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menopause

Over the course of six blogs we are looking at Menopause. Why? Because so many women go through it, without understanding the changes, and how they can manifest. I was diagnosed with burnout back in 2011. I realise, with hindsight, that menopause was a major contributing factor to my symptoms and mental state. Are you in a similar situation? We can have a much better transition if we have a better understanding of menopause. We can learn to work with our bodies and find our personal path.

In this blog we’re talking about natural ways to deal with menopause vs HRT. We spoke to natural menopause expert Sarah Davison.

What is HRT and Natural Therapy?

How much do you really know about treatment in menopause? It is safe to say that there is a lack of education when it comes to why, when and what different remedies we can use for managing menopause symptoms. Menopause tends to blindside women when it hits because they know very little about it. So what is HRT? HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) simply replaces the oestrogen and progesterone that our bodies are no longer producing so much of with synthetic substitutes. It’s best known for managing hot flushes, night sweats and mood swings. There are many forms of HRT such as tablets, skin patches or gel. These can only be prescribed by a doctor.

 

However, according to the Women’s Health Concern (the patient arm of the British Menopause Society) 95% of women would rather try natural alternatives over taking HRT. Although not risk free, it is most likely because there are fewer risks involved in natural treatment. It could also be that as menopause is a natural process, women like to get through it with natural or alternative medicine. Natural remedies do not replace hormones like HRT does, but instead relieve symptoms by balancing the hormones at their new lower level. Types of natural medicines for managing menopause symptoms include Herbalism, Chinese Medicine, Homeopathy, Ayurveda and Naturopathy.

How do people feel about HRT?

The main concerns women have surrounding HRT are the risks and side effects that could possibly derive from it. Side effects can be anything from migraines to weight gain, thought the newer bio-identical hormones delivered through creams and patches are gentler on the system. It can take a little while to find the right dosage for an individual.  How your body reacts to it is important when deciding whether to carry on with the treatment.

When deciding to go down the path of HRT, a GP will take into consideration a persons medical history, such as high blood pressure, blood clots, liver disease and previously having or being at high risk of breast cancer. Although a very rare occurrence, HRT has been linked to women developing breast cancer. Many women are scared off by these risks, but with good professional advice it can be a solution to managing menopause symptoms. HRT is a generalised medication. A single solution for a possible 49 different symptoms. It is not tailored to the individual, meaning that it may help some symptoms and not others.

Are there risks in natural therapy?

Just like HRT, natural medicine can be very hit and miss without professional guidance. While many women opt for natural solutions to manage symptoms, it could take some trial and error to find exactly what it is we need. How many of you have turned to google when looking? Who has self-prescribed evening primrose oil or  some herbal remedies? However, what works for one woman may not work for another, and so much trial and error could ultimately end up making symptoms worse or lead to women giving up and turning to HRT. For instance, there are 551 possible homeopathic medicines for hot flushes alone. Finding the right one involves a complex case-taking process by a professional homeopath.

A professional practitioner can help you find the right solution for your symptoms. Sarah offers a deeper look into homeopathy for menopause on her website, which you can access here. https://thrivehomeopathy.com/homeopathy-for-menopause/

Unfortunately I had not met Sarah when I started with my perimenopausal symptoms. I did not try over-the-counter medication. I went to Neal’s Yard in London, and they put together a herbal remedy for me, based on my symptoms. Not quite as tailored as Sarah’s offering, but I was lucky, it helped me manage my hot flushes. And when they came back, following and oophorectomy, I consulted with Sarah who dealt with them homoeopathically.

The importance of the liver in menopause

Another thing we must take into consideration when looking to treat menopausal symptoms is the function and state of our other organs. Menopause symptoms are not always caused by a drop in sex hormones, some can be caused by issues with tired adrenal glands (which produce our stress hormones), a congested liver, a low thyroid or an unhappy gut.

The liver is something that can greatly affect the way our bodies function during menopause. For example, if someone has spent their life not looking after their liver, perhaps consuming too much alcohol and sugar, then it can cause issues such as fatty liver. The liver gets rid of old oestrogen, it’s like the dustbin of the body. If it is not working properly, then it will retain that old oestrogen and exacerbate the hormonal imbalance, making symptoms harder to manage. This is why seeing a professional, perhaps a homeopath like Sarah, is really beneficial towards managing menopause properly.

There are pros and cons to both conventional and alternative treatment, and the different options each one offers. Being educated and informed is vital to making the right decision for our own bodies. We don’t need to suffer!

Thank you to Sarah Davison for the contribution and information. Sarah can be reached at thrivehomeopathy.com.

Sarah offers a free perimenopause assessment that allows you to check how many of the 49 possible symptoms you have. Click here to take the assessment. You do not have to suffer alone! You can also follow her on social media at @naturalmenopauseexpert

Next time we will be looking at menopause from an acupuncturists point of view.

Learn how to break free from worry and negative beliefs and reduce stress

Today lets take a look at how, being stuck at home might be causing you to feel anxious and depression. How getting rid of negative beliefs can reduce stress why it is important for your mental health and wellbeing. With so many people still worried about travel and/or working from home, life is still challenging.

Worrying is a form of thinking about the future, defined as thinking about future events in a way that leaves you feeling anxious or apprehensive. Many of us don’t know what the future holds right now and we are all worrying about many things.  When will lcokdown end? When can I see my family? Will I still have a job to go back to? How will I survive, let along thrive?

We’ve all been told that our stresses don’t really matter, that there’s no point in worrying. But have you ever been told that they don’t really even exist?

Well think about it for a minute. Worrying about the future that has not happened yet.  Yes it might but it also might not be as bad as you think.  How does worrying serve you in any way except to make you feel worse? Try these ideas to reduce worry, banish negative belief and feel better.

1. Have a daily worry period and let it go

Write down all your worried on paper.  Use one paper for each worry.  If an anxious thought or worry comes into your head during the day, make a brief note of it and then continue about your day. Remind yourself that you’ll have time to think about it later, so there’s no need to worry about it right now. Also, writing down your thoughts is much harder work than simply thinking them, so your worries are more likely to lose their power. Now find somewhere safe and go burn the worries.  Imagine as the ashes fly that the worries are diminishing and disappearing

2. Challenge negative beliefs

If you suffer from chronic anxiety and worry, chances are you are believe things are much blacker than they actually are. For example, you may overestimate the possibility that things will turn out badly, jump immediately to worst-case scenarios, or treat every anxious thought as if it were fact. You may also distrust your own ability to handle life’s problems, assuming you will fail. These types of thoughts, known as cognitive distortions, include:

  • All-or-nothing thinking, looking at things in black-or-white categories, with no middle ground. “If everything is not perfect, I’m a total failure.”
  • Generalisation from a single negative experience, that it will always be bad. “I failed that exam, I always fail exams.”
  • Focusing on the negatives and missing the positives. Noticing the one thing that went wrong, rather than all the things that went right. After an appriasal meeting you only remember the one improvement point not all the good stuff.
  • Coming up with reasons why positive events don’t count. “I did well on the test, but that was just dumb luck.”
  • Making negative interpretations without evidence. “I just know something terrible is going to happen.”
  • Expecting the worst-case scenario to happen. “The pilot said we’re in for some turbulence. The plane’s going to crash!”
  • Believing that the way you feel reflects reality. “I feel like such a fool. Everyone must be laughing at me.”
  • Assuming responsibility for things that are outside your control. “It’s my fault because i didn’t tell them to be careful.”

How to challenge these beliefs

During your anxious period, challenge your negative thoughts by asking yourself:

  • What’s the evidence that the thought is true? That it’s not true?
  • Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at the situation?
  • What’s the probability it will come to pass?
  • Is the thought helpful? How will worrying about it help me and how will it hurt me?
  • What would I say to a friend who had this worry?
  • Has it happened before?
  • WhenI have worried before did it come to pass?

3. Is your worry solvable?

Productive, solvable worries are those you can take action on right away. For example, if you are anxious about finances, you could call your bank to see about flexible payment options. If the worry is solvable, start brainstorming. Keep a journal to help you notice patterns of behavious and negative beliefs.

If the worry is not solvable, accept the uncertainty. Worrying is often a way we try to predict what the future has in store-a way to prevent unpleasant surprises and control the outcome. The problem is, it doesn’t work. Thinking about all the things that could go wrong doesn’t make life any more predictable. Focusing on worst-case scenarios will only keep you from enjoying the good things you have in the present. Make a note of when these things happen and note the circumstances. How can you change the internal dialog? What positive action can you take?

4. Interrupt the worry cycle

Changing your state can help break the cycle of worry:

  • Get up and get moving
  • Get some fresh ai
  • Meditate
  • Dance
  • Practice deep breathing

Take a look at my Simple Stress Busters Video for more ideas.

5. Talk about your worries

Talking with someone who will listen to you without judging is one of the most effective ways to calm your nervous system and diffuse anxiety. When you are anxious and you start spiraling, talking about worries can make them seem far less threatening. They can also be great at challenging your beliefs and help you see a different path.

Keeping worries to yourself only causes them to build up until they seem overwhelming. But saying them out loud can often help you to make sense of what you’re feeling and put things in perspective. If your fears are unwarranted, verbalizing them can expose them for what they are—needless worries. And if your fears are justified, sharing them with someone else can produce solutions that you may not have thought of alone.

Build a strong support system. Human beings are social creatures. We’re not meant to live in isolation. If you are struggling in isolation take a look at blog from yesterday about social contact.

Keep away from too much social media. It is easy to overdose on the world problems and add to you worry and beliefs that everything is hopeless.  It will make you feel more anxious and helpless.  Limit to maybe once a day to catch the headlines and then go do something fun to feel better.

6. Practice mindfulness and feel less anxious

Take a look at the blog Be a bit more zen

For more help with anxiety also look at this article from the National Health Service

Today lets take a look at managing social interaction virtually and why it is important for your mental health and wellbeing. Many people are still worried about meeting in person. Thousands are still working from home. So how can you help?

Many people reading this are under lockdown due to Covid-19, so here are a few ideas of different ways to connect with family and friends. Social Interaction is limited at the moment, although if you are local you can at least meet and go walk, while still observing social distancing.

The Social Phone Call

Yes a good old fashioned phone call can brighten someone’s day. Keep in touch with friends and family as regularly as you can.  Since we went on lockdown I have been speaking to my Mum twice a day and it really helps her feel ok.  We lost my father to illness late last year and the phone call is a real lifeline for both of us.

The Planned Video Conference

There is nothing like being able to see someone and have a social chat.  Grab a coffee, a glass of wine, a glass of water, whatever you prefer and sit togehter and just chat about your day as you would if you were meeting in person. You could even agree a recipe to all cook and sit and virtually have a dinner party together.  Many applications like zoom, skype and the hundreds of other that have suddently appreared on our horizon since lockdown are all great for this.  They all have their pros and cons so just pick one that you all have and use that.  Even whatsapp can video conference with 8 people now.

The Casual Conversation

You canot go for a social visit yet, so how do you manage that change conversation.  Well this is another great way to use the video conferencing.  Set up a meeting with family and friends, start the meeting and keep it open it a prominent position like the kitchen.  That way, every time you pass by and another friend of family member is around, you have a quick converstaiton.  With did this with my mum is Southend and my husband’s parents in Saint Lucia and it was lovely to just have these chance conversations between everyone.

Remember Work Colleagues Too

Remember all these things are just as important with work colleagues. It keeps relationship building even though you might all be working from home and it supports the team. Check in with each other, make time for social chit chat and talk about how things are for everyone.  Parents are particulary challenged at the moment, trying to juggle kids, work and family.  People in shared accomodation are equally challenged.  Make sure you know people’s personal circumstances and do what you can to support them and schedule meetings that work for everyone to help reduce stress.

Virtual Games Nights

So many people doing a quiz night via social media.  It is a great way to chill out and relax.  Just make sure to balance on screen time with other things like fresh air and exercise or persuing a hobby.

Quiet Space

Yes it is great to connect and social interaction is important but so is having time out.  In a shared house of family home set a corner to be the quiet space where people can chill undisturbed, whatever chill means for them. Leave them unhampered to decompress. All of us are going a bit stir carzy or feeling the pressure of worry from time to time.  Just acknowledge it and allow space.

 

Today lets take a look at food how it can boost your immunity and benefit your mental health and wellbeing.

In this blog I want to focus on plants and how it they can boost immunity by making adding them to your food or by making some home rememdies. During this time, with many people at varying degrees of lock down the best thing we can do for our health is boost immunity to be as reslient as possible. If you knew you could easily and effectively enhance your mood, energy levels, brainpower, and build immunity to give your body more chance to be able to fight off viruses what would it take for you to do it?

The immune system is our body’s defence system, protecting us from external threats like harmful bacteria, viruses and toxins – as well as internal hazards such as rogue cells and free radicals.

Herbs and Spices

Knowledge of herbs and spices enables us to transform our lives. They help us live longer, slow-down the aging process, increase brain power, and enhance our overall performance. Plant medicine has been around for centuries and is still widely used in the East to boost immunity. Some of these are plants we know and love, like turmeric and mushrooms, are incredibly medicinal.

Take this opportunity to uncover powerful healing herbs and sacred medicinal practices. These are things that can help you heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually and how some of these healing plants may even be growing in your garden.

Lets look at 9 herbs and spices that fight inflamation and boost immunity:

Turmeric

A vibrant yellow/orange spice most commonly used in Indian cuisine. Turmeric has been used for medicinal purposes to treat infections, wounds, colds and liver disease for centuries. Turmeric is arguably one of the most powerful herbs on the planet. It has over 6,000 peer-reviewed articles proving its benefits.

Incorporate turmeric into your life by:
Add to scrambled eggs or on top of roast vegetables.  My favourite is to add it to chicken stock when I make a noodle soup.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a wonderful aromatic spice.  Who loves cinnamon buns or has cinnamon on their frothy coffee?  However, you may not have considered that the teaspoon of cinnamon is doing you more good that you realise. Studies have shown that cinnamon could assist with boosting brain function, fighting cancer, aiding in digestion, supporting weight loss and fighting diabetes.

Incorporate cinnamon into your life by:
Chai tea is wonderful, using cardamon, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. What about sprinkling ground cinnamon onto your granola or adding a sprinkle into your next bowl of porrige or overnight oats? My personal favourite is chopped apple with cottage cheese and a liberal amount of cinammon.

Rosemary

Rosemary has a scent similar to pine. It is used in Mediterranean cuisine to accompany lamb dishes. Rosemary has a handful of health benefits including immunity boosting properties. The potential health benefits of rosemary include improved memory, relieved muscle pain, improved digestion and reduce areas of inflammation.

Incorporate rosemary into your life by:
Add a sprig of rosemary to your tray of vegetables or sprinkling onto homemade potato wedges before roasting in the oven. Add to your roast. Try home made foccacia with rosemany, garlic and black olives.

Cayenne

For centuries, ancient cultures have embraced the healing benefits of cayenne and other hot chili peppers. All chillis contain a naturally occurring component called capsaicinoids. So capsaicinoids are the secret ingredient within chilis that gives them their anti-inflammatory properties. It is these anti-inflamatories that help boost immunity. Chilis can assist in digestion but they also host another array of benefits. These including reducing arthritis symptoms, relieving headaches, preventing blood clots and assisting the body’s naturally occurring detox system.

Incorporate cayenne into your life by:
Adding a dash of this spicy chili to your favoring soup or stew, or spice up your guacamole with a sprinkle of cayenne. Duck with Chinese 5 spice and Cayenne paper is a personal favourite.

Sage

Sage is frequently used in Mediterranean cuisine. Renowned for its ability to soothe menstrual cramps and digestive discomfort because it increases circulation. It is also known for its naturally occurring antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Incorporate sage into your life by:
Adding 3 or 4 fresh sage leaves to your favorite herbal tea, or infuse sage leaves into your olive oil to give it a flavor kick and nutritional boost.

Ginger

Pungent, aromatic and a little spicy, ginger is a zesty addition to many Asian dishes. Nutritionally impressive and packed full of nutrients. Because of this it also offers a vast array of health benefits. Ginger has been acknowledged for its anti-inflammatory effects that boost immunity, and as a safe and effective relief of nausea and sea sickness. Therefore it is often used during pregnancy to help with morning sickness. Ginger can give your overall immune system a boost.

Incorporate ginger into your life by:
Adding fresh ginger with lemon and raw honey to make a natural tea, or add to soups for added depth of flavour and an asian twist. This is a staple in the winter for preventing colds in our house.

Oregano

The plant has tiny leaves that lend a pungent aroma and strong flavor to a variety of savory foods. Oregano contains a powerful substance called beta-caryophyllene. As a result it helps fight inflammation. Can benefit people suffering conditions such as osteoporosis and arteriosclerosis. On top of it’s anti-inflammatory properties, antibacterial and antifungal properties can also be added to the list of what make oregano one of our top picks.

Incorporate oregano into your life by:
You can add to pasta sauce, sprinkle over pizza. It goes well with lemon on reast potatoes.

Garlic

Garlic has a long list of health benefits. Try it to ease pain of arthritis, reduce nauseous feelings, reduce inflammation and blood pressure as well as detoxify the body of heavy metals.

Incorporate garlic into your life by:
Add garlic to dishes to add depth of flavour. For example, already mentioned above is the foccacia.  So infusing garlic in your olive oil for a more subtle flavour. Just about any tomato based sauce can benefit from garlic, of course often with basil added too.

Cloves

Extensively in india and china because of their many health benefits, cloves are a punchy wonder. Because they help in keeping blood sugar in check and helping block the growth of bacteria, they aid in better digestion. They have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, as well as for boosting the immune system and therefore immunity.

Incorporate cloves into your life by:
You can easily incorporate ground cloves into many dishes. So adding cloves to hearty soups and stews or chai teas as mentioned above. Like pushing them into a ham before baking, they’ll bring a warm, distinctive flavor to desserts, curries, or chutneys. You can also simmer whole cloves in boiling water for 5–10 minutes to make a soothing cup of clove tea.

Which Herbs And Spices Do You Enjoy Adding To Meals?

 

 

Good Hydration Today lets take a look at hydration how it can benefit your mental health and wellbeing.

Many people reading this are under lockdown due to Covid-19, so many of us are rediscovering the big outdoors.,How many of us remember to take water out with us and remember to hydrate as much as we should?

Why should we hydrate?

Scientific reviews have researched the effects of mild dehydration on cognitive function in both men and women. These studies found that women were more likely to be dehydrated than men, with women reporting headaches and confusion while being mildly dehydrated. Men are affected too though. If you are experiencing feelings of tiredness, headaches and are perhaps struggling to focus it might not be just the current situation and the stress of it all. It might be that you are dehydrated, so hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

Perhaps you are not used to drinking much water, so if you suddenly start drinking two litres a day you might find that you are running to the bathroom rather too frequently.  If you garden at all, think about what happens if you forget to water a pot plant.  The compost dries up.  The first few times you water the plant, the water goes straight through. Then after a few times of a good soak, the compost slowly expands again.  Well the body works in a similar way. But you might want to slowly increase every few days, starting with a pint of water and building up from there.

Good Hydration

Good Hydration

 

Is water just too boring to hydrate?

I speak to many people that think drinking water is boring, but what could be better that pure, clear water to hydrate with? Still not convinced, well lets jazz it up a bit.  Get a nice jug, add your water and put some slices of lemon or a bit of mint, or even both. Leave in the fridge to chill and you have a nice refreshing beverage. It looks so nice too and feels more like a treat.

Taking time over presentation of what you eat and drink can totally trasnform how you feel about it. The benefits of adding lemon is anecdotal but it could also give you added vitamin C, be good for your skin and may wake up your digestive system.  Good to have first thing in the morning. Mint is also considered a good digestive aid. Vitamin C also boost immunity.  Boosting immunity is also a key to staying health both emntaly and physically.

If you want to vary it maybe add orange, limes or cucumber, with of without mint.  For a bit more flavour add tumeric or cinnamon and if you want a little bit of sweetness, add a little raw hone, which may also boost immunity. Make sure it is raw though.

If that does not float your boat how about adding some fresh fruit like strawberries or raspberries?  You can even freeze them and add them for some extra chill as the weather gets warmer.

If you want a bit of a tang add some raw apple cider vinegar. Again health benefits are anecdotal, but certainly it adds flavour and does no harm.  If it gets you drinking more water then totally worth it.

Add some fizz to hydrate

Lastly how about a little fizz.  Either using natural carbonated water like Perrier or San Pelligrino or using something like a soda strea, without adding the sugary sweetner. Carbonated water works just as well with all the above to hydtrate, and has the added benefit of making you feel full, may improve swallowing and has benefits of digestion. Carbonated water may have beneficial effects on your cholesterol, inflammation, and blood sugar levels, potentially reducing your risk of heart disease and boosting immunity. However, more studies are necessary.

So enjoy the sunshine and go make some liven up you water.

HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE

Why exercise?

Today let’s take a look at exercise and how it can benefit your mental health and wellbeing.

Many people reading this are under lockdown due to Covid-19, and let’s face it, exercise can be a challenge. Dashing around people, motivation, missing the sports and gym. But we all know it’s good for us don’t we!! Finding a way to keep up the exercise is a must and for many people is a first, forced by the need to just get out of the house. I do hope that those that have just started will keep it.

Well if you need to change it up for a variety or just want some fresh ideas here are a few.

1. Cardio and Aerobic Exercise

Make exercise fun

Make exercise fun

Cardio exercise is about increased heart rate, while aerobic exercise entails increasing oxygen intake. However, many activities achieve both of these at once. So how can you incorporate running, jogging, walking, bicycling, swimming, gardening or dancing into your routine and why is it good for your mental health?

All of these are things you can do right now. Well, maybe a little chilly for swimming. The sea is still a ways to go to warm up enough for most people. You know the saying, dance as though no one is watching.  Even in the smallest space, you can turn up the volume on your favourite jam and dance around the room. Maybe with headphones on if you want it really loud or you live with others.

Cardio and aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce both anxiety and depression by doing the following:

  • Increasing blood flow to the brain
  • Endorphins are released into the body, helping reduce pain and improve mood
  • Positively affecting parts of the brain that impact motivation

Getting outside is excellent for your mental health in a variety of ways. It’s surprising how a gentle stroll surrounded by nature can give you a completely new perspective. Sometimes it’s simply the change of scenery that helps. Here are some reasons why getting outside is beneficial for the mind as well as the body.

Vitamin D

Make exercise fun

Make exercise fun

According to Public Health England, adults and children over the age of 1 should have 10 micro-grams of vitamin D every day. Getting outside in the sunlight will give you a much-needed vitamin D boost. Vitamin D is connected to your mood, and if you’re lacking in it, your mood may be affected.

There’s a reason why people feel happier in the sun because it can really improve your mood. So, if you look outside and the sun is shining, like today, pop out for a bit to soak up some rays (but make sure you protect your skin with sunscreen, even at this time of year you can still burn and remember to moisturise the skin afterwards). We are allowed now!

The fresh air helps too. Fresh air helps to send plenty of oxygen through the blood and allows your lungs to work at full capacity. Plus, oxygen to your brain = more brainpower.

My husband and I have taken up running here and there but walking is our favourite at the moment.  It is amazing what beautiful places we have discovered on our own doorstep that we did not know were there.  Normally we would drive somewhere like RHS Wisley.

High Intensity

Simple High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is also possible at home. Great for a quick workout with maximum benefit. There are lots of different ideas available but I have found one of the simplest and most effective was one promoted by Dr Michael Mosely on his Truth About Getting Fit series:

2. Strength Training

If you go to the gym regularly you are probably, like me, missing it a lot.  You already know that high you get from a good workout. Of course, a stronger body helps release muscle tension, increases strength and helps reduce pain. There are some simple exercises you can do at home to increase strength that are good for beginners and advanced alike.  Try Yoga or Pilates. There are many online resources you can accessand apps you can download. Also, many gyms and gym instructors are providing virtual classes via zoom. That way you can still get the personal support and have your posture checked.

Many of us are sitting a lot more than normal. Working from home brings many challenges. Are you sitting on uncomfortable for long hours? Are screens are ergonomically placed?  This is leading to stiff back and back and neck pain. Targeting the muscles with strenth exercise will help, either more traditional strength training or postoral based training.

I love Somatic movement for reducing tension and relaxing the body after sitting at my desk but I still do some pilates and yoga moves as well.  I love variety. What is your preference? I also take a break every hour and move around. This is also good practive.  Pain and tension will reduce your ability to focus.  Most people can only focus for a maximum of 90 minutes, so take a break before you max out.

Not to worry if you dont have any equiment at home.  A tin of beans can double as a light weight for many exercises. There are also many cheap items that can help, like exercise bands to provide resistance. Have a look on your tube too for inspiration.

3. Flexibility and Stretch

Flexibility is good for overall health and is achieved through stretching.  The jury is out about whether to do this before exercise and after, however every training instructor will advise you to stretch to release tension.  Performing stretches on a regular basis may improve your circulation. Improved circulation increases blood flow to your muscles, which can shorten your recovery time and reduce muscle soreness.

Hopefuly I have inspired you.  I am remember an old TV show that was on when I was a child.  “Why Don’t You!”

Why Don’t You? or Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go and Do Something Less Boring Instead?

 

Being a bit more zen can help you get through the day

"Be

More people than ever are suffering will ill mental health, due to the ongoing covid pandemic and other associated problems. Learning a technique that can help you feel more chilled and more zen can really make a difference. Learning to meditate can reduce stress, decrease anxiety and improve mood. Scientific evidence show that meditation can be helpful in fighting illness, including depression, heart disease and chronic pain.

Trying to reach a state of zen when your messages keep bleeping and someone wants your focus, or kids want your attention is a challenge at the best of times, but with everyone in the house trying to stay busy or keep working is particularly challenging. There are a variety of different meditation styles and finding the right one for you can be a bit of a minefield, so here is a simple guide to help you decide which one is right for you.

History

The far eastern countries are well known for being zen. Of course that is where the word comes from. It literally means meditation. See this article in wikipedia for more information. Meditation was first developed in India possibly since 5000BC. The oldest documented evidence is wall art in the Indian subcontinent from about this time, showing people seated in meditative postures with half-closed eyes. During this time and for centuries before, all learning and knowledge was passed on by word of mouth. Almost all the Hindu religious books talk of meditation in some form or the other. So we can safely assume that meditation was also an integral part of the knowledge that the Gurus were teaching their students, and all this was done via the oral tradition. And because it was oral, it is not documented and hence gets very difficult to tell how old meditation really is.

Meditation is the practice of thinking deeply or focussing ones mind for a period of time.  This can be done in silence or with the help of chanting or other aids. Lets have a look at a few different practices, old and new.

1. Mindfulness

"Be

Mindfullness meditation is very zen and very now! It is all about being aware and present and in the moment. It can be done anywhere. You might prefer to find a quiet spot and sit with your eyes closed, focussing initially on your breath and then just noticing what you notice. Allowing sounds to pass you by without judgement. Perhaps while you are running or walking you find yourself in flow, which is another way of thinking about meditation. (In positive psychology flow or a flow state, or in the zone. Characterised by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time. Named by by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975).

A form of mindfulness is involved in most kinds of meditation. Breath awareness encourages you to be aware of your breathing, while progressive relaxation draws attention to areas of tension in your body.

2. Loving-Kindness Meditation

A particularly good one to include to help you be a bit more zen is kindness. The goal of this meditation is to cultivate an attitude of love and kindness toward everything. Cultivating kindness towards oneself is really important for good mental wellbeing. While breathing deeply, open your mind to receiving loving kindness, then send  of loving kindness out to others. You can focus on specific people or situations if you wish. Repeat the message over and over.

It can help dispel feelings of anger, frustration, resentment and conflict and increase positive emotions.

3. Body scan or progressive relaxation

Body scan or progressive relaxation meditation, is where you sit in a relaxed comportable position and can your body for areas of tension. The goal is to notice tension and to allow it to release. It is challenging to instantly obtain relaxation so purposfully tensing the area and then relaxing helps send the right messages to the muslces to relax. Start with your feet and work up the body.

Progressive relaxation can help invoke feelings of calmness and relaxation. It may also help with pain, because it slowly and steadily relaxes the body, some people use this form of meditation to help them sleep.

4. Guided Meditation

Guided meditations can be very helpful in many situations.  Having something to specifically focus on to guide you through can help you relax and focus. It can invoke sounds, textures and images though use of words, music, sounds of nature or bells, chanting and many more.  Guided meditations can also be used to focus on specific issues like improving self confidence, weight loss, general relaxation any many more.  It is just a case of finding the one or ones that appeal to you.  I know quite a few people use the headspace app. This can be a great place to start.

5. Breath awareness meditation

Breath awareness is a type of mindful meditation that encourages mindful breathing. Breathe slowly and deeply, counting your breaths or otherwise focusing on you breath. You can use sspecific sounds repeated in your head as you breathe in and out. So hung works very well and one I use personally. The goal is to focus only on breathing and to ignore other thoughts that enter the mind. A way to do this is acknowlege them and promise to focus on them later so you can move on.

As a form of mindfulness meditation, breath awareness offers many of the same benefits as mindfulness. Those include reduced anxiety, improved concentration, and greater emotional flexibility.

6. Yoga Meditation

The practice of yoga dates back to ancient India. There are a wide variety of classes and styles of yoga, but they all involve performing a series of postures and controlled breathing exercises meant to promote flexibility and calm the mind. The poses require balance and concentration.

it is a physically active form of meditation that blends movements with deep breathing and mantras. People usually learn from a teacher or do a class. However, someone can learn the poses and mantras at home, although best to have a check in with your GP first. It can improve physical strength and reduce pain. It may also improve mental health by reducing anxiety and depression.

7. Zen meditation

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Zen meditation is a form of meditation that can be part of Buddhist practice. Usually studied with the guidance of a teacher because it involves specific steps and postures. The goal is to find a comfortable position, focus on breathing, and mindfully observe one’s thoughts without judgment.

Again, this form of meditation is similar to mindfulness meditation but requires more discipline and practice. People may prefer it if they are seeking both relaxation and a new spiritual path.

8. Chakra Meditation

Chakra is an ancient Sanskrit word that translates to “wheel,” and can be traced back to India. Chakras refer to the centers of energy and spiritual power in the body. There are thought to be seven chakras. Each chakra is located at a different part of the body and each has a corresponding color.

Chakra meditation is made up of relaxation techniques focused on bringing balance and well-being to the chakras. Some of these techniques include visually picturing each chakra in the body and its corresponding color. You may may choose to light incense or use crystals, color coded for each chakra to help you concentrate during the meditation.

9. Transcendental Meditation

Transcendental Meditation is a spiritual form of meditation where practitioners remain seated and breathe slowly. The goal is to transcend or rise above you current state of being. You focus on a mantra or a repeated word or series of words determined by your teacher or perhaps you choose your own. This more contemporary version is not technically Transcendental Meditation, though it may look substantially similar. A practitioner might decide to repeat “I am not afraid of public speaking” while meditating.

People who practice Transcendental Meditation report both spiritual experiences and heightened awareness.

In Summary

The various meditative disciplines encourage a focus on heightened awareness, slower breathing, and increased acceptance. Meditation is not a results-focused undertaking. Indeed, fixating too much on the results can provoke anxiety that undermines the benefits of meditation.

Research shows that meditation can work very quickly. Many people who practice meditation report an immediate improvement following a meditation session. During meditation, it is common to feel calmer and less stressed. Over time and with practice, these sensations may continue outside of meditation sessions

There is no right or wrong way to meditate and nothing that says choose just one option. Any meditation is better than no meditation. If your only want to meditate once a week, do so. If you want to try different forms, do that too.

Meditating around the same time each day can make meditation a habit that is easy to incorporate into daily life. If meditation is helpful, it may be beneficial to increase the frequency to twice or more per day or to use it to reduce stress whenever needed.

 

 

Young people and mental health

This really shocked me recently, how much youngsters are suffering with mental health issues, even really young children as young as 5. According to research for BBC School Report, half of teenagers with  issues try to cope alone. And a third said they were not confident enough to speak to a teacher. Teachers say they are given no awareness training on mental health issues and how to help students. UK figures revealed that Childline gave 3,135 counselling sessions on exam stress in 2016-17 – a rise of 11% over two years.

It was good to see that some forward thinking schools are training parents, pupils and staff how to cope with stress. The aim is to provide early intervention before mental health problems develop.

Mental Health and Schools today

I wondered why .health issues are so much more prevalent that when I was at school and what had changed. The problem seems to be several fold from the concerns expressed by the teachers I spoke to.

  • With a continuous focus on how schools are performing, this is translating to pressure on pupils to be continually tested throughout the year to prove performance.
  • Social media is a massive contributing factor, with pupils continually focussed on how well their peers are doing and then putting pressure on themselves to do better. Then there is the cyber bullying.
  • There is a worry about good grades to get university places and jobs thereafter.

What can you do?

I am not saying I have a solution for all the mental health problems that teenagers are experiencing right now. However, I can advise how to cope with the pressure they feel, whether it is any of the above circumstances or ones that I have not listed.

Try these

Try teaching this short meditation to your children and perhaps give it a try yourself, it really helps promote good mental health manage stress.

  • Find a comfortable spot, where it is quiet and you feel safe.
  • Put on some gentle music in the background that helps you feel calm and grounded.
  • As you rest your body now rest your eyes. Take your hands and make a cup so that the tips of the fingers cross over. Place the palms of your hands comfortably one over each eye so they block out all the light. The crossed fingers should lightly touch the forehead. Take a few moments to rest the eyes and just focus on the dark inky blackness and then close the eyes. (It can be more comfortable to sit on a chair to do this. Rest your elbows on the table to support your arms comfortably or if you are sitting on the floor support your arms with a couple of cushions)
  • Now focus on your breath as you breathe in and out.
  • As you breathe in say, in your mind, the word “SO”.
  • As you breathe out say, in your mind, the word “HUN”.
  • Breathe gently and focus on diaphragm gently rising and falling.
  • When you are ready open your eyes and come back into the room.

Spend just 5 minutes each day at a time that suits you. Slowly build up to about 15 to 20 minutes each day. More if you want to. You will find this helps still the mind and resets the body. You might even find that you feel refreshed and energised afterwards.
This exercise is very good to do if you are studying. Take a break every 90 minutes and do a few minutes resting the eyes and focussing on your breathing.

My day

I do 30 minutes myself to look after my onw mental health. I have a music compilation on my iPod that the tracks add up to 30 minutes. That way I know that I can completely relax and when the music is finished my 30 minutes is up and I am ready to go back to what I was doing. Sometimes I prefer to do this in the morning before I start a busy day, sometimes in the middle of work to take a break and sometimes at the end of the day to wind down. Occasionally I might do it at different intervals for a shorter time.

Take care fof your own mental health. If you spend more than 90 minute segments working on something then most of the time you might notice that you become less effective. You will be amazed how much more receptive your brain is to revision or work after taking a break.  You will be surprised at how often the answer will just suddenly present itself during a meditation.

Well I am off to follow my own advice and spend 30 minutes!!

 

 

May Mental Health

Why do we focus on mental health?

In the UK we have a whole month focussed on Mental Health, but last week was specifically in the focus of Mental Health Awareness week. There have been a multitude of programmes, articles and blogs.

Why do we focus on Mental Health? Well that is because, like physical health, we can have good health or bad and like physical health, there is plenty we can do to improve. In fact many of the things you can do to improve physical health will also improve mental health. This was particularly well highlighted on the BBC programme, Mind Over Marathon, following a group of ten people with different mental health issues to be encouraged and trained to run the London Marathon.

Running is a great coping mechanism

While I am not a runner myself, I can completely identify with the messages from the programme. Exercise, not just running, can really help improve both physical and mental health. It has certainly been my personal experience.

Here are the great messages from the programme that I really liked, but starting with a phase that I thought was a gem and my absolute favourite “Fall in love with moving forward”. What a great motivational phrase with so many interpretations. So here are my top 5 with my spin on what was said.

1.  Running is a great coping mechanism. Running and mental health are really good companions. It releases endorphins, which make you feel better. If you run as part of a group then you also get community for support and structure from the trainers.

However if this seems a little too intense right now start with something gentle like walking. If you prefer a group and want the sense of community then joining a local rambler group, U3A or similar can be a great way to get some exercise. A lot of WI and Rotary clubs have walking groups too.

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What about swimming?

Swimming is also great. (One of my personal favourites!). Many local council pools have very reasonably priced classes if you feel you want help getting back into a routine. They key is that any exercise really helps.

2.  People assume that if you are diagnosed with a mental illness that you are really ill and that there is something really wrong with you. This is the stigma that, unfortunately, so many people have to go through. Here is the reality. The reality is that you yourself or someone close too you will suffer from bad mental health at some point. Just like a physical illness, the person needs TLC, rest and recuperation. They are just like you and me.

3.  If you are suffering ill mental health yourself, you might have coping strategies, you might not. Acceptance of where you are is crucial. Having a support group to turn to will help. Logic does not work however you try and rationalise the feelings. Just know you will get better. It can feel a bit like a rollercoaster at times. Remember to take each day as it comes and be gentle with yourself in the dips.

4.  If you know someone who is suffering then learn to listen, encourage them to talk if they want to and be open minded.

5.  Having goals is key, and being able to visualise them even more so. There is a lot of scientific study proving that using your imagination improves performance. If we can imagine something our brains can do it more efficiently. Setting small manageable goals is setting you up for success. Spend time each day visualising that small goal. What does it look like? What can you see, hear and feel around you?

Links between physical activity and good mental health

Last week I also attended Elevate at Excel. While it was predominantly about the physical health industry there were dedicated session all day on both days dedicated to physical activity for health and wellbeing, focussing on the links between physical activity and good mental health.

One fact that was particularly interesting from medical studies carried out was the findings that people suffering from a major depressive disorder (MDD) were 68% more likely to be physically inactive. If anyone is a lover of reading the source material the studies used were Lawlor and Hopkins (2001), Blumenthal et al. (2007), Cochrane review (2012) and Schuch F. et al. (2016). Whilst the studies and statistics were largely around MDD they hold equally true for less severe mental health issues like stress.

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Benefits of exercise

The comparisons carried out MDD sufferers benefitted more from intervention using exercise. The best results were from high intensity exercise but quite honestly if you are currently sedentary or suffering from ill health high intensity training is likely to be such a shock to the body as to cause more stress that it reduces.

It was a key factor in my own recovery when I was off with a mental breakdown in 2011.  I would recommend starting easy with something that you really enjoy doing and focus on the fun rather than the fact that it is exercise. For my Mum it is walking her dogs. For me it is gardening, although I do enjoy the gym too, especially Pilates. Being part of a group class is also very helpful as it gives greater distraction from a bad day or other issues and you get the social inclusion too, which is really important. It is very easy to want to go home and be isolated and resisting that temptation can be hard. They key is if you don’t get there one day then get there the day after. Go with a friend or family member as you will keep each other motivated.

 

 

May Mental Health What is happening in the UK?

In the UK we have a whole month focussed on Mental Health, but last week was specifically in the focus of Mental Health Awareness week.  There have been a multitude of programmes, articles and blogs.

Theresa May also announced her ‘sweeping´ reforms to mental health policy. It is definitely a long time coming. A lot has changed since the 1983 Mental Health Act. Unfortunately the largely unpopular reforms for Dementia sufferers followed swiftly afterwards. Let’s hope they back track on that one. There is nothing like adding to stress worrying about the inheritance that you were building up for the children. Now it might betaken by the state to support you in your time of need.

Prominent people speaking out

Prince Harry got a great dialog started by talking about his own person mental health issuesHe sought counselling after 20 years of not thinking about the death of his mother.In fact, along with Prince William and Kate they started a charity called Heads Together back in 2016.It is really great to see the Royals leading the charge.

William also talked about the shock of losing a loved one, especially in difficult circumstances. It stays with you always but managing it gets easier. Bereavement can affect everyone and I will be dedicating a whole blog to that later in the year.

Kilmarnock’s Kris Boyd urged fellow players to speak up about mental health problems a couple of days ago.  He suggested that mental health problems were a “massive” problem for football.

It is great to see very visible people in public life speaking out.  The Royals set up their charity to help remove the stigma of Mental Health issues.  Yet in business this still is a massive issue.  Working with a company last year that was going through massive transformation and having to make a very large number of redundancies, the workforce has a double whammy.  They are worried about job security, finances and the future. This directly leads to stress, the longer it goes on the more stress the person feels.  They can be suffering from mental health problems like stress, depression and anxiety. Employees often feel worried about talking the issue through with their employer, because they they might be the one chosen for redundancy.

Help for business

Having independent support that staff can talk to is absolutely critical in these times of change.  They can provide unbiased advice.  They can help employees with coping strategies, enabling them to cope better, whatever the outcome.  Most importantly they are a confident that enables the person to open up and talk about their problems without fear of repercussions.

It is very encouraging to see the spotlight on Mental Health, but there still remains a stigma for people to admit that they are struggling.  While I agree with a lot of the comments about Mental Health should be a focus all year round and not just for a focussed short period of time, having that focus does help target the issue and allows for people to focus on a topic that might not have been on their radar before.  So many people suffer from mental ill health. The likelihood is that you know, or have suffered yourself with stress related illness, depression, anxiety and other common mental health related issues.

If you are in business and going through a big change do remember that staff will often benefit from independent support and this will help them stay positive and supportive throughout the transition.  Making their transition easier and your too.