5 quick and easy tools for dealing with stress

As a therapist and mindfulness coach I am seeing a massive increase in stress and anxiety. It seems to be endemic in our modern culture and while they are normal human responses to our increasingly hectic lifestyles, many people are struggling to cope. If you are suffering from chronic stress and / or anxiety I would advise a long-term program of lifestyle changes including diet, exercise, mindfulness practice and therapy.

But in times of intense stress and overwhelm it can seem impossible to find enough calm and control to start incorporating such changes. Some days are more difficult than others and sometimes we just need simple, foolproof tools to calm down fast, reboot our nervous system and find some equilibrium within ourselves to carry on.

These are some of my best tips to help combat short-term stress, based on physiological, neurological and psychological approaches. I teach some combination of these and other techniques to all of my clients. They are super easy and can be used any time, anywhere. There is no need to practice all of these, find the ones that work best for you and use them as often as you need.

1. 4-5-6 breathing. Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 5, breathe out for a count of 6. Repeat as many times as you like. Making the exhalation longer than the inhalation calms the nervous system and the mind. You can do this as part of a mindfulness practice, sitting in stillness with your eyes closed or out in the world, during stressful times at work, on the bus, in the supermarket etc. It is also a useful practice to help you get to sleep at night.

2. Acupressure points. Identify the middle of your palm (where your two middle fingers are touching your palm when you close your hand to make a fist). Press into this point with the thumb of your other hand. This acupressure point is connected to the nervous system and pressing it helps activate your calm response. This technique is particularly useful in stressful social situations as it can be done quite discreetly without other people noticing.

3. Brain dump. When too many thoughts are going through your brain at once and you can’t make heads or tails of anything, try writing your thoughts on a piece of paper or in a journal. The act of transferring your thoughts onto paper allows the mind to let go of them a little bit and make some space in your head for peace. Try doing this before going to bed if you struggle to “switch off” and get to sleep.

4. Aromatherapy oil. Soothing oils like lavender in a diffuser, on your wrists or on a tissue to smell can help soothe stress. (*It is important to get your oils from a trained aromatherapist and only use them as instructed. **Always consult a medical professional before using aromatherapy oils if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have any medical conditions)

5. Mantra. If part of your stress response is to get caught in a loop of worrying thoughts try a short, reassuring mantra and repeat it over and over to yourself quietly or out loud. Try something like “All will be well.” “I am safe.” “Everything is going to be OK.” or “I am calm and relaxed.” It can take a little bit of time but eventually this new thought will begin to drown out the negative ones.

 

Please note that these exercises are quick tools to calm down in the moment. They are not a long-term solution for dealing with severe stress or anxiety. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like to book a free consultation session.

 

New Year – New You? Why new years resolutions don’t work – and what to do instead

We all know new year’s resolutions don’t work. Probably from our own, personal experience. Yet every year we seem to get swept up in the January frenzy of gym memberships, new eating habits and grand plans to suddenly change every area of our lives.

There is usually nothing wrong with our intentions or our motivation. We genuinely do want to change and become healthier, happier versions of ourselves. And why shouldn’t we? As humans I believe we all have a tendency for growth and development. So, why is it that about 80% of new years resolutions fail by February?

 

  • Not enough genuine desire. Often the goals we set for ourselves are based on what we think we should want, rather than what we genuinely want. We often feel that our goals need to have obvious benefits, like improved health or financial gain. When we go a little deeper and connect with our true selves, we often find that such goals aren’t really that important to us at all and that there are real dreams within us, which we have been ignoring because they don’t seem to be in line with our current lifestyles.
  • Limiting beliefs. When we uncover some of our true dreams and goals we often realise that the reason we haven’t acknowledged them or acted upon them is because of deep-rooted fears and limiting beliefs. We might think we aren’t good enough, or that we don’t have what it takes to live the kind of life we want. We all have a comfort zone, which we attempt to live within. It protects us from fear and keeps us “comfortably numb”. But this numbness can become painful. It is a sign that we are switched off from ourselves and living a life which is less than we desire. Using tools for self-love and changing our inner dialogue to a more positive one can help us overcome fear and limiting beliefs.
  • Not enough discipline. A lot of transformation comes down to changing the things we do every day and changing our habits ultimately relies on discipline. There is a lot of research out there, suggesting that it takes roughly a month to change a habit but the truth is that habits are not a one time decision. They are a constant choice that we make day after day, so to change them takes a lot of planning, determination and stamina. Understanding this is key to making successful long term changes.
  • Unrealistic expectations. If we expect to change every area of our lives overnight, we are not being realistic. If that could be done we would all have done it a long time ago. While January is a good time to set goals and intentions, there are still 11 other months of the year to work on realising them. Small steps create big change and if we can learn to play the long game with realistic expectations, we will be that much closer to living the lives of our dreams by December 2019.

If you want to learn more about this and make 2019 your best year yet, then join me on my day workshop “Transform your life – transform yourself” on January 5th 12-4pm at Calm on Canning street in Edinburgh (£50)

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Why I love my work

I was recently asked to write a guest blog for a wellbeing colleague, who is a massage therapist. She wanted to feature a series of interviews with people who are passionate about their work. Here’s what I wrote:

  1. What is it that you do?

As a counsellor and mindfulness coach, specialising in health, wellness and personal development I help people to connect more deeply to themselves, so that they can find their own answers and ways forward in life. I work with people 1:1 as well as lead courses and workshops teaching mindfulness and other techniques for wellbeing and self-development to help people realise their potential and live their lives to the fullest.

 

As an independent interfaith celebrant I help people create ceremonies for special occasions like weddings, funerals and baby blessings, that are deeply personal and meaningful, drawing on any religious, spiritual or secular beliefs as required by the individuals. In an increasingly secular world I find that people want options that are flexible and truly reflective of who they are as they celebrate their special moments.

 

  1. How did you get into your chosen career and why?

I have always had a deeply rooted desire to help people grow. Through my studies and experience working with people I have found that people naturally want to grow and develop. They just need the right support and encouragement to do so.

I believe that most people will at some point in life ask themselves the big questions like “Why am I here?” “What’s life all about?” and when they do I would like to be there to help them figure it out for themselves!

 

  1. What do you love most about what you do?

I love seeing people connect more deeply with themselves and accessing their own wisdom within. Nothing gives me more pleasure than when clients are empowered to be more themselves and change their lives for the better!

Seeing couple’s well up on their wedding day and getting to say: “I now pronounce you husband and wife” is a close second.

 

  1. What motivates you to keep going when things are difficult?

I know for sure that everyone has everything they need to realise their potential and live their lives with authenticity and joy. I never lose sight of a client’s wholeness and innate wisdom as we work thought their presenting circumstances together.

 

  1. What do you think people value most about your work?

My calm, caring nature and flexible approach, the fact that I don’t tell people what to do or think, I trust them to work it out for themselves.

 

  1. If you only had 30 seconds to give someone a key tip, what would it be?

Slow down and go within, everything you need is already inside you.

 

  1. If you had to describe yourself / your business in 3 words, what would those words be?

21st century ministry

 

  1. How can people contact you?

marie@trueconnection.co.uk

Mind the gap

When the Buddha set out his noble truths, which form the basis of Buddhism he established that 1. All is suffering and 2. The cause of suffering is desire.

Modern psychology also agrees that it is part of our human nature to always want more. It seems to me that our capitalist and consumerist society is based on these principles and when we buy into them we end up “living in the gap”. The gap between where we are in life and where we would like to be. This is a painful place of dissatisfaction, envy, self-pity and frustration.

There always seems to be something missing, a new car, a bigger house, a better job, more time with friends, more fancy holidays, clothes, experiences, etc. But have you noticed that when you acquire the new things, desire doesn’t stop. At least not for long.

Soon the new clothes are old, the holiday has been and gone and there is another new job or even bigger house on your wish list.

It is not only material things we desire, it is feelings and states of mind as well. If you think about it, what is it you hope that the new job or car is going to bring you? Happiness? Joy? Peace? These states can not be obtained by outside circumstances. This is like the biggest scam in our human lives. We all go around believing that we can make ourselves happier by achieving and / or acquiring things. But this is impossible, for as long as we rely on things outside of ourselves, we live in the gap.

When we want things to be different than they are, we are living in the gap. We are actually disagreeing with reality. What could be more painful or more futile? If you are stuck in an unpleasant situation, does it help to disagree with it? It is basically a childish response, like a toddler throwing a tantrum because they didn’t get their way. It is disempowering, upsetting and completely pointless.

 

Here are some ways to help you get out of the gap and into the Now:

 

  • Practice Mindfulness. Paying attention to the here and now, in a non-judgemental way teaches us acceptance. It helps us get used to being in this life, as it really is, rather than fantasising about how we would like it to be. It helps retrain our minds from labelling everything as “good” or “bad” to simply noticing what is.
  • Practice gratitude. A regular practice of gratitude helps us to focus on the things we do have rather than what we don’t. It trains us to look for the positive. It gets us out of autopilot mode, where we take things for granted so that we can start to appreciate the extraordinary in our lives.
  • Take considered action. If there really are things in your life you would like to change, of course it is a good idea to do so. It is healthy to have goals and dreams and to work towards achieving them. The important thing is making sure these goals are your own (not pressure from outside) and that they are not the be all and end all of your life. If you can enjoy the journey towards the goal as much as attaining the goal itself, you are free to be happy every day along the way.

 

If you would like to explore how you can get out of the gap and live a more fulfilled life, contact me for a free trial appointment:

Why your health should be your number one priority

As a counsellor I often ask people I work with what their main priorities are in life and what they would like to focus on and if they don’t list their health as number one I have to ask them to reconsider.

Your health is the be all and end all. It is the foundation upon which you build your life. Without your health it may be very difficult to do all the things you want to do and to enjoy life to the fullest.

I know that those of us who are lucky enough to enjoy good health and freedom from illness or symptoms often neglect our health. I also know that for those who have been diagnosed with conditions and / or suffer from symptoms, it can be that much harder to take control, find motivation and really commit to a plan for promoting health.

There are many factors that contribute to good health and they all interact with each other in different ways. That is why I help clients create a holistic and realistic plan that suits their needs and lifestyles. Regardless of your current circumstances, there are things that you can do every day to improve your health, build a strong foundation and be the most well you can be.

Some of the main elements for promoting good health are:

  • Diet. Make sure that you are eating a balanced diet that is right for you. This can include specific supplements to help with particular issues. It can involve calorie control if you are trying to lose weight for health reasons. For most of us it should include eating lots of fresh, non-processed food. If you are choosing to avoid any food group for ethical or allergy reasons, you need to make sure that you educate yourself on how to get all the nutrients you need. Another main element of a healthy diet is to develop a healthy relationship with food. Too many people have learned bad habits of calorie control, yo-yo dieting, avoiding “forbidden” foods or overeating. These behaviours are usually driven by emotional issues and can only be resolved through addressing the root cause. If you find yourself unable to stick to your decision to eat healthily eating despite wanting to, consider talking to someone and try to resolve unconscious emotional eating habits.

 

  • Movement. As the word exercise can be off-putting to some, the NHS are increasingly using the word “movement” instead. The idea is obviously to promote healthy movement. What that means is going to be different for everyone, depending on physical ability, personal preference, lifestyle, time commitments etc. The main thing is finding a way of moving that is safe and enjoyable for you. This can take a little trial and error and it can be worth talking to a coach or trainer to help you create a program that is right for you. You should also always consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

 

  • Relaxation. Modern science and medicine are finding new evidence every day that shows the harmful effects of stress on our bodies and minds. There are many ways to relax and do something for you. The trouble is to fit it in to your day and make it a priority. Whether you would like to try mindfulness, fit in time for reading with a cuppa, enjoy a leisurely stroll in nature or take up a new hobby, the main thing is to make it a priority, commit to your decision, make a plan and stick to it.

 

  • Sleep. Too many of us neglect our sleep. There are many things you can put in place to improve the quality of your sleep and many people are surprised to find what unexpected benefits this has to their health. The bottom line is that humans need sleep and while we can get away with neglecting it for short periods, long-term sleep deprivation has serious effects on our physical as well as mental health. Going to bed and waking at similar times every day and creating a relaxing ritual for winding down before bed are some of the things that can help improve your sleep.

 

  • Connection. An often overlooked area for promoting health is the quality of our connection to ourselves as well as others. As humans we are social creatures and research shows that people who have good quality relationships live longer and enjoy better health. There are many reasons why our relationships can be strained and loneliness is a problem affecting 9 million adults in the UK, according to the campaign to end loneliness. Talking to someone about your feelings and finding ways to be more authentic with yourselves and others can help improve your relationships and reduce loneliness.

 

If you would like to make your health your number one priority and make a holistic, realistic plan that suits your needs and lifestyle, contact me for a free consultation.