When stress subsides, the other senses soar…

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Last year – my year from hell, I got into the habit of eating frozen bought chicken kiev’s with mashed potato nearly every week night. Bland, carb loaded and devoid of many nutrients, but it was easy. Lazy – yes, but easy. And at that stage in my life I had pretty much stopped caring about a lot of things, one of those being my interest in cooking and eating healthy. You see when stress takes over every inch of your body, you simply become focused on making it through the day. You don’t care about whether your dinner that night is going to be interesting, delicious or challenging to make. In fact I was shovelling my dinner down so quickly that I didn’t even register what I was doing, all so I could shower and get back into bed. As I slowly unwind this year I’ve found myself becoming interested in cooking again, and I’m really excited.

They say that your gut is your second mind and I wouldn’t have believed them until last year, when I experienced just how intrinsically linked the stomach and your mind really are. I was completely burnt out from my job, stressed to the max and experiencing daily stomach cramps, headaches and bloating. I would get home and need to lay down for hours just to let the pain in my stomach subside, and I had no idea what was wrong with me at that point. I got blood tests, scans, urine samples… the lot. I finally decided to try a gluten free diet, which I have been doing for about a year now. I can honestly say this helped a lot at the time, however I would notice that after particularly stressful days I would still be doubled over in pain. After much reading and investigation, I realised that when the body is stressed and in that ‘fight or flight’ mode, your digestive system basically switches off. This is because the body is literally panicking and preparing for action, in situations where it most definitely doesn’t need to be worried. So when I was fuelling my body with wheat products which are already difficult to digest, coupled with my inactive and stressed out digestive system, it was simply a recipe for disaster.

HOWEVER, after quitting this job in November and moving home to a caring, supportive environment I can honestly say that 5 months later my gut is making a comeback! I’ve dabbled with probiotics and expensive vitamins, cut out alcohol and caffeine, reduced my sugar intake and gone for bowen therapy and regular massages. Trust me, I’ve tried everything to get my body back on the mend. Over the last few weeks I’ve slowly been re-introducing regular old bread into the mix, pasta, biscuits, muffins and pancakes. Not because I want to eat these types of foods all the time, but because I believe balance is key – and I certainly don’t want to make myself completely intolerant to these food groups!

A few months ago I wasn’t even interested in going grocery shopping, I was content just eating whatever was in the cupboard. I was focused solely on getting through the day without feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, and this took all of my energy. Now I’m excited to start cooking again, experimenting with flavours and enjoying the kitchen. I’ve just made a lovely pesto filled with basil, pine nuts, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and parmesan cheese. Delish!

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Photo credits – chefmattmoran & ihavethisthingwithpink

Letting the leaves float away…

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Having been meddling in the practice of mindfulness for the past few months in an attempt to reduce anxiety and stressors, I’ve come across some nice little exercises that with (regular) practice actually do help. I’m particularly enjoying one I was shown this week, which uses mental visualisation to help move anxious feelings and thoughts along;

You’re standing by a stream, watching the water flow by.  On the surface of the water are many leaves, floating down the stream.  No one leaf has any particular significance–they all just float by.  The leaves represent the many random thoughts that flow through your mind in a day.  Now visualise that your intrusive thought, or worry, is one of these leaves–watch it float past and disappear.  There’s no need to focus on that one leaf–just let it float on by, out of your sight and out of your awareness….

And so it goes on – as you assign a leaf to any thought or feeling that is worrying you and simply imagine it floating down the stream, you can definitely notice the tension leaving your body. I like to do any of these meditation or mindfulness practices in a quiet, secure place where I can completely relax – laying on the cool floor under a fan is particularly tranquil. It’s about your own journey though, so you need to find the right space and energy that works for you – whether it’s sitting on the beach at sunrise or a balcony at dusk. Find your peaceful place and zone out, even if it’s for a couple of minutes every day – there’s no excuse for not making time for yourself.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” ~Amit Ray

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Photo credits – zeebachi & templeofleaves

In my own good time…

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How many times in life have friends, family or colleagues tried to get you to do something – whether it’s a new restaurant, TV show or book, or perhaps something health related or ‘for your own good’? They mean well of course, but there’s just this innate reflex in me to be stubborn and do the opposite, despite knowing deep down that they’re probably right and have my best interests at heart. So what does this say about me? That I’m only human I think, and that we each have to tread our own path, make our own mistakes, and arrive at our own conclusions.

We’ve all been there before. Someone has recommended something, a year or two later we try it… and absolutely love it. Why didn’t we do this before!? We tell our friends and family, and someone says ‘I told you to do that years ago’. Well… yes, you did. But I was stubborn (or maybe just stupid), and wanted to discover my own things. So why can’t we listen to people we actually trust to make good recommendations? I think it comes down to a silly sense of pride. WE want to be the ones to unexpectedly find trendy new cafes, or stumble across fantastic books we can’t put down. WE want to be the original source of information, and spread the word. It’s ridiculous isn’t it?

So many times I have finally started watching a new TV show from a friends suggestion, and become completely engrossed in the story line. Game of Thrones, True Blood, The Killing, Dexter, The Tudors… the list could go on forever. Had I listened to the people who knew me best, who knew what I would love, then perhaps I could have brought this enjoyment into my life a little sooner!

As I get a little older (and hopefully wiser), I intend to genuinely take on board anything my loved ones suggest to me. I do think that it’s important for us to take our own time in making positive changes to our lifestyle however, when it comes to more serious referrals. Anything health related – whether it be physical, mental or emotional, is something that we need to decide for ourselves so we aren’t filled with resentment or regrets. It is absolutely important that we genuinely listen to these suggestions, and make changes if our actions are negatively impacting anyone around us. I believe that the greatest gift you can give your family and the world is a healthy you (Joyce Meyer). 

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Photo credits – vzcomacro & tuesdayswithpaulo