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How to Beat Stress

7 lessons I learned when I left my phone at home

7 things I learned by leaving my phone at home

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

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

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

How the heck would I survive without it?

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

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

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

This is what I discovered…

Five things I learned by accidentally leaving my phone at home

A sense of freedom

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

How to create more time

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

How to be mindful in everyday life

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

How to increase productivity in personal and business life

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

It can wait. Honestly. 

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

How to relax

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

How to manage my time effectively

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

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

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

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

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

Fancy reading the health and wellbeing tips of the stars?

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

 

 

Helen's Health, Wellness

REVIEW: What really happens in a group meditation class

What happens in a group meditation class?

Would you go to a group meditation class? It may sound a little airy-fairy but this is precisely what I found myself doing last week on a dark and dreary October evening.

In all honesty, I wasn’t overly in the mood. The night before I’d been burning the midnight oil even though I had a news shift for a magazine booked in the following day. Then just as I downed tools, a special friend- who was somewhat under the influence – called up for a hiccup-peppered chinwag.

By the time I climbed into bed it was 2.30am so I almost wept when the alarm went off four hours’ later.

Still, pulling out was never going to be an option – I’d go to the opening of a paper bag –  and, equally, I was looking forward to meeting Angela Rigby again. If the name sounds familiar it’s because I wrote about her last year when she invited me over to Reigate, Surrey for my first ever Pranic Healing session [Read the review here].

Angela knows I find it difficult to switch off so when she mentioned a drop-in group meditation at a Surrey-based community centre in Nork, near Banstead, my ears pricked up.

What happens in a group meditation class?

Truth be told, I was a tad nervous about trying a group relaxation/mindfulness session with a bunch of strangers. There were six of us in total – five women and one man. According to Angela, numbers usually vary between 10 and 20 and the age-mix varies between 18-75.

“We have university students, corporate professionals, parents, school teachers, and retirees – people from all walks of life,” she says. “We tend to find more women attend but that is changing. We also have a mix of ethnicity.”

Following a brief introduction, Angela explains that she commonly answers questions such as ‘What is mindfulness?,’ and ‘How do you meditate?’.

“Quite often people put different connotations on the word meditation but, put simply, it just means concentration and awareness,” she tells us. “So whatever we’re concentrating on we’re meditating on. In reality, we’re meditating every second of the day but most of the time we’re concentrating on concerns, worries, and things that just don’t serve us anymore.

“This means we’re creating more and more thoughts and emotions. These build up and are housed in what’s called the energy system.  It’s like having lots of apps running the background – you’re processing all these thoughts and emotions – and you can’t focus. The mediation is fantastic for shutting them down, flushing them out and clearing the mind. It helps it focus on more positive things.”

We start off by doing something called Super Brain Yoga, a process Angela claims to energise and activate the brain as well balance the right and left hemisphere. The exercises seem bizarre. I touch my right ear lobe with the fingers from my left hand and vice versa, all the while rolling my tongue up to the roof of my mouth. This elicits much laughter – there’s your feel-good factor right there.

After this we perform a number of gentle exercises – some involve rocking side to side, others are squats – to get the energy flowing around our bodies before sitting down to begin two meditations, one of which is called Twin Hearts. According to Angela, the technique can help us feel happier, calmer, more focussed and improve memory recall. “By doing this meditation on a regular basis you can rapidly reduce stress and anxiety,” she enthuses.

What happens in a group meditation class?

 

How to meditate with distractions

Initially, we focus on our breath but I struggle to relax into the swing of things. I’m perplexed and mildly concerned by the snorts, coughs and other loud sounds piercing the air from the lady next to me and genuinely worry about her welfare before chiding myself to get a grip. Sitting without judgement is key part of meditation but mightily hard to do – I’m forever having a go at myself –  but at least I’m paying attention.

Later we’re guided into imagining a glistening green waterfall of light bathing over us, washing away the stresses, strains and tensions of the day – yes I appreciate  it sounds peculiar to those unfamiliar with meditation.  Chuckles aside, the process – which seems to last for just a few minutes but in reality is far longer – is blissful. In fact, I’m  disappointed when we reach the end and are instructed to open our eyes!

Remarkably, my shoulders are no longer hunched and my rigid spine has softened. My body is feeling pleasantly ‘floppy’ and my brain fog has lifted.  If this is what serenity feels like, guided group meditation is definitely my thing.

An introduction to Twin Hearts meditation

So why does Angela run the free-of-charge drop-in group meditation class? (*Attendees have the option of making a donation to the MCKS Charitable Foundation UK, which aims to prevent or relieve poverty in the UK).

Well, it’s her way of giving back to the local community.  The weekly session, which runs every Thursday from 7.30pm – 9pm, happens to be one of approximately 200 that operate throughout the UK.

 

Group meditation

Each is run by a leader who has taken a self-development course with the Institute of Pranic Healing UK & Ireland [a free 10-minute taster session can be tried at the end].

“I have been running these classes for a number of years in the local area,” Angela says. “It is a way of bringing people together and giving them “me-time” to relax and clear their minds whilst introducing them to Twin Hearts meditation and other techniques to transform how they feel.”

Angela was first introduced to the relaxation classes back in 2007 over in Reading after attending a session run by Les Flitcroft, director of the Institute of Pranic Healing UK & Ireland, and the man Tony Robbins credits with helping to improve his physical, emotional and mental health. “I have found a genuine soul with an incredible talent to heal and enrich people’s lives,” he says in a testimony on the official website.

Angela, too, witnessed a turnaround.

“At the time I was under a lot of pressure at work, suffering from back pain, fatigued and on edge, juggling work and family life,” she explains. “I needed to relax and find peace of mind. The sessions transformed my life. After I had completed self-development Level 1 Pranic Healing, the opportunity was there to set up community groups to allow others to discover, experience and transform how they felt. It wasn’t something I wanted to keep to myself so now I love running the group along and seeing the empowerment and changes in people as they use the techniques for themselves.”

It’s certainly a lovely gesture. So, how did I find the class?

FINAL VERDICT: GROUP MEDITATION

I feared everyone would be seasoned professionals but, as it turned out, I wasn’t the only newbie. I left feeling refreshed and renewed and floated out feeling blissfully calm. We all lead such busy lives and unmanaged stress is detrimental to our health. In fact, I believe this is what caused my body to deteriorate in the first place

Usually, when I go to bed I’ll wake at least three times during the night yet after the class I didn’t stir once.  Maybe it was because I was shattered from the night before but when I paid a visit to Angela last year,  I also slept remarkably well, so now I’m beginning to wonder whether it really is a coincidence. In my opinion, whatever steps we can take to unwind and relax can only be a good thing. I’ll definitely return.

Disclaimer: Relax Ya Self was invited to try this class in exchange for a review. As always, views are based on my honest opinion. 

If you enjoyed this piece you might like to check out the following:

Review: Chilston Park Hotel Wellness Retreat

Review: Gazelli House Hypnotherapy Mind Massage 

Could this psychology app change your life? 

Review: Smile Meditation at London’s Inhere Studio

or read our celebrity interview with the likes of rugby legend Jonny Wilkinson and former England cricket and current Dancing on Ice star Ryan Sidebottom, here.

 

 

Wellness

7 easy ways to lead a stress-free life

7 easy ways to lead a stress free life

Did you know that today is International Stress Awareness day? And while we all need a degree of stress to be able to function well, modern life can easily become overwhelming. “Work, family, and social pressures can all conspire to make our lives too difficult to manage,” Dr Rafael Euba, a consultant psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre, explains. “A specific difficulty we encounter in modern life is that we are not expected to switch off. We are constantly connected and engaged but there are some things we can all do to avoid excessive stress.” Here, Dr Euba shares his top stress-busting tips.

MANAGE YOUR TIME
Don’t pretend the day has 27 hours and be realistic about how many things you can do in 24. Make a sensible to do list and don’t worry if plans change. A key way of managing your time is being comfortable in saying ‘no’ to things. Remember that a ‘yes’ to one thing, means a ‘no’ to something else. I also try to keep my leisure time as simple as possible so I don’t feel under pressure to constantly be achieving something.

DON’T MULTITASK
While you might feel as though you’re being extra productive, multitasking will only clutter your brain and make you less productive. Studies show that we’re not designed to “task-switch” and we function better when we are doing only one thing at the time. Researchers at Stanford University found that subjects who multitasked while performing cognitive tasks experienced significant IQ drops similar to those seen in individuals who skip a night of sleep or who smoke marijuana. Multitasking has also been found to increase production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Having our brain constantly shift gears pumps up stress and tires us out, leaving us feeling mentally exhausted – even when the working day has barely begun.

DON’T TRY TO BE A SUPERHERO
If you’re a busy mum, wife and climbing the career ladder all at the same time don’t beat yourself up if you’ve not been able to vacuum the house or forget your child’s clarinet lesson. Give yourself credit and focus on all the good things you do instead. We can often be our own worst critic, so if you feel this is you, then pretend it’s your best friend that is feeling this way. What would you say to them? We are often far more critical of ourselves than we would be of loved ones. This approach can help you take a step back and look at the situation in a better light.

IGNORE SOCIAL MEDIA
Studies show that too much time spent on social media can be linked to feelings of isolation and low mood. Part of the reason social media makes people feel socially isolated (even though they may not actually be) is the comparison factor and we make judgements about how we measure up. This kind of comparison is linked to depressive symptoms. One study found that more friends on social media doesn’t necessarily mean you have a better social life—there seems to be a cap on the number of friends a person’s brain can handle, and it takes actual social interaction (not virtual) to keep up these friendships. So feeling like you’re being social by being on Facebook doesn’t work. Since loneliness is linked to a myriad of health and mental health problems, getting real social support is important. Virtual friend time doesn’t have the same therapeutic effect as time spent with real friends.

KEEP A NOTEBOOK BY YOUR BED
Sleep has a big impact on our mood, with studies showing that having a sleepless night can make us more irritable, short-tempered, and vulnerable to stress. One study looked at how people who were sleep deprived responded to emotionally negative imagery, and it revealed that those who were sleep deprived had a 60 per cent higher stress response than those who were rested. Once you sleep well, your mood often returns to normal. But getting enough shut-eye is easier said than done when you are feeling stressed. If you feel like you can’t switch off, having a notebook on your bedside table, writing down any thoughts and allocating a time to go through them the following day will help to put your mind at rest. Dimming the lights and spending the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading will also help put your body in sleep mode.

APPRECIATE THE SIMPLE THINGS IN LIFE
Noticing the world around you and being grateful for the little things in life is linked to feeling happier and reducing feelings of depression. Research shows something as simple as going for a walk and spending time surrounded by nature can be a highly effective way to restore your sense of calm and boost your mood. But you don’t need to head to the Amazon rainforest to feel rejuvenated. Why not get your nature fix by joining a local walking group, going on a cycle ride or simply relaxing and enjoying the countryside?

ADDRESS YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Does your partner make you stressed and anxious? Look at the way he/she makes you feel. Ask why this might be, sit down and try to work things out or alternatively seek help from a counsellor. Remember that a partner should be a source of comfort, not stress: it might be that you’re no longer right for one another.

Finally…

If self-help methods aren’t helping, and if you’ve been feeling stressed, depressed or anxious for more than a few weeks and it’s affecting your daily life, it’s important to talk to your GP. Some questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do I dread starting the day?
  • Do I have to multitask in order to be able to cope?
  • Am I always tense?
  • Do I have trouble sleeping, or digesting my meals?
  • Am I irritable with my partner?
  • Do I have problems concentrating?

 

Dr Rafael Euba is a Consultant Psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre where he specialises in repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) for the treatment of depression, an alternative to anti-depressant medication. www.psychiatrycentre.co.uk

Health, Wellness

Review: Gazelli House Hypnotherapy Mind Massage

Gazelli House, South Kensington

“I’m sorry, he’s not here today. He never works on a Friday,” the hospital receptionist briskly informed me. “Sorry, what? I checked with the secretary a couple of days ago. She said I’d definitely be seeing him,” I replied. “No, she must have misunderstood. You’ll be seeing a nurse,” came the answer.

This was the situation that greeted me the week before last when I trekked from West Sussex to a hospital in the Capital. The referral letter to see a leading hospital consultant had landed on my doormat some months prior. Excitedly, I’d pinned all my hopes on this specialist drawing up the dots and telling me why my body had been behaving in such as bizarre manner for the for the best part of two years.

And so I hauled myself out of bed at the crack of dawn to catch a packed, peak hour train – paying an eye-watering sum for the privilege of standing up most of the way – to ensure I made the appointment in good time. To say I was disappointed at the way the morning unfolded was an understatement and I walked away feeling low and upset.

Fortunately, Gazelli House was on hand to turn those emotions around.

As luck would have it, I’d been invited to try a Hypnotherapy Mind Massage at this upmarket South Kensington spa on the same afternoon.  Founded by genetic scientist Dr Hamzayeva, the stylish Walton Street establishment is an oasis of calm in the Capital that provides an array of targeted face and body treatments. Cleverly, the charming three-storey Georgian building also doubles up as a members’ club and serves as relaxing space for people to work or hang out.

On arrival, I resembled a sweaty, flustered mess but the warm nature of my wonderful therapist Alexandra Lisiecka instantly put me at ease. She was about to perform a holistic massage tailor-made for those suffering from chronic stress, emotional imbalance, insomnia, chronic aches and pains, and migraines.

 

Gazelli House, London

Alexis Hamilton

 

Alexandra patiently listened as I droned on about the events of the morning before leading me into a stunning flower-tiled room, which would become my sanctuary for the 90-minute session. Following a thorough consultation, which took account of my physical and emotional wellbeing as well as my long list of allergies, I voiced my concerns about the ‘hypnotherapy’ element. A) I’d never been hypnotised and had no idea what to expect and B) the thought of being out of control was distinctly unappealing.

Gazelli House, South Kensington

As it turned out, I had the wrong end of the stick. Alexandra explained that a transcript recorded by life coach, hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner Rachel Coffey would be simultaneously played throughout the massage.  The idea is to help people switch off the chatter of everyday thoughts, encourage the subconscious mind to let go of anxieties, emotional blocks and tensions and help the body along on its healing journey – something I’ve desperately been trying to attain since my health started playing up. 

“We take you on this beautiful holistic experience,” Alexandra said smiling. “This is a fusion treatment that truly takes care of mind, body and soul. The massage releases muscle tension, but it’s mostly about bringing awareness to certain areas and letting go, moving on and feeling as relaxed and empowered as possible. It leaves you feeling very grounded. Don’t worry if your mind starts to wander, your subconscious mind will take what it’s ready to absorb.”

Now, regular readers will know that my mind flits –  it’s here, there and everywhere. I often find 10-minute guided meditation apps difficult to follow let alone 90 minutes but when I fleetingly manage to let go – even for 30 seconds – and find that ultimate point of relaxation, a state of pure bliss consumes me and I feel as though I’m floating in a warm, safe space of white light. Yes,  I’m aware that this sounds utterly bizarre but there’s no other way to describe it. It’s a delicious feeling and one I was hoping to rediscover again.

Gazelli House, London

Alexis Hamilton

Cocooned by Rachel’s soothing words, I melted into the bed underneath Alexandra’s firm hands and hot stones which moved in time with the rhythm of the recording. At one point, I was guided to breathe out to release uncomfortable, negative feelings as my therapist simultaneously pressed down on my body as if to help them on their way.

At the end of the massage, I was invited to select an affirmation. Mine was “Trust myself, to be myself and the very best of myself.” This was handwritten on a pretty pink card for me to pop into my purse to keep close at hand if I ever started to doubt myself. It was a lovely, uplifting way to end the session.

VERDICT: This treatment was like nothing I’d ever experienced and the 90 minutes passed by in a flash. I loved the holistic mind, body, and soul approach and floated out feeling wonderfully revitalised yet relaxed and balanced. Plus, I was far happier than when I walked in. It was as though my emotional baggage had been unpacked.  If you appreciate guided meditation and massages, this session is most definitely for you. In fact, Gazelli House is so welcoming I’d seriously consider moving in!

The Gazelli House Hypnotherapy Mind Massage costs £185.00 for 90 minutes
For further information visit: www.gazelli.com

Relax Ya Self to Health was invited to try this treatment in exchange for a review

 

Helen's Health, Wellness