Five things that showed me how good the world really is

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Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

I am not naturally a feel-good person. In fact, I am an old cynic. I am not a fan of memes or affirmations even though I know they promote positive thinking. I need to see ‘the difference’ being made.

In March 2020 I remember thinking that lockdown would change people. I am a psychologist and I watched and waited as people tried to make sense of isolation and restrictions. I watched people’s reactions to wearing face coverings and working from home. …

Playing the time economy can turn your life around

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

The one question that stumps me is ‘What do you do?’ At parties or networking events or seminars or just down the pub, it’s one of the first questions people who don’t know me ask. I won’t bore you with a list of all the things I do, that’s reserved for those who proclaimed that ‘I would never amount to anything’. Suffice to say I am an executive psychologist author!

So, when I have finished reeling off my daily activities and the concepts around them, the next comment is usually, ‘How do you find time to do all that?’

Headless Chicken Mode

I was thinking the other day about the time before I began to write and what I did with it. I remember finding it difficult to fit in my day job, and was constantly rushing around like a headless chicken from on half completed task to the next. So what’s changed? …

A short story about the desperation of poverty and the richness of love

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Photo by KE ATLAS on Unsplash

I choose the practical pumps that sit beside the patent work shoes in the hallway. This is not a journey for heels. No. This path is worn into my muscle memory. Every sinew resists, but I pull on the plimsolls and tie the frayed laces.

The bags are in the kitchen cupboard waiting for me. I hurry through and choose four. Three Sainsbury’s and a Waitrose. The small part of me that still fights this asks who am I kidding? It’s a rhetorical question, I tell myself as I fold the bags into tiny triangles.

At least I don’t have to turn anything off. I involuntarily remind myself of those halcyon days when I would dive out of bed and shower. Pull on a cashmere jumper dress, soft tights and the patent shoes. Rush around. Keys. Phone. Money. A beautiful handbag that Jon bought me for my birthday years ago. Wishing for a single remote switch for the TV and lights and sockets so I didn’t have to check everything. …

I thought I knew who I was — but I really didn’t…

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I take a lot of pride in knowing myself — as a health psychologist and a writer it’s in the job description. Reflexive thinking is the close examination of your biases and preferences then putting them aside to present an unbiased argument. But months out of my busy life have shown me that I still had a lot to learn about myself:

  1. I didn’t even know what colour my hair was. I’m 58 years old and I have two jobs. As soon as a sliver of white appeared I ran for the box colour and slammed it on — after all, the thirty minute development time was great for checking emails in a brief moment of quiet. On the surface this seems fairly insignificant in the whole scheme of things, but what it really means for me is denial. I realise now that I as embedded in a ‘choice’ narrative that was really a ‘conform’ narrative. This is a common misconception- choosing to conform is not freedom. I was conforming the values of ‘youth’ because I was too concerned what others think about ‘old’. Age is suddenly relevant. Age is suddenly a virus demographic. …

It’s your primal brain reacting in the face of danger…

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Photo by Jasmin Sessler on Unsplash

As a health psychologist I talk a lot about anxiety and how much low level fight or flight stems from our primal brains. COVID-19 is one of the only times in your life that this kind of anxiety is appropriate.

The fight or flight reaction to a threat is produced by the sympathetic division of the automatic nervous system. It produces symptoms that are really our brains and bodies preparing for a major trauma — one that we might not survive. This is controlled by the primal brain in the hindbrain and the medulla.

These symptoms include everything you may have felt as you walk into a job interview or when you encounter a stranger on a dark night — sweating, fast heartbeat, feeling nauseous, becoming frozen to the spot and much more. This is our body preparing us for the fight, or to run as fast as we can. It’s an automated response that we can do little about in the moment. …

This virus can affect our lungs but we can also use our lungs to our advantage.

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Photo by Valeriia Bugaiova on Unsplash

Lots of people on my social media timeline are anxious at this difficult and uncertain time of Corvid-19. As a psychologist I have tools to help with anxiety and my first line of defence is 7–11 breathing. It sounds new-agey and a little bit twee — and because the Coronavirus can cause shortness of breath and is respiratory a little scary to talk about breathing.

But it works as it activates both psychological and physical responses that help to calm panic and anxiety. …

How does your % reaction stack up?

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Photo by Victoria Strukovskaya on Unsplash

World news always affects me. I have, I hope, over the years, developed a global conscience that allows me to empathise with people I have never met. Or: a humanity. Along with this, I have tried to develop the breadth of understanding that values and respect the ways people live, even if it doesn’t align with my own particular values. But not everyone has and it shows in their reactions which, in turn, shape their emotions? How does your % reaction measure up. I’ll ask you again at the end of this article.

Finding Empathy

I first noticed this on September 11th 2001 as I sat in the caretaker’s flat at my former office. We both stared silently at what seemed, at first, to be a terrible accident. When the truth of the matter emerged, I rushed home and switched off the TV, trying to protect my son from the world as it had become, and called my daughter who was living in Abu Dhabi at that time. My eldest daughter called me and we assured each other that our family was fine. I then turned my thoughts to the people involved in the 9/11 attack. …

The fine line between narrative and therapy

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Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

I’m a psychologist as well as a fiction writer. At a conference the other day someone asked me if I thought that a novel was an example of a psychological narrative and if it was therapeutic to the writer and/or the reader.

The word narrative, used in the context of describing language, is broad-based and therefore complex. The word is used in both literary terminology and in psychological language and although the dictionary definition is ‘a story or account of events, experiences, or the like, whether true or fictitious’ the word has different depths of meaning in these different contexts.

The key word here is ‘story’. The obvious use of narrative is the telling of a story, and in literature this has become popular terminology to describe the strands and structure of a story which is told via an author. This story can be an autobiography, a biography or fiction; all of these have a narrative. …

What I do when I stop writing

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Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

I press send on the email with my latest novel attached that will wing its way to my agent. While I wait for her to read it a get back to me, I look up from my laptop.

The feeling of relief that is almost instant after writing ‘the end’ is, almost instantly, replaced by an odd range of emotions. I am sure it is different for each author, but mine go something like this.

  1. This is brilliant. I have finished a novel. I have written ninety thousand word roughly in the right order. I have edited it many times, read it out loud three times, danced around in a circle and stood on my hands, and now my agent has it. …

Intention, equanimity and altruism: a personal example and a thought experiment

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Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

How easy is it to do something selfless?

The commonplace understanding of integrity is ‘doing the right thing, even when no one is watching’. This thought experiment has led me to question some of the basic psychological aspects of the self: intention, equanimity and altruism.

What is ‘the right thing’?

In the context of integrity and everything good, ‘the right thing’ is something that helps other people without benefiting yourself. But is this possible?

I have studied the seven pillars of public life in an attempt to be unbiased and objective. …


Jacqueline Ward

Novelist, journalist and psychologist from Manchester, UK Tweet me @jacquiannc | email

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