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Why Unhappiness Is Helpful and What To Do With It

Practical Tips by Coach Emilie West

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Positive psychology and having a positive mindset have become really mainstream in the past few years. I talk to Emilie West, an Expert in Business Coaching, Career Growth and Speaking Engagements about why unhappiness is helpful, the difference between unhappiness and depression, and the healthy way to handle our unhappiness.

Emilie, can you tell us a bit about your background to introduce yourself?

I started my career in Investment Banking in 2002, having studied Economics, and worked across Fixed-Income Research, Marketing and Leadership. Just two years into my first job as a research analyst I suffered from burn out and was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It was through the help of a Nutritional Therapist that I recovered and was inspired to study Nutritional Therapy with the Institute of Optimum Nutrition. I was able to bring this experience into my work at RBS Corporate & Institutional Banking division where I setup their wellbeing programme before leaving in 2006 to setup my own consultancy.

When did you realise coaching and business consultancy were your passions?

I was very fortunate at RBS to be asked to setup the Leadership coaching team for their Corporate & Institutional Banking division. I had already spent many hours mentoring and developing people within the business so jumped at the chance. It was through my coaching training with WhiteWater that I fully understood the power of coaching and how valuable it is. When I left RBS in 2016, having been there for ten years, I started coaching private clients straight away and found it immensely rewarding. I also wanted to take the opportunity to work with smaller businesses and immediately was approached to work with LGB & Co. a Capital Markets and Investments firm in Mayfair. Whilst I missed my phenomenal colleagues at RBS, I loved working with a smaller more dynamic business and have continued to do so ever since.

What is your unique approach?

Having had such varied business experience really helps me in my coaching practice. I’m able to help my clients increase their self-awareness and emotional intelligence and at the same time be very strategic in how the navigate the political and practical aspects of their work. Over the past year I’ve also drawn significantly on my experience as a Nutritional Therapist, helping individuals and companies boost their resilience in the face of some incredibly challenging circumstances.

Who would you say is your ideal client?

My coaching clients vary from recent graduates up to highly experienced CEOs. They all have one thing in common – they want help navigating their careers and fulfilling their potential and are open to personal growth. I help my clients to take some time out, reflect on their experiences, both internally and externally, and then grow through learning and changing their behaviours and mindset. As a Coach my role is to help raise their self-awareness so they can understand and build on their strengths, learn how to mitigate their weaknesses, and follow a career path in which they will thrive. I also help prepare clients for job interviews, so this past year I’ve been putting my clients through lots of zoom interview practice.

In terms of my corporate clients, my ideal clients are businesses that want to make a positive change, whether that’s reinvigorating their brand, raising their profile with their customers or improving the wellbeing of their staff.

In your coaching practice have you noticed the number of unhappy people increased last year?
Yes absolutely. I’ve noticed so many of the more difficult emotions come up for my clients, sadness, anxiety, depression, loneliness. Given the circumstances we’ve been through this makes total sense and I think we all need to be kinder to ourselves by accepting these emotions rather than resisting or suppressing them.

What’s the difference between situational unhappiness and depression?

Feeling stressed because of a work situation or sad at the end of a relationship is a situational emotion. Feeling lonely because you can’t see your family in lockdown is also situational, although because of how long this has gone on for it can also lead to depression. If you’re feeling sad or stressed about many aspects of your life or can’t pin-point the underlying cause, then you may be suffering from depression which can impact every aspect of our lives. If you’re not sure, reach out to your doctor or a counsellor or therapist to find out.

What would you recommend someone should do if they are feeling unhappy?

Firstly, we need to acknowledge that unhappiness is helpful, rather than thinking of negative emotions as undesirable. Our emotions are like the dashboard in a car, when a light flashes red it’s a signal we need to do something. Our first reaction to a negative emotion may be to try and make ourselves feel differently, perhaps distract ourselves with some food, tv, alcohol or social media. That’s the equivalent of continuing to drive your car on a flat tyre. We need to make sure we don’t ignore these emotions.

Positive psychology and having a positive mindset have become really mainstream in the past few years. This is something I absolutely welcome and there are so many benefits to developing a positive mindset. However, the danger is that we feel that it’s undesirable to experience negative emotions and we must ‘snap out of it’ as soon as possible, or even worse not express these to others. If we do this we may be ignoring important signals that we need some support, to get some rest, or just to have a good cry. It is also important to accept that feeling negative emotions is part of the human experience so we need to learn to be ok when we feel these emotions.

Why do you think people struggle to talk about their unhappiness?

There has always been stigma around discussing mental health issues and this extends to talking about negative emotions. We worry about making others uncomfortable or being seen in a negative light. On top of this the proliferation of social media and people showing a distorted, overly positive image of their lives makes it even harder for people to admit when they aren’t feeling good. It isn’t necessarily a good idea to broadcast all your emotions to strangers via social media, but it is important to have close friends, family and also colleagues who you trust enough to share your authentic emotions with them.

What is a healthy way to handle our unhappiness?

Step 1: Acknowledge that you aren’t feeling great, try and use some words to describe it.
Write down how you feel in a journal, in your phone or message a friend. ‘I feel anxious’, ‘I feel flat’, ‘I feel alone’ are all sufficient, you just need a few words to express the feeling.
Once you’ve expressed the emotion you may already start to feel better as you aren’t resisting it. It’s really important to tell yourself ‘It’s ok that I feel this way’ rather than berate yourself for feeling down or think that you must try and cheer yourself up straight-away . If you experience a strong emotion and you’re at work and feel you need to put on a brave face that’s ok too, just as soon as you can take some time out to acknowledge what you feel.

Step 2: Look for the message behind the emotion and take action accordingly.
If you’re feeling unhappy what is behind this? Is it something short term? Maybe you have a deadline to meet, too much on your to do list, someone said something that upset you.
Is it long term? Have you felt like this for a while, is there something in your life that is causing you stress or sadness and has been going on for more than a few weeks?
Again, it’s healthy to express this so write down the whatever comes to mind.

It could also be lifestyle related. Are you a bit sleep deprived? Did you drink some alcohol the day before? Have you had too much caffeine? Food, drink and sleep can really affect our moods so it’s worth checking in if you just need to catch up on sleep and have a couple of extra healthy days. If this is the case give yourself permission to feel down in the meantime.

If you aren’t sure what is causing your unhappiness write down a ‘Stress List’ of everything causing you any stress or upset at the moment. I try and do this every week as a great way of getting in tune with what’s bothering me. I then write down 3-5 small actions I can take to remove or reduce some of these stressors. Sometimes it’s as easy as just taking 15 minutes to do a task that’s been hanging around on my to do list for a couple of weeks, other times it’s talking the issue through with a friend to get it off my chest and get their perspective. I also make a note of what I can do to take better care of myself that week, if I’m feeling anxious or down it often coincides with not having had enough sleep or positive time with my friends.

Step 3: Move on with your day without resisting the emotion.
When we feel low we often also feel demotivated. I, like many others, can get caught in the trap of waiting to feel happy again before I get on with my to do list. A much kinder and quicker way to become productive and lift your mood is to say to yourself ‘I’m feeling sad and I may feel sad all day, I will still get on with my key tasks and I will just feel sad whilst I do this’. Accepting our emotions is a key part of Eckhart Tolle’s teachings in the Power of Now. When I read his book in my early twenties I had a break through, one of the best ways to feel better when I felt sad was to really get into the feeling and experience it as fully as possible. By not resisting the emotion it would pass much quicker. If you can combine this acceptance with taking some action, just do ten minutes of work or tidy your kitchen, it’s amazing how much quicker the emotion will pass and you won’t lose a day of productive time in the process.

Step 4: Check is this an amber warning light or a red one?
Our car dashboard tells us when we’re almost out of fuel way before we actually run out. In the same way we need to pay attention to our early emotional warning signs and take action whilst we still have time rather than letting ourselves run out of fuel.
Are you feeling unhappy intermittently or is this how you feel most of the time? If the latter, is there an issue from your past you need help working through or a fundamental change you need to make in your life that you’re avoiding? I have helped many clients find new jobs in order to leave toxic work situations and be surprised at how much more energy they have and how positive they feel about all aspects of their lives after making this change.

If you’re feeling down or anxious most days and aren’t sure what to do next a good coach, therapist or counsellor can help you talk through these feelings and develop a plan. My wellbeing colleagues at Well Works also have significant experience in helping clients improve their mood and avoid burn out through positive dietary and lifestyle changes.

Due to the current pandemic, can people join your sessions online?

Yes absolutely. Throughout the pandemic I have been running virtual 1:1 coaching sessions over zoom as well as weekly wellbeing webinars for my corporate clients.

How can our readers contact you and follow you on social media?

Your readers can find me on LinkedIn or go to my website www.alchemycoaching.co.uk. To book 1:1 coaching, group webinars or talks please contact [email protected]

Finally, can you please share your motto and your favourite quote to inspire others?

Look outside and you will see yourself. Look inside and you will find yourself.

Drew Gerald

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