'We need to flex our mental and emotional muscles outside the point of desperation'

Ella Rhodes hears from Dr Audrey Tang about her forthcoming British Psychological Society webinars.

Chartered Psychologist Dr Audrey Tang will be presenting several webinars for the British Psychological Society in November and December (click links for more info and to book):

Heal psychologically: Accept the past, embrace the present, rewrite the future – 1/11

An introduction to public speaking, and Public speaking advanced – 8/11 and 6/12

The two public speaking ones will be available as a bundle on BPS Learn, and Heal psychologically will be a bundle with Dr Tang’s earlier resilience workout.

What will your webinars cover?

My webinars cover all aspects of wellbeing, such as resilience building, managing stress, personal and professional development, specifically focusing on giving everyone who attends practical tools which they can try out right away. I also have a webinar on public speaking – one of my favourites because it allows me to indulge my personal passion for performance. I have acted since the age of three and directed community theatre since the age of 16… and if you don’t blink you can catch me in the ‘9 Eyes Meeting Scene’ in 007 Spectre!)

All of my sessions are designed to give you bite-sized tips that you can use… not to change anything about you (because you are wonderful just as you are), but because the more behavioural options we have in any given situation, the more effective we will tend to be in getting what we want (emotionally, physically, mentally, financially and so on!).

I am seeking to fill a gap between the ‘inspirational speaker’ who motivates audiences in a “wow, if they can do it/I’m all fired up” way but isn’t always able to draw from more than their own experience; and the teacher who often has a multitude of tips and tools, but to no effect if their presentation style means you simply aren’t engaged!  

I use my academic background – degrees in Psychology, History and Law as well as my PhD – to explain the theory, but I don’t leave you hanging. There are many experts who say things like “You need to avoid toxic people”… and leave it at that. I offer the ways in which we can practically address these issues. In the resilience webinar I talked about focusing on the people we love in our lives and then actively seek to spend time with them, so in turn the toxic ones can be told, quite legitimately, “sorry I’m busy”! As a performer, I try to make it as engaging as possible… my ‘teaser’ video for the webinar involved bursting balloons…

Tell me more about ‘heal psychologically’. 

Healing is a strange one because it commonly sits in the field of energy/spirituality, or medicine… but I believe that psychology plays a large role too. Psychologists can help people develop the tools to cope and even the tools to thrive, and they can also help reflect on what may have caused negativity in the first place, but commonly I see people who have had tough experiences and succeed, yet they still retain a sense of anger or resentment, a need to “show you how far I’ve come”… While this can be a motivator which drives us forward, holding on to that negativity means that we are not using the full capacity of our mind/energy. If we can do so much with inner anger, what might we do without it!? So this webinar looks more at healing practices e.g. talking about experiences (but not necessarily in a counselling context), as well as methods that we can mentally forgive or let go.  

How did you first become interested in these areas?

Psychology is there to do three key things:

- Explain why we do things (theory)

- Explain possible consequences of those things (application)

- Make recommendations to address those consequences (practice)

In academia, doing my PhD, I found many people focused on the theory. As an author and expert I found most people interested in the "what might happen if..." (application), but as a teacher/trainer I started ‘tagging on’ the practical tools we could do to make the changes we identified needed to be made. This is a feature of all my books (published by Pearson Educational). 

As the need grew (in my university teaching and freelance training) for sessions which supported the individual emotionally and mentally, rather than just the more ‘surface’ soft skills), I wrote The Leader's Guide to Mindfulness which looked at how mindfulness techniques (beyond yoga and meditation) could be applied to help individuals find headspace in order to do their personal or professional growth. It's great to know you've got a training session on public speaking if you need it, but if you are overly consumed with x/y/z, you may not get the most out of that opportunity. The subject also appealed to me because of the historical roots of the practice – my grandfather was a Buddhist teacher in Melaka. Then The Leader's Guide to Resilience – started pre-pandemic, and completed during it – really gave me the chance to see what worked. Everything I teach can be applied personally and professionally. I have always been a teacher, and I want to bring some value to whoever I meet... self-efficacy and the practical ways to build it as a generic approach to ‘what I do’ fits me well. I know the tools I offer have helped me not just grow and develop my own training/expert niche – but personally as well.

What still needs to change in these areas?

So many people still only think about their emotional and mental wellbeing at the point of crisis... it's a bit late for my stuff at that point! In the same way as we make a commitment to our building our physical strength – we don't go into the gym and expect to lift 200lbs – we work up to it – if we are going to have to face crises, and life is full of ups and downs, we really need to be flexing our mental and emotional muscles outside the point of desperation. When things are calm is the best time to engage in the tools I teach – whether you are wanting to build your soft skills, or your emotional and mental fortitude.

Also, it's time to reclaim ‘mental health’ as something to be proud of. I am saddened by the number of journalists I speak to who say things like "How do you help people suffering from mental health?" ...if someone has mental health, that's a good thing! When did the phrase "mental health" become used to describe mental ill health? I'm always careful to add "ill" or to say "mental health issues/concerns". 

I have often joked with my husband that I wish I could make a healthy brain look ‘insta-worthy’. While I do not go in for all these ‘bronzed bodies’ accounts, I am still trying to find a way to capture being mentally and emotionally healthy so that it engages and motivates more people to really look after their wellbeing.

What might surprise someone not familiar with these areas of work?

I think this reframing may be a fun one...

So often we talk about stress as a bad thing, but despite the negative name it is simply a label given to the physiological response the body makes in response to a perceived threat or challenge. The body engages the sympathetic nervous system leading to the ‘fight or flight’ response e.g. the body gets prepared to fight or to run away. The main thing to remember here is that no-one says you didn't win, no-one says you didn't escape. That fight or flight can have as many positive outcomes as negative ones. A competitive elite athlete needs to be almost arrowhead focused, and the adrenaline can really elevate performance; feats of bravery are performed under immense pressure – our brain is simply reacting. It is really up to us how we use that information!

What do you hope people will take away from your webinars?

I hope that people will take away something that works for them that helps them out, whether it's being able to broaden their ‘Window of Tolerance For...’ (what I like to call – broadening your WTF moments so you don't lose it right away), or restore their state of equanimity (calm) faster… it's unrealistic to be ‘calm’ all the time… when I perform I love the adrenaline buzz, or if I am driving in the rain I need to be on ‘High alert’... but after that situation passes, it really helps to be able to ‘come down’ so that it doesn't disrupt your sleep or your subsequent interactions. 

Or it might simply be improving their soft skills or increasing their capacity for joy because they have been able to find – and protect – some head space. That's what I'd love!

Photo: Nick Freeman

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber