Prioritising positivity online

If you follow me on Twitter (@jailbirdstreet) you might have noticed that this year I’ve made a habit of starting each day with a positive tweet.

It’s a little experiment I’ve been conducting on myself. Late in 2018 I reflected on the negative influence of social media on my life and decided it would be healthier not to spend so much time there.

The negative effects of social media are much discussed, and include sleeplessness, bullying, social disconnection and envy. In my case, I often got sucked into a vortex of negativity and helplessness about all the horrors in the world. Constant stress damages the brain, and I knew that feeding my fear centre all that negativity was keeping me in a constant state of anxious arousal. 

I realised that I couldn’t entirely disconnect, as some people do. I need to be on social media for a number of reasons, including for work. I looked around for ways to minimise the negative effects and came across the work of Barbara Fredrickson and the idea of ‘prioritizing positivity’. In brief, her work shows us that positive emotions and experiences contribute to our health, wellbeing and resilience.

““Our day-to-day positive emotions function as nutrients for our overall wellbeing.  Today’s positive emotions do not simply exemplify today’s wellbeing, they also help to create next month’s increases in wellbeing.”

Just as we need to nourish our bodies with nutritious foods, we need to nourish our brains and spirits with positive emotion: joy, wonder, hope, contentment, happiness, cheer…and just as we need to make an effort to make sure we eat nutritious food, we need to make an effort to ensure we get positive emotions.

“Everyone is busy these days, so much so that we can become too focused on our “to do” list. Prioritizing positivity means also having a “to feel” list and scheduling in time for activities that you know to be reliable elicitors of your own positive emotions.  For me it’s spending time with a friend, walking in nature, or creating a new recipe.”

I had already been prioritising positivity in my day: going for walks, doing things that make me laugh, singing along loudly (sorry neighbours) with my favourite songs…I decided to apply the theory to my social media activity. I set the bar pretty low: start each day with a positive tweet.

I was inspired by an Aboriginal man I’ve followed on Twitter for some time: in the way these things go, I know him as Koori Brotha (@mrngunnawal). He tweets beautiful, positive tweets every day, generating a warm oasis in the midst of the snark and sarcasm, along with a strong and diverse group of followers. Fredrickson talks about creating ‘micro-moments of love’ with other people, and it seemed to me his tweets and the reactions they got proved that it was possible to do that over social media.

After a solid couple of months of consistent practice, I’m convinced of the benefits. Forcing myself to think of something positive to say first thing every morning puts me in a good frame of mind to start the day. The interactions I have are increasing, and I notice I am more comfortable about expressing support, concern and compassion. I also find I’m less inclined to spend hours scrolling the depressing news.

If you find your social media diet is making you queasy, try adding some positivity into the mix. Amplify love!

amplify love
Image from https://www.marcjohns.com/

 

Read more about Barbara Fredrickson’s work on positivity.

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Shameless self-promotion

I’m chuffed to have had a piece I wrote about how I coped with having cancer published in The Underbelly, a brilliant site where breast cancer patients and survivors support each other.

I have been really hesitant to write about cancer. “Does the world really need another cancer blog?” is a question I asked aloud more than once. “There’s nothing special about me, or my experience, unless you know me and love me” was another argument. Not wrong: something like 70 other women in Australia were diagnosed on the same day as me. Horribly common. My Dad changed my mind, telling me that my perspective might help someone else get their head around it. Thanks, Dad.

I’m posting here because my commitment to mindful leadership at work arose from this experience, and from my desire to carry over the practices that helped me get through the worst of times into my daily life. As I’ve said elsewhere, one of the biggest lessons for me is how often when we are “well” we are making ourselves sick with stress. No more. Not for this chicken!

I hope you’ll read Loving yourself sick

 

Why employers should promote calm

My passion for reducing stress in my workplace is partly selfish: I don’t want to work in a stressful environment because I want to protect my brain from damage.

Learning the damage stress does to the brain gave me great motivation to change my environment for myself, but I’ve also had a number colleagues go off on stress leave, including much younger colleagues who should be in the prime of their lives. I observe the toll stress is already taking on some of them, and I worry about how they’ll be at my age.  As a leader, I feel an obligation to take care of them, and from a pragmatic point of view, businesses cannot afford stress-related ill-health. But the work still needs to get done, right? And no employer can control for the stress their employees are experiencing outside work.

Most people understand that stress can lead to depression and anxiety, and that it causes ulcers and heart attacks, but the damage to the brain is much less discussed. The hormones the body releases to enable us to deal with stress are great in small doses, but when we are constantly ‘stressed’, it is harmful. It breaks down connections in the brain – hence symptoms like memory loss and brain fog – and if you’re stressed long enough, it will actually shrink your brain.

The system designed to help us flee a woolly mammoth from time to time is being deployed moment to moment in modern life, day after day. That’s what anxiety is: being in a state of constant stress, We’re simply not built to be running from a woolly mammoth day-in and day-out for months at a time. Having your stress response constantly triggered causes all sorts of health problems.

The good news is that the impact of stress can be reversed. The amazing plasticity of the brain means we can grow new neurons, and re-wire to heal the damage. Simple things like regular exercise, meditation and laughter help generate brain healing. But you can’t heal the brain while you are stressed.

Employers can help their employees reduce stress in a number of ways. Top of the list in my book is recognising that no one can perform at 100% all of the time. We need to plan for peak periods, plan for rest, help keep them in condition.

Practises to promote calm, and to promote ease and joy in the workplace can not only reduce stress, but will ultimately lead to greater productivity and creativity. People produce best when their synapses are firing all over the place, making new connections, opening up new horizons, not withdrawing to the amygdala for a siege. For employers to get the best out of their employees, they need to enable their employees’ to look after their brain health.

 


Read more about the impact of stress on the brain in Harvard Health

Read Seven ways to reverse the damage in Forbes

Read Tips for workplace behaviours to reduce work stress