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TEEN POWER FOR TEEN WELLBEING

TEEN POWER FOR TEEN WELLBEING

We all know that parenting TEENS can be hugely challenging as hormones race, and the beginnings of independence mean that peer pressure takes on a whole new meaning. It was ever thus, and OUR parents surely dreaded this job back in their day too!

As a mum of a soon-to-be-teen in today’s world though, I am becoming increasingly concerned about the endless statistics in the press for mental health issues in this age group, and about our responsibility as parents to be able to recognise these:

“Normal teenagers are often moody due to hormonal and physical changes that happen during puberty. However, when mental illness is involved, it may be difficult to differentiate “normal teenage behaviour” from the symptoms of depression, anxiety and other emotional difficulties”.

If we look at the world we are living in, it is perhaps not surprising that these issues are rearing their heads. As adults we find it hard to manage our tech ridden world in terms of emails and being “wired” 24/7, and we know that when it comes to social media or digital games it is often easy to get “stuck”. Our kids meanwhile have never known a different world: to them, creating “selfies” and videos for Facebook & Instagram, or playing intense and all-consuming games on the PS or Xbox is the norm. But it isn’t normal life: social media equals watching others’ lives as a ‘voyeur’ – and indeed having your own life watched over – both of which can be incredibly dangerous for vulnerable teens who are still developing their own sense of “self”.

 

Meantime whilst we all probably remember it being difficult to switch off from “Space Invaders” or “Mario Kart” in our own days of computer games, if we compare these to the constant bombardment of colours, sights and sounds in today’s gaming graphics there simply is no comparison. If “Space Invaders” on a black and white screen was addictive, then today’s “Fortnite” and “Battlefront” are surely the cocaine of video games…

 

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

I believe the ideal way to solve any problem is to preempt the situation before it becomes an issue: in this case, to promote mental well-being in our kids and teens from day one, just as we would promote physical wellness. Those of you who remember my post from back in September will know that I thoroughly believe our need to somehow balance out the modern world of tech is what has encouraged today’s interest in age old concepts such as meditation and paleo diets (click here to read more). These are concepts we can introduce to our teens as well. It is vital we help them to understand that we all have mental health just as we all have physical health, and we MUST take care of both. If we are open and honest about this from their early years, the results will be twofold. We will at least start to help remove the stigma around mental health for coming generations, AND we will help our teenagers to put in place simple, daily activities which whilst helping to enhance their mental wellness will also actually be enjoyable…

I teach a series of simple strategies for mental well-being in my stress management courses. By gently encouraging some of these practices in our kids (and practising them ourselves so that we lead by example), we will set them up for better well-being, improved self awareness, and a happier future. All it takes is just a few minutes of time and effort to ensure at least some of these tasks become a part of their daily routine…

 

MY TIPS FOR TEEN WELLBEING:

1. Starting a journal can be done in various ways: the simplest option is a to keep “Gratitude Journal”. Encourage your kids – whatever age – to jot down 3 things that have made them happy each day. They may like to do this first thing every morning or last thing at night: the choice is theirs. Help them along a little further by prompting with questions such as “what has made you happy/smile today?” What have you done to make someone else happy today?”

2. Practising belly breathing is a great way to calm anxiety as it actually brings the heart rate down and encourages the whole body to relax. It can be done anywhere, and it only takes just five minutes a day to make a difference. Encourage your kids to do this daily: they can choose the time and place they wish to practice and make it into a little “me time”. Beware: it does take patience and practice for anyone who has never really thought about HOW to breathe – click here for a video with step by step instructions AND an audio guide.

3. Regular exercise has long been recommended for improving mental health, and for helping those “happy hormones” to kick in. During the teen years there can be a tendency for even the most active of kids to become a little “lazy”, so it’s important to gently steer them towards whatever form of physical exercise is likely to be most motivating for them. Remember there is a huge range of possible activities to choose from, from football to hockey, dance to ice skating, archery to martial arts… Try to consider your teen’s general interests first. If they like water try swimming, or maybe rowing or paddle boarding. If they are especially peer aware, encourage some of the more “cool” activities such as street dance or skateboarding. If they can be persuaded to be outdoors in nature as well, then this will provide a further boost…

 

4. Getting out in nature is incredibly powerful for our mental well-being, and once again, is something that many teenagers rarely do. If they hate the idea of “just” going for a walk, then switch things around a little. Suggest walking to the cinema, or take a walk in the woods with the aim of going for a picnic, game of rounders or whatever may entice them. Even if it’s a walk that ends in them sitting with headphones on listening to their fave music then let them be: you may feel that headphones will isolate them once more, but if you can at least connect whilst walking there, why not give them a little “me time” once they’ve arrived – that way everyone gets a little of what they want, (and they will still be out in nature whilst listening!)

5. Connect, connect, connect. If you say these three words to your kids, they will invariably think you are talking about the internet. We need to explain to them that in fact CONNECTION is the exact opposite of what the net offers them, which – more often than not – is ISOLATION. We must find a way to gently encourage chatting and connecting. It is not essential that kids regularly discuss their innermost feelings or their worries at an age where this may feel intrusive, but it is essential that we keep channels of communication open, so that as and when they do feel the need to communicate further the option is there. Chat over dinner, chat in the car, chat before bed – whatever works best for you and your kids. Let them talk about music, films, their mates or (inward groan) their favourite computer games, as long as they TALK. (It is worth noting that if you are aware of a subject that may be causing anxiety, it can often be good to initiate chatting whilst driving so your teen is able to avoid eye contact if it is a subject they find embarrassing…)

6. Practising meditation once daily is scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety. It is a way of quieting the mind, and in today’s age of tech dependency, where our peer-aware teens are surely awaiting the next “ping” or “whoosh” of a reaction on Facebook, or a new level passed on their latest game, their minds are rarely “quiet”. The degree of “buzz” this creates in their heads is surely cause for concern, but I personally believe this is also why meditation has such a powerful effect today. Setting aside just ten minutes a day to allow the mind to become still is the exact antidote we need to balance out this tech overload, and by encouraging our kids and teens to learn to meditate we are truly setting them up for life.

7. Mindfulness and meditation are similar, but not identical. The former is a way of training the mind to be fully aware, fully awake to the present moment: unlike meditation it can in fact be done anytime and all the time. This is surely another powerful tool to counteract the over stimulation that the world (and especially tech) often offers our teens, hence mindfulness courses for teenagers are proving increasingly popular. We can utilise this concept on a daily level too, by encouraging our kids to choose one activity to practice mindfully every day: this is something which will serve them for a lifetime. Whether it’s their morning shower, their walk to school, or eating breakfast, committing to practising one act mindfully at the start of each day is truly relaxing and therapeutic. For more ideas, click here.

 

8. Considered nutrition is so important when it comes to stress and anxiety: many of our Happy Hormones are produced in the gut, and in addition the majority of our immune system is actually located in the gut. It is not difficult to make small nutritional shifts and changes that can start to make a big difference in terms of stress management, but it can be challenging to change habits. For more ideas on what to aim for and what to avoid, click here.

9. Essential oils are a simple yet effective way to boost mental well-being, and they take no effort whatsoever! If your teen is open to the use of a diffuser then try having one in his or her room, otherwise try using them elsewhere in the home to see how they react. Alternatively just a few drops of oil placed on a tissue or cotton wool near a radiator (where the heat will encourage the aroma to be released) will scent the room, or a few drops sprinkled directly on a pillow may help induce relaxation at night. Encourage your child to choose a scent they like, and feel would be most helpful for the result they want to achieve: relaxation / calm / focus / energising. Oils provide a simple, natural remedy (and if they are using them at home they needn’t feel exposed: no one else need know anything about it). Lavender is great for relaxation; frankincense for anxiety; mandarin or rose is calming, peppermint and rosemary encourage focus, and ylang ylang can be good for aggression and for anxiety. To learn more about how to use essential oils click here. (It is also worth noting that if your teen comes to enjoy the use of essential oils, they can then pop a tissue in their pocket for when they are out and about, and drink in the scents and their power whenever they feel the need…again, noone else need know anything about it).

 

We all probably feel it would be wonderful to live in a stress free world, but sadly in Real Life this isn’t about to happen. All of us – and our children – suffer stressful situations to a greater or lesser extent, and there is no shame in this: it is simply part of what life throws at us. The first step then is for us as parents to admit to the stresses in our own lives, rather than presenting ourselves as all-invincible: this is surely the best way to encourage our kids to slowly relax into the knowledge that it’s “okay” to feel stressed. Next, we should encourage them to understand that it’s actually GOOD to admit to stress…and that this will always be the first, essential step towards managing it.

If meantime we can encourage our kids to regularly practice at least some of the above tips, we will be providing them with an invaluable toolbox which will allow them to move forwards in life. They will progress in the knowledge that mental health matters, that it’s “okay” to talk about it, and that just as you take vitamins to help physical health and prevent colds and flu in winter, you can “take” Journaling, Breathing and Connection to help your mental well-being and to build a foundation of positivity, calm and self awareness…which together are more powerful than any pill or tablet the chemist will offer you.

 

 

POLLUTANTS ARE DESTROYING OUR PLANET & OUR HEALTH…WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

POLLUTANTS ARE DESTROYING OUR PLANET & OUR HEALTH…WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

Unless you never listen to the news, pick up a magazine, or scroll though social media, you are likely to be aware of the many environmental issues faced by our society. From global warming and acid rain to climate change and plastic pollution…and sadly, the list seems to be growing all the time.

On a more positive note, awareness is growing too, and this is an absolute MUST in the world we live in.

 

A DOUBLE-EDGED ISSUE

The problem is surely twofold. On the one hand we are watching our planet’s decline as natural resources are increasingly depleted:

“Over the last few decades, the exploitation of our planet and degradation of our environment have gone up at an alarming rate…our actions have been not in favor of protecting this planet…”

On the other hand, these changes also have an immediate effect on our own health. “Stress” is a huge factor in modern living: whilst some of this is due to factors such as work ethics and the monumental influence of technology, environmental stressors also play an increasingly large role:

“Environmental stress refers to how people or animals respond to physical, chemical and biological features of their environment. These stressors may include exposure to natural disasters, electromagnetic radiation, pollution, climate change, or noise. They can be pathogens that invade the body, causing a stress response, or features of your workplace like an uncomfortable chair. Whether one-time or long-term, environmental stressors cause strain on the body and mind.”

So surely we should be tackling this as a double-edged issue, and should be doing absolutely all that we can to protect both the future of our planet AND ourselves?

 

 

WHAT EXACTLY ARE THESE STRESSORS?

Actually listing the environmental stressors that are regularly affecting us paints a glum picture:

  • climate stress
  • air pollution
  • chemical stressors
  • plastic pollution
  • energetic stress
  • ergonomic stress
  • biological stress

CLIMATE STRESS may refer to those changes that only last for a season, or to an overall shift such as global climate change.

AIR POLLUTION is caused chiefly by the burning of fossil fuels. Pollution emitted from vehicles produces vast problems in this area.

CHEMICAL STRESSORS affect us on many different levels: the remains of pesticides found on our foods, ingestion of antibiotics, and chemicals found in cosmetics, air fresheners and cleaning products all contribute to chemical overload within our (already stressed) bodies.

PLASTIC POLLUTION is frighteningly abundant. Plastic is affordable and remarkably strong: it is a hugely prevalent, ever constant image in our “disposable” society. It is estimated that 500 billion plastic bags are used globally every year…

“whenever they are disposed, [plastics] take hundreds of years to decompose and their continued stay in the environment does great harm. When burnt, [plastic] pollutes the air, when disposed in the landfills it causes land pollution, and when dumped into the water it pollutes the waters”.

ERGONOMIC STRESS increases as our weekly working hours continue to go up. Endless hours sitting at a desk in front of a computer, over-doing manual work, too little physical exercise and bad posture all contribute.

ENERGETIC STRESS is caused by the various different wavelengths we are subjected to, from exposure to mobile telephones to use of microwave ovens…

“invisible but very real, energetic stressors can cause disturbances to the body and mind. The earth contains many different wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation that travel through time and space…all of these invisible rays can have an impact on our health and well being. 

BIOLOGICAL STRESS refers to any illness or allergic reaction we may encounter. As the years go by, it seems these are increasing, from incidences of eczema to a vastly increasing list of autoimmune conditions. Could this be a result of our body trying to fight the many other environmental stressors it faces?

 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In a generalised conversation about the welfare of our planet, it can seem incredibly daunting to try to do ANYTHING to better the situation. The facts are grim, and can seem insurmountable…

 

 

If however we break things down, and we realise that some of the above issues in fact overlap, then we can start to explore what simple changes we might make on a day to day level…

 

10 TIPS TO PROTECT BOTH YOUR PLANET AND YOURSELF:

1. Conserve energy: unplug electronic devices when you’re not using them; use warm (not hot) water for washing; use energy efficient light bulbs; consider replacing household appliances with more energy efficient models.

2. Reduce petrol pollution: walk or cycle to avoid using petrol consuming vehicles; at the very least use buses or trains to reduce petrol emissions from endless cars.

3. Avoid plastics: utilise reusable or recyclable packaging wherever possible; try (reusable) fabric bags for shopping; use paper straws; purchase a re-usable non-plastic water bottle; avoid plastic based wraps such as “Clingfilm” (which can leak toxins straight into our food).

4. Eat natural, organic foods as much as possible: this will reduce exposure to pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. Some studies also suggest that organic foods have higher levels of omega 3 fats, antioxidants and minerals.

“Scientists theorize that when plants aren’t coated in chemicals to help fight off pests and insects, they develop stronger compounds to protect themselves”.

By ingesting these foods we too will benefit from these disease fighting compounds, and therefore be in a better position to stave off environmental stressors.

5. Check labelling for presence of (plastic) microbeads: these are typically found in shower gels, exfoliators, toothpaste, cleaning products. The tiny plastic particles:

“can have a damaging effect on marine life, the environment and human health…due to their composition, ability to absorb toxins and potential to transfer up the marine food chain”.

[It is reassuring to know that since recent revisions in the UK, legislation has banned the use of plastic microbeads in the manufacture of some cosmetic and personal care products. Click here for more]

6. Aim to use NATURAL cosmetics: always try for those which don’t include chemical “nasties”. Take a moment to consider how many cosmetics you and your family use daily to realise the true power of this one, and consider how everyone of these is absorbed into the body. Cosmetic labelling is nowhere near as well regulated as food labelling, so it can be very confusing. Click here to access a simple and reliable chart of recommended natural products.

 

7. Avoid chemically fragranced products: body sprays and air fresheners are often rich in chemicals. Aim instead for natural fragrances such as essential oils, which actually provide health benefits. Also be aware of scented candles, some of which:

“produce smoke laced with almost as many toxins as those produced by cigarettes”.

Click here to learn more about the potential health risks connected to candles.

8. Consciously reduce “screen time” for all the family: aside from the impact on our mental health, theories on “energetic stress” are increasingly worrying. Studies suggest that constant exposure to the radio-frequency waves emitted by mobile phone radiation may be hugely detrimental to our health. Click here for my Top Tips to Detox from Tech.

9. Think posture, posture, posture: aside from creating muscular aches and pains, postural mal-alignment can be detrimental to digestion and respiration, and can even enhance chances of cardiovascular disease.

10. Let nature be your doctor: taking care of both physical and mental health by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and putting in place those stress management techniques which are relevant to you will minimise the need for (often chemically laden) antibiotics and medicines as you allow your body to live as it is supposed to.

 

OUR HEALTH AND THAT OF THE PLANET…

In terms of our own health, this last one is perhaps the most important message. The closer we adhere to the sort of life we were designed to live, the more able we will be to deal with those toxins that do creep in. Our bodies are meant to be constantly “detox”–ing, but in today’s society – where the overload of chemical stressors is rising day by day – our organs often don’t operate as efficiently as they should, and so struggle to rid themselves of these toxic substances.

Meanwhile, in terms of the wider issue of our planet, isn’t it time to sit back and take a good look at ourselves and the world we live in – the world we are creating for our children and grandchildren? By selecting  just one of the above pollutants, we can see the sheer enormity of the problem. Plastic waste is choking our oceans and is releasing toxic chemicals into our soil and into our air. Wildlife on both sea and land are affected by this constant flow of pollution from a vast array of plastic materials that many of us use daily: by default, we – and our children –  are suffering too.

There are so, so many small ways in which we can help, and even if each of those makes just a tiny difference, we have to hang on to the hope that a small effort from each and every one of us on this beautiful planet will be the start point for saving both the planet and ourselves.

 

MY JOURNEY: FROM A PASSION FOR TEACHING TO A PASSION FOR HEALTH & WELLNESS…How??

MY JOURNEY: FROM A PASSION FOR TEACHING TO A PASSION FOR HEALTH & WELLNESS…How??

HOW IT ALL STARTED… 

I must have been about 7 years old when I first said, “Mummy, I want to be a dance teacher”. Little did I know back then that more than twenty years of my life would indeed be spent teaching dance!

My mum herself taught Ballroom & Latin American dance (long before the days of “Strictly”, in the days when it was decidedly NOT cool, so I kept fairly quiet about it!)  From the age of about 8, I spent my afternoons alternating between the school mum taught in and another school further down the road, where I did the more ‘classic’ little-girl-dance-classes: ballet, modern & tap. There is no doubt that this was a huge part of my life, but I can honestly say I have no idea where this burning desire to teach dance initially came from. What I do know is that I started actually teaching at the age of 11 (initially helping out with classes before graduating on to teaching my own classes as a teenager), & from day one I absolutely loved it.

Initially, the reality of “teaching” was dragging myself to the local (freezing cold) church hall early every Saturday morning to sweep up, do the dishes and make endless cups of (quite revolting) instant coffee for all the other teachers, just so that I could get that longed-for half hour of actually teaching just before lunch. As time went on my own teachers could see my absolute passion for this, and luckily for me they encouraged me and gave me more and more opportunities to ‘practice’ on my fellow students.

 

 

MY PASSION FOR TEACHING

To this day, I love the challenge of finding different ways to make a class full of (vastly different) students understand a concept, whatever that concept may be. Analysing needs, then creating the right “step-by-step” process to create desired results really makes me tick! In the early days it would have been simply “how to point your toes better”. As the years went by and I trained professionally, my challenges progressed to things like “how to stay on axis for a triple pirouette”, and nowadays it’s more likely to be how to help someone to truly achieve core stability, or to genuinely understand the Stress Response and all it encompasses.

Although at first glance these concepts may seem totally unconnected, believe it or not there is a common thread and a logical progression! My first passion with teaching was looking at the human body and the science of movement. From creating “on axis” balance in classical ballet, to teaching someone how to fall off balance in contemporary dance, it all came back to how the human anatomy works: how the physics of it all comes together to create balance, line and harmony. I was fascinated by this, thirsty to find ways to help others to understand it, and thrilled to see their joy when they started to achieve and get results: it gave me SUCH a buzz. This wasn’t really surprising: I was SO passionate about dance, so the opportunity to pass on this love I had felt like a logical next step.

It was when I opened my own Dance School in Greece in 2005 that I started to realise that my love of teaching didn’t stop at dance. I began offering Pilates based classes to local mums, and here began a new challenge: teaching non-trained bodies to achieve postural precision, balance and alignment was a totally different experience: to my surprise, I loved it!

 

 

Only years later did I realise what a turning point this was…

ALL CHANGE…

In 2012 when I returned to the UK my life changed massively in many ways. One of the changes was my turning away from dance teaching (which by nature demands constant after school hours as its timetable). As a single mum, had I done this I would never have seen my kids before bedtime, so it just wasn’t an option. Whilst I was pondering on “what on earth do I do now?” someone suggested becoming a Personal Trainer. To be perfectly honest, I hated the idea! As a dancer I NEVER went to the gym, choosing instead to supplement my training through home workouts or Pilates classes: I didn’t even know what half the machines in the gym were for!! The truth of the matter was though that I didn’t know WHAT to do next, and the more I looked into the idea of training as a PT, the more I realised it didn’t have to be gym-based, and it actually wasn’t a million miles away from what I knew and loved: TEACHING and improving understanding of the workings of the HUMAN BODY.

Once I started working as a PT and Nutritional Advisor, I (naturally) assumed my day-to-day would consist of talking to people about exercise and nutrition. In fact though, as I took on more and more clients I realised that a HUGE part of my time involved talking to people about stress management: sadly, such is the reality of the world we live in…

As it turned out, this was the missing piece of my jigsaw, and the inspiration for my shifting gears slightly and creating Shaw Lifestyle: helping people utilise exercise, nutrition AND stress management to create holistic lifestyle changes, and to balance physical and mental health.

 

 

TRULY COMPLETING THE PUZZLE

In retrospect, it was also the missing piece in terms of which part of “me” was still absent from my work: the “listening” part, the compassionate part, the part that added to the role of “teacher” and made things a little more “real life”…

Like many, I think I discovered the real “me” somewhere between high school and college. In the early days of high school in a sea of unfamiliar faces I struggled to make friends – or indeed to know HOW to make friends. As luck (or fate?) would have it, I did become friendly with one girl who had rather a lot of “stuff” going on in her home life, and seemed to find me easy to talk to. The more I sat and listened, the more I understood that she had a real need to “unload”, and this was the way in which a lovely friendship began. To cut a long story short, it was also the beginning of many other friendships, as more and more people seemed to realise I was quite a good listener, so would come and tell me their teenage woes. Eventually I became known as “Dear Liz”: everyone’s fave school Agony Aunt!

This started in school days, continued into my college days, and truly became a part of me. I DO like to listen, and for whatever reason, it seems that people find me easy to talk to. Put this together with my (sometimes obsessive!) love for analysing things, and you see how the other string to my bow has developed. My first passion was teaching, but I also love to listen, I love to analyse, and I love to help people. Essentially these are the factors which form the basis of Shaw Lifestyle, where I listen to people’s needs, analyse what strategies might best help them, create step-by-step programmes to guide them…then hold their hand to get them there!

 

 

One of the loveliest testimonials I have had over the years said, quite simply:

“I think the main difference between Liz and other personal trainers is that Liz listens”

To those who are simply looking to build a six-pack this may seem less important (though I would argue that communication is key at ANY level of coaching), but for those who are looking to make genuine lifestyle changes I absolutely believe that open ears and true communication are vital, to create trust, and to encourage accountability. My latest challenge has been to recreate these same qualities whilst teaching online – a whole new challenge, but one I am absolutely loving, and I can’t wait to share the results with you all very soon!

HOW TO RID YOURSELF OF SLEEP PROBLEMS…

HOW TO RID YOURSELF OF SLEEP PROBLEMS…

There are two distinct phases of my life that I remember as being ruled by sleep – or a lack of it! The first was with my first born: he didn’t actually sleep through the night until the age of 22 months, and there were plenty of nights when he woke 3 or 4 times through the night. By the end of it all I was run ragged & I felt permanently drunk on lack of sleep…but it surely taught me not to make the same mistakes when number two came along! So the second time around, a combination of far more sensible parenting (e.g. NOT running to check on him every time he moved or murmured) plus a little luck along the way meant I had a much easier journey (he slept through the night from 4 months!!).

The other time that the Sleep Curse hit me was shortly after I returned to live in the UK, and it was – very definitely – 100% stress related. For the first 6 months or so I would go to bed and simply toss & turn trying to get to sleep (& as anyone who has suffered from sleep issues will tell you, the more you “try” the more difficult – & utterly frustrating – it becomes). I would usually finally drop off at around 4 or 5 in the morning, only to be greeted by a bouncing 4 year old leaping on my bed at 6am. Weeks turned into months, and the exhaustion was becoming unbearable. Then something changed: for some reason, I suddenly found myself quite able to drop off…but then I would wake at around 3 or 4, and would be totally unable to get back to sleep again. I couldn’t believe that my original problem had totally disappeared – only to be replaced by another! I tried everything, from counting sheep to visualising relaxing golden beaches and warm sunshine, but I could never maintain my focus on those thoughts – my mind just kept getting dragged back to the same utter frustration of not being able to sleep. So there I would lie til 5 or 6, wide awake and “wired” – and good for nothing when the Bouncing Boy bounded in shortly afterwards.

 

WHY?

In my case, this was all about “mind chatter”. I would go to bed thinking of something – absolutely anything – & I simply would not be able to get it out of my head. I would lie there “spinning” on things: what I’d watched on TV, what I had to do the next day, even what football kit the kids would need next season! Nothing I could do seemed to make any difference, and every night felt like an endless battle.

I will NEVER forget what that utter exhaustion felt like, nor the sheer frustration of lying awake, trying to sleep, and feeling totally out of control of the whole situation. It was quite literally horrible – as was my level of patience with my boys as a result. I would spend my day times feeling I could literally fall asleep on my feet – and the whole thing felt pretty desperate.

 

 

There ARE ways out of this place: for me, the turning point was a meditation course which helped me with my mind chatter. I don’t believe in a ‘one size fits all’ solution, so I can’t promise that meditation will be your Golden Secret to sleep. Since my own issues, I have had endless clients asking me for help with sleep, so have researched (& tried out!) many different possibilities. My hope is that one – or maybe some – of those shown below will resonate with you. I honestly know the misery of sleepless nights, and I also know that it literally turned my life around the day I conquered the Sleep Curse…

 

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS…

 

The first, simple suggestion here is creating and maintaining an evening routine. As parents we surely know that developing regular bedtime habits helps our kids to sleep, (and we also know it is oh so wonderful to see them sleeping peacefully…)

 

 

So why shouldn’t a regular routine help us too? Once again, we are all different so we don’t need to be rigid: instead we need to experiment with what works best for us. There are however a few things that should be absolutes…

[You will see that several of the suggestions below are based in facts surrounding circadian rhythms, melatonin & serotonin. It is therefore worthwhile gaining a (very basic) understanding of these 3 concepts:

  1. Circadian rhythms are essentially our internal body clock, which runs 24/7 in the background of our brain (otherwise referred to as our sleep/wake cycle). These rhythms are basically the reason why at some times we feel drowsy, whereas at other times we are wide awake & raring to go. They are controlled by a part of the brain (the hypothalamus), but external factors such as lightness and darkness can also impact them.
  2. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland. The gland is automatically ‘switched on’ when darkness falls, and this causes the hormone to be released into the blood stream, which in turn makes us feel less alert and more inclined to sleep. Conversely, during the day melatonin levels are hardly noticeable.
  3. Serotonin is a “happy hormone”. High levels of serotonin are associated with wakefulness; lower levels with sleep. The key here is that this hormone is synthesised by the pineal gland to make melatonin – hence both hormones are directly connected to good sleep.]

 

THE “DONT’S”

  1. Don’t drink caffeine for at least 4-6 hours before bedtime (caffeine suppresses melatonin production). Don’t forget this doesn’t just mean tea & coffee: think fizzy drinks & chocolate too, and do check food labels for caffeine content.
  2. Avoid alcohol (which disrupts sleep patterns – especially during the second half of the night when you would usually be sleeping more deeply) & nicotine (smokers’ sleep will be disrupted throughout the night by their cravings for nicotine).
  3. Don’t eat too heavily before bed, and be mindful of what foods you do eat. Eating some carbohydrates may induce sleepiness, but eating too heavily may lead to poor sleep. Foods rich in magnesium will relax muscles, foods which boost serotonin and/or melatonin levels will help encourage sleep.
  4. Avoid “screen time” before bed. Electronics & /or TV contain so many graphics that they will over stimulate you at bedtime. Electronic devices also contain a blue light which “suppresses melatonin production for more than twice as long as other light wavelengths, and alters circadian rhythms by twice the degree”. It is hugely important to turn off all such devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime (and 2 hours would be better still!). DO NOT use mobile phones, tablets etc in bed.
  5. Aim for a regular bed time & wake up time.  Resist the temptation to change this, even at weekends.
  6. Think of keeping your bedroom fairly cool at bedtime. Your body naturally cools down before sleep to encourage sleep: by keeping your bedroom cooler you will enhance this (ideally between 18-22 degrees).
  7. Do keep your room dark, either with curtains or black out blinds, or alternatively with an eye mask. Again, this is all about enhancing melatonin production. If you enjoy reading in bed, do so with a soft light.
  8. Try to keep clutter OUT of the bedroom. This will enhance your sense of relaxation, whereas clutter will do the opposite…

 

 

 

THE “DO’S”

  1. DO exercise during the day. Getting active will lift your mood & relieve stress – both of which are likely connected to your sleep patterns. It is also believed that exercise improves circadian rhythms “promoting daytime alertness and helping bring on sleepiness at night”.
  2. Doing vigorous exercise close to bedtime may be too arousing, but yoga and/or deep breathing exercises are definitely sleep inducing. Gentle mobilisation exercises are also helpful, as they will encourage muscular relaxation to combat the tensions of the day.
  3. If mind chatter is an issue for you, try journaling, or at least writing a ‘To Do List’ before bed to get these things out of your mind & on to paper.
  4. Consider the bed you’re lying on. Is the mattress good? Is the pillow right for you or do you wake with a stiff neck? Even the fabrics & colours you use on your bed may either enhance or deter sleep.
  5. Try drinking herbal tea before bed (chamomile is especially good for inducing sleep). Some say that milky drinks can help too, though there are mixed views on this one… It’s always worth trying it out to see what works for you.
  6. Consider any products you are using directly before bedtime. Many cosmetic companies offer a range of products which will help encourage sleep using things such as lavender essential oil, which is a relaxant. There are increasing numbers of companies that produce natural face and body creams, shower & bath products & pillow mists, all of which can genuinely enhance sleep if carefully chosen. It is vitally important to do the research and always read labels carefully.
  7. A warm bath can be incredibly relaxing, or for some a shower may have the same effect (make sure you do it mindfully!) Again, be careful which products you use: the wrong (chemically laden) cosmetics can load you up with toxins and make sleep ever more elusive. Alternatively, using products containing appropriate essential oils can enhance the sense of relaxation much further.
  8. Diffusing essential oils can be extremely calming – & will enhance your health on so many levels too. Lavender, frankincense, geranium are examples of oils to induce relaxation during the evening before bed. Lavender or chamomile are perhaps the best choices to have actually in the bedroom. [For more about which essential oils may enhance the mood you wish to create, click here].
  9. Establishing a regular mindfulness or meditation practice can help to calm “mind chatter”.

 

 

This was definitely what did it for me! I was so lucky in that I had the fabulous Mita to teach me on my 6 week Meditation Course, where I learnt to quieten my mind chatter by focusing on my breath. My main “take away” from the course was that when your mind wanders from the focus of your breath this is entirely natural. When I had spent hours lying in bed trying to do my own relaxation techniques, I had become sooo frustrated because I never seemed to be able to maintain my focus on relaxing – my mind was always grasshopper-ing off to something else. To this day I can hear my teacher saying “if the mind wanders this is totally natural: the mind is made this way. When it happens, you simply gently draw your thoughts back to your breath, back to the sensation of your breath within your body.” This for me was key: it was the thing that turned me away from frustration, and towards a true solution for my spinning mind…and sleep. On those rare occasions when sleep escapes me these days, I still hear Mita’s voice, and I know that softly focusing on my breath is my secret weapon to return me to the land of dreams.

 

Whether it’s you that is having problems with sleep, or someone you know, the above techniques genuinely work – and they are actually pleasant things to do. So if your body is crying out for a little more sleep – or for a little less stress & anxiety, as the two often go hand in hand – then please do try out these suggestions. We cannot over estimate the importance of sleep to both our physical and our mental health, and yet sadly this is so often overlooked…

 

 

If you do intend to try out some of these methods, it is a good idea to keep a diary of how your sleep patterns alter / progress as time goes on, so that you can then check back & see what might have worked best. If you would like a little more support or guidance with any of the above, do check out my “Notes for a Shaw Lifestyle” and my “Shaw Lifestyle Video & Audio Tips”, accessible here. There are various tools which you may find helpful, such as a Sleep Diary, a video of Mobilisation Exercises and an audio aid for Relaxation Techniques…

VITAL ELEMENTS OF POST NATAL FITNESS

VITAL ELEMENTS OF POST NATAL FITNESS

Following childbirth many women struggle with the reality of getting back into exercise and nutrition routines. The birth itself, whether straightforward or complex, creates a huge stress on the body, and this is followed immediately by the fatigue and anxieties of raising a new-born baby. Though undoubtedly a wonderful experience, most women suffer from extreme exhaustion, and some – especially first-time mothers – experience overwhelming degrees of stress & anxiety. The sheer responsibility of raising a new-born can make all other intentions fade into insignificance, so that exercise and nutrition are just not ‘on the radar’. In truth though, a considered exercise plan coupled with good nutrition will promote improved energy & a decrease in stress levels, bringing both health and psychological benefits. In addition, the RCOG (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) and the ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) support the following advantages:

  • a quicker post-natal recovery
  • improved posture, energy levels, stamina, metabolic rate
  • a quicker return to pre-pregnancy weight
  • a better body image
  • increased self confidence

In my opinion, any new mum planning to exercise in the post natal period should look to work with a personal trainer with experience in this field. The first step should be a detailed consultation which will ensure a programme plan that is specific to YOUR experiences of childbirth and beyond.

Every woman’s experiences of pregnancy and birth are different, so programme design must be unique to the individual, and exercise prescription will be massively different depending on how active the new mum was prior to and during pregnancy, and on the actual birth experience (natural or caesarean, complex or simple). There are however certain generalised rules which will apply across the board:

1. New mums should be very aware not to hurry to start classic abdominal exercises. Regardless of whether diastasis recti abdominis is present (the stretching apart of the vertical muscles down the front of the abdomen, which creates a gap) the abdominals will have been extremely stretched, and it will take time and patience to return to form. It is however vital to start slowly rediscovering abdominal strength in order to support posture and to ensure that when you do start to work out your spine is protected.

2. Very early on it is simply a case of trying to sense the abdominal muscles, together with the pelvic floor. Begin by sitting on a chair, or on the floor if comfortable, or on a yoga block or Pilates ball. Breathe in to prepare, then on the exhalation simply squeeze the belly button back towards the spine and try to sense the two sides of the abdominals drawing together. This can be repeated as many times as is comfortable, (up to 20).

3. Pelvic floor exercises or ‘Kegels’ are essential to rediscover strength in this area (which was also massively stretched during birth), and to ensure a return to healthy bladder functioning. This involves trying to raise the perineal muscles up within the pelvic area: you can imagine the feeling of needing a pee and stopping yourself, or thinking of the base of the pelvis as the floor of a lift which you are trying to slowly raise up within you, floor by floor. These exercises are hard to master at first as there is little feeling in this over-stretched area. (They will be much easier for those who performed them before birth, and therefore have some understanding of the sensation they are trying to feel). It is vital that pelvic floor exercises be done at home as well as during structured exercise sessions. Regularly practising these simple exercises will help to avoid the embarrassment of stress incontinence, as well as being good for general health. In addition, the pelvic floor muscles will ultimately work in integration with the abdominals, and so also help to regain strength and tone here also.

4. Moving forwards, a trainer will explore slowly progressive abdominal exercises as appropriate to your level of post-natal fitness. It must be remembered that you are now working with a “new” and changed body, so you need to work slowly and with focus to ensure that you are listening to your body and developing your fitness sessions according to YOUR body’s limitations.

5. You should be working to re-establish muscle memory in terms of ‘correct’ posture, and this in itself will also slowly help abdominal work. Start by finding neutral spine in the supine position, then explore this in sitting and standing positions: aim to maintain this stance in all subsequent exercises, and in day to day activities. This will take time and practice, as the posture has changed quite considerably over the previous 9 months.

6. The re-training of the abdominals should be done alongside a graduated programme of fitness exercises. Both muscle strengthening and cardio work will be slowly built up again, with constant reminders of abdominal work and core strength throughout.

7. Nutrition remains hugely important in the postnatal period, and it is very easy, due to the stress and tiredness of having a new baby, to forget this. Remaining hydrated is of vital importance, especially if breastfeeding. Breastfeeding also calls on the mother’s calorie intake, (as does exercise), so she must accept that the return to pre-pregnancy weight will be a slow process: the first priority is to feed her body well enough that she and her baby can get through this challenging period in good health. This will be achieved by maintaining a healthy, balanced diet.

8. After the initial post natal period, group exercise can be very incentivising for many women, as the companionship and support of those who may share some of your experiences can be very positive. If there are yoga or Pilates classes specific to the post natal period, it is well worth checking these out.

9. Stress levels can be incredibly high when trying to adjust to life with a newborn. There is obviously undoubted joy at the birth, but this also brings with it sleepless nights, a ‘new’ and unfamiliar body, upside down hormones…and so the list goes on. Appropriate exercise and nutrition will be massively helpful in managing these stress levels, and must be prioritised, however hard that may seem. Additionally, all the usually recommended stress management techniques can be helpful. Perhaps the simplest and most effective in the early days is #breathingexercises, which can be practiced at any time, day or night.

It is so easy – and totally natural – to get caught up in what’s good for the baby at this stage. What we must remember is that THE most important thing for the baby is to have a healthy mum, so we must also prioritise our own health and wellness – both physical and mental. Remember: keeping your own cup topped up with those things that will enhance your health is what will enable your baby to flourish and thrive.

I’M PREGNANT! CAN I STILL EXERCISE DURING PREGNANCY?

I’M PREGNANT! CAN I STILL EXERCISE DURING PREGNANCY?

PREGNANCY can be hugely exciting, but it can also be a scary time: many women are daunted by the huge responsibility of creating another being within themselves. Obviously, the mother-to-be’s own health & fitness, and the ‘fuel’ that she is providing herself and her growing baby are vital. So, the question remains: “can I still exercise during pregnancy?”

Considered medical opinion is that that within a ‘normal’ pregnancy, exercise brings huge benefits. This is supported by the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG), and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (ACOG). Providing there are no barriers to participating in exercise (such as pre eclampsia, history of multiple miscarriages, or multiple gestation) then a considered, appropriate fitness and nutrition regime can provide:

  • Improved circulation
  • Reduced maternal weight gain
  • Reduced swelling, leg cramps, muscular discomfort
  • Eased gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Reduction in labour pain
  • Easier, shorter labours

YOUR CHANGING BODY

Many changes occur during pregnancy: some are ‘typical’ developments which most women will experience, others will be specific to the individual. Knowledge of these changes and of typical pregnancy milestones is key to creating safe and considered pre-natal exercise programmes. Whether you have been exercising for years or are a complete beginner, you are now experiencing a ‘new’ and ever-changing body, so both technique and performance will necessarily be fluid, needing to be adapted month by month. For this reason I would always advise working with a trainer during the pre-natal period: together with your trainer, you will need to look at current medical records, lifestyle habits and exercise regime (if any). This will then form the baseline for exercise prescription & nutritional advice for the following months.

 

 

If you are working with an experienced and reputable trainer, they will surely draw your attention to some of the standard ‘musts’ for pre-natal exercise:

1. every pregnancy is different. Full and constant communication between trainer and client giving feedback on how each movement feels and how mum herself is feeling are vital to ensure safe progress.

2. during the first trimester ‘vascular underfill’ may cause waves of fatigue, dizziness, nausea, racing pulse, pallor, sweating and more. For those experiencing any of the above, workouts should be arranged around the times of day that these symptoms are least prevalent. When the workout does take place a slow and gradual warm up is essential; transitions between lying, sitting, and standing must be slow; good hydration is vital.

3. during the second half of pregnancy the mum-to-be should avoid exercises lying supine (on her back) due to possible pressure on the vena cava. The supine position can cause this major blood vessel to be compressed by the weight of the growing foetus, in turn disrupting blood flow to both mother and baby. Most exercises that would usually be carried out in this position can be easily and safely adapted.

4. the second trimester is when release of the hormone relaxin peaks. This allows ligaments in the pelvic area to relax and the cervix to soften and widen in preparation for the coming birth. Relaxin will also affect the elasticity of the pelvic floor muscles, and allow the abdominals to stretch even more. Women must be aware of this increasing “looseness” in the pelvic area and exercises should be adapted accordingly. Sudden changes of direction may be dangerous and should be avoided, and ‘split stance’ poses should be approached with care. An example is that the client might be advised to avoid walking lunges and could replace these with static lunges, (preferably supported).

5. as the foetus and uterus are growing and the mother is ‘showing’, postural changes become apparent. The increasing weight of the foetus in front of the mother begins to enforce an arched back (lordotic posture), creating an increased stretch through the abdominal muscles, a possible tightness in the errector spinae (columns of muscles down the length of the spine), increased length in the hamstrings and tightness in the hip flexors. All this makes it increasingly difficult for the expectant client to ‘feel’ her way through exercise technique, especially as she will now find it difficult to sense any ‘tightness’ in the abdominal muscles. Postural reminders must be consistent and constant.

 

SO WHAT IS THE VERDICT?

No two women are the same, hence no two pregnancies are the same. The fear of “Can I still exercise during pregnancy?” is a real one, yet the potential benefits of a structured exercise programme during the lead up to child birth are many and varied. The safest way to ensure positive benefits with exercising during pregnancy is by working with a trainer to create a personalised plan that suits YOUR pregnancy, based on your exercise history, your anxiety levels and your goals for your pregnancy and beyond. This will help you to relax and enjoy these nine months of change, safe in the knowledge that mum and baby are doing well. Building a trusting and open relationship with your trainer can honestly totally transform your ability to achieve your pre-natal goals for health and wellness.

We mustn’t forget this added bonus: if you build a good rapport with your trainer during these nine months, you will feel far more ready to trust him or her to help you regain fitness levels post-pregnancy, when you will have yet another ‘new body’ to deal with…plus an extra mouth to feed and a few sleepless nights!

 

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