As 2020 continues to throw out curveballs, mental health, anxiety and depression have become the by-products of a year that we’re unlikely to forget any time soon. However, the best things are often created during the most challenging times in our lives. That’s precisely how The Panic Button Book, a new book by life coach and corporate wellness speaker Tammi Kirkness, came to be. Originally written to help Tammi coach herself through times of panic, this book just might be that essential tool to help you during times of stress.
Hands up all the overthinkers reading this! My hand is definitely right up there with you. I’ve always been an over-thinker, an over-achiever and along with that a bit of a “stress-head”. I’m not unique. While I’ve been lucky enough to control my stress, it can sometimes manifest in physical symptoms, like headaches and procrastination-inaction, when I’ve taken on too much. Lots of people aren’t as lucky. Stress and anxiety can manifest in panic attacks or worse. It can be present every hour of every day, or just appear out of the blue when you least expect it. That’s what happened to Tammi with the after-effect the first draft of her beautiful new book.
Following a “complete meltdown” in front of her then soon to be husband, Tammi remembers the vision of him “standing there looking lost and helpless. I was wishing that the lucid clever version of me could tell myself ‘you’re all good. You’ll be fine. Breathe in, breathe out. You’re good’. But my brain is muddled if I’m too far down the anxiety or the worry path, so obviously that didn’t happen. A few weeks later, I literally picked up a notebook, sat on the couch and wrote a bunch of decision trees. I then said to my husband, look, if this ever happens again, just hand me this book, and I’ll follow my own instructions. It was a massive relief to him.
“After that, if I felt a little bit out of sorts, I’d pick up my scruffy notebook and go through my decision trees. It would nip it in the bud and neutralise how I was feeling. And then, yeah, it wouldn’t escalate.”
With over 50 decision trees included in the book, you don’t have to be in the middle of a full-blown panic attack to get something from it. Covering scenarios at work, home, and in social settings, the decision trees provide practical commentary and step-by-step actions that can help navigate those moments when anxiety begins to escalate. Tammi’s even included a section for parents.
Being a perfectionist and working way too hard!
Tammi has an impressive resume. With a formal education, she’s also studied with monks in India, is both a yoga and a meditation teacher, and a life coach. Following a career in public relations and human resources, Tammi founded Vision Scope Coaching. It’s a company that specialises in working with teams and individuals, especially those with high-functioning anxiety, reach their full potential.
I ask Tammi how her journey so far has prepared her as a life coach. “A big part of my journey was working way too hard, being a perfectionist and putting way too much pressure on myself. I realized that that didn’t really work and that certainly wasn’t sustainable.
“When I looked around, particularly at women, I saw them going down the same path, and I thought, ‘this is avoidable’. There are things that we can do to help calm down our nervous system and still create success with sustainability. So, I tried to smush together all of these disparate bits and pieces I’d learned and started my life coaching company six years ago. I adore it.
“Having both the left and the right brain style thinking has been really helpful. I can talk about concepts like meditation, breath-techniques and stress management to people who are in the high-flying corporate world; I can change the language to what they need. Then I can talk to people who spend a great deal of time in ashrams or who are yoga teachers or energy healers or Reiki masters. I use the concepts of leadership models and psychology and convert it into the language that helps them”.
Finding purpose and measuring success.
When it comes to finding your purpose in life, Tammi believes that it’s all about getting clear on what’s important to you and then what success looks like in those areas of your life. “Business has been a core value of mine for probably a decade”, she says. “Success in that world was getting a promotion or another pay rise. Now success is making an impact on another person, a team or a business for the better that helps lift them up.
“I think taking time to pause and do some soul searching is generally the first step. Some people can do this beautifully on their own. They might be a great journaler, a great list maker or meditator, or they might have some skills already to help them along that path. While you don’t need a coach, it certainly speeds it up the process and helps people see their blind spots”.
Tammi is the first to admit that it takes a lot of trial and error to find your purpose. She’s also quick to point out that if you do find something you love doing, you don’t necessarily have to turn it into a business.
Tammi’s techniques to help in times of stress
The Breath – one of the components of anxiety is not getting enough oxygen to the brain, so Tammi is an advocate of learning to breathe correctly. “It’s one of the biggest things you can do for yourself”, she says. “We need to stop the shallow breathing from our chest and breathe into our belly. If you’re at home, practice this by placing a book on top of the belly. Breathe the book up and down, up and down. If you’re at work, sit with your hands on your tummy and do the same. Breathe in and out, it all really helps”.
Meditation – A qualified meditation teacher, Tammi suggests that meditation can be vital in setting you up for the day and calming anxiety. “I meditate nearly every morning”. There are plenty of apps on online programs that can help. If all else fails, grab a note-book and write about how you’re feeling – that’s a form of meditation too.
Create a colour-coded to-do list – while it might seem counter-intuitive for the over-thinker, Tammi advises taking 15 minutes every day to write a to-do list. “That way it’s not rushed,” she says. “I now enjoy the process as opposed to feeling panicked that I’ve got to do it really quickly then move onto the next thing straight away.
“I use my online calendar, and I colour code it. I’ve got a different colour for work, health and wellness-based activities, social bits and pieces, and then for life admin as well. It means I can look at my calendar and instantly know whether I’m in or out of balance because my personality is one that just loves to work. I adore what I do, and I want to make sure that I’m staying in a good balance and not taking on too much”.
If you’re too quick to agree – One of those people prone to saying yes when you really mean no? Next time, before jumping in with an immediate ‘yes’, Tammi suggests taking a beat. “Instead of yes, one of the quickest things to say is ‘that sounds great, but let me get back to you’. Once you get into that habit, it gives you at least 10 minutes to walk out of the room or to pick up your phone and actually look at your diary and take a beat. Take a moment to breathe and realise if that yes is going to go over your capacity, or if it’s going to help your day in some way”.
Decision tree – Are you feeling like an imposter?
Tammi includes a decision tree in The Panic Button Book around imposter syndrome. With a world measured continuously by the highlight reel of social media and the number of followers you’ve got, feeling like an imposter now seems the norm. So, next time you’re feeling like the imposter, Tammi suggests the following:
- Question the deservedness head-on. Ask yourself “why do I deserve to be here the boardroom/ on tv / in this relationship”?
- Come up with five pieces of evidence, five facts which prove why you’re where you are. For example – ‘because they invited me’, ‘I know this topic inside and out and I’ve spoken on it many times’.
- Then take some deep breaths in and out; exhale the fear.
Here’s another decision tree from the book.