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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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

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

Dear Husband…

I’m very lucky; my husband is a loving, kind, intelligent man.  On the whole we get on very well, and generally if we’ve got a difference of opinion we can talk it out. However, there are odd moments where he does things that baffle me, and he himself is often equally baffled by my reactions to him. Why don’t I find it funny when he pretends that I smell? Where is the line between offering help and insulting my independence? Why will I not accept “nothing” as a valid answer to the question “What are you thinking about?”, and why am I asking in the first place?!

So, dear Husband, here is my QuickStart Guide to Understanding Your Wife:

1. Your Wife likes to be cared for.

You may think I’ve gone a bit old fashioned, but hear me out.  Caring for someone can be noticing when they are tired and offering to give them a foot rub; emptying the bins when they are full and not just on bin day; remembering the thing they asked you to do without having to be reminded. Your Wife may not need someone to tie her shoelaces for her, but a little bit of TLC here and there makes her feel loved.

2. But not too much.

Your Wife is a capable, independent woman, who managed to keep herself alive perfectly well before you came along. Respect her ability to do what needs doing. Help around the house, offer to cook dinner, fix the computer – that’s all great, but if Your Wife is in the middle of doing something don’t barge in and take over just because you want to be helpful. There’s pride and satisfaction in seeing something through from start to finish; even if you think she needs your help at least ask before you dive in.

3. Always treat Your Wife with respect.

This does not mean you have to doff your cap every time she enters the room. This means letting her know she is a special and important person, and understanding that even if your mates at work think it’s hilarious to exchange insults about bodily odour or varying types of swear words, Your Wife may not feel the same way. You would not flip your middle finger up to your Grandmother – so afford Your Wife the same respect.

4. But don’t put her on a pedestal.

Although it’s wonderful that you are completely devoted to Your Wife, it does neither of you any good to worship her to oblivion. She is human. You are human. If she pisses you off, you need to tell her. Don’t let it fester and build up resentment, and don’t let her get away with it! Let her own her behaviour and apologise for it. If you piss her off, you apologise, but don’t be a martyr. Your relationship will be stronger and happier if you can both let each other screw up, apologise, and move on.

5. Think of her.

Probably the easiest way to make Your Wife feel loved and cared for is to let her know you are thinking of her when she is not there. It doesn’t matter how you do it – you could send her a little text from work just to say hi, or when you get home kiss her and tell her you’ve been thinking about her all day. (Even if you have to set a phone alarm to remind you to think about her, that’s probably OK, but I wouldn’t advise putting too much emphasis on that bit.)

I hope that clears things up a bit.

Love, Your Wife x

(P.S. I do realise this is all one-sided, but I can only write from my own point of view. Perhaps later I’ll try a follow up post on ‘What I have learned from My Husband’!)

The Value of Compassion

I read a really interesting article this morning on the value of compassion; it is a great read if you’re in to psychological research, but for those of us who like to get straight to the point, I’ve pulled out what I think are the most interesting bits:

Compassion is defined by the author as “the emotional response when perceiving suffering” and as involving “an authentic desire to help”. It’s different from empathy (experiencing someone else’s feelings) and altruism (doing something to benefit someone else) because of the active desire to help others, triggered by the emotional reaction to their suffering.

There’s a lot of evidence to support the idea that compassion is an innate behaviour – that is, one that occurs naturally, rather than having to be learned. Scientists have studied chimpanzees, rats, and human babies and found evidence of compassionate behaviour in all of them. Most people will be familiar with the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’, but here the article explains how the work of Charles Darwin might be more accurately described as ‘survival of the kindest’; compassion is a trait that is absolutely necessary for the survival of the human race.

As well as the obvious benefit of maintaining the existence of the the human race, compassion also has huge benefits for the wellbeing of individuals. The article describes a number of studies which show that the act of giving to others makes us feel better than receiving for ourselves. Amazingly, this even affects us on a biological level. The cells in our body often become inflamed under stress, which is something believed to be at the root of cancer and other diseases. You would expect that people who describe themselves as happy would have less stress, and therefore less cell inflammation. However, one study found that this was only true for people who lived a life of “purpose or meaning” (i.e. helping others), and that people who described themselves as happy but lived a fairly selfish life still had high levels of inflammation in their cells. And if that’s not enough to convince you – it’s generally accepted that if you’ve got high stress levels you’re going to die younger, yes? Well, not if you help people, according to another study quoted in this article. It seems that compassionate behaviour actually helps the counteract the results of stress in our bodies. Yet another study even found that people who volunteer live longer than those who don’t.

Anyone who has experienced the feelings of pleasure gained from helping someone in need will know how compassion can affect your mental health. The article speculates that this may also link to increased social connections, known to be a significant benefit to wellbeing. In fact, one study indicates that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. (Although possibly not if you’re doing all three at once..!) I think I might choose to interpret this as an excellent excuse to spend more time on Facebook..! 😉

So if you’re looking for ways to improve your life you could do worse than cultivating some compassion! I often think the world would be a much better place if we all followed the basic premise of ‘be nice to people’ – now it turns out that it’s actually good for our own physical and mental health as well!

You can get regular updates on the science of wellbeing by subscribing via the website of Emma Seppala, who wrote the original article. Or you could keep coming back here and let me put it in to bite-size chunks for you!

Happy weekend 🙂

Cat x