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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.

Why talk about Chronic Fatigue?

Today let’s talk a bit about chronic fatigue, what it is and how you can manage it. We spoke to Dan Thompson from Southend Acupuncture to hear his perspective on chronic fatigue and how you can include acupuncture and exercise in your routine to help with symptoms. Chronic Fatigues is very akin to Long Covid and many of the things that help chronic fatigue also have been found to help Long Covid.

I burned out in 2011. When I came back to work I knew I was really struggling to concentrate, but I did not know why. I felt tired and really struggled to concentrate. Luckily the works doctor spotted that all was not well and sent me to St Thomas Hospital for an assessment. I had a chronic fatigue syndrome called Fibromyalgia. Finally everything I was feeling made sense. From here I embarked on a journey of discover, recovery and resilience.

What is chronic fatigue?

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a long-term illness and is very common. There is an estimated 250,000 people who are affected by chronic fatigue syndrome in the UK alone. It usually develops between the ages of 20-40, and it is recognised more in women. It is recognised by a case of extreme tiredness that is not relieved through bed rest and is not related to any underlying medical condition. Although the main symptom is fatigue, that isn’t the only common symptom. Other symptoms can include:

  • Poor concentration
  • Brain fog
  • Pain in joints and muscles
  • Headaches
  • Sleeping problems such as insomnia
  • Extreme tiredness

A range of different symptoms means there is no one way to treat or manage chronic fatigue, it cannot be generalised. It is very different for each individual, therefore dealing with the symptoms needs a flexibility and combination of things in order to help with the illness.

How can you manage chronic fatigue?

When figuring out the best solution to dealing with chronic fatigue symptoms, there are a lot of factors to think about. You must of course take into consideration your nutrition and diet, hereditary factors, constitutional factors and emotional factors. These all contribute to long term chronic fatigue syndrome. Additionally, trauma can be a trigger. Trauma triggers a physical response, and this can result in your body going into a fight or flight response.

When dealing with a negative emotion or unresolved trauma, our bodies will naturally go into a fight/flight state. This is where the sympathetic nervous system is triggered, starting a whole host of chain reactions throughout the body. The brain sends a trigger through the nervous system and our adrenal gland will produce adrenaline and noradrenaline. This can induce an increased heart rate, muscle tension, sweating and shallow breathing. These responses are actually vital to how we learn to cope with uncomfortable or negative situations. The fight or flight response is part of our body telling us when we are in danger and preparing us to act on it. We tend to react with the options of fleeing, freezing or fighting, hence the name “fight or flight.”

However, our body cannot always tell when a threat is real or not, so even if there is not any actual danger we still respond in this way. Some people have a little more sensitivity to these situations, such as those with anxiety, PTSD or in this case, Chronic Fatigue Sydrome, which is why the fight or flight response is triggered more than usual.

How can acupuncture help?

Acupuncture can actually help regulate your fight or flight. By putting a needle into the right pressure point it triggers our rest response right away (The opposite of fight or flight). By having regular treatments to help regulate the fight or flight, your body will soon start regulating your other organ functions and bringing a natural order of health. It improves your sleep pattern, energy and also your mindset. By having a healthy mindset you gain more clarity and focus, and in turn brings that back to you wanting to do more exercise despite feeling like you couldn’t due to chronic fatigue. By opting to do acupuncture and exercise regularly your metabolism improves, making you want to eat the right food. All of these are subtle changes that day to day will push you towards feeling better.

Treatment is carried out with Acupuncture, based on the symptoms that are demonstrated. The needles will be used at different points at different times based on presentation, and, as all symptoms can present themselves differently, they will be used whenever or wherever required during the session.

What exercise can you do?

As muscle pain and joint pain are present in chronic fatigue, doing muscle or joint heavy exercise probably not possible. Start by walking, and it doesn’t have to be a mile long walk every day. Maybe start out with a walk around the block at first depending on how you feel! A couple of days later you could go a little further. The more you do it the better you will feel. But remember not to push yourself too far, you do not want to hit that wall of tiredness again. It is your personal journey, it is up to you to find your limits and have total control over feeling better.

For someone with chronic fatigue, just simply getting out of bed can feel too difficult. But once you do, and you take that first step to becoming more active you will feel a whole lot better. It is entirely possible to do that, and once you start to do more physical things such as walking on a regular basis, you will notice the increase in energy and motivation that you have.

What about Pilates or Somatic Movement?

I tried Pilates. It is a gentle form of exercise that can help the pain in the joints and muscles. I started slowly at first, and to be honest it really did not feel like I was doing much. Pilates is a very deep muscles level exercise but this only really becomes apparent as you become more connected with your body and more experienced at the movements.  The more I did the better I felt, the better I felt the more I did. More recently I discovered Somatic Movement and have chosen Somatic as the movement that I teach others. It is absolutely fantastic at helping regain control of the body and dissipate stuck stress.

It’s important to remember that chronic fatigue does not come on overnight, and neither does recovery. It will take time to recover, it is a marathon not a sprint! As long as you are feeling like you are on the right track to feeling better in yourself then you are on the right track. Just take one step at a time!

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.

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.

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

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

Shocking number of people work while ill; stress at work rises. A new report carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) was released today, just in time for Mental Health Awareness Month.  The statistics are shocking.

People working while ill has tripled since 2010

The Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey was carried out at the beginning of 2018. Respondents to the survey said they had they had observed presenteeism (people working while ill) in their organisation over the last 12 months, compared with 72% in 2016 and just 26% in 2010.  This is their 18th Survey, so there is now a wealth of data to compare with.

Fewer Companies are Challenging “Presenteeism” and “Leavism” than in 2016

Even despite these shocking figures, only a very small number of firms are taking steps to tackle the issue.  In fact 50% fewer companies are taking steps to tackle the issue in 2018 than in 2016.

As well as “Presenteeism” being a problem, the new buzzword is “Leaveism”.  This is when people use their annual leave to work.  This is also highlighted in the report with only 27% of companies that see this behaviour, doing something to discourage it.

Working while ill bad for the individual

Shocking number of people work while ill; stress at work rises. Neither Presenteeism nor Leaveism is good for the individual or the company.  Everyone needs downtime and some R&R.  If staff are using their annual leave to get work done that is bad news.

Work is more pressured than ever and so many people are worried about job security. They show up because they want to be seen and want to give no reason to be first in line for redundancy.  In the longer term this can lead to more serious illness and a lot longer on sick leave.

Bad for Business

As well as impacting the wellbeing of the individual, it will also have a disastrous result for your company productivity.  People who are struggling are not working at their best or fullest capacity.  In fact, they are probably operating well below par. The longer this goes on the less productive they will be.

What Can You Do About It?

There is a direct link between presenteeism/leaveism and increases in stress-related absence and other mental health related illnesses like depression and anxiety.  These are still among the top causes of long-term sickness absence.

If you recognise this behaviour in your company, that people are working when ill in particular, then a focus on employee wellbeing as a whole can reduce unhealthy workplace practices.

Senior leaders are key influencers and must support wellbeing.  They also need to act as role models within the company.  Managers within the company, at all levels, need the training to support employees and often themselves.

“In order to tackle these unhealthy practices within your company, it is vitally important that you invest in a health and wellbeing strategy, and that the strategy is at the core of your values.  I am in no doubt that if you do invest in a health and wellbeing strategy you will absolutely see the benefits.” Pam Whelan, Director of Corporate, Simply Health

I will be taking a deeper dive into different aspects of the report in future blogs.

Need Help?

If you need support in implementing your wellbeing strategy or changing behaviour in your company, or perhaps you are interested in finding out more about how to support your employees then I would love to connect.

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

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.