S-T-R-E-S-S and 6 Ways To Counter It

Who hasn’t said, “I’m so stressed right now!”  Seems like our lives and society are set up to stress us out on a fairly regular basis.

What is Stress?

In fact, stress isn’t all bad.  A degree of stress is good: it helps you grow and develop, to gain strength, and it encourages you to make necessary changes.  For example, doing exercise that challenges and strengthens your muscles, be it your biceps or your heart, causes your body some stress.  Taking on a new job, or starting a new relationship, are also both stressors.  Stress is a physical response to allow you to respond quickly to situations around you.  So, it encourages you to make changes, which can be vital and life-affirming.

However, a lot of people end up chronically stressed, because they get no down-time from life’s stressors.  A little stress is good, but a lot of stress is terrible.

Chronic Stress

You may not even put the name to it, but that doesn’t change the effects.  Chronic stress can lead to a whole host of physical and mental issues, ranging from poor sleep, to overeating, and even to depression.

To assess whether you might be suffering from stress, you could consider whether you have any physical symptoms, and how often you get them: headaches, sleep issues, dizziness, muscle tension or pain, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain.

Additionally, consider how often you’ve felt stressed over the last month: never, occasionally, often, constantly?  How about feeling angry about situations you can’t control?  Overwhelmed, anxious, or lacking in self-esteem?  Thoughts whirring, difficulty concentrating and making decisions?  Have you been drinking or smoking more, snappy and irritable, avoiding things or people?

The Effects of Stress

When you are stressed, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol.  In the short term, these hormones give you a boost of energy and wake you up.  In the long term, they keep your body wired way past the point of usefulness, and into ill health.

A new study also shows that a brief episode of stress causes relapse in cocaine-addicted mice.  As ever with science, more studies are needed.  However, it is suggestive that any addiction you have might see a relapse from even a brief stressor.  In even worse news, the relapse lasted far longer than the actual stressor, for days, in fact.  The scientists are looking into what medications can switch off those brain synapses triggered by the stressor, but there are certainly things you can do right away.

What To Do About It

There’s a great acronym to help remember the six keys to beating stress: S-T-R-E-S-S.

pinky-swear-329329_640S – Social Connection

As the song goes, no (wo)man is an island.  Having a network of people that you can be with is incredibly supportive.  We are social animals, at heart, and need to feel cared for and understood.  This doesn’t mean you need to be at the centre of a group of people all the time.  However, you do need at least one or two people you connect with regularly.

Part of this is chemical – oxytocin is released when you have positive social contacts, and is great for counteracting stress hormones.  Another part is that caring for others helps you get outside of your own head and concerns.  And you can also be positively influenced by others, seeing different perspectives, and being encouraged to adopt good, health habits.  So, it’s great to have friends, and even better to have friend’s with healthy habits.

meditation-1384758_640T – Therapy/Meditation

Both therapy and meditation stimulate reflection, attention and forethought.  These are ways to help get a handle on your stress, and to calm your automatic negative thoughts and your emotions.  They also stimulate the brain at a physiological level, leading to increased blood flow.  That, in turn, helps clears out the effects of cortisol and adrenaline, ‘washing’ them away.

Therapy has the added benefit of being a form of social intimacy, with several studies showing the release of oxytocin being stimulated in the therapy environment.  However, if you don’t like sharing your feelings, then meditation gives you many of the same effects, and may have more benefits in terms of creating a calm and relaxed state.

massage-1237913_640R – Relaxation

In itself, relaxation is another stress-buster.  You may find that listening to calming music helps you.  Laughter is also a great medicine in this regard.  Then there are things like getting a massage, or even natural stress reducing substances like spearmint or chamomile tea, or lavender and other herbal essences such as bergamot, clary sage or ylang ylang.

Or consider doing some breathing exercises.  There are so many studies on the benefits of breathing that it’s impossible to deny this is a major game changer.  Somewhat harder to define is which type of breathing may be ‘best’.

Fundamentally, any type of slow, deep breathing is calming.

You can try deep abdominal breathing as a first step.  This is just getting in touch with your breathing, and making sure that your diaphragm is getting involved.  A good way to start out is to lie down and place a hand on your stomach.  When you breathe in, your hand should rise.  This shows that you are breathing deeply.

The next step would be to keep breathing into you abdomen, and start trying to lengthen your inhale and exhale.  It’s a good idea to count your breaths.  You might start out just trying to extend the count.  You can also check that the inhale and exhale are of equal duration.  Or, better yet, extend the exhale beyond the inhale.  For instance, it’s great to try to breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in.

After that, there are plenty more breathing exercises that you can explore.  I’ve mentioned the 4-7-8 breathing technique before.  And there’s also alternate nostril breathing.  In fact, there are so many options that they really deserve a post (or a video) all to themselves, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

white-male-1856182_640E – Exercise

Physical exercise is another great was to relieve stress.  It’s not just kickboxing workouts that act as a pressure release valve (though imagining kicking or punching someone or something that has been stressing you can be very cathartic).  Any kind of physical exercise has stress benefits.

Cardio workouts get your heart pumping and stimulate the release of seratonin, a happy hormone.  This could be cycling outdoors, or a static bike in the gym.  It could be an aerobics class, or dancing around your bedroom.  It could be a brisk walk or something more energetic.  Extreme cardio workouts cause an increase in cortisol, though, so don’t overdo it.

Weights workouts focus more on your other muscles, while also stimulating human growth hormone and testosterone.  These counterbalance cortisol, and it has been shown that your body can tolerate higher levels of cortisol so long as these other hormones are also strongly present.

And yoga has some of the benefits of a weights workout, while also boosting your relaxation levels.

So, find something you enjoy that gets you moving.

cat-2209105_640S – Sleep

This is a biggie, and not all that simple, I know.  It’s really important to get enough good quality sleep.  Yet, so many things in your life work against this.  Here’s another heading that deserves a post of it’s own.

Basically, try to improve your sleep hygiene.  Reduce caffeine and sugar in the evening, ditto to blue light screens (the new iPhones have a setting called NightShift so that you can still look at your phone without getting that melatonin-suppressing glare).  Make sure your bedroom is dark and cool, and that your mattress and pillow are comfortable.  Try establishing a relaxing bedtime routine.  And as often as possible, go to bed at about the same time – you can get a mini-jet lag from varying your bedtime too much!

0c2b7-bf-breakfast1S – Substitute Snacks

It’s one of those bitter truths that being stressed triggers cravings for sugary, fatty, carby foods.  And that those self-same foods aggravate stress, causing inflammation in the body.  So, this is a negative cycle that can easily develop.

The best advice here is to substitute healthy snacks for junk food.  In time, your body will adapt, and thank you for it.  Of course, that’s easier said than done.

How Hypnotherapy Can Help

Hypnotherapy is a great all-round helper for stress.  It is a clear way to bring relaxation to both body and mind.  It is also a talking therapy, helping you to deal with automatic negative thoughts, and to reflect on your situation.  Hypnosis helps promote change, and with the therapeutic relationship, it gives you a social connection oxytocin boost.

Indirectly, hypnosis has been shown to benefit sleep, even when that isn’t the aim of the hypnotherapy.  Though you can also specifically work on sleep disturbances very effectively with it.  And of course, hypnotherapy can be used to target habit changes such as exercising more and controlling what you eat.

The bottom line is that hypnotherapy can help with all six of these proven ways to target stress.  If you’re interested in trying it out, why not get in touch?

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Top Five Factors Affecting Your Weight – Not What You’re Expecting?!

Most people think they know what the best advice is to get control of their weight: eat small portions of healthy food and exercise.  Yet, if we look at the science, some different answers come out.

Let’s look at the top five factors that really affect your weight, then think about how best to use this information.

DanceClass5) Exercise

It is really beneficial to exercise on a number of levels.  It boosts your mood, improves how your body processes what you eat, and changes how your body looks.  However, it isn’t the biggest factor in controlling your weight.  There is only so much exercise you can humanly do.  +

Unfortunately, our modern high-sugar, high-fat foods pack a huge calorie punch that you don’t have enough hours in the day to work off.  So, although beneficial, exercise can never be sufficient to control your weight without bringing some other factors into the equation

baby-1151351_6404) Sleep

Lots of studies have shown a direct correlation between getting too little sleep and gaining weight.  That’s the bad news.  The worse news is that more and more people are getting by on less sleep than they need, in our modern society.  Whether you attribute it to electric lights allowing poeple to stay up/work later, too much screen time before bed, or the high stress and long hours of much of modern life, the fact is there.

It’s definitely worthwhile to take steps to improve your sleep quality and quantity.  That might involve looking at your sleep hygiene: avoiding or  cutting down on caffeine (that includes chocolate), alcohol and nicotine; not looking at blue light after a certain time; decreasing sweet foods in the evening; make sure your bedroom is as cool, dark and quiet as possible; establish a pre-sleep routine; do something to drop your stress levels (more below on this).

c71d0-salad3) What You Eat

Of course, what you eat matters.  While food fads come and go at frighteningly regular intervals, and different studies point in different directions, there are some principles which endure.  You may not be sure how much red wine is good for you, but you know that a little can have benefits, at least to your body (your brain is a different matter, according to Dr Daniel Amen, who preaches being teetotal).  And you know that eating crisps, chocolate and pizza, and drinking sugary drinks (or even sugar free drinks with artificial sweeteners) will do you, and your weight, no good at all.

The best advice is to eat moderately from any natural, unprocessed foods.  You may not be able to avoid processed foods entirely (nor want to), but make sure they don’t take over.  And the less sugar, the better.

What To Eat When2) When You Eat

More recently, there has been a lot of press coverage, and a lot of scientific research, on the importance of when you eat.  Of course, there’s the 5:2 diet, where you restrict your calories to a quarter of ‘normal’ on two days each week.  There are also other forms of intermittent fasting, eg. doing a full 36 hour fast once a week, or doing a weekend fast once a month.  Another option is time-restricted eating: going at least 13 hours between your evening meal and when you break your fast.  It seems like everyone has an opinion, and a scientific study or five to back it up, determining when you should eat for optimum health and weight control.

Certainly, eating last thing at night is seen by almost everyone as a bad idea, and giving your digestive system some kind of a break on a regular basis seems like a good idea.

cat-2209105_6401) Relaxation

Stastics on comfort eating and stress eating vary between 25% and 50% of people in modern society.  That’s  up to 1 in 2 people who turn to food for comfort or to deal with stress!  Yet, anyone who has ever done this knows it’s far from effective.  The real result is more stress as you feel guilt and shame, and hate your body for not being the weight you want it to be.

Underlying this are a couple of different factors.  One is boredom or loneliness.  Another is stress and the release of cortisol.  There are lots of studies showing that cortisol triggers appetite for fat and sugar, and that it makes it harder to shift excess weight.  And, to add insult to injury, even over-exercising can be a stressor that causes the release of cortisol!

By relaxing, you can stop the release of cortisol, and balance your autonomic nervous system.  This by itself will help with weight control both at the level of stopping cravings, as well as at a physiological level helping your body to process the food you eat in a healthier way.  It will also help your sleep – so finally we have a win-win.

What’s the solution?

With the stress-relaxation axis being perhaps the single most important factor influencing weight, there is finally some good news.  There are lots of things that you can do to help you relax.  Better yet, many of them can be done in short periods of time.

My top seven picks for de-stressing are:

4-7-8 Breathing

This is a surprisingly simple technique.  The basic idea is that you breath following a three part structure:

First, you breath in through your nose on a count of four.

Second, you hold your breath for a count of seven.

Third, you breathe out through pursed lips on a count of eight.

An added touch is to have your tongue touching the back of your top front teeth throughout, including as you exhale forcefully through your mouth.  However, don’t worry if this is overcomplicated.  Just keep to the basic count, and everything else is icing on the cake, so to speak.

Mini-meditations

There is increasing evidence that meditation doesn’t have to take a long time to be effective.  In fact, some people even suggest as little as three minutes, three times a day, can have a profound effect.  And you can choose from a lot of different kinds of meditation.  Here are a few simple meditation  suggestions:

1)Watch your breath as it flows in and out.  No need to control it or count, just be present with your breath.

2) Imagine yourself in a safe, pleasant place.  Make the space feel as real as possible: what would you hear, what would you see, what would you feel, what would you smell, what would you taste?

3) Be present with your actual experience.  What can you feel right now?  What can you see?  What can you hear?  Can you taste anything?  Can you smell anything?  For three minutes (or more) just keep asking yourself those questions, and seeing what comes up.

Socialising

Take some time to be with other people.  At best, this would be face-to-face.  Really listen to whoever you are with and acknowledge them.  You can also take the time to write a heartfelt text.  The point is to truly connect with someone, so make it a mini-love-letter, rather than a mini-rant.  Or call someone, just to say hello and find out how they are.  We are social animals, and some true human connection works wonders on our mood.

Movement

Pick something you enjoy.  It could be five minutes of chair yoga while you’re on break, or a longer yoga class.  Or it could be dancing, or walking, jogging, skating, weights.  Whatever you enjoy.  And it doesn’t have to take long, even a few minutes will make a difference to your mood.  Moving releases all kinds of natural chemicals to help you feel good, as well as burning calories – yay, another win-win!

Reading

Studies show that just six minutes reading de-stresses you as much as meditating.  How easy is that to fit into your day?

Crafting

Taking up a hobby that relaxes you and keeps your hands occupied is a win-win.  After all, if your hands are busy, they can’t be putting food in your mouth.  Secondly, such pasttimes are meditative, getting you into that flow space where you are challenged just enough to stay interested and relaxed at the same time.  There are myriad different options here, for example sketching, zentangle, colouring, knitting, sewing, painting, felting,

Hypno-relaxation

This is like an amped-up version of meditation.  You are guided, so it’s easier to follow and not get lost.  And extra benefits and suggestions can be added in, to improve your immune system, help you lose weight, teach you a new breathing technique, or many more options.  To try out a mini-hypno-relaxation, just click on the image below and relax!

How To Really Make Healthy Eating Easy

The Starting Point

Have you seen this TEDx Talk, which promises to explain “How to make healthy eating unbelievably easy”?  Unfortunately, it only manages to be unbelievably naive.

The basic premise is that to make healthy eating easy, you have to remove unhealthy options from your surroundings.  Sadly, there is nothing new there.  After all, in Bill Phillips’ 2010 bestseller Transformation: How to Change Everything, he discusses exactly that as one of his first steps.  Clear out your kitchen of any junk food and other triggers to unhealthy eating.

What Else?

More to the point, that was just the first step of many Bill Phillips suggests.  He also talks about motivation, community, accountability, and healing the past, to name just a few.  There’s a good reason for that: the “control your surroundings” plan only works as a short-term measure.

Sure, some people live places where the closest shop takes long enough to get to that it’s an effort you’d be unwilling to make unless you’re desperate.  Or somewhere that the shops are closed for a good deal of the time.  For any city dweller, though, junk food is just a short walk away, day or night.

On top of that, if your cravings are strong enough, you’ll drive half an hour to the closest shop.  Or spend an hour baking something at home from ingredients most people won’t want to remove from their kitchen, even if they have had a clear out.  Hell, I’ve baked flapjacks using oats, apple juice, apricots and not much more.  All healthy ingredients, but eat enough of them and the calories add up!

As Bill Phillips correctly pointed out all those years ago, the most important factor in achieving transformation is not trying to bend your environment to your will, because that’s pretty much impossible.  The most important factor is mindset, and there are several different elements to it.

brain-619060_640Motivation

I’ve written about motivation in the past – the different types that exist, and how to make them work for you.  Motivation is certainly an important element, yet it’s only part of the equation that makes up mindset.  Other elements include environment, capabilities and resources, beliefs and values, sense of identity, and life’s purpose.

Environment

By environment, I don’t mean whether you’ve got cookies in your kitchen cupboard.  Rather, it’s things like how stressed you are in your life.  Do you love your job, your relationships, your financial and geographical situation, your home?  Or do any or all of them cause you stress?  Do you live right next to a really delicious bakery?  Are there always cakes in your office kitchen?  What activities do you do with your friends?  Do you go to the pub, go out for dinner, or are you more likely to do something active with them?

Resources and Capabilities

What resources do you have?  I’m not just talking about whether you have a computer, but also whether you have time to search for the information you need, or someone that you can ask for help.  Do you have a kitchen, and is it equipped with the pots, pans, baking tins and whatever else you might need to make healthy, nutritious food?

And what skills and capabilities do you have?  Do you know how to cook healthy food that is tasty?  And can you do so in the time you have between work and other commitments?  What about shopping for healthy food: do you find you never have the ingredients you need?  How about what goes with what?

Beliefs and Values

What beliefs do you have that may help or hinder you?  Do you believe that healthy food has to be tasteless and boring?  Do you believe that junk food is the only way to reward yourself?  Not only that, but as you make changes to your behaviour you may come across new beliefs you didn’t realise you held.

You can also ask yourself what you value: what is important to you?  Is it important for you to have variety in your life?  That might be a block to cutting certain foods out of your diet.  Or do you feel it’s vital to be hospitable?  How might that affect what you feel you need to offer others who come to your home?

Sense of Identity

Who do you feel yourself to be?  That might seem an odd question.  Still, a lot of people say things like: “I’m not someone who can change,” or “I always fall back into old habits”, or “I just love food too much to give up some things”.  These become part of how you see yourself, and that can be a block to enjoying healthy eating.

Sense of Purpose

This is a biggie: what do you think your purpose is in this life?  Now, you might be wondering what that has to do with healthy eating.  Think about this, though.  If you feel your purpose is to be happy, but being overweight makes you unhappy, then changing to a healthier way of eating will help you fulfill your life’s purpose.  If you feel that being of service to others is paramount, how might you getting on top of your eating help others?  Would it give you more energy to assist them?  Would you be able to act as a role model to inspire others to make better choices?

meditation-1384758_640

How To Change Your Mindset

There are a number of ways to approach your mindset.

Questioning

One of those is by asking yourself some of the questions above.  By becoming clear on what is helping you and hindering you can make changes in a way that suits you better.  For example, if you realise that going to the break room at work is a big trigger for you, can you find a way around it?  That might be going out to the park instead of going to the break room.  Or it might be starting a healthy eating initiative at work, to get others involved.  That way, you improve your environment and also get a community of like-minded people as support: win-win.

Healing the Past

Another mindset transformer is to heal issues from the past that have led you to where you are.  You might choose a talking therapy, or maybe you could try hypnotherapy.  It’s amazing what you can do when you revisit the past in hypnosis, and see how it might have been different.  You can find resources you weren’t aware of, and bring them to bear in both the past and the present, to move you forward into a new future.

Shifting Your Sense of Self

Also, those questions around sense of identity.  How do you change those sabotaging, deeply held views of yourself?  Once again, hypnosis may provide a solution.  In your subconscious, there are myriad different possibilities, and the chance to try on what it might feel like to shift your sense of self a little.  Not that you want to be someone else entirely: you will still be you, just a happier, healthier version of yourself.

Finding and Living Your Life’s Purpose

As for life’s purpose, not everyone is sure what theirs is.  Gaining some clarity on that can be really helpful, as can exploring at a subconscious level what that might look like.  How would you act if you were living your life’s purpose?  Seeing this in hypnosis can give you a greater sense of motivation of the best kind!

Making Healthy Eating Easy

The real way to make healthy eating easy isn’t by clearing out your kitchen, though that may be a good place to start.  The most important factor is to shift your mindset.  Using coaching to look at your values and beliefs, and deeply questioning your behaviours, is a great place to start. If you think about healthy eating as pleasurable and as part of who you are, then it will be easy to maintain.  Otherwise, there will always be the possibility of getting cravings that send you out to the shops, day or night, near or far.

The easiest way to shift your mindset is to approach it at the level where these things reside.  Not in the rational logic of your everyday thoughts, where you know you ought to eat an apple rather than a biscuit, but at the subconscious level of your deep desires, which hypnotherapy gives you access to.  You have nothing to lose but your cravings and guilt.

5 Kinds of Motivation and How to Make Them Work For You

Motivation is often considered the biggest factor in whether or not you succeed at something you set your mind to.  Be it getting a new job or taking control of your weight, if your motivation isn’t clear, you are far less likely to achieve what you want.

All kinds of motivation are not created equal, however.
Studies show that internal motivation is more powerful at helping you stick to a plan than external motivation.  Therefore, understanding the different kinds of motivation that exist can help you to use them to your best advantage.
Self-determination theory distinguishes five different kinds of motivation.  The first three are internal, and the last two are external.  Let’s take a look at each, and also at ways that you can boost them, and use them to help you get where you want to go.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is when you enjoy what you need to do to achieve your goal.  For instance, if you want to get fitter or control your weight and you really enjoy dancing, then that is probably the best type of exercise to add to or increase in your life.  If you want to give up smoking, then finding a habit to replace it with, which you enjoy, is a good way to go.  You could drink a herbal tea every time you want a cigarette, for example, or have a small piece of dark chocolate.  Just make sure you aren’t replacing one bad habit with another equally bad habit.

Ask yourself: what aspect, element or variation of this activity or goal do you most enjoy?
How I can help: Hypnotherapy can be a great way to increase your intrinsic motivation.  Firstly, because it can help you become aware of what you already enjoy, which can increase your sense of enjoyment through increased awareness. Secondly, hypnotic suggestions can remind you to become aware of that enjoyment when you are actually in the moment, rather than getting distracted by what you are going to have for dinner, the latest news, or some project you are working on.

Integrated Regulation

Integrated regulation basically just means that the activity you are taking part in aligns with your sense of identity or your values.  Taking the example of becoming vegetarian, that might fit with your view of yourself as an animal-lover, as a highly ethical person and as someone who is highly empathetic.

Ask yourself: how does this goal align with my sense of self, with those things I most value?
How I can help: In terms of this kind of motivation, coaching can make you more aware of what your values are, and hypnotherapy can increase your emotional connection between that value or sense of self and the activity you want to feel motivated to do.

For instance, if you want to control your weight, you may want to exercise more.  Feeling more strongly that you are someone who is independent and that staying active will help you stay independent for longer might help.  Or, if helping others is important to you, emphasising that by getting healthier and stronger you will be able to support others more effectively and for longer could give your motivation that extra boost.  Hypnosis can help you make these high ideals feel real, bringing them into your everyday in a way that connects with both your senses and your emotions.

Identified Regulation

Do you really want one or more of the outcomes associated with that activity you want to stay motivated about?  That’s what the term identified regulation is about.
Thinking about weight control, one outcome associated with eating less sugar and junk food would be achieving a slimmer figure.  Another would be a greater sense of wellness, which could be measured through lower cholesterol and none of the warning markers associated with diabetes.

Ask yourself: what outcome of this activity or goal do I find most desirable?
How I can help: There is good evidence that imagining a desired outcome makes you more likely to achieve it.  With hypnotherapy, you can do that very effectively, bringing all your senses into play and communicating that image clearly to both your conscious and subconscious mind.

You might imagine seeing that new, slimmer you in a mirror, admiring your achievement.  Or you might imagine talking with a nurse who is congratulating you on your blood tests: ‘I wish everyone had numbers that good!’

These internal motivators are powerful and positive, but what about those external motivators?

Introjection

A word many may recognise from psychology, this is about internalising other people’s ideas.  For instance, your parents might have told you ‘Eat your food, there are children starving in Africa!’  In later life, you may find it almost impossible not to eat everything on your plate, even if you aren’t hungry.
While a few of these introjects may motivate you to be ‘good’ – ‘Don’t eat ice cream, it’ll make you fat!’ – this motivation is rarely effective, and may even be counterproductive.  It’s not unknown for people to rebel against such introjects, even if the advice is valid.  This can lead to self sabotage: the overall goal may be one you embrace, and yet you find yourself doing the opposite of what you ‘know you should’.

Ask yourself: What old patterns am I following, and do I really believe in them?
How I can help: Hypnotherapy is great here for untangling introjects so you can either kick them out of your head or embrace that part of them that truly resonates with you.  Either way, you remove the self-sabotaging.

External Regulation

Here, it is still other people’s voices and ideas that act as motivators.  This is the realm of ‘Everyone says you should workout at least three times a week’ or ‘All my friends are having botox’.   While these motivations based on what other people think or do are less likely to lead to self-sabotage, in the long run they are not very effective.  If something starts to feel too hard, like too much of a sacrifice, if the motivation doesn’t come from inside yourself you are unlikely to stick with it.

Ask yourself: Which ideas or habits from other people work for me?
How I can help: Identifying which bits of common wisdom or peer pressure really matter to you can convert some of these into internal motivators.  And then you can apply one of the many strategies suggested above to reinforce them.

The Bottom Line

Getting clear about what motivates you towards a particular activity or goal will help you achieve better results faster.  Develop your strong, internal motivators and make sure there is no self-sabotage getting in your way.  Then, watch how you seem to achieve your goal almost without effort!
If you want some help with your motivation, why not get in touch on 07561 231 281 or on ceejaymccracken@gmail.com

 

Top 7 Ways to Improve Your Sleep

 

Sleep has been much on my mind this week, given my toddler has been getting me up anywhere from 3.30am!  So much for sleeping like a baby 😦

Everyone knows that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture.  Less well-known is the fact that it’s used to get compromise in negotiations both political and corporate: ‘We have to keep at it until we agree something, no matter how long it takes!’  Certainly, I know I’ll agree to many things I would normally fight a bit harder when I’m exhausted: ‘Watch TV all morning?  Sure, just let me sit here quietly…’

Another connected aspect that relates more directly to wellness is the link between lack of sleep and weight gain.  Not only do you feel hungrier when you’re tired, and tend to have less energy and enthusiasm for exercise, but you also make poorer eating choices.

In particular, you’re more likely to reach for high carb options, for the quick energy.  Unfortunately, it’s not only chocolate, which  contains caffeine, that hampers your sleep.  Any high sugar food will give you a buzz that makes it harder to get to sleep, and keeps you in a lighter, less restful sleep.

So, what will help you sleep better and avoid these tempting pitfalls?

1) Protein

One thing that helps with cravings is to up your protein throughout the day.  Any protein is good, and eggs or chicken are some of the best, as they also contain tryptophan.  This is a building block to make melatonin, so it helps you produce the melatonin to regulate your sleep.  And there’s evidence that protein helps you feel more satiated, which also helps you sleep better and longer, rather than waking up because you’re hungry!

2) Warm Milk

Equally, the old idea of having warm milk before bed works in a couple of different ways.  Firstly, having something warm is more satiating, so you’re less likely to reach for something that will give you an unwanted buzz.  Secondly, it’s also got quite high amounts of tryptophan in it.

3) Herbal Teas

On the warm drink front, some herbal teas are also good.  For example, you could have a warm mug of chamomile tea or valerian, lavendar or lemon balm, and even peppermint. Although peppermint is often associated with energy, it does settle your stomach, so if indigestion plays any role in your sleep troubles, give it a go.

4) Read a Book

There was also some research recently which showed that even six minutes reading a book helps you unwind before bed in a way that TV doesn’t.  The notion is that you shut out the stresses of your day as you immerse yourself in what you’re reading.  Therefore, the researchers suggested that it doesn’t matter what you read, so long as you “get into it”.  Still, you won’t catch me reading something scary before bed, no matter how immersive.  After all, you don’t want to fall asleep easily, only to wake up with nightmares!

5) Yoga

A short, gentle yoga practice can also destress you, getting you into a better frame of mind to sleep.  It also helps prevent cramps and tingles in the night waking you up.  For this, the best option is something focused on seated poses, especially forward bends, which are considered the most calming poses.  Rotations are also excellent, wringing the tension from your muscles and activating the organs in your trunk.

6) Worry Journal

Write out your worries before you go to bed.  Externalising them in this way can help prevent those times of churning thoughts keeping you awake.

7) Meditation

Like reading, meditation can be a great way to de-stress at the end of the day.  Perhaps better yet is a guided meditation, focusing on relaxation and releasing worries.

What’s your set point?

Everyone has heard how often people lose weight only to put it straight back on.  This can lead to the bane of yo-yo dieting, which is proven to be worse for your health than just maintaining a degree of overweight!  It’s also immensely frustrating and depressing.  So, what can you do about it?

Lifestyle Changes

One reason for you putting weight straight back on may be that you’ve been following a “strict diet” and then go back to “business as usual”.  A far better option is to make lifestyle changes that you can maintain long term.

A big part of that can be about changing your mindset and your habits.  Life coaching can be really helpful in this regard.  In life coaching, you explore what your current patterns are and what small changes you can make that feel manageable, that you can commit to over time.  Life coaching is also excellent at helping establish new, healthier habits.

For example, you might substitute herbal teas for soft drinks, or for snacks.   Or you might take up some kind of craft to keep your hands occupied at times when you’d be most likely to overeat – mid-afternoon, maybe, or after dinner.

In terms of mindset, it’s also improtant to improve your overall sense of well-being, for instance through a gratitude practice.  That way, you will be less inclined to comfort eat.

Set Point

Another reason for you to put weight back on is what science terms your body’s “set point”.  When you lose weight, your body sees it as a potential threat to your survival.  After all, throughout history there has been a much greater chance of you starving to death than of you exploding like Mr. Creosote!

Nevertheless, science shows that the body’s set point can be changed.  One way is to maintain a new, lower weight for about a year.  This is not the greatest of news, as you’ll be fighting your appetite hormones the whole time.

Another way is through hypnosis.  As hypnosis connects with your subconscious mind, you can reprogramme yourself to have a different set point weight.  While it might take a couple of sessions, this is far faster than having to wait a year.

However, you do also have to follow this up with making lifestyle changes – your subconscious won’t be convinced, nor able to do all the work by itself, if you take this as licence to carry on with the lifestyle that got you into your current situation.

This is why combining hypnotherapy and life coaching is such an effective system – you reprogramme your brain at a deep level, and reinforce those changes with practical, everyday actions.  And all with the support of someone who can help you deal with any obstacles that come up along the way.

So, why not give me a call on 07561 231 281, and talk over your options for achieving your ideal, healthy weight?

 

Top Five Reasons to Drink Herbal Teas

tea-1132529_640Herbal teas can be wonderful for improving your overall sense of wellness.  They can more accurately called herbal infusions, as they don’t contain any tea.  And of course you don’t necessarily need to use a teabag: you can create your own herbal infusions quite easily from many leaves and flowers you might find growing wild: nettle and dandelion, for instance.  Others are created from leaves or roots that you can buy from a local store or supermarket, such as root ginger or peppermint leaves.

Still, there’s also a delightful market of wonderful ready-made tea bags, many of them organic, to tempt your tastebuds.  And while many people reach for teas in cold weather, they are great all year round.

In particular, if you are trying to manage your weight, herbal teas may be a surprising source of help.

  1. Many herbal  infusions aid with digestion in one way or another: reducing heartburn; increasing blood flow to the digestive system; absorbing gas; providing a laxative effect; increasing digestive enzymes.  Check out such top picks as ginger, fennel, dandelion, peppermint, nettle, lemon verbena, lemon balm, chamomile and liquorice.

2. Just the fact of reducing your stress, which numerous herbal teas such as chamomile, peppermint, lavender and ginseng do, will also help keep you away from comfort eating.

3. It’s been shown that having something warm, rather than cold, be it food or drink, increases your sense of satiety.  So, a herbal tea will reduce your hunger pangs and cravings.  I especially love liquorice, or a liquorice and peppermint blend for this, as the sweetness of liquorice as an after dinner treat replaces my desire for dessert.

4. How many people have taken up smoking to stop them snacking?  It’s well known that it’s easier to replace one habit with another.  Far healthier, though, to sip a cup of tea, rather than mindlessly snacking.

5. Many people suffer unwittingly from dehydration and it’s common to reach for food when you feel that need.  However, you can satisfy the true desire with a herbal tea that has no calories, and plenty of vitamins and minerals.

So, why not try replacing a snack with a herbal infusion, or sipping a warm brew after a meal rather than reaching for dessert?

Porridge Passion

Last week I wrote about eating healthily.  For me, that definitely includes breakfast as the most important meal of the day, and one where you can eat something sweet without paying a heavy price 😉

And, as the weather turns colder, porridge is a great option.

Oats are a fabulous source of heart-healthy fibre, as well as a host of vitamins and anti-oxidants.  They are slow release, leaving you feeling fuller longer.  In fact, studies show that people who eat porridge for breakfast, compared to sugared corn flakes, go on to eat between 31% and 50% less at lunch!

As a busy and sometimes stressed and forgetful mother-of-two, though, I’ve had some trouble with porridge.  Preparing it, putting it on the stove, then getting distracted by the kids fighting, or by a smelly nappy, or whatever, only to come back to a burnt pan and porridge that is good only for the bin.

Raising this dilemma, friends came up with a number of solutions.

Preparing the porridge the night before and just reheating it was one.  However, I’m tired at night and don’t really feel like making porridge, whereas I’m always fairly fresh in the morning (well, for a couple of hours, depending on how much sleep the little ones let me get).

Plus, I like to cook fruit into my porridge.  Firstly, because I don’t use milk, sugar, cream or honey, so the fruit gives it an extra sweet creaminess that is delicious.  Secondly, as it’s a way to get a good start on my “five a day“.  I’m a little uncertain, though, about leaving cooked fruit standing overnight. 

Another suggestion was to cook it in the microwave.  I’ve long been wary of using the microwave for anything much, however, this article changed my mind, looking at scientific studies on microwave use.  Of course, they might have been paid for by microwave companies, but I don’t think so 🙂

As you can see here, my first attempt at adapting my favourite porridge recipe to the microwave did not go well…

Undaunted, I took some more advice and tried again 🙂  Here is a photo recipe for my new favourite winter breakfast:

I add in pineapple and pear (about 300g total, and you can use any fruit that cooks well – apple, plum, apricot etc), pour on 55g of oats (I like doing 35g of jumbo rolled oats with 20g of the more milled oats, for a slightly textured but still creamy porridge), add boiling water to just slightly more than cover the lot.  Stick it in the microwave at 850 watts for two and a half minutes, stir, then another two and a half minutes.  Add fresh grapes and a seed mix (or walnuts or other nuts).  Yum!

So, I’ve shown you mine… What’s your favourite winter breakfast?

How Healthily Do You Eat?

Talking with someone last week, they asked: how can we know whether we are eating healthily?  This person’s point was about our perception of what we eat compared to those around us: that if we are surrounded by fitness professionals, we may judge ourselves more harshly than if we are surrounded by people less focused on healthy eating.

The question goes far deeper, though.

Firstly, there is the fact that our own perceptions are skewed by the situations we find ourselves in.  If we have done exercise, for example, we are more likely to allow ourselves “a little treat” and not consider it “bad”.  Or if we see a healthy item on a menu next to an unhealthy item, we actually misjudge the healthiness, or calorie load, of the “bad” item by up to 20%!

Secondly, it’s true that what is considered healthy is constantly changing.  When it first came out, margarine was touted as the healthier option for your heart.  Then, with studies on hydrogenated fats, many nutritionists advised eating butter instead.  However, the debate is not yet over, as there are (as so often) more factors involved: the specific type of fat, even within a broader category such as omega-6 fats, or what the fat is being replaced by in your diet.

Likewise, some might argue that chocolate has gone from being “bad”, to being a superfood so long as you eat it either “dark” or, preferably, “raw”.  The same has happened with alcohol.  While it may not be good for your liver if overimbibed, it has been shown that alcohol can have positive health benefits in small measures, and is “healthier” than being teetotal!

And of course, there’s the fact that fat was long demonized for weight gain and health risks, yet there is now evidence that sugar may be a far larger culprit on both counts.

Thirdly, there is the evidence that different diets suit different people.  Some people say you should eat differently depending on your body type, others say you should base your diet on your blood type.  While arguments against rigidly applying such diets are also strong, the fact of the matter is that there are a lot of factors to take into consideration when deciding what is a healthy diet for you.

If you are diabetic, or have a family history of cancer or heart disease, the recommendations for what you eat will be different.  And many people try particular diets and, despite perhaps believing in them ethically, find they don’t work for them health-wise in the long term.  For instance, a huge number of people embrace vegetarianism, often for years or decades, before deciding it really isn’t for them.

There are also cultural and religious factors to take into account.  Eating against your beliefs is likely to stress you out, and stress affects how well you digest food, so this is a real health concern.

Amongst all this information, personal bias and different needs, how can you know how healthily you are eating?

The answer is that it’s impossible to have a truly objective and definitive answer to how healthily you are eating.  The good news, though, is that eating with awareness will help in all of these situations.  If you are concerned about your diet, keeping a journal can be really helpful.  You might want to track more than just what you eat and when: note down things like how you were feeling before you ate, what exercise you did, how satisfying you found the food, and whether you were eating alone, in company, and how you feel about the people you were eating with.  And these days there are also food journal apps.

If you want to take things to another level, then wellness coaching can be incredibly powerful.  With its focus on exploring what works best for you, and having someone to help you stay accountable, as well as supporting you over any obstacles that come up, it combines lots of different tools for increasing your awareness and honouring your own needs and preferences.

Gut Reaction

Image courtesy of www.innerchange.com.au

Recently, I did some training during which we were asked to complete a questionnaire to figure out how we see the world.  It separated people into realists, thinkers, philosophers, and doers.

I had a big problem with the results, which didn’t match my self-understanding at all.  After thinking it through (which it said wasn’t even my second strongest approach), I realised that the issue was that the questionnaire didn’t take into account the gut and heart brains, for which there is more and more evidence.  I am a thinker, but I also honour the messages of my gut and my heart!

Science shows that we have a relatively huge number of neurons in both our heart and our gut, leading to talk of our having three brains.  There are still some naysayers, who argue that neurons and neural pathways are not the same as a brain, and that only our head-brain can philosophise.  Which, of course, is totally missing the point!  No one is claiming that the gut or the heart process things in the same way as the head.  The whole point is that they do process, and that these are messages we must equally pay attention to, rather than focusing exclusively on what our head says.

It is relevant to note that 90% of the communication between gut and head goes from the former to the latter.  The gut sends messages to the brain for processing, rather than being simply ruled and commanded from the head.

A recent study showed the effect of this communication.  For instance, people who eat more fermented foods and other probiotics are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, typically seen as “mental” problems.  Exercise, of course, is another great mood lifter, expanding the body-mind connection beyond just the gut.

Listening to our “other” brains is important to live a balanced life, and to honour the messages we are getting from different areas.  Coaching can be great for this, giving you tools to tune into those messages, and the time and space to explore them, and to see how to put them into practice in your life.