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

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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