Category Archives for "Stress Management"

First, we make the beast beautiful – a review and a tale

Anxiety is not a word I've ever used to describe how I'm feeling. Nervous before presenting at a conference, perhaps. Stressed before exams. Shy at big gatherings and networking events. But not anxious.

Sarah Wilson's (affiliate) First, we make the beast beautiful is a memoir of Sarah's experience of anxiety amongst a seemingly isolated childhood and autoimmune conditions. I was expecting to feel immersed in her story, but her storytelling wove quickly between her experiences, scientific studies related to anxiety, and strategies she has tried. Her voice - both in writing and speaking - has a pragmatic tone and while engrossing it spoke more to my mind than my heart.

This is likely to be largely due to my lack of identification with anxiety. But I found myself expanding in understanding of the experiences of those I care about who live with this every day. And even those of us who experience anxiety in isolated events can benefit from understanding these experiences more, and knowing we are not alone in them. 

During the course of reading the book, I was told a story of a devastating event involving a baby. My fear came up so strongly, that it was clear my vigilance as a mother exists just under the level of anxiety. People have quite rightly commented that I'm a "relaxed" mother - but I'm a mother also who understands the fear of the words "What if...?" Having this experience gave me the realisation of here anxiety exists under the radar in my life, and I felt greater awareness of my emotions in general in listening to the experiences of others.

My favourite ideas from the book

We can all benefit from living more comfortably with our emotional states. The idea I wish we all knew is this - what if, regardless of any diagnosis or issue we may have - we saw ourselves as not needing "fixing". Rather, applying understanding and compassion to ourselves and finding ways to live with ourself.

Sarah describes a lesson from one of her supports, Eugene Veshner, a hypnotist. He says we can't get rid of habits, we build new ones instead. I am a firm believer in this. Eugene explained to Sarah that as we develop a habit it creates a neural pathway. A new habit must be repeated many times to form a new pathway, which will eventually be stronger than the previous habit we are trying to replace. This is an idea I have found to be true when it comes to creating new core beliefs. Sometimes in life we make the alarming discovery that we have been living according to a harmful belief. Instead of trying to just nor believe that thing, I find it useful instead to build up repetition of a healthier belief while allowing ourselves to hold the old belief more loosely.

As well as this gem, here are the other strategies I love and find useful from the book:

  • meditation and mindfulness, and time out from life
  • setting boundaries and manage expectations whether about emailing or social participation or general availability.
  • simplify, own less, have a uniform and set morning routine and meal plans to reduce the anxiety of decisions

So I'd like to hear from you - is anxiety something you experience? Which strategies do you find the most useful? And which ones will you try?

A simple gratitude practice

Ever tried writing a gratitude journal? It's a beautiful idea - every day, take a few minutes to write down 3 things you're grateful for. After all, it is not happiness which necessarily makes us grateful; but rather gratitude which makes us happy.

The struggle I have with this practice is that I am a person who lives very much in my mind. For much of my life it has seemed that my body is barely attached to my awareness at all, and my emotions rise to my conscious noticing from time to time before receding beyond my thoughts again. This means that I sit there writing the things I think I must be grateful for, rather than the things I feel grateful for. I fill reams with these lists, while remaining unmoved myself.

If you find that this familiar gratitude practice is enough for you to increase your mindfulness and happiness, then that is wonderful. Stick to it. But if journalling feels like a chore or writing lists keeps you stuck in your mind, then consider this simple variation on gratitude.

  • as you lie in bed before sleep, turn your mind to reflect on the people and events you are grateful for from that day and more broadly
  • expand on the details of the reasons for your gratitude until you fall asleep
  • during the day, focus on the people  you feel grateful towards 
  • cog
    pick one specific person and find a way to communicate your gratitude to them - a text, email or card expressing what they mean to you is guaranteed to make their day and expand your happiness, and takes no longer than writing a gratitude list

This practice of not just identifying our gratitude but also expanding and expressing it ensures that you get out of your head and into the emotion of gratitude. The side effect? You get to make someone else's day too.

Let me know in the comments - how will you express your gratitude today?

Are you feeling unsupported?

When my unborn child's heart stopped beating I remember a scream echoing through the clinic. Vaguely I was aware that it was my scream, but all I knew was that I had to get home. Get to my room. Crawl into bed. 

I stayed there for ages. Maybe it was two weeks - I have no idea. Sometimes there was a gap in the silence where I raged, and had to trust my husband to keep us both safe. Mostly, it was silent. 

A few people came over. I am not even sure if I said anything that made sense, but I was deeply grateful and it was a relief to feel gratitude amongst waves of anger, bitterness and grief. Many people didn't come over. For a long time this seemed as horrifying as anything else.

But then something else happened. The space and quiet led me to a deep place of meditation, prayer and connection that I've carried with me since. New insights about my life and new dreams began to emerge. When we're not spreading ourselves too far, we have the chance to dig deeper.

Sometimes you may find yourself in the midst of the unthinkable, and feeling alone. It can feel like trying to remember which way to swim while being thrown by a massive wave. We would do anything for something to hold onto until the waves subside enough to swim again.

If this is you, my heart is full of love for you. And know that there will be something to hold on to. We can't always rely on people knowing how to be there for us, or having the emotional bandwidth for it. Since my experience I've seen many people comment that they "declutter" friends who don't show up for them. I think there is room for a different approach.

Take care of your self

When we are suffering or struggling, people will often say to us "Take care of your self". But what does that even mean? Here are the ways I offer you to provide yourself the care you need:

  • Allow yourself to retreat and nurse your wounds. Cry. Curl up in bed and sleep. Surround yourself with soft pillows and warm blankets. 
  • Feed yourself nutritious comfort foods. Try to avoid eating rubbish - because that's how it makes you feel. But don't punish yourself if you do. Be gentle and kind like you would to a precious friend. If it's too overwhelming to contemplate shopping and cooking, order a supermarket delivery of ready made casseroles and soups and the healthiest least processed things you can find. Or get a meal delivery service. If you know someone who loves cooking, ask if they'd make a large pot of soup for you. Many people would love to know something constructive they can do to support you. Stock up on gentle soothing herbal teas.
  • Express what's on your heart. If your friends aren't showing up for talking things through, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or similar services where you live, or book in to talk to a psychologist or counsellor. But one way or another, find someone to talk to. And pick up a pen - journalling is another way to express your thoughts and feelings. Don't censor yourself, just pour your soul onto the page. If you want to, burn the pages later to symbolise releasing the emotions.
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    Be comforted through touch. Instinctively we want someone we love to hug us or hold our hand when we struggle. If you are not with people you love, wrap your arms around yourself, wrap up in soft warm clothes, have a magnesium salt bath, get a massage.
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    When you can, make a list of what else you're needing and find ways to have these needs met.
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    Allow silence and aloneness to be a time to look within, practice mindfulness meditation, gentle yoga asanas, prayer and journalling. When you are ready, begin a gratitude practice.
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    Hold space for yourself. If you are feeling alone and fragile, sit and begin nurturing yourself. Place one hand over your heart, and the other over your belly. See this as a symbol for giving yourself kindness. Sit this way and allow your breathing to calm and deepen. Notice the movement over your chest and your belly as you breath. Sit giving yourself this kindness until a sense of calm is present within.

Hold your friendships lightly

It's easy to feel disillusioned if you thought your friends would turn up in the tough times and they don't. And when you reflect on some of these friendships you may see that it was unhealthy or one-way. But don't assume your friends don't care about you. Keep in mind that people show their love in different ways, and some don't know how to give you the support you need. 

  • Make a list of your friends, in writing if you can, or just in your mind. As you consider each friend, consider what is actually on offer. Rather than feeling disappointed that your best friend isn't visiting with casseroles, or your mum isn't ringing you up to ask how you feel, ask yourself if this is the kind of thing they do anyway. What do they offer in your friendship? If your best friend is great for a laugh and for watching old movies together, ask that from her. And if your mum is better at hugs than heart to hearts, accept her hug
  • Provide your closest friends with a bit of education and honesty about what you're going through. Don't make them guess. And although it feels infuriating that people don't automatically turn up, on the days when you have the capacity, tell them what would help. 
  • Avoid all-or-nothing thinking. Just because someone didn't visit, didn't mean they didn't care. Notice the ways people DO show love, even if it's not the way you really wanted. Live in the grace of letting people show love and letting yourself receive it, in many forms.
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    Find your new tribe - the people who have been through the same thing and get it. Whether it's a local support group or a Facebook group, there are people out there that will help you feel part of a community again. Allow yourself to open up as it feels safe to, and find the understanding you crave. Hold the awareness of the risk of some communities remaining stuck in this one event, and find those that feel like healthy supports.
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    Remember that even if your friends haven't been through the same event as you, they have had many of the same feelings. You may feel no one understands your experience, but be assured someone will understand anger, grief, loneliness, sadness, fatigue or apathy.

I hope you find something on this page to hold on to. Let me know in the comments below which strategy you'll be trying, or perhaps a new way you might show up for a friend. 

Tiny Beautiful Things

They say when our heart is broken, it either expands, or contracts.

When I lost three pregnancies, one after the other, against a backdrop of work stress and certain other disillusionments... my heart contracted.

It is okay, despite what they say, to have a contracted heart. It feels safer, when we withdraw into ourselves. This is the only thing that matters for a while, when it feels as if your skin has been peeled away, and the world is made of broken glass.

But it's a way of being geared towards surviving, not thriving. There comes a time when Life asks us to slowly nurse our own wounds rather than using them as armour. Eventually, we have an emotional skin again. Slowly, the edges retreat and the world gets a little bit softer. Not totally. Maybe never again. But a little, and it's enough.

Later, it's possible to feel joy again. In my case, joy is my normal state these days (knocks on wood). My heart softened and expanded almost without my noticing. 

Just the other week, my little one, Ava Grace, defied her afternoon nap. This is not unusual. Also common - I snuggled her into her car seat, cranked an audiobook, and we began to drive.

I have the great joy and fortune of living beside a beautiful forest. I drive, and listen to something inspiring, until Ava sleeps. Then I park and soak in the beauty, and sometimes write or work or meditate.

On this day, I listened to Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed. A collection of letters written to her when she was the agony aunt, Dear Sugar. It was read by her, which made it even better. As I drove amongst giants of trees softened by ferns and a magical winter's mist, I became aware of my own gratitude, compassion... my own heart.

I listened to the story of Johnny, afraid to tell a woman he loved her. And I listened to Cheryl - or Sugar, as she was known - reply with the story of how her mother's last word to her was "love"... and how her mother died alone, later that night. My heart cracked wide, and the light shone through. And when the next letter was written by a woman stuck in the numbness of her own grief after losing her baby girl when she was 6 months pregnant, my heart shattered and all the commonality of our humanity hit me in the space it left behind.

You see I realised that when we feel our own pain, we feel alone. But when we can bear witness to somebody else's, we know how connected we truly are. It didn't matter that one story was of fear of love, one the numbness of grief, another the shame of a more covert fantasy life, and another still of the hurt of rejection by family for identifying as gay. Because beneath the details, they were all the same. People wanting to be loved, reassured and witnessed. Like all of us.

Cheryl met each with her own rawness and softness and grit, her own love and pain. And it tapped into old memories, but more still it tapped into the compassi0n that unites us. Listening to her fully witness each person, let me feel seen and simultaneously helped me to see them too. It's not often a book moves me to tears. On this day I didn't so much cry as crack open, and the tears that flowed in that misty forest were at once mine, and Cheryl's, and yours.

So remember, we are all in this thing we call Life together, and allow your heart to crack open as you reach out with your rawness, broken pieces and above all, with your Light.

And if you do read or listen to (affiliate) Tiny Beautiful Things, please drop me a comment and tell me what struck a chord with you. 

Get grounded

Energy practices can reach and heal us in ways that more logical approaches sometimes miss. This may be because the part of us that is vibration, needs to be met with vibration. Or it could be because a part of our mind lies beneath logic, beneath irrationality and is ultimately deeply symbolic and metaphorical in nature. This subconscious mind needs metaphor not logic. I believe all of this to be so. And in the case of grounding, the energy work helps us feel safer, grounded and stable in a stressful world.

Many of us who have underlying feelings of anxiety and lack of safety, experienced disruption in our childhood. We move houses and schools and feel we can't put down roots; or lose someone close and feel the world is not safe, or feel misplaced with our family and experience a disconnect from our tribe. 

So energetically, we need stability, steadfastness, strength... we need to put down roots. And this is why the metaphor of a tree is so grounding. Let these words wash over you as you imagine yourself sending roots deep into the core of Mother Earth

  • See yourself waist down as a tree sending forth roots deep into the very core of the earth. You have strength, stability and you have stood here across the ages, passing the tests of time. 
  • Your tree roots are able to draw what you need from our great Mother Earth. The water to quench your thirst and cleanse your spirit is drawn up. The nutrients that strengthen you and help you grow are available to you.
  • You are bathed in sunshine to fill you with joy, and oxygen to clear your thinking and lift you upwards.
  • tree
    Pure Mother love fills you from the core, is drawn up through every cell of your body and out to the skies. And love from the very Source, as you understand it, shines down, through every cell and down through your feet and via the root system into the very core of the earth
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    Everything you need fills you up, to the point where the love and light filling you can no longer be contained within you. It bursts forth radiantly in all directions from your being. It feels natural to give from this source. You no longer worry about running dry of love to give. You have tapped into a source beyond you, it fills you and flows through you to others. This source is always available to you.

When we are people who give so readily from the heart, we need a way to fill our well up again. Know that expecting our needs to be filled from others can lead to hurt, disappointment of unmatched expectations and misunderstanding. Learn to find a deeper Source, and meet others from a place of wholeness. 

And to bring groundedness into your life, think of where your foundations need to be built stronger. Where there is clutter, clear it. If something is broken, get it fixed. Sort finances. Being grounded sounds boring at this level... but dreams built on anything less are shaky at best.

I'd love to hear how you go with this very old energy healing visualisation. And please share - do you have a favourite grounding technique?

What to do when affirmations make you feel worse

There was a time a few years ago when I felt like I was ricocheting from one emotional stress to another. It was tie to dig into my arsenal of tools and apply them to myself. One of those tools was affirmations.

For those who missed the affirmations memos floating round the web, affirmations are positive statements we write or say to help us feel more positive, stay on track for our goals or even attract what we want.

I started with some big dreams. "I have paid off my mortgage" and "I am happy in every way", that kind of thing. 

Only thing was, I didn't feel inspired and motivated. I felt deflated. I didn't believe what I was affirming - in fact, they just highlighted the abyss between where my life was and the life I actually wanted.

And this is the problem. If we can't even begin to believe what we're affirming, how can it elevate our mood? If we don't believe our goal, how will we stay on track for it?

So here's when affirmations are a problem:

  • When the affirmation is such a stretch goal we feel overwhelmed instead of motivated
  • When we're in so much pain regarding the affirmation topic that it just presses on a wound and reminds us of what we don't have
  • When the affirmation is something we feel we "should" want, but deep down we don't
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    When our immediate response to the affirmation is to think of all the reasons why it isn't or can't be true
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    When for any reason, reflecting on the affirmation makes us feel uninspired, overwhelmed, depressed or even more stuck, or when our body or energy contracts in any way

How to get affirmations to work for you

You'd think I'm all "Bah, humbug" about affirmations then. But I'm not. I love them. I use them myself consistently. Since those efforts a few years ago, I studied lots of different styles for using affirmations and applied my mental health experience to understand how to use them in a way that eventually created the shifts I was looking for.

So here's what I did differently:

  • I used affirmations while moving my body. When I dragged my miserable butt walking, I listened to Erin Stutland's "Soul Stroll". I'm not an affiliate (although I totally would be!), I'm just incredibly grateful for the months when her affirmations drowned out the misery in my head. Check her out here, her Soul Stroll is available for free. Exercise creates positive effects on our mood which makes it easier to feel positive about our affirmations, the movement also provides an outlet for the negativity that may arise in response.
  • I addressed my negative responses. This is something I learnt decades ago listening to a talk by Michael Domeyko Rowland. The idea is to write down a positive affirmation, then immediately write any negative response that comes up. For example if I wrote "I am happy", my immediate response might be "I will never get what I want in life". The idea then was to address the negative beliefs that were really running the show. 
  • I chose affirmations that were large enough to inspire, but not so large that they overwhelmed me or highlighted the gap. And I choose topics that didn't feel out of reach. Russ Harris, who is a local expert on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), describes the gap between what we have and what we aspire to as a "reality slap". It really feels like a slap when reality is not showing you the life you wanted. When infertility seemed to be my fate, I realised that goals of children felt too painful to focus on, as they just highlighted what I didn't have. So instead I focused on gaols and affirmations about studying a natural medicine degree. This was something I believed I could do, so these affirmations inspired me and got me out of bed in the morning.
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    I used affirmations that made me feel happy, inspired, calm and grounded.

Those dark days seem like another lifetime now. The sting has gone from the memories. Affirmations weren't my only guide back to happiness, but they are a favourite. Have you tried affirmations? And how did you go? Let me know in the comments below.

Letting go of who you used to be – a personal story and a book review

There are certain types of grief our society handles well. And certain needs for support  that we are good at recognising. That doesn't make these types of life events less painful. But a good part of our ability to be resilient is how supported we feel, so it's incredibly important.

And some life events are not recognised as times of immense pain or grief. Those with "hidden" illness or disability are met with judgement and impatience at times when they deserve and need the compassion and gentleness we are better at showing someone with cancer, or someone who has a visible paralysis. And those who experience a loss not acknowledged by their community sometimes deal with isolation in addition to their grief.

All of these societal factors affect how we cope with our burdens, and how we feel we are able to let go of the person we were before the spiritual forest fire struck.

A few years ago, I experienced three miscarriages in a row. The second one in particular was horrific to me. It dragged on for months, required two separate surgeries, and emotionally I was devastated. Some people visited. Some told me to medicate my grief. Others told me to get over it. And some seemed to disappear for a while (or forever). Someone told me that when we go through grief of any kind, we are always surprised by who is there for us, and who is not.

The one thing that is clear - I am not the person I was before these events. Before I was someone with a healthier body, an assumption that the people in my life would completely buffer any difficulty that ever came my way, and the cheerful belief that motherhood would happen easily. All of that has gone. I am a mother now, but the sacredness of my daughter within my heart reminds me that there is never again an assumption of how motherhood will be. For a few years I was bitter about the loss of all these expectations towards others and the "why me" force was strong within me! Now I've softened again, but this time with discernment. And a bit more resilience. And I get "it" in a way I didn't before.

So when I was cocooned away with my little mother on a holiday in the Sunshine Coast, and I stumbled on the book (affiliate) Letting Go of the Person You Used To Be by Lama Surya Das, I had to buy it. And then I hid it away and "forgot" to read it for a few years. You know.

But recent times have been healing and whole and happy, and I've been reading this book at last. Here are my thoughts and what I'm learning:

  • Lama Surya Das does not skirt around the edges of the pain - he talks directly of it. This would have been almost nihilistic for me when my grief was raw and I was traumatised. For others, it would be a relief to finally have direct acknowledgement of grief. I would not recommend this book for anyone on the edge or lost in their own darkness. But with a bit more distance from the rawness, and the readiness I have to face and release these past experiences, it is wise and healing
  • There are spiritual growth opportunities in loss  - we can grow, become more understanding and compassionate. There is also the risk of our hearts contracting into bitterness as they break, as I experienced, and thoughts on renewing our intention towards peace within
  • the book explores our natural tendency to shy away from these feelings through eating, drinking, drugs, shopping or any other distraction. Others dive into their sorrow but find it difficult to leave and risk wallowing or becoming stuck. The principles of Buddhism teach us to find a middle path of facing our grief, allowing our feelings, and remembering "This too shall pass".
  • the goal within grief is too fully inhabit our present experience, know the wisdom of releasing pain, and allow ourselves to be nourished by life
  • naming and examining our loss can help us process the events of our life
  • there are clues in how we live that we are holding on to a past version of ourselves - the key one being clutter
  • letting go is a universal spiritual practice - demonstrated in Lent, Ramadan, the renouncing of worldly ways by nuns and monks of many faiths
  • a simple breath awareness meditation is practice for letting go in our lives, as we notice the letting go of each out breath
  • letting go of ego-clinging does not man letting go of life and its precious opportunities - life is considered marvelous, despite and especially when we learn detachment
  • the Taoist spitiual guide, The Tao Te Ching teaches us "a master does his/her best, and then lets go"
  • when we pray for spiritual guidance and support, it usually comes in the form of other people, often not even recognised by us through their actions
  • Tibetan Buddhist practices of walking through our shadows, healing meditations and practicing mindfulness are shared. Mindfulness allows us to face our loss but also to experience the joys and pleasures still available to us.
  • mindfulness is something to infuse throughout our whole life. We can practice mindfulness of sounds, taste, smell, feelings, sights and thoughts. Choosing our own sound that occurs regularly in our environment (I am choosing the snoring of my dog on the couch as I work!) can be an anchor to remind us to practice a moment of mindfulness. 
  • all beings  have innate Buddha-nature. Our only task is to recognise this and awaken to our true self
  • all emotions can be channelled in constructive ways. Anger can be the fire that burns down our house, or it can be the rocket fuel that launches something amazing. Mindfulness helps us recognise our emotions and channel them for the good.
  • we are all truly surrounded and available to Love at all times, even through loss. We can access love of the Divine, loss of nature, of children and animals, of humanity, creativity and work. Even of our adversaries, who can be our greatest teachers.

I would suggest this book to someone who has gone through their own personal spiritual forest fire, and has reached the point where they would like to make sense of their experiences, name and process their losses, and practice mindfulness to begin a new part of their lives. You can buy the book through my affiliate links at Amazon or Book Depository. If you are still raw or traumatised from experiences, perhaps do what I did and hide the book away for a while. Be ever so gentle with yourself. And this book, and the rest of your life, will be waiting for you when you're ready.

If you would like support in processing past events of your life and establishing new ways of living in the world and constructive thoughts and practices to channel your lived experience, I'd warmly encourage you to consider my transformational mentoring packages.

Now I'd love to hear from you - what has been essential in healing from loss and letting go of the person you used to be? Let me know in the comments. And know that love is within you.

Simplify your schedule

For many years I followed the slightly disturbing maxim "If you've bitten off more than you can chew, chew faster. Unsurprisingly, I drank a lot of energy drinks and lived on junk food in those days. My energy was propped up on caffeine, sugar and adrenaline. Why, hello burnout, I didn't see you come in...

Burnout teaches us a lot if we pay attention. It teaches us to seek fulfilment rather than constantly needing stimulation. Because when we seek stimulation, the line between boredom and stress gets way too thin, and the slightest unforeseen thing can swing us past our breaking point.

If you find your schedule is stretched beyond your capacity, create some breathing room in these steps:

  • 1
    Write down all your regular tasks and commitments. Mark all the ones which drain you rather than energising you.
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    Decide which can be cut out altogether. Or cut back in frequency or volume. Perhaps you can rethink what gets ironed, or whether you want to stop being on some committees or attending a meeting that goes nowhere.
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    Look for where you can automate. Have clients schedule their appointments directly with your calendar rather than going back and forth. 
  • 4
    Learn to delegate. Yes, that person won't do it the way you do. But they will work it out and you can do something better with the time you free up. Kids can help out more at home. Services can be brokered out. Call in the troops!
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    Where a task or commitment needs to stay with you, or you choose to keep it, find ways to make it streamlined and efficient. Or find ways to make it more meaningful or pleasant. This may mean having shopping home delivered for efficiency, or shopping at a farmer's market to make it more pleasant. Perhaps do like tasks together for efficiency, or listen to an inspiring podcast.
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    When you're doing an activity, keep your mind focused and do nothing else. Thinking of the next ten things on your plate as you try to focus on the one in front of you is a sure way to exhaust yourself. Instead, write a note to yourself if you need to remember something later, but otherwise immerse yourself wholly in your task and consider the task in front of you to be your mindfulness practice. When we immerse ourselves we get the task done in a state of flow which maintains our energy rather than exhausting it.

I'd like to hear from you - which of these ways of practicing simplicity calls to you? How will you implement one into your day? And if this topic is one you'd like more resources to address, check out my free guide to Reclaim Your Me Time.

How to balance your chakras – even if you don’t believe in chakras!

I was 20 years old and devastated. I had just had a falling out with a friend - we had one of those intense friendships that sometimes, like in our case, burn out. I sought solace in a local meditative art class facilitated by Toni Carmine Salerno, who now runs Blue Angel Publishing. It was a pretty amazing class. One day in the class I painted out the story of our friendship and told my story. A kindly woman reached into her pocket and drew out a little piece of paper. On it was drawn the outline of a person sitting in meditation, with  spots running up their spine in the 7 colours of the rainbow. "You need to balance your chakras" she wisely advised me.

I thought she was crazy.

I took the paper politely, but I couldn't see how I could possibly have rainbow coloured spots running up my spine and never have noticed, nor how this strange little drawing could be of any use to my situation.

And yet, for some reason, I never threw out that paper.

You could say my embracing of chakras and their energy was a slow burn. And it's easy to understand how these strange drawings and stories of wheels of light and energy and long Sanskrit names can feel off-putting to the more practically minded amongst us.

Funnily enough though, later at uni I studied respected psychological theories such as Maslow's hierarchy of need. Guess what? It approaches the same content, but using the acceptable language of Western psychology.

Over the years I have got so much benefit from balancing my chakras and energy healing. I have picked up strategies that have seen me through times when my thoughts were too unwieldy to manage and my heart too broken to try. I see energy work as another piece of the puzzle. And further studies in counselling psychology opened up the world of metaphor and symbology and their potent use in therapy.

The pieces have come together - whether chakras and energy healing are taken as literal or metaphorical, they provide an ancient set of tools that speak to our unconscious and subconscious mind to create shifts our ego won't consciously allow us. I've experienced enough myself to believe directly in the power of our energy system, but if this idea seems as crazy to you as my helpful lady did to me all those years ago - don't worry, I get it. But use the tools anyway as a form of supporting that ancient part of your mind which works in pictures and metaphors, not words and strategies. The part where dreams and nightmares, phobias and inspiration exist. Here are 7 places to start, 1 for each chakra.

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    Think of the chakras as focal points for your energetic system. By keeping them clear and in balance, your whole being can be in balance. While there are many chakras, to begin at the most practical level, we will discuss the main 7. The first chakra is an energy point at the base of your spine and has the same energetic frequency as the colour red. It symbolises our most fundamental human needs of being safe, grounded and belonging to our tribe. When these parts of life are damaged, it's imperative  for our balance that we heal them. We can take action on a practical level - get ourselves to safety, take care of practicalities like having a budget, find our own tribe or heal our relationship with the one we were raised in. When these actions are overwhelming we begin the healing with metaphor and symbology that begins the process. We can wear red to help us feel strong, do grounding activities like cleaning, decluttering and gardening, practicing strong balancing yoga poses such as warrior or tree, and listen to or dance to music with drumming to get us back to the sense of having a solid base.
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    The second energetic focal point symbolising the next level of human need is below our belly button and has the energetic frequency of the colour orange. This is the psychological needs of connection with one other - friends, partners etc, with our creativity and healthy sexual expression. Once again we can address these parts of our life directly, or begin the healing process with using the colour orange, allowing ourselves time to create in whichever way we are drawn to, and focusing on movement that centres below the navel such as hula hoop and belly dance and dancing to sensual music that inspires hip movement.
  • 3
    Our third psychological need is to have a healthy sense of our personal power, and to remove ourselves or resolve any power struggles we have with others. It is neither healthy to be overpowered by or to overpower others; the aim is always our own sense of personal power and containment. The energy for this is above the navel and attributed the colour yellow. Wear yellow to feel strong within yourself and shine brightly in your own right. Symbolically we can visualise anything or anyone we feel drains our power and imagine we are cutting away any cords that bind us to that person or situation, always blessing all parties with love and light but creating healthy separation. Flamenco and martial arts are wonderful strengtheners of our personal power centre. So is standing up for a cause you believe in.
  • 4
    The chakra in the middle that keeps balance between all others is, of course, attributed to the heart area. It has the energy of green. This is the place where we have the courage to allow broken hearts to heal and let go of bitterness in order to be more open-hearted. We can't allow love in unless we allow it out also, so we must be brave and keep this channel open. This means we must trust ourselves enough to open our hearts where it is safe to do so, not in abusive or unhealthy situations. Where this part of our life needs tender care, we can wear green (or pink if you prefer) and spend time in the original green of nature. Caring for animals allows the heart to heal and open also. Songs that speak to the heart can help too.
  • 5
    Our 5th chakra is located to the throat area and attributed the colour blue. This is the energy of living and speaking our truth. We can begin in small ways to align our lives, actions and the words we speak or write to have more and more integrity with our core values and deepest truths. Where we need support, wearing blue and using our voice in singing along to songs that speak our truths for us give us inspiration and strength.
  • 6
    Our forehead area is the location of the 6th chakra, which has the energy of indigo and is the importance of following our inner knowing and wisdom. Reading stories and watching movies of those who inspire us, and studying areas that call us further help here. Meditation is the primary practice for quietening our minds of the ego's loud chatter and hearing the quieter and wiser voice within.
  • 7
    And lastly the top of our heads is aptly named the crown (7th) chakra, and has the energy of violet or white. It speaks to our need to connect with the collective, to higher power or greater good. Religious belief is not the only way to do this, feeling connected to all of humanity is also important here. Ways to open up this area in our life include asking the questions from A Course In Miracles during our meditation, and waiting for inner wisdom to guide us "Where would you have me go? What would you have me do? What would you have me say, and to who?". Our aim is to follow our highest path. Using the colours white, violet and gold can support this energy.

So whether you love the idea of diving into the chakras, or whether for you they are a useful metaphoric guide to the growth of the human spirit, try the practices above related to the chakra you instinctively feel is the weakest for you. If you don't know where to begin, always begin with the first and develop a grounded foundation for your life, from where all else can grow.

And I'd love to hear from you! Do you already work with your chakras? And if this is new, which practice will you experiment with? Let me know in the comments below and share with a friend who could benefit too.

Start with self compassion

Many of us as women are brought up to be compassionate towards others. By the time we are adults, this comes naturally to us.

Compassion for others is wonderful both in creating a kinder world and for our own happiness, but the cornerstone piece is missing - we need to begin with compassion towards ourselves.

Without self-compassion we can feel like we never give enough, we become vulnerable to the judgements of others and it is all too easy to crumble if we feel not good enough in our efforts. We dim our lights out of fear of our imperfections shining through.

When we stumble and fall, if we don't meet the expectations of others, if we realise we are flawed and human, it is our self-compassion that allows us to nurse our wounded parts, dust ourselves off and continue shining our light in this world.

So practice kindness towards yourself. When you have one of those moments - I am having one even as I write this - don't berate yourself. Consider how you'd respond to your dearest friend.

"Don't worry, you're human like everyone else. Learn and keep going. The world needs your light".

If you struggle with this, then begin here.

When we are all kind to ourselves in the privacy of our own minds and hearts, it becomes natural to be kind to others. It's not by "being better" we develop self worth, it's by being gentler in the midst of our own frailties and strengths.

Shine on, sister.

I'd like to hear from you - how will you be gentle with yourself today?