Five Ways to Boost Your Happiness

As humans, we are able to experience our world thanks to our five senses. The eyes, nose, ears, tongue and skin are the ways in which we interact with what is going on around us. The world can however be very stressful. Listening to, or watching the news makes one worried. Seeing your boss’s angry face or hearing your child cry is not pleasant at all. You can’t always get away from the stressors that surround you, but you can use your five senses in a conscious way to help you cope better with worry, lift your spirits and boost your happiness.

1. Hearing

Music can have a profound effect on our mood, by either enhancing how we already feel or by changing our mood completely. It’s not just music though. Hearing a seagull, even when it’s a seagull divebombing for your chips in Trafalgar Square, will immediately make you think of being at the beach. Or the relief and hope you feel the first time you hear a lawnmower after a long Winter – Spring is here!

The effect of music on our mood is fascinating. A group of researchers from Montreal found that listening to your favourite music releases dopamine which stimulates the two areas of the brain which respond to pleasurable stimuli. In other words, listening to your favourite songs can make you just as happy as getting a hug or eating something sweet. Another area of the brain activated by a feelgood song, is the cerebellum which triggers increased blood flow to the legs. Can’t keep your feet still when your song comes on the radio? That’s your cerebellum being activated.

Sound at a particular frequency can also be highly beneficial when you are trying to meditate, study or sleep. Meditation is a form of deep concentration, and of course, studying requires concentration too, but concentrating for long periods can be difficult. By monitoring the brain frequency of the masters of meditation, Buddhist monks, scientists were able to pinpoint the optimum frequency for meditation as the theta brainwave range. (Sleep is in the delta range, concentration in beta range and enhanced mood & relaxation is in the alpha range.) With brainwave entrainment using binaural beats, your brain matches the frequency of the sounds you are listening to. So, for instance, when you listen to binaural beats in the alpha range, you will feel more positive, and in the delta range, you will fall asleep more easily.

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Practical tips 

When you are struggling to concentrate on a piece of work and it’s making you feel frustrated, try listening to binaural beats specific for concentration. Look for binaural beat music on YouTube or Spotify and listen to it through earphones. It’s important that you use earphones because binaural beats rely on the fact that you hear two slightly different tones, one in each ear, and only when wearing earphones would you be able to pick up the slight difference in tone.

For an instant mood lift listen to “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. It’s the UK’s happiest song. If you don’t especially like “Don’t Stop Me Now”, try “Mr Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra. That’s the Netherland’s happiest song.

2. Touch

Body language experts tell us that wringing of the hands, stroking and touching of the neck are clear giveaways that you are anxious or worried. It’s our subconscious way of using touch to make us feel comforted. You may want to steer clear of these “tells” when you are trying to come across as cool, calm and collected – like when going for an interview – but if touch is the way our bodies naturally give us comfort, why not use it to our advantage?

During a massage, touch receptors are activated which releases oxytocin, a peptide that plays an important role in social bonding, trust and forming meaningful connections – no wonder it is sometimes referred to as the “cuddle chemical”. The release of oxytocin from massage can even provide consolation and comfort during periods of grief, as was shown in a study conducted by a Swedish palliative care provider. In the study, family members who had lost a loved one to cancer were offered hand or foot massages once a week for eight weeks. All the participants used the word “consolation” to describe how they felt after each massage.

Massaging your own hands work just as well. Self-administered shiatsu massage, a traditional Japanese massage of pressure points in the hand, helps relieve chronic pain to such a degree that patients in a study by the University of Alberta fell asleep and stayed asleep for longer periods, despite their chronic pain.

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Practical tips 

When you are struggling to fall asleep or feel stressed, give yourself a hand massage. A couple of massage techniques you could try is to rub and apply gentle pressure to the whole palm of your hand with the thumb of the other hand and/or to pull on each finger from base to tip gently. Do what feels natural and good for you. We know that the mere sensation of touch is already enough to increase the oxytocin levels, so whatever form your hand massage takes, is going to help.

If you have a pet, you are in luck. In a study of university students, it was found that just ten minutes of stroking an animal was enough to lower cortisol levels.

3. Taste

I often find myself craving Strawberry Nesquik when I’m feeling a bit low. I have a very vivid memory of sitting at the kitchen table, patiently waiting for Ouma to mix the pink powder into the tall glass of milk after a tough day at playschool. Forever the taste of ice-cold strawberry flavoured milk will be linked with Grandma and the feeling that everything will be okay. It’s no coincidence that many of our memories are linked to a taste experience. Researchers from the University of Haifa found a functional link between the brain region responsible for taste memory, and the area responsible for encoding the time and place. Food or drink can therefore be used as the trigger to help you recall a happy memory.

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Practical tip

Now that a lot of us are working from home, why not use lunchtimes to lift your mood by eating (your version of) your favourite vacation meal. How about spicy couscous salad with fresh pomegranates to bring back memories of Morocco, halloumi in a wrap to remind you of Greece or an egg frittata to bring back memories of Italy.

4. Sight

Our central nervous system, the command centre of the human body, is made up of the spinal cord and brain. The brain is of course encased in the skull, but did you know that two parts of the brain sit outside of the skull – our eyes. That means that our sense of sight is generated by an organ that is an integral part of our central nervous system. No wonder that what we choose to look at, can have an immediate impact on our thoughts and emotions. An example of this can be seen in colour science. The colour red has been proven to improve our attention to detail by as much as 31%, whereas blue boosts creative thinking.

Colour can even affect our sense of taste. Researchers from Oxford University and the Polytechnic University of Valencia both conducted experiments on groups of 57 people each. Both teams found that the perceived flavour of hot chocolate improves when drunk from an orange or cream coloured mug. So, whether you’re Spanish or English, hot chocolate tastes more chocolatey from an orange or cream coloured mug.

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Practical tips

Write down positive affirmations and place them where you see them often (post-it notes work very well). Positive affirmations are statements that you repeat to yourself to help you change the negative beliefs you hold. For instance, if you believe yourself to be weak, a positive affirmation could be “I am stronger than I think.” Even if you don’t consciously read the affirmation, your subconscious mind is still taking note. If you write it on a blue post-it note, it will also help you think more creatively and visualise how the stronger you would feel and act.

Wear bright colours to lift your spirits. Even something as small as swapping black socks for a pair with a colourful stripe can add a sense of fun and cheer you up every time you look at your feet. If you don’t want to wear bright colours, bring colour into your home with bright scatter cushions or towels.

And of course, if you love hot chocolate, you’ll love it even more when you sip from a cream or orange mug.

5. Smell

Of the five senses, our sense of smell has the strongest link to memory and emotion. That’s because the olfactory nerve is just two synapses away from the amygdala (responsible generating emotional responses) and three from the hippocampus (crucial for the formation of new memories). When it comes to our sense of smell and memory, it’s all about location, location, location. Not only do we link smell and memory very strongly, but studies have also shown that memories linked to smell are unlikely to be forgotten, and the memories are less likely to change over time.

Aromatherapy, which uses essential oils extracted from plants, is the perfect example of how fragrance can aid in emotional and physical wellbeing. The most commonly used essential oil in aromatherapy, lavender, has been proven to lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety even in those having surgery for wisdom teeth removal. Another study, which looked at the effect of the smell of rosemary oil on the nervous system, showed that smelling rosemary leads to enhance alertness, concentration and improved mood. The increase in alertness was supported by an increase in beta waves when measured with EEG.

Practical tips

Incorporate aromatherapy into your workday with the use of an aromatherapy diffuser. I have one on my desk that I use every day. My selection of essential oils depends on the type of work I’m doing. If I am feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I use lavender and sandalwood. To help me concentrate, I use rosemary. When I need an energy boost for the 4 PM slump, my go-to essential oils are nectarine or peppermint.

Spray perfume or put on aftershave, even if you are working from home. If it was part of your morning routine when we were all working in the office, the smell and the routine of applying perfume or aftershave, could help you feel grounded if working from home is something you find challenging.

Combine your senses

If we can use one sense to improve our mood, imagine what a combination can achieve!

Here are a few ways in which to combine your senses into one feelgood activity:

Touch and smell

Before you go to bed, spray a mixture of lavender, basil, juniper, and sweet marjoram essential oils on your pillow. This exact mixture of essential oils has been proven to enhance sleep. You can make a pillow spray by mixing the oils with water and a bit of salt (the salt acts as an emulsifier). Combine the pillow spray with a shiatsu hand massage, and you’ll be off to dreamland in no time.

Touch and sight

Instead of keeping photos in the Gallery of your phone or on Instagram, print them out, frame them and display the framed photos all around the house. Incorporate the sense of touch by picking up the frames and moving them around. Incorporate the sense of touch even more, by using the photos in creative activities like scrapbooking or collages.

Sight and smell

Sight does not have to be limited to actual images. When we vividly imagine something, it can instantly alter our mood. Say, for example you want to be a calm and confident public speaker. Employ visualisation techniques by imagining yourself on stage, speaking clearly and confidently to rapturous applause from the audience.  To help you stay calm, inhale the smell of lavender essential oil while holding this image in your minds eye. That mental image will then be linked to the calming scent of lavender. Just before you go on the stage, all you would have to do is take a quick whiff of lavender and the mental image of yourself nailing the presentation will come flooding back.

Sight, smell, sound, taste and touch

Bring all five of your senses together in one glorious themed dinner party. Pick the holiday destination that holds the happiest memories for you and recreate it using all your senses.  Play the traditional music of the country, ask guests to dress up, enjoy the smell of the food, make sure there are dishes you have to eat with your hands and of course, prepare the dishes that link back to your happiest holiday memories.

Our five senses are there to help us make sense of the world around us. Use them in conscious manner by choosing what you listen to, what you eat, what you look at, what you touch and what you smell. In this way, you five senses can become tools to help you feel happier and enjoy life.

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This article first appeared in the January 2021 issue of Executive Support Magazine (previously Executive Secretary Magazine) a global training publication and must read for any administrative professional.

Blue Monday. Or is it?

Apparently today, the third Monday of January, is the bluest Monday of them all. Apparently……

Blue Monday was created as a marketing gimmick. You don’t have to buy into it! Just as you don’t have to wait for Valentines Day to tell someone you love them. You also don’t have to wait until the weekend to do something fun (movies on a Wednesday evening anyone? Once lockdown is lifted of course).

The thing is, not every day is the same. Not everyone is the same. Not all jobs are the same. Not all countries are the same.

You, and your circumstances, are unique and you can decide to have a good day by making the best of the situation and finding something to appreciate.

May you have the sunniest of Mondays ever! Stick it to you Blue Monday!

Cancel your need for control

Here’s a story about two cancelled holidays and a flexible working request. It’s also about giving up a need to control. Difficult. I know.

My husband and I were meant to go to Cyprus in May, and Croatia in June. A total of 15 days of sunshine, sea and a change of scenery. Instead, we, like so many others, were stuck indoors in the UK. When our holidays were cancelled, I cancelled my annual leave. This left me with a considerable amount of leave that I had to use up because I can only transfer a limited amount to the next year.

It felt like a waste to use the chunk of annual leave all at once. My solution was to take one leave day every week in October and November. I chose Wednesdays. Tuesday became fake-Friday and Wednesdays mini-Saturday. I used the Wednesdays to work on Natasja King Coaching. It was absolute bliss I tell you!

In December, I went back to working five days a week. I soon realised how much I valued those non-working Wednesdays, so I applied for flexible working last week.

The application was approved within a few days and without any hassle. Why? Because my bosses and HR knew how it would impact them (not at all, as it turned out) if I wasn’t logging on on Wednesdays because I had done it in October and November. Easy peasy.

Here’s where life gets crazy

I never thought that when my two holidays were cancelled, it would set in motion a series of events that would lead to Wednesdays being coaching day. All I knew was that cancelling holidays sucked and that I was waiting much too long for my EasyJet refund. There was no way I could have known that I would benefit so greatly from having a truckload of annual leave to use up while being stuck in the UK.

Around the same time that I was cancelling hotels, I was dreaming of building my coaching business. I wished that I could have more time to spend on coaching – which is precisely what a flexible working arrangement affords me. Only now, looking back, can I see the amazing sequence of events.

This is what I want you to take away from my story: you only need to have an idea of what you want. You don’t need to know how you will get it.

During a meditating last week, I had a vision of myself opening the door to a coaching client. I was in a bright and airy space. The walls were white panelling and natural light was flooding in. There was a desk and a blue sofa in this space. In the vision, I can also smell lavender that comes from the aromatherapy diffuser on the desk. I have a big smile on my face as I open the door to my client.

When I had this vision, part of me wanted to start asking questions: is this room in a house, or a separate building? Is it in a garden? If it’s a summer house, is it insulated? In which town is this room? Is there a toilet for my client to use and where did they park?

I am proud to say that I let those thoughts go and didn’t attempt to answer the questions.

(You can tell by the “quality” of the questions I was trying to answer, that I have quite a lot of experience in needing to control and to plan. About 30 years’ worth. Hence investing time in a meditation practise learning to let go and be in the Now. #workinprogress)

Can you see how attempting to answer those questions could have made me really tense and turned a beautiful vision into a source of anxiety?

If you have a vision of the perfect partner, house, job or anything else, just imagine what you need to imagine so that you can tap into the feeling of having it. Nothing more than that.

See the business card with your name and new job title and feel how proud you will feel of yourself when that card is yours – you don’t need to see the office address, company name, and the company logo.

See the body of your perfect partner, their smile, their clothes, standing in a place that has meaning to you and feel the joy and love when you are looking at each other – you don’t need to see the face in detail or know how you both got to that place.

What I have learned is that we don’t need to control the how, when and where. Our only job is to hold the vision and believe it will come true. Life will take care of the rest. Most of the time, we can’t even see that we are being expertly guided onto a path that will take us to the realisation of our dream. That’s a good thing. Because if we saw the whole path, we may want to take back control and we end up wandering into the bushes.

How the wrong question can make you feel like giving up.

It was Boxing Day 2020, and I was doing pilates in my living room. I was ready to work off the Baileys, biscuits and brie and feeling very proud of myself for “showing up to the mat” as my yoga instructor used to say. The warm-up went okay, the bridges were doable, but I hit a wall when we got to the planks. I just couldn’t hold the plank. I managed about 3 (very breathless) counts on wobbly arms before I crashed to my knees. I was only 15 minutes in, and I was ready to give up. What the hell?! On Christmas Eve I was killing it, and now, 48 hours later I could barely lift my head, nevermind do a plank.

“Why am I struggling so much today?” I asked myself. The instructor had by now moved onto side planks (really, really?!) and I was giving it a go, but just turning onto my side was an effort. “What is wrong with me today? Why is this so difficult?” I asked myself. I started listing the things I had eaten on Christmas day to explain the reason for the lethargy. Then I thought it might be a hormonal thing. Or maybe it was because I waited too long in the day to start exercising. All of these thoughts made me feel guilty, sorry for myself and I wasn’t showing myself any love – gone was the pride I felt for showing up to the mat – and I felt less and less motivated by the minute. I was spiralling downward and getting very close to giving up.

Change the question

Suddenly I remembered the talk I had given to The Business Support Network on Stress Management, where I explained the ABC instant stress relief technique. The “A” stands for becoming Aware of the stress, “B” is using your Body and Breath to reduce the symptoms of stress, and the “C” stands for Change the question/focus. (The technique is great for relieving stress. You can listen to my talk for free here. I mention the ABC technique at 12 minutes in.)

To get through the pilates class, I needed to change the questions I were asking myself.

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The brain loves answering questions. It’s what it does. So when you ask a disempowering question, you are going to start listing all the observations that are making you feel disempowered (and low, unmotivated and doubting yourself).

The solution is therefore to ask an empowering question so that you find the answers that will allow you to take back control.

In my post-Christmas pilates crisis, that meant I had to stop asking “Why is this workout so hard?” and instead ask “What can I do to get through this workout?”

With that one question, I took back control and stopped focusing on the past, all at once.

Just as my brain had shown me why I was struggling, it now started to show me the solution: take a break. Pause the video, rest a few seconds, press play again and keep going. It’s that easy.

When you change the question you ask yourself, you also change where you look for the answers.

While I was struggling, and focussing on the struggle, it was difficult for me to realise that the solution was as easy as taking a break. I thought I had to power through without stopping as I had done two days ago. But that was impossible because this time I had copious amounts of cheese in my system, so the challenge was different. I had to adapt, but not give up!

The formula for empowering questions

As long as the question contains the words “How” or “What” and “I”, it will generate enpowering answers for you. Questions that contain “Why” or “When” are going to generate disempowering answers.

Disempowering questions When you try to find answers to disempowering questions…Empowering question
When will I be able to afford my own place / find a new job / get married?You list future situations that has to be different. Doing that is making you tense because your are trying to predict the future whilst standing in a place of lack.What can I do to afford my own place / find a new job / get married?
Why can’t I afford my own place / get a new job / get married?You list the things that are stopping you from having these things. Doing this makes you focus on the problem.How could I improve my chances of getting my own place / finding a new job / getting married?
Why haven’t I heard back from the bank about the mortgage?You list worst case scenarios and reasons for failure, possibly even pretending to read the mind of the mortgage approver. How can I take my mind off the mortgage?
When will I be able to see my friends again?You list future situations that has to be different. Doing that is making you tense because your are trying to predict the future whilst standing in a place of lack.In what ways could I reach out to them now?
Why is this so hard?You focus on what you think you did wrong before this moment, which will reduce self-confidence and motivation in the present moment.What can I do to get through this?

Life provides us with every-day situations where we can learn to take back our power. On Boxing Day 2020 I was bloated, panting, groaning and sweaty on my livingroom floor; but I learned the lesson.

Look out for those opportunities to rephrase the questions you ask yourself. The more you notice them in the small ordinary moments, the easier it will be to do the same when greater challenges come your way.

Ass-u-me

Ever heard of the saying “When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME”? It’s a bit harsh, but it gets the message across: don’t assume anything about anyone.

I made an ass of myself just the other day when I was coaching a client. Okay, not while I was coaching (but jumping to conclusions certainly can easily happen during a coaching conversation), it happened afterwards.

It was our first session together, and the first time I had a client with this specific worry. Maybe I felt a bit out of my depth, perhaps I had self-doubt about my ability to help her, whatever the cause, I assumed that the session didn’t go that well. What lead me to believe my assumptions was that I didn’t get any goosebumps or the sense that we had made a significant breakthrough. (The week before I had seen two clients and both times I had goosebumps all over my arms, and they clearly had made breakthroughs. One client said those magic words “You know, I had never thought of that” whilst leaning back in her chair. The other had gone from slouched and a bit withdrawn, to smiling, sitting up straight and looking ten times more energized.)

This client, however, showed none of those signs. I assumed our session was okay-ish, but nothing special. Her eyes didn’t really light up, and I didn’t notice a change in her energy from when we started, to when we signed out of the Zoom meeting.

I record my coaching sessions. It’s an easy way of keeping record and why not take advantage of that feature of Zoom? My clients obviously know and agree to this. I do make notes of my thoughts and what I would like to follow up on next time, but it’s not necessary to go into detail in the written notes because I have the recording. The recordings are also a handy tool for me to analyse how I could have coached my client better. I can watch it back and see where I could have rephrased the question better, should have kept quiet or missed an opportunity to delve deeper.

Having assumed our session was a bit of a washout, I felt I definitely had to watch back this session! If I want to be a good coach, I have to be willing to learn.

Before I braced myself to watch the, what I assumed was a bad coaching session, I sent my client my usual Session Rating form. It’s something I do after every coaching session with every client. There are five statements, for instance, “I felt heard, understood and respected” and “Natasja’s approach and method suit me.” They would then score the answer from 0 (don’t agree at all) to 10 (totally agree).

My coachee returned this Session Rating form to me before I had a chance to watch the Zoom recording. She scored everything 10! In other words, the session was good, and she got value from it. Even more astonishing to me, was that she asked for a follow-up session to delve into something that had occurred to her the day after our session, while she was “processing” what we had spoken about.

And right there, I learned valuable coaching lessons:

  1. breakthroughs can happen after the coaching session;
  2. not feeling goosebumps doesn’t mean anything;
  3. not everyone has expressive facial expressions or body language; and
  4. don’t assume anything.

What saved this situation, was that I had asked the question: how did you find the coaching session? If I hadn’t asked for her feedback by way of the Session Rating, I would have kept on believing I had a dissatisfied client.

Truthbomb: it wasn’t easy to send her that Session Rating form. I was opening myself up to criticism, but… I didn’t chicken out. “It’s not a sign of failure Natasja, it’s a lesson to learn”, “Have a growth mindset, woman!” and most importantly, “Practice what you preach” are what I had to tell myself before I was able to hit send on the email.

Thank goodness I didn’t give in to a fear of failure and didn’t back out of asking for the feedback.

A week later, I was reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Imagine my surprise when I got to agreement number three: Don’t Make Assumptions.

We make assumptions, we misunderstand, we take it personally, and we end up creating a whole big drama for nothing.

The Four Agreements BY dON mIGUAEL rUIZ – the third agreement

That’s so true! If I had chosen not to send my client the Session Rating form – because I had assumed she would say the session was a total waste of her time and I was afraid of hearing that – I would have spent hours watching and re-watching the recording and wasted precious emotional energy on something I believed was the truth, when in fact it wasn’t. That’s a recipe for “big drama” and sleepless nights.

The moral of this story? Don’t assume anything, except for assuming you don’t know anything, in which case you ask questions so that you don’t have to assume.

How to be more assertive

To many people assertiveness is a thorny issue. It certainly was for me.  When does standing up for myself and my needs, turn me into a manipulator? Or worse, a bully? Why is it difficult to say no to my colleagues but easier to a stranger? How do I stop my naturally empathetic nature from working against me and turning me into a pushover? Like I said – thorny issue.

People struggle with the concept of assertiveness because there is such a fine line between being aggressive and being assertive.  If assertiveness is about standing up for yourself and your needs, how do you know that you are not being the aggressive one?

Take for example sharing an office with someone who insists on eating smelly food at their desk every day.  Is it okay to ask that the person to be more considerate by going somewhere else to eat their boiled eggs and fish? What about their rights to eat what they want, where they want?

When you look at the definition of assertive and aggressive behaviour, it becomes much clearer:

  • Assertiveness is communicating without putting someone else down, while standing up for yourself. It requires you to state your wants and needs in a non-confrontational way, whilst still being considerate of the wants and needs of others.
  • Aggressive behaviour focuses on winning. You state your wants and needs but it comes from a place of selfishness and with only your own interest at heart.

In the smelly scenario I described, assertive behaviour would be to tell the person that you find the smell unpleasant. Assertive behaviour would then go on to suggest that the two of you try to reach a  compromise. Aggressive behaviour would be to demand that the person stop eating boiled eggs all together. Passive behaviour is putting up with it day in and day out.

Passive behaviour and suppressing of anger, and the precursors to anger like irritation or frustration, are unhealthy practices with consequences for our self-esteem and health.

Have you ever felt angry at someone but only when they walk away do you remember all you wanted to say and berate yourself for not speaking your mind? When that happens you feel disappointed and maybe even angry at yourself. This affects your self-esteem and you struggle to be self-compassionate – all of which could lead to depression.  Unexpressed negative energy can also show up in the body as anxiety, stress, skin rashes, tension headaches, digestive problems and could lead to substance abuse.

If you had only spoken up!  

Here are a few ways in which you could learn to speak up for yourself and be more assertive:

Use “I” statements

Starting a sentence with “I” will remind you that you are in charge of how you feel.  For example “I need”, “I want” or “I think”.

You of course need to pay attention to the words following  the “I”- statement. “I feel hurt/angry/irritated because you acted like a jerk” is a blaming statement that will be seen as aggressive. By adding your thoughts (the person is a jerk) and not sticking to your feelings and how you want the situation to be different, you failed to communicate effectively. A better statement would be “I feel sad about the way you just spoke to me and I wish you would be more respectful.”

A good assertive statement always contains 1) an I-statement, 2) a detailed description of the troublesome situation which includes times and actions, and 3) what action you would like to stop or start.

Avoid manipulation

When you are still new to being assertive, it can be challenging to know how to respond when your newly learned assertiveness requests are ignored. Here are three techniques you can try.

  • Broken record. Keep on repeating your assertive statement. For instance, “The smell of tuna is overpowering and making me feel nauseated” Briefly acknowledge the other person’s response and continue to repeat the broken-record statement calmly. For example “Yes, I know, and my point is [broken-record statement]“ or “Yes, and as I was saying [broken-record statement]” or “Yes, but [broken-record statement].
  • Defuse the situation by ignoring the person’s anger and delaying the discussion until they have calmed down. Set a time and then continue the conversation again at the set time. It’s pretty pointless trying to have a constructive conversation with someone who is stuck in their anger.
  • Don’t get caught up in their strong emotions. Acknowledge the person’s anger but then express your own as well. For instance, “I can see that you are annoyed. I hear you saying that you like tuna. However, the smell is overpowering and we have to share an office.”

Noticing unpleasant feelings early

When you become conscious of negative feelings as soon as they appear (e.g. as soon as the lunchbox comes out), instead of pretending that they don’t exist or pushing the feelings down, practice being assertive with the “lesser” negative emotions like irritation, before you reach the point of anger. On an emotional guidance scale (which you can download for free on the Freebies page) the negative emotions that could escalate into anger if not dealt with or expressed adequately, are, in order of worsening feelings, frustration and irritation, feeling overwhelmed, disappointment, doubt, worry, blame, and finally discouragement before anger sets in. If small frustrations and annoyances are expressed assertively, you will soon find it easier to be assertive day-to-day.

Use your body to help you

The way we hold our bodies can trick our minds into believing we are confident and strong, even when we feel the opposite:

  • Hold eye contact but don’t stare as this comes across as intimidating, and don’t let the eyes wander as this appears as if you are not listening;
  • Speak slowly, steadily and firmly;
  • Pull your shoulders back and sit up straight. This posture will make you feel in control of the situation. If the person you are speaking to is sitting, you should sit down as well. If they are standing, you should be standing. The idea is to not appear submissive, but you don’t want to appear aggressive either.
  • Tone of voice is critical to effective communication. Speak firmly and don’t shout or yell. Equally, if you make a statement that starts with “I feel angry …” but your voice is soft and timid, that’s a passive statement.  

Being assertive might be difficult at first, but it can be learned.  Practice being assertive with the small annoyances in your life and then as the assertive muscle grows, apply it to the bigger issues. 

Assertiveness is not manipulating people to get your way. It’s expressing your needs and wants in a healthy way. You owe it to yourself to show others where you draw the line.

The habit of procrastination

You’ve unpacked the dishwasher, reloaded the dishwasher, descaled the kettle, updated your Facebook status to say how shocked you are at the amount of limescale in the kettle, made a frothy coffee, posted a photo of the coffee on Instagram and liked every article in your LinkedIn feed. You tell yourself it’s because cleanliness is next to godliness, you need the caffeine and you should engage with your connections. But the real reason is you don’t want to reformat the tables in the 300-page prospectus. Sound familiar?

Here’s another scenario: I took three days to write this article because I had to allow the ideas to develop in my mind before I put pen to paper. Was I delaying or was I procrastinating?

True procrastinators know that they will feel better once the task that they have been dreading is completed, but despite this they still don’t make a start. By this definition, I was delaying because writing these types of articles is something I enjoy, not dread, and the delay is just part of my process. For procrastinators, there’s a disconnect and struggle between what they do and what they know they should be doing. It’s often a way of protecting oneself from experiencing unpleasant emotions, choosing instant gratification instead: Twitter versus the tediousness that is filing; Instagram versus the frustration of calling the insurance company; cyberstalking your high school crush instead of asking out the guy next door for fear of being rejected.

But there is hope for the procrastinator who is willing to change. Procrastination is not who you are; it’s what you (don’t) do. It’s a bad habit, and bad habits can be broken.

People in the habit of procrastinating generally do so in three major areas of life:

  • self-development (realising goals, e.g. career progression or finding a life partner);
  • personal maintenance (tasks that will make life easier, e.g. paying bills on time or medical check-ups); and
  • honouring commitments to others (keeping promises, sticking to deadlines).

Breaking a habit takes practice and willpower. I would suggest starting with the easier areas like personal maintenance and honouring commitments and then moving on to tackling life goals. When you can say no to Facebook and yes to doing your taxes, a journey of self-development will be a natural next step.

Here are six things you can do to break the procrastination habit:

1.     Make a list

Make a list and put tasks that will take less than 5 minutes at the top. Ticking off these quick wins builds momentum and gives a sense of accomplishment. It will also release the feel-good hormone dopamine, which is exactly what you need to keep going until you have completed even the most boring of tasks. A word of warning though – if you easily fall into the YouTube vortex, don’t put “research next holiday destination” as the first item on your list (even if you tell yourself it will only take 5 minutes). Better choices for the quick wins would be “reply to Ann”, “call IT about printer” or “make dentist appointment”.

2.     Don’t call it a to-do list

If you’re going to write out a list every day, you might as well include a positive affirmation. Instead of writing “To Do Today” at the top of the notepad, write “I Will Do These Things Today” or “I Am Going to Do These Things Today” in red, and then you highlight, underline and draw a circle around it so that it is the first thing you see when you look at the list. Positive and uplifting statements starting with “I will” or “I am” are incredibly powerful.

3.     Break it down

Anxiety is a common cause of procrastination. If we perceive there to be a threat to our self-esteem as soon as we engage in the task, we will much rather put off taking action. Take not going on a diet as an example. You could be avoiding the diet because you fear you will fail to lose the weight or keep the weight off, or you think the people close to you will treat you differently when you are thinner, all of which lead to anxiety. A way to lessen the anxiety is to break a task down into smaller chunks. “Lose weight” becomes 1) calculate how many calories I need to consume daily; 2) find out the number of calories in a doughnut; 3) work out a sensible meal plan for a week; and 4) find a way to include one doughnut once a week into the meal plan.

You could even turn each of these steps into SMART goals, meaning they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound. This works particularly well for big projects and life goals.

4.     Pay attention to the nagging

Ever noticed how the pile of filing seems to loom bigger and bigger the longer you wait to get started, and continues to be at the front of mind until you have dealt with it completely? This is called the Zeigarnik effect. It postulates that unfinished or interrupted tasks create a task-specific tension, and the unfinished task will continue to occupy the mind until it is completed. Therefore, as long as you can force yourself to make a start, the brain’s desire to finish will take over.

5.     Just do it

It’s not just the Nike slogan; it’s science. Psychologists from the University of Konstanz in Germany found that when we think abstractly about a task, we are likely to procrastinate. By contrast, when we focus on the how, when and where of what we have to do, we are more likely to start right away[1]. In other words, don’t overthink and try to discern the deeper meaning of taking your car for an MOT. Pick a garage, pick a date and take the car for an MOT.

6.     Keep going

Don’t get distracted. Try the StayFocusd extension for Google Chrome that limits how much time you can spend on time-wasting (social media) websites. Once your allotted time is up, the sites are blocked for the rest of the day. When you feel yourself slipping into low energy and your mind wandering, essential oils of rosemary and orange in a diffuser work especially well to re-focus and re-energise. A change of scenery also helps; sit at a different desk or in a conference room with that pile of witness statements and leave your mobile with someone else. True story – I worked with a lawyer who did this when he couldn’t trust himself not to go onto Facebook. I know this because I had to keep his mobile.

Remember, you are not a procrastinator – you have a habit of procrastinating, and bad habits can be broken. Follow any, or all, of these six tips, and you can train yourself to be a machine of efficiency at work, at home and in life.

[1] Source: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090112110106.htm

This article was written for and appeared in, the October 2020 edition of The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs monthly newsletter.

Get an expert to do it for you.

Last week I employed a freelancer from Kenya to help me with Natasja King Coaching. That’s a first for me. But when something means a lot to you, like launching yourself as a coach, you want things to be done right. There’s a lot on the line, and first impressions last!

I’ve never before thought of paying someone to do admin-y type things for me. I’m a PA and an “I’m sure I can figure this out for myself” kind of person. This time however, I really needed help. I was wasting valuable time on an email campaign in Mailchimp that I just couldn’t get to work the way I wanted it to. I work full-time, and my coaching business is a side hustle. Working from home and not having to commute certainly gave me back at least three hours daily, but it still wasn’t enough. And I was getting stressed out.

The clincher was when I received an email from Tide about their Member Perks. As a Tide business banking account holder, I get 20% off my first project with People Per Hour, the UK’s largest online freelancer marketplace. A freelancer to help me out with my project…… perfect!

For my free Feel Supported email course, I knew what I wanted to write, I knew how I wanted the emails to look, I designed the feature image for each email, I knew that I wanted to add downloadable content and that it had to drop into mailboxes every second day, but how? And with GDPR rules, I was petrified that I would accidentally send someone a Feel Supported email when they had only signed up to my newsletter. All of these worries dampen creativity. The mind is only really free to play and be curious if it isn’t bogged down with technical stuff (there is no better word than “stuff” for settings, preferences, coding and three hundred different ways of doing one thing.)

Freeing yourself from technical issues is why you get an expert to help you out. What is “stuff” to me, is an absolute no-brainer to someone else. So why wouldn’t I employ a freelance expert?

The MailChimp expert I employed, is the lovely Irene. View her PPH profile here.

Knowing that Irene was working on the technical bits of my Mailchimp campaign, was such a weight off my shoulders. In the few days it had taken Irene to work her magic, I submitted an idea to a magazine (which they accepted), I had a brainwave for marketing myself to an old contact with a vast reach, I watched Zoom recordings of talks I had given to capture my own words and use it as quotes for Instagram and LinkedIn, I wrote three – count it, three – blog posts and I had a great time designing content in Canva. All because I didn’t have to fiddle around with email automation.

Asking for help is not just critical for good mental health, it’s also hugely beneficial if you have your own business. It frees up your time to do the things you really care about and are good at.

My advice: employ a Virtual Assistant, get a freelancer from People Per Hour, or just put out a request for help on LinkedIn. In this time of furloughs and a slow job market, there are many experts out there just waiting to help you out.


If you want to try People Per Hour, use my referral and we’ll both get £30 credit in our PPH account.

And if you would also like a Tide business banking account (which is a fantastic!), use my referral code XEVY5J. Tide will give us each £50 when you open your account.


Will this make me feel good or guilty?

When it comes to self-care, this is the question you need to ask yourself.

You see, there is a danger when you hear people say that self-care is important, to confuse this with “spoiling yourself” with the one thing you love the most – even if it’s the one thing that you know is not good for you. In other words, using self-care as an excuse to indulge in your vices.

*Going for a smoke break to get away from your desk and have alone-time, is not self-care.

*Rewarding yourself with chocolate after a stressful day if you’re a diabetic, is not self-care.

*Buying a new colour nail varnish for your weekly manicure when you are trying to save money for a new kitchen, is not self-care.

The examples above do have elements of self-care: taking time for yourself and doing something you enjoy and that’s great, but you don’t want to fall back into, or start, a bad habit all in the name of self-care.

Self-care won’t teach you to value yourself, be kind to yourself, or re-energize you if you are going to feel guilty afterwards.

Go for a walk instead of a smoke break if you want alone-time, reward yourself with a handful of nuts instead of chocolates if you are diabetic, and do something that’s free if you are trying to save money.

Something I feel strongly about as a form of self-care is taking prescribed medication. If you have been prescribed medication for high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, diabetes, etc., then taking your medicines in the prescribed dosage and at the prescribed times, is 100% a form of self-care. Add to that an activity that will help you relax, and you have a great combination of mind-body activities to manage your illness.

When you consider starting a self-care routine (which I highly recommend!) ask yourself “Will this make me feel good or guilty?”. If the answer isn’t “Good”, find another way of taking care of yourself.

Law of Attraction as a belief system

The New Thought movement is a mind-healing movement that originated in the USA in the 19th century, based on religious and metaphysical concepts. It is not considered a religion (though it has formed the root of several religious organisations) but simply “ancient wisdom expressed in a new way”.

New Thought, or Law of Attraction as it is now known, as embraces the idea that God or Infinite Intelligence is omnipresent and that divinity dwells within each person. Just as the physical world has physical laws, so too does the spiritual universe have metaphysical laws that can be activated by the conscious creation of our life experience. New Thought also teaches that everything begins in the mind and what is experienced in the “outer” environment is a reflection of the “inner” environment. Illness can therefore be caused, but also healed, by the way we think. 

The core principle behind Law of Attraction is that our thoughts create our reality. Thoughts give rise to emotions, and emotions are waves of energy (from the Latin “emotere” which literally means energy in motion). Quantum physics have proven this to be correct. The Double Slit experiment showed that when observed, particles act differently than when there is no observer. When observed, the electrons acted in the way that the observer expected them to act, but when not observed they changed their behaviour. Energy therefore exists in a state of potentiality. It is the observer that determines how electrons react – as waves or as particles. The Double Slit experiment demonstrated that on a quantum level, we see what we expect to see, and until we give something our attention, it has the potential to be anything. Law of Attraction therefor rightly, places a lot of emphasis on visualisation techniques, positive thinking and prayer/mediation. 

The work of Florence Scovel Shinn, author of “The Game of Life And How to Play It” (1925) and “Your word is your wand” (1928) is a perfect example of how positive thoughts and affirmations can shape the world you live in. Florence very much based her writings on the teaching of Jesus and frequently refers to the Bible. Louise Hay, creator of Hay House Publishing, credits Florence Scovel Shinn as an early influence. As Florence states in “The Game of Life and How to Play It”, if you know the rules of life, you can win at the game of life. “The object of the game of life is to see clearly one’s good and to obliterate all mental pictures of evil. This must be done by impressing the subconscious mind with a realisation of good.” Crucial to having a more optimistic view of life, is speaking only positively. Florence instructs the reader in “Your Word is Your Wand” to choose an affirmation from her list of more than 100 and to “wave it over the situation which confronts you. It is your magic wand, for your word is God in action”.

It was the writings of Wallis Wattles  that brought the principles of the New Thought movement into the 21st century. His book “The Science of Getting Rich” (1910), which is part of a trilogy that also includes “The Science of Being Great” and “The Science of Being Well”, was the inspiration for Rhonda Byrne’s book, and now a movie, The Secret. His most significant contribution to the New Thought movement was creative visualisation. Visualisation, or imagining, is the basis of the miracle question that is used in Solution-Focused Coaching. Imagining how it would feel and how you would act if that which you want for life, has happened, is a highly effective way of strengthening neuropathways to a positive biased.

A lot of focus has been placed on the Law of Attraction as a way to gain monetary wealth, but to me it’s a way of life and applicable to every conceivable situation. The idea that I am a spiritual being who can, with right thinking, influence my reality made me move away from religion and towards spirituality. I no longer believe that I need to use a deity like Jesus, Allah, the Buddha etc. as a go-between between God and me. I am Spirit and have a direct connection with God. Proof of this is the daily, divine inspiration and intuitive guidance that I receive which has always served me well and guided me towards making the right decisions. Being spiritual instead of religious means I can, and have to, take responsibility for my life. I can manifest (Dr Tara Swart describes manifestation as “a directed and purposeful connection between intention and action”) great things, but I also know that I can manifest unwanted things or events through, amongst other things, negative core beliefs and negative speak. I am therefore responsible for my own life. If it goes well I am grateful, I journal about the things I have manifested, and I give thanks, but when things go wrong – which it can because this world is a duality – I have the power and responsibility to turn it to good and to be resilient. Being spiritual and not religious, means I don’t believe I am being punished when things go wrong, or that I am at the mercy of a deity to improve my life. 

My beliefs can be summed up by this quote from Mahatma Gandhi: 

Your beliefs become your thoughts, 

your thoughts become your words, 

your words become your actions, 

your actions become your habits, 

your habits become your values, 

your values become your destiny.

*This blog post is based on the assignment I completed for Module 17 of my Integrated Resilience & Wellness Coaching studies. Citations were included in the submitted assignment.*

How to deal with change

Dealing with change is undoubtedly the most stressful thing for humans to have to endure. No, allow me to rephrase that. Stress isn’t caused by change, change becomes stressful when we don’t adapt. When we don’t roll with the punches. And it really can feel like a punch in the gut. There are times when life throws you a barrage of many small, new – or even just slightly different – situations, people, rules, restrictions and routines; for example, moving house or changing jobs. There’s the sucker punch of change that you don’t even see coming. The one that leads to an avalanche of sudden difficult decisions; think of divorce or losing a loved one. And then sometimes life tries to knock you out entirely with a combination of both: a global pandemic that changes absolutely everything. For everyone. Forever.

Yet, nothing in life is constant. Change is inevitable. Whether you roll with it or fight against it, it’s going to happen. When you think about it, it’s not change itself that we don’t like. It’s the uncertainty, loss of control, unexpectedness and upset of the status quo that we have gotten so used to, that we don’t like. It’s completely normal to feel these emotions. The trick is to not sit with those emotions for too long. Feel it, acknowledge it and then move on. In other words: roll with the punches. 

So what can we do to be okay with change? When you are irritated for having to wear a mask. Or tired from homeschooling and working. When you no longer have the precious alone-time twice a day to listen to music or read a book on the train. How do you get your head around all this newness when you can’t sleep because you wish things could return to how it was?

Here are a few suggestions:

Everyone is different

Remember that you are not the only one going through this shift in ways of working, shopping, travelling and socializing. Even if you are super adaptable and not at all fazed, others aren’t. Everyone deals with change differently and at their own pace, and we need to be mindful of these differences.

If dealing with change is about being adaptable, then it’s also about making the decisions required for adaptability. In 1987 Alan Row and Richard Mason identified four decision-making styles. Each style has the following characteristics: 

  • Analytical coping strategy – You see change as a challenging puzzle that can be solved as long as you have the time to gather information and draw conclusions. You will resist change if you are not given enough time to think it through. 
  • Conceptual coping strategy – You are interested in how change fits into the big picture. You want to be involved in defining what needs to change and why. You will resist change if you feel excluded from participating in the change process. 
  • Behavioural coping strategy – You want to know how everyone feels about the changes ahead. You work best when you know there is support for the change. If the change adversely affects someone close to you, you will perceive change as a crisis.
  • Directive coping strategy – You want specifics on how the change will affect you and what your role will be during the process. If you know the rules of the change process and the desired outcome, you will act quickly. You resist change if the rules or procedures are not clearly defined.

Can you see yourself in any of these descriptions? What about when you think about how your boss typically makes decisions? Or your work bestie? Once you have a rough idea of what you and your closest colleague’s decision-making styles are, you will know how to reduce the anxiety around change.

Let’s use the example of having to return to the office post-lockdown: 

Analyticals should give themselves plenty of time to consider and gather as much information as possible about the best train, cycle, or walking routes to get to the office. Behaviourals should stay in touch with colleagues to offer and receive, support for the first day back in the office. Directives and Conceptuals rely heavily on information, so seek out the information or make sure you provide it to them. 

When the Conceptual lawyer can’t provide the Analytical secretary a floorplan showing exactly where the hand sanitizers will be located, because he is happy enough just knowing that there will be “some around the office”, that is going to lead to frustration and even fear on the secretary’s part. 

If you are the person in charge of readying the office for the return, it is imperative that information is shared well in advance and that the information be as detailed as possible. Some people don’t need or want the details, but others take great comfort in knowing the details.  

We’re in this together

It might seem impossible to focus on someone else’s needs when you yourself are struggling, but research has shown that once you can look outside yourself and take the time to be kind to someone else when they have to deal with change, you will have a more positive outlook. Brain imagine studies show that kind and compassionate feelings cause physical changes in the prefrontal cortex of the brain – the area associated with positive emotions. The area grows, just as a muscle would do when exercised, with repeated acts of kindness. As a result, it becomes easier to access the positive emotions area of the brain, which in turns makes it easier to have a positive outlook in general.

There’s no point denying it

It helps to accept that things have changed (again). No matter how tempting it is to pretend that everything is still the same, it really isn’t. It’s actually more stressful to deny reality than it is to say to yourself “Things have changed, and I’m okay with that.” Repeat this mantra as many times as you need to. 

You are not powerless

Focus on what you can change. In the most basic of terms, that’s your breathing. If anxiety sets in at the mere thought of going back to the office, the Square Breathing technique will help you slow down your breath. Start by breathing out completely. Then take a deep breath to a count of 4, hold to a count of 4, breath out to a count of 4, then hold for a count of 4. Repeat. 

On a practical level, think about what aspects of working from home and/or returning to the office, is within your control. If your office gives you a choice of office hours for the return, that’s control. If you work from home, you decide what to do with the time you would have spent on your commute. That’s control. 

Take it easy

Pace yourself. Adapting to change can’t happen overnight, so don’t force yourself to get to grips with it all in one on go. Break it down into smaller, manageable parts. For example, first try to get used to wearing a mask on the bus. When you feel more comfortable with that, pat yourself on the back and work on accepting that you will have to queue on the sidewalk for your Pret sandwich. (On the other hand, you could take a packed lunch to work and regain a bit of control over how you spend your lunch break.) Take it one day at a time and be kind to yourself. Some days you may find you take everything in your stride, and other days it will feel like a battle. That’s okay too, as long as you try again tomorrow. 

You’ve come this far

You’ve been through changes before, and you survived. You can do it again. And hey, any changes in your life post-COVID19 are going to feel like a walk in a park (while keeping an appropriately safe distance), in comparison. 

*This article was written for and first appeared in the July 2020 newsletter of The Institute of Legal Secretaries & PAs.

Aromatherapy

I have always been fascinated by aromatherapy and the power of smell to evoke happy memories. Whenever I smell jasmine I am reminded of my first holiday in Corfu. A large jasmine plant covered the walkway to our room. When we sat outside or left the room, the smell would envelop us. And when I smelled freshly baked bread, I am taken back to my childhood and the utter delight of seeing that our housekeeper had baked a loaf of bread while I was at school. She always left it on the kitchen counter, covered in a damp tea towel and the mouth-watering smell filled the whole house.

If aromas can help recall memories and recreate the feelings associated with those memories, it would make sense that we harness it as a tool for increased wellbeing.

Essential oils are used topically in face creams and lotions to rejuvenate, heal and soothe. I can attest to its benefits from my skincare routine, but for this assignment, I wanted to focus on its benefits for enhanced emotional wellness, calmness, mental focus or rejuvenation.

The science behind aromatherapy

When inhaled, the scent molecules in essential oils travel from the olfactory nerves directly to certain areas of the brain. For example, clary sage oil stimulates the thalamus in the brain to release dopamine that creates a sense of euphoria and gives pain relief. Lavender, chamomile and neroli stimulate the release of serotonin, which has a positive effect on mood and reduces anxiety.

Past experiences with aromatherapy

A few years ago, I purchased Aromatherapy Associates Inner Strength rollerball to help me through a difficult time at work. I applied the roller to my pulse points when I felt stressed during the day and before meetings, but I can’t say that it made me more relaxed. However, applying the essential oils and breathing in deeply to inhale the aroma was a soothing ritual.  

A month ago, I started to use The Body Shop Satsuma shower gel in the morning. It very soon became my favourite for the invigorating and uplifting effect it had on me. No matter how groggy I was or how tired from my morning Pilates, as soon as I smelled the satsuma essence, it was like an energising switch had been flipped. I was not expecting it to be so effective, and it continues to invigorate me no matter how many times I use it.

Comparing these two experiences made me wonder how important is the aroma of the essential oil  (as in the satsuma shower gel), versus the calming effect of deep breathing and performing a ritual (as in the Inner Strength roller ball). And if you know what the aroma is meant to do for you, would that determine what effect it has on you?  

The experiment

I asked my husband to randomly choose an essential oil from the Holland & Barrett website for me to try. He chose black pepper. Neither one of us looked at the description of the essential oil, so we had no idea what its benefits were. 

I applied the black pepper essential oil in the form of a body mist three times a day for one day. I made the body mist by combining water, a pinch of Himalayan pink salt to act as an emulsifier and 25 drops of the oil in a 100 ml spray bottle. On the second day I used it in an Aromatherapy Diffuser.

When I smelled it the first time, my immediate thoughts were “warm and comforting”. It also reminded me of men’s aftershave.  After two days I had not experienced much of an emotional benefit, but it did open my airways. On the second day I combined it with lavender and sandalwood oil but I still didn’t like the smell that much. If I do use black pepper again, it will be in a small quantity (1 drop to 4 drops of any other oil).  After two days I looked up the benefits online. Aromaweb says:

‘Therapeutically, Black Pepper Oil helps to improve circulation and can help to ease the pain of aching muscles. Emotionally, Black Pepper Essential Oil is stimulating and is a good choice for inclusion in blends intended to help enhance alertness and stamina. Black Pepper should be avoided before bedtime.’

Neil’s Yard Remedies also mention the effectiveness to relieve muscle pain when used in massage. Emotionally the key benefit is that it is energising.

My experience of black pepper essential oil didn’t match what aromatherapy suggests the benefits are. I do however think this may be down to the fact that I just don’t like the smell of black pepper.

As I am writing this assignment, I am using lavender oil in the diffuser on my desk. I noticed that it has made me calmer. Unlike the Aromatherapy Associates rollerball, I didn’t have to inhale deeply because the vapour from the diffuser, fills the room. The calming benefits I felt was therefor from the lavender oil, and not from deep breathing.

Conclusion

I will continue to experiment with essential oils in a diffuser. I look forward to trying tangerine, rosemary and peppermint. Studies have shown that rosemary improves memory and focus, which makes it ideal to use when I am working. Peppermint is effective in preventing fatigue and improving exercise performance, and as mentioned before, citrus aromas have an energising effect on me. I will combine peppermint and citrus oils in the diffuser when exercising.

In a coaching environment, I would try to combine visualisation techniques with smell. Visualisation is more effective when combined with one of the other six senses. For example, if someone is trying to overcome a fear of public speaking, they can use an essential oil while creating the mental image of themselves giving a flawless speech and enjoying being on stage. Before going on stage, they could smell the essential oil, and the smell would quickly help conjure that mental image.   Different essential oils can also be sprayed in a consulting room depending on the type of session and needs of the client. For instance, to create a feeling of calm, focus or to enhance intuition.

I believe aromatherapy to be a useful wellness intervention that can easily be incorporated into a coaching practice.

*This blog post is based on the assignment I completed for Module 11 of my Integrated Resilience & Wellness Coaching studies.*

Motivational Interviewing and weightloss

Obesity has been evidence linked as a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, chronic diseases, sleep apnea and depression. Weight loss can significantly reduce the risk of developing up to 18 health conditions linked to obesity. Not only does obesity impact the quality of life of the individual, it puts a strain on health care systems. According a NHS report 10,660 hospital admissions in 2017/18 were directly attributable to obesity and 29% of adults classified as obese. Despite the obvious health benefits of weight loss, many healthcare professionals are still unable to persuade their patients to lose weight.

Resistance to change often stems from ambivalence, which leads to procrastination. The individual might have contradictory ideas about losing weight (not wanting to give up their sugary Cola, yet at the same time not wanting to be diabetic) which leads them to not making any changes to their diet.

Healthcare professionals are traditionally trained to promote change by being the expert, distilling information and giving instructions in order that the patient will make the necessary changes.  This might work for patients who are unaware of the impact their weight has on their health, but many patients are completely aware of the reasons why they should lose weight, yet they are ambivalent about making the required dietary changes. In these cases Motivational Interviewing “MI” can be used to elicit change.

MI is an empathetic and collaborative counselling style that elicits and strengthens motivation for change in a person. The aim is to get the person to overcome their ambivalence, examine their options and eventually talk themselves into changing. 

Sapadin and Maguir identified six procrastinator styles:

Procrastination StyleExamples within a weight-loss setting
The perfectionist delays a task because they might not achieve their own high standards.Delays starting a diet because they may not reach their goal weight at all. Or if the goal weigh is reached, they think they may not be able to sustain it.  
The dreamer has unrealistic or grandiose ideas.Wants to reach goal weight within 1 week, or a middle-aged person who wants to be the same weight they were as a teenager.  
The worrier fears things will go wrong and feels overwhelmed.Delays starting the diet because the lifestyle change seems too big of an adjustment. May also feel as if family members or doctors are pressuring them to lose weight.
The crisis-maker likes leaving things until the situation is so bad that someone else has to step in, or they hope the situation will resolve itself if they leave it long enough.  Delays starting a diet until they are unable to find clothes in their size, or lives in the hope that their doctor will prescribe a miracle cure.
The defier will go against instructions or good advice because they don’t like to be told what to do.  Will not go on a diet unless the idea is their own.
The over-doer stays busy with unnecessary tasks and avoids spending time on important issues.Spends time researching various diets and may even start a diet, but loses interest and starts researching other diets.  

Studies have shown that MI is an effective coaching style to eliciting change in patients that lead to a reduction in body weight. A meta-analysis of 11 published studies published in Obesity Reviews, showed that motivational interviewing was associated with a significant reduction in body weight (- 1.47kg) compared to those in the control group.

Healthcare professional however need to be taught MI techniques. The American Academy of Paediatricts launched a free app called “Change Talk: Childhood Obesity” which health care providers can use to learn MI techniques. The app simulates a virtual practice environment in which the health care provider assume the role of a pediatrician and decide what to say to a mother and her son about his weight. The app was launched after paediatricians and dietitians who used MI to counsel parents about their child’s weight, were successful in reducing the children’s BMI by 3.1 more points than comparison children over a 2-year period. 

The key to MI’s success is that the coach or healthcare provider do not portray themselves as the expert, giving orders to the patient and expecting the patient to immediately comply. Instead the healthcare professional displays empathy and patience and assumes that the person with the problem (the patient) is the one who holds the answer to solving the problem.

Stephen Rollnick sets out the four general principles, or RULEs of MI, for practitioners as follows (7):

  • Resist the urge to change the person’s mind by giving instructions, dumping information on them or portraying yourself as the expert.
  • Understand that it’s their reason for change, not yours, that will elicit a change in behaviour. Also understand that change will happen when they feel ready, not when you think they should be ready.
  • Listen to what they are saying. They need to know they are being understood. The individual is the one who holds the key to solving their weight problem.
  • Empower them to understand that they have the power to change their behaviour.

To quote Stephen Rollnick, strategies for use of MI in healthcare “is a shift in approach that is at the same time both fundamental and simple: instead of badgering patients to change their ways, you briefly connect or come alongside, and help them to do this for themselves.”

When patients are shown that they in fact are capable of change and can reduce their weight on their own terms, they feel empowered.  As an added benefit, an empowered patient lifts the responsibility from health care professionals to solve every problem because the patient is able to self-motivate and make the required changes.

*This blog post is based on the assignment I completed for Module 7 of my Integrated Resilience & Wellness Coaching studies. Citations were included in the submitted assignment.*

The very real impact of kindness on the body

The Mental Health Awareness Week theme of Kindness, is right up Dr. David R. Hamilton’s street. He writes books and educates people in how they can harness their mind and emotions to improve their health, with a special interest in the effects of kindness on the body. He worked in the pharmaceutical industry as an organic chemist developing drugs for cardiovascular disease and cancer. Inspired by the placebo effect, he left the industry after 4 years to spread the word about the mind-body connection.

Here are a few of the health benefits of kindness that Dr. Hamilton has identified.  It’s clear that kindness not only generates a good feeling, it impacts our brain and body in a very real way.

1) Kindness supports the immune system

Research shows that being kind, and even just watching others displaying kindness, boosts levels of an important antibody known as “secretory immunoglobulin A”.  The boost in levels of this antibody is switched on by how kindness feels to us. It doesn’t matter whether you are being kind or observing kindness, the feeling is the same. You can therefore boost your immune system by watching and sharing video clips or stories of acts of kindness and compassion.

2) Compassion decreases inflammation

A study that used the Tibetan Buddhist’s “Loving Kindness Compassion” meditation found that kindness and compassion was able to reduce inflammation in the body most likely due to its effects on the vagus nerve.

3) Being kind gives us a natural high

On a biochemical level, it is believed that the good feeling we get when we are compassionate or kind is due to elevated levels of the brain’s natural versions of morphine and heroin, known as endogenous opioids. They increase the levels of dopamine in the brain and so we get a natural high, often referred to as ‘Helper’s High’.

4) Kindness lowers blood pressure, protects the heart and slows down the ageing process

Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone oxytocin, in the brain and throughout the body. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates the blood vessels and in turn reduces blood pressure. This is why oxytocin is known as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone. Acts of kindness can produce oxytocin and therefore kindness can be said to be cardioprotective.

Studies have shown that oxytocin also reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system. Free radicals and inflammation (both of which result from making unhealthy lifestyle choices) are known to speed up the ageing process. Oxytocin, produced by the warm and fuzzy feeling we get from being kind, could therefor slow ageing at the source.

6) Kindness supports good mental health

The impact of a kind gesture on someone with depression, or the good feeling you get when you do something nice for someone else, is not just psychological. Brain imaging studies indicate that kind and compassionate feelings cause physical changes in the prefrontal cortex of the brain – the area associated with positive emotion. The area grows, just as a muscle would when exercised, with repeated acts of kindness or compassion. As a result it becomes easier to access the positive emotions area of the brain which in turn makes it easier to have a positive outlook. It is no wonder kindness was chosen as the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

If you would like to know more about the work of Dr. Hamilton, visit his website or watch his TEDx Talk – Why Kindness is Good for You here.  You can also sign up for his FREE course on the power of kindness here.

(All studies mentioned can be found in Dr. Hamilton’s books, ‘The Five Side Effects of Kindness‘ and ‘The Little Book of Kindness‘)

Cognitive Behavioural Coaching in the GROW model

8 Steps of CBC in the GROW Model

Step 1: Setting the Scene for Cognitive Behavioural Coaching (“CBC”)“The way you think about events in our life profoundly influences the way you feel about them: change the way you think and this will, in turn, change the way you feel.” (Life Coaching A cognitive behavioural approach, Neenan & Dryden)   With CBC we look at the automatic thoughts you have following an event or a situation, and how those thoughts, beliefs, or mental images – not the event or situation – determines how you feel and act.  The aim is to change the pattern of thinking so that you can overcome the obstacle.  
Goal
Step 2: Problem identificationI get angry at the mere thought of having to do exercise, if I do push myself to do the exercise I am irritable, I give up very quickly and look for excuses not to exercise again. Yet I really want to have a toned body, lose weight, and feel good in my clothes. I can’t seem to get into a habit of doing exercise, stick to it and enjoying it.  
Step 3: Goal SelectionI want to find exercise enjoyable so that I will look & feel good, and if I enjoy exercise I will continue to do it.  
Reality (past and present)
Step 4: Choices and consequencesChoice 1:  don’t do any exercise  – Consequence 1: continue to be unfit
Choice 2: Push past the anger – Consequence 2: I get irritable
Choice 3: Get someone to join me in exercise – Consequence 3: Don’t want to involve others. I want to resolve the issue and self-motivate.
Choice 4: Find the right type of exercise for me – If I enjoy the exercise I will continue to do it. Pilates and/or yoga looks nice.
Step 5: Exploring and challenging faulty thinkingWhy do I feel angry when I have to do exercise? Feeling angry is the emotional response to a thought I have about exercise. This is the faulty thinking I need to explore.    
Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how angry and annoyed do I feel when I have to exercise?
A: 8  

Q: What makes exercising so terrible that it makes me angry?
A: I get sweaty, hot, my face goes red. I feel self-conscious about how I look in the leggings and embarrassed that I’m so out of breath and red in the face.  

Q: Is it realistic to expect that when exercising I should never sweat or get out of breath?
A: No. That’s the whole point of exercising.  

Q:  Think back to the last time I tried exercising in a class. How did the other women look?
A: Everyone was focused on their own body and they got sweaty. They didn’t appear to care how they look or how the others in the class look.   

Q: So looking at these answers – that being hot and sweaty is to be expected in a gym class, and that everyone seems to be focused on themselves, is it fair to say that I have been unrealistic in my thinking about what it’s like doing exercise?
A: Yes. When you are focused and working hard, you will sweat and you won’t be looking around at others.  

Q: Would I consider that I have given the idea of going to the gym a faulty label? A label that might be generating feelings of anger?
A: I do think of going to the gym as something that young people do to show off their bodies and to impress. This is probably based on an experience I had in my 20’s. It annoyed me then that men were “hitting on me” while I was sweating, red in the face and trying to exercise. Maybe that’s where the anger and self-consciousness stems from.  

Q: So is the label that a gym is a “pick up place” correct and still relevant?
A: No, not really. I am married now so I don’t need to care what other people (men) think of me.  And in group classes (not on the gym floor) everyone is focussed on themselves.  

Q: If a feeling of anger comes up again and I push through the anger and exercise anyway, what might happen?
A: It’s just anger. If I’m prepared for it and willing to push past it, I may notice that I like exercise and feel good afterwards. As long as the type of exercise I do is not too difficult and I’m part of a class of mostly women. If I struggle to keep up in the class I may give up.      
Options
Step 6: Decision making and action planningAction: Go to a beginner yoga class. Resource needed: Find a local yoga studio. Not a gym. Date: Once a week, starting next week.

Action: Wear loose-fitting clothes. Resource needed: Go shopping. Date: Before the first class
Will
Improving client motivation (willpower)Take body measurements and weight once a week. As I notice changes in my body it will encourage me to continue to exercise. To motivate me further, I will treat myself to a manicure when I have been to yoga class three times in a row.  
Step 7 and 8: Implementation and EvaluationAfter each class, measure the level of anger on a scale of 1 to 10.  Also consider going to pilates classes and/or increasing the number of classes per week.  

*This blog post is based on the assignment I completed for Module 6 of my Integrated Resilience & Wellness Coaching studies.*

Comment on the skills needed to facilitate a coaching session

Attention and interest

A way to show that you are paying attention to and showing interest in what a person is saying is by having an open body language. Body language encompasses facial expressions, micro-expressions, voice, gestures, and postures.

I often find myself leaning forward when I’m intently listening. This comes naturally to me. Having an open and forward posture shows that a person is actively accepting what is being said. The person who is speaking when I hold this posture would see this posture as a sign that I am truly paying attention and that I am genuinely interested in what they have to say.

I use my hands a lot when speaking, both in an iconic way to illustrate the meaning of my words, and a metaphoric way to explain a concept. In a coaching situation, this way of demonstrating my thoughts with my hands should make it easy for the coachee to see that I have grasped what they are trying to tell me. That being said, emotions can be revealed with hand gestures – I wring my hands when nervous. I am aware of this and that I can come across as insecure, so I have made a conscious effort to stop doing this. The voice can also reveal emotions that are not conveyed by the words spoken. For instance, I speak faster when nervous. This could be a problem in the coaching session where my nervous chatter could make the coachee nervous as well, and not leave enough quiet time for her to process what I have said.  To make myself feel more relaxed when speaking I have been making short videos about my coaching studies, which I post on Instagram. I wanted to force myself to get used to speaking to a camera and expressing my ideas without stammering, rambling, or speaking too fast. It has been a good exercise because I feel much more confident in my abilities to express coaching ideas and sharing knowledge. Looking at myself on camera while talking has made me more aware of my facial expressions, how much I use my hands and in one video I could see how I got out of breath when speaking about something I felt passionate about. That video taught me the value of slowing down and breathing. I upload the videos in one take so that it won’t come across as rehearsed, but also so that I can see where I go wrong, work on it, and am able to monitor my progress.

Exploration skills

Active listening and effective questioning are the main explorations skills that a coach needs to develop. Active listening requires many different skills, one of which is to show understanding which can be achieved with the use of confirming words and/or gestures like nodding. This comes naturally to me but I do need to be aware that if used too often or at the wrong time during a conversation, it can make the speaker feel rushed, interrupt their chain of thought or lose it’s meaning because of overuse.

Allowing for silence and quiet reflective time during a coaching session is important. Though I am very comfortable with silences (I’m not one to feel compelled to speak in an elevator) I often grasp what a person wants to say while they are still talking and I have to force myself to keep quiet so that they can finish their chain of thought. I am conscious of this and have taught myself to stop doing that. It is comforting to know that an established coach like Julie Starr believes “… with strong intention and practice, focused listening is a muscle that you develop over time”.

In addition to focused listening, The Coaching Manual also refers to Deep Listening where coaches experience physical sensations in the body that guide them to change or pursue a subject broached by the speaker. I have experience of this, though I never thought of it as a sign of Deep Listening. The hairs on my arms rise and I get cold chills from the crown of my head all way down to my toes when I am in conversation with someone and I or the speaker say something profound. I think of it as Spirit’s way of showing me in a very real way, that the conversation is on the right track. In a coaching situation, I will look out for these signs.

As an active questioning technique, Julie Starr advises against asking a question that begins with “why” because it can make the coachee feel they have to validate their actions to you. As a coach you want to know the why behind a coachee’s actions or thoughts, yet instead of simply asking why one should choose a different open question to get to the “why”. It is clear that a coaching conversation requires more thought than a “regular” conversation. Learning the skills to ask simple, direct questions that can remove barriers and unlock hidden information, takes practice.

Understanding skills

I find the VARK model of learning styles very interesting. If I can teach myself to listen out for examples of visual, kinaesthetic, or auditory language, I would be able to use similar language when engaging with a coachee. Understanding how someone processes information will also be useful when I want them to grasp a technique or solidify an outcome we reached. If I can pass on information to them in their natural learning style, it will greatly increase their trust in me as well as the coaching process.

Action skills

Planning has always come naturally to me and makes me feel safe and in control. My job as a legal secretary requires that I keep detailed records, think a few steps ahead and make meticulous plans. I know that a good plan and being fully prepared can save you a lot of time and effort – especially in legal disputes.  I will easily be able to utilise the structured coaching techniques like SMART goals and the GROW model, or worksheets as used in The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook in coaching sessions. I can also see how asking a new client to complete a questionnaire before our first session, and asking them to send their “homework” to me before each session will allow me to prepare for the coaching session. If I am fully prepared for each session, I will feel more confident. My coachee will pick up on my confidence and see that I take our sessions seriously.

*This blog post is based on the assignment I completed for Module 5 of my Integrated Resilience & Wellness Coaching studies.*

Review of The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook

As the title of the book suggests, this is a book for people seeking practical solutions to reducing their stress.  To give a thorough review of this book, I felt that reading alone wouldn’t be sufficient to access its effectiveness. I wanted to try the techniques out on someone with high levels of stress. My husband, John, agreed to be my “test subject”. John works as a consultant in the architectural industry. He is currently consulting on a project for which the building plans need to be issued in the next few days. His position requires him to respond to any technical queries from the team as they arise, to train team members on challenging software that has a steep learning curve and to help bring the project in on time. Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, all technical support he provides has to be done remotely. This adds an extra layer of stress to an already demanding role.

I set out the process that John followed and note the comments at each step of the process, below.

How You React to Stress (Chapter 1)

Understanding how we react to stress is useful in understanding why we feel stressed and realising that it is a natural, even useful, response by the body. The chapter contains three exercises. John completed two of these, but we both felt that The Schedule of Recent Experience is an exercise best avoided. Quantifying the amount of stress you experienced over a year and “posting it where you and your family can see it easily” as suggested under the heading “Prevention”, felt counter-productive. The aim of stress management is to assess the now, make changes as necessary and look to the future. Seeing your stress levels from the past year as a numerical value as well as the odds of developing an illness due to your score, is not going to relieve stress. In fact, it will probably make you focus on your stress-related symptoms, however mild because the score could be seen as a prediction of inevitable illness.

John completed the Symptoms Checklist to determine which symptoms he would like to focus on. Anxiety, sleep-related issues and work stress scored the highest. He revisited the Symptoms Checklist after 7 days to reflect on the effectiveness of the stress reduction techniques, and noted that most of them reduced by at least half!

The Tactics for Coping with Stress Inventory was very revealing. John only had two non-constructive ways of dealing with stress, one of which I know is a herbal remedy for sleep. It was encouraging for John (and me) to see that he is correctly managing his stress for the most part.

The Symptom-Relief Effective chart is probably the most useful document in the whole book. As a coach I will rely on this to create a suggested treatment plan for my client with their input, adapting it to their preferences. With so many treatment options available it seems very likely that we will find the right combination of treatment techniques. John identified his main goals as 1) addressing anxiety related to deadlines and 2) managing his work stress. I think the inventory and checklist would be a very good addition to a pre-session pack for new coaching clients.

John  wished to focus on how to change his thinking about stressful events so we moved straight on to two techniques that conditions the mind to different thinking.

Conditioning the mind: Relieving Worry and Anxiety (Chapter 13)

This chapter aims to teach skills that will reduce anxiety and worry. Many of the techniques involve visualisation exercises. Unfortunately, visualisation techniques are not suitable for John because he suffers from a condition called aphantasia where he is unable to see images in his mind’s eye. However, the technique of Labelling Thoughts combined with Distancing from Worry Thoughts  worked incredibly well for him.

He chose to assign a colour, red, to the thoughts that brought on anxiety. After only one day of saying “thought” to unwanted thoughts and “red thought” to those which made him feel anxious, he noticed a change. He felt that unwanted thoughts seem to lose their power. This labelling technique also demonstrated to him that thoughts are a product of the mind and not a fact.

It has to be noted that we both felt that the suggestions of 1) thanking your mind for the worry thought, and 2) repeating the worrying thought over and over as ways of distancing yourself from worrying thoughts, seemed counter-intuitive and, just as the Schedule of Recent Experiences, could potentially lead to the negative thought having more power over you.

Conditioning the mind: Work-Stress Management (Chapter 18)

This chapter was the most specific to addressing John’s causes of stress. He followed the five steps and completed the exercises for the first three steps.

Step 1: By thinking about how he responds to work stressors John saw that a thought and a feeling is not the same thing.

Step 2: The self-contract exercise was an effective way to formulate a plan of action. It provided John with a sense of control over his work stress. He particularly enjoyed thinking about the reward.

Step 3: The coping statement which is to be used when you have no way of changing unwanted conditions, was worded oddly and difficult to complete.

Step 4: John frequently has to manage the conflict between his own workload and the needs of the team members. Learning to negotiate a compromise is a useful skill. The book suggests reading the chapter on “Assertive Training”. Step 8 “How to Avoid Manipulation”  proved to be exactly what John needed. He is frequently on the “receiving end” of an assertive person’s requests, but now he has proven ways to push back. He would be able to use some of the examples verbatim.

Step 5: Step 5 lists tips for how to pace yourself at work. The first suggestion is to pay attention to your natural rhythms. John negotiated a reduced-hour contract for May and stipulated in the contract that he will only work in the afternoon. His natural circadian rhythms are such that he is more effective later in the day.

General comments

The exercises in this workbook definitely helped John and he even commented that “it’s a good book”. I am sure that in a coaching environment it will be an invaluable tool. It provides various options to treat many stress-related conditions. The trick would be to find ones that will be most effective for the individual.  As can be seen from John’s experience he did not need to use all the techniques and when employing a specific technique, did not have to follow all the steps or complete all the exercises but still achieved great results.

I found the book very informative and practical. For instance, there are examples on how to complete the worksheets and many of the worksheets are downloadable from the publisher’s website.

In the first chapter, the authors quote the work of Lazarus and Folkman who state that stress consists of two parts: our assessment of the situation as dangerous or difficult and whether we have the resources to cope with the danger or difficulty we perceive. I think this workbook is a valuable resource to relieve feelings of helplessness both for coaching clients when they use the techniques, and also for me when used as a coaching tool and reference book.

*This blog post is based on the assignment I completed for Module 3 of my Integrated Resilience & Wellness Coaching studies.*

 

A reflection on resilience mindsets

Michael Neenan says in his book Developing Resilience that “resilience is forged through pain and struggle, and the willingness, however reluctantly undertaken, to experience them”. I certainly learned resilience when I had surgery to correct inward rolling ankles and dropped arches in both my feet. My feet had been this way since birth and I was forced to wear orthotic insoles from the age of 12. By my mid-30’s I was suffering from early-onset arthritis in my big toes and had hip problems. The first operation was to my right foot in June 2016, followed by the left in January 2017.  The surgery involved reconstructing the arch of my foot, reinforcing the arch with a titanium screw and straightening my ankle by placing a second screw into my heel. Each time I was in a plaster cast from toe to knee for 8 weeks and had to inject myself with blood thinners every night. Post-surgery rehabilitation was 12 weeks of physiotherapy where I had to re-learn how to walk and retrain my leg and foot muscles. In April 2017 it became apparent that the bones in the arch of my left foot had not fused properly and that the screw had snapped in half. Treatment was the use of an ultrasound bone growth stimulator for 90 days.

The following four mind-sets helped me make it through two years of pain and helplessness, even when I experienced setbacks.

Keeping perspective

I reminded myself that I didn’t need surgery to correct a life-threatening condition or because of trauma. Many people go through much more invasive surgery and after all, the leg casts would be removed after 8 weeks. I knew there was an end date and I counted down to that date. Seen in the big picture of my life, these surgeries were relatively small inconveniences yet it would have a major, lifelong impact on my life and stop the early-onset arthritis from worsening.

Finding new challenges

Basic tasks like taking a shower, moving around, carrying things and even getting dressed were challenging and required planning. Giving myself injections every day was especially tough. The biggest challenge, however, was learning to just accept that this was going to be a challenging time for me. I couldn’t rip off the cast no matter how much I wanted to be free from it. Being confined to the cast was put to the test when I developed an allergic reaction to the skin plaster that was placed over the scar, under the cast, after the second operation. I had an intense burning sensation on my foot 24 hours a day for 8 weeks. It was only after the cast was removed that we realised I had a severe skin reaction which I had been putting up with for 8 weeks. At times I irrationally wanted to pull my foot out of the cast just to get relief from the burning, and other times I had mild panic attacks and bouts of low mood. Yet, I knew that what I was putting myself through was going to be worth it.

When I look back at what I had gone through, and how I dealt with it, I feel proud of myself. Not only did I face the challenge once, but twice. Knowing I can deal with challenges has given me the courage to make other changes in my life, including embarking on this course and the career change that will follow.

Understanding control

I quickly realised that I had to give up on trying to change things that were out of my control. I had to accept that walking on crutches was going to be the only way I could get around. I had to accept that I had to inject myself every evening. I also had to accept that the cast was staying on for 8 weeks and no matter how much I wanted to be rid of it, there was nothing I could do about it. What I could control however was what I ate, the supplements I took, how much sleep I got, what I was thinking, and asking for help. Once I let go of what I couldn’t control and took charge of what I could, I reduced my stress which in turn helped with the healing process.

Nurturing an optimistic view of yourself

Of the four mindsets I identified, I think an optimistic view was the most influential in building my resilience. After the first surgery, I was so relieved to get rid of the cast that I was quite disappointed when I realised the hard work had only just begun. Physiotherapy was long, painful and at times I just wanted to give up. I, however, knew I had to get my right leg strong enough to literally carry me through the second operation. I went through physiotherapy again after the second operation and felt elated when the surgeon gave me the all-clear. It was a huge disappointment when I started to develop severe pain in my left foot and was told that proper bone fusion hadn’t taken place after all.  I felt very disheartened but I was still able to see the positive: the right foot had healed, I had come this far in the journey and wasn’t going to give up at the last hurdle, I had private medical aid that would cover the expense of the ultrasound machine, I had an incredibly loving and supportive husband that I could rely on, and I just had to look at my beautiful right foot to see why it was all going to be worth it. I did cry sometimes and I felt frustrated, but I didn’t dwell on those negative feelings. I visualised myself wearing sandals while walking on a beach and even bought a pair of beautiful open heel sandals that I could look at it every day.

During physiotherapy, I was introduced to pilates and yoga. I had never tried it before and found that I love it. I was very aware of how weak my muscles were and I never wanted to feel so “flabby” and weak again. I now do yoga and/or pilates three times a week to keep me toned and strong. I am also very happy to say that both my feet are fully healed and I wear beautiful shoes every day.

I have had challenges in my personal life and more will follow, but I know that with the right mind-set it is possible to face a challenge and emerge a stronger person – in my case, literally and figuratively.

*This blog post is based on the assignment I completed for Module 3 of my Integrated Resilience & Wellness Coaching studies.*

The impact of wellness coaching on diabetes

The NHS’s Action for Diabetes has made it clear that in order to improve the health outcomes of those living with diabetes, education around self-management of the condition need to be improved and individuals have to become empowered to take charge of their own care.  Studies have shown that wellness coaching is able to bridge the gap between clinical intervention and patient self-management at all three stages of diabetes.

Stages of diabetes

Prediabetes

When blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes, a patient is in the prediabetic stage. At this stage, type 2 diabetes can still be avoided. Weight loss of as little as 5% is enough to significantly reduce the risk of progression to type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes

The risk of contracting type 2 diabetes is increased if a person is overweight or obese. Type 2 diabetics have insulin resistance, meaning the body doesn’t produce enough insulin to function properly, or the body’s cells don’t react to insulin. The effects of type 2 diabetes can potentially be reversed and definitely managed with a healthy diet, exercise and weight loss. Insulin is often prescribed for type 2 diabetic patients. There is no permanent cure, but the condition can be prevented and put into remission by losing weight.

Type 1 diabetes

The risk of contracting type 1 diabetes is not affected by lifestyle or weight. It is an autoimmune condition where the body is unable to produce any insulin. Management is through insulin injections, testing of blood glucose levels, counting carbohydrates, regular exercise and maintaining a healthy balanced diet. There is no permanent cure.

How coaching can help

In all stages of diabetes, patients need knowledge, the skills to make lifestyle changes and the confidence to participate in their own care and management of their condition. Research supports coaching as a feasible way to help patients make the necessary behavioural changes. Because prediabetes is a precursor to diabetes, it is of critical importance that any treatment program should also include modification of lifestyle behaviours in order to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

A study by Ramona S. DeJesus of the Mayo Clinic found that a 12-week wellness coaching program for prediabetic adults delivered by certified coaches, led to significant improvement in levels of exercise and healthy eating choices. Changes occurred as early as 6 weeks, with continued improvement at 12 weeks and sustained results at 24 weeks. 50% of the participants increased aerobic exercise time from 117 minutes to 166 and 199 minutes at 6 and 12 weeks respectively. Similar trends were also observed with self-efficacy and quality of life measures.

Unlike the study by Ramona S. DeJesus and many others that focused on nutrition and exercise alone, Mariam Kashini also integrated management of stress and sleep in her study. Patients received 14 personalised in-person or telephonic coaching sessions. Of the 107 prediabetic participants, 49 % showed normal blood glucose levels after 6 months irrespective of weight loss. Significant improvements were also made in blood pressure, fasting insulin, perceived stress levels, diet and participants reported feeling less tired.

According to Dr. Heather D. Bennett health coaching encompasses five principal roles. We will look at each if these roles in the context of diabetes as a long-term condition.

Five principle roles of the health coach

1. Self-management support

Diabetic individuals can make a dramatic impact on the progression of their disease by participating in their own care.  Disease-specific skills such as monitoring and responding to glucose levels, administering of insulin and limiting carbohydrate intake are essential parts of self-management that patients have to perform in their day to day lives. Coaches are able to train patients in these skills as well as provide information, promote behavioural change and teach problem-solving skills. A coach would also help co-create a wellness plan for the patient, set goals and make the patient accountable, thereby encouraging them to be active participants in their own healthcare.

2. Link between clinician and patient

It is easy for a disconnect to occur between a doctor and patient, e.g. in the prescription of insulin. The doctor prescribes medication, but can’t ensure that the patient will take the medication. A coach can assist by helping the patient overcome barriers or resistance that is preventing them from taking the medicine. For instance, a coach would follow up with the patient after a doctor appointment to make sure that  he/she collected the medication and ensure that the patients understands how to take the medication.

3. Navigation of health care system

NSH doctors and hospitals have long waiting times and appointments are rushed. Diabetics, especially newly diagnosed, can easily feel overwhelmed and be left with unanswered questions and concerns. A wellness coach can help the patient to prepare key questions before doctor appointments, and help the patient to feel empowered and confident enough to raise any concerns with their doctor.

4. Emotional support

Living with diabetes can be emotionally challenging. It is no surprise therefore that the chances of developing depression are twice as high for those living with diabetes. Being depressed can interfere with a person’s ability to participate in self-care activities such as monitoring, being active, eating healthy and taking medication; thereby perpetuating the cycle of depression and mismanagement of the diabetes condition.

A study by the American Association of Diabetes showed that mental health coaching was able to significantly ease depression and reduce blood sugar levels. Researchers used the the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ9) to measure anxiety and depression scores prior to and after intervention. Scores decreased by 49% on average after three months. Blood sugar levels dropped from an average of 8.8% to 7.7%. Those who received mental health coaching reported it was “life-changing, life-saving and helped them feel better and happier than they had in a long time”.

Diabetes UK recommends Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as an effective way for diabetics to learn techniques to cope with stress, triggers and negative thoughts.

5. Continuity figure

Coaches are able to connect with patients not only during in-person visits, but also between visits with telephone calls, text message and emails thereby creating a better sense of familiarity and continuity.

Conclusion

The very nature of wellness coaching is perfectly suited to help patients self-manage diabetes. Coaches facilitate a patient-directed process of evaluation and assessment, tracking and accountability. In the process of co-creating with the client, a coach can empower patients to self-manage their condition and bring about the lifestyle changes needed for a healthier life.

*This blog post is based on the assignment I completed for Module 2 of my Integrated Resilience & Wellness Coaching studies. Citations were included in the submitted assignment.*

The Mind Body Connection

What Eastern medicine has known for 2000 years about the connection between the mind and the body, Western medicine only actively started to research less than 2 centuries ago. The concept of the mind influencing the body was first explored by George Beard, MD in 1881 when he linked the stressful lifestyle of the American elite with conditions such as poor digestion, migraines and depression. Beard called the clinical condition Neurasthenia, now commonly known as nervous exhaustion. Since then many scientific studies have been performed to demonstrate the mechanics of the mind-body link.

Molecules of Emotion

The breakthrough in mind-body research came in the 1970’s with Dr. Candace Pert and Dr. Solomon H. Snyder’s discovery of neuropeptides. Their work was hugely influential in the creation of a brand new branch of science called Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). Neuropeptides provided PNI with the scientific language – that of neuropeptides and their receptors – that allowed Western medicine to explain in scientific terms how the mind is able to communicate with the body, and the body with mind. Pert called the receptor and neuropeptide molecules, the molecules of emotion.

The information exchange system that Pert and Snyder identified consists of receptors located on the surface of all cells that bind with their matching neuropeptide counterpart (small protein-like molecules produced by the nerve cells in the brain). Neuropeptides deliver its emotion-linked chemical message to the receptor, which then transmits the message to the cell, triggering a chain of biochemical reactions which can create changes within the cell of either a positive or negative nature.

The key discovery by Pert and her team was that receptors for neuropeptides are not only located in the brain, but also in all other cells of the body. This discovery would explain how it is possible for endorphins and opioids such as heroin or morphine, to powerfully alter the body and emotions.
The relationship between cell, receptor and neuropeptide is explained by Pert as follows:

“If the cell is the engine that drives all life, then the receptors are the buttons on the control panel of that engine, and a specific peptide is the finger that pushes that button and gets things started.”

The nervous, endocrine and immune systems are therefore interlocked in a body-wide system where each part can communicate and influence, the other part. According to Pert, our emotions are the key.

“Emotions are the nexus between mind and matter, going back and forth between the two and influencing both.” C. Pert

Many studies have been performed to prove the theory that the mind-body connection is multi directional. Examples are provided below.

Mind influencing the body

A UK study found that men who had depression were three times more likely to develop heart disease than those without depression.

A study of 150 couples showed that marital discord increases the changes of calcification of the arteries. In the study, couples were asked to discuss any topic for 30 minutes whilst being recorded on video. After 20 minutes, researchers were able to distinguish two types couples. One group emerged as having marital discord, displaying signs of anger, frustration and negative feelings towards their partner. The other group was compassionate, kind and physically tactile towards their partner. Levels of CAC (coronary calcification) in the arteries were measured and found to be higher in the marital discord group. In a sense hardening of the heart towards your spouse, can lead to hardening of the arteries.

The effect of the mind on the body is not only limited to our emotion, but images – both imagined and real – can also affect changes in the body.

Research was performed on a group of patients receiving a 4 – 6 week course of rehabilitation physiotherapy. The first group only received physiotherapy. The second group was asked to do one hour of mental imaging (visualisation) of themselves performing strength building tasks per day in addition to physiotherapy. The third group observed able bodied people perform tasks in addition to receiving physiotherapy. The groups who used visualisation and the group who observed able bodied people, both gained movement much faster than the group who only received physiotherapy treatment. It should be noted that the exercises were performed repeatedly over the course of the study. Repetition is key in order to build neural pathways in the brain that connect with the muscles. It is clear however that the brain does not distinguish between doing, imagining or observing.

Body influencing the mind

A recent study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital found that increased levels of physical activity were able to reduce the risk of depression considerably, even among those who are genetically predisposed to depression. Both high-intensity exercise, such as aerobic exercise and dance and lower-intensity forms such as yoga and stretching, lowered the risk of depression. Overall, individuals could see a 17 % reduction in the likelihood of a new episode of depression for every four hours of activity per week.

Science has proven that the mind and the body impact each other. The question then is how can the individual control what information is being shared between the mind and the body?

Change the environment

The work of Dr. Bruce Lipton shows that the environment in which a cell is placed, determines “the fate” of the cell. Lipton divided genetically identical stem cells into three groups, each group into its own tissue culture dish with its own culture medium (the environment for the stem cell). In one dish the cells formed bone, in the second dish the cells formed muscle and in the third dish the cells formed fat cells. What the cells eventually grew into was controlled by their environment.

Humans are genetically the same, but the mind (consciously or subconsciously) is interpreting the environment as stressful or not, and the cells of the body will respond accordingly. (See the work of Perk on neuropeptides.)

Conclusion

The key to optimum wellness is therefor to control and change if necessary, the beliefs and way of viewing the world in such a way that the environment is perceived as non-threatening, safe and positive. When the individual is able to change their environment and their perception of the environment, they are able to control the genetic responses of their cells. Dr. David Hamilton sums it up best when he says “Belief shifts biology”.

*This blog post is based on the assignment I completed for Module 1 of my Integrated Resilience & Wellness Coaching studies. Citations were included in the submitted assignment.*