What Your Sleep is Trying to Tell You

In this blog I want to talk to you about what your brain is busy doing while you’re sleeping, and the 3 signs that you need to look after your mental health.

Weird Dreams

Today my dog, Sky, went in for an operation. I’ve been worrying about it for a couple of days and last night I had a really weird dream. Long story short I dreamt I’d left Sky with strangers and they juggled with her! She loved it but I was fuming! How strange is that?

Well actually, it makes perfect sense. During the night, your mind processes your worries and concerns from the day, often by dreaming about them. During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, your mind is really busy processing everything that’s happened to you during the day; so that you can make sense of it and wake up refreshed and raring to go. The bigger your worries, the weirder your dreams can get! That’s why I know that when I’m getting strange dreams, or nightmares, I need to pay a bit more attention to my mental health. In this situation of course I’m worried about a one-off event, and tonight Sky will be home, being spoilt rotten and I’ll probably sleep very well! But sometimes there is no specific ‘thing’ I’m worried about. I just notice my dreams have got very disturbed and I know I need to stop and take a look at what’s going on in my life – get to the bottom of what’s worrying me so I can do something about it.

Waking up in the Night

Another sign of poor mental health is waking up in the early hours. Not like when you wake up to go to the toilet and fall back asleep easily; but when you’re wide awake at 2am and know you’re going to find it hard to get back to sleep. That’s because if we have too much to process during our REM sleep, our brains will snap us wide awake, almost as self protection so that we don’t short circuit! And it just so happens that most of our REM happens after midnight, so that’s when we wake up. So, waking up in the early hours is a sign we’re getting overloaded and need to do something to deal with the stress we’re experiencing.

Sleeping too Much

The third sign is sleeping too much! REM sleep is exhausting; the more we have to process the harder our brains have to work during the night, and it tires us out! So, feeling like you’ve slept but still feeling exhausted and not wanting to get out of bed is another symptom of poor mental health.

So, if you’re having bad dreams, waking in the early hours or sleeping too much, see that as a sign that you need to pay more attention to your mental health. Obviously, the best remedy is to change the situation that’s causing you stress or anxiety but sometimes that’s not possible. So, what else can you do? Hypnotherapy works because it gives you an extra dose of REM sleep, so helps you process whatever is going on for you. Other things that can help are meditation, mindfulness, exercise, talking it over with a friend or getting out in nature. Whatever you choose to do, it’s important to pay attention to what your sleep is trying to tell you and look after yourself. Sweet dreams!

Why we need to keep talking about Mental Health

I was 21 when I was first diagnosed with depression. I’d spent a year in France as part of my degree and found it very difficult; a roller-coaster of ups and downs that ended up taking its toll. Ironically, it was only once I was home again, back with the people I loved, when the depression came. A bleakness that clouded everything and left me feeling like I was carrying a rock on my shoulders. A combination of medication and counselling worked and by the time I finished my degree I was feeling more like myself. I didn’t really understand why it had happened or how to prevent it happening again; all I knew was that I never wanted to go back to that overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and despair.

Unfortunately for me, and my family and friends, I did. Twice more. What I thought was going to be a fourth time turned out to be anxiety instead; rather than the awful feeling of ‘nothingness’, I had panic attacks on my way to work and social events.

I don’t share this because my story is interesting or different to millions of others, rather precisely because it isn’t! I share it because I honestly feel that speaking out is the only way to end the stigma that still surrounds mental health. As Ruby Wax said, “every part of the body gets sick so why not the brain”? Until we get to a point where we’re just as comfortable telling people we have anxiety as we are telling them we have the flu then we need to keep raising awareness. We need organisations and individuals to realise that being mentally unwell is not being ‘weak’, and that people signed off with stress aren’t workshy. In the same way that our physical health has ups and downs so does our mental health; and both need attention.

In an effort to make sure I never again fall into that awful black pit of depression; I’ve done lots of work on understanding mental health. It’s one of the things that led me to practice solution-focused hypnotherapy. Over the years I’ve learnt the importance of spotting the signs that all is not well and doing something about it. This has sometimes been big things, such as leaving jobs that were making me unhappy; or small things like modifying my diet, taking gentle exercise, better communication with my friends and family or just taking a little “me time” to take a moment and recharge my batteries.

So, for anyone who is struggling, know you’re certainly not alone. And for those who wish we’d all stop talking about mental health; it’s something we simply can’t ignore. One in four people will experience a mental health problem this year. If it’s you, I hope you get the understanding and support you deserve; and if that’s not you then that’s great, just remember one of your friends or a member of your family probably wishes they could talk to you.  Please remember to take time to be there for them and to help them do something about it.

Top Tips to Reduce Stress

In my last blog, I explained why stress has been called a ‘21st Century Health Epidemic’ and the effect that the way we live our lives is having on our minds and bodies. In this blog, I’ll be sharing some simple tips that can help us reduce the harmful effects of chronic stress. Just pick out 1 or 2 that seem easy to do and try them out.

Can you change what’s causing you stress?

Most of these tips concentrate on how we can better manage stress. But it’s worth asking ourselves if we can do anything to reduce it. If your job is stressing you out, can you talk to your manager or look for another job? If a relationship is causing stress, can you talk about it? If you have too much to do, can you ask for help? If you’re constantly feeling stressed, it’s worth taking a look at what’s causing it and dealing with it

Choose your response

There are many things in life we can’t control; but we can always choose our response. For example; if you’re late for work because you’re stuck in a traffic jam, you can panic and get angry; or you can let work know you’ll be late, put on your favourite tunes and sing along!

Discover your purpose

When we have a sense of purpose, we feel more fulfilled and better able to cope with things. The Japanese call this sense of purpose Ikigai. This could be through our career, looking after family or volunteering. Finding what we’re good at and doing more of it can reduce stress levels.

Connect with people

Interacting with others boosts serotonin levels in the brain. This ‘feel-good’ chemical is vital in keeping us happy and balanced and is missing in people with depression. When we’re feeling down or stressed, it’s tempting to stay home and withdraw from the world but meeting up with a friend will make you feel a lot better.

Think positive

When we’re stressed, we tend to focus on all the things that are going wrong, and this only makes us feel worse. So, at the end of every day, think of everything that has gone right. Maybe you got a good parking space, or the sun was shining? Focusing on the positives will give you that important serotonin boost

Take action

Taking positive action is another way to boost serotonin. If life feels a bit overwhelming, this needs only be a small step to take you closer to where you want to be. It might be to book an exercise class, have one less glass of wine or add some fruit to your diet. Small actions lead to bigger ones.

Challenge yourself

When you do something outside your comfort zone, you increase your confidence and resilience. It may be something small like trying a new route to work or trying a new recipe, or it could be something bigger like signing up to a charity event. A few years ago, I did a sky dive. It was terrifying but amazing and for about a month afterwards I felt like I could accomplish anything! Pushing yourself a little shows you what you’re capable of

Take a Time Out

Sometimes, we get stressed out by trying to meet the needs of others instead of our own. We can feel torn between the needs of work, partners, kids or parents. It can feel selfish to take time out for yourself, but the fact is you can’t pour from an empty cup. So, prioritise some time for yourself. It may be turning your work phone off when you get home, saying no to being mum’s taxi, or having that bubble bath while your partner cooks dinner. You matter too!

Help Others

That said, once you’ve taken care of yourself (remember to put your own oxygen mask on first) helping others is known to release feel-good chemicals in the brain. It doesn’t need to be time-consuming; you might just pay someone a compliment or make a colleague a cup of tea.

Be in the moment

We’re most stressed when we’re dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. To reduce stress levels, focus on the here and now. To help you do this, try something like mindfulness, meditation or even an adult colouring book. Just 10 minutes a day can reduce stress levels.

The Power of Touch

Touch can be very effective at reducing stress as well as pain levels (have you noticed how we rub an injury to feel better?) So, something like a massage, or even a good hug with a loved one can make us feel better. Scientists have found that a 20 second hug releases oxytocin, another of those feel-good chemicals in the brain!

Try Positive Affirmations

We may feel a bit silly standing in front of the mirror in the morning saying things like; ‘I’m calm, I’m in control, I got this’, but here’s why it works. The brain can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality. So, what you tell yourself, your brain believes. Try it!

Change your internal dialogue

Because our brains can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality, what we tell ourselves becomes so important. If you’re feeling nervous, reframe it as excitement. If you come across a problem, call it a challenge instead. What we tell ourselves really does make a difference.

Watch what you’re feeding your brain

One of the reasons we feel more stressed than ever is that bad news is available 24/7. We don’t have to watch the news at ten, as my grandparents did. The minute we wake up we’re on social media seeing all kinds of upsetting stories, it’s relentless. This can lead our brains to feel as though we’re under attack. So try to limit the time you spend on news, or search out some good news stories.

Get a Pet

Stroking a pet can lower your blood pressure and cuts down on the levels of stress hormones in your body. If you’re able to get a dog, you also get exercise, fresh air and social interaction. If you’re not able to get a dog, you might benefit from volunteering at a rescue centre or walking someone else’s dog.

Spend time outdoors

Even 20 minutes spent in nature can reduce your stress levels. A short walk at lunchtime can make a big difference. At weekends try and get out further. A walk in the woods or by the sea can be a stress reliever. I’m often in Yorkshire and as soon as I get out into the fields I can feel my stress melting away!

Prioritise Sleep

The importance of sleep can’t be emphasised enough. Sleep is our time to process the events of the day so we can start tomorrow refreshed and revitalised. Not enough sleep reduces our ability to cope. Too often, we’re on the go all day and all evening and then wonder why we can’t get to sleep. Our brains need relaxation time before sleep, so make some time to relax, turn off your phone and get ready for a good nights sleep.

Exercise

Exercise is so important for reducing stress levels and releasing feel-good chemicals. Building exercise into your day will help you cope with whatever is in store. If you’re pressed for time, it doesn’t have to be anything major, even 20 minutes will make a difference. You could even dance around the kitchen while you’re cooking tea!

Reduce Caffeine

A large coffee at lunchtime can still be in your system at bedtime. So try reducing your caffeine and having it as early as possible, so that you get the quality sleep you need.

Reduce Alcohol

The same goes for alcohol unfortunately! When we’re stressed, we may want a drink to take the edge off and to help us sleep. While we may get to sleep quicker our sleep is more disturbed and we’ll wake up more often. This leads us to feel tired the next day, reach for the caffeine and so it continues. Not only that but alcohol also stops our natural production of serotonin, that feel-good chemical. So, when we’re stressed drinking alcohol is one of the worst things we can do!

Eat Well

Some foods can reduce the effects that too much cortisol – a stress hormone – has on the body. Too much cortisol can cause weight gain, high blood pressure and mood swings. Foods that reduce its affects include blueberries, walnuts, almonds and pumpkin seeds, so try adding these to your diet in times of stress.

Watch those unhealthy habits

When we’re feeling stressed we tend to reach for fast food, have a few drinks and skip the gym. This can then become a vicious circle, as it affects our sleep and leads to us doing the same things the next day. If we’re going through periods of stress, that’s the time to stick to healthy habits as much as possible; to help us cope.

Prioritise

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with your to-do-list, prioritise what’s important. Stephen Covey’s Time Management grid can help. When we’re stressed, it’s too easy to procrastinate with time wasting activities. Focusing on the important tasks will help us get back on track.

Breathe

When you’re feeling stressed and anxious, focus on your breathing. Try the 3-4-5 method; breathe in for 3, hold for 4 and breathe out for 5. This will calm down your nervous system.

If you need some more help relaxing, try my free Hypnotherapy download! Click on this link and enter the password, stepaheadhypnotherapy2018

Why is Stress a 21st Century Health Epidemic?

April is Stress Awareness Month. In this blog I’ll be explaining why the World Health Organisation has called stress a 21st Century Health Epidemic and the impact it can have on our mental and physical wellbeing.

I must start off by saying that not all stress is bad. Short-term stress is actually good for performance. That’s what gets the adrenalin pumping when we have to give a big presentation, or why we can start an essay the day before it’s due and pull it off! It’s chronic stress that causes us problems.

To understand why stress has become such a big problem, we need to know a bit about how the brain works. Our brains were designed back in caveman days, when the kind of stress we faced was being chased by a wild animal or fighting another tribe. So, our brains were great at reacting to that kind of threat. You would be out hunting, and your brain would be on high alert. At the first sign of danger the adrenalin would pump round your body so that you could run away or fight back. However, once you were safely back in your cave, you would have a long period of recovery and rest before you had to go out again and face another danger.

These days it’s a different story. Most of us are lucky enough to have never been chased by a wild animal (does a cat count?) but we do face stress on a constant basis. Rather than one big dose of stress, we face small (micro) doses of stress all day long. The alarm goes off, jolting you out of a deep sleep, that’s your first micro dose of stress. You hit snooze and 10 minutes later it wakes you again, that’s your second dose. The first thing you do is check the news, and Brexit sends your stress levels soaring! So, for some light relief you scroll through Facebook where you see a picture of a starving dog. You get the point. Before you’ve even left the house, you’ve experienced maybe 10-15 micro doses of stress, with no time built in for recovery. We live our lives at 100 miles an hour.

Why is this a problem? Because chronic stress is bad for us. It actually damages every single cell in the body! Chronic stress:

  • Increases blood pressure – leaving you more at risk of heart attacks and strokes
  • Lowers the immune system – meaning you’re more likely to get ill
  • Affects sleep, which is vital to good health
  • Leads to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression

Last year, stress accounted for 50% of all sick days. 1 in 5 of us went to the GP with stress!

Why are these numbers soaring? Because our brains simply aren’t designed for the way we live our lives today. Thanks to advances in technology, our lives are evolving much quicker than our brains!

This may all sound like bad news, I mean we can’t change our pace of life, can we? The good news is there is a solution. While our caveman ancestors faced big threats and had long periods of recovery, we face smaller threats and so need to build in smaller amounts of recovery. Over the coming month, I’ll be sharing daily tips to show you how on my Facebook page (Step Ahead Hypnotherapy). These will be published in another blog at the end of the month – check back here at the end of April to access my free giveaway – which will help you reduce your stress levels!

Have a good month!

5 Top Tips to Increase Confidence Quickly

Most of us struggle with confidence from time to time. Many of my clients come to me having lost confidence due to events in their lives, which makes sense. When we’re faced with stressful life events, our brains want to protect us and keep us safe; that means staying firmly in our ‘comfort zone’!

Confidence usually comes back with time, but some of my clients don’t have time to wait! You may have lost confidence after being treated poorly at work but then you have to apply for another job. You may be going through a difficult personal situation but need to nail a presentation at work.

Here’s the thing with confidence; the saying ‘Fake it ‘till you make it’ really works! Here’s why; your brain doesn’t know the difference between imagination and reality. So, imagine it’s your first day in a new job and you’re worried about being late. Every time you think about being late, your brain thinks you are late. By the time that Monday morning comes around, you’ve thought about being late 50 times. You’re actually on time, but as far as your brain’s concerned you’ve been late 51 times! No wonder you’re stressed!

Luckily, the reverse is also true. If you think positive thoughts; if you tell yourself you feel calm, confident and in control, then your brain believes it!

So, here are some tips to increase your confidence in a hurry.

  1. Positive Affirmations

Remember, your brain believes what you tell it. So, try saying out loud things like:

I am confident

I can do this

I am great at my job

2. Remind yourself of all your achievements. If you’ve lost confident after being treated poorly at work for example, it’s easy to focus on all the negative emotions you felt. Instead, try writing a list of everything you’ve ever achieved or been proud of. You’ll be surprised how long the list is!

3. Try Power Poses. The way you carry yourself affects how you feel. Think Wonder Woman! There’s a great video which explains this, check out https://youtu.be/phcDQ0H_LnY

4. Spend some time focusing on the present. We spend far too much time going over the past or worrying about the future. Try mindfulness, meditation, walking in nature or of course, hypnotherapy.

5. Exercise will release feel-good chemicals that will help you feel better about yourself. Even a 20-minute walk in nature will have an impact.

If you have an important event coming up where you need to perform well; such as a driving test, exam, presentation or job interview, then hypnotherapy can help. Call me on 07973914718 for more information.

How to Change a Habit

Anything we do repeatedly becomes a habit. And there are lots of habits that do us good, such as brushing our teeth twice a day or putting a seatbelt on as we get in the car. But most of us have developed habits that don’t do us good; such as reaching for a glass of wine after a stressful day or biting our nails when we’re bored.

I was reminded yesterday of how easily habits are formed. Those of you who use the M60 will know it’s been 50 mph for months, while they’ve converted it to a ‘smart motorway’. I, like many others really struggled with reducing my speed. It felt unnatural to be going so slowly. Yesterday, although the speed restriction has finally been lifted, I saw lots of drivers still doing 50mph! It had just become hard-wired into their brain. The good news is, just as they got used to doing 50mph, they will be able to re-wire their brain to do 70mph again. And in the same way, you can also change your habits if you want to.

Here are some tips to help you do it:

  1. Identify what you’re getting from the habit

All habits serve a function, even the bad ones. Perhaps drinking helps you to be more sociable? Maybe smoking gives you the opportunity to take a break at work. Mindless eating can be a way of comforting yourself when you’re feeling down. Our brains release dopamine when we eat, which is a bit like an internal hug. The more you eat, the more you need to eat to get the same comfort. Identifying what you gain from your habit will help you find a different one to replace it with. Maybe a bath will help you to relax instead of a glass of wine.

2. Ask yourself, ‘What’s the real problem?’

Dealing with whatever the real issue is will help you achieve your goal. If you over-eat because of low self-esteem, then that’s something you can work on. If you drink when you get home to mask a problem in your relationships, then you’ll need to face that to move forwards. If you smoke to get breaks at work because you don’t like your job, then that’s the place to start.

3.Write out your goal and look at it often to keep yourself on track.

What do you want to achieve? Maybe it’s 3 alcohol free days a week, maybe it’s stopping the daily donut. Whatever it is, putting it into a clear goal will help.

4. Assemble your support team

Having people around you who will help support you in your goal is a huge help. Maybe it’s your partner who can help prepare healthy meals, or a friend who will go to the gym with you. Let them know what your goal is and how that can help you. Also, keep an eye out for those around you who may try and sabotage you and plan how you will deal with that. It may be the co-worker who doesn’t want to be the only one eating donuts or a partner who starts bringing home takeaways because they’re worried about losing you.

5. Be patient

Our brains aren’t programmed to like change. Our brain wants to keep us safe and to do that it likes repeated patterns of behaviour. Sometimes we fail because we try to change too much, too soon. Pick one small thing to change and take small steps forwards; the tortoise wins the race on this one!

6. Be prepared for slips

An ingrained habit won’t change overnight, and we will face challenges on the way. Slipping up gives us valuable information. What was happening before we reached for that glass of wine? Why did we lose our temper? Knowing what our stressors are will enable us to put plans in place to deal with them. Try keeping a diary and record how you felt before you slipped into an old habit.

Hypnotherapy can help you to change your habits, by helping you re-wire your brain. For a free consultation call 07973914718.

JOMO – the Joy of Missing Out

Who’s heard of JOMO? I hadn’t either, but I was familiar with the term FOMO – fear of missing out. It’s FOMO that drives us to scroll through social media the minute we wake up, check news sites obsessively and accept social invitations to events we really can’t bothered going to, we just don’t want to miss out! We want to be able to show on our own social media channels that we have a life too!

But here’s the thing, relaxing and doing nothing are also an important part of life. Many of the clients I see in my Hypnotherapy Practice are struggling simply because they’re packing too much into their lives, and our brains aren’t designed to cope with that level of activity. We need time to process our thoughts and activities and recharge, and when we don’t give ourselves that time our mental health suffers. The most common result of packing too much in that I see in clients is insomnia. When we sleep, we process the events of the day, and if we have too much to process our brain pings us awake in the early hours of the morning, as a self-defence mechanism. So, we don’t get enough quality sleep, wake up tired and irritable, and this starts a downward spiral.

So, here are my top tips for embracing JOMO

  • We’re often told to schedule exercise into our diaries to make it a priority, the same needs to happen for relaxation. Build time in your weekly schedule to relax. For me, that means no work or chores on Sunday. It’s a day for family, relaxation and fresh air.
  • Limit social media, it’s amazing how much extra time you have when you’re not scrolling for updates! You might have a total ban one day a week; or have a rule not to go on it for the first and last two hours of the day.
  • Have a good sleep routine – many clients with insomnia go straight from an activity to bed and then struggle to sleep. You need time to switch off and relax, maybe have a bath or read a book. If you’re watching TV try and avoid tense dramas!
  • If you have children, try and avoid the temptation to pack their evenings and weekends with clubs and sports. Kids especially are learning constantly and need time to unwind. They will benefit from time to just play and use their imagination, and you’ll certainly benefit from not being on taxi duty every night!

If you are struggling with relaxation or sleep, contact me for a free consultation to see how hypnotherapy can help.

Info@stepaheadhypnotherapy.co.uk

Worried about Job Security? Don’t Be

My Dad worked for the same company his whole life, but today people can expect to have 5 to 15 jobs in their lifetime. I’m 44 and have had 5 employers so far and been made redundant twice! The good news is that the more change we go through the more resilient we become, and that will benefit us in all areas of our lives. However, if we have worked in the same company for a long time and our job is threatened, it can be hard to handle. Our brains are designed to fear change, which can lead to anger, anxiety or depression when we feel under threat.

In my hypnotherapy business I’ve seen many clients who’ve lost their confidence after losing their jobs. As a Business Coach I’ve supported many people through restructures and helped them prepare for the job market.

So as someone who’s been through it, and someone who’s helped others, here are my top tips for dealing with changes at work.

Be Prepared

Accept that no job is ‘safe’ forever, and make sure you’re prepared. Things you can do:

  • Save 3 months wages. This means you won’t panic about where next months mortgage is coming from or feel you have to take the first job you’re offered, however unsuitable.
  • Have an up-to-date C.V. I’ve coached people who haven’t updated their C.V. for 20 years and it can feel like a very big task when you need it in a hurry. Get a template online and focus on what you’ve achieved in each job rather than your day to day duties. Update your C.V. every 6 months to capture key achievements.
  • Get on LinkedIn and once you’re on it, use it to network. Connect with friends and colleagues, engage with conversations and get yourself known. Many recruiters use LinkedIn to search for candidates, and many jobs come through connections before they’re even advertised.
  • Register on job sites that specialise in your area of work. Even if you’re not looking it’s useful to keep an eye on the job market and see what roles are being advertised. When you do need to look, it’s one less thing to do.

If you do lose your job

  • Accept it’s natural to feel sad and worried. You may be missing colleagues, banter, a sense of purpose. Give yourself time to grieve for what you’ve lost.
  • Set aside time each day for job hunting. As well as applying for jobs online, you might also register with agencies, network or approach companies directly. A routine will help.
  • Try and keep to the same sleep schedule and wake up time. It can be tempting to lie in bed but getting out of your routine will make it harder when you find another job. It can also leave you feeling demotivated and down.
  • Make sure you get out and about and see friends and family. Being at home alone all day can affect your mental wellbeing. If all your friends and family are working in the day, consider going to a coffee shop to do your job hunting.
  • People need a sense of purpose for good mental health. So now might be a good time to tackle a project you’ve not had time for before. It might be decorating, decluttering or getting fit. Make the most of the extra time, you’ll soon be back in work and wishing you’d made more of your time off!
  • Take comfort in the fact that this experience will make you more resilient and adaptive to change in the future.

If your mental health has suffered after a job loss or poor working environment, get in touch to see how hypnotherapy can help.

10 Tips to Improve your Mental Wellbeing in 2019

Tip 1 – Be Present

Anxiety is created when we dwell on the past or worry about the future. It’s important to be present in what’s happening right now. That can be harder than it sounds, so here are some things that might help

  • Limit social media – pay attention to what you’re doing or who you’re with instead of scrolling through details of others’ lives.
  • Try meditation or mindfulness to still your mind
  • Take a minute to tune into what you can see, what you can hear, how you feel

Tip 2 – Get out in nature

Exercise boosts serotonin (a happy chemical) in the brain. Sunshine and fresh air also lift your spirits Make it even more beneficial by noticing what’s around you; the sounds of the leaves under your feet, the smell of the air and the sounds of water maybe. Exercise and mindfulness are both great for mental health.

Tip 3 – Take time out

Modern life is busy and sometimes overwhelming. The to-do-list never ends. Your brain needs down-time to process and recharge. So, build in some quiet time; listen to music, have a bath; anything that calms you. This is particularly important before sleep.

Tip 4 – Eat well

What we eat affects how we feel. We wouldn’t run our car on lard and we can’t run our bodies on it either. Eating an unprocessed diet with plenty of fruit and veg is good for our mental as well as physical health.

Tip 5 – Put yourself first

Putting yourself first isn’t selfish – it’s the only way you can be strong enough for others to lean on. You can’t pour from an empty cup so make time for yourself on your schedule. Do something that makes you happy and that’s just for you.

Tip 6 – Think about who you’re spending time with

The people we spend time with can have a massive impact on our mental health.  Energy vampires leave you feeling drained, while spending time with positive people will give you more energy. If you’re unable to avoid negative people (family members perhaps) then put some boundaries in place and limit time spent with them if possible. Bear in mind too that your mood rubs off on others, so think about the effect you’re having on your family and friends.

Tip 7 – Practice Gratitude

No matter how your day has gone, there will be some things to be grateful for. Focusing on this, instead of everything that’s gone wrong, will improve your mental health. Instead of moaning about the traffic jam, be grateful you weren’t in the accident that caused it. Try writing a list of everything you have to be thankful for, I bet you’ll be surprised how long it is!

Tip 8 – Tune in

A good way of safeguarding your mental health is to recognise the signs that it needs some attention. When we feel under attack, our brains will try and protect us by helping us to fight back, run away or hide. This shows as anger, anxiety or depression. Look out for signs of stress, so you can do something about it before it spirals out of control.

Tip 9 – Have strategies in place

When you’ve recognised that you’re feeling under stress, it’s a good idea to have some healthy coping mechanisms in place. Instead of reaching for a glass of wine or chocolate donut, can you see a friend, meditate or pick up a favourite hobby? Do something that makes you feel good but is also good for you.

Tip 10 – Forgive yourself

If you do react badly to stress; yell at your kids, down a bottle of wine – forgive yourself! Nobody is perfect and putting pressure on yourself isn’t helpful. Tomorrow is another day!

If you’re interested in improving your mental health this year, check out my website and get in touch to discuss how hypnotherapy can help you. It’s very effective in the treatment of common mental health disorders; such as depression, anxiety, OCD, insomnia and phobias to name a few.

Resolution Reboot – make 2019 your best year yet!

The start of a New Year is a great time to refocus on your goals and plan what you want to achieve in 2019.

Yet only 20% of those who make resolutions are still sticking to them 6 weeks into the New Year, this is because most of us set ourselves tough goals centred round deprivation;

  • “I’ll never drink alcohol again”
  • “I’m doing a juice fast”
  • “I’ll lose a stone in 6 weeks”

Our brains are designed to keep us safe, which is why we’re encouraged to repeat patterns of behaviour including unhealthy habits; they don’t like too much change all at once.

In this 6- week programme I’ll show you how you can work with your brain to achieve the results you really want. This programme will set you up for success and give you the tools you need to set achievable goals for 2019 and make them happen.

The programme

Week 1

I’ll explain how the brain works and how we can use that knowledge to get what we want. We’ll look at what you want to achieve in 2019 and how to break it down into goals. Once you’ve set your goals, I’ll use hypnotherapy to tap into your subconscious, which is where lasting change happens.


Week 2

We’ll look at what gets in the way of achieving our goals,including why your brain wants to keep you in your comfort zone, and I’ll give you some tools and techniques to overcome obstacles.

Week 3

We’ll look at how habits are formed and how to create better habits to replace those that are no longer working for us. We’ll also look at the importance of nutrition, sleep, and why it’s ok to put your own needs first for a change.

Week 4

We’ll tap into the power visualisation, which is a surprisingly effective way to make things happen. A study of Olympic Athletes found that those who used visualisation brought home the most medals!

Week 5

We’ll discuss tools and techniques to support motivation and increase self-esteem, which is really important to you achieving your goals.

Week 6

In this last session, we’ll recap what we’ve covered and cement your plan to move forward and have the best year yet!

Cost

The programme is designed for small groups of six, meaning you can get it for only £20 per session, or £120 for the whole programme. If you wish to follow the programme individually, you can have it at the discounted price of £45 per session (normally £55).

The programme includes a workbook, a hypnosis download, and a 10% lifetime discount off further sessions. I believe in paying it forward so you will also receive a £10 discount for your friends and family.

Please email me at info@stepaheadhypnotherapy.co.uk or call me on 07973914718 to reserve your place. The programme starts on Saturday 5 January at 11:30 at my practice in Atherton (alternative dates are available). Please note a £60 deposit will be required on booking, followed by £10 a week payable at each session.

How can you tell if you’re Stressed?

When I was 20, I lived in France for a year, a requirement of my Degree course. It was one of the toughest years of my life and I was an emotional mess, never far from a box of tissues! One of my friends over there was emotionally fine, but caught one bug after another, and that was the first time I realised that stress will always have an out!

Now, as a hypnotherapist, I see all kinds of symptoms. Some clients will tell me that they don’t feel stressed; yet they can’t sleep, or have migraines, or have developed a need to re-check that the front door is locked 5 times when they leave the house.

So, what is stress? It’s the body’s way of responding to any kind of danger or threat. When working properly, it helps you to stay strong, focused and alert. It keeps you safe by giving you extra strength to defend yourself or energy to run away from a threat.

However, when you can’t run away from constant pressure at work, or fight a demanding boss, you can develop chronic stress, and this can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body; it can supress your immune system, upset your digestion and reproductive systems and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

A study by the Mental Health Foundation found that, in the past year, 74% of people have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope. To stop getting to that stage, you really need to recognise signs of stress in yourself, so you can take action:

Signs of Stress

Emotional

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability or Anger

Physical

  • IBS
  • Aches and Pains
  • Frequent colds or minor illnesses
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Poor sleep

Behavioural

  • Eating more or less
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to relax
  • Re-checking things
  • Nail biting

Cognitive

  • Anxious or racing thoughts
  • Worrying about the future or dwelling on the past
  • Seeing only the negative

Here are some suggestions to help you eliminate, or cope better, with stress:

  • Find out what’s causing you stress and change it if possible (e.g. if it’ your job can you get a new job?)
  • Ask for help – can you talk to your boss about your workload or ask your partner for more help round the house for example
  • Find healthy coping mechanisms – rather than relaxing with a glass of wine meet a friend for an exercise class or have a bubble bath
  • Eat well, to support your immune system and guard against illness
  • Spend time with positive people who you can have fun with – laughter really is the best medicine!
  • Practice some kind of mindfulness or meditation – focusing on the here and now will stop you worrying about the future or dwelling on the past
  • Reduce your exposure to social media and bad news stories – they increase the level of stress hormones in your body
  • Change your thought patterns – instead of talking about how rubbish your day has been talk about what’s been good.

And remember – you can’t pour from an empty cup. You need to look after yourself if you want to look after others.

 

 

Be more Dog!

I’m a great believer in modelling excellence. If you want to run faster, find out how Usain Bolt trains. If you want to become a pop star, find out how Ed Sheeran went from busking to playing Wembley.

So, if I want to be happier, who else would I model myself on but my dog Sky? No offence to cats (I’ve had them all my life) but they can be a bit tetchy. I mean have you ever tried to get your cat to the vets and come away unscathed?

Dogs on the other hand, are pretty happy as a general rule. And this is because they live in the present. They don’t hold on to what happened yesterday, and they don’t worry about what tomorrow may bring – they just are.

Here’s my guide to happiness, courtesy of Sky:

  1. Get out in nature more

Sky loves nothing more than going out for a walk – whatever the weather. She’ll stop to smell the plants (and pee on them but I’m not advocating that) and kick up the leaves. If she’s not out walking, she’ll be out in the garden, holding her face up to the sun. She knows that being out in nature is good for the soul.

  1. Move your body more

Sky loves to run and chase balls, when she’s at full pelt she’s a sight to behold. And throw her duck in the water and she’s in heaven! Physical exercise is good for the mind as well as the body as it increases serotonin and other ‘feel-good’ chemicals.

  1. Rest is just as important as exercise

Yes, she loves to run, but afterwards she’ll happily snooze the afternoon away. She’s not looking at her to-do-list, checking her emails or worrying about all the housework that needs doing. Our brains are designed to work for 8 hours, rest for 8 hours and sleep for 8 hours. That may seem impossible in today’s world, but scheduling rest and down-time is really important. Some of my clients who have insomnia are simply taking on too much. You need to rest if you want to sleep well.

  1. Eat what you need and no more

Ok it may be different for Labradors, but German Shepherds are great at regulating their food intake. If Sky overeats one day (well if Grandma is offering sausages it would be rude to refuse!) then she’ll eat less the next day. Food is fuel, and because dogs live in the moment, they’re not emotional eaters like many of us! Eat if you’re hungry and stop if you’re not.

  1. Live in the moment

Dogs live in the present, they don’t fret about what’s already happened or worry about the next day; they don’t hold grudges or take things personally. They very much live in the moment. Most of the clients I see with anxiety readily admit that they spend a large part of the time worrying about the future or going over the past. These thought patterns are never helpful, and they can be changed.

 

So, thanks to Sky for teaching me some valuable lessons! And While I’m on the subject consider getting a pet if you don’t already have one (for life not just for Christmas!) They’re great for reducing stress levels, improving your mood and lowering your blood pressure!

What is Solution Focused Hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy is a deep state of relaxation, during which the client experiences a heightened sense of awareness. We call this ‘trance’ and it’s something you experience several times a day; for example, when you’ve driven somewhere and don’t remember the journey, or when you’re so engrossed in a book you tune everything else out. Being in ‘trance’ is a very relaxing experience in itself and helps lower your stress levels. It does have another benefit though, which is to give you access to your subconscious mind.

Let me explain why this is so powerful. If you’ve ever learned to drive, you’ll remember that at the beginning you couldn’t talk to anyone or listen to the radio because you were concentrating so much on how to drive the car. You were driving with your conscious mind. Several weeks later, you can hold a conversation easily and think about what to have for your tea when you get home. This is because the driving habit has been transferred to your subconscious mind and your conscious mind is free to think about other things.

So, think of your conscious mind as a computer and the subconscious mind as a programme running in the background. When you’re hypnotised, you have access to both and that means that any changes you want to make are more likely to be ‘hard-wired’ in.

Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is a mix of hypnotherapy and psychotherapy. In the first half of the session we help you to focus on what you want to achieve and picture a goal. In the second half of the session we use hypnosis to embed that action in both your conscious and subconscious mind. We don’t tell you what to do or implant suggestions, because we believe you’re the master of your own life and will come up with the right solutions for you.

In between sessions, you listen to the hypnosis download daily to reduce stress levels and help you take action towards your goal.

Because you’re using the power of both your conscious and subconscious mind to make changes, results can be seen quickly and are long lasting.

Take a look at my website to see how Solution Focused Hypnotherapy can help you.

How Solution Focused Hypnotherapy has helped me

We know that to prevent disease and physical illness, we need to eat healthy and move more. Yet few of us have the same approach to mental well-being; we may seek help when we become mentally unwell but what do we do to take care of ourselves and make sure that doesn’t happen? I’ve been treated before for both anxiety and depression and thankfully made a full recovery, but it’s only since starting on this journey as a therapist that I’ve become aware of how to proactively look after my mental health.

In the first session with a client, I explain how the brain works; how anxiety is created and how we can suffer in the way we do. This is usually really powerful for people, as they can make sense of their behaviour and understand what they can do to change it. Did you know for example, that anxiety can cause the following:

  • Migraines
  • IBS
  • The need to re-check things
  • Anger and irritability
  • Problems sleeping

I’ve had a busy year, working full-time and studying as well. I’ve started to pick up on my own triggers. For example, when I’m taking on too much I start to notice that I’m checking the front door is locked 3 or 4 times. Or sometimes my sleep becomes disturbed and I start having bad dreams. When that happens now I pick up on it, and take steps to manage it. So I might go through my diary and create space for relaxation or fun, to give myself time to re-charge, or I might take the dog for a long walk because I know being out in nature calms me. As I write this, I’m on a balcony overlooking the beach on holiday. Closing my eyes and listening to the sound of the waves while I breathe deeply is a great stress buster! And when I’m back at home I listen to a download called ‘Lullaby of the Ocean’ on YouTube.

So what are your signs that tell you you’re struggling? And when you see them, what do you do about it?