Resilience in the MODERN WORKPLACE

Copy of Resilience in the

Zoe Foster, Coach, Counsellor & Psychotherapist

Why would a business be interested in resilience? It sounds like something for the individual to manage, right? Between 2015 and 2016, the UK workplace lost some 11.7 million working days to stress, anxiety and depression (HSE, 2016). In 2012, 84% of UK GPs reported that the greatest upward trend in appointments were issues attributed to stress and anxiety (Aviva, 2013). The same survey showed that 85% of GPs felt employers could do more to help staff returning to work. 75% of GPs felt that employers could do more to contribute to employees staying healthy.

Apart from the obvious cost implication of lost working days, to both company and individual, so much more is at stake. Imagine that an organisation is a building that needs to withstand the impacts of time, weather, subsidence, corrosion and many other factors. To have a strong building, the foundations need to be solid. A successful, competitive company works on a foundation made from its employees. If they are resilient, then the building is strong. If not, the walls may start to crumble. If the walls move, windows can crack, the roof is compromised. The domino effect of lowered resilience can be wide-reaching; business performance, client loyalty, partner relationships, flexibility in the marketplace are all examples of things that can be impacted one way or another. Building personal and organisational resilience is becoming recognised as a joint effort between employee and employer.

Every aspect of our work and home lives will influence our resilience levels. Workplace culture is rich and often very different from anything we experience outside of that environment. Each company we work for varies in culture and values. We connect with people that we perhaps would not come across in our private lives. Organisational hierarchies create in themselves an interesting dynamic between individuals and wider teams. How we interact with someone at work could be completely different to how we interact at home. Additionally, markets move, economies are challenged and change is assured. These challenges and changes come with their own special stresses.

Most stress is, in fact, good for you. It creates a temporary adrenaline rush in order to get that deal closed or a deadline met. Bad stress is likely to be more continuous in nature and can start to cause other problems. Perhaps a self-defeating response – like avoiding a piece of work you can’t get your head around until it has to be rushed. Sometimes bad stress can lead to other health issues and ultimately a trip to the GP.

The Health and Safety Executive (2016) has outlined the top six sources of negative stress in the workplace:

  1. Demands – Workload, work patterns, work environment
  2. Control – Having too little say about the way you do your work
  3. Support – Inadequate support: Organisation, line manager(s), colleagues
  4. Relationships – Conflict, malignant behaviours such as bullying or harassment
  5. Role – Lack of clarity about your role, conflicting roles, wrong role
  6. Change – Poorly managed, communication of

The final point above is interesting, change is a given for life, especially in the workplace. How change is managed in an organisation through employees is paramount during times of flux. These individuals can positively or negatively affect the ongoing performance of a business and the impact on clients. Clarity, or lack of, is a theme that runs through most of the points outlined by HSE and one I hear from clients often as a source of stress. We can argue that as grown-ups, in an ideal world, we can manage these issues in order to affect a resolution. However, it is not always possible to do this. As an employee, how do we manage our resilience to such challenges? How can an organisation help build such resilience in order that ‘breakages’ are not being handled after the fact?

Youseff & Luthans (2007) suggest there are three components that make up something called Positive Organisational Behaviour (POB). These are hope, optimism and resilience. Hope is defined as an agency of willpower, having a direct impact on personal performance. For this element to succeed an organisation needs to maintain focus on ‘regoaling’ to avoid false hope, building in contingencies and setting stretch targets where appropriate. To regoal is to have flexibility in adjusting employee commitments during times of change. Optimism considers positive events as personal, permanent and pervasive. That negative events are seen as external, temporary and situation specific. In conflict to this, pessimism creates an undermining factor exaggerating and personalising losses and failures. The third component, resilience, is the subject we are focussed on in this article. Youseff & Luthans define this component as a ‘developable capacity to rebound or bounce back from adversity, conflict and failure or even positive events, progress and increased responsibility’. They consider two aspects of resilience. The reactive response of a negative event impacting on the individual. Therein the time, energy and resource required in order to rebound as well as to absorb learning and meaning. The second utilises a proactive approach. An individual utilises and develops their self-awareness to assess ‘setbacks’ and learning opportunities. These are then used as a catalyst to develop flexibility, improve improvisation and in turn further build on their self-awareness.

Resilience is a style of development that lends itself to the unexpected situations we meet every day. Much as we build a strategy for ourselves, our team or organisation, there will always be something we cannot account for. A ‘resilience culture’ is something that can become part of the psyche of the individual and the team. By doing so it feeds into the strength of the organisation and can pervade its overall culture.

Some of the resilience work can be done through the use of 1-1’s, coaching or counselling. It can be done in a facilitated team environment or on a broader social platform. The work can include reflection, personal assessment and self-awareness. Role-play with trusted others is a good way to test new approaches. Most important to the process is understanding how to self-care. This is not a fluffy nice to have, it’s preventative and should include a practical set of actions. The self-care concept for a working environment builds on a basic premise; in order to support others, you first need to understand how to support yourself.

The National Mental Health Commission and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance released a report ‘Creating Mentally Healthy Workplaces’ (2014) proposed ways to improve mental health in the workplace. It recommended the following strategies:

  • Smarter work design (Creating working flexibility and involvement in decision making)
  • Build better work cultures (Mental health awareness, providing a safe climate, zero tolerance regarding bullying and discrimination and manage change inclusively)
  • Build resilience (Resilience and stress management training, coaching, mentoring, and physical activity programs)
  • Early intervention (Promote culture of seeking help early, well-being checks, mental health training, peer support programs and access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs))
  • Support recovery (Training for leaders in supporting return to work, facilitation of flexible arrangements, modification of role & schedules, open door on discrimination against those with historical illness)
  • Increase awareness (Access to mental health resources, awareness programs including integration into induction programs)

When I started to look at resilience in the workplace, I created a mind-map to structure the subjects that may impact the ‘resilience culture’. This one in particular seemed to go on forever and then the obvious occurred to me. The mind map shows how the situations we encounter are endless. Therefore, the opportunities for understanding ourselves and our workplace resilience are endless. This doesn’t mean it’s an insurmountable problem. Instead, it shows that our mindset needs to be one of believing the learning curve never ends. Whatever position you hold, whatever skill and experience you have, you can always work on your resilience and learn from those difficult periods. If you are a mind map geek like me, I have included the ‘Resilience in the Modern Workplace’ mind map at the end of this article.

Here’s a final stat to keep you thinking about the value of building ‘resilience culture’. According to a report released by the Department of Health, the Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU), the Centre for the Economics of Mental Health and Centre for Mental Health (2010) – Businesses save £10 for every £1 they spend on workplace mental health education and promotion programmes.

Globalisation and slowing economies have led to considerable changes in business models and quite rightly, a strong focus on cost. But we also know that there is a direct correlation between higher performing businesses and employees who show behavioural loyalty. So, then the question becomes how does a business strike the right balance between managing baseline cost and not incurring unnecessary impact to the organisation’s population and resulting performance?

If you want to find out more about resilience, the ‘resilience culture’ and resilience training, then please call me on 07764 667249.

Resilience in the Modern Workplace – Mind map (© Zoe Foster, The Foster Practice)

www.thefosterpractice.co.uk

Other articles in the Resilience Series:

Resilience from Everyday Adversity

Perception of Resilience

NOTE: I should stress that Resilience is a relatively new line of thought being researched by various bodies relative to other theories. What I discuss here is from my observations as well as drawing on emerging research and reports. Such progressing evidence is likely to continue to develop over time and I’m sure we will be revisiting this subject as new research is published.

References

The Aviva Health of the Nation Index – February 2013 [Online] Available from: https://www.slideshare.net/Avivaplc/avivas-health-of-the-nation-report

HSE – Health and Safety Executive: Work related stress, anxiety and depression statistics in Great Britain 2016 [Online] Available from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress/

HSE – Health and Safety Executive: What are the Management Standard for work related stress? [Online] Available from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/standards/index.htm

Youssef, C. M. Luthans, F. (2007) Positive Organisational Behavior in the Workplace: The Impact of Hope, Optimism, and Resilience. Management Department Faculty Publications. Paper 36. University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Harvey, S B. Joyce, S. Tan, L. Johnson, A. Nguyen, H. Modini, M, Groth, M (2014) Developing a mentally healthy workplace:  A review of the literature [Online] Available from: https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/developing-a-mentally-healthy-workplace_final-november-2014.pdf?sfvrsn=8

Mental Health Commission: Creating Mentally Healthy Workpaces – A Review of the Research [Online] Available from: http://www.mentalhealthcommission.gov.au/media/116332/Creating%20Mentally%20Health%20Workplaces%20-%20A%20review%20of%20the%20research.pdf

Department of Health, the Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU) at the LSE, the Centre for the Economics of Mental Health and Centre for Mental Health – Mental Health Promotion and Mental Illness Prevention: The Economic Case [Online] Available from: http://www.lse.ac.uk/website-archive/newsAndMedia/newsArchives/2011/04/Department_of_Health.aspx

Perception of Resilience

We now know from the first article that we gain or lose our resilience through a number of different sources. Whilst it may not always seem so, we can influence our resilience levels from each of these sources. One of the ways we can do this is through understanding our perception of how our resilience ebbs and flows.

Perceptions are created from personal events as well as hearing of others’ experiences. This is fine and it allows us to cope with daily challenges, however, it can be a double-edged sword. Interpreting something negatively can restrict our thinking, it can prevent us from trying new experiences. It can mean we avoid building new relationships with others or even ourselves.

During our early years, we learn to perceive others based on how they talk, how they dress and even their body language. The same applies to situations we experience. Adults help us interpret these situations, sometimes incorrectly and as a result, we may find we respond in ways that can hamper our goals.

Fear of failure is a very common example. We are taught to succeed. We learn that failure knocks our self-esteem. That we feel demotivated. We learn to worry about how others my see us if we have failed. We learn that those who succeed are rewarded and those who fail lose out. We may feel less competent. We may even feel that our negative emotions are a failure. We most likely will feel less resilient as a result. 

Perhaps in order to combat this, we might look back at the experiences that created this perception. Understand how we have arrived at these beliefs. What’s the evidence to suggest experiencing a failure is such a bad thing? Spend some time processing the experience. It’s okay to feel sad, frustrated, angry. Mood acts like a pair of glasses – it changes the colour of your perception. It’s important to feel the emotion, but it may be worth taking off the glasses and consider what you have learnt. How would you like these events to shape you?

Identifying what it is that builds on our resilience and what it is that compromises it can be hugely empowering. By actively interpreting the positive aspects of even the worst experiences we can learn to develop both our perceptions and in turn our resilience.

When we believe we can handle something, we feel more resilient. I should say that this is not to be confused with optimism. Perception of resilience is about interpreting your memories and experiences in a constructive way, for our benefit. For example, we can be optimistic about a job interview without being at all prepared. Alternatively, we can build learning from previous interviews; body language, tone, subject knowledge or even practising scenarios.

This approach can be applied in all kinds of ways. We might find that eating earlier makes us feel more relaxed at bedtime, meaning we get a better night’s sleep. It may be that being alone for some or amongst family for others helps get us through difficult periods. We might assess difficult conversations with loved ones and discover new ways to approach a subject. We might perceive that by taking regular breaks during our workday, we are able to achieve more.

Perception of resilience is about understanding how these challenges affect us. Understand how they impact our coping mechanisms. This in turn allows us to build strategies to increase our self-awareness and build a strategy that suits our needs. The recipe is different for each of us, but the skill of becoming self-aware and learning to adjust is a simple one to learn if we choose.

Next Two Articles:

• Bend or Break?

• Work-Life Resilience

NOTE: I should stress that Resilience is a relatively new line of thought being researched by various bodies relative to other theories. What I discuss here is from my observations as well as drawing on emerging research and reports. Such progressing evidence is likely to continue to develop over time and I’m sure we will be revisiting this subject as new research is published.
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Resilience from Everyday Adversity

Resilience from everyday adversity WordPress.png

I started looking at resilience a couple of years ago, after a particularly difficult time in my life. I noticed how it manifests differently in each of us. Where do we get our resilience from? Is it formed from nature, nurture or a combination of both? What impacts our resilience; positive or negative?

I should say that ‘Resilience’ is a broad term. Here I’m referring to the endless changes that we absorb in daily life. These influence adjustments in our mental and physical health. Our resilience levels are not a sign of success or failure, but rather part of our development. We all become more or less resilient at certain periods naturally.

Resilience varies from day-to-day for most of us. One day we feel we can take on the world and the next we’d rather stay under our duvet. We might handle one subject well and feel all at sea with another. We may feel vulnerable with some groups of people. It’s likely that this sense of resilience is not obvious to those around us most of the time as we all create coping mechanisms to handle these challenges.

I’m going to start with the sources of resilience. Why? We know that increased self-awareness supports improved mental health. If we understand our sources of resilience, we can develop them or at least understand how they are impacted.  One source will likely have an impact on the another. There is also a link between mind and body as well; if your mental resilience is compromised, so is your physical and vice versa.

Genetic

Research in the arena of psychobiology and neurobiology suggests some resilience is drawn from our DNA. It suggests that there is a level of interaction between our environmental experiences and our genetic, neural and immune systems. In other words, external factors can contribute to the changing of gene characteristics.

Environment

Whether it be home, work or social situations; environment impacts us all. These environments may stay the same or change significantly over time. Consider the impact of being bullied at school for example or being indulged during childhood years. We may feel comfortable in our job or on edge working for a new company.

Experiences and Learning

Whether we experience something small or have a significant life challenge we will learn and adapt from that experience.  These will range across the spectrum; from pleasurable through to traumatic. We assimilate them and even if we do not remember them, they inform our future responses.

Lifestyle

We know lifestyle effects both our mental and physical health. This can be diet, exercise, drinking habits or addictions. There is so much information available to support a healthy lifestyle. We are habitual creatures. If we are feeling bad, we treat ourselves, knowing fully that it will impact how we feel the next day.

Interpersonal Resources

We talked above of social environment. I feel this deserves a special mention. Friends and family can support our mental health and resilience during difficult times. Such support allows for reflection, to experience empathy, become more self-aware, listen to other experiences or simply be diverted from our current thoughts. Sometimes we need to just ‘be’ with others.

Subject Matter

This is a most interesting thing. For an individual who appears resilient, there is usually a topic that creates an adverse and often surprising reaction. We’ve all seen sharp reactions regarding something that may appear trivial. Is it that most of us have something unprocessed or that we have yet to discover a coping strategy that works for that particular subject?

We talk of daily adversity; these are the incremental stresses we constantly deal with. Most of these are good for us and support our ongoing development. They are as influential in building our resilience as major life events. What do we do when we feel vulnerable? How do we use these sources? This is something I will explore over the next few months with you.

Next Two Articles:

  • The Perception of Resilience
  • Flex or fracture?

NOTE: I should stress that Resilience is a relatively new line of thought being researched by various bodies relative to other theories. What I discuss here is from my observations as well as drawing on emerging research and reports. Such progressing evidence is likely to continue to develop over time and I’m sure we will be revisiting this subject as new research is published.

www.thefosterpractice.co.uk

Self-Defeating: The stress of sabotaging yourself

Zoe Foster – Counsellor, Psychotherapist & Hypnotherapist

Self-defeating behaviour is something we all experience at some time or another.

For example, a child may be determined to gain attention through naughty behaviour. Initially this may be positive attention, later negative attention – but attention all the same. Eventually, this becomes a habitual and often stressful process for child and parent.

Perhaps we avoid certain types of work that we dislike until it becomes an excessively stressful situation. We complete the work at the last minute, under extra pressure and often unprepared. We are proving to ourselves that it was going to be stressful anyway.

It is, in a way, a maladaptive coping strategy. However, the strategy is no longer effective when the outcome is negative for the individual. So let’s go back to that work situation for a moment. It started off with one thing we don’t like to do. We leave it and manage to do it last minute and successfully get it out of the way. We do it again and again and eventually we have 10/15 things we are leaving to the last minute and at some point this strategy simply doesn’t work. We don’t get to finish the work or we make mistakes. We end up having a difficult conversation about the work that we had wanted to avoid in the first place. We have sabotaged ourselves. It’s an extremely stressful way of coping.

Self-defeating behaviour is a cyclical process that rotates around an ‘expectation’ of a negative nature. It is usually either sustained or worsens over time. Self-defeating behaviours ensure we fail to reach our goal(s). It might be fed by an underlying belief – perhaps we are scared to reach that goal or we don’t want to go through elements of the process in order to achieve that goal.

Many of our self-defeating behaviours are managed perfectly well and never need the support of a counsellor. Many may be simple unconscious efforts to ensure we gain the desired outcome (for example, lateness to the interview for a job that doesn’t appeal).

If we finally decide a change is required we often find the habitual nature of the behaviour makes change difficult.  Many of us believe that an outside factor is causing an issue, when in fact it is our own mind-set or behaviour that creates the self-defeating behaviour.

Self-defeating behaviours are stressful – we perform them in order to cope or avoid. However, often the originating situation we are avoiding doesn’t disappear. This means we have to perform these behaviours over and over again. Whether its making excuses not to do something or the way we react to someone else. By its very nature its repetitive, meaning the source issue will remain until its addressed.

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Positive vs Negative Stress

18 Most Common Self-Defeating Behaviours

Modern Stresses Series: Change the Dynamic

Zoe Foster, Counsellor & Psychotherapist

We often hear of ‘one-off, quick-fixes’ for stress. The fact is there are often a number of different things to consider when changing your stress dynamics. First of all, run a ‘scan’ of your stress management. This can allow you not only to see what is most affecting you, but also, how one aspect may affect another.

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change-the-dynamic

Modern Stresses Series: The Body Response

19th July 2016 by Zoe Foster

In the previous article we covered some Relaxation Techniques that might help you combat the feeling of stress or anxiety. We also mentioned that most stress is good – a natural response that increases our performance. Now we will look at how we respond physically to stress.

So, how does stress affect our bodies? How can it be good?

If we are performing well under stress, then you might recognise some of the physical feelings. Your muscles tense, your heart will beat faster, you might even start sweating or have a dry mouth. Adrenalin is rushing through your blood stream. For those of you who love the thrill of a fast sport or difficult challenge, this will feel familiar. You will also feel ‘sharper’, more focussed mentally. You will find you have a burst of energy that may not have been there before. Your response to pain will be numbed. These are due to other chemicals such as Norepinephrine and Cortisol.

Why do we react this way?

We have our survival instincts intact despite our modern lives. These are called Fight – Flight – Freeze. We either fight our enemy, fly (run) from our enemy or play dead (freeze). Instead of getting a burst of chemicals to ready to fight a bear, we get the same response when we have a near miss in our car or walk into an interview. Fight or flight requires us to lighten our load as much as possible, so you might need the bathroom or may feel sick.

Great, so when is it bad?

Sometimes we simply are not aware of our stress levels. We are too busy ‘doing’. We are designed to have occasional states of stress. If in a constant state of stress, we may get lots of colds, a repetitive bad back, headaches or repeatedly upset tummies. We may get aches and pains where our muscles are constantly taut.

If our stress is extreme, we may find ourselves constantly fatigued from constantly being on high alert. We may not be able to sleep, or when we do we grind our teeth. We may feel shaky. The feeling of butterflies or a dry mouth may now be there constantly. Ultimately, we feel irritable and out of sorts but are simply too busy to really understand what’s going on. We may no longer be performing at our best. We may struggle to concentrate on important tasks or feel our communication with others has become fractious.

What should I do?

Being self-aware is a great first step. It’s a little like realising you are feeling unwell as a precursor to having a cold. You begin to recognise the signs. You might ignore this feeling. Maybe friends, colleagues or family will notice something different in you and mention it. Trust this feedback and your own intuition.

If you are aware of consistent stress, you might not always be ready to change things. This is fine. It’s important to trust yourself and know when it feels ready to make a change.

The next article – Modern Stresses: Changing the Dynamic

Links:

The Foster Practice Website

Positive vs Negative Stress

NHS Choices – Struggling with Stress?

NHS OneYou – Feeling Stressed?

Modern Stresses: Relaxation Techniques

Zoe Foster, Counsellor & Psychotherapist

The subject of stress comes up so much in conversation these days. Whether it’s part of a client discussion or catching up with friends. Whilst the word ‘stress’ remains the same, it affects each of us in different ways. Most stress is positive, driving us to achieve goals and hone our focus. We may show great resilience in one situation and feel completely overwhelmed in another. The methods we use to manage our stress levels also differs person to person. Some of these methods are successful, some can perpetuate the problem. Methods that perpetuate stress are simply ‘self-defeating’.

A visit to the GP will reveal that to remove our anxiety one must first remove the source of the stress. In practical terms, running a project at work or dealing with a family crisis means you cannot walk away. Using counselling is a positive step. This allows us to understand the situation, our reaction and potential coping strategies. Building a sustainable management approach to stress requires dedicated space and time. For those who cannot afford counselling – this is not realistic.

So what can you do for yourself to help manage ongoing stress and the symptoms? You may read of various techniques – some suggest a ‘catchall’ to fix any individual’s stress. Should such a technique not work – the person concerned may feel further failure.

Let’s take a step back for a moment. As I mentioned above, clients all demonstrate that their experience of stress is unique to their view of the world. For you, there may be multiple aspects to the stress. Take the time to explore your experience of it. You may feel out of control, have no time to exercise or be struggling with mindset. The ideal is that you see a counsellor.

If you cannot go and see a counsellor, you may not be able to understand the core issues behind your stress. However, you can learn relaxation techniques to help control your stress and give your mind time to reorder itself. Be open to the fact that one technique may work well for one person and not for another. You may find that to relax you need motion or a lack of motion; this is why a strong walk works for one person and mindfulness for another. The key is not to give up. There are many flavours on the techniques menu.

What works well for you in day to day life? A client of mine felt more stressed from the breathing techniques we tried. So we explored her preferences further. She experienced life through a kinaesthetic (feeling) and auditory (sound) modality. We found a special place where she felt calm – sourced from a past holiday. She could hear calming sounds and feel a breeze on her face. She still used the breathing; but instead to create rhythm to help order her thoughts. She found it easy to move into this place, even after a particularly stressful episode.

A friend of mine recently decided to use music to help her through her labour pains. She knew the breathing techniques were only helping to a point. Now lets face it, giving birth is never relaxing!! However, the music allowed her to find a rhythm and retain control of her thoughts. She practiced this technique for months knowing that it would be tough.

What about visualisation? This may be visualising waves moving in and out on a shoreline. It may even be visualising the crowd rising and falling at a festival! Your relaxation work may be of a more practical nature. There is a process called ‘Creative Writing’. For some, writing about their difficult periods can help. This can form a journal style or perhaps letter writing style. There is a current craze for adult colouring-in books – a method that allows a person to tap into their creative self and allow thoughts to calm.

Mindfulness is often shared as a method to relieve stress. Actually, one of the simplest introduction to the meditative approach is a short illustrated guide written by Matthew Johnstone – Quiet the Mind.

Jon Kabat-Zinn (founder of Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction) impresses upon us the need to practice. Practice is the key to making relaxation really work for you – it can be really hard to do sometimes, but work at it, its really worth it. We all work hard to practice many activities in our lives. Practicing a golf swing, a recipe, a speech, training for a charity event. Why not practice our self-care?

Taking time to consider our thought processes and manage our mental health makes us more effective. The volume of information and emotion our brains processes is huge. It is an immense ongoing task. This valuable time strengthens our coping mechanisms and overall resilience. Relaxing is not a waste of time, its the most important time for a busy person.

It doesn’t matter what technique you use. You might need to use a combination. If it creates a calmness that allows you to relax and order your thoughts – you are half way there. Most of us know the things that create calm for us, but often time for these is given up for something ‘more important’. Building time into your week can be tough, but it’s possible. Keep adjusting the techniques until you find something that suits you.

Consider it this way, you fill up your car to keep it moving and you eat in order that you can survive. Give your mind its check over and oil those cogs regularly. Go look for ideas – go wild on Google. There are many great books – check out your local library. There are even online stress management courses. Good luck!

If you wish to have a free telephone consultation, call me on 07764 667249.

Links:

The Foster Practice Website

The Foster Practice Facebook Page (Like to stay up to date with these articles)

Positive vs Negative Stress

18 Most Common Self-Defeating Behaviours

Example of Breathing Techniques

Example of an Auditory Technique

Example of a Visual Technique

Creative Writing Article

The science behind adult colouring books

Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world (Amazon)

Matthew Johnstone – Quiet the Mind