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Let’s play!

Guess what? If you can be happy with simple things then it will be simple to be happy.

Back in 2003, researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough asked groups of students to write down five gratitudes, five hassles or five events that happened over the past week for 10 straight weeks. What happened? The students who wrote five gratitudes were happier and physically healthier than the other two test groups. Here’s a little game I like to play at the end of each day to help me recount all I have to be grateful for, reflect on what I could learn from things which didn’t go well and what I have to look forward to tomorrow. Want to try it?!

What was the highlight of your day? (Rose)
What went wrong during your day? (Thorn)
What are you looking forward to tomorrow? (Bud)
Before you continue reading, I’m going to ask you to take 5 minutes and come up with your own answers to these questions.
Deal?
Ok, ready, steady go!

(after 5 mins)

Did you do it?
Was it difficult?
How did it make you feel?
If you found it difficult, no worries. It gets easier and better with time.
Now that you have taken a few minutes to think about your answers, let me share with you the story behind this mindfulness exercise.
Why are you asking me do this?
The main purpose of this fun simple exercise is to help you become more aware of your surroundings and incorporate gratitude into your daily routine.
By reflecting on the highlights and low points of your day, you start to realize that:
-There are always things to be grateful for.
-Sometimes things won’t go according to plan and that’s ok.
-There are events you can and cannot control. The true wisdom lies in knowing the difference and taking action on those things you CAN control.
-There is always room for improvement.
-Mindfulness is like a muscle: the more you exercise it, the more developed it becomes.

That’s fine, but why should I care about gratitude and mindfulness?
Because it makes you more self-aware.
We live in the “information age” but a big chunk of the world’s population know very little about themselves.
They don’t know their strengths, weaknesses, or what they are passionate about.
It takes time to discover them but it all starts with introspection, mindfulness, and gratitude.
Gratitude and mindfulness can help you:
-Discover and focus on your strengths.
-Appreciate the blessings in your life as well as the “not-so-great” things.
-Strengthen your relationships.
-Become happier by celebrating the present and blocking toxic emotions.
-Pay it forward to other people.
-Sleep better.

As Charles Dickens said: “Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many, not your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.

If you want to learn more about the science behind gratitude, I recommend reading Dr. Robert Emmons’ book “Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier”

February…yay!

I don’t know who needs to hear this right now, but: HOORAY, IT’S FEBRUARY! Traditionally, the second month of the year is not one that we attach much value to. It’s a non-entity of a month, a sort of tedious bridge to spring that we trudge over because we have to, rather than because we want to. Nothing much happens in February, other than Valentine’s Day, and everybody knows that Valentine’s Day is the worst of all the ‘celebrations’ – it sucks if you’re single, and it sucks if you’re coupledup, because your beloved will almost certainly forget it, or get it wrong.

This year, I want to acknowledge February. I want to honour it. I feel it gets short shrift, when in actual fact it has a lot to offer us. For example, coming immediately as it does after Dry January, it is always a slightly more joyous month, one where we have usually dispensed with the hardships of resolutions and stopped beating ourselves up for not being perfect. February is also when people stop having so many expectations for the year itself. For example, in January 2024 many of us were all: ‘Let this be the start of a new me!’ and rushing to set unrealistic exceptions of ourselves. But by February, I felt pretty confident that most of all have reached a level of acceptance, having decided that a Win Hof style cold water shower every morning in depth of winter was not a good idea!

February is a short but sweet month. It’s not like January, which just goes on and on and on, an endless month of days where it barely gets light and you are getting into bed by 5.45pm every evening. In February, you might start to see daffodils. There is that feeling in the air that spring is just around the corner. The days get a little bit longer, the temperatures get a little higher, and you may even be able to breathe in the possibility of spending some time in your garden. The light is a little brighter. The possibilities are a little closer….

Glittering sunshine
First of the year
Now I am certain that springtime is near
Franz Schubert ‘LONGING FOR SPRING’

This year, I’m keeping it real

New Year’s resolutions aren’t always my thing. I prefer embracing new opportunities when the time feels right, over big goal-setting strategies that often fail leaving an unwelcome sense of guilt and powerlessness. So, this post won’t be about how to transform your life through dramatic new yoga goal-setting in 2024.

Rather I prefer gently working towards establishing habits, behaviours and practices that are sustainable in the long run. The key is to be ‘real’.  While sometimes a fantasy escape is necessary to get us going, often a re-framing of what we can realistically (and yes, sustainably) achieve through small but significant changes, brings a greater sense of accomplishment and long-term benefits.

When I set my mind on something new, I like to start by asking myself whether this new thing will work for me in my actual life or just in my fantasy life? You know, that amazing, imaginary place where I’m never tired, I always feel great, I have an unlimited amount of time, read worthy books, make home cooked meals every day, oh, and get to the gym five times a week. We all live such a life in our mind, right?! Ha ha ; )

When it comes to yoga, we may be tempted to stretch ourselves (physically and metaphorically) to meet the expectations of that highflyer inner voice, you know, the one telling you to levitate! All too often when we imagine something based on our fantasy life, failure is hiding around the corner. On the other hand, when we build a practice that works in our real life we acquire an incredible tool to support us over the years.

A real practice is not about checking off boxes but making us feel better, empowered and healthy. Our needs, commitment and obligations change over time, we all have superhero days and duvet days. So, a real practice is one flexible enough to meet the demands of our changing schedules, our changing moods, and sometimes even our changing bodies. Ultimately, a sustainable yoga practice should be about listening, providing an opportunity to be curious, to grow stronger and more resilient physically and mentally. It is a place to practice kindness, compassion, love, and showing up for us, not anyone else.

One way yoga could encourage slow but steady transformation is by helping to shift patterns that make us unhappy. With time your developing practice will shape your body and your mind. To understand whether a yoga routine (or any other new habit we set our mind to) will really work for us, we could ask ourselves if its really best for us or if its best left to our fantasy.

As we enter the new year I, for one, will try not to be carried away by my fantasies. I invite you to join me instead in setting our mind and our intentions on becoming the joyful and free versions of ourselves we strive to be.

Monday Blues

Every year, the third Monday of January is dubbed “Blue Monday”.

The theory goes that this is the time of year when we’re all cold, broke and riddled with guilt that our new year’s resolutions to get fit, drink less alcohol, and be a better human being have fallen by the wayside.

But is today really the most depressing day of the year, as it’s often called, or is the label just a misguided PR stunt?

The concept was originally coined in 2004 by psychologist Cliff Arnall. Arnall has since confessed that the formula is essentially pseudoscience and has urged Brits to “refute the whole notion” of Blue Monday.

“I was originally asked to come up with what I thought was the best day to book a summer holiday but when I started thinking about the motives for booking a holiday, reflecting on what thousands had told me during stress management or happiness workshops, there were these factors that pointed to the third Monday in January as being particularly depressing,” he told The Daily Telegraph in 2013.

“But it is not particularly helpful to put that out there and say ‘there you are’,” he added, describing Blue Monday as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That hasn’t stopped PRs and marketing firms from manipulating the concept and using it as a golden sales opportunity, enabling them to capitalise on the assumption that everyone is miserable on this particluar day and therefore vulnerable to advertising.

This year alone, deals are being advertised for sushi, burgers, aromatherapy products, “uplifting” beauty treatments and diet plans. Spending our money, these brands say, can help cure us of this annual bout of depressive symptoms.

But playing it so fast and loose with mental health terminology can have some insidious effects.

Chartered psychologist Dr Joan Harvey describes the concept as “completely meaningless”, particularly with regards to claims that poor weather is one of the main reasons why Blue Monday is so blue.

“If it’s really bright and sunny, you might even find yourself feeling cheerful on the day,” she said.

While Harvey points out that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can leave people feeling depressed during the winter months, she stresses that pegging depression to one day in particular is “sensationalist nonsense”.

Stephen Buckley, head of information at mental health charity Mind, adds that Blue Monday campaigns often trivialise what can be a serious, debilitating and potentially life-threatening condition.

“One in six of us will experience depression at some time in our lives, and it can have devastating effects on every part of our lives,” he tells The Independent.“It can leave people unable to sleep, feeling disconnected from others and experiencing suicidal thoughts.” Buckley adds that although January can be difficult due to financial strains and failing new year’s resolutions, these things should not be conflated with clinical depression.

“By suggesting anyone and everyone can feel depressed in a single day, we risk belittling the experiences of those living with a serious illness.”

That being said, one positive element of Blue Monday is that it represents a chance to tackle some of the stigma surrounding depression and raise awareness of its symptoms, says Isabella Goldie, Director at the Mental Health Foundation.

“What we can take from Blue Monday is that we all have mental health and that there are steps we can take all year round to protect it,” she tells The Independent.

“This is an ongoing challenge, as it’s important that we all do more to self-care for our mental health in the way we look after our physical health, without stressing about it.”

So, here are some tips from someone who has devoted their life in the pursuit of happiness (no, not Will Smith!) Mo Gowdat.

https://www.getthegloss.com/health/mental-health/how-to-be-happier-mo-gawdat?utm_source=Get+the+Gloss+weekly&utm_campaign=dcb6709f01-Friday+12+January+2024&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e28c38ed98-dcb6709f01-88925924&mc_cid=dcb6709f01&mc_eid=c2ecd1826c

A thoughtful end to 2023

Christmas is over and, a new year beckon,  offering the prospect of a fresh start and transformation. It’s a time of year that invites us to slow down, reflect, and embrace change. Just as trees shed their leaves to make way for new growth, we can shed old patterns and embrace the opportunity to grow, learn, and live more intentionally.

To help me make the most of the remaining moments of 2023, I take some time to reflect on the previous year and,  I’ve created a roadmap of deep questions covering various aspects of life, from personal growth to relationships and beyond to help me. These questions I share with you now so you can use them like me, as a compass, guiding you on a journey of self-discovery and intentional living. So, grab your favourite notebook, find a cozy corner, and let these questions inspire you to make next year a season of growth and renewal.

Personal Growth

  1. What have I learned about myself in the past year, and how can I apply this knowledge to my personal growth this autumn?
  2. What habits or behaviors no longer serve me, and how can I let go of them to make room for positive change?
  3. What is one skill or area of knowledge I’d like to develop or deepen this season?
  4. How can I use my strengths to contribute to my personal growth and the world around me?
  5. What is the most important lesson life has taught me recently, and how can I incorporate it into my daily life?

Recreation and Leisure

  1. What activities bring me the most joy and fulfillment, and how can I prioritize them in my schedule this autumn?
  2. What adventures or experiences do I want to seek out in the coming months to infuse my life with excitement and wonder?
  3. How can I create more moments of peace and relaxation to rejuvenate my mind and body?
  4. What hobbies or creative pursuits can I explore to spark my passion and creativity?
  5. How can I bring more playfulness and spontaneity into my daily life to keep my spirit alive?

Career and Meaningful Work

  1. What meaningful goals do I want to achieve in my career or work life by the end of the year, and what steps can I take to move closer to them?
  2. How can I bring more purpose and passion into my daily work routine this autumn?
  3. Are there any projects or initiatives I’ve been putting off that I can finally tackle in the next few months?
  4. What skills or knowledge can I acquire to enhance my career and contribute to my long-term goals?
  5. How can I find a sense of balance between my work life and personal life to nurture both aspects?

Relationships

  1. Who are the people in my life that truly matter to me, and how can I strengthen my connections with them this autumn?
  2. What can I do to be a better friend, partner, or family member to those I care about?
  3. Are there any unresolved conflicts or misunderstandings in my relationships that I need to address and heal?
  4. How can I foster a more empathetic and compassionate approach in my interactions with others?
  5. What acts of kindness and gestures of love can I incorporate into my relationships to deepen their significance?

Mind and Spirit

  1. How can I cultivate a sense of mindfulness and presence in my daily life this autumn?
  2. What spiritual practices or rituals can I incorporate into my routine to nourish my inner self?
  3. What books, podcasts, or resources can I explore to expand my knowledge and perspective in the coming months?
  4. In what ways can I infuse more creativity and inspiration into my daily routines to ignite my spirit?
  5. What are the most important values and principles that guide my life, and how can I ensure they remain at the forefront of my decision-making?

Health and Well-being

  1. What steps can I take to prioritize my physical and mental health during this season of change?
  2. How can I improve my daily habits to support a healthier lifestyle?
  3. In what ways can I better manage stress and create a sense of balance in my life?
  4. What practices can I adopt to enhance my emotional resilience and mental well-being?
  5. How can I incorporate more mindfulness into my eating habits to nourish my body and soul?

Financial Goals

  1. What financial goals do I want to achieve by the end of the year, and what strategies can I implement to reach them?
  2. How can I develop a more conscious and sustainable approach to my spending and saving habits this autumn?
  3. What steps can I take to create a budget that aligns with my financial goals and values?
  4. Are there any financial skills or knowledge gaps I need to address to make more informed decisions?
  5. How can I strike a balance between financial responsibility and enjoying the present moment?

I hope these questions are your companions on a journey of self-discovery and intentional living over the coming weeks and months. Embrace the transformative energy of the season, and let these reflections to guide you toward a more meaningful end to 2023.

What I have learnt from Christmas past

It’s the same every year. Drinking on an empty stomach. Buying the tree too early. And yet, as Christmas comes to a close, we need to be reminded of the lessons to be learnt for next year.

1. If you put the tree by the radiator it looks like roasted rosemary by Boxing Day.

2. If you buy the tree too early all the needles will be in a needle mountain on the floor by the 25th.

3. The dog will get the low lying chocolates on the tree. And the ones near the bottom if they can stand, or use a fellow dog for an assist.

4. Velvet is far too hot if you are cooking Christmas lunch. You might as well be wearing a hazmat suit.

5. Go with cheap wrapping paper and the presents will be clearly visible through the holes by the time it comes to unwrapping them. It rips if you look at it, and the metallic stuff shrugs off the Sellotape: they basically unwrap themselves.

6. Always go with the bigger size. Always! You can’t really go too big where the male YAs are concerned and you might easily go too small. Also, once you’ve gone to the trouble of changing it they won’t want it, because that’s the nature of swapped presents; they lose their lustre.

7. Never countenance new ways with sprouts or other suggested deviations. Of course you don’t want to say to the YA’s girlfriend: ‘To hell with your fancy idea. Forget it! Not in This House! Not on My Watch!’ Of course you feel like a controlling Grinch, especially when everyone insists they’ll take full responsibility and it will be FINE.

But you know how it goes: give an inch and they are toasting the almonds and braising the chestnuts and taking up one third of the cooker surface when everything has been ready for 45 minutes, that is if they haven’t lost interest and drifted away. Do not change the formula is the unbreakable rule, closely followed by don’t relax until the gravy has been poured.

8. To have a starter is madness brought on by someone watching some late night Jamie Oliver holiday special.

9. Three slugs of champagne before the ‘everything coming together moment’ is the difference between calmly cruising into Christmas lunch like a swan drifting into dock and red-faced, gravy stained meltdown. It’s like alcohol taken in aeroplanes at high altitude, with anxiety medication: roughly five times more intoxicating.

10. Not bothering with an apon is like not bothering with an oven glove when you’re taking out the turkey. The gravy accident happened (again) partly because the turkey was very heavy and you were using your knee to assist and partly because of the slugs of cava that might as well be neat vodka.

11. Definitely better to have a blow dry than try and look OK under your own steam when the hot water keeps running out.

12. Avoid conversation flashpoints, at all costs. Don’t think ‘Oh why not, we’re all grown ups and everyone’s getting on like a house on fire’. No. That’s because you’ve not mentioned politics.

13. Did not need the extra midi ham. Didn’t need the bigger Christmas pudding. Didn’t need the last minute panic dash (every year) for extra potatoes and cranberries and cheese. Once again we have enough food left over to do it all again. The gallons of cream!

14. Drunk man washing up is worse than no washing up at all, and the sight of it sitting there on the draining board semi-clean but not clean, is infuriating.

15. Other things that drove us to the brink yesterday even though we should know better by now. People who ask ‘Can I help?’ while pouring themselves a drink and slowly exiting the kitchen area. The table plan that takes half an hour and then doesn’t include your mother. Spilt red wine that the spiller watches sink in with curiosity. People rubbing the cook’s back in passing, as if for good luck. The decent fizz running out before you got any because you were cooking.

Better luck next year.

Give me sunshine!

As the clocks go back and evenings are doused in darkness, we all become wistful for long summer days, before settling into hunkering down for winter. But for around 3 per cent of the population who suffer from depressive moods triggered by seasonal affective disorder or SAD, the approaching months are filled with real despair.

There is a difference between feeling down because of the weather and experiencing SAD, says Stephen Buckley, from mental health charity Mind. “Many people feel more cheerful and energetic when the sun is shining and the days are longer, but if you have SAD the change in seasons has a much greater effect on mood and energy levels, leading to symptoms of depression that have a significant impact on day-to-day life.”

Although it is not known exactly what causes SAD, don’t panic as some simple steps can be taken to alleviate its symptoms. Read on to find out some top tips from the experts!

Go for a walk in nature

While the causes of SAD aren’t always clear, we know that a lack of daylight can have a big impact on mood, especially during the autumn and winter months. When light hits the back of the eye, messages are passed to the part of the brain responsible for sleep, appetite, sex drive, temperature, mood and activity.

If there’s not enough light these functions are likely to slow down and gradually stop. The lack of daylight hours may also slow your body clock, making you feel more tired, and increase production of the hormone melatonin, which helps you get to sleep – both things may therefore link to depression.

Going for walks, particularly around midday or on bright days, even if it’s just taking a short stroll, can be effective in reducing symptoms.

Spending time in parks or gardens, or simply sitting near a window can also help.

A light box that creates a bright white or blue light is also helpful to some. However, the evidence for them isn’t reliable and they can be quite expensive, which means they aren’t an option for everyone, so spending more time in natural light is recommended.

While you may not feel like it during the winter, physical activity can be very effective in lifting your mood and increasing your energy levels. It doesn’t have to be anything particularly strenuous – doing housework, gardening or going for a gentle walk can all help. Research shows that outdoor exercise, such as cycling or jogging, can be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression.

Bringing nature into your home can also help, and watering plants can create a feeling of accomplishment that may lift your mood.

Eat a healthy, well-rounded diet

In winter, you might crave comfort foods such as sweets, chocolate, cakes and biscuits. But this way of eating will actually make the symptoms worse. Instead, eat lots of healthy fats, good quality protein, green leafy vegetables, fibre and complex carbohydrates. Try more wholegrain carbohydrates such as brown rice and brown pasta, which include more fibre and nutrients than the white varieties. Try making hearty meals such as a homemade bolognese with a sweet potato or brown rice instead of white pasta, or turkey ratatouille with mixed vegetables, or lean turkey, pure chopped tomatoes served with a mixed salad, or baked salmon with stir-fry broccoli, onion and cabbage.

Holly Zoccolan, holistic lifestyle and nutrition coach 

Load up on vitamins and minerals

Oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, eaten three times a week, provide good levels of the essential fatty acids EPA/DHA required for a healthy brain. Others with these fats – walnuts, dark green leafy vegetables and flaxseeds – have too little to have a therapeutic effect.

Protein foods that provide a good supply of tryptophan (that converts to serotonin in the brain) are poultry, shrimps, tofu and eggs. But all protein foods supply some tryptophan, so eat a varied diet of meat and fish.

Vitamin D3 must be supplemented by people living in the northern hemisphere, because we do not obtain sufficient UVB rays on our skin in winter convert to vitamin D. Butter, egg yolks and oily fish contain very small amounts, but not the 1000iu D3 that you need daily. Magnesium citrate is a useful supplement. Potential symptoms of low magnesium levels are cramps, constipation and headaches, although there could be other reasons for these symptoms, too.

To know which foods and ways of eating work for you, listen to your body. If you feel sluggish, tired, and not firing all cylinders, then something in your diet is often not right. You may well be missing vital nutrients, your blood sugar levels might not be not balanced or you are consuming too many pro-inflammatory foods.

Caroline Peyton of Peyton Principles, nutritional therapist and naturopath 

Work on a positive mindset

Your brain doesn’t know the difference between the narrative you tell it, and reality. If you focus on being miserable and trapped inside, your subconscious mind will focus on that.

Try to spend five minutes at the start of every day writing down or speaking about everything you are grateful for, however big or small. You can’t feel negative feelings when you’re in a state of being grateful, even if it’s just a cup of great coffee or cosy sweater. Repeating positive affirmations will also help to reframe the way you think about yourself and stop negative self-talk.

Stay sociable and connected  It can be tempting to hunker down and hide when the weather outside is bad and it’s dark by 4.30pm, but does that actually suit you?

If seeing friends and family, going to the cinema, sporting events, the theatre and exhibitions or even just heading out for a meal once a week brings you joy, don’t stop in winter.

Pull on warm boots and a good coat and plan a normal social life. Even if you don’t stay out late, having events in your diary will give your days and weeks structure and help you deal with winter.

Lean into longer evenings

When you do have an evening at home, is there anything you can do with that time that will give you a feeling of accomplishment? It’s been shown that having something new and interesting to focus on wards off symptoms of SAD.

Create photo albums of your summer holidays, redecorate a room in your house or clear out the cupboard that’s become a dumping ground. An hour or two working towards a goal of ticking off jobs from a list will help you to relax and feel like you deserve to spend an evening on the sofa.

Tara Best, neuro-linguistic programming coach and practitioner 

Lighten your workspace

Being exposed to natural daylight is important – especially as many of us continue to work from home or adjust to a hybrid way of working. If possible, try making your working environment lighter and airier by opening more curtains and blinds. Like many people, I have brought a SAD lamp, because the bright light it produces positively affects my mood by lifting levels of hormones and neurochemicals.

Practise yoga

Illustration by Mark Long
Yoga has a positive impact on our nervous system, because controlled breathing and moving boosts oxygen flow through the body. (Illustration: Mark Long)

Our bodies are designed to respond to changes in our environment. Research shows that yoga has a positive impact on our nervous system, because controlled breathing and moving boosts oxygen flow through the body. It also decreases your cortisol (the stress hormone), decreasing your anxiety and worry levels.  Yoga is something that can be done for as little as 10 minutes. There are so many styles to choose from. Whether you go for vinyasa or restorative, breathing is at the centre of every practice. It can help to cultivate presence, awareness and alignment.

The most powerful thing you can do is to focus on hip and heart openers, and really release the heart and sacral chakra. Our hips absorb physical and mental stress 24/7, which makes sense as they are located on our second chakra, the sacral, which is the centre of emotion, feeling, and connection. Therefore it is vital that we constantly give them the attention they deserve, the opportunity to release tension, tightness and any blockages.

Think pigeon pose and crescent lunges that enable you to let go of what is no longer serving you, and welcome what does. This helps to remove and release negative energy, worries and fears, so that you can go about the rest of your day feeling rejuvenated, energised and aligned.

Alexandra Baldi, yoga teacher and founder of Compass Chelsea

Listen to music

Music is a powerful tool that can be used to change your mood. Putting on some uplifting music can be an effective way to boost your mood if you are feeling down, particularly when paired with dancing and singing.

Sarita Robinson, deputy head for the school of psychology and computer science at the University of Central Lancashire

Yoga off the mat

I was about 8 years old when I first stepped into a yoga class, run by a green leotard clad primary school teacher. From that time, I’ve observed my practice shift and evolve with the seasons of life. When I first started attending regular classes, I had time and youth on my side. Now, I have insight and self-compassion. There have been times when I’ve gone for years without much asana (physical postures) at all. And at others, I’ve been completely immersed in all things yoga — visiting my mat multiple times a day while teaching and working full time in the industry.

If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us will go through periods in life where we just don’t feel we have the time or space to commit to a regular, physical yoga practice. So how can we infuse yoga into other aspects of our lives, and see where it exists already?

We can learn so much from the physical practice of yoga, and it’s certainly an important element. But once you’ve created that foundation, those philosophical lessons will always be with you — whether you have a dedicated asana practice or not.

Eight ways to practise yoga off the mat

Be kind

Honour the yogic philosophy of ahimsa by practising kindness towards others and your Self.

Be real

You are perfect in your imperfection. You don’t need to pretend to be anything other than what you are in this moment.

Surrender

Life sometimes has plans that are beyond your control. It’s okay to let go.

Move your body

Asana is about exploring your physical body so that you are able to find comfort in stillness. Move your body however you like to create the space for being receptive and still.

Take time to be still

Life can be busy, but there’s always time for stillness. It doesn’t have to be a formal, seated meditation, but just a moment at the start or end of your day to simply be.

Learn

Be open to new lessons and understandings. There are gurus all around you.

Breathe

Take a deep breath into your belly.

Then another. And another.

Be here now

Whatever you’re doing, practise being fully present with the experience. Tune into your senses, notice what’s distracting you from the moment and be open to whatever arises right now.

Time for an upgrade?

How many pictures on social media, articles in magazines or adverts have you seen in the past week that have made you feel less than good about yourself? Or question your self-worth because of comparisons?

Society constantly makes us feel as though we need to “reinvent” ourselves. Evolving and changing are natural things for humans to want to do, and they are healthy.  But they are only healthy if they are done in the spirit of “I want to change but I am also OK as I am” rather than from a sense of deficiency or feeling that there is something to “fix”.

I think of these kind of healthy changes as being different “versions” of ourselves. Think of it like a computer software upgrade. The previous version still works well, but the newer version just slightly has the edge on functionality.

Big life events can prompt these updates – a divorce or bereavement, say, or we start a new job or move to a different location. Or we might reach a point where we have a greater insight as to what is important to us.

Yet, even if we work hard to understand what we want to change and feel like we are on a new path, we can get dragged back into the old version of us. So before we start on this journey, let’s look at the sort of obstacles we can come up against – and how we can manage them so we can be the version of ourselves that we want to be.

Other people

Those we have relationships with inevitably hold a certain version of us in their heads based on previous experience – maybe how we have responded to them before, what we have accepted from them and what our likes and dislikes are. When we try to present Version 2.0 to them, they can get confused, angry, feel threatened, or even refuse to accept it. Because we have changed the rules, they are now unsure of how to be with us. They are stepping into the unknown.

Instead of us feeling hard done by, or getting cross with them, it is more useful to understand why they are reacting like that, and to have more self-awareness about the story underlying their responses. Be consistent and firm in your approach and remind yourself of who you are now and why you wanted to make these changes in the first place.

You may well experience a sense of trepidation and anxiety about presenting this new version of yourself to others. Just as a band or singer goes away to reinvent themselves for a new studio album, and present a different persona to their fans, so you are doing the same. Not every fan will like that new album. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be made.

You may have fears around being accepted by others, you may feel anxious about doing things differently, and these fears can stop you in your tracks. This is fine if it is temporary, but don’t let fear rule you. Think about all the hard work you have done to change things up and to get out there being that new version of you. Notice your fears, but don’t listen to them. Remember your why.

Impatience

As with any new “software”, you have to give yourself the time and space to learn about this new version of yourself. No change comes easily. Be patient with yourself. If you find yourself slipping back into old ways, don’t criticise yourself, don’t be unkind and don’t think there is no point in persisting.

Once you decide to change some aspect of yourself and you are clear about why you are doing it, it will happen – so just be patient and time will show you that all your hard work and efforts were worth it.

You look tired

You know when you have a bit on your plate at work, even more on your plate at home and you didn’t sleep particularly well the night before? You’re about to head to dinner with your friends or the family  and to be honest, you’re kind of dreading it. Not because you don’t like your family… (hey, mum – love you)… But because without fail you know some well meaning relative is going to sigh, stare at you a moment and say…

“Gosh, You look tired”

Normally you’d launch back with, “Oh really Aunt Margaret? Tired?

“As tired as that weird pineapple casserole recipe you’ve been inflicting on us since 1987?” But you’re too tired. So you grimace politely and say “Oh, just got a lot on, you know how it is. Pass the carrots?”

The thing is, these check-ins from people we only see every so often can be really useful. Why?

Because when you’re in the thick of ongoing stress; you’re not always the best judge of how you’re tracking. You feel ok, until suddenly you don’t… to borrow a nature analogy, when you’re getting close to burnout, it can be hard to see the forest from the trees.

So next time Aunt Margaret winds you up about those bags under your eyes, maybe take it as a sign to check in with yourself and lock in some time to switch off and reset. So, if you’re planing to take some time off over the summer, remember that work can wait; that it’s not just your phone you need to recharge regularly and, practice being really present.