Articles

Don’t Forget to Breathe!

When I was a little girl, maybe 7 or 8, Santa Claus brought me a Sony Walkman.  It was the late 80’s and every kid wanted to emulate Marty McFly.  The portable cassette player was the must have accessory.  To accompany it, my grandmother bought me the “Get in Shape Girl” fitness program.  I have no idea why.  Looking back, I suspect the Book Club might have had something to do with it.  Regardless of her rationale, I loved it.  It made me so happy to play the cassette and jump around my bedroom like an Olivia Newton John wanna be.

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I remember that while I was feeling the burn, the recorded instructor would give me ques.  She would urge me to “keep smiling,” and “don’t forget to breathe.”  I distinctly recall thinking to myself, even at that young age, how utterly ridiculous this was.  As if you could forget to breathe!

Throughout my life, in my attempts to get in shape, I have encounter numerous fitness instructors.  Many of whom have extolled the same advice about breathing.  Every time, I shrugged it off.  Surely it is just something they are trained to say?  Similar to how they like counting to eight all the time.  But lately, my attitude is changing.

A few months ago, I started working with a counsellor.  (I will talk more about that, when I am further along the path.)  In my very first session with her, she said something incredible.  I was talking about my issues and what I am hoping to get out of going to therapy.  She listened intently.  When I was finished speaking, she said “do you know that you hold your breath when you are deep in thought?”  I had no idea.

Since she said that to me, I have noticed myself doing it more and more.  Every time I concentrate on anything.  Whether that is work, or a game of solitaire.  I hold my breath so tightly that when I eventually do let it go, I feel like I have an elephant sitting on my chest.

My therapist also asked me a question that I am only beginning to understand the answer to.  She said “what is going on between your mind and your body, that your brain can override the most basic biological function.”  This has raised so many other questions for me.  I have begun to try to understand how my mind and body have become so utterly disconnected.  What work will need to be done to restore synchronicity?

The main reason I decided to go to therapy in the first place, was because I had been having anxiety attacks with increasing regularity.  I have always been an anxious person.  However, since things started to go wrong with my work life, it had been getting out of control.  Every time I had a quiet moment, thoughts would start racing through my mind.  Before long, I would begin to experience the familiar tightness in my chest.  The feeling of not being able to draw a complete breath.

I am wondering now if I was inducing this state by forgetting to breathe while I was trying to organise my thoughts.  Could I have been doing it to myself?  Since I have become aware that I do this and have caught myself in the act lots of time, I have not had a single attack.  There must be something to it.

Those of you who have been following the blog will know that I have been practicing meditation for a while now.  I use the Headspace app, and honestly, without it I would be an even bigger basket case!  No matter what pack I am working on, whether the focus is on stress or sleep, the narrator Andy always comes back to the breath.  He reminds us that the breath is what anchors us.  Frightening then to think how far we can drift off course, when the breath is not there to guide us.

When we listen to our breath and become tuned in to it, it can tell us a lot about what is going on in the body.  Our blood pressure and heart rate are difficult to monitor on an ongoing basis.  However, the breath is one indicator we do have of our physiological state.  If we can but hear it.

There is great power in the breath.  If you want to see this for yourself, the next time you are in pain, or you are struggling in the gym, try to actively breathe through it.  Imagine yourself breathing in calm and tranquility and breathing out pain.  It really does work.  Whenever my IBS flairs up and my colon goes into spasm, I employ this technique .  It is the ONLY thing that gives me any relief.  There’s a reason why labouring women are coached so much about breathing.

The weird thing about breathing is, your body knows what to do.  It knows how to breathe.  It is only when the brain gets involved that things get screwed up.

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As I continue my journey towards a healthier, happier self, I am beginning to make a realisation.   Unless I can master my breath, it is all for nought.  Until I get to the stage when inhaling and exhaling come as readily as nature intended, I will never be able to harness my true power.

It’s going to take more than a few therapy sessions to unlearn 37 years of behaviour, but I am determined to try.  Even as I write this, I have noticed my breathing stop completely on more than one occasion.

My fitness journey is not unique.  There have been and will continue to be peaks a valleys.  Times of progress and times of frustration.  Breathing, however, is something that apart from conscious awareness, will take little effort and is bound to yield great rewards.  Be well and don’t forget to breathe xxx

 

Articles, Podcast

Fitty and Fatty Ep. 27

In Episode 27 Fitty talks about Time Management and Personal Effectiveness, giving us tips to help us Eat That Frog! Fatty helps us to employ Mind Over Matter. Thanks for listening xxx https://fittyandfatty.podbean.com/e/fitty-and-fatty-ep27-time-management-and-mind-over-matter/ Don’t forget to hit us up on the contact page for your free badges.

via Fitty and Fatty Ep. 27 — Fitty & Fatty

Articles

All The Lonely People

In a time when we are more connected than ever before, it is hard to understand why so many of us are experiencing chronic loneliness.  Through social media, email and messaging apps, barely a waking hour goes by when we don’t reach out and touch someone.  Why is it then, that we feel more isolated and alone than at any other stage in our history?

Recent studies have shown that up to 50% of adults report feeling lonely sometimes or always.  When asked the question “how many people truly know you?” many respond with “no-one.”

Researchers, such as Johann Hari and Brene Brown, to name but two, have clearly shown the link between social isolation and depression, anxiety and even addiction.  In Brene’s words, “we are hard wired for connection.”  What is it then that is stopping us from forming and maintaining the types of connections we so desperately need?

Doped on Dopamine:

We have all heard of the hormone dopamine.  Dopamine is often associated with pleasure, however, it is more closely related to the reward center in the brain.  Every time we hear that ping announcing the arrival of a new email, or signifying a “like” has been achieved, our brains receive a little shot of the drug.  It lets us know that something good just happened.  It encourages us to try to do it again.

We chase these little rewards throughout the day.  Often to the extent that we ignore the real, human connections in our lives.  We sacrifice our most sacred relationships to answer the Siren call of our tiny devices.  When we hear the beep, we feel like we have won a prize.  We instantly abandon whatever else is going on to attend to it.  Even though, we know on a rational level that it is most likely spam.  Of all the hundreds of thousands of emails I have received in my life, exactly none of them have been telling me I have won a prize.

A simple way to mitigate this is to simply go through your apps and disable all non critical notifications.  Every single one of them is constantly vying for your attention, so cut them off at the pass.

Set rules for yourself.  No phones in bed is a good place to start.  Some of the most important conversations I have had with my husband have been just before we go to sleep at night.  Sometimes these are about serious topics, but equally important are the silly moments.  The ones when you nearly choke because you are laughing so hard, but can’t remember what was so funny.  These are the moments of real connection.  They seldom take place with a smart phone in hand.

Competitive Disadvantage:

Another unfortunate side effect of living in the digital age is our compulsion to compete.  Anything you can do, I can do better.  As I write this, it is Pancake Tuesday in Ireland.  The day before Lent begins.  Originally it was Shrove Tuesday, the last day of feasting and getting rid of luxuries from the home, before 40 days and nights of fasting.  Now, however, it is national day of showing the world how big and impressive your stacks are.

There are a couple of things that amuse me about this.  (That’s not to say I haven’t done the same myself, I have)  Firstly, pancakes need to be served hot.  Any time you spend faffing around with lighting and filters, will only serve to detract from the overall pancake experience.

Secondly, Pancake Tuesday is such an institution that it can be assumed you have had pancakes, even if you don’t tell me.  I don’t need you to tell me you have brushed your teeth this morning either, I will just give you the benefit of the doubt.

Lastly, does anyone really care?

This is a simple example but I hope it illustrates my point.  We are spending an inordinate amount of time highlighting how amazing our lives are, instead of just living them.  We seem determined to elicit envy from our “friends” at every opportunity.  It’s hardly surprising that in doing so we alienate people and create even more loneliness.

So, the next time you want to show someone how awesome your pancakes are, why don’t you invite them around to try some?

Yes, no and maybe:

I have spoken at length, both on the blog and on the podcast, about how important it is to be able to say no.  We are so overwhelmed with tasks and responsibilities that we barely have time to draw breath.  It’s vital for our well being that we know when to draw the line, or we risk stress, overload and eventual burn out.

However, I fear we are saying no to the wrong things.  We do it automatically without considering the consequences.  Studies have shown that people will only extend an invitation to you seven times.  If you refuse the seventh invitation, they will be unlikely to ask you again.  Let’s face it, nobody is going to keep on putting their hands out to be slapped.

This could be your friends inviting you on a night out, or your colleagues asking you to join them for lunch.  The next time it comes up, before you refuse, ask yourself how you would feel if you weren’t invited.

Most of us have probably experienced the feeling of being left out.  I know I certainly have, and it’s awful.  If this is a situation you want to avoid, try to ensure you don’t unintentionally create it.  Make a habit of at least occasionally saying yes!

The road goes both ways:

I am someone who tries very hard to keep in touch with the people who are important to me.  I make an effort to send a message, suggest an event and generally reach out, especially when I am aware that it has maybe been a while.

Occasionally though, I find myself thinking that perhaps I am not being met half way.  I start feeling like I am doing all the running.  When this happens, I have two choices.  I can either continue to make the effort with that person, or I can disengage and see what happens.

What I decide to do will depend a lot on the person and on the situation.  If they have a lot going on in their life, or if they mean a lot to me, I can usually let it go.   But if I find myself feeling resentful of the un-reciprocated effort, it can be difficult to maintain the relationship.

If you have a person in your life and you are aware that they usually initiate contact, try to buck that trend.  Take action straight away.  When you find yourself thinking about the person, reach out.  If some one is important to you, don’t allow them to drift out of your life from sheer neglect.

I don’t claim to be an expert on avoiding loneliness.  But I am someone who has both experienced and researched it.  As the planet prepares to reach a population of 10 billion, is is astounding to me that we can still feel utterly alone in the world.  Be well, together xxx

 

 

Articles

Being Enough

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.        –  C.P. Cavafy

Do you ever get the feeling that you should be farther along your path than you are?  Do you ever get frustrated by set backs?  Do you tire of hearing yourself talk about starting over, again?  Yeah?  So do I.

As I sit writing this, it is “Blue Monday.”  I am looking out at a black night.  Neither of these however, is the source of my malaise.  I feel depressed and down due to the sisyphus condition I find myself in.  The near constant roundabout of a little progress followed by a big backslide, has started to wear me down.  Just like in the Greek myth, I am beginning to wonder if I am destined to carry the same load up hill for all eternity.

I am not writing this because I want to host my own pity party.  Or to elicit sympathy from my readers.  Instead, I write because I promised you and myself, almost exactly three years ago, that I would always be authentic.  It is extremely tempting to show only the highlights.  To invite you in, only when my house is tidy and everything is in order.  However to do that, would be to fail to honour the relationship we have built.  The trust you show me, each time you turn up to read my words.

Late last year, I was invited to resign from my job.  I watched a career that I had spent over a decade building crumble in the space of a single conversation.  The words “you’re not right for the job,” have echoed in my mind many times since then.  Reverberating and repeating.  Their message clear, you are not enough.

I had always known that a lot of my self worth was tied up with my job.  I am a natural striver, always obsessed with the next thing.  An upward career trajectory was good way for me to channel this.  What I had not known, was that when the label of accountant, professional and general good girl was taken away from me, I would struggle to recognise myself.

I wish I could tell you that this was limited to my professional life, but sadly that is not the case.  I am routinely plagued by the curse of more.  If I am fit, I want to be fitter.  If I am thin, I want to lose more weight.  When I fail it is all my fault and when I succeed it has nothing to do with me.

Lately I been doing some writing for another blog.  A couple of weeks back, I did an interview with an up and coming athlete.  My editor messaged me the day after it was published to let me know it had been the most read interview on the site.  As a writer this should have thrilled me.  Instead I immediately started to catalogue all of the possible explanations for the article’s popularity that didn’t involve its author.  Conversely, when we publish an article of mine that doesn’t do so well, I am crushed.  My inner demons launch into a chorus of “you’re not good enough, why would you even try?”

Daring Greatly

I have a small library of personal development literature at home.  I have just finished Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.  Rarely has a book so profoundly affected me.  I was literally moved to tears as I listened to her telling her stories.  Her struggle to connect with vulnerability seemed to mirror my own almost exactly.

In her book, she asks so many important questions.  But the one that struck me the hardest was this;  In a world where enough is never enough, how can we cultivate a sense of worthiness?  How can we learn to feel loved and lovable in a culture that values exhaustion and burn out over communication and connection?

I remember as a child and even into adulthood challenging both of my parents.  I distinctly recall screaming at them “Why can’t you just be proud of me!”  They would always assure me that they were.  As I look back, I can see that was the truth.  The chronic need for achievement came from inside me.  Any words of support and encouragement they gave me were at best, a temporary balm.

As I have gone through life, the need for approval, the desire to be seen has remained.  However, now it is not just my parents that I seek it from.  The need to be relevant, to feel like I am enough, has brought me to some dark and dangerous places.  I am caught in the vicious cycle of “I will be happy when… ” When my blog is a success.  It won an award and still I wasn’t soothed.  When the podcast reaches more listeners.  How many will it take?  When I am doing well at work.  I am now a finance manager, and “successful” by any objective measure, but still nothing.

It is slowly dawning on me, with the help of those supporting me, that the feeling of being enough will never come from outside.  It will not come from being athletic.  It will not come packaged in skinny jeans.  A good hair day, an orgasm, or a promotion will not conjure it.  It can only come from within me.  A truly terrifying prospect.

Becoming Enough

As I draft this post, the words of an Alanis Morissette song have been going through my head.

I’d be productive and still it would not come
I’d be celebrated still it would not come
I’d be the hero and still it would not come
I’d renunciate and still it would not come

I take comfort from knowing that if someone as wealthy, talented and accomplished as she can have these same sentiments, perhaps it is merely part of the human condition?  Maybe we all have demons to slay.  Perhaps the hardest thing is to set down the need for pleasing and perfecting, to just allow ourselves to be.

I know that I have a lot more work to do in this area.  I have enlisted the help of a therapist as I set about unlearning the habits of a lifetime.  Over the past few years I have driven myself to the point of exhaustion several times.  The “not enough” feeling is impossible to out run.  The only solution is to try to meet it head on.

I am committed to dealing with the shame that losing my job brought.  To shining a big, bright light on it.  Because shame loves the dark.  It delights in festering in unlit corners, gaining strength and power.  As I try to shed the pounds I gained when I was eating my feelings and too depressed to exercise, I am determined not to allow my self worth to depend on this.

At various stages of my life I have weighed less than 50kgs and over 80kg.  I was not happy with my body at any stage.  I am going to turn that narrative on its head.  If my weight can’t make me happy, why should I let it make me unhappy?  Brene Brown tells us that when we own our story, we get to write the ending.  That fills me with great hope.

I am imperfect.  I have flaws beyond counting.  But yet, I am worthy.  I am capable of giving love and receiving it in return.  I have gifts to offer this world.  I will enter the arena and fight.  Overcoming these demons may turn out to be my life’s work.  I will learn to be okay with that.  I will not hurry the journey at all.  Be well xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

Podcast

Fitty & Fatty Ep. 20

This week on the Podcast we talk about decision making and nutrition supplements. Enjoy xxx

A lot of us suffer from decision fatigue.  Fitty talks about why this is and what you can do to combat it.  She also talks about common strategies for decision making.

Fatty takes some of the “bro science” out of supplements in this week’s episode.

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-g8647-a504f7