1 Thing You Can Do Today

Bring The Outside In

Do you love the outdoors but spend most of your time inside? Then introduce a variety of houseplants to your workplace or home. Here’s how you will benefit:

1. Phytoremediation – that’s the word for plants clearing pollution from the air. NASA kicked off research into this back in the 1980s when it was looking for ways to improve the air quality in spacecraft. It found that the roots and soil of houseplants were able to reduce airborne volatile organic compounds (VOCs) significantly. Houseplants such as aloe, spider plant, bamboo palm and peace lily are among the best at removing indoor pollutants.

2. Less stress. Plants in your home or workplace can make you feel more comfortable and soothed, with one study finding interaction with indoor plants (like touching or smelling) reduced physiological and psychological stress.

3. Better brain skills. Keeping potted plants and flowers around your workspace can substantially improve your creative performance and problem-solving skills, found a study by the Texas A&M University. A similar study from the UK found indoor plants could improve concentration, productivity and boost staff wellbeing by 47 per cent.

Where to start

If you are new to indoor plants, search online for those that are hard to kill. And rather than sticking with just a potted plant or two, you will get the most benefits with a “more is more” approach, and hang plants, display them on tables, stack them on stands, or mount them on walls.

Think Twice Before Using This Word

Like a needle, this little word can pop the balloon of all the good, positive things you have just said.

You are in a meeting, and you hear:

“On the whole your performance was good, but…”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, but…”

Or let’s say you’re talking with your partner or friend:

“It’s great being with you, but…”

“I like your new haircut, but…”

These words sound positive – at first. However, the word ‘but’ negates everything that came before it.

Our brains translate the word ‘but’ as ‘here’s the catch’. And when you hear there’s a catch, you go on the defensive. Not ideal when you’re negotiating at work or having an important discussion with someone.

The word ‘but’ acts like a mental eraser and often buries whatever you’ve said before it,” says communications consultant Dianna Booher, author of What More Can I Say: Why Communication Fails and What to Do About It. “It makes communication spiral down instead of spin up.”


What to say instead

Switch it around. There is nothing wrong with using ‘but’ as long as you are aware of how it might influence the other person’s thinking. You can use it in a sentence, but switch around the negative and positive statements, to emphasise the positive.

“That wasn’t your best result, but I know you will do better next time.”

“We didn’t do so well that time, but we can learn from our mistakes and move on.”

Swap it. During your next tough conversation, swap one three letter word for another: ‘and’.

“Yes, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying and I’d like to examine this particular point.”

Using ‘and’ or ‘yes, and’ adds to the conversation and invites further discussion without negating what anyone has said. Practise doing this for seven days and you will start to get out of the habit of using ‘but’ in the wrong place.


Words that make you sound less confident

How we speak determines who gets heard, who gets credit, and what gets done, says Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, USA.

While there is no such thing as right or wrong words, some common words can put us at a disadvantage.

  1. “Um”, “Ah”, “Like” and “You Know”. When you are temporarily lost for words, it is easy to throw in a crutch word like one of these. But they can make you seem less confident. If you feel a crutch word on the tip of your tongue, take a brief pause instead.
  2. “Just”. Phrases such as “Just wanted to ask a question”, or “Just checking in” weaken your statements, making you seem less sure of yourself. Drop the extra word and talk like you know what you want.
  3. “Actually”. This has become the new “basically” or “literally”. It’s usually unnecessary. If you feel yourself about to use it, leave it out.

How Hearing Loss Sneaks Up on You

Would you know if a sound is loud enough to damage your hearing? Evidence shows that you could be ruining your hearing without even knowing.

Most noise-induced hearing loss is not caused by a sudden loud sound (although it can be) but by exposure to louder-than-recommended noise over a long period of time. Because this type of hearing loss happens gradually, many people don’t realise they are affected until it’s too late.

Who is at risk?

Workers in certain industries are known to be at risk for hearing loss, which is why there is legislation in place for industries such as manufacturing and construction. If you are in one of those industries, your employer would have control measures to reduce the risk, and you must always wear any PPE provided to protect your ears.

But it is not just workplaces that are potentially hazardous to your hearing.

A report by the World Health Organization estimates that nearly half of those aged between 12 and 35 – or 1.1 billion people – are at risk of hearing loss due to prolonged exposure to loud sounds, including music they listen to through personal audio devices.

We already live in a noisy world, but by listening to music or watching videos using headphones, you can be amplifying the noise and causing damage to your ears.

“People generally don’t know about safe listening levels, and in a culture where headphones are everywhere, that’s dangerous,” says UK audiology specialist Francesca Oliver. “If you have a particularly noisy commute and turn the music up to hear it, try listening to it at that volume in a quiet room. It’s painfully loud. So imagine what that’s doing to your ears.”

How loud is too loud?

Sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). Most audiologists agree that sounds at or below 70dB (a dishwasher or shower for example) are unlikely to cause hearing loss even after long exposure. The ‘safe sound threshold’ is 80 to 85dB (kitchen blender, vacuum cleaner, or alarm clock). After eight hours’ exposure to 85dB, your hearing can be damaged.

After that, each increment of 3dB doubles the pressure. A hairdryer is a surprising 90dB, a nightclub or MP3 player at full blast is around 100dB, while a rock concert is 110dB. The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes for hearing damage to occur. If you know you are heading to a loud environment, take some earplugs that filter loud sounds.

What Panic Attacks Are… and Aren’t

If you have ever had a panic attack, you know how scary they can be. When you are in the middle of one, you can think you are having a heart attack, stroke or other life-threatening crisis.

Panic attacks are surprisingly common. Up to 40 per cent of us will experience one at some point in our lives, says Beyond Blue. The anxiety related to the pandemic and its impacts may result in many people experiencing panic attacks for the first time.

Despite how terrifying they can be, panic attacks are not inherently dangerous, although the fear of having another can limit your daily life.

“At its core, a panic attack is an overreaction to the body’s normal physiological response to the perception of danger,” says Dr Cindy Aaronson, clinical psychiatrist at Mount Sinai Health System in New York.

What triggers a panic attack?

A panic attack typically happens when you are under physical or emotional stress. The effects of stress can accumulate so slowly that you may be unaware of the extent of your stress until a panic attack happens.

A panic attack starts with the amygdala, the brain region involved in processing fear, explains Dr Aaronson. When the amygdala perceives danger, it stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, she says, which triggers the release of the hormone adrenaline.

Adrenaline prompts an increase in the heart and breathing rate to get blood and oxygen to the muscles of the arms and legs. But during a panic attack, this response is exaggerated beyond what would be useful in a dangerous situation.

The intense rush of fear or anxiety you feel during a panic attack is usually accompanied by at least four of the following symptoms, says reachout.com.

  • racing heart or palpitations
  • sweating
  • shortness of breath or feelings of choking
  • dizziness, trembling or shaking
  • numbness or a tingling sensation
  • hot and cold flashes
  • fear of dying or of losing control
  • queasy stomach or nausea
  • feeling detached from yourself and your surroundings.

How to react to a panic attack

Panic attacks come on rapidly, but usually subside within 10 to 15 minutes. Dr Aaronson believes the most important technique to help you ride them out is recognising that you’re having a panic attack and not a more serious medical crisis.

“Just knowing what it is helps people,” she says. To be sure, double check that you’re not experiencing any heart-attack specific symptoms such as pressure in the chest or pain that builds or radiates into the arms or jaw.

If you see someone having a panic attack (or are experiencing one yourself), try not to ‘feed the fear’ by responding with anxiety or fear, advises Justin Kenardy, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Queensland. He suggests the following:

  • Calmly remind the person that even though the experience is unpleasant, it’s not dangerous and will pass.
  • Help to re-focus their mind away from the thoughts that are causing stress.
  • Help them to slow and pace their breathing. For example, calmly ask them to breathe in for four seconds, hold their breath for two seconds, and then breathe out slowly over six seconds. Repeat for a minute or so, or as needed.