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“Productivity is the efficiency of production of goods or services expressed by some measure. Measurements of productivity are often expressed as output per unit of input, typically over a specific period of time.

I’ve got a confession…. I’m terrible at productivity and I have anxiety!

In my younger days, I used to be a bad ass Personal Assistant to some rather top notch senior management at the BBC. I was only 18 yrs old when I started and I had all my ducks in a row, my T’s crossed, my I’s dotted. Ahead of time, before my bosses could think they even needed something. I was so organised and so productive so they didn’t have to be.

One of my bosses, Caroline Gover, said on my leaving do “Michelle has been the best and youngest personal assistant I have ever had in my career.” An honour indeed! Not bad for someone who decided against university and followed her dreams of working for the media, who had never been a P.A before, and didn’t know how to email or touch type!

Mental health issues and anxiety were not on my radar.

So what happened?

Fast forward 20 plus years. Life has changed immeasurably!

  • By the time I was 18 years old, I had moved out of the family home, living and working a fantastic career with the BBC in London.
  • By 21 years old, I was living in Australia and travelling to New Zealand and Fiji.
  • Between 22-24 years old, I working in London for TV production companies, infront and behind the TV and radio cameras/microphones. I became a qualified Pilates teacher, became an entrepreneur and set up my first wellness company Karma Junkies. I became a manager for a prestigious studio and space with a team of instructors to look after.
  • At 25 years old, I got married.
  • Age 26 I retrain again in Pilates with Stott Pilates
  • At 31 years old I had a baby.
  • Aged 32 years old, I set up my business, The Pilates Pod, with a 4 month old and a 4 day a week job already as a Studio Manager
  • Between years 33-38 I won several awards for business and women leaders
  • Aged 36, I retrained in Pilates again, to Classical Pilates. Then got pregnant and put things on hold to finish off at…
  • At 37 years old, I completed a 14 month training programme with a 2 month old, a 6 year old, and still running studio.
  • Aged 38, I become a mentor for Pilates teacher training programme, expanded the company and we re launched The Pilates Pod as a Classical Pilates studio, the first in the area.
  • And now, at age 41 (well I’m 42 in a few days!) I am about to launch my own teacher training programme.

PHEW!!!!!!

I stopped being productive on one task at a time and started doing EVERYTHING at once. Then worrying I may drop a ball (baby brain will help that!) I started doing EVERYTHING, ALL THE TIME!

What I failed to tell you, is that at age 32, I was suffered horrendous sickness, anxiety and burnout and was in hospital. Somewhere around age 36, I had it again. And now it’s happening again and only a couple of people would ever know!

You see, I have what is called “High Functioning/ High Performance Anxiety.”

Image by: Brianna Gilmartin / Verywell

On the outside to the rest of the world, I would appear to be smashing it!
I can accomplish many tasks at once, take on endless workloads, punishing hours. I function well in social situations, organise great gatherings and events. I’m always “on it.” I am well turned out, look after my appearance. I take time for my friends, stay on top of the household chores, always ahead of the kids stuff and take time for busy weekends of fun with the children. I win awards, I have lasted 10 years of business in the worst 10 years there could have been and I can do it all on 4 hours sleep most days.

People are always calling me “superwoman” and “I don’t know how you do it, I admire you.”

But the truth is, I have High Functioning Anxiety (HPA)

Something that is not a recognised mental health diagnosis. On the surface, I appear to be successful, together, and calm—the typical Type A personality who excels at work and life. People may joke I have OCD, be a perfectionist. It’s not taken seriously. It’s extremely common amongst business owners, entrepreneurs, senior managers, CEO’s. A gift and a curse.

However, what most people might not know (and what someone like me would never freely share) is that beneath the surface, I’m fighting…

  • A constant churn of nervous energy and nervous habits like biting my cheeks and nails
  • Ultra organisation, re organising things and list making
  • I talk lots and really fast
  • Overwhelming fear of failure
  • Being constantly afraid of disappointing others or letting people down
  • Panic attacks
  • Overthinking and racing mind
  • Always thinking of the next thing to do and difficulty enjoying being in the moment
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Reversed cortisol levels- being low in the morning when they should be high to get you going. Being high in the evening when they should be low to get you to relax. I get my second wind which allows me to work late!
  • 10 years worth of gastrointestinal distress that make my body attack itself, swell up and make me vomit. All whilst wearing lycra and and being infront of people all day for my day job!
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Photographic mind. Ability to remember and recall everything that has happened, still to do, mentioned once. Never letting a ball drop!

It’s like having a fire inside your mind that you can’t put out.

Michelle

If the prolonged stress happens for too long, I can suffer from adrenal fatigue and burnout.

It’s like burnt ashes. It’s too late, gone too far. There’s nothing you can do, your body has given up. Your mind depressed. It’s calm, you can’t move, there’s nothing left to give. You’re spent. Just like the ashes.

Michelle

So how can you be productive and help your mind? Top Tips!

  • Know your triggers. For me it’s stress. It can become addictive. It’s useful in short burst but can easily go too far.
  • Have someone in your corner you can talk to and have them notice when it’s becoming a problem before it’s too late. For me, that’s my long suffering husband Ed, who is the yin to my yang, my love and rock over 18 years.
  • Move your body daily and preferably first thing before your day begins but don’t kick yourself if you can’t.
  • Be intuitive to movement. When stress is good and just started, you may benefit from HIIT, cardio, stronger Pilates resistance. But if you notice stress sticking around, opt for gentle stretches, Yin yoga, walking, cycling.
  • Get out in nature. You ALWAYS feel better and this induces the flow state for productivity.
  • Put your phones away. They are designed to make you engage, to interact. De-plug if you want to calm and de-plug if you need to be productive.
  • Work for short bursts then take a micro break. (something I am not great at but hubby Ed does naturally and works brilliantly.) 25 minutes of productive work focussed tasks then a 5 min break. Do it 4 times and take a longer 15-30 min break. Anything is a break. Make a cuppa, clean up, go for a walk, take a class, breath, call a friend. It’s known as the Pomodoro Technique.
  • Do meditation. Guided, walking, even breath work. It doesn’t matter. The Calm App is epic for this.
  • Swop some coffee for herbal teas and water.
  • Write a daily to do list with only 3-5 things on it. Work on only those. At the end of the day, tick them off and you will be proud you have achieved them even if they are “Feed the hamster.” A short ticked list does wonders for your mindset and productivity than a long “everything” list. (I have those too!)
  • Use whatever oragnisation tools help you stay on top of things. I like Trello for task management and i organise things into To Do / Doing /Done. I also like Microsoft Teams to stay connected with colleagues easily and prevent things spilling over into multiple messenger, facebook, what’s app, email, communications. And I LOVE my Remarkable. A notebook that feels like you are writing on paper but works digitally.
  • Read. Scrap the glossy mags and trash celeb stuff. Read magazines like Breathe or Simple Things and preferably with a long bath with epsom salts for added benefits!
  • Listening to Podcasts that make you laugh. I love Dear Joan and Jericha, and Ordinary Life (it’s also really funny making it! 😉 )
  • Talk to friends
  • Lean into the anxiety as it comes on. Battling it will only make it worse and longer. Go with it and tell yourself “This will pass.”
  • Check out people like Wim Hoff, Kate Allan, Tania Diggory/ This is Calmer, Dr Chatterjee, Arthur Brooks. I’m also on Mind Movement Matters if you want to say hi.
  • Cook nourishing foods. Making smoothies and snack bars. Get your food for the next day ready to take with you so you are always eating well.
  • Water! Lots of it. Always carry a water bottle around.
  • Sleep. This is the one biggest thing you cannot do without. I am a whole different person if I get even 7 hours but 9 would be my body’s heaven. I’m still working on it!
  • Get help if you need it. Doctors are great these days at listening to your mental health concerns and referring you. If you are in a real panic moment of anxiety and the fire is high- call the Samaritans. I felt an idiot for doing it the first time, but they have saved me on a couple of occassions. Tel 116 123.

Ok, so I know this blog turned out to be quite long in the end. That’s hilariously en pointe for the topic! I can’t do quick and short. But you know what, I’m super proud for writing this, for being honest and vulnerable. I’m ok with where I am. You will be too.

Hugs

Michelle x

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