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.

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.

One word can change how we feel.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes, when a well-meaning friend, loved one, boss, colleague or whoever is giving you advice, you are left feeling tense, anxious or even angry? Not the intended outcome at all.

I recently had this experience when someone I love very dearly was trying to help me with something. As he spoke I could feel my heart beginning to beat faster and I began to feel overwhelmed and in the end I just asked him to stop talking!

Being NLP trained, I understand language patterns. In fact it’s what I listen for in my coaching sessions and I use specific language to question and challenge limiting beliefs to help people to move forward.

So, although I didn’t respond to my ‘adviser’ in a measured, ‘coachy’ way (it’s not so easy when you love ’em:), I was able to understand how the advice I was being given was having such a negative impact on me. The one word being used over and over again was ‘should’. When we tell someone what they should or shouldn’t do, we’re not really giving advice at all. We’re giving judgement, giving orders, giving criticism and telling someone else what we would do in their shoes. The problem is, we can only wear our own shoes, no-one else’s really fit.

Another unhelpful phrase that seems to be appearing more frequently, particularly online is ‘need to’. It was a phrase used endlessly in emails from solicitors in our recent house move. ‘Need to’ has a bullying tone and when it’s used in the process of buying and selling a house, it just ramps up the stress levels!

So what can we use instead? One simple word changes the whole meaning. and therefore the feeling. That word is ‘could’. It gives us choice, power and allows us time to ponder before action. It allows our brain to use different neural pathways and consider possibilities, as the one we’re being offered may not be right for us. When we replace ‘should’, ‘need to’, ‘ought to’ and ‘must’ with ‘could’ we are giving guidance and support, suggestions and possibilities. When it’s a request, it’s also good manners. ‘Could you please complete the form…’ Instead of ‘You need to…’ is far less aggressive and much more conducive to any relationship.

Of course, it may be that it’s not someone else that is using this language. Much of the time we are using it in our own self-talk. Take notice of the voice in your head, listen to the language you are using. Is it full of ‘should’s’? We are often more critical of ourselves than we ever would be with someone else. And if we choose to use any one of these stress-inducing words or phrases repeatedly, we are putting pressure on ourselves, judging, condemning and even self-bullying. And when we do, we release a cocktail of stress hormones that might be useful on a temporary basis if we’re about to do a skydive or run away from someone wielding a knife but if we are continually in a state of stress, we are down-grading our immune system, a precursor to dis-ease.

Noticing the language we use in our heads and changing ‘should’ to ‘could’ is just one simple way we can begin to reduce stress and anxiety. So, next time someone else tells you that ‘you should apply for this job, it’s made for you!’, try replying with ‘I could do, or I could look elsewhere, stick with what I’m doing now or something else…the possibilities are endless’ and see how good it feels!

Nanna’s Beliefs.

Last year I had to do a presentation for my NLP Train the Trainer course. Inspired by another mind-blowing book I had just read, The Biology of Belief By Professor Bruce Lipton, I decided to focus on beliefs and how powerful they can be, in creating thoughts, that generate feelings, that lead to actions and reactions…that reinforce our beliefs. Bruce Lipton’s research shows how strongly held beliefs can not only affect our body’s trillions of cells, but actually change our DNA. I told you it was mind-blowing!

Anyway, as with all good NLP presentations, I began with a story. It happens to be true, although whether you believe it or not, is of course, up to you.

I was very lucky to have two amazingly warm and wonderful Nannas in my life. The lovely lady above is my Nanna Gladys. and the story is about her. Now, as Nanna Gladys got older, she would repeatedly get phone calls, letters and messages from her GP’s surgery, asking her to make an appointment with the nurse to have a flu jab. Nanna’s response was always the same. ‘No thank you, I don’t need it. I don’t get the flu’. As each new winter season came about, the requests got more demanding. ‘You must have the flu jab, at your age, flu could be dangerous, even fatal’, would be the plea from nurses, receptionists and GPs alike.

Now Nanna, like Rosa Parks when she sat on that bus and refused to get up and give her seat to white folk, was a tiny, polite, quiet, unassuming lady. She didn’t want to make a fuss, she just didn’t believe she needed the flu jab.

You see, Nanna had a secret weapon.

At the first sign of a sniffle, sneeze, headache or any other minor aliment she felt was ‘coming on’, she would take a ‘Beechman’s powder’ before bed, knowing she would wake the next morning as right as ninepence. Now for those too young to know, Beechman’s (she often got her words a bit muddled, you know what she meant!), used to come in powder form, in little paper packets (I know, sounds dodgy but go with me on this). Nanna would take the powder with a little cold milk like a magical elixir, on a teaspoon, with a knowing smile.

My beautiful Nanna Gladys lived for 101 years. She never took statins or blood pressure pills. She looked after the old folk in her neighbourhood until she was well into her 80’s and lived independently until after her 100th birthday. She rarely got colds…she never had a flu jab. And she never got the flu.

Beliefs. Powerful things.

#biologyofbelief #mindbodyconnection #mindset

Unconditional Gifts

I’ve recently had a birthday and was asked by several friends what I’d got, and I know that they meant gifts that I’d received, bought, wrapped and presented in a package. Although I’d been lucky enough to get plenty of these type of gifts, I wanted to reply that I’d received precious time with loved ones, a good belly laugh with friends, sharing new experiences and playing. I know this all sounds like a cliché but for me, each birthday is marked with gratitude for still being in this life and being able to feel emotions that these moments bring.

So this got me thinking. What do we think when we’re giving a gift to others? Do you think of gifts as the material kind or do you acknowledge that these come in many forms. Do you give it unconditionally? Or do thoughts attach themselves to the giving, such as, ‘I hope she appreciates it’, ‘if I give this, I’ll get that’, ‘I’ve got to buy her something so this will do’ and what about those unconscious thoughts of, ‘this will show her how much I’m worth’, or ‘this will tell him I’m the most important person in his life’ and how about when we play the martyr, ‘I’m always the one giving and get little in return’.

Many of us have these unconscious thoughts and are therefore left feeling hollow when we give and wonder why. When we give for reasons of duty, self-sacrifice, resentment, wanting something in return, we’re not really giving at all. We’re taking, we’re choosing to be needy, to suffer. By uncovering what we’re really thinking, as uncomfortable as it might be, we can choose to let go of them and focus instead on just giving for pleasure, to help and from a place of love.

And gifts don’t have to be wrapped in fancy paper and cost a penny. We don’t even have to know the person we’re giving to. Have you ever smiled at a stranger and see their face light up when you do? That’s your gift in that moment. When did you last send a message to someone out of the blue, just to say you’re thinking of them or sending them best wishes, without any expectation of anything in return?

When I was in Edinburgh last week I met a lady and we got talking. In the middle of our conversation she mentioned the book ‘Dying To Be Me’ by Anita Moorjani. She asked if I’d read it and when I said no, she said she thought I’d love it. How did she know? What made her say that? We’d only just met. The book was lying on the table of the book sales, later that day so I bought a copy.

I read it in two days and found it inspiring, thought-provoking, emotional and beautiful and it has touched me in so many ways.

So although the lady that told me about it didn’t actually buy it for me, her gift was clear. She told me because she thought it would give me pleasure, mean something to me. And she wanted nothing in return.

Notice these small and subtle gifts in your life. They are all around you, just waiting for you to accept them. Be mindful of their impact on you and you will feel as grateful for these as the gifts that come in boxes.