Apps Which Help

mobilephone

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Since I can’t be with my clients 24/7, I usually suggest a few apps that they can put on their smart phones to use throughout the day. Here are a few of the ones that I suggest (unless otherwise stated, you can find them for both iPhone and Android):

1. Mindshift – an app which is useful for those suffering from anxiety issues. http://www.anxietybc.com/mobile-app (free)

2. Positive Discipline – for all your parenting needs. This app has a set of cards to help you think through possible parenting solutions.
http://www.positivediscipline.com/positive-discipline-iphone-app.html (not free)

3. Relax Melodies – great for when you need a bit of help falling asleep. You can set a timer for the soft sounds which is a bonus. (free)

4. Breathe2Relax – useful for learning to slow down your breathing
http://t2health.dcoe.mil/apps/breathe2relax (free)

5. Depression Check – helps you check the symptomology and whether they are getting better or worse. iPhone only.
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/depressioncheck/id398170644?mt=8 (free)

6. Depression CBT Self-Help – an Android only app that gives you the CBT tools for depressive symptoms. Android only.
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.excelatlife.depression&feature=search_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwxLDEsImNvbS5leGNlbGF0bGlmZS5kZXByZXNzaW9uIl0 (free)

7. Recovery Record – a useful app for those who are in recovery from an eating disorder or who are struggling with disordered eating/emotional eating. http://www.recoveryrecord.com (free)

Eating During the Holidays and Beyond

I will start out by stating that I am NOT a nutritionist. But I am an avid researcher who has lost 20 lbs in 2014 and I’m holding steady these past few months.  I would like to share a few resources that helped me out through this year and those that have helped a few of my friends.

One of the biggest worries over the holidays for people, particularly those who are trying to lose weight, is that of weight gain.  And it’s understandable – more sugary treats, more food, more drinks – it’s all out there.  I remember when I was working at a school that every single day someone would bring in baked goods.  While lovely, it was tough on the waistline!  I’m currently facing 3 social outtings this very weekend – one dinner & drinks out on Friday night, a party with my Oxford gang on Saturday afternoon and a late night social evening with my hockey gang.  So, what’s a girl to do?  Here are my suggestions:

1. Find a support.  I belong to two online groups who keep me sane and keep me on track.  The first is MyFitnessPal.  Some people, like me, use it to post their food intake & exercise to keep them on track.  I also have ‘friends’ on there who post their thoughts and support, and I post at times to the forums.  There is a lot of conflicting information on there and MFP (as it’s called) tends to give people much lower calorie levels than people really need.  But it’s good.  The other support is in a group called Eat More 2 Weigh Less.  I wish I had this group when I was younger & dieting.  They support eating at a small deficit (NOT 1200 calories).  I’m even featured in their blogs.

2. Binging is bad.  While binging does have a psychological component, it also tends to have a physical one.  Many people who binge tend to also be restrictive, and so to try to get the calories that their bodies need, a binge desire is created.  Most people think they need to eat 1200 calories to lose weight. WRONG!  Unless you are very much older, very short and sedentary, you probably have to eat well over 1200 calories to just survive if you were in a coma – this is called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).  Mine is around 1377 (found through the Scooby Workshop calculator).  But I am not sedentary – I play with my dog, walk around a lot, do laundry, etc.  Mothers are very much NOT sedentary at all.  So even if I was trying to eat a minimum amount of calories I’d still want to eat more than 1377.  To maintain the weight you are currently at, you want to eat at TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure).  I am already reasonably active (so that would put me on the lightly active level) plus I exercise about 5 hrs during field hockey season (minimally) so I get to be at the 5-7 hrs level which allows me to eat around 2350 calories to maintain.  If I were to want to lose more weight, I’d go with TDEE minus 10% (as I’m at a very healthy weight) and I’d never suggest eating below 15% from TDEE.

3. Make a plan and use portion control.  When I go out (such as I will do on Friday), I plan my eating for the day and allow for a larger calorie allowance for the meal out.  I also may under-eat a touch the day before or day after (about 200 or so calories).  Because I’m not at a high deficit, this is easy to do.  But for Thanksgiving and for Christmas, I just don’t care – I eat what I want in moderation.  BUT I don’t pig out.  I enjoy all the tastes but take small portions.  If I eat out, I eat half of what’s on my plate.

4. I don’t eat things that bring me joy.  Just because something is there in front of me doesn’t mean I should eat it.  I’m not a huge sweets eater but I used to eat them to be polite.  Now, I tend to have a bite and then let it go. Or I say ‘no thank you, it’s not for me’.  Cheese, now that’s a different story – bring it on!  I don’t let other guilt me – it’s MY BODY, MY CHOICE.

5. Forgiveness.  I don’t beat myself up or give up if I don’t do it “right”.  This is a journey not a sprint.  I’m going to be eating food for the rest of my life, so it can’t be an enemy.  I have not yet given up any foods even while losing weight.  I don’t see the point as I won’t give up carbs or fat or sugar for the rest of my life.  Cooking & baking brings me joy so why would I want to stop that?  So, when I overeat something because it tasted amazing or I have a glass of wine too many because I was being social, I pick myself up the next day and carry on.  And try to figure out if I could do something different in the future. And sometimes, I don’t want to.  Sometimes it’s worth it.

Here’s a few helpful worksheets to use if need be:

Food diary (with space for unhelpful thoughts)

Cravings diary

If you feel like you need more, or want further resources, please do get in touch!

Handling the Holidays

The holidays can be rough.  There are heightened expectations, interactions with family members in closed quarters and the monetary concerns.  For expats or those living a flight or more away, it can bring on feelings of guilt for either not wanting to head back “home” for the holidays or feelings of sadness that you can’t make it home due to work or financial constraints.  And then there’s the multiple families issue – who do spend Christmas morning with? For some families there can be a ton of different people all pressuring you to spend it with them.

How can you handle all of this stress? How do you make it through the holidays with your mental health intact?  There’s a few things you can do:

1. Make sure you have a bit of ‘me time’. Even if you have a lot of relatives and friends all around you, and you love spending time with them, you’ll still need a bit of alone time to recharge.  Hand off the kids, decline a lunch gathering or do whatever it takes to get away for a moment.  Have some quiet, even if it’s only in a bubble bath or going for a walk in the woods (heck, I can find peace in the middle of London sometimes).

2. Keep your expectations at a minimum.  Now’s not the time to think that this year is going to be “perfect”.  As you can only control your own actions and thoughts, this means that things will go wrong.  Find humour in the out of control stupidity that happens.  Dropped your turkey? Give it a wash, put it back in the oven for a bit and then carry on. Forgot to bring the wine to your in-laws? See if you can make a special cocktail out of what they have.

3. If things go very badly, walk away.  You don’t have to put up with meanness or bullying by your relatives.  You deserve better.  If someone says something offensive, feel free to say “Why would you say such a thing?” and then walk away.  If it continues, then leave the house.  YOU are not ruining the holiday – you are taking care of yourself.

4. Find ways of relaxing within a crowd.  As an introvert, I have learned how to relax within very crowded and overwhelming situations.  I can do deep breathing, short visualisations, muscle tensions exercises, etc, without anyone even knowing.

5. Have an outlet.  Call a friend, write on a forum, talk to your priest or write to me. But find a way to vent your frustrations so you don’t take them out on your nearest and dearest.

There are many ways to handle holiday stress.  The above are just a few.  If you have any you use that you think might be helpful to others, please do share!

Be Thankful

As an American who lives overseas, sometimes celebrating Thanksgiving can be very tough.  No one has off either Thursday or Friday, or your friends have gone elsewhere for the holiday.  So, like many expats, I celebrate it on another day (this year it’s Saturday).  I’ve invited a bunch of people for a buffet meal – 2 vegetarian adults, 2 vegetarian kids, 6 meat eaters and only 2 of us are American!  I’m so thankful for having people around to celebrate one of my favourite holidays.

Being thankful is important in life.  Finding just little bits of positivity can be so helpful both mentally and physically.  Mentally, it can open you up to other possibilities, will allow you to look more regularly for the positives versus negatives in life and make you feel better about yourself, your life and your future.  Physically, finding the positives in life can keep heart issues at bay much more than looking at just the negatives.

So, do yourself a favour, and look for the beauty in the world around you.  It might just be that the sun is shining today (which it is in London), or a smile on a baby or the sight of an older couple holding hands.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, American or not!

Where is your home?

Where is your home?  A tough question for those of us who are expats or immigrants, but also for many who have moved around a single country.  It’s definitely something that some of my clients have discussed in our sessions.  Pico Iyer has done a fabulous Ted Talk on this whole idea looking at how one might define ‘home’.

I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania in the States and spent most of that time in one house.  That is ‘a’ home for me.  I moved to another state for university and to live for a while after university. Then to another two for work before moving to London, where I’ve been for 10 years.  While I’m both a citizen of the US and UK, I’m not sure that I can call either home at this point.  I don’t fully fit in either place in its entirety.  So, perhaps, I can call the house I own with my husband, home, which I do when I’m talking about ‘going home’.  But if, like Pico Iyer, I lose this home, then is it truly my HOME?  No, I think I carry my home in my heart – it’s the people who I love who make where I am my home.  So, while with my husband, I feel at home.  With my parents, I also feel at home.  Perhaps, I can have more than one home.  And I think that is quite amazing.

I love the quote that Pico Iyer says at the end of his talk, “Movement is a fantastic privilege, and it allows us to do so much that our grandparents could never have dreamed of doing. But movement, ultimately, only has a meaning if you have a home to go back to. And home, in the end, is of course not just the place where you sleep. It’s the place where you stand.”  

Focusing on Your Strengths

I know.  It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Like many people I hit a period of procrastination and lethargy and I gave in to it following a period of having a chest infection which knocked me out.  I started focusing too much on the weaknesses that I have, the things I was doing wrong and that influenced how I felt day to day.  Even though I’m a CBT therapist, it doesn’t mean that sometimes I fall prey to my own negative thoughts and beliefs.  What it does mean is that eventually I understand what I’ve been doing and I use the tools under my belt to get me back on track.  So, world, here I am again.  Ready to refocus and look at my strengths!  And luckily, an article came up in Psychology Today about why it’s so important to focus on your strengths.  I’ll paraphrase below or you can check it out in full by clicking on this link.

1. It makes you happier – well, of course, when you focus on what you are good at, you are less likely to think about negative things

2. You experience less stress – by focusing on strengths, you will become more resilient and able to deal with any negative thoughts which would impact your stress levels

3. Have more energy – you are more likely to live a healthier lifestyle when you are positively focused (as someone who used to eat their emotions, this makes so much sense!)

4. Feel more satisfied with life – by looking at strengths, you will be a better problem solver and so be more okay with the outcomes

5. Faster development – when you focus on your strengths, you will develop new skills more quickly and easily

6. More creative – the feelings of authenticity that come with strengths focused work also increases creativity

7. More confident – you can look forward and push through mistakes more easily

8. Feel engaged and find meaning in work – when you are doing something that feeds your strengths, then you will also be feeding your inner drive

 

 

Need help to figure out your strengths?  You can check out this free survey to figure out your strengths profile (you do have to register to do so)

I will share that my top five character strengths were: Forgiveness, Love, Kindness, Honesty & Fairness…which I do believe ‘clicks’ with the person that I am.

A little self-help

I’ll admit it.  I’m on a diet and have been since November.  But not a diet like one you might imagine.  I am not restricting myself to 1200 calories (far too low for most people).  I have no cut out carbs or sugar or fats.  It doesn’t have a ‘name’. I still drink beer & wine.  I eat chocolate.  And I love it.  My diet is one that I can follow for life.  I don’t feel deprived, don’t feel like binging and I’m losing weight, albeit slowly.  Very slowly.  In our world of fast movement and lack of patience, my diet has been one that has tested my resolve.  BUT, I’m seeing results.  Yay!  If you want to do something similar to me, then here are the resources I’m using:

  • MyFitnessPal -(MFP)  this is a website where you can post your food input and figure out if you are eating the right ‘macros’ (amounts of certain food elements, such as protein).  I’m focusing on eating under my calories and eating enough protein to protect my muscles.  What I like about it is that you can manipulate the numbers to your own needs.  I do NOT go by their numbers as they tend to give people too low calorie needs.  Most people also try to lose 2lb a week which is FAR TOO QUICK (unless you are about 100 lb overweight).  I also LOVE the forums.
  • Scooby Workshop – I use the TDEE method of losing/maintaining weight.  In this method, you figure out how many calories to eat daily based on your activity level.  I use an activity level of moderately active (between 3-5 hrs) as I lift 3x a week, run 2x a week, have a 2 hr field hockey practice, play 1x a week and walk a lot.  It is suggested that you do a deficit of between 15-20% – you’ll be better able to maintain your lean muscle mass (a good thing).  I do a 10% deficit as I’m close to my goal weight.  It’s suggested that the closer you get to your goal weight, the less you try to lose per week.  What’s good about doing this method is that you learn how to eat the way you should for life.
  • Eat More to Weigh Less  – I spent my teens and 20s doing crash diets and restrictive diets.  I was not healthy.  I was skinny but had a much higher body fat percentage as I had lost a lot of my lean body muscle.  I wish that this website has existed back then (well, actually the internet didn’t really exist to the same extent).  I’ve learned so much about how to eat at a healthier level, do the right things for my body and get the support I need.  They also have a group on the MFP website.
  • Stronglifts 5×5 – I have always done a bit of weight lifting.  But I used to use machines as they felt more ‘comfortable’.  They helped but I wasn’t seeing the gains I had hoped for.  And then I was introduced to the Stronglifts programme.  It’s changing my body.  It’s early days but I can see the muscles below my body fat.  And my body fat is starting to come off even though I’m eating around maintenance.  I’d rather get tighter, stronger and stay the same weight.  NO, I’m not getting bulky – while I do have a genetic gift to gain muscle more than many women (more testosterone I believe), I’m not getting big – I’d have to take drugs to do that.  It takes guys, who have a lot more testosterone years to build muscles naturally.  So lift weights!  Lift BIG weights and you’ll never regret it!

If you are an emotional eater like many of us (yup, I’ve been there), then I would love to share with you a few worksheets that have helped my clients and myself with all those negative thoughts that seem to come into our mind (and which we might not even recognise may change how we feel and behave):

http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/ThoughtRecordSheet7.pdf 

http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/ABC.pdf 

http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/CravingsDiary.pdf 

http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/FoodDiary.pdf 

http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/CriticalVoiceTRS.pdf

No one worksheet is going to be the end all. If things are really bad, I’d suggest seeing a therapist, particularly one who uses CBT. But it’s a good start!

Embrace Your Shake

How many of us are unhappy about some sort of limitation we have and see them as keeping us from the life we ‘could have had’?  I know that this has been an issue for me in the past.  Being shy, being on the ADD spectrum and not having a business mind have all felt like the things that have held me back.  But what if I were to embrace them?  What if I were to think of them as things that could move me forward in life versus hold me back?

Phil Hansen was an art student who developed a tremor in his hand.  Imagine how that would make an artist feel.  But then a neurologist said a simple thing that pushed him forward: embrace the shake.  He took this on and not only used his shake to create amazing art, but also thought of it as a metaphor; how can one grow by embracing what seems to be holding you back?  Or in his words, “I wondered, could you become more creative, then, by looking for limitations?

In his TED talk which can be found here, I loved some of his final words. “Now, when I run into a barrier or I find myself creatively stumped, I sometimes still struggle, but I continue to show up for the process and try to remind myself of the possibilities…I was learning to let go, let go of outcomes, let go of failures, and let go of imperfections.

How powerful!  By letting go, he was actually growing.  By embracing the limitations, he was soaring.

Meditation

The past few months have been a bit hectic for me (hence the lack of tweeting and blog posting). I was finishing up my course at Oxford which included writing a case study, doing my last few weeks of course study, turning in a rated recording of a session and then finally writing my dissertation. In addition, we had to plan and go on a holiday back to the States to visit my family, which was lovely, but which also does include some stress (especially as we missed one flight due to major storms in Atlanta). Happily, it’s all finished! I’ll talk a bit more about my dissertation at another time, but I thought I’d share the meditation that I used throughout to remain calm and which helped remind me to live in the moment and let the little stuff just ‘float on by’.

 

The leaves on the stream meditation is one that I teach many of my clients and which I’ve posted about before, but I think it’s worth sharing again:

(1) Sit in a comfortable position and either close your eyes or rest them gently on a fixed spot in the room.

(2) Visualize yourself sitting beside a gently flowing stream with leaves floating along the surface of the water. Pause 10 seconds.

(3) For the next few minutes, take each thought that enters your mind and place it on a leaf… let it float by. Do this with each thought – pleasurable, painful, or neutral. Even if you have joyous or enthusiastic thoughts, place them on a leaf and let them float by.

(4) If your thoughts momentarily stop, continue to watch the stream. Sooner or later, your thoughts will start up again. Pause 20 seconds.

(5) Allow the stream to flow at its own pace. Don’t try to speed it up and rush your thoughts along. You’re not trying to rush the leaves along or “get rid” of your thoughts. You are allowing them to come and go at their own pace.

(6) If your mind says “This is dumb,” “I’m bored,” or “I’m not doing this right” place those thoughts on leaves, too, and let them pass. Pause 20 seconds.

(7) If a leaf gets stuck, allow it to hang around until it’s ready to float by. If the thought comes up again, watch it float by another time. Pause 20 seconds.

(8) If a difficult or painful feeling arises, simply acknowledge it. Say to yourself, “I notice myself having a feeling of boredom/impatience/frustration.” Place those thoughts on leaves and allow them float along.

(9) From time to time, your thoughts may hook you and distract you from being fully present in this exercise. This is normal. As soon as you realize that you have become side-tracked, gently bring your attention back to the visualization exercise.

Taken from: Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

7 Ways to Care for Our Mental Health

1. Take care of yourself in all ways – get enough sleep, get some fresh air, try to eat a balanced diet.

2. Move it, move it – find an exercise that you enjoy, from walking to running to heavy lifting and more.  It will make you feel good in so many ways!

3. Turn it all off – take time to reflect each day and turn off all electronics that might get in your way.  We’re always so tuned in and it’s tough for our brain to deal with an “ADHD world”.

4. Find your group – make sure you have someone, be it a group of friends, a class or a social activity.  Studies have shown that connections make for good mental health.

5. Allow your moods to change – we can’t be happy all the time.  Accept that it’s okay to be sad or angry or any other emotion.

6. Set achievable goals – goals that are motivating but not overwhelming are the best.  If you need to, break down a big goal into smaller goals.  And accept that you may not reach it – we can’t do everything all the time.

7. Be kind, be kind, be kind – not only to others, but to yourself.  When you are feeling self-hatred or despair, think about what you would say to a friend who was feeling the same way.  Wouldn’t you be a lot nicer to him or her?  Well, why not be nice to yourself then?

Thanks to the UCL Student Support & Wellbeing for these ideas for good mental health