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As the year draws to a close and the nights drawn in, its time to relax and practice some self-care. Self-care is a phrase coined by psychologist Dr. Richard J. Hillman in the early 1990s to describe time spent looking after one’s emotional, social, and physical needs to prevent or reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Self-care includes healthy eating habits, exercising, having enough sleep. Self-care may also include more creative pursuits such as meditation or crafting. This is what Alison and Sophie will be getting up to take care of themselves. What will you be up to?

As we get further into winter, there is nothing better than spending your nights indoors and cosied up. But perhaps this is the time to be practising some much-needed end-of-year self-care. You have worked hard this year after all! Something as simple as reading a good book can really relax your mind, or if you have a little more time to spare, maybe try getting into aromatherapy? This is a great way to combat those feelings of anxiety, depression and improve sleep when stress levels are high. This blog by Katie Brindle offers some great information on the benefits of aromatherapy, the Hayo’u Method, and using it for a night of relaxing and nurturing.

How we are spending the holidays

Alison

I am looking forward to taking time off for the two weeks straddling the Christmas and New Year period.  It really helps to disconnect from work and take some family and some me time. I really love cooking so I will be cooking the Christmas roast this year. I crank up the Christmas tunes and bop around the kitchen while I baste the turkey and peel the spuds. By the time everything is cooked, I feel relaxed and have a Holiday vibe.

Its also time for me to get creative. I knit for family and friends, or maybe some sewing. It helps me decompress. I find that the creative pursuit is enough for me. I get fully immersed in it and feel great by the end of the two weeks.

If the weather is kind, then I get plenty of walks in. Getting fresh air is so important, especially when using that time to do exercise. Though we have now headed into the shorter and colder days, wrapping up and going for even just a short walk in your nearest park can do you so much good.

This year, having moved out of London to the countryside, I am also thinking about getting a real Christmas tree for the first time ever. I want to decorate it with traditional decorations, like tied up bundles of cinnamon sticks and dried slices of orange. Perhaps a few sprayed pinecones for good measure!!! I am also popping into our local florist to make a real wreath this year so the front hall will smell or pine and spice whenever someone comes to the door.

What do you do with your time off?

Have a wonderful holiday season

Alison

Sophie

This year has been full of firsts for me. My first long term job that is developing into a career. My daughter going to school for the first time. Finding my first long term home, in which myself and my daughter have had so much fun decorating, and I’m overjoyed to spend our first little proper Christmas together here. I’m not much of a cook, but that’s not to say I won’t give cooking my first Christmas dinner a go. Fingers crossed I won’t burn down the new house!

The festive period is also a time where I can get a little bit creative, especially with my four-year-old. Making Christmas cards for her new school friends, making paper chains and cutting out paper snowflakes to stick on the windows are staple childhood Christmas activities, and even my inner child can’t wait!

As well as the new home and settling into a new job, I will also be preparing to take on studying again while continuing my work with Alison. So, I am going into the new year full of hope and security, and with great tutelage from Alison and a lot of learning, I can only imagine what 2022 will bring for me. What are you looking forward to in 2022?

Have a happy holiday season.

Sophie.

 

 

The festive period is a time for joy and celebration, and for many of us it’s a time for family and friends, giving gifts and eating wonderful food. However, for many it’s also a time of increased stress, from shopping, to cooking for the family, there can be a lot to do. Managing Christmas can easily become overwhelming, and it may seem like there is no time to destress. This blog will offer tips and advice on how to minimise stress during the holidays.

While the holidays are usually supposed to be a time for being with family and friends, last year was a little more difficult due to COVID restrictions. As this still might be the case for some families, it is still a major cause of stress for everybody. This added with the pressures of organising the perfect Christmas can be tough. But there are some ways that you can seek comfort and manage stress over this stressful season.

Holiday activities to manage stress

First thing first, get organised! There is so much to do in the lead up to Christmas, you might feel an overwhelming sense of pressure to get everything done in a few short weeks. Especially if you do not have too much time off work. Make a list of everything that needs to be done over the coming weeks. Such as shopping for presents and food, wrapping, decorating the house, and making any holiday preparations. Once you are a little more organised, you will feel that weight lifted knowing that you do have time to complete everything for a perfect Christmas.

Not everybody is lucky enough to have time off over Christmas. If you do, then this is an important time of the year to enjoy spending time with family at home. Even if you do not have a significant amount of time off, you should make time to do holiday activities with them, especially if you have children. It is the perfect time to get the entire family involved in decorating the tree, or making your own decorations. Put on a Christmas music playlist, get the family together and let go a little.

A great creative pasttime is to bake some holiday treats together. Perhaps get the kids to bake some holday treats with you. Even if you live alone, getting involved in some holiday baking or learning that perfect recipe for Christmas day can be almost theraputic if you enjoy being in the kitchen.

Coping with restrictions and loneliness

Of course, we cannot ignore the stress that the pandemic has brought. Unlike last Christmas, we are not yet stuck in another lockdown (fingers crossed!). But with the pandemic still happening and certain restrictions still in place, it can be difficult to spend Christmas with all of your loved ones. This can prove for an extremely lonely and anxious Christmas for some. While you may not be able to spend Christmas with family in person, thanks to social media it is somewhat easier to still be in touch with them. Set aside some time for a zoom call with your loved ones. Perhaps organise a Christmas quiz night or something similar to experience that united holiday feel. Call your friends and wish them happy holidays, you don’t have to spend Christmas completely alone!

If everything is proving too stressful, it may be time to practice some self care. Have a relaxing bath at the end of a long day to wash away the stress. Switch off from the pressures of the holidays for an evening, turn off your phone and have some ‘me’ time. Do something you can shift your focus on like reading a book, or sewing. Practice meditation or yoga to switch off and reset your mind. This way you can think more clearly about the next few weeks.

Regardless of how you are spending Christmas, be mindful of your stress and wellbeing this year. For more tips on managing stress, visit our other blogs.

 

 

As a female in today’s society, it is an unfortunate fact that you have to be on your guard when it comes to being out at night. With the recent reports of drug spiking being on the rise, women are trying to be more vigilant than ever. And we are all asking the same simple question: Just how safe are women in today’s society?

I’m Sophie, I work for Alison Charles and have taken on this blog to bring some awareness to the dangers of spiking. As well as discussing the issues surrounding drug spiking and women’s safety, I will also be sharing my personal experience with an unprecedented drug spiking that happened to me only a month ago.

What are the dangers of spiking?

It almost goes unspoken, the ritualistic process in which women must take in order to ensure a safe night out. Making sure that you are not walking alone at night, covering your drink at every given moment, or phoning a friend when you get home to let them know you are alive. These precautions which have shockingly become normal to us are vital for our safety. We must be consistently on the lookout for danger. Unable to enjoy a simple night out with friends in case we end up under the influence of GHB or another unwelcome drug.

In a recent survey by The Tab on Instagram, around 23,000 students responded to the question “Since the start of the year, do you believe you have been spiked?”. Of these people, 2,625 answered yes. When asked if they knew someone who had been spiked, 50% (around 12,000 people) also answered yes. The newest issue that we are seeing all over the media now is the use of needles to drug women. There have been multiple reports of girls feeling the effects of spiking with no idea what happened. Only to find a pinprick-type wound later. As women become increasingly aware of their drinks, it seems the culprits are finding new ways to target women with drugs against their will. In my case, this could have been in the almost unheard-of form. A cigarette!

My experience of being spiked

On the 15th of September this year, just a month ago, I was spiked in London. The details I have of that night have been told to me by the people I was with, as I have no recollection of anything whatsoever. I know that I was fine until my vision became very blurry, I felt confused and nauseous. Within minutes I was on the floor, vomiting, convulsing and unconscious. During some of it, my mind was completely aware, but I had no control over my body movements at all. I had paramedics and strangers in the street helping me, I never saw their faces.

After many hours, and trip to the hospital, I was able to get safely home. My mum drove over an hour to find me sat alone and shivering at a hospital. It did not end there, for the next two days I was incredibly sick, dehydrated, and nauseous. The pub I was visiting took no responsibility. Therefore, this has gone completely unsolved, and I am left with a harrowing memory of that night. And now, the added fear of enjoying a night out with friends ever again. Having experienced this, I will forever take drug spiking seriously and try to bring awareness as to how terrifying it can be. I am also horrified at the new information of needles being used, especially with the risks of contracting unwanted diseases or infections.

How to know if you have been spiked

The problem with spiking, and how to stop it, is that it is completely out of a woman’s control. It should not be down to us to stay safe when we are not the culprits. We are just the victims of disgusting, predatorial people whose end goal is both terrifying and sad. With most culprits being male, it should be down to the those around us to help ensure our safety. Make your friends aware. And if you see a woman in trouble, try to intervene or ask if she is safe. As women we can still only do the bare minimum. Stay vigilant, cover your drinks, be mindful of who you are with. Even with all those measures in place it still doesn’t guarantee total safety.

Not everyone is aware of the signs of drink spiking. It can go completely unnoticed until it has already happened. However, if you do notice anything strange about your drink, such as an off smell or taste, let friends or staff know. These are some of the effects that drugs such as GHB (Rohypnol) can have and to be wary of. Remember, if you experience any of these, let someone around you know so you can get adequate help:

  • You have not had a lot to drink, but feel too drunk already
  • Blurred vision or black outs
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lack of awareness or confusion
  • Lack of control over body movements
  • Unconsciousness

What can venues do to keep us safe?

At the moment, there is a lot of talk about how local venues can make sure we are safe. How many more cases do there need to be for someone to take it seriously? A petition, started by Hannah Thompson from Glasgow, has been put forward to the government with over 140,000 signatures already. This petition is asking that nightclub venues should legally search everybody on their way in. In addition to this, women up and down the nation have planned “Girls Night In”. This is a day planned for the 27th of October where women boycott nightclubs and other local venues in order to stress just how seriously spiking need to be taken.

A few nightclubs and bars have already acted by some having “spiking strips” behind the bar. These are strips of CYD that analyse your drink and give an indication as to whether it has been tampered with. It picks up drugs such as GHB and Ketamine. However, only a few venues offer these. But they are extremely easy to get hold of, so it might be a good idea to take some with you yourself, just in case. But again, why is this our responsibility? We can only look out for ourselves until somebody steps in.

It is important that we keep raising awareness for the many women who have fallen victim to spiking, so if you want to make others aware, please share. Hopefully one day women will feel safe enough to enjoy a simple drink with their friends without fear.

 

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 will be looking at menopause in the workplace and why it is such an important issue. What needs to change about the attitude towards menopause and symptoms in the workplace?

How menopause affects women in the workplace

Did you know that 13 million women in the UK are going through menopause at any one time? 80% of them are at work? While we all know that menopause physically affects only women, when it comes to the workplace it can affect everybody. In any job where there are female employees present, it should be taken into consideration that the possibility of them having symptoms, while at work, is very high. There are a possible 49 symptoms of menopause, and any number of them can affect productivity and performance at work.

If you think about your current job, and whether you are going through the menopause, would you say you are comfortable in your workspace to cope with it? According to a survey by Forth with Life around 90% of women say that their workplace does not offer any help to menopausal women. 72% say that changes need to be made to accommodate menopausal women in the workplace.

How symptoms affect women in the workplace

If you have experienced menopausal symptoms, then it will be no secret that they can disrupt your daily work life. 41% of those same surveyed women said that their poor concentration and forgetfulness causes them to make mistakes and underperform. Menopause can also cause difficulty concentrating, depression and anxiety during work and employers can easily dismiss that too as underperforming. If your employer has experienced the menopause themselves they may be a little more uncerstanding. However, those who have not been taught how to deal with it can easily misunderstand how serious these symptoms are.

Managing your menopause is a great first step to coping. Finding natural solutions such as ones we have discussed in our Natural VS HRT blogs may really help you. Maybe you have a co-worker going through a similar experience? Could you ask anyone around you for support?

How does this affect you as an employer?

As of 2019 studies show that there is a huge rise in employment in women between the ages of 50 and 64. This is prime time for menopause to be an issue, and although some are choosing to stay in work, many feel as though they cannot cope with the symptoms and stress. This results in possibly leaving work or a rise in absence. One in four women have considered leaving work because of menopause, and according to BUPA around 990,000 already have. If a woman quits work due to unmanageable symptoms it will cost the company money. Replacing an employee can cost anywhere between 90% – 200% of what it originally cost to pay that employee. For exmaple, if they earned say £25,000, that could cost anywhere up to £50,000. This is before taking into consideration other elements such as:

  • Expertise, skills and experience lost
  • Recruiting, interviewing and training a new employee
  • The client relationships they built
  • Cultural impact
  • Loss of productivity

What can you do as an employer to help?

When it comes to the wellbeing of women in the workplace, topics such as menopause should be taken seriously. Simply talking about menopause, raising awareness to all employees and normalising it is extremely helpful. Especially when employees might feel embarrassed to address it or made to feel like it is a taboo subject. In addition, here are some things employees can introduce to better the help and understanding of menopause in the workplace:

  • Training for all line managers
  • Support groups
  • A safe place to talk in the office
  • A quiet rest area
  • Flexible work hours and shift arrangements
  • Facilities for physical symptoms such as showers, fans and clean bathrooms
  • Introduce a menopause policy

The government are currently investigating a manifesto for menopause at work. This was put forward by the CIPD in order to bring more attention to the lack of awareness and support surrounding menopause in the workplace. Bringing a menopause policy into organisations would ensure the wellbeing of employees, and help shed the negative talk surrounding it.

If you would like to stay ahead of the curve and think about your wellbeing strategy to incorporate a menopause policy now, contact Alison Charles, Wellbeing Consultant:

Tel: 07768 493157

Office: 020 3290 3157

Email: alison@alisoncharles.co.uk
Twitter: @alisonjcharles
LinkedIn: Alison Charles
Facebook: Alison Charles: Wellbeing in the Workplace

 

 

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.

#TheBigShift – Are people are quitting city living?

I was delighted to be asked by Andrew Seaman from LinkedIn News about my perspectives on “The Great Resignation.” People are not just resigning from jobs, they are resigning from city life and looking for an existence with more balance, clearer air and less stress.

With companies being more open to working from home or the hybrid ways of working, partly in office or at home, employees are resigning from the cities and moving out to the suburbs or the country. No longer faced with the five days a week commute many people are thinking about living further away from the office.

Many are changing their lives entirely , they’re subsequently quitting their jobs and looking for something entirely different. Some are driven by the desire for a different lifestyle, others driven by necessity because their employers have ceased trading. However some are just thinking that their employers might be looking at redundancies or may cease trading in the near future.

Managing stress during change

Times are very uncertain and it is important to bear in mind that moving home and changing job are two of the most stressful. You only have to look at the Holmes and Rahe stress scale and add up the scores for the potential areas of change. You can see a subset in the table at the bottom of the article. Anything above 150 points and you could be at risk of stress related illness or other ailments.

So what are you doing to protect your wellbeing? Whatever the change it will impact on your stress levels to varying degrees!  However this will depend on your ability to cope with stress, your resilience levels and ability to bounce back.

When we are stressed our heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscles tighten, and blood pressure rises. We are ready to act. It is how we protect ourselves, we call it the “Fight of Flight” response. As stress continues the reactions of sympathetic nervous system effectively puts it foot on the gas pedal and presses down hard. This keeps us in stress overdrive! As a matter of fact what we need to do is invoke the parasympathetic nervous system – the body’s natural brakes. As a result this allows everything to calm down and lets us think clearly and rationally.

What can you do?

There is lots that you can do to destress and different people prefer different ways of relaxing. Firstly, the most important thing is that you do find time to decompress. This will help you when you need to put your foot back on the gas pedal again. It’s a bit like driving a car or a motorbike. If you keep your foot on the gas, you will eventually run out of gas! Logical right? Our bodies work in the same way, we need to refuel.

I am also one of those people that quit the city and I am rethinking my business as a result of Covid. The best advice I can give is that you remember to take your foot of the gas from time to time so will have enough energy left in the tank for when you really need it.

I am aware that many people are feeling the effects of stress or overwhelm at the moment and just need some clarity or someone to talk it through with. I am currently offering a complimentary 30 minute call, to help you get the support you might need just now. Just click this link and book your appointment. Alternatively call me on 06678 493157.

 

Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale Subset For Moving and Changing Work Circumstances

This month we invite guest bloggers Fola Ademoye and Narayani to talk about taking care of your own health.

If there is just one thing we learned in 2020, it is just how important being and keeping healthy is. Yes, that means looking after you! According to Public Health England, many women have suffered from mental distress as a result of covid and accompanying increases in workload.

So, we asked Soroptimist East London wellness experts Fola and Narayani for their top tips for taking care of you (without spending lots of money or time) in 2021 and will write them up in a number of blogs. First, we talk with Fola and Narayani and explore their top tip 1: get outside – even if it’s just stepping out the front door! 

Top Tip 1: Get outside, start your health and fitness journey!

After the events of 2020, it’s become evident now more than ever just how much good the outdoors can do for you. Especially if that time is used to do some exercise.

Fitness and Pilates instructor Fola Ademoye suggests: Get outside and keep physically fit!  She explains that even if gyms are closed, or access limited, there are still plenty of ways to gain or maintain a reasonable level of fitness and have fun at the same time. She suggests trying interval walking – with or without a friend.

Interval walking is simply where you walk at your normal pace for, say, 3 minutes and then do a quick burst of walking fast for 2 minutes. You only need your normal walking shoes and a watch with a second-hand. It is quite fun to see how many of these you can achieve over a few weeks. For example, you might do 5 blocks on day one (one block = 3 minutes walking normal speed and 2 minutes walking fast).  You will have accomplished 25 minutes without even noticing. Ideally, says Fola, increase your blocks by adding just one per day. Within a week you could be doing a 60 minute interval walk. Even if you added one block every other day or every third day, you would make significant progress.

“Set yourself a challenge and see how you get on” says Fola.

Get Outside and Shift Your Focus, Shift Your Mood!

girl walking Yoga therapist Narayani agrees that getting regular exercise is a great way to counter stress.  She suggests if you don’t feel up to interval training how about a walk around the block or to your nearest park. There’s plenty of research showing that just being in nature is good for our health. But even if there’s no green space near you, being outside you’ll get some vitamin D from the natural light.

If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, Narayani suggests that one helpful technique is to focus on your feet as you walk. As you step forward with your right foot, mentally say “right” and then mentally say “left” as you step with the left foot. As a result, this simple walking meditation technique can help refocus your mind from worries to what is practically happening in your body at the present time. It can be very grounding since you are focusing on the feet.

When we’re feeling blue, just getting out of the house, even for 5 minutes can be great medicine. If a walking meditation doesn’t appeal or is not accessible to you, how about a quick “looking meditation”? Take 3-5 minutes and look around you, notice the colours, the shapes. If it’s helpful, imagine you are like a tourist visiting for the first time – who knows what you might see!  Narayani explains, many people are strongly visual so what they see can impact on how they feel – for example,  think about how you feel if you see a baby or a puppy. Looking at something different may temporarily distract you from worries. It will give you a break, and you might see something which makes you smile.

Narayani says there are many forms of meditation. Meditating on a regular basis even just for 5 minutes can help maintain our centre when life feels rocky. And remember, it’s not selfish, it’s necessary, to spend time taking care of you.

Want more wellness tips?

If you’d like more tips about getting & staying well, contact Fola or Narayani.

Fola originally started teaching fitness classes in 1985 and has continued teaching virtually non-stop. She spent most of her fitness career working closely with groups and individual clients to develop personalised health and fitness plans for them, including programmes for weight loss, muscular gain, and rehabilitation etc.  Contact Fola at fola.ademoye@gmail.com and check out her website here!

Narayani is a yoga therapist (C-IAYT) with over 15 years’ experience. She helps people find ease in their bodies, peace in their minds and happy, useful lives even in tough times. She teaches group and individual classes with a focus on health concerns and building resilience and coherence in life. Contact Narayani at yoganarayani@gmail.com and like her on Facebook and Instagram!

 

Interested in Soroptimist East London?

Soroptimist East London is a women’s organisation that empowers women for positive change and sustainable development in East London and around the world. We do it through volunteering, mentoring and advocacy. We work in partnership with other organisations and Soroptimist clubs near and far. Members come from a wide range of professional backgrounds and live, work or have personal connections to East London. We’re part of Soroptimist International a worldwide women’s volunteer organisation. We have clubs in 121 countries around the world and consultative status at the United Nations.  You can find out more about what we do and how we do it by reading our blog “What Does Soroptimist East London Do?” and check out the rest of our website too!

If you’d like to find out more or join, please contact us by clicking HERE!  We’re a vibrant and friendly group and new members are welcome.

 

Managing Ambiguity

Why is uncertainty and managing ambiguity stressful? Uncertainty is stressful because of the fact that it is the unknown. The only certainty is that life is uncertain! That’s probably a phrase that you have heard more than once, specially recently. We all know it, but do we truly believe it? Do we strive to control the uncontrollable and how can we feel in control in uncertain times?

This time we are looking specifically at managing ambiguity. You may have hard of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity). While the focus of all the recent blogs is on uncertainty, ambiguity is an equally important. If something is ambiguous it means having more than one possible meaning, and therefore possibly causing confusion. The less information the we have, the more irrational and erratic our decisions become. As the uncertainty of the scenarios increased, the more our brains shift control over to the limbic system, the place where emotions, such as anxiety and fear, are generated.

How can we manage ambiguity?

When faced with uncertainty, our brain is pushing us to overreact and fall back on that limbic system. To conquer this you need to develop emotional intelligence or emotional quotion (EQ) to manage ambiguity. To improve your EQ you have to become good at making decisions in the face of uncertainty, despite our every instinct telling us not to. As we mentioned before, having a lack of, or conflicting information can force us to make poor, ill-concieved decisions, so fighting that is very important when facing abiguity.

It may seem impossible when your judgment is clouded by your emotions, however there are some proven strategies which can help you overcome this. Your first effort would be to quiet the limbic system and manage stress, and there are a few ways to do this; inner smile breath, tactical breathing and body reset. I will show you how to execute these instant stress relievers here.

Other proven strategies you can use to improve your EQ are:

  • Quiet the limbic system – manage stress
  • Admit what you don’t know and then get back to people when you do
  • Stay positive. Take a look at Uncertainty blog 3 where we talk about mindset
  • Embrace and accept what you can’t control, focus on what you can control
  • Decide on and focus on what matters
  • Let go of perfection
  • Have contingency, always have a plan B
  • Let go of the past, take the lessons forward and let go of the emotion
  • Breathe!

This blog has been all about managing ambiguity. See my other blogs about uncertainty. Just click the links below.

Reduce Stress

Why does uncertainty cause stress? Uncertainty causes stress because of the fact that it is the unknown. The only certainty is that life is uncertain! That’s probably a phrase that you have heard more than once, specially recently. We all know it, but do we truly believe it? Do we strive to control the uncontrollable and how can we feel in control in uncertain times?

The key to making changes is to first recognise that we are feeling stressed. Keeping a journal can really help. By writing down the information surrounding a stressful event we get clarity and understanding around what made it stressful for us.

Keep a journal and note:

  • Triggers – what happened
  • Behaviours – how did you react both physically and mentally
  • Circumstances – surrounding the event
  • Note physical signs of stress

If writing is not something you enjoy a text or recorded note on your smart phone will work equally well.

Short Term Strategies

The best thing you can the minute you are aware that you feel stressed is to take some good deep breaths deep into your belly. Remembers Primatives Amn’s Response to Stress for Part 1? Takeing a deep breath sends messages to the brain that there is nothing to worry about. It tells your body to start resetting, which can take up to an hour. When you are stuck in fight or flight mode you physically cannot take a deep breath because everything is tense, so the body knows that, the fact you can take a deep breath, everything is resolvable.

For some ideas on breathing and other exercises please do take a look at this video.

Longer Term Strategies

It is useful to challenge your thoughts and remind yourself of other times when things have worked out ok or when the things you have been worried about have not come to pass.

Think of the situation that you are finding stressful:

  • What signs might you be aware of?
    • Interrupted sleep patterns
    • Feeling on edge
    • Feeling inexplicably angry or tearful for example
  • What changes could you make?
    • Physical changes like breathing deeply
    • Mindset changes – we will cover more about those in part 3
  • What would be the consequences of the changes?
    • How might the changes help you feel more resourceful?

It is useful to refer to your journal notes when thinking thi s through and write down your answers to the above questions. I am sure you know the saying “Do what you have always done and you will get what you have always got!” So do something differently, make a change and you will change the outcome.

In other words change your behaviour!

This blog has been all about reducing stress. See my other blogs about uncertainty. Just click the links below.

 

Why is Uncertainty Stressful?

Why is uncertainty stressful? Uncertainty is stressful because of the fact that it is the unknown. The only certainty is that life is uncertain! That’s probably a phrase that you have heard more than once, specially recently. We all know it, but do we truly believe it? Do we strive to control the uncontrollable and how can we feel in control in uncertain times?

Firstly a Note on Stress

Definition of stress

Stress is the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demands placed on them.  It arises when they perceive that they are unable to cope with those demands.  It is not a disease, but if stress is intense and goes on for some time, it can lead to mental or physical ill health, EG; depression, nervous breakdown, heart disease or other physical ailments.*

What is Pressure?

Pressure is often used interchangeably with stress but actually the two words have quite different meanings.  Pressure is in fact a positive aspect of life and work for most people. Many of us need to have standards, targets and deadlines to push us towards good performance. Pressure is what most people feel as the need to perform – and everyone has an optimum level of pressure that brings about their best performance. It can be seen as pressure when you feel that it is achievable. You might have to work hard, take some risks, challenge yourself, change or accept new things – but it is manageable. You feel a level of control over the situation.

Of course what feels like pressure for one person can feel like stress to another.  Too much and you can burn out, not enough and you can rust out!

In other words, pressure is good, stress is bad!

Our brains give us fits when facing uncertainty because they’re wired to react to it with fear because it is unknown and uncontrollable. When this happens our bodies go into the stress response. We need engage the rational brain to reduce stress and convince ourselves that uncertainty is normal and manageable. Our stress response is hard wired into our bodies.

Primitive Man’s Response to Stress

Why uncertainty is stressful

  • The front of the brain receives stimulus from eyes, ears etc.- aware of danger.
  • The hypothalamus of the brain activates.
  • The pituitary gland releases hormones.
  • The involuntary nervous system sends signals via nerves to various parts of the body.
  • This causes the adrenal glands to release hormones; adrenalin, nor-adrenalin and cortisones.

These lead to the other changes:

  • Mentally alert – senses activated.
  • Breathing rate speeds up –nostrils and air passages in lungs open wider to get air in more quickly.
  • Heartbeat speeds up and blood pressure rises.
  • Liver releases sugar, cholesterol and fatty acids into the blood to supply quick energy to the muscles.
  • Sweating it increases to help cool if the body.
  • Blood clotting ability increases, preparing for possible injury.
  • Muscles of bladder and bowel openings contract and non-lifesaving activity of body systems ceases temporarily.
  • Blood is diverted to the muscles and muscle fibres tense ready for action.
  • Immunity responses decrease. This is useful in short term to allow a massive response by body. It is harmful over a long period.

The “fight or flight” response is easily recognized in a fear provoking situation. This is how the body goes into lifesaving mode.  Very appropriate for primitive man, but what about humans today, living in this always on culture and the uncertainty of the current pandemic?

This blog has been all about setting the scene and understanding why uncertainty is so stressful. See my other blogs about uncertainty. Just click the links below.

*Health and safety executive 2001

Uncertainty can be stressful

Uncertainty can be stressful

With the current Covid-19 Pandemic, life is more uncertain than ever before, especially for employees. So what can you, the employer do, to support employees during this uncertain time? It’s all about embracing uncertainty.

I was listening to the BBC news the other week. I was particularly drawn to a story about a bakery that had managed to reopen, even with the 2 metre distancing rules.  They had one major challenge. One area of production required two people to be working in close proximity at all times.  Management couldn’t come up with a solution to this problem.

Overcoming Challenges

What did they do?  They asked their employees to get creative and think of ways round the problem, so that they could reopen.

The solution: A husband and wife worked for the company in different areas of the business. They lived together so the social distancing did not apply. They were happy manage that particular part of the production on a temporary basis. Problem solved!

Engage with Employees

In these challenging times, many companies are facing a restructure or administration. As a leader, you may feel solutions have to come from the top. Perhaps telling employees just how uncertain the future of the company is, might make them anxious or stressed. You want to protect them. That is understandable.

In reality they are probably already worried about the future. Lack of communication usually leads to speculation and greater levels of anxiety and stress. Recognise that it is a difficult time and encourage employees to think about what “surviving-well” might look like.

Be honest and consistent with them. Tell them exactly what you do and don’t know. Tell them what the organisation is struggling with. Facilitate open forums for employee input.  Give them time to mull over the challenges and collectively come up with solutions.

There is no guarantee, but there is a chance that, like the bakery, their collective creativity will find a solution that might just solve the problem.

Focus on areas that they can influence. Remember to share what is positive as well as what is challenging. Make sure to recognise their hard work and resilience during “tough time”. Employees need positive reinforcement more than ever.  If they are working remotely, they don’t have the usual physical ques and casual conversations that tell them they are doing well.

Embrace new ways of doing things and be open to all ideas. Be as flexible as possible. Enable employees to juggle work, life and family commitments in a way that works for everyone.

Communication is Key

Communication is always recognised as being critical, but often underestimated and inadequate.  It is easy to get bogged down in the challenges and forget to tell employees what is going on.

  • Communicate with employees often.
  • Use a variety of media.
  • Present to the whole company, divisions and teams at different times and in different ways
  • Enable forums for Q&A.
  • Make sure solutions are captured, input is recognised and ideas are met with an open mind.
  • Send updates on items discussed.
  • Throw out old expectations and create new ones.

Risk Assessment

Carry out a risk assessment across all levels of the organisation and ensure that employees are engaged as part of the process. Plan for specific scenarios before they happen! Communicate early and often. This is a must do even for sole traders and micro businesses.  It allows the possibility of a Plan B, minimises the impact of risk and takes advantage of opportunities.

Lead by Example

How you react will influence how employees perceive the situation. Be the steady helm to lead through the troubled waters.

The language you use is particularly important.  Any attachment to certainty will increase stress and anxiety. Use of the words like “hoped for”, “expected outcomes”,  “right” and “wrong”, will stifle creativity.

Listen and pay close attention to your employees.  Use words like “might”,” possibility”,” I wonder” and “maybe”. You might wonder if a particular scenario is workable, and you might wonder if that is the right solution.  It might be right, it might be wrong.  That’s the thing about uncertainty – you can’t be sure.  Keep an open mind.

Create and share key learning moments. Change your mind if you need to.  Employees will understand if you communicate. This is all about your personal mindset. Let go of the need for certainty and embrace the new.

Employees are our greatest asset. They can help us find solutions for readiness, response and recovery. The instincts and actions that will see us through the current global crisis will also make us stronger as we face the longer term challenges.

I have a book coming out in 28th September in collaboration with Charlotte Valeur. It is called Effective Directors QTA. In my section on health and wellbeing I talk more about the importance of supporting employees, giving you key questions to ask to improve your wellbeing strategy. Click here for a copy.

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.

 

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

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

"Be

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.

 

 

Boost your mental health with creativity

Today lets take a look at 5 creative pastimes and how they can benefit your mental health and wellbeing.

Many people reading this are under lockdown due to Covid-19, so here are a few ideas to use your extra time to start or restart a hobby, or learn a new skill. Its a smart way to boost your good mental health. Studies show that learning something new creates new neural connections in the brain, which improves memory and performance and makes us feel better.

1. Drawing

Whether is just doodling, colouring in colouring books made for adults, or drawing and painting it does not matter.  Anything that gets your creative juices flowing and gives you time out to relax the mind. If you are new to drawing and dont know where to start I have always found this a great way to get started and would recommend it.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. It is the  is the world s most widely used drawing instruction book. Whether you are a professional, a student or enjoy art as a hobby Betty Edwards practical set-by-step guide to drawing will give you greater confidence in your ability, deepen your artistic perception and provide a new way to appreciate the way you perceive the world around you.

Or perhaps a colouring book is more your speed.  There are loads specifically created for adults and readily available on amazon. I love mixing it up between high quality colouring pencils and fine tip staedler pens. Ah so many choices.

2. Cooking

Cooking can be fun and creative. It is also an ideal way to improve your physical health, learning to cook nutritions but fun new meals.  I think I have yet to cook the same meal twice in the last few months.  We have a regular organic veg order and finding new ways to cook delicious local and seasonal produce has been great fun. Yes it has been ocassionally challenging and there have been some veg we would have never considered buying so it has stretched our adventuresome spirit too. It has also saved money, cooking with what is delivered, rather than designing the recipe and going and buying the ingredients.

Baking is also a great skill to have.  This week and I have been learning to bake bread and scones.  Focaccia this week.  Tasted fabulous.  Now the challenge is to not eat too much of it!!! Luckily a lot of these things can be put in the freezer for a treat another day.

3. Music

Learning a new instrument, learning to read music or learning to sing are all fun things to do. Whether you sign up for Gareth Malone’s virtual weekly choir or decide to learn to play an instrument there are multiple benefits.  Just because we are on lockdown does not mean that these are unachievable. There are so many online resouces available from eLearning to You Tube or many apps.

If you started in your youth but gave it up now is a chance to rekindle your passion. Learning an instrument relieves stress and also improves brain power.

Remember that listening to music can completely change your mood.  Something to make you dance round the room or something to help you relax or meditate, it does not matter. What is important is that we do.

4. Writing

Writing is a great way to be creative, whether it is journalling or creating a novel or poem. It can be with a beautiful book and pen, a structured journal, a typed note or a captured voice message. Journalling as a fabulous way to reducing anxiety by getting thoughts out of your head and on to the page. I personally love to have a special note book around to doodle and write in when the mood takes me, but I also use a structured journal to help think through things or for personal evelopment.  One of my favourites is Daily Greatness.  A structured journal can also be great for thinking about what you are grateful for and what life afirmation can boost your mood.

There is plenty of room to get creative and there any many online resouces to help you. If an app is your preference try Masterclass or if eLearning suits you best try FutureLearn. Of course reading a book on the topic can also be inspiring. Not everything has to be online.

5. Learning a Language

Learn a new language

Where we live is becoming more and more multicultural.  In our small block of 5 houses alone we cover Easern Europe, Asia, West Indies and UK. Whether you want to be able to converse in the language of your neighbours or have your eye on the prize of the next holiday, when allowed, why not prepare and extend your vocabulary beyond what’s required to order food and ask directions. Duolingo seems like a great way to start. It makes games out of learning, and games are always fun right! It is also free if you don’t mind the ads. You can also graduate to having practice sessions with friends with a glass of wine or a virtual coffee via zoom.

 

Makes you just want to do a little happy dance doesn’t it!

 

 

Lets talk about stress

Feeling stress is a natural reaction in the body, that feeling of fight of flight.  However the body is designed to deal with the danger and then reset.  In the modern world we live in though, we rarely get the time to properly destress, and so the stress builds and builds.  It is really important to take the time to help the body reset. Here are some really simple exercises you can do that take just a few minutes.

Try them out and find out which one works best for you.

Firstly is the rescue breath.  This is a deep breathing exercise to help you dissolve stress and restore calm. It helps calm the mind and slow the heart rate.  It is great to use in the moment.

Then there is the reset ritual, to help you release stress and tension and give you a boost.  You will feel relaxed and energised.

Thirdly is Tactical Breathing, which is a technique, taught to the military and emergency services, and another easy method of calming the parasympathetic nervous system.

Lastly we will show you a tapping technique called Through Field Therapy (TFT).  We will show you a specific series of meridian tapping points in a pattern called The Psychological Reversal Triangle (PRT), which can help calm you and reduce stress and anxiety.

It is so much easier to demonstrate them than to try and explain them so enjoy watching and have fun trying the techniques yourself.

Written by Alison Charles and Reyhana Jano

World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) is an awareness day observed on 10 September every year, in order to provide worldwide commitment and action to prevent suicides. There are various activities around the world.

What’s the campaign?

The campaign is a joint collaboration between the World Health Organisation, the World Federation for Mental Health and the International Association for Suicide Prevention.
Working Together to Prevent Suicide is the theme this year, which will be retained for WSPD in 2019 and 2020. The theme was chosen as it “highlights the most essential ingredient for effective global suicide prevention – collaboration”.

Every 90 minutes a life is lost to suicide in the UK. Globally a person dies every 40 seconds by suicide and up to 25 times as many make a suicide attempt. Therefore many have been bereaved by suicide or have been close to someone who has attempted suicide.

It touches the lives of people in every corner of society – from builders to doctors, actors to the unemployed and homeless. It’s the biggest killer of people under the age of 35 and men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.

“It’s rarely talked about, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice”.

Unfortunately, my own cousin committed suicide 28 years ago.  I still feel sad when I remember him. I still feel said when I think of him. He was a gentle soul, taken from life too early. The aftershock on family, friends, colleagues is very traumatic.  What could we have done differently we wonder.  It is just as important to get help and support of you have suffered a loss and are struggling.  It is important for you to talk to someone too and also ask for help.

There are a number of different organisations that can help from your GP and local charities with qualified professionals.

How can you help?

When stress, depression and anxiety hit so hard that someone feels suicidal, reaching out and asking for help can be the hardest thing in the world to do. So we have to continually reach in. Just reaching out to someone and offering a helping hand and some comfort can make a difference. So many people worry about what to say or that they may say something that makes the situation worse.  However, in reality, the listening ear of someone with compassion, empathy and a lack of judgement can help restore hope.

Taking a minute to reach out to someone in your community could change the course of another’s life. A family member, a friend or a stranger, just reach out.

What to look out for

We need to look out for those who are not coping. Individuals in distress are often not looking for specific advice. Warning signs of suicide include: hopelessness, rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge, acting reckless or engaging in risky activities – seemingly without thinking, feeling trapped like there’s no way out, increased alcohol or drug use, withdrawing from friends, family &  society, anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time and dramatic mood changes.

What can companies do to help?

Today is a great day to remind people of what help and support is already available to employees. So perhaps an Employee Assistance Programme, a chat with HR or their line manager or a wellbeing programme. Think about what can help the most. Have a variety of options available.

These are all ongoing activities, not just ones that are focussed on for Mental Health Awareness, Stress Awareness and Suicide Prevention Day. Remember to focus on it all year round.  While the focus is on suicide prevention, in social media and on the news, it is a good time to raise awareness.

I would love to connect and discuss the topic further. Perhaps you have a particular issues you wish to discuss.

Here’s my calendar link to make finding time easy.

 

 

Do you find speaking in public stressful?

Do you need to step up and speak in front of audiences to promote your business and showcase your expertise?  Or perhaps you are seeking promotion of have been recently promoted and now need to talk confidently in front of an audience.  Do you feel confident or do you feel stressed?  Do you love it or hate it?

I was a painfully shy child and speaking on a one to one basis was often painful but speaking to a group was horrible, let alone speaking in public, even to a really small audience. Some of you might already know that I am ex Army.  For those that don’t it might come as a bit of a surprise, being only 5 feet 2 ish!!  I was tidying up the other day and came across some old photos of me in uniform and started to think about my military service.

Speaking in public is one of the biggest phobias

It was during my time in the military that I had to overcome my fear of speaking in public.  Of course speaking in public can be one of the most painful stressors for so many people.  In some countries even being ranked as the highest fear, even greater than the fear of dying, spider or snakes.

In the Army there was no room to be a shrinking violet, but I was naturally shy, but at some point I became ok at public speaking and got my fear under control.  Seeing the photo made me think about that time and I started to get curious about when exactly it was that my reaction to speaking from the front of the room changed.  Then it dawned on me that learning a skill in one area actually helped me in the other.  That skill was tactical breathing.  We were being taught this technique to help ensure that we could calm ourselves when we needed to.

Tactical breathing is taught to military personnel, police, and others in highly stress intensive roles and it really works.  I was naturally applying the technique before speaking in front of a large group or before taking drill where I had to project my voice across the parade square.  While I was not at the stage yet where I actually enjoyed being in front of an audience, that came much later, it got me to the point that I could actually do what I needed to do with a level of comfort.  It calmed my mind and stopped the jangling nerves.  Interestingly I had never made the connection until recently because I just naturally did it without thinking.

Tactical breathing

Tactical breathing requires you to consciously regulate the amount of airflow your body is receiving over a set interval. Most commonly is a count of 4 but experiment and see what works for you.  You could find 3 is better or maybe 6. While it can be a difficult technique to master under extreme stress, the principle of the breathing is simple.

Breathing is as follows:

  1. Slowly and deeply inhale through the nose for 4 seconds.
  2. Hold the breath in for 4 seconds being sure to keep the rest of the body relaxed. (This can take practice as the tendency can be to hold tension and draw up the shoulders so the techniques needs regular practice)
  3. Slowly exhale through the mouth for 4 seconds.
  4. Hold the empty breath for 4 seconds.
  5. Repeat until your breathing is under control.

Repeat the entire process four times.

It can be applied to any stressful situation

The really great thing about this technique is that it can be applied to any situation that you feel stressed, not just speaking in public. Your body has multiple responses but we are specifically concerned with what happens when you are stressed, the fight or flight response. Any situation in which you feel stress your body will automatically pump adrenalin and other hormones into your body to either give you an extra spurt of speed to run or numb any injury and clot the blood flow.  Not really how you want to feel when you want to feel at your best and showcase your expertise.

Now do the tactical breathing and you will find that you calm down and your head clears.  Your pulse rate will slow.  Your sweaty palms will dry and any shaking will cease.  Now you are ready to move forwards.  Of course the trick is to practice this when you are calm so that when you need it, it is second nature and you don’t have to think about it.  With Tactical Breathing you will have the mental strength and inner calm to achieve peak performance.

If you would like to receive a free copy of my MP3 recording on tactical breathing and relaxation then please fill in the contact form with “Tactical Breathing” in the subject.

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.

© Wong Hock Weng John | Dreamstime.com

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.

© Goinyk Volodymyr | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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.