Winter reading exploration time with books to help keep you and your loved ones safe, explore ideas about life – and multiple existences – plus a children’s favourite to charm ands comfort any adult. Dangerous Personalities by Joe Navarro, In the Midnight Library by Matt Haig and Tove Jansson’s Moominland Midwinter
‘What are the most challenging experiences for midlife women?’ they asked.
‘Balance,’ came back the chorus.
If you’re a midlife woman who feels she’s wading through the seven circles of hell – with the thermostat turned up to 1,000 degrees – you are not alone.
Maybe you weren’t aware of that. Here’s why…
Women are highly trained to perform to the ‘everything is all right’ school of public persona. My mother was. I expect her mother was. I know I was and frequently slip into that, ‘everything’s great’ performance when people ask me how I am.
For many of us, our time in our social circles – when we can find the time to escape – are largely spent perpetuating the ‘everything is all right’ myth. Work is great. The family are great. The house is great… It becomes a mantra.
A mantra that’s a lie.
Because here’s a truth, according to research recently published in the United States. Women in their midlife are the most over-stressed, over-stretched, over-relied-upon adult female demographic.
Younger women have no idea what’s coming (and why would they, because we’re running around doing jazz-hands) and older women have us to rely on (more jazz hands – yay).
Midlife women are so overwhelmed the word ‘menopause’ rarely gets mentioned as a major stress factor. Strange, you might think, considering the 40-65 age group are experiencing major physical change, peri-menopause, menopause or trying to adjust to post-menopause life and all that brings physically, psychologically and socially.
But no. Menopause and her two sisters Peri and Post, were not cited as major factors by the group. So either these Midlifers have become so disconnected from their bodies that what’s going on with it doesn’t register or they are battling with much greater external stress factors. Night sweats and brain fog hardly register on the ‘what fresh hell is this?’ scale. Maybe a blend of the two?
Researchers in Seattle have been watching the world of midlife women for years, focusing on women age 40 to 65 and the challenges that present during the menopause years, whether they be biological, psychological or social.
‘What are the most challenging experiences for midlife women?’ they asked.
‘Balance.’ Came back the chorus.
Midlife women wear multiple hats: wife/lover, mother, worker, home manager, carer to aging parent and sometimes grandkids too.
And then we sit at the perfect point where unravelling begins to unfurl – health issues, failing relationships, death, children leaving home.
Dealing with any of those events, or frequently multiples of them, would be bad enough, but there’s the time-sucking, energy-leaching cabaret going on as the stage set for the dramas that unfurl.
So what can you do to get more balance?
Be ok with being vulnerable
Stop pretending everything is all right. Put down the jazz hands and talk to someone. A therapist. A friend. A neighbour you see facing the same or similar issues. As a culture we’re becoming increasingly isolated. Our work is less social and we talk less, looking at something ironically called ‘social media’ more. Loneliness is endemic. Reach out and keep reaching out.
The solution to your problems is not doing more
It’s easy to do more of the same, I get it. It’s familiar. But it is not solving your problems. It’s stoking the fire. Your body needs rest. Rest. REST. Rest can be a yoga class. Pick one that’s restorative and supportive, check it out before you go. Remember; balance is key.
Understand your mental health is a priority
You are no use to anyone if you run yourself into the ground and wind up sobbing in bed. You have to take action and that action is going to get uncomfortable because you need to take care of you first. Not someone else’s crisis. Yours. Because here’s a shocker, no one else will.
Eating and drinking junk will not help you in the long term. Eating real food (the stuff that grows) will. Food that’s got vitamins and minerals in it, the protein that your body needs to help build healthy cells, create energy, balance your brain’s chemistry. More real stuff, less processed stuff.
Look at who you spend your time with
There’s a saying, that you are the average of the five people you spend most time with. If the people you’re constantly with aren’t adding to your life, change that circle to include people who lift you up.
Feed your mind
Read what inspires you, not what depresses you. Look for books by women you admire, or fiction with strong female characters who make you smile. Who you can relate to. Here’s three I love just now, featuringwomen who hold strong and are not ‘pleasers’:
Jayne Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gayle Honeyman
Dare to dream
This is the planning time; according to other cultures this midlife time is where we consider what ‘the big work’ is going to be. It can be. If you carve out the time for it. You have the wisdom now. You’ve seen enough as an adult to know what’s right. In your heart and mind. When you’re walking, lying in bed at night not sleeping, think about your big dreams. Where would you like to be in five years time? Let your imagination run riot. No problems from today’s stress maelstrom. What could that look like? Daydream like you did as a kid. Where would you be? Who would you be with? What would you feel? Put some flesh on the bones of your ideas.
If you’ve got questions about any of the above, fire them into the questions below. Or message me. I’ll help where I can.
And if you’ve got great ideas for inspirational books, do share those. Books are inspiration magic we can all enjoy.
Image by: Victor Rodvang at Unsplash
One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important. Bertrand Russell
So here’s the scene…
You want to be pounding your keyboard, but inspiration has fled and is apparently engaged in a passionate affair with someone you don’t know, because he hasn’t so much as texted for weeks now and you’re beginning to panic that you’ve broken up permanently.
There are several important phone calls to be made but you can’t bring yourself to pick up the phone… and then there’s that spreadsheet and the emails need checking and you’ve a vague recollection that something that’s probably very important needs doing today, but you can’t remember what. Your To-Do List is the size of a Victorian novel and you now feel more than slightly nauseous even though the fridge is calling you like a Siren and carefully pushing all the ultra-carbs right into your eye-line.
Welcome to my Manic Monday.
I’m not kidding.
Well, maybe a little bit kidding, but not much.
Even therapists get stressed. Even yoga teachers get stressed. Even therapists who teach and practice yoga daily get stressed. But here’s a few tips that work for me and I pass to you. With love. Which is more powerful than chocolate. (Yes it is).
Sounds counter intuitive, I know, but winning is a strategic game, not a 100 metre dash. Just 10-15 minutes engaged in another activity will change your brain state and give you a more than fighting chance. Being in a stressed state will not solve anything. Your brain is flooded with stress hormone rubbish. Taking time out and getting your head back together will shift that feeling.
2. Step away from the fridge or wine rack
Do something calming that won’t give you a regret-over later. Take a walk, have a bath, do some yoga, smell the flowers in the garden, open the back door and feel the breeze, do some ironing if you like… Inspiration is a complete lightweight when it comes to cortisol (stress hormone), runs a mile and does not phone in. Try a 20 minute stroll and a ‘eureka’ moment may pop up.
3. Power pose
Trapped in an office with no hope of escape? Bernie Clark, incredible Yin yoga teacher with a wickedly dry sense of humour, recommends what he calls The Superman Pose. You could quietly slide off to the loo and stand in a cubicle for a couple of minutes and no one would know you’re resetting your power buttons. You just adopt the stance of Superman in full cape-fluttering into the breeze mode. Two minutes of this and you’ll feel a great deal better, if not heroic. Simply stand tall, hands on hips, chest up and broad, nose lifted, noble chin raise if you find it comfortable. And breathe… Research has shown just two minutes of this cuts cortisol by 15%!
4. Square Breathe
There are many yoga breathing techniques for banishing stress and bringing calm and one of the easiest to practice is a basic breathing technique called Square Breathing. Entrepreneur Chris Reynolds of the Business Method Podcast recommends square breathing, and it is very easy. Chris says it stops the release of cortisol, brings you into a relaxed state and helps the body release positive neural chemicals. Your count is your choice, but this is not a competition so start by counting how long your natural inhale is. Say you breathe in for the count of 5 then hold your breath in for 5, exhale to the count of 5, hold the breath out for the count of 5. A few minutes of this (set your phone’s timer so you don’t rush) and you’ll feel the benefit.
Laughter Yoga is real. It began in Mumbai in 1995 and basically combines laughing with yoga (on purpose, not when you crash out of an asana). I’ve seen grown yogis quake in the face of Laughter Yoga and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s also not immediately available to you when you’re sitting at a desk. But the principle works. Watch your favourite comedian on YouTube for 10 minutes. A complete mood shifter. Do it!
And there are other delicious ways to shake off stress. Grab a hug or eight (your daily minimum, apparently), for an oxytocin boost. Get outside and drink in the sunlight that help top up your serotonin reserves.
These are my current favourite five. My walks now involve barefoot walking on grass which seems to be improving my energy levels no end (research to be done on this, leave it with me) but what are your top stress busters? Do you practice any of these already and do they work for you? Thoughts in the comments below, all ideas very gratefully received. Shared wisdom serves us all.
References and further information
Bernie Clark, Yin yoga teacher, on Power Poses and their gifts
Laughter Yoga people in the UK
Feeling low? Feeling anxious? Caught up in looping thoughts, none of which make you glad to be here right now?
We may know the answer to our misery is to get out and ‘move it’, but our mind is set on ‘meh’.
Our bodies are designed to move, leap, bound about and live – with a capital L.
Unfortunately, depression and anxiety prefer the opposite. Sitting in, on the sofa, wrapped in a duvet, consuming ice cream/crisps/haribo (pick your poison, or combination) like it’s going out of fashion, caught up in our own fears, unable to sleep properly… Couch to 5k may as well be Couch to Mars…
So where to start? Certainly a Rapid Transformational Therapy (RTT) session on taking action is ideal for getting you out the door, blinking into the daylight, and shaking your backside with an enthusiasm you can scarcely recall.
Out there you’ll find four friends, who haven’t been coming around for a while. They are:
These four guys are like the four musketeers – they’re all for one and one for you. They are the ‘feel good’ hormones. Want to feel better? Go find them. And the best way to create feel good hormones? Make your own. Naturally.
Here is probably the easiest start. Top up your dopamine to the brim. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that helps control the pleasure and reward centres in our brains.
- Laugh. Put on your favourite funny DVD, rewatch comedy classics, listen to comedians until you weep with laughter. Laughter is a well-researched pain killer which is also said to stimulate regions of the brain that trigger dopamine. For me, Laurel and Hardy’s Laughing Gravy lifts the darkest mood. And it’s got the cutest dog. The cutest dog that ever lived. Don’t believe me? Watch it. I dare you not to laugh.
- Set goals. Easy ones. Like getting off the sofa and having a shower. Celebrate this achievement. Seriously. It’s the striving to achieve that triggers the dopamine. Set goals you can meet and cheer yourself on. Dopamine rising. Yes; go you!
- Massage. Lowering stress hormones and creating dopamine, massage is a worthwhile investment, because it also stimulates your next best friend – serotonin.
OK, we’re going to have to leave the sofa now, but serotonin is worth the effort. You’ll get: better sleep, your appetite should normalise and this mood-improving hormone can help you feel that elusive of moods – happy. Want happy? Step outside because…
- Sunlight is one of the best sources of vitamin D and serotonin needs this vitamin to synthesise. This is just one of the reasons why the winter months feel so gloomy (that and the cold and the wind and the rain and the central heating sucking the air dry and… I’m not a winter fan) but you don’t need a lot of daylight, just enough to feel the sunlight on your face and forearms (if you can bear to roll up your sleeves).
- Walking – daily exercise boosts this hormone and just a brisk walk will do wonders. Remember; goals met boost dopamine, so let’s get out and cheer ourselves on.
- Foods that are rich in tryptophan are said to be good for boosting serotonin. These include: eggs, pineapple, tofu, salmon, nuts and seeds, plus turkey.
These are the anxiety-busters with painkilling power and a calming effect. What’s not to like? Here’s how you wake them up.
- Exercise – doesn’t need to be full pelt, a 30-minute walk is going to help, but…
- Sweat, even if you slip straight into the sauna or steam room, is going to trigger the production of endorphins as stress melts from your muscles
- Chillis are a welcome addition to meals if you enjoy spice as once capsicum hits your tongue it sends a signal to the brain that’s similar to a pain signal, triggering endorphins
If ‘love is the drug’ oxytocin is certainly the hormone at play. It’s stimulated by intimacy and that can be through:
- Massage. Yes, up again as a top feel good hormone starter tool. Along with serotonin and dopamine, oxytocin is stimulated by massage.
- Hugs. Research reports differ on how many we need to feel tip-top but it’s certainly more than two daily and as many as12 if you want to thrive, according to family therapist, Virginia Satir.
- Pets really do make us feel better. Cuddling up with your cat or playing with a dog can improve oxytocin levels.
Starting to get overwhelm? If this is looking like a lot of effort you don’t have, think multitask: deciding you’re going to make a start and celebrating your decision to take action, taking a 30 minute brisk walk in daylight and stopping to pet friendly looking dogs, and you’re working on all four. Eggs for breakfast, hug your nearest and dearest when you greet them and get a massage once a month… these are all going to help you heal you.
Because here’s the truth: you are your own rescue. I can help you take those steps but you are the one who takes action. And that is, ultimately, the most empowering thing I can tell you.
You are your own rescue. You have the power.
‘We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value – the rapture that is associated with being alive – is what it is all about.’ – Jospeh Campbell
On the flip side of burnout out is a radical idea that challenges the very fabric of current cultural norms. Balanced living.
Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?
Yet the art of living a balanced life is not easy. It’s actually extraordinarily challenging. I Dare You, is the title of the William H Danforth book that lays out this recipe for living.
First published in the 1930s, Danforth’s slim manifesto advocates the idea that each person has not one, but four lives to live: physical, mental, social and spiritual. The ingredients for life are a body, a brain, a heart and a soul, he would say. All four must grow in balance with each other.
Or what? Or else? I’m a questioner with a rebel streak who will poke about researching the life out of anything before it gets house room. But this idea makes absolute sense, even to deeply suspicious little old me.
Let’s look at the reality of life today.
We live in a world that highly values work. It’s gone beyond cult status. And I’m not saying work isn’t important, but how did it come to be the be-all-and-end-all in our lives?
The industrial revolution changed the way we lived and prompted literature reflecting deep concerns for social wellbeing, from HG Wells to William Morris. But the social media revolution seems to have created fewer ripples of concern as the internet’s globalisation rips down old barriers of time zone or place. Maybe we’ve just got used to work obsessing in the century that has passed since News from Nowhere and The Time Machine were published.
We may point to books like the Four Hour Work Week, but who do you know who lives that life? Has the internet really freed us to live more – or do more? The Devil Wears Prada is as relevant today as it was 12 years ago. Probably more so because advances in tech mean we can have meetings and file share anytime and anyplace (with reliable wifi).
We are trained to value work beyond our body, beyond our Self, beyond love. Otherwise, how would all that work get done? Our ‘things’ based culture would collapse. Instagram would rustle to the sound of tumbleweed. Who would make everything? Who would buy everything? Who would ‘like’ everything?
Our world relies on our commitment to shackling our time to our work. And when we see our work as a vocation, then we are especially vulnerable to burnout. Because we’re trying to make the world better for others.
I know. I’ve done it. More than once.
According to Danforth, a balanced life looks like this…
Mine used to look more like this.
That rush that comes from doing more, achieving more, pushing further, giving more, receiving more… it is highly addictive. I used to suffer from the ‘disease to please’. Not any more. I now know myself. And my value.
Burnout is a hideous experience. Being stressed is bad enough; burnout is the inevitable crash of too many hours at the desk, too few laughing with friends, meditating in whatever activity inspires your connection with your soul Self and caring for your body in a nurturing, loving way.
Burnout has its own trinity: physical, mental and nervous exhaustion. Its symptoms can include uncontrollable emotional outbursts, disordered eating, drinking too much, poor sleep, foggy brain and thoughts of suicide are not uncommon.
If the thought ‘I know it’s not a solution, but dying right now, seems attractive’ bobs by, then it’s time to take action. Now. Nothing is that bad. Those thoughts are a big red flag, waving at you, telling you to recalibrate. Rebalance. Change. They are not an instruction, they are a flag. See the flag.
Why you are so vulnerable to burnout, likely lies in your past. Getting a deep understanding of why past events are no longer relevant to you is a key part of ensuring burnout never happens again. Rapid Transformational Therapy (RTT) is one way to very quickly get a deep understanding of where these behaviours originate and exactly why they are no longer relevant to your present. But other brands are available, as they say, and the counselling root is one. Psychotherapy is another.
There are, of course, practical steps to take which keep our four lives in balance with Danforth’s model.Here are eight habits to cultivate and enjoy.
Eight tips for Avoiding Burnout
Good nutrition not only feeds your body, it feeds your brain. When you’re stressed your brain is flooded with the stress hormone, cortisol. It does not need buckets of caffeine mixed in with that. It does not need gallons of sugar. Stressed, wired and sugar-rushing is not going to make anything better. Your inner voice may be screaming for them, because you’re exhausted and miserable, but fresh vegetables, fruits, proteins and lots of water are the way. At least 80% of the time. (I may be a questioning rebel, but I’m also a realist).
Exercise can be as effective a treatment for depression as drugs. That is why time, every day, should be devoted to it. Walk, every day. Dance. Go to yoga. Walk to yoga. Do a sport or physical pastime that you enjoy and mix it up. Focus on having fun. If you need a personal trainer to chase you then get one, but make sure you’re not choosing another person to bully you – look for someone who makes you feel good about yourself.
Loving ourselves can be one of the hardest journeys we embark on, but also one of the most rewarding. Spend time being present with yourself in ways that nurture you. Be present with others and nurture them. Let in their love. Friends, family, lovers, pets, your community… get in there.
Laughter really is an incredible medicine. Watch funny films. Hang out with funny people. Go to comedy clubs. Laughter cuts down stress, can numb physical pain and aid learning ability! Laughter yoga is a real thing – chuckling, guffawing, snorting belly laughs work wonders.
Start with just 5 minutes a day. Everyone has 5 minutes.Set the timer on your phone and just go for it. There are a gazillion guided meditations out there and many, many apps. Just try it. It’s like learning to draw. It’s frustrating, but persistence will repay you a thousand fold.
If you have a spiritual practice, giving time to connecting with it is hugely nurturing for the mind and body. If you don’t and prayer feels alien to you, mantra can be extraordinarily calming. It brings the same calm, talking the mind away from its incessant chatter and towards nurturing thoughts. Mantra is a key part of yoga mediation and brings a deep connection to the breath, which, in turn fuels and calms the body and nervous system in other ways. Try the phrase ‘I Am Enough’. Very simple. Easy to take on board. Highly effective, if applied frequently.
Exercising and eating well will help you sleep better. Turn your bedroom into a sleep haven. It should not resemble your living room. No TVs, laptops or mobile phones in the bedroom. I know, but all that light going to mess up your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Watch less TV
Let go of the Netflix and wine before bedtime. Play cards, go for a walk, read books, play chess. Do the mind tasks that don’t involve passively staring at a screen will not only help your mind step away from the day, it strengthens the brain and has been shown to be effective in treating brain fog. So stop watching soaps and start doing sudokus. No laptop. No mobile. Leave the screen alone.
If you recognise any of the symptoms of burnout I describe in this post and would like help getting back to balance, do get in touch.
Remember then: there is only one time that is important – Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time we have any power.’ Leo Tolstoy
Ever find yourself wondering about the future and getting a nagging, unsettled feeling?
It can be unnerving, can’t it. Looking forward, into the unknown. It sounds like fun, like day-dreaming, but the not-knowing is unsettling. Especially when you’re not making all the decisions on the desired outcome.
I’m currently in the middle of selling my home, aiming to move to the seaside at the other end of the country.
Last night, about midnight, I had one massive, completely out of nowhere, bells, whistles and screaming sirens flap? ‘What if the sale doesn’t go though?’ ‘What if there’s something “wrong”?’ ‘What if the buyers pull out?’ ‘What if the lawyers mess up.’ ’What if…?’
So how do you talk yourself down from the ceiling when you’ve worked yourself up into a lather over the What Ifs?
You might find yourself lying in bed rehearsing a conversation with a difficult colleague or imagining how you’re going to perform in an exam or face speaking in public for the first time in ages.
I like a holistic approach to letting go of the What Ifs… There’s no point trying to get that fear out of your head if you’re starting to hyperventilate.
Calm your body
Lie on your back or stand/sit tall. Collarbone up, shoulder blades drawn down.
Square breathing is an excellent technique that can defuse the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Breathe in for 4.
Hold the breath in for 4.
Breathe out for 4.
Hold the breath out for 4.
This is a basic breathing exercise I’ve taught in yoga classes, and I pass on to clients I see with all manner of issues, from insomnia to anxiety, because it has such an effective, calming strategy for getting the body back to balance.
If 4 feels a bit much, try 3. If 4 feels too little, try 5.
2. Calm your mind
Accept what you can control, let go of what you can’t.
Whether you like it or not, you’re not in charge of the universe. (If only, right?) There’s other people involved in almost any process and you can’t control their behaviour any more than you can sit in front of the sea and turn back the tide. So let that go. Seriously. Let it go.
3. Focus on what you can influence
Take massive action. Get as much done towards you goal as you possibly can. When you’re awake and suddenly your mind flits to the 101 things your lawyer could mess up (yes, back to me!), acknowledge this is flapping, make sure you’re on top of your moving plan and then think about what will go right.
How did I get to sleep last night? I imagined the view from the window of the apartment we might rent until we buy. I visualised the rippling breeze, the smell of the sea, beachside walks and my skin turning golden. I imagine finding a yoga studio, teaching classes, making new friends with ease…
And do you know what? I was off to sleep in 20 minutes. I’m enjoying the life I want without even leaving my bed and if something doesn’t go to plan over the next few months I know I’ll get there. I just need to find another way, because in my dreams I’m living that life already.
Of course we like to think ‘progress’ just keeps making the world better and somehow the next generation will prosper in comparison to us. But what is the reality? Is the planet better off for nuclear fusion? Mass production and globalisation means some of us can have ‘more’, but at what cost?
Has plastic turned out to be such a great thing? Apparently every plastic straw ever manufactured is still on the planet somewhere and busy killing wildlife, if every ecology snippet I see on Facebook has any validity. Was the atomic bomb a great idea? Will we regret creating robots that can do jobs people currently do to earn a living?
Unlike our optimism, or that song by D:Ream, things do not keep on getting better. And that’s just one of those universal laws that effects the path of our lives. Our careers progress in less than a linear fashion. How much money we have or how much the pound is worth is up and down like a fiddler’s elbow over anyone’s lifetime. Even how much we love our partners can vary from day to day. You may adore your partner today, but when they’ve farted on you in their sleep for the third time that night – not so much then, eh? I can’t think of anything that just goes up at 45 degrees..
Yoga teaches us that living in the past or the future is a waste of time, because it’s all about now. Being present in your yoga practice is a large part of the practice. The Mindfulness movement is based on this observation of reality. You can only be here now, so focus on living now. This is it. Yes, now.