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6 ways to think like a naturopath for increased vitality

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.

When fatigue feels like failure

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:​

  1. How much nutrition are you taking in each day in the food and fluids you consume? Rather than trying to give up junk food or nutritionally empty foods, crowd them out by eating as much colourful vegetables as you can, with some fruit, healthy proteins and fats, and loads of water
  2. Are you sleeping well and in a helpful sleep routine? If this is something you struggle with, read more here
  3. What's going on for you emotionally? Fatigue is not always tied up with depression, grief or other emotional distress, but it's linked often enough to take a good look at this area of your life. Openly and honestly explore within yourself if there are unresolved stressors, hurts or anger that you suppress rather than process. It's exhausting keeping that stuff in, and poisonous. Reach out for the support you need, talk to a friend or journal or dance it out - whatever you need to allow stuck emotions to flow through you again
  4. Where is your life out of balance? Create a list of your commitments and routine tasks. What can you start delegating, omitting, saying no to? A wise Balinese healer told me recently, "build your own house before you help someone else build theirs". When you're fatigued, it's totally acceptable to put your own needs first - you have to, to recover. And going forward, ensure your needs remain a priority even amongst caring for loved ones and fulfilling work commitments
  5. Where does your health need review or extra care? Ensure you have the best care and advice you have access to for any health conditions. Discuss any medications you take with your health professional to see if they can be affecting your energy levels and how this can be better managed
  6. Take a few minutes of silence to look within. What is the deep cause of your fatigue? What is your body trying to tell you? How aligned with your values, your truth and your priorities is your day to day life? Allow yourself to be guided from within.

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?

Christmas shadows, Christmas lights. How to survive the festive season if you’re just not feeling it.

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:

  1. Go with the flow. Christmas often brings together so many people that it is impossible for it to live up to everyone involved's ideals. If there's too many cooks in the kitchen, observe this and take a step back. Allow yourself to just go with what is if that's easier.
  2. Manage your expectations. ​If Uncle Fred is an alcoholic and second cousin Betty finds something negative to say about everything... then it's likely that's exactly how they will be on Christmas too. We tend to want the best from people and put particular pressure on our expectations at this time of year. Take a few minutes to reflect on who you will be spending Christmas with this year. Put aside how you believe everyone "should" behave, and instead take stock of how they actually do behave. Prepare how you would like to respond. Imagine yourself shielded and protected. Walk into Christmas knowing who they are and responding accordingly, to look after your own peace of mind.
  3. Take a moment of alone time. Allow yourself a few minutes before bed or between busy-ness to reflect on YOUR spirit and the meaning this time of year has for you. You may wish to say a prayer or blessing to the loved ones you miss. You may consider the values of Christmas and how you will embody them. Meditate on some pretty lights and acknowledge that the real light of Christmas is found within. This is where peace is.
  4. Reach out to someone less fortunate. It's a wonderful time of year to take on the spirit of Santa and do a random act of kindness for a stranger or a friend. Bonus feel-good factor that will keep you glowing long after.
  5. Have gratitude. Gratitude is always possible. And it always helps. If you're stuck, check out this free gratitude gift for you.

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’m taking iron, so why am I still exhausted? How to make your supplements work.

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:

  1. You've got the right supplement in the wrong form. AKA you get what you pay for! Most nutrients that our bodies require are formulated in various ways when in the supplement form. However, these formulated are not created equal. Some are difficult to absorb. Some can be absorbed, but not used effectively by the body. Any time you purchase a supplement make sure you ask a qualified nutritionist or naturopath the best form for absorption.
  2. You're taking the right formulation but it's interacting with something else. Did you know that almost all the nutrients we need pass through little channels from our small intestine into our blood? So cool. The thing is, the channels aren't there all the time. The channel is specific to certain nutrients, like a lock and key. Sometimes when our blood is full of a nutrient, our body doesn't keep the channels for that nutrient open. And sometimes we need co-nutrients to unlock the channel for the nutrients we need. For example, vitamin C helps iron through these channels into our blood. Calcium and magnesium fight to use the same channels, and so decrease our iron absorption. When you take supplements, ask a practitioner what they interact with, beneficially or detrimentally.
  3. You're taking the wrong supplement, or you're taking a right one but missing others that you need. One of the troubles of using guesswork with choosing supplements is that we may not actually address the underlying root cause of our symptoms. Often we jump to a conclusion that exhaustion is due to iron-deficiency anemia. It can be one cause, but there are many more that need ruling out too. 

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.

  • All of the blood in our body passes through our liver for cleansing - the liver has to remove bacteria and chemicals such as medications and environmental toxins and pesticides and break them down into harmless substances that can then be excreted. The catch is that many substances are broken down into more harmful ones before being broken down further into safe molecules, which means the liver must be able to keep up with the load we give it or we get reactive substances in our blood until it catches up. This can make us feel sluggish and tired. Substances which helps the liver process the secondary substances into harmless excretions include vitamins C, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, iron, amino acids, copper, magnesium, zinc, molybdenum, selenium, and lipoic acid
  • Our bodies are a complex balance of chemicals called hormones that send messages to key organs to control our internal environment for functioning. Our insulin controls our blood sugar to keep stable amounts of muscle energy and mental alertness. Eating simple carbohydrates causes spikes and troughs in insulin levels as a response, whereas regular protein intake keeps sugar and insulin levels - and therefore our energy - stable. Oddly, cinnamon has been shown to help stabilise sugar also. Constant stress keeps our adrenaline (“epinephrine” for us nerds) pumping which gives us an energy burst to get through an immediate situation but is ultimately exhausting. Most of the vitamin C we store in our bodies is stored in the adrenal gland, which could be why long periods of stress often end in a bout of colds or cold sores. Our thyroid hormones manage much of the metabolism of the body - our thermal regulation, moods and energy levels. We need iodine to support the hormones our thyroid produces. And of course our sex hormones - which can be responsible for a monthly wave of fatigue and emotions when not well balanced. The best thing we can do for just about all of our hormones is to get enough sleep. If you struggle with this you can read more here.
  • Our cells contain tiny energy-making factories called mitochondria, which are the places where the carbohydrates, fats and protein that we eat are turned via a complex multi-step process into the chemical - ATP - our body uses as energy for all its functions. Each step requires specific nutrients, and if any are missing the process halts and that step and energy isn’t made, potentially causing lactic acid to build up in our muscles. The nutrients we need are vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B12, folate, iron, lipoic acid, magnesium, manganese, CoQ10, copper and specific amino acids
  • We depend on having enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen around our body to our muscles, organs and brain. Any challenge to our red blood cells leaves us feeling weak and lethargic. Red blood cells require iron, vitamins B12 and B6 and folic acid to function well.
  • Did you know that we have more bacterial cells than human cells? So cool, am I right?! It used to be believed that gut microbiota (bacteria) was a minor contributor to our health and energy, but imbalance in the bacteria can lead to fatigue, poor absorption of all those nutrients we've just been talking about (leading to the above causes of fatigue), brain fog and weakened immune function. A healthy microbiota relies on plenty of prebiotics in the form of fibre to feed the bacteria, plus probiotics which are live bacteria found in supplements or specific cultivated fermented foods.

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.

If you’re exhausted… get better sleep. Here’s how.

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:

  1. Herbal remedies: look for something with valerian and a selection of other herbs such as passionflower, lemon balm, chamomile or hops. Herbs are not recommended during pregnancy; and if you take other medications or have significant health conditions, check with your health practitioner about interactions before starting on herbs. For most people they are gentle and beneficial and well worth considering.
  2. Hot malted milk: I'm not a milk drinker myself, but if you do drink milk, a warm cup in the evening will supply you with tryptophan (the heat is important to activate the tryptophan), adding malt will provide hops. A lovely combination to induce sleepfulness. Tryptophan is an amino acid that promotes calmness and sleep and modifies the production of serotonin, the feel good hormone, and melatonin, the body clock hormone. Tryptophan is a precursor to niacin or vitamin B3, so increasing your intake of B vitamins will prevent you from depleting your tryptophan levels. Hops is a natural food based medicine that helps with restlessness and anxiety, insomnia and supports the liver in metabolism. Hops should be avoided in pregnancy and for anyone with tumours in breast or reproductive tissue.
  3. Magnesium baths, oils and powders: most people in modern times consume under the recommended intake for magnesium; and lifestyles of stress, alcohol intake, sleep deprivation, medications and health issues increase our requirements. Magnesium supplements are best absorbed in the form magnesium citrate or magnesium (di)glycinate, and topical applications are best as magnesium chloride (this form is not for internal use). As a bonus, magnesium is known to reduce blood pressure, PMS, cholesterol, fibromyalgia symptoms,  and migraines and is protective of heart and brain events. Not bad for a bath! Our body uses magnesium to recover from stress and to turn our food into energy (amongst other nutrients), so magnesium is a must for sleep and energy levels.
  4. Melatonin: this is a hormone that occurs naturally in the body and helps us adjust our body clocks to a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Takes melatonin supplements can be helpful in the short term, but it is not suitable for pregnancy or trying to conceive, diabetes, depression, bleeding disorders, high blood pressure and certain other conditions. It also interacts with several medications, so be sure to check with your health professional before taking it. Because of this, it is preferable to encourage the body to create its own melatonin by keeping the bedroom very dark at night or taking a supplement that helps the body produce its own melatonin, such as S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe).
  5. Bedroom setup: ideally, arrange your bedroom to be very dark while you are sleeping or trying to sleep - this increases your body's melatonin and regulation of your sleep-wake cycle. Ensure your mattress and pillow are supportive and you are not waking up with muscle or joint pain from poor bedding. Avoid technology in the bedroom - yes I'm addicted too, but it doesn't help our brains wind down! 
  6. Evening routine: We know how important a wind down routine is with children. You know - bedtime story, glass of milk, 10 minutes of mind games and reminding them that it's too late to be hungry, followed by sleeping like a log. But somehow we magically believe that at a certain age, it's better to watch stressful stories on the TV, then get wired on our screens, stay up too late then flop into bed with our minds whirring. Amazingly unsuccessful strategy! Instead develop a routine that includes relaxing media (not news or adrenalin-inducing), a warm drink and if there's time a bath or applying magnesium oil, relaxing creativity rather than social media. And if you're in bed and finding it hard to sleep, instead of becoming agitated, choose to see this as a good thing and remain in bed and meditate instead. Meditation is the closest activity to sleep, so you will still chemically and physically rest your body by meditating if you are unable to sleep. And, you know, you could become more enlightened.
  7. Stress management: for many of us, insomnia is a symptom of an underlying stress, depression or anxiety. Developing useful strategies for these issues will help to improve our sleep as a result. Depending on what is on your mind, implement a tool box that includes expressing yourself through talking it out, journalling and creativity, professional support as needed, meditation, practicing mindfulness, and learning great self care. If you don't know where to start, grab the free guide 7 Steps to Self Love.
  8. Exercise: OK, I am not one to talk on the benefits of exercise. Hey, we're all works in progress, right? But exercising in the earlier 2/3 of your day helps reduce stress, balance hormones, create healthy tiredness that prevents insomnia and improves emotional well being. Right now my sleep routine needs review, and exercise is a strategy I'll be sure to implement too.
  9. Pharmaceutical review: if you are on prescribed or over the counter medications or natural remedies, take them all down to your pharmacy in a bag and discuss how each one or the interaction between them could be affecting you. Many medications - natural or otherwise - have effects other than those they are taken for, and it's important for you to understand what you're putting into your body. If you do find that some are affecting your sleep, discuss with the prescribing health practitioner whether the medication can be adjusted or taken at a different time of day.

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):

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

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!

Why you need to throw out your clock

Running out of time.

Time crunch.



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.

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.

How to love your self-sabotage

It happens like clock work. I become inspired to get healthy. Things go pretty well. Maybe I have more energy, or lose a bit of weight. I might even get a few compliments. And then, it's weird. I reach a certain point and a trigger goes off. Maybe the trigger is a stressful day. Or lack of planning. Or being tired. And then I find myself with a packet of crisps in my hand eating them like I'm a kid who's found the lolly jar and about to get caught. I don't take a dainty nibble. I eat them all. Then I feel derailed and angry at the seemingly senseless nature of my behaviour.

It's not just limited to ​junk food either. It can be a study schedule in my naturopathy degree. Or progressing in my career. Or an exercise plan. Anything at all. Things go well for so long and then I make choices that are off point and sometimes detrimental.

Why would someone who is all about self love and resilience even admit to this? And why would this happen? ​

I admit to it because it's a part of self love. When we truly love someone we love all of them unconditionally... and that includes ourselves. Gay Hendricks writes about our "upper limits" in his brilliant book, The Big Leap​ . You see, we all have an upper limit. We all reach a point of progress in our lives that triggers the need for self sabotage. Obviously as we become healthier in terms of self love, our upper limit expands and we allow ourselves more happiness and success.

So this brings me to the questions - what is there to love about self sabotage?! How on earth, when I find myself standing in the pantry foraging for MSG-flavoured crisps, can I love myself in that moment? And whatever your sabotage story looks like - how can you love your sabotage and your self in the midst of what feels like failure?

Sabotage shows us our limits. It is our teacher and our friend.

That's right folks. You know that teacher who finally helped you get your head around algebra? And that friend who very kindly told you that yes, your bum does look big in that.... the same way you love them, love sabotage. It is pointing something out to you. It is teaching you. You may not want to hear the lesson, but it loves you so much it will teach you anyway. Now when I find myself with a face full of potato, I ask myself,

  • What am I not wanting to feel?
  • What am I avoiding?
  • Why does part of me want to do this to myself?
  • Where am I being shown a limit?

The answers always point me to growth and the next step in my development. Try for yourself next time you find yourself in sabotage, and let me know what lessons are given to you.

Everything that isn't love, is a call for love

One of my favourite teachers, Marianne Williamson, in her book A Return To Love, shows us that our spiritual growth requires us to see all behaviour (others' and our own​) as either love or a call for love. I'm no guru, but I would say inhaling deep fried carbs falls into the latter category. 

From this perspective it is easy to reframe my self sabotage as a call for love from myself not a reason to hate on myself.​ In fact, heaping criticism on myself in these moments only pulls me further from where I want to be.

Now, once I have seen the lesson in the moment, I make a shift from sabotage to self love. I invite you to try the same. I ask myself,

  • ​What self care do I need in this moment?
  • How can I handle this situation in a way that feels healthier?
  • What supportive words do I need to tell myself right now?

​If you're finding yourself in self sabotage, just take a breath and be kind to yourself my friend. Chances are, you've just discovered your call for love. Answer it.

I'd love to hear from you - how do you nurture yourself and grow from self sabotage? Which of the suggestions above speak to you?

If you'd like to develop a bit more kindness to yourself, I invite you to receive my free guide, 7 Steps to Self Love. 

NB. All books linked on this website are affiliate links. I only link to books that absolutely rock my world.​