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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.

 

 

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 acupuncturist and Shiatsu practitioner, Dan Thompson for his experience with using acupuncture and Chinese medicine to manage symptoms.

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. It 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. 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.

Women who take HRT for more than 1 year have a higher risk of breast cancer than women who never use HRT. The risk is linked to all types of HRT except vaginal oestrogen. “The increased risk of breast cancer falls after you stop taking HRT, but some increased risk remains for more than 10 years compared to women who have never used HRT”. For Further information in this area see the link about HRT on this NHS Website.

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. Ultimately, 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.

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

Acupuncturist Dan Thompson told us that he sees many women turning to Acupuncture and Chinese medicine to manage perimenopausal symptoms. Hot flushes, fatigue and irregular periods are just some of the many symptoms that people use Acupuncture for. It is a practice in which thin needles are placed in certain points of the body for a number of beneficial effects. Acupuncture is about stimulating the right pressure points with needles based on symptoms or diagnosis.

In Chinese medicine, the general aging of both men and women can be referred to as ‘Kidney Yin Deficiency’. Certain symptoms may also present as a depletion of Kidney essence. According to the Yin/Yang principles, Yin encourages the cooling process and Yang provides the warming function. Both Yin and Yang play a significant part in health, therefore diagnosing and treating signs and symptoms is prevalent in menopause. Stress and aging can cause disharmonies and depletion of our yin which can induce symptoms like insomnia leading up to menopause. Through this important stage of life, both yin and yang need nourishment to maintain a healthy balance of all symptoms during the menopause.

Why should we use them?

Our bodies and hormones are in a natural state of flux throughout the aging process. Symptoms will present themselves because menopause is a natural process. We have to go through it regardless! Managing naturally might come with a sense of accomplishment. But it is important to look after yourself with nutrition and exercise too. We have to adapt our health and lifestyle habits as we get older. The needs of our bodies change so it is important to change with it. So using different management methods that suit our individual experience with menopause is really good for us.

We should also keep in mind that symptoms are not just physical! Emotional symptoms such as anxiety and depression can also be associated during this time. Managing emotional health goes hand in hand with looking after our physical health. One of the goals of using Acupuncture and Chinese medicine is to regulate hormones and reduce excess symptoms. Utilising all of these natural therapies to treat menopausal symptoms creates a healthy balance physically and within our mind.

Thank you to Dan Thompson from Southend Acupuncture for sharing his expertise with us. If you would like to know more about acupuncture and Chinese medicine, you can visit Dan’s website or contact him here.

Next week we will be looking at menopause from a scientific point of view.

Employee wellbeing is a hot topic at the moment, but do you really understand how to look after your own wellbeing when you work in a high-stress environment?

Any role that is customer facing is stressful. The Service Desk Institute realise how difficult it can be for Service Desk staff to know how to cope with stress and how critical it is to have the right support in place.

I joined us as one of our leading breakout speakers at The Conference for Service Desk Leaders 2018 to discuss the importance of wellbeing in the workplace.

What are the 5 Pillars of Wellbeing?

I particularly like the phraseology of Dr. Rangan Chaterjee in his book “The 4 Pillar Plan.  How to relax, eat, move and sleep. Your way to a longer, healthier life”.  The art of wellbeing or being well is to have all of these four elements in balance.  The one extra I would add is mindset.

As well as the stress of dealing with people we live in an age where we are overwhelmed by data and deadlines and we are on fully connected overdrive.  How many of you get up in the morning and the first thing you do is reach for your phone, check your social media and your emails?

Our adrenal glands get overstrained. The adrenal glands secrete adrenaline to help your body respond to stress, but they also regulate many vital processes in your body, such as metabolism.  Constant stress is like putting your foot on the accelerator all the time, at some point you are going to run out of petrol. It is also like overloading a PC with different processes.

It is absolutely critical to give the body a chance to reset and engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the equivalent of putting your foot on the brake, or if you think more in PC terms, a reboot.

Here are some ways to consider that might help you look after your employee wellbeing. Always check with your GP or other suitably qualified medical professionals about a lifestyle change or before embarking on exercise.

Relax

Every person is different so everyone will find different activities relaxing. The important thing is that you do take some time for self-care.  This allows the body to do that essential reboot. A morning meditation session, where everyone knows not to disturb you, might be your relaxation.  Maybe it’s that hot bath with a good book, last thing at night.  Perhaps you have a particular hobby or interest that is your “YOU” time.  If not, learning something new is a great stress buster and has numerous other benefits for the brain too.

If you are at work and you have a particularly difficult customer, then how about resetting right after the call.  I personally love the Hayo’u Method.  Try this reset ritual:

https://www.hayoumethod.com/the-rituals/reset-ritual/

If you can’t leave your desk then some slow deep breaths can really help.  Put your elbows on the desk and cover your eyes with your hands and block out the light.  Leave a gap between your hands and eyeballs, like a cup. Breathe in 4 counts.  Hold 4 counts. Out 4 counts. Hold 4 counts. Repeat. If 4 does not suit then find your own rhythm.

Eat

Eating a healthy diet is critical to overall wellbeing.  However, I am not about to prescribe a particular eating regime.  Your GP or a qualified nutritionist is the best person to approach.  They can help you find what works best for your lifestyle and body type.

The tendency, when we are stressed, tired and busy, is to choose convenience foods, alcohol and sugary foods.  All of these actually put more stress on the adrenals and therefore make the body more stressed.  Make sensible choices but be kind to yourself, an occasional reward is also good for you. It keeps you motivated and keeps levels of enjoyment high.

Make sure you encourage your employees to take a proper break at lunchtime and eat appropriately!

Move

Exercise is a great way to relax and de-stress so it might be your choice of relaxation too. It releases endorphins, which gives a feeling of wellbeing.  The key is to find out what you enjoy.  If it is fun then you will keep doing it.  Whether it is pumping iron at the gym or taking a class.  Following a High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) programme, running with a group in the park or doing a dance class it all helps.  If that all sound a bit energetic then slower exercises are also great.  Try Tai Chi, Pilates or Yoga.  There are some great online resources if you don’t want to go to a gym.  If you are embarking on exercise for the first time do check with your GP.

If you don’t have much time then there is a lot of research about short workouts with maximum benefits.  Watch “Trust me I’m a Doctor” on BBC for some ideas.

What about taking your employees on a walking meeting. Encouraging people to walk round the block if they are working from home.

Sleep

A good nights sleep is so critical for feeling energetic and healthy.  Stress can mean you spend the night lying awake trying to sleep and watching the minutes tick by, then waking up in the morning feeling tired and grumpy.  If you suffer the occasional night of bad sleep this might help.  If it is more prolonged then do have a chat with a qualified medical professional.

Choose your preferred relaxation method to help you switch off.  Leave any phones, tablets, TV’s off and preferably out of the room altogether.  Even reading can hinder more than help.  If you do find yourself running through things then get up and write them all down and then go back to bed.  Getting them on paper can help clear the mind.  If you wake up several times in the night, then try going to bed slightly later and getting up slightly earlier. It can help reset the body clock.

Mindset

Above all be kind to yourself. Think about how you would talk to a loved one and treat yourself with the same respect.  Keeping a journal or diary can help uncover unhelpful behaviour.  Half the battle is recognising it, then you can do something to change it.  Look for times when you are stressed and you have no control of the situation.

Perhaps you are driving and there is a traffic jam.  Can you change it? “No”.  What you can do is take the time to do some deep breathing exercises, listen to your favourite music and enjoy the scenery. Well that feels so much better, right?  Keeping a journal of instances like that can help you notice patterns and stress triggers.

A journal can help you make changes that will lead to a more resilient you.  Greater resilience means greater capacity to cope with stress and with change. It means you are more likely to do something that you are fearful of and try it anyway.  This in turn builds confidence, self-esteem and resilience.  It directly impacts your ability to feeling and being well.

Now over to you

What changes are you going to make to improve your own wellbeing?  What are your goals?  Go write them down.  Now create an action plan made up of small steps to achieve your goals. Small steps lead to constant wins and are the most sustainable.  Remember your wellbeing, your way.  Be Well!

If you are interested in finding out more about how to manage stress then I would love to connect.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Volunteering helps Build Emotional Wellbeing

Did you know that volunteering has considerable benefits for helping manage you emotional wellbeing and good mental health.  It can also help give direction and meaning when perhaps it might be lacking.  When you volunteer you can utilise skills you have already to help others learn, develop and grow.  For example our Soroptimist Club in Cambridge serves cookery lessons at Whitworth house.

When you are in a high pressure, busy job I do know that you might think I am bonkers to think that you might find the time.  Think of this though, what if, one a month you gave up just 1 hour of your time to help someone else?  Doable?  Probably.

I have been volunteering for Soroptimist International Great Britain and Ireland for 4 years now.  It is incredibly rewarding.

Soroptimist International was founded in California in 1921 with the specific aim of transforming the lives of women and girls worldwide through education, empowerment and opportunities, has a membership of 8000 in the UK.

Those of you that know me, know that I was, myself, off with stress related illness back in 2011.  volunteering was one of the best things I ever did.  It got me out of my own head and helped me focus on the wider world again.  It also helped put a bad day into perspective.

What about joining your local Soroptimist Group?

Our East London Soroptimist Club supports the Kori Project is Sierra Leone.  It is just one of the projects we support.  Supporting projects both at home and abroad broadens our horizons.   We are particularly delighted with the water pump we paid for, (see picture below) which now reduces cases or water borne diseases.  If you want to know more come to a speech I am doing in London on 20th July.  Details and links are below.

I have been so amazed by this organisation I wanted to be more involved to in October 2016 I became President of the London Anglia Region of Soroptimist International

You can find out more about Volunteering and Women: Engineers of Change at a talk I am doing this month on Thursday 20th July
http://events.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=orvozafab&oeidk=a07edw2y1mreee664f6

Volunteering helps develop new skills and improves job/promotion prospects

No t only can you help others but when you belong to an organisation like Soroptimist International you also have the opportunity to learn new skills and gain experiences that are relevant for your career.  Employers believe volunteering delivers positive results:

  • 80% Valued on a CV
  • 23% Better team working skills
  • 21% Improved communication skills
  • 15% Organisation & time management skills
  • 10% Can indicate leadership & management abilities

Employees surveyed at the same time, while agreeing with these results, also cited volunteering as a way to:

  • 84% find work
  • 70% earn a better salary
  • 24% gain promotion
(Time Bank Survey June 2009)

Other reasons for volunteering include:

  • Make a difference
  • Build on existing experience and knowledge
  • Develop new skills
  • Gain accreditation
  • Get to know a community
  • Feel valued and part of a team
  • Have fun
  • Make friends and have fun
  • Improve health

With a ‘job for life’ fast disappearing over the horizon, individuals can take a Gap Year before University or a Sabbatical during their professional life. Enlightened companies, such as Shell, provide employees with a Sabbatical, usually spent working in the community. As do some countries: Belgium has a Time Credit system which entitles employees a once-only year’s absence from their job, to prevent burn-out and provide an opportunity to pursue other important things in life.

So volunteering doesn’t just benefit others – we grow, learn and develop our own skills as a consequence or we get to use existing skills in new and exciting ways.