Cloud watching – Taking time out


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We all lead such hectic lives these days don’t we? Whether we are rushing around working, commuting, shopping, cleaning the house, caring for others or doing all the inevitable admin that maintaining a life brings, it’s all busy, busy, busy. When someone asks, “How’s things?” how many times do you answer, “Oh you know, busy!”

How often do you take time to be still and do nothing? I am still shocked but not surprised when clients tell me that they take work or laptops or work phones on holiday with them. Weekends and evenings also consist of checking emails and messages – just in case they miss something. Little wonder that these types of people often present with overwhelming stress, anxiety and feelings of depression.

Perhaps you make time for yourself to unwind and relax: maybe a peaceful half hour in the bath; or an evening walk; or listening to soothing music. When I ask my clients what they do to relax, most have to really think hard about it. Some can’t come up with an answer. Some think relaxing, which they equate with doing nothing, is wasted time.

However, we all need periods of purpose-free calm in our lives. Most of us are surrounded by human chatter or ringing phones or noisy traffic, which are all part of the competing demands and distractions of a busy life. We are on alert all the time, scanning for anything that might need our immediate attention. Tiring isn’t it?

Last weekend, on a beautiful summer’s afternoon in my garden, I looked up at the glorious blue sky and the fluffy white clouds passing by. I remembered lying on the grass as a child, and imagining the shapes the clouds were forming, and the stories I made up in my mind about them. Suddenly, I wanted to experience the joy of that again, so I got out of my chair and laid back on the grass and watched as the clouds floated by, transforming into wondrous shapes as they went. I found myself smiling as I recalled memories of carefree childhood days. The grass felt soft and warm against my back. The sunshine felt warm against my skin. The gentle breeze was cooling and refreshing. I could smell the fragrances of summer flowers and newly cut grass. Most of these sensations had gone unnoticed until I made the time to stop and take it all in. I took some long, slow deep breaths and felt my whole body and mind unwind and relax. I must have stayed there like that, just noticing, being mindful, for 20 minutes or so and when I stood up again I felt joyful, re-energised and grateful for the experience.

So how long is it since you took the time to allow yourself to be at one with the natural environment? When was the last time you stopped and stared and really noticed all the intricacies of something like a beautiful tree or flower, the sea or the clouds perhaps?

Put your busyness to one side and take time to try it out. Focus on all your senses. Notice the detail of what you can see, hear, smell, feel and perhaps even taste. Taking time to reconnect with the beauty of our natural world is never wasted time. It lifts the human spirit – which reminds me of the poem I learned as a child. Perhaps you remember it too?

Leisure by W.H.Davies

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

I am Susan Tibbett, a Chartered Psychologist, Hypnotherapist and Psychotherapy practitioner based in York. You can find out more about my work and how I can help you at: http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com

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Tips and Tricks for keeping your Stress under control


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Stress is your emotional and physical response to pressure and happens when you feel unable to cope. Many people lead demanding lives and stress can arise from life events, illness, living conditions, work, relationships, and money worries. in fact the list is endless because people have different ways of reacting to and coping with stress. A situation which is overwhelming for one person, may not concern someone else in the same way.  Even those events which you see as enjoyable can be stressful, such as holidays, moving house, starting a new job or course, pregnancy, parenthood, and family get togethers like Christmas.

When you are constantly under pressure, the stress hormones remain in your body, leading to the symptoms that let you know you feel stressed. It’s important to recognise these symptoms early and prevent serious health issues such as high blood pressure. Everyone gets stressed from time to time – it’s a natural reaction to a threat or danger or prolonged pressure, so it’s a biological part of all of us. However, what is important is how you choose to manage stress. Some people adopt unhealthy coping strategies such as comfort eating, drinking alcohol or smoking which take a further toll on health. There are simple things you can do to give yourself a sense of control and help you to cope in a healthy way.

The first step is to identify what makes you stressed:

  • Where am I when I’m feeling stressed? What am I doing? Who am I with?

Even if there is little you can do about some situations, making some small changes can make a big difference. In stressful situations remember to Pause, Take a breath, and Don’t just react automatically. Ask yourself:

  • What am I reacting to?
  • Is it helpful for me to think this way?
  • What is within my control?
  • Is there another way of looking at this?
  • How important is this really? How important will it be in 6 months time?
  • What is the most helpful way to respond for me and others?

I see many clients who are struggling with stress and anxiety in their lives. Common to all of them is the lack of knowledge or skills for controlling these feelings. There are lots of tips and tricks for helping you keep stress levels under control:

  • Deal with problems as they happen. Bottling up your feelings allows them to grow until they overflow
  • Slow down. You don’t have to do things at 100 miles an hour. Eat, walk and drive more slowly. If you don’t get as much done as you would like, there is always tomorrow. Act ‘as if’ you are relaxed: slow down your speech, relax your shoulders, and don’t fidget. This will also affect how other people will react to you
  • Do one thing at a time. If you have too much to do and can see no way to cope with it, see if you can divide it up and then tackle the bits one at a time. Prioritise and then do the worst thing first
  • The words ‘must’ and ‘should’ create pressure. Work out what you can realistically cope with and be content with this. You don’t have to be Superman/Wonder Woman
  • If people expect too much of you, you don’t have to accept their targets. Learn to be more assertive and say ‘No’
  • Stress can make you hard to live with and create problems with those close to you. Nurture strong, confident relationships which give you people to confide in and help you fight stress
  • Talk to someone – if you don’t have a supportive relationship or someone to confide in, there are lots of professional therapists who specialise in helping people with stress
  • Treat yourself as you would a good friend. What advice would you give?
  • Help others – people who help others become more resilient themselves. This can be as simple as doing someone a small favour that costs nothing
  • Shift your perspective by noticing what you have to be grateful for. Problems are often a question of perspective
  • Write down your thoughts and feelings – get them out of your head
  • Accept that there are things in life you can’t change – people get ill, people die, people lose jobs. Bad things happen and everyone has to learn to accept them as a part of life. Focus on the things you can control instead
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet and cut down on high sugar foods such as cakes, biscuits and sweets which may fuel anxiety
  • Caffeine can make you feel alert but the effects of too much are the same as those of stress and anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulant that affects the brain and central nervous system. It can be found in: coffee, tea, Coke, Fanta, aspirin, cold remedies, headache tablets, energy tablets, drinks like Pro-Plus and Red Bull and even in chocolate at a low level
  • Stay hydrated by drinking more fresh, clean water
  • Some people believe that smoking helps them relax, but nicotine is a stimulant. The reported relaxation effect of smoking is nothing more than deep breathing when you inhale. Practice the breathing but lose the cigarettes
  • Make some time for relaxation, fun and enjoyment. If you think you don’t have time for this – you need it the most!
  • Learn Mindful Breathing (see my blog on ‘3 Quick Relaxation Exercises’)
  • Listen to music – sing and dance along to something upbeat, or relax to something calming and emotion-free
  • Physical exercise – get active even if you just go for a walk. Doing something physical completes the stress cycle and allows those stress hormones to dissipate, so you feel better
  • Get out in nature to feel uplifted – go to the park or for a walk in the countryside
  • Find a hobby or interest that gives you a sense of achievement – adult colouring books or doodling zentangles are great for feeling creative. Don’t know what they are? Look it up. Challenge yourself with something new
  • And finally….RELAX! Do some deep abdominal slow breathing or listen to my free 10 minutes Relaxation track on http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com to instantly feel a little better

I am Susan Tibbett, a Chartered Psychologist and Hypnotherapist based in York. I can be reached via my website at: http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com

3 Quick Relaxation Exercises


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Perhaps you’re feeling stressed or anxious and you know that you need to calm things down fast. Knowing that you need to calm things down to feel better, just makes you more anxious and more stressed because you don’t know how to do it. It can be difficult to change that state of emotional arousal when you don’t have a clue where to start. I see clients every week who have this dilemma. By sharing these quick relaxation tips, they soon learn how to get back in control of any anxious, stressful feelings and reduce the physical symptoms that can feel so distressing.

Did you know that your breathing plays an essential role in stress and anxiety? Breathing is a powerful determinant of physical state. When your breathing rate becomes elevated, a number of physiological changes begin to happen. Perhaps you’ve noticed this yourself when you’ve had a fright; you might suddenly gasp, feel a little breathless or lightheaded, or notice tingling sensations around your body. The way you breathe is a major factor in producing these and other sensations that are noticeable when you’re stressed or anxious.

One of the first things I teach my clients is the important role breathing plays in controlling the stress response, and how changing your breathing can be used to send a strong, positive message to your brain that everything is ok, you are safe at this moment and you can allow yourself to relax and calm down.

So if you are feeling stressed give this a try now. Find a place where you will be undisturbed for a few minutes. You can close your eyes or keep them open, whatever is comfortable for you. Sit with your feet flat on the floor and your hands resting lightly in your lap. If you wish you can lay down.

Exercise 1 – Breathing to release tension

  • Breathe in deeply (from your diaphragm) to the count of  7. Pause.
  • Breathe out to the count of 11. Pause.
  • Breathe in to the count of 7 and so on…

Just allow the oxygen to gently and slowly flow in and flow out. The numbers themselves aren’t important – it’s the lengthening of the out breath that does it. Sometimes people find it hard to breathe this slowly at first so adjust the numbers if you wish.

Once you have practised this breathing technique you can add the following:

  • As you breathe in, imagine that the air around you is a wonderful colour of calm. As you breathe in allow the colour to flow in and through your body like a wave of calmness, clearing any tension in your body or stresses in your mind
  • As you breathe out, imagine any tension or stress flowing out and away from you and disappearing into the air where it evaporates and disappears

Exercise 2 – Deep Breathing Technique

  • Breathe in so that your belly (not your chest) rises. This deep abdominal breathing (diaphragmatic breathing) is the correct way to breathe
  • You can check whether you are doing this correctly by placing your hands on your belly with your fingertips touching, on an out breath. As you breathe in, your fingertips should part

So why does changing my breathing help?

You might already know that you breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. For the body to run efficiently, there needs to be a balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide, and this balance is maintained by how fast and how deeply you breathe. Of course, the body needs different amounts of oxygen depending on your level of activity. When you exercise, there is an increase in both oxygen and carbon dioxide; in relaxation there is a decrease in both oxygen and carbon dioxide. In both cases the balance is maintained. However, when you are anxious, this balance is disrupted. You take in more oxygen than the body needs – in other words you overbreathe, or hyperventilate. When this balance is detected, the body responds with a number of chemical changes that produce those uncomfortable physical symptoms; dizziness, light-headedness, confusion, breathlessness, blurred vision, increasing heart rate, numbness and tingling in the extremities, cold clammy hands and muscle stiffness. The normal rate of breathing is 10 to 12 breaths per minute. What is your breathing rate and would you benefit from slowing down?

Exercise 3 – Mindfulness relaxation – it only takes a minute every day

This technique is simple yet very effective. Take a moment to practice it every day:

  • Close your eyes and focus your awareness on your body and become aware of any and all sensations there
  • Now focus your attention like a spotlight on any particular tightness or discomfort anywhere in the body. If there are none then just focus on the stillness in the body

You are not trying to judge any sensations or change them, but simply to become aware of them. If your mind wanders then gently escort it back to focusing on your breathing

  • You may find that any areas of tension begin to loosen and relax. You don’t need to try to do this, just be aware of any relaxation happening
  • You can stay like this for as long as you wish but even a minute is beneficial

Using these calming exercises, you can experience a minute of stillness, slow your breathing down and reduce your general level of anxiety. The key to gaining control really is practice, so set aside some time to do this every day. With enough practice, it will even help to reduce feelings of stress when you are in an anxious situation.

There are lots of breathing techniques out there so experiment with them and see what a difference this new habit can make.

I am Susan Tibbett, a Chartered Psychologist and Hypnotherapist and I work in York. I can be reached via my website at: http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com