to be alone, it can only be a downward spiral.


Sleep has proven time and time again as a memory aid. It is useful before and immediately after learning something new, although it (like a memory stick) only has a certain capacity


Creativity according to Matthew Walker, is lauded as the engine of business innovation (remember the Edison fact earlier?), yet when sleep deprived, it is systematically dismantled, along with intelligence, motivation, effort and efficiency. Interestingly, in studies, employees did not perceive themselves as putting less effort in – which in my opinion, loops back to the lack of self-awareness when sleep deprived!

A couple of special situations:

Shift Work ​Unfortunately, the research on the impact of shift work on our sleep makes for grim reading. The disruption to the circadian rhythm has been found to be carcinogenic and as such, potentially cancer causing. I’m not going to dwell on the “whys” of that, because I feel it is far more important to explore what we can do to mitigate against it, which would be:

  • Take a nap before and during a night shift. For night shifts, doctors who were able to take a nap improved their speed and those that took a nap before the start of the shift were able to improve alertness and performance on shift
  • Use light and dark to support and reset circadian rhythm e.g. if you need to pop to the shops after a night shift, but before you go to bed, use dark glasses, to keep the body thinking it is night time, same as having all curtains drawn so your home is dark when you return
  • Have the nap early in the shift. Research from pilots found this effective in remaining alert for longer
  • Choice has an impact – where individuals are able to choose their shift pattern the effects of poor sleep were minimised. Conversations with staff in rota planning therefore can support this
  • Use light and dark to support and reset circadian rhythm e.g. if you need to pop to the shops after a night shift, but before you go to bed, use dark glasses, to keep the body thinking it is night time, same as having all curtains drawn so your home is dark when you return

Jet Lag The faster the internal biological rhythms can adapt to the new time zone, the shorter the period of jet lag symptoms, so, here are a few ideas:

  • if you need to stay awake on arrival – keep lights bright e.g. don’t use your sunglasses, get out and get as much daylight a possible – give the body all the cues that it is daytime
  • If you arrive and it’s night, keep everything dark, keep lighting and noise low
  • Take melatonin, if available
  • Adapt your external behaviour e.g. try to fit in with local meal times as quickly as possible
  • Avoid “banking” sleep
  • Try not to sleep on flights, however tired you are, unless it coincides with night time at your destination

I’ll now share my revelation after all this reading! I also list a few more general tips I think everyone should know!

I was up in Durham a couple of weeks ago, hosting some exploration on resilience. It smacked hard that living on the south coast now makes that over a six hour trip! I do it, because I love helping people find ways to live better, work smarter and find enjoyment amid the pacey professional lives they lead.

The journey did provide me with some enjoyment however, having realised a while back that I actually find working on the train quite therapeutic. With with no distractions and no kettle to boil repeatedly, I knuckle down and as the fields fly by, feeling that juicy sense of achievement on arrival!

After a pretty full on couple of days, I made my way home. The journey at this end of the trip meant an arrival home at 1.30am (that trip, I will admit, was more film and TV based!). I am normally very good at settling down to sleep by 10pm, so ouch, 1.30am is not a familiar sight on the clock for me! Having lugged the cases home and dumped in the hall, I was completely exhausted, but felt grubby from the train. I thought I’d take a shower to clean up and snuggle nice and fresh into bed, certain my head would hit the pillow through falling on it and I’d be straight off into deep slumber.

To my absolute horror and frustration, I lay, for what felt like hours, unable to drift off. Twisting, turning, too hot, too cold, brain STILL firing up. The following day, was a right off. Poor decisions, fuzzy thinking, double time on basic tasks and a sense of confusion about the poor sleep. You can imagine the frustration I’m sure.

I’d been reading and collecting research from Matthew Walkers “Why we sleep” book (much of which I have shared already). I simply couldn’t fathom what had stopped me getting that much needed decent nights sleep. Nothing was making sense from what I’d read so far.

It was when I went along to Professor Vicki Culpins’ “The Wake Up Call” talk on importance of sleep a couple of weeks later, that the penny dropped. The research knitted together, giving me an explanation for the situation! Vicki explained that it’s the little signals we give our body in the evening that tell the brain its time to sleep e.g. we have a bath each night before bed. The brain receives this physical signal “ooh, we’re having a bath, it must be time to start the process for preparing to sleep”.

Like a light-bulb pinging above my head, I suddenly realised, I NEVER have a shower at night, its always in the morning. I was effectively sending a message to my brain, that it was morning. As she continued, I learnt that I made two mistakes. The first, sending a “morning, wake-up” signal to the brain through showering, and the second, I heated my body, when actually we need to cool our core temperature for sleep (more on that shortly).

I’d heard the term “sleep hygiene” before, but actually, I feel it should be called “sleep habit”. Learning by those key points, you’ll be pleased to know the following night, good sleep ensued.

What is good sleep you may ask? Well, let me share what I’ve picked up from Matthews book and from Vicki (she asked us each to be ambassadors for this, so I’m going forth to conquer!).

💡 TIPS: Here are the key tips I thought useful, although each of the books has their own recommendations:

  • Sleep hygiene (habit!): set a pattern that tells the body its time to sleep – hopefully my example makes the case for this
  • Temperature: lower your core body temperature. You can do this by heating up the extremities, so the body feels it needs to cool. Its where bedsocks and hats came from of course – sexy!
  • Food and drink: eat at least 2 hours before bed, so your body has digested it before sleeping. Caffeine is out (see the half life detail at the start)! Alcohol is a sedative, so although we may think it is helping us sleep, it is not the restorative sleep we need, so keep off it, or at least minimise consumption
  • Exercise: this will support sleep. The best time to get active is at lunchtime (if you get to choose!) – in fact, its when Olympic records get broken!
  • Noise: Earplugs are advised. Even if you think you aren’t disturbed by noise, awareness can impact.
  • Light and Dark : A blackout blind will send the clear message to the brain that its time for sleep.

💡 MORE TOP TIPS: There are so many more tips in both books, but I quite liked these too:

🌙 How to remember the things that wake you in the middle of the night: What do you do when you wake up in the night remembering something you forgot to do or want to remember? Many people have paper by the bed to jot it down, but there’s a better trick. Writing wakes us up cognitively, so if we do something with a motor action, it is less likely to fully wake us. Move something by your bed; your book, glasses, or glass of water. When you wake, you see its somewhere different, question why, and the memory is triggered (that’s if you haven’t fallen over the many things you moved in the night?!)

🌙 How to get to sleep: Try FREE FORM WRITING. Set a 3 minute timer. Put your pen to paper and write, continuously, without lifting the pen. Any, every and all thoughts that enter your mind, until you run out. A psychological trick on the brain – that its being emptied!

So, next time you find yourself saying “I’m very tired” – consider whether you really should be doing what you are doing, if poor sleep really is as bad as being under the influence.

What now? Take a look at your routine with what you have read in mind, and review what small changes you could make.

With big thanks to the following references:

  • Culpin, V. and Russell, A (2016). The Wake Up Call. HULT Research, Ashridge Executive Education. Check her out on YouTube or read the Report Summary
  • Culpin, V. (2019). The Business of Sleep.
  • Griffin, J. & Tyrrell, I. (2003). Human givens: A new approach to emotional health and clear thinking.
  • Walker, M. (2018). Why We Sleep. Or watch him on YouTube

Sheela Hobden

Sheela Hobden is a Coach at bluegreen Coaching.  Following her own mental health battles, she now coaches individuals, runs training sessions and speaks at conferences.  She has a real passion for helping medics and healthcare professionals take as much care of themselves as they do their patients!  She has a PGCERT in Business and Personal Coaching, holds ACC member status with the ICF and is CIPD qualified.She challenges herself with ultra distance running and Ironman.  Find her at or swimming in the sea, in Poole, Dorset

Get more ideas and tips by joining her newsletter tribe – sign up below!

COVID19: The pendulum of emotions and what do to about them

COVID19: The pendulum of emotions and what do to about them

Pendulum Sheela Hobden
How are your emotions right now?

There are endless “how to” posts across all social media channels. Washing hands and social distancing are of course essential (although I would love to see more about the “why”, to help people understand the reasons). It is fact that those things are clear prevention tools we all have at our disposal. Then there are follow ups such as “how to work from home”, “how to stay motivated”, “how to keep calm”. What I felt was missing, was something about how we are actually feeling in the midst of all of this, and more importantly, why. The posts flooding out fall more into the advice category. When looking at how we humans need to look after ourselves, and establishing how to do it, the best solutions come from exploration of why we do the things we do, and more importantly, how we might do them differently…in our own way, that we choose, that we have confidence will fit into our world.

Sheela Hobden COVID19 Same boat?  Same storm? Coaching
Same boat? or storm?

So, instead of offering a post on “how to” do self-care. I wanted to explore why we feel the way we do right now and normalise that. “It is OK, to not feel OK”! I will also share some questions to help you figure out what to do, along with a couple of free tools I found that could be useful to you.

Many people feel they are in the “same boat” . We might be having different challenges, but underneath it all, our feelings are linked to the needs we have, and how we react to certain situations. We think we are the only ones that feel this way, so we keep quiet, when actually the value is in opening up and in talking to people. So maybe its more like we are all in the same storm, with different boats to navigate it!

I started talking to people about how I felt, and said out loud, what I was worried about . Labelling the ACTUAL FEAR (I realise maybe this is fear as well as frustration) brings it out into the open, making it more visible and then we can think rationally about it (or them!). Once labelled, we can unpick it, play it out and explore the detail of our concerns. Something lifts, and we are able to see and think clearly again. I want to share, from what I know, why it is OK to feel a bit strange right now, so people can ease up on the stress and pressure they feel under.

I have a couple of pieces of research that are part of the foundations of my work in resilience and wellbeing, so I have interpreted the models in line with the current situation. I believe they offer us an explanation, and I hope that as you are reading this it will help make sense for how you are experiencing this new reality we are living in. And it is a new reality for all of us.

Oxytocin Sheela Hobden
Oxytocin releases when mother bonds with baby!

Firstly, I wanted to touch on the importance of social interaction (it underpins both models). So important is it, that the brain treats lack of it in the same panic we have when threatened with a lack of food or water (Liebermann). We go into survival mode as the fight or flight mechanism is activated from the amygdala. This give us the reason for why it’s so hard for social distancing to take place. We are wired to need that social interaction. It also shines light on why its SO important to heed the advice to stay home now, so that we are not isolated for longer than we need to be. I’m writing from the UK and we’re seeing the implications playing out already in Italy and Spain . I am very concerned for the effect on our mental health that will inevitably hit us further down the line. We are very lucky in this world to have the technology to stay connected, even if not face to face, so the best thing we can do is keep connected (virtually), and educate those that struggle to use technology, so they don’t lose out here. Bringing it back to basics, when was the last time you simply picked up the phone and called someone? Most people can use a phone!

The Human Givens Institute calls out nine emotional needs and I think all them come into play now, as do the components of David Rock’s SCARF model (neuroscience of the brain when change happens), and elements of the Wraw (Workplace resilience and wellbeing) psychometric.

Sheela Hobden Status COVID19 Coaching

Status. The definition for this is our need to have an “importance to others” or have a “status within social groupings”. For many of us, our relationship with others may have changed. As a key worker, you may be expected to keep going to work, your role has always been important, but now you feel the world’s eyes are on you. Or, suddenly we are needed to care for elderly relatives or neighbours, our relationship with them changes, or new relationships are developed. Maybe you are now working from home and the lack of contact makes you feel less important, or possibly more important if you are remotely managing a team. As simple as it may sound, what we are wearing can make a difference too. Say you go to work in a suit and with it you take on a certain persona, does sitting at home in your PJs bring the same persona? (This could be a whole other post!). Our response works two ways, we may have a threat response to that perceived lower importance, or actually, some may have a reward response. You might feel you are doing good helping someone out (signing up to NHS volunteering for example), and that triggers our brains to release dopamine, which helps us feel good.

Confirmed Sheela Hobden

Certainty. This one almost doesn’t need any words! I have heard “its just the not knowing that I can’t cope with” many times. David Rock describes it as “concerns about our ability to predict the future”. This again, drives the “survival” response, where we go to black and white thinking, and our brain treats it as a physical threat, so we get the racing heart, a fear of everything. A way to overcome it, is just knowing when we might get more information on the “threat”. In this situation though, we don’t even have that. We need to find a way to provide some sort of certainty for ourselves. That will look different for each person, but it could be as simple as getting an update from news or the social media you trust, and not looking again until a set point in the day, and holding onto the certainty you took at that time.

Autonomy and Control. This runs through all of the models I work with, you probably have seen some “circles of control” images on social media, outlining the things we can control and what we can’t. The more control we have, the better we feel – but its deeper than that, because its our “sense” of control. We can have an internal or an external locus of control (Rotter) – you can even take tests on line to see where yours lies. It is very easy right now to feel that there’s nothing we can do about this, and it’s beyond our control, but we absolutely can control our responses and our actions. I agree, that it is hard to think like that when in “survival” model. For example, most people “get” that the virus can be transferred via people, but not everyone recognises that it can survive on surfaces for days.

Sheela Hobden Control Coaching COVID19

To play that out: you sit next to someone on the bus; they have just been with someone who has the virus and its on their coat; It transfers to your coat. Neither of you realise. You go to the supermarket and brush past some vegetables, it’s now on the vegetables. A kind hearted soul does the grocery shopping for their elderly neighbour and before you know it, the virus is on their food, in their body and they’re dead.

Forgive me for ending that abruptly, but it’s how it works.

The control we have here, is to choose to stay home, to choose to distance ourselves when we go shopping. To wash our hands, and our surfaces. We DO have control over the spread. This is the bit that I think is frustrating me the most, because people still aren’t adhering to this simple, life saving advice.

Sheela Hobden Coaching

Relatedness – this is described by Rock as “a sense of safety with others”. Following on from the last section, we can’t trust anyone right now. We don’t know “where they’ve been” or “who they’ve been with”. I feel there is also a huge lack of trust in the information we are receiving. We are dealing with the situation differently to other countries and so maybe people feel we aren’t going to have it as bad. Who do we believe? Building trusted relationships is a key component of our resilience. It is definitely an area I totally overlooked during my times of trouble. I really didn’t trust anyone, which meant I didn’t open up, carrying that heavy emotion and worry around with me. I notice how much lighter things feel now when I share how I’m feeling.

Handshake Sheela Hobden

Fairness is described as “fair exchanges between people”. We have seen reports of people fighting over toilet roll, panic buying more food than they could possibly eat. Where is the fairness in that? The same part of the brain is triggered into survival mode and so we go into protection mode,. We start doing things we wouldn’t normally do because we go to black and white thinking and before we know it, we also have a 9 pack of toilet roll in our trolley that we don’t really need.! By being fair to others, we can actually generate a reward response and release some better chemical into our brain, that will make us feel good (even if only for a short while, but it’s worth it).

Let’s move into some of our emotional needs. I’m not going to talk about all of them, but think these key areas are of interest: Security, Privacy, Meaning and Purpose.

Sheela Hobden Security Coaching COVID19

Security is a big deal right now. The Human Givens definition is to have a “safe territory and an environment in which we can fully develop”. This can translate into our physical environment but also our perception of how secure we are. Right now, we don’t know where IS safe, we could pick the virus up anywhere, from anyone, its invisibility really does mean that nowhere is safe. After that, we look to physical security, of income, housing, basic shelter needs for ourselves and our families. Financial concerns will be a strong worry for many. In an instant, jobs have been lost, lack of income places risk on mortgages and therefore shelter. It is very easy to project worries into the future, a time that has not actually happened yet. Taking each day by itself and being grateful for what you have right now can support a more balanced experience.

Sheela Hobden COVID19 Privacy Coaching

Privacy. We all have a need to time alone to reflect and consolidate. Individually this will be different amounts of time, however we all need “some”. Maybe you have suddenly found yourself with a houseful of people because children are off school, or students are back from university and you’re not getting your own space. It could be that you normally commute and that time alone in the car or on the tube provided you with your privacy. Now, forced to work from home, that space has gone. You may be feeling frustrated, but not realised what has changed to generate these feelings. I have spoken to a few people who have recognised this, and built time into their days to allow for this.

Map Sheela Hobden

Meaning and Purpose. One thing I have been finding uncomfortable is keeping focussed on anything related to the future. With so many events cancelled, it feels like nothing is happening and it makes me feel like curling under the duvet until “it’s all over”. I think it’s because we simply don’t know whats going on right now and its hard to work towards something when you don’t know what the outcome even might look like. It’s like getting into the car and driving round and round in circles. Even if we thought we knew the destination, it changes, or we get new information about how to get there. I decided that my “destination” would be the next news briefing, so I set myself targets and things to do from the end of each briefing, to the time of the next. I can than factor any new information into my plans for the next 24 hours.

Finally, from the Wraw tool. Most areas have already been covered, but a couple might bring up some ideas on how to cope

In the Energy pillar, we talk about boundaries. This covers the separation between work and home, as well as taking breaks during the day. If you are a key worker, the chances are you are so busy boundaries are getting compromised, your passion to serve others your priority. Working from home means these boundaries can easily get blurred and restrictions on leaving the house make it harder to take a break. In either situation you are likely feeling exhausted. Setting some really small boundaries will support your energy here.

Positive Framing. One of the tools in our resilient “toolbox” is to look at things positively, so we can see things in a proportionate way. With so many unknowns, it is very hard to do this, and we feel uncomfortable with that. Seeking out positive news stories can really help revive this skill, for example, hearing that the special hospital in China has now closed due to there not being enough new cases and that the daily death toll in Italy has finally slowed. Still really tough times, but the positive elements do support our ability to see a glimmer of hope on the other side of all this.

I’ve been exploring all of this as I made sense of my own feelings and emotions, so I will share a little of these here. You may completely resonate, with them or you may be having a completely different experience. For example, I’m pretty sure it will be significantly different for someone on the frontline of all of this…

Here’s my experience:

I’ve been swinging like a pendulum. My mind is confused. My stomach is lurching. I feel trapped in the here and now. I feel helpless, despite making various offers of help and sticking to advice about social distancing and now, staying home.

I honestly don’t actually have fear right now, it is frustration. Here in the UK, we can see how other countries are suffering, what measures they have had to take to contain the virus, yet it feels like, as a country, we are wandering along blindly, like lemmings, head on, into the disaster. My brain just cannot compute when people talk about future events and sign off mails with “enjoy the sun”.

I feel rage at the lack of sensitivity. It is not their fault, of course people are trying to remain positive, yet it sends the message that “its OK to carry on as normal”, when it really is NOT. Of course I want to enjoy the sun, but that could be at the expense of someone else’s life, so I will forgo that sun today.

I’ve been trying to write for a few days now, and each time I come back to it, I change the start, based on the new reality of this surreal situation. Right now, we are not even close to how bad it potentially will be. Watching the news or scrolling social media, with its stern tone, language, gestures, I start wondering if the world will end tomorrow and yet I look outside and people seem oblivious.

I really believe we are heading for a disaster, and it seems that because we can’t “see” it, it’s easy for people to believe it won’t happen. I’m staying in, adhering to advice. Scenes of empty supermarket shelves just don’t feel helpful. I honestly think we need to see full intensive care units or doctors in despair. It may sound morbid but I have a sense that is the only way people might believe what is really happening.

People say “don’t panic”, it’s more helpful to turn this into “please prepare”. We need to convert “worry” into “contingency planning”. We need to know how bad things could get to give urgency to the need to make plans. Telling people not to panic is OK, but what do they do instead because “carrying on” is not a way forward either. We MUST do things differently.

The virus is carried on clothes and hair (not just coughs and sneezes) and THIS is why it is SO important we do not come into contact with people, and spread the virus accidentally. It survives on surfaces too. Staying home reduces the number of people and surfaces we come into contact with, so in turn reduces the risk of the spread.

It WILL hurt IF/WHEN we go into full lockdown, but I honestly believe the earlier we do it, the lower that pain will be. It really is what we NEED to do not only to save lives but to protect the physical and mental health of those who are on the frontline. The longer we leave it, the harder it will be for them to manage this crisis on limited resources.

Now you have some insight into why you feel the way you do, instead of me listing suggestions to help you get through, I will leave you with a few questions, to help you figure out a way forward that will work for you, as an individual:

– If I don’t feel OK, who could help me?

Sheela Hobden
Workplace resilience and wellbeing

– If I do feel OK, who in my network might not? Who needs my help?

– What do I want to be saying about all of this, in 3 months time?

The references I made in this article can be accessed here:

NOTE: This article was written in March 2020.

Sheela Hobden

Sheela Hobden is a Coach at bluegreen Coaching.  Following her own mental health battles, she now coaches individuals, runs training sessions and speaks at conferences.  She has a real passion for helping medics and healthcare professionals take as much care of themselves as they do their patients!  She has a PGCERT in Business and Personal Coaching, holds ACC member status with the ICF and is CIPD qualified.She challenges herself with ultra distance running and Ironman.  Find her at or swimming in the sea, in Poole, Dorset

Get more ideas and tips by joining her newsletter tribe – sign up below!