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Meet the baker who has a unique way of spreading positive messages

Meet the baker spreading positive messages with a difference

Positive messages.

I can’t get enough of them.

And I don’t wait for birthdays or special occasions to send cards or other uplifting bits and pieces to friends or family members in need of a pick me up.

I do it on the spot and am always looking for new ways to surprise people.

So imagine my delight when this week, as part of the day job, I interviewed east London baker Emily Garland and discovered she’d launched a range of fortune cookies filled with positive messages including ‘mate, you’re great’,  ‘you’re not alone’ and ‘words don’t help but cookies do’.

The Maid of Gingerbread founder loved the idea of giving people a “mini buzz” with her playful pockets of edible fun and decided to create four collections.


Meet the baker spreading positive messages with a differenceCredit: Ben Broomfield


Emily, who is known for creating giant showstopping 3D gingerbread creations, began baking after health reasons forced her to quit her admin job but she’s since turned her hobby into a successful business.

“The main drive behind my baking has always been making people smile, and encouraging people to have fun and interact with food,” she says.

The fortune cookies are an extension of that and there are four boxes to choose from each containing at least eight positive messages. These are:

Thinking of you – Phrases include: ‘lots of love from me to you’, ‘hang in there’, ‘word’s don’t always help but cookies do’, and ‘you’re not alone’.
Encouragement – Phrases include: ‘you’re smashing it’, ‘not long now!’, ‘mate, you’re great’, and ‘sending good vibes (and cookies)’.
Congratulations – Phrases include:  ‘over the moon’, ‘winning at life’, ‘you’re the bee’s knees’, and ‘cracking job’.
You’re the Best –  Phrases include:  ‘You’re a good egg’, and ‘keep doing you’, to ‘a whole lot of lovely’, and ‘you’re my favourite’.

The 36-year-old also whips up bespoke fortune favours for both corporate events and weddings.

Below Emily shares her journey with Relax Ya Self To Health and explains why she’s put the fun back into fortune.

Ten years ago but I’ve only been full time for two.

I baked for friends and family all through my teenage years and then at university. I always loved the fact that so much joy can be created from something so seemingly simple. Years later I had to leave my admin job due to health reasons – I developed RSI in my wrists so could no longer type – and I needed to find something that would enable me to take breaks when needed and had a variety of different tasks so I could switch when I was in pain.

Baking was the obvious solution. Although my condition will always be there, I’ve learnt to manage it and have built up my strength again to a point where it very rarely affects me day-to-day. So aside from my passion for baking and creating with food, I have an additional motivation behind my business as it enables me to work in a way that helps rather than hinders my health.


Meet the baker spreading positive messages with a difference                                                                                                             Credit: Will Patrick

As long as I can remember really. I grew up in a household where baking from scratch was just considered the norm, so I was surrounded with excellent home cooking and just always joined in with pies, cakes and biscuits. My mum and both my grandmothers were fantastic bakers so I consider myself very lucky.

It all stems from a slightly bizarre request. I was asked to make fortune cookies in the shape of vulvas for an advert last year (for Libresse/Bodyform). My reputation for unusual gingerbread building means I’m often asked for quite out-of-the-ordinary baking related commissions. I had to practice with lots of different recipes and techniques for making them and through that I found I really enjoyed the process and came up with a really tasty recipe partly inspired by the super positive message of that ad. I then just started making them for fun and putting my own messages inside them. Watching people break into them and smiling at the contents made me so happy I thought I should try and spread the positivity by having them available as a product!

Emily Coxhead at The Happy Newspaper. Her mission to share positive stories and celebrate the good things in the world is a massive inspiration for me. And Ellie Kime of The Enthusiast, who encourages people to pursue their enthusiasm and want people to know that caring is cool.

I think it’s so important and pertinent in the current climate, and spreading positivity doesn’t need to be through big gestures. Even a tiny little cookie can bring a big smile to someone who’s having a tough time.

Generally, I relax when I’m in the kitchen. I have to admit there are some stressful times during the Christmas crazy period – this is more to do with juggling business stuff than the actual baking though!  It’s always been a great creative outlet for me; when I’m in the zone, baking makes me feel simultaneously relaxed, excited and highly focused. It brings me so much joy when I hear back from my clients.

Emily’s collections start from £22. For more information visit Maid of Gingerbread 

If you liked this story you might light to read:

Meet the woman who is using her MS to save the planet 

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


In the news

Need some peace? Forest bathing could be the answer

Forest Bathing: 7 reasons to give it a try
Credit: David Mark

Are you familiar with forest bathing?

This wellness trend hit the headlines again over the weekend when it emerged the Duchess of Cambridge had helped co-design a ‘Back to Nature’ themed garden for the 2019 RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

The ecotherapy, which originates from Japan where it is known as ‘shinrin-yoku’, involves immersing yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of a forest environment to help you reconnect with nature and slow down.

A couple of months ago I was introduced to the concept when a lively neighbour knocked on my door. She heads to the forest that’s right on our doorstep every morning come rain or shine, so when she invited me to join her on her early (I mean 6.30am early) jaunt I couldn’t possibly refuse.

I never imagined then that my maiden trip through the trees and foliage would end up becoming an integral part of my week but, quite frankly, it’s addictive and never fails to leave me feeling invigorated, joyous of mood and raring to start the day.

But don’t just take my word for it.

Forest Bathing: 7 reasons to give it a try

Spending time in nature has been linked to reduced stress levels and this 2017 study found that forest bathing helped lower blood pressure, decrease pulse rates, and reduce tension, anger and anxiety.

The RSPB even runs a dedicated two-hour forest bathing session at Lake Vyrnwy Nature Reserve in Wales, which is run by an experienced practitioner to help you relax and become mindful as you connect with the natural world.

As I’m consciously trying to start the day in a less stressed state – rather than waking up, wolfing down breakfast and immediately checking emails – forest bathing has become an integral part of my routine.

Below is why I enjoy it so much.

Forest bathing: 7 reasons to give it a try

You never know what you’re going to encounter. On our first trip, a beautiful baby deer emerged through the azalea and ferns. We’ve seen swans and their cygnets – there are two large lakes – nesting coots and very tame squirrels. I’m just waiting for an Adder to slither out from the undergrowth. It hasn’t happened. Yet.

Connecting with nature is enormously grounding and can calm a racing mind. TV presenter and naturalist Chris Packham recently revealed how he enjoys sitting under an ancient oak tree. “When you sit next to an organism that’s 650 years old it puts you in your place,” he said.  I agree, entirely. You can read our interview with him here.

There aren’t many people around at the crack of dawn but you do stumble across the odd dog walker, golfer, and runner.  Everyone is so friendly and even the ducks seem to quack ‘good morning’ at you. People make time for conversation and aren’t distracted. It’s a refreshing contrast to the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Exposing yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning is a great way of resetting your internal body clock, known as the circadian rhythm. I’m definitely sleeping better since I’ve started the walks. It dawned on me recently that I spend far less time outdoors since developing this chronic illness – prior to becoming unwell I spent most of my spare time bashing balls about on a tennis court or running – but that’s no longer the case as strenuous activity can set off my reactions.  However, walking is the one thing I can do (touch wood) and an early morning stroll is a great way to build up my steps, which are horrendously low when I’ve been tapping away at my keyboard all day.

Every sense is awakened thanks to the smell of the pine trees, the fresh air, and the chirping birds and if the sun’s out your body can make that mood-boosting Vitamin D. It’s certainly a feel-good experience.

I have my best ideas mid-walk. Forest bathing also helps me enjoy the moment and clear my head of worries. It’s an easy way to practise mindfulness, which is wonderful for reducing stress levels.

Enough said.

Have you ever tried forest bathing? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.



In the news, Wellness

11 ways to remain resilient (in the face of chronic illness)

11 ways to stay resilient / Relax Ya Self To Health

It can be hard to stay resilient when you’re contending with a chronic illness, especially one that’s not very well recognised like Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.

The symptoms can make everyday living downright exhausting plus you feel like you’re in the middle of a never-ending war. It’s a battle to see a consultant who knows about the condition.

It’s a battle to get a diagnosis. It’s a battle to take the meds or eat healing foods because you react to what seems like every flippin’ ingredient. It’s a battle to meet friends or travel anywhere because fragrances set you off.

Heck, even sitting in the sunshine – a joyful treat for most – is no longer the pleasure it once was because heat is now a damned trigger.

On top of this shizzle, you’re still trying to lead a remotely normal life, so it’s no wonder your mental wellbeing takes a hammering.

Anxiety creeps in. You isolate yourself. You become trapped in a cycle of negative thinking and the next thing you know you struggle to see any light at the end of the tunnel.

I know, because I’ve experienced all these things.

Before my health fell apart you can read the night it all began hereI’d always, fortunately, been pretty resilient.

But I can honestly say this pesky illness has turned me upside down and tested me every which way.

For much of the past 3.5 years, I’ve been wearing a cloak of disbelief, anger, frustration, fear, doubt and anxiety, threaded with immense sadness.

And that’s okay.

Because I was, and in some respects still am, grieving for the old life I so enjoyed.

11 ways to stay resilient / Relax Ya Self To Health

Nonetheless, with the onset of acceptance, my mindset has shifted somewhat.

Instead of getting caught up in fear and worry, which is so easy to do with such a dastardly and unpredictable condition, I’m now focused on what this experience is teaching me, rather than what I’ve lost.

And I now look at every challenge I encounter as an opportunity for personal growth be it mentally, physically or spiritually – an approach has helped me enormously.

So why am I telling you this now?

Well, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK.

Truth be told, I was in two minds about writing this post. A) because everyone has wildly different chronic illness experiences and B) being ‘vulnerable’ and open on a public platform is, well quite frankly, terrifying.

Nonetheless, if opening up in this way gives a little hope to just one person then it will have been worth it.

So, below I’ve rounded up some of the things that have helped me on my journey so far.  *Please be aware that we’re all different. What works for me may not work for you. If you have depression, please seek medical help.


At Christmas, I started reacting to other peoples’ aftershave and perfume. It had never before been a problem. I noticed it on a commute one day and then when I was freelancing in an office I’d worked in hundreds of times before without issue. Thankfully, my editor moved me to a spare bank of desks and the meds controlled my tongue swelling but I started to worry about the implications for flights and travelling on public transport. I’m now looking to buy an air filtering mask which I can whip out in similar circumstances.


A few weeks ago, I was involved in a pretty nasty car accident. Someone ploughed into the side of my vehicle causing it to spin and wrote it off. “You have the worst luck,” a colleague said to me a week later.  I was taken aback. I thought I’d been lucky. Yes, I had bruising, back and neck pain and had lost my car but at least I didn’t have any broken bones and was able to walk away. If the accident had happened two seconds earlier it could have been a very different story.


Social media is great in the respect it can link you up with people who are in the same predicament as you and things like Facebook groups can provide some much-needed support, especially if you have a rare illness or ‘emerging/new’ condition. However, be mindful too. Some people might be in a worse predicament than you. If you’re prone to anxiety this may cause your thoughts to spiral and spark fears about deteriorating health.


Align with people who are on the same path and friends and family who support and understand you. Find coping mechanisms that work for you. If you like positive affirmations (which I do), great. If this isn’t your bag then that’s fine too. We’re all different and responsible for our own happiness so do what works for you.


I’m forever harping on about how beneficial I’ve found meditation but it really has had a seismic shift on my life. I use apps like Headspace and recently discovered the Muse 2 meditation headband (a review is coming soon). Regular practice has enabled me to tune into my body (which is helpful when I’m trying to pin down triggers), as well as observe and notice how I am responding to situations in other areas of my life. I’ve also become very aware of my internal chatter [see next point]. Whenever I meditate a sense of peace washes over me. Physically, it calms my stress response which plays an enormous part in managing my reactions.


While I’m always supportive and encouraging of others, I speak very harshly to myself – something that has been brought to my attention through meditation. Old narratives of not being good or worthy enough or being a failure are slowly being ironed out and I’m finally giving myself a break!


I write down my thoughts at the start of the day. Everything. I just get it down on paper. Worries, fears, to do lists, dreams, goals, plans. Then I prioritise. The process mentally clears the space for me to get on with my day and I feel a though I’m not holding on to potential stressors in my body.  I’ve now started keeping a dream journal to help understand my ‘unconscious’ mind, too. My dreams have always been incredibly vivid (and on many occasion, I’ve had premonitions but that’s another post).


I’m Miss Reliable so what really frustrates me about this illness is not being able to commit to things in advance because, a night out for a friend’s birthday, say, will very much depend on how I’m feeling and if I’m in the midst of a flare. I’ve always been notoriously bad at relaxing but this illness has at least taught me how to pace myself and not overschedule on both the work and social front.


I used to have a super active lifestyle and while I know I’ll never run the London Marathon again, dwelling on what I used to be able to do makes me unhappy. I’ ve now accepted it. I’ve since found yoga and forest walks and am looking forward to discovering new hobbies in the future.


Every night I write down ten things I’m most grateful for. It can be anything from having a roof over my head and food on the table to doing a yoga class reaction free or catching up with a friend.


Advances in medicine happen every day. New tests are always being developed.  I remain ever hopeful.

If you think this post might help someone you know, please feel free to share. I’d also love to hear about any positive approaches that have worked for you in the comments below.

As always, thank you for reading


Relax Ya Self To Health is on Facebook, and Instagram and you can subscribe (for free) to our newsletter here. 

Health, Helen's Health, In the news

6 simple ways to worry less

6 ways to worry less

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.


Owen O'Kane

 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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 

If you enjoyed this article you might like to read the following:

The CBT Journal: How to stop feeling stuck

The surprising thing I discovered when I tried flotation therapy 

Always busy? Five important signs you need to slow down

Review: What really happens in a group meditation class

In the news

PUSH opens up free talking therapy sessions aimed at saving lives

Talking Therapy in London

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.”

Cate Murden, Push Mind and Body founder

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 Lives here.

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.”

To book an appointment or for further information email:

If you’re worried about yourself or anyone you know visit:
Samaritans: 116 123
CALM: 0800 585858
Mind: 0300 123 3393
Young Minds: 0808 802 5544

Please feel free to share this post. It could help save a life.



In the news

Can mindfulness save your relationship?

Can mindfulness save your relationship?

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.


Audrey Tang
“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


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.


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.


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.

Looking to learn more about mindfulness? You might like the following reads:
What really happens in a group meditation class
The surprising thing I discovered when I tried flotation therapy
Wellness Retreat Chilston Park Hotel

If you’re single and have a chronic illness, you might like to read this.
The one time it sucks to be single 

If you’d like future posts delivered straight to your inbox simply subscribe here. 

Thanks for reading x

In the news

How to meditate like Prince Harry: 5 mindfulness myths busted

Mindfulness myths busted

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.

As well as better focus and clarity of thought, meditation has been linked to reduced stress levels and improved mood and sleep patterns. What’s more, many schools are now training teachers in mindfulness techniques and passing on the methods to pupils to help them build resilience and equip them with skills to cope with exam stress and other triggers that may cause anxiety.

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?

Read on…



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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

In the news, Wellness

8 ways to beat Christmas stress

Christmas stress

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.


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.


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.


Christmas stress


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!


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.


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.

Christmas Stress


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.
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In the news, Wellness

Meet the woman who is using her MS to help save the planet

Meet the woman who is using her MS to help save the plane

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. 

Meet the woman who is using her MS to help save the planet


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.

Meet the woman who is using her MS to help save the planet


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!


Meet the woman who is using her MS to help save the plane


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.

Meet the woman who is using MS to help save the planet


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.

Meet the woman who is using her MS to help save the planet


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.

Meet the woman who is using her MS to help save the plane


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.




Health, In the news

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 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.
  • 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. )


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.

This mental health charity provides information, support and details on local services.
Call: 0300 123 3393 (Weekdays 9am – 6pm)

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)

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:

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