We all have it, in some way or another. Stress about our body image. Some of us admit it, some of us don’t.
There are some really hard conversations to have around this subject. Truth is your body changes day by day, month by month and year by year and sometimes that’s ok. It’s meant to change. Yes, it’s normal to put on a few extra pounds when the weather gets colder – it keeps you warm. If you’re an emotional eater, (which let’s face it most of us are) when you are under stress, feeling bad about yourself, feeling unsupported, lonely, then chances are you will put on more than a few extra pounds.
Being happy with your body is not easy. It takes internal work, it takes gratitude and it takes a lot of ignoring ‘social norms’ or people’s opinions. The fact of the matter is, you won’t look after your body until you love it.
Yo-Yo dieting is a phrase I’m sure you are familiar with. Why do we do this? We start off great, perhaps even lose a few pounds, feel great then something triggers our insecurity and we reach for the ice cream, crisps, soft drinks, chocolate, wine, whatever your weakness is and flagellate ourselves afterwards for giving in yet again. It’s a vicious cycle.
How on earth do we get out of this cycle though? How do we get to the point where we treasure our bodies enough to actually treat it like a temple instead of a trash can? My newest online course ‘Love The Skin You’re In‘ will give you a step by step guide on how to clear out your life and clean up your self-compassion, but since it’s not live yet I’ll give you some key points!
Get rid of the people touting diet products off your social media. They will only send you into a shame spiral.
Don’t spend time with toxic people who make you feel bad about yourself.
Resist comparing yourself. You are unique and cannot be compared!
If someone loves you, they will love you for your soul, not your body.
These are just some of the basic tips. They may seem obvious, but time and time again we fail ourselves by allowing this stuff to make us hate our bodies, then treat them badly, then hate them some more. When in reality we need to learn to love them first so that we can be kind and caring to them. After all, we only get the one!
If you want to be the first to hear when ‘Love The Skin You’re In’ goes live, you can sign up for a discount and be the first in line by clicking below!
I’ve been teaching meditation for almost 2 years and my personal practice has hit the 5-year mark (10 if you include the times I started and failed to build a habit!). One of the things I come across in my teaching is when people say they’ve tried and failed. Meditating is a hugely personal experience. It can be very difficult to persuade people that they are doing it right. Since it’s essentially sitting and ‘non-doing‘ for a period, it’s less difficult than people realise. The hardest part is letting go and surrendering to the ‘non-doing‘ part of it.
Imagine, you’ve spent all your life in ‘doing’ mode. Been encouraged to be this way, reach goals, strive for more. So the concept of sitting and doing nothing seems odd. How can this be helpful? How can this make amazing and worthwhile permanent changes to our brain structure? Doesn’t this make us lazy?
First of all, you can’t really get it wrong. Yes, at first you may not be able to surrender to the letting go part. You will, in time. That’s why it’s called a ‘practice’. Second, giving yourself time away from striving and ‘doing’ is such a soul-nourishing experience it should not be underestimated.
How can it be helpful?
In the long term, it helps you to deal with stress more effectively by cooling down the amygdala and helping to reconnect your prefrontal cortex to your limbic system. People who have been under prolonged stress have a hypersensitive amygdala which is the part of the brain which controls your fight or flight response. ‘Cooling’ this down means you are less sensitive to things and you recover from stressful situations quicker. Meditation also helps to reconnect, or rather strengthen neural connections between the prefrontal cortex and limbic system which helps you to think before you react, rather than just reacting in situations. Your prefrontal cortex is your thoughtful, planning brain and your limbic system being your emotional brain.
How can this make amazing and worthwhile permanent changes to our brain structure?
Each time you meditate, whether you realise or not you are increasing the density of the grey matter (neuronal cells). What this means is faster processing. It’s like getting a faster processing chip in your computer or building a muscle, except it’s here to stay. So each time you meditate you increase the parts of your brain responsible for learning, memory, compassion, happiness, emotional intelligence and much much more.
Doesn’t this make us lazy?
You will have to get over the initial feeling of laziness to start with. Sitting, being and ‘non-doing‘ seems such an alien concept at the beginning that impatience crops up. For me, this was one of the hardest parts in building a habit. I felt like I was being lazy… until I understood all the changes that were happening in my brain that is! It really helped me to read some of the research to get out of the mindset that doing nothing was lazy!
On that note, I’m going to give myself some ‘me’ time and meditate now. It’s funny, there was a time when ‘me’ time meant plucking my eyebrows or a face mask but now that all seems so trivial. Meditation is the true ‘me’ time as I get to look inside my mind and see what’s going on in there with a non-judgemental view which allows me insight that no amount of dream interpreting (I’ve tried) or counselling has helped me find before.
Mindfulnessdoesn’t solve everything. It doesn’t cure everything. I regularly tell my students this. They should never be tricked into believing that mindfulness will sort all their issues out because it doesn’t. Even when you are an experienced practitioner, there are times when you feel angry, stressed, depressed etc… It’s important to realise that options like counselling should still be available to you and don’t think for one minute that just because you have a regular mindfulness practice you will never need the help of a therapist or coach ever again.
The beauty of mindfulness, is that it gives you insight. With this you can navigate and review your emotions more readily. Doing this you may find that there are issues that surface throughout the process that really need talking about and what better way to that that than the talk therapies? There have been many clients and potential clients who have come to me and their issues have been outside of my remit and so I have referred them to a psychotherapist or IAPT.
So, what’s the point?
What mindfulnesscan give you is time and space between feeling an emotion and thinking a thought and reacting to it. This skill alone cuts out many issues which can increase our suffering, say for example outbursts of anger. The life skills gained while practicing mindfulness change your brain structure, helping you to be more positive and less likely to suffer with mental health issues. Less likely. It doesn’t eliminate the chances completely, and certainly not for more serious and complex mental health problems.
That being said, many of the strategies and techniques used in mindfulness keep us away from the edge in times of need. This is what we want! Strategies that work with our issues, while we are working them out or learning to live with them. Sometimes, it is just that. Learning to live with problems or illness. Sometimes we have to live with chronic pain or grief, there’s no way around that. That’s why I believe everyone should learn mindfulness so that they have those tools in their toolbox in times of need and to build resilience, because as Rocky says; “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows“
There is no point waiting until the eleventh hour to learn to practice mindfulness. That’s like waiting until the morning of a marathon to start training. Learn while you have energy, learn while you have self-motivation, learn while it’s easier. It will still have positive effects if you start learning during a bout of depression but it’s substantially harder to stick to anything and make sense of it. Prevention is better than the cure, right? Ok, maybe it’s not complete prevention but it has been shown to be more effective at preventing depression in people who have had 3 or more bouts of depression than chemical antidepressants. Pretty impressive right?
But I’m fine!
Ok, so you are fine? You aren’t in the pits of despair or stressed out? Great! That’s amazing news. Then you are in the 20-40% of lucky people not suffering from it. This fact alone makes you a perfect student for mindfulness, you will find it easier to learn since stress effects the learning centre of the brain. Now is the optimal time to prepare for darker days, because life is full of ups and downs so be prepared for the downs. If you are stressed, down or depressed that’s ok too, you can still learn to practice mindfulness. Yes, it may be harder and yes it may take longer but the benefits of the techniques and exercises you learn during the process will lessen the strength and length of the episode.
In dark times
Back to the counselling point again! As I said, mindfulness isn’t a cure-all so there will be times where counselling is a good idea. Don’t wait, if you feel that you could do with talking about things then do look for a good therapist. It’s great if you have friends to talk to but they are not trained listeners and they will give unsolicited advice which isn’t always in your best interests (not on purpose). A counsellor will help you to find the answers you need yourself, they won’t tell you what they think you should do and they give you safe space to vent, feel, and be heard. This is sacred.
Something that gets said to me sometimes is “That’s not very mindful” and I think people often mistake mindfulness with perfection. In reality, it’s quite the opposite. There are so many facets of mindfulness and none of them point to perfection. Personally, I’m kind to myself, I don’t seek perfection. Since perfection is different to each person it’s truly a mirage and unattainable. If I can be 80% mindful and 20% average then I still believe I’m winning. 80-20 rule applies. We all slip up and we all make mistakes and sometimes we lash out when our ego is taking over. The ‘not being mindful’ part is the part where you beat yourself up and get into a cycle where you end up making the same mistakes over and over again rather than saying ‘ok, I screwed up here. Let’s move on and remember not to do it again’
Let’s talk a little bit about some, not all but some of the important aspects of mindfulness:
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
It’s not about being perfect all the time. But it is about letting mistakes go. Go easy on yourself, you are only human. Say sorry and don’t do it again. Let shame or embarrassment go and remember that no one is perfect. Not anyone.
LET GO OF RESISTANCE
Much of mindfulness is about dealing with your true motivations and emotions. Learn to accept they are there and let them pass by. Let go of resisting change, change is inevitable so learn to ride the waves by practising mindfulness exercises for a few minutes every couple of hours.
GET CONTROL OVER ANGER
Now, I’m not saying don’t get angry. Not at all. Anger is a valid emotion. Once you are in the habit of practising mindfulness you will find you can put some space between anger and action. The result of which means you won’t lash out as much (80-20 rule).
BUT HOW DO I DO THIS?
Mindfulness is a practice. It’s not an overnight cure. Just like learning an instrument or building muscle, you have to work at it regularly. Thankfully it’s actually easier than either of those examples. There are many exercises to practice, one of which I will give an outline of here. It is recommended by researchers and medical professionals to do an 8-week course to change your brain chemistry. Eight weeks is the perfect timeframe to get into good habits and by following a course you understand the different facets enough to be able to take your own path on the mindfulness journey.
A SIMPLE EXERCISE
Well, I say simple. It seems it when written down but takes practice to get good at it. The aim of the exercises is to get to the stage where you can really take time out from the overthinking, stress and worries and actually observe your thoughts and emotions without judging them. As I said it takes practice! So here goes;
A 15-year-old middle-class white girl has been groomed by a cult. She has left her family, seemingly willingly to join these people. This particular cult is known for violent rituals and sexual abuse. At age 19 she manages to escape and tries to reintegrate into society, she returns having had two children by one of the cult leaders. Would you send her back to the cult? Would you tell her she had made her bed and to lie in it? I can’t imagine you would. There would be compassion for her and most importantly her children.
Now let’s switch the compassion situation up…
There’s been a massive amount on social media this past week or so on the ISIS girl Shamima Begum and it’s made me realise that I live in a different world to a lot of people. I see the arguments on Facebook, TV clips and Newspaper articles and I understand the anger people feel towards her and others who have left to join ISIS, I do. I just don’t feel the anger that everyone else does. She was 15 years old when she left. Who knows if she was groomed. We don’t know the real psychology of what made her leave. Besides, we don’t know how vulnerable she was.
True, we don’t know what atrocities she may or may not have been involved in while she’s been gone. We also don’t know what atrocities she went through while she was there, we do know that she lost children due to sickness. Do we even know if these children or marriage or even sex were her choice though? Was she groomed for that? Remember she was 15 when she left. If she is let back into this country, she is likely to be imprisoned and lose her children. She will have an entire country against her. Her children will need their identities hidden. I feel there are a lot worse people than her costing taxpayers money if that’s your argument.
Why My World Is Beautiful
I’m not going to tell you what you should or should not be feeling or thinking or saying. I can only tell you what I feel, and I feel compassion. The whole story is unknown. She could be the worst person on earth, I have no clue. Therefore, any feeling coming from me that isn’t compassion or empathy would make me someone I’m not. All those people with hate in their hearts, for any reason, their world is not beautiful. Their world cannot be beautiful when you are pouring your own hate into it. I’m not naive and I’m not a sap, don’t get me wrong. I ask questions and look at proximate causes. I also understand that human behaviour has so many variable factors that nothing is ever black and white. Consequently, this is never a simple explanation. But…because I choose compassion, my world will always be beautiful.
It truly is that. There are so many reasons to practice patience. I believe I’ve always been a fairly patient person and building this into my practice has meant that being a parent is that little bit easier (It’s still hard!). So why is patience such an important part of mindfulness? In my humble opinion, I feel that we spend our lives impatient for the weekend, the next payday, even lunchtime and in doing so we miss the glorious moments that we are in right now.
The reason we consider patience to be an important attitude to cultivate in mindfulness is that it benefits you in a number of important ways. All of which enrich and nourish your life.
Allowing things to unfold in their own time – this ends up having its own beautiful and nourishing quality to it.
Helps you to see the beauty that is in each moment, even the painful ones.
Gives you time between an emotion and a reaction, allowing you to make better decisions.
Allows you to be kinder to those around you.
Lessens the anxiety which is inevitable with impatience.
Those are just a few good reasons to practice patience. But how do we practice patience? In mindfulness, we practice it in meditation and it begins to spill out into our daily lives. One simple way to do it is to slowly extend your meditation time each day. There will also be times during your practice when you are getting annoyed with yourself, this is a good time to practice being patient with yourself. I won’t be annoying and say “Take a deep breath” that’s not necessary, actually it’s more like just becoming aware of your breath is far more effective at that moment of annoyance. In fact, that works for any situation where someone says “just breathe” and you get the urge to punch them in the face but instead you say “I am!”. What they really mean to say is “become really aware of your breathing” notice where you feel it the most. Pay close attention to it. That above all else will give you the patience you need.
“Patience is not the ability to wait but to keep a good attitude while waiting”
Anyone can wait. Being patient is about not losing your sh*t while you are waiting. Learning this attitude is one of the most important gifts you can give yourself. Impatience causes pain and agitation, who wants to keep hold of that? Next time you feel yourself becoming impatient, remind yourself that it’s just agitation and that you can calm it down by simply paying attention to your breath.
Here’s a big one for you this week. Trust. It’s one of the 7 attitudinal foundations of mindfulness and something I believe should be cultivated whether you practice mindfulness or not. The big question here or the big misunderstanding here is do we need to cultivate trust in other people or trust in ourselves. Well let’s simplify this completely. Bring it home. We cultivate trust in ourselves.
Why? Why do we cultivate trust in ourselves?
Because whether we like it or not or whether we like to admit it or not, we are the centre of our own universe and everything projects from there. Whether we trust other people is a decision we alone make and we have to trust that we are making that decision correctly. So it all starts with you. For example, I had my son working as my Personal Assistant for a while and when he started I had to trust that I knew what his capabilities were. It was never a case of whether I trusted him or not, I trust him implicitly. The trust was laid at my door as to whether I knew whether he could perform tasks unsupervised etc. I spent that first week meditating on ‘trust’ and I was pleasantly surprised by his work.
Let go of the need to control situations. Often this stands in the way of trust.
Look at a situation with fresh eyes. Our memories are unreliable feedback and often skew our future decisions.
Go with your gut. Your first instinct is generally right, and if it’s not, accept that it’s ok to make mistakes sometimes! It’s a learning curve!
Don’t rely on other people to make your decisions. It’s irresponsible and you are relinquishing responsibility and disempowering yourself.
Ok, so it’s not easy to learn to trust your own instincts but I guarantee your life will be far more successful if you ‘go with your gut’ than if you second guess yourself all the time or rely on other people to make choices for you. Yes, you may have someone else to blame things on if they go wrong but they will consistently go wrong and that’s where unhappiness lies. Responsibility breeds empowerment. Empowerment breeds success. Success breeds happiness. This is one of the 7 attitudinal foundations of mindfulness and if you want to do what I do, which is focus on one, in particular, each day of the week, it means that you are sharpening those skills week on week!
We need to change the way we view conflict. Most people see it as a bad thing, as often a terrible source of stress. However, conflict simply means two different opinions or different behaviours. These differences come from a person’s varying backgrounds and upbringing. Variety is the spice of life, right?
Conflict can be used for good or evil, so to speak. If you look at it from an energy point of view:
Ruins morale, polarises groups, highlights individual differences, and in some cases can cause violence.
Highlights and clarifies important issues and forces people to look to solve them, it gets more people involved in important issues, can promote open communication, promotes authenticity, promotes cohesiveness within a group, allows for reflection post-conflict.
We have learnt how to deal with conflict with our parents and carers; some have had better role models than others.
Can you see it coming?
Before we look at my top tips for handling conflict, let’s look at some of the situations which can elicit conflict. It’s always good to see something coming so you can be prepared.
Clash of values
Difference in culture
Conflict and our bodies
Part of the issue of dealing with conflict is that we have a physiological response to it which can be hard to deal with. That’s where mindfulness comes in. So let’s talk about the actual physiological response first…
When there is conflict our brain receives signals to release cortisol into our body (fight or flight response). When this happens, we may feel one or several of the following:
These symptoms are sure fire signs you have cortisol coursing through your body. This is unpleasant and makes dealing in a coherent way virtually impossible. Situations are far more likely to spiral out of control
What to do
So when conflict arises and you begin with these physiological responses, rather than shutting down or ranting like a loony try this instead:
Slow Rhythmic Breathing
Slow rhythmic breathing stops the production of cortisol and norepinephrine flooding your body and allows you to think and speak clearly. Much more useful in conflict!
Before Speaking Ask Yourself:
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it helpful?
These three gates will help you to prevent escalation of the conflict.
Listen to Hear
Listen to the other person to hear their perspective. Don’t listen to reply or listen for ammunition. By properly listening to them you may clearly hear a compromise that can easily be reached.
Respond With Compassion
When people feel they’ve been heard and their voice matters they are much easier to deal with. They feel respected and are more likely to respect you.
Worst Case Scenario
You may need to give someone some time. Rather than walking away, state kindly that you are going to give them some breathing space and the issue can be talked about at a later date.
Now, these steps are not fool-proof, there is common sense to be applied and willpower to get through even the first step. That really is the hardest part, having the willpower to stop and breath. When you do, you switch from being reactive to proactive and you are much more likely to succeed in conflict management. So go ahead! Next time you feel the rage, slow rhythmic breathing and follow the steps like the amazing person you are!
For more training on dealing with conflict, difficult emotions and setting boundaries join my online mindfulness course here
I recently completed an NCFE Level 2 Certificate in Awareness of Mental Health Problems, and I did the course as a practice for doing my Level 3 Counselling course. Honestly though, most of the course was easy. I already knew most of it from personal experience of my own mental health issues or of those that I’ve known so I had a good ‘working knowledge’ of how to spot the signs.
The reason I am referring to the course is this; we covered the effects of attitudes resulting in stigma and discrimination against people with mental illness and over the past few weeks I’ve seen this first hand. It’s made me mad as hell that in this day and age, there are still people who clearly ‘don’t believe’ in mental health issues. Who behave openly as if it’s an ‘inconvenience’ to them. Employers who even contact the person suffering from mental health issues to tell them not to be seen out in public or on social media (I’m pretty sure there are some discrimination laws being broken here).
So, going back to my course and the case study we looked at, here’s an excerpt;
“During my time off I was mainly sitting and staring, not washing, not bothering to eat and sleeping a lot. I felt like it was all pointless. I remember one situation that really upset me. I hadn’t been out for weeks and my husband suggested that it might make me feel better to get out of the flat. We went to the pub and when we got there it was full of my teacher friends. I said ‘hello’ but I looked a state. My hair was greasy and unwashed. One of the teachers who was covering my class at the time gave me a stare and barged me as she walked past. It was at this moment that it dawned on me how everyone felt about my absence. I was a problem in their eyes, someone who didn’t want to work and was having the time of her life.”
Why am I highlighting this? Because astoundingly, there are still some people who believe that if you are signed off work for mental health issues then you should be displaying the same behaviours as a person signed off with flu. The course used this case study to show the catastrophic effect of stigma on a person suffering from mental health issues. People are still that ignorant to believe that if you are signed off with mental health issues you should ‘stay off social media’ in case anyone sees you having fun. People are still that ignorant to believe that you should not be seen walking around town, in case any clients of the firm see you and instead you should stay indoors the whole time. Yes, there really are those people still out there in 2018… I overheard a conversation outside Costa coffee last week where an older lady said she was upset that her sister ‘didn’t believe in depression’ and that she’d suffered most of her life and still couldn’t get her sister to see it was a genuine illness. How sad is that???
For those people who don’t understand depression I’ll give you a quick neurology lesson; due to varying factors (hereditary, biological, environmental), some people don’t produce the same amount of serotonin, the ‘happy’ hormone as others. Sometimes this can be managed with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (antidepressants) and sometimes it can’t. When it can’t, that person’s brain has a chemical imbalance. When people roll their eyes at mental health issues I want to yell in their face CHEMICAL IMBALANCE, and yes I have actually seen someone roll their eyes this week. It was all I could do – lot’s of coherent breathing – not to punch them in the face.
According to The Mental Health Foundation some (but not limited to) of the signs and symptoms are: Tiredness and lack of energy, Sadness that feels neverending, loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, unable to enjoy the things you used to, having anxiety all the time, feeling like you need to avoid people, hopelessness and helplessness, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, unable to concentrate, loss of appetite and sex drive, physical aches and pains, feeling suicidal or obsessing over death, self-harm. But according to some people, they should just ‘pull themselves together’… I’m raging right now!
For those people who are in the midst of the chemical imbalance, here’s the advice that is given by various mental health organisations (actual medical professionals, not know-it-all managers who believe depression is code for drama):
From the Mind website, the self-care they recommend is ‘Work out what makes you happy. Try making a list of activities, people and places that make you happy or feel good. Then make a list of what you do every day. It probably won’t be possible to include all the things that make you happy but try to find ways to bring those things into your daily routine.’ – So go do fun things!!!
Rethink Mental Health suggests ‘Exercising regularly can help your mood. Find something you enjoy so you keep it up. You need to be out of breath but not so much that you can’t talk while you are doing it. Exercise can help if you have problems sleeping. Getting proper sleep is important for your mental health.’ So go to the gym or for a brisk walk!!!
NHS Direct quotes ‘Mindfulness is recommended by NICE as a way of preventing depression in people who have had three or more bouts of depression in the past.’ So meditate, go walking in nature, do arts and crafts!
It sickens me beyond words that people are left feeling like they can’t even come back to their job because of the stigma still surrounding mental health. It should not be like this still. There is enough darkness surrounding mental health without managers and colleagues, friends and parents adding to it. Anyone who knows me, also knows that I will not stay quiet about this subject. Having been down this road more times than I want to admit (thankfully not for a good few years), I am always going to strongly campaign for the vulnerable and suffering.
If you think you may be depressed but aren’t sure, please please go see your GP and get their advice and then take the self-help measures recommended by the many helpful mental health charities online. There are lots, and they are excellent! You should also know that you can self-refer for counselling through IAPT and if you need someone to talk to and you don’t know where to turn don’t hesitate to call the Samaritans on:
If there is one thing that I often feel I have to defend its boundaries. Not just my boundaries but the concept of them also. Being a Mindfulness practitioner, people look at me and think it’s not ‘mindful’ to have opinions or that I should be so kind always that perhaps I am a doormat. Absolutely not the case. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
Yes, I am mindful of what I post on social media, and I’m mindful of how I speak and act. However, this does not mean that if I see wrong I will say nothing. This does not mean that if I see injustice I will not say what I am seeing is wrong. This also does not mean that if someone lies or is horrible to me that I will not call them on it. I do! And I do so with kindness, compassion and in the knowledge that they are being led by their ego as most of us are, most of the time.
Boundaries often become blurred lines, especially when we are trying to people please and those people are pushing the boundaries (as people do). But these blurred lines are no one’s responsibility but our own. No one else can read your mind. People have a tendency to keep pushing the boundaries so this means it’s important to keep setting them. When boundaries are not made clear, people then become stressed and anxious. Often taking on much more than they can handle, in life as well as work.
Boundaries aren’t just about keeping your sanity, it’s also about keeping your identity too and a very important part of self-care. But how do we do it? Here’s a simple, mindful guide to setting boundaries:
Have a think whether there is a boundary there already, or has been before.
Decide where the boundary needs to be.
Let the other person know the boundary line, clearly and kindly.
DO NOT over-explain.
Leave them to think about it.
Go back when they’ve had time to digest the information. If they haven’t understood, repeat!
If you are someone who can set clear boundaries and has the confidence to keep resetting them, with kindness, compassion and empathy then you are someone who has the potential to be an amazing leader. You will become emotionally resilient and not only will you have respect for those around you but you will be gaining respect also. Sometimes boundaries aren’t easy to set, but my goodness, they are worth it!