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Monthly Archives: November 2016

November 24, 2016

How do we recover from burn out?

Have you ever had a complete spiral? I used to have a reputation for always smiling, and people told me that I never seemed phased by anything, nothing could keep me down. And for the most part, it was true. Sure life happened, and I would be heart-on-my-sleeve about it. Sometimes to the concern of my more stiff-upper-lip loved ones. But I would bounce back. And smile again.

But then a storm hit my life. This wasn't the raindrops on the roof kind I'd had before. It was a disorienting twister - everything I thought was up was down, and I found it hard to grab hold of anything. People stopped saying "You're always smiling, Kath!" and after a while I thought I'd forgotten how.

While it may have seemed at the time to come out of left field, ​the wisdom of hindsight has taught me that a lifetime of factors led to me hiding under my doona, overwhelmed by the challenges of the day and the reality that slapped me awake each morning. Sure, events happened at that time that anyone would struggle with. And they accumulated before I had a chance to bounce back. But the very part of me that seemed so resilient before was my undoing, and I had to learn again what resilience truly is.

​First I need to say - the following are my observations and experiences and what I learnt for myself. Take what is useful and leave behind what is not. I absolutely can't tell you what is right for you.

The behaviours and coping strategies that lead to burnout.​

​Our coping strategies develop early in life. Without realising, certain of our behaviours are rewarded, others are not. So many, like myself, who end up in caring professions have a clear lifelong pattern of being rewarded by how much they care for and support others. If I ask my health professional friends if they were a caregiver or peacemaker in the home environment, most of them look at me with astonishment, as if they're wondering if I'm a bit psychic. Nope - I just know a pattern when I see one.

And while it's a beautiful thing​ to be so caring, underneath it all it becomes a prime way we receive validation from others, and this is when we care for others to the expense of ourselves. The risk is, for some of us, there's no amount of giving that can be enough. And eventually the well runs dry. You can spot whether you have this characteristic by considering whether you are very comfortable giving help, but very reluctant to ask for it. Red alert!

What happens in our body to cause burnout?

Without turning this post into a health lesson (and driving me back to my text books that I've been avoiding), burnout basically comes down to stress that is too much and for too long. Short term stress is part of our design and helps us deal with a big issue in front of us. But the way it does that is by activating three stress glands in our bodies: the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenals. The chemicals they secrete give us the energy​ and alertness we need, but also increase our sensitivity, which means the next stressful event hits us harder than it would if we weren't so overstimulated. So if we keep getting new stresses before recovering from the last one, progressive dysfunction can occur from anxiety, to over-reactions, to under-reacting and depression and chronic physical conditions such as chronic fatigue and fibromylagia (stress is not the only cause but this is one possible path). This progression is burnout.

So I'm feeling burnt out, now what do I do?

When I was burnt out a few years ago, I realised that my way of functioning in the world of looking after others with no room for myself ​could no longer serve me (and perhaps never really had). When things were at their worst, I had to decide to step up... because no one could do it for me. 

The 3 keys that together finally unlocked ​the puzzle were:

  • self kindness and love, which allowed me to prioritise myself in order to restore my spark
  • using natural remedies to gradually bring my body and mind back to balance
  • applying the wisdom of simplicity to all areas of my life to reduce ongoing stress

All of these areas are a work in progress, but they're everything to me and I've learnt so much from them. So watch this space... there will be loads more on these 3 principles to follow, because they are so pivotal to bringing our spark back.

Now I'd love to hear from you - what has been your experience of feeling burnt out? And which of these 3 tips will you be using? Let me know in the comments below!​ And if you'd like to start with self kindness (the foundational step) then get your free gift - 7 Steps to Self Love here

November 22, 2016

Would you put petroleum, coal tar and sheep sweat on your face? If your answer is no, you need to read this.

A few days ago, I asked the awesome women in my Facebook group, Sisters With Heart, to show me the ingredients in their face creams so that I could write this article about getting to know what you're putting on your face - and the answers surprised me!

I was happy to see several women have already chosen products that include natural ingredients - but even these had a couple of "best avoided" chemicals. And the famous and popular face cream that one posted? Well, petroleum, coal tar and pig stomach....​

The best database I have found to check ingredients - which I recommend to all of you (not affiliated, I just really want you to be informed) is ​the Environmental Working Group (EWG). If I don't discuss the ingredients in your face cream here, please check out the database.

Why we need to care about the ingredients in our face cream

So why should we care what's in our face cream, or any product? ​Of course - it's your choice. But I think it's important to make that choice an informed one. So here's the deal... 

Many of us think of our skin as some kind of covering for our body, you know... to keep our innards in. But we forget that it's an organ in its own right. It absorbs some substances - this is how medications delivered by patches work, such as contraceptive patches​, nicotine patches and pain killer patches. So we know that if our skin is absorbing some of the chemicals it comes in contact with, it's really worth knowing what those chemicals are.  If you wouldn't swallow a substance, my thought is that you shouldn't put it on your skin either.

Why we can't rely on the idea that any cream we're allowed to buy is totally safe

But isn't​ it the job of some government body to test chemical safety? Sure, many countries have departments or agencies to test chemicals. But these testing programs have significant limitations. Here are just a few. Sometimes a chemical is tested for specific quickly occurring cancers and skin reactions, and is deemed safe - but once it is out in the population, a longer term different cancer form , or an untested issue such as disrupting our hormones, occurs. Another concern is that one specific chemical may be deemed safe, but it might often attract chemical contaminants that are carcinogenic or harmful in some way. And finally, chemicals are almost always tested individually. But in the real world, we are exposed to thousands of different chemicals, which all combine in our body. So perhaps an individual chemical in a small amount is tolerable... but when we add all the other chemicals, we have potentially unknown long term effects and amounts of chemicals loading in our system. Even worse, some of these chemicals break down very slowly and tend to accumulate, and we don't clear them from our body.

The dodgiest of the dodgy

So which are the worst chemicals found in face creams, with high hazard ratings by the EWG (or my "bin it and run" rating)? Some carcinogens​ I would suggest NOT putting on your face (or anywhere!):

  • BHA/ Butylated hydroxyanisole,
  • coal tar,
  • formaldehyde,
  • hydroquinone
  • petroleum and its extracts are often contaminated with carcinogens
  • methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone are often slipped into "formaledehyde free" products, but they actually break down into formaldehyde or similar, so are really just as bad. 
  • BHA/butylated hydroxyanisole
  • boric acid
  • sodium borate
  • Also be wary of ingredients such as "fragrance" or "parfum" - really these could be ANYTHING - there is no actual chemical called "fragrance". This means they may be okay -or they may be allergens or hormone disruptors. Consider it the Russian roulette of face cream ingredients!

​Once you've binned anything you own with the above, the next are my "finish the jar if you're thrifty, then uplevel" rating. This is either because they have questionable effects or are derived from animal sources. Here's just a few, all of which were in the face creams of the women in my group:

  • Phenoxyetha​nol: risk of allergy, toxicity to immune system, irritation of eyes or skin, 
  • Alpha/ Beta hydroxyl acid: increases sensitivity to sunlight which increases burn and skin cancer risk
  • Squalene - this can be derived from plants such as olives, but also from animals, including shark livers. If this is an issue close to your heart, make sure you check the source of squalene if it's not listed
  • Glycerin/ glycerol: this may be of vegetable or animal origin, so check the source if this matters to you
  • Lecithin: a fat which may be from planst such as soybeans or corn, or from eggs, milk, blood or nerve tissue of animals. It is moderately hazourdous if inhaled but quite safe on the skin.
  • mineral oil: moderate risk of allergies, toxicity to the immune system, obtained from petroleum so may risk contamination with other chemicals
  • Stearic acid: a low hazard fatty acid which may be vegetable but is usually animal derived - cows, sheep, dogs, cats and pigs, usually taken from the stomach
  • Urea is a low hazard chemical excreted from urine and other bodily fluids from animals
  • Triethanolamine: considered a "medium health rpiroity" by the EWG, has a risk of allergies, toxicity to the immune system, may have other toxic effects on organs, used as a fragrance or surfactant
  • Butylene glycol: a high level of irritant to skin, eyes or lungs
  • Phenoxyethanol: a moderate hazard irritating skin, eyes, lungs and toxic to nervous sytem, used as a fragrance
  • Colours: some colours are derived from coal tar which is carcinogenic, from cochineal beetles or other animals, some accumulate in your body and build up toxicity levels, 
  • Methylparaben & Propylparaben: both of these mimic estrogen (a female reproductive hormone) and disrupt our hormones, and in animal studies have shown toxicity to reproductive systems and to development of the young

All we really need in a face cream (don't believe the hype)

Don't worry beautiful - it's not all sheep sweat and hormone disruption! To be effective, all a face cream really needs is to have a mix of an oil and a water based ingredients with an emulsifier to hold it all together.

The reason we need both oil and water in a face cream, is that this more closely reflects the natural oil and water surface of our skin and so our skin more readily absorbs and uses the nutrients. If you're game to make your own, my calendula, rosehip oil and chamomile infusion face cream can be found here - you can change out the ingredients with other safe ones, as long as you keep the oil and water ratios the same. 

And if you prefer to buy - watch out for the second post in this miniseries about face creams, where we'll chat about the natural and effective ingredients to look out for.​ 

​And now I'd like to hear from you - which of these ingredients did you discover in YOUR face cream? Let me know below!

November 19, 2016

Why you need to throw out your clock

Running out of time.

Time crunch.

Deadline.

Schedules.

How do you feel when you read these words? If you're anything like me, you can sense your stress levels starting to rise. Maybe you feel exhausted just thinking about it. Or overwhelmed.

The funny thing is, we are feeding ourselves these messages constantly. Even on a day off, I find myself trying to squeeze a certain amount in. Get to the shops before they close. Write an article before dinner. Draft an assignment before bed. Need to get 8 hours sleep.

No wonder many of us always feel background stress and fatigue - our time focus wears us out!

Time, time, time.

There are only truly 3 moments in time - the past, the present and the future. We know that when we spend too long looking back, we can feel sadness and loss from past hurts or moments that are now gone.But when we spend our lives looking minutes or hours into the future, we build up stress and anxiety from the constant sense of having to handle something before it has even happened. So what can we do about time crunch? Surely it's just inevitable in today's world?

Yes and no.

Achieving a certain level of productivity is required (although not always at the level we expect from ourselves - but that's another story). But always looking forward to the next obligation does not help us complete what is in front of us now.

Two strategies help me to have high productive/ low stress days:

1. Plan the day to fit in the top priorities. If they need to fit within specific times, use the alarm feature on your phone to keep you on track. This way you can safely immerse yourself in the task you are doing, knowing time is taking care of itself and you will receive a cue when it's time to switch your focus. This deceptively simple strategy reduces overwhelm by allowing focus on just the one task you are doing, rather than running a background monologue in your mind of tracking time and thinking of what's coming next.

2. As often as you can, give yourself a break from clocks and watches altogether. It doesn't matter if this is for an afternoon, an evening or a whole day. But when you have no serious deadlines, take off your watch and immerse yourself in what you are doing. This is a perfect way to practice mindfulness in our lives. It creates better connections with whoever we are spending our day with, and more efficiency in tasks and enjoyment in leisure activities.

Because beyond time, we enter the state of timelessness. And there is peace to be found when we're there.

I'd love to hear about YOUR relationship with time! Let me know how you deal with the time crunch in the comments below, and which of these tips you'll be trying out.

And if you'd like to have some guidelines on clearing your schedule, sign up for this free & effective mini course to Reclaim Your Me Time.

November 4, 2016

Sorry, not sorry – the harmful side to apologising, and what to do instead

I rushed around the corner in the bustling office, and stopped short - just - of hurtling into a guy I work with, who was hurrying towards me. "Sorry!" I exclaimed before we both ran our separate ways.

At face value​, there is nothing noteworthy in this anecdote. It is mundane. We have all rushed through a busy workplace and almost bumped into a colleague, and rushed on. And yet, something about it stayed with me. I realised, looking back, that my automatic response in a situation we co-created, was to apologise. His was not. I began observing  how often women apologise when they have done nothing wrong.

​She apologises as she squeezes past other people in the row as she moves towards her seat. She is not late, and the seat was allocated to her. But she instinctively apologises just for making her way to it, as she sees it inconveniencing the people she must pass.

​A group of women see a movie and discuss its merits. One of them has a different perspective. "Sorry, I don't see it that way" she hesitantly expresses her opinion.

​A woman has her dream come true. She is ecstatic - except that her closest friend has had a run of bad luck and is miserable. She almost feels she can't share her fortune with her closest friend, "Sorry, I know this is hard for you, but I'm pregnant." Or, "Sorry this happens after your redundancy, but I got that promotion". If you haven't observed this yourself, trust me that it happens. Women apologising for their good fortune, or that their hard work has brought rewards.

There will be two types​ of responses to the words above. One will be, "Wow, I didn't realise how much I apologise for no good reason!" and the other will be "But these women are just being polite, isn't that a good thing?"

In short, no. I believe these unnecessary apologies are extremely unhealthy. They may serve as social lubricant, but at too great a cost - the self worth of women.

You see, self worth is a two way street. How we feel about ourselves affects what we say - particularly our feeling of needing to apologise for ourselves. And our apologising for ourselves then feeds our low self worth. In essence, if we have done nothing cruel or harmful, what are we apologising for? For taking up space? For having our own thoughts and opinions? For being fortunate or happy? What is it in ourselves that would need to apologise for these things, other than a core belief that we are not worthy? And when we hear ourselves saying these words, are we not reinforcing our unworthiness?

Make a pact with yourself now - that you will stop apologising in situations where you have not caused harm. It is not your role to convenience others at the expense of yourself. It is not your role to bite your tongue and nod at the opinions you disagree with. Nor is it your role to hide in yourself and try your best not to occupy space​. 

​It is your role to stand up. It is your role to own your space. We need you to speak up, and speak out. The world needs you to shine your light - unapologetically. You need you to shine your light. 

Start by saving the word "sorry" for real transgressions. You are listening - don't apologise for your existence. And forgive yourself when the words slip out from habit. Just observe and take note.

So here's what to do instead:

  • when you need to get past someone, say "Can I please get to my seat?" - polite, not apologetic
  • when you almost bump into someone who equally has almost bumped into you, exclaim "Whoops!" and smile your megawatt smile
  • when your opinion is different, acknowledge the validity of the other opinions and then say "The way I see it is...". Stating opinion as fact is obnoxious, but refusing to apologise for having an opinion is assertive
  • when you have happy news to share with a close friend who has grief and loss or other struggles in the area, tell them your happy news. Don't apologise for it, but let them know that you are sharing because they mean so much to you, and that you recognise their struggle and will continue to be there as a loving support for them. Know that hearing your news may sting, but if they sense you avoid telling them it may erode the fabric of the friendship. 

If you recognise yourself in the words above, there is only one "sorry" I'd like you to say.

Say sorry to yourself: for negating your rights to take up space, have a viewpoint​ or be happy. Look into your heart and make this vow, "I no longer apologise for being me. I support my inherent right to take up space, be true to my values and beliefs, and claim my happiness".

And to everyone else who misses the doormat? That's simple. Say: "Sorry, not sorry".

Now I'd like to hear from you. Do you ever catch yourself apologising for yourself? What new strategies are you going to use instead? Let me know in the comments below.

And if you recognised yourself in these words and would like to reclaim your right to self worth and self love, grab your free 7 steps to self love guide here.