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Anxiety and the pandemic

Anxiety and worry can be extremely draining and debilitating and the worldwide pandemic hasn’t helped matters. A recent survey by the WHO (World Health Organisation) shows that Covid 19 has severely impacted the demand for mental health services.

If you are feeling anxious then here are 5 tips that may help you.

1. Remember; your thoughts = your feelings = your actions and behaviour. If you feel yourself getting anxious, then try to identify what thoughts you are or were having before you started to get anxious. Capturing those thoughts and stopping them can act as a pause button for your anxiety. If you can stop or change the direction of the thoughts then you can impact the way you are feeling which can then affect how you behave.

2. Once you are aware of your thoughts, remind yourself that your anxiety in and of itself is not useful and will not change the outcome of what you are worrying or anxious about. Anxiety at a particular time about a particular thing is usually quite narrowly focused but if we can try to look at the bigger picture, we’ll see that the eventual outcome of what we are worried about is not going to be changed by our anxiety.

3. Take action – Anxiety can be useful if it prompts us to take action or make a plan where this is possible. Ask yourself is there anything I can do to help this situation? If there is, sit down and write down a plan of what you can do and how you think you can do it. If need be, discuss with friends and family who can support you. However, sometimes, we are anxious about things we cannot control e.g. the pandemic or being in lockdown. In this case, we need to accept that this is outside of our control, our worrying or anxiety will not change anything but just make us feel unwell and instead we can try to change the narrative in our head by identifying a positive or an alternative to worry that may make us feel better. So with lockdown, accepting we are limited in what we can do but we could look at a new hobby, read more, go walking, take up yoga, painting, spend more time with loved ones, learn a new language etc.

4. Journaling can be a powerful tool in helping us to get rid of unwanted emotions. Writing down how we feel and what makes us anxious allows us to express with more clarity how we are feeling. Looking back on past writings can remind you how past anxiety on certain issues did not help which can stop you from ruminating on the same things again. Writing down how you feel can be a way of expressing difficult emotions such as anger and rage without the risk of conflict

5. It’s good to talk. Bottling up your emotions will only make you feel worse. Find someone that you can talk to about how you are feeling. It is normal for us to worry about being vulnerable and telling people how we feel but it is only through being vulnerable and honest that we can truly live an authentic life.

Finally, remember you are more than your anxiety, Anxiety is how you feel not who you are. #MentalWellnessSupport #mentalhealthblogger

What is Resilience?

There is a new buzz word in mental health circles and it is the word “Resilience”. What is it and why do we need it?

Resilience is the ability to adapt to change and adversity, to be able to bounce back from setbacks and to find a way to keep going despite difficulties that we come across in life.

Having resilience has become something that most mental health advocates now realise is a crucial tool for dealing with life’s knockbacks. Psychologists believe that resilient people are able to cope better with adversity and to rebuild their lives after a setback.

We all come to realise at some point that life is not easy and even the best laid plans can go awry. In addition, change and adversity can strike in the blink of an eye changing one’s course forever. It is now well recognised that if we do not have the ability to deal with challenges then this can seriously affect our long term mental health and our ability to get through life. Essentially, we need to find a way to look positively at setbacks so that they do not cripple us and stop us from moving forward.

What would be the best way to do this though? if we accept that resilience is born from experiencing setbacks then we realise that becoming resilient is not going to come without some pain. This is because the ability to face hardship comes from knowing that you can and you will recover and the only way you can know this for sure is when you have actually been through a period of hardship and have been able to come through it.

There are some key features of a resilient person that are worth thinking about. Resilient people are firm believers that life is worth living, that may be for themselves or for others such as spouses or children but they have an innate desire to survive. When a resilient person is given lemons, they make lemonade. Resilient individuals tend to find a way around things, knowing that one way or another, they can make it. Resilient individuals accept reality and life for what it is. They do not live in a world of dreams or fairy tales, they know that life can be tough and they accept that and perhaps, this is one of the key facts about resilience; it is having the understanding that life is not always going to be kind to you, that things don’t always work out, that bad things happen to good people and so on and being okay with that. When you accept these as facts, it makes it easier to face and deal with a challenge when it does arise.

A lack of resilience can have far reaching consequences on an individual hence the recognition of its importance and why it is needed. People who lack resilience are unable to cope when stressful situations happens, they essentially fall apart, they can become overwhelmed to the extent that they are unable to make any decisions. When faced with stress or a real challenge, they may find themselves resorting to unhealthy habits such as food, alcohol or drugs as a way of coping. In addition, a person without resilience is more likely to end up with mental health problems such as anxiety or depression and inherently, it will take them longer to recover from a setback than someone who has some resilience.

A big misconception people have about resilient people is that they are cold, or they are not emotional so they do not experience pain, grief or disappointment as much as others. This is totally untrue. Resilient people do feel pain and all the other emotions that come after a setback, the only difference is that they respond to it in a different way.

So how can we develop resilience or the skills to build resilience without experiencing setbacks? This is difficult but not impossible and I would say in my opinion to be truly resilient, you would need to have dealt with and been through some challenges however, you can also work on developing some skills that can help you build resilience such as;

  • To be resilient you need to harness the skill of looking at negative situations in a positive way or in other words trying to find the good in a bad situation.
  • Resilience demands the need for change and for change to happen you need to be open or at least flexible enough to accept that you may need to make a change
  • In order to be resilient, you need to learn how to focus on the things you can control. The desire to overthink problems and manage everything will usually cause you to become even more confused, flustered and unable to make decisions
  • It is helpful to have a good network of family and friends who genuinely care about you and want the best for you and who you can talk to when things get too much
  • Resilient people are generally emotionally aware and emotionally intelligent, you need this so that you can be aware of your emotions and understand realistically how you may need to deal with things
  • Resilient people are able to look at things in the long term, they don’t focus on short term goals and are able to commit to the long game.

If this blog raises any questions or concerns, do feel free to email me. xoxo

Knowing when to move on

This quote by the amazing Nina Simone is one of my favourite quotes ever and it has been even more relevant in my life in recent times. I first heard this quote many years ago and at the time would usually only apply it to relationship issues. However, as time has gone on, I realised I can apply this to many other areas in my life and it has become one of my grounding principles and one that I apply when considering a vast number of problems.

The quote is from the song “You’ve got to learn” by Nina Simone who was an American singer, songwriter who sang a mixture of jazz, blues and folk music in the 60’s. She was a staunch civil rights activist and also known as a highly regarded voice for black women in that era. The quote “You’ve got to know when to leave the table when love is no longer being served” is about moving on. Its about closing the door on situations or people that no longer serve you. It is about recognising that a particular behaviour or practice is not helping you and may even be holding you back.

The reason i believe this quote has become such an important mantra for how I live my life is because I have been able to apply it to most areas of my life quite easily. I have had challenges like everyone else in life and one of the most difficult things I have had to learn is that I have sometimes held on to situations or things even when they no longer served me because I was afraid of change and what that would mean. Walking away or giving up on something can be so hard and sometimes feels like you will never recover or you are actually self-sabotaging but the reality is every good thing that has happened to me has come from change whether it has been welcome or not, I now accept that without change there can be no progress.

It leads us to wonder why it can be so difficult to leave a situation that is no longer serving us.

There are a number of possible reasons; fear of change or the unknown, fear of what could happen if we do (in abusive relationships, this is one of the main reasons people don’t leave an abusive partner), at other times, we are slow to realise that love is no longer being served so we continue with the hope that whatever is not going well, will improve. In other words, we bury our heads in the sand. These are just a few examples, I am sure you can add a few more of your own.

I actually believe that we can apply the same logic to a lot of life situations. We can apply this to friendships that have become toxic, activities that we no longer love which now cause us stress instead of pleasure, places or things we possess that don’t bring us joy and yes we can definitely apply this also to a relationship where the other person is clearly no longer giving us love.

I think it is important to make a distinction between a toxic relationship where it is clear the other person does not love you and may actually be damaging your mental or physical health AND a situation where a relationship is going through a bad spell. Marriages and relationships go through phases and sometimes we can get stuck in a phase where we feel disconnected from the other person, in this situation it is more advisable to communicate and seek to see where the relationship has gone off rail and try to do some work on it.

However, where you have a situation where your partner shows you by their behaviour that they do not have love for you but instead they treat you with contempt, indifference or derision. They may put you down regularly, may be verbally, emotionally or physically abusive and any other behaviours which significantly affects your mental wellness and may even put you in harm’s way then this is where you need to realise that love is no longer being served.

I am always on the side of trying to save a marriage but this is something that the two people in the relationship should be working on TOGETHER. If you find you are doing all the work and your partner does not commit to working on the relationship and their behaviour doesn’t change then you may need to reevaluate the situation. Also staying and working on a marriage is fine provided, you and any children you may have are not in any danger or your mental wellness is not at stake.

When we do identify the need to move on, what does that look and feel like?. I guess one thing I have learnt is that moving on may not always feel good at the time you do it. It is difficult to walk away from something familiar that you’ve grown used to however it is useful to look at it as the beginning of a new adventure, instead of focusing on what you are losing, think about what you may gain. Leaving the old behind and looking forward to the new means a world of possibilities that you may not even be able to imagine. It may also be helpful to remember that holding on to something that is no longer serving you may actually be very limiting and may stop you from becoming the best version of yourself. I experienced this personally when I gave up people and friendships, even family members that I have finally come to realise do not have my best interest at heart.

One thing that is important about leaving the table and moving on is that when you really understand what this means and when you really are able to evaluate and identify areas where you need to move on, you do it with dignity and with clarity. You do not need to give reasons or excuses and you certainly don’t need a grand gesture or to declare for all to see that you are moving on, you just get up, get out and close the door, gently even.

As a life coach, this is the main focus of how I help clients, by helping them to recognise behaviours and practices that do not serve them and working in unison with them to find a strategy for change so that they can live a more productive life.

So, as Nina Simone says “You’ve got to learn to leave the table, when love’s no longer being served, To show everybody that you’re able, to leave without a word”. I hope that whatever you feel is no longer serving you and in particular any area in your life where love is no longer being served, that you find the courage to get up, leave the table and move on. xoxo

****If any of the issues mentioned here are a trigger or if you or someone you know needs support with a difficult relationship or domestic abuse, please contact one of these organisations mentioned below.

How do I lose menopausal belly fat?

One of the most common questions I get asked as a fitness and wellness coach is “How do I get rid of my belly fat”?

This is not just something that happens to menopausal women, it happens to a lot of men and women especially in middle age but as we know, menopause in particular makes women more prone to belly fat. So what can we do to tackle this?

  • The first step is acknowledging there is an issue and that you are ready and willing to do something about it. Once you have done that, you then need to start defining how you are going to go about it.
  • It is important to identify why this is important to you and why it matters so much. Identify your “why” and make sure it really resonates with you. Just wanting to lose your flab is not enough, you must be ready to put in the work and consistency required. This is why having a strong “Why” is important as this is what keeps you going when motivation is low.
  • Exercise is important but surprisingly it is not the most important thing, your diet and nutrition is equally, if not more important. Watch what you eat, Reduce processed foods that are high in sugar and bad fats and also your general food intake should match your body’s needs. Include healthy whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and healthy sources of protein and carbohydrates.
  • Exercise plays an important role but the type of exercise is also important. You need a balance of HIIT, cardio and core, with some resistance training. Perhaps that sounds like a lot but there are many ways to create an exercise regime that includes a bit of everything you need. For e.g. you could make up a crude HIIT workout that encompasses cardio and resistance training e.g. running on the spot and squats. HIIT workouts can also seem challenging but again it is quite easy to devise a basic HIIT session e.g. doing jumping jacks for 30 seconds, 30 second rest, 30 seconds of squats is a basic example. You can repeat this several times for maximum effect and you could also add in some other exercises. The main aim with HIIT is to combine high intensity with low intensity so bear this in mind when creating your workouts.
  • Lifestyle changes are also quite important and there are a number of adjustments that can greatly influence how quickly you see results. E.g. Getting good quality sleep is very important, drinking at least 1 litre of water daily, ideally 2litres and aiming to reduce stress. These elements all affect your hormonal balance, this is of more importance with perimenopausal/menopausal women as our hormones are all over the place, so we must do all we can to keep them in check.

So let’s look at the above points in more detail. What does it mean to identify your “Why”? Knowing why you want to do something and having a strong and convincing reason in your mind is going to be important when the going gets hard. Losing any type of weight takes determination, persistence and patience. If your why is not strong enough you will give up quite easily. A good example of a “why” is to ensure that you do not put yourself at risk for more serious illnesses such as diabetes. This is one example, yours can be anything as long as it is convincing enough to keep you on track

Nutrition is key. Without good nutrition, losing belly fat naturally is impossible. You cannot out train a bad diet is a very popular saying and it is absolutely right. Even if you do everything else right, a bad diet will curtail your attempts and definitely slow you down. You should avoid sugar, fatty and processed foods. Remember there are good fats and bad fats so good fats such as nuts and avocado are good. Avoid fizzy and sugary drinks, pies, cakes and pastries especially if they are not home made. Include more vegetables, fruits and healthy sources of proteins and carbohydrates. I will be covering nutrition in more detail in a separate post so stay tuned!!!!

A good mix of exercise styles as mentioned above is very important to kick start our metabolism which has generally slowed down and to help shift stubborn fat. In particular, HIIT (high interval intensity training) has been shown to burn more calories in a shorter time and even after you stop exercising, you continue burning calories for a short while after. HIIT basically means an intense burst of exercise followed by a short rest and repeated several times. These could be a mix of resistance training and cardiovascular for maximum results e.g run for 1 min rest for 30 seconds then run for 1 min, and repeat several times. This will get your heartrate up and get your body moving. Please remember as with all new exercise regimes to consult your doctor before taking up any form of exercise.

Sleep, good quality sleep is vital. When we sleep, our body rests, repairs and regenerates itself. It is more important to get good quality of sleep even if its not for a long time than to be in bed for a longer length of time with broken sleep. So, 5 hours of deep sleep is better than 8 hours of broken and restless sleep. Water as mentioned is also vital as it helps to regulate and balance your hormones and it improves your circulation, finally avoiding stress is important if we want to keep our hormones level. Stressful situations can cause our bodies to produce a hormone called cortisol which when it is produced at the right time and in the right quantities is actually a very useful and important hormone. However, if we are constantly stressed, our bodies may over produce this hormone and when it is produced excessively and not actually for the right reasons it can actually cause damage to the way our body functions. Cortisol can increase glucose (sugar) in the blood and this can actually cause you to store more fat around the belly area. In addition, it does have a lot of other negative effects on the body when produced in excess.

Finally, there is a common misconception that you can just have exercises that specifically target the stomach such as crunches and this will get rid of belly fat. This is totally untrue. While we do have exercises that are designed to work on the stomach and strengthen the core, these on their own will not get rid of belly fat. Remember belly fat, like any other fat is excess fat which needs to be burned off. You cant tell your body where to burn its fat from so what you essentially have to do is work on generally fat loss and add in the core and stomach exercises and as the fat starts to be burnt off through all your efforts, excess fat from your tummy will be included in that. I hope that makes sense but if you have any questions, feel free to send me an email.

Listen more, talk less!

If you want to have meaningful relationships and valuable friendships, you need to develop great listening skills. We all like to be heard but find it harder to listen. The best communicators are those who understand the value of active listening.

Listening to understand, engaging with the person talking, making eye contact, being focused on what they are saying, not interrupting someone while they are speaking, all of these are really important and sometimes quite difficult to do. It is common that during a conversation, we are already making assumptions about the person or what they are saying or we are eager to interject and tell them our own story as relates to what they are saying.

Most of us confuse listening with hearing. Hearing is not the same thing as listening, we can hear the sounds someone is making and even the words but we may not be processing the information. Our minds can easily wander and we may get distracted by noise or something else. If we really want to connect with someone, we need to show them that we are interested in what they have to say and we need to get to know them properly as well. We can do this by cultivating the art of active listening and empathy.

Remember your ears will never get you in trouble but your mouth might, so listen more and talk less.