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how to manage stress

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

Win a Hand Picked Hotels overnight break for two & dinner

Rhinefield House Hotel, Handpicked Hotels

I’ve been an enthusiast of Hand Picked Hotels ever since I visited Chilston Park in Kent earlier this year.

I slept like a baby – not only because I learned how to still my whirring mind (I was there for my first ever meditation retreat) but because the rooms were cleverly furnished and designed to induce good sleep.

Think blackout curtains, luxurious linens, impossibly comfortable beds and my personal favourite, an adorable Larry the Lamb cuddly toy, which doubles up as a ‘Do Not Disturb’ symbol if you fancy catching up on some extra zzzs (read my review of Chilston Park Hotel here).

So, I’m naturally over the moon that this independent country house hotel group is offering one lucky Relax Ya Self To Health reader the chance to experience an overnight break for two at one of its plush UK dwellings.

In support of The Sleep Council’s #Sleeptember campaign, which promotes the benefits of a good night’s kip, Hand Picked Hotels has put together a Sleeptember package, which comprises:

Hand Picked Hotels prize: ‘Sleeptember’ overnight stay for two

– An overnight stay for two people sharing a classic room
– A mini lavender This Works® pillow spray and top sleep tips card
– A three-course evening meal in the restaurant
– A hearty breakfast
– A late noon check-out for some extra snooze time

To find out more click here

Bailbrook House, Bath, Handpicked Hotel

To enter our prize draw below simply answer the following question: Where is your favourite place to sleep and why? 

It could be by the beach, in a hammock, or in a king size bed with crisp white sheets! Fun, creative and quirky answers are most welcome!

You can enter by commenting below this post or over on Facebook if you give us a like and share too 🙂

We will contact the competition winner via email and also announce the name on  Facebook.

The competition closes at 11pm on Sunday 24th September 2018 and is open to UK residents only.

Good luck!

NB) Please do not worry if your answer does not appear on the post instantly. Comments are held in a moderation queue for approval.

If you’re interested in other ways to calm the mind you might like to read some of our other posts here:

Gazelli House Hypnotherapy Mind Massage
EFT Tapping Therapy
Inhere Meditation Studio
Could this psychology app improve your life?

Of if you prefer to unwind on holiday check out the following:

10 ways to make the most of Kruger National Park
What it’s really like on Symphony of the Seas
Insider view: 7 things to do in Barbados

 

 

PRIZE TERMS AND CONDITIONS

– A voucher will be issued to the competition winner to allow them to redeem the prize
– The prize must be booked by 3rd October 2018 and redeemed before 30th March 2019
– Valid Monday to Sunday
– Subject to availability
– Excludes bank holidays and festive date
– Not valid for hotels in the Channel Islands or Hendon Hall in London
– Travel, drinks and additional charges are not included
– Competition available to UK residents aged 18 or over only
– This promotional competition is not for resale, is non-refundable and non-transferable and will not be replaced if lost or stolen. No cash refunds can be given under any circumstances
– For more information on our competition terms and conditions click here.

Competitions

20 ways to relieve stress

20 ways to relieve stress

If you’re looking to relieve stress may I suggest not reversing into a concrete bollard and causing approximately £1,200 of damage to your vehicle? Yes, that’s what happened to me the week before last.

Why? Because I was rushing.

I’d taken on too much work. The night before my news shift a last minute commission had come in and the only time the celeb could do the interview was after my shift. Not an issue. I’ve been a freelance journalist for almost 20 years and this is part and parcel of the ‘feast or famine’ nature of being self-employed.

The only snag was that I had to be up at 5am *I am useless with early starts* for an event I was covering in London for a new client the following day so the prospect of burning the midnight oil was not exactly appealing. To make matters worse, I received an email from a different editor at 6.30pm the very same evening asking me to amend some marks on a feature I’d written weeks before. The pages were going to press the following day.

Given that I would be out on a job at the crack of dawn the next morning there was nothing for it but to deal with it there and then.

By the end of the night, my head was spinning. I’d worked my news shift, crashed my car, interviewed the celeb, transcribed the hour-long interview, tweaked the feature and tracked the case study down. I rolled into bed gone midnight yet I couldn’t get to sleep. At 1.30am I was still wide awake thinking I had to be up in 3.5 hours.

 

20 ways to relieve stress

 

Then the words of my nutritional therapist and functional medicine practitioner entered my head.

“Stress management is key when addressing chronic health issues. Why? Because no matter how perfect your diet is, how much you exercise or what supplements you take, if you don’t manage your stress your health will be at risk and you will sabotage all your best efforts.”

She’d mentioned this to me on our first meeting and ever since then, I’ve been doing all I can to try and lead a more peaceful life.

Now we all know that acute stress serves an important function – it protects us from danger via a ‘flight or fight’ response by giving us the means to escape a life-threatening situation or face it head-on.

Our heart rate and respiration increase pumping more blood to the muscles, our pupils dilate to let in more light and improve sight, our focus intensifies, our immune system is activated and ready for action while our parasympathetic nervous system is put on hold.

When the stressful situation is over the parasympathetic nervous system kicks back in and the body returns to balance, resting, digesting and reproducing until the next acute stressor occurs.

However, problems arise when the stressors don’t go away – something known as chronic stress – and the sympathetic nervous system remains activated diverting energy away from normal functions such as digestion, repair and reproduction.

“We all know the mental and emotional stresses we face daily – the commute, long hours at work, impossibly busy schedules, problems with finances, problems in our relationships – on and on the list goes,” my nutritionist explains

“What you may not be aware of are other stresses which elicit exactly the same response by the body. These include poor dietary choices causing imbalances in blood sugar, constant sleep deprivation, chronic infections (often gut infections), inflammation and pain, food intolerances, even over-exercising. All these create a stress response and we lurch through the day going from one stressor to another and the stress response is constantly switched on – our bodies are not designed to cope with this type of chronic stress.”

I should perhaps mention at this point that I was also in the midst of my fourth tongue-swelling reaction in as many days. We were experiencing a  heatwave in the UK and extreme temperature is a trigger.

As some of you know, I was recently diagnosed with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. In layman’s terms, my mast cells – white blood cells which form part of our immune system and are in every part of the body – are confused and hyper-sensitive and mistake things like high-histamine food, certain medication, and sunlight as a threat.

The cells are filled with chemical mediators including histamine, heparin, prostaglandins, cytokines which are released in varying amounts once triggered. When this happens my tongue or throat usually swells up. Sometimes I also experience severe itching in my scalp and limbs, chronic fatigue, stabbing pains all over my body and behind my eyes. I also bruise very easily – on the day I saw the consultant who finally diagnosed me – my entire right thigh was black.

The reason I mention this is because stress is a huge trigger too and I had not one but EVERY single reaction listed, which is additional proof that I need to get back on track with chilling out.

20 ways to relieve stress

 

So to celebrate National Relaxation Day [15 August 2018], I’ve rounded up 20 ways to find some balance. As de-stressing can only benefit us all, I hope these tips help you too.

20 ways to relieve stress

  1. On waking, wait half an hour before switching your phone on. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve reached straight for my device and ended up responding to WhatsApp group messages or watching an Instagram story, inadvertently wasting precious minutes in the morning, which then made me feel rushed. Give yourself the chance to wake up properly, nourish your body with healthy food and set some positive intentions for the day ahead.
  2. Limit time spent on social media. Things like Facebook groups are great for providing a sense of community for those of us who work remotely but when comments are overly negative, unsupportive or just downright mean they can dampen your mood. Dip in and out and avoid becoming involved in lengthy debates.
  3. Get organised. If I’m working in London or have a news shift booked in I pick out my outfit – right down to my underwear – and hang it on the back of the door. Likewise, I sort out my handbag and prepare all my own food as buying lunch out is no longer an option with my MCAS issues.
  4. Breathe deeply and slowly. Even if it’s just for three minutes. This is instantly relaxing and helps me at night when I need to calm my racing mind.
  5. Employ mindfulness. It’s not as hard as it sounds and there are plenty of guided apps out there like Calm and Headspace. I also visited a fantastic meditation studio in London and also found solace in a weekend meditation/wellness retreat at Chilston Park in Kent earlier this year.
  6. Avoid pointless arguments.
  7. Remember that your time isn’t necessarily set in stone. I’m a bit useless at this and like order (surprising when I’ve been freelance for 18 years and there’s little routine) so I can feel a little flustered if plans change at the last minute but more often than not they end up working out for the best so I try to employ this positive mindset now, which brings me onto my next point.
  8. If you cannot alter a situation, take a different perspective. Think ‘In what way could this situation be positive?’ Or ‘Can this have value or is it useful?’
  9. Keep a journal. Writing your thoughts down can be incredibly therapeutic and help you organise them.
  10. Avoid procrastination which can lead to feelings of not being good enough.
  11. Allow an extra half an hour for everything you do. Meeting a friend? Have a date? Catching the train (in which case I leave an HOUR earlier). Far better to be too early than too late.
  12. Turn your phone off. If I’m on deadline or trying to get a piece finished I put my phone on aeroplane mode.
  13. Create boundaries. I work from home a lot but often friends and family view this time as a chance to pop in for a coffee and a catch-up. I used to feel bad about turning them down but now they understand.
  14. Don’t overschedule. I’m guilty of cramming too much in and have been trying to make every Sunday a relaxation day but for the past two weeks I’ve ended up working. I SHALL get back on the horse!
  15. Stop trying to please everybody and learn how to say no. If not, you’ll end up being run ragged.
  16. Run a bath. It’s cliche. It works. I wrote about it here. Usually, I throw in a handful of Epsom salts, but as part of the day job earlier this year, I was sent Olverum Bath Oil and I’m now a convert. It contains no fewer than 10 essential oils including geranium, lavender and eucalyptus leaving your muscles relaxed and your bathroom smelling divine.
  17. Go to bed an hour early and wake up feeling refreshed, productive and ready to tackle the day.
  18. Move more. Exercise is a great way to clear the mind and was always my go-to for beating stress. I was a former gym bunny and tennis was my main sport. Due to my MCAS, spin classes and running are out, and I can’t play tennis competitively as vibrations – from activity to those felt on aircraft – can cause my mast cells to degranulate. Read here about the time my tongue started to swell on a long-haul flight. Now I’ve found solace in swimming and fair weather paddle boarding when I have the energy.
  19. Take up a new hobby that you love. Blogging anyone?
  20. KEEP. IT. SIMPLE.

What are your top tips for managing stress? How are you relaxing today? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If you think this post might help someone who is struggling, please feel free to share this post or tag them.

Helen's Health, 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