Coping with the stress of Christmas

Guinea-Pig-in-lightsThis is the third Christmas on the ‘let’s talk!’ blog and here at The Terrace we like to share our hints and tips for coping with the stress and strain of the season. However one celebrates at this time of year, it is impossible to avoid the crush in the shops, the inflated prices and the temptations of food and alcohol that can lead to those ‘morning after’ feelings and affect our overall well-being at this  time of year. Coughs, colds and other bugs adore the warm, wet weather we have had so far and the last thing we want is illness to drag us down when so much needs doing. We are at risk of scuttling round like this gorgeous guinea pig, ending up under the duvet and desperate to avoid all the trials and tinsel.

Jane Gotto has come up with some wonderful ideas over the years, and here we offer more of her thoughts on how to cope over the coming weeks. Today we focus on that awkward moment when you are making final arrangements for the days over the holiday:

Think about what you would like to do for Christmas

If final plans are not yet made, and you dread some of the options open to you, take time to make sure days are, as far as is possible, arranged in the way you would like them to be. If necessary, come up with alternatives and check with family and friends if you are concerned that changes may affect them.
Do NOT allow yourself to be pulled into an arrangement which you know is
not going to work for you. It IS just a few days in the year, and the temptation is to think only about making others happy (that is what we all hope to do at this time of year after all) but the anxiety and stress can be present  for weeks in the lead up and can effect health, sleep and general well-being for a long period. 

Come back early next week for some more wise words from Jane, who has years of experience in supporting individuals and couples through testing times. Christmas can be great fun, but it can also put a strain on the closest bonds….

If you fancy a pre Christmas massage, our therapist Sarah Sellick still has a few appointments available at a reduced rate. Or why not buy a loved one a relaxing massage for Christmas? Contact us about gift vouchers on 01823 338968.

Guest post: A Little Play (dough) Goes a Long Way

imagesHere at the The Terrace we are always keen to promote ways to relieve stress and aid our general feeling of well-being. Play therapy is something we usually think of in relation to supporting vulnerable children, but in this guest post, written today by Sarah Cruickshank, we can see there is value in play for adults too. Her suggestions are mindful, her practice thoughtful, yet not overthought. It reminds us of the new ‘craze’ for adult colouring in – something French women in particular have done for years to relieve stress and take the mind on flights of fancy, offering release from tension and refreshing the spirit…

Here I am sharing something that makes me happy and relaxes me and as I am (almost) 47 years old it’s going to be something unexpected –  playdough. Not just playing with it, but making it and then playing with it.

I love thinking about what colour it should be (what season are we in, how am I feeling today, what might I make with it?) How it should smell (do I just want the smell of dough or do I want to add lemon or peppermint or lavender?) Am I feeling sparkly enough to add glitter? Do I want to make two different colours and explore mixing them together?

Playing with playdough is very much about the process and not the end product. Sometimes I make intricate little flowers or quite detailed little sculptures, and sometimes I just roll and flatten and make worms. I really like plaiting two different colours together and then making balls and sausages again and again to watch the colours marble and eventually blend together to create a third colour. Sometimes I see how I can make a blob by pressing it between my finger and thumb again and again until I can almost see through it (like perfect filo pastry).

I never keep my creations, I always crush them when I’ve finished, the end product doesn’t really matter, it’s just the feeling of the dough and exploring where my mind and my hands take me on a particular day.

The great thing about playdough is that you have to take your time with it, you have to knead it and get it nice and warm and you can’t work with too big a bit at a time because otherwise it just doesn’t get to that nice warm, flexible consistency you need to really be able to work it.

I recently discovered the perfect recipe, which I share with you here. Cheap ingredients are the best:

1 cup flour

½ cup salt

2 tablespoons cream of tartar

1 tablespoon oil

1 Cup boiling water

1 tablespoon poster paint (you can use food colouring but paint gives a much more vibrant colour)

flavourings (lemon, peppermint essence, etc)

Glitter

Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl. Add the liquid ingredients and mix well with a spoon. It will look really sloppy to start with, but keep going and it will magically turn into a ball in the bowl.

Knead the mixture well.

Play with it to your heart’s content.

The mixture will keep for a few days in an airtight container of a sealed plastic bag.

You don’t necessarily need a purpose in mind when you start, just play and see where the experience takes you. If you really find yourself wanting to keep something you’ve made, the dough will dry out quite quickly, but it will be brittle.

Most important of all… Have fun!

Sarah

Sarah

Our thanks to Sarah, a Nursery Practitioner and Freelance Writer on family and well-being . Find out more at her website http://www.alifemorelived.co.uk/.

The Mindfulness challenge – how can we just ‘Allow’ ? It is no quick fix…..

TaraHealy-490x350On May the 5th and 6th (can you believe it is already nearly May?!) our mindfulness specialist Miranda Bevis is starting her latest Mindfulness course, lasting eight weeks and offering in-depth knowledge of its benefits and hours of practice. Courses like this have literally changed the lives of many who are facing challenges of all kinds – work, relationships, health – but it does require some hard work to master mindfulness properly. Too often recently the press has highlighted it as the next ‘cure all’ for anxiety and depression, detailing how corporations are recognising it as a means of increasing productivity and reducing stress on employees. But mindfulness isn’t all about a 20 minute break taking deep breaths in the staff canteen. It can open up a whole world of new experiences and, if taught properly, offers meaningful and deep-rooted strategies to deal with the challenges life throws at us. But it isn’t always easy, and can throw up challenges that can be hard to meet in the first days of practice.

So when we saw this poem by Danna Faulds, it seemed to sum up the realities of mindfulness and the joys of simply ‘bearing the truth’…..

Allow

There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes
By: Danna Faulds

“When loss rips off the doors of/the heart, or sadness veils your/vision with despair…” – this is mindfulness as support in times of the greatest sorrow, and long before the recent rise in the popularity of the practice many had found peace in the joy of the only moment we truly have – the present one.

Of course we would love you to book on to Miranda Bevis’s courses, if not those starting next week then her autumn dates in September and October, but this isn’t about advertising.  We know the benefits of mindfulness go far deeper than the ‘quick fix’ options being discussed in the press. It isn’t ‘meditation lite’ as it was recently described, and the whole industry that has recently built up around it – phone apps, books etc – can result in a waste of time and money if the practice is not put in. Everything truly worthwhile requires work and patience. Finding a teacher who can guide you and support you is vital, especailly as Danna Faulds says, you  are letting in the fear, the failure and the fantasies….

Guest post: Living a real life again – on giving up a twitter addiction for Lent…

Brooke Sheldon

Today we are pleased to welcome Brooke Sheldon as guest blogger to let’s talk! Over the coming weeks we will be offering a variety of writers, thinkers, therapists and anyone interested in well being the opportunity to talk about something of importance to them and to give their thoughts on how we can support our own emotional and physical well-being in our increasingly fast paced world. Here Brooke writes of her decision to leave the twitter-sphere for the 40 days of Lent, and the results – some surprising, some less so –  of her experiment. Social media addiction, affirmation and validation can be replaced by something far more meaningful….

social-media-addictionIn February, on my blog, We Are the Books We Read, I wrote a post about giving up Twitter for Lent. I decided to take a break because it had become an all-consuming vacuum, a fake symbiosis. I truly believed that those who ‘followed’ me were as absorbed in my life, thoughts, exaggerations, petty complaining and bitching.

Result One. The first thing I noticed after logging out was the increased time I had every single day.  Very quickly, I had literally hours to fill. Where once I updated the feed every few seconds, I now had time to look at a draft of the book I’ve been working on since 2011. That’s right, 2011 and while I’m still not finished all these 40 plus days later, I have completed more editing in this time than in the last six months. I had wrongly believed Twitter to be as reliant on me as I on it and that I needed Twitter to be a validated as a person.

Result Two. I started thinking again; ideas, realisations, sentences, comments, interactions and experiences all materialising in forms greater than 140 characters. The world opened up. I noticed the life around me and I revelled in the mundane.

A few days into Lent I wrote in my diary, the trees are budding with flowers and new leaves. Life is coming back into the park by the bus stop. A few days later I wrote, the storm last night has blown the flower petals all over the ground. They look like snowflakes against the dirt. Observations like this have been out of character for me in recent years. Sad but true.

Result Three. Increased time to read, to watch films, to engage with creative mediums. Don’t misunderstand, I never stopped engaging with these activities but there was always the tug of what was happening on Twitter. The need to see what everyone else was doing, thinking, emoting etc. debilitated the enjoyment.

Result Four. On Twitter nothing has changed. The same conversations are happening, the same arguments are repeating, the same causes are being fought for, the hatred of various people is maintained – the continuity is familiar but falsely safe, disappointingly prosaic and invidiously narcissistic.

What I find curious is the numeric stability of followers to my account. There has been fluctuation yes but not as much as expected considering the only Tweets appearing were those automatically generated via my blog. Inconsistently, the unfollowers have mainly been those who assert (allege), in their biographies, that they are followers of Jesus, belonging to Christ, and other variations. These are people (accounts) one could expect to understand the path I had taken.

This brings me to Result Five. Did anyone who follows me, notice I was gone? Did they open the app, or the website and think, ‘gee, I haven’t seen Brooke around lately, I wonder where she is?’. My bio states my intention, but was the message read? Was anyone interested?

Initially, I vainly wanted the email alert saying someone had “DM”’d me, I wanted the email saying someone had mentioned me in a Tweet and not one came. I can honestly say this was a problem. Yes I said where I was going but no one said ‘hey, good choice’, or ‘good luck, see you after Easter’ and I felt let down. I felt like no one cared.

What I’ve realised is that in the reverse, I was (am) the same when people stop using Twitter. I wouldn’t notice they were gone until someone asked about them. We, as humans, are so wrapped up in our own concerns we take little time to be the shoulder to lean or cry on. We spend excessive time putting our happiness in the hands of strangers who communicate in 140 characters (or less) and we allow the control of that 140 characters to determine our worth. Honestly, I am happier without that little blue bird smothering me.

I was going to write “there is no way to avoid Twitter these days” but this is what social media types want us to think. Those who seek to saturate us with various social elements don’t want us to realise that smiling at someone in the street, giving up a seat for a pregnant lady or picking up a piece of rubbish is a social act. The ‘socialverse’ wants us, nay, insists and forces our engagement, through screens big or small and tell us that to not do so is unnatural, deviant.

On day one I thought I would be desperate to open the app and pick up where I left off. Now I realise, like any addict, I wasn’t in control and the desire for Twitter manipulated me every minute. Twitter is a tool to use and this had become reversed. The biggest realisation from this experience is that I am okay as I am. I don’t need validation via 140 characters.

Our thanks to Brooke. Do check out her lovely book review blog We Are the Books We Read .                                                                                                                                                                                                      

On the attraction of the inspirational quote…..

Here at The TIt is the chiefest point of happiness,errace we have recently been experimenting with creating images alongside some of our favourite quotations. This is not only an interesting creative experience, but apparently, when trying to get noticed on social media, an image grabs the attention more effectively than a simple text update. In our fast paced world it is all about the visuals; a shame perhaps but looking at a peaceful, meditative image can be a calming start to a morning so we thought it was worth a try, especially as we have recently taken the plunge into Pinterest, where the image is everything.

Inspirational quotes abound on social media. Some are sickly sweet, some inappropriate or distinctly lacking in artistic impact. Others are genuinely eyecatching, heartstopping and with the ability to stay with you all day. But you can be overloaded with them if you are not careful.

Anyway, we thought our regular blog readers might like to see some of our most recent creations, and we would love to know what you think. Do you find inspirational quotes on social media a positive way to stop for a moment and meditate on the message? Do they help you to be mindful? To be still for a moment? Or are they simply fillers on your news feed? Do get in touch!

And the darkness shall be the lightOne should take good care All men's miseries derive from not being Remember, when life's path is steep, to There is enormous happiness to be found Though my soul may set in darkness, it When you sit, let it be.When you walk,

Poetry IS mindfulness – so soothe the mind & feed the soul…

images (7)Earlier this week, The Huffington Post published a Daily Meditation – it was entitled Poetry of the Earth and featured a poem by John Keats  – On the grasshopper and cricket. It got us thinking about how closely poetry is connected to mindfulness and meditation practice. For to read a good poem, that speaks to your heart and resonates with your soul is truly to be living in the moment. It is a moment of pure emotion, stillness and intensity.

We have posted articles which include a poem to illustrate a point, or to encourage mindfulness, on this blog a number of times. We hope that at least one of them has struck a chord with you, especially as we have tried to choose works that distill what it is to be still in just a few lines. We recommend that you read the poem through a couple of times, then read it aloud (or mutter it under your breath if you feel more comfortable, or are in a public place) feeling the words in your mouth. How often do we actually concentrate on what we are saying? The way the syllables feel on our tongue, in our throat, on our lips? To read a poem is to be mindful, don’t you think?

So today we have chosen another favourite by the poet Wendell Berry, who has featured on ‘Let’s talk!’ before. In What We Need is Here, Berry expresses what many of us sense in the fast paced world most of us live in. We aren’t asking for more, or new or exciting. We are asking for quiet and to find a calm place where we can really see what is important……

What We Need Is Here

Wendell Berry

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

What do you think? Do you have any favourite poems that you turn to in times of worry, or crisis, in order to reduce your anxiety and focus the mind? Perhaps you write poetry, in which case we would love to hear from you and find out a little about why you feel it is an important way to express yourself. Do get in touch!

It’s official – hugging a tree is good for your health…..

CLF - Olmstead ParksHere at The Terrace we are always keen to promote green business and are committed to being as environmentally aware as possible. We monitor our carbon footprint and source any products we use from ethically sound companies.

But being environmentally aware is about more than the business. It is, literally, at the root of what we do and how we seek to support the well being of our clients. We regularly run mindfulness taster sessions and longer courses and other therapies are based on a stillness and calm that takes us deep within our selves.

So it was with great interest that we read yesterday that researchers at the University of Exeter have found that those living in parts of London populated with a greater number of trees take fewer antidepressants than those who survive away from leafy lined roads and parkland.

It was a simple piece of analysis – data was gathered on the number of antidepressant prescriptions issued across London in 2009-2010 and then compared to the number of trees on the streets in the same area.The places with higher tree densities had lower prescription rates and although some of this might be explained by the greater affluence of some of these areas, and the reduction in respiratory illness in areas where pollution is filtered via the greenery, there is little doubt that being in touch with the seasons and with nature through the life cycle of the trees has a calming influence.

This news reminded us of a wonderful poem by Mary Oliver. Called In Blackwater Woods the rich imagery the poet uses takes the trees and turns them into a life force, energising and reminding us of the power of nature to heal. It also, I think, stresses the limits of the mortal life and the connection we have with the natural cycle of the world we are lucky enough to live in.

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go, to let it go.

There is a sense here of literally clinging to the tree trunks as pillars of light and life. What do trees mean to you? Do you notice them as part of the landscape, or see in them the spirit of life itself? They are, after all, our very breath…..

On a Mindful Christmas contentment. Why can’t we just ‘be happy’?

trolleyLots of Christmas shopping was done over the weekend. We woke up in the knowledge that money needed to be spent,  car park spaces must be battled  for and crowds coped with. It was daunting, but ’tis the season…’ and all that – jolliness is required of us. Here at The Terrace we do like to offer support to readers over the festive season, but in the rush of consumer madness that is challenging.

So it was good to come across a piece by our own Miranda Bevis, mindfulness practitioner and leader of many of our workshops and courses. She recognises that the real world makes living in the moment (the basis of mindfulness practice) tough, but maintains that with work we can achieve a peace and level of contentment in many of those situations that threaten to overwhelm us. Here she offers some wise words on becoming content. How much of the ‘stuff’ we accumulate over the Christmas period do we actually need? We have written on here about looking at our rituals and making a decision to change. No more three for two gift sets, over indulgence and post Christmas strain on relationships – and perhaps creating new ways to celebrate the things that are important to us.

This time of year should be reflective, a time to take stock, but we have to admit that major changes  to seasonal celebrations are best planned rather earlier than mid-December when many of our presents are bought and paid for and meals planned etc. So, take a look at what Miranda writes below, and have a think about how we can appreciate the things we have already. Then perhaps we can take steps this year to enhance our Christmases to come.

Scanning the weekend newspaper supplements, I find so many articles and advertisements telling us how we could (should?) change: How to get fitter, thinner, look younger; give your garden a makeover, re-design your interiors. Revitalize your love life, spice up your cookery and your sex life (because you’re worth it). There is no end of things that we could change for “the better”. And of course, change is supposed to be good for us; after all, we wouldn’t want to be bored or get stale, or allow ourselves to get into a rut, would we? We “deserve” more, we “have a right” to more. We should seek out new excitements, discover new thrills, acquire new things, visit new places, meet new people.

“Now and then it’s good to pause in ourAnd there’s nothing wrong with any of this, except, perhaps, the overall message. Which seems to be that, if things were different, in terms of our looks, our possessions, or our experiences, we’d be happier. That there’s a better place to be, a better way to be, than where we are right now. And that surely breeds dissatisfaction. It’s all too easy to get caught up in disgruntled thoughts, and end up not noticing what we’ve actually got.

When we practice Mindfulness, we explore being with whatever is, without immediately trying to change anything. Sitting with our sensory experiences alone, and allowing them to be exactly as they are, while letting go of thoughts and desires for things to be different. We begin to realize that often it’s not so much what is actually happening that is the problem, but rather the thoughts about it. Realizing that the mutterings of “I don’t want it to be like this”, “It’s not fair”, and “I deserve more” breed discontent.

Letting go is not the same as giving in. It’s not a state of hopeless resignation. But it gives us the space to fully appreciate what we already have. It can help us to discover what really does need changing, and teaches us to develop a different relationship with what we have no control over.

The art of contentment and well-being is being good at noticing what you have, and wanting what you’ve already got. In the words of Guillaume Apollinaire: “Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy”.

Miranda is offering more taster sessions and courses in the new year. See our ‘What’s On’ page for further details.

 

An introduction to Mindfulness – the first of a new series on ‘let’s talk!’

miranda

Miranda Bevis

Miranda Bevis, our expert Mindfulness practitioner has prepared some articles on how we can all take advantage of the benefits the practice of Mindfulness offers. As she will make clear in teh coming weeks, it does take practice, it is no quick fix. But that is what it is all about – taking that time to add it, gradually, into our lives….

Mindfulness is very much in the news these days, as means of finding a bit of tranquillity in our increasingly stressful world.  We are all subjected to pressures from many different sources, including work, relationships, family, money worries and information overload. Often the strain may prove too much, and problems arise. A high proportion of illnesses are now thought to be stress related, and there are no ‘quick fix’ medical answers.

Many people struggle with anxiety, panic attacks and depression. Social isolation, lack of confidence and low self esteem are common and they may leave us feeling exhausted, trying to find solutions in our lives, and feeling powerless to change things. A lot of time is spent wishing we were somewhere, or someone, else. Energy may be invested in ruminating over unwanted thoughts.

The idea behind mindfulness is very simple. It is just to be fully in the present, moment by moment. We learn to focus on what is happening right now, and cultivate a kind and non- judgmental attitude to ourselves. This is not an intellectual exercise, but requires a fair amount of practice. Over time, we develop a different relationship with what distresses us. What exactly are we focussing on? It is often the breath, an anchor for our attention. It may be our body sensations, or what we can hear or see. We learn to be aware of what we are doing, while we are doing it. We observe thoughts and emotions, and learn to let them pass by, instead of getting hooked into them. Gradually, we realize there are different and more constructive ways of responding to difficulties, instead of reacting in old, often unhelpful, automatic patterns.

The approach was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the late 1970’s. It draws from ancient eastern philosophies, but is delivered in an entirely secular way. Research, over three decades, supports Mindfulness, and it mindfulness_oneday_6_1_1_1_1_1_1_2_1_1has been shown to increase feelings of well being, and decrease the impact of living in a stressful world. It is now taught widely in many different settings including schools, the mental health services, hospitals and hospices, prisons and government agencies

Over the next few weeks I am going to explore what we mean by Mindfulness, and how we can use it to navigate whatever stresses may come our way, not be blown away. I will also include some wonderful poetry, which can help focus our minds and support our practice.

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do,

we have come to our real work,

and when we no longer know which way to go,

we have begun our real journey.”

Wendell Berry

Miranda has some new Mindfulness workshops and courses starting in the New Year. Follow us on Facebook to find out more or see www.the-terrace.co.uk

Philotimo – ‘let’s talk!’ about a Greek word for our times…

thalesLast week we watched a video that really spoke to us here at The Terrace. Released by the Washington OxiDay Foundation it takes just 15 minutes to explain the Greek concept of Philotimo – something considered to be the highest of all Greek virtues and which determines and regulates how someone should behave in their family and social groups. It is a word that Greek children are still brought up to understand and an idea that they are taught to respect and use as a guide when making choices in their lives.

It is difficult to translate literally, but the very famous faces in the video describe how for the Greek people it means, broadly, ‘friend and honour’. It means duty, compassion, sacrifice. Doing what is right, even if it not in your own best interests. It means something larger than yourself and is about opening your heart and doing things for the good of your community. It has been credited with some of the greatest advances in culture, but with no direct English word to encapsulate its meaning the sens of the word has been lost to all but Greek speakers.

Here at The Terrace we would like to find a way to support what the Foundation seeks to achieve with this video. At a time when we seem to see nothing but horror and injustice in the world, this is a message to take forward to show how humanity can come together for the greater good. Do take a look and let us know how you feel when you have heard what everyone on this film has to say about ‘philotimo’. Since ancient times the Greeks have always been a very special people and despite recent economic struggles this concept remains a strength as the country rebuilds. Is this the time to learn from Greek philosophy once more?