Are you feeling anxious?

I am feeling anxious about you. So much has happened in the last 12 months that has raised levels of anxiety. First there were all the issues raised around the Brexit referendum. Then there was the American Presidential election.  Now we are in the process of another General Election which is stirring up fears around elderly care, the economy and immigration. All of that against a background of terrorist incidents and war in other parts of the world.

Anxious

Anxious? Need help?

I wouldn’t be surprised if you were feeling a bit anxious but do you know what? It isn’t doing you any good and it’s not making the situation any better.

Our human brains formed when we were cave people and the environment around us was dangerous and life threatening. We had to forage and hunt every day just to stay alive. Add to that there were predator animals that wanted to kill us. Our brains became very sticky for bad news as a survival mechanism. That’s why your brain notices negative information far more than it notices positive good news.

When you watch scary stuff on the TV news or read it in newspapers, your brain imagines you having to deal with that scary situation. In response, your brain releases the hormones that prepare you for fight or flight or freeze. Those hormones inflame your system. That’s ok if you only get anxious in short bursts and not too often. Persistent levels of anxiety can lead to physical symptoms such as poor sleep, lack of concentration, weight change, headaches and raised blood pressure.

So what can you do about? Firstly, acknowledge bad stuff happens but it is not personal to you. It’s not the stuff that is happening that causes the anxiety, it is the thoughts that you have about it.

Secondly, stop reading news reports and listening to or watching the news, particularly in the evening and before you go to bed. There is nothing you can do to make those situations better so stop exposing your brain to them. Remind yourself of all the good things that are happening, the millions of people who will go to sleep safely tonight, the beautiful babies that have been born, the things of nature just outside your window.

Thirdly spend a few minutes each day calming your body and your mind by just focusing on your breathing. If you can, make your out breath longer than your in breath for even more relaxation. Even better, go for a walk and breathe deeply.

If you need more help, contact me today so I can find out more about what you are experiencing. You are welcome to book a free 30 minute consultation with no obligation.

Are you feeling SAD?

The clocks have gone back, the trees are turning colour and Christmas decorations are appearing in the shops. Autumn is here and for some people this is the season of SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Are you feeling SAD?

Are you feeling SAD?

Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Lack of energy and feeling sleepy during the day
  • Poor quality or interrupted sleep.
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in normal activities
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings, irritability and low mood
  • Cravings for carbohydrates leading to weight gain.

These symptoms are the result of lower light levels during the winter months which causes an increase in the production of melatonin (the hormone that makes us sleepy at night), and a reduction of serotonin (the Happiness hormone). These changes disrupt your internal body clock which regulates important bodily functions such as appetite, digestion, sleep quality and mood.

I have experienced mild symptoms of SAD since I was a teenager. Every year it creeps up on me and I wonder why I suddenly feel miserable and have no energy.

One way to boost your exposure to natural light and reduce the effect of SAD is to use a full spectrum light box.  These lights provide summertime levels of light and have been shown to be effective in up to 85% of diagnosed cases of SAD.  Light boxes are available from specialist retailers.

If you are experiencing mild symptoms there are other practical things you can do to improve your mood:

1 Take a 30 minute brisk walk outside around the middle of the day.  The exercise will make you feel better and you can get the best of the daylight.  Research has shown that a 15 minute walk can significantly reduce daytime snacking.

2 Boost your mood with healthy food. The food you eat can have a negative of positive effect of your mood and can increase or decrease mood swings. Some simple guidelines:

  • For an energy boost include lean proteins in your diet such as: cheese, milk, eggs, nuts, seeds, pulses, beans, fermented soya products (miso, tofu and tempeh), white poultry and seafood.
  • Avoid eating simple carbohydrates such as white rice, white bread and sugary foods. These foods will cause your blood sugars to spike and fall rapidly causing mood swings. Instead eat complex carbohydrates including vegetables and fruit.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake. Caffeine suppresses the production of serotonin and stresses your nervous system. Remember that caffeine is not just in coffee, it is also in black and green tea, chocolate and energy drinks.
  • Consider taking a vitamin supplement. At this time of year you may need to supplement your diet with vitaminB12 and D. Vitamin D is predominantly made by your body when it is exposed to natural sunlight which is in shorter supply during the winter months. Low levels of Vitamin B12 in the blood have been linked to depression, though the exact cause is still unknown. You can top up by eating fish, shell fish, fortified cereals, eggs, yoghurt, and milk.
  1. Maintain your social contact during the winter months. People with strong social contacts tend to stay happier and healthier and cope better with life’s challenges. Being on social media is not sufficient so contact your friends and arrange a regular get together. If your friends live at a distance, could you enroll for an evening class or get involved in a hobby group?
  2. Commit a random of act of kindness every day. Showing kindness and compassion to others is an excellent way of boosting your own feelings of well being and strengthening your emotional resilience.
  3. Do something that makes you smile or laugh for five minutes three times a day as this will help to boost your levels of serotonin and immunise you against stress. You could watch a funny video on YouTube or your favourite comedy on the television. But the best method is to have a laugh with a member of your family or a friend or colleague.

If you are experiencing prolonged or intense symptoms of SAD it is important to consult your medical practitioner.

For practical techniques to help with SAD contact me to find out how I can help you.

For more information on SAD see http://www.sad.org.uk/

Olympic Wisdom

I am sure that there are lots of lessons that we can all learn from watching the Olympics. We can certainly learn about hard work, focus and perseverance. But there were two incidents that stood out for me last week.

The first incident was between Tom Daley and his diving partner, Dan Goodfellow. Tom, at 22 years old, has had lots more experience of the pressures of competing than his 19 year old partner, Dan Goodfellow. It is understandable that, as they were waiting to compete in the synchronised diving, Dan should start to feel nervous. The advice from Tom was to ‘stay in the moment’. Great advice.

Whenever we start worrying we are either thinking about something that happened in the past and having negative thoughts about it or we are imagining something that is going to happen in the future and imagining it going badly. If you are ruminating on something that has already happened, let it go. You can’t change what happened. Learn from it and move on.

If you spend time imagining all the things that could go wrong in a future event, you are priming your brain for failure. Worry is like praying for what you don’t want. You must have had one of those moments when someone said to you ‘Don’t spill that drink’ or ‘Don’t trip over that step’ and the next moment that was exactly what happened.

By staying in the moment you are being mindful about what is happening now. That enables you to deal with the situation you are in, not some imaginary situation that you have created in your imagination. You can also enjoy the experience so much more.

The second event was Mo Farrah’s response to tripping and falling during 10,000m race.  The fall happened with 16 laps to go in the race when Mo was accidently tripped up by his training partner Galen Rupp. That could have been the end of his race but Mo is made of sterner stuff.  He got back on his feet and caught up with the race leaders to win.

The interesting thing is what said after the race.  He said it was ‘lucky’ that he fell early in the race so that he could catch up. How many of us would be that positive about a major obstacle in our lives? There are lots of learning points from what happened:

  • ‘There is no failure, there is only feedback’. When something doesn’t go the way you expected, what can you learn from it?
  • ‘Fail early, fail often’. This is advice that is often given to new business people. What it means is that to be successful you have to try new things and they don’t all work well. Be prepared to learn from the early failures so that you don’t make them later in your business development.
  • When something happens that you think of as negative, what are the positive aspects of it?

I am sure there were lots of other exceptional moments. Congratulations to all the athletes at the Rio Olympics. You are inspirational.

If you need help with negative thoughts or anxiety contact me today.

Travel Phobias

It’s that time of year when many people are looking forward to going away for a summer holiday. But for a significant number of people enjoyment of holidays is spoiled by travel phobias and fears. There are the obvious travel phobias such as fear of flying, fear of insects or reptiles and fear of heights. Then there are the less obvious phobias such as fear of stomach upsets or vomiting.  Sattal

I could write a blog about each of these and how to get over them but having just come back from India, I am going to concentrate on fear of stomach upsets. I travel a lot and have had traveler’s stomach problems in various countries but particularly in Morocco. It might be due to eating different food, the dirtiness of the currency or just a different range of bugs and bacteria.

Some people tell you to get the stomach bug early and then enjoy the rest of your holiday but I was determined not to get Delhi Belly and I pretty much succeeded. Here are my top tips.

#1 Only drink bottled water – even in hotels. Check the seal on the top of the water bottle to make sure it hasn’t been refilled.

#2 Don’t have ice in your drinks. This may seem a bit strict in hot countries but most soft drinks and bottled waters are refrigerated.

#3 Avoid salads and fresh fruit. You don’t know what water they have been washed in. You can eat fruit that you have peeled yourself as long as you are careful about your hand hygiene (see more below).

#4 When eating sandwiches, or any food that you pick up in your hands, use a paper napkin to pick the food up.

#5 Depending on the country you are visiting, avoid eating meat. Again, you may think this is extreme but in hot countries a vegetarian diet is much healthier.

#6 Eat local fresh yogurt to boost your natural stomach bacteria.

#7 Take probiotic tablets for a week before you leave and during your trip.

#8  Keep your hands as clean as possible. Use hand sanitiser after every time you wash your hands, handle money or touch anything that you think might be dirty.

#9 Take a good look at swimming pools before you jump in, particularly in resorts outside of city locations. Health and safety regulations are not the same in other countries!

#10 Pack a toilet roll! Indian toilet rolls are the smallest I have ever seen.

These are simple precautions to take and then you can relax and enjoy yourself.

If you need any help with your holiday phobia contact me and let’s talk about how I can help you.

Improve Your Exam Performance

It is that time of year when many young people are revising and preparing for exams. It is hard not to feel stressed by exams particularly when the outcome can have a significant effect on your future.

Improve Your Exam Performance

Improve Your Exam Performance

So what can you do to improve your revision and your performance in the exams? There are two lifestyle factors that can have a substantial impact on your performance: your sleep and your nutrition.

Sleep for Better Exam Performance

Research into the role of sleep has shown that poor or inadequate sleep causes drowsiness that leads to reduced performance and memory impairment.  Insight and higher-level learning is also aided by sleep.

The amount of sleep we need varies with age. Adults need about 7.5 hours whereas teenagers need about 8.5 hours of sleep per night. Unfortunately, during the teenage years the brain is going through a number of neurological changes that mean that young adults tend to want to go to sleep later and get up later than when they were younger. School timetables don’t fit in with that pattern but it may be possible during the revision time leading up to exams.  You can catch up a bit at weekends but it is not as effective as regular good quality sleep

Some top sleep tips:

  • Treat your sleep seriously. While you are revising, get into a regular routine of going to bed before midnight and sleeping up to 8 hours if your commitments will allow.
  • Leave electronic equipment outside the bedroom to avoid stimulation. So, no mobile, no TV, and no computers in the bedroom.
  • Dim down light levels as the evening progresses and make sure your bedroom is completely dark. This facilitates the brain to produce melatonin and the neurotransmitters that aid good sleep.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, quiet and well-ventilated.
  • To induce sleep, listen to relaxing music, read a calming book or watch an amusing TV program. Do not watch the TV news or read a page-turner or do anything that will over-stimulate you.
  • Avoid or reduce caffeine in the afternoon and evening that includes coffee and energy drinks.
  • Reduce or avoid alcohol in the evenings. It negatively effects the quality of sleep.
  • Exercise in the morning or afternoon. Only do light stretching exercises in the evening.

Nutrition for Better Exam Performance

Our food provides the building blocks for our brains and our bodies. Good nutrition supports your mood and your brain function. Poor nutrition results in mood swings, stress on our internal organs and erratic brain function.

  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and de-caffeinated drinks. Avoid sugary, caffeinated drinks because they increase the level of the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, in the blood.
  • Reduce added sugar in your diet. Sugars in processed foods go under many names including: agave, dextrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, sorbitol, sucrose, and corn syrup. Eat fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Substitute unrefined complex carbohydrates for simple carbohydrates. Eat wholemeal bread, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, grains, beans and pulses.
  • Foods that are good for brain function and mood include: salmon, mackerel, herring, flax and pumpkin seeds, meat and eggs.
  • Foods that are good for sleep include: dark cherries, almonds, kale, bananas, honey, flaxseeds and grapes.

For more ideas see Top Revision Tips.

If you need any help to relax and improve your revision and exam performance contact me so we can chat about how I can help you.

It’s Stoptober – Are you motivated to stop smoking?

Every October the Government launches its Stoptober campaign to encourage people to give up smoking.   Research has shown that people who stop smoking during October and manage to stay off the habit permanently could gain an extra week of life for every month they are smoke free.  Some more immediate health benefits:

  • After 8 hours – nicotine and carbon monoxide levels in blood reduce by half and oxygen levels return to normal
  • After 24 hours – carbon monoxide eliminated from body. Lungs start to clear out mucus and other smoking debris
  • After 48 hours – No nicotine left in the body. Ability to taste and smell improved
  • After 72 hours – breathing becomes easier, bronchial tubes begin to relax and energy levels increase
  • After 3-9 Months – Lung function improved by up to 10%
  • After 5 Years – Risk of heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker
  • After 10 Years the risk of lung cancer falls to half that of a smoker

Various research studies have shown the effectiveness of using hypnosis to stop smoking*.  Reported success using hypnosis ranges from 81% to 90.6% in these studies.  The Australian Stoptober site states that hypnosis is the 2nd most effective way to make someone stop smoking.  The most effective is a heart attack.

I don’t accept every client who contacts me for help stopping smoking.  I only work with those who are really motivated.  No therapist can guarantee success but the chance of success is far greater if you are well motivated.

Contact me if you want to discuss how I could help you pat@roystonhypnotherapy.co.uk .

If you sign up via the official Stoptober website you will receive free support tools.  Visit https://stoptober.smokefree.nhs.uk/registration-c

* http://www.answers.com/Q/What_are_the_statistics_on_the_effectiveness_of_hypnosis

Are you mindful when you eat?

When clients come to see me for weight loss, I ask them ‘How fast do you eat?’.  Most of them tell me that they eat quickly, often with the TV on.  I explain the importance of eating slowly and without distractions so that you can hear the messages that your body sends you when it has had sufficient to eat.

Last week I had an extraordinary experience.  I persuaded a friend to experience mindful eating with me.  I cut up some salad vegetables and feta cheese in bite sized portions and put them into two containers.  My friend agreed to put on a blindfold and then I gave him his food.  I did the same.  We agreed not to talk while we were eating.

It was hard not to talk but it became very meditative.  When we had finished we were both very calm and peaceful.  We had both really tasted and enjoyed the food.  The texture and sound of the food also became more apparent.  I stopped eating before the container was empty because I knew I had eaten enough.

I recommend eating with your eyes closed or blindfolded as an experience.  If you want to eat slowly and mindfully:

  • Eat at a table
  • No distractions – turn off the TV, put away the mobile phone or Tablet.
  • Put down your knife and fork between every mouthful
  • Keep the food in your mouth and chew slowly
  • Notice the ‘satisfied’ feeling and stop eating

This is a good start to losing unwanted weight.

The wonder of the placebo effect

The term placebo has often had negative connotations in the past.  It is almost as if something that helps the body heal itself naturally is somehow cheating or suspect.

Pills or placebo?

Pills or placebo?

The word placebo comes from the Latin for ‘I shall please’.  Most of us have experienced the placebo effect while taking traditional medicine.  If you have ever bought a branded medicine instead of a generic alternative, some part of your mind was convinced by the packaging or the extra cost that the branded medicine would work better.  If you believed it enough, it probably did work better.  That is the placebo effect and we all experience it.

In recent years there has been lots of research into the placebo effect in the area of pharmaceuticals.  It has shown that the size, colour, shape and the name of medications has an effect on their efficacy.  Even the smell has an effect.  Researchers found that if they wiped TCP antiseptic around the top of a bottle of tablets, the tablets were more effective!

The attitude of medical practitioners also has an impact on their patients.  The more the practitioner builds trust and rapport with their patient, the more the patient is likely to respond positively to treatment.

Bestselling author and speaker, Dr David Hamilton, has carried out a lot of research in the area of the placebo effect and you can read his thoughts at http://drdavidhamilton.com/?page_id=8

So, in my opinion,  we should be much more open to understanding and using the placebo effect to aid our natural healing processes.

Want to Lose Weight? Change Your Mind!

If you have resolved to lose weight this year, the chances are that you have been looking at diet books and weight loss clubs and wondering what will keep you motivated and whether you can keep weight off in the long term.  So many people lose weight on a diet only to put on more when they start to eat ‘normally’ again.

In a new book published this month*, Dr Deborah Cohen sets out two forces that are driving obesity in the modern world.  One is the availability of cheap food, large portion sizes and food advertising.   The second major force is our human nature, the fundamental limits to our self-control and the unconscious ways that we are hard-wired to eat.

Dr Cohen says, “Because our moods and desires change throughout the day, many people claim their weight problem is the result of emotional eating.  They say they eat when they are stressed, lonely or anxious  – whenever they are not at their best.  Yet others claim they eat too much when they are happy’.

When I work with clients who want to lose weight we talk about establishing a different relationship to food.  I always start by asking them to eat slowly so that they really notice what they are eating and can recognise the signal that their body has had sufficient and is satisfied.  I also help them to discover techniques for recognising emotional hunger and dealing with it.

If you really want to lose weight in the long term you need to change your mind first.  It is the only way to long-lasting change.

*’A Big Fat Crisis; The hidden forces behind the obesity epidemic and how we can end it. ‘ by Deborah A Cohen, MD., Nation Books,  Jan 2014

Happy Relationships at Christmas

The weeks around Christmas an New Year can be among the most difficult times for relationships.  That’s why solicitors make special discount offers for divorce advice at this time of year.

There are lots of reasons why your relationship could come under pressure.  It could be seasonal depression, the financial pressures of Christmas, or an excess of alcohol at parties.  Some people decide that they want to make a new start in the New Year and that includes their relationships.

If you are in an abusive relationship then you need to take action. But if your relationship is just at a low ebb, stop, think again and consider taking some relationship advice or therapy.  How many people regret leaving a relationship which just needed a bit of time and effort?

Here are a few practical steps you could take to set your relationship back on the right path:

  • Set some time aside to spend alone with your partner with no other pressures.  Do something you both enjoy.
  • Hug your partner every day even if you are busy.  A hug releases the hormone oxytocin into your blood that bonds you with your partner.
  • Exercise together to boost your health and well-being.  Going for a walk together around lunch time will get you back in touch with nature and expose you to mid-day sunlight.
  • Have a laugh and a smile with your partner to release the positive hormones that make us feel good.
  • Be patient with each other.  Couples who are kind to each other have less coronary artery calcification and healthier hearts
  • Most importantly, keep talking and listening to each other.  Don’t just wait for your turn to speak, really listen to what your partner is saying.

Christmas can be a time for creating wonderful new memories that you can share and look back on in future years.  Have a great time.