Ditch the Diet

You might find it strange that someone in the midst of a 28 day juice cleanse would be advising you to stop dieting, but let me explain…

In Jason Vale’s first book ‘Slim for Life’, he talks at length about diet mentality – the idea that you are depriving yourself of things that you want in order to get slim and feel healthy. The diet mentality is the reason that most people pile weight on when they come ‘off’ their diet – yes it is quite possible to lose weight by restricting your intake of certain foods for a period of time, but if during that time you feel so deprived of all this food you ‘can’t’ have that you then go back to eating those same foods (the ones that caused you to put on weight in the first place).. well, what do you think is going to happen?!

If you’re going to look at long-term, sustainable weight loss and better health, you need to get your mindset right, otherwise you will set yourself up to fail (as I have, many times in that past!). A friend of mine once said to me that she thinks of it as making a choice every time you go to eat something, and I think that’s a beautifully simple way of looking at it. I’m eating (drinking) healthily at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I have stopped liking chocolate biscuits or cake; the difference between choosing to eat healthily and being on a diet is that I’m allowed to eat as much cake as I want – I’m just choosing not to!

If that sounds a bit over-simplistic to you, then have a look at the post I wrote when I started this, which will give you some of the background, and an idea of how mentally prepared I was before starting. I can’t emphasise enough how important the mental preparation is – you need to be really ready to do this.

I’m on Day 12 of my juicing plan, and I feel like I’m settling in to a new routine. I had a few difficult days around days 7-9 where I was feeling really hungry in the evenings, even after having my juice, and was feeling quite ill, so I experimented with replacing one of my juices with a salad or bowl of soup and I feel so much better for doing that. If I was in the ‘diet’ mindset, I would probably be telling myself that I’ve failed, as I had originally intended to go juice-only for 28 days – but luckily I’m not on a diet 😉 I did eight days on juice (bar the odd Hunger SOS and a bowl of soup on Day 6) which is more than I’ve ever done before, so I’m delighted with that! I’m also continuing on the plan, and doing three juices during the day and having a salad, soup, or some roasted veg in the evening.

The best thing about this is it feels sustainable; I can see myself continuing this long after the initial 28 days is over, and have no problem with the thought of doing it until I reach a weight that feels good for me. I expect that I’ll end up becoming a bit less strict with myself as time goes on, but that’s the great thing about it being *my* choice. Yesterday I was planning an afternoon tea with my best friend – she lives a couple of hours away so we don’t see each other that often, and when we do we like to treat ourselves to something fancy! With my old mindset I probably would have said either I *can’t* go because I *can’t* have cake (and therefore depriving myself not only of cake but of a lovely afternoon out with my friend), or I would just have given up the diet so I could go and do it. However as we were discussing it yesterday I found myself mentally working out what I could do to work around it – making sure I juice fresh for the rest of the day, for example.

The thing that sums it all up for me, is that this is not about dieting, or depriving yourself of the things you secretly want; it’s a lifestyle change, and it’s about putting yourself and your health above everything else – even chocolate biscuits 😉

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SJM Day 6

I’m nearly at the end of my first week of Super Juice Me, and it’s suddenly got much easier. If you’ve been keeping up to date you’ll know I’ve been away on a course for the last couple of days – I was dreading the sandwich lunches, but yesterday I was quite happy to take my juice and sit with everyone as they ate. It’s going to sound weird, but I was still able to enjoy the smell of the food without wanting to eat it!

Yesterday evening was tough though – we finished at 4pm and I then had to drive home, which took four and a half hours. I would normally have a juice around 4pm, so I took it in the car with me and sipped it as I drove (whilst stopped at traffic lights, of course!) but by the time I got home at half eight I was desperate for some comfort, so instead of another juice I had a big bowl of hot soup – heaven! (It did strike me as I was eating it that I wouldn’t normally be so grateful for soup at the end of the day, especially as my husband was eating sausages again!)

Have a good weekend everyone, keep juicing!

Cat x

Flexible juicing

I’ve had a really big challenge today; I’m away on a work course for a couple of days, staying overnight in a hotel, and not able to bring my juicer! I had considered postponing the start of the detox (especially considering that the rest of my fellow delegates are currently out enjoying a complementary curry!) but I was so pumped up to get started I just wanted to get on with it – plus I knew that if this was going to be a lifestyle change there would always be *something* that would make things difficult. The key question then became *how* to cope with the difficult situation, rather than just trying to avoid it.

I’m feeling quite pleased with myself right now – normally I would have made an excuse and put off the detox, or taken the day off, but I have actually got through a whole day of course, avoided the sandwich buffet and biscuits (not to mention the curry) – AND doing all of my juices without actually having my juicer. Big pat on the back for me.

So that I’m not just showing off, I’d better tell you what I did..!

Preparation and flexibility were my best friends here. I ended up adapting the recipes for the two days to versions that I could blend with some (good quality) shop bought apple juice. I made a flask of juice at home before I left which was mixed greens – that didn’t work terribly well if I’m honest, as it was quite bitter by the time I got to use it this morning. However, the blending worked well – and I discovered that beetroot actually blends quite well (but ginger really doesn’t!). I also used banana, avocado, pear, cucumber, mixed berries, and spinach – in various combinations.

Although the juice plan is very prescriptive, it’s also vital to keep the big picture in mind – the most important thing is doing my 28 days, and if that means compromising slightly for a couple of days it’s not actually a big deal in the grand scheme of things. I did the best I could do under the circumstances – it wasn’t the perfect version, but it was ok. Sometimes OK has to be good enough!

So that’s my tip for today – flexibility is your friend, and accept that your best effort is good enough. On to Day 5…

Cat x

Maintaining motivation

I’m now on to Day 3 of the World’s Biggest Juice Detox and it’s tough going at the moment! For anyone just joining, this is a 28 day juice challenge – the idea is to drink my food for the next four weeks, leading to a healthier, slimmer me, and kickstarting a new lifestyle.

On days like this, I need a bit of extra motivation, so I thought I’d look at some of the things that are keeping me going.

1) Holding on to the facts. I know from what other people have said, and from my own past experience, that the first few days are likely to be the worst. At some point it will get better. For some people, this may be all they need to keep pushing on, but I will admit that for me, it isn’t quite enough, and I need to dig a bit deeper.

2) Remembering why I’m doing it. I want to feel healthier, and slimmer is a bit of a bonus, but to be honest it’s not the driving force for me. In fact, when I really think about it, the main reason I want this is because I want to do something for myself that is positive, nourishing, and good for me. I live the sort of lifestyle (as I’m sure many of you do) where a lot of people are asking a lot of things of me; I do genuinely like to do it, but I have realised lately that it’s wearing me down, because I’m not leaving time to do things for *myself* as well. In some ways, I feel like my Boxing Day purge has let out all of the stress and guilt that I was holding on to, and I finally feel like I deserve it.

I’m going to give this a new paragraph all to itself because I think it’s really important. It may sound silly, it may sound fake, or it may be too hard to hear at times, but we all deserve to feel well, healthy, attractive, and confident. I deserve to take some time for myself to do this juice programme, and I deserve to feel healthier at the end of it. Regardless of what has gone in the past, how I have treated my body, I deserve the right to make a change, and I AM WORTH THE EFFORT that it will take. It’s something that I would say without a second thought to a friend who was struggling, but until I really faced up to myself I honestly think that deep down I didn’t feel I deserved to be slim and healthy. (If you’re reading this and it’s resonating with you, I’d just like to categorically say that YOU ARE WORTH IT TOO.)

3) Being kind to myself. This programme has a great little safety net, called ‘Hunger SOS’. It basically means that if you’re really struggling one day, you can just go and eat something. Something healthy, obviously, and not in great quantities, but just because you’ve had half a banana it doesn’t mean that you have to throw the whole thing out of the window. It’s not about being on a diet, or ‘cheating’, it’s just about making a choice. Yesterday afternoon and this morning I’ve felt genuinely hungry, and so I’ve had a few of the leftover vegetables from my husbands tea (roast parsnips – yum!). This morning I found that – even though I felt like I was ravenous – after a couple of bites I’d had enough. (As an aside, it turned out that I was more thirsty than hungry, but they feel surprisingly similar!)

So those are my top tips, and what I’ll be hanging on to for the rest of this week. If you’ve got any more suggestions then let me know! If you’re on the detox as well – go for it! Hang in there, and comment below to let me know how you’re doing 🙂

Cat x

Super Juice Me Day 2

Wow. Day 1 was tough. Naively, I’d expected to be fine on Day 1, and find Day 2 really hard – with the theory that the momentum and excitement of it all would carry me through the first day. NOPE!

Things that made it worse:

– having leftover Christmas sweets lying around the house, which ironically were left over because I didn’t fancy eating them over Christmas, but my brain suddenly went in to ‘diet’ mentality and started craving all the things I’d been completely uninterested in two days ago

– knowing all day that my husband was going to come home from work and cook a massive plate of sausages for dinner. (Funnily enough, it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought when it actually happened..!)

– having a rotten cold, on top of a MASSIVE detox headache

On the up-side, I do feel much better today; still quite tired but I suspect that’s from getting over the cold as much as anything. I put a massive wedge of ginger in to my morning shot this morning – nearly blew my head off(!) but I can at least breathe through both nostrils again.. for the first time this year, in fact!

It’s a bit of a weird feeling, knowing that I’m going to go for the next 27 days without eating. I’ve done it before, but only for 7 days, so the end was pretty much in sight right from the start – but even still, I remember finding it really hard to get all the way through. 28 days seems like such a long time not to eat I don’t think my brain has actually comprehended it yet! Perhaps I’ll have a sudden realisation in a few days time.. or perhaps I’m just pacing myself. (I hope it’s that.)

I’ll keep this short today I think, and leave it there. Day 1 done, only 27 to go…

Super Juice Me

This 28 day health kick all started a couple of days ago when I watched a documentary film called Super Juice Me. It was made by a guy called Jason Vale, who is mad about juicing and has written loads of really great books on the subject. I first met Jason when I was about 21, at a Tony Robbins event in London – he’d just published his first juicing book, which I bought, devoured (not literally), and took instantly to heart. I started juicing every day, exercising in the mornings, and eating far more lettuce than is really normal. When I look back on it, I don’t remember it being ‘difficult’, like being on a diet – in fact I remember looking in the mirror one day and wondering where all my fat rolls had gone. I really wasn’t thinking about it like a diet, or trying to lose weight, it was a genuine lifestyle change, and I really enjoyed feeling healthy.

Thirteen (ouch) years later, life has very much got in the way, and I am unhealthy, unfit, and significantly overweight. I have made half-hearted attempts to get healthy again over the years, which have all worked to some extent, but I’ve never kept them up for long. I need to get in to the mindset that worked for me before, and make a complete lifestyle change; but with an extra 13 years of emotional baggage (don’t your 20s seem brilliant when you’re looking back from your 30s!) it’s not going to be as easy as it was the first time. (And I’ve got a cold. Sniff.)

In order to succeed in this I need to be really clear on why I’m doing it, and where my motivation comes from, and in order to do THAT, I’ve decided that the first thing I need to do is face up to all the **** from the last thirteen years. It’s not that the **** is the reason I’ve not been fit and healthy – obviously it’s perfectly possible to go through tough times in life and still eat apples and exercise. However coping with stress has never been a strong point of mine, and emotional eating has been a huge part of my problem, as it is for so many people. If I’m not going to feed the emotions with chocolate, then I need to find some other way of dealing with them – and that means I have to get them out in the open. I’m going to try not to do this like a list of excuses, or a sob story, and many apologies if you find the lifestory stuff boring (feel free to skip to the end) but if I can be honest and face up to my **** and in doing so inspire someone else to face up to theirs, then it will have all been worth it!

Rewind thirteen years: I found my final year at university really hard. Looking back, I was suffering from depression, although I didn’t realise it at the time. I do remember going to see the doctor once, and finding it impossible to ask for help – breaking down in tears as soon as I left the surgery. I used junk food to get me through my coursework, sugar to keep me awake long enough to get essays finished, and then more chocolate as a reward when they were written.

After leaving uni I entered a relationship with a guy who I ended up marrying. He was an avid meat-eater and vegetable-avoider, and one of those types who can eat what they like without putting on weight, so that’s what we pretty much did. After a couple of years his dad fell ill with cancer, and died just before we got married; and shortly after the wedding we found out that his mum also had cancer. As it turned out, the relationship wasn’t a particularly good one and we probably shouldn’t have got married in the first place – but when you are dealing with something like terminal illness everything else goes out of the window, and you cling to whatever to need to get you through.

We decided to start a family straight away, and I fell pregnant with our daughter about a month after we were married. Six weeks in, I started throwing up, and got so ill that I stopped work from about 9 weeks pregnant. I lost over a stone during my first trimester (throwing up ten times a day will do that to you, but I don’t recommend it as a weight loss strategy) and by half way through my second trimester my midwife was urging me to eat whatever I liked just so that I had something inside me. It did eventually subside, by which time my pelvis had decided that it wasn’t going to play ball any more, and I developed what was then called SPD. I had such severe pain in my pelvis and back that I was on crutches for over six months, and could barely move without being in agony. This has been a big thing for me in terms of exercising – it’s not like I was superfit before, but during that six month period I entirely retrained my body to move as little as possible in order to avoid intense pain, and breaking down that programming has been (and still is) a real challenge. It’s nearly eight years since my SPD started and in that time I’m yet to have a whole day where I don’t experience any pain at all. My birth experience was awful and left me with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, for which I had counselling, and eventually hypnotherapy. After that came the post-natal depression (naturally); I struggled to go back to work as a teacher and had to leave my job and find another one. My marriage unravelled, and I was a single working mum with an 18 month old daughter, fighting depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

Looking back over all of this, I think it wasn’t so much the stuff that happened (although obviously it wasn’t that nice), but the way I was dealing with it that was the biggest problem. I was in complete denial about my depression, and even when I was actually taking antidepressants I was secretly resenting every second of it, and eventually just stopped taking them, against my doctor’s recommendation.

So far this has taken us up to about six years ago; fast forward through another disastrous relationship with an extremely controlling man (who incidentally was a very fussy eater.. I ate a lot of pizza and KFC during that year), leaving my job to go fully self-employed, and post-birth problems which led me to have an operation to remove the lining of my womb. I was suffering from severe anxiety and depression at the time (and as usual refusing to take medication for it), and was not in any state to deal with the emotional repercussions of this decision, which effectively meant I wasn’t going to be able to have any more biological children. Cognitively, I was fine with it – after going through what I did in pregnancy I knew I didn’t want to do that again! – but every month when my hormones woke up I would re-live the loss, and the guilt.

Three years ago, I met the wonderful man who is now my husband (hurrah!). One morning a couple of months before we got married I woke up covered in blood, and we discovered that the lining of my womb had grown back enough that I’d got pregnant, and then miscarried. (Funnily enough, during that time I’d also done a juice detox but felt so awful the whole time that I gave up.) Cue depression, stress, grief, counselling, antidepressants (I actually took them this time), deciding that we weren’t going to try for a baby as it was too risky and the chances are I would miscarry again… and then I got pregnant again… and miscarried again. Christmas morning 2013 I had the phone call from the hospital to say my blood tests confirmed the pregnancy had failed; Boxing Day we went out with some friends as usual, and the day after that I went in to hospital for the surgery to remove the failed pregnancy. We then decided (us and my doctor) that the safest thing for me was to have a sterilisation, and avoid the whole pregnancy thing altogether – that was in Feb 2014. I’d just got back in to going to the gym, and had thought (naively) that I’d just bounce back and it would all be fine, but it then took me 6 months to properly get over the surgery.

Boxing Day 2014 I spent crying like I have never cried before.

I don’t quite know why it all hit me then, but it was like nothing I’d ever experienced. Everything that I had been pushing down, refusing to acknowledge, ignoring, it just all came flooding out in one go. I was afraid it wasn’t going to stop – and I was afraid that it would stop before it was finished, and all of that would go back inside me and I’d never be able to get it out again.

Anyway… (slightly embarrassed now). That brings us up to date. I know I’ve skipped over a lot of heavy stuff very quickly, and maybe I’ll post about the miscarriages and depression in more detail another time – today I just want to bring you up to speed, and talk about moving forward. It’s not been easy to sit and go over all of that again, but one thing it has done is made me realise I shouldn’t beat myself up too much for being overweight – just getting myself (and my daughter) through all of that in one piece is quite an achievement!

So where does my juicing motivation come in to all of this? I think after my big Boxing Day cry I just feel ready to start caring for myself again. I have spent too long just doing whatever I need in order to get through, and to a certain extent perhaps even feeling like I didn’t deserve to be cared for, loved, and nourished. I can’t believe I’m about to write this as it sounds unbelievably corny, but this 28 days is genuinely a gift that I can give to myself – of proper nourishment, health, and a kick-start to a lifestyle change. I’m starting to feel like I probably deserve it.

Cat x

New Year, new you, and all that…

I don’t know who came up with the idea of starting afresh in January, as it seems like a crazy idea to me. It’s so cold and miserable, and heaving yourself back in to normal life after the Christmas break is hard enough already without trying to keep up a dozen New Year’s Resolutions as well. Bah humbug (if that’s still a thing once Christmas is over).

The trouble with a lot of goal setting (whether it’s New Year related or just a mini resolution all for yourself) is that it’s not specific enough. You can say something like “This year I’m going to eat more healthily” but what does that actually MEAN? If you normally get through twelve bars of chocolate a week and cut down to eleven, you are technically keeping to your resolution even though you are not eating healthily by any stretch of the imagination.

Some people might set a goal of eating more healthily, cut out one chocolate bar a week and feel that they have achieved what they wanted, or at least made a start. Others might make exactly the same resolution, reach exactly the same point, and feel like they’ve failed. If you’re not specific enough with what you’re aiming for not only will the goal be harder to achieve (if you don’t know what you’re aiming for, how will you know when you get there?) but it may stop you from noticing and celebrating the small steps along the way. Cutting out that one bar of chocolate may be a fairly small thing but it’s a step in the right direction, and deserves to be acknowledged as such.

After all my griping about resolutions, it may surprise you to learn that I’m doing a *thing* this January (the timing is merely coincidental, I can assure you!). I’m joining in the World’s Biggest Juice Detox and going completely juicy for 28 days. Yes, that’s right – for the next 28 days I will be living entirely off freshly made juices and smoothies. It’s going to be a challenge (I’ve done 7 days before and that was bad enough) and I’m going to be recording my progress on this blog.

For me, one of the most important things heading in to a challenge like this is being really clear on WHY I’m doing it, why it’s important, and why I’m not going to give up – there are going to be tough moments over the next four weeks and I’m going to need to revisit this over and over again to keep myself focused. I’ve already waffled enough in this post, but if you’re interested I’ll share my story in the next post, and my motivations for doing this, and doing it right now.

If you’re reading this and you’re also on the detox – good luck! Comment below to let me know how you’re getting on 🙂

Cat x

The truth about Attachment Theory

The truth about attachment theory is that it’s widely misinterpreted, and often misunderstood.

I’m not claiming to be an expert by any means, but I do have a reasonably solid professional background in this area, as well as having taught developmental psychology at A level (in a qualified sort of way, not just in a rocking up and deciding to impart some wisdom, Jack-Black-in-School-of-Rock sort of way). I recently attended a course where they touched on attachment (fairly inaccurately), which got me thinking that although this is a fairly ‘hot topic’ as far as parenting is concerned, a lot of people don’t really understand the bare bones of it.

So, here’s my interpretation of attachment theory.

In the 1960s, the general belief about attachment was that it was an all-or-nothing process, but current thinking (backed up by a lot of research) supports the idea that it’s much more complicated than that. A child will almost certainly form an attachment to their primary caregiver, virtually regardless of whether they actually meet their needs or not; the type and quality of attachment that is formed however, can vary.

Attachment – in psychological terms – refers to the relationship that a child has with a caregiver, or significant adult. (The relationship that an adult has with a child is a separate thing and is often refered to in psychological terms as ‘bonding’.) Attachment describes a very basic relationship, where a vulnerable individual relies completely on another person to get their needs met (and in order to survive), and the expectations they have of that person actually being able to meet their needs.

Just to make a point here – we’re not talking about love. Attachment and love are two utterly separate things. It is possible, and in fact fairly common, to have a poor quality attachment with a significant adult and to love them enormously at the same time.

You might have heard people talking about different attachment styles, but in order to gain a proper understanding of their relevance I think it’s worth exploring how the idea was formed.

In the late 60s and early 70s a psychologist called Mary Ainsworth was doing a lot of work on attachment. She is most famous for a study known as the Strange Situation experiment. It’s important to note that this is an observational study – Ainsworth wasn’t trying to create particular behaviours, she was merely observing what she saw. She didn’t ‘invent’ attachment styles, she just gave a name to particular groups of behaviours that children were already exhibiting.

If you’re interested in the details of the study click here for an overview. Basically, Ainsworth observed children and their mother together, sometimes altering the environment slightly by having a stranger enter the room, or having the mother leave for a couple of minutes during the observation. She noticed quite distinct patterns of behaviour in the children as these changes occurred, and initially grouped these in to three categories, or styles of attachment (although a fourth was added after later experiments).

The most common type of attachment by far was a secure attachment. These children tended to use their mother as a secure base to explore the new environment, were wary of the stranger, but friendly enough when their mother was there to back them up. They were distressed when the mother left, and happy when she came back. When upset, they were easily consolable by their mothers.

Around 30% of the children in the initial study didn’t display the type of behaviour described above. These children were described as having an insecure attachment, and could be further split in to two groups; avoidant and ambivalent. Children who were classed as avoidant tended not to orient around their mothers at all, and were equally as happy being comforted by the stranger as their mother. They weren’t that bothered when their mother left the room, or that interested when she returned. Children who were classed as ambivalent tended to be varyingly clingy with their mothers, but not wanting to actually engage in anything with them. They were less likely to explore their surroundings, were fearful of the stranger, and much more likely to cry.

Ainsworth suggested that these attachment behaviours were influenced by the day-to-day behaviour of the primary carer, in this case the mother. Children whose mothers consistently responded to their needs were likely to develop a secure attachment; those whose mothers were generally hit-and-miss, or completely unresponsive, developed insecure attachments. (Be aware I’m just talking about mothers here because that was who Ainsworth studied. More on this later…) Ainsworth later found a fourth attachment style, which she called ‘disorganized’, to describe the behaviour of children who didn’t seem to have one consistent style of behaviour.

I want to reinforce here that 70% of the children in the initial study were categorized as having a secure attachment, so when we’re talking about consistently meeting needs, we’re talking in a realistic sense, recognising that no-one’s perfect – children certainly don’t need us to be in order to develop a healthy attachment.

So that’s the background, but here’s some things I’d like to pull out from all this and have a chew over.

It is perfectly possible to have a different type of attachment to different people in your life. An attachment refers to a specific relationship that one child has with one caregiver, and you shouldn’t assume that this child will always form this type of attachment. For example, when mulling all this over prior to teaching my A level class, I concluded that I had a secure attachment to my mum as a child, but an insecure one to my dad.

However, there is also evidence to show that we are likely to form attachments with other people based on the patterns we learnt in early childhood. Therefore, you can extrapolate that as I had an insecure attachment to my dad, I’m likely to seek out adult relationships with men which replicate that pattern. For me this turned out to be completely true – until I realised I was doing it! (From personal experience I can say it doesn’t always have to be that way, but it took a pretty big emotional committment to make the change.)

It is completely useless to describe a child as having ‘an insecure attachment style’ – they don’t have a ‘style’, they are behaving in a particular way because of how they expect adults to behave, based on their past experiences. However, it *is* useful to understand what those behaviour patterns suggest about their previous level of care, so that you can then work out what are the areas in which they are likely to need the most support. If I’m working with a child who is displaying avoidant-type behaviours, then I can make an educated guess that they aren’t used to having their needs met consistently, and are not going to want to get close to anyone in case they are let down. In this case, this knowledge prepares me for the fact that it may take a long time and a lot of consistency from me to persuade that child that our relationship can be different. Children are remarkably resilient, and will develop many ways of coping with whatever life throws at them – unfortunately their coping strategies are not always useful to them if they are then taken in to an environment that is supportive and nurturing. (But perhaps that’s another blog post…!)

In conclusion, attachment is a fascinating subject for anyone interested in relationships, parenting, or working with vulnerable children. However it’s really important to remember that we are all individuals, and although we can learn a lot through research and studying behaviour, when it comes down to it, the most important thing you can do is learn from the individual who you are trying to connect with.

This is a pet subject of mine, so I don’t expect this will be the last blog post I’ll ever write about it – any comments, suggestions, or requests please do let me know!

Cat x

Three steps to combat stress

There are lots and lots of good reasons to try to reduce the stress in your life. However, if you’re like me, and no matter how hard you try to find time for aromatherapy baths and meditation, sometimes it’s just not enough!

I found myself getting pretty stressed out today – it was one of those days I could literally feel it creeping in to my body; a sickly feeling in my stomach… a gradually spreading headache… I decided that today would be the day I would come up with my stress-busting routine(!) so that on days like this I could spring it in to action and return myself to a zen-like state of calm.

Here’s what I came up with…

1. Breathe

Sounds a bit obvious I know, but when we’re stressed we tense up without even realising it, and a good deep breath will start to relax your body as well as getting more oxygen pumping round it. Close your eyes if you need to; don’t worry if the niggling voices in your head are still going, this isn’t a meditation – just breathe.

One of the best things I learnt from attending a Tony Robbins seminar is how you can use your body to trick the mind into thinking something different: sometimes it’s known as ‘fake it til you make it’! If you don’t feel confident, but *act* as if you are, you will eventually start to feel it. Similarly, if you just take a few deep breaths – acting as though you are in a relaxed and calm state – your body will begin to physically relax, and you will begin to feel calmer.

2. Identify the root cause of the stress

Often when we’re stressed we get completely overwhelmed and it can be hard to pinpoint the root cause of it. I’ve lost count of the number of times my husband has asked me what’s wrong only to have me scream “EVERYTHING!” at him!

But let’s try and dig down a little deeper here – yes, you may be overworked, yes your kids may be demanding, and your dog has just been sick on the antique rug (I don’t have a dog or an antique rug, but I imagine this is the most likely way those two items would interact together), but I would bet any money that I could give you the exact same problem on a different day and you would take it in your stride. So what *exactly* is it that’s making you stressed today? Do you feel like you have no control over your workload? Are you trying to split your time between work and kids? Do you feel like other people are making so many demands on your time you don’t have any left for yourself? Are you feeling ill? Are you worried about something else entirely? Do you feel like you’re not coping?

Be really honest with yourself here, or this bit isn’t going to work. It is not the *thing* that is stressing you out, it is your reaction to the thing. For example – I have a huge pile of un-filed paperwork on my desk, which I merrily walk past every day without a care in the world. However, when I want to find the paper part of my driving license, that pile suddenly becomes a source of quite a lot of stress! It’s a silly little example, but it’s important to recognise that it’s your reaction to the situation that is important here, not the situation itself.

3. Decide on your response

You can choose your response to this situation.

This is going to be different for everyone, depending on your source of stress, so I’ll talk you through my example.

One of my particular triggers is having a lot of different demands on my time, and feeling overwhelmed by them. When I looked closely at this, I realised that intellectually I know that I can do everything that is being asked of me, so that isn’t actually what stresses me out – the deep down root cause is feeling like other people are controlling how I spend my time.

On the surface, I had assumed that I felt stressed because I didn’t think I was good enough, or couldn’t cope with all the things I had to do. However, digging down I realised that wasn’t the problem at all, and once I had found the root cause of the problem, it suddenly felt a lot easier to deal with.

Feeling like you ‘can’t cope’ or are ‘overwhelmed’ are fairly abstract things, and there isn’t any easy solution that will help – you must get down to the root cause of why you are feeling overwhelmed.

Once I realised what the problem was, dealing with it became fairly straightforward. I was feeling overwhelmed because I felt like other people were deciding how I spent my time, so I decided to take back control in the following ways:

– Writing a list of things I needed to do, and deciding which one thing on that list was the most important for me to do right now. The list could include eating, sleeping, taking a break as well as any work obligations or housework. Once I had decided on the one thing I was going to do next, I gave myself permission to completely ignore the rest of it, knowing that I was dealing with the most important thing.

– Deciding that I was going to take control over how people interacted with me. I disabled voicemail on my mobile and landline, so that I wouldn’t feel obliged to return calls if someone left a message. If it’s important enough they will ring back or send me an email. (I also set an out of office for my emails, so people would know not to expect a response straight away.)

– I started using a programme to manage tasks in the different projects I was working on; I use Asana, but there are lots of them out there. This lets me decide in advance when I’m going to do a particular task – it’s kind of like a long-term version of the to do list step above.

Now I’m quite lucky in that I have a fair amount of control over my working life, and I’m able to make decisions like removing voicemail from my phone – you may not be able to do that. However I am confident that you will be able to find some ways that work for you, if this is a problem that you’re facing. Perhaps you can decide to only answer emails once a day? Or go for a walk during your lunch break, so that you can’t be interrupted and asked to do something else?

The last big important thing that I would like to say is this – be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for becoming stressed, as we all do it. Recognise that your mind is probably getting a bit carried away, and you need to calm it down (breathe) and address what is really at the root of the problem. You do have the ability to deal with it.

Cat x

Taking the leap

This blog post started out called ‘Why you shouldn’t have to get a proper job’. It was going to be about working for yourself, how it’s ok if you feel stifled by the 9-5, and how we are funnelled from school in to work without necessarily realising that there’s another option. However, as I wrote it I realised it was taking another direction. I expect I’ll still write the original post at some point, but today it turns out there’s a little bit of my personal story that wants to come out…

I recently had reason to compile an employment history, going back ten years. After quite a lot of effort, I ended up with a list of seventeen different places I had worked during that time – and I’m not convinced that I got all of them! It might be fair to assume that I was temping, or that these were fairly unskilled, disposable sort of jobs. Perhaps I was no good and kept getting fired? And where is my career progression?

The truth is, I don’t have what most people would term a ‘proper job’. I have had them in the past; the seventeen I managed to list included teaching A levels, working as a research associate at a university, and mentoring vulnerable young people.

But here’s what it boils down to – the ‘normal’ sorts of jobs that I had been conditioned to aspire to just don’t suit me. Although I have almost always enjoyed the day-to-day work, I so often felt restricted, or like I couldn’t quite do what I wanted to with the role, or make it as good as I thought it could be. I got bored with doing the same stuff, day in day out, and could never spend more than a couple of years in a job before I started to feel stale. And really – I don’t like spending my time fulfilling someone else’s agenda.

Accepting that doing this sort of job was not working out for me was a challenge, and came along with a lot of guilt and uncertainty. ‘Get a proper job’ had been so ingrained in to my life plan from an early age I almost felt like I’d failed, or like there was something wrong with me because I felt so uncomfortable doing it. I spent a number of years working freelance on the side, trying to build up experience and contacts so I could ‘one day’ leave work and do what I actually wanted to do. Of course, I had to put my ‘real job’ first, so I was never able to spare enough time to get my own stuff to a stage where it was much more than a hobby.

Then ‘one day’, I just decided to do it. I had been working a few short-term contracts which were coming to an end, and I quite simply decided not to try and get them renewed, and not to look for anything else. It was wonderfully liberating, and utterly terrifying.

In case you are reading this assuming that I must have had a nice financial cushion to support me making this leap let me set the scene: I was a single mum, living in a flat on the outskirts of Oxford. I had a few thousand pounds in savings, which I’d managed to scrape together by working about five different jobs. I was on tax credits and housing benefit.

Looking back, I have no idea how I had the courage to take the leap. In actual fact I don’t remember that time of my life very clearly – I was living moment to moment just trying to get by, skirting round the edge of depression, and just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. I was often up working until the early hours of the morning, as well as in any snatched moment that I could, just to make sure I fulfilled my contracted hours. Most weeks I would drop my daughter off at ballet on a Monday afternoon, and then sit on the floor in the entrance hall studying, making notes, or planning things for the next day – I couldn’t even justify taking time out for that half an hour. I wasn’t really living, just existing.

Naturally, my daughter suffered too. I was so exhausted from work I barely had the energy to play with her, not to mention the fact that it was hard to be truly in the moment with her while my mind wandered off to the huge pile of work that awaited as soon as she was in bed.

Giving up work was a massive leap of faith – I had no idea what was going to happen, or how I was going to survive. I had a bit of work lined up, and I had taken over the running of a local festival (on a voluntary basis) so my vague plan was to build that to the point where it provided me with a living. How I was going to do that, I didn’t have a clue, but I knew that I *had* to make it work.

It’s now nearly three years since I gave up employment, and I can honestly say that I’ve not regretted it for a second. I still work as hard as ever, and there are still times when it’s stressful and I feel like I’m being pulled in twenty different directions. However the single biggest difference is that I have total control over what I do and don’t do. If I don’t like the ethos of an individual or an organisation, I don’t work with them. I decide how much I’m worth paying, and charge my clients accordingly. I structure my working day to fit around my daughter so I pick her up from school every day – and when I take her to ballet I take a trashy novel to read!

So here’s what I would like to say to you today: so many people will tell you to face your fears, take the leap, push yourself, make that huge decision. For me, it wasn’t like that at all – it was simply realising that I was worth more than the life I had created for myself. I deserved better; my daughter deserved better. Taking the leap wasn’t a huge catastrophic thing, it was like a sigh of relief and a gift to myself all rolled in to one – albeit quite a scary one!

I was going to write that something about knowing I was going to make it work because I had no other option, but that’s not quite true; as a qualified teacher I always knew I had that to fall back on, if I got really desperate. To be honest, I could have got a job in Tesco if I got really desperate. The truth is I gave myself no other option, because I simply could not bear to let myself live that way again.

So, over to you. Is that vague feeling of unsatisfaction enough for you to make a change in your life? How bad will it need to get before you do something about it? Be honest with yourself – you may not be as miserable as I was, but are you worth more than the life you are living at the moment?

If so, I urge you to take the leap. You may just surprise yourself.

Cat x