The Rochester Dickens Festival & The Power of Your Anxious Imagination:

Last weekend I headed down to Kent with my family for the Rochester Dickens Festival. Now if you've never come across this fantastic event, it celebrates all things related to the author, Charles Dickens, as he had a strong connection with the town (many locations in Rochester appear in his books).

We first discovered the festival one year when, after completing a marathon down the road in the morning, we headed into Rochester, as the nearest town in the afternoon and found ourselves amongst dozens and dozens of people dressed up as characters from Dickens' novels and in period costume. 

We headed back this year just to be part of the festival as it is such a fun and enjoyable event. There's the procession of all the people in costume down the High Street and led by Fagin (form Oliver Twist) and the local pipe band, there are many different street performances, a fun fair by the Castle and a wonderful, welcoming and friendly atmosphere throughout. I absolutely loved it!

I even got my own line in a quick fire drama performance of Oliver Twist that took place in the street. So ok, I got to say one thing but I think I carried the whole show with my perfect delivery! Actually, after holding up a sign that said 'Ahhhhhh' and getting the whole crowd to say it, the guy on stage turned to me and said 'now you sir, on your own!' But still, I gave a great impromptu delivery of it in my own humble thespian opinion!

Something I always find interesting it to think back on how such a moment on the spot would have terrified me in my anxious days. I'd have been fearful of the possibility of any involvement in front of such a crowd, and would have mentally beaten myself up about it afterwards. Nowadays I just thought it was quite funny and teased my kids about how they could tell everyone back at school about how I'm such a star! 

Dickens himself was a fantastic story teller, which is why his novels and TV adaptations of them, remain so popular to this day. And in much the same way as Dickens drew upon the people and places around him in his stories, so we all draw upon our perceptions and what we see, hear, feel and think to create our own story about who we are and what we believe ourselves capable and worthy of in life. 

And in much the same way as Dickens used his creativity and imagination to engage his readers and listeners, so with anxiety, you can find that you imagine all sorts of worst case scenarios and possible unwelcome outcomes. And even when you deal with one scenario, you may well find that the anxiety simply flows into some other scenarios of things going badly, even if that is just worry that you may feel anxious.  

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Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone:

We hear a lot of talk about how life begins at the end of our comfort zone don't we? Like we can't possibly be happy and content for a moment because we need to push, push, push...

And whilst I sometimes wonder just how true this is as an absolute (after all, if you do what you always do and are happy and healthy then do you really need to go outside that comfort zone?), it's often considered a human need to stretch ourselves and to learn and grow. For example, the Human Givens Institute suggest that being stretched in what we do and think gives our life meaning and purpose.

Personally I like to push myself in many facets of my life (although not necessarily all at once!). For example, we've just had 'Hell Week' at bootcamp where every session is ramped up a further notch and you have to dig deep physically and mentally to get the reps done. I kind of like that, the taking it a bit further, after all, we are all too often far more capable than we think we are and sometimes we need an environment that nurtures and promotes that within us.

This month marks the third anniversary of when I moved into my current office, a change that at that time seemed like a massive leap outside of my comfort zone. Up until that point I had always operated out of complementary health clinics, being around other practitioners and have that support structure. Yet I knew that I had outgrown that set up and the demand for my services meant I needed my own space. Yet at the time of planning it and committing to it, I can remember constantly questioning myself about whether I was doing the right thing or not.

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Overcoming Emotional Eating - New Weight Loss Video Testimonial:

Earlier this month, I recorded this new video hypnotherapy testimonial with a lovely lady who sought my help to change her relationship with food.

Interestingly, the testimonial was recorded around the same time that Public Health England reported on progress towards their target to reduce our sugar intake and their challenge to manufacturers and the like to cut 20% of sugar in a range of foods by 2020. One year after being set the target, retailers and manufacturers had achieved a 2% reduction in both average sugar content and calories in products likely to be consumed in one go.

Of course, sugary foods are often those that we turn to when we emotionally eat. The sugar fix calms our stress, anxiety and worry for a bit but then we may find ourselves repeating the same pattern of using food to feel better over and over. And that can have a huge impact on our health and waist line.

The other week my kids were eating a (not to be named brand!) chocolate and hazelnut spread and challenged me to try a bit. Because I want to encourage them to try different foods to decide whether they like them (rather than deciding they don't like it in advance of ever trying it!), I had a bit. I'll be honest: it was lush. Later on that day I saw I saw the jar in the kitchen, and suddenly deciding I was hungry and needed an energy boost, I had a bit more. "It's alright," I told myself, because I need the energy for exercising. Over the next few days I found myself thinking about eating it, even looking forward to it. I started to get little cravings for it that grew and grew if they weren't satisfied. 

Now luckily I spotted what was happening and decided that nothing should have that much of a hold over me and stopped my unnecessary consumption in its tracks. But I think it shows how sugar and fat filled foods can quickly take a hold and start to escalate the unneeded calories we consume. Add in an emotional element like stress or anxiety or feeling rubbish about ourselves and that hold and that emotional eating pattern can take on a force that can be hard to resist.

Anyway, back to what Laura had to say in her video review of our sessions together...

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The power of music to ease stress and anxiety symptoms

Last week I had the privilege of being invited as a guest to watch the awesome blues artist, Danny Bryant, perform in Cambridge. If you've never checked him out you should take a look at some of his stuff right now because his singing and guitar playing are something special. 

In fact music can be pretty mesmerising can't it? There were moments at the concert where I was lost in a sort of music trance while watching the band play and listening to the songs. Some of the time I pretty much lost track of where I was and the other people around me because I was just enjoying watching and listening so much.

And I bet you've had those moments where a song comes on and all of a sudden you remember a time from the past linked to that song, perhaps even eliciting an emotional response to the music. Of course, what we often do is listen to the music that reflects our current mood so if we are feellng down we listen to sad songs and if we feel happy we listen to songs that give us a good feeling.  

As music can have such strong associations it makes sense to try and utilise this power doesn't it?

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Ely Eels Day - Embracing My Inner Morris Dancer!

This past Bank Holiday weekend was a record breaker for the high temperatures reached here in the UK - it has been scorching hot for three days straight (a slight contrast to the persistent rain we've had in recent weeks!). And this weekend marked the annual Ely Eels Day here in Ely, Cambridgeshire. In fact, Ely derives its name from the Isle of Eels when it was an island surrounded by fen marshland and eels were a much bigger part of life than they are now.

Now one thing I love about living in this part of the world is when the various Morris dancing groups hit town (as they do a few times a year). Suddenly you have these groups of dancers, all dressed up in their unique garb, performing through the day around the City. I really do enjoy watching them perform and I'm even almost tempted to want to tie bells to my shins, paint my face green and dive in for a song or two! (Anyone else want to join in?!).

Of course there were lots of other things going on with street stalls, a procession, rides for the kids and an arena where local dance groups performed their routines in the sun for the huge crowds (everything from ballet to street dance were on display). 

But back to Morris dancing because I think there are a few valuable things we can all learn from Morris dancers...

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Overcoming Embarrassment - Ending Anxiety & Fear

Do you ever get anxious that you might somehow embarrass yourself in front of others? It's a pretty common thing to worry about how others might judge or perceive you if you are battling with anxiety or self-consciousness issues. 

In fact, it can go a little further than that and you may find that you take on anxiety for fear of other people being embarrassed or because of something they are doing. I've even known clients with anxiety and fears to become panicky when watching things on TV or in meetings happening to others yet responding as if it is happening to them.

The other day I was messing about making up silly new lyrics to familiar songs with my kids and the words I was saying came out pronounced all wrong. Now in an environment with people where you can relax and be yourself, such things can just be laughed off and forgotten as soon as you move on to something else.

Yet sometimes things happen (or could happen) around others, and that's where the fear and worry comes in. I can still remember a time many, many years ago when I fell over on the bus to where I lived as it swerved around a corner. It doesn't bother me to think back on it now yet at the time I was acutely aware of people laughing, of someone I knew from school seeing it happen and the anxiety and embarrassment that coursed through my mind and body. It ruined the rest of that day and I brooded on it for days after (and avoided as best as I could being seen by that person who knew me). It made me anxious about bus journeys and hyper on edge on them for many months after in case I should endure a repeat performance.

Fast forward to earlier this year and we were out in Bury St Edmunds shopping because the girls had got vouchers as part of their Christmas present from a relative. We were in a crowded little shop that sells pencils, rubbers, pencil cases and lunchboxes (and a million other things aimed at little people) in bright colours. To me it looks like overpriced tat but to kids it seems to be irresistible. Anyway, I was trying to squeeze past everyone to escape from the shop when somehow my rucksack caught the table display and brought the whole lot crashing down in a mass of boxes and brightly coloured stationary type things. It went everywhere and it was loud. It was the shopping equivalent of when you are in a pub, restaurant or coffee shop and someone drops and smashes a glass and in that moment, the entire place stops mid-sentence and turns to look.  I paused, sincerely apologised to the assistant (who, judging by his reaction, was clearly already having a very bad day) and we bought our stuff and left to get on with the rest of the day.

The first occasion on the bus, when I was anxious and self-conscious, was like torture; yet the experience in the shop was just a fleeting unfortunate mess-creating moment that was soon forgotten. 

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Data Protection Law Changes and My Privacy Policy

Unless you've ditched all your e-mail systems and avoided the news recently, you probably are aware that there are data protection law changes coming into place from May 2018 (in the EU). 

Many years ago now I worked in data protection and information compliance in the public sector, often involving sensitive data about people (it was in the legal field). In those days, it was very much about looking after data, keeping it accurate, keeping it secure and not sharing it with anyone who wasn't entitled to it. And these are pretty much the principles I took with me into my professional hypnotherapy practice.  

And, of course, these principles carry on within the new data protection regime that anyone who deals with anyone are currently getting their heads around (it's a mammoth piece of legislation!). 

This short blog is just a quick update on data protection related things.

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Social Anxiety - Why We Need More Than Just Conversation

The sun is finally shining here in the UK, Spring seems to have finally arrived and yesterday was my youngest's seventh birthday. Blimey time flies! It doesn't seem that long ago that she was coming home from hospital after being born! 

To celebrate her birthday we had family with us and a garden picnic and lots of running around, messing around, laughing and playing. Having moved on from fidget spinners, the next thing currently seems to be creating slime. I've got no idea what it's made from but it feels wet and slimy and cold when you hold it. So there was lots of slime making and colouring going on and, in one of my favourite moments, our rabbit seemed to learn how to play football!

And there was one moment yesterday when, as we were all sitting around in the living room, I know in the past (when I struggled with social anxiety) would have crushed me inside. When my social anxiety was a thing for me, I would have felt sick, hot, tense and then afterwards have replayed it a thousand times, each time twisting the knife inside because of how I would have perceived I'd made an idiot of myself in front of others.

You see, at some point, someone suggested playing that game where the others write a celebrity name on a post it note and then give it to you to put on your forehead before you ask them yes/no questions to try and work out who the person is. Now, if you suffer with social anxiety you may well appreciate how such a situation could seem like an ordeal. There you are in a confined space with half a dozen people watching you, while you try to ask sensible questions and not make an idiot of yourself along the way. I know when I had social anxiety I would have wanted the earth to open up and swallow me right there and then. But of course without that old anxiety, it was actually quite fun (mine was Elvis Presley in case you are wondering!). 

Recently a You Tube star (or at least that's how she was described in the press!), attracted a lot of publicity after starting a conversation about social anxiety on Twitter. And of course any raised awareness and openness about mental health issues is to be welcomed (if people want to talk about their mental health issues that is). Yet are we really going to just stop there - with conversation? Aren't we actually going to move on to real solutions about how to overcome social anxiety? 

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Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy - what it is and how it can help you combat anxiety:

Often when clients come to meet me for the first time they seem to think, based on the sloppy portrayals of hypnosis in the media, that I will start swinging a watch in front of their eyes and evoking some sort of mystical persona (perhaps a bit like Gandalf in Lord of The Rings or something from Harry Potter). They've seen things in TV programmes and in films and stage show type environments that leads them to form an opinion that hypnosis is something unknown, mystical and magical in some way. 

They may also think that hypnosis is something you can either do or not do, that is, either you can 'go under' or you can't, either it will work for you or you can't be hypnotised (full stop). And it makes sense that we form these perceptions based upon the things we see and hear about 'going under' and myths about being controlled by the hypnotist.

In fact, part of the reason I went to a hypnotist for help with my anxiety was that I wanted to be 'knocked out' and then come round to find that I had ultra amazing levels of self-belief and confidence, before heading off into the sunset with ultra-confidence and anxiety freedom for ever more (seriously, I thought I would be put under and awake to have all the confidence in the world). The first hypnotist I saw spent hour after hour taking me back through unpleasant and anxiety filled memories in the hope of finding some root cause yet all that did was make me feel more depressed and more anxious. The next hypnotist I saw transformed my life and whilst the results of hypnotherapy often seem magical, they are of course, built upon normal psychological processes that we are all capable of identifying, taking control over and changing.

Rather than being seemingly controlled by ongoing, intrusive and habitual anxiety filled thoughts, those same psychological processes can be used to create thoughts and feelings that leave us feeling happier, calmer and more in control.

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Motivation and results - Come rain or shine!

It's been a lovely day here today yet earlier this week, just a few days ago, it was a very different story. Over the Easter bank holiday weekend the heavens seemed to open and the rain poured down. Lots of well made plans were waterlogged (including my trip to watch Ely City FC with my daughter and father in law). 

And on Monday morning, which was a bank holiday here in the UK, my usual evening bootcamp was moved to eight in the morning. Whilst I only ate a small amount of chocolate over Easter, anyone who knows me knows I love that feeling after a hard work out - my mental health feels boosted and i know my physical health is benefitting too.

That Sunday night and into the early hours of Monday it absolutely poured down. The rain was so heavy that the noise of it on the windows woke me up two or three times during the night. When my alarm went off at 7 a.m. (cause yes it takes me an hour to wake up physically and mentally before I can exercise), there was a massive temptation to switch it off, roll over and go back to sleep. My bed was so warm and comfy and outside I knew it was wet and cold. 

So what do you do? Stay in the warm and dry and enjoy the comfort, or push yourself out of bed and just get on with it?

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