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

Breaking down the tendency towards avoidance.

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As I’ve been working through some issues lately, I’ve homed in on some uncomfortable truths about how I live my life – specifically my tendency to avoid difficult situations or memories. We all do it from time to time. Nobody likes confronting their fears or regrets, or reflecting on things they did wrong, or things that happened to them. It brings up all kinds of feelings and physical symptoms as well. But knowing that you’ve been avoiding dealing with something can make the issue grow and grow, until the thought of tackling this problem becomes an almost impossible task (in your mind at least).

I’m guilty of doing this in a few areas of my life, particularly with tasks at work. You know those emails that sit in your inbox for a couple of days, or even weeks? The ones that glare at you every time you open your emails, reminding you of some unfinished job or deadline, heightening your anxiety and growing into these huge monsters in your head… Those are the jobs we should be getting over and done with first thing in the morning, so they don’t sit there taunting and terrorising us throughout the day. Of course these things are easier said than done, and I’m the first to admit I need to work on this avoidance technique to make my life better.

As you might have read in earlier blog posts, I suffered a pretty traumatic panic attack about 10 months ago while driving. I remember every minute of the whole event with vivid clarity, so much detail that it seems to have gone on for an hour when it was probably only 15 minutes in total from start to finish. But whilst I have gone over that day over and over again, recounting every second and remembering how I felt in each moment, it doesn’t mean I have actually been dealing with how I felt and the effect it has had on my life. I’ve written about it in my blog, and told close friends and family the basics, but actually speaking about it out loud and recounting the story is something that still makes me feel sick and start to sweat. It’s like I have divided my life into who I was before it happened, and who I’ve become since it happened. And to be honest, now that it’s been nearly a year since it happened, I can honestly say that I’m grateful for what I’ve been through because it’s set me on a path that I finally feel is right for me. If I hadn’t of had that panic attack and the subsequent battles with anxiety, I might still be working in a job I didn’t like and feeling stuck in my life, in a city that had lost all its colour to me.

I could go on about the usual things people avoid in life – washing the dishes, or their clothes, or their hair… but at the end of the day, I think the things you avoid in your mind are more important than the humdrum of daily life. Tackling those mental barriers head on is the only way to come out with a brighter perspective, and although it takes patience, perseverance and positivity – it’s so worth it.

There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.

Ronald Reagan. 

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Photo credits – taxcollection & vzcomacro