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Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Pets for Stress

One of the best things about having a puppy is the external motivation for getting exercise at times of the day you never would if you didn’t have to. Having just been out for a walk/run with the pooch at 9.30pm (something I would never, ever do if it were just down to me!), I feel energised and revitalised. 

However, there is a negative voice inside me (the evil “should”) which says I SHOULD be able to motivate myself to exercise, and I SHOULD value myself enough to do it for that alone... Frankly, when I am working full time and I am feeling the emotional burden and fatigue of my job, the SHOULD can f*** off. I actually am of the opinion that externally motivating factors are not such a bad thing. Whatever works, right?!

I have improved my fitness significantly since getting Poppy, by accidental exercise. You wouldn’t believe how many times I have had to run up and down the stairs to let her out for wees/poos, to get up from the sofa to check she hasn’t eaten more books/shoes/socks/bank cards (usually indicated by suspicious silence), to chase her when she has stolen the remote control, to play with her because she needs distracting from destruction (and because it’s fun!), to run after her when I have stupidly let her off the lead before being properly trained and she has run all the way home with a stick in her mouth… I could go on! But these are the things you take on with a puppy, and my life, sense of wellbeing and daily joy have increased tenfold since her arrival. Bring on the pets!

There has been a great deal of research into how pets are good for stress relief. However I don’t need academics to tell me the benefits of having a pet in my life. Without even glancing at a scientific paper I know how good it feels to come home to a happy, waggy, furry little friend who is delighted to see me. Stroking her soft fur soothes me, talking to her keeps me company and I have already written about the positive effects of walking her when feeling down. There’s also something in taking responsibility for caring for another when they are totally dependent. It makes me feel good that I am up to the job of giving her a happy home, when in her previous life she was an unwanted Christmas puppy on death row (breaks your heart, doesn’t it).

Before I had a dog, I seriously considered volunteering as a dog walker for a local rescue centre. Animals are such wonderful creatures, living in the present, blissfully ignorant of our material and societal worries. I imagine life in Poppy’s furry skin –full of joy, fun and pleasure-seeking, every walk a new adventure, every dog a potential playmate, every person newly exciting and interesting. Experiencing enhanced sights, sounds and smells, or simple pleasures from chasing a ball (and my own tail!). No human fears of failure, or of being judged and criticised. Eating when I am hungry, sleeping when I feel tired. Being totally in touch with my instincts and putting them before everything else. This sounds like glorious freedom to an adult human enslaved in the world of workand financial responsibilities! Imagine living like that….

Having a pet isn’t for everyone, some people don’t have the time, space or money to care for one properly. However everyone can benefit from the calming, centring and humbling presence of animals. They help us to recall our natural instincts, to pay attention to our bodies, senses and our environment. They can bring pleasure and peace. If you don’t have a pet, visit someone who does. I guarantee you will feel better.

If you like what you have read, please share this blog and subscribe with your email! Many thanks, ChamomileTea xxx

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Feeling Blue: Part 2 (not so blue!)

Oh what a difference a walk makes! My cobwebs have been well and truly blown away. We ran together, Poppy and I, and laughed out loud as she jumped for joy. She is the happiest little pup I ever saw and she makes me smile.

Dog owners are quite the loveliest people (apart from the few strange, standoffish ones who we won't count). In what other context do you strike up conversations with complete strangers like you have known them forever? When you share your love for your pets, it's a conspiratorial connection, like you are members of a secret society that outsiders and cat people cannot possibly understand.

On our walk this evening we met a lovely Scottish lady and her rescue dog. The dogs were so pleased to see each other; much wagging and sniffing ensued, as did the mutual petting and sharing of canine anecdotes (from the humans!). Lester was a 12 year old collie, a rescue pooch himself, now a geriatric in doggy terms and as much a member of their family as any human.

This simple act of walking the dog, being outside and making a connection with someone else, has lifted my spirits beyond measure. The breeze was warm. I inhaled and filled my lungs and the grey clouds from earlier were washed away.

On returning home I felt newly energised. I have cleaned up, made a soup (those leftover veggies had been languishing for long enough), had a shower with a homemade body scrub and been uplifted by Pharrell Williams. I'm so pleased with myself. Another evening without the motivation of this blog and I would have remained in my lethargic, depressed state. I'm going to write in my notebook all my concerns for tomorrow, so they don't churn around while I lie in bed. I feel I have accomplished something important this evening.

Now for no.6 Doing something silly... !

If you like what you have read, please share this blog and subscribe with your email! Many thanks, ChamomileTea xxx

Feeling Blue: Part 1

I can’t write today. I feel fatigued, fed up, dissatisfied with myself. I lack motivation. I resented being at work today, and I REALLY resent having to go back tomorrow. I feel rebellious, like I want to wreck something. Disgruntled thoughts permeate my mind. A fixed scowl is making my brows feel heavy. A headache is brewing. The corners of my mouth are downturned in distaste. I think of all the things I want to do, the freedoms I wish to have, the realities of being stuck in the rat race and I feel frustrated.

Small things have irritated me beyond the rational today – a negative comment here, a look there. The building oppressed me; stuck in the same room all day, there was a lack of air. This has not been helped by being alone again this evening. I have spent too much time in my own company, brooding, and this is the result. I am missing my boy and all diversions seem pointless. Television programmes are juvenile, books are dull. My mind is overly anxious about tomorrow’s potential events; stress levels are rising.

I have decided to write in the hope that this will cleanse me of my mental fug; that I will emerge, renewed, once I have purged the demons. What course to take? I could seek solace in food, in sugar; binge until I am beyond comfortable, totally sated, relying on the sugar high as an emotional prop. I could venture out, stomp the pavements until the black clouds subside. I could force myself into vigorous exercise, or to do jobs around the house. I know I need to move; sitting here mulling over the options will ensure lethargy sets in, and action becomes ever distant as dissatisfaction gets its claws into me.

I have options. Some of the paths are constructive, some destructive. My challenge is to use the healthy ones and avoid the unhealthy ones. How many of us rely on drugs to get us through the working day? Caffeine, nicotine, sugar, alcohol… sound familiar? My personal prop is sugar. I use my sugar hit to pick me up throughout the day, particularly at 3pm when my adrenalin drops after the students have left the building, and I have a real slump. I get fatigued and having eaten any food I brought to work with me by that point, start to forage for forbidden fruit... 

I do overeat, I know this. I overeat and crave sugar, or salt. Eating gives me an emotional rush, it comforts me when I have had enough of the working day. Particularly in this job, I find myself turning to fatty or sweet treats much more than previously. Something about getting stuck in to a bag of Haribo, or oversized “grab bag” of Hula Hoops (usually purchased from the garage on the way home) picks me up, albeit temporarily. Sadly, the crash always follows the high, and ultimately I know it will make things worse in the long-term (future blog - combatting the blues when your jeans no longer fit?!).

So what shall I do to process the day, without needing to numb my mind or do negative self-destructive things?

1. Exercise – doing exercise I enjoy is the key here. If I don’t love it, there’s no way I’ll do it. Following a dance class on Youtube or venturing out for a walk is always good. When I’m stressed I “stomp”, walking round and round the streets until my emotions die down. I’m going to stomp.

2. Writing – keeping a journal really helps. Keri Smith, author of “Wreck this Journal” has some amazingly creative tips for journal entries here. Writing is cathartic, particularly if thoughts are going round and round in your head as you lie there trying to sleep...

3. Listen to music – something uplifting and beautiful.

4. Doing something that feels worthwhile. For me that will be doing some domestic chores for my partner when he comes home from his night shift. I find this a real challenge when I am in these blue moods; doing this will really raise my self-esteem.

5. Doing something I’m good at. This will be writing this blog. I’m really proud of myself when I see that others have read my musings, and even shared them with others!

6. Doing something silly. I’ll get back to you….

Feedback coming in part 2!!

If you like what you have read, please share this blog and subscribe with your email! Many thanks, ChamomileTea xxx

Monday, 5 May 2014

Earthing: feel a positive charge

When standing barefoot, I feel a positive charge from the earth. I am connected to nature, like a battery charging from a good and natural power point.

A cursory Google will show how recently a great deal has been written about the positive effects of earthing, or grounding, which means standing barefoot or sitting on the ground, connecting with nature. I don’t know much about the scientific arguments and research, or the associated products available online, all I know is that every time I try it, it feels good – like a “mystical energy” is healing me.

We got out into the countryside today, to a nature reserve called Kingley Vale. I touched the trees and grass, explored woody paths and clambered through mazes of tangled ancient yews.

 It is a timeless place; unspoilt and beautiful. My partner had a raging headache when we left home. After the quiet, fresh air and natural woodland surroundings, he reported his headache had disappeared. However on returning to the car, he said the headache had come back. What was the cause? Was it simply that the beautiful surroundings had distracted him for a while, or had he benefitted from his connection with nature and the outdoors?

As humans and animals, we were not designed to be indoor creatures. Outdoors is the natural way. Our modern houses with their double glazing and insulation cut us off from what is real and natural. Is it any wonder we get headaches when we spend our days in hermetically sealed and insulated houses, offices, and cars, breathing in conditioned air rather than the fresh breeze from outside? I believe this is the cause of many of our stresses and strains, and the more I get outside with our beautiful pup Poppy, the more it renders true.

 I have also been continuing to read about vitamin D deficiency (see my previous blog, and how sunblock may be causing us harm in this area. Could we be so badly designed as humans that our skin cannot cope with prolonged sunshine ( I speak as a fair-skinned Caucasian who burns very easily!)? I don’t profess to have the answers, only to report my positive feelings on connecting with nature, earthing myself, sunshine and fresh air. I am trying Wellness Mama’s approach to sunshine – upping my vitamin D with a supplement, and taking regular doses of tomato puree for the lycopene, which apparently improves skin’s tolerance to the sun. Today was a great example of this; after walking I felt energised, recharged, peaceful and positive.

A couple of months ago, I decided to try earthing myself every day, just for a short while. It was early March so still rather chilly outside, but I diverted to the beach on my way home from work each day, to stand on the shingle in bare feet and feel the energy of the Earth. I chose Pagham beach, away from the bustle and traffic of the promenade; remote and unspoilt. 

Such a place is perfect  for reflection, where it is possible to remove oneself entirely from the view of houses and roads, and it’s just me, the sea, the shingle and a few seagulls. I don’t know if the positivity I get from this is purely down to taking some “me” time somewhere quiet and beautiful, or whether grounding is working its magic, but I do seem to feel a positive charge from the earth. I also like to hold pebbles in the palm of my hand, they also contain a charge somehow, like a vibration or power. I often slip a single stone into my pocket and hold it during the working day, to ground me further. It brings me peace and calm.

Links to more information about Grounding/Earthing:

If you like what you have read, please share this blog and subscribe with your email! Many thanks, ChamomileTea xxx

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Sanctuary in solitude

Sanctuary in solitude: Being alone doesn’t mean being lonely

I enjoy spending time on my own, contemplating my innermost thoughts. Some people I know are afraid of being by themselves, and they really shouldn’t be. Some people never get the time (or make the time) to be alone and connect with their true selves. 

I believe that solitude is not something to be afraid of, it is something to embrace. Time alone is vital to my wellbeing, or I lose a sense of who I am. 

The key to spending positive time by yourself if you are not used to it or find it a negative experience, is to fill it full of your favourite things. Be indulgent, be true to what you really want and enjoy. When we are with others we always make small compromises about what we want to do. When you are by yourself, there is no compromising. You are free to be absolutely you and please yourself properly.

My 6 tips to enjoy yourself, by yourself:

1 . Walk on the beach.

Head somewhere beautiful and unspoilt like West Wittering. Listen to the sounds of nature and feel the sand beneath your feet:

2. Indulge yourself with natural remedies

Connect with your body by using some beautiful homemade cosmetics, like this all-natural sugar scrub from Wellness Mama. My personal blend is caster sugar (softer than granulated), coconut oil, almond oil and vanilla extract (not sure on quantities, I tend to just bung it in!). Delicious!

3. Read a fiction book

I reread my favourite books all the time. I was lucky enough to visit the Vale of Blackmore in Dorset at Easter, setting for Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. It reminded me so much of Hardy’s magical descriptions of nature. I was so inspired from the visit that immediately on arrival home I had to rummage amongst the shelves to find my battered copy:

“The traveller from the coast, who, after plodding northward for a score of miles over calcareous downs and corn-lands, suddenly reaches the verge of one of these escarpments, is surprised and delighted to behold, extended like a map beneath him, a country differing absolutely from that which he has passed through. Behind him the hills are open, the sun blazes down upon fields so large as to give an unenclosed character to the landscape, the lanes are white, the hedges low and plashed, the atmosphere colourless. Here, in the valley, the world seems to be constructed upon a smaller and more delicate scale; the fields are mere paddocks, so reduced that from this height their hedgerows appear a network of dark green threads overspreading the paler green of the grass. The atmosphere beneath is languorous, and is so tinged with azure that what artists call the middle distance partakes also of that hue, while the horizon beyond is of the deepest ultramarine. Arable lands are few and limited; with but slight exceptions the prospect is a broad rich mass of grass and trees, mantling minor hills and dales within the major. Such is the Vale of Blackmoor.” Chapter 2, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy. 

Find it free here

Discover more of Hardy’s Blackmore (or “Blackmoor”) here:

4. Read a non-fiction book

I love a self-help book, me. I’m also one of those people who gets so inspired by a good book that I have to read it into the night (and sometimes all night!) to satisfy my huge literary appetite. You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay is a wonderful way to tap into the positive about yourself, if you allow yourself the time to read and do the exercises. Highly recommended.

I’m a massive fan of Hay, hence my previous blog

Please add your recommendations for inspiring reads in the comments section below. I’m always after new fodder!

5. Cook your favourite meal, with the best quality ingredients you can afford.

When I lived in Worthing, I used to head down to the fishermen who sold their catch right off the shore. You couldn’t beat it for spanking freshness and quality and I’ve never found better. After experiencing their wonderful bass, bream and mackerel I could never go back to the supermarket fish counter. I still find it incredible that they head out in all weathers in these little dinghies. Fishermen really do the most perilous job and if I wore hats, they would be doffed in respect. Mmmmmm… fish…..

6. Be silly!!! Dance and sing around the house! Who cares when no-one can see?! You don’t need good moves, or a good voice, just let it all go! Sing it, Leo:

If you like what you have read, please share this blog and subscribe with your email! Many thanks, ChamomileTea xxx

Friday, 2 May 2014

In Search of the Spiritual

Seeking Spiritual Opportunities
There seems to be a general consensus that as humans, our wellbeing depends on a combination of factors. Some wise folk have even made pretty charts to point us in the right direction:

1. relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things

I accompanied my students to a wellbeing conference today and was reminded how important it is to pay attention to our spiritual needs.  It’s a tricky thing to define, but a recurrent theme in wellness literature and practice is that a regular dose of spirituality is a key component of the wellbeing kit. So much so, that it appears in the National Curriculum:

"Spiritual development
Pupils' spiritual development involves the growth of their sense of self, their unique potential, their understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, and their will to achieve. As their curiosity about themselves and their place in the world increases, they try to answer for themselves some of life's fundamental questions. They develop the knowledge, skills, understanding, qualities and attitudes they need to foster their own inner lives and non-material wellbeing.”

In our atheistic rat race of a culture, is there still room for the spiritual? Spiritual needs are often overlooked in the race to get ahead (or just survive!), or ignored by people who think it means church on Sundays, or watching Songs of Praise. It is all too easy to get sucked into the superficial world of Heat magazine, soap star reality shows and social media and believe that this is experiencing life. I’m as guilty as the next person – eagerly switching on Strictly to see which former stage-school graduate is [un]surprisingly good at dance this year. And there’s nothing wrong with that – as long as there is balance. I’m not always balanced. This needs addressing. I need to connect with what is real and true in the world.

Since I was very young I have always felt the need to spend time contemplating my existence, experiencing wonder at the world around me, getting out into nature, experiencing art and culture and having philosophical conversations with like-minded friends and family. I haven’t been doing this much of late.

Spirituality to me, means taking time to be, to just simply exist, often somewhere beautiful, to contemplate nature and experience wonder. I most strongly feel this when I visit the coast and countryside, and in things that move me – spectacular views, being on, in or near the sea, hearing music, appreciating quality theatre and dance. 

So this weekend I intend to fully charge myself up, through visiting beautiful locations, stopping to take the time to be and to breathe, through meditation and reflective writing. The Spiritual Bank Holiday. 

If you like what you have read, please share this blog and subscribe with your email! Many thanks, ChamomileTea xxx

Thursday, 1 May 2014

What's so constructive about criticism??

“I’m no good at this”              
“I’m disorganised”
“I deserve to be told off”              
“I’m lazy”
“I’m usually wrong”

… are just a few of the self-critical thoughts that enter my 
head on a daily basis. These are usually accompanied by feelings of extreme uselessness. Logically and rationally, I know that I have been employed by someone, and continue to be in their employ, so I can’t be as useless as my inner critic makes out, but which voice dominates my mind? What do you think!

In teaching we are encouraged to be “reflective practitioners” which basically means we are encouraged to constantly criticise ourselves. I think this approach leads a lot of teachers to feel generally rubbish about themselves  - we never reach that unattainable goal of “good enough”. I’m sure this is the same for other industries and professions too.

I don’t know if it’s my moral, honest, self-sacrificing Christian upbringing (I’m very much of the atheistic persuasion, so that didn’t really work), or if it’s a British cultural thing, or maybe just a human disposition for martyrdom but I perceive in many people  a general feeling that we are not good enough in our work and our lives in general. Why is this such a pervasive theme?

Recently I have been reading You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay, which was recommended to me by a lovely friend and colleague. The most powerful message of this book is that self-approval is far more powerful than self-criticism.

I don’t generally go in for affirmations, but since reading this book I have found myself reciting a few on the way to work each morning (and they do seem to have a positive effect):

“I release the need to feel anxious”

“I release the need for stress”

I can actually feel the knot in my stomach relaxing as I repeat these to myself, and a calming effect comes over me. Listening to soothing classical music also helps to mellow me out.

And when I’m in work I recite:

“I release the need to be criticized”.

For I’ve been criticizing myself my whole life and where has it got me? Bogged down by self-doubt, low self-esteem and depressive tendencies. In her beautiful book, Hay encourages us to “love and approve” of ourselves to overcome this. Sounds good to me!

          “Loving the self, to me, begins with never ever criticizing ourselves for anything. Criticism locks us into the very pattern we are trying to change… Remember, you have been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” You Can Heal Your Life, Chapter 1, pg 9.

Tomorrow I’m going to approve of my lessons, my work and myself all day long :) 

If you like what you have read, please share this blog and subscribe with your email! Many thanks, ChamomileTea xxx