Fancy being in with a chance to win a box of Booja Booja Hazelnut Truffles? Well, read on. To celebrate the festive season, we’ve teamed up with the lovely folk over at Booja Booja to give one lucky reader a chance to win one of their Artist’s Collection Hazelnut Truffles gift box worth £19.99.
I’ve long been an enthusiast of the brand and here’s why: A) Their melt-in-the-mouth products are delicious (the hazelnut truffles won gold in the Confectionery and Chocolate category at the Free From Food Awards 2018) B) The ingredients are organic, dairy free, gluten free, soya free and vegan so a friend or loved one with dietary issues or allergies need not miss out on the holiday celebrations. C) The products are handmade in Norfolk. D) The brand supports a community of talented artists in Kashmir which hand paint the elegant ‘Artistic Collection’ gift boxes. e) The pretty packaging also doubles up as a trinket box or keepsake. (Yes, please!).
Booja Booja claims the ‘abundant character’ of its truffles invites you to ‘sit down, relax and enjoy – guiltless’
Well…we’re all about learning how to relax over here on Relax Ya Self To Health, especially as Christmas can be an incredibly busy and stressful time, so we’re in!
Win a box of Booja Booja Artistic Collection Hazelnut Truffles Gift Box (x16 truffles)
To enter the draw simply tell us at the bottom of this blog post how you would relax with your prize if you won.
For a second entry give us a like and share on Facebook or head over to our Instagram page and type Booja Booja underneath a picture you find relaxing.
The competition runs until 9pm on Sunday December 16, 2018 and is open to UK residents only. Terms and conditions apply.
Good luck and Merry Christmas! x
Please do not worry if your comments do not instantly appear underneath the blog post. They have to be approved and may be held in a queue.
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?
MS hit the headlines recently after it emerged that actress Selma Blair has the condition. Reports revealed the 46-year-old has struggled with symptoms that include falling over, dropping things, foggy memory, and numbness in her left side for at least 15-years.
Multiple Sclerosis, which affects the central nervous system, is one Amanda Jones, from Nottinghamshire, is all too familiar with. The 50-something mum-of-two was diagnosed in 2010.
“Initially, it all felt very overwhelming, hopeless and was a very scary time,” she tells Relax Ya Self To Health. “But in true ‘Amanda’ style, I hit the research button, and luckily found the Overcoming MS website.
“It’s a healthy lifestyle programme for people with MS, and adopting it has slowed the progress of the disease right down. My MS was very aggressive before, fuelled I think from the stressful life I led. I now eat a plant-based diet, keep my vitamin D3 levels healthy, and have simplified my life to keep my stress levels as low as I can.”
In fact, Amanda’s approach to destressing and simplifying her life – mainly through decluttering and responsible purchasing – has made her an Instagram sensation. Her Small Sustainable Steps account, which carries the tagline, “What I’m doing might be a drop in the ocean but at least my drop will be clean”, has become a hit with more than 26,000 followers thanks to her helpful, informative posts.
Relax Ya Self To Health caught up with Amanda to find out how the platform has helped her cope with MS and is inspiring others to lead a plastic-free, low waste lifestyle.
PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS
Amanda, please tell us a bit about yourself…
I live in Nottinghamshire with my husband, and our two teenage girls. My husband and I are both in our fifties. I took early retirement six years ago. I used to work with vulnerable children and families, it was great but very stressful. When I finished I was in a leadership role. Last year my husband took redundancy. He is now studying music production at university. You could say, we are living the life we love.
What were your MS symptoms?
I’d had the symptoms for well over 20 years. I temporarily lost my sight when my baby was just three weeks old and the use of my right side for a while – it’s still weak. I also had an episode lasting several weeks, where I had mini epileptic seizures, about 350 a day. It was a very difficult time.
How does MS affect your daily life?
It’s a bit like having a brain that short-circuits constantly. I never know what’s going to happen next. Sometimes I feel so fatigued, that even getting out of bed is difficult. I manage my fatigue by not over-committing to anything, and to rest as much as possible. Sometimes my body just won’t do what my brain is telling it. My mobility is one of the areas most affected. Not being able to go for long walks in the countryside, like I used to, is still a difficult concept for me. I’m a passionate gardener, it’s important for my mental health. I was finding it very difficult to continue, so we decided to adapt my garden, in order for me to carry on. I had paths laid and raised beds built. This has meant that I can carry on gardening. We are now in the process of adapting our home, in order to future proof it, if needs arise. MS affects every part of my life.
PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS
When did you discover Instagram and how has this helped you on your healing journey?
I’ve had an Instagram account now for several years. In that time [the content] it has changed and adapted, reflecting the changes I’ve made to my lifestyle. Initially, it helped me deal with the loss of my mother to Alzheimer’s and having to leave my much-loved career through illness and deteriorating mobility. I expressed how I managed my grief (both for losing mum and walking) through my kitchen garden. It’s been a very creative, and cathartic thing for me to do.
When did you realise you needed to simplify your life?
The need to simplify my life came from a particularly difficult episode. A few years ago, I was caring for someone who was very ill. It meant I was getting no sleep – being chronically fatigued anyway, this was a dangerous situation. One night, when I crawled into bed, I was convinced, I would die. I felt so ill and stressed, my heart would surely stop. I did a mental check in my head of all the wonderful women in my life who would be there for my daughters. I thought about my husband and how he would cope. I thought about our finances – yes they’d be okay. Then I panicked. I thought about all the stuff I had accumulated in my 50 years. I panicked, even more, when I realised how my husband never puts anything away. I imagined my girls grieving for me, and the house in utter chaos, with piles of stuff and boxes everywhere. Needless to say, I was still here the next morning
At what moment did you realise that clutter was stressing you out?
The next day I had a lightbulb moment. I couldn’t change a lot of the stresses in my life and I haven’t – they are still there, ebbing and flowing – but I could change my physical environment and all the ‘stuff’ which was making me feel overwhelmed. When everyone left for the day, I made myself a strong coffee, opened one of my cupboards and dived in. Within half an hour I had got rid of five carrier bags worth of stuff. Looking back, I can’t even remember what it was, that’s how important was!
PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS
Tell us about Small Sustainable Steps
Small Sustainable Steps emerged last year when I started to talk more about the small sustainable steps I was taking to simplify my life. The community has grown so much since then. Every day I’m inspired by the people who drop by.
What advice would you give to those who want to de-stress, reduce clutter and lead a simple life?
In order to change, you need to know why. Your why gives you the conviction and then it becomes easier. I’ve let go of so much…duplicates of things, stuff we never used, stuff that was still in its packaging. Even sentimental items have gone, it’s not always been easy, but with each thing I let go of, I felt the burden of my stuff lift. The guilt, too, of buying things I never needed. Once I started to declutter, it became a regular part of my life. With my energy levels being so low, I’ve only ever done this in very small bursts, hence why it has taken three years to get to a level I’m happy with. There are many different approaches to decluttering, for me, however, just targeting a small area for 15 minutes a day was all I could manage.
PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS
How has decluttering transformed your life?
Over the last few years, I have got rid of over 70% of the contents of our house. Everything now has a place or is either useful or loved. We buy quality over quantity, and we practice intentional consumerism. We don’t make impulsive purchases anymore. We now only purchase things that we need or things that we know we would love for many years to come. We now have more disposable income because we buy less. This has allowed us to make bolder decisions – my husband decided to take redundancy and go to university. We could not have done this, without changing our mindset, away from physical possessions to life experiences.
How has decluttering reduced your stress levels?
We now have a much bigger house, even though we have not extended, because we got rid of so much furniture that stored the stuff, we didn’t need. I personally feel less stress, by living this way. I no longer feel overwhelmed by my physical environment. It is now much easier to look after our home. I think decluttering the house, and changing my mindset, also naturally evolved into adopting a low waste lifestyle. Having MS means that everything I do in life needs to be as easy as possible. I couldn’t do this if the changes were complicated.
PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS
Your low waste and sustainable living tips are truly inspiring. Can you tell us a little more about your approach?
Low waste for me doesn’t mean zero waste. My family still produces waste, however, over the last two years, we have reduced this by two thirds. We’ve made a concerted effort to reduce the plastic that we consume. We get our meat, fish, dairy, from the deli counter in the supermarket, using our own containers. We rarely buy processed meals, which cuts down on the packaging. We don’t buy crisps, biscuits, or cakes very often and we bake twice a week. We get most of our vegetables from the market, again because there’s less packaging. We don’t buy disposable items anymore – no wipes, tissues, or bottled water.
As well as stress reduction, a low waste lifestyle has also saved you money? Can you tell us more
Yes, we pay a fraction, of what we did on cleaning and washing products, by making our own from cheap ingredients like vinegar. We have drastically, cut down on our plastic consumption, just by taking these small steps. For anyone wanting to start this journey, of simplifying their life, my advice would be to start small. Change one thing, and then go from there. That way you will create the life you love without being overwhelmed by the changes you’re making.
PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS
Thanks, Amanda for taking the time to share your story with Relax Ya Self To health. To check out Amanda’s brilliant Small Sustainable Steps Instagram account click here.
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.
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.
“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:
Right now plenty of young people will be feeling fearful about the future. They may be anxious about starting university, nervous about their career or worried about not making new friends.
I know I experienced all three of the above when I packed up my things and headed off to the South West of England to start my new life as a university student many moons ago but things didn’t exactly go to plan when I dropped out after just one month (see below).
Back then university ‘care packages’ weren’t a thing but I think they’re a brilliant idea, especially if they’re filled with items to help get you through testing moments. For this very reason, I’m thrilled to team up with Rescue Remedy to give you the chance to win a hamper of goodies worth £60.
Designed to provide support in times of emotional demand, the original Rescue Remedy is a blend of five different flower essences discovered by Dr Bach in the 1930s. The products can be used to help keep you calm or stay focused during stressful situations such as a move to unfamiliar surroundings.
The good news is this competition isn’t only open to students. Anyone – including empty nesters or those going through stressful times – can enter the draw!
Win a Rescue Remedy Hamper worth £60
One lucky winner will receive the following:
RESCUE® Pastilles (Orange & Elderflower and Blackcurrant) worth £6.45
RESCUE PLUS® Lozenges worth £3.99
RESCUE REMEDY® 10ml dropper worth £8.49
RESCUE REMEDY® 20ml dropper worth £10.99
RESCUE REMEDY® 7ml spray worth £7.99
RESCUE REMEDY® 20ml spray worth £11.49
RESCUE® Night 20ml spray worth £10.99
To enter simply tell us what is stressing you out at the moment and why the prize will help. For a second entry simply like and share our Facebook post.
The winner’s name will be drawn out of a hat at 8pm (GMT) on September 16 2018.
I always knew I wanted to become a journalist – a job I’ve been fortunate to do for the past 18 years. Only, my careers adviser had other ideas.
“Everyone wants to be a reporter,” he insisted. “The industry is too hard. You’re better off doing a media studies degree, not journalism. It’ll give you more choice.”
Being young and impressionable I accepted his advice but by week three of university I felt awkward, alone and on a course that held little appeal. Deep down I knew I’d made the wrong decision.
Weeping and trembling with fear, I called my dear mother from the phone box – we didn’t have mobiles back then – and apologised for letting her down. I felt like a worthless ‘drop out’ but my mum was brilliant and not upset in the slightest. The weight on my shoulders instantly lifted.
In the months that followed I contacted numerous consumer magazines and newspapers for work experience but they knocked me back time and time again. The reason? Oversubscription.
I pasted every single rejection letter into a scrapbook.
Was I disheartened?
Was that careers adviser right?
The competition was fierce but deep down I knew I wanted to be a reporter. I didn’t give up.
I then contacted my local newspaper. The editor called me in for a ‘work experience’ before eventually offering me a part-time job. My life changed in an instant.
During that gap year, I cut my teeth on local news stories. I then secured a place on an accredited journalism degree course at a different university and the rest, as they say, is history.
Even so, I’ll never forget the fear that consumed me when I made that initial call home. Or how I beat myself up for thinking I was a complete and utter failure. I felt lost. I had no idea how my life would pan out. And I even remember standing in the street looking at an elderly couple thinking: “I wish I was their age and retired.”
Yes… I was THAT concerned.
So how do you stop feeling fearful about the future?
How to stop feeling fearful + win a Rescue Remedy hamper worth £60
The lessons I’ve since learned are:
1. Take one day at a time and avoid thinking too far ahead or worrying about a situation that might not unfold *This is far easier said than done* 2. Talk to someone if you’re feeling uncertain, low or unhappy. It’s cliche but a problem shared is a problem halved. Check out the websites of Mind and Young Minds which are filled with lots of helpful advice. 3. Always listen to your gut instinct and have confidence in it. It is, in my experience, always right. 4. Follow your dreams and never give up. You can DO it. *It took me three attempts to pass my driving test!*
Are you looking for further ways to manage your stress levels? If so, you might like to read the following:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?’
Keep a journal. Writing your thoughts down can be incredibly therapeutic and help you organise them.
Avoid procrastination which can lead to feelings of not being good enough.
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.
Turn your phone off. If I’m on deadline or trying to get a piece finished I put my phone on aeroplane mode.
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.
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!
Stop trying to please everybody and learn how to say no. If not, you’ll end up being run ragged.
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.
Go to bed an hour early and wake up feeling refreshed, productive and ready to tackle the day.
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.
Take up a new hobby that you love. Blogging anyone?
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.
“Reformer pilates? No way, it’s just not my kind of thing.” That was always my standard response whenever my lifelong osteopath Paul Morrissey suggested I give it a try.
The machines looked frightening – almost like an ancient torture device – complicated to operate and, as I’d always favoured fast-paced exercise like spin, running, tennis and boot camps, I automatically assumed I’d be bored.
Then two and a half years ago I became chronically ill – read the Night It All Began here. Alongside high histamine food, ANY sort of exercise that made me hot and sweaty would bring on tongue swelling and throat closing episodes. Overnight my sporty lifestyle, along with a big part of my identity, disappeared.
So when doctors suggested I reintroduce low impact exercise on the provision I have my adrenaline pen and antihistamines to hand, I decided the time was right to learn more about reformer pilates.
For those not in the know, pilates is a system of slow and controlled exercises performed on a mat or spring-assisted reformer. It’s designed to lengthen and strengthen muscles, improve posture, flexibility and agility, prevent injury and address structural imbalances in the body.
Pioneer Joseph Hubertus Pilates was said to have been a sickly child following his birth in 1883 so, in adulthood, he set about researching and developing a mind, body, spirit approach to exercise that would later transform him into a skier, diver, gymnast and boxer.
He also rigged springs to hospital beds to help bedridden patients exercise against resistance, which subsequently inspired the designs for much of the reformer pilates equipment we see today.
I popped along to the Osteopathic Clinic in Croydon for my very first reformer pilates session and busted the following myths:
REFORMER PILATES IS SCARY No, it’s not, even though the equipment might seem so. It helped that Rhea Malkin (pictured), a triathlete, ironman competitor and STOTT Pilates Essential and Intermediate Reformer qualified instructor was on hand to guide me through my one-on-one session. Embarrassingly, I went to lie down at the wrong end of the bed-like contraption but she quickly pointed me in the right direction. I assumed my position on the ‘carriage’, which moves back and forth on wheels, and is attached to the reformer by a set of springs that provide differing levels of resistance. My feet rested on the bar at the bottom and I lay on the comfortable padded platform ready for my first move. Simple. What on earth had I been worrying about?
REFORMER PILATES IS BORING Admittedly, I thought I’d be bored out of my brain by repeating movements in a slow and controlled manner but there’s a heck of a lot to remember, like engaging your core correctly when performing a move, which makes it far from dull and you feel the muscles instantly working. I struggled with finding my neutral spine so Rhea suggested visualising a glass of water, which I did not want to spill, on my tummy. For the glutes, she urged me to think about gripping a credit card between my butt cheeks. We giggled but it worked! My muscles were activated and I’d yet to start work on the reformer pilates equipment!
REFORMER PILATES IS JUST ABOUT BUILDING A STRONG LEAN BODY Nope. Your breathing is important too. The preparatory work before a move involves an inhalation, while any exertion requires an exhalation. The very mindful action of focussing on the breath as well as the move provided a delightful escape from the stresses of daily life and the thoughts that permanently whizz around my overactive mind. Of course, building a graceful, strong body is an obvious advantage too. Rhea, who regularly works out on a reformer pilates machine, is a testament to that!
REFORMER PILATES IS CHEATING Think again. Yes, there’s no mat involved but just because you’re using equipment doesn’t mean that it’s any less of a workout or you’ve failed. In fact, years ago I once tried a floor-based group pilates class. The next day my neck had locked up entirely which put me out of action for weeks. However, I managed a full 50 minutes on the reformer and successfully worked through the full repertoire of exercises which spanned the lower and upper body as well as stabilising core work.
REFORMER PILATES IS COMPLICATED There’s definitely a lot to remember and if I’d been in a group class I think I may have struggled. But if you have an individual instructor talking you through each move it’s a breeze. Plus there’s the added advantage that he/she can correct you if you’re misaligned.
REFORMER PILATES IS NOT AN ALL OVER BODY WORKOUT Yes it is. You might not be drenched in sweat as you would from a HIIT class but the muscles in my back, inner thighs, arms and tummy back were still screaming at me three days later (in a good way).
REFORMER PILATES IS JUST NOT YOU I held this view for YEARS. It wasn’t until my health packed up that I took note. I’m eager to get back to exercise but appreciate that the adrenaline-pumped classes I used to love no longer serve me or my health. This was such a fun alternative. I was so enthused with the class – and the fact I didn’t have a tongue swelling or throat closing reaction during or afterwards– that I’m now contemplating buying a reformer pilates one for the house.
Visit the Osteopathic Clinic for more information about their one-on-one reformer pilates sessions.
Relax Ya Self To Health was invited to try this session by the Osteopathic Clinic in exchange for a review. As always, reviews are based on my honest opinion.
Disclaimer: This is a personal blog based on my own genuine experiences. My posts are for informational purposes only. I am under the care of a number of specialists for my chronic health issues. I am not a doctor, nutritionist, physio or sports therapist. If you have a health condition or injuries, always seek advice from a relevant medical professional before undertaking any activity.
And here’s why. I’ve had a super a hectic but very productive weekend.
Yesterday I attended my first blogging conference hosted by the wonderful Scarlett Dixon who runs ScarlettLondon.com. A big shout out must also go to Ana of The She Approach whose presentations were so insightful and should hopefully help me schedule a little better and reduce my stress levels!
Although I’ve been a freelance journalist for 18 years, I often feel overwhelmed by the blogging world.
A) I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone B) I’m a technophobe and ‘old’ C) I’m learning a heap of new skills D) I’m doing all of this alongside the day job which means I feel as though I never switch off
On top of this, I am forever pushing myself even though I cannot remember the last time I felt even 60 per cent.
Yet, stress reduction is essential for chronic illness recovery and I’m determined to get my histamine intolerance under control and improve my general wellbeing.
With this in mind, I’ll be sharing a picture every Sunday that demonstrates how I’ve managed to relax either during the week or at the weekend.
It’s a small step, I know, but it’ll hold me accountable (I hope) and stop me operating at 150 miles per hour.
I’m kicking this off with a snap taken in the garden this evening after a morning spent indoors working. Can anyone spot the house bunny pretending to be a statue?!
I’d love to hear from anyone else who struggles to relax. Are you trying to reduce stress in your life also? If so, why and is it working? Please do let me know how you’re getting on in the comments below.