How to have a better day.

I’ll be honest, I’m not feeling at my best today. As a wellbeing coach, it’s often hard to admit this. Aren’t I supposed to have all the answers and be able to both think and eat my way to perfect health??

I wish. Instead, I’m sat at home feeling ‘under the weather’ – what a strange expression that is. Anyway, I’m feeling a bit crap and taking my own advice of rest, fluids and good food. I’ve also just had a delivery of some new flooring (living the dream😂), which has prompted me to write this instead of doing my accounts, to enhance my emotional and mental state (I know, just procrastinating really!)

So back to the flooring, when I answered the door to the delivery man, he took one look at me, sighed, shook his head and asked if there was someone to help him unload it (clearly I didn’t fit the bill.)

When I said no, just me, he huffed and puffed and mumbled something about should’ve been told there wasn’t someone with a lifting mechanism or something I couldn’t quite hear. I told him I just ordered the stuff and it wasn’t my problem, to which he reluctantly agreed.

Anyway, after some persuasion he began moving the flooring into the garage whilst telling me what a bad day he was having, how his previous customer had been out and how he’d wasted so much time already. There were several pauses in his comments, with a glance in my direction, hoping, I think, for some sympathy. He did’t get any.

In a last-ditch attempt he began to pour out his story of how he had a leak in his house LAST CHRISTMAS and how he was still battling with insurers! How he’d had to move out for a while, start from scratch…and so on. While he was telling me, he kept pausing, looking me in the eye, waiting for me to offer some crumbs of comfort, understanding and attention for his sorry tale.

I don’t think he liked my reply much. I said how lucky he was to at least be safe, warm and dry and back in his home now. He did a double take, gave me a look of confusion like I was speaking some strange and ancient code and then said, grudgingly ‘I suppose so.’ There’s not a lot you can do when someone speaks a language you don’t understand or know what to do with, so it drew our encounter to a close, which I was glad about as I was bloody freezing, aware of managing my state and taking care of myself like a good coach should.

You see this man was not only having a bad day, but a bad life. His story was one of ‘poor me’ and he’d learned unconsciously to feel more important/loved/wanted or something similar by telling his story of everything that was wrong in his life. And in focusing all his thoughts and energy on that, he was living in a state of unhappiness, a victim of circumstances and he didn’t know that he was doing it or that he could do anything about it because it was unconscious, such a ‘normal’ way for life for him, that he hadn’t considered an alternative.

He didn’t know that he could choose to feel better/more important/loved/wanted by smiling, engaging positively with his customers, employers, insurers or whoever and that he could learn to value himself and change the limiting beliefs he holds unconsciously by noticing his thoughts and language.

We can all become a self-detective. We can discover what’s going on in our unconscious mind by listening, noticing, watching what we say and what we think. That will give us clues as to what’s going on up there. And if it leaves you feeling uncomfortable, change it. Then, we can stop believing the bad stuff and start to believe in something better. Just because we believe something, it doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s usually learned beliefs from childhood. Still doesn’t mean it’s true.

Now I’m not saying it’s always easy. Today, I’m not at my best so I’m having to dig deep so that I don’t feel too sorry for myself and end up thoroughly miserable as well as having some sort of cold virus.

And I’m not making light or being flippant about mental health issues either. For some, the story they tell themselves is so deep and damaging that professional help is needed to be able to move forward. The point I’m trying to make is that with or without help, we all have the ability to make changes and to put ourselves at cause, not effect, in our lives. To take ownership of what we think, how we respond and what we do with the kind of things that happen to all of us at times, like having a water leak or getting a cold, and even death, divorce and destruction. To be able to move on after a period of sadness, grief, upset, anger or just a mild annoyance when something bad happens is what determines whether you have mostly good days or bad days. The choice is yours.

Stress, Me and the Honey Bee

In his book ‘Becoming Supernatural’, Joe Dispenza likens living in a state of chronic stress to driving with one foot on the break, the other on the accelerator. Well, I’ve never actually tried it but when I read this I knew how it felt. It perfectly described how life used to be for me. Living in a state of stress had become ‘normal’. So much so, I had no idea there was anything wrong. Until, of course, to continue the metaphor, the damn wheels came off.

Now it’s a different story. I am much more aware, and know how to return my mind and body to a state of calm and when I do, I also get to experience joy, gratitude, love and just feeling pretty good about life. These emotions cannot be truly felt when we’re chronically stressed as the mix of chemicals that get released into the bloodstream when we’re stressed are very different to those that are triggered by higher emotions. And they can’t all be there at the same time.

That’s not to say it’s always easy. My old stress-inducing habits can creep up on me because sometimes, I still don’t think I’m good enough. Being aware though, means I can change my state at will. One day last week, I got some help from an unexpected source.

Sitting in my conservatory, I was doing some admin work on my website and social media (not my favourite job). I could feel my stress levels rising and knew my thoughts of lack of self-belief were intruding and threatening to overwhelm me. I stopped what I was doing, took a deep breath and glanced down at the floor. There, crawling in front of my foot was a honey bee and he looked in a bad way. He’d obviously been trapped in there all night and was literally, on his last legs.

Now wild honey bees are a rare and beautiful thing so I knew I had to get him outside pretty quickly. I scooped him onto a piece of paper and tossed him gently out of the window. No sooner had I let him go, I realised he’d landed in a thick, sticky spider’s web. I was horrified! I couldn’t just sit and watch the poor thing struggle to his demise.

So it began, operation bee rescue. I went outside, plucked him from the web and brought him back into the house. His body was wrapped tightly in the viscous strands and he was barely moving. I went to get my tweezers and nail file and set to work. Piece by piece I began by holding him down with the nail file and untangling him with the tweezers, freeing one leg and each wing at a time.

He was lying on his side, very still, so when I’d done all I could to remove the web, I mixed together a honey and water solution, put a small drop on a saucer and laid the bee gently next to it, propping it up on it’s crumpled legs. To my relief, he started drinking down the sugary nourishment.

They say bees get drunk on nectar, and I reckon that’s what happened. When he’d had his fill, he began thrashing around, unable to walk. He kept falling over and finally fell into the honey and water. This seemed to be going from bad to worse.

For a moment I thought he’d OD’ed! Maybe he’d just passed out, he was certainly very still. As a last ditch attempt to save him, I scooped him back onto a piece of paper, placed him in the sunlight to warm up and dry off (or maybe sleep it off!). Anyway, I watched him closely, looking for signs of life. I noticed he was breathing, and within a few minutes he began to stretch his wings, laying them out to catch the sun’s rays. Gradually, he started to move his wobbly legs and finally grooming his head, body, legs and wings to remove every last trace of web, honey and anything else that shouldn’t have been there.

He took his time until, gathering strength and energy and with all the grace and magnificence of his species, he rose triumphantly into the air. I managed to coax him outside and I can’t tell you how bloody great I felt as I watched him fly off into the garden to live his life.

Now, what’s that got to do with stress?

After nearly killing him, I had two choices, leave him, feel bad and go back to telling myself how useless I am at social media or interrupt my thinking, change my focus and do my best to help, feel compassion and work calmly and mindfully at trying to save him.

I had no idea if I’d succeed or not, only that I could try. The outcome wasn’t really in my control, but the process was. And the process was about being in the moment and it changed my state. By the time that bee had flown away, I was feeling a whole range of positive emotions. And when you feel calmness, compassion, empathy, joy, gratitude and downright chuffed, there’s no room for stress.

I hope the little fella is still out there somewhere, getting drunk on nectar, doing other bee things and keeping out of conservatories!

Thanks to my good friend Charlotte Kessler for allowing me to use her beautiful Honey Bee artwork in this blog.

https://www.charlottejanekessler.co.uk/

HRT – Is it really worth the risk?

So, this week has seen the publication of a comprehensive world-wide study by Oxford University about the link between breast cancer and Hormone Replacement Therapy. And, shock-horror, they’ve found that the risk is greater than previously thought.

This isn’t new though, is it. The link between these two has been known about since the turn of this century. Since then, there has been so many conflicting studies, it’s not surprising women are confused and anxious about whether or not to use this method of alleviating symptoms of the menopause.

It’s no secret that my view is that there are many natural ways of dealing with the likes of hot flushes, brain fog, anxiety and so on, but of course the choice is up to the individual.

However, I’ve been so dismayed by the reporting of this latest finding, the down-playing, dismissing and miss-informing that’s going on, I’ve felt compelled to rant a little, and offer a balance of alternatives.

In one news report, I read that HRT was worth the risk because having breast cancer was hardly the death sentence it used to be! Really??? Tell that to the families of the two beautiful friends that I’ve lost in the last 5 years. Friends diagnosed with early stage 1 and 2 breast cancer in their 40’s – both with a better prognosis than me, both who dutifully took the drug tamoxifen that was the ‘gold standard highly researched’ drug that was supposed to help prevent it metastasizing. It didn’t.

Although rates are improving, in the UK, around 11,500 people die from breast cancer a year and 1 in 7 will be diagnosed with the condition in their lifetime. When I was diagnosed 9 years ago, that number was 1 in 10. That’s a rapid increase. Oh, and by the way, TREATMENT IS BLOODY AWFUL! It’s cruel, scary, debilitating and can be soul-destroying. So don’t let breast cancer be ‘normalised’. Just because it’s common and the ‘middle class cancer’ and is therefore high profile, it isn’t OK. You do not want to have to go through this.

Anyway, back to HRT. Marilyn Glenville PhD states in her book ‘Natural Solutions To Menopause’, ‘I believe that the menopause is a natural phase in every woman’s life and should not be medicalised by replacing hormones that should not be there at that stage’.

HRT also does not replace like with like either. The hormones in these drugs are synthetic and trigger oestrogen receptor sites in the breast, ovaries and womb – places these should not be triggered at this time. Hence the increased risk to, not only breast but ovarian and womb cancers too.

Other side effects have also been linked to HRT, e.g. weight gain/loss, bloating, depression, high blood pressure, skin rashes, hair loss… to name a few.

My friends that take HRT tell me how much better they feel – and maybe they do. There is no doubt that many symptoms can be alleviated by it and I would never judge anyone for choosing this path. My only advise to them, and anyone thinking of taking it is this – please think carefully. Is it really worth the risk? Are your symptoms SO unbearable? Have you tried other ways?

I guess it comes down to individual choice and there’s no doubt that for those experiencing early menopause, then HRT may be the right choice. But for those going through it at the right time of life, or like me, medically induced (and the right time!), you could choose to make changes to lifestyle, exercise, diet and mindset. All of these can make a huge difference, not just to the menopause but to life beyond it.

I’m now 58. My menopause experience was awful, it cost me my job and nearly my sanity. However, I gradually learned how to get my life back and have made changes that have drastically reduced my symptoms. Not only that, I am not on any medication. My BP, cholesterol and bones are fine. I don’t have any regular aches and pains and I feel calmer and happier than I’ve ever done.

I can’t blame HRT for my breast cancer experience – I was never on it (although I was on the Pill – another story). I believe that there are many factors that lead to any disease. Stress and mindset play a huge part. For me, it’s like pieces of a jigsaw being put together, and when all the pieces of lifestyle factors and mindset join up, disease (or dis-ease) is created. HRT is just a piece of the jigsaw – how significant, no one really knows, everyone’s jigsaw is different. That’s why the side-effects, including breast cancer are ‘risk factors’, not certainties.

So, lets end on a positive. Here are a few tips for natural ways to help with symptoms I mentioned in the podcast I did a few weeks ago.

  • Hydrate – drink plenty of water, especially in the morning. Symptoms of de-hydration are VERY similar to many menopausal ones.
  • Eat phytoestrogens such as lentils, beans, fermented soy, nuts and seeds (especially flaxseed) as part of a balanced diet
  • Adopt a traditional Mediterranean diet to balance hormones and protect bones, joints and heart.
  • Exercise every day. I’m no gym bunny but I walk miles – it’s what we’re meant to do.
  • Change your limiting beliefs about ageing and begin a gratitude journal to interrupt those negative thoughts that keep you grumbling.
  • Reduce stress by changing how you react to people and situations (you have a choice) and limit time with toxic people/in toxic environments and try a stress relieving routine such as meditation, yoga, gardening.
  • Get outside, be in nature and re-connect as often as you can, even in Winter.
  • Love yourself – and be thankful we live long enough to experience this phase of life!

Coming through the menopause: My Story.

When Irene from One Dream One Vision approached me in July and asked if I’d tell the story of my menopause experience in a podcast interview, I was delighted. I’d never done a podcast before but had enjoyed listening to many. I like the feeling of listening in to a conversation that is both entertaining and informative.

So, here was my chance to ‘go public’ with what happened to me during my enforced menopause, due to cancer treatment.

In the podcast I share my journey of discovery. From struggling with anxiety, losing my confidence, almost my sanity and walking away from a 22 year teaching career, to understanding that it doesn’t have to be that way and to a new and rewarding lifestyle.

Take a listen to how I made changes to nutrition and mindset to overcome many of the debilitating symptoms brought on by a combination of drugs, fear and imbalances in hormones. How I realised that although the menopause is a natural phase of life, the way we live it often isn’t! I learned that food really is medicine from nutritional experts such as Dr Marilyn Glenville https://www.marilynglenville.com/ and I learned to listen to my body and go with what it needed rather than fighting it and above all, I changed my mind.

I chose to come off and stay off medication, to find new habits, to stick to my core values and beliefs around health and to take action to change how I felt about myself, to nourish my mind and body and to enjoy this amazing and precious gift of life I have.

Pimped-up Coleslaw!

Do you love a dollop of coleslaw with your salad? I do! But I find that it can get a bit ‘samey’ after a while so here’s a few ideas to pimp it up, make it even more tasty, and of course, the more raw ingredients you put in it, the more you’re nourishing your amazing trillions of cells that make up your unique bodies and minds!

Not only that, but ditching those nasty supermarket tasteless tubs will save you buying one more piece of single-use plastic. I do use shop-bought mayo and mustard but they both come in glass jars and I choose ones with the least chemicals in them. Once you have the ingredients, it works out so much cheaper too and will keep in the fridge for a few days.

Here’s what I use, make it your own!

Grate together a quarter or half of a pointy or crinkly cabbage (who cares which!), 2 to 3 carrots and a small bulb of fennel in a large bowl.

Add a quarter of red onion (finely diced), a small bunch of chopped, fresh chives and a few chopped pickled capers or gherkins.

Stir in around a tablespoon (or more if you like it really creamy) of mayonnaise and a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard. Add a pinch of white pepper, pink sea salt and cayenne pepper if you want to add some heat/lemon juice if you want to add ‘tangyness’.

Sprinkle with a few more herbs, such as the feathery fennel or mint. Remember that herbs and spices are not just for flavouring but are concentrated nutrients with a range of health benefits, such as chives for heart health, fennel for bone strength and repair, and mint for digestion and mental function. You won’t get that from Tesco’s finest!

Enjoy:)

Life with a Saber-toothed Tiger.

Here in the Western World, we pride ourselves on the freedoms we enjoy. The rights, the choices and the material wealth we have is often seen as ‘progress’. And of course it is.

And yet, the price many of us are now paying for our fast-moving, busy lives filled with doing, achieving, succeeding and acquiring, our 24/7 communication and information overload….is all too often, chronic stress.

As humans, we are designed for short bursts of acute stress. In fact, we wouldn’t have survived as a species without stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol kicking in when under threat from the likes of a saber-toothed tiger. But in between ‘attacks’, we’re supposed to be at rest, allowing a different balance of hormones to be released, allowing minds and bodies to recover, sleep, eat, digest, and so repair and renew the trillions of cells that make up each unique person.

Today’s ‘saber-toothed tigers’ are those life events that happen to us all at some point; the trauma’s, changes and grief we experience are often beyond our control. And it’s a healthy reaction to feel a range of emotions and be in a state of stress… for a while.

We also choose to be in situations of ‘fight or flight’, such as delivering a speech to a room full of people, going for a job interview or competing in a sports event. The stress response helps us to cope with these, giving us energy, clarity, focus and strength, as if that saber-toothed tiger was just behind the next rock.

However, we now a have new cat on the block. When the constant pressure of work and home-life are mixed with environmental toxins and the information overload of social media, the ‘perceived threats’ don’t go away, and we enter into a state of chronic stress. Instead of energy, clarity, focus and strength, we experience the opposite and those trillions of cells cannot rest and recover, digest nutrients, renew and repair, therefore cannot provide us with a functioning immune system, The result, in the long-run, is disease.

We may be (currently) living longer, but we are living sicker. In the West, we are more obese, more medicated and have more diseases and disorders than ever before. We are no longer dying of saber-toothed tiger attacks, but from lifestyle-related conditions such as stroke, heart disease and cancer. And stress is linked to all of these.

So now, more than ever before, we need to become aware of how we feel, what we are thinking and what ‘state’ we are in so that we can take action to reduce those ‘stressors’ inside and outside of us and give our minds and bodies a chance to be in balance and wellbeing.

Here are some simple ways to help you return to balance and allow those cells to work effectively, grow and repair

  • Become more aware of how you feel, your heart rate, your thoughts when you are in different places, with different people, reading emails, social media, the news etc. If you feel anxious, stressed or uncomfortable, if your mind or heart is racing or your thoughts are critical, demanding or judgmental, take a deep breath and if possible, remove yourself from the situation, even for a moment, to acknowledge how you are and give yourself the time and space to calm down, re-think, see things differently and make decisions that are from a calmer state.
  • Take regular breaks in the fresh air, whatever the weather, and find a place where you can be around nature, even if it’s just a small patch of green. There’s plenty of research to show that, as we have evolved to be around the natural environment, we respond to ‘sensing’ nature by releasing serotonin and other feel-good, calming chemicals. Just 20 minutes away from ‘being busy’ in the office or wherever, will give your body the boost it needs to be more effective and productive, think more clearly, make better decisions and respond more positively to others. And the effects can last up to seven hours.
  • Keep hydrated with clean water. Every cell needs water to function properly and dehydration creates internal stress on them and we experience symptoms of poor concentration and memory, irritability, headaches and fatigue and these start to ramp up the stress levels. Caffeine and energy drinks may appear to give you a boost in the short term, but dehydrate you quite quickly so are counter-productive, giving you spikes and crashes in energy, concentration and mood.
  • Have a lunch break. It’s not a luxury, it’s necessary for you to function better in the second half of the day. That doesn’t mean eating whilst doing your emails, having a meeting or checking social media either. If any of these create even low-level stress (and they usually do), you won’t digest your food properly and this can lead to bloating, IBS and poor absorption of nutrients – so you won’t even get the best out of a healthy salad! These conditions cause inflammation, which creates more internal stress. So, make time for even half an hour of peace at lunch time or be around people that you enjoy being with, have a laugh or talk drivel – it doesn’t matter as long as it allows you to ‘switch off’ and relax.

I used to pride myself on being busy, all the time. In fact, I thought I was Super Woman. I wasn’t – and years of chronic stress lead to serious illness and ‘burn out’. I now realise that this culture of ‘busy, bust, busy’ is not a good thing. We can achieve more and feel more fulfilled when we take better care of ourselves and a more balanced approach. Sometimes, less is more. Take a leaf out of the life of our domestic cats – after the high energy antics of chasing mice and birds, they rest, sleep, eat and find that warm, sunny spot at the bottom of the garden or in front of the fire and nothing will shift them! They know what’s good for them and act on it. And so can we. For me now, that feels like real progress.

Healthy Homemade Hummus

I’ve been recommending making hummus for a long time now – to my clients, groups I speak to and on social media and so I thought it was about time I wrote about this fabulous, healthy snack, how to make it and why it’s such a great idea to do it yourself instead of buying those nasty little plastic pots of insipid beige stuff you get in the supermarkets! Believe me, once you’ve made this stuff, you’ll never want shop-bought again!

So here’s why – we’re all concerned about the amount of plastic in our environment and the damage it’s doing to our beautiful planet and it’s inhabitants. When you make you’re own hummus – and any other dips for that matter, all of your ingredients can come from fresh produce, tins or glass jars. It’s free from artificial preservatives and other ‘nasties’ we’re not meant to eat. It’s also cheaper in the long run and can be made in bulk and frozen. It’s easy and needs no cooking and the recipe can be adapted to suit your taste – more or less lemon, olive oil, garlic or tahini – it’s still hummus! If that’s not enough to convince you – take a look at the benefits of the lovely fresh ingredients.

Chickpeas – packed full of a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber that help to regulate blood sugar, aid digestion, help prevent high blood pressure and reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol, so supporting heart health. It also contains phytoestrogens that ease menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. Because it’s so full of fibre, it helps to remove toxins, including excess ‘bad’ oestrogen.

Tahini – very high in protein and together with the chickpeas provides a ‘complete’ protein – ideal for vegans. The B vitamins boost energy and brain function and it helps protect against heart disease, strokes and cancer.

Garlic – the powerful anti-oxidants boosts the immune system. It’s anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory so can help recovery from most illnesses.

Olive Oil – high in omega 3 which supports brain function and is a powerful anti-oxidant. It therefore helps prevent heart disease, strokes and cancer.

Lemon juice – promotes hydration, high in vitamin C for immune function, aids digestion, kidney function and is great for the skin.

So, with all this, no wonder it’s been a staple food in parts of Europe and the middle East for many years.

Blend, mash or blitz together: 1 400g tin of chickpeas, the juice of 1 to 2 lemons (depending how lemony you like it), 1 to 2 cloves of garlic ( to suit you), 1 tablespoon tahini, a large glug of extra virgin olive oil (depending on your preferred texture), pinch of good salt.

To mix it up a bit, add other spices such as cumin or smoked paprika. Keep in the fridge or freeze when fresh. Enjoy!!

Treatment, T cells and Walking in Nature.

I’ve always been something of a rebel. Not in the ‘outrageous behaviour’ type of way. Just quietly refusing to conform, at times, when it’s felt like the right thing to do. Sometimes that has meant having real courage. The courage of my own convictions. Occasionally, it’s got me into trouble but mostly, it’s meant learning, growth as a person and maybe even a life-saver.

In the summer of 2010 I began the long process of recovery. The wonderful medical staff referred to this as my ‘treatment plan’. I called it ‘healing’, mind, body and soul.

The treatment plan involved surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy and would take around nine months, followed by eight years of medication to rid my body of excess oestrogen to prevent the cancer returning.

The healing journey started on 16th June 2010, the day of my diagnosis…and is ongoing. It began with a question: why me? I’ve never believed things ‘just happen’ and so I soon realised that I’d been living with chronic stress for years. And that chronic stress downgrades the immune system, and the result, for me, was breast cancer. So I chose to find out how I could change the things in my life that were creating it, that included my environment, the food I ate, the people I was around, and most importantly, the thoughts I had – about myself, other people and the world around me. I learned that the thoughts we have repeatedly trigger the release of chemicals in our body – and for those thoughts that don’t serve us well – those chemicals are stress hormones.

I did conform, at first. Too bloody terrified not to. In the summer I had the surgery to remove the tumour. Afterwards, I went with my husband to our favourite Greek Island to relax, to swim in the Mediterranean sea and walk barefoot on the beach. I returned home calmer, stronger, tanned and ready for the next phase.

As Autumn crept closer, so did the chemo and the rebel in me began to stir. Grim-faced nurses informed me I would lose all my hair (everywhere!) and that I would be open to infection so I was to stay indoors on ‘bad’ weeks, not to do any gardening, and to keep warm.

Well, I did lose all of my hair, yet from my first chemo session in September to my last on Christmas Eve I ignored most of the advice. Sure, on days when vomiting was my main activity, I stayed put and rested, but as soon as it stopped I began gardening. Pruning and weeding became my mission, getting rid of the old and dead, anything that stopped and stifled new growth. Just as I was doing with my mind. Being in nature felt instinctive. I didn’t know then that trees actually release chemicals that stimulate natural killer T cells – part of our immune response that not only kill viruses but cancer cells too.

As winter approached, so did the snow and ice as we experienced the worst November and December I could remember. On my ‘bad’ days I watched how beautiful the world looked, covered in white from my window. When I had the energy, I walked miles. I heaved on my red wellies and headed for the local nature reserve. There’s something really mindful about crunching through snow, something peaceful about watching a frozen lake and something magical about winter sunlight through the bare branches.

The new shoots of Spring had begun to emerge as the daily trek for radiotherapy became my new routine. New shoots were sprouting on my body too – my hair was starting to grow back! Radiotherapy left me very tired and yet the more time I spent in nature, the more energised and re-vitalised I felt, breathing in deeply, feeling a sense of gratitude for my life that I’d never known before.

As Spring really came into it’s own, I turned 50, celebrated for weeks, danced, party’ed and then went back to my life. My other life, the one where I became a wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunty, teacher and friend. And yet it was not the same, never would be. Over the next three years I began to lose sight of those calm and healing moments in nature. Those moments of joy seemed to disappear as I mourned the old me, felt plagued with fear and tried to get to grips with who I was becoming. I was also struggling with the physical, mental and emotional effects of an enforced menopause, triggered by the drug tamoxifen.

It was then that the rebel in me reared up again and I stopped taking the drug. Within two days I began to feel better. And I made the decision to stay away from tamoxifen and any other drug I was offered in it’s place, for good. I would take my chances. It was then that I sought help from a nutritional therapist and medical herbalist. Patient, wise, kind and caring women who not only provided me with natural alternatives to the pills, they guided me towards change and courage. They helped me to find the new me, or maybe the real me. Someone who could see this life-changing event as a positive. I thought I would always live in fear after 2010, instead I’m learning (yes it’s ongoing) to live in the now, in gratitude and to always walk in nature.

Mental Health Awareness Week. My 10 top tips.

‘I can’t change the direction of the wind but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination’ Jimmy Dean

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK and so I thought I would give you my top tips that I use to relieve stress, anxiety and low mood, to stop my mind from racing and to interrupt and change those negative thoughts that seem to play on a loop in my mind. On my quest to improve my own mental health, I have learned so much through NLP, mentors, scientists and spiritual leaders and hundreds of self-development books, talks, workshops, retreats and conferences and from my own intuition. I now know I have the power to change my mental state by acting on those learning experiences, and you can too.

Why does it matter? Sometimes things happen in life that lead to feelings of sadness, anger, hurt etc and it is a good thing to acknowledge and go with these feelings. However, when we get ‘stuck’ with them, they can lead to mental illness. Long term stress is not only exhausting, it downgrades the immune system and can lead to serious physical illness. These conditions also affect our relationships, work, decision making and quality of life, in all areas.

So here’s my top tips, in no particular order:

  1. Practice gratitude. When you wake up in the morning, think of three things you are grateful for. They can be as simple as the fact that you are alive or the feel of the sheet on your skin. Gratitude in the morning interrupts the habit of thinking negative thoughts at the start of your day. Practiced every day, you will change the neural pathways in your brain, which trigger the chemicals that create your feelings. Keeping a journal is another way of practicing gratitude. Whatever works for you.
  2. Meditate. Whether it’s a guided meditation, music, visualisation or whatever works for you, taking at least 30 minutes in the morning or evening to just ‘be’, quietens the mind chatter, reduces stress and helps you to feel calmer, more relaxed, sleep better and think clearer. Before I meditated, I believed I didn’t have the time. Now I get up an hour earlier to do it…and I sleep better at night so I’m less tired.
  3. Move more. I decided not to put exercise as that can be a turn-off for some! Also, everyone is different and it’s important to get a balance of movement that helps you feel calm, excited, invigorated, relaxed and so on. Whether it’s gym work, running, walking, dancing, swimming, gardening, yoga, tai chi or whatever, it all helps. The worst thing you can do if you’re feeling down or stressed is sit and brood on it. As humans, we’re meant to move. Listen to your body and notice what it needs.
  4. Be in nature. Finding a green space to walk in, listening to birdsong, noticing nature, feeling the breeze on your skin for just 15 minutes a day triggers the release of chemicals such as dopamine that lifts mood, creates calmness and lowers anxiety. These effects can last for up to seven hours. Exposing your skin to the sun for short periods (without burning of course!) also gives you much needed vitamin D, responsible for helping to combat depression.
  5. Eat Well. Food really is medicine. Re-connect with food that nourishes your body. Sugar and processed foods do not give your body anything useful and they actually affect moods. Refined or ‘added’ sugar and many of the the chemicals in processed foods have been linked to depression, moods swings, anxiety, brain fog, poor concentration and hormone imbalance. Instead, choose to eat more mood boosting foods such as vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds.
  6. Look at your life balance – what do you need more of/less of in your life? When did you last feel totally relaxed and calm? When did you last have fun, feel joy? What gave you these feelings? Fold a piece of paper in half. On one side write the things you want more of, on the other the things you want less of and plan this into your week. Replacing the ‘less ofs’ with the ‘more ofs’ means it won’t impact too much on your time.
  7. Mirror work for self-love. This is very powerful and can feel really uncomfortable at first but the more you practice it, the easier it will become and the benefits to your mental wellbeing are huge. Look yourself in the eye in the mirror and say a mantra that works for you and is about you. Simple ones work best for me, like ‘I love you, I forgive you’ are a start. Notice how you feel when you say them. The more uncomfortable you feel, the more I would do them as it indicates you don’t yet believe them. This is not self-indulgent. If we love ourselves, we improve our relationships with others.
  8. Connect with those that make you feel good. We are social creatures and that means we have a need to connect with other people and even pets. Have you ever noticed how some people leave you feeling drained, down or frustrated? And others make you feel at ease, happy, special and so on. We all have energy fields around us and when we are with others we share that energy. Choose to spend more time with those that give off higher vibrational energies that create positive feelings. Practicing these tips will raise your own energy vibrations too.
  9. Practice good sleep hygiene. Screen time, caffeine, alcohol, being to hot, stressed etc. lead to poor quality and quantity of sleep. Sleep is when your body repairs itself, makes new cells and sorts out your mind. Creating a sleep routine acn really help. An hour before bed begin to wind down, relax and switch off. I don’t drink caffeine after midday anymore and drink herbal teas known to promote sleep before I go to bed. You could use this time to journal, meditate, read and enjoy intimate moments with your loved ones.
  10. And finally, ignore well-meaning people in your life that tell you what you ‘should’ be doing. This is about what’s right for you. I’ve been careful to suggest and not dictate my tips in this post! By noticing how things make you feel, you will find your own ways. I have read, seen and listened to so many self-help ‘guru’s in my time. Some resonate with me, inspire me and others don’t. Choose those that work for and inspire you to make the changes you need in your own life.

Tropical Moments and Buckwheat Breakfast.

Hot flushes, night sweats, poor concentration and low moods are just four of many symptoms that most women experience before, during and after the menopause. For some, they are just a minor nuisance, for others, they can be really debilitating and last for years.

The menopause is a natural phase of life, a transition from the fertile years. Puberty in reverse. So why is it sometimes really awful? The problem is, we in the West no longer live life as nature intended. Our lives are so full, so fast and often very stressful. Add to that the toxic load our bodies have to deal with, from environmental pollution to the food we eat, alcohol we drink and lack of exercise we get, it’s no wonder we feel pretty terrible at times! Add to this the negative pattern of thoughts and feelings made worse by our diminishing self confidence and loss of sex drive, we’ve inadvertently created a perfect storm of hormonal chaos!

So…here’s the good news!!! There is so much we women can do to ease menopausal symptoms by using this time of life to really nurture and care for our bodies while our hormones are in a state of flux. It’s time to rest, give yourself the opportunity to sleep as well as you can, tell your loved ones, colleagues and managers what your are experiencing and what you need from them. Exercise by listening to your body, don’t overdo or under-do it.

And now’s the time to nourish your body with the foods that will both provide you with the right nutrients as well as help to balance your hormones. One of the best ways to do this is to eat more phytoestrogens. These are foods that contain a form of plant based oestrogen, supporting your hormones. They also contain lots of fibre to help you get rid of the excess ‘bad’ oestrogen your body no longer needs. Phytoestrogens are found in most beans, lentils, other pulses and whole grains. They are also concentrated in seeds, particularly linseeds (flaxseeds).

So here’s my version of Deliciously Ella’s buckwheat bowl recipe. Mine is creamy, chocolatey, orangey and gorgeous, with no added sugar, lots of phytoestrogens, fibre, vitamins and minerals. So it’s also good for your heart, blood, bones, muscles, immune system and provides you with slow release energy to kick-start your day. What’s not to love!?

Soak 150g of buckwheat overnight in cold water, then rinse until the water runs clear. Blend two thirds of it with a peeled orange, a handful of blueberries or other berries, around 75ml of almond or oat milk, a good tablespoon of peanut butter, 1 – 2 tablespoons of flaxseeds and two teaspoons of cacao powder (raw cocoa). Add the final third of buckwhaet to add crunch and enjoy! I don’t really measure any ingredients so play around with this to get the consistency you prefer. I’d love to know if you like this so please comment and share!