Living Life Ready – Calm Your Anxiety Naturally With Kalms Lavender

Here’s an interesting question for you.  Did you know that lavender can help to manage your anxiety? Do you know the difference between stress and anxiety? We tend to use these terms interchangeably, but there are definite differences between the two.

We experience stress when our feelings threaten to overwhelm us in situations where the demands made on us are greater than our ability to manage. We often know exactly what the source of our stress is too – for example starting a new job, sitting an exam or attending an interview.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is an unease about something with an uncertain outcome. Anxiety can exist even when the cause of the worry is gone.  I’m frequently told, “it’s all in your head”!

Did you know that almost one in five people say they feel anxious a lot or all of the time? Anxiety has become a common problem in our daily lives.

Symptoms of anxiety include feelings of worry, apprehension and uncertainty.

We feel we are worrying all the time, perhaps about things that are a regular part of everyday life or things that are unlikely to happen.  Some of us even worry about worrying.

But anxiety and especially prolonged anxiety can have a negative effect on the body.  We may suffer a racing heartbeat, nausea, headaches, and muscle tension.

There is no doubt that long-term, anxiety can impact on the quality of life and wellbeing. So what can we do to better manage these feelings?

If your anxiety is severe, you should talk to your GP or perhaps ring a helpline best suited to the nature of your problem.

If, however, your anxiety is mild there are plenty of ways you can help yourself to manage your fears and take better care of yourself in order to cope.

Whilst you are taking steps to make your life more manageable, you could also try a new supplement to help relieve the symptoms of mild anxiety.

Kalms Lavender One-A-Day packaging

Kalms Lavender One-A-Day Capsules are a traditional herbal medicinal product which contains uniquely prepared, pharmaceutical quality lavender oil.

The product is used for the temporary relief of the symptoms of mild anxiety such as stress and nervousness, exclusively based on the long-standing use of lavender as a traditional herbal remedy.

You see when we are anxious we may suffer from an “Anxiety Imbalance” where the nerve cells in the brain become over-stimulated, due to the excessive release of neurotransmitters – the brains chemical messengers – such as dopamine and adrenaline.

This leads to hyperactive nerves which are excessively ‘switched on’ – an imbalance which can result in symptoms of anxiety.

The results of over 15 clinical trials have shown that a daily capsule of lavender oil can noticeably relieve the symptoms of anxiety in just one to two weeks – and those benefits are comparable to commonly used anti-anxiety medications.

One study found that symptoms in 70% of those taking the lavender oil capsules were rated as ‘much’ or ‘very much’ improved when reassessed by researchers at the end of treatment.

Lavender Oil is the active ingredient found only in Kalms Lavender One-A-Day Capsules in the UK- and the research suggests that it can reduce the overstimulation of nerve cells leading to an improvement in symptoms of anxiety. Kalms want us to enjoy our days to the full no matter what symptoms anxiety may throw at us!

It’s surprising how it’s often the little things that set us worrying.  These are some of the things I worried about this week.

– Mathew flying to Canada for work – I am always worried about plane crashes!

– St. David’s Day – do you think I could find safety pins to pin Caitlin’s Welsh Lady shawl?

– World Book Day – I can’t sew for toffee and we are always scrabbling about to get some sort of costume together at the last minute.

– Cooking – or more specifically what to have for tea.

– The kids actually eating the tea I’ve cooked.

– My glasses not fitting (readers of this blog will know just how much stress this gives me!)

– The constant hissing in my ears – thanks Tinnitus!

My usual coping mechanisms involve hot baths, early nights, reading a good book and a glass of wine – like many parents across the land, and you can find more of my suggestions for managing your anxiety in this post.

Manage your anxiety with these tips

Here are some more brilliant tips from Kalms to help you manage your anxiety.

1. Slow and steady

If you’re feeling anxious, try taking slow deep breaths; calmly inhaling for 4 seconds through your nose, then exhaling for the same via your mouth. Studies show practising a breathing technique can stimulate the part of the nervous system responsible for relaxation, helpful in reducing anxiety.

2. Take a mindful moment

Mindfulness – the practice of being present in the moment and noticing our feelings, body, thoughts and environment – has been found to improve mental wellbeing and be beneficial for anxiety. Being mindful can be as simple as paying more attention to things we touch, see, smell and hear, like savouring our morning cup of coffee, rather than being caught up in our whirring thoughts. Visit NHS Choices for an introduction to Mindfulness.

3. Know your triggers

Knowing what exacerbates your anxiety is an important step in addressing the issue. Often we avoid situations that make us feel anxious – but this is counterproductive and can make our fears worse. Facing what we’re worried about can help alleviate the anxious feelings – whether it’s been making that phone call you’ve been putting off, replying to an email or even tidying the house.

4. Time to talk

Sharing your worries with a trusted family member or friend can make them seem less daunting, and voicing your fears out loud may help you put them into perspective. You can also turn to anxiety support organisations for advice in times of need.

5. Write it down

Try taking some time at the end of each day to write your worries down. Offloading thoughts in this way may help you slow down your thinking, step away from a continuous cycle of worry and clear the mind.

Writing a to-do list also allows you to commit to paper all the tasks you still need to complete – without spending excessive time thinking about, and trying to remember them.

In order to get a bit better at living life ready, I have been trying Kalms Lavender One-A-Day and after just one capsule I felt noticeably calmer and more relaxed.  In fact, I felt so calm I could have taken a nap!

These do seem to help.  Just take one capsule with a glass of water.

The packaging does state clearly that the product may impair your ability to drive or use machines so make sure you read the label.

The product is not suitable for the under 18s, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or are allergic to the product ingredients.

I would say that for periods of mild anxiety Kalms Lavender One-A-Day capsules are certainly worth a try but if your symptoms do not improve after 2 weeks you need to see your GP.

Find out more about the Kalms Lavender range at www.kalmsrange.com and find more tips like this in my guide to holistic living.

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20 Easy Self Care Hacks To Feel Better Now

We all have days when things don’t entirely go to plan or we wake and find we just feel ‘blah’ but I have 20 easy self-care hacks to help you to get your mojo back.

Those of us who bear the strain of a chronic or auto-immune illness may start each day from a position of compromised energy and it may be a struggle to even get to ‘blah’. And if you are in your 50s like me, you may find you have lots of little niggles and aches to deal with.  (Find more on about self-care in later life on my new blog selfcareatmidlife.com).

At times like this, having a strong support network of friends and family is invaluable and the phone can be our greatest ally. Even the often maligned Facebook can offer a lifeline of community, friendship and seasoned advice.

It is also important to treat ourselves with kindness and to know when we need a break.  It is not a crime to take our needs seriously.  As the saying goes, you need to apply the oxygen mask to yourself first before you can save anyone else – and this is particularly true for parents.

I’m sure you will have your own list but here are 20 easy self-care hacks to press the pause button in your life and to take some time out to reconnect with what’s important to you and your feelings – and to make sure you are treating both your mind and body with care.

Self-care hacks to get your mojo back

1.  Say no.  Remind people that ‘no’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘never’, but at the moment it means ‘not now’.

2.  Call a friend or relative you can trust.

3.  Lose yourself in your favourite TV box set (mine is the Agatha Christie’s Poirot series).

4.  Read a really gripping book.  Here’s a review of one of my favourites.

5.  Learn a new skill – both dancing, table tennis and learning a new language have recently been shown to keep our brains young and stave off dementia.

6.  Take a long, hot bath.  You could try an Epsom Salt bath which is great for renewing our Magnesium levels.  A magnesium deficiency can be the cause of tiredness. Take this magnesium deficiency quiz to determine if that’s the case.

7.  Turn your gadgets off for a while.  The world will not implode.  Even if you turn email and Facebook notifications off you may feel less frazzled.

8. Try some adult colouring or dot-to-dot.  There are loads of books available.  In fact, so many of us are colouring, we are facing a global shortage of coloured pencils!

9.  Create a vision board on Pinterest.  If you haven’t got into Pinterest yet, you may be surprised at how easy it is to use and how addictive.

You basically create online pinboards containing your favourite images and you swop and share images by following others just as you do on Facebook and Instagram.

A vision board is a visual wishlist of all the things you’d like to have or experience and, so the theory goes, by regularly viewing your vision board, you are more likely to bring the things you want directly into your experience.

10.  Ditch the black – it’s so easy to dress in black because we think it’s slimming or it helps us blend into the background but we know that colour lifts both our mood and that of the people looking at us.

Why not add a dash of bold colour into your wardrobe – a hot pink, yellow or orange?

Black can be pretty ageing, especially around the face whilst a splash of colour can throw a flattering light on our complexions.  This, by the way, is why ladies used to wear pearls – to light up their skin.

11. Do some yoga, pilates or some gentle stretches.  You don’t have to go to a class to get the benefit as there are loads of good DVDs.

As you get older, you might find 10 minutes of stretching each morning ‘unkinks’ your body from your night’s sleep and prepares you for the day.

12.  Meditate.  Just 10-20 minutes a day has been proven to give long-term benefits to our health. There are many guides to meditation online and I have also heard good things about the Headspace app which offers guided meditation if you just find it too difficult to ignore your thoughts.

13. Take some photographs – just photographing your kids, your pets, your garden, the sky, anything that gives you joy, will lift your spirits.

You can share your world via Instagram and, if you use the right hashtags, you may find many others who share your particular interests.  Did you know, for example, that there is a hashtag called #catsofinstagram?

14.  Take a nap.  Not exactly rocket science I know but it comes back to taking time out for YOU and not being afraid to assert your needs.  The theory goes that anything between 20-45 minutes is a sensible amount of time.  Any longer and you’ll probably wake up feeling groggy.

15.  Eat something.  Seriously.  If you have been fuelling yourself on carbs and sugar all day, try a high protein snack – a handful of Almonds or some cubes of Cheddar Cheese and some apple.  Try some Green Tea for a slightly healthier caffeine drink or just a long glass of water.

16.  Write a gratitude list.  I know, I know, it might sound a bit ‘woo-woo’ but you’ll find that there is truly a lot we can all be grateful for, right now.

17. Do something nice for someone else.  I read this week about a lady who was buying an In Sympathy card for a relative since there had been a bereavement in her family. She was surprised to find a small plastic envelope in the card she selected.

In the envelope was £10 and a note from a stranger saying “I am sorry that you are having to buy this card.  Please take this £10 and do something nice for yourself”.  I image that stranger felt as good making that gesture as the lady who received the envelope did.

18. Do some baking.  In her book “Saved By Cake“, the writer Marian Keyes describes how baking helped her to deal with her depression.  You may find it helps you – in which case, worry about the calories later and get creative with the butter icing.

19.  Pray. Although many of us no longer adhere to a formal, organised religion, there is a lot to be said about asking for what we want and putting the future in the hands of a higher power – whether that be God or the Universe.

Just ask, let go and then go about your day. Even better if you can sit in a sacred space, whether that be a church, a garden or a quiet place you’ve made your own.  Why not light a candle and spend some time thinking about what it is that you really want and need.

20.  Declutter.  There’s a wonderful book about domestic cleaning called Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley (Flylady)  She recommends doing something called the “27 Fling Boogie”.  Get a black bag and run around your home selecting 27 things to go in the bin.

Or you might prefer the more philosophical approach of Marie Kondo in her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying“.  Either way, a good sort out tends to clear the mind and give you something else to focus on.  Just remember not to go too mad and chuck out stuff that brings up positive emotions for you.

So there you have it. 20 simple self-care hacks to recharge your batteries. What do you do to make yourself feel better?

Emetophobia – Doesn’t It Make You Sick?

A chance conversation on Twitter reminded me of a phobia I used to have – emetophobia – a fear of vomiting. A phobia of being sick or of seeing someone else be sick.

In my case, I used to be absolutely terrified of being within earshot of anyone I thought was about to be sick.

emetophobia - fear of being sick - young woman looking nauseous on the sofa

I’m writing this because it strikes me that this phobia might be more common than I had expected.

I was always slightly embarrassed by my aversion to all things pukey.

The triggers for my fear of vomiting

There were a couple of events which triggered it.

The first was witnessing my grandmother, Phyllis, being ill when she had the early stages of bowel cancer.

As a child, it was hard to understand how someone could be in so much pain.

The noise was terrible.

The other event that triggered it was my dear sister’s constant car sickness.

To this day I swear she can be sick at the drop of a hat.

Car journeys were an absolute nightmare because before we had driven even two miles, Sarah would have her head hanging out of the window and would have gone green.

Family holidays were nerve-wracking especially since my father developed an (in my view) irrational hatred of motorway driving and made it his mission to avoid them by taking arduous (and generally fruitless) shortcuts he’d devise whilst smoking his pipe at service stations using a succession of battered ordinance survey maps.

Mum and us girls would return from the ladies to find him with an excited glint in his eye which meant usually i) getting lost and ii) my sister feeling sick.

This led to me having a phase of having to sit on the end of rows in churches, cinemas and theatres, terrified I might not be able to get out if someone was taken ill.

I also found myself unable to eat in restaurants for the same reason.

On a family holiday to the Loire Valley via the Roscoff Ferry (a vessel designed to make people sick as far as I could see), I took a travel pill so strong I practically tranquillised myself.

Just as well given that it was a rough crossing.

On buses and trains, I’d survey the passengers as they got on to assess who might fall prey to travel sickness.

The fact that the journey into town must be no more than 7 miles made no difference.

The thing about having a phobia is that, at a logical level, you know you are being irrational but you are unable to do anything about it.

My phobia used to give me panic attacks and, if you’ve never had one, the heart-pounding breathlessness and the urge to run to the toilet are quite frightening. That, of all the emetophobia symptoms, is the one that is hardest to deal with.

I used to put my fingers in my ears and head for the door if someone so much as coughed or looked pale!  I would feel the panic rising – that horrible feeling of heat seeping downwards from your scalp to your toes.

I was somewhat lucky because my fear revolved around other people being sick.  Some sufferers are terrified if they themselves are sick or even start to feel nauseous.

Another difficult problem with emetophobia is that you are constantly on red-alert, lest someone be taken ill.  That really puts a dampener on social functions – particularly, I found ones involving alcohol.

I worked at various law firms for many years and their Christmas parties (or any social function ) were notorious occasions for much boozing and, sometimes puking, particularly among the young trainees who felt compelled to keep up with the partners.

I could never really relax or enjoy these events because I suffer from social anxiety as well as, at least then, emetophobia.

Today, of course, I know that I should have talked to a GP who would have suggested counselling, perhaps some Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to explore the triggers for this phobia and to help quash them when they arose.

They would surely have helped me with a better coping strategy than just running away or avoiding social contact.

What cured my emetophobia?

Actually, I consider myself really lucky because I found the cure was actually my earlier nightmare – having to deal with it.

Every parent knows that the first few days of a new school term are likely to introduce some new virus – either cold-like or, more usually, involving preparing the guest room for Messrs Puke and Squit.

I very quickly found that when faced with two ill children, hiding at the bottom of the garden was not an option.

I just had to roll up my sleeves and get the disinfectant out – at least once or twice per school year.

And worse still, generally I managed to get every bug the kids brought home.

The husband, with his annoying tendency to think positively at all times, has only ever succumbed once in the past six years using a mind over matter approach.

I have never been sick as much as I have since I had kids!

I knew I was over the worst the other week whilst in the doctor’s surgery with Ieuan.

He managed to throw up in one of those horrid kidney shaped bowls whilst I continued to discuss his symptoms with the doctors.

A few years ago, I’d have had to run out of the room.

If you do suffer from emetophobia, I just want to say that there are probably more of us sufferers out there than you might imagine.

And please go to your GP or confide in someone to get some help dealing with it.

It can colour your entire life if you don’t take steps to deal with it – with socially, travelling or even at work.

I’d never volunteer to be the First Aider in work in case I had to treat someone being sick.

And if the worst happens, you may just find you’re cured of your emetophobia, just like me.

7 Tips For Surviving Blue Monday

Welcome to Blue Monday.  I say this ironically, of course, because it is the day when the post-Christmas gloom hits us with full force.

We’re cutting back on booze, ramping up our exercise and facing our failings head-on. Again.

Blue Monday surival tips - woman with an umbrella walking along a walkway

Yes, Blue Monday (21st January this year) is THE most depressing day of the year.

So how to survive it?  You can find my own tips here but here are some extra ideas to put the colour back into your cheeks.

7 tips for surviving Blue Monday

TIP 1: Change your perspective

Clayton John Ainger, award-winning author of The Ego’s Code says that negativity is in fact, a very natural and normal process.

“By labelling negativity as bad, we provide it with more fuel. By changing our perspective on negativity and the meaning behind it will undoubtedly have a positive effect on your life. Feeling down is not meant to hinder you, it is there to learn from, so embrace your negativity and move on”  

TIP 2: Book a winter sun break

The summer months are the most popular time for sun holidays, but there are plenty of opportunities to escape to warmer, sunnier weather during the winter months. Booking a sunny break can increase your levels of serotonin which can make you feel more calm and focused as well as making you feel more productive when you return to normal life.

TIP 3: Book a staycation

If your bank balance doesn’t allow for an extravagant holiday abroad, why not book a long weekend away instead?  A change of scene will do all the family good and just a couple of days away can leave you all refreshed for a reasonable cost.

TIP 4: Go back to bed

It is ok to admit you are having a blue day, so don’t bother trying to fight it! Once you’ve finished work for the day, transform your bedroom into a tranquil sanctuary where you can take the time and rest you need.  If your bed isn’t comfortable consider investing in some gorgeous new bedding or a new mattress.

Stephen Volkins from Big Brand Beds has this sound advice.

“Make sure it is dark and a comfortable temperature with a source of light air flow, and remove light sources like TVs and LED clocks. Take a tip from Feng Shui and make your room softly curved and coolly coloured – avoid sharp angles and dominant colour schemes in order to calm the mind and spirit for a really relaxing night’s sleep.” 

TIP 5: Identify your negative thinking triggers

What sends your thinking into a spiral of negativity? Does seeing your friends going on great nights out on Facebook make you feel inadequate? Or perhaps you have some people in your life who are negative and that brings you down. It could even be the news on the TV before bedtime that send you to bed feeling unsettled or bad. Take some time to identify your triggers and then you will be able to avoid them.

TIP 6: Put the kettle on

Tea has a range of psychological and physical health benefits that can improve your wellbeing. The humble cuppa has been used for centuries across the world to help with relaxation, improve spirituality, nourishment and healing and there are many speciality teas which contain health promoting ingredients.

TIP 7: Challenge the rut

Carla Watson and Shelley La Mancusa, authors of Getting Out of a Rut (released 24th January ) suggest that the only way to combat self-defeating behaviour is to concentrate on who and what you surround yourself with. They say:

“It is hard enough sometimes for us to get out of bed in the mornings and shower ourselves with compliments, without the aid of other people commenting on the choices you make. A supportive network of friends and family is vital to achieving inner happiness and avoid negativity.” 

So there you have it – 7 more tips to cheer you up.  What coping strategies do you have for surviving Blue Monday?

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Blue Monday Survival Tips - woman with umbrella walking under structured metal arch

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Want This Year To Be YOUR Year? Tell Yourself A Better Story.

Now we’re all re-emerging from the traditional post-festive slump, do you find your thoughts automatically drifting to those things you want to improve this new year? We have already probably read, by now, the myriad of pop psychology suggestions to transform our existence – from writing a letter to your future self and making gratitude lists to mindful meditation, seeking your guardian angel and rebalancing your chakras.

write a letter to your future self - woman outdoors sat on a log typing on a laptop

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Listen, I love this stuff and you won’t find any cynical sniffing from me if you tell me your goal next year is to explore your spirituality.  Too few of us are stuck in a kind of two-dimensional hell of work and shopping with very little actual human connection in between.

But here’s the thing I want to suggest you try.

If you stop and listen closely to the voice in your head, that incessant chatter which is you (probably) berating, criticising and scolding yourself, you might notice something.

You say the same stuff over and over and over and over ……

Basically, you are retelling your life as a story in which you may not necessarily be playing the role you want to play.  Is there someone else you have cast as the star whilst you have a mere walk-on part?

If you think about your history, your past, it is a collection of memories you’ve put together seen from just one perspective – yours.  We can never know exactly what someone else is feeling. Their behaviour may give clues, of course, but nevertheless, the only person we can truly begin to understand is ourselves.

Some of the people we find most inspiring, whether they are celebrities or members of our family, have the ability to make their own sunshine.  They put a positive spin on everything that happens. They are the ‘silver lining people’.

Hands up, on occasion, I find ‘silver lining people’ extremely annoying but in my more sanguine moments, I acknowledge that they are definitely on to something.

So, rather than retell yourself ghastly tales of past times when you were the fall guy, the stooge, the fool, where you let your light be eclipsed by someone with all the brightness of a 20-watt bulb, why not put a twist in the tale?

Ask yourself.  If I were to rewrite this, what would have happened?  And, in future, when you think of that time, tell yourself this new story.

If the old version of events has a terrible hold on you, see yourself writing it down then pick up the paper, scrunch it into a ball and chuck it over your shoulder.

Or pretend you have set it on fire and those horrid memories have literally gone up in smoke.

As you look to your future,  why not write yourself the story of the year now, complete with a list of what WILL happen. I don’t mean a bucket list.  I mean a list of glorious, golden outcomes.  Actually, writing a letter to your future self is a great idea because it will give you something to look back on to see how far you’ve come.

Faith and positive thinking may make your dreams happen.

We are adult and know that there are no guarantees in life but, equally, to live with an optimistic view where you let in the light has to be better than starting another year in a fug of gloomy despondency.

January is such a dark, dank month.  We miss the sun and the light both emotionally and physically. Those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) must feel this loss of light even more and, once the Christmas bonhomie has passed, there is a tendency for those of us who suffer from depression to sink into a deeper pit of our own hopelessness and melancholy.

But if we look around us, the best-loved stories are still there and are a testament to our eternal belief that good triumphs over evil, that light always wins out over darkness.

I am thinking not just of religion but of the Harry Potter stories and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

If we can let ourselves enter their worlds and believe so willingly,  why don’t we write our own sagas and recast ourselves as heroes and heroines?

Ultimately you know, we’ve all got the Force.

The Back To School Guide For The Introvert Mum

Many of us will be facing the prospect of our little darlings going back to school with a mix of relief and sadness.

We have loved our time with them (mostly), but now that our house looks like it has been the scene of a 6 week long rave and there is nothing left to eat in the cupboards, apart, of course, from the chickpeas you bought circa 2014, it is time to give them back to the ministrations of the local authority (the kids not the chickpeas).

Sighs of relief all round.  There are even some marriages which are still intact.

But for some of us, it’s not taking junior back to school that’s the worry, it’s having to run the gauntlet of the school run mums.

I’ve written before about how isolating it can be if you are shy and don’t mix well with people. Bizarrely this can happen to those who have had jobs in professions which you might think are really sociable.  And social shyness can strike at any time and at any age.  A slight loss of confidence and then blam!  You have all the social skills of Donald Trump. Sadly, some of us have the hair to go with it.

Why we get ourselves in such a state about two brief stints outside a school gate I’m not sure.  It may be because it brings back memories of when we were in school.   There is no doubt, however, that adult bullying goes on and, no matter, how many times you tell yourself that it is these sad individuals who have the problem, it does not take away the sting.

Sometimes though, we are our own worst enemy.  The Law of Attraction (I know, I know, weirdy, beardy shite, as the Husband calls it), says that what you give out, you get back and I’d say that is certainly true of social interaction. Someone has to make the first move and the sad thing is, very often nobody does.

Every played “hello” chess?  It goes like this.

Day 1

You see a mum.  You say hello.  She says hello back.

Day 2

You see the same mum.  You say hello.  She nods.

Day 3

You see the same mum.  You nod, she ignores you.

Day 4

You both ignore each other.

This tends to progress to being totally blanked when they drive by or ignored if they spot you in a supermarket.

We tend to assume, don’t we, that if we are not acknowledged, it is all about us but we should remember that others have their own problems and, if you’re anything like me, it’s quite easy to become completely absorbed in a world of your own.

We also assume that others have Grade A social skills and have no trouble making friends themselves but that is quite likely to be untrue in many cases.

All you can do, I think, is decide on your own standard of behaviour and stick to that.  That way you can be sure that it’s not you.

If you are being picked on or ostracized for whatever reason your choices are stark but simple.

Either confront the bullies or ignore them.  A confronted bully, as we know from childhood experience, will often back down and then pick on someone else.  They crave power and attention and if they don’t get it, they get bored.

Sometimes you just need to accept that, rather than being a rich pool of potential friendships, the school run cliques are often anything but and actually, when you think about it, in many cases the only thing you have in common is a child at the same school.

In any other walk of life this would not be enough to create a long-lasting supportive friendship so isn’t it a bit irrational to pin such high hopes on other parents?

If you are dreading tomorrow, remember that you are a nice person. Be pleasant. Say hello. Show an interest in what your fellow parents have done over the holiday.

But if you are blanked or ignored, does it really matter in the grand scheme of things?

Better to concentrate your efforts on finding friends with whom you have something in common. Join groups, take up a hobby, take an evening class if you can get the childcare.

If you still don’t want to give up, then you have to be prepared to take a risk.  Ask one of the other mums for a coffee. There’s bound to be someone just like you standing alone staring into space.

They probably feel just as lost as you do.

And there’s a very good reason why socialising with other parents is important. Isn’t it gutting when you realise that all the children of the parents in the popular cliques get to play together and yours are never invited?

You owe it to your kids to brush up on your own social skills so that they can learn to make friends, to be the ones brave enough to take the first step and never to be the ones who make others feel unwelcome, or alone.

Ironic isn’t it, because it’s really the unpleasant and unfriendly who need to go back to school.

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Mum walking her son and daughter to school

How To Keep Calm When You’ve Got Kids

Having kids is one of the most incredible things you can do in your adult life but it can be extremely stressful at times. Whether you’re worrying about their health, their schooling, their friendships, at every stage of their development there seem to be new hurdles to overcome. Sometimes it can all get too much and you find yourself yelling, shouting or having a full on adult tantrum. Do you find yourself wondering how to be a calmer parent?  I certainly do.

The benefits of a calmer parenting style

Because keeping calm and making sure you’re prioritising your own self care – for example eating right and getting enough sleep – can only help to make those parenting challenges a little easier.

mum outdoors cuddling her two children - how to be a calmer parent

One of the main tools in your parenting arsenal is the ability to listen and interpret what your child is telling you – which isn’t just the words they speak.  It is very difficult to do this if you’re tired.  Similarly acting as negotiator between warring siblings or explaining why junior should eat his greens require consistency, energy and, often a bit of ingenuity.

It is said that you need to apply the oxygen mask to yourself first before you can save anyone else during an in-flight emergency and the same principle applies here. It’s too easy to think that self-preservation is, well, selfish, but if it helps everyone else to live a more peaceful, loving existence then we should all be a lot more selfish.

Don’t Feel Guilty For Needing a Break

Every single one of us needs a break now and again. Being a parent is relentless, hard work. Having time off when you need it is no bad thing. Maybe you could book a babysitter and go out for a nice meal with your partner. Perhaps your children’s grandparents or other relatives will take them out for the day, leaving you free to visit a spa, have a deep tissue massage to relieve stress or just put your feet up and do nothing!

Make Time To See Friends

When you have kids, you change from being ‘just you’ to a mother, and that never goes away even when your children grow up. But it’s important to maintain some of yourself that’s separate from being a parent. Keeping in contact with friends can help you to do this. They allow you to express yourself and just be ‘you’ not the wife, mother and other roles you have. You might not get to go out like you once did, but the occasional girls night, cinema trip, brunch or lunch gives you a break and allows you to keep close bonds with the important people in your life.

Split Duties With Your Partner

Dividing up responsibilities with your partner can be tricky, but it’s essential to keep everything running smoothly in the household. Every now and again you could arrange for one of you to look after the children to give the other time to themselves. This allows you both to maintain hobbies and friends, while the other does something fun with the kids which they’re sure to enjoy. Then switch, so you both get a break.

Tire Them Out

Keeping kids tired is one way to give yourself an easier life! When they’re bored, irritable and bouncing off the walls, you’re likely to get far more tantrums and challenging behavior. Before or after school each day you could take them to a park to allow them to blow off steam. It’s fun, allows them to stay healthy, get some exercise and stops them from getting bored. At the evenings or on warm weekends you could go on hikes, bike rides or kick a ball around at the park. You could also take them to play areas where they’ll tire themselves out no hassle! Getting outdoors with the kids will help to keep you in shape too as an added bonus, you will end up doing exercise without it feeling like a workout.

What do you do to stay sane with kids? Do you have any tricks for getting through a stressful day or how to be a calmer parent?




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Mindfulness Training For Kids With The Mindful Monsters

With today’s focus on the importance of ensuring good mental health for our children as well as ourselves, what better time to teach your kids the benefits of mindfulness whilst supporting disability charity Scope at the same time?

mindfulness training for kids - Caitlin & Ieuan with the Mindful Monster cards

Scope’s mission is to make this country a place where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. They provide support, information and advice to more than a quarter of a million disabled people and their families every year, whilst raising awareness of the barriers facing disabled people and helping them build resilience in their day-to-day lives.

mindful monsters cards from SCOPE - mindfulness training for kids

They have developed Mindful Monsters, a set of activity cards, which gives parents a new and exciting way to help their little ones develop important life skills through exploring mindfulness, while spending quality time together. The cards provide quick and easy mindfulness training for kids using activities parents and children can do anywhere.

What is mindfulness?  The best way to describe it is as a very simple form of meditation which involves controlling your focus in order to relieve or reduce stress.  By controlling what we pay attention to, we can better understand our thoughts and emotions and take positive steps to deal with them in more productive ways.

Best of all, it is something the whole family can practise together.

Research shows mindfulness in families has many benefits:

· More resilience in day-to-day life
· Improved focus
· Better understanding of their emotions
· A sense of calm
· More positive thinking – promoting kindness and gratitude

The cards are brilliant to have on hand to whip out when a tantrum threatens (adult or child!) to help take a moment and change focus – to get everybody back on track without an emotional maelstrom!

As parents and carers know, children often struggle to understand their emotions – which affects both their behaviour and that of the adults around them.  Mindful Monsters are a great way of calming everybody down.

It’s a far healthier approach, too than resorting to sugary snacks and other forms of food-related bribery.

Meet the monsters who offer mindfulness training for kids!

There are 4 Mindful Monsters who each offer a slightly different type of activity.

There are:-

  • Thinky, who helps kids to concentrate
  • Giggles, who likes to promote kindness and gratitude
  • Snug who teaches relaxation and de-stressing
  • Sparky who likes to get creative without leaving glitter bombs or mess.

Each monster offers a range of activities in their particular area – so Snug may ask you to concentrate on your breath by seeing if you can breathe like a snake, or a whale (tricky that one).  Giggles might ask you to pay someone a compliment and see how good that makes you feel.  Thinky suggests going for a walk to somewhere you know well and spotting three new things, whilst Sparky might get you to pull your scariest monster face opposite someone else without laughing.

Each activity is well thought out and fun and would work with any age.  The Husband reports that pulling monster faces was the icebreaker activity at a recent conference.  (Who says IT people don’t have a sense of fun …..).

Caitlin (9) and Ieuan (8) both thought the cards were fun although I think it helps to have had a conversation about mindfulness with your kids first – and if you can embrace it as a family so much the better.  Otherwise, it’s a little ‘left field’ to ask a grumpy 8-year-old to stand on one leg when you’ve just upset him (again) by restricting his access to Roblox.

As a form of mindfulness training for kids, though, I think the cards work really well and are brilliant for throwing in a bag to take out and about with you.  They’re a great way of managing tantrums and meltdowns without you getting stressed because you’ve raised your voice again.

To get the cards, you need to sign up and donate just £7.50 monthly (postage is included). Then you’ll receive your starter pack for the first month, and then extra cards and a newsletter each month following that with more activities from the Mindful Monsters.

The welcome pack (which fits easily through your letterbox) contains an introductory booklet, some fun stickers and your first 7 monster cards. There are 84 cards to collect in total so if you pay monthly, the total you’ll pay will be £90.  You can cancel at any time.

You can also sign up to pay annually for £75, giving you two months free.  There is no obligation to continue to donate once the year is up.

The cards are of a decent thickness to withstand lots of use and feature the appropriate monster on the front together with a reminder of the particular focus – e.g. creativity.

You can make the most of your donation by gift-aiding it to allow Scope to claim another 25% from the Government and 70p in the pound goes towards supporting disabled people and their families.

I think this is a really creative scheme which gives a little extra to donors and builds a long-term relationship with them.

So do your bit and seek out a little extra calm with the Mindful Monsters.

Find out more about mindfulness training for kids at www.mindfulmonsters.co.uk or www.scope.org.uk where you’ll find other ways to donate and support this great charity.

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OCD – My Glasses & Me

It is very easy to think of mental illness as being “something that happens to other people” but, in the same way that the health of our bodies fluctuates and changes during the course of our everyday life, so, too, I believe does the health of our minds.  In this post, I’m sharing my own mental health struggle which centres around Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD.

OCD - woman with thoughts drawn as squiggles surrounding her head

This, in itself, is the very reason why mental illness should not be stigmatised and the reason why we should discuss it.  For example, most people suffer from anxiety of sorts. It’s just that it is on a spectrum, rising and falling along with the events of our daily life.

My own problem falls within, I believe, the area of an obsessive-compulsive disorder.  I cannot bear people touching my glasses.  I know exactly what triggered this obsession.  A very unpleasant break-up, combined with a miserable job situation led me to focus on making everything all right by having the nose pads of my glasses ‘just so’.  The fact that I can logically assess what started it, however, is no help whatsoever in dealing with it.

I went from compulsively checking the fit of my glasses to putting them on the tops of wardrobes in hotel rooms so that housekeeping staff would not accidentally touch them, thereby altering the fit.

If relatives were visiting, I would make sure I had contact lenses in so that there was no chance of my glasses being knocked when they hugged and kissed me hello.  If I went anywhere in a car, the glasses would have to travel in their special case in the glove pocket and the case had to be carried quite separately from my luggage so that they would not be knocked about in transit.

Today I have 4 or 5 pairs of glasses which sit on top of a chest of drawers, not in their cases because I cannot bear to fold the arms in case it alters the fit of the glasses.  I rotate the various pairs throughout the day.

I’m a lot better than I used to be.  Having kids has helped me enormously. You can’t be cross with a child who knocks your glasses when giving you a loving hug and kiss, can you? But the first few times it happened I used to feel shaky and even a bit sick.

The husband is resigned to this and is understanding – up to a point.  My obsessions also extend to quite a bit of health-related anxiety, extending to my teeth, jaw, back, ears and any other bit which doesn’t seem to be functioning quite right!

OCD - my glasses

I tell you this because I want you to understand that it is OK to be like this.  This is what happens to humans when they are under stress and need love and understanding.

Something interesting happened, however, when I asked my blogging friends to share the strange rituals and habits that they live with on a daily basis – so that I could share them with you and help you to feel better if you are like me.

Some reacted with quite a lot of anger.  They objected to my using the word “quirk” to describe these behaviours.  They wanted to make quite sure I was not going to encourage the use of the term OCD as an adjective (for example saying “oh that’s so OCD” to describe somebody fussing) because it is unfair and disrespectful to those suffering from conditions like this.

Fair point, however, we have to talk about mental illness so we can understand mental health.  We have to hold these conditions up to the clear light of day to educate and inform and to teach our family and friends to help us make our lives as rich and fruitful as possible.  Make no mistake,  they suffer along with us and they need coping strategies too.

And if we don’t talk about things like OCD, how will we ever find the right words, the kind words to help people to deal with it?  Nobody would expect a cancer sufferer to keep their feelings to themselves and not discuss their cancer diagnosis, would they?  Our hospitals are not full of people stoically keeping their symptoms to themselves. Talking can be part of the cure – for the sufferer and their family.

What was incredibly reassuring to me was the number of bloggers who were kind enough to share their behaviours and I list some of them below so that you can see just how common it is to deal with anxiety by adopting certain rituals.

Gemma:  “I have to walk on the left side of people otherwise I feel very uncomfortable, it’s even caused me to have panic attacks in the past.”

Jadine:  “I can’t leave the house without checking the door is closed/locked twice and the lights are off without going around the place twice.”

Gillian:  “I can’t have people touch the insides of my tomatoes. Like in restaurants etc. Whole tomatoes are fine but if they touch the seeds, even with their gloves, I can’t eat it.”

Jade:  “Everything has to be in its place and I know if someone has moved something also on days out I have to plan it right down to times I have anxiety attacks if we are not in the schedule that I have it drives me mad that I’m like this but I can’t change it.”

Sarah Louise:   “My partner has bad OCD. He has to make sure every door, window etc is shut before we go out and he will stare at it talking to himself before he moves on to the next door or window. He takes absolutely ages to lock up but won’t let anyone else do it. He will physically hurt his hands and fingers locking a door as he said he has to ‘feel it locked when it can’t turn anymore’ until he can rest. He will stand turning a key in the door for ages and if you talk to him while he’s locking up he has to do it all over again.

I have a lot of things. I don’t like odd numbers. I won’t let anyone else change my daughters nappy. It has to be a certain way right in the middle ( The fasten part from the side…its hard to explain). Matching socks. Things have to be central else I can’t rest. My daughter’s cot canopy has to have no creases or bumps in it. Clothes are to be hung on the line a certain way and folded a certain way. Whoo, could go on forever.”

Natasha:  “Mad 5 pieces of loo roll for me, wash hands 3 times. But it’s mostly 5 times on most things.”

Elyse:  “I have to use the same numbers. Like my alarm is set for 08:08. If you head to my blog and blog page Sweet Elyse Blog I have to schedule them in for 13:13, 16:16 or 14:14 (at a push) and I can’t attend appointments unless I have at least 7 days notice. That’s just the start, I can live with these things and my friends and family have got used to my ”quirks”.”

Charlotte:  “this is so random but I can’t sleep in a room without opening to check every cupboard and wardrobe twice, I have no idea what I am checking for but if I haven’t opened, checked and closed the doors twice I just lie awake until I finally do! ”

Charlie:  “I have lots. I eat a slice of bread from the bottom (the base of the loaf ) to the top. I can’t bear uneven numbers when doing a workout, if something isn’t balanced, I’ll do more. I can’t bear marks on a table in a restaurant or crumbs if I’ve made the mess and will tidy it up. I always put shoes and socks etc on right foot first. Same if I’m shaving my legs”

Nikki:  “I eat all my food separately so if I have chicken peas and potatoes on my plate I eat the peas first then the chicken and finally the potatoes. I won’t put ketchup on my plate until the food I need it for is about to be eaten.”

Leslie:  “My thing is straight lines. Two objects next to each other must be parallel or I am not happy. Posters or photo frames on the wall must be straight or I will move them – regardless of where I am. All of my furniture has to be parallel with my living room rug for me to be able to relax (or at a 45 degree diagonal). I also have to wash my hands hundreds of times a day after touching things. Even if I have just washed them. Oh and I absolutely refuse to touch public toilet door handles… I’ve been known to wait by the door for 20 minutes or more for someone to open it for me when they come in.”

Tina:  “I have to bleach my toilet three times a day, my rug has to line up with the sofa and the fire.”.

As you can see, there is a myriad of ways in which our stress and anxiety can express itself through odd behaviours.  Nobody could deny the misery of suffering from OCD at a level where it is interfering with everyday life but equally, I think it helps to acknowledge those of us at the lower end of the spectrum may be suffering too.

I think I have just about got my ‘glasses thing’ under control but I know I’m stressed because I start to slip into my old ways – checking that the nose pads sit equally on my nose, for example.  Even my optician is used to my “glasses thing” and he tells me that he has other clients whose anxiety manifests itself in the fit of their glasses too!

So what exactly is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?  Much helpful information can be found on the website of OCD-UK and on the NHS‘s own website.

Current estimates for the UK population are that there are potentially around 741,504 people living with OCD at any one time. A disproportionately high number, 50% of all these cases, will fall into the severe category, with less than a quarter being classed as mild cases.

OCD presents itself in many guises. It is not just hand washing or checking light switches. OCD sufferers may experience obsessions “which take the form of persistent and uncontrollable thoughts, images, impulses, worries, fears or doubts.

These thoughts are often intrusive, unwanted, disturbing, significantly interfere with the ability to function on a day-to-day basis as they are incredibly difficult to ignore. People with OCD often realise that their obsessional thoughts are irrational, but they believe the only way to relieve the anxiety caused by them is to perform compulsive behaviours, often to prevent perceived harm happening to themselves or, more often than not, to a loved one.

Compulsions are repetitive physical behaviours and actions or mental thought rituals that are performed over and over again in an attempt to relieve the anxiety caused by the obsessional thoughts. Avoidance of places or situations to prevent triggering these obsessive thoughts is also considered to be a compulsion. But unfortunately, any relief that the compulsive behaviours provide is only temporary and short-lived, and often reinforces the original obsession, creating a gradual worsening cycle of the OCD.” [source:  OCD-UK].

If you are suspect you are suffering from OCD or any other mental health-related issue, please talk to your GP or visit the charity OCD-UK who have plenty of information about OCD and related disorders. Alternatively, there is the website of The Mental Health Foundation who are the organisers of Mental Health Awareness Week at www.mentalhealth.org.uk.

If all this feels like too much, a starting point may be an honest chat with a trusted friend or family member.

And it doesn’t matter which words you use to describe your anxieties.  Actions always speak louder than words, I find and being kind to yourself by seeking help is the first crucial step.

An update:  since I wrote this post nothing much has changed, except that dealing with my compulsion is part of my daily life and I have learned to accept it for what it is – as have my family.  I am able, however, to recognise that some days are worse than others and having experienced OCD for a long time (however mildly), I know that things will get back on an even keel.

What is more challenging, however, is to work out what triggers it and to put strategies in place to prevent that.  The Husband says that everything goes in cycles with me and we have worked out that holiday periods are definite triggers.  Knowing your triggers really helps.




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5 Quick Tips To Restore Your Inner Calm

It being the school holidays, I think it’s safe to say that the sugar rush from chocolate and the general truckload of chicken nuggets, chips and beans from dining out, aren’t having the best impact on the mood of parents nor offspring.  But do you prioritise downtime and relaxation for you?  Do you have a self-care toolkit?

It’s always a toss-up, isn’t it, to let your children see mummy ‘a little bit shouty‘ and doling out a bit of discipline or to model the behaviour you want to see in your kids by plastering a grin across your face and referring to yourself in the third person.  “Mummy’s having a lovely time and you would be too if only you would brush your hair and put those 5 pairs of dirty socks in the wash basket”.

I am on a mission this year to channel my inner calm so that the house is less like a full-on war zone, fuelled by pre-pubescent hormones and menopausal mood swings and to cope more like my husband.  Generally, the Husband maintains his equilibrium by leaving the country altogether for some business meeting or other so this may be quite a challenge.

We all need, I think, a self-care toolkit – or rather to know ourselves well enough to be able to quickly access those things which help our mental states and allow us to calm down before we burst a blood vessel or into tears.

Why not take a few moments to write down your own ideas in a pretty notebook or planner (actually buying stationery is one of my top calming activities!) and, over the course of a month or two, see which work best to help you achieve that zen state.  (No, I’m not talking about a half bottle of Chardonnay).

My Self-Care Toolkit

Here are the five things that always work for me and are part of my self-care toolkit.

Get outside

We don’t have a big garden but just sitting out surrounded by plants and birds is always calming.  Even better if you can get the kids outside to play (and away from their tablets) while you read a good book.

Or why not take a short while to get the kids weeding or sweeping up leaves?  You might need to invest in some proper gardening tools and some protective clothing for both you and the kids but I reckon it’s well worth it.

Did you know, for example, that we all need exposure to sunlight so that our bodies manufacture enough Vitamin D?  Without enough of this vitamin, children are at risk of diseases such as Rickets.

And, if we are outside in the fresh air, we are away from the dangers of constant exposure to blue light we get from smartphones, tablets and PCs.

Not everyone has the luxury of a garden, of course, so heading for the nearest green open space, whether that be a nature reserve or a park is a great way of restoring calm to everyone.

Just Breathe

Whilst in the course of a normal day you may not be able to drop everything and meditate, you should be able to find 5-10 minutes to focus on your breathing.

In his book, The 4 Pillar Plan, Dr Rangan Chatterjee recommends what he calls 3-4-5 breathing.  You simply breathe in for 3 seconds, hold for 4 seconds and exhale for 5 seconds.  Doing this for just 2 minutes a day will train you to focus on your breathing and help you access a calmer state when you need to.

Or just bring mindfulness into your day by focusing on whatever activity you are currently doing.  A great way to do this is to go for a short walk and to really focus on your walking – feel each foot as it hits the ground.  “Be aware of the trees swaying in the breeze.  Be mindful and pay attention.  It’s a completely different experience from walking whilst texting, sending emails and checking your social media feed”,  says Dr Chatterjee. You can read my review of The 4 Pillars Plan here.

Drink green tea

Whilst it’s tempting to wire ourselves with copious amounts of coffee, if you haven’t given green tea a go, it’s certainly worth considering the many health benefits of green tea.

For example, green tea can improve brain function, increases fat burning, contains anti-oxidants which may lower your risk of cancer and, unlike coffee contains L-theanine which increases the activity of neurotransmitter GABA, which has a calming effect.

Snack on the good stuff

When you’re feeling wound up or ‘hangry’, it’s often too easy to placate yourself by snacking on something stuffed full of sugar or additives.  You might get the initial sugar rush but, if you’re like me, this will be followed by the guilt – not least because yet again you haven’t modelled healthy eating for the kids!

Obviously, the snacks you choose will depend on your dietary needs and preferences but I like to combine fresh fruit with some nuts and cubes of cheese.  I find a little protein helps stabilise the hunger pangs and balances out the sugar from the fruit.

When our kids are playing up, sometimes it’s simply because they are hungry and are unable to process their feelings and explain what they need. A healthy child-friendly snack might be just the thing for all of you.

Go hug

Sometimes, when tempers are frayed, the best solution is the simplest.  Put down whatever you are doing and take a few minutes to reconnect with your kids.  A simple hug can often damp down whatever warfare is about to break out and restore the peace.  If the kids have been sniping at each other for hours I’ll make them hug each other too and remind them how lucky they are to have each other.  (Yes,  I’m not expecting this to work particularly well when they’re teens).

Nevertheless,  a bit of loving physical contact, acknowledgement and some time listening to them works wonders and teaches them that a family unit is stronger and more precious than any silly argument about Roblox (sigh!), Minecraft (double sigh!) and whether 6 episodes of Power Rangers is a good idea right before bed (God, no!).

What do you do when things are tense at home?  Do you have any tips to share? What’s in your self-care toolkit?

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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Would You Discuss Your Mental Health With Your Colleagues?

There is still a huge stigma about openly discussing mental health at work.  It is no surprise, therefore, to discover that millions of British workers would shy away from sharing their mental health problems with colleagues amid a fear they could jeopardise their career.

mental health at work - Woman with her chin on her hand looking pensive

A survey carried out among 2000 employees by the Mental Health Foundation for World Mental Health Day 2017 discovered that 38 per cent wouldn’t feel safe being open about their mental health at work.

The study revealed around one in five have witnessed phrases linked to mental health being used in a derogatory way at work.

It also emerged nearly half of those who took part would make up a physical health excuse if they were off for a mental health reason, rather than discussing the problem with colleagues or managers.

Worse, 11 per cent have been victims of abuse at work as a direct result of a mental health issue.

Overall one in three workers said they wouldn’t dare bring the subject up with senior staff for fear of being marginalised or losing their job.

Jenny Edwards CBE, Chief Executive at the charity said: “Despite growing awareness, there are sadly still too many people who don’t feel safe talking about their mental health at work.

“We are asking people to talk about mental health, but this must be matched with an ability to listen compassionately and act appropriately.

“We still hear examples of mental ill-health being used as a form of casual insult. This creates a culture where people don’t feel able to talk about their mental health at work or reach out for support when they need it.”

Forty per cent of workers felt their workplace culture wouldn’t allow them to be completely candid regarding concerns around their mental health, and just six per cent said they would feel comfortable disclosing a mental health issue on their CV when applying for a new job.

Employees aged 18 to 24 worry most about facing discrimination at work because of their mental health. One in four worries about the harassment they would receive if they were to disclose a mental health concern.

Conversely, 27 per cent of employees aged 25 to 34 think their mental health is none of the boss’s business.

The study also approached managers and employers to assess their view of mental health in the workplace in contrast to the views of their employees.

Twenty-eight per cent have had a member of staff come to them with concerns surrounding their mental health, but only 42 per cent are certain which procedures to follow when a mental health issue is raised.

In fact, almost a quarter of managers polled believe their place of work doesn’t have an established procedure to follow for mental health enquiries, and 52 per cent think their workplace could make improvements to current systems and attitudes to take the mental health of workers more seriously.

Two-thirds want to see additional mental health days added to annual leave allowance for employees to use to prioritise their wellbeing before problems take hold.

Personally, I think this could be hugely beneficial for those suffering from anxiety, depression, disorders such as OCD or phobias such as Emetophobia.  Even tinnitus sufferers like me would benefit, particularly when experiencing a tinnitus spike.

The time could be used for counselling or other forms of therapy or just time spent with an understanding loved one.

When it comes to physical versus mental health, 62 per cent of managers agreed taking time off due to physical illness or injury is treated more seriously in the workplace than taking time off to improve mental wellbeing.

One in five employees thought it would be inappropriate to send flowers to a colleague who has taken time off work for an extended period of time due to their mental health.

As for leniency surrounding mental health concerns, a fifth of managers thought mental health queries leveraged by top-level members of staff were treated more seriously than concerns raised by lower-level members of staff.

A separate report by the Mental Health Foundation found that people living with mental health problems contribute £225bn to the economy each year, something they say should make employers wake up to the need to protect that contribution.

Chris O Sullivan, Head of Business Development at the Charity said: “Healthy workplaces recognise the contribution of employees living with mental health problems and support open disclosure. A culture that must be lead from the very top.”

The Foundation has published a guide entitled “How To Support Mental Health At Work”  and are calling on people to use it to make their workplaces more ‘mentally friendly’.

And, for those who are unable to take time off work to seek counselling and support, it is now possible to talk to a mental health therapist online.

Is this something that has affected you in the workplace?  Were you supported and given appropriate help?