Category Archives for "Live Simply"
Now I'd like to hear from you. What strategies will you be implementing to avoid or recover from stress and burnout? Let me know in the comments! And if this post could help someone you know, share the love.
For more on managing stress by dealing with dysfunctional thoughts, sign up below.
My childhood summers were carefree ones. I stayed with my best friend at her beach house, and we spent our days running barefoot to the beach, taping (yep, it was that long ago!) songs from the radio and learning to bodyboard.
It took some practice. The waves were big enough to dump us, leaving us disorientated and not knowing which way was up. We had to learn to anticipate the wave as it came, to know when to jump on, and to paddle hard enough to stay afloat.
Overwhelm can feel like this. It's certainly a powerful enough experience to completely disorientate us, to leave us gasping and not sure how we might get through to the other side. But like a wave, we can learn to ride it. I've been dumped by the waves of overwhelm before, and know that enough waves one after the other can lead to longer term stress, anxiety and burnout. Learning to ride overwhelm is pivotal to staying afloat in our lives.
First, we need to become better at seeing it coming. For me, it creeps in by stealth through coping strategies like escapist TV/ social media, craving junk foods or feeling tired at the thought of what I feel I need to do. I now know these are my warning signs, and use them as a cue to cut back on projects and expectations, prioritise sleep and keep life simple.
Next, we learn our limits. I used to say that I had only 2 states at work - boredom or overwhelm. I always wanted more projects, more working parties and more clients to stay engaged and excited. But it was the finest line between engagement and becoming stressed and counter-productive. Too many projects and this adrenaline-junkie approach to life is intertwined with stress. The answer is not boredom! It lies in engaging more deeply rather than more broadly. Instead of flitting over 100 projects, deeply connect to a handful. Be present and practice mindfulness to draw fulfilment from life, rather than the pursuit of shiny objects.
We practice managing the expectations of others. I used to assume that those in both my personal and professional life expected me to bend over backwards for them, the way I expected this from myself. So imagine my surprise after a period of grief and burnout, when I set new limits in all my key relationships and no one battered an eyelid. Try it for yourself, you'll be amazed how the world keeps turning as before.
And finally, I surgically removed the word "should" from my vernacular. True, it tends to grow back from time to time, but I just cut it out more vigorously than before. If you take nothing else, try at least this. A large part of overwhelm lies within our own thoughts. When we remove the "shoulds" from our thinking, we allow ourselves room to fall short, to breathe, to be gentle to ourselves.
When we do these things, we see the wave becomes smaller and more manageable as it rolls towards us. We find strength to paddle, and may even enjoy the ride.
If you'd like to reclaim your time and learn to surf the overwhelm, I have a great 3 day video program, completely free for you below. And I'd love to hear from you - which of these strategies will you be using to surf the overwhelm? Let me know below! xo
I've always been a girls' girl, more at home in the company of women. But over the years, as one by one my female friends became mothers while I battled with fertility demons, I felt like I stopped fitting in. I sat on the sidelines of more conversations than I can say; one particular recurring theme being "How having children has messed up my body".
The conversation goes something like this, "my stomach has never been the same since pregnancy - I used to have abs!" followed by comments on boobs, stretch marks and scars. I find myself sitting in silence. It's not that I can't relate to bodily changes - but mine have been caused by miscarriages, surgeries, injecting increasingly heavy doses of hormones, and comfort eating when all of it failed. I too have forgotten what my stomach muscles looked like in my kickboxing days, but no one wants to hear the story of losing one's abs to lost pregnancies and IVF. It makes people uncomfortable and kills the camaraderie, so I kept quiet.
In my outsider state, I envied the women whose bodily changes were rewarded so richly with children. At times I felt resentful... I paid the price but didn't get the reward, and yet I lost the right to voice my complaints also. I felt bitterly that my physical changes were markers of trauma and loss, and that I would gladly take the changes that resulted in a live baby.
And then... I got pregnant. Years later. Out of the blue. After working out the chances of me giving birth to a living child was less than 1/2 per cent. And I swore that every physical change of pregnancy would be valued as part of this gift. I even prayed for nausea and mood swings so I could feel confidence that I was actually pregnant.
I felt both terrified and grateful (and so tired!) for the duration of the pregnancy - never taking any particular outcome for granted. I noted my physical changes with a detached fascination, but the last thing I wanted to do was begrudge any of it. I was happy to sacrifice the body I knew on the altar of the fertility gods. It seemed like the smallest thing in the world.
Somehow though, in the last weeks of my pregnancy when pre-eclampsia and the accompanying football-shaped feet set in, I found myself forgetting my pact and wondering if my feet would fit into my shoes again, or if I'd have to start shopping at those special comfort shoe stores. I forgot that physical changes are calls for self compassion, not vanity or self judgment. I forgot that my pillowy feet were markers of my great fortune. I forgot that only months before I'd resented this very trait of oblivion to all those women who fight battles with their bodies without this precious reward.
And this forgetfulness may have continued if it werent for a photo on social media. A friend had posted a collage of memories of an old classmate I'd lost touch with since school, and it hit me that the classmate had died. Flipping over to her social media page where she chronicled her illness, I saw one of her last photos - swollen feet with defiantly and courageously painted toenails.
It was a punch to the heart. My memory lapse was gone. I remembered the old me who sat in self imposed exile as the mothers talked of the bodies they once had. I looked at this photo of swollen feet, the last photo before death. And I looked at mine, the small price paid for new life. My tears were of remorse and gratitude for the swollen feet I was dealt, and so much compassion for those so bravely born by my classmate.
We all carry our bodies with the tattoos and memories and histories of our lives worn on them. Sometimes secretly and with shame; sometimes bared to the world; sometimes even held with pride and courage. And if I can only do one thing to honour my old classmate and her pedicured, swollen feet it will be this - wear the history of my body with courage and compassion, and encourage other women to do the same.
I'd love to hear from you - how have you learned to hold your body with more compassion? And if this is something you struggle with, you are warmly invited to the free Body Love Challenge. Every body deserves to be loved.
It's so natural when we're sick to reach for the most convenient fix and get on with our lives as soon as possible. Who has time for sickness, right? It's not in our plans. It messes life up. But the quick fix is not always the long game fix. And sometimes there is no quick fix at all.
I wasn't brought up with naturopathy. There's nothing 'hippy' about my parents, except that they had me. In fact, I only discovered naturopathy as an adult, when a friend suggested I might find a new approach to my long term niggles. I'd like to say I immediately transformed my life. More truthfully, I gradually learnt from naturopaths over time to improve my lifestyle, and many of my health issues faded away. This is no miracle cure, and you will never hear me suggest avoiding medical intervention, but naturopathy helped me to build a foundation for health that meant my body was well able to deal with any minor issues that came along.
The naturopathic approach helped me completely resolve what had been debilitating premenstrual pain and nausea, food intolerances that completely ruled my ability to digest - including a few weeks of vomiting on a daily basis, recover from grief and restore my resilience when stress and burnout took over. I experience less allergies and colds, no longer get tonsillitis (doctors were starting to talk about removing my tonsils) and look healthier.
So what is different about the naturopathic approach? While you of course must have an assessment by a naturopath for specific strategies for you, there is a way of thinking that can benefit you regardless of your health concerns. The first step is to view your health issue through the 6 layers of the therapeutic order.
1. Establish the conditions for health by identifying and removing factors that disturb your health, and creating a healthy lifestyle for yourself.
Truth time. What in your lifestyle continues to disturb your health? Is your job ridiculously stressful? Do you propel through your day on caffeine power? Consider not only what you eat and drink but also smoking, alcohol or drugs, exercise levels, stress, lack of sleep and anything that intuitively pops into your mind when you reflect on what could be disturbing your health. More generally, where could your lifestyle be healthier? Focus on crowding out unhelpful habits with amazing nutrition, gentle exercise, mindfulness or meditation and deep sleep.
2. Stimulate your body's ability to heal itself
In naturopathy we call this "the healing power of nature". But it's less about the nature out there, and more about the very nature of our body. Our bodies are all designed to restore us to balance as best they can. Support your general self healing abilities by grounded coping strategies, spending time in nature, practicing yoga or swimming or other gentle exercise and pursue the joys of life to give you natural energy. And laugh!
3. Address weakened systems or organs
We must never ignore what our body tells us, but we can support its ability to heal itself. For example, if you're prone to colds and respiratory infections - don't just medicate the symptoms, work to build up your immune system over time. If you have severe PMS, consider how to gently balance your hormones and stress levels. If being locked in cubicle nation keeps you stiff and sore, implement a stretching practice to keep your muscles comfortable rather than relying on pain killers. Whatever organ or system has been affected in your health history, learn ways to actively support that system through your nutrition and lifestyle.
4. Correct structural integrity
Some of our health issues may be contributed to or exacerbated by holding tension, spinal issues or old injuries. Pilates, yoga, physiotherapy, therapeutic massage, osteopathy or chiropractics may support your overall health. Surely you don't need convincing to have a massage!
5. Address pathologies using natural and/or pharmacologic substances
There's no doubt that the above remedies offer benefits to all of us, but there are times when illnesses need medicine. This is where this layer of the approach comes in. Engage with health professionals you trust. If you do choose to see a naturopath, be aware that in Australia and many other countries, there is no regulation of who can call themselves by this title, so don't be afraid to ask for qualifications and association memberships. And while each of us must make their own health choices, I encourage you to always have a great doctor in your corner, even if you use natural approaches as well.
6. Suppress or surgically remove pathology
Where emergencies exist or no other approach will do the job, we may need to suppress or surgically remove an illness. Dangerous fevers, quickly multiplying pathogens, anything of a severe nature and growths and tumours may well need surgery or active suppression by your medical professionals. Be open to this where needed, and support your body by using the other layers of support as well.
So there you have it, the 6 steps of approaching your health from a naturopathic perspective. Surprised to see doctors and surgeons included? Don't be. Gone are the times when we had to choose one side of the fence or the other. Naturopathy is no longer viewed as an alternative to allopathic medicine, but rather its complement. I may be studying naturopathy but there are also times when surgery or allopathic medicine was the immediate answer for me (afterwards followed up by natural restorative practices). So regardless of your health, consider all the layers where you could heal. If one approach hasn't worked for you, try the others. And be kind to yourself.
I'd love to hear from you - which of these approaches have you not yet tried in your health? And what will you implement now? Let me know in the comments below.
For further reading about the therapeutic order, look here.
I write a blog about resilience. But a few weeks ago, I could barely get through a day without naps. I would wake up in the morning, and within a couple of hours lie down for a 3 hour sleep. And another in the afternoon. And 10 more hours overnight.
True, it was for good reason, as it was the first trimester of my pregnancy. But I felt like all the work I'd put into recovering from burnout had somehow failed. And worse - I wasn't pursuing any of my goals. My writing ground to a halt. And a previous all-honours student in my naturopathy degree, I found myself avoiding any attempts at my pharmacology subject until days before the exam. Sidebar - pharmacology is not a subject where one can phone it in!
It brought me back to a time where I went from an enthusiastic employee working 12 hour days even in the days before my own wedding, to someone who crashed and burned under what felt like the crushing weight of grief and overwhelm.
The truth is, fatigue and its causes are never part of our ambitions or dreams. Ask every kid you know what they want to be when they grow up. There may be a variety of answers - teachers, astronauts and (at my niece's recent 6th grade graduation) YouTube stars. But I'll guarantee not a single one will reply "I just want to be in a place where I have to drag myself up each morning and put every ounce of energy I have into surviving the daily grind".
And most of us who have experienced burnout, chronic fatigue or anything similar, do not start out that way. More often, we look back and think "I gave too much, more than I was able to replenish". So for us, the ones who want to give our all, we can feel like failures when it seems there's nothing we have left to offer. We watch our colleagues shining bright like perhaps we used to, or admire a super-mum friend who somehow manages to do it all, or think of the big night out we're missing because we can't scrape ourselves off the couch. And it's hard not to feel kicked by failure.
But here's the thing - fatigue is our teacher. If we stop to listen, it can show us where our lives have been out of balance. It invites us to practice gentleness within, as no amount of self judgement will help. And it creates space to reflect on the meaning we attribute to our lives, and a chance to realign our deepest values.
If you find yourself in a place of excessive or prolonged fatigue, here are some places to start:
Now I'd love to hear from you - what was the greatest lesson from your fatigue? And which tools either helped you or will you try?
At no other time of year do we fall so deeply for the image of how life is "supposed' to look. We are bombarded with images of amazing feasts, expensive gifts, happy families and buzzing social lives. The Christmas lights are dazzling.
But the brighter the lights, the longer the shadows. Some of us have different Christmas stories. The lights show in stark relief our Christmas ghosts, and the cracks in our Christmas picture.
It might be that you have a loss, or many losses, in your life which sting most at this time of year. Someone whose place at the table is empty this year. The child you thought you'd be hanging a stocking for, who Santa does not visit. The parent who in their absence is felt even more than they were in their presence. The partner you were going to spend a life with.
Or it may be that you feel your story doesn't measure up. Family fights. Money too tight for the gifts you wanted to give. Stress and overwhelm.
Here's how I roll with Christmas, perhaps one of these ideas will help:
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to you my friend! And no matter the size or form of your Christmas shadows, may you always find the Christmas lights within.
I bet you've been there before - you feel exhausted, find the supplement that promises to give your energy back... and, nothing. "Maybe it's true that supplements are just formulas for expensive urine" you tell yourself in frustration, and give up. But don't listen to the naysayers. I've seen the transformation the right natural prescription can have on my own energy levels, and many others. It's not subtle, it's radical. It just takes some detective work. Here's what could be going wrong:
A better way to take supplements is to start by considering all the possible contributing factors to your exhaustion or other symptoms. This is best done through blood tests where available, and the guidance of a nutritionist or naturopath to guide supplement choices to address deficits.
Where energy comes from.
In order to establish why you feel exhausted, it’s helpful to know some of the major bodily processes that keep our energy levels healthy, and the nutrients that support these processes.
So with all of the above contributors to our sensation of energy or exhaustion, where should we start? I suggest, start here:
Get enough sleep. This improves most hormone balances, particularly those related to stress. If you struggle with this, there’s more info here.
See your GP and discuss your symptoms to rule out any more serious issues. Ask for a blood test of iron levels, iron stores, vitamin B12, vitamin D, thyroid function, liver function, white blood cell counts (this will show if your body is fighting off an underlying infection)
If your iron stores are less than ideal (even if they’re still within range), or if your B12 is low, an iron, folate and B complex can make a huge difference. My friend put me onto this iron and B vitamin herbal drink and it’s made a huge difference to me. Bonus points for being easily digested and yum!
Most of us don’t have enough magnesium. It’s a mineral our body uses in over 300 processes, including recover from stress, muscle recovery after exertion, prevention of migraines, heart protection and manufacturing energy. The awesome thing is, we can take magnesium as a powder as magnesium glycinate or citrate and these can be in mixed formulations with other nutrients we need - it’s worth taking to a nutritionist or naturopath in a health food store to find the formulation most effective for you. Can you tell I’m a nutrition nerd and magnesium is one of my favourite nutrients? Magnesium can also be absorbed through the skin via bath flakes or oil. Magnesium is very safe and harmless to use when following instructions. About as therapeutic as a bath can get!
My other favourite is CoQ10. As well as being indicated for many burnout symptoms such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, migraines and depression, it is also protective of our heart and brain. It can be taken on its own or in formulations with other nutrients for our energy factories such as lipoic acid, magnesium and B vitamins. Make sure you talk to a professional to get a good quality product.
Drink plenty of water. Our bodies are roughly 70% water, and we need it to maintain health, for example in keeping our blood circulating well, supporting our kidneys to flush out waste and generally maintaining our energy levels. If you struggle to drink 2 litres per day, some of this can have herbal tea or slices of lemon, cucumber and mint to add interest. Coffee doesn’t count! Eat loads of fibrous vegetables and fermented foods such as saurkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha. Make sure they have live bacteria mentioned on the label, or make your own.
I hope that this crash course in energy systems gives you some ideas of where to start looking in both determining some contributors to your energy, and places to start to feel better. Let me know below which tips you will be taking on and any questions you have in the comments below. Remember, while I have a degree in Applied Science (OT), I am mid-way through my naturopathy degree so this information is for stimulating your conversations with trained health professionals and your own research, not to be considered individual prescriptions. Links are affiliated, I only ever link to products I love and use myself. If you'd like to get in on the resilience conversation, join my cosy and kind Facebook group, Sisters With Heart.
Sometimes the simplest and most obvious solution is the one to go for. We don't always need to make life more complicated - it takes care of that for us! When we're burnt out and depleted, sleep is not the only tool we need. There are likely to be nutrient deficiencies, lifestyle changes and mind shifts required to get our sparks back. But sleep is foundational - nothing in our bodies works without it. Not too surprisingly, some studies show that people experiencing occupational burnout are more likely to have disturbed sleep. Even worse, loss of sleep results in increased cortisol levels... which continue to burn us out further.
When you're tired and wired at the same time, it's not that easy. These 9 strategies for better sleep will help:
One word of caution when it comes to sleep - too often I see someone implement just one or two strategies and then say "it didn't work". You don't know which of these - or more likely which combination - is right for you. So implement as many as you can, remembering to discuss any supplements with your health practitioner for the appropriateness in your situation first, and consider their use for short term adjustment rather than long term. Once you find yourself sleeping soundly, you can then determine which strategies are key for you. So I'd like to hear from you - which of these are you going to implement? Let me know in the comments below! And, sleep tight.
Most of the research above is provided in this book (affiliate link):
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:
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.
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!):
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:
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!