Have You Got The Welcome Mat Out For Anxiety?

It dawned on me the other day that the reason for my (comparative) inertia when it comes to grabbing the bull by the horns (or indeed any other colloquialism for getting off your backside and acting), is that I have probably been suffering from anxiety for most of my life.

 

I carry a vague sense of unease around with me most of the time.  I’ve even given it a name – “The Fear”.  It is a shapeless, amorphous blob which lurks behind doors and curtains and casts a shadow on the gloomiest day.

I could write a list of things that could have triggered it.  But, you know, nobody lives to the age of 53 without having had something unpleasant happen to them, a loss, a scare, a disappointment.  That is, to quote one of my mother’s more annoying truisms, “all part of life’s rich pattern”.

I carry “The Fear” around with me most of the time and it makes itself known in strange symptoms like my “glasses thing” (or OCD), my inability to leave fluff on the carpet (whilst being completely able to ignore dusting), my requirement for absolute darkness and silence at night.

Anyone who leaves the empty cardboard tube from the toilet roll on the floor of the toilet feels my wrath.  I cannot bear wet towels on beds, shoes on in the house, toothpaste lids left off.

It’s all about control.

And, more specifically, controlling “The Fear”.

Lots of us, of course, would medicate it away somehow.  Or read endless self-help tomes (“When I loved myself enough to knit my own yoghurt”).  Or seek therapy. (And how does that make you feel? Well, crap, actually).

I’m not entirely convinced acknowledging “The Fear” helps.

We are all battling the human condition and (to quote mum again), we all have our cross to bear.

There’s one of those motivational postcards I often see on Facebook which says something like “be kind because everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about”.

I suspect that is entirely true.

Which means some of us have developed more effective strategies for dealing with “The Fear”.

Or are we so far in denial we think we can get to Narnia through the wardrobe.  (You can’t, I’ve tried).

Perhaps this is why there are so many videos of cats doing, well, cat things.

I love that quote about cats by the French Renaissance writer Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) who said:

“Quand je me joue à ma chatte, qui sçait si elle passe son temps de moy plus que je ne fay d’elle?

(When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?)

Cats really don’t, to use the vernacular, give a stuff.  They do what they want and bugger the consequences.  In fact, most cats would sniff, scag your tights with their claws and then say”what consequences” whilst yawning.

Montaigne also said “There is no passion so contagious as that of fear” and “The thing I fear most is fear”.

And that’s the thing about anxiety too.  You get anxious about whether you’re anxious. And then you are.

I often theorise that lots of ‘odd’ behaviours are simply displacement activities to avoid looking within and admitting that you are anxious.

Lots of us simply hide away.  Or leave parties early.  Or ‘forget’ to turn up at all.  That old saying about “always finding me in the kitchen at parties” is a neat metaphor for social anxiety.

You’ll always spot the anxious at children’s parties because they’ll be the ones clearing up the remnants of sausage rolls and half-eaten pizza armed with black bags and an air of determination not seen since the Blitz.

The anxious will always give themselves away by hating things that everyone else likes – just in case they have to join in. Christmas?  Too commercial.  Ditto, Valentines Day. Any major sporting tournament, big event in the social calendar, spontaneous knees-up… “I can’t be bothered with all that”, they’ll say.  ” All that fuss and unnecessary expense”.

Hell would be joining the Parent Teachers Association.  Or being invited up on stage during a live show.  Management ‘team’ games, ice-breaking exercises, karaoke – no thank you!

We anxious ones always stand apart like statues.  We avoid eye contact.  If someone speaks to us, sometimes it’s so surprising we actually jump.

At conferences, we anxious avoid eye contact.  We take urgent phone calls.  We write notes.

We anxious ones like to end even the tersest email or text with a row of kisses.  “I hate you, you bastard” xxx

The thought of upsetting someone and having to deal with the consequences is always far scarier than standing up for ourselves, claiming what’s ours, demanding to count.

It’s a shame there’s no secret handshake to announce you are suffering from “The Fear”.

Social Media is very fond of urging you to find your “tribe”.

My tribe would be named (and this is one of my dad’s favourite jokes), the “Elawi”.  Ask them where they are and they say “we’re the Elawi” (where the hell are we)?  

Since I’ve had “The Fear” for well over 40 years, I guess I had better get used to it.

And as a parent, the last thing I want to do is pass it on to the kids.

Kids have superheroes to help them synthesize their fear, to give them role models for, to quote Percy in one of my favourite historical sitcoms, Richard Curtis’ Blackadder, “putting ice cubes down the vest of fear”.

Perhaps in later life we just need to say “sod it – The Fear is part of me.  It is who I am”. Perhaps acknowledging the intruder will take away a little of the horrid antsy, unsettled feeling. Perhaps, after all, we just need to put the welcome mat out for anxiety and some days, just some days, it may go and visit someone else for a change.

The late Helen Gurley Brown, founder and later editor in chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine said that when she was upset she would lie on her sofa with her cat and talk it out, a bit like a court hearing.  I did this, he said that and so forth.  She would do this until she felt better.

I think I want to get another cat.

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Manifesting Abundance – Is It Really Possible?

Manifesting abundance seems to be a big theme among the corridors of the self-help gurus at the moment.

Manifesting abundance - woman with arms outstretched overlooking the sea

Ever since I read The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, I have been pretty much captivated by the idea that controlling my focus and my attention could shape my future much more effectively than sulking in a corner and bemoaning my lot ever could.

We are told to Ask, Believe and Receive.  To feel our way into the life we desire.  To act ‘as if’ and make it a real experience.

Manifesting abundance seems to be a more laser-like approach to creating wealth, health and happiness.

I am currently studying a very entertaining and informative course on the subject by Denise Duffield-Thomas who, herself, manifested six months of luxury travel around the world using daily manifesting techniques which she shares in her Lucky Bitch Manifesting Course.

The process is a loop which you repeat until you get it right – declutter, decide what you want, infuse your life with positivity and prepare to receive.

Denise is also big on forgiveness – not so much to let others off the hook but to give yourself a break.

It’s actually pretty difficult to decide what you want, isn’t it?

Manifesting abundance requires you to be really specific.  It’s not enough to just say ‘happiness’ or ‘more money’. You make think asking the universe for stuff is pure hokum but even in the most basic business workshop, we are encouraged to get clear on our goals, write them down and make them SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-bound).

That’s just logic, isn’t it?

Decluttering is also a big theme so that you clear the decks, literally and energetically for the next stage of your life journey.  Denise has a brilliant question to help you decide whether to finally ditch the horrid ornament from Aunty Flo or those shoes which rub but were really expensive.  You simply ask whether these things are coming in the next stage of your journey with you which is a great way of deciding whether your ‘things’ have meaning or create joy for you. 

Do you ever find that when you start practising something new or adopt a new thought process that the ideas you are learning appear everywhere?

I have also been reading Tonya Leigh‘s great blog where she teaches women how to ‘french kiss life’ – possibly a bit yucky as an initial reaction but her ideas encompass everything from dressing well, becoming more cultured, embracing your femininity and developing your mind to becoming a modern icon.

In other words, a woman who is at home in her own skin, who knows who she is and has no compunction about stating that loudly.

In particular, Tonya asks two questions which echo those raised in The Secret and Denise’s course.

Who do you want to BE? and Are you fixing or creating?

Simple on first reading but quite difficult to answer.  Much harder than coming up with the old bucket list of things you want (or think you should want) to do.

Who do you really want to be?  What kind of person and what steps can you take to start becoming her?

If you spend your time worrying about your weight and how you are going to ‘fix’ it, Tonya suggests that you are wasting your precious energy when you could be creating a better life experience – which is more likely to lead to lasting change.

Aiming for a strong, healthy body and learning to cook delicious meals is far more effective, she suggests, than trying every diet going and then giving up.

At 54 these questions have been on my mind a lot lately.  As the kids are now nearly 11 and 9 and becoming more and more independent, I am wondering what life will be like when they are both in secondary school and they don’t need me to be on call quite so much.

Stuck, as I am in midlife with nothing other than my blog to keep me company most days, I need to turn my hand to manifesting a life which contains a lot more excitement.

It’s worth a try, isn’t it?  I’ll let you know how I get on.

Have you read The Secret or tried your hand at manifesting abundance?

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8 Lies I’ll Tell Myself This Autumn

Now that the kids are back in school, leaves are turning brown and the air has that lovely crispness about it which heralds the onset of the kind of weather in which you can legitimately cover yourself in faux fur and stop worrying about shaving your legs,  I find myself making many promises which rarely come to fruition.

I say promises.  Actually I mean blatant fibs. But the intention is there. Readers, I give to you the 8 lies of autumn.

1.  I will cook something featured in The Great British Bake-Off

Excited by all that artistry, the creation of statues out of dough and cakes so large you could wedge a barn door open with one,  I consult my wall of cookery books, find my flour is inhabited and my eggs don’t float at the right angle (I’ve read up on egg freshness you know) and then ponder whether I am brave enough to turn the K-Mix on.  Yes I actually have a K-Mix but I’m a bit scared of it.

Generally, this is so stressful an experience, I put the whole thing safely in the hands of Mr Kipling and mutter about baking a Christmas cake this year.  (See lie 4).

2.  I will not watch X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing but will read a book instead.

The Husband and I have the same conversation each year along the lines that both programmes have ‘gone downhill’, we don’t know any of the ‘celebrities’ on them and we should just turn the damn TV off and chat or read.  Obviously this means will end up watching one or the other (or if the Husband is not around, possibly a combination of both).  Who can resist Simon being mean? Or having a bet on how long it will take before Mrs O starts throwing water?  And the dresses on Strictly.  I love the dresses.

3.  I will not leave all the Halloween pumpkin carving to the Husband

I am the proud possessor of Martha Stewart’s guide to Halloween – which is one of my favourite celebrations.  In it, she gives templates for carving 4 ft high witches and cats out of balsa wood and her home (mansion) is a fantastic concoction of spiders, webs, potions and cute themed cupcakes. There is, let me tell you, emphatically nothing produced by Cadburys.  Her fancy dress costumes would not look out of place in a Hammer Horror film.

In reality, this means that the Husband and I argue about whether 3 pumpkins is overdoing it a bit and then I leave him to assert his masculinity by carving them out in the cold in the garden.  After a bad tempered trip to ASDA where we are usually too late to get the kids’ choice of costume, I then spend two hours putting our Halloween decorations up indoors. This means getting out Mr Bones (our full sized plastic skeleton) and making sure there are spiders webs in all the corners.

I am sure that this really irritates the real spiders who live in all the corners but it’s company for them, isn’t it?

4.  I will make a Christmas cake.

Now, admittedly, baking a fruit cake is not too difficult but by the time you tally up the cost of all that dried fruit, marzipan, icing and a decent whisky to ‘feed’ the cake (and fortify the cook), you may as well buy one of M&S’ finest creations and stick a Santa ornament on the top.  Plus, nobody in our house will actually admit to liking Christmas cake except me.  Strangely it usually all gets eaten, even if the kids just pull the icing off.  I may just be better off buying a packet of ready roll icing and sticking a toy reindeer on it.  Sorted.

5.  I will keep up with my exercise routine.

Well, I would, if I actually had one, apart from my weekly Pilates.  I have visions of jogging through darkened streets lit by twinkly fairy lights with my breath frosting into the cold air.  This would be great if I could cantilever myself away from The X Factor. Or jogged.

6.  We will invite people round for mulled wine and mince pies.

I could eat mince pies every day but mulled wine on the other hand can be just plain lethal.  I had a spectacular fall from grace the Christmas before last after consuming too much and having to stay in bed for the whole of the next day.  The Husband was left to “babysit” (sorry, I meant parent) which as every mother knows means the appearance of far too many crisps and jam sandwiches and a sink full of dishes.  God knows what he fed the kids.

After much consideration about who to invite and whether guests tanked up on mulled wine would be quiet enough not to wake the kids, we usually decide to go up the pub (our village has 3) instead. Mulled wine is usually restricted to a dose in a plastic cup served by The Conservatives at our village’s irrepressibly twee “Dickensian Fayre”.  Jenna Coleman would not be all that impressed.

7.  We will make autumn collages from the leaves and berries we find on our walks.

We do venture out to Cosmeston, our local nature reserve and through our local woodland but apart from the kids trying to wound each other by using pine cones as missiles, we never seem to get into the whole ‘nature as art’ thing.  You won’t get me to make a collage using anything found where they’ve been walking dogs for a start.

And I’m always a bit suspicious about blackberrying near the road (all those fumes and the risk of being run over).

I once made Sloe Gin after a sloe picking episode with my dad.  A word to the wise.  Do NOT try to pick sloes at twilight because you can’t see the little swines.

8.  I will get all the Christmas shopping done by 1 December.

I promise myself this every year and it never works because I’m never sure how much is ‘enough’ and I have to make sure each child receives EXACTLY the same or there’s war.  And if that wasn’t difficult enough, coming up with a natty and exciting combination of stocking fillers each year is even worse than deciding on the ‘main present’.

By the time the Husband and I get round to thinking about each other we normally agree we don’t need anything at all and then pick a couple of books from Amazon.  Mine are usually cookery books (Lord knows why) or something from the self-help genre along the lines of “20 things I would tell myself if I loved myself enough, even though I can’t really be arsed”.

I love this time of year.  I really do.  I think I’m going to see if the flour’s weevil free and de-rust my cake tins. It’s OK to use WD40 on them, isn’t it?

Surely I’m Too Young For Aches & Pains?

If any time of year is going to test your strength and stamina, it’s going to be the school holidays. Trying to keep up with the kids and join in with all of their running around and activities isn’t easy! It will certainly show you up if you haven’t been taking care of your fitness levels lately. Even so, kids have more energy, so they are easily going to run circles around you!

Mum and sons playing with dog

Picture credit

Playing

What might be particularly bothersome is just how achy you feel after a few minutes of football or swingball with them in the garden. Your knees and feet might be feeling the brunt of it. Usually, this can occur because you’re simply not used to moving in that way. To avoid it happening, spend some time stretching and warming up the body before getting involved in the activity. When you’re finished, drink some water, and repeat all those stretches again. Another stretch later in the evening can help too.

Stretch

Of course, it’s not just the activities with kids that might be leading to aches and pains. By the end of your thirties and into your early forties, the body simply isn’t as elastic as it once was. You can see some of that evidence on your face with the fine lines and odd wrinkle. Try to keep your exercise levels up to reduce that feeling of fatigue in your muscles. As for aching joints, they say omega 3 fish oils can help. Use them all in their full range of motion every day. Stretches are ideal for this.

Surgery?

Other pains that won’t quit aren’t necessarily a sign of aging. Pains in the wrists and hands can occur at any age, especially if you perform repetitive tasks like typing all day every day. Arthritis can sometimes be identified by the extra heat and fluid around the joint. Only your doctor can make a diagnosis. There are other pains that can occur in adulthood too and might require hand surgery. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can flare up due to hormonal changes. This can include pregnancy hormones too.

Monthly Pain

Those ‘regular’ aches and pains we women suffer can also worsen or change as we get older. They’re not necessarily a sign of ageing, but simply your body’s hormone levels changing during the course of the month. Some say it changes the longer it has been since you were last pregnant. None of this is necessarily anything to do with an impending menopause, but if you are concerned, it is important to speak to your doctor.

 

woman doing yoga pose on a clifftop

Picture credit

Posture

Perhaps one of the worst aches you can suffer is a backache. Children, adults, and seniors can all suffer from back ache if the posture is not corrected or supported. Activities like Yoga can strengthen the core and the other supporting muscles for the spine. Practice correcting your posture if you find yourself slouching or slumping. Telling the kids off for it soon grows tired. However, dance classes, gymnastics, and martial arts can help improve their posture well. Are you finding life is full of aches and pains these days?

11 Types Of Hospital Visitor You Really Don’t Want

Mum is currently in hospital recovering from a hip operation and, obviously, I am a regular visitor to her ward.

I’m a great people watcher and I have to say that other visitors to the ward provide many hours of speculation and not the odd grimace.

Empty hospital ward
Image Credit

It strikes me that hospital visitors fall into certain types – most of which the hospital staff, let alone their visitors, are probably glad to see troop off at the end of visiting hours.

The “There Ain’t No Party Like A Hospital Ward Party” Visitors


You know they’ve arrived because the ward volume rises dramatically and any poor incumbent trying to nap is instantly awakened to the rustle of carrier bags and the loud dumping of coats and scraping of chairs.

There will be at least 5 of them and they will behave as if they haven’t seen each other for at least 10 years.

Their arrival is usually heralded by a helium balloon and a crying child.

Cans will be cracked open and the crisps will do the rounds – irrespective of the fact that their relative isn’t eating – or even conscious.

After two hours of reminiscing loudly, the whole ward heaves a sigh of relief when they leave.

The “It May Be Your Bed But I’m Claiming It” Visitors


In they troop, puffing and wheezing from the struggle of using 3 lifts and one flight of stairs and so tired are they, that they plop themselves down on the bed before their relative has had a chance to move their legs.

When reminded gently by the staff that visitors are asked not to sit on patients’ beds, they huff indignantly as if they have just hiked up Kilimanjaro.

The “You Just Can’t Get The Staff, Can You?”  Visitors


The most mortifying of all visitors are those who somehow think they have been transported to Downton Abbey and should be waited on immediately.  Where’s the doctor?  Why is that curtain pulled?  Why are there other sick people in the immediate vicinity.

The “Here,  Let Me Interpret Your Medical Notes For You” Visitors


Yes,  they’ve watched Holby City and Casualty and the contents of the red file or the clipboard at the end of the bed hold no mystery for them.  Up and down the ward they pace reading the notes as if they’re about to proclaim them on stage at The Globe.  Then they will give you their diagnosis. Wrongly.

The “Cheer Up Luv, You’ll Probably Be Out Tomorrow” Visitors


There’s nothing worse than giving false hope to someone who can’t wait to go home.  As a clue, if they are hooked up to a beeping machine, there’s a “Nil By Mouth” sign over the bed or they are barely conscious after surgery, they are not going anywhere soon.

The “Cup of Tea And A Biccie Off the Trolley? Don’t Mind If I Do” Visitors


This lot ignore the fact that the trolley contents are for patients and happily ask for a tea or coffee plus whatever carbohydrate substance their beady eyes spot.  They then devour these like someone who hasn’t eaten for days.

The “I’ve Known You All My Life But Can’t Think Of Anything To Say” Visitors


Practically mute, they shuffle in barely making eye contact, mutter “alright then” and spent the next 90 minutes silently observing their relative.  Duty done,  they shuffle off.

The “I’ve Bought Your Snacks & Fruit But I’ll Eat It For you” Visitors


You can see the patient’s eyes light up when their visitors proffer their favourite chocs or even grapes. They then make the key mistake of offering them round and find themselves left with a box full of empty wrappers and some grape pips.

The “You May Be Nil By Mouth But You Wouldn’t Want Me To Starve” Visitors


The poor patient is miserably enduring the long wait before their op which is made worse when their tactless visitors crack open cans of coke and chomp through a Mars bar.  Shortly before reading through their medical notes and demanding tea from the staff.

The “Hand Sanitizer Is For Wimps” Visitors


There are signs on every door.  Fully replenished bottles of hand sanitizer waiting to be used.  But these visitors are apparently protected by an invisible force field rendering MRSA and any other germ nasty completely powerless.

Sadly, the rest of the ward’s inhabitants don’t have this super power.

The “I’m Too Important To EVER Turn My Mobile Off” Visitors


Closely related to those who bray their teatime choices into their mobile phones on packed commuter trains (“I said I want chicken nuggets, not pizza. Back 6:30 have it ready”), or those who don’t seem to cope when their phone calls aren’t on speaker, this crowd take phone calls whilst ignoring signs asking for mobiles to be switched off.  The whole ward has to listen about Dorothy from accounts’ incompetence or when the printer cartridges will be turning up.

Still, just be thankful they don’t take the opportunity to take a couple of selfies.

Mum is doing fine and we are looking forward to bringing her home and we have nothing but praise and admiration for the hospital staff who have enough to put up with from their charges, without having to cope with their patients’ visitors.

Worth bearing in mind next time you go …..

Why There’s Never Been A Better Time To Be A ‘Middle Aged’ Woman.

Good Housekeeping readers may recall a fabulous article in last year’s September edition entitled “Why 60 is the new 40” and in it, Good Housekeeping Science Editor, Vivienne Parry listed a great number of ‘wins’ for women in that age bracket – whilst offering a great deal of optimism and cheer for those of us headed in that direction.

older woman in a sun hat on a beach

She pointed out that today’s 60 year olds:-


* are the first generation to have antibiotics as well as vaccines available to them their whole lives. 


* have been spared the long-term health complications of childhood infections or infectious diseases like rheumatic fever and TB


* have better health than their mothers did at the same age with many looking comparatively younger


* enjoy better dental health due to reduced tooth loss from tooth decay – largely thanks to fluoride toothpaste, which became available from the late 1950s.


* enjoy better heart health.  Heart attacks in women halved between 2002 and 2010 with the greatest decline seen in 65-74 year olds.


A reduction in smoking, improvements in air quality, better food and the use of statins are likely contributory factors to this.


*are living longer with diseases such as breast cancer. Nearly 8 out of 10 women survive 10 years or more compared with the 1970s. Stomach cancer cases have fallen 62% in the last 40 years and ovarian cancer in the over 60 age group has fallen by nearly 25% (use of the contraceptive pill has contributed to this).  Cervical screening has seen an 81% reduction in the incidence of cervical cancer in women aged 50-64.


*are included in clinical trials where as in years gone by, these trials only involved men.


Incredible isn’t it?  Despite the gloom that we may naturally feel as our birthdays start to stack up, there is so much to be positive and hopeful about.


None of this, however, is an excuse to rest on our laurels and in order to continue to enjoy vibrant health long term, there are some simple changes we can all make to our lifestyle.


Here’s your later life health primer.



Eat less


The popularity of the 5:2 Diet seems to back up American research that fasting on alternative days boosts the genes related to anti- ageing.  A two year study found that cutting calories to 75% of your normal intake lowered blood pressure cholesterol and insulin resistance.



Choose healthy fats


Eating monounsaturated fats (for example those found in avocado and olive oil), has been shown to raise levels of ‘good’ cholesterol – HDL whilst lowering levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, LDL.  We know we should avoid saturated fats.

Eat less refined sugar


Did you know that if you eat too much refined sugar, it can attach itself to your skin’s collagen and elastin fibres.  This affects their ability to regenerate and can eventually cause deep wrinkles.



Drink more water


Our ageing bodies don’t retain water the way they should.  An easy way to up your water intake is to make sure you have a sports bottle of water with you at all times to keep you cool, mentally alert and, studies show, to prevent heart disease.



Cut back on alcohol


Some of the heaviest drinkers are, surprisingly, in my age group but we know that our health will improve if we don’t exceed the Government’s guidelines of 14 units a week on a regular basis. The current medical advice is that we should also make sure that we have two days off a week from alcohol.

Take a daily walk

Just a 30 minute walk a day will show benefits in blood flow strength, balance and stamina. Exercise will also help prevent diabetes and keep your bones strong, thus reducing your risk of a fall.

Get enough sleep

The growth hormones promoting cell repair peak at the deepest stage of the sleep cycle so you need to make sure you are getting your full 8 hours to give your skin’s repair systems a chance to recover.



Check your Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D levels


Did you know that low levels of vitamin B12 can cause hair to grey prematurely? Lack of B12 is also indicated in muscle weakness, fatigue and memory problems. Low Vitamin D levels have been linked to a range of health conditions such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis and lots of us are deficient in Vitamin D, especially during the winter.  Try to top up your levels daily by 15 minutes in the sun and when you can’t do that, take a supplement instead.


Destress

It will come as no surprise to learn that chronic stress is incredibly ageing.  Research has discovered that a high stress lifestyle increases your risk of diseases such as Parkinsons, Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease so try to find something that calms and destresses.


I have written before about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness which have been shown to increase blood flow to the brain and those who practise these disciplines regularly have been found to have longer telomeres.  These are the protective caps on the end of chromosomes and having longer telomeres have been linked to longer life.

Have more sex


Studies into the sex lives of middle aged men and women have discovered that regular sex can make you look seven years younger.  That’s better than any face cream!

I turned 53 at the end of May this year and I’m heartened that, with a bit of positivity, and positive action, there is no reason why the forthcoming decades need mean a decline or any kind of lessening of looks, strength and joie de vivre.

Review: It’s Not You, It’s Your Hormones By Nicki Williams

Are you looking for help with menopause symptoms?  Let me tell you about my experience.  Having celebrated my 53rd birthday on Sunday, I can tell you that the last year has been somewhat of a rickety ride, healthwise.

help with menopause symptoms - mature lady experiencing a hot flush

Yet I couldn’t tell you precisely what is wrong.  I am obviously in the ‘menopausal ballpark‘ and a recent blood test indicated that I had arrived with all flags flying. I already have a dodgy thyroid which has given me all sorts of strange symptoms but recently I have found myself sporting a middle tyre which won’t shift.

My sleep pattern has also changed.  I regularly see 3 am, 4 am, 5 am and wake up fully alert whereas in the past I could just turn over and go back to sleep.  I find myself mulling over all sorts of oddities, making lists, worrying about minutiae and generally being neurotic.

And let’s not talk about mood swings.  Up one minute, down the next and although I’ve never been a particularly patient person, nowadays I don’t want to wait for anything.

Help with menopause symptoms – time to manage your hormones!

It’s timely then that I’ve come across a brilliant book by nutritional therapist Nicki Williams DipION, mBANT, CNHC, called “It’s Not You, It’s Your Hormones” which explains clearly and concisely what your hormones are, what they do and how to regain some sort of balance lest you think you are going to become a kind of mumbling wild woman beset with skin breakouts and a temperature that would warp metal.

I’m exaggerating.  A little.

And lest you think Nicki’s book is solely for those of us approaching or embracing menopause, it is targeted at women over 40 who may have peri-menopausal symptoms which make their life equally miserable.

help with menopausal symptoms - Front cover of It's Not You, It's Your Hormones book by Nicki Williams

What I particularly like about Nicki’s book is that she makes you think about WHY you want to improve your hormonal balance against the cost of just putting up with it.

Nicki’s own moment of clarity was when her daughter called her a grumpy mum (a daily occurrence in this house) and she felt that that’s not who she was.

This, I think, must resonate greatly with lots of us going through a state of hormonal chaos because we don’t really understand what is happening to us, nor who we have become, or are becoming.

With total honesty, I have to say that when I am under the cosh of the latest barrage or irrational, hormonally charged behaviour, I don’t like myself very much and that in itself is a source of great fatigue and not a great place to be when you already suffer from depression.

Says Nicki:  “As I researched more into this topic, I was shocked at just how many issues can be traced back to easily-fixable hormone imbalances. The truth is that for many women their hormones are in control of them after the age of 40, and the weight, mood and energy problems creep in.

By regaining control through diet, lifestyle and natural supplements, women can get back to their best – slimmer, energised and in full control of their hormones as they go through menopause and beyond”.

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Nicki’s goal was to write a book that every woman can understand and take positive action on, even if they’re in a time of crisis.  After all, how many of us make time for proper self-care?

In the book, Nicki explains what our hormones are and what they do, then introduces us to the ‘feisty four’ – those particular hormones which can cause us so much trouble – Cortisol, Thyroid, Insulin and Oestrogen.

We are shown how these affect us and given useful tips to take immediate action to get them under control.

The book then offers a four-step hormone balancing plan – Eat, Rest, Cleanse and Move. Each step has its own chapter with practical solutions and advice to help with menopause symptoms.

There is even an eating plan at the back of the book with some great recipes.  The basis of the diet is gluten-free with a limit on the usual baddies, sugar and alcohol but Nicki recommends good fats and upping your protein intake.

This is a really comprehensive guide to taking back control over your hormones and I had several ‘a-ha’ moments – for example, that spare tyre won’t go if we are constantly secreting cortisol due to stress.

I plan to use Nicki’s tips over the coming months to see if I can feel more like my old self again. The book also discusses the various options surrounding HRT and the importance of getting yourself tested to identify exactly which hormones are giving your problems.

I am already taking Thyroxine to balance my hypothyroidism but I know there is more I can do. Nicki also includes a guide to supplements which may help.

Nicki’s book is a comprehensive guide for those seeking help with menopause symptoms and is well worth a read.  If any of this has rung a bell with you then you can at least take some comfort that it’s not you, it’s your hormones!

To find out more, go to Website; www.happyhormonesforlife.com.

You can find “It’s Not You, It’s Your Hormones” on Amazon.

*post contains some affiliate links.

Fabulous At Fifty – 10 Expert Tips Inspired By Cindy Crawford & Halle Berry

As I approach my 53rd birthday at the end of May, I know that the 50s can be a worrying time for many women. With the slowing in metabolism, the fading elixir of youth and declining energy levels, achieving a glowing body can seem like the pure impossible.

Woman in a grey sweater sitting crosslegged on a seafront with her arms stretched skyward

However with inspiration from those such as Halle Berry (50), Elizabeth Hurley (52) and Cindy Crawford (51), here are 10 expert tips that will help rejuvenate your mid-life glow, with health hacks followed by the celebs themselves.  Certainly worth a try!

1. Strengthen your core with Pilates

Cindy Crawford’s Top Trick:

Celebrities such as Courtney Cox and Cindy Crawford are both big fans of Pilates for retaining their core muscle strength and in turn their fabulous figures.

Why you should try it:

As we get older we can find our energy levels tend to drop but this doesn’t mean we should stop exercising. Instead of doing as much exercise as you can it is better to do the right exercise for your body. Pilates gives you the ability to build lean muscle tissue throughout the body, thus enabling us to burn calories even when we’ve finished our exercise session. Perfect for those who want to exercise effectively without running out of stamina.

I have tried pilates and it’s wonderfully gentle in comparison with other more high energy forms of exercise such as Zumba.  Ideally you need a combination of different kinds of exercise but if you haven’t exercised for a long time and particularly if you have back problems, pilates is a great place to start.

2. Pick Me Up Protein Shakes

Halle Berry’s Top Trick:

To keep her energised and looking radiant on set all day, Halle Berry always starts her day with a protein shake. She includes plenty of vegetables such as spinach, which is rich in iron, to make sure she keeps her energy levels are supported throughout the day.

Something to try:

Make like Halle with Nature’s Plus Pea Protein Powder [RRP £22.50, naturesplus.co.uk], particularly perfect for those looking to increase their protein while following a vegetarian or vegan diet.

3. Drink plenty of water

A common sign of ageing is often a dullness in our skin, however retaining a healthy glow may be a lot easier than you think. Nutritionist Shona Wilkinson from Superfood UK, the online shopping destination for al thing health and wellbeing (www.superfooduk.com), says, “I know that we hear it over and over again but staying hydrated is one of the best steps you can take towards a glowing complexion. Our skin not only contains plenty of water, but it also functions as a protective barrier against excess moisture loss. Support your hydration efforts even further by using a moisturiser as a physical barrier to lock all that moisture in.”


Something to try:

If you find yourself struggling to drink the recommended 2 litres a day, why not jazz things up a bit and add some fresh lemon, cucumber or mint to tempt you into drinking more.

4. Indulge in a Rainbow of Fruit and Vegetables

Christine Brinkley’s Top Trick:

Christie Brinkley, 63, has revealed that one of the golden rules of her diet is to eat a range of different coloured fruit and vegetables throughout the day.

Shona explains why we should be eating a rainbow of fruit and vegetables ourselves, ‘’You need to consume a wide variety of foods daily in order to provide yourself with all of the vitamins, minerals & phytonutrients necessary for optimum functioning. Aim to consume a rainbow of variety of fruit and vegetables per day, ideally between 8-12 servings. Include some raw foods in these servings daily as they are full of enzyme activity!’

Something to try:

An easy tip to get you grazing on more veg, is it to prepare a selection of different crudités, such as celery, carrots, apple and cucumber the night before. Pop it on your desk at the beginning of the day and then when you find yourself getting hungry simply reach for a one of those instead of the dreaded biscuit tin!

5. Natural Alternatives to sugar

Davina McCall’s Top Trick:

Halle Berry and Davina McCall have both spoken about how they have gone sugar free in order to improve their diets as they hit their fifties. They both make sure the only sugars in their diet are natural ones.

Why you should try it:


Sugar can play a huge part in the premature ageing process, affecting your teeth, skin, weight and can even be linked to memory loss and Alzheimer’s. If you’re trying to stave off the effects of ageing it is worth either reducing or cutting sugar out of your diet. Dr Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading Women’s Natural Health Expert (www.marilynglenville.com) and author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar, explains how we can replace sugar with naturally sweet alternatives “There are many good natural sweeteners on the market that you can use instead of refined sugar. You can also add sweetness to foods in other ways. For example, you could add carrots, raisins, dates, figs or bananas as natural sweeteners. Many people now make wonderful cakes from naturally sweet vegetables such as beetroot and carrot.”

6. Eating early in the day

Liz Hurley’s Top Trick:


Sometimes it’s not just about what you eat but also when you eat. Liz Hurley swears by eating the majority of her calorie intake early in the day and only eating lightly in the evening.

Something to try:

If you do find yourself craving something sweet in the evening try curbing those cravings with Slissie (£39.99, Slissie.co.uk). Slissie is a lipstick-sized slimming aid that helps to deliver appetite-suppressing flavours to the olfactory receptors which convey messages to the appetite control centre of the brain, leaving you feeling as if you’ve eaten without any calories passing over your lips.

7. Go Sober

Sadie Frost’s Top Trick:

Celebrities such as Halle Berry, Davina McCall and Sadie Frost have all cut alcohol out of their diets, and for good reason.

Shona explains that as well as helping to protect our liver and optimise nutrient absorption cutting out alcohol can also help us avoid excess weight gain, especially around the middle – “Alcohol prevents the release of glucose from the liver and can cause hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels). This drop in blood sugar often produces a craving for foods, especially foods that raise blood sugar such as more alcohol or sugar – not good for anyone, especially those concerned about weight gain, especially fat around the middle!”

Something to try:

If you’re going out for a special occasion or celebration, and know you’ll be drinking, Shona recommends going for a low calorie tipple. Opt for single shots of spirits such as gin, whisky or vodka with a sugar-free mixer.

8. Barefoot Running

Elle MacPherson’s Top Trick:

To maintain her toned physique, and her everlasting legs, Elle MacPherson swears by barefoot running on the beach. Although not all of us may have the opportunity to hit the beach everyday as part of our exercise routine, it can easily be done in the garden.

Something to try:

If you do follow in the barefoot footsteps of Elle MacPherson’s Podiatrist David Wain, from Carnation Footcare (http://carnationfootcare.co.uk) advises, “Stretch your Achilles and calf muscle every day, e.g. hanging your heels over the edge of a step, raise up quickly onto the balls of the foot then lower the heel slowly until it is at a level slightly below the step, repeat with the other foot. Additionally keep massaging the skin on the underside of your feet using a simulating rolling device, such as Carnation PediRoller (£9.99, firstaidfast.co.uk) to reduce the potential for painful soles”

9. Hit the gym with your husband

Nancy’s Top Trick:

Nancy Shevall, aka Mrs Paul McCartney, has shared her number one fitness tip; she always hits the gym with her husband. So if you’re looking for a new workout buddy, to motivate you, why not make like Nancy and bring your guy along to the gym with you for that extra push?

10. Naturally Detox with Lemons

Liz Hurley’s Top Trick:

Liz Hurley is known for her love of lemon infused hot water for staying in shape, and she maybe on to something. Shona explains, “Lemons are great to add to a glass of water and are often recommended for helping digestion. This is due to lemons helping the liver produce bile which helps keep food moving through the digestive tract. Lemon water stimulates the liver which is responsible for flushing out toxins”.

Something to try:

Try replacing your normal cup of tea with a cup of lemon and hot water for a natural daily detox.

Things I Wish I’d Known About My Intimate Health When Young

Dear much, much younger self.

This is your 50-something self talking and I have some things I’d like to tell you about your intimate health, that intricate system of working parts that are capable of creating life and joy and wonder.

When you’re young, with your biological clock ticking regularly and loudly, and with your fertility at its peak, it’s easy to think that you will stay like this forever.

Collage of photos of Linda Hobbis

Time stretches ahead of you like the horizon over a blue sea on a bright sunny day – never-ending, full of hope and possibilities.

I’m here to gently remind you that there is a final destination to your journey.

I am in the menopause – a time of reassessment and great change – the kind of hormonally charge experience you went through at puberty and which your daughter is about to experience.

I have to confess I am a little sad at this juncture because it means no more babies and I can see the creeping changes on my body – a little less collagen, a lot more grey hair.

But, like many strong positive women, I need to allow myself a momentary pause to bid my younger self farewell before I do what we women do – shoulders back, deep breath, head up, smile and FORWARDS!

And, in all honesty, nothing much else has changed.  I still need to keep caring for my body and taking care of my intimate health and hygiene, just as I always have.

Talking of which, here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that you would do well to remember.

Nobody knows your body like you do.

Not doctors, not gynaecologists, not consultants.  If you feel something is wrong, get it checked out.

The female body is still a mystery to many in the medical profession.

Painful as that is to write in the 21st century, you will find that doctors will generally diagnose any discomfort ‘down there’ as being Thrush or Bacterial Vaginosis.

Vulvodynia, Vaginitis, Bartholin’s Cysts, Pudendal Neuralgia, you may come across all these things whilst consulting Doctor Google and you will find many women on internet forums who experience these things and who remain misdiagnosed for years.

Again, I say you have to take charge of your intimate health.

You need to treat your vagina with respect.

It does not need to be scrubbed and perfumed, just gently cleansed. Use a gentle wash such as Vagisil ProHydrate Intimate Wash specially designed for the unique needs of intimate skin, gynaecologist tested and gentle enough for daily use.

The Vagisil ProHydrate range was developed after 5 years of research and clinical testing and has been specifically designed to relieve intimate dryness.

It’s important to feel comfortable, confident and enjoy intimacy when you want to and 9 out of 10 women would recommend Vagisil ProHydrate to others suffering from intimate dryness.

Cotton underwear is kindest!

Most of the sexy underwear you see is made of man-made fibres which don’t allow the area to breathe. This can lead to irritations such as cystitis and thrush – not sexy!  Cotton underwear or at least panties with a cotton gusset are the way to go most of the time. As you get older, you’ll definitely come to appreciate comfort more!

As your body changes towards menopause, there are some positives though:-

No more contraception

You can give up using contraception if you have not had a period for around two years if you are under the age of 50 and for around one year if you are over 50.

But be careful.  Some contraceptive pills stop the mid-cycle bleed (it’s not a real period you know) making it well nigh impossible to work out what’s going on.  See your GP and ask for a blood test but be prepared that you may have to come off the pill to work out if you are menopausal.

Having said that, STIs have risen in the older generation by over a third in the last decade so it makes sense to at least keep using a condom if you are not in a steady relationship.

No more accidental pregnancy

Need I say more?  No more worrying about accidental pregnancy or rushing to the chemist for the morning after pill.  Whilst you’re in the tricky “has my menopause started” phase you might still find yourself buying pregnancy tests though!

No more period pain

Feminax tablets and a hot water bottle saw me through most months but oh, that aching, dragging feeling, not to mention the PMS symptoms.

No more stocking up on sanitary protection

It doesn’t matter how many you buy, at some point, you will find yourself without one just when you need it.  Or, you’ll get your purse out at the checkout at the supermarket and a brightly wrapped towel will plop onto the conveyor belt.

The truth is there are positives and negatives in every stage of your life and it is good to talk to other women and share your experiences and concerns.  There is no need to be shy.

Time passes in the blink of an eye and if there is one message that I would want you to take with you is that it’s your life and your body – make sure you enjoy both.

Love,

 

 

How To Be A Healthy Role Model For Your Daughter

We learn a lot about life we learn from our parents as we are growing up. So much so, that I bet you can remember things that your mother said to you when were are a little girl, even now! 

That is why it is essential that we set the best example for your own daughters regarding physical and mental health. But what does that look like? 



Image source

Food and fitness 

First of all, it’s a good idea to get the basics right. Including eating well and exercising. Now everyone has their own view and struggles with these sorts of things, and it’s not for me or anyone else, to tell you what to eat or what how to exercise.

Instead, try and instil some more basic habits into your kids through your or own example. So that means having a good diet, not being afraid to try new things, and getting the right balance between treats and healthier food. Hint: it’s totally cool to have treats now and again you don’t have to cut everything out entirely!

Emotional well-being

Another way in which we can serve our daughters well is to model good emotional well-being for them. Although this isn’t always the easiest thing to do when you’re a mum, as you have everyone else to look after before you can see to yourself!

But really, what message is this giving our daughters, that she should work herself into the ground just so everyone else is OK? That she can only take time off when no one else needs her?

Surely we want to raise strong, wise daughters that know when to push harder in life, and when to ease off and take a rest to recuperate? If so, then this is definitely something that they will learn from watching you. So ensure that you are compassionate to yourself as well as the other members of your family.

Women’s health

We can also be of great influence to our daughters, especially as they start to grow up is in the area of women’s health.


Picture

Explaining the changes that occur in the body can help with this.

As can demonstrating that we are looking after our own female health issues by being open about our own experiences with women’s health providers such as the London Womens Centre, or the NHS. As this can help our daughters develop the confidence to seek medical advice when it’s needed and have true control over their own health.

Joy

Image

Lastly, one of the most important things to demonstrate to our daughters from our own behaviour is how to find joy in life.

If you are stuck doing things you hate every day, and make no time for fun, laughter or creativity, not only will you be miserable, but you could be setting your daughter up for a fall in later life as well.

That is why is a great idea to take some time every day to do something that you love and that nourishes your soul.

You can even share this time with your daughter if you choose to, which will help her develop this habit as she matures.

Isn’t Time The Ultimate Birthday Gift?

Readers of this blog will know that I am hopeless when it comes to choosing birthday gifts for myself.  This is largely because, once you’re a parent, your first thought is more likely to be about replacing worn out kids’ trainers than treating yourself to a manicure.

bunch of pink roses in a vase

As you get older you also acquire an appreciation of craftsmanship and quality which become more important that the current fly-by-night brand or trend.

I’ve probably inherited a parsimonious streak from my dad whose prime consideration when buying anything is “whether it will see him out”.  Not particularly cheerful, but eminently practical, as I’m sure you will agree.

Another consideration is the fact that by the time you get to your 50s, you have most things, in fact almost everything you need.  That doesn’t stop us from longing for a little bit of luxury.

“Fashion passes, style remains” – Coco Chanel


There are, though, some things that have been on my personal wishlist for a long time.  I was lucky enough to be given a Louis Vuitton Alma bag for my 50th by the Husband, but I have always had a hankering for a Rolex watch.

My late grandmother, Jessie, had a Rolex dating from the 1930’s which is one of my dad’s treasured possessions, and a pretty special family heirloom.  I would be perfectly happy with a pre-owned Rolex from a company specialising in second hand watches to hand down to Caitlin in many years to come.

As you get older you certainly come to treasure your time and I think its natural to create special celebrations and little rituals to mark its passing. The years seem to pass quicker and quicker.

Woman kneeling in the grass playing with flowers

“I think the older I get, the more I realize that the ultimate luxury is time.” –  Michael Kors

Time has a special resonance for me since I had my kids in my forties and am aware that I might not have as much time with them as younger mums.  I obviously wouldn’t change them for the world but I do think the experience of an older mum is different somehow.

I also prefer a perfume which is a little out of the ordinary such as Guerlain’s Mitsouko (which means mystery in Japanese) and was created in 1919 . It is a Chypre fragrance with notes of peach, jasmine, may rose, spices (cinnamon), oak moss, vetiver and wood. It is a world away from lots of the synthetic, me-too fragrances currently on the market.

And of course as a massive Agatha Christie fan, I’d love a full set of Agatha Christie novels and a trip to see her holiday home near Torquay – Greenway, now in the safe hands of the National Trust.  You can even get there by steam train or boat.  How romantic is that?  I will be hinting largely to the Husband.

Tea in a white porcelain cup with a lipstick stain on the rim
Sometimes a cuppa in bed in the morning is all you want

But ultimately, whilst our things may give us pleasure, it is memorable experiences which stay with us and I am sure that for most mums a special snuggle from their kids and a cup of tea in bed means just much as a glitzy present.

On Being 52

Ah.  The quest to find meaning and purpose in later life.  At 52.

Firstly, that number.  It bears no relevance to me at all – at least in my mind it doesn’t.  It is an age other people are at.

And yet.  And yet.

Woman on a jetty looking over a lake and mountains. 52 is a great time to think about how to find meaning and purpose in later life.

I look in the mirror and the tell-tale signs are there.  A little more jowly, the hair adopting a frizzier attitude.

I hide the grey.

My hearing is caput and my eyesight strangely improving.  I joke with my optician that by the time I reach my death bed, my vision will be 20/20.

But.

This is all top secret because nobody these days is allowed to age too loudly.

Oh, you can be a fashion guru like nonagenarian Iris Apfel and take the streets of New York in mismatched geometric prints.

You can out-sass all the Millennials with their grim determination and glossy hair by wearing an improbable hat in a fast food restaurant.

The elephant in the room, though, is large, greyer than you are and trumpeting very quietly.

We have to keep our brain alert.  We have to eat oily fish.  We have to fight dementia.

We have to deny our bodies and, in equal measure, pretend the poor treatment and all-out grief we’ve given them over the years didn’t happen.

My dentist gently said to me, as I moaned about my twanging gums, that “you have the teeth of a woman of your age‘.

The truth is that staving of ageing is exhausting.  Weight-bearing exercise, power-walking, greeting the dawn like Maria Von Trapp on acid.

Frankly, I am the human incarnation of a grumpy cat before 10 am.

And then there’s the menopause.  Or at least I think there is.

You never really know do you?

It lurks around like a suspect in a poorly produced amateur crime drama, threatening to reveal itself and then fluffing its lines.

I recently had a blood test and when doctor’s receptionist phoned through the result she said  “You’re menopausal” and then “welcome to the club”.

What did Woody Allen say?  Oh yes.  “I’d never join a club that would allow a person like me to be a member”.

Quite.

The thing is, we’re all living longer and longer.  So, 52 isn’t that old any more.

And we’re expected to be bloody grateful because we’re alive – and so, I admit, we should be.

Life is what happens when you’re making other plans as the saying goes.

I feel I am at a half way mark and need to plan the second half of my life.

I had my kids at 43 and 45 so they will form a large part of that.  I’m hoping I’m around long enough to be a grandmother.

So while most of the time I take strength from the bevy of older celebrities whose names are part of the warp and weft of the longevity tapestry (Mirren Dench, Moore, Thurman, Brinkley…), being 52 does mean you have moments of thinking –

Bloody hell I’m getting on a bit.

We all need an occasional moment to admit that.

We all need some time to embrace the fear.

You know, I think you can trace quite a bit of anxiety and depression to our denial of this fear of the end.

Our ancestors just ‘got on with it’ though, didn’t they?  Our lonely worrying sessions pale into insignificance by simply watching the nightly news.

The problems of the many far outweigh our individual existence on this ball of dust hurtling through space.

This is probably why so many of the self-help gurus promote the concept of ‘contribution’, of giving something back.

It’s another way of trying to find meaning and purpose in later life.

I wish I could be more religious.  Those who have faith truly have a gift.

But something created the world, didn’t it?  Something was there first and, I like to think, something intelligent.

I guess we’ll all do what we usually do.  Sigh, drink more coffee, open another packet of biscuits and reflect that whilst perhaps life hasn’t always dealt us the best hand, with a little hope, medicine and belief, the forthcoming years might be full of adventures.

The answer to our midlife malaise may simply be to embrace the power of gratitude.

Because after 52 years, I certainly have a lot to be grateful for.