You are not your condition.

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Something that strikes me about most people who have a chronic health condition is that their condition begins to define them – it becomes their identity.  I often hear people say, ‘I’m an anxious person’, ‘My illness controls me’, ‘I’m depressed’ or ‘I’m a depressive person’ and ‘I have accepted that my illness is who I am’.  These to me, are very negative sounding identity statements because even though you may have a condition or illness, it is NOT who you are.  How does it feel differently if you were to say, ‘I have anxious episodes’, or ‘I am currently struggling with an illness’, or ‘I have depression’ or ‘My illness is just ONE aspect of me’?  Health conditions and illness are challenges that we all must manage from time to time – most are transient but for some of us they become chronic. Why that is raises many other questions and is a topic for a separate blog.

There are many aspects that make us who we are including our values and beliefs, our education, the environment we grew up in, our family and social connections, our genetics and our mindset – all of these things influence who we are, how we perceive ourselves and the world around us.  Most importantly, we can decide WHO we WANT to be.  We all have unique personalities and having a health condition does not define our entire being.  It can feel as though it is all we are and that we are defined by our illness, but we’re not…unless we choose to be. There is so much more involved and we have so much more to offer.  You may also be a mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son, friend, companion, professional, business owner and so much more.    You may wear many different hats depending on the context you find yourself in and they are all still you.

Let me ask you something - Who were you before you became ill?  Many people will describe themselves as confident, the life and soul, happy, assured, focused, driven and determined.  These qualities don’t just disappear, although it can feel like that, they just get pushed aside as the illness becomes more of the focus.  It is possible to find them again and still be you!  Believe me, I know how hard this can feel and the thought of becoming well again can feel like climbing an insurmountable mountain…but it can be done.  I remember the sheer joy of becoming well and looking in the mirror and seeing myself again for the first time in a long time.  I can’t express the feeling of recognising myself and be able to say, ‘there she is – I missed you’. 

Would you like to be you again? To feel free from your illness, to be back in control and living life on your terms?  It begins with language – the words we use to describe ourselves and the thoughts we have.  Identity (I AM) statements are a powerful tool that can change our view of ourselves both negatively and positively.  Notice what you say to yourself and if you spot a negative identity statement, change it!  The brain believes what we tell it so tell yourself you are confident, worthy, capable and so on.  Only positive identity statements allowed.  Now I’m not saying it’s an easy process or journey but I do know that you can find yourself again too if you want to.   So how about it? 😊

If this resonates with you and you would like to explore more, please feel free to get in touch and let’s have a chat.

www.lisajonescoaching.co.uk

 

How living with chronic illness inspired me to do what I do

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Chronic illness dictated my life and destroyed my dreams for many years…but it also made me who I am today and is the reason I do what I do.

Who am I? I’m a human being, a woman who has suffered in many ways, who has fought the battle with chronic illness and come out the other side stronger, happier and illness free! I am a Psychotherapist & Health Coach and work with people who are also suffering to help them also free themselves from the chains of chronic ill health. Why do I do this? Because I know it is absolutely possible!

From the age of 15 I started to suffer with ill health. By the age of 22, I had been diagnosed with 5 chronic health conditions including Fibromyalgia and Endometriosis and this ruled my life. I had always wanted to be on stage as my love for Performing Arts was my dream! Age 17 whilst at a Performing Arts College, I was told I couldn’t continue any physical activity except swimming as my knees were in a bad way and would eventually require surgery to correct both. I was crushed and believed my performing arts career was over before it had properly begun.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do instead so after college, I went travelling and spent a few years working in different industries trying to figure this out. Age 19, I had my first operation to remove a benign ovarian tumour. I was living in Guernsey at the time and was heavily involved with the local Drama Groups which kept my love of performing alive.

Having accepted a West End career was no longer an option, and learning that sitting in an office 9to5 was also not for me – a friend and I sat in her kitchen and looked at every possible degree option. Having grown up in a family of Social Workers, Psychologists, Psychiatrists and Surgeons, I had always been fascinated by people’s behaviour and knew I wanted to do something that helped people. I found a Counselling and Psychotherapy degree and decided this was what I wanted to do. I loved being in that environment and learning but it also brought its own challenges. I had to maintain a degree whilst battling various chronic health conditions all the while going on an intense journey of self-awareness and development.

After qualifying, I worked as a therapist for quite some time and really enjoyed it. I had by this stage also discovered Salsa dancing! After seeing a specialist, we agreed that it was ok for me to dance salsa as it was low impact on my knees which was the most amazing news having not danced for 5 years. I eventually started to teach salsa and this became the main focus in my life together with the therapy work. As time went on, I felt I wanted to try and re-pursue a career in Performance (acting) so I went back to Drama School. My health was hugely impacted by all of this but I thought I knew best so pushed through. I didn’t want to accept that I ‘couldn’t’ live the life I wanted. As a woman in my 20’s with ‘so much going for her’, I was angry and in denial about my health. By this point, I had also been diagnosed with Hemiplegic Migraine, M.E., had endured 5 operations and also Pneumonia..twice.

I used to believe I could do it all by myself, and tried to, so I turned down help when I needed it. I didn’t always trust my intuition. I was stuck in a place of isolation, frustration and feeling like there was no way out – after all, the doctors kept telling me there was no cure and I just had to live with it. I tried to maintain a brave face and a positive attitude but inside, I was feeling desperate, scared and defeated – no one seemed to understand.

Whilst I was at Drama School, I accepted I needed help and finally listened to friends and family who offered support. By this time, I had also given up teaching and dancing as I was no longer physically really able to. My dear friend Jo recommended I see a practitioner specifically related to chronic health and my brother was kind enough to pay for the sessions/training as I was not in a financial position to do so at the time due to not being able to work much.

Throughout the process of this training and working with the coach, I came to understand the mind-body connection, had some really honest conversations with myself and stepped out of the victim mentality I was so entrenched in. I realised I already had all the answers and resources I needed, I just didn’t know how to access or utilise them. This was an absolute revelation to me!

Within days, both friends and family couldn’t get over the difference in me and how wonderful it was to have ‘me’ back. I can’t explain how it felt to look in the mirror and finally see who I was again – I really missed her. With my new-found lease of life, I hot footed it to London to chase my Acting dreams! I had a wonderful few years there but also knew deep down I wanted to be helping people again. I took the decision to go and learn as much as I could to be able to provide the best service possible in a way that involved my own experience. I studied NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) to Master Practitioner Level, NLP Coaching, Life Coaching, Youth Coaching, Hypnotherapy and the Neuroscience of Brain Health and Wellness.

I learned a huge amount on this journey and continue to discover new things but most importantly, and however cliché it sounds, I learned how to love myself and to look after myself not just physically but also emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

With the knowledge that it is possible to overcome chronic health conditions, together with all the new learnings and the desire to help others overcome their health issues to, I set up my private practice believing that anyone can help themselves and affect positive change in their lives if they want to, when they understand how to. I absolutely believe we are what we think (believe) and that with the right information, intervention and integration, we can all live the happy, healthy and harmonious lives we want to. Of course it isn't just about brain health and mindset - we must also learn to look after our bodies and brains by feeding them good nutrition and keeping them physically active.

If any of this resonates with you or if you would like to know more about how I recovered, I would love to hear from you so please feel free to get in touch! Drop me an email at hello@lisajonescoaching.co.uk or take a look at my website www.lisajonescoaching.co.uk Six years on, I am still fighting fit and will continue to help as many people as I can also find freedom.

The need for connection

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Purpose…how many times have you contemplated your life’s purpose? 

This is something that is becoming more commonly talked about and a question we are more openly contemplating.  What is purpose and why is it so important – emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually?  Neuropsychologist Dr. Patricia Boyle describes purpose as this;

“Purpose is the psychological tendency to derive meaning from life’s experiences and to possess a sense of intentionality and goal directedness that guides behaviour”.

For many people, their sense of purpose is driven by connection – connecting with others on a deep level, giving back and serving others in some way. As humans, we are social, emotional beings driven by a fundamental need to connect.  For those of us who have experienced the feeling of loneliness, isolation and depression, we know only too well how debilitating it can be.  Loneliness is associated with more than double the risk of developing dementia. When we feel rejected socially, it hurts – literally!  Feeling excluded or as though we are not liked or part of a social network are generally considered to be some of the most ‘painful’ experiences that we endure. This is because the brain circuitry underlying physical and social pain are shared and this is also why loss is so painful.

We are living in an increasingly disconnected world and we can feel it.  Now you might think, hang on a minute Lisa, we are more connected than ever!  You’d be right – technologically we’ve never been more connected.  Emotionally, I would say we are the most disconnected we have been.  On a human to human, heart to heart level, we seem to be losing the ability to connect.  We communicate via written text, interact via screens and barely even acknowledge people walking down the street.  We don’t know our neighbours like we used to, our sense of community is not as it was and even seeing friends and family needs to be ‘scheduled’ to fit in to our busy lives. 

Why is social connection so important?  Because it’s the perception that we are cared for, that we are part of a supportive social network and have others that can help us when needed. 

From a neurological point of view, it is also really important for our brain health.  Neuroscience research shows that being socially connected protects the brain against the risk of developing dementia and improves mental health and wellbeing.  The reason for this is because social interaction involves many cognitive functions such as thinking, feeling, reasoning and intuition that build brain resilience and promote the formation of new connections between brain cells.

Other benefits of finding meaning and connection in life are lower risk of cognitive decline, mental health issues and dementia.  Purpose in life is linked to positive health outcomes including happiness, satisfaction, self-acceptance, better sleep, and longevity.

We all need meaning in our lives to have a sense of wellbeing - accomplishment or achievement is also important and contributes to our sense of purpose. 

What matters to you the most? How do you connect with people? Maybe you enjoy catching up with loved ones over coffee and cake, going dancing or being out in nature.  The great thing about connecting is that we can do this in many ways on many levels, sometimes just a smile makes a world of difference 😊

Food glorious food!

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The nights have drawn in, the chill is in the air and everywhere I look I see something festive.  Winter is upon us and I don’t know about you, but I find myself wanting to cook warming stews and soups.  To be honest, I’d quite like to be a bear who eats all the food and goes into a deep sleep for winter 😊  

Now most of us notice a change in the types of food we want to eat during winter and if we’re honest, I’m sure a lot of you, like me, look forward to this time of year because of all the yummy food and treats that go with it.  However, as much as I would love to just eat all the cakes, biscuits and mince pies, I also need to be aware of the nutrition.  I’m someone who very much believes that life is too short to get hung up on ‘diet’ and so will eat the cake and the biscuits…BUT…I am also someone who knows how important good nutrition is and the impact this has on our health and well-being.  Making changes to what I put into my body played a significant role in feeling well, healthy and energised!  Cutting out refined sugar and carbs made a WORLD of difference and honestly, I felt like a different person.  Pizza is still my favourite food though 😉

Obviously, we are all different and what one person likes or rates, another doesn’t and that’s ok.  What is important is discovering what works for you and how to fuel your body in the best possible way with good nutrition so we nourish our brain and bodies. As you all with have no doubt noticed by now, my blogs always refer to the brain and neuroscience – this is because I believe that brain health is so important as it effects every other part of us.  So where does nutrition fit in?

Many of us are becoming increasingly aware of health risks associated to what we eat but there are also a lot of hyped up stats out there so, below are a few facts for you taken from a Health Neuroscientist.

THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON …

Sugar: Eating too much sugar is linked to weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Diabetes is a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia.

Grains & gluten: Evidence for gluten causing dementia in people without gluten sensitivity or celiac disease is weak and over-hyped. Reduce refined grains, but include whole grains in your diet. 

Coffee: Coffee is high in antioxidants, and 2-3 cups a day is associated with a decreased risk of developing dementia. 

Research shows that what we eat impacts mental health and well-being, especially in young people. ‘Bad-mood foods’ include highly-processed snack and takeaway food products, rich in tasty fat and sugar.   

Neuroscience evidence shows that healthy, nutrient-dense foods, such as the Mediterranean diet or whole food diets slow brain ageing, protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and help prevent depression and anxiety.  What does a Mediterranean diet consist of?

  • Lots of plants (vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and wholegrains)
  • Lots of healthy fats from fish, nuts and olive oil
  • Low in red meat and dairy 

Like I said before, life is too short to get too hung up on ‘diet’ but it’s also too short to not be aware or informed.  I’m a firm believer of ‘everything in moderation’ is ok so eat the cake and biscuits, be happy and enjoy it. 

If you enjoyed this, you may also like my FB Coaching page where we look at different topics relating to health and well-being every week.  If you or someone you know would like to improve your health and well-being, contact me for a FREE, no obligation consultation.

Zzzzzz...

        

 

 

 

Ahhhhhh…sleep…my favourite pastime 😊 Now I could say how ‘lucky’ I am that I sleep very well but I remember when I didn’t.  A time when I would cycle through phases of only having 2-3 hours sleep a night then sleeping for up to 16 hours a day.  A time when I never felt refreshed or energised and felt ‘ill’ all the time.  A healthy sleep pattern is something I had to learn how to do.

How well do you sleep?  In recent weeks, sleep is a topic that has come up again and again when talking to friends, family and colleagues.  It seems that most people I know don’t sleep very well at all and this concerns me as I know all too well the health consequences of not getting enough sleep.

Sleep is also one of my fave topics so I will do my best not to go off on a tangent here 😊 In order for us to address unhealthy sleeping patters, we first need to understand what it is…and WHY we need it.

Sleep can be broken down into two different categories – both equally as important as the other.

  • REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep -  it is during these times that the brain is strengthening neural connections, learning, processing and storing memories.
  • NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep - most commonly known as deep sleep.  In this phase of sleep our brain waves become slower and our bodies repair strengthening our immune system.

As you sleep, you cycle between the two.  REM is the stage of wakefulness after a deep sleep.  One third of our lives is spent asleep! So, what are the reasons we need so much of it? 

  • ‘Energy Conservation’ – sleep reduces our energy expenditure.
  • ‘Restorative’ sleep allows the body to repair and rejuvenate.
  •  ‘Brain Plasticity’ – sleep is needed for learning and development.

AND - I’ll try not to geek out now but I bloody love this stuff- the latest Neuroscience research has discovered another FASCINATING reason for sleep…The Glymphatic System!  This is the brains own lymphatic system and is most active when we sleep.  During sleep, all the unnecessary debris that has been collected throughout the day gets swept up by our cerebral spinal fluid and flushed out, how awesome is that?  Scientists now understand how crucial this is for us to maintain healthy brains subsequently meaning we are healthier overall.

Sleep should be a priority – not a luxury.  Yet we seem to be living in a world where people sleep less and less and wonder why they are experiencing other health issues.  Now for the not so great stuff I’m afraid but I feel it’s so important to address the consequences of lack of sleep first – then we can look at how we can improve it 😊

Lack of sleep or sleep disturbance has significant and serious effects on our brain health effecting ALL aspects of our health and well-being – physically, mentally and emotionally.

  • Physical – reduces your immunity, increases your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic issues (and you’ll be less likely to exercise.
  • Emotional – impacts your emotional control and response to stress.
  • Cognitive – impacts attention, memory, decision making and risk assessment.

Interestingly, for me particularly, is all the symptoms experienced from sleep disturbance are the same symptoms described by sufferers of many chronic health conditions – and they all share the same symptom of sleep disturbance.  We also know that lack of sleep, stress and depressed mood amplifies pain which in turn causes lack of sleep, stress and depressed mood. This can become a vicious cycle and this is why sleep is typically the first thing I address with my clients.

So why do so many of us take sleep for granted and not make it a priority?  The other challenge of course, is that we all have our own beliefs and perceptions around sleep i.e. ‘If I don’t have 8 hours sleep a night, I can’t function the next day’.  Our language plays a crucial role here because if we have a ‘bad’ night sleep and then continually tell ourselves how awful we feel guess what?  We will continue to feel awful.  Your brain believes what you tell it! So, if you believe you can’t have ‘normal’ sleep, you won’t.

What can we do to improve our sleep?  There are many things we can do, from going to bed earlier, sticking to a sleep routine, practising mindfulness or gratitude before bed, brain rehearsal (visualisation) and the list goes on.  Below are the most scientifically proven ways of improving sleep:

  • Try napping in the day.  Research shows a 25-minute nap (no more) improves memory and learning, sparks creativity and regulates emotions.
  • Try to get as much natural light during the day, and as little artificial light at night. 
  • Restrict use of light-emitting digital devices at bedtime (put your phone down!).
  • Keep your room cool.
  • Exercise daily (even just a brisk 15-minute walk will make a difference).
  • Address any negative thought patterns or beliefs you have about sleep. These can that can push temporary insomnia into long-term insomnia.

If you don’t sleep particularly well, try implementing some of these things and see if it makes a difference for you and most importantly, if you don’t already, please start making sleep a priority 😊

 

 

 

Mind-Body Connection

 Now this is a concept that seems so obvious to me, but for many, they still treat their brains and bodies as two separate entities.  When I was unwell, I would often feel frustrated with the medical profession for treating me as individual parts rather than a whole.  After overcoming my health challenges, I now absolutely know that our minds, brains and bodies are connected.  Our brains are the driving centre connected to our bodies through our autonomic nervous system.  Thousands of messages and signals are sent between our brains and bodies daily and we have the incredible power of our minds to change how we feel, behave and respond to stress and illness.  I strongly believe in a holistic approach to health looking after our brain health first and foremost so we can improve our emotional, physically and mental health.  This is not just about healthy eating, exercise and nutrition, it’s also about well-being, stress management and having a healthy mind as well.  Science understands that our health is heavily affected by our emotions and thoughts and vice versa. Just as we know that stress has a physical effect on our bodies and can live in our nervous system, we also know that our minds can make us well.  Think about the placebo effect for example. This powerful phenomenon happens when patients think and truly believe that the tablet is a cure (although it’s not) and this results in them feeling better, such is the power of our thoughts and beliefs.  Leading Doctors, Psychologists and Neuroscientists are speaking more about the mind body connection and the amazing things that can be achieved.  Neuroscientist Dr Sarah Mackay says  “Therapies directed toward addressing functional links between mind/brain and body can be effective in treating the range of symptoms associated with many chronic diseases.  In the context of health neuroscience, the brain is both the mediator and the target of mind/body medicine.”  “The latest research supports the notion that we have a natural ability to change the brain and body by thought alone…Because you can make thought more real than anything else.”  Joe Dispenza, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One  “Your thoughts are incredibly powerful. Choose yours wisely.”  Joe Dispenza, You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter  So, what is my point?  Understanding the mind body connection is one thing but what do we do about creating healthier thoughts, beliefs and behaviours.  Just think new thoughts?  That sounds simple, right?  On the one hand, it really is that simple, but on the other, it requires effort and consistency to change our thoughts and beliefs.  As much as our minds effect our physical health, our physical health also effects our minds.  The good news is that there are many practices we can do that re-train both our minds and our bodies!    This can be done by meditation, deep breathing, mindfulness, spontaneous movement and dance, yoga, listening to soothing music, spending time in nature, running, or hiking all of which allow our minds and bodies to connect and releases feel good endorphins.  Or simply receiving a hug from a loved one, which releases oxytocin, a natural hormone produced by the pituitary gland that promotes bonding and connection.  All of these practices change our physiology and affect our mood promoting healthier relationships between our brains and bodies.  Ultimately, we need to look after our brains first.  What do you do to look after yours?  The answer might be nothing right now, and that’s ok.  I encourage you all to start taking time out to look after yourself whether physically, mentally or emotionally so you can keep moving towards optimum health and well-being.

Now this is a concept that seems so obvious to me, but for many, they still treat their brains and bodies as two separate entities.  When I was unwell, I would often feel frustrated with the medical profession for treating me as individual parts rather than a whole.  After overcoming my health challenges, I now absolutely know that our minds, brains and bodies are connected.  Our brains are the driving centre connected to our bodies through our autonomic nervous system.  Thousands of messages and signals are sent between our brains and bodies daily and we have the incredible power of our minds to change how we feel, behave and respond to stress and illness.

I strongly believe in a holistic approach to health looking after our brain health first and foremost so we can improve our emotional, physically and mental health.  This is not just about healthy eating, exercise and nutrition, it’s also about well-being, stress management and having a healthy mind as well.

Science understands that our health is heavily affected by our emotions and thoughts and vice versa. Just as we know that stress has a physical effect on our bodies and can live in our nervous system, we also know that our minds can make us well.  Think about the placebo effect for example. This powerful phenomenon happens when patients think and truly believe that the tablet is a cure (although it’s not) and this results in them feeling better, such is the power of our thoughts and beliefs.

Leading Doctors, Psychologists and Neuroscientists are speaking more about the mind body connection and the amazing things that can be achieved.  Neuroscientist Dr Sarah Mackay says

“Therapies directed toward addressing functional links between mind/brain and body can be effective in treating the range of symptoms associated with many chronic diseases.  In the context of health neuroscience, the brain is both the mediator and the target of mind/body medicine.”

“The latest research supports the notion that we have a natural ability to change the brain and body by thought alone…Because you can make thought more real than anything else.”  Joe Dispenza, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One

“Your thoughts are incredibly powerful. Choose yours wisely.”  Joe Dispenza, You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter

So, what is my point?  Understanding the mind body connection is one thing but what do we do about creating healthier thoughts, beliefs and behaviours.  Just think new thoughts?  That sounds simple, right?  On the one hand, it really is that simple, but on the other, it requires effort and consistency to change our thoughts and beliefs.  As much as our minds effect our physical health, our physical health also effects our minds.  The good news is that there are many practices we can do that re-train both our minds and our bodies!  

This can be done by meditation, deep breathing, mindfulness, spontaneous movement and dance, yoga, listening to soothing music, spending time in nature, running, or hiking all of which allow our minds and bodies to connect and releases feel good endorphins.  Or simply receiving a hug from a loved one, which releases oxytocin, a natural hormone produced by the pituitary gland that promotes bonding and connection.  All of these practices change our physiology and affect our mood promoting healthier relationships between our brains and bodies.

Ultimately, we need to look after our brains first.  What do you do to look after yours?  The answer might be nothing right now, and that’s ok.  I encourage you all to start taking time out to look after yourself whether physically, mentally or emotionally so you can keep moving towards optimum health and well-being.

Mind your own business!

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What was your first thought when you read that?  It’s an interesting one as it has different connotations depending on which word is emphasised.

MIND your own business!

Mind your OWN business!

How do they feel different?

I was lying in bed last night thinking about writing this blog and a few phrases came to mind…

Mind your step, mind how you go, mind your own business and I don’t mind to name a few.  The thing that stood out for me was not only do all of these sayings have the word MIND in, they all relate to being mindful and mindfulness is exactly what this blog is about.

Now Mindfulness is a buzz word at the moment and something that is being actively encouraged to promote well-being which I personally think is wonderful, but what exactly is it?

Basically, Mindfulness is an intervention used at the level of thoughts which then influences our physical and emotional state.  Put simply, ‘being mindful’ is being present in the moment.

Now as I’m sure we all know, this is easier said than done and is something that takes practice but the benefits are well worth it – more on this later.  First, take your mind back to the sayings I mentioned earlier all beginning with the word ‘Mind’.  In essence, they are all saying the same thing – be mindful.  Be mindful of where you step and be mindful of how you go.  When saying this to others, we are essentially telling someone to take care.  If we look at ‘mind your own business’ however, that has more of a negative connotation as generally if someone is saying that, it’s because they feel someone has imposed a view or opinion on them that they either don’t like or didn’t ask for.  So, mind your own business not only means ‘butt out’ but also be mindful of your own business so be mindful of your own thoughts, feelings and behaviours before you judge mine.  And what about I don’t mind.  This is a phrase that people say all the time.  Truthfully though, do you really not mind?  When you take a moment to think about it, what are you actually feeling about it?

Being mindful is something, I feel, we should all do as it impacts on all areas of our lives from our cognition and emotions to our behaviour and perception of the world around us.  It can be used not only as a tool to calm and keep us present in the moment, it can also be used to manage feelings of anxiety, anger and aggression.

Neuroscience research now tells us that being mindful also has a physical impact on the brain including; increased grey matter density in the Prefrontal Cortex responsible for executive functions such as planning, problem solving and emotional regulation, increased thickness in the Hippocampus responsible for learning and memory and lastly decreased amygdala size which is the seat of our ‘Fight or Flight’ response.  It is important to note that these results are found in people who practice Mindfulness regularly but there is no arguing that it has amazing benefits on all aspects of our health and well-being.

And guess what?  When we’re being mindful, our inner voice also shuts the hell up allowing us to actually just be as we cannot focus on more than one thing at one time.   The more you practice mindfulness, the more you will notice that you can do ANYTHING mindfully from eating and walking to socialising and self-talk.  Now it’s well and good me saying to start practising but HOW do you actually do it?

The easiest way to practice Mindfulness is by using our breath.  Try being mindful when you wake up.  Give yourself permission to take five minutes to just breathe.   

Focus on your breath, notice your stomach rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.  Hear the sound of your breath in your body, be fully present in that moment.  Then notice how much calmer and more relaxed you feel as you begin your day.

Be mindful of your language, be mindful of your thoughts, be mindful of your behaviours and start to enjoy the feeling of just being.

THINK well, FEEL well, BE well.

Count your blessings every day...

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Count your blessings every day…

This is something I grew up hearing every day and something that (ironically) I am very grateful for.  From a young age, it was instilled in me to always count my blessings; no matter how bad my day had been, no matter how down I might be feeling and no matter what the external circumstances may have been.  I was taught that there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for.

Equally, it is just as important for us to acknowledge when we don’t feel ok and to be accepting of ALL of our emotions.  I’m not saying we should be grateful all the time and walk around with a false sense of positivity because let’s be honest, it’s not possible (or healthy) to pretend that everything is absolutely ok all the time when it’s not. 

However, there are huge benefits to practising gratitude emotionally, mentally and physically.  The first thing to note is that if we are experiencing gratitude, we cannot feel sad or angry for example.  The act of being grateful alters our state.  By cultivating gratitude regularly, it in turn improves many aspects of lives including:

  • Well-being
  • Optimism
  • Self-esteem
  • Self-control
  • Relationships
  • Physical and mental healt
  • Happiness

For hundreds of years, various cultures have taught the positive effects of gratitude and now science also backs this up.  In a study by McCraty and colleagues (1998), 45 adults were taught to “cultivate appreciation and other positive emotions”[1]. The results of this study showed that there was a mean 23% reduction in the stress hormone cortisol after the intervention period.

So how do you practice gratitude?  The best thing about this is that there are so many ways.  In social situations, you might say a well thought out ‘thank you’ rather than a clipped ‘thanks’.  For example, accepting a compliment in a genuinely grateful way.  There might be a person in your life who feel a great sense of gratitude towards so maybe write them a letter expressing that to them.  If you are late for a meeting, instead of saying ‘sorry I’m late’, say ‘thank you for waiting for me’.

To practice gratitude for yourself you could write a gratitude journal or take some time in the evening before you sleep to reflect on your day.  You can also practice gratitude in the morning before you get up.  Being grateful in the morning sets us up to start looking for the positive in our days, rather than the negative.  It calms us and also excites the reward centre in the brain making us feel good. 

There is a saying that goes ‘the best things in life are free’ and the best thing about gratitude and the amazing benefits it has is that it costs absolutely nothing to practice.  For me, I like to think of practising gratitude as getting my daily dose of Vitamin G which is essential for my overall health and well-being.  Next time you have a free moment, try it. You might just be surprised by the benefits it brings you.

[1] McCraty, R., Barrios-Choplin, B., Rozman, D. , Atkinson, M. & Watkins, A. (1998). The impact of a new emotional self-management program on stress, emotions, heart rate variability, DHEA and cortisol. Integrative Physiological & Behavioural Science, 32, 151-70

Can our inner voice effect our health and well-being?

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Can our inner voice really have an impact on our health and well-being?  In short, yes. It can. 

Let’s look at how…

Our inner voice or self talk is what we use to understand our thoughts and we use language to make sense of them.  Language dictates how we feel and amazingly, most of us rarely stop to notice what we are ACTUALLY telling ourselves.  All too often, our inner voice becomes the critical running commentary for our lives.  But how does language and our self-talk have such a huge impact?  Basically, the things we tell ourselves become our thoughts, our thoughts then create feelings which then create behaviours.  So, for me, the most important thing to address first is language.  It is important to note here that the brain believes what you tell it…so be mindful of your language, stop and notice what you are actually saying to yourself.  For example, if you constantly tell yourself you are tired and in pain, then guess what, you will undoubtedly feel tired and in pain.  You’re effectively instructing your body to respond that way.

Now I’m not saying that all symptoms of ill health can simply be changed just by changing our thoughts and I’m also not saying that the physical symptoms aren’t real, because they are.  What I am saying is that our thoughts and mindset play a huge role in how we manage these and we feel – physically, mentally and emotionally.

One of the most common traits I notice in people and particularly those with chronic health conditions, is the use of negative identity statements such as ‘I AM ill’, ‘I AM exhausted’ and ‘I AM in pain’.  I remember when I was ill and someone challenged me to notice every negative thought I had confirming my state of ill health – honestly, I stopped counting after about 100.  I was staggered at just how often I was telling myself such detrimental things.  This reminded me of a conversation I had with my mum when I was doing my G.C.S. E’s that has stayed with me since.  I said to her, ‘Mum, I AM going to fail’ and her response was, ‘Yes darling, with an attitude like that you will’.  It really hit me because I realised she was right. By telling myself I was going to fail and believing it, I was already setting myself up to do just that.  Then, if and when I did fail, that would fit nicely into my belief system of not being good enough and prove to myself that I was right.  Now that’s a whole other blog.  So, for now, the most important thing to note is the language I was using.

Identity statements are a fantastic tool when used in the right way.  You want to actively feed your brain positivity.  Tell yourself positive statements such as ‘I AM confident’, ‘I AM enough’, and ‘I AM well’.

Most people suffering with chronic pain and fatigue are running an internal dialogue telling themselves they are constantly in pain and will also ‘body scan’ to look for the pain.  This means that when they are not in pain, they look for it and will inevitably ‘find’ it as they have told themselves it will be there somewhere so, again, they are instructing themselves to be in pain.   Now they might try and tell themselves something seemingly positive such as ‘I am NOT in pain’.  This, however, doesn’t work because the brain will focus on the word PAIN.  This is in part down to our RAS (Reticular Activating System) in our brain which works by priming us to pick up on suggestions of what we are most focused on. An easy way to think about this is ‘Energy goes where focus flows’.  

The good news though is that once we have noticed our negative self-talk, we can change and control it.  When you notice yourself using negative identity statements, tell yourself to STOP! Break that thought pattern and ask yourself how you would like to feel differently. The brain must answer to a command so if you assertively say stop, it will listen.  You then have a window of opportunity to tell yourself something different, an opportunity to be kind to yourself and love yourself.  The more you do this, the more you believe it and the more you believe it, the better you will feel.  The better you feel, the more you will do it.  So, start breaking those negative thought patterns now.

Is it possible to be positive ALL the time?

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This is a question I have been asked many times and a conversation piece that fascinates me. Pondering this, I’d like to share with you what I think and how I feel about it.

So this past week, I have been discussing the theme of having a positive mindset and how we can train the mind to start seeing things more positively even in negative circumstances.

Is this the same as being positive or happy all the time? Personally, I would say no. I would also say that trying to sell the idea of being positive or happy all the time is somewhat misguided.

How many of you know someone who is ‘always positive’ in that annoying ‘the sun is shining and magic rainbow fairy dust is coming out my ass’ kinda way? We all know someone like that right? Do you think they genuinely feel like that all the time? Of course they don’t! It’s an exaggeration much like the ‘life is just frickin awesome and perfect’ social media profiles.

Let me be honest – life sucks sometimes. We will experience pain, loss, grief, anger, fear and frustration along with a multitude of other emotions because this is what makes us so wonderfully human, and that’s ok! It’s ok to not always be ok, it’s ok to be vulnerable. It’s in these times where we are able to learn so much more about ourselves and to begin to love ourselves fully. If we are to be kind to ourselves, that means being kind at all times, through the good, the bad and the ugly. So no, I don’t believe it is possible to be positive or happy ALL the time.

However, is it possible to have a positive mindset? Yes, absolutely. But what’s the difference?

Let me explain – training our minds to see the positive in every situation is having a positive mindset. Being grateful for even the smallest thing is having a positive mindset. Taking learnings and understandings from negative situations is having a positive mindset. Accepting that life isn’t always easy and doesn’t always go our way is having a positive mindset. Being kind and compassionate to ourselves and others, even in times of darkness, is having a positive mindset. And so on…

I’m not saying it’s easy to maintain a positive mindset all the time because it isn’t. It’s about a choice and it requires effort but it’s absolutely possible.

What is Health and Well-being?

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As a Health and Well-being Coach, I often get asked this question. I’m sure we would all answer this question slightly differently, as we are all different after all…or are we?

When it comes to Health and Well-being, I believe we are all remarkably similar. To not just live day by day, but to be at our best, we need to look after all aspects of ourselves – physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually.

Yes we all have our own ways of dealing with things, our own coping strategies, our own beliefs and values but the one thing we do share, on a basic human level, is that these aspects of our lives need to be maintained in order to live a healthy life.

How many of you watch what you eat but don’t exercise regularly? Or exercise regularly but don’t take time out to re-charge mentally? Or maybe you do things like meditation to help maintain mental clarity but still hold on to emotional baggage? All of these factors have an impact on our life and there needs to be balance. Trying to find balance living in today’s ever busy world? Sometimes it just doesn’t seem like it’s possible right?

I’m here to tell you it is. I can’t say it’s easy, because it isn’t, but I absolutely do know that it’s worth it. It took me 12 long years of battling chronic ill health to really understand the meaning and importance of Health and Well-being, and I would love to help you understand what it means for you too – in the way that works best for you, to enable you to live a life that you want.