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How to be happy

Alison Canavan on modelling, mindfulness and overcoming addiction

Alison Canavan mindfulness

Irish model Alison Canavan is naturally radiant, bubbly and has boundless energy.

She first hit the catwalk at the age of 15 and has lived and worked all over the world including London, Paris, Germany, New York, Australia and South Africa.

To observers, her life might seem carefree and glamorous but it hasn’t always been easy for the single mother-of-one who struggled with her mental health and addiction for many years.

“Since becoming a mum to my eight-year-old son James I now try and love my best life for both of us,” she tells Relax Ya Self To Health. “I am a daily meditator and consciously practise gratitude for all I have. I see the world differently these days and I love that every day I get the chance to make better choices and create the life I truly want to live.”

Here Alison, who is now a health coach, master NLP practitioner, mindfulness teacher and author of Minding Mum, opens up about her journey and shares the techniques that help her live a happy and balanced life every day.

How would you describe your personality in three words?

Strong, resilient and caring.

You have a great positive mindset. How did you develop this?

I’m a great believer in living your best life but my mindset wasn’t always that way. At 15 I entered the world of modelling and although it was an amazing experience for a young girl, I struggled with anxiety, depression and loneliness at times. That was 25 years ago and the world has changed a lot since then. Today we talk about mental health and we are making great strides towards bringing these issues to the surface for healing as a collective.

What’s your motto or mantra in life?

Every day is a chance to start again and change is possible for everyone

Why is it important to listen to your body and invest in yourself as a person?

Because the relationship you have with yourself is the longest and most secure you will have in this lifetime. Everyone else will come and go from your life including friends, family and children. So, my question is, does it not make sense to work on the most important relationship first and then the rest will follow?

What happens on a silent meditation retreat?

I have done many silent retreats as I am a mindfulness teacher and the experience is always profound. You go on a deep inner journey of excavation and discovery. If we want true peace and contentment in this life, I believe, we must show up and do the work within ourselves. The Vipassana retreats are done in noble silence which means, no eye contact, talking or even hand gestures. Having recovered from addictions and mental health problems using meditation as one of my tools, I’m acutely aware of the power of going within. In fact, I believe it’s the only way to really heal emotional pain and move into a life of freedom and peace.

What sort of emotions and unpleasant feelings arose?

As my retreat approached I felt anxious as I knew there was deep-rooted pain ready waiting to come to the surface given the right time and space to do so. I didn’t have to wait long as on the first day I reacted very physically to the practice and had to leave the room as I was going to both throw-up and pass out. As I sat outside – pale as a ghost – the course coordinator assured me that this was very a very normal reaction and that afternoon the teacher did too. As human beings, we all have pain and suffering it’s simply a part of life. However, we become very good at suppressing experiences and emotions and hope they won’t rise again and cause us any trouble. This is something I did for many years I pushed everything down and thought that I didn’t ever have to face it or deal with it again.

How did repressed emotions affect your wellbeing?

During the 20 years of depression, anxiety and addictions that followed I never connected my emotional pain to my problems and neither did anyone I went to see. Instead, I got handed tablets and hoped for the best. This is like cleaning the outside of your kitchen cupboards every single day so that when you have visitors your house appears to be gleaming, clean and bright. However, if someone were to open your cupboards the stark truth would shock them. Inside would be dirty and food would be rotting and this is what suppressed emotions look like in your body. They are giving off toxic fumes that manifest as emotional problems like over or under eating, depression, anxiety, stress, sleep issues, addictions and much more. We fail to connect the dots and we outsource our power to external sources hoping that they can fix us and heal our pain. My greatest learning from a week of Vipassana was that only you and you alone can heal your pain and there is no escaping the work if you want to get well or live better. You need to feel and deal with your pain to truly heal.

Alison Cavanan mindfulness

Lili Forberg

How can people start to heal?

There are many paths to do the work but if you feel called to meditate and feel you would benefit then I think it’s a very valuable thing to do. We live in a world that’s moving so fast so we really need to slow down and create some space so that we can see clearly where we are and where we want to go. Otherwise, we miss life as we are always either living in the past or the future.

What are you doing work-wise now?

Today I teach mindfulness meditation where I have been trained as a UCLA mindfulness facilitator from The Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behaviour. I am also a health coach and a master NLP practitioner. I run a successful private practice as a health and wellness coach and deliver motivational talks on health and wellbeing, all over the world, specialising in mental health and addiction.  In 2017 I created ‘The Full 360’, which is a full day event where people come and experience what real wellbeing means. It’s a day where you are encouraged to join the dots between body, mind, spirit, the environment you live in and we also look at your relationships to yourself and others. I am deeply passionate about looking at our wellbeing from a whole – istic perspective! We keep separating ourselves and treating different aspects of us separately which only leads to further disconnection on the inside and out.

Talk me through a typical day.

Every day is different for me which I love. I write for various newspapers, do TV and radio interviews, I teach and coach people. I also organise my events and travel quite frequently too. I’m blessed to have the support of a great mum as I’m a single mum myself. I wake early and meditate and then when James wakes we have breakfast. I live by the sea so I love walking him to school to get fresh air first thing in the morning. Then I usually return back to the office or go out to meetings. I try and pick up James when I can and we spend the afternoon doing homework and catching up. I teach meditation a few nights a week but from home which is wonderful.

How do you balance work and family life?

With great difficulty at times and with a lot of support and help. I have also been studying for the past few years which has been extremely challenging at times but I always knew I the back of my mind that I was doing it to create a better life for myself and my son. I try as much as I can to be off the phone around James and when I’m with him to actually be with him and not always distracted.

What tips do you have for busy mums?

I used to buy into the myth of having no time. We all do because we are taught that if we are busy and our kids have 10,000 activities that we are worthy and have a purpose. I became very ill this year on a trip to London and it helped me to re-evaluate the busyness epidemic. I have met a mum of 11 who is not stressed at all! Sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves (at least I do) to be an amazing mum, employee, friend etc but what I have found is that if we let go of expectations and start to actually become more present and enjoy life, things get easier. Everyone has some time they can take for themselves even if its 60 seconds three times a day to stop, breathe and be. It’s so important to show up for yourself because you can’t authentically do it for your family otherwise. A happy mum = a happy family. Be easy with yourself as a mum and know that you are doing your best and that’s all we can do in this life. The most important part is to have fun along the way.

How do you manage stress?

Through meditation, exercise, eating great food and connecting with those I love. Every day is different but every day I do all of these things!

What stress warning signs have you learned to recognise over the years?

When I start to crave bad food and feel sad, when I’m not sleeping great and not able to concentrate. Through the practice of mindfulness, we learn to accept things as they are and this gives us the ability to be with whatever is happening for us at that moment.

Are you able to share some of your stress-busting tips? 

Stress is basically wanting to be there when you are here. Use your breath. Meditation is such an important gift in my daily life and when I start my day from a conscious perspective I can handle anything that comes my way. Eat well as sugary and processed foods contribute to stress and anxiety. Eat lots of colourful and fresh seasonal produce and cook at home as often as possible. Move your body. Most of us are far too sedentary and need to move more. Getting outside and connecting with nature helps us to remember who we really are. Get back to the community – studies show us that people who have the best connections and relationships are the happiest and live the longest. We come into the world wired to make connections with one another and the very foundation of our sense of self is built upon human interactions, presence and in-person exchanges.

What’s your idea of a dream holiday?

Travelling is one of my great loves and I love active holidays and also relaxation trips. Travelling with my eight-year-old is also fun and we love city travels and plan to go on a safari soon!

Are you an ‘overthinker’ or laid back?

I’m a mixture. From years of mindfulness practice, I have become less reactive to life but I’m also an ideas person and I can drive myself mad going over and over ideas in my head.

How has your attitude to life changed over the years?

My life has very little similarities. Back then I was a party girl enjoying the high life of the fashion industry which you soon learn is not all it cracked up to be. Our lifestyle is a choice, which is something I was completely unaware off years ago. Today I choose to live consciously and very differently. I eat healthy, exercise and meditate alongside valuing those around me and honouring my environment and nature. Today I am content and can really feel the richness life offers when we choose to wake up. I believe that we are learning till the day we die so I try to remain open and curious and willing to learn.

What does your diet look like?

My diet is pretty good. I try and avoid processed food and eat a lot of plant-based meals, with a large variety of colour. Food is information for our body, mind and soul so it’s important we don’t give it the wrong fuel or it will get sick and we will create a dis-ease within ourselves and our body. I love juicing, wheatgrass and soups, stews and herbal teas.

What are your favourite exercises?

I love yoga, Pilates and walking. Movement is really important to me and there is nothing better than getting out and connecting with nature.

What are your three top tips for finding balance in your life?

Top and tail your day with gratitude and start your day by connecting with yourself and setting an intention for your day. Be present when in the presence of others. Let go of any stresses and strains before you go to bed as the energy you go to sleep in is the energy you wake up in. Get between seven and nine hours sleep a night for optimal health.

What’s been the most important life lesson you’ve learned to date?

To trust my own instinct and live from the heart

Alison runs a monthly membership programme for those interested in mindfulness where she holds online live meditations and coaching calls among other things. For more information click here.

If you enjoyed this article you might like to read our other celebrity health and wellbeing interviews with Jonny Wilkinson, Pat Cash, Katie Piper, Gail Porter, Ryan Sidebottom and Andy Murray’s fitness coach Matt Little.

Alternatively, check out our posts on hypnotherapy mind massage, a weekend meditation retreat and what really happens in a group meditation class

 

 

Celebrity interviews, Wellness

6 THINGS THAT MAKE ME HAPPY

6 THINGS THAT MAKE ME HAPPY

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY POINT NO.1: RECEIVING A DIAGNOSIS

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

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

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

HAPPY POINT NO.2: BEING GIVEN NEW HOPE

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

HAPPY POINT NO.3: WORKING FOR NEW CLIENTS

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

HAPPY POINT NO.4  MY FIRST TASTE OF LONDON EVENT

6 things that make me happy

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

HAPPY POINT NO.5: MY BUNNY SURVIVING 

Freddie the house bunny

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

HAPPY POINT NO.6: CUDDLES WITH BABY SEBASTIAN

6 things that make me happy

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

 

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

 

 

 

Helen's Health

10 ways to rediscover your pzazz

10 ways to find your pzazz

Pzazz is one of my favourite words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 ways to rediscover your pzazz

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

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

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

10 ways to rediscover your pzazz

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

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

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

10 ways to rediscover your pzazz

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Helen's Health