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

Top Chapman, founder of suicide prevention charity The Lions Barber Collective

Tom Chapman was devastated when he lost his friend to suicide in 2014.

“I’d seen him just days before and suspected nothing,” the barber from Torquay said. “We shared small talk. I didn’t recognise there was anything wrong with him. [At the time] I was completely unaware of any suicide prevention or mental health charities. If I hadn’t heard of any and I had been affected directly, I thought how many people out there were suffering or worse without any knowledge of resources available? I remember saying to a group of my friends at the wake: ‘We have to do something, something has to change.'”

Within a year he had set up The Lions Barber Collective – a men’s mental health awareness and suicide prevention charity that empowers barbers to make their chairs ‘safe spaces’ for male clients to open up and share their feelings and concerns.

And, in 2017 Prime Minister Theresa May awarded Tom a Point of Light Award – which recognises outstanding individual volunteers.

On World Suicide Prevention Day [10 September], Relax Ya Self To Health caught up with Tom to find out more about his movement and how his training programme is teaching barbers to recognise, talk, listen and signpost clients to the services, like the Samaritans, they might require.

Why is the Barber’s chair so important for opening up the conversation around men’s mental health?

We did a survey with Bluebeards Revenge (male grooming brand) which discovered that over half the men would prefer to talk to their barber than their doctor when it comes to mental health. The barber’s chair is a unique place in society. It is completely non-judgemental and non-clinical everyday environment. Clients trust us to touch their face, necks and ears and make them look good for the foreseeable future. The relationship is often built up over years. As there is very rarely interaction between the barber and client outside of those four walls, there is a level of confidence in the confidentiality of any conversation. There has always been a bond between those in the chair and those behind it. Since publicly letting people know that it is safe to talk to me, as we encourage many other barbers to do, many, many more men feel comfortable to open up and offload.

When did you realise you could make a difference in the area of men’s mental health and male suicide prevention?

Instantly. When we decided to raise funds for suicide prevention and mental health it just clicked. It was obvious. There are very few opportunities for one-to-one human interaction without interruptions. TLBC was set up in 2015 and started with a lookbook of men’s hair images to raise money for charity. Since then it has grown with global interest and we also spend a lot of time raising awareness to break down the stigma and taboo surrounding mental health and suicide.

Can you share an example of someone you’ve helped who was not coping well with life?

A long-time friend of mine Paul sat in my chair. He told me how he felt, how down he was and how he was struggling and mostly I just listened. It was pretty early on into The Lions Barber Collective and I was unaware of how bad he really was feeling. In my eyes, I had always seen him as successful and a phenomenally driven character but it was much worse than I thought.

How did you handle the situation?

I spoke to him about The Lions and what we were doing and how we encouraged people to tell others how they were feeling to try and avoid suicide. Paul went out by himself and was ready to take his life, ready to end it all. But he didn’t. He told me that when he felt like suicide was the only option, he thought about what we were doing and it encouraged him to drive back to his parents and tell them everything. That started his road to recovery. That is why he is still with us. He has publicly said that if it wasn’t for The Lions Barber Collective he wouldn’t be here today and I would have lost another friend. I have actually built a strong bond with so many because of stories like this. Yesterday, I had a phone message from a young lad to thank me and tell me that he is in a good place. He wants to help others and doesn’t want to kill himself anymore. There’s not much that feels better than that and it makes me even happier for his family who love him so much.

Top Chapman, founder of suicide prevention charity the Lion's Barber Collective

How does the Lions Barber Collective work in practice?

Our goals are to raise awareness, encourage barbers to create a safe space for men and an opportunity to open up and offload and educate barbers through BarberTalk Lite, which is now available for free on www.thelionsbarbercollective.com. It will give those who complete it some basic awareness and signposting knowledge, as well as put them on our Lions map on the website letting those in their community know that they have a place they can go, talk, be listened too and not judged in a safe non-clinical environment. Hopefully, through listening and connecting with our clients with empathy we can save another life, and another, and another. The full BarberTalk, which is currently in development, will provide an online modular program which will go into depth on key skills such as non-judgmental listening. I know for a fact we can save more lives.

How do you keep manage your emotional and mental wellbeing?

Through TLBC we’ve built up a network of caring peers who are there for one another. I also have a very supportive family and wife who I know will be there for me if I need them. A support group around you is essential.

What tips would you give to anyone who wants to help someone who is struggling but is unsure how to broach the subject of mental health?

Let them know you are there for them. Don’t tell them you know how they feel but be willing to let them explain how they feel without judgement.
Also if they give you the signs that lead you to suspect that they may be suffering or contemplating suicide, ask them directly. ‘Do you want to kill yourself?’ or ‘Are you contemplating suicide?’ It may be a difficult question, but it won’t make them more likely to take their life. It may give them the opportunity and green light to talk about something that has been causing them a lot of pain. Samaritans and GPs are great places to signpost to.

How did it make you feel to be received the Point of Light award?

In shock! It’s not every day you get a phone call from the highest office in the land say that the PM wants to give you an award. It made my family very proud and I know my grandad, who is no longer with us, would have been too. It is great to be recognised for the work we have been doing, especially when it is not an awards ceremony that people compete for, but a surprise recognition.

Lastly, how do you unwind and manage your mental health?

I like to spend time with my family, watch movies and taking advantage of nature and the countryside that surrounds our home. I also enjoy an hour at the gym as well as some meditation with my Calm app.

FACT BOX:

  • In 2017, there were 5,821 suicides, according to the latest ONS data on suicide rates in the UK.
  • Three in four of those recorded (4,382) were male, accounting for 15.5 deaths per 100,000 – the lowest rate since 1981.
  • The highest suicide rate by age bracket was 24.8 per 100,000 among males aged 45 to 49 years and 6.8 deaths per 100,000 among women in the 50 to 54-year-old group.
  • Worryingly, a suicide occurs on a railway approximately every 36 hours.  (Read more about the Small Talk Saves Lives campaign and what you can do to help, here. )

HELPFUL MENTAL HEALTH AND SUICIDE PREVENTION CONTACT NUMBERS:

Samaritans
If you need a response immediately, call the Samaritans which is open 24 hours every day of the year. You do not have to be suicidal to call them.
Call 116 123.
https://www.samaritans.org

Mind
This mental health charity provides information, support and details on local services.
Call: 0300 123 3393 (Weekdays 9am – 6pm)
https://www.mind.org.uk

YoungMinds
Children and young people can find information, support and advice at YoungMinds. Concerned parents of those aged under 25 can also speak to an advisor
Phone: 0808 802 5544 (9.30am-4pm – Monday – Friday)
https://youngminds.org.uk

The Lions Barber Collective
The Lions Barber Collective, as profiled above, is an international collection of top barbers which have come together to help raise awareness for the prevention of suicide. Learn more about their training programme here:
https://www.thelionsbarbercollective.com

Tom has also teamed up with British male grooming brand The Bluebeards Revenge to create a specially branded Hair Gel, with 50p from every tub sold being donated straight back to the charity. Alongside this product, the insides of The Bluebeards Revenge cartons have been rebranded with powerful messages to support The Lions Barber Collective.

If you found this post helpful you might like to read our chats with rugby legend Jonny Wilkinson and Gail Porter who have both opened up about their previous mental health struggles. 

In the news

How to stop feeling lonely as a freelancer

How to stop feeling lonely as a freelancer

18 years. That’s how long I’ve been a freelancer. On the surface, the journo lifestyle might appear glitzy and exciting but the reality is it is also flippin’ stressful.

Waiting months on end to get paid *and forever chasing invoices* is no fun when you’re the only one paying the mortgage and can only vent at four walls and a house bunny (albeit a cute one).

Plus, working solo behind a desk for weeks on end can leave you feeling somewhat disconnected from the outside world. So it came as no surprise when I saw the findings of a poll of 1,000 freelancers published by Epson this week.

Most of the respondents (91%) worked from home at least some of the time and almost half (48%) felt lonely.

Although 54% found this lifestyle liberating, 46% confessed to feeling ‘isolated’ and a quarter said they had experienced frequent periods of depression.

Worryingly, around a fifth of respondents claimed that the loneliness of remote working had caused them to have suicidal thoughts.

The findings were released by the printer brand to mark the launch of its Epson EcoTank Pop-Up,  a creative space in London’s Covent Garden that is hosting free talks, interactive workshops and panel sessions from work, parenting and lifestyle experts throughout September and October. The venue is also giving freelancers, bloggers and other self-employed people the chance to work and access free Wi-Fi, drinks and printing.

How to stop feeling lonely as a freelancer

According to Mind, feeling lonely isn’t a mental health problem but it can have a negative impact on your mental health.

“People usually describe feeling lonely for one of two reasons: they simply don’t see or talk to anyone very often or even though they are surrounded by people, they don’t feel understood or cared for,” it states. “Deciding which is the case for you may help you to find a way of feeling better. It can be helpful to think of feeling lonely like feeling hungry. Just as your body uses hunger to tell your body you need food, loneliness is a way of your body telling you that you need more social contact.”

The charity, which has lots of useful advice on how to combat loneliness here, also reiterates that being alone is not the same as being lonely and there is nothing wrong with being on your own if you are comfortable with it.

I guess I’m lucky in that I’m mostly quite content in my own company (must be the Scorpio in me). Even so, I’d rather not spend 60 hours a week holed up in my study so below I’ve listed some of the tips that help me feel less isolated.  I hope they help.

Are you a freelancer? Do you work from home regularly? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. 

MIX UP YOUR FREELANCE WORK

The prospect of spending an entire week working from home is not one that fills me with glee especially as I’m a bit of a workaholic. If I’m not careful I can end up stuck upstairs for 14 hours straight (as I put the hours in on the blog around the day job) and by the end of the week, I can feel utterly drained. Your home should be a place of rest and relaxation, not something you want to escape from. For this reason, I schedule in PR meetings, news shifts, media training/consultancy work and celebrity interviews around my features to ensure I do not have days on end on my lonesome. As they say, variety is the spice of life. (To find out how to work with me click here )

LEAVE THE HOUSE FIRST THING

Even if it’s just for five minutes. I don’t know about you but I can procrastinate with the best of them. However, I’ve found that rising an hour earlier and establishing an early non-work morning routine – either a quick swim or nipping to the shops to buy the papers – puts me in a positive mindset and gives me the social interaction I might not encounter for the rest of the day. I’m then raring to go by 9am and strangely focused. I also check on an immobile elderly neighbour to see if she needs anything. As well as helping others, good deeds are a great way to lift your spirits.

JOIN INDUSTRY GROUPS OR FREELANCE FORUMS FOR ADVICE

There are plenty of social media support forums for freelancers which can be a Godsend if you feel isolated or unsupported. As a freelance journalist, much of your life can be spent tackling unfair payment practices or challenging companies that try to grab your copyright. Then there are the IT issues (awful for a technophobe like me), tax returns, the list goes on. However, supportive groups can help you find answers to questions quickly and give you some much-needed solidarity especially when others have experienced similar difficulties. (I’ve also found this to be the case with chronic illness groups, too)Just don’t get drawn into negative, time-wasting debates which can raise your stress levels. Click here for 20 stress-busting tips.  

HAVE A FRIEND ON THE END OF A PHONE OR ON WHATSAPP

My go-to work buddy who has since become a good friend is Rachel Spencer, a fellow hack who has been in the industry for the same length of time. We didn’t know each other before last year when a chance job brought us together and we ended up bonding as it emerged we were both launching blogs at the same time – if you’re a dog fan check hers out here . We support each other through thick or thin. I mentioned that I was penning this post and she kindly gave me the following tip…

GO FOR A WALK (WITH A DOG IF YOU HAVE ONE)

Loneliness can be difficult when you’re a freelancer and you can end up having no contact with the outside world. I got a dog in 2009. I was single at the time and working from home a lot but Daisy changed my life. I’d take her for walks in the morning, at lunchtime and in the evening. It was great. I’d get chatting to other dog walkers or run into people I knew and would feel liberated. I used to think of stories when I was out, write them in my head and bash them out as soon as I got home. The walks broke up my day and made me far more productive. If you’re not a dog owner you can go on Borrow My Doggy and find out how to spend time with one in your lunch break. Thanks Rachel!

 

In the news

Ryan Sidebottom talks anxiety, cricket and ‘being Beyonce’

Ryan Sidebottom

Ryan Sidebottom, former England and T20 world-cup winning swing bowler, recently joined Surrey County Cricket Club as a bowling consultant.

The jovial 40-year-old, who lives in Leeds, enjoyed a 20-year professional career before hanging up his cricket boots last year.

‘Siddy’, as he is often affectionately called, was famed for being one of the most renowned bowlers of his generation, taking 1,053 wickets in all formats and retiring with a first-class bowling average of 23.8.

Although the popular Yorkshireman is well known for his cheeky sense of humour, he has experienced bouts of anxiety since packing up the game.

Below, Ryan Sidebottom opens up to Relax Ya Self To Health.

Ryan, you retired last summer. What have you been up to since then?

Getting my hands dirty and ripping out kitchens. I’ve got a small property business. Each year I buy a house, do it up and sell it on. I also use builders and technical people but try to do as much of the manual stuff, like gutting the insides, myself.

What do you miss about playing professional cricket?

I miss the camaraderie, constantly being around my best mates, getting fired up for a big match and the buzz of playing in front of big crowds. In cricket, you have so many emotions. There’s the elation after a win, the adulation of people wanting to sit with you and buy you drinks. After a bad game, it can feel as though the world’s ended but at least you experience it as a team and go through the ups and down together. When you retire there’s no adrenaline rush anymore.

Anxiety among athletes and professional sportspeople has been well documented. How has retirement affected your mental health?

I do have some days where I feel quite worthless and have worries over the future. The anxiousness is always there at the back of the mind but I knew it might happen. My dad Arnie, had a 17-year career as a footballer for Manchester United and Huddersfield and then as a cricketer for Yorkshire but couldn’t find a job for a couple of years after he stopped playing. He really struggled with stress and the nervousness of not knowing what the future held, as well as trying to support the family.

How well do you cope with stress?

It’s ironic, as a young boy I’d always worry about my career and if I’d successfully make it as a pro. I put myself under so much pressure and believe this triggered eczema and psoriasis on my scalp I had at the time. When you’re playing you become insular. Sport is the main focus. Back then I’d stress about having a bad game but now I know there’s more to life.

Ryan Sidebottom

Credit: SW Pix/YCCC

What do you do when you’re feeling down?

I’ll meet a friend for a drink and try and get whatever is bothering me off my chest. I think men struggle with this because of the whole macho attitude but it’s not a weakness to open up and talk to people about how you’re feeling. I also like to escape my thoughts so I’ll get on the bike or go for a walk. I like the outdoors and the sights and sounds of the countryside lift my spirits.

How would you describe your personality?

It’s changed over the years. When I first started playing I was really introverted, very quiet and insular but the team environment really helped to bring me out of my shell. Now I like a laugh, fun, banter, and practical jokes.

What’s the funniest cricket story from your time on tour?

There are many. In 2008, I was in New Zealand and out for dinner with some of the England cricket boys – Graeme Swann, Ian Bell, Alastair Cook, and James ‘Jimmy’ Anderson. We were going through this stage of playing credit card roulette. This is where you place your card under your napkin. At the end of the meal, the waiter or waitress comes over and picks up the napkins one by one and the entire bill is paid on the card that’s uncovered last.  On this particular night, Graeme ended up eating my entire fillet steak. On seeing this, the waitress brought me another but I was too busy talking to Alastair. Then Graeme shoved the second one in his mouth! Of course, I lost at credit card roulette as well. So not only did I have to pay the bill for all the boys, I was bloody starving too.

Tell us something we don’t know about you.

I like fancy dress. Some years ago I was on Question of Sport and did a Beyonce mystery guest appearance. I was wearing some really tight shorts, a vest, a wig and lipstick and was dancing to ‘put a ring on it’ [Single Ladies] I love dancing and letting my hair down.

Ryan Sidebottom

Credit: SW Pix/YCCC

Speaking of hair, yours has been a talking point over the years. It even has its own nickname, doesn’t it?

Yes. Darren Gough named me ‘Sexual Chocolate’ after the fictional band in the 1988 film Coming to America with Eddie Murphy and it stuck with me. I’m quite a poser. I love my products. I’ve got my Frizz Ease and am still very much attached to my toiletries bag. A few years ago, when I was playing for Notts, the physio stole it. We were playing away at Kent so a teammate and I put his car on bricks. He rang me about 100 times. I told you I was a practical joker!

Oh no, did you get the wash bag back?

It was never to be seen again. I had a right sweat on.

Can you name some of the best places to relax in the world?

I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to travel the globe and see beautiful places – Sri Lanka is stunning. I like the beauty of Thailand. I usually travel around, hire a car, visit sites and take in the scenery. One day we went to an ancient Buddhist temple in a cave.  There were loads of monkeys around and one stole my ice cream!

Nature has been linked to mental health benefits and improved mood. Are you a fan of green spaces?

Yes. I live a couple of miles from the shops so I’ll always try and cycle overtaking the car. I’m also lucky to live in the countryside with really nice walks and trails. It helps keep me fit.  When I was playing I used to do lots of weights, running, and gym work and towards the last five years of my career I took up yoga to help with flexibility and longevity. Now I do an hour-long class locally with a lady called Louisa Thomas.  I still also do light weights to keep me ticking over but I’ve barely been to the gym since I stopped playing. I don’t have that drive anymore probably because I did it for so long. Diet-wise, I try to follow the 80:20 rule although I do love fish and chips, KFC and takeaways!

You’ve just joined Surrey County Cricket Club as a mentor? Tell us more…

It’s great to be back in the game and I can’t wait to get out there working with the boys. I’ll be assisting bowling coach Geoff Arnold for the first half of the Specsavers County Championship season. I’ll be working with the squad on and directly before match days. It’s going to be interesting working with the team in the run up to a match but not actually playing myself. It’s a fantastic club. Hopefully, I can bring my experience to help support the team and staff as we target some silverware.

If you enjoyed this interview you might also like to read our other chats with Jonny WilkinsonPat CashKatie Piper , Andrew Barton and  Gail Porter  

If you’re a fan of Ryan, please share this post, comment below and check out his website here: https://www.ryansidebottom.co.uk/

 

Celebrity interviews, In the news

What Christina taught me: a tribute

What Christina taught me

Why? It’s a question I’ve been asking over and over since the sudden and unexpected passing of fellow journalist, Christina Earle, aged just 31.

Christina was The Sun’s health editor who helped tens of thousands of people through her campaigning journalism. Over the past four years we worked closely together. She was committed, dedicated and thrived under the pressure of a busy newsroom environment.

She knew her stuff, questioned the hell out of everything (a quality, I hasten to add), was always to the point and had this remarkable knack of finding a solution to any problem no matter how large or small.

We shared many a laugh – in the canteen, over a coffee, at Christmas parties. There was even that time we flew to Glasgow in a day and back on a job that involved us doing a ridiculous number of exercise classes back to back.

We could barely walk by the end of it but it turned out to be such a hoot. She even asked me to give her a tennis lesson when we got back home. That was in 2015.

We never got around to it because later that year my own health began to deteriorate. Doctors were baffled by the weird goings on in my body – from the frequent tongue swelling episodes to the foot drop that came on out of the blue. Being in and out of hospital, I stopped working shifts in the London office.

Then, Christina became more than just a colleague.

Christina Earle

©The Sun

She was determined to help me find an answer. From day one she was convinced I had a mast cell issue –  her suggested diagnosis is still being investigated. Heck, she even drew me diagrams of cells and the way they should and shouldn’t behave. Her knowledge was incredible.

And it was Christina who brought a certain prescribed antihistamine medication – which I now take and one that remains instrumental in my management plan – to my attention. She left no stone unturned in her mission to help, a quality that also applied to her work.

I learned so much from her.

As former health editor Lynsey Hope wrote in her fantastic tribute to Christina here it is thanks to her The Sun gave away thousands of organ donor cards just over a year ago. And it is thanks to her the paper launched its first Who Cares Wins health awards celebrating the NHS and its staff, as well as its Smiles at Christmas campaign last December, which raised more than £130,000 for kids with cancer with CLIC Sargent.

Right now this is just so raw and I cannot even begin to imagine what Christina’s family and close friends and colleagues are going through.

Her untimely passing reminds us why we have to cherish every moment.

Tell your friends and family you love them.

Kiss them hello and goodbye every time.

Be kind.

And always care…just as Christina did.

Helen's Health, In the news

Struggling to sleep? 8 tips that may help.

8 Tips to help you sleep

I have a good friend who can sleep anywhere. Cars, planes, trains. And the moment her head hits the pillow she’s out like a light.

Now I’m the least jealous person on the planet although I must confess I am slightly envious of her ability to instantly nod off because I STRUGGLE enormously.

Last week, on one particular school night, I hit the hay at 10pm. It took a good few hours to eventually drift off into what felt like a state of sporadic dozing. Then bam. At 3am I was wide awake. I tossed and turned. Went to the bathroom. Had a glass of water. Each act proved fruitless. At 4.30am I was still wide awake so switched on the light.

The previous week I’d moved house – one of the most stressful things you can do – and had a LOT on my mind so I made a list of all the things that were troubling me and jotted down possible solutions. I even composed an email. After 20 minutes or so I turned off the lamp. Guess what? I fell asleep instantly. Why I didn’t think of writing everything down before is beyond me as I always keep a notebook by the side of my bed!

Below Neil Shah, founder of The Stress Management Society, a not for profit organisation which offers practical help and advice on managing stress, shares his quick tips on achieving a better night’s kip.

KEEP A JOURNAL
Write down everything that’s on your mind. Thoughts, worries, problems, to-do lists. This can reduce night-time anxiety and could help you fall asleep faster.

HIDE YOUR CLOCK
Listening to a ticking clock or constantly checking your phone to see how many hours you have left before you need to wake up causes unnecessary anxiety.

Tips to help you sleep

VISUALISE BLOWING BUBBLES
Think of a situation that took your energy and left you feeling drained and tired or made you feel upset and uneasy. Visualise blowing a bubble and imagine putting that situation in the centre and letting it go. Keep doing this until you get your energy back, feel better or lighter. It’s a great way of clearing your mind.

USE YOUR BEDROOM FOR SLEEPING ONLY
Ban TV, phones and tablets from the bedroom. It has been proven that exposure to bright white and blue lights at night prevent our brains from releasing melatonin – the key hormone that tells our bodies that it’s time to sleep.

MEDITATE OR COUNT
Meditation allows us to centre ourselves and relax the body – studies have shown it decreases stress and lowers our heart rate. For beginners who are struggling to fall asleep try counting backwards from 100. If you lose track, restart and focus on the present.

AVOID  DAYTIME NAPS
Although many say that having a 20-minute snooze in the afternoon improves alertness, performance and mood in general, napping for longer has been proven to disrupt sleep. If your energy is flagging meditate instead.

ESTABLISH A WIND-DOWN ROUTINE
According to experts at Harvard Medical School a calming bedtime routine is essential for getting a good night’s sleep. It keeps your internal clock in check, which helps you fall asleep and wake up effortlessly.  Every parent understands the importance of preparing a child for bed so treat yourself with the same respect.

Tips to help you sleep

OPEN A WINDOW
Our body temperature drops as we fall asleep so having a cooler room to start with may help decrease the amount of time it takes to nod off.

Do you struggle to sleep or have you found a method that works for you? I’ve love to hear from you in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this post you might also like to read The Night It All Began, 7 Easy Ways to Lead a Stress-Free Life, Why It’s OK To Say No7 Top Tips for Beating Stress 

For advice on how to manage stress visit the Stress Management Society 

 

 

 

 

In the news, Wellness

6 Christmassy traditions I’ll miss this year

6 Christmassy traditions I'll miss this year

Barely a day goes by without another Christmassy survey being released but I almost spat out my porridge when I read an article in The Times this week reporting that British Christmas traditions were being lost in favour of trends imported from the United States and Europe.

Apparently, a third of people no longer leave out stockings and a quarter have stopped watching the Queen’s Christmas message although turkey dinners and decorating Christmas trees remain popular.

Call me old-fashioned but I love settling down to watch the monarch’s annual broadcast at 3pm (just me?!), along with Top of The Pops – no matter how bad the songs.

Personally, not doing this would feel peculiar, just as spending Christmas in a hot country would feel odd.

Yet, despite my penchant for Christmassy customs, I’ll have to (reluctantly) break a few this year because of my ongoing health issues. Here are the ones I’ll miss the most…

KISSING UNDER THE MISTLETOE
Okay. This one’s a bit misleading. Although I’m single, I do NOT go around snogging guys willy-nilly BUT I do have to be careful when it comes to exchanging kisses. Personal experience has taught me that I cannot lock lips with someone who’s been drinking red wine. This happened very recently with a guy I was dating.

One minute I was enjoying the moment, the next I was frantically looking for my meds to combat the tongue swelling. Grapes – a relatively high histamine fruit  – tend to set me off so I avoid eating them but I never imagined I’d react after an innocent kiss. M’s eyes almost fell out of his head when I pulled out my medication bag packed with adrenaline pens, steroids and antihistamine. Talk about passion killer.

DANCING ALL NIGHT AT THE CHRISTMAS PARTY
Yes. The old me would have been making a fool of herself on the dancefloor for most of the evening. But because sweat, heat and exercise seem to set off my reactions, I now have to pace myself. The night before last I was at a work Christmas bash.

My coping mechanism involved dancing for three songs, then heading outside into the freezing cold for a minute or two to bring my body temperature down. But it seemed to do the trick and I didn’t have a reaction! *Yay* I’m due to see a mast cell specialist in January and am hoping he’ll be able to explain why my body is misbehaving in such a bizarre manner.

ENJOYING A BAILEYS
So I’ve never been a big drinker. One glass and I’m tipsy. But I do love a rum and coke on holiday or a cheeky Baileys Irish Cream or Amarula on the rocks at Christmas. However, anything aged or fermented (high histamine) sets off my reactions so I’ve not had an alcoholic drink in a year and a half.

Even so, I managed to last until 1am at the Christmas do…on sparkling water. The truth is I had enormous fun with my sloshed colleagues and was simply grateful for the fact that I was there and managed to remain reaction-free for the entire evening. Two years earlier I ended up hospitalised with my very first lip swelling incident and missed the party!

FEASTING ON CHEESE…
Yes. It’s not exactly healthy but being a non-meat eater, cheese used to form quite a substantial part of my diet. Wensleydale with apricot, French brie, mature cheddar, oh how I used to love a festive cheese board. Sadly, these are all medium to high histamine foods (along with the grapes) so I have to avoid them. Saying that, I can tolerate mozzarella so all is not lost!

…AND CHRISTMAS DINNER
I’m not talking turkey but my celery and rice roast! It’s really not as awful as it sounds. I used to love rustling this up for Christmas dinner but as one of the key ingredients is cheddar cheese it’s off the menu. Sadly, I’ve not found a low-histamine substitute that would make the dish work. The good thing is I’m a fan of sprouts, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes, parsnips and sweet potatoes so I’ll still feast well regardless.

INDULGING IN TERRY’S CHOCOLATE ORANGE AND CLEMENTINES
As a child, I’d always find a clementine or two hiding in my stocking. These easy peelers are by far my favourite fruit and I dearly miss their intense juicy tanginess. However, all forms of citrus are high histamine so they’re off Santa’s shopping list along with Terry’s Chocolate Orange – my FAVOURITE Christmas chocolate.

I’m not complaining though. These Christmassy traditions may have disappeared for the time being but at least I now have a management plan for the reactions. I’m no longer fearful of the future and ridiculously excited for the festive season.

Can you relate to any of the above? Do you have any food intolerances or allergies that will change the way you approach the holiday period? What tips do you have for coping ? I’d love to hear from you.

Have a wonderful Christmas!

xx

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Helen's Health, In the news

WHY SMALL TALK SAVES LIVES

I’m a chatterbox. Always have been, always will be. Often people will ask how I find it so easy to talk to anyone and everyone but I guess it’s just part of the day job – I’m intrigued by folk and their stories. So I was pleased to discover that this trait could be put to good use on my commute into work.

A new suicide prevention campaign called Small Talk Save Lives has been launched by the Samaritans, British Transport Police and the rail industry encouraging passengers to act if they spot someone who might need emotional support – worryingly, a suicide occurs on our railways approximately every 36 hours.

The idea is that a short conversation with someone who may be struggling to cope can go a long way. This is what happened to Sarah Wilson* whose story is featured in the video above. The 28-year-old decided against taking her own life on a railway after a stranger reached out to her.

Samaritans Small Talk Saves Lives

As many as 69% of rail users understand that a simple question could be enough to break the flow of negative and despairing thoughts occupying the mind of someone who is suicidal, research conducted on 5,000 people found.

The research, carried out on behalf of the campaign, also showed that although the majority of people would be willing to act, only 44% would be encouraged to approach someone if they knew they weren’t going to make the situation worse. And nearly nine out of ten thought a person in need of support would find it hard to ask for help.

So what can you do to help?

Become aware. Look around. Take a break from your phone or tablet.

Notice if a person is standing alone or isolated, looking distant or withdrawn, on the platform for a long time without boarding a train, or displaying something out of the ordinary in their behaviour or appearance.

Although there is no single sign or combination of behaviours that mean a person is suicidal, if something doesn’t feel right, the message is to act and respond in ways that people feel comfortable and safe with, Small Talk Saves Lives suggests.

Try approaching the person, asking them a question to distract them from their thoughts, or alerting a member of rail staff or calling the police.

“Someone showing me they cared about me helped to interrupt my suicidal thoughts and that gave them time to subside,” Sarah reveals.

“The more that people understand that suicide is preventable, the better. I hope people will share the video and that the campaign will encourage people to trust their gut instincts and start a conversation if they think someone could need help. You won’t make things worse and you could save a life.”

Samaritans Small Talk Saves Lives

 

Suicide is ‘everybody’s business’, according to Samaritans chief executive officer Ruth Sutherland. 

“Any one of us could have an opportunity to save a life,” she declares.  “Research for this campaign showed 73% of the public would expect somebody to approach their loved one if they were upset in a public place… The knowledge and skills to save lives in the rail environment can be applied to many other situations. We hope that Small Talk Saves Lives is the start of a much wider conversation about how suicide is preventable.”

Professor Rory O’Connor, a leading suicide prevention expert from the University of Glasgow, suggests it’s a  myth that nothing can be done to prevent suicide.“We all have a role to play,” he insists.

I know I’ll certainly make an effort on my train journey into London tomorrow.

Last year, I hit rock bottom when my health started to deteriorate. Read the night it all began here. But I was lucky. I had my mum, my dad, my sister and a supportive network of friends around to help pull me through. Not everyone is so fortunate.

If you’re catching the train today, take a look around you.

Smile. Make eye contact. Be kind. Talk.  You might just save a life.

 

For more information on Small Talk Saves Lives visit:  www.samaritans.org/smalltalksaveslives

*Sarah’s name has been changed

In the news

Gail Porter talks hair loss and hope

Gail Porter talks hair loss and hope

Gail Porter was working as a successful TV presenter filming Dead Famous in Las Vegas when her hair fell out overnight. The year was 2005 and the then 34-year-old had taken a shower when she became aware of water rising around her ankles.

“I looked down and realised it wasn’t the water, but all of my hair,” she tells Relax Ya Self To Health. “It was pretty much instantaneous.” The former lads’ mag favourite was diagnosed with a form of alopecia – a condition thought to be sparked by an immune disorder that causes the body to view hair follicles as the enemy, mistakenly attack them which causes hair loss.

Understandably, the experience “crushed” Gail’s self-esteem and when her eyebrows and lashes disappeared too she was left feeling “rubbed out”. As part of Alopecia Awareness Month, the Scot, who is mum to Honey, 14, talks us through how she has dealt with the diagnosis, the stoic attitude of her family and how her semi-permanent tattooed eyebrows have helped restore her confidence.

WHAT TYPE OF ALOPECIA DO YOU HAVE?

I have alopecia totalis. Even my lashes and brows are affected, which I don’t think people realise. You feel as though you’ve been rubbed out when those features disappear. I have no hair anywhere on my body apart from a couple of baby lashes that come and go sporadically.

HOW DID YOU COPE WITH YOUR HAIR FALLING OUT?

It was overwhelming at first. Telling my daughter I’d be coming home from America with no hair was hard. I thought she wouldn’t recognise me, she was only three at the time. I try to be strong, but obviously, it’s still hard. My self-esteem was crushed…you know, as a woman without hair. It is so difficult.

WERE YOU TOLD WHAT CAUSED YOUR HAIR LOSS?

Well, it’s an autoimmune disease…I don’t know what caused me to lose my hair, I really don’t. Perhaps stress, but I’ve never really thought it was. I always say everyone in London would be bald if it was just down to stress. Some cases of alopecia are hereditary, which again, wasn’t true in my case. That’s quite frustrating in itself, the not knowing. I think it’s simply bad luck, and I pulled the short straw.

DID YOUR BIPOLAR DIAGNOSIS COME AFTER THE ALOPECIA?

I was diagnosed with bipolar years before my hair loss. It didn’t come as too much of a surprise as I was always suffering from manic highs and lows. I was sectioned in 2011 after a manic episode. I was feeling very low and my boyfriend at the time was worried I would do something silly. Instead of talking to me, he called the police and they turned up when I was out having lunch. I didn’t react kindly and was rather abusive. They took me to the hospital and put me in a room, where I stayed for hours. By the time the doctor turned up, I was very unhelpful and angry. They asked for my boyfriend to sign a form to section me, which he did. I had no say in the matter. I didn’t see a doctor for days and once they eventually arrived, they let me out as they didn’t believe I should have been sectioned. While I was sectioned, I was just pumped full of drugs and had no one to talk to. No help at all.

Gail Porter with microblading expert Karen Betts

HOW SUPPORTIVE WERE YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY ABOUT YOUR ALOPECIA DIAGNOSIS?

My family were very typically Scottish! Very stoic. My mum was pretty upset but tried not to show it. I think she felt like I had been through such a lot and she felt that losing my hair was another blow. She used to put her hand over my forehead and say “now there’s my Gail”. My brother pointed out that my dad had more hair than me. I know mum was upset as I did a documentary about my condition and when she was interviewed without me there, she cried. My dad didn’t say much. They just needed time to get used to it.

WHY DO YOU REFRAIN FROM WEARING WIGS OR HEADSCARVES?

Look, you’ve got to do whatever makes you feel comfortable in your own skin. I never really liked wigs…they were uncomfortable to wear, it just didn’t feel right. The thing that made such a huge difference for me was getting my brows back through microblading! You don’t realise how much of a difference brows make to a person’s face.

WHAT IS EYEBROW MICROBLADING?

The procedure took about an hour. A tool which has up to 11 hair-fine ink-dipped microblades was brushed over my brow area and these penetrated the lower layers of the skin to create semi-permanent marks resembling eyebrows. I first had them done a year ago and recently had them topped up. I was always dubious about someone going near my face…but Karen Betts (a leading permanent cosmetic and microblading expert) is incredible. I trusted her. My eyebrows look so natural, I love them so much. I burst into tears of joy when I first saw them.

HOW ARE YOU DOING NOW?

You know what I’m doing okay – my life has changed massively. Of course, it has. My career changed overnight. But I always say, people are in worse situations than me. People everywhere have it hard, or they’re going through something terrible. You just have to be kind to everyone.

WHERE ARE YOU AT YOUR HAPPIEST?

In Scotland. Home always makes me happy.

HOW DO YOU RELAX?

Nowadays I’m very into my fitness – I love running, I always try to drink loads of water. I’m writing my book right now so that’s been an incredibly cathartic experience for me. I don’t go on holiday much but I remember going to the Maldives and feeling so incredibly relaxed. I slept well, loved the peace and quiet and could have stayed there forever. But to be honest, I’m happy on any holiday. The west coast of Scotland is always a total joy.

ALOPECIA AWARENESS MONTH: HELP SPREAD THE WORD

According to Alopecia UK,  1.3million people in the UK today will have had, currently have or will experience alopecia areata – a condition which causes patchy hair loss and affects both genders equally. (Alopeica totalis is a more advanced form which results in total loss of hair on the scalp). The charity is seeking to tackle the stigma and embarrassment attached to hair loss and is urging people to use the #GetTalking hashtag in the hope, it will encourage those that would benefit from some peer support to reach out and start the conversation.

“We want to help give those who are affected the confidence to know that hair loss isn’t something they should feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about,” says Amy Johnson, Alopecia UK’s communications and fundraising manager. “We hope that the more alopecia is discussed, and the more awareness raised, the easier it will be for those diagnosed.

“If the idea of talking to family and friends about your hair loss makes you feel anxious, consider talking to others with alopecia first. Peer support can make such a difference and can really help to boost self-esteem and confidence, perhaps allowing you to talk more widely about your alopecia at a later stage.”

To raise awareness about alopecia please SHARE this post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #GetTalking

If you enjoyed our chat with Gail, be sure to check out our other celebrity interviews with rugby legend Jonny Wilkinson here and wellness guru James Duigan here.

For more information on microblading and semi-permanent make up with Karen Betts visit www.karenbetts.co.uk

For information about alopecia, including details of how to find support visit  alopecia.org.uk

 

Celebrity interviews, In the news

WIN A PAIR OF TICKETS TO VEGFESTUK

Win tickets to VegfestUK London

There’s nothing quite like getting out and about at the weekend or learning something new to wash away the stresses of a difficult week, so I’m giving away a pair of tickets to popular vegan festival VegfestUK.

If like long-standing vegetarian Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn you’re toying with the idea of following a plant based diet,  this show at London’s Kensington Olympia on October 21 and 22 will help you make up your mind.

Here you can learn about vegan twists on American fast food classics from Jakes Vegan Steaks, discover vegan craft beers and cider from Pitfield Brewery, try indulgent vegan comfort foods from LazyBoy Kitchen as well as vegan sushi options from Happy Maki.

But it’s not just about food.

There’s a cinema, comedy corner, teen zone and kids’ area as well as numerous stalls selling non-food vegan goods.

“This year is seeing us hit London harder than ever before,” Alan Lee, VegfestUK organiser said. “Our previous dates in Brighton and Bristol were a fantastic kick off to 2017, and now we’re ready to take the capital by storm with beautiful food, fantastic traders and an all-round exemplary event that everyone can enjoy.”

If you’re looking to educate yourself about the vegan way of life, there’ll be talks given by industry professionals and the event is also hosting the Environment & Food Sustainability Summit.

To be in with a chance to win the VegfestUK tickets simply comment at the bottom of this post naming your favourite fruit and veg and why. Do the same on our Facebook and Instagram pages to gain a second entry, and retweet on Twitter for a third.

The winning name will be drawn out of the hat this Sunday and winners contacted via email so please do check your inbox.

Good luck!

TERMS AND CONDITIONS

  1. The prize draw is open to those based in the UK aged 18 or over.
  2. To be entered, participants are required to do one or all of the following – if they wish to enter three times: Comment on the bottom of this blog post naming their favourite fruit and veg and why. Comment on our Facebook and Instagram page to gain a second entry, and retweet on Twitter to gain a third. In total there are THREE opportunities for an individual to enter the draw if they participate in all of the above.
  3. This prize has no cash value and no cash alternative is offered. The prize is not refundable and can only be claimed by the winner of the prize draw published on Relax Ya Self To Health.
  4. The prize is non-transferable.
  5. Relax Ya Self To Health shall not be liable for any indirect, special or consequential damages or losses suffered by the entrant or third party.
  6. The winner will be selected at random from all entries. The promoter’s decision will be final and binding. No correspondence will be entered into.
  7. The winner will be notified by the prize provider by email within seven days of the competition closing date.
  8.  The closing date for this prize draw is midnight on 17th September 2017.
  9.  Relax Ya Self to Health will make all reasonable efforts to contact the winner of the prize draw. If the winner has not responded to contact within one week, we shall offer the prize to the next randomly drawn entrant.
  10. By entering this promotion you agree that Relax Ya Self to Health is authorised to contact you to arrange delivery in the event that you are drawn as a winner of the prize draw.

 

 

Competitions, In the news

7 top tips for beating stress

7 ways to beat stress

Have you ever heard of the term ‘brain fade’? No, me neither until today. Apparently, it relates to accidental habits such as putting your keys in the fridge and leaving the milk on the side – something I’ve done before in times of stress.

The poll of 2,000 adults commissioned by Rescue to mark the launch of its new Rescue Plus Dropper and Spray flower essences range, found that 94% had experienced moments like these. More than two thirds (75%) blamed a lack of sleep, 60% attributed it to trying to do too much at once and a quarter cited being busy or under pressure at work as the reason.

I’m not sure about you but I can certainly relate to all of the above. And while we all know the importance of keeping our stress levels in check, it’s often easier said than done, so I asked Dr Marilyn Glenville Ph.D., a respected nutritionist specialising in women’s health and best-selling author, for her top stress reduction tips. Below is what she had to say:

EAT LITTLE AND OFTEN
Fluctuating blood sugar levels, common in women, cause your body to release adrenaline – the same hormone that’s triggered when you are under stress. Try and keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable by eating every three hours. A Mediterranean diet – rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, olive oil and oily fish – can help. Blood sugar and insulin are closely linked with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Many experts now refer to the resistance to insulin in the brain as Type 3 Diabetes. One large study has shown that a Mediterranean diet is linked to a reduced incidence of cognitive decline.

NEVER DRINK COFFEE ON AN EMPTY TUM
Caffeine is a stimulant which activates your adrenal (stress) glands. Limit caffeine to one cup or avoid if possible and never drink coffee on an empty stomach. This is because it gets straight into the bloodstream, triggering the release of your fight or flight stress hormones. You don’t want them being activated in response to something you have drunk. Also, caffeine contributes to fluctuating blood sugar levels because it has a fast acting effect on the body.

GET MOVING
When stressed, our bodies expect action. The rush of energy we experience is caused by the release of adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine, hormones which help us react quickly in dangerous situations. However, being permanently stressed is not a good thing as raised cortisol levels can lead to high blood pressure. Stress is also thought to be linked to the development of hypothyroidism as high cortisol levels reduce the amount of the thyroid hormone T3 and encourage your body to break down muscle to provide glucose for your brain resulting in a slower metabolism. If you’re feeling stressed go for a brisk 30-minute walk, go for a swim or find an exercise DVD you can do at home.

UP YOUR B VITAMINS
Some vitamins and minerals can help manage stress levels. B5 is good for stress relief and energy, chromium helps with blood sugar balance, while magnesium – found in bananas – is considered nature’s tranquiliser. Siberian ginseng acts as a tonic to the stress hormone-releasing adrenal glands, and L-theanine helps reduce stress and anxiety.  A good supplement I use in my clinic is NHP’s Tranquil Woman support, which contains all of the above plus more.

GET FRISKY
Sex is a mood booster. The release of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, into the brain during is thought to be responsible for this benefit. A study of more than 6,800 people also showed that those who were still active in the bedroom had sharper cognitive function.

PLAY AN INSTRUMENT OR BOARD GAME
Stress is linked to cognitive decline and memory loss.  A 40+ year study of 800 women found that those who experienced the most stressful events in middle age had a 21% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s in old age and 15 per cent higher risk of developing other forms of dementia compared to those who didn’t. Unwind by reading, dancing, playing board games or musical instruments. These hobbies have also been shown to reduce dementia risk. Doing crosswords has been found to be particularly beneficial in delaying memory decline – by 2.5 years.

SLEEP BETTER
Refrain from looking at your phone, computer, or TV at least an hour before bed. The light from these devices can decrease melatonin levels which should be high in order to induce sleep. Try listening to relaxing music, reading a book, meditation or some deep breathing exercises.

I’ll certainly be taking these tips on board. How about you? I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below or over on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter 

Dr Marilyn Glenville Ph.D. is the author of a number of bestselling books – her latest is Natural Solutions For Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Dr Glenville runs clinics in Harley Street, Kent and Ireland  www.marilynglenville.com

 

 

 

Health, In the news, Wellness