This week on The Hack Podacst Leon, Paul and Jo talking with Dr Chris Westoby 

Creative Pathways to Contentment 

With - Dr Chris Westoby 

Do you ever feel like the world is just too much? That you can't keep up with the demands of everyday life? If so, you're not alone. In today's podcast, Leon, Paul and Jo chat with Dr Christopher Westoby, Programme Director of MA Creative Writing at the University of Hull. They discuss the value of mindfulness and other creative pathways to becoming more focused and content and accepting the challenge of change to cope with our hectic world. 
In this episode, Chris tells us that his first book, The Fear Talking: The True Story of a Young Man and Anxiety (2020), is a true story of how his mental condition collided with his early adulthood. He now applies the same research techniques found in Creative Writing to other subjects, including gender inequality in higher education institutions and social media’s effect in the aftermath of a suicide. Chris believes that educating others about his experiences is critical and assisting others in the process helps him just as much. 

What's Discussed? 

The team discuss how mindfulness is being aware of the present moment and not getting caught up in thoughts about the past or the future. It can help us focus on our actions and be more present in our lives. 
Chris explains how he tries to bring mindfulness into his everyday life by paying attention to the simple things he does, like walking or hugging someone. The point is to focus on the sensations you're experiencing in the present moment rather than letting your mind wander off. 
The books that most greatly influenced his life includes “wherever you go, there you are.” and “Full catastrophe living”, both by Jon Kabat-Zinn's which are based on his renowned mindfulness-based stress reduction program. 
Chris explains how his "mind is too trapped in catastrophising and thinking of different scenarios that he is afraid of. Mindfulness is a way to try and pay more attention to the surroundings and hence kind of like snap out of whatever it is I'm thinking about, even if it's just for a second." 
These two particular books are about learning mindfulness and meditation practices but being aware of the lives that we live in and what and how that might take shape. 
Practice is key to meditation and it's important to be consistent with mindfulness. It takes time to make a change in your life. You have to keep at it; eventually, it becomes second nature. 


Some people need complete silence to concentrate, while others prefer ambient background sounds like rain sounds or white noise. 
A consistent noise in the background can also help some people-often creative types and writers to focus on what they're doing and tune out distractions. It can help to create a sense of mental stability and calm. Chris explains how playing loud and noisy music can help him to concentrate as it drowns out all the other noises swallowing him up for a while. 
He adds that sensory and tactile purchases such as oil diffusers, crackling candles and weighted blankets can all have a role in relaxation and focus. People can use many sensory tools to support mindful meditation and bring themselves back to the present moment. 
It is common for novices to be sidetracked by external factors, which has led to the development of various creative meditation and relaxation aids. These include smart meditation cushions, audio-sharing sleep masks and app-paired weighted blankets, along with countless other gadgets and apps that help you to lead a calm and content life in the pursuit of happiness. 

Mental Health Challenges 

Dealing with mental health challenges meant Chris spent too much of his time focused inwards; he finally found a therapist who offered compassion-based therapy for self-loathing, which was doing him the most damage. He explains; 
"I didn't know what it was, and I was keeping it secret because I was so ashamed. Nobody, not even my parents or my partner at the time, was being let in. So all they could view was my behaviour, which was avoidant and deceptive because I'd tell someone I was going somewhere, but I'd actually go and hide somewhere else, or I'd drop out of something at the last minute. 
"I'd never have a good reason; that's all they'd ever hear me doing, whittling out of things, making excuses, seemingly uninterested in things. I think today people would maybe know the red flags a little bit more, but I didn't know exactly what it was." 
The gang discuss the importance of talking to others through groups, therapy or even just chatting with a friend or a loved one. Chris explains this as a lesson from his failures; Not speaking to others, disclosing how you feel, holding back a lot of things, especially in terms of relationships, family and friends, because it wasn't fair on them; it made things much harder for him, slowing down what progress he could have made. 
People often don't understand how they're feeling. We must learn to focus on how people think and then permit them to feel that way by empathising with them. This is a crucial step for someone to start working through their emotions. Empathy is such a key ingredient in helping people feel heard and understood. It allows them to offload all that mental baggage they've been carrying around with them and start seeing things from a different perspective. 

Accept the Challenge of Change 

Chris’s favourite quote is by an author called Christopher Voler, who wrote a book called The Writer's Journey; the book was recommended to him for writing creative story structure. 
“It seems that every time you try to make a major change in your life, these inner demons rise to full force. Not necessarily to stop you, but to test if you are really determined to accept the challenge of change.” 
This quote speaks to Chris: When something is really difficult, it makes you ask yourself how much you want something- a fighting spirit! 
His advice to anyone struggling with mental health is that "knowledge is power." Don’t be afraid to hit the library, start Googling, talk to a group or a professional, and be a student of what you're experiencing because the more you learn about it, the better you will be. He advises to let someone who cares for you and who's trustworthy in a little bit. 
And this is precisely what Andy Mans Club sets out to achieve; Leon explains,  
"We've gotta have a place where people can go without fear, burden or embarrassment"  
Once you've said what you need to say, you've been at your weakest point; once you can open up and share, you may feel vulnerable at first, but it is the most powerful, courageous thing you could ever do! 
Andy's Mans Club is a safe haven for men to talk about their problems, whether it be mental health, relationships, work or family life. The group provides an outlet for members to share their feelings and experiences in a judgment-free environment and ultimately helps them overcome any struggles they may face. #ITSOKAYTOTALK 
Further Support 
We're encouraging people to change the way they view mental health and encourage them to talk. We also need people to be able to listen and to have that conversation with others. The #TalkSuicide campaign has been created by the Humber and North Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership to reduce the stigma around talking about suicide by raising awareness of free suicide prevention training available from the Zero Suicide Alliance. 
If anybody is struggling or affected by suicide, there is also support available from, and you can find them on the mind website 
Check it out now! 
Sponsored by: Talk suicide 
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