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7 lessons I learned when I left my phone at home

7 things I learned by leaving my phone at home

There’s nothing quite like realising you’ve left your phone at home on a Monday morning to induce a state of panic, especially when you’re working for a new client in London and you’re relying on Google Maps to get you from A to B.

But this is exactly what happened to yours truly last week. I thought I’d be super organised and charge up said phone in the bedroom – far better to start the day with 100% battery in the tank and all that.

Only in between wolfing down the porridge and prioritising my to-do list, I completely forgot to retrieve the device from upstairs. On entering the railway station I realised my mistake. No amount of searching – I frantically triple-checked every inch of my handbag –  would bring it back.  My stomach began somersaulting for England.

How the heck would I survive without it?

The day before – in a bid to be Miss Efficient – I’d set an out of office (I receive on average between 400 and 500  emails per day) advising people that I’d be media training and only checking my account intermittently.  Those with urgent work-related queries could text or call me. Except now they couldn’t. I could feel my stress levels rising.

Then another realisation struck – I wouldn’t be able to check my email account because I’d be signing in on a brand new computer that would only accept my log in details via a two-step authentication code which, you’ve guessed it, would be sent to my phone! Oh, joy of joy.

There was nothing for it, I’d have to reluctantly suck up this unexpected digital detox.

This is what I discovered…

Five things I learned by accidentally leaving my phone at home

A sense of freedom

At first, I felt lost without my phone and quite anxious. Questions rattled around my head. How am I going to contact my boss? How will people contact me? What happens if the train is late? What happens if I get lost? What sort of impression is this going to make? But then I just accepted the situation for what it was and let it go. With peace came clarity. I’d been catastrophising massively – something I did when my health first went haywire – and I found myself worrying  about future situations that might not happen.  I told myself there was nothing I could do and instead focussed on the present moment. Yes, I couldn’t check the news sites or email and felt quite disconnected but there was no compulsion to endlessly scroll and it felt enormously freeing.

How to create more time

This sounds like a flippin’ obvious one but, quite frankly, I was staggered by how much time I recouped. Train journeys are usually spent catching up with Whatsapp group messages, Instagram, blog admin and general work emails. Before I jumped on board I had a quick chat with the jolly man in the coffee kiosk and on the ride into London another young commuter jokingly told me how he couldn’t face the day ahead as his flatmate had a party that had kept him up until 5am. Would I have had these conversations if I’d been glued to my phone? Probably not. Did they make me smile? Yes. It made me wonder what else I’d been missing out on.

How to be mindful in everyday life

I’ve written about mindfulness before – from hypnotherapy mind massages to group meditation sessions – but leaving my phone at home was a true lesson in everyday mindful living. I usually listen to music or the radio during the walk to and from the station. Instead, my soundtrack was the crunch of the golden autumn leaves underfoot, and the birds chirping in the trees. As cliché as it sounds, I felt very much at one with nature. Just being aware, truly present and grateful for being alive was a very uplifting way to start the day.

How to increase productivity in personal and business life

Sitting on the train, after the tired twenty-something had departed, I pulled out my notepad and began goal setting. I scribbled down feature ideas for the day job, blog post musings, and made a list of what I needed to organise at home. I was in full flow and my brain was positively singing and dancing. By the time I arrived at work I was excited at the prospect of nailing my meetings and coaching without having to worry about any other pressure or obstacles that might have been thrown in my path via emails or the phone.

It can wait. Honestly. 

Most self-employed people – I’ve been a freelance journalist for almost 20 years – worry about missing out on work and I was, in fact, expecting a call from a chap from another agency on the same day. Initially I panicked as we’d suggested provisionally meeting up after I’d finished my consultancy gig. As it turned out my contact’s meeting had been postponed and it would take him another week to call me, by which time I’d been reunited with the phone! These things always seem to have a way of working themselves out.

How to relax

Yes, I’d worked a long day in London and while the commute was always going to be far more tiring than in the days prior to my Mast Cell Activation Syndrome diagnosis, I felt energised and rejuvenated on the train journey home. My ‘butterfly’ brain had seemingly settled thanks to fewer distractions. I was very, very content and, dare I say it, relaxed!

How to manage my time effectively

Interestingly, a sense of dread, not excitement, filled my stomach when I opened my front door.  On picking up my phone I found the expected 500 emails (80 per cent were press releases) and social media notifications. There’d been three missed calls (from my dad). Oh, and I had the best part of ten WhatsApp messages, five of which requested rather time-intensive favours.

Now, I always help people out but the stark reality is that between the day job and running this blog I get very little downtime with barely a day off. On opening the messages I instantly felt overwhelmed.  As the knot in my stomach tightened, a realisation struck… I must start setting boundaries and managing my own time better for the sake of my own health, otherwise I really will be of no use to anyone.

Leaving my phone at home proved to be a blessing in disguise and taught me many a lesson.

In fact, I found the whole experience so liberating I could be tempted to do it again!

Have you ever unintentionally left your phone at home? How did you find it?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. 

Fancy reading the health and wellbeing tips of the stars?

Check out our chats with Jonny Wilkinson, Pat Cash, Katie Piper, Gail Porter and Ryan Sidebottom here.

 

 

Helen's Health, Wellness

MCAS: The truth behind my Instagram photos

MCAS and Instagram

Everybody has their own way of dealing with MCAS [Mast Cell Activation Syndrome].

Some document their symptoms and share pictures of their reactions.

Others discuss treatment options that have helped or made them worse.

Personally, I either disappear off the face of the earth – that’s when I’m truly struggling – or pretend that everything’s okay because I’d rather not concern my family or friends.

But seeing as it is World Mental Health Day [10 October 2018] and we’re being encouraged open up for the sake of our mental wellbeing, I’m going to share a secret.

I’m not always fine. In fact, more often than not, I’m petrified of this frustrating horrible disease and just internalise it.

Of course, you wouldn’t know it by looking at my recent Instagram feed which is filled with images of stunning Bajan beaches – the snaps were taken on my most recent holiday. (Regular readers will know I struggle to relax but Barbados, which was the inspiration for the name of this blog, is the one place in the world where I truly switch off).

View this post on Instagram

The calm before #stormkirk #pink

A post shared by Helsy/Relax Ya Self To Health (@relaxyaself2h) on

However, the pictures only tell half the story because behind the scenes I was also dealing with very nasty tongue swelling and throat closing episodes that left me feeling frightened, groggy and anxious.

I thought I was beginning to beat this damned condition. [Read more about MCAS here] The month before I’d gone for 10 days without a serious reaction, managed to play two tennis matches – popping a super strong antihistamine beforehand as a precautionary measure – and even reintroduced certain foods.

I was beginning to feel like my old self, especially as I was returning to activities that used to bring me such joy.

But a couple of days before the holiday, my trusty car stopped working. Just like that… Turned out a cambelt (no, I had no idea what that was either) had gone, there was engine damage and I needed to buy a new vehicle. WTH? I was strapped for cash (having moved house earlier this year), and still chasing invoices from publications that hadn’t paid me for four months.

My head began to spin.

I started panicking about the car being stranded at the garage while I was away, the storage fees it might incur, how I’d commute to the news shifts I had booked in immediately after my holiday (I live alone) and whether I’d be able to find a car within one day of my return.

Then boom…my mast cells decided to throw a party gifting me a tongue swelling reaction the night before my flight.

It happened again on the plane – despite taking meds as a precaution before the journey – and then every day of the trip bar one – in some instances occurring twice in 24 hours.

On the last two nights, intense palpitations – another symptom of MCAS – were to be my wake-up call, not the sound of the ocean.

Although I refuse to be defined by this condition, the truth is that living with MCAS is exhausting and frightening.

When I’m in a continuous flare, the thought of suffocating to death (or my meds failing through overuse) is never far from my mind.

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Take me back… #beachbum #serenity

A post shared by Helsy/Relax Ya Self To Health (@relaxyaself2h) on

Even if I manage to control a reaction, I’m left wiped out for days. The accompanying brain fog is a joke – I struggle to formulate words – not great when I rely on them for a living. The stabbing pains in my joints aren’t much fun either.  Oh, and every day I wake up with a sore throat or feel as though I’m fighting something.

So why am I telling you this now?

Well,  when the going gets tough I stop speaking – I AM a chatterbox so this is out of character for me.

I vanish from social circles and, seemingly, stop blogging. (Apologies for the dearth of recent posts – now you know why)

I’ve since recognised this withdrawal trait in a couple of my (non-MCAS) friends. I suspected one was struggling recently so I sent a text to let him know how grateful I was to have him in my life and thanked him for being amazing.

He responded saying he had woken up to my message, texting back a row of love hearts. He was having a hard time and thanked me for making him feel better.

This MCAS journey has taught me about anxiety – something I never used to struggle with – and how to identify the individuals who might be struggling with their own mental wellbeing.

It’s made me realise that if someone is behaving out of character or is being non-committal that there could be more to their actions – or lack of them – than meets the eye.

We shouldn’t judge but simply be kind. A simple ‘are you okay’ could make all the difference.

For more articles on mental health and wellbeing you might like to read our interviews with Jonny Wilkinson and Gail Porter.

And meet the man who is turning barbershops into safe havens to prevent male suicide

Helen's Health, Wellness

20 ways to relieve stress

20 ways to relieve stress

If you’re looking to relieve stress may I suggest not reversing into a concrete bollard and causing approximately £1,200 of damage to your vehicle? Yes, that’s what happened to me the week before last.

Why? Because I was rushing.

I’d taken on too much work. The night before my news shift a last minute commission had come in and the only time the celeb could do the interview was after my shift. Not an issue. I’ve been a freelance journalist for almost 20 years and this is part and parcel of the ‘feast or famine’ nature of being self-employed.

The only snag was that I had to be up at 5am *I am useless with early starts* for an event I was covering in London for a new client the following day so the prospect of burning the midnight oil was not exactly appealing. To make matters worse, I received an email from a different editor at 6.30pm the very same evening asking me to amend some marks on a feature I’d written weeks before. The pages were going to press the following day.

Given that I would be out on a job at the crack of dawn the next morning there was nothing for it but to deal with it there and then.

By the end of the night, my head was spinning. I’d worked my news shift, crashed my car, interviewed the celeb, transcribed the hour-long interview, tweaked the feature and tracked the case study down. I rolled into bed gone midnight yet I couldn’t get to sleep. At 1.30am I was still wide awake thinking I had to be up in 3.5 hours.

 

20 ways to relieve stress

 

Then the words of my nutritional therapist and functional medicine practitioner entered my head.

“Stress management is key when addressing chronic health issues. Why? Because no matter how perfect your diet is, how much you exercise or what supplements you take, if you don’t manage your stress your health will be at risk and you will sabotage all your best efforts.”

She’d mentioned this to me on our first meeting and ever since then, I’ve been doing all I can to try and lead a more peaceful life.

Now we all know that acute stress serves an important function – it protects us from danger via a ‘flight or fight’ response by giving us the means to escape a life-threatening situation or face it head-on.

Our heart rate and respiration increase pumping more blood to the muscles, our pupils dilate to let in more light and improve sight, our focus intensifies, our immune system is activated and ready for action while our parasympathetic nervous system is put on hold.

When the stressful situation is over the parasympathetic nervous system kicks back in and the body returns to balance, resting, digesting and reproducing until the next acute stressor occurs.

However, problems arise when the stressors don’t go away – something known as chronic stress – and the sympathetic nervous system remains activated diverting energy away from normal functions such as digestion, repair and reproduction.

“We all know the mental and emotional stresses we face daily – the commute, long hours at work, impossibly busy schedules, problems with finances, problems in our relationships – on and on the list goes,” my nutritionist explains

“What you may not be aware of are other stresses which elicit exactly the same response by the body. These include poor dietary choices causing imbalances in blood sugar, constant sleep deprivation, chronic infections (often gut infections), inflammation and pain, food intolerances, even over-exercising. All these create a stress response and we lurch through the day going from one stressor to another and the stress response is constantly switched on – our bodies are not designed to cope with this type of chronic stress.”

I should perhaps mention at this point that I was also in the midst of my fourth tongue-swelling reaction in as many days. We were experiencing a  heatwave in the UK and extreme temperature is a trigger.

As some of you know, I was recently diagnosed with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. In layman’s terms, my mast cells – white blood cells which form part of our immune system and are in every part of the body – are confused and hyper-sensitive and mistake things like high-histamine food, certain medication, and sunlight as a threat.

The cells are filled with chemical mediators including histamine, heparin, prostaglandins, cytokines which are released in varying amounts once triggered. When this happens my tongue or throat usually swells up. Sometimes I also experience severe itching in my scalp and limbs, chronic fatigue, stabbing pains all over my body and behind my eyes. I also bruise very easily – on the day I saw the consultant who finally diagnosed me – my entire right thigh was black.

The reason I mention this is because stress is a huge trigger too and I had not one but EVERY single reaction listed, which is additional proof that I need to get back on track with chilling out.

20 ways to relieve stress

 

So to celebrate National Relaxation Day [15 August 2018], I’ve rounded up 20 ways to find some balance. As de-stressing can only benefit us all, I hope these tips help you too.

20 ways to relieve stress

  1. On waking, wait half an hour before switching your phone on. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve reached straight for my device and ended up responding to WhatsApp group messages or watching an Instagram story, inadvertently wasting precious minutes in the morning, which then made me feel rushed. Give yourself the chance to wake up properly, nourish your body with healthy food and set some positive intentions for the day ahead.
  2. Limit time spent on social media. Things like Facebook groups are great for providing a sense of community for those of us who work remotely but when comments are overly negative, unsupportive or just downright mean they can dampen your mood. Dip in and out and avoid becoming involved in lengthy debates.
  3. Get organised. If I’m working in London or have a news shift booked in I pick out my outfit – right down to my underwear – and hang it on the back of the door. Likewise, I sort out my handbag and prepare all my own food as buying lunch out is no longer an option with my MCAS issues.
  4. Breathe deeply and slowly. Even if it’s just for three minutes. This is instantly relaxing and helps me at night when I need to calm my racing mind.
  5. Employ mindfulness. It’s not as hard as it sounds and there are plenty of guided apps out there like Calm and Headspace. I also visited a fantastic meditation studio in London and also found solace in a weekend meditation/wellness retreat at Chilston Park in Kent earlier this year.
  6. Avoid pointless arguments.
  7. Remember that your time isn’t necessarily set in stone. I’m a bit useless at this and like order (surprising when I’ve been freelance for 18 years and there’s little routine) so I can feel a little flustered if plans change at the last minute but more often than not they end up working out for the best so I try to employ this positive mindset now, which brings me onto my next point.
  8. If you cannot alter a situation, take a different perspective. Think ‘In what way could this situation be positive?’ Or ‘Can this have value or is it useful?’
  9. Keep a journal. Writing your thoughts down can be incredibly therapeutic and help you organise them.
  10. Avoid procrastination which can lead to feelings of not being good enough.
  11. Allow an extra half an hour for everything you do. Meeting a friend? Have a date? Catching the train (in which case I leave an HOUR earlier). Far better to be too early than too late.
  12. Turn your phone off. If I’m on deadline or trying to get a piece finished I put my phone on aeroplane mode.
  13. Create boundaries. I work from home a lot but often friends and family view this time as a chance to pop in for a coffee and a catch-up. I used to feel bad about turning them down but now they understand.
  14. Don’t overschedule. I’m guilty of cramming too much in and have been trying to make every Sunday a relaxation day but for the past two weeks I’ve ended up working. I SHALL get back on the horse!
  15. Stop trying to please everybody and learn how to say no. If not, you’ll end up being run ragged.
  16. Run a bath. It’s cliche. It works. I wrote about it here. Usually, I throw in a handful of Epsom salts, but as part of the day job earlier this year, I was sent Olverum Bath Oil and I’m now a convert. It contains no fewer than 10 essential oils including geranium, lavender and eucalyptus leaving your muscles relaxed and your bathroom smelling divine.
  17. Go to bed an hour early and wake up feeling refreshed, productive and ready to tackle the day.
  18. Move more. Exercise is a great way to clear the mind and was always my go-to for beating stress. I was a former gym bunny and tennis was my main sport. Due to my MCAS, spin classes and running are out, and I can’t play tennis competitively as vibrations – from activity to those felt on aircraft – can cause my mast cells to degranulate. Read here about the time my tongue started to swell on a long-haul flight. Now I’ve found solace in swimming and fair weather paddle boarding when I have the energy.
  19. Take up a new hobby that you love. Blogging anyone?
  20. KEEP. IT. SIMPLE.

What are your top tips for managing stress? How are you relaxing today? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If you think this post might help someone who is struggling, please feel free to share this post or tag them.

Helen's Health, Wellness

9 tricks to keep cool

9 tricks to keep cool

Are you struggling to keep cool in this heatwave? I know I am. And that’s saying something.

I couldn’t believe it when I read in the Telegraph that the Met Office is predicting the UK’s hottest day on record tomorrow [27 July]. Temperatures are expected to possibly exceed 38.5C (101F) on what has been dubbed Furnace Friday.

Now don’t get me wrong – I have always been a hot weather enthusiast.

It’s in my blood – my mother hails from Guyana – and Barbados and South Africa are among my favourite holiday haunts.

But my love for this prolonged scorchio spell has waned somewhat given my recent (MCAS) Mast Cell Activation Syndrome diagnosis.

A couple of years ago I had no idea why my tongue would start swelling up or why I’d start itching for England whenever I set foot inside a boiling hot car. But now I know why – read more here. 

Heat, it turns out, is one of my triggers and so it’s essential for me to remain cool.

Except – like most people – I don’t have air conditioning in the house or a swimming pool in the back garden and I have succumbed to a fair few tongue swelling episodes over the past month (hence my lack of blog posts).

Even so, I have discovered some simple tips that have helped me beat the heat so thought it would be handy to share them below. I hasten to add that these are not scientific – just based on my own personal experience.

9 tricks to keep cool

SLEEP UNDER A DUVET COVER (MINUS THE DUVET)

I’ve written about Auntie Chris and her wise words before on this blog and sure enough she’s shared another gem – remove the duvet and sleep under the cover. AC, as I call her, came to stay with me during Wimbledon and when I walked into her room I found she’d had a field day with the bed linen.  “The duvet cover gives you that extra bit of weight that sleeping under a just sheet doesn’t but is still cool enough,” she laughed on seeing my expression. That night I tried it and had the most remarkable night’s sleep. Who knew?! Just make sure the material is breathable cotton.

PLACE A WET HAND TOWEL BETWEEN YOUR THIGHS

I know. I know. This sounds a little odd but on one particularly sweltering night, I’d had enough so at approximately  3am I found a small gym hand towel and soaked it in ice cold water. I’d initially planned to leave it on my forehead but this didn’t work as I sleep on my side (*eye roll*) so I wacked it between my legs instead. I reckon I fell asleep within five minutes. No joke.

INVEST IN A COOLING MIST

About four years ago I went on a press trip to France as part of the day job to learn about Avene skincare brand which is designed for sensitive, hypersensitive, allergic and irritated skin. There I was introduced to its Thermal Spring Water, a soothing, anti-irritating mist. While many people use it to rehydrate and ease itchy skin, I use it to cool down! I pop it in the fridge and then leave it by my bed so that I can spritz my pulse points and face whenever I wake up in the night. I always walk with it on holiday too.

DO NOT OPEN THE CURTAINS

It feels somewhat slovenly to keep the curtains drawn all day but I’ve found it doesn’t half make a difference in keeping the interior cool when the sun is beating down outside.

PLACE A BOWL OF ICED WATER IN FRONT OF YOUR FAN

It is absolutely stifling in my home office because the sun is streaming onto the window when it’s at its strongest. On the days I work from home I keep the curtains drawn and use a desk fan. Recently I’ve been placing a bowl of iced water a sensible distance in front of it to circulate cooler air and it really works!

KEEP THE FRENCH DOORS CLOSED

And the windows for that matter. I discovered this by accident today when I opened them and felt entirely engulfed by hot air. Obviously throw ‘em open if there’s a breeze or it’s cooler outside and if the temperature drops in the evening, but if its hotter in the garden there’s no sense in opening them at all.

GO FOR A LATE NIGHT DIP

Swimming is a new habit I’ve got into of late – partly because intense activity sets off my tongue and throat swelling reactions – but also because of the heatwave. I’ve been hitting the pool of my local gym for late night sessions. It’s empty at 8pm, there are no screaming kids and I emerge feeling relaxed, refreshed and much cooler. Result.

SLEEP WITH DAMP HAIR

We’ve always been told to avoid going to bed or out of the house with wet hair but the common cold is in fact caused by a virus. Personally, I find that going to sleep with towel-dried hair helps me drift off quicker than when it is dry if the temperature is overbearingly warm.

MAKE HEALTHY ICE LOLLIES

The week before last I was working a shift for a trade magazine when I nipped home for lunch at midday. On the way back to the office I eased myself into the furnace that was my car and my tongue started to swell within five minutes. I had to pull over and immediately take two antihistamines. That night I decided to make some almond and coconut ice lollies with cacao powder – my first attempt and I was surprised at how well they turned out. Now, just before I set off I eat one of those and it’s good to know they’re in the freezer if I feel as though I’m overheating.

How are you finding the heat? Are you loving it or hating it? Have you found any unusual tips that work for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Health, Helen's Health

6 THINGS THAT MAKE ME HAPPY

6 THINGS THAT MAKE ME HAPPY

Actually, please allow me to rephrase the above to ‘6 Things That Made Me Happy This Week’ because, boy, it has been a good one.

As many of you know I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of why my health fell apart in December 2015. You can read the night it all began here. Over the past 2.5 years, I’ve seen various specialists, had numerous blood tests and spent a fortune along the way to little avail.

Time and time again my research has brought me back to Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (a condition of the immune system which I’ve mentioned before) but, for the most part,  this suggestion has fallen upon deaf ears…until now.

Yes, this week a medical doctor at a top London hospital confirmed what I have suspected all along… MCAS as well as histamine intolerance.

I’ll write a proper post on what MCAS is and what my next steps will be at a later date but for now I’ve decided to share 6 things that made me happy this week because, after 2.5 years of feeling utterly lost, rubbish, fatigued, anxious and wishing it would all just go away, I finally feel as though I’m back in control of my life. I hope this post also gives hope to others going through similarly anxious times.

HAPPY POINT NO.1: RECEIVING A DIAGNOSIS

Words can’t express the joy of finding someone who understands and has lived through MCAS. It turns out my consultant’s daughter was dreadfully unwell for years and had similar symptoms until her diagnosis. This prompted my doctor to develop a special interest in the condition and histamine intolerance.

We all have mast cells – they’re a type of white blood cell which, collectively, form a crucial part of our defence system. They respond to threats like foreign bodies and injury by releasing a variety of chemical mediators, including histamine, to protect and heal the body. However, my mast cells are confused. Anything from heat and stress to high histamine foods like citrus fruit, vinegar and alcohol and intense exercise – can trigger my body into excessively releasing histamine and other mediators which set off chronic reactions including tongue and throat swellings .

On the day I saw the doctor, my entire thigh was bruised black and blue. We worked out what had caused it. The previous night I’d been suffering from intolerable itching all over my body, scalp and thighs and couldn’t stop scratching.  Apparently bruising is a classic sign of MCAS – mast cells contain heparin, a chemical which stops the blood from clotting.  Going forward, my doctor said I’d have to work very hard to reduce my ‘histamine’ bucket, become mindful of triggers and start up the long-acting antihistamine again however she is confident I’ll be able to get a handle on this pesky chronic illness, even though it may take some time. I’m so thrilled and grateful to have found her.

HAPPY POINT NO.2: BEING GIVEN NEW HOPE

A couple of months ago I bit the bullet and raided the savings pot again spending over £1,000 on a consultation with a nutritionist and some comprehensive gut and adrenal tests to give me a better picture of my health. The results came back this week and are fascinating. I’m talking parasites, salmonella and chronic inflammation among other things but I’ll share these findings at a later date once I’ve had my follow-up consultation. Let’s just say that between the new medical doctor and the nutritionist I believe I’m finally on the right path to healing.

HAPPY POINT NO.3: WORKING FOR NEW CLIENTS

I’ve been a freelance journalist for 18 years and regularly contribute to newspapers, consumer and trade magazines but the industry is changing. Fast. I’m staggered by the changes I’ve seen over the past 18 months (I’m talking rate cuts here, there and everywhere) and earning a living from pure journalism alone is no longer a valid option. So I recently pushed myself out of my comfort zone, and adapted the way I work. The result? New work. Less stress. Oh, and it’s fun! See below!

HAPPY POINT NO.4  MY FIRST TASTE OF LONDON EVENT

6 things that make me happy

I’ve never really been much of a ‘foodie’. Not only is eating out nigh on impossible with all my intolerances, I’m now six weeks into a gluten and dairy free diet which restricts things even further. However, as part of the day job I ended up at Taste of London in Regent’s Park, an event which celebrates London’s culinary scene. It was a lovely way to spend a summer’s evening and I was thrilled to discover a number of dairy and gluten-free products on site including Hippeas organic chickpea puffs,  Pip & Nut nut butters, Miiro a vegan ice cream, dairy alternative drink brand Califia Farms.  It wasn’t all about the food, drink, music and socialising either. I stumbled across some stunning flower displays thanks to Freddie’s Flowers, a pay as you go UK -wide fresh flower delivery service. The company cuts and packs to order only, therefore, reducing waste.  Speaking of Freddie, see No.5.

HAPPY POINT NO.5: MY BUNNY SURVIVING 

Freddie the house bunny

As some of you know I have a house bunny called Freddie who is a sickly but loving little thing. Approximately half an hour before I was due to leave for the Taste of London event I noticed he was a little off colour so I whizzed him over to the vet. He’d gone into slight gastrointestinal (GI) stasis, which can be deadly in rabbits but, fortunately, I’d spotted it in time. He was kept him in for the day, while I went to work. The bill wasn’t pretty but the bunny survived! Hooray!

HAPPY POINT NO.6: CUDDLES WITH BABY SEBASTIAN

6 things that make me happy

Lastly, one of my very good friends had a gorgeous little boy recently. I finally got the chance to have my first cuddle with him yesterday. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

 

What are the little things that have made you happy this week? Do you get through the hard times by focussing on the little things in life. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

 

 

Helen's Health

7 reformer pilates myths busted

Helen Gilbert reformer pilates

“Reformer pilates? No way, it’s just not my kind of thing.” That was always my standard response whenever my lifelong osteopath Paul Morrissey suggested I give it a try.

The machines looked frightening – almost like an ancient torture device – complicated to operate and, as I’d always favoured fast-paced exercise like spin, running, tennis and boot camps, I automatically assumed I’d be bored.

Then two and a half years ago I became chronically ill – read the Night It All Began here. Alongside high histamine food, ANY sort of exercise that made me hot and sweaty would bring on tongue swelling and throat closing episodes. Overnight my sporty lifestyle, along with a big part of my identity, disappeared.

So when doctors suggested I reintroduce low impact exercise on the provision I have my adrenaline pen and antihistamines to hand, I decided the time was right to learn more about reformer pilates.

Helen Gilbert reformer pilates

For those not in the know, pilates is a system of slow and controlled exercises performed on a mat or spring-assisted reformer. It’s designed to lengthen and strengthen muscles, improve posture, flexibility and agility, prevent injury and address structural imbalances in the body.

Pioneer Joseph Hubertus Pilates was said to have been a sickly child following his birth in 1883 so, in adulthood, he set about researching and developing a mind, body, spirit approach to exercise that would later transform him into a skier, diver, gymnast and boxer.

He also rigged springs to hospital beds to help bedridden patients exercise against resistance, which subsequently inspired the designs for much of the reformer pilates equipment we see today.

I popped along to the Osteopathic Clinic in Croydon for my very first reformer pilates session and busted the following myths:

REFORMER PILATES IS SCARY
No, it’s not, even though the equipment might seem so. It helped that Rhea Malkin (pictured), a triathlete, ironman competitor and STOTT Pilates Essential and Intermediate Reformer qualified instructor was on hand to guide me through my one-on-one session. Embarrassingly, I went to lie down at the wrong end of the bed-like contraption but she quickly pointed me in the right direction. I assumed my position on the ‘carriage’, which moves back and forth on wheels, and is attached to the reformer by a set of springs that provide differing levels of resistance. My feet rested on the bar at the bottom and I lay on the comfortable padded platform ready for my first move. Simple. What on earth had I been worrying about?

REFORMER PILATES IS BORING
Admittedly, I thought I’d be bored out of my brain by repeating movements in a slow and controlled manner but there’s a heck of a lot to remember, like engaging your core correctly when performing a move, which makes it far from dull and you feel the muscles instantly working.  I struggled with finding my neutral spine so Rhea suggested visualising a glass of water, which I did not want to spill, on my tummy. For the glutes, she urged me to think about gripping a credit card between my butt cheeks. We giggled but it worked! My muscles were activated and I’d yet to start work on the reformer pilates equipment!

REFORMER PILATES IS JUST ABOUT BUILDING A STRONG LEAN BODY
Nope. Your breathing is important too. The preparatory work before a move involves an inhalation, while any exertion requires an exhalation. The very mindful action of focussing on the breath as well as the move provided a delightful escape from the stresses of daily life and the thoughts that permanently whizz around my overactive mind. Of course, building a graceful, strong body is an obvious advantage too. Rhea, who regularly works out on a reformer pilates machine, is a testament to that!

Helen Gilbert reformer pilates

REFORMER PILATES IS CHEATING
Think again. Yes, there’s no mat involved but just because you’re using equipment doesn’t mean that it’s any less of a workout or you’ve failed.  In fact, years ago I once tried a floor-based group pilates class. The next day my neck had locked up entirely which put me out of action for weeks. However, I managed a full 50 minutes on the reformer and successfully worked through the full repertoire of exercises which spanned the lower and upper body as well as stabilising core work.

REFORMER PILATES IS COMPLICATED
There’s definitely a lot to remember and if I’d been in a group class I think I may have struggled. But if you have an individual instructor talking you through each move it’s a breeze. Plus there’s the added advantage that he/she can correct you if you’re misaligned.

Helen Gilbert reformer pilates

REFORMER PILATES IS NOT AN ALL OVER BODY WORKOUT
Yes it is. You might not be drenched in sweat as you would from a HIIT class but the muscles in my back, inner thighs, arms and tummy back were still screaming at me three days later (in a good way).

REFORMER PILATES IS JUST NOT YOU
I held this view for YEARS. It wasn’t until my health packed up that I took note. I’m eager to get back to exercise but appreciate that the adrenaline-pumped classes I used to love no longer serve me or my health. This was such a fun alternative. I  was so enthused with the class – and the fact I didn’t have a tongue swelling or throat closing reaction during or afterwards– that I’m now contemplating buying a reformer pilates one for the house.

Visit the Osteopathic Clinic  for more information about their one-on-one reformer pilates sessions.

Relax Ya Self To Health was invited to try this session by the Osteopathic Clinic in exchange for a review.  As always, reviews are based on my honest opinion.

Disclaimer: This is a personal blog based on my own genuine experiences. My posts are for informational purposes only. I am under the care of a number of specialists for my chronic health issues. I am not a doctor, nutritionist, physio or sports therapist. If you have a health condition or injuries, always seek advice from a relevant medical professional before undertaking any activity.

 

Helen's Health, Wellness

#MySundayPhoto

Freddie the house bunny

So here it is… my maiden MySundayPhoto.

And here’s why. I’ve had a super a hectic but very productive weekend.

Yesterday I attended my first blogging conference hosted by the wonderful Scarlett Dixon who runs ScarlettLondon.com. A big shout out must also go to Ana of The She Approach whose presentations were so insightful and should hopefully help me schedule a little better and reduce my stress levels!

Although I’ve been a freelance journalist for 18 years, I often feel overwhelmed by the blogging world.

A) I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone
B) I’m a technophobe and ‘old’
C) I’m learning a heap of new skills
D) I’m doing all of this alongside the day job which means I feel as though I never switch off

On top of this, I am forever pushing myself even though I cannot remember the last time I felt even 60 per cent.

Yet, stress reduction is essential for chronic illness recovery and I’m determined to get my histamine intolerance under control and improve my general wellbeing.

With this in mind, I’ll be sharing a picture every Sunday that demonstrates how I’ve managed to relax either during the week or at the weekend.

It’s a small step, I know, but it’ll hold me accountable (I hope) and stop me operating at 150 miles per hour.

I’m kicking this off with a snap taken in the garden this evening after a morning spent indoors working. Can anyone spot the house bunny pretending to be a statue?!

I’d love to hear from anyone else who struggles to relax.  Are you trying to reduce stress in your life also? If so, why and is it working?
Please do let me know how you’re getting on in the comments below. 

Happy Sunday!

Helen x

Helen's Health

The North Devon ‘graveyard’ dining experience you MUST try

Hidden Heaven, North Devon

“Churchyard dining? In North Devon? You can’t be serious?” That was my first reaction when Auntie Chris told me she was heading out to a pop-up restaurant in the little village of Swimbridge, near Barnstaple with nine of her friends.

She was, in fact, referring to Hidden Heaven, a beautifully converted Baptist chapel dating back to 1837 which just happens to be the home of Geoffrey and Kirsty Everett-Brown and their three children. The couple bought the building, complete with the graveyard containing 70 deceased occupants, in 2000 and spent the best part of five years converting it into their dream property.

Now the friendly husband-and-wife team throw open their doors once a month to host informal and welcoming dining experiences for members of the public at a cost of £30 per head. It’s a fantastic concept.

 

Hidden Heaven. North Devon

Supper is made from locally sourced and seasonal ingredients and served in a light and airy open plan living and dining room that once housed the pews and pulpit (not the grounds of the churchyard – I was being a touch dramatic) but you do walk past the graves on the walk up the path to the former place of worship, which is a surreal experience in itself.

And there’s no shortage of characterful features to marvel at including the original arched windows – not one pane of glass is the same size – memorial plaques and a hymn board. Guests are required to bring their own alcohol and drinks but get to enjoy a chilled evening with friends and family while being waited on hand and foot in the comfort of a unique family home.

 

Hidden Heaven, North Devon

Even so, when Auntie Chris first invited me I instinctively said no.

Hidden Heaven, North Devon

As many of you know, I have histamine intolerance which means I have to avoid things like citrus fruit, grapes, alcohol, vinegar, anything aged or fermented otherwise my throat starts to close or my tongue swells. (I carry adrenaline pens, steroids and antihistamines at all times).
Dining out is troublesome at the best of times because these ingredients are usually prominent in vegetarian dishes (I’m pescatarian and have not eaten meat since the age of 13).

To make things more complicated my nutritionist recently started me on a strict (hopefully temporary) gluten-free, dairy-free programme in a bid to reset my gut. For the time being, dining out is not an option.

Yet, Geoffrey and Kirsty were so fantastically kind and accommodating. On hearing my situation they invited me along and said it was perfectly fine for me to take my own food so I didn’t miss out on the experience. I was thrilled especially as living with allergies and invisible illness can be so isolating at times.

Hidden Heaven, North Devon

In fact, I cursed my histamine intolerance when I saw the menu – there was so MUCH choice! We’re talking asparagus soufflé with a tarragon vinaigrette, roasted vegetable terrine with wild garlic pesto, fine beans and sugar snap peas with orange and hazelnuts, and desserts including white and dark chocolate mousse with macerated strawberries or Coeur a la crème with blueberry compote and hazelnut and lavender shortbread.

 

Helen Gilbert, Hidden Heaven

After dinner, we retired to the family’s lounge area for coffee and conversation. There poor Geoffrey had to field numerous graveyard-themed questions.

“Are people still allowed to visit their relatives in what is effectively your front garden?” (Yes). “Have there been any burials since you’ve lived there?” (Only the interment of ashes). “Do the graves get many visitors?” (Surprisingly, not). “Do you have ghosts?” (No).

With that, I turned to quick-witted Auntie Chris. “Have you enjoyed the evening?” “Thoroughly,” she enthused with a glint in her eye. “It’s been absolutely magnificent. Great company. Outstanding food. An enchanting setting. Oh, and I loved the desserts. They were to die for.”

I should have known that was coming!

For more information visit Hidden Heaven: http://www.hiddenheaven.co.uk/
Fancy exploring North Devon further? Check out Vist North Devon and Exmoor 

 

Helen's Health, Travel

10 ways to rediscover your pzazz

10 ways to find your pzazz

Pzazz is one of my favourite words.

For those in the dark, it means ‘a new lease of life’ or ‘get up and go’.

But far too often we lose our pzazz as the trials and tribulations of daily life take over.

And while we all know the importance of keeping stress at bay it can be hard to take action when you’re firefighting one problem after another and, quite frankly, feel as though you’re wading through treacle.

Inevitably the obstacles become the focus and before you know it you’re struggling to recall the last time you laughed.

I was stuck in this rut for most of 2016 when my health went haywire, read the night it all began here. I struggled to see light at the end of the tunnel but recently something shifted.  I no longer mourn my old life and I’ve finally learned to accept what is happening and adjust.

In fact, I now believe that my body was simply screaming at me to slow down. I wasn’t listening. So it just stopped working properly to make me sit up and take note. Slowly but surely my pzazz is slowly returning so below, as part of Stress Awareness Month, I’ve rounded up some of the simple hacks that have helped me along the way.

10 ways to rediscover your pzazz

TREAT YOURSELF
It’s so easy to forget that life is for living NOW when you’re being dealt nothing but lemons but now is the time to treat yourself. If you fancy a weekend away, book it. If a massage is calling your name, get one. Feel confident in a gorgeous outfit? Wear it. Fancy some fresh flowers to brighten up your home? Buy them. Whatever you do, make sure it lights you up inside.

BE INSPIRED
By a blog. By a person. By a podcast. I am currently reading three different books – yes, three. I dip in and out of each one depending on my mood. One is motivational. One is autobiographical and one is light reading. I’ve always enjoyed the escapism that reading brings and it’s my go-to method of relaxation. Oh, and the books are proper paperback jobbies. No worries about blue light interfering with sleep patterns this end.

INVEST IN YOUR HEALTH
It has taken me a long time to get my head around this. I think nothing of servicing my car or the annual boiler check. But when it comes to my wellbeing it’s as though I have a mental block. I used to pound my body at the gym or on the tennis court but would never fork out for a sports massage even though my muscles were begging for one. I simply viewed the spend as a waste of money. Not now. Next week I have an appointment booked with a London-based nutritionist. The consultation fee is eye-wateringly expensive, as are the tests, but I’ve been saving every penny. There’s only one of me and if I can finally get a handle on what is going on with my body and wake up feeling as though I’m not coming down with the flu I’ll be over the moon.  Plus, a healthier Helen will be far more useful to everyone.

10 ways to rediscover your pzazz

TRY SOMETHING NEW
I often think back to 2016 when I was feeling desperately rotten and in and out of hospital. 2017, although not cured, was better. I had a management plan and was determined to start living my life again. So I pledged to try something new whenever my body would allow.  I gave e-biking a spin, which was great as the bike was equipped with a battery pack which gave me a little boost whenever I needed it! I also visited Austria and Tenerife for the first time and earlier this year I tried a yoga and meditation retreat. New experiences introduce you to new people and give you a different perspective on life. Most of all, they’re fun!

LEARN TO SAY NO
Friends, family, colleagues, PRs and even acquaintances know they can always call on me to let off steam, review pitch ideas and CVs, write letters (you wouldn’t believe how many letters I get asked to pen – from job proposals to letters of complaint). I never used to mind – helping people out is in my DNA. But at one point last year I realised I was being run ragged by others peoples’ demands and putting their needs before my own which left me feeling depleted especially as my health was in such a bad way. So last year I made a commitment to start saying no to certain things.  It instantly took the pressure off. The trouble is if you’re good-natured, you can end up feeling guilty. Here’s how I did it.

ALLOW AN EXTRA HALF AN HOUR
Although I’m a pretty punctual person, I’m always rushing from here to there and useless with early starts. The very thought of waking up at the crack of dawn results in me spending half the night lying awake in an anxious state. Now, one night a week I go to bed at 9pm.  Hardly, rock and roll but my body thanks me for it. It also means I wake earlier. It’s a fantastic feeling easing into the mornings rather than rushing around and I’m far more productive work-wise.

10 ways to rediscover your pzazz

DON’T OVERSCHEDULE
I rarely have a day off. It’s the nature of freelance journalism. And if I’m not working the day job, I can be found creating content for the blog or unpacking boxes from the recent house move. (No wonder I’m single!)  However, I’ve recently given myself permission to have a day off at the weekend and catch up with friends. The result? I’m far more creative, happy and feel alive again!

DITCH YOUR PHONE
I don’t mean for good. But give yourself a mini-digital detox. I try to turn my off  my phone by 9pm during the week and make a conscious effort to leave my device at home if I’m out and about doing chores or popping to the shops. This stops me feeling ‘always on’ and is unbelievably liberating.

HAVE A BATH
It’s an oldie but a goodie. I wrote about how a bath helped me take control here. Just add Epsom salts, lavender oil, a bath pillow and feel the stress melt away.

REMEMBER THAT NOTHING STAYS THE SAME FOREVER
Whenever I have relapses or inevitable rough periods with my health or whatever I try and remind myself that this moment shall pass. After all, nothing good or bad in life stays the same forever. I also make a list of every tiny thing I’m grateful for (and remember that there is always someone far worse off).

Did you find these tips useful? Do you have any you’d like to add? How have you rediscovered your pzazz?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If you found this article useful or feel it may help someone else please do share the post or tag them. 

Alternatively, if you’d like to read our celebrity interviews check our chats with Jonny Wilkinson, Katie Piper, Pat Cash, Gail Porter, Ryan Sidebottom, Andrew Barton and James Duigan.

 

Helen's Health

The one time it sucks to be single

The one time it sucks to be single

I’m single.

I’m not embarrassed by it.

Of course, I’ve had relationships – my longest lasting 8.5 years – but for the past four, I’ve been on my lonesome (three-month dalliances hardly count.)

I’ve always subscribed to the motto that I’d rather be single than in the wrong relationship. And while most of the uncouplings have ended amicably – I’m friends with nearly all of my ex-boyfriends – I have endured some dating disasters along the way much to the amusement of my friends.

“I usually go for trophy girlfriends but I’m trying to change my ways,” announced one chap within minutes of rocking up to our first date.

“Why can’t we go for a walk in the woods? I don’t believe you’re outdoorsy. Women always lie on their profile,” accused another on our first encounter.

In fact, my love life has been something of a hot topic among friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers over the years.

I’ve had everything levelled at me:

“Are you ridiculously fussy?” (Um, no.)

“Why are you single?” (Um, I’ve not met the right person yet.)

“You’ll be left on the shelf.” (Er, thanks for that.)

“You never give anyone a chance.” (Um, I do. I date. Heck, I even went on a second date with the walk in the woods guy!)

“You go for the wrong type.” (Not intentionally. I promise.)

You always put up barriers” (True. One of my exes called me ‘The Great Barrier Reef’. It’s something I’m addressing after discovering the Psyma app)

The one time it sucks to be single

“You need to get a move on if you want to have children.” (Don’t get me started on this one. It’s just insensitive on SO many levels.)

“You work too hard. You’ll never meet anyone at home sat behind your desk.” (True.)

“Is it hard being single at your age?” (Hmmm, let me think about that.)

Ordinarily, my stock answer would go something like this: “Why on earth would it be hard? I’m not defined by my marital status.”

Don’t get me wrong, of course it would be fan-bloody-tastic to meet a kindred spirit to make wonderful memories with, share special moments, look after and cherish. No-one can deny that blissful feeling of being in love. It’s the best.

But my philosophy has always been it will happen when it’s supposed to so. I’ve always channelled my energies into making the most of my life now, enjoying precious time with my friends and family rather than dwelling on what I don’t have.

Except, last night my thoughts turned to being single, most unusual for me.

Why?

Because my autoimmune symptoms have phenomenally flared up. It’s not easy when you’re battling an invisible chronic illness that makes you feel utterly dreadful and requires every ounce of energy just to make it through the day, especially as I naively assumed I was on the mend.

I’d been making SUPER progress and even went on a ski trip for work last month, something I would never have envisaged 2.5 years ago when my health started acting up (Read the night it all began here)

A•L•P•I•N•E L•I•V•I•N•G

A post shared by Helsy/Relax Ya Self To Health (@relaxyaself2h) on

Because I’d been feeling much better I pushed myself and, approximately two weeks ago, decided to go swimming (the type of activity I’d do on a ‘rest’ day when I was well). Except on the evening in question, my body wasn’t feeling quite right.

My legs felt heavy as I walked to the pool. But I ignored the signs.

I ADORE exercise. It’s something I’ve missed hugely since my health took a nosedive – activity and heat can set off my tongue swelling reactions – and I was thrilled to be doing something I enjoy.

I swam one length, then two. As many as 14 laps later, I hauled myself out of the water very much swept up in the delightful endorphin-triggered buzz that exercise brings.

Boy, did it turn out to be a mistake

Over the 12 hours that followed my body crashed. And for the past 14 days I’ve been hitting the hay around 7pm most evenings to try and get a grip on episcleritis (painful inflammation in the eye), stabbing pains, and dreadful fatigue consuming my body.

On the outside, I look normal. Somehow, I’ve been summoning up the energy to work news shifts but inside I’m permanently exhausted.

The one time it sucks to be single

I’d forgotten how awful it is to feel like this…to wake up from ten hours sleep, feeling utterly unrefreshed and as though you’ve only had two.

But what does this have to do with being single?

Well, so far I’ve mostly survived this 2.5 year journey on my own. The uncertainty, the gazillions of hospital appointments, and generally feeling like crap.

*Disclaimer* I’m very blessed in that I have a wonderfully supportive family and good friends around me but more often than not I hide how I’m really feeling because I’d hate to burden them any further.  I also appreciate that I’m one of the lucky ones – I can still function when many others can’t – plus I’ve also learnt a lot about myself along the way.

Nonetheless, this battle is exhausting. Sometimes you can’t put on a brave face. And sometimes you just need a big MAN hug.

So, as I lay in bed last night feeling thoroughly rotten, a thought popped into my mind for the first time in my life.

“Being single with an invisible illness really sucks.”

At that moment I just wanted someone to hold me close and say: “Don’t worry, you’ll be okay. You will feel better. Everything will work out I promise.”

Or, at the very least take the P out of me and make me laugh hysterically!

Of course, I’m in a much better frame of mind today. That out of character thought was fleeting.

But that’s the thing with chronic illness. It affects you in all sorts of ways you’d never think imaginable.

Can you relate? Are you single? What do you like/dislike about it? Do you have an invisible illness that you’re dealing with on your own? 

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.  

Please do share or tag someone in this article if you think it might help them. Thank you!

Helen's Health