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The Power of Story

The Power of Story

Story has been a theme throughout my life. 

As a child I loved to read. Once I could read to myself, I used to hide under the covers reading “The Folk of the Faraway Tree” when I should be asleep. I have memories of reading Famous Five books in our caravan on wet days and getting all the Dr Dolittle books and the Chronicles of Narnia out of the local library. These were special books because they were big and hard backed, they felt grown up. There are so many books that have shaped my life, I’m not sure I could even begin to list them all. 

Not many people know that I wanted to be a librarian as a child as much as I wanted to be a teacher. I made little library cards and pockets for all my comics (Bunty and Beano) and would lend them to other children round the street. 

I spent 40 hours working in our local library when I did my Service Flash badge at Guides and I loved every minute; finding people’s cards when they returned books, putting the books back on the shelves, carefully using the Dewey decimal system, replacing damaged plastic covers… I loved everything about it. When it was time to make decisions about career paths in Y10 we did a strange exercise which involved colouring in tiny lozenge shapes with an HB pencil. We had to answer a wide range of questions about what we enjoyed and it would give us our perfect career choice. Mine came back with Librarian and Museum Curator. By then though I had discovered drama and neither seemed quite as exciting as working in a theatre. Once I had decided that the theatre wasn’t for me, teaching seemed like the obvious choice. I love children, I could stand confidently and present and most of my family were in education. 

Longing for stories

As the years have gone on though, I have realised how much I need writing and stories in my life. I still love reading, and recently started reading fiction again, after years of psychology textbooks and self help titles. I have also realised how important it is to me to write. Whether it is a social media post, blog, newsletter or the book I am currently writing, sharing stories is a huge part of who I am. I studied Theology for my degree and as part of the course we did Theology through film and literature. We learned about the importance of symbolism in stories and of course Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. I was fascinated by how this story arch fit every popular story I knew. If you haven’t looked into the concept of the hero’s journey please do, it is fascinating, especially if you enjoy reading or films.

Sharing stories is a practice as old as language. As soon as we could communicate we began telling stories to explain things we didn’t understand and creating myths around creation, the weather and the seasons. We tell stories to make sense of the world, how we are feeling and reassure ourselves that everything will be ok. 

This is the power of story. 

Last week I shared that I was having a diffidult day on social media. It was far from the most difficult day I have ever had, but I had had a few disappointments and I needed a good cry. Without fail it was the most responded to post on any of my social media platforms last week and probably this year. When we read about other people’s lives, but particularly their challenges, we feel connected to that person. We feel reassured that we aren’t alone when we have struggles.

Library

My author’s journey

Recently I started writing my first book. It is going to be a memoir and, even though I am only a little more than half way through the first draft, it is proving to be cathartic. I am having to relive some very difficult times and am sharing things that even some of my family don’t know about. I have cried a lot while writing but I know that if my story is having that effect on me, when I lived through it and know what happens in the end, then it is going to be a powerful read – well, I hope so anyway!

Kate retreat

At the start of the month I went away for a few days to make a start on writing my first draft. I knew that to really get a good start I needed to remove any distractions; housework, work for Calmer Classrooms, etc. My in-laws have a static caravan in Devon so I asked whether I could go for a few days to write and do some planning. They were a little worried about me going by myself but I reassured them that I would be super sensible and, honestly I hardly left the caravan. I popped into Okehampton a couple of times to visit a beautiful bookshop I discovered, Dogberry and Finch, and apart from that I went for a walk to find this beautiful secluded church (St Michaels, Brentor) but other than that, I wrote. I wrote and wrote and when I came home I had completed five chapters and had the framework for the whole book mapped out.

Since I got home I have set aside time every week to write a little more. One day it will be finished and then who knows what will happen next. I believe it is a powerful story, but then I would, it’s my story. Whatever happens to it though I will always be so glad that I had the opportunity to write it all out. It has been really therapeutic. 

Writing in all its forms is incredibly healing. If you have ever written a diary, filled in a gratitude journal or written morning pages you will know how deeply cleansing this form of writing can be. I have been journaling and writing in my gratitude journal for many years now and writing my articles and blogs is also therapeutic for me. I will definitely be consciously incorporating more writing and word work into my work with clients, and my own daily practice, from now on. Do you have something you need to write out today? Perhaps something you need to tell someone or something you need to work out. Grab a pen and some paper and start writing. You won’t regret it!

Journaling

Everyday Reiki

Everyday Reiki

Reiki is an ancient healing modality which involves the person giving the treatment acting as a conduit and channeling universal energy into the person recieving the healing. 

That isn’t the important thing though. 

That is what you would tell a scientist who was asking for an explanation.

What is important really is that it is an incredibly relaxing, natural treatment which can assist with anything from healing broken bones to mending a broken heart. It is a powerful but gentle way of recharging your batteries when your body is run down either because of physical illness or doing too much, or because of emotional trauma. 

Very few treatments are as holistic as Reiki.

When yhave an appointment with a therapist for a treatment you will lie on a treatment table possibly under a blanket and, depending on the practitioner, they will either gently place their hands on your body in a series of positions, or they may hover their hands just abover your body.

Personally I prefer to gently place my hands on the person recieving the treatment as I feel that caring, human contact is healing in itself and this only adds to the teatment.

If you have a friend or family member who offers to give you a treatment they may just sit next to you on the sofa or ask you to sit on a dining chair. 

The wonderful thing about Reiki is that you don’t need any equipment with you, as long as you have your hands then you can help someone. I have stood behing my Mum in the services on the way back from London and relieved her migraine and eased a friend’s backache while standing at the side of the playground on the school run.

I have been a Reiki Master for 12 years now, and it is one of the best things I have ever learned. When my children were little I could help them sleep and take the pain out of their bumps and bruises. As they grew I was able to help alleviate growing pains and menstrual cramps and now it calms their anxieties, especially in the light of the last 18 months. Reiki is so gentle you can use it on everyone from newborn babies to the very elderly. 

Reiki

I can also use my healing hands on myself. This is actually what prompted me to learn it in the first place as I was searching for natural ways to ease the fatigue, joint pain and occasional headaches that accompany my acromegaly.

How I have used my Reiki for my benefit

I use Reiki at least once a day on myself. I will attempt to list some of things I have used Reiki to help over the years: 

  • headache
  • toothache (including extraction and a filling)
  • joint pain
  • backache
  • pulled muscles
  • menstrual cramps
  • bruises
  • tummy bugs
  • insomnia
  • cramps
  • grief
  • anxiety
  • insect bites
  • breathing difficulties
  • and so many more…

I know it seems crazy that just placing your hands on yourself can ease all of these issues, but honestly it works. Often you don’t even realise how effective it has been until you stop and realise that you haven’t had any pain for a few hours.

Reiki and the NHS

When I did my Reiki training there was still controversy about its effectiveness. Over the last decade though many NHS trusts have begun to employ Reiki practitioners in their hospitals and there is increasing evidence of the impact it can have for a range of medical conditions. You may find these articles helpful if you want to learn more about how the NHS is now using Reiki and other holistic therapies.

Reiki

Would you like to learn?

If this sounds like something you would like to learn, I will be running some Reiki classes over the next few months. The first of which is being held on the Sunday 17th October 2021 from 10-4pm at my home in Stafford, UK. I will be running more classes to accommodate the times people need. 

I am even able to run the sessions via Zoom so if you are interested in learning but you are too far away to attend in person don’t let that stop you getting in touch.

If you are interested in attending on the 17th just contact me and I can book your place. 

If you are unable to attend on the 17th but would like to be notified about future dates or Zoom courses let me know and I will be sure to get in touch as more dates are added.

I love running Reiki classes because it is such a magical and intimate day. We discover so much about each other and share a home cooked meal (prepared by me to suit everyone’s dietary requirements). It really is a wonderful day. 

I will be running Reiki II classes in 2022 for anyone who wants to take the next step so if you are already attuned to Reiki I and would like to take the next step I will be scheduling those sessions for early in 2022. I also run Reiki Master classes but they are usually done 1:1 as and when people feel ready.

I would be honoured to be your teacher and guide you on this wonderful new stage of your life. 

What’s your mountain?

What's your mountain

Mountains can be physical or psychological. 

Last week I climbed Blencathra. I never thought when I was being told I had acromegaly 14 years ago that I would be able to walk 8 miles, never mind 8 miles up a mountain and back. You see the most obvious, lasting symptoms of my condition is that my joints are damaged. Particularly my knees, hips, elbows and hands and feet.

Three of those are essential for climbing mountains. Having been told many times over the years that if I put too much pressure on my knee joints I would need a knee replacement I have been scared to push myself. 

It’s so easy to tell ourselves we can’t do something, isn’t it?

When I was first diagnosed with acromegaly I was scared. My daughter was only 2 years old and I couldn’t see what my future would look like. I was in pain and couldn’t imagine how long life would continue like that. When my surgery was so successful I was filled with gratitude. I cried and vowed I would always be grateful for this second chance I had been given. 

I don’t believe it is possible to always be grateful, all day every day. We are human and sometimes we feel frustrated and angry. I try though.

Over the years I have had days when my limitations have caused me so much frustration I have sat and cried. I can’t knit any more. When I sew for more than a few minutes my fingers cease up and that frustrates me. I know that I am a 45 year old with much older joints, but I have decided to modify my life so that I don’t feel limited. 

It works for the most part. Most days I am just grateful and I feel as normal as anyone can. 

Some days though I am reminded that my body is not in any way the body of an average 45 year old. This was the case when we were climbing the mountain. There were 11 of us walking, ranging from my 6 year old niece to my 69 year old Mum. Despite working really hard on my fitness and muscle strength recently, I struggled the most. This photo is one of many we could have taken of me sitting mopping my brow while quietly weeping in frustration. My lovely Mum held back with me to support me and keep me going, but it wasn’t easy. 

mountain

Did I make it to the top?

Hell yes! I was not going to let a little think like frustration and worrying about letting people down stop me.

Did the whole thing remind me over and over again that my body can’t do everything my head thinks it can? Oh yeah! 

You might think that this is a negative thing but it really isn’t. I made it to the top of a mountain, and not an easy mountain. Everyone found it challenging and my stepson, who climbed Snowdon a couple of years ago, said it was harder than Snowdon. (He may have been humouring me, I don’t care, I’m taking it!). 

Mountain summit

Challenges aren’t supposed to be easy 

They are supposed to push us to our limits. Your limit will be very different to mine. When I was first recovering from my surgery being able to walk to the kitchen was an achievement. Now I have climbed a 868m mountain! 

A challenge for you might be running 12 marathons in 12 days. You might be able to run one easily. 

Your challenge might be to learn to read or to swim or to show someone a painting you have done. 

What is challenging for you will change many times throughout your life. But whether you are 6 or 66 years old it is important to keep growing and pushing those boundaries, while at the same time being immensely grateful for what you achieve. 

You are amazing!

Some days achieving something might be getting out of bed and having a shower. (You will only understand the energy it takes to have a shower if you have truly been ill and struggled with fatigue, it is not as easy as you might think!). It might be climbing a mountain or being brave enough to talk to your boss about a pay rise. Whatever your challenge, believe in yourself and celebrate when you achieve it. 

How did I celebrate? Well, I cried a lot. I allowed myself to feel truly proud of myself. I hugged a lot of loved ones, oh and my Dad bought me a badge to show that I have conquered Blencathra which I will be sewing onto my new rucksack when it arrives. You see, I have decided that this is something I really enjoy so I am going to be doing much more walking and mountain climbing. Not all as big as this challenge, but I will be setting myself lots of walking challenges over coming months and what makes it even better, is that my family are going to join me on them.

Quality time with my loved ones and a physical challenge, nothing better. 

 

Life is a Rollercoaster

Life is a Rollercoaster

Do you sometimes feel as though you are on a rollercoaster and you can’t get off?

Life is so full of ups and downs that sometimes we feel dizzy. I know I have often wondered when I can get off the ride. 

This is life. 

Life is a glorious mix of good times and challenges. Without the challenges we don’t learn and without the good times we might just give up all together.

In the words of Ronan Keating: “Life is a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it!”.

Why is it though that the difficult times always seem to last so much longer than the good times?

Well, it is due to a simple evolutionary process which is designed to keep us safe but which can, if we don’t learn to control it, lead to the feeling that life is just one long pit that we are trying to climb out of.

Over many centuries our brains learned to remember the challenges and dangers we faced more vividly than the fun times. This is for the very sensible reason that very few people die or are seriously impacted by laughing or enjoying themselves. It is vital for our survival that we are able to remember when something causes us hurt, either physical or emotional though. Psychologists call this the negativity bias.

As a result we become more alert and take in every detail of the dips in the ride in an attempt to avoid that part of the ride if we see it ahead in the future. 

If only it was that easy.

Of course any pain always makes us more present and more likely to be on high alert, when we are soaring high and enjoying life we just go with the flow and don’t pay anything like as much attention to the things happening around us. 

rollercoaster

We are pre-programmed to feel that it can’t last, when life is good, and that “life is always hard” when we are struggling. 

I remember buying a new car a few years ago and within hours of buying it everything started going wrong. The two weeks it took to get everything sorted (the garage bought it back and I replaced it with a reliable alternative!) felt like the longest two weeks of my life. It’s the same when we are ill, time stands still. Yet when we are on holiday or having fun with our friends the time passes so quickly we wonder if it ever happened.

 Apparently the majority of parents have feared that something bad will happen to their child, while watching them sleep peacefully in their bed. It’s the way most people are wired. Statistically though less than 9% of the things we worry about ever happen. I’d play those odds with almost any situation. So what can we do to allow ourselves some mental freedom and ease our feeling that we are riding a never ending emotional rollercoaster.

 

Is there anything we can do to help us appreciate the good times more and diminidh the darker days? 

Mindfulness

Well, it won’t surprise you to hear that mindfulness is a great start. 

Ensuring that you are fully present whatever you are doing will help you to remember the good times more and you will start to balance the scales a little. (Read  Can being mindful ease anxiety? for more information)

Cut down your screen time

Spending less time on screens avoiding “real life” will also help. When we are going through difficult times we often reach for our devices and either get lost in social media or play games to distract our brains from what is going on. This may be an effective short term strategy, but if you’re not careful you then miss all the good things happening around you too. You have to participate in the whole of the rollercoaster ride to really be living your life. 

Gratitude

Focusing on feeling thankful, whether it is by writing down the things you are grateful for, or saying them outloud, will begin to teach your brain to look out for all the good things in your life. This will, over time, shift your focus from the upsetting, or depressing aspects of life, and you will learn to pay more attention to all the joy and blessings. Make sure you work your gratitude into your daily routine. 

Eat well

We know that our stomachs act as a second brain as far as mindset and mental health and what we eat really impacts our mood. If you are consuming lots of sugar, processed food, caffeine, and alcohol, you will find it harder to see the positives because you will feel tired, anxious and lacking in energy. When you feel this way it is much harder to find the joy in life. We comfort eat for the instant gratification but long term it just adds to the rollercoaster feelings and is really damaging to our wellbeing.

 

So, the next time you are going through some rollercoaster times in your life, stop and think about all the positives you can find. It may only be that you have a roof over your head and something to eat, but that is more than many people have. 

Remember:

This too shall pass.

 

 

Writing for Wellbeing

I have been writing to support my wellbeing for as long as I have been able to write. From innocent stories typed on my Mums typewriter to grown up journalling I have always used writing things down as a way to process my emotions and work through any challenges I might be facing.

As a teenager I fear my many penfriends often got a deeper, more soul searching letter than they were anticipating as the confused ramblings of my adolescent brain spilled forth uncontrollably onto the paper. Little did I realise at the time, just how important this was for me in organising my thoughts and feelings. 

Now as an adult I fully understand the benefits of writing for wellbeing. Whether it is getting things out into a blog or article, or journalling in a notebook until I have worked through whatever it is that is holding me back.

How does it work?

Well, when we write we access a different part of our brain to when we talk. This is particularly true for handwriting over typing. When we write, we are fully focused on what we are writing which allows our brains to calm down in the same way mindful breathing or meditation might. We relax and emerse ourselves in the process.

By writing freely, as we might when journalling our mind takes us on a journey. It allows us to discover ideas that we may not have thought of in any other context, to discover solutions to problems and gain clarity. It increases our self awareness and provides insights which are ours and ours alone, where a conversation may help us to find solutions but they may be directed by the person we are talking to. 

 

How do I write for wellbeing?

Well, put simply, you just start writing. 

You can use a pen or pencil, notebook or scrap of paper, desk of the back of a book on your knee, and just start writing. 

 

You might have something on your mind that you want to try to work out; a relationship that is troubling you or a challenge at work, or you might just want to start writing and see what comes up. 

Some people find it easier to start with a writing prompt, others prefer to flow freely. 

You may choose to give yourself a time limit and to make yourself write until the time is up. This can be helpful because you often find that the really important things come up after you think you have written everything you possibly can!

The important thing is that you write.

Writing for wellbeing

Writing is the therapy that you can do all by yourself. 

It is the perfect excuse to buy a new notebook, even a new pen… ooh stationery! But, more important than being an excuse to buy new stationery (and there aren’t many things more important than that believe me!), it is so incredibly good for you!

You don’t have to find hours and hours to sit writing in a summer house. You can literally sit for five minutes in the morning or evening, or whenever you get chance, and write. 

journaling

As humans we need words, we need stories, that is how we document our lives, how we learn and most importantly, how we impart wisdom. We have always told stories as a way to share knowledge and folklore. We tell our children stories of when we were younger to demonstrate why we are asking them to behave in a certain way and the consequences if they stray from the path. 

We are narrative beings. We make sense of our lives and the things we go through by sharing stories.

Have you ever noticed that you may have different favourite stories, films or TV series depending not just on your mood but your age and what is happening in your life. We do one of two things, we use stories to escape or to learn from someone else’s life experience. We may look up to certain characters in our teens and find them un-relatable in our forties because we have grown past them and we now need to find the wise characters in their sixties and seventies in order to learn from their lives.

We need stories, including our own, to live happy, contented lives. 

 

What are you waiting for? 

Grab a writing implement and something to scrawl on and get writing. Start writing your story or just whatever is in your head today. But write, just write. Every single day. It will honestly change your life. 

Writing

Daily Rituals to Change your Life

Rituals

Daily rituals have been a real game changer for me.

I’m not talking about complicated ceremonies, although if that brings you joy that’s great. I’m talking about having simple rituals that brings you pleasure, that help you to achieve your goals and most importantly that make you happy. 

I have always had a morning routine. At some points in my life it has been as simple as: shower, dressed, empty the dishwasher, make the packed lunches, have breakfast and take the kids to school. But it always happened in the same order and at roughly the same time, that way nothing was forgotten, everyone knew what was happening and we were all on time. 

Routine and ritual is so important to help children feel secure.

Unsurprisingly, routines and rituals also make us feel secure. We know what is supposed to happen and when and that helps us to feel in control and allows us to organise our lives. 

This year my routine changed dramatically. In addition to all the changes due to the pandemic, my youngest started high school. For the first time in over 14 years I don’t have to do a school run in the morning and afternoon every day. As a result I have gained around an hour and a half a day. 

New rituals

I decided immediately that this time was not going to be wasted, but it was time I had truly gained. So I promised myself that I would sit and enjoy breakfast every day instead of rushing to eat something between making packed lunches and dashing out of the door. More significantly though, I made the decision to up my exercise game. 

For years I have been told that my joints were damaged and that combined with asthma and a lot of negative associations going right back to childhood, had resulted in a real dislike and almost fear of exercise. 

Don’t get me wrong, I have always walked a lot and enjoyed dancing and have kept moving, but anything more structured than that was a no no.

So at the start of the year I bought myself a cross trainer/exercise bike and a dumbbell. Since then, five mornings a week, I get up, sort out the children then do at least 15km on the bike and do some weight training.

This probably sounds like a very small insignificant change to some of you reading, but let me tell you, it has transformed my life.I feel stronger, my body is toned, my joints don’t ache as much and I have so much more energy the rest of the day. 

Small changes have a huge impact.

The best part is that I decided this year that I was going to start reading more for pleasure too. I have always read, but for years I have only read non-fiction books that could teach me things that would be helpful either for work or for my life. I have been reading so much more this year and I have totally rekindled that love of stories. Even better, I have discovered that if I do my cross training first in the morning, I can read while I cycle! I can exercise my brain and my body at the same time. What’s more I cycle for longer because I get into the story!

ritual

My daily ritual recommendations

These two small changes have improved my mental and physical health in ways I could never have predicted. These are just the new routines I have created in the last few months. By adding to our rituals slowly over time we can totally transform our lives. I highly recommend making one change, then once that has become embedded in your daily routine, add another, and another.

My top rituals for a happier, healthier day are as follows:-

  • Get moving. Whether it is taking the dog for a walk every morning, a morning yoga routine, going for a run… Whatever you enjoy doing, by getting moving first thing in the morning your whole day is energised. If you can’t manage a morning exercise routine find time later in the day. 
  • Find a morning routine that suits you. This might seem like an obvious one for this article, but everyone has lots of little things that they have to do every morning. It might be putting the washing on, emptying the dishwasher, feeding the pets, packed lunches, walking the dog… Find an order for all these essential tasks and do them in the same order every morning. By creating a ritual around them you won’t forget to do anything and you don’t have to think about as many things when you wake up because it all just happens like clockwork.
  • Don’t hit that snooze button! Set your alarm for a time that works for your morning routine and when your alarm goes off have a good stretch and get moving.
  • Little and often is better than blitz and forget. I used to try to do the housework one day a week. I thought that by getting it all done it would be out of my mind then and I could focus on other things. Things like housework are better tackled in small bite-sized chunks though. That way they don’t feel as daunting and you can keep on top of them rather than blitzing and living in mess, then blitzing again. Now rather than blitzing the whole house, I water the plants on a Monday morning, I keep on top of the kitchen ever evening, I put the vacuum round whenever it looks like it needs doing and I fit the bathrooms in when I have a few minutes… It all gets done but it doesn’t feel like I am tied to it all the time.
Writing
  • Read and write every day. This one is so important for me. I love to write, even if it is just my gratitude journal. I find it incredibly therapeutic writing and getting my thoughts in order. Whether it is writing an article like this, or a plan for what I am going to create over the coming weeks. It is a wonderful way to settle your mind. Reading, is now one of my non-negotiables, along with my exercise, I love escaping into a book, even if it is only for ten or twenty minutes. I always have a book with me in case I arrive early or an appointment is running late. For me reading and writing are input and output and they are as essential as food. If you haven’t tried journalling as a way to improve your wellbeing, I can’t recommend it enough.

My final recommendation is taking time to do something just for you every day. Even if it is a simple as having a cuppa and watching half an hour of your favourite tv programme. Perhaps you love having a bath or you enjoy dancing around your kitchen. It doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive, but it does have to fill your heart with joy. 

Make sure your new rituals make you happy. If you don’t enjoy exercise, then commit to dancing for 20 minutes every day while you prepare the evening meal or park as far away from the supermarket as you can and walk a little further. Take the stairs instead of the lift. There are so many little changes that you can make that will have an impact on your physical and mental health. 

Let me know what part of your daily routine is your favourite.

Mental Health Awareness Week – 10th-16th May 2021

Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week is 10th -16th May 2021

This week you will see lots in the media about mental health. It will be all over your social media feeds and celebrities will bravely share their experiences in order to normalise mental health struggles. Powerful stuff!

I am in awe of anyone who is brave enough to share their mental health journey publicly because I know how difficult it is and the judgement that has come with that in the past. Thankfully, over recent years the stigma associated with mental health issues has diminished and it is more acceptable to be open about our challenges than ever. 

 

That doesn’t make it easy though.

If you are reading this as one of the few people on the planet who has never had a mental health struggle in their life, don’t think for a minute that it is ever easy to share our mental wellbeing challenges. 

For most people, at least an element of their struggle is worrying what people will think and how they will cope in a new situation. Sharing their deepest, darkest internal battles is therefore one of the bravest, most difficult things someone will ever do.

There are countless organisations and movements now voicing the challenges those of us with mental health and supporting us on that journey, not just this week but all year round. They are incredible but we still have to be brave enough to admit that we are struggling. Unfortunately many of these services and organisations are under funded and as a result have shockingly long waiting times. 

Mental health awareness week

I have been very open about my mental wellness journey and not just during mental health awareness week. I am fortunate that I am a sharer, and my driving force in life is supporting others and helping them unlock their full potential. I know that being honest about my challenges is a vital part of that work. It hasn’t always been easy though. The first time I wrote a blog about my own depression and anxiety I was terrified, but over time I have got used to it and grown a little braver because of it.

My daughter was incredibly brave and shared her story on my school website almost two years ago now. I have never been more scared than I was posting that blog. Not only was it a very intimate piece by my daughter, but I was also concerned that I would be judged because I am a wellbeing professional and my own daughter struggles with her wellbeing almost constantly.

The reality though is that most people do. 

Even with all the tools I have in my mental health toolbox I still have days when I can’t get myself to a point where I even want to try using them. Those days happen less and less as time goes on, in fact I can’t remember the last time I had a day like that, but I would never been presumptuous enough to think that I never will again. One thing that is for sure, is that our mental wellbeing is a changeable and unpredictable beast. We may go for years feeling great, then one event derails us. 

Mental wellness

Throughout our lives we are constantly climbing that mental health mountain and gaining new perspective with every step.

With time and practice it gets easier to see the early warning signs and take evasive action. If I start to feel tired and notice I am eating more junk food than usual, I know that is my early warning so I correct my diet, up my exercise and self care and give myself more healing that I usually would. That is usually enough for me to avoid having a slump day.

It takes practice though, it isn’t an overnight change.

What sort of things can you do if you are realising that you need some help with your mental wellness?

  • Talk. Talk to someone you trust, someone who makes you feel safe. Sometimes just sharing your feelings can be enough to help you shift that feeling. One thing is for sure though, if you can find one person to confide in, it will be a weight off your mind, and it is instantly someone else to support you when you are feeling weak and frail. 
  • Ask for help. This is one of the hardest things in the world. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, just having someone help you with your housework, picking the kids up from school or cooking you a meal can be a game changer. You will almost always find that when you ask for help, that person has been wanting to support you but didn’t know what you needed.  
  • Visit your GP. Sometimes we all need a bit of medical intervention and GPs now have a long list of support that they can offer you not just pills. They may be able to refer you to a counsellor or support group.
  • Do all the things you know you should be doing to support your mental health. Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, spend time with your loved ones, watch a film that makes you laugh, put on some music and have a good dance… All these things will counteract the stress chemicals your body is producing in reaction to your fear and anxiety.

 

Make sure you are checking in with your friends, colleagues and loved ones regularly too. Just asking “How are you feeling?” or “Are you ok?” may be enough for some people, but if you feel deep down that their “I’m fine!” answer isn’t true, ask them again “How are you really feeling?” their response might be life changing and give them the support they have been needing. 

So as we move through Mental Health Awareness Week stop and think about all the ways you could support not just your own, but other people’s mental health. How can you raise awareness and support others all year round?

As wonderful as it is that we have this focus on mental health for a week every year, we must remember that this is an issue for many, many people, all day, every day. So if you are struggling as you read this, please, don’t go through this alone. However you are feeling, you are definitely not alone. If you need a someone to talk to who is totally neutral and doesn’t know anyone in your life, by all means message me. But please talk to someone. You will get through this and the sun will shine again.

Cosy change

For more support and information about mental health awareness check out these links: 

 NHS Mental Health Charity Helplines

 The Next Step

Shift your Focus

Can being more mindful ease anxiety?

Anxiety

Anxiety is an issue for so many people.

I have wrestled with anxiety on and off my whole life. 

It is like the quiet house guest who you forget is living in your house until they become really demanding and spoil your day. ​​Like many

Like many emotional states there are varying degrees of anxiety. For some people it is something which makes them feel sick and as though they don’t want to do something. Others though are completely crippled by its impact on their lives. Anxiety can make it impossible to leave the house, spend time with friends and even get a job. So can something as natural and ancient as mindfulness really help?

The short answer is yes, it really can.

The longer answer needs some science and some techniques, which will hopefully help you if you are struggling with anxiety. 

Are you ready? Take a deep breath and let’s dive in!

Let’s get the science out of the way then we can move onto the more fun parts of this longer explanation. When you feel anxious there is a physical change in your body, your breathing becomes more shallow and your heart rate increases. This change is then detected by your brain which sends chemical responses round your body; sending more energy to your heart, lungs and muscles and redirects blood and function to those areas and away from your brain.

This is where things start to get difficult because at this point our ability to think logically and remember all the times we have survived this situation before vanishes. Our brain is incapable of rational thought, problem solving and even recall when we go into this fight, flight or freeze state. 

In order to feel more calm and regain this mental function, we must breathe. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Unfortunately our state of mind is causing our breathing to be shallow and fast and unless we consciously change our breathing we will remain in this state and it may even escalate into a full panic attack. 

Learning some mindful breathing techniques is a great way to quickly and easily calm yourself when you feel this way. Something as simple as 7:11 breathing (7:11 breathing is simply counting to 7 as you breathe in and 11 as you breathe out) or following a video like this one I created for my Calmer Classrooms programme, can help you to calm down really quickly. The advantage of many breathing techniques is that you can do them without anyone being aware that you are implementing a life changing strategy.

Prevention not cure

These techniques are great when you are already in the grips of an anxious episode, but the real magic of mindfulness is that it can help prevent you from reaching that point. 

Mindfulness is the process of being present, being in the moment, being reflective. It helps us to appreciate what we have and doesn’t worry about what will be. It teaches us to focus on the task in hand and deal with what is coming when it arrives. Given that anxiety is effectively a fear of the future, of what might happen, just by shifting your focus to what is happening you are reducing your ability to feel anxious. Given that research has proven time and time again that as little as 9% of our worries actually come true, that means that up to 91% of our worries are actually worth worrying about. 

journaling

Mindful journaling

Another mindful activity which can really help with anxiety is journaling. The process of writing everything down that pops into your head allows you to process the thoughts more easily and often see the reality of the spiral you have got yourself into. Just buy yourself a notebook and take time every day to just write until you have no more thoughts left. Don’t think about what you are writing, just whatever comes into your head – write it down.

This process also helps you to see how infrequently our fears become reality. The other really useful activity is a gratitude practice. Writing down every day all the things you are grateful for. This helps to train your brain to look at the positives in your life rather than the negative, worrying thoughts. Once you realise how fortunate you are, you have a roof over your head, clean water to drink and clothes to keep you warm, you will worry less about what might be, but in all likelihood, won’t ever happen.

Mindful movement…

Living mindfully is also about listening to your body. Mindfully moving when we need to, and we do need to. Particularly if you are an anxious person making sure you get enough exercise is vital. When we exercise our body can process all the stress chemicals our body releases when we worry, so just going for a walk if you start to feel anxious, will instantly calm you down. It doesn’t have to be strenuous movement, just movement. You can dance in your kitchen, take the dog for a walk or do a spin class, just move! In addition to the checmical impact movement will have on your anxiety, moving will change your state and allow your brain to start seeing the situation differently. You will begin to process the information you are working through in a more effective and calm way and you will feel so much better.

Get outside, take a big deep breath of fresh and and move that body! 

mindful movement

If anxiety is an issue for you, or a loved one, start small. Implement small daily changes and begin to see how these little changes can have a huge impact on your reactions and how you deal with situation. You can get through this.

I have, and still do. One day at a time. 

 

For lots more mindful ideas to fit into your daily routine check out my article: Every day mindfulness or why not download my free ebook: You’ve Got This for lots of easy to implement mindful ideas.

The Power of Women’s Circles

The Power of Women's Circles

Women’s Circles are as ancient as time. There is documentary evidence of women coming together as long as 300,000 years ago. This is not a new phenomenon. It is something that has had a resurgence over recent years though particularly in the western world. 

 

Why are these gatherings becoming more popular?

Well, my guess would be that the more detatched we become as a society, the more we crave true, meaningful interaction and connection. Women’s circles are a gentle, but also powerful, safe space for us to share and learn. 

What was once created out of necessity, is once again finding its place in the world. 

Historical context

Historically many gatherings were based around the “Red Tent”, a time when women would come together, usually during menstruation, to heal and educate each other about fertility cycles and how the cycle of the moon. There is strong evidence that this method of women gathering at this time is physically beneficial as well as mentally. During menstruation our bodies are using more energy than during other times of the month and our physical reserves are used for releasing the unfertilized egg, so getting together with other women, resting and sharing time together benefits women physically. This is a concept which has also become incredibly popular again in recent years. Women gather around the time of the new moon, a time when most women have been found to menstruate, to set intentions and discuss themes of the month (often around astrologically significant events and changes). Obviously there is a strong social element to these meetings, but the traditional wisdom sharing and space holding is still the core.

Of course there have been times in our history when women wouldn’t have dared to get together in this way. A time when this kind of wisdom sharing, earned these gatherings names such as covens and it’s members were burned or drowned as witches. These wise and wonderful women were persecuted for no other reason than that the patriarchy of the time felt threatened by their understanding of natural healing and couldn’t understand their intentions in creating these spaces. 

Thankfully times have changed and women are able to gather and share this wisdom now without fear of persecution. 

I am delighted that women’s circles are once again on the rise. Women need time with other women, just as men need time with men. When we feel lost or down we instinctively reach out to the women in our life; whether it is our Mum, sister or female friends, we know that they will comfort us and help us make sense of what is going on. I wrote about the importance of female friends a little while ago, by all means have a read.

Women

The evolution of my women’s circle

You may have noticed that my website has had something of a make over in recent weeks, including a move away from the Super Woman analogy. The Super Woman Life is now simply called “Kate’s Circle”. The instant this change was suggested to me by my good friend, Callie, I knew it felt right.

I had already decided that the group should be a circle. There are so many powerfully symbolic reasons for using the word circle (perhaps I will write about that another day), and it encapsulated what our group is. It is a powerful, intimate group of women of all ages, coming together to love and support each other and share their wisdom. 

There is a gentle coaching element to the live sessions, and I guide the members through monthly themes and encourage them to dig deep, but the energy of the group, is very definitely that of a women’s circle, and I am very proud of that.

Women’s circles are incredibly powerful. When women come together they share deep and meaningful parts of themselves which they wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing in mixed company. This is something we have done since the dawn of time. The only difference is that historically we would have been sitting in our cave, around the fire cooking the meat that the men had hunted and brought home, and now we meet on Zoom or in person.

women

Amazing women

I have been very fortunate to have some of the most incredibly supportive and wise women in my life. From birth I had, not only my Mum and Grandma’s but also Great Grandma and many significant Aunts. Throughout my life I have had friends, teachers, mother figures, colleagues and of course my daughter, who have had an enormous impact on my ideas and my concept of self. I know that without their input I would be a shadow my the woman I am now.

 I love that I am able to share some of that love and knowledge with other women and in turn, learn from them and the significant teachers in their lives.

I truly believe that life is one long learning journey. If we are not learning and growing then we are shrinking and becoming stagnant. I take every opportunity I can to learn, whether it is formal courses, or a significant chat with a stranger in a queue at the shop. There are learning opportunities around us all the time and just as children learn most effectively when they are playing, women learn most when they are chatting and drinking tea (or any other beverage of your choice!). If there is cake or biscuits involved then the learning is heightened even further.

My women’s circles 

To demonstrate my point, every year Callie and I get together for a five day business retreat. We have done this for almost ten years now (with the exception of the last year when it hasn’t been possible).

It started as a way to get together and for me to have some intensive work time away from my children when they were little, but it has grown into one of the most powerful weeks of every year. We get more inspiration and more planning done for our businesses in that week than at any other point of the year. 

It never feels like work. We do some of the longest work days we do all year. New notebooks are always required. We chat constantly, visit beautiful cafe’s and eat amazing cake and we write and write and just enjoy each other’s company (and yes, this is an actual photo of one of our retreat trips to a cafe!).

cake

Since we started having these retreats our businesses have grown immeasurably and we love every minute of our working life. But it isn’t just about business growth. During those years we have gone from two women who met on Twitter by chance, to best friends. I was bridesmaid at her wedding in Italy a couple of years ago and I can’t imagine my life without her. She is just one of many women for whom that is true.

Every summer I am blessed to have a week with my family on holiday. My parents, my stepson and partner, his my sister and her family, my brother in law’s parents and sometimes his siblings all come together in a huge house in the country and we just enjoy spending time together. My favourite times on that holiday are often the evenings when the men are watching football or a film and the women find a quiet room and just sit and enjoy time together. My brother in law’s mum, is a wonderful lady and she will often suggest a topic for discussion, or pose a question and everyone immerses themselves in the experience and digs deep. There is much laughter, often tears but relationships are deepened and cemented and it is a truly magical experience. 

Some people spend time discussing who they would invite to their dream dinner party, I would have a women’s circle. It isn’t that there aren’t men I would like to meet, there are many, but my soul feels complete when I spend quality time with other women.

Do you feel nourished by time with other women?

If so you will love Kate’s Circle. Numbers are kept small to ensure that the intimate feel of the group is maintained but we do have space for a couple more women at the moment, so please do take a look and if it appeals to you we would love to welcome you into our fold. 

 

 

Quit making excuses!

Excuses

Do you make excuses for not making changes in your life?

In reality I don’t know anyone who doesn’t make excuses sometimes.

I know I do. 

My monkey mind gives me all the reasons I need to turn around and walk away from certian changes I need to make. 

This week though something shifted and I have made some huge changes, that, I have to be honest, were long overdue.

The thing is, I’m usually pretty motivated. If I set my mind on achieving something, I invariably do, but a few things seemed to come together to defeat me this time and I know I am not alone.

 

What has been the issue?

Well, this time last year I was feeling great. I had been going to the gym, eating well, rehearsing every week for the show I was due to be in and I was feeling strong and happy. 

Then lockdown hit.

I made a rookie error and decided that one way I could try to help my children feel less scared and have happy memories of lockdown was to allow a few treats in our diet that we wouldn’t normally have.

It worked. Every lunchtime we would get together, watch an episode of Dr Who (our lockdown 1.0 treat) and have some crisps or chocolate, maybe popcorn and a film in the evening. Everyone was happy.

It was a great idea, if lockdown had lasted for the 3-5 weeks we originally aniticipated. The problem is we have scarcely been out of lockdown since then and the treats, though in fewer quantities have continued to flow. We have all been missing our friends and family and food has been our comfort. 

This increase in treats, emotional eating and of course working exclusively from home so not going out as much (I walk around a lot when I am delivering training) has meant that I have put on a few pounds. Not a massive amount, but more than I am happy with. More importantly though I am also feeling sluggish, not sleeping as well and my joints are hurting even more than usual. 

This week I shifted my mindset.

change

More truthfully, my mindset shifted for me. 

I don’t know about you, but I have been feeling a change in the air. The world feels more positive, people seem to be looking forward to life opening back up and things feeling more normal. There is less fear in the news, the statistics are looking positive and everyone is starting to feel more buoyant.

I have also finally got to a point where I absolutely had to make a change. I can cope with feeling tired and sluggish for a while but I’ve had enough now. But what have I done?

Well, I have dramatically changed out diets. Treats are only for the weekends now. We have upped our vegetable intake even more and I have been trying to get moving more.

As someone who has never enjoyed exercise this is HUGE. Going right back to primary school, I was never allowed to participate in team sports because I was the only asthmatic in the school and the teachers were worried it would make me ill. as a result, by the time I got to High School I already associated sport with not only danger but also being left out and excluded.  As you can imagine, this isn’t a great foundation for building a love of exercise.

Imperfect change

Throughout my life I have made myself exercise. I went to step aerobics and yoga when I was a student. I even joined a gym and went religiously for 12 months before I got married. I walk and dance and have a sporadic relationship with yoga.

I have owned just about every type of gym equipment; exercise bike, rowing machine, air walker… always second hand and usually with a squeak or glitch that put me off using it. I have bought a kettlebell, I bought a dumbbell and then yesterday I took the plunge and bought a cross trainer. 

I love walking and I love going out for a walk, especially if I can walk with someone else and have a good chat. I can walk for miles. Some days though I don’t have time to squeeze in a walk outside, or it is really windy (which makes my breathing difficult), this way, I will be able to walk or even run, short distances between clients or pieces of work. 

I know that this is going to make a difference for me. 

Making changes is about small, consistent steps and being realistic. That’s what I’m aiming for. I find it easier to do 20 minutes a day than I do an hour three times a week.

The biggest step is already taken. 

Making the decision to change is always the biggest and hardest step.

Deciding to do something and for the right reasons is so important to achieving your goals. For example, my change isn’t about weight loss. That will hopefully be a welcome consequence of the change, but my focus is very clearly on strength and lung health. 

The condition I have (acromegaly) causing joint issues, osteoporosis and also heart conditions and I am asthmatic, so being able to make my body as strong as possible is so important, especially as I glide through perimenopause.

Whatever changes we want to make though we can choose to listen to the excuse monkey, or we can prove it wrong. For the most part I am an “I’ll prove you wrong!” person, but unfortunately I am also very persuasive and think things through thoroughly… and so does my mind monkey!

In the same way that I can talk myself into doing things, equally my mind monkey can find really good arguments for not doing things. I have spent years battling: I can’t do this, it’s dangerous for me, I will damage my joints, I don’t have time… but I have made a conscious decision to change those thoughts and I can’t wait to prove myself wrong!

Just to prove that I’m not making it up. My new cross trainer arrived while I was writing this blog. We built it and took this photo just to prove it. (excuse the state of my office, we are doing some home improvements and lots of things have been dumped in there so it is all looking a little messy!). I have already had a quick go on it but, I will be getting up tomorrow, putting on my gym wear and doing my first proper session and I genuinely can’t wait. 

 

What are you making excuses about?

Kate's cross trainer

We all have things that we tell ourselves that aren’t true. 

When you realise you are making excuses, ask yourself these questions: 

Is this true? 

How do I know it’s true? 

What would happen if I tried?

What’s the worst thing that can happen?

I’m not saying that you can do absolutely anything, we all have our limits. For example, I might be able to “run” a marathon one day on my cross trainer, but I know I couldn’t run one on a road because my joints would be too damaged. That isn’t an excuse, it is a fact. I’m not making my life better by damaging my body, this is about positive changes not being stubborn.

For you it might not be about fitness, it might be about getting the garden tidy, clearing out the spare room, leaving the job you hate… whatever it is you are making excuses about, I encourage you to stop and ask yourself the questions above and see what changes you can make. You might be surprised at the results.

 

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