Everyone has been on a “coronacoaster”, which hasn’t been easy. There is a way, however, to keep optimism alive even in these challenging times. I talk to Dr Sarah Jane Khalid, a Chartered Counselling Psychologist, Executive & Life Coach, about maintaining a positive attitude, working from home and “the new normal” for 2021.

Dr Sarah Jane, can you tell us a bit about your background to introduce yourself?

I’ve had an interesting journey of creativity and psychology. I’ve done my undergrad in psychology over 20 years ago, then went on to do a Master’s in Health. I knew then that I wanted to work with people and make them feel better about themselves and thus my passion into wellnessfulness started. Through the years I worked in the NHS, voluntary and private sector as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, Consultant Psychologist and Life and Executive Coach.  

When did you realise that executive & life coaching was your passion

I think after a decade of working with people I noticed that while I helped them with their mental health they still had areas in their life where they did not feel fulfilled and dissatisfied with. This is where my interest in coaching became my focus using positive psychology methods, coaching tools and meditation. I love the vibe of coaching people, establishing that “click/chemistry” we have fun in work in a more dynamic way where they manage to transition in their job promotion or find their ideal partners, move careers/job performance, re-discover their joys in life that was stopping them to live life to the full. Also facilitating people with performance and resilience in work and freeing them of their inner critic and imposter syndrome so they genuinely felt good and confident.

It has been a tough year for everyone. How have you reflected personally on 2020?

I think everyone has been on a “coronacoaster” and whilst it hasn’t been easy, being able to look for meaningful growth through this pandemic/crisis can be helpful. Allowing myself to feel the loss and collective loss of freedom and other feelings by talking to friends or journaling. I also recognise that there are benefits from such difficult times so I have asked myself, what has given me a sense of pride during 2020? I know for me there was something about cooking more wholesome foods/meals from scratch.  I also think I’ve become more honest with myself with what has worked for me working from home with a young child – I’ve learnt to become more present at the moment, i.e. mindful because we don’t have any certainty of tomorrow or have the luxury to make plans. I think also being able to identify my own needs, we often prioritise others or work by what I’ve found helpful is by asking myself every morning “what do I need today?”, “what do I need to be at my best?” and then thinking about the new year, which of my values will guide my decision making in 2021 (having had a baby in 2019, I know that family is a higher value for me for example) but also asking a question of where am I struggling and what do I need to attend to this? 

Do you think it is possible to stay positive while reflecting on this year? Do you have a secret regarding optimism?

Absolutely, I think practising gratitude with the ordinary and small things can be so helpful to shift mindset. So do gratitude journaling every morning and reflect when you can at night by asking yourself what do you feel grateful for generally, and within yourself – such as your kindness (checking in with neighbours or giving to food banks), you may feel gratitude that you’ve managed to get more rest in this time as there has been less commuting or that you’ve done more to the room/home you live in – the environment can play such a big factor to how you feel.

People’s mental health has been affected in this unpredictable time; what do you recommend to gain mental balance and a stable mood?

First of all movement and getting out the house of a walk is really important. Meditating first thing or during the day really useful for stress relief, anxiety/low mood, insomnia/sleep problems, relationship satisfaction and reduces any inflammation down in the body. Breathwork – deep breathing or the yoga pranayama breathing Journaling – writing down your thoughts and feelings give the distance to how you feel and see the thoughts for what they really are  – just thoughts, nothing set in stone. Doing things that are relaxing like listening to a book, having a bath, gardening, taking inspo from Queen of Gambit and playing chess!!

Many of us have started to work from home this year. Do you think it is better than working at the office? Are there any advantages in 
terms of mental health and wellbeing?

I think for some people they would prefer it whereas for some getting out of the house is really important for people’s wellbeing. I think we will move to a hybrid model of work and office. So I think it can allow people to be more active and exercise, I think people can do house admin more easily and I think we can feel less distracted with colleagues asking questions/coming up to our desks for examples. We can also block book time away from the desk for lunch or breaks to potter around the home/garden or simply watch TV for 20 mins.

As chatting with people online without face-to-face meetings has become the norm, people can often feel isolated. Can you offer some tips?

So try to go out for socially distanced walks with friends/family or neighbours. Try and schedule in calls over Zoom/WhatsApp video/face time with friends and family. Join group forums on hobbies such as learning french, meditation groups/support groups online.

Anxiety levels have surged this year; do you have some recommendations on how to deal with that?

Breathwork – taking deep breaths, doing progressive muscle relaxation – where you tense each body part for 3 secs and relax for 6 seconds, starting with your feet, to your legs, stomach, hands, arms, shoulders, and making a screwface to tense and then relaxing. When we are relaxed our body feels heavier. Movement – that’s grounding like yoga and pilates, or simply going for regular walks/jogs. Being in nature can settle our central nervous system, pay attention to your senses such as sight – what colours can you see around you. Ask yourself what is my anxiety saying – is it a thought that is a real worry like finances or a hypothetical worry such as “I will get runover by a green car”. If you have a real worry then problem solve and schedule what you need to do so then it comes up again you know you can park it as you have a plan. Be mindful and gently observe the anxiety, without attaching to it or giving it meaning, this is just the chimp brain trying to protect me for my survival. 

What are your expectations for next year?

That 2021 will be a challenging but hopeful year where we will return to a “new normal”. I think there will still be a rollercoaster but not as high and low as this 2020 has been.

Do you have online coaching and therapy sessions now?

Yes I do during the week-days and Sundays.

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

Please email my team at [email protected] or follow @dr.sarah.jane.

Finally, can you please share your motto and your favourite quote to cheer people up?

I have a few!! 

“After every storm, comes a rainbow and after every hardship comes ease.”

“Accept yourself, love yourself, and keep moving forward. If you want to fly, you have to give up what weighs you down.”