If you’re a worrywart (like me), fear not. As part of Stress Awareness Month, we’ve caught up with psychotherapist Owen O’Kane, to bring you some simple hacks to help put your mind at rest.
The NHS clinical lead for a mental health service in West London describes the worried mind as exhausting “both mentally and physically as we try to resolve the constant barrage of anxious thoughts that emerge.”
“These thoughts tend to be dominated by a theme of ‘what if ‘ that then leads to a domino effect of catastrophic thinking, physical symptoms of stress and difficulty managing day-to-day,” he says.
Encouragingly, worry can be managed.
Credit: Nicky Johnston
In his new book Ten To Zen, Owen has used a combination of therapeutic models inspired by the latest research in psychology and neuroscience, and his experience as a psychotherapist, to create a mental health workout that shows you how to stop, switch off the anxious part of your brain, restructure unhelpful thought patterns and reduce stress in just ten minutes a day.
“It is worth remembering that your worry doesn’t define you,” Owen adds. “When in worry mode, your brain is simply in threat mode creating a series of thoughts that it thinks will protect you from danger. However, this is often unnecessary.”
Below, Owen shares his tops tips for managing worry.
SIX SIMPLE WAYS TO WORRY LESS
BOUNDARIES AND BALANCE
When we live life in the fast lane without boundaries or a healthy balance of lifestyle choices, we soon become stressed. This leads to greater activity in a part of the brain called the amygdala, often know as our threat centre. When this part of the brain is activated, we worry excessively. The first step to managing this is to create boundaries and balance in your life. Sometimes this involves saying no and making a commitment to take time out for self-care. In my experience stopping and taking 10 minutes out each day can have the most incredibly positive impact on your life. In a short amount of time, you can allow the brain to quieten, leading to calm and rational thinking. It will also allow you time to process events in your life. When we don’t stop to process, our level of distress very often increases.
ACCEPT YOU ARE WORRIED
This may sound like a very odd suggestion but when we fight anxiety and worry or try to push it down, we energise it. Accepting anxiety when it arrives and responding to that part of you with compassion has an immediate soothing impact.
YOU ARE NOT YOUR WORRIES
Many people have patterns of thought that are unhelpful. A recent research study suggests that around 80% of our thoughts consist of negative content. If some of your worry thoughts include exaggerating fears, catastrophising, avoiding people or events, remember that they don’t define you and they aren’t facts…. they are simply thoughts. Learning to restructure these thoughts and just observe them can be incredibly liberating.
DO YOU VIEW ANXIETY AS ‘A GOOD THING?’
Habitual worry can become an automated process but one aspect that is rarely considered is that we can sometimes hold a belief that worry is helpful. This is true to an extent. When we are anxious the brain is managing a perceived threat. For example, if an aggressive dog was approaching, the brain will respond appropriately. The issue is that when the brain is in threat mode regularly, viewing lots of things as a threat, life starts to feel very comfortable. If we hold a belief this is a “good thing”, we help sustain the problem. Holding on to worry is rarely helpful. Learning to make decisions and to let go of worries that don’t warrant attention is crucial.
Everyone has heard the expression “ just take a deep breath.” There is much wisdom in this expression because when we allow ourselves to stop and take a few deep breaths, suddenly our minds become clearer. The neuroscience research around meditation tells us that not only does it physiologically slow down processes in the body, but also it helps to deactivate the hyper vigilant worried mind. A calmer state can be a breath away.
LIVE IN THE MOMENT
This final tip sounds simple, but I know it can be a challenge in our modern busy world. When we spend our time preoccupied with the past, or worrying about the future, we tend to ignore or erode the joy that might exist in the present moment. I truly believe it is possible to make small changes that will help you on the road to living more in the moment. Learning to manage your worry will undoubtedly lead to a calmer, happier life.
More tips on managing worry can be found in Owen’s book Ten To Zen,which is out now.
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When Cate Murden heard the news that 2017 Love Island star Mike Thalassitis had been found dead in a north London park last week, she knew she had to do something.
The woman behind PUSH Mind and Body, a business consultancy which works with companies to put in place structures to help employees build resilience and manage stress, was distraught at the news.
“It completely broke my heart that this was yet another person that this had happened to…another person who just felt like this was their only option,” she tells Relax Ya Self To Health.
So Cate made a decision – to offer month-long free talking therapy sessions one day a week with a PUSH psychotherapist.
The confidential appointments, which are being held in the company’s London-based Covent Garden office, are open to anyone over the age of 18.
“You can talk about anything you want. It doesn’t matter if you’ve heard of PUSH or if you’re a complete stranger,” Cate explains.
“If you need the space to think and talk there is a session here for you. I’ve had my own experiences and continue to have my own experiences in this area and it still remains bloody hard to manage but fortunately, I’ve got a support network around me and I understand the tools and the people that I can go to when my over anxious mind takes over.”
According to mental health charity Mind, approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, while 1 in 6 people in England report experiencing disorders including anxiety and depression, in any given week.
Suicide is the biggest killer in men in the UK aged under 45, while this type of death occurs on our railways approximately every 36 hours. You can read my post on The Samaritan’s 2017 suicide prevention campaign Small Talk Saves Liveshere.
Tragically, 2016 Love Island contestant Sophie Gradon also died by suicide in 2018. In a recent statement, ITV said every single cast member would, in the future, be offered therapy, as well as social media training and financial advice. It added that the programme’s medical support is being independently reviewed.
“When I started PUSH it was with the intention that fewer people would experience stress and poor mental health,” Cate continues.
“I would do anything to ensure that what happened last weekend doesn’t happen to someone else and if this act helps just one person then it’s worth every penny. Making this talking therapy available for the next month is only my small way of helping and I hope it incentivises some people, particularly other therapists, to think about maybe giving up an hour of their time to help.
“We’ll do everything we can to accommodate anyone who contacts us and, in the meantime, let’s just all keep talking and being there for each other – it’s the only thing that can make a difference.”
Are you having problems in your relationship? Do you seem to be disagreeing on almost everything at the moment? Are you often left wondering where the heck it all went wrong and questioning whether you’re with the right person?
If the answer is yes to any of the above do not despair. Mindfulness may help, according to chartered psychologist Dr Audrey Tang.
Ahead of Valentine’s Day, Dr Tang (pictured below) who is also the author behind The Leader’s Guide to Mindfulness, shares some helpful advice.
“Derived from Buddhism, living mindfully is the ability to live in the present; to be aware of what our mind and body are telling us, and to actively choose our behaviours with recognition of how they may impact on others. Then we can use that knowledge to improve our emotional, physical and mental health, as well as our relationships,” Dr Tang says.
6 ways to help improve your relationship
TRY A RELATIONSHIP AUDIT
Ask yourself TWO questions.
A) Am I happy right here right now? First, think about what being happy means to you. Is it feelings of contentment? Is it laughing a lot? Is it comfort? Forget all the ‘expert advice’ – what makes you happy is unique to you. Once you know what that is, ask yourself if you are feeling that within your relationship. If you are, then move on to the next question. If not what can you do to make the change you need?
B) Are we both heading in the direction we both want? Have an open discussion about how you hope the relationship will progress. While this may mean the unpleasant realisation that you are not on the same page, it is always better to reveal that early so you can perhaps find a means of converging, rather than allowing expectation and disappointment sour the good and breaking up on unpleasant terms.
Talking helps because you need that awareness that there is something that needs to be worked on. However, just saying ‘X is wrong’ is more likely to lead to frustration and upset. Having an idea of what you would like as the solution then allows you to offer a means of moving forward. Of course, be flexible and prepared to listen and perhaps work with suggestions from your partner too.
LEARN TO EXPRESS LOVE IN A WAY WHICH IS MEANINGFUL TO YOUR PARTNER
Dr Gary Chapman identified the “5 languages of love” :
– Acts of service – Words of affirmation – Quality time – Intimacy – Gifts
…there may be others unique to your relationship too.
Often we will enjoy giving and receiving love in all these ways, but we often have a preference for one or two in particular. If you enjoy being told you are loved, but your partner prefers to give gifts, then it may feel like they do not ‘love’ you. All that may be happening is that you are expressing your feelings differently. Perhaps your partner does not really enjoy the expensive meals you want to give (gifting), but really appreciates it when you take the time to cook beans on toast instead (acts of service). Maybe you want to spend time together, but they like to be told you love them and then be able to have some time alone. Discuss your preferences with your partner and see how you can both work with your preferred means of expression.
Happiness can be practised. Laughter releases endorphins which reduce feelings of stress and may also promote a sense of bonding and belonging. Watch a comedy show together or perhaps funny animal videos on YouTube. If it makes you both smile, it assists with connection. Plus, when you are feeling down reflect on those moments of laughter and make that image as bright and vibrant as possible.
LEARN TO FORGIVE (ALTHOUGH YOU DO NOT NEED TO FORGET)
According to Buddhist scholars, holding resentment is like “… carrying a hot coal waiting to throw it at someone”. Practising forgiveness is about acknowledging you were hurt by the behaviour, reflecting on what you have learned about yourself from it, and recognising that the event occurred often because of a skewed belief or choice of reaction from yourself and/or the other person – both of which have reasons. It is not emotion that will help understanding, but listening, talking, and then finding a way forward where you both feel you can collaborate. I use the word ‘collaborate’ rather than ‘compromise’ – in the latter both of you lose a little, in the former, both of you stand to gain.
Being in a relationship means being part of a team. Being mindful of your language can be helpful here. Rather than seeing someone as ‘your other half’ and so completing what was not ‘whole’ before, see yourself as a perfectly fully functioning ‘whole’ and your partner as bringing something extra. Then with your two whole two hearts and two whole minds, it may be possible to achieve greater things that you might have alone. Take a moment to recognise and thank your partner for a thoughtful act – that includes making dinner (a ‘whole’ person would make it themselves!)
The practice of gratitude reminds us that we are affected by – and in turn affect – the world around us. It also helps us focus on the present in a positive frame rather than on what could/should/might be or have been.
Dr Audrey Tang is a Chartered Psychologist and the author of The Leader’s Guide to Mindfulness, published by FT Publishing, priced £14.99.
Mindfulness has long been popular with A-list celebrities. Katy Perry and Jennifer Aniston are said to be fans and this week it was reported that Prince Harry is practising it daily in preparation for parenthood.
But what the heck is it?
Put simply, it’s like a form of brain training where you give yourself the time and space to notice your thoughts and feelings without judgement. In so doing you become more focused on the present moment instead of getting lost in worries about the future or dwelling on events that have happened in the past.
Never in a million years did I think that I could learn to meditate – especially as I have the attention span of a gnat – but I stumbled upon it quite by accident when my physical health unexpectedly fell apart . I’d become very fearful of the future and my thoughts were spiralling out of control.
Then I discovered the Headspace meditation app. I started practising in the bath for ten minutes every other night. Those sacred minutes took me to such a glorious, serene place, I started listening to sessions back-to-back because I didn’t want in that feeling to stop! Since then I’ve tried a group meditation class, a hypnotherapy mind massage and have even been on a meditation retreat!
Of course, I’m still no expert but that’s the thing. It doesn’t matter. There’s no competition involved because when you meditate you’re showing up and that’s just fine. There’s no judgement.
“When the mind is very busy we feel out of control, especially when we go into overwhelm and we’re just reacting to things and fighting fires,” Jennie Lichfield, mindfulness teacher and founder Bodhi Training, tells Relax Ya Self To Health.
“By slowing things down, we can be in a better position to see everything that’s going on and give ourselves the opportunity to decide or recognise the attributes in our life that are perhaps not helping us.”
Jenni suggests identifying ‘no extra time’ moments your day. “This way being mindful won’t feel like a chore and will become a habit you’ll create and keep,” she explains. “Try watching the steam rise as the kettle boils, or turning the radio off when you’re driving. This will give you the space to sit with your thoughts and bring awareness to how you are feeling.”
Still unconvinced or think you do not have the time?
5 MINDFULNESS MYTHS BUSTED
I DON’T HAVE A SPECIAL PLACE TO MEDITATE
Try plugging in your headphones, downloading a meditation app and zoning in – or rather out – during your commute, or in your lounge, or garden (in the summer). It’s that easy.
MINDFULNESS IS TOO HARD
I used to think this, too, but if I can do it so can you! Head out for a morning walk and notice the sights and sounds around you. The crunch of gravel underfoot, the sound of chirping birds, the clouds of warm breathe lingering in the icy-cold air. Being aware of the present moment is being mindful.
I’LL NEVER EMPTY MY MIND OF THOUGHTS
We all have thoughts…this is natural, so don’t fret. As soon as you notice your mind dilly-dallying bring your awareness back to your breath. Sarupa Shah, a business coach at The Soul Agency suggests candle gazing. Place a *candle on your table at a safe distance. Look at the flame for a few seconds then close your eyes and hold the image for three minutes. If your mind starts to wander simply open your eyes and focus on the candle again. Then try again and eventually build up to ten minutes. *Ensure the candle is on a heat resistant surface, in a stable holder and away from draughts.
I’M TOO BUSY
This was my excuse until I realised I could meditate in the bath! Another good tip is to check the screen time alert on your mobile device at the end of the day? If like me the number is creeping into the four-hour zone, it’s possibly a sure sign the endless email/social media/text checking or, in many cases, mindless scrolling needs to give.
I’LL NEVER BE ANY GOOD AT IT
Practice makes perfect. When I first started meditating I’d sometimes get frustrated. There’d be days where my mind would not switch off no matter how hard I tried. And then I’d be annoyed with myself for getting annoyed because you’re supposed to release all expectation and I couldn’t even do that. But then I likened it to a bad day on the tennis court…you’re never going to be on top form every day. And that’s okay!
Do you meditate? Or are you tempted to give it a go after reading this article? If you do I’d love to hear how you get on in the comments below. If you know someone who is feeling super stressed right now and could do with ten minutes of peace, please feel free to share or tag them in the post!
How are your Christmas stress levels right now? Are you panicking about presents, terrified about undercooking the turkey or worrying about impending visits from the relatives?
Well, you’re not alone.
According to a poll of 1,000 people, as many as 20% get stressed by family gatherings, 10% say they don’t enjoy them and almost one in five say they expect confrontations when everyone’s together.
The survey commissioned by probiotic brand Zenflore also found that money worries were the biggest concern for almost two-thirds of respondents, while 47% described buying gifts as stressful and 30% felt put upon by the extra cooking. But do not despair…our tips below will help you navigate the chaos, reduce your Christmas stress levels and emerge the other side feeling relaxed and refreshed.
ASK FOR HELP
If you’re hosting Christmas lunch don’t be afraid to ask for assistance especially if some of your guests are on restricted diets. I would never expect anyone to cater for me as I react to so many ingredients plus it’s far easier for me to prepare my own food. Mix things up. If you’re providing the starter and main, could your guests bring the Christmas Pudding or could you host Christmas Day and a family member take over the reins at their place on Boxing Day? This is what we do in our family. It stops everyone feeling overwhelmed and the change of scenery’s good, too.
FIND SOME ALONE TIME
This might sound counterintuitive if you’re crazily busy and darting about all over the place but this could be just the reboot you need to get a sense of perspective. Space allows clarity. A separate poll of 1,000 people by David Lloyd Clubs found that 69% want more time to themselves during December. Don’t feel obliged to attend every Christmas party going or worry about letting other people down. Just politely decline and give plenty of notice. If you don’t look after yourself you’ll be of no use to anyone.
MAKE A REALISTIC LIST
Grab a good old fashioned notepad and pen and get scribbling. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed I make a to-do list and break things down into bite-sized chunks to gain a sense of control. Ensure the list isn’t as long as your arm. You’re only human, you can’t do everything and if you’ve got lots of items still unticked you’ll end up feeling worse. Prioritise what’s most important and don’t sweat the small stuff. Ask yourself – will this really matter in two weeks’ time? Chances are, it won’t.
Disagreements and bickering are par for the course over Christmas. However, if you know you’re going to be spending time with someone who triggers you try not to react or rise to the bait. Take a deep breath, walk into another room and notice and deal with the feelings that arise there. Or, agree with what they’re saying (even if you don’t). I’ve tried this a couple of times in the past with people who’ve been trying to get a rise out of me and they’re flabbergasted when I calmly say ‘Yes, I understand what you’re saying’ or I simply agree. The conversation just stops. No drama. Try it, you’ll be amazed!
DON’T TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY
If you’re sensitive by nature it can be easy to take things the wrong way. However, if someone snaps at you there’s a chance it could be to do with their personal situation. Maybe they’ve been run ragged by the kids, perhaps they’re caring for an elderly relative or a sick friend, or they might be feeling the stresses and strains of Christmas, too. One approach would be to ask them if they’re okay. You might be surprised by the response and they might even open up to you.
ASK GOOD QUESTIONS
What would you like for Christmas? Can you give me a list? Questions such as these can save hours of precious time. Also, if you need to set a present limit don’t be afraid to say so. A good friend or family member will understand.
GET UP AN HOUR EARLIER
And ease yourself into the day. Take time to enjoy your breakfast instead of wolfing it down (something I’m guilty of) and then get a head start on what you need to do. When you look at the clock you’ll be expecting it to be much later than it is and feel as though you’ve accomplished so many things ahead of the game which is a wonderful psychological boost.
If you’re juggling a million and one tasks it can be very easy to just keep going without a break but this approach will just leave you feeling exhausted come the big day. Head outside, even if it’s only for a 15-minute amble. The blast of cold air will revive your senses and unscramble your brain. Or try mindfulness at home or in group meditation setting. ‘Blissmass’ classes are being run at David Lloyd Clubs throughout December. The 30-minute session encourages people to leave their Christmas stress at the door and focus on breathing and mindfulness techniques in a studio lit by Himalayan salt lamps.
Do you have any tried and tested tips for beating Christmas stress? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
PS) Have a wonderful Christmas and thank you for supporting Relax Ya Self To Health this year. If you’d like to subscribe so you never miss a blog post you can do so for free here. x
MS hit the headlines recently after it emerged that actress Selma Blair has the condition. Reports revealed the 46-year-old has struggled with symptoms that include falling over, dropping things, foggy memory, and numbness in her left side for at least 15-years.
Multiple Sclerosis, which affects the central nervous system, is one Amanda Jones, from Nottinghamshire, is all too familiar with. The 50-something mum-of-two was diagnosed in 2010.
“Initially, it all felt very overwhelming, hopeless and was a very scary time,” she tells Relax Ya Self To Health. “But in true ‘Amanda’ style, I hit the research button, and luckily found the Overcoming MS website.
“It’s a healthy lifestyle programme for people with MS, and adopting it has slowed the progress of the disease right down. My MS was very aggressive before, fuelled I think from the stressful life I led. I now eat a plant-based diet, keep my vitamin D3 levels healthy, and have simplified my life to keep my stress levels as low as I can.”
In fact, Amanda’s approach to destressing and simplifying her life – mainly through decluttering and responsible purchasing – has made her an Instagram sensation. Her Small Sustainable Steps account, which carries the tagline, “What I’m doing might be a drop in the ocean but at least my drop will be clean”, has become a hit with more than 26,000 followers thanks to her helpful, informative posts.
Relax Ya Self To Health caught up with Amanda to find out how the platform has helped her cope with MS and is inspiring others to lead a plastic-free, low waste lifestyle.
PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS
Amanda, please tell us a bit about yourself…
I live in Nottinghamshire with my husband, and our two teenage girls. My husband and I are both in our fifties. I took early retirement six years ago. I used to work with vulnerable children and families, it was great but very stressful. When I finished I was in a leadership role. Last year my husband took redundancy. He is now studying music production at university. You could say, we are living the life we love.
What were your MS symptoms?
I’d had the symptoms for well over 20 years. I temporarily lost my sight when my baby was just three weeks old and the use of my right side for a while – it’s still weak. I also had an episode lasting several weeks, where I had mini epileptic seizures, about 350 a day. It was a very difficult time.
How does MS affect your daily life?
It’s a bit like having a brain that short-circuits constantly. I never know what’s going to happen next. Sometimes I feel so fatigued, that even getting out of bed is difficult. I manage my fatigue by not over-committing to anything, and to rest as much as possible. Sometimes my body just won’t do what my brain is telling it. My mobility is one of the areas most affected. Not being able to go for long walks in the countryside, like I used to, is still a difficult concept for me. I’m a passionate gardener, it’s important for my mental health. I was finding it very difficult to continue, so we decided to adapt my garden, in order for me to carry on. I had paths laid and raised beds built. This has meant that I can carry on gardening. We are now in the process of adapting our home, in order to future proof it, if needs arise. MS affects every part of my life.
PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS
When did you discover Instagram and how has this helped you on your healing journey?
I’ve had an Instagram account now for several years. In that time [the content] it has changed and adapted, reflecting the changes I’ve made to my lifestyle. Initially, it helped me deal with the loss of my mother to Alzheimer’s and having to leave my much-loved career through illness and deteriorating mobility. I expressed how I managed my grief (both for losing mum and walking) through my kitchen garden. It’s been a very creative, and cathartic thing for me to do.
When did you realise you needed to simplify your life?
The need to simplify my life came from a particularly difficult episode. A few years ago, I was caring for someone who was very ill. It meant I was getting no sleep – being chronically fatigued anyway, this was a dangerous situation. One night, when I crawled into bed, I was convinced, I would die. I felt so ill and stressed, my heart would surely stop. I did a mental check in my head of all the wonderful women in my life who would be there for my daughters. I thought about my husband and how he would cope. I thought about our finances – yes they’d be okay. Then I panicked. I thought about all the stuff I had accumulated in my 50 years. I panicked, even more, when I realised how my husband never puts anything away. I imagined my girls grieving for me, and the house in utter chaos, with piles of stuff and boxes everywhere. Needless to say, I was still here the next morning
At what moment did you realise that clutter was stressing you out?
The next day I had a lightbulb moment. I couldn’t change a lot of the stresses in my life and I haven’t – they are still there, ebbing and flowing – but I could change my physical environment and all the ‘stuff’ which was making me feel overwhelmed. When everyone left for the day, I made myself a strong coffee, opened one of my cupboards and dived in. Within half an hour I had got rid of five carrier bags worth of stuff. Looking back, I can’t even remember what it was, that’s how important was!
PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS
Tell us about Small Sustainable Steps
Small Sustainable Steps emerged last year when I started to talk more about the small sustainable steps I was taking to simplify my life. The community has grown so much since then. Every day I’m inspired by the people who drop by.
What advice would you give to those who want to de-stress, reduce clutter and lead a simple life?
In order to change, you need to know why. Your why gives you the conviction and then it becomes easier. I’ve let go of so much…duplicates of things, stuff we never used, stuff that was still in its packaging. Even sentimental items have gone, it’s not always been easy, but with each thing I let go of, I felt the burden of my stuff lift. The guilt, too, of buying things I never needed. Once I started to declutter, it became a regular part of my life. With my energy levels being so low, I’ve only ever done this in very small bursts, hence why it has taken three years to get to a level I’m happy with. There are many different approaches to decluttering, for me, however, just targeting a small area for 15 minutes a day was all I could manage.
PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS
How has decluttering transformed your life?
Over the last few years, I have got rid of over 70% of the contents of our house. Everything now has a place or is either useful or loved. We buy quality over quantity, and we practice intentional consumerism. We don’t make impulsive purchases anymore. We now only purchase things that we need or things that we know we would love for many years to come. We now have more disposable income because we buy less. This has allowed us to make bolder decisions – my husband decided to take redundancy and go to university. We could not have done this, without changing our mindset, away from physical possessions to life experiences.
How has decluttering reduced your stress levels?
We now have a much bigger house, even though we have not extended, because we got rid of so much furniture that stored the stuff, we didn’t need. I personally feel less stress, by living this way. I no longer feel overwhelmed by my physical environment. It is now much easier to look after our home. I think decluttering the house, and changing my mindset, also naturally evolved into adopting a low waste lifestyle. Having MS means that everything I do in life needs to be as easy as possible. I couldn’t do this if the changes were complicated.
PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS
Your low waste and sustainable living tips are truly inspiring. Can you tell us a little more about your approach?
Low waste for me doesn’t mean zero waste. My family still produces waste, however, over the last two years, we have reduced this by two thirds. We’ve made a concerted effort to reduce the plastic that we consume. We get our meat, fish, dairy, from the deli counter in the supermarket, using our own containers. We rarely buy processed meals, which cuts down on the packaging. We don’t buy crisps, biscuits, or cakes very often and we bake twice a week. We get most of our vegetables from the market, again because there’s less packaging. We don’t buy disposable items anymore – no wipes, tissues, or bottled water.
As well as stress reduction, a low waste lifestyle has also saved you money? Can you tell us more
Yes, we pay a fraction, of what we did on cleaning and washing products, by making our own from cheap ingredients like vinegar. We have drastically, cut down on our plastic consumption, just by taking these small steps. For anyone wanting to start this journey, of simplifying their life, my advice would be to start small. Change one thing, and then go from there. That way you will create the life you love without being overwhelmed by the changes you’re making.
PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS
Thanks, Amanda for taking the time to share your story with Relax Ya Self To health. To check out Amanda’s brilliant Small Sustainable Steps Instagram account click here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 playingI 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.
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.
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.