What's in Your Mental Health Toolkit?

How Stable is Your Mental Health?

On 15 February 2020, as I scrolled through my Facebook news feed, it soon became apparent that the TV and radio presenter, Caroline Flack, had unfortunately taken her own life at the relatively young age of 40. What soon became even more apparent, was just how many of my own family, friends and associates had been affected by this sad news.

As someone who doesn’t watch much TV, especially reality TV, the name Caroline Flack didn’t really mean much to me. When I saw her picture, I did recognise her as a TV personality, but even so I was somewhat surprised by just how many people were shaken by her untimely death. Not just my family, friends and associates, or even Caroline’s, but many celebrities who knew her or had worked with her too. I guess Caroline doesn’t fit the bill for what many of us imagine mental health issues to “look” like.

Whilst I wasn’t really familiar with Caroline’s work, I do recall feeling a similar level of grief and shock when Chester Bennington of Linkin Park took his own life back in July 2017. Whilst I obviously didn’t know him personally either, his music had been in the background of my life for 20 years or so such that it hit me a lot harder than I expected at the time. I think it’s the thought of what these people must have been going through mentally to think that suicide was their only way out that hits most of us so much harder than, say, a tragic but unexpected accidental death.

At the moment there does seem to be a bit of a witch-hunt against the media in the stories printed about Caroline following a domestic incident between her and her boyfriend back in December, which no doubt added to the mental torment and stress she was already clearly under that night, and which only got worse with her arrest and looming court date. Whilst I fully agree that if the media played a part in her death by publishing untrue and unfounded stories about Caroline and what really happened that night, without at least first checking the accuracy of the stories they published this needs to be addressed, by blaming the media I think we’re all missing an important opportunity to look at our own mental health stability here.

Caroline Flack’s family have recently released Caroline’s own final unpublished Instagram post as a way of helping her to have her voice heard in the aftermath of her death, and a lot of what Caroline says here warrants a good hard look at just how well any of us would cope with a major life change. It’s a stark reminder as to just how quickly things can turn on a dime: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-51557180

Speaking as someone who had a mild, but long-lasting, depression for several years and who is only now getting to the stage where I feel able to taper off the anti-depressants completely, I know well how quickly one’s mental health can have a “wobble”, and just how very much longer it can take to feel fully recovered. There is a lot of great advice out there on the internet from reputable sources like the NHS, Mind and even other bloggers who’ve been there themselves too. The difficulty is that for many people already mired in a depressive episode, following that advice can feel like climbing a mountain.

For those already feeling depressed, the starting point has to be to reach out to your healthcare provider and if even that feels too hard, speak to a close friend/family member and ask for their help. That too can feel an impossible task, so reaching out to a service like The Samaritans or even talking to others in a (healthy and supportive) internet chat environment where recovery is promoted, can be other excellent alternatives when those first important steps feel just too hard to take.

It’s also important to remember that depression takes many forms – it isn’t always crying and sadness. For me it was a constant, lingering apathy, weariness and fatigue with life, work, family, friends, hobbies – everything! It was only after suffering in silence for months that I eventually went to the doctor to find out just why I was so tired all the darn time that I even began to entertain the thought that I could be depressed, at the doctor’s suggestion, and it all started slotting into place – slowly!

A key part of my recovery has been accepting just how fragile our mental health is, as well as my absolute responsibility in preserving it. There was no huge life event that led to my depression – just quite simply a lot of little stressors that became so unmanageable that I eventually snapped. Looking back, it’s quite amazing that it held out as long as it did!

The real key for me going forward will be to plan to protect my mental health as much as possible so that I never find myself in that situation again, or, if I do, I already have the tools to manoeuvre myself back to mental health wellness via the most straightforward route. It’s the same “prevention is better than cure” message that we’ve heard about our physical health for years that we now urgently need to incorporate into our mental health wellness and well-being toolkit too, if we’re to reduce the sheer volume of these sad instances of suicide, regardless of celebrity status. Incorporating these tools only once somebody is already depressed is, sadly, sometimes too much of an ask.

My Wellbeing and Wellness Toolkit currently includes:

  • Staying active – walking the dog once a day and yoga at least 4-5 times per week might not sound a lot but it adds up to a big difference!
  • Getting a pet – game-changer! We’ve had fish and rabbits and guinea pigs but, firstly, you don’t really get to walk them so that doesn’t help in staying active, but having a reason to get up out of bed some mornings and someone to look after and yes, even talk to, can help a body stay positive and feel connected.
  • Care for others – a good alternative if you don’t want to commit to a pet is to do something for others. Volunteering might be a great place to start.
  • Talking about it – I used to hate reading that being more social was all that I needed to fix my depression. I knew that it wasn’t. But it doesn’t have to mean going to see a friend or even going out. There are of course professionals, many of whom you can self-refer to and have telephone appointments with, or see getting a pet above – they’re great listeners! Another option I see a lot of, being a blogger, is to start a blog or comment on someone else’s blog. Talking about it with someone who has been there, done that, can be great reassurance that you’re not alone. Just be sure that you come away from the interaction feeling more, not less, positive about yourself.
  • Keep in touch – I’m seeing a lot at the moment on social media that we should all check up on our friends more and whilst that may be great advice for some people, I think it shows a lack of understanding at just how well those suffering with mental health issues are at hiding their problems from their loved ones. I also think it puts an unfair burden on loved ones, most of whom are not qualified mental health professionals, to be able to recognise a mental health condition in their nearest and dearest. Talk about a guilt trip! Having said that, if you are feeling down but up to keeping in touch with your loved ones, do try to find a way to do so. I love a good meme myself – has a nice personal touch and tend to be funny as well and we all know that laughter really is the best medicine.
  • Drink in moderation – many of us like drowning our sorrows when we’re on a downer but, as I’m sure we all know, that’s just adding fuel to the fire and we’ll likely end up feeling worse. When I massively reduced my alcohol intake to no more than once or twice a month at the most from several times a week, my life improved. Not overnight but it stabilised. There’s even such a thing as alcohol-induced depression. Now I’m no doctor, so I can’t say with any certainty, but interesting that once I sorted out my drinking levels, my depression lifted…
  • Eat well – follows on from the point above really. If you’re just chowing down on processed foods and/or on a blood sugar roller-coaster on a daily basis, you’re not going to feel great. Food is medicine. Learn how to heal yourself from within – there’s an abundance of information out there whether on the web, book store or even library. Educate then heal yourself with food.
  • Take a break/ask for help – I used to think that I was Wonder Woman and that I could, or should, be able to do it all. What awful pressure to put myself under?! I now recognise my limits and believe me it’s a wonderful thing. A great way to risk your mental health and sanity is to expect far too much from yourself. Tip: if you’re feeling like you’re doing too much, you probably are. How could you reduce the stress you’re under now before it breaks you? And then how will it all get done? Trust me, time well spent!
  • Re-connect with hobbies/interests – what do you like doing that genuinely makes you feel good about yourself? Do more of that!

What’s in your Mental Health Wellness and Wellbeing Toolkit that you couldn’t be without? Let me know in the comments.

And if there’s anyone at all you think would benefit from anything written here, please do share this post with them 🙂

What's Your Vibe Quiz

What’s Your Soul’s Energy Vibe?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, or even done, an online quiz on the site so, if you’ve got 5 minutes to kill and a burning desire to know what your soul’s energy vibe is, why not follow the link and find out? https://play.howstuffworks.com/quiz/whats-your-souls-energy-vibe?utm_source=share-copy&utm_medium=referral

I got:

Healing Vibe

When you answered our questions, your soul was open and giving. You give off such a kind and healing vibe that a lot of your energy seems to be focused around wellness. People feel drawn to your calm nature, and you are always there to lend a hand. Your friends have learned that your brand of caring is rare, and they cherish your soul’s energy!”

Kind of interesting given the purpose of this site!

I’d love to know what you got in the comments and if you think your results were accurate.

Want to Feel Younger?

The Real Secret to Eternal Youth

Whilst many of us may tell ourselves that age is just a number, the message we receive externally is often very different. Books, magazines, films, TV shows and adverts repeatedly allude to our supposed innate desire for eternal youth. And why not – who doesn’t want to both look and feel younger from time to time?

Of course, there are all manner of products and gimmicks out there promising to knock years off our appearance in an effort to encourage us to part with our hard-earned cash, many of which may well even work. But such products are likely to be, quite literally, only skin deep and, as such, are of limited usefulness in our ongoing quest for the fountain of youth.

What’s the alternative?

Well hopefully something that has you glowing from the inside out – playing! As George Bernard Shaw famously stated:

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing”.

George Bernard Shaw

I don’t know about you but that quote definitely has the ring of truth in it for me! How often these days do we just “play” for the sake of playing? Not to amuse the kids or because it’s a team-building day at work, but like we used to when we were kids – for no other reason than for the pure fun of it?

I suppose that now we’re “grown-ups” we’re all far too busy and important to take the time to play. It’s actually quite amusing just how seriously most of us take ourselves on a day-to-day basis over things that, in the grand scheme of things, really just don’t matter. Amusing, if not a little ironic really for those of us who do want to look and feel a little younger!

Learning how to play

Sounds strange doesn’t it but I would think most of us haven’t played for fun in a long, long time! So you might wonder where to start. I accidentally came across a good place to start last weekend when my 8-year old daughter was invited to a party at Total Ninja, an indoor obstacle course. With 2 hours to kill whilst she was at the party, my husband and I decided we thought it looked fun and might as well have a go too. So much fun! http://www.totalninja.co.uk/

Wow, used muscles that I’d forgotten I had and I’m still feeling it 4 days on but well worth it just to remind myself to just run about and have fun occasionally – even if I did have to come home and have a nap to recover afterwards!

So, maybe the real secret to eternal youth is to make time to play – be sure to share this secret with someone you think might need to hear it and remember:

“Keep adventuring and stay not a grown-up.”  

J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Idyllic Imbolc

The Wheel of the Year Continues to Turn…

January is often described as feeling like the longest month of the year. After the fun and frivolity of Christmas and New Year celebrations, the first few weeks of the year in comparison can seem bleak and boring, devoid of anything to look forward to.

But, slowly we begin to notice little signs that the harshness of Winter is beginning to fade: the sun rises a little earlier and sets a little later, greenery starts to sprout in the soil and in the trees. Mama Earth is beginning to awaken.

In the Celtic calendar, this time of year, around 1 February, was known as Imbolc, said to mean “in the belly”, or pregnant. It is as if the earth is pregnant, expectant and alive with the promise of the coming of the Spring once again. Just like an expectant mother feels the quickening of the child in the womb in the weeks before its birth, there are signs of life stirring starting to emerge.

Those who celebrate Imbolc take this time to honour the Irish Goddess Brigid, particularly known as a Goddess of fire, the sun and the hearth, of healing, poetry and smith-craft. She is the Goddess of fertile lands and people, with obvious links to midwifery and newborns. She is the maiden of the Triple Goddess.

Traditionally in the farming calendar, this time of year was also known as Oimelc – ewes’ milk – because it marks the start of the lambing season, whilst in the Christian calendar it is celebrated as Candlemas. The Goddess Brigid was so popular amongst the Celtic people that she was supposedly carried on within the Christian faith as St Bridget.

Our ancestors would have celebrated this time as one of their several fire festivals held throughout the year as well as a time of renewal, dedication and purification, with feasting and decorating of their homes, particularly their hearths, with a Brigid cross or doll.

Ways for you to mark the promise of Spring might be with the planting of a few seeds, a cleansing ritual bath with salts and incense for purification or going on a nature walk to see what signs of the coming Spring you can spy! It could be a simple meditation or prayer of thanks, a goal planning session, wish-making or offering of dedications. Alternatively, you might choose to decorate your home and/or fireplace with a few white and green candles, snowdrops, daffodils or crocuses.

Whilst Winter is not yet fully behind us, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and for me this is what Imbolc is really all about – hope that warmer, brighter days are coming soon after the cold, dark harshness of Winter. Indeed, as John Steinbeck famously said:

What good is the warmth of Summer, without the cold of Winter to give it sweetness”.

John Steinbeck

You may already have very own way of marking this “pre-Spring” occasion and if so I’d love to hear how in the comments below.

If you’d like to know more about traditional Celtic celebrations and how to get more in touch with nature and ways to celebrate it throughout the year, take a look at some of our other articles by clicking on the following links:

https://myholisticliving.co.uk/2019/09/21/merry-mabon/

https://myholisticliving.co.uk/2019/12/21/why-we-really-celebrate-christmas/

https://myholisticliving.co.uk/2019/11/02/happy-celtic-new-year/

Until the Wheel of the Year turns again…

Trouble Sleeping?

Try a “Head Orgasm”!

Or to give it its technical term, ASMR, short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Fans of the relaxation method have also referred to it feeling like a brain massage, similar to how background or white noise is used by some people to lull them to sleep.

What is it?

Basically, it’s a tingly sensation in your head and/or body caused by hearing certain sounds, usually tactile, soft and repetitive, such as whispering, tapping, scratching, using scissors, striking a match or ripping of paper, for example. In fact, on You Tube there are literally hundreds of videos of folk doing just that which until I tried it, frankly, I was certain would be more annoying than relaxing to listen to. I was wrong.

Is it for You?

There’s probably an ASMR video for pretty much every scenario you can think of. Some take more of a healing “reiki” based approach. Others are role plays where questions are asked of you in various settings whether at a doctors, a make up artist or a hairdressers, all whilst various other noises are made in the background. Then there are the more imaginative role plays: a vampire’s snack, alien abductee, zombie apocalypse!

Does it Work?

I can only speak from personal experience and I find it intensely relaxing, but of course some videos are more relaxing than others. If you’re trying it for sleep-inducing purposes, I’d suggest a reiki/healing-based ASMR video, at least initially. I rarely make it to the end of one of these videos without drifting off into a deep, relaxing sleep.

Is it Safe?

The general consensus on the internet at least seems to be that where ASMR is used for relaxation purposes in adults, then it is thought to be relatively risk-free. As with any new practice, I’d always recommend doing your own research, speaking to your own health care provider and factoring in your own specific health needs before giving it a try yourself.

If you’ve factored all that in however and are ASMR-curious, why not give it a try and see how much better you sleep? Or feel free to share this article with someone who you know needs a good night’s sleep.

Energy Reading: 2020 Rune Reading

What Does 2020 Have in Store for You?

Check out your 2020 12-card spread below – I’ve purposely left it vague in terms of timelines. You may wish to link one card to each month of the year starting January through December or take all the cards as a whole for a general year overview. A further option would be to start with your Sun Sign (often known as star sign) and follow it in order from there. For example, my Sun Sign is Aquarius, so my 2020 rune reading could start there, followed by Pisces and then back to the start, Aries, Taurus, etc.

Have fun with it and remember, the future is never written in stone – even with the runes! We all have the power to change our destiny.

LAGU in the position of Aries:

Lagu is symbolic of flowing water, our emotions and unconsciousness. Aries, a Fire sign, whilst creative and energetic, can be impetuous, impatient and overly dramatic with this pairing. Both the rune and its position suggest a strong intuition.

Work with the watery influence of Lagu to quench overly fiery emotions. Maybe listen to your intuition and pour your creative energies into a hobby or interest you’ve been meaning to start or return to for some time.

KEN in the position of Taurus:

Think of Ken as like fire; warming, illuminating, lively and exciting but also as an element that must be controlled to avoid its destructive tendencies. Taurus, an Earth sign, forebodes stability and solidity, reliability and standing strong.

An unusual mix – stability twinned with excitement. A good time to start/add to your family or start branching out in your life/career.

WYRD in the position of Gemini:

The blank rune of Wyrd denotes that you have reached a crossroads – think carefully before determining your future path. Fate is foretold. Gemini, an Air sign, being the Twins suggests a choice, communication, fun and thoughtfulness.

The start of a new year and decade is indeed a crossroads. Whilst it’s important to think through your options carefully and to communicate your plans to those closest to you, be sure to factor in time for fun and lightheartedness on your future path.

WYN (reversed) in the position of Cancer:

Being reversed, Wyn foretells that 2020 does hold a challenge that you may be unable to overcome. The maternal and nurturing Water sign of Cancer, whilst sensitive and moody at times, is also gentle and all about home and family.

At first glance, this prediction might seem frightening but look back on previous years – was there something that one year you just could not do but then another year overcame it? The prediction is not that you will never overcome a particular challenge, just maybe not in 2020. Call on the support of your nearest and dearest to see you through any challenging times. Take this message as a warning especially if you have an important test or exam coming up, not to be complacent.

SIGEL (reversed) in the position of Leo:

Similar to The Sun card in tarot reading, Sigel denotes spirituality, good health, energy and vitality and even reversed remains a positive influence. Be wary of taking on too much, showing off and/or a tendency towards the dramatic. Fire sign Leo’s ruling planet is also the Sun and Leo often loves to take centre stage and show off but is also loyal, generous, creative and expressive.

Through 2020, be gracious and magnanimous in the good times and in the bad and be sure to share the stage of your life with those who positively add to it to avoid coming off arrogant.

HAGAL in the position of Virgo:

Hagal is a hailstorm whose meaning is similar to the Tower card in tarot – sudden, disruptive and often unexpected change, usually over as quickly as it begins but with the damage caused often lasting longer than the storm itself. This can often relate to health and the Earth sign of Virgo has strong associations to health and well-being as well as strong analytic tendencies.

There may be a sudden and unexpected health change indicated for 2020 – remember prevention is better than cure. Heed the warning now and start taking care of yourself to better prepare for any coming health “storm”. Take time now to analyse where you most need to improve your health and act now and it may well be a blessing in disguise.

IS in the position of Libra:

Is – the rune of ice, cold, lonely, independent but frozen. Combined with the Air sign of Libra whose ruling planet is Venus, you may find relationships and emotions frozen in time. Use the infamous Libran fairness and equality to balance both sides of any argument.

Relationships may reach an impasse in 2020 leading to feelings of loneliness but also independence. Give it time and wait for the warmth of the Sun rune, Sigel, to come and melt the ice.

GYFU in the position of Scorpio:

“Offering to the Gods” is the meaning of Gyfu, symbolic of gifts of love, spirituality and friendship and linked to Venus, you may give or receive an actual gift or provide some other sacrifice, e.g. time, money, advice. Whilst a positive rune, it is important that all gifts are given freely if our relationships are to run smoothly or resentment and bitterness creep in. Scorpio is a Water sign ruled by Pluto, God of the Underworld, brooding and intense, possessive and controlling, powerful, passionate and exciting.

Be sure the price of the gift is worth it.

PEORTH (reversed) in the position of Sagittarius:

Peorth represents a mystery or secret in your life that, being reversed, will be revealed. Sagittarius, a Fire sign, is linked to travel, honesty, education and intellect.

Are you being honest with those around you or yourself even? Is it time to face some honest truths or to reveal a secret that you have been holding back?

FEOH (reversed) in the position of Capricorn

Abundance is generally foretold by Feoh however as it is reversed, the opposite can be true. Conservative and resourceful Capricorn, an Earth sign, disciplined and wise, could be just what is needed to avoid or make the best of financial difficulties.

The ever-practical Capricorn influence dilutes the potential financial calamity foretold by this rune – provided you work with it. 2020 is a time to grow up financially. In debt? Make a plan to get out of it. Want to get on the housing ladder? What are your options? Just like with health, when it comes to wealth, prevention is better than cure.

ANSUR (reversed) in the position of Aquarius

Ansur is strongly linked to the wise, ancient God, Odin and being reversed, suggests a need to listen to those older and wiser than ourselves and to watch for a tendency towards problems with those in authority. Positioned in the Air sign of Aquarius whose watch words include “I know”, intellectualism, individuality, and rebelliousness, this could indicate a need to watch our attitude to others.

Make 2020 a year where you really try to listen to others as otherwise Ansur placed in Aquarius, with its rebellious and eccentric nature, could stir up a world of trouble for you across all areas of your life. Instead treat 2020 as a year for you to become the student not the master and benefit from the wisdom and knowledge of everyone around you who is willing to share their expertise with you.

GER in the position of Pisces

Ger is the rune of cycles, linked to the Wheel of Fortune card of the tarot, seasons, harvests and karma. Pisces, the final Water sign, is dreamy and emotional, sympathetic, sensitive and artistic.

2020 will be the year where you will reap what you sow. Dream big and be creative and artistic to uncover a new direction for yourself. Be there for others but be sure to take time to recuperate and try to link your daily life more closely to the seasons.

Your 2020 Rune Reading

If you enjoyed your reading, please share across social media as it really helps the site grow meaning I can start spending more time on the site!

All the best for 2020!

Why We Really Celebrate Christmas

The Winter Solstice

And it’s nothing to do with Jesus! Not originally anyway. No, Christmas (aka “yule” here in the UK), was a time when the Celts celebrated the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year.

That’s a pretty bold opening statement! I should say before going on that I have nothing against celebrating Jesus’ birth at this time of year. My sole purpose in writing this post was to explore the origins of this celebration, see what traditions we still stick to today and their believed original purpose. If anything, it is written as a way to bring us together, regardless of personal beliefs and reasons for celebrating so apologies for any offence caused.

So far this year I’ve already posted about other celebrations such as Midsummer/Litha, Harvest/Mabon and Halloween/Samhain. Each time, I’ve been delighted to discover more about our ancestral origins and just how many of these are still celebrated, whether under a different name and/or for different reasons, today. Our past history and heritage it seems is very much alive and present now – as long as you know where to look.

Of all the celebrations of modern times, in the UK, Christmas seems to be the most popular, despite the fact that many of those celebrating don’t attend church, read the bible or indeed consider themselves of the Christian faith. Could it be that remnants of the old faith and beliefs of the Celts are inadvertently celebrated without many of us realising?

Before becoming known as “Christmas” or Christ-mass, a day to remember Jesus and specifically that he was born to die for us all, the Romans celebrated this time as “Saturnalia”, held in honour of the God of Agriculture, Saturn. Even before that, the Celtic people celebrated this time as “Yule”, a term which is still synonymous in modern parlance with Christmas today. The term Yule is believed to have come from the Celtic word for wheel “houl” as it linked back to the Wheel of the Year, the solstices, equinoxes and the changing of the seasons.

Wheel of the Year

Yule was a time when it was believed that the Sun stood still for twelve days, with the Druids (Celtic priests) lighting a yule log to overcome the darkness, expel evil spirits and bring good luck for the coming year. Mistletoe would be cut from the sacred Oak trees, symbolic of life continuing even in the darkest of days. Essentially, it was a time to celebrate the return of the days getting longer and the nights getting shorter – the rebirth of the Sun.

It’s almost impossible not to see the parallel with the later Christian faith and tradition of Christmas of the “birth of the Son” with the “rebirth of the Sun” as well as the Twelve Days of Christmas, with the Twelve Days of Yule, mistletoe and burning of the yule log still celebrated in modern times, often without ever realising their true origins. We celebrate Christmas as the day of the Son of God’s birth; the Celts celebrated Yule, in essence, as the Sun’s birthday. Are we not all celebrating the same thing just under a different name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Juliet Capulet, Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare

Some other traditions of Yule the Celts celebrated:

  • Hanging of evergreens such as mistletoe and holly around windows and doors. Mistletoe’s white berries were said to represent the white semen of the life-giving male hence kissing under the mistletoe today. Holly, with its red berries, is representative of feminine blood;
  • Evergreen wreaths were made symbolic of the Wheel of the Year decorated with evergreens such as mistletoe and holly but also ivy, yew and pine and hung on doors;
  • Living tree brought indoors to keep wood spirits warm throughout the winter and decorated with treats and food for them to eat;
  • Exchanging of gifts in celebration of the festival of light out of darkness and the birth of the Sun.
  • Drinking of spiced cider (apples representing the Sun) and eating of fruits, nuts, turkey with sage, cinnamon, nutmeg and the like being used for flavour;
  • Offerings of spiked oranges to also represent the Sun;
  • Lighting of bonfires;
  • Wearing of colours red, green, gold, white, silver, yellow and orange;
  • Singing of carols generally and wassailing of trees.

I love that regardless of faith or background, so many of these are still celebrated at this time of the year today, whether originating with the Celts or other ancestors, as of course we’re unlikely to ever know the true original source of many of these traditions.

This year, the Winter Solstice falls on 22 December 2019 and I for one am really looking forward to celebrating Christmas with this new knowledge of how my Celtic ancestors were celebrating themselves at this time. Which of these traditions will you be keeping alive?

Wishing you all a very happy Winter Solstice celebration!

Feeling Graceful?

Finding the Ease

Some days I find it easier to feel more graceful than others! When I think of “grace”, the obvious image that pops into my mind is that of a ballet dancer – smooth, relaxed movements, with a look of calm serenity ever present on their face, no matter the complexity of the shape performed.

Now, I’m not much of a dancer but it would seem that I’ve not been much better at being graceful in my life either! Sure, when life is going reasonably well I can be graceful but when those rain clouds appear, as they surely do from time to time for us all, I have all the grace and elegance of Bambi, his first time on ice.

A great way to start building more grace into your life if, like me, you could do with a little more during life’s tougher times, is through some kind of physical activity, like dancing. For me, I’ve found yoga a perfect way to begin trying to integrate grace into the poses (asanas) first of all and, after some time, that’s really helped me begin applying this to my life off the mat too.

In yoga, the formation of the asanas include both “sthira” and “sukha”, once you have the basics down. Sthira is a Sanskrit word meaning solid, hard, firm, strong, lasting and permanent. Sukha, in Sanskrit, means gentle, ease, pleasantness and mildness. In the poses, we work to achieve both on the mat, grounding down through the spine and the back of the body whilst simultaneously easing our heart and chest space upwards and trying to avoid holding tension in the face and body – so no gritting our teeth and forcing our bodies into positions that it may not be ready for yet.

It’s a bit like the dualism concept of yin and yang in Chinese philosophy – the idea that two opposing concepts can complement and support each other rather than fight one another. To be whole, whether in dancing, sports, yoga or life, you need both to feel whole and well.

In Western yoga, this is often described as “finding the grace”, as grace is a concept more recognisable to us in the West. Holding a pose that you find difficult on the mat, whilst also relaxing your body and face and even smiling despite the strength being used to maintain the pose, is for me, what yoga is all about.

But it’s when you start to make the connection that you can “find the grace”, the strength to face whatever life throws at you with a relaxed, smooth and even calm manner, without adding in unnecessary stress and tension, to your life off the mat too that the tools and practices of yoga (or your physical activity of choice!) really advance to the next level.

Recently, I’ve been able to see this happening in my own life with a few tough weeks over the last month or so. Whether family issues, work, the odd health issue or finances, I’ve pretty much had all of them thrown at me at once and whilst I’m not going to say I found them easy to deal with, I definitely found them easier to deal with when I began trying to “find the grace” in the situation by treating them each like a yoga pose.

With finances, for example, where could I ground into the situation – well by taking a long, hard look at where my money was going. Spending £70.00 the month before on takeaways for 3 of us was completely unnecessary for one! Where could I release tension in the situation? By stopping spending so much on takeaways but not completely restricting myself by maybe cutting out the more expensive takeaways to maybe just a chippy tea twice a month instead of curries/pizzas at a third of the cost.

Another example was to consider if my youngest really needed to go to Breakfast Club anymore which she wasn’t really enjoying and, due to a change in the time she started school this year and the time I started work, grounding into the looking at the cost of this versus the benefit. An extra £60.00 a month for little to no benefit was a complete no-brainer and helped me ease the financial burden I found myself in, again helping to find the grace in the situation.

It wasn’t easy to do these things when I felt completely battered by other things life was throwing at me but I found it far easier to do when I repeated the mantra quietly to myself of “find the ease” and approached each problem like a yoga pose.

Of course, you’ll have to find your equivalent but yoga is a practice I highly recommend. It really can be any hobby. Is there something that you really enjoy doing that requires a certain amount of knowledge and application to perform but that goes more smoothly when you relax into it? Again, examples for me include knitting, cooking and playing guitar or even blogging. How could you apply that to your everyday life?

What’s Stealing Your Energy?

Discovering the Secret to Feeling More Energised

Over the last decade or so, this has become something of a personal quest for me – just why am I so darn tired all the time? To answer this question, I’ve seen doctors, had blood tests come back “all clear”, been prescribed anti-depressants and been referred to NHS talking therapy services. Whilst these all served their purpose and helped to some extent, I still found myself feeling more tired than I felt I should be and still wondering just how I could get more energy.

Asking the Right Questions

But maybe that’s not the best question to ask, as pointed out by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love in this linked article which I wished I’d come across years ago: https://www.glamour.com/story/elizabeth-gilbert-advice. Maybe a better question to ask is:

“Where is your energy going?”

Elizabeth Gilbert

Maybe, as Elizabeth Gilbert suggests happened to her, it wasn’t that I needed more energy; I just needed to learn how to spend it more wisely. It sounded so simple, I had to ask myself why I hadn’t thought about it this way before!

Energy Saving vs Energy Spending

When it comes to finances, I consider that I have a fairly good balance between saving and spending. Thinking about it, I’m not so sure I’ve applied those skills to my personal energy bank account quite so well. Over the years, especially through my twenties, I know I invested my energies in things that didn’t serve me well but, at the time, it didn’t really matter because it seemed so much easier to bounce back then.

Fast-forward a few years and those continual poor energy investments have led to some majorly depleted energy deposits that, like with any debt, take time to replenish – a time of “energy austerity”, if you will.

Now, despite a far healthier lifestyle and choices throughout 2019, it’s taken the best part of 12 months to start feeling like my old self and climb out of the red into the black.

Is it Not Just an Age Thing?

To a degree I’m sure it is – but it clearly isn’t just about age as some older people seem to have more energy than those younger than them. Of course we’re all different and will have different demands made of us, but just like with finances, it seems that how we spend what we do have, can make a world of difference to our daily energy levels.

So, Where is Your Energy Going?

Spending some of your hard-earned energy answering this question properly is likely to be an investment that pays dividends in the long-term.

Unhealthy Diets

We know we get our energy from food so the obvious place to start is to clean up our diets. That doesn’t mean we starve ourselves or dive head first into the latest diet craze, but it does mean we stop fuelling our bodies with unhealthy processed foods that take our body a considerable amount of energy to break down. Having said that, be sensible about it. If your body is used to a daily chocolate bar or packet of crisps, start reducing this slowly and gradually so you don’t hit your body with going from a certain daily amount of sugar to none at all. You’ll feel more tired than before that way. Maybe start with a couple of times a week, swap an unhealthy snack for a healthier version and build it up. You want to be aiming for treats to be a couple of times a week in the end but remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint if you want your new healthier food choices to last.

Unhealthy Habits

This one was the hardest for me – smoking, too much alcohol, lack of exercise, too much screen-time. These will be different for everyone and unlikely to be something you conquer overnight. What amazed me when I refrained from my unhealthy habits was realising just how much energy my bad habits were robbing from me. For me, it’s been taking one energy stealer at a time and taking them on one at a time, replacing them with healthier habits, swapping cigarettes for Champix, only drinking around once a month, daily yoga and dog-walks, putting my phone down and knitting, cooking or playing guitar. I found that until I quit smoking and massively reduced the alcohol intake, I just didn’t have the energy to engage in these healthier habits so if you have more than one bad habit like me, it might be worth asking yourself, which you think is robbing your energy most and start with that one.

Unhealthy Environments

It can be easy to underestimate this one – toxic workplace, toxic family, toxic friends – not the easiest thing to change. I spent years of my life trying to convince some people why they should like me and change themselves/their opinions before realising it was a complete waste of my time and energy. Now if I find myself around someone who is toxic, i.e. draining my energy repeatedly, I ask myself are they worth being around.

Of course, we can’t avoid and cut out everybody who is toxic to our energy – we may need that job or they may be a close family member/friend. But we can limit our contact with those people and set clear boundaries. This has been an absolute game-changer for me this year. I find that I have more time to spend with those friends, family and colleagues that I enjoy spending time with which means that when I do have to interact with someone I find draining, I have more energy, compassion and patience to do so. This isn’t about labelling people toxic/non-toxic or only being around those who always agree with you. It’s simply removing or reducing contact with people who you find draining to be around.

Obviously I’m no doctor nor medically trained in any way so obviously speak to your own healthcare provider before applying any of this to your own life or circumstances. If you’ve any tips you’d like to share to inspire others who may be feeling exhausted and run down feel free to add them to the comments below.

Seven Worlds, One Planet

Not for the Fainthearted

For anyone who’s watched any of Seven Worlds, One Planet, Sir David Attenborough’s latest collaboration with the BBC, I think it’s fair to say, it does not make easy viewing. Having said that, in my view, it’s not supposed to. It is meant to wake us up to the reality all around us. It is meant to jolt us into action.

And not before time.

As hard as it is to watch and to see the devastating effects of climate change on every continent on the planet, I strongly recommend that any adult who says that they care about animals, nature and/or the environment takes the time to do so. But I warn you, it is not for the faint of heart.

Just this morning, whilst I watched Episode 2 with growing horror at the destruction of habitats and how this is already affecting numerous animals living in Asia, my husband turned to me and asked how I could watch things like this. My response? It motivates me to try and do more about it. For me, that is reason enough.

Unfortunately, the time to bury our head in the sand and wait for others to save the planet has come and gone. Turning the other way and pretending it isn’t happening doesn’t mean it isn’t happening right now. If I have to sit through a programme showing me the stark reality of my actions and the actions of all those around me to guilt trip me into doing more, then frankly, it’s the least I can do.

I get it – for some the harsh reality is just too hard to face. For those people, ignorance really is bliss – for now. If those people can be motivated to do more for the planet without facing facts then great, don’t watch it. Get on with saving the planet today. But as harsh as it is to face watching a programme, climate change is encroaching on our lives one day at a time. Wait until we’re living it, as our current culture and behaviour is forcing these animals to do. Ignorance won’t be bliss then will it? Will you wish you had done more then?

Whilst I know that these days I do more than I used to in an effort to make a difference, at heart I know that there is more that I can do than what I am doing, and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, it is this fact which makes watching this programme difficult to do. If every single one of us, whether having watched this programme or not, did one thing new towards helping in the fight against climate change today, then this would be a step in the right direction.

There will always be the sceptics out there who question the point of it given the pollution being produced by certain countries. Leave them to it – for some the responsibility is too great to bear that they are defeated without trying. Me, I intend to work harder at what I can do, starting with watching programmes like this and educating myself as to the true, terrible state of our planet and what I can do now, today, to help in the battle.

If you want to learn more and are ready to face up to the challenge, you can find out more here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07dzjwl

Another great source with tips on how you can begin fighting back can be found here: https://www.wwf.org.uk/thingsyoucando

What will you do?