Gut Health, Anxiety and Self Image…

I’m writing about diet this week as I feel it plays a huge part in the management of anxiety. I am sure that we are often attracted to the very foods which can result in making us feeling jittery! Likewise, there are ‘angel’ foods that certainly help to keep us a little calmer.

Diet

It is easy to assume that our diet is nutritious. Even when we think we eat a balanced diet there is always room for improvement. With the busy lives most of us lead, it is easy to grab whatever food is going or eat fast food and ‘takeaways’. Highly processed foods not only are devoid of nutrients but can be positively harmful to our mood and well-being. The main baddies which we would all do well to avoid are: processed foods, all sugars, fried foods, cured meats, sodas, excess caffeine and alcohol. These foods can create inflammation in our bodies by harming our digestion. Poor diet will contribute to poor gut health which could lead to ‘leaky gut’ and IBS symptoms. If we do not absorb our nutrients as nature intended, are bodies can be more prone to disease and depression.

Many scientists now believe that the key to our well-being is related to our gut health. Our gut health is related to our diet. In a healthy gut, seventy percent of our serotonin is produced by the healthy microbes that live in the stomach. Serotonin is one of the most important chemicals in our brain for promoting the feeling of well-being. How often do we hear people say: ‘My gut feeling was to do this or not to do that’? Our feelings and lifestyle affects our gut in many ways and, in reverse, our gut health affects our thinking quite dramatically. When we are anxious we get ‘butterflies in our tummy’ and often a churning feeling, proving that there is a direct connection with our gut and our brain. So a quieter mind will help our gut feel more settled. There are many studies which show how beneficial pre and probiotics can be in aiding our digestion by supplementing our gut flora or bacteria, which in turn may help us feel calmer overall.

Whatever diet you follow, be it vegetarian, vegan, paleo or ‘hunter gatherer’ for example, try and make it as wholesome as you can. Just because a diet has a label doesn’t mean it is always healthy. It helps to do your research to find out what diet suits your body type best and also to ensure your food comes from the best source you can find. At the same time, don’t get too hung up about your diet either. Do your best to eat well but if you have a few lapses and indulge in a cake or two now and again don’t beat yourself up. If you enjoyed it, it probably did you good in a ‘feel good’ way!

Avoid any foods that trigger your anxiety and cause headaches like cheese and yeast extract. Acid producing food and drinks can make you jittery i.e. processed meats and sodas, whilst alkaline foods can be more calming, i.e. vegetables and most fruits, beans and lentils. Sometimes when you eat certain foods you may notice a pattern emerging –i.e. tiredness, mental fogginess or bloating, and this may indicate these foods do not suit you and may be best avoided.

I am not here to extol the virtues of one particular diet as I do not feel that one diet suits everyone, and also you may have certain ethical reasons for wanting to follow a certain diet, or you may prefer to avoid diary/wheat etc. All I suggest is that you eat good and nutritious food which is as unadulterated as possible. Other possible choices to consider for boosting your health are juicing and of course, drinking enough water. In these days of intensive farming and modern agriculture, some foods may not contain as many nutrients as they once did and therefore going for organic and bio-dynamically produced foods would be ideal. However, this may not always be financially sustainable and so you might want to consider a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to top up your diet. I feel this has benefited my own personal health but it is very much personal choice. If you do decide to supplement your diet it is worth asking for advice from a good nutritionist or naturopath.

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’      Hippocrates

Exercise

Exercise can really help to alleviate stress and anxiety. The problem can be that when we feel down or anxious we lose motivation to do anything, leave alone go out and take exercise. But take small steps if you really feel lethargic. Make the effort to go out and walk around the block and you will soon feel uplifted. Nature has a way of working magic! Who can fail to be cheered up by the sight and sound of a merry robin singing his heart out in the tree above our heads, or the beauty of the sun bursting through the clouds on a grey day? If you can get used to taking a daily walk you can increase your distances and improve your fitness. Walking, especially at a brisk pace can really improve your physical and mental health. Of course, you may be used to exercise and have just got a bit out of practise and if that is the case try and resume those sports/hobbies you have got out of the habit of doing. Sometimes it’s good to walk with a friend and chat as you go. Leave your worries behind you and concentrate only on what is around you and the power of nature. What works for me is putting on the headphones and listening to some inspiring music or listening to an audio of one of my favourite motivational speakers, whilst walking in the woods behind my house. Overall, exercise is one of the most effective ways of improving your mental health. Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety and stress. It will also help you sleep better and will boost your overall mood.

Self-Image

We have multi-billion pound industries devoted to telling us how we should look and present ourselves to the world. This begins when we are young children and is promoted on a world-wide and daily basis and is a never ceasing bombardment. This can affect people in all social and economic groups. Even the most self-assured amongst us may think twice before we go out if we are not feeling ‘up to the mark’. If we don’t feel we ‘fit in’ we become uncomfortable and try and be like everyone else. Society wants us to conform even though deep down it does not suit us. It is hard at times to remind ourselves that our lives are not dependant on what others think. Even when people are well-meaning, they are often taken up with their own lives and appearances and are not in the least worried about how we appear to them; often all the angst we go through when worrying how others see us is just a waste of energy. If you enjoy being a follower of fashion or the latest trends then that’s great, but if not, just be happy with whom you are. And remember, if you were a good and kind friend to someone, they will remember the kind actions you showed them rather than what you were wearing!

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Holding on-but letting go of anxiety…

I am continuing my theme on anxiety this week and I’d like to write about letting go and trying new ways of coping when things get too much.

I have read so much recently about striving. Striving to be the best you can be and striving to find the best life you can have. Instructions on how to manifest what you want and how to order what you want from the universe. This is all fine and interesting and yes, helpful too, but what do you do when you can’t keep everything together? Is it sometimes better to focus on the simpler things in life, the small everyday actions that can make life tick over? Or is it better to make a start on a new road? Every journey starts with small steps. A big part of the battle against anxiety involves staying in the moment, but also knowing that one day you will move forward. And a big part of that involves staying positive. Keeping focused on the now.

What would make you happy today? This is a good thing to think about. For one thing it stops you thinking about more negative subjects, and another, it can help you take some actions, however small. Ask yourself what small treat you would like, or think about visiting someone you love.

Looking the best you can helps you face the day. Standing up straight and looking confident will make you feel and appear better and automatically warmer and open to others. Think of your aura positively glowing!

How can you create a better atmosphere in your home? Your environment is so important to your mood. Cook simple but wholesome food, light some candles and express gratitude to those who are with you. If you are own your own make sure you still make the effort. Realise you deserve sympathetic and mellow surroundings.

What do you want to see yourself doing in the future? Picture yourself doing something you have dreamed about. Would you like to look for a different career? Even if you can’t think of a way through now, picture it anyway.

When you are in conversation with others, really listen to what they say. Pay them a compliment and make them feel worthwhile. That in turn helps you.

I have made some suggestions here. I haven’t gone into too much detail about coping with anxiety as I have given suggestions in previous posts, but I really wanted to focus on ways of letting go. Can we find a way of release; a way to kick up our heels and have a go at feeling good?

What can really help us to both hold on to life and let go of the grip of anxiety?

I was speaking to someone recently who had suffered from anxiety for many years and he explained that for so long fear and worry had stopped him doing so many things. He couldn’t hold down a job because there were so many days he couldn’t face going to work and called in sick. Eventually those he worked for lost patience. They thought he was lazy and workshy. They didn’t know what really held him back. In all aspects of his life he was afraid and rather than attempt things he gave up at the first hurdle. Then suddenly he realised he had had enough. Enough of just holding on. He finally ‘got it’. He decided to let go and see what happened. He saw his friends having fun, leading life to the full and taking risks. He thought to himself he would just go for it, even if he felt anxious. After all, he couldn’t really feel any worse than he already did, and at least he would be doing something he could talk about to others. So he started doing ‘normal things’, he travelled, messed around with friends, went on nights out even when he felt bad. The more he did, the more normal he began to feel. Of course, it was important not to overdo it either, late nights and too much alcohol would have been counter productive here, as would bombarding the senses with too much new activity. But this person was brave enough to meet his anxiety head on rather than stay in an anxiety  cycle.

Another thing to realise is how important talking is. If my friend had talked to his bosses and been honest he could well have been met with sympathy and understanding  – and if not it would have been good to move on anyway. It takes courage to open up and tell someone you feel bad at times, but you would be surprised how many people will tell you they have been there too. Also, the people who are worth having in your life are the ones who show you compassion and make an effort to understand you. Even if they don’t always seem the same as you, if they make an effort and show up they are worth knowing.

So by giving yourself a break and having a go at life – putting your worries aside and going through the motions of having a good time  – you will save yourself a lot of energy. Have you ever noticed how tiring having an anxious day is? Have a go at saying to your anxiety ‘do what you want – I don’t care any more and I am in charge.’ You may find that you begin to feel better and the spells of being worry free become longer.

There are no magic solutions to anything in life and what works for one person will not always work for another. But remember that life is very hard to fathom out at times. For everyone. Momentous times come and go. Some extraordinary, some tragic, some heartstoppingly beautiful, some you wish you could forget. But the main thing is, if we give it a go, we will look back without regret.

 In the words of one of my favourite writers –

If things start happening, don’t worry, don’t stew, just go right along and you’ll start happening too.’

Dr. Seuss.

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Finding Patience

Do you find you have times when you find yourself coming across coincidences? Then again, I have heard it said there are no such things as coincidences. Maybe we are led in certain directions for a reason. This week I have read several bits of advice urging me to find patience, so I thought I should take notice and ask myself whether I am a patient sort of person, and what showing patience really means.

      ‘We can be bombarded with all sorts of new ideas and clever thoughts and these more than have a place, but sometimes a handful of patience shown to us can be far more helpful.’

I think of myself as a patient person generally, but then I think of certain recent examples where I have struggled to keep my cool. This very day I was held up in my car for several miles, driving behind a slow moving tractor carrying an enormous pile of manure; I squirmed behind the wheel, straining my neck trying to look around the vehicle for a chance to overtake safely when there was none. My hand hovered over the steering wheel, itching to beep the horn. I asked myself why the  driver wouldn’t pull over to let the long stream of traffic overtake. I huffed and puffed and felt annoyed. But eventually  I got to where I was going and soon my equilibrium returned. I soon forgot about the incident until now. Now, I can see that yes for a moment there was a bit of a hold up, but was it really worth getting annoyed about; allowing the blood pressure to go up and the adrenaline to flow? Definitely not. I would have been far better off keeping calm and listening to classic FM. Ah well, maybe next time.

This was a relatively minor incident, and fairly common to all of us from time to time. Mostly we learn to calm down and move on in these situations. But what about the situations where patience is really important? For anyone in a position of relative power, it is easy to feel full of a sense of importance and forget that others also have something important to say. I remember a small child at school, stricken with shyness, being told to hurry up and give her answers to a question and being made to look silly as she stumbled over her response. Had she been shown patience and kindness, she would have had a chance to get her answer right and gain confidence. We see examples of impatience around us on a daily basis –  and none of us are immune to it. When people are busy and workloads are heavy it is easy to fall out of step with how we should treat others. Will the hard working doctor with a long queue of patients always remember to treat each one with compassion and realise that every person coming into his waiting room may be harbouring worries about their health? Will the politician dealing with a hundred questions a day treat every person he comes into contact with with the same tact and interest? Will the busy vicar treat every member of his flock in the same way after a busy day visiting parishioners? We hope so but we can understand if they sometimes fall short of what we expect.

When trying to develop more patience I am going to  try a few tips :

To take a day where I make patience my goal for the entire day. Make a concerted effort to take my time and think about everything I do, be mindful and live in the moment.

Practise slowing down.

Practise delaying quick outcomes.

Practise thinking before I speak.

Ways to BE patient:

I will:

Pay attention to what makes me feel like I am in a hurry.

Take my mind to obedience school and learn to be still and quiet for a while.

Learn to let go – it doesn’t always matter to me that I need to be right about everything.

Be patient about learning patience!

Plan ahead – that way I will not feel as stressed if I allow plenty of time i.e. to get to appointments etc.

I am going to take time (perhaps next time I am stuck in traffic!) to notice all the good things that life offers.

So the importance of patience should be realised. Patience when learned, can help us to reach for the stars. With patience we can stop ourselves making hasty decisions we may later regret. Life is not about living in the future – it is about slowing down and taking each day as it comes.

 

When Worries Floor You…

I’m continuing my theme about anxiety this week. If you can find anything here to help you then I’m very glad and wish you well.

Just when you think you are doing okay, when you have life worked out at last and have a spring in your step again, do you find yourself ‘floored’ by a comment you hear in passing or by an unexpected letter stuffed through the letterbox? It may not be anything serious but enough to make you jittery.

Sometimes we can feel we are on a fine balance, and find it hard to cope with extra pressures. Or maybe we don’t like the world to see us looking anxious or worried and so we bottle things up inside. This is worse than letting go and having a meltdown;  emotional turmoil can be damaging to us if not released.

I read this explanation of anxiety somewhere this week and it really resonated with me:

      ‘Anxiety is not being able to sleep because you said something wrong two years ago    and can’t stop thinking about it.’

This may or may not be true for you but I know I have had times when I’ve lain awake tossing and turning worrying about past mistakes. Maybe mistakes is not the right word; perhaps it is ‘perceived’ mistakes. Those things which may not have even been important at the time and certainly aren’t now. Then there are the worries that creep in about tomorrow, next week or next year. The ‘what ifs’ and the ‘how is that?’ Before I know it an hour or two has passed and then I start fretting about the fact that I can’t sleep and worry about being a wreck the next day. Thinking ‘I must get to sleep’ doesn’t help!

The good news is there are things that can help:

Repeat your worries over and over rather than try to push them to the back of your mind. Instead, rumble them around until you are bored with them. It may not be a cure exactly but it is better than being overwhelmed.

Think of the worst thing that could happen in a situation you are worrying about, for example, forgetting what to say when giving a speech. Imagine making light of it and joking with your audience – see yourself relaxing and letting the words flow – people usually understand, they’ve often been there themselves.

Don’t judge yourself if you feel you are feeling a bit crazy. You may think a little strangely at times, but that doesn’t mean you are going to act upon your thoughts. Realise that no one is ‘normal’ and what is normal anyway?

Remember that most things you fear do not come true. If and when they do, then that is the time to take action. Not now. Those panicky feelings you are feeling are not going to kill you or give you as heart attack, but if you can deflect them by telling yourself most things you are worrying about won’t happen you are saving yourself some angst.

Be a casual observer. View your worries from afar and make light of them. See them drift off into the distance and wave them goodbye.

Realise you can’t take control of everything. If you feel you’ve done or said something tactless or silly ( most people probably haven’t even noticed) don’t fret about it. Just be warm and friendly, and smile.

Breathe deeply and slowly when you are anxious – I know you have probably heard this many times before, but it does help. If nothing else, it slows you down and calms the nerves.

Don’t let anxiety take over and stop you enjoying things. Even if you think you have a major worry, divide your time – set some going out time to spend an uplifting hour or two with a friend, and then go back to the worry when you get home. Chances are it won’t seem nearly so bad.

Most of all, whatever is happening in your life, remind yourself – this too will pass. Nothing lasts forever in life whether good or bad, whoever and wherever you are in life. That is a fact.

What can you still do in life when you are anxious? Actually, almost everything!

Be gentle with yourself. You are doing the best you can.

 

Imagine the sight of a rainbow,

     Shimmering in the rain,

    Like a painting stretched across the sky,

     Bringing colour to your world again.’

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Blessings to you.

 

More thoughts on Anxiety.

I recently wrote some posts about anxiety. Because anxiety seems to be so commonplace in people’s lives at the moment, or at least I seem to have come across a lot of people suffering from it, I wanted to write down some more thoughts about the subject. I am well aware that different approaches work for different people and I am not qualified to dispense medical advice, I can only write from personal experience and give some insights I have gained from others. I hope there may be something here that may help a little if you are finding yourself going through anxious times.

Anxiety takes many forms and can shape your thought processes and decisions. It is thought to be related to the biological fight or flight response to feeling threatened. It can become a problem if it is accompanied by panic attacks or anxiety about things which are part of everyday life.

Anxiety isn’t rational. It’s not just an amplified version of what is worrying you. It’s more than that. Sometimes you don’t know what sets it off. Some days you can cope with life and others you just don’t want to know. A lot of people think anxiety is nothing more than a similar feeling you get before giving a presentation at work or an actor having first night nerves; it may be a bit like that at times, but often its more long lasting and doesn’t decrease as it would when events like the above are over. Some of the symptoms are palpitations, wanting to escape form your surroundings, fear you may lose control of thoughts or actions, racing heart, nausea, insomnia and nervousness.

Anxiety can strike anyone and people from all walks of life. It doesn’t really matter what your circumstances are, what background you come from, whether you are in a happy relationship or alone, hold down a high powered job or are unemployed, well-off or hard up. It can creep up on anyone and sometimes it is just unexplained.

There are many ways of coping with anxiety and different ones work for different people. One thing I have noticed is that friends and family often want to find a solution for you and a reason for why this is happening to you. That’s fine but there are times you don’t want to listen to solutions and you don’t particularly want to have the reasons described. You just want to get through the day. And all you really want is for someone to say ‘It’s okay’ or ‘you will get through this’ and ‘I am here for you. I love you’. With empathy and support you can cope so much better. Remember – just because a condition is given a label it doesn’t necessarily mean it solves the problem in your head.

Here are some tips about what not to do when you are battling with anxiety:

Do not watch the news.

Do not under any circumstances look up the condition you are worried you have on the internet. I promise you the information you find will scare you and often the stuff you read is not accurate. Trust me on this. I have been there!

Don’t overdose on caffeine and be careful with alcohol consumption – hangovers are debilitating at the best of times but if you are feeling vulnerable they can make anxiety levels worse.

Do not become a couch potato – you will feel much better if you go outside and walk/ take exercise.

Don’t have very late nights. Lack of sleep makes anxiety worse. Even if you suffer from insomnia- get to bed early and get as much sleep as you can. At the same time, rather than lay tossing and turning, get up for a while and make a milky drink (cows milk or an alternative like almond milk if you don’t like dairy) Then try and get back to sleep again.

Don’t eat junk and sugary foods. Avoid any foods that trigger your anxiety and cause headaches like cheese and yeast extract. Acid producing food and drinks can make you jittery ie. processed meats and sodas,  whilst alkaline foods can be more calming, ie. vegetables and most fruits, beans and lentils.

If you are trying to help someone with anxiety , here are a few things to remember:

Often someone in an anxious state comes across as distant or uncaring but this is not how they are inside – they are feeling bad and preoccupied and may not realise how they appear to others. It doesn’t mean they don’t love or care about you.

Don’t say their worries are silly or unfounded. They are very real to them!

They may appreciate your help but not you trying to change them. You cannot know how they are feeling inside.

Never say ‘pull yourself together!’ (I’m sure you wouldn’t !)

For those suffering from anxiety, getting through the day is the important thing.

When you are in a situation that is causing you to feel anxious  – for example, worrying you might be late for an appointment, or losing your keys, ask yourself what would be the worst thing that could happen? Most things can be overcome even if they upset us at the time and cause an inconvenience. You will find most people are helpful if you are stuck in a minor predicament. Try and reach out and have a lighthearted approach- it is amazing how this will help an awkward situation and make you feel more optimistic.

Even in more serious situations that would make most people anxious, you will be surprised how you will often find help and sympathy from unexpected people or places.

Remember, anxiety doesn’t define you.

Have a small item that you find comforting and keep it with you. I have a few words on a scrap of paper in my handbag written by my late mother – it reads : ‘To my lovely girl -be happy. You will never know how much I love you. Love Mum.x ‘  To know you are loved or have been loved is more than uplifting. It is at the core of everything.

YOU are loved. Yes you are – even if you doubt it.

Blessings to you.

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Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength ‘

                                                                                                 Charles Spurgeon

 

 

 

Moving on From Anxiety…

I wrote about anxiety last week, and how it can affect us in so many ways – from the way we sound and appear,  to how we can be affected physically. Even when we deal well with anxiety the anxious thoughts still sometimes hover and wait in the wings – waiting for the guard to drop and the mindfulness to lose its helpful grip for a while. If, like me, you spend a lot of time reading about self-help and enlightenment you will know what I mean when I say that mindfulness and reaching that absolute place of understanding where we ‘get it’ and nothing can bother us any more is definitely an ongoing process which needs constant monitoring! (Although, if you have ‘got it’ you may well disagree with me…actually, you probably won’t be reading this anyway, you will be somewhere on cloud nine.)

I can’t recall a time in the past when there was so much helpful information readily available to us on the subject of self-help and spiritual fitness. It’s a good thing. It’s a great and empowering thing. There is something for all of us, whether we lean toward religious solace, a more healthy body and mind, spiritual advancement, meditation, yoga, finding the best retreat, positivity workshops…… I could go on…..

The benefit in all this help and information is huge. With all the help at our disposal we will find something we really find beneficial for sure. We will, sooner or later, have our own particular author or life-style guru who really speaks to us and shows us a way forward when we need it from time to time.

I was a nurse for many years, and I can think of countless times when I had to dig deep and give comfort. To be able to reach out and support people in times of tremendous need was of utmost importance, especially when busy and working in a stressful environment. I hope I gave my best. Mostly I feel I did. But it would have been good to have had more helpful ways of releasing the tension after a busy shift than going to the pub around the corner from the hospital!  Maybe I wasn’t ready then to read the books that would have been helpful – perhaps I was finding my own way then and gaining experience in life. It is said that the teacher comes when the pupil is ready.

And I think it is good to remind ourselves sometimes that simple acts of kindness are within us all. To remember that inherent wisdom and  compassion is deep within us, even embedded in our DNA. We are braver and wiser than we think. Mindfulness and deep thinking has been around far longer than we have . Self-help is not really new. Ancient philosophers had figured out life over 2,000 years ago. Quotes from so long ago never cease to amaze me and make me realise that everything changes yet nothing changes!

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.’         Heraclitus (lived around 500 years BC in Ephesus.)

Like many big thinkers, Heraclitus was born wealthy in a city, but lived in the woods to contemplate the universe.

The sage ” is ready to use all situations and doesn’t waste anything. This is called embodying the light.”

Lao Tzu alive around 600 BC in China.

The Lao Tzu started Taoism 2,500 years ago in China. He was legendary – Lao Tzu really just means ‘old man’ and nobody knows who he actually was. He certainly made a big impression! More importantly, he left us the ‘Tao Te Ching” which is full of ancient wisdom.

To rank the effort above the prize may be called love.”        Confucius, alive in China around 500 BC.

Confucius is probably the most influential person in Chinese history. He emphasised what we today call grit: finding the value in trying and not just arriving.

The unexamined life is not worth living.”         Socrates Lived in Athens around 450 BC

Socrates embodied the fundamental spirit of Western thought that you have the responsibility of being in charge of your own life.

Perhaps the most beautiful words of all ;

  “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.

Rumi, poet born 1207

So today we are lucky with the resources we have  – both the old and the new.  We may just need to remind ourselves to open our hearts to new learning. To rid ourselves of negative thoughts and change our thinking so we can move forward with positivity and embrace change whilst learning also from the past. Nothing, and I mean nothing that is good is ever lost even when it is centuries old.

As human beings we will always be searching for a newer, better and easier way to find fulfillment. Next time your heart is a little heavy, just remember there is always a way forward. And as I have said before, if you are anxious you are not alone. You can take comfort from the fact that for centuries we have yearned to find new wisdom and ways to help us move forward and probably will for centuries to come. And we have survived.

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Do Not Lose This Day…

 

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.’
-Lao Tzu

When the fast lane is slowing us down

It is easy to become ‘stuck’. Life ticks on. We go to work, do what we have to do, and get through the day. We get stressed sometimes; we are stuck in the fast lane but there is too much on the ‘to do’ list. We get caught up in a cycle; when we are at work, we fantasise about being on vacation, on vacation we worry about the work piling up on our desks at home. We feel as though we are hurtling along when in fact we are slowly losing sight of what we really want. We are comfortable with what we do but we are not particularly excited or fulfilled by it. If we are entrenched in a routine we can lose focus and that can mean we do not work to fulfil our full potential; we may become complacent. I often think of the phrase ‘the enemy of the good is the better’. This may sound strange when you first read it, but think about it – when things are going reasonably well are you tempted to sit back and relax rather than ask yourself how they can be improved or advanced even more? If we say we are happy for now, this means we miss out on so much more that is there for us. If we follow random stars and pick up mixed signals and information as we go through life, we may never know which path we want to follow. We fear getting older, yet we can amble along for a good part of our life until suddenly we have reached a senior age and find ourselves looking back down the years wishing we had done more with the time we had.

How do we lose sight of the best along the way? Why do some people die with their music still in them? Most of us don’t set out to squander our time or our days but often that is what happens when we get on the treadmill. We do it for the best of reasons. When we are young we feel that we have so much time ahead of us – we can follow our dreams someday, but first we have to finish our education, get a good job, find a partner we love, maybe start a family. That all can be wonderful, and if we find a lifelong partner we are happy with and who shares the same hopes and desires as we do, we are already a long way toward getting things right. But if we spend a great proportion of time trying to establish ourselves, and are motivated by ambition, then that often means we may neglect our spiritual and emotional wellbeing. We are surrounded by relentless testing and huge competition in life; social media dominates our lives and not always to our advantage. Yet science is working for us, for our benefit and for a good future. There are opportunities for us to work towards an amazing future and abundant living, we just need to take time to see them.

Fear of failure

Even if we have dreams we are often bound up with fear. Fear of what others will think about us; fear of a brave new plan going wrong; even fear of success. If we think about it, we all have heroes and people we admire and look up to, people we wish we could be like. We may quietly think to ourselves ‘it’s okay for them, they had a better start in life’, or, ‘they were lucky, they were in the right place at the right time’, but we would still like to be like them. But none of us are perfect, not even superheroes. Everyone of us has flaws, and dark moments late at night when we worry about what will happen tomorrow. But those who succeed have managed to maximise their one or two strengths and stopped focusing on their weaknesses. Everyone has fought or still fights their own battles and their own demons. The truth is, our heroes we look up to are no different to us, they just tend to handle life differently. That is marvellously encouraging as it means we can just as easily reach our new goals and aspirations as the next person.

At the very end of our life would we want to look back at missed ideas that could have evolved from our potential and proved invaluable? Nurse Bonnie Ware spent time caring for dying people for more than twenty years and wrote a book about their regrets. She found five sentences that were repeated and spoke of missed opportunities. The sentences were:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feeling.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
( The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – Hay House March 2012)
I have referred to this book several times, but no matter how many times I read this section I never fail to be moved by the list of regrets and each time they resonate anew.
So how did we get to where we are now? What has made us the person we have become?

Back to the beginning

When we are born we enter this world as totally helpless human beings. As we evolved our brains became bigger so nature had to compensate for this; for the female body to accommodate a full term baby and be able to give birth naturally, we were programmed to enter the world before we were able to fend for ourselves, unlike the rest of the animal world. At the time of birth only 28% of our brain is formed. As we grow so does our brain; it grows rapidly, and the capacity for learning is astounding, but twelve to fourteen years must pass before a human being can satisfactorily care for himself and function independently of his parents. Therefore we grow up programmed by people who can only teach us what they themselves have learned and believe. I am not saying that this is always a bad thing; only that we are governed in our early years by the facts we are given from our nearest source. We become dependant on others and are influenced by what others think about us and what they perceive to be advantageous for us. If we are lucky, we will be raised by parents who encourage us to think for ourselves and who do not object if we follow our own chosen path. Every human is born totally unique; born with an unmistakeable genetic fingerprint, with different cells, patterns and chemistry. But do we remember that when we try to conform and follow the crowd? If we try and fit in with someone else’s plan for us we will not always be happy.

Why are you thinking that?

Early man learned by trial and error. There were no instruction manuals to follow and no technology to tap into. A lot of the traits the early man developed are still present in us today. If we think about the ‘fight and flight’ mechanism we can see how necessary it was when being chased by a saber- tooth tiger as it was clearly a matter of life and death, but at times of stress in the modern day, we may still deploy this same mechanism and it can be present constantly, using so much adrenaline that it can lead us to suffer from adrenal fatigue. Normal mechanisms become completely exhausted leading to lack of energy, ‘brain fog’, depression and constant fatigue. We are not now using the mechanism of ‘fight or flight’ for preserving our lives, our modern lifestyle does not allow us to run away from stressful situations, both physically and mentally . Our ancestors were keen to improve but they also had to learn how to control their fear and increase their awareness levels. The earliest men must have thought that the vivid lightening flash and the rolling voice of thunder that followed it were the anger of the gods, especially when they saw other men struck and killed by lightening. It wasn’t until centuries later that scientific studies showed it to be a gigantic electric spark. For some, though, that primeval fear remains, as fear can transcend many generations.
If we compare different attitudes we can see how thought patterns and approaches dictate the way we live and appear to others. Again, if we are fearful, our judgement is coloured when we make decisions. The fear of something going wrong holds us back from participating in pursuits we would secretly like to try, but when we do push ourselves to try something new and exciting we are usually rewarded with great feelings of satisfaction and wish we had tried it sooner.
People often think someone is brave to give up a thriving career, turn their back on riches and start something new which will offer more fulfilment; but is it brave to follow your heart, or just natural? Maybe it is more brave to stay in a job you hate just to keep a lifestyle going.
We know of Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe as a German poet, playwright and novelist, but he also had many other talents, including being a painter, statesman, educator and naturalist philosopher. He was hugely creative and lived a very full and energetic life. This selection from Faust is one of the most frequently quoted passages in terms of self-improvement and I would like to include it here:

LOSE THIS DAY LOITERING
Lose this day loitering – ‘twill be the same story
To-morrow – and the next more dilatory;
Each indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting o’er lost days.
Are you in earnest ? Seize this very minute-
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated-
Begin it, and then the work will be completed!
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(1749 – 1832).
Translated by John Anster

This is an incredibly powerful piece of literature, it illustrates so completely, the idea of boldness. It tells us how, if we loiter today, and again tomorrow, we will soon end up lamenting lost days. It speaks for living for the moment. Each day is a gift; it doesn’t have to follow a rigid timetable; it doesn’t necessarily matter what pattern it follows, we just need to be sure it HAS mattered.

Living in the moment

So we need to teach ourselves to live more in the moment. Living in the moment – also called mindfulness – is a state of active , open, intentional living, whilst focusing on the present. In this mindful state, we realise we are not just our thoughts but an observer of our thoughts which means we can observe our thoughts without judging them. We need not grasp them or push them away. Instead of letting our lives go by without living them, we can awaken to experience . Sometimes we need to plan ahead, but if we spend too much time planning we can miss out on enjoying the days we have now; however, if we view tomorrow as an observer, we can relinquish thoughts of pride and let go of our ego. We are more likely to have a calm and optimistic view of the future. We can let go of negative thoughts and separate ourselves from the outcome. We can view the world differently.

An Interconnected Universe

How many times do we get an inclination something is about to happen just before it does; or a deep feeling we can’t explain? It is the collective, interlocking, energy field that we are tapping in to; the ever- moving energy fields of life. If we learn to work with these feelings we can be empowered to manifest our potential, and join with the world at large. We will all benefit. It is interesting to that note than many individuals around the world who have worked independently without the knowledge of each other, have often made the same discoveries at practically the same time. There is no obvious explanation for this, just a dawning realisation that there is a collective energy field which we can respond to in a positive way.
In this interconnected universe, every improvement we make in our own world improves not only our own lives but that of others. All positive acts we partake in find a way of coming back to us in one way or another to benefit us, even years later. Kindness towards one’s self and all living things always leaves a lasting effect, spreading out like ripples in a pond.
Once we hear amazing news it is as though we have been given permission to be a part of it. When Roger Bannister ran the four minute mile – a feat that was previously thought to be impossible- we heard of dozens of other athletes doing the same within a year. Now, as then, limits are constantly being expanded.
What makes a writer wake in the middle of the night, suddenly awake with the words of a song running through his mind? He rushes to pen to paper and writes the words that echo in the minds of many for years to come. His talent has burst through the surface of his awareness, as if out of nowhere. The writer has been moved to write a powerful song; he has channelled the energy from the collective vibrations around him.
Sometimes we can walk into a room and feel uncomfortable, the air seems thick with anxiety and tension. We can imagine the tension building and boiling over, perhaps giving way to a violent outburst. Likewise, we know what it feels like when we enter a space filled with warmth and peaceful vibrations. Both these feelings and emotions cannot be seen, yet that greatly affect us. When we consciously focus mindful energy together, simultaneously seeking positive outcomes, we can alter our future.

If we stop and evaluate our lives and where we are now, we CAN look forward to progressing rather than being stuck where we are. Life doesn’t have to be full of regrets and what if’s. And it is never too late to change. There is so much out there for us and our world. So much is possible for us if we are prepared. Prepared to be willing and willing to be prepared. We can embrace a new way of ‘being’ whatever our age or place in life.

So let go – and let yourself be you, and enjoy every sunset!

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