Taking a Blogging Break

When life gets busy, sometimes it is necessary to prioritise. This is part of the approach I discussed last week, in terms of building resilience to overcome the everyday obstacles of life.

In that vein, I’ll be taking a blogging hiatus over the summer. While I’ll still be available for client sessions, I have priorities besides blogging that I need to focus on for the next couple of months.

If you want some help setting your own priorities and sticking to them, why not get in touch: 07561 231 281 or email ceejaymccracken@gmail.com.

How To Navigate Life’s Winding Roads

Problem-solving for particular issues is a great skill to develop. Yet, life has its ups and downs, its twists and turns, that must be faced everyday.

While there will always be practical things you can do to navigate these, perhaps the biggest strength you can draw on is your inner resources. Chief among these is resilience, the ability to bounce back after minor (or not so minor) setbacks, and to carry on with determination and enthusiasm.

Build your resilience

Problem-solving and building your external resources in the form of support networks are practical, action-based ways to respond to adversity. However, possibly the most important thing you can do to help overcome life’s road blocks is to build your inner resilience.

This may also be part of the previous point, about finding a support network. Finding someone to help you build your resilience can really help move you towards your goals.

Whether you plan to build resilience on your own or with help, what aspects help you develop the inner strength required to overcome obstacles?

Increase your self-confidence

If you can look at problems as something manageable, as opportunities rather than challenges, then you are more likely to come up with solutions.

For instance, remember problems you have faced before, and how you overcame them. Think about the skills and capacities you have.

Stay flexible

As the brainstorming exercise for Disney’s creative problem-solving shows, you need to stay capable of seeing different options. Getting locked into rigid ideas will box you in. So, think about how to stay adaptable. A playful attitude helps with this 🙂

If you are stuck with a problem, take a time out to get your body moving, or to do something fun. Many successful people build in ‘breaks’ on purpose throughout the day, to freshen their minds and approaches.

Get clear on your goals

It’s easier to find a way forward when you know what really matters to you. Sometimes, you find yourself fighting through road blocks, and then realise you have let these divert you from your actual course. Or else, you may find that if you focus on the big picture, rather than your next step, you can get to your goal a different, less blocked way.

What is it that you are really trying to achieve? For example, if you want to get a new job, what is the end goal? Do you want to be earning more money, or doing something more stimulating? Are you hoping for a better set of colleagues, or a more pleasant work environment? It may be that getting a new job isn’t actually the best way for you to achieve your goal right now. Perhaps you really just need to ask for a raise, or suggest the company hires a new catering firm…

Be organised

If your energy is dispersed in many different directions, it is very hard to move beyond obstacles. When things get tough is precisely when you need to focus your energy most specifically. A big push can get you over the hump, whereas if you fritter your strength away doing a bit of this and a bit of that, you may not have what you need to deal with the adversities you are facing. So, get clear, and then be organised and focused on what is most important.

To-do lists can help with this, or a clear timeline of when things need to be done by. Get clear on your priorities, too.

Let go of negativity

If you focus on what you can’t do, or on how big those rocks are, it saps your vitality. Releasing fears and worries, doubts and concerns, can help you get clear and focused, as well as increasing your feeling of self-confidence.

One way to up your positivity is some kind of gratitude practice of exercise. Think about the good things in your life, what truly makes you smile. Of course, this won’t in itself solve your problems. However, when you feel more positive you are also more creative and energised. That way, you are better able to solve your problems yourself.

How hypnotherapy and coaching can help

Coaching is a great tool for helping you get clear on what your real goal is, and the coaching session can be the perfect time to work on problem solving, goal setting, and being organised. Talking over what has worked in the past can also help focus you on the positives, and build your self-confidence.

Hypnotherapy is also perfect for all aspects of resilience building.

When you are in a light trance state, you are more in touch with your subconscious, which is the creative, imaginative, playful part of yourself. You are also more clear and focused, and can bring to mind aspects of the past that can help you now. And you can find and build other inner resources, to increase your self-confidence further.

Hypnotherapy has some wonderful tools to help you visualise your future as you want it, too. That way, your subconscious can provide answers about how to achieve it.

And hypnotherapy or hypnorelaxation can also be used to release negativity. For instance, try this brief meditation to release blocks:

What To Do When Life Throws Stones In Your Path

Have you ever had one of those days/weeks/months/years when life just seems to keep throwing stones in your path?

For example, you want to change job, but there are no interesting jobs in your area. Or you apply for jobs, only to get turned down after the first interview. Or you get to the final interview stage, only to be pipped at the post by someone younger/older/insert adjective of choice.

Or perhaps you are looking for a new relationship, only for your best friend to hook up with the guy or gal you liked. Or you’re sick and tired of online dating after your profile got accidentally deleted, or hacked, or flooded with ‘offers’ you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Or you keep getting into relationships that just don’t work out, leaving you even more disillusioned

Or maybe you want to move home. Lawyers, surveyors, estate agents. ‘Nuff said.

So, what can you do when life continually chucks rocks at you?

Look at every problem as having a solution

First off, there are always options. You may not like some of them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. You need to consider these, and choose the best option for you at this time.

If you don’t like the options you have, consider how you could make them more palatable.

Secondly, there may be options you haven’t thought about. Try a brainstorming exercise to help you find new possibilities.

Walt Disney
Walt Disney talking with some of his creatives

Walt Disney’s approach to problem-solving

Walt Disney, despite his many faults, had a great approach to problem solving. He suggested keeping the steps to a solution totally separate. That could mean having different people handle each step, or really getting into the role of each kind of problem solver.

The three roles or steps he distinguished were: the Dreamer, the Realist, and the Critic. And after they’ve done their bit, you need to decide what you are actually going to do: create an action plan.

The Dreamer

Here’s where you brainstorm. It can be a good idea to warm up to this by doing something playful, by moving around, and generally getting yourself unstuck physically and mentally.

Then, be as creative and as silly as you like. Think of as many possibilities as you can, without censorship. Nothing is too daft, at this stage!

The Realist

Now, it’s time to think about what is actually possible. What would be needed to make any of those ideas work? Who could help? When would it have to happen? Think about the reality of putting any of those solutions into effect.

If something is totally impossible, you’ll have to cross it off your list. Still, you may find that some of that dreamer playfulness helps you come up with realistic possibilities to make something unusual actually work.

The Critic

Finally, the critic comes to spread gloom and doom. “That’s not possible because…” “Worst case scenario, you end up with…” “What about if X happened?” “What’s missing?” “What are the weaknesses of the plan?”

By digging into the downside, rather than optimistically going along with something because you’d like it to be possible, you make it more likely that what you choose will actually succeed. There’s a skill to seeing the weaknesses in a plan, a strength to not letting your enthusiasm run away with you.

Action Plan

Taking into account everything you’ve thought about with your different hats on, which solution works best for you? Which solution is feasible? What do you want to move forward with?

You may not find the ‘perfect’ solution in this way. However, at least you will be clear about what the best path for you is right now. Sometimes, you have to take the least bad option and just run with it.

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Find a support network

When things are tough, it can also be really helpful to get some support.

That might be financial support (think bankers, or parents, or mates who’ll buy you a beer). It could be strategic support (financial advisers, CV specialists, coaches), administrative support (accountants, payroll specialists, a PA – virtual or otherwise, a dating site), or logistical support (removals firms, friends who have friends who are also single). It could be emotional support (therapists, family, friends).

Consider what support you most need, and who can provide it. Will you need to pay for help? Can you find someone knowledgeable from your existing network? How can you get the most from your interactions?

Coach/Hypnotherapist

You may want to consider what a coach and/or hypnotherapist can contribute, in this regard.

Coaching

A coaching session is a great way to create the focus for problem-solving. Your coach can help you find greater clarity around what the exact issue is, and what your end goal is.

For example, if you want a new relationship, are you looking for intimacy, companionship, sex, someone to help pay the bills, someone to grow old with? Maybe you think all of the above, with a sense of humour thrown in for good measure! Still, it can help to get clear about what your priorities are.

Say you’re looking to create a more fulfilling career for yourself, your coach can help you problem-solve around what you need to do and in what order. You might use Disney’s Creative Strategy, but what will help you with the brainstorming? A coach can suggest techniques to assist at every stage, such as using visual cues to bring your playful side onboard while brainstorming, or creating a timeline to assess the practicality of something.

Hypnotherapy

When facing problems, it can sometimes be hard to see beyond the current issues. Hypnotherapy can help to get you in touch with your subconscious, which is a more creative and focused part of yourself.

You might want to focus on bringing to mind past solutions that you can draw on in the present, things you may have consciously forgotten.

You could also visualise the future you want to create, and allow your subconscious to ‘fill in the gaps’: suggesting ways for you to get there.

You could simply use the trance state to enhance your creativity so that you can brainstorm without getting caught up in the ‘shoulds’ and ‘ought tos’ that often block us.

In hypnosis, you can also build your motivation to push on through, and to find the fun in making things work against the odds.

If you’d like some help with a stony problem, why not call or email to set up a free initial consultation? You can contact me on 07561 231 281 or email ceejaymccracken@gmail.com.

What Is Hypno Relaxation

One way of doing it which is growing in popularity is to attend a hypno relaxation class, or even treat yourself to a private hypno relaxation session.
So, what exactly is hypno relaxation and why is it so good for you?

Fast and Effective

Hypno relaxation is a way to quickly help you reach a deep level of relaxation.  It uses hypnotic language to guide you through the process, which means you can reach a wonderful state of inner peace rapidly, and make the most of your time to benefit from the advantages of mindful relaxation.  And as you are being guided throughout, you are also less likely to find your mind drifting to your to-do list or the latest TV show you are into.  That way, the time you spend in relaxation is more effective, too.

Holistic Focus on De-Stressing

Many forms of meditation or relaxation help you de-stress in one way or another, but may not do so holistically.  For example, a massage may help to release the tension in your body, but your mind may still be whirring.  Or counting your breath may occupy your mind, yet you find yourself struggling to focus because your leg/s are getting pins and needles.
Hypno relaxation sessions take a holisitic approach, ensuring that you are relaxed in both body and mind.  You can also use the experience to find inner resources to help you cope better in your everyday life.  And the sessions can help to improve your motivation to make these positive changes, even if it’s just remembering to breathe for a minute every now and again.

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Maximise Your Mind-Body Connection

There’s a growing interest in the scientific literature in what is called psychoneuroimmunology.  Basically, there is more and more evidence of the link between your thoughts and your physical well-being.  This has been used for all kinds of well-being improvements, be it reducing hot flushes, improving IBS symptoms, or reducing the impact and frequency of the colds you may catch.
Hypno relaxation is one of the most effective ways of targeting this powerful connection.  When you are thoroughly relaxed and yet also focused on what is happening, you can make changes at a deep, subconscious or unconscious level.  These changes recruit your body’s natural ability to heal, and put it to work for you.

Find what works best for you

In a hypno relaxation class or session, you can learn a number of different techniques to help you relax, breathe better, de-stress, and recruit your subconscious to improve your physical well-being.  In this way, you get to experience these different approaches, and find which ones work best for you.  On top of that, practising these while in a relaxed state improves your ability to learn, and reinforces you motivation to put them to work in your day-to-day life.

Benefits of a Personalised Session

In addition to all the wonderful aspects of a hypno relaxation class, what benefits are there to having a personalised, one-to-one session?
In the first place, you can choose which areas you most want to focus on: physical relaxation; mental calm; health; or techniques to help you outside of sessions.  You can also let your clinical hypnotist know if there is a particular resource you want to find and make use of, a specific area of well-being you want to improve, or something in particular you want to be able to do better.
Secondly, having someone focused specifically on you means that everything in the session is timed, paced and targeted to best suit your preferences and your natural rhythms.  For example, imagery can be more everyday, more nature-based or more fantasy-based, depending on what you like and respond to.  You can choose how long a session you want, to match your schedule.  And the pace of delivery can be faster or slower, to match your body’s own rhythms.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, hypno relaxation is a fast and effective way to relax in every sense of the word.  Sessions can focus on lots of different aspects, providing a great way to try different elements and figure out what works best for you.  Hypno relaxation can not only de-stress you, but can also help you achieve a greater sense of vitality and wellbeing, as well as activating your immune system to be healthier overall.
Classes are popping up all over the place, so why not give it a go? And if you are interested in a private session, you can contact me to see if we are a good fit. Call me on  07561 231 281 or email me on ceejaymccracken@gmail.com.

Top Eight Reasons To Relax

Relaxation is something we all need and enjoy in one form or another, be it reading a book, listening to music, walking in nature, or doing nothing at all.  Yet many people don’t take time to relax on a regular basis.

Life can seem really hectic and stressful, and there is a feeling of “who has time to relax?”  Knowing just how important it is, though, may change how you choose to prioritise your time.  Here’s a run down of the top eight reasons to make mindful relaxation a regular part of your life:

1) Relieve Stress

Ask just about anyone, and they will admit to having a certain amount of stress in their lives.  And for many, stress becomes quite a bane.  Stress can cause all kinds of physical problems, too, from skin conditions to irritable bowel syndrome.  It is even recognised as a trigger for depression and other serious mental conditions.  All told, reducing your stress can improve both your physical and mental well-being

2) Restore and Strengthen Your Immune System

Relaxation gives your immune system a break from stress hormones which compromise it, such as cortisol.  More than that, though, meditation actually increases your body’s defence systems.  Studies show that T cells and antibodies, both important elements of your immune system, improve with mental and physical relaxation.

3) Provide Some Relief From Chronic Pain

While relaxing both body and mind isn’t a magic wand to remove all pain, there are plenty of studes which show that meditation and relaxation help you manage pain better.  In particular, taking charge by actively seeking to reduce your pain is an important first step.  Relaxing your muscles can help reduce the sensation of pain, while mental relaxation leads to less stress.  Stress can also lead to anxiety and depression, all of which worsen the perception of pain.  Altogether, mindful relaxation is a win-win on the pain front.

4) Improve Sleep

Relaxation has also proved to improve sleep, both in quantity and quality.  Of course, some people use relaxation and meditation practices specifically for sleep.   However, it’s striking that studies aimed at quite different goals also show improvements in sleep – both how long people sleep and how well they feel they sleep.

This is a benefit that accrues over time.  While relaxation can help in a specific instance, regular relaxation practice will affect the amount you sleep and how rested you feel long term, too.

5) Help to Lower Blood Pressure

It’s well-known that high blood pressure is an indicator of cardiovascular risk – the likelihood of suffering a heart attack.  Mindful relaxation reduces your blood pressure, not only in the moment, but throughout your day.

6) Help to Widen and Relax Respiratory Passages

When you relax, your breathing slows and becomes deeper.  Relaxation can also help release tightness in your chest muscles.  Both of these help you breathe better, which helps in a wide range of situations.  For example, it helps with anxiety and asthma attacks, and improves blood oxygenation, which helps nourish all the cells in your body and especially in your extremities.

7) Calm the Automatic Flight-or-Fight Response

While it’s very important to respond quickly to emergencies, in our modern life this response gets triggered by far too many situations.  Be it the tension of watching an exciting program on TV, or the hustle and bustle of city life, lots of everyday occurrences can cause this response.  And when we are in the flight-or-fight mode, other less urgent survival processes take second place.  So, when your fight-or-flight response is triggered too much, it makes it harder for you to digest your food well, or to conceive a baby (and it influences male fertility, as well as that of the woman), amongst many other less immediate survival concerns.

8) Unlock Emotional Blockages

Many people recognise that their emotions have a negative effect on their well-being.  Be it anger that comes out inappropriately, causing trouble with friends or colleagues, or loneliness that sees you snacking by yourself, emotional blockages can cause a lot of damage.  As for how relaxation can help, there is evidence that relaxing your muscles also helps the mind to release its tensions.  This is partly a complementary response – release of one kind triggers release of another kind.

There is also the well-documented fact that we can actually store memories in our bodies.  We talk about muscle memory with things like learning to ride a bike, or how to write with a pen.  Yet, it goes far beyond this.  Many people have had the experience of releasing a muscle through massage or a yoga class, and suddenly having a strong memory of an emotional experience rise up in them.  Our anxieties and experiences are stored in our bodies, and so releasing the tension from muscles through mindful relaxation can also loosen up these muscle memories, allowing them to become unblocked.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that mindfully relaxing on a regular basis is good for both your physical and mental well-being.  While you’ll get some of the benefits from things such as taking a walk or lying quietly listening to music, the more mindfully you relax, the better.  That might mean focusing on your breathing while you think about releasing the tension throughout your body, or it could be attending a hypno relaxation class or session, or listening to a guided relaxation.

A final thought, relaxing doesn’t need to take long.  You can devote just five minutes at a time to relaxing, either by yourself or using a guided hypno relaxation recording like this one.

How Understood Do You Feel?

A recent blog post caught my eye. It asked: if you speak multiple languages, do you need multiple therapists?

Language Is Cultural

The conclusion was that there are some things which can only be said and understood in a particular language with a cultural background to match. Therefore, only someone who speaks the same language can fully understand you.

This idea that some words just don’t translate goes part way to explaining why English has adopted certain foreign words outright. For example, Zeitgeist is ‘the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time’. Or Schadenfreude: ‘pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune’.

Now, you may be saying that, given we adopted these words, we have the same experience. Is that true, though?

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Hospitality

Let’s take the example of hospitality. Yes, English has the word, as do most languages.  What do you mean by it, though?

In certain cultures and times, hospitality has meant that you should offer to wash your guest’s feet, or allow them to sleep with one of your wives. At other times, in other cultures, it includes allowing a stranger to camp in your garden, or offering tea and sandwiches in the parlor to people you have already been introduced to while strangers may get some broth in the kitchen with the servants.

These kind of cultural differences can even be seen within a single country. Hospitality in London is surely a different beast to hospitality in the Outer Hebrides.

I would argue that it goes further than this, though.

Loyalty

Imagine a close friend who considers loyalty a paramount value. To him, this means always supporting friends and family.

While you may respect loyalty, what if independence is a more important value to you? That might mean following the dictates of your beliefs, whether those agree with your friend’s or not.

If your friend ran for an election, he would consider that you must vote for him out of loyalty. However, if you believed another candidate would be better for the job, you would vote for them and consider this good sense, rather than disloyalty.

What you mean by loyalty and what your friend means by loyalty are different, even though you come from the same culture.

Misunderstood

The point is this: even if you speak the same language as someone else, you still may not mean the same thing with the words that you use. A lot of misunderstandings come from this.

Whether this is two partners who mean different things when they say I love you, or a work colleague whose notion of ‘soon’ doesn’t match your expectations, language can be a strange barrier.

Clarify

Getting clear about how and where misunderstandings are happening can be really liberating. Realising that you can work things out by changing your language, or explaining what you mean by a particular word, can seem silly and simple. Yet, sometimes simple is the best way to go.

It can be interesting to have a coach or therapist whose first language is not the same as your own, precisely because you become more aware of this potential for misunderstanding. Still, you don’t need to find someone from another country to benefit from coaching.

The Meta-Model

The Meta-Model is a theory of language used as a coaching tool, and a way of exploring what is really going on for you. Digging into what words mean, for you and for others, can help you find a better way to move forward. It can also be extremely powerful to help you understand what your core values are: so that you can then get them met.

After all, if you don’t truly understand what you want, you don’t know how to go about it, and may not even recognise when you find it.

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Imagination

Another factor is actually being able to communicate without unhelpful emotions or inner dialogues getting in the way.

Hypnosis is a wonderful way to tame your inner demons so that you don’t sabotage yourself. For example, it can help you to change a belief like “I have no luck with job interviews”. In part, it can do this through exploring what you mean by not being lucky, and by boosting your self-esteem and self-confidence. It can also help you to rehearse interview situations and practice how to show yourself to best effect, all within your imagination.

To take another example, that of a romantic couple. In hypnosis you might explore how something your partner says that really upsets you is linked to events in your past. You can heal that past event by revisiting it in your imagination and applying resources from the present day. These resources will then serve you in your current situation.

Success

Successfully communicating what you really mean, and not falling into misunderstanding others, can make your life go much more smoothly. The first part of this is to clarify where the issues are arising, finding the linguistic and cultural aspects that have led to issues. The second part is to change how you interact with others, by changing your perspective and approach. In this way, you understand yourself and others better, and achieve your goals in a more satisfying way.

 

 

Top Nine Reasons to Write

How often have you thought about a question, come up with an answer in your head, and then written something else entirely?

There is something about the act of writing that triggers a different perspective on what you are considering. As one academic has put it: scribo ergo cogito – I write, therefore I think (Kaufman, 2013).

Writing shapes the way you see the world and yourself. And you can write for a variety of purposes.

  1. Therapeutic writing – for example, journalling and autobiographical writing.
  2. Writing for social change – you see this in journalism (well, the good kind), and even when people write letters of protest or advocacy.
  3. Emotional writing – such as writing a love letter, or a hate-filled rant.
  4. Aesthetic writing – great literature and poetry fall into this category.
  5. Business writing – far more prosaic, but an important part of many people’s lives.  This can be a combination of writing to inform and to persuade.
  6. Note making – be it a to-do list, or a shopping list, or writing down information from a presentation, this isn’t emotive writing, but it’s still important.

All of these encourage reflection, they encourage you to think while you write.

A lot of people, though, have been put off writing by experiences at school, or by the fact that they find it easier to express themselves in different ways: through words, music, art, video, the possibilities are seemingly endless. There is a strong case, though, for including writing in your repertoire.

Here are the top 9 reasons why writing is a great practice:

  1. Writing improves your mood – this isn’t just the case with something like a gratitude journal, though that’s an excellent place to start. There is evidence that this can occur with journalling and blogging, too (Grant and Dutton, 2012, King, 2001)
  2. Writing promotes cognitive and intellectual growth – (Sullivan and Brown, 2015, Bean, 2011).  While both papers are talking about students, this is also relevant to everyone. After all, if you want to stay mentally active all your life, continued mental stimulation is vital, and writing is a great way to go about this.
  3. Writing improves your memory – anyone who worries that their memory is not what it was can use writing as a way to practice their memory. For instance, writing a daily gratitude journal, as well as improving your mood, also asks you to remember what has happened over the last 24 hours. Or if you write something autobiographical (see the point on hard times – 5), that asks you to work your memory about far further in the past.
  4. Writing helps you communicate more clearly – writing helps you clarify your thoughts. This doesn’t just lead to better writing, but also helps you to speak your thoughts, too (Miles et al., 2016). Interestingly, learning to write is also associated with doing better at maths – communicating mathematical ideas and concepts, and being able to think creatively and rationally.
  5. Writing assists in hard times – you definitely don’t just have to write about the ‘good’ stuff.  Numerous studies have shown that writing about traumatic experiences, although difficult, leads to improvement in mood after as little as two weeks. Admittedly, you may feel worse for those two weeks, though (Tausczik and Pennebaker, 2010, Pennebaker, 1999, Pennebaker, 1997).
  6. Writing clears your mind – it’s a bit like having too many tabs open in your browser.  Having too many ideas running around your head drains your productivity.  So, getting those ideas down on paper frees you up to actually think creatively about them and act on them.
  7. 7 Styles of LearningWriting improves learning – most people are aware that there are different learning styles (see the infographic above).  However, while you may use one more than the others, all of them will influence you.  There is evidence that people who are literate learn more easily than those who aren’t. It may simply be that they have an extra way of learning, and an extra symbolic system on which to hang any new understanding they have. Whatever the case, if you can write something down in your own words, you have a far better chance of learning and truly understanding it.
  8. Writing improves your relationships – Pennebaker did some more research (Slatcher and Pennebaker, 2006) around writing about your relationship.  He found that people who took the time to reflect in this way were more likely to express positive emotions to their partner, and more likely to still be with them three months down the line.
  9. Writing lets you move other people – there are only so many people that you can reach in person. These days, there are many other ways to extend your influence. However, writing is definitely still an important one. Consider journalism, blogging, books. If you want to make a difference to a large number of people, being able to write your thoughts is a great place to start. Whether it’s a business blog or a piece of poetry, the written word is far reaching.

As a coach, I often encourage my clients to make writing a part of their life, to help boost their mood, their creativity, and their ability to communicate with others.  Here are some writing games you could try to get yourself fired up:

  1. The six-minute write: write whatever is in your head, without censorship, don’t stop for six minutes, don’t worry about grammar or quality, just write anything.  Remember, in this game, whatever you write is right. And you don’t need to re-read it unless you want to 😀
  2. Journal about gratitude: make it real, specific, and emotional.  For example, rather than saying “I am grateful for sunshine,” you might write something like: “I am grateful for my eyes, which allow me to enjoy the spring sunshine dappling through trees with their bright green, new leaves on my morning walk. I feel alive when I see the amazing quality of the light, and think of the new growth and potential there is right now.”
  3. Use visual cues to spark your creativity. Google a particular word and look for images. Find one that speaks to you, and then write about it. It could be a poem or a story, the main point is to allow your creativity to flow.
  4. Write a haiku. This simple form of poetry is a lovely practice to try out. You could open a book and find the first word that catches your attention, then write a haiku based on it. At its simplest, a haiku is made up of three lines with a 5/7/5 syllable structure. For example: sensuality/ brings joy and inspiration/ in moderation.

If none of these rock your boat, do a google search for writing exercises, or ask friends what they do. You’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy, and there are so many ways it can benefit you. So, just write!

References:

BEAN, J. C. 2011. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. , San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

GRANT, A. & DUTTON, J. 2012. Beneficiary or benefactor: are people more prosocial when they reflect on receiving or giving? Psychol Sci, 23, 1033-9.

KAUFMAN, P. 2013. Scribo Ergo Cogito. Teaching Sociology, 41, 70-81.

KING, L. A. 2001. The Health Benefits of Writing About Life Goals. PSPB, 27, 798-807.

MILES, K. P., EHRI, L. C. & LAUTERBACH, M. D. 2016. Mnemonic Value of Orthography for Vocabulary Learning in Monolinguals and Language Minority English-Speaking College Students. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 46, 99-112.

PENNEBAKER, J. W. 1997. Writing About Emotional Experiences As A Therapeutic Process. Psychological Science, 8, 162-166.

PENNEBAKER, J. W. 1999. Forming a Story: The Health Benefits of Narrative. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55, 1243-1254.

SLATCHER, R. B. & PENNEBAKER, J. W. 2006. How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Words: The Social Effects of Expressive Writing. Psychological Science, 17, 660-664.

SULLIVAN, A. & BROWN, M. 2015. Reading for pleasure and progress in vocabulary and mathematics. British Educational Research Journal, 41, 971-991.

TAUSCZIK, Y. R. & PENNEBAKER, J. W. 2010. The Psychological Meaning of Words: LIWC and Computerized Text Analysis Methods. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 29, 24-54.

How Ready Meals Keep You Addicted to Sugar, or Why the Third Princess Inherited the Kingdom

Life is so busy, who has time (and the skills) to cook food from scratch for every meal?

Who Cooks For Whom?

It’s not just in our modern day that people have turned to other people to make their food.  Street food exists in most cultures that are even vaguely urban.  And the rich of every society has enjoyed the benefits of paying people to cook for them, be they Pharoahs, Roman citizens, or feudal lords.

Now, getting other peope to make your food for you has become incredibly affordable.  Possibly even cheaper than trying to cook for yourself, given economies of scale.  It’s a strange irony that it is now corporations who make money from people buying food made by others, rather than it being just the wealthy who pay for their food.

Whether it’s a takeaway from a local restaurant or a ready meal from the supermarket, food prepared by someone else is now within the reach of almost everyone.  However, is that a good thing?

What’s In Your Food?

There’s a fairytale in which a King asks his daughters to give him the most valuable thing in the kingdom, to decide who should become Queen after him.  He is very unimpressed by his third daughter, who gives him salt.  Until, that is, he has to eat food without salt.

Now, you may have noticed that over the last decade there has been a huge upsurge in foods that mix salt and sugar.  For example, all those yummy salted caramel chocolates, or sea salt chocolate, or salty and sweet popcorn.  These are just the obvious tip of the sugar and salt iceberg.

Salt is a flavour enhancer, and it can even enhance the already powerful (and addictive) delights of sugar.  Sweet and savoury are no longer seen as things to be kept separate, but are often combined.  And even when the two aren’t sold as complementary flavours, most prepared foods do combine them.

For example, look at the label on any ready made sauce, like a bolognaise or a thai green curry.  There is sugar in practically all of them, and plenty of salt, too.

It’s Not Just Ready Meals

In fact, it’s not just ready meals and other processed foods.  If you look at a cookery book from fifty years ago and compare the recipes, you’ll find they contain a lot less sugar and salt than the equivalent recipes in a book today!  So, even if you’re cooking at home, you may be putting quite a bit of salt and sugar into your food.

So, what’s the solution?

Eat More Real Food

Eating real food is faster, easier and cheaper than you may think.  Even if you don’t want to change everything, just adding a few elements of real food will make a difference.

For example, alongside something you get from the supermarket, you could steam up some fresh veggies.  Or cook your own rice to go with a takeaway.

A great mantra for cooking real food is KISS: Keep it Short and Simple.  Depending on your diet, you could have pasta with steamed veg and either some tofu, some almonds or some salmon.  Just add a little oil and some herbs (or chili, if you’re so inclined), and you have a healthy meal in minutes.

Fall In Love With Fruit

If you have a sweet tooth, try substituting fruit for some of your sweet treats.  Medjool dates, for instance, are incredibly sweet and juicy.  Or try dipping some chopped fruit into dark chocolate for a choc-fix with less calories and more nutrients.

The Flavour Point Diet

This is a fascinating concept.  The basic idea is that humans recognise only a limited number of distinct meta-flavours, such as sweet, salty, spicy.  When you eat something, you need to keep eating that meta-flavour until you are satisfied.  So, if you eat something that is sweet and spicy, you will need to eat more to satisfy both of those flavours, than if you were just eating something sweet.

In a simple version, plenty of studies show that if you have a limited number of food types/flavours in any given meal, you naturally eat less, and feel more satisfied.  So, for example, surf-and-turf, buffet meals, or a tasting menu of seven courses, are about the worst thing that you can go for.  At any meal, try to stick to just one or two dishes.

Another fun fact is that if you can make the shape and colour of the food on your plate similar, this also reduces how much you eat.  So, can you have all green (or yellow, or red) foods and chop all of it in the same shape?  Having a single sauce for the entire dish will also trigger those satiety messages.

How Hypnosis Can Help

Hypnosis can help by increasing your motivation to eat and cook better.  It can help you de-stress, so that you feel like you have more time and energy to spend on your food.  Equally, it can make sure you notice just how quick and easy it can be to make delicious meals.  And hypnosis can bring to the fore the part of you that savours and enjoys healthy food.

You can also use hypnosis to look at old baggage that may be getting in your way.  For instance, messages from childhood about what you should or shouldn’t eat, or about what food means, may be sabotaging you.  Finding and changing these messages can make a huge difference.

 

 

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?

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!