I’m Suzy, editor of Psychologies and I am so happy to share this exciting news. We've launched a new online coaching club exclusive to our print subscribers, and we'd like to invite you to start enjoying the benefits - for free. So with your monthly subscription, not only do you get our fabulous magazine but a whole new level of support going forward; with live coaching videos from the top experts out there, practical downloadable coaching worksheets and access to the incredible Psychologies subscriber community. Not yet a subscriber - what are you waiting for. Click here for our fantastic subscription offers - just £2.10 per issue!
You may want to change your job, or you may want to re-invent yourself or perhaps you want to re-invent the way you’re living your life, or create a new business or BIG change in your life. One of our tag lines at Psychologies – is ‘your life, your way’. It’s about defining what success means to you on your own terms; living a life that makes you happy and makes you feel fulfilled. That's why we've created our new Life Leap coaching club exclusively for you, our subscribers. Each month you'll get access to a coaching programme which sits alongside the dossier in the magazine, to give you extra resources such as workbooks and coaching videos to help you make real change in your life. Interested? Click here to register now: it’s free for print subscribers.
Stop procrastinating, start taking action.
Want to change your life but always procrastinate?
Consistently set goals that you never reach?
Indulge in negative habits – drinking too much wine, eating junk, never exercising?
Always take on too much and never achieve what you want to achieve.
Consistently break promises to yourself.
Wake up every morning and think ‘there has to be another way’.
Do you want to:
Set achievable goals and make them happen.
Set yourself up to succeed versus fail.
Build healthy habits that feed your energy.
Live a life of inspiration versus desperation.
Think differently, not just do something different.
Be the creator of your life, not the victim of it.
At Psychologies we believe with a little help, support and inspiration, it’s far easier to make those changes. In our new Life Leap coaching club, we have world-class experts who are going to be working with you over the next year – we’ve got everyone from Gabriel Bernstein, who Oprah calls a ‘new thought leader’ to Shaa Wasmund, MBE, best-selling author and award-winning entrepreneur coming to help and support us to move forward with inspirational live masterclasses. Plus each month you'll get a full coaching programme, with interactive workbooks, videos and live online coaching sessions, created by the top Barefoot coaches in the country, including Becca Forshaw, Louise Rodgers and Simon Hague.
Plus every month, there will be:
Practical downloadable weekly workbooks and journaling prompts
Weekly coaching videos
Monthly live coaching sessions with top Barefoot coaches
Plus an exclusive Facebook community forum where members can chat, interact and get support
To start getting coached today, simply register using your unique subscriber Customer ID here.
You are not alone.
And of course, I’ll be here – not only am I the editor of Psychologies, but I’ve also been a coach for the last 18 years so I’ll be coaching you every month and also inviting the top coaches in the country to come and coach you too – on navigating these life leaps. And, we’ll also have each other. We’re just starting to build our Life Leap Community – we’ve put the call out for ambassadors – who are already in the process of making their own life leaps and we’ve been inundated by brave women who are already making big changes, so we’ll be in great company.
At the heart of the Life Leap Club is courage. To make any changes in your life, you need to brave – but that can be incredibly scary. So it will be great to be able to lean on each other when the going gets tough and work together on our mindsets. Because as we know, sometimes change does not always feel positive - if you're made redundant, or your relationship breaks down, or we lose someone we love, it can feel awful. However, although we might not have the ability to change what’s happening out there, we do have the power to change the way we see it – or react to it – and that’s something we always have control over. So we will be working a lot on our mindset here, in order to make anything feel possible.
In the Life Leap Club we’ll be mostly encouraging each other to be brave, to be honest about what’s going on. It's is not about being mindlessly positive - it's about being real and being kind to yourself and each other as we take a really deep breath and begin our journey towards creating a life that we truly love. The best thing is it’s free as part of your subscription to Psychologies, so not only will you get our beautiful magazine but you also get free access to the exclusive coaching within the Life Leap Club.
This month, our coach of the month is Simon Hague. Simon is a trained and qualified Barefoot Coach providing coaching to his many clients and supervision to other coaches. He enables his clients to see through the complexities and conflicting needs of living in an increasingly chaotic world. This helps them to create a decluttered calmness and focus that takes them forward to their desired outcome. This month he coaches us in our new coaching programme 'GO SLOW: Simplify Your life.'
In this programme, we ask why does life feel so hard sometimes, and discover how to make it feel easier. Over the next four weeks you'll be taken on a journey using simple and practical tools to give your life a shake-up and find new easier, more streamlined ways to live your life. What if your life could be all about flow, ease and gently taking baby steps every day, which bring you joy?
Journalling has become something of a trend in the last few years but it's also a great way to improve your relationship with your partner and improve your sex life. As well as improving your wellbeing, journalling can help you to identify areas of conflict, as well as areas of happiness within your relationship, and allow you and your partner to identify what you need to work on as well as how to do more of what makes you both happy. Here, Dr Katherine Hertlein, a world-renowned couples therapist and Expert Advisor at Blueheart, reveals how to use journaling to improve your relationship and sex life.
What is journaling and how do we do it?
Journaling is a written record of our thoughts and feelings. There aren't any hard and fast rules to journaling, although this activity is more effective when you commit to it every day. Journaling is a great way to track everyday life and how you feel, which can be used to hyperfocus on specific issues or a specific part of your life such as work, a relationship or even your dreams. It’s a highly effective way to find out what makes you upset, or happy and provides a great way to self-reflect.
How journaling can improve your relationship
Journaling can help you identify the strong and weak parts of your relationship. If there’s a day that you argued with your partner, or you felt distant from them, then journaling can help you to reflect on where that conflict or feeling might stem from.
In identifying these causes, you can then use them to create a conversation with your partner to work through the conflict. For example, if you find that you often argue on Sunday evenings, it could be down to work anxiety linked to Monday morning. If so, it’s important to talk through this with your partner and understand how they feel, and why they might feel this way. The key here is not to be a problem solver, but to listen and empathise with them so they feel understood.
In the same way, journaling can also help you identify when you're the happiest with your partner. Is it when you’re experiencing new things together, or speaking about the future, or making plans? Whatever it might be, make sure you highlight it so that you can do more of what it is that makes you happy.
Journaling can also be a great way to bring you and your partner closer together. Not every journal entry needs to be about your relationship, it can also be about your partner. Some key questions to explore include:
What initially drew you to your partner?
What are the 3 qualities you admire most about your partner?
What are 3 you’d like your partner could teach you?
Journaling can also improve intimacy
Journalling can improve your intimate life in the same way it can improve your relationship. If you’re looking to improve intimacy with your partner, or just take it to the next level, journaling can help to explore your sexuality and pinpoint what exactly it is that you find desirable. Sex journalling will involve writing down what you hope to achieve from the journalling experience, documenting sexual fantasies, documenting new things you want to try with your partner and noting down what you enjoyed about your sexual experiences, as well as what didn't go so well.
Some tips for effective journaling:
Note down your goals. Start by setting yourself some objectives for your journal. This could be to improve intimacy with your partner, to reduce conflict, to strengthen your relationship or any other relationship goals you may have in mind. Doing this allows you to measure the success of your journaling journey, and can act as a reminder as to why you started, and motivate you to keep working towards that goal.
Be completely honest. There will sometimes be some negative thoughts and feelings around whatever it is that you document. But to get the most out of this activity, try to write everything down, including the negatives. Your journal is a great place to put the thoughts and feelings that you might not be comfortable sharing. Bottling up how you feel can cause emotional distress, so use your journal as a way to let out some of those internal thoughts and feelings.
Be consistent. Consistency with this type of exercise is essential to get results. Ideally, journaling should be a daily activity, but if you have a busy schedule, then weekly is fine.
Share learning curves with your partner. Relationship journaling is more effective if both you and your partner choose to take part. A great exercise in couples journaling is to share key learnings with your partner, such as identifying any recurring issues or sharing the highs of your relationship. This allows you to see whether your partner's experience aligns with yours, and provide some insight into each other's thinking.
Overall, journaling is a great way to bring you and your partner closer, as well as helping you to work through any conflict.
Words: Dr Katherine Hertlein, Expert Advisor at sex therapy app Blueheart.
The day went downhill fast. The spiral started when I reached over to pop a jug of porridge into the microwave, an action that somehow knocked over a canister of teabags from a shelf. It landed upside down inside the jug. Breakfast and a mass of teabags ruined! That set the tone and it snowballed from there – missed trains, fraught deadlines and a vexing phone call with a friend. The only thing that kept me going was the prospect of a lovely glass of merlot and some cheese when I finally got home.
It’s likely that this scenario, possibly with different ingredients, is familiar to many, particularly since lockdown. A survey found that the pandemic has caused people living in Britain to become the biggest comfort eaters in Europe, with a 29 per cent rise in alcohol consumption and a similar spike in spending on convenience foods – and even more on a category called ‘tasty treats’. With statistics like these, it’s no surprise that a study by King’s College London found that almost half of us have gained weight since Covid hit.
This could be expected given the stress and boredom that characterised lockdown for many people. With limited activities and little to look forward to, it was all too easy to cheer ourselves up with croissant breakfasts, chocolate biscuits for elevenses and sticky toffee pudding and salted caramel ice cream for dessert every night as a reward for making it through yet another day. But what exactly is it about food that gives us comfort, particularly those items that we are fully aware are not good for us? Rationally, it doesn’t make any sense. Most of the time, I am pretty healthy (see aforementioned porridge), I walk a minimum of 10,000 steps a day and love going to the gym. But I also know that my cake intake probably went up by 30 per cent during lockdown.
A major factor is the physiological impact of sugar, often a component of comfort food. As psychologist Cinzia Pezzolesi explains: ‘During lockdown, we were all searching for ways to feel good. Sugar has a strong effect on the brain – it stimulates the reward system. When we eat, say, an ice cream, we produce a hit of dopamine, the feelgood brain chemical. Humans evolved this mechanism because we needed to remember where we found food that was not poisonous.’ Unfortunately, our primeval brains have not caught up with the fact that the corner shop is usually a safe bet for non-poisonous fruit and nuts! The brain learns to produce dopamine every time you eat a food that you find enjoyable to eat.
‘On a day when you feel sad, or even just a bit flat, you reach for the comfort food because you crave those chemicals,’ Pezzolesi says. ‘But what happens as time passes is that the brain generalises that feeling. So, one day, you feel sad and the brain remembers that eating something delicious makes you feel better. That starts the craving cycle. But, over time, you don’t even need to feel low to crave the food – all you need is to see the item and it’s linked to the memory of feeling good. You see it and you want to eat it.’ This explains why someone might always buy a cake when they walk past the patisserie, regardless of whether they are hungry, let alone feeling blue.
Stress can also trigger comfort eating. A study published in The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition found that women suffering from work-related stress were more likely to eat when feeling anxious or depressed. ‘Stress destabilises our sense of safety. When we don’t feel safe or well, we are conditioned to believe that food will help us, and we end up stress eating,’ says Pezzolesi. ‘Another reason we eat when we feel overwhelmed is that it’s a form of procrastination. If you’re facing a difficult task you don’t want to do, food provides an escape. You can’t face the task but, by eating, you are still doing something rather than nothing, and you can justify it by telling yourself that you need to eat anyway.’
We knew it all along
The tendency to turn to food for comfort is rooted in unhelpful messaging we may receive in childhood. ‘As babies, we are born with great instincts about food,’ says nutritionist Laura Thomas, author of How To Just Eat It (Pan Macmillan, £14.99).
‘My baby isn’t in his high chair worrying about the calories in a banana. He’s kicking his legs with joy. When he’s finished a meal, he throws the rest on the floor. He knows when he’s full.’ But messages around food, such as ‘you can’t go out to play until you’ve eaten your broccoli’ or ‘if you pass the test, I’ll buy you a sweetie’, reinforce the idea of food as punishment or reward. ‘We need to get rid of the guilt, shame and judgment we have acquired around food and our bodies,’ says Thomas. ‘We cannot unlink emotions from food – all eating is emotional eating if you think about it. We are humans, we have emotions and we have to eat. Neither can we turn off our emotions while we eat.’ Thomas believes that we need to return to a less complicated way of eating. ‘Although different foods have different nutritional values, we should start viewing everything as neutral, rather than morally good or bad. Using terms such as “junk food” is setting ourselves up for a loaded experience. It highlights the message that if you eat it, then you are an unworthy person. It’s ludicrous, it’s just food.’
“Are you judging yourself for eating a slice of cake or a pizza? Neutralise the phrases you use about food. Eliminate the good-bad dichotomy”
Part Two: Are you an emotional eater – or just hungry?
For anyone who views their diet in terms of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, there may be an unexpected underlying cause for their tendency to scoff a family-sized trifle in front of the TV of an evening, despite their best intentions.
‘Very often, someone will come to me for help with comfort eating or stress eating, whatever they want to label it,’ says nutritionist Laura Thomas. ‘And they will typically mention their daily food diary – they might skip breakfast because they were in a rush, then have a salad for lunch because they were being “good”, then hit the gym after work. By the time they get home, they’re raiding the fridge and eating everything in sight. It’s chaotic and stressful but what they are describing isn’t emotional eating – it’s hunger!’
If you restrict calories and deprive yourself of the things you really want to eat, no wonder you’re tempted to reach for sugary foods at the end of the day. ‘It’s the equivalent of letting the petrol tank in your car run right down – until you’re running on fumes. When it gets that low, the natural response is to fill it back up to full,’ she says.
Thomas suggests that we pay close attention to the language we use around food, particularly words that involve guilt or shame. ‘Are you judging yourself for eating a slice of cake or a pizza? A great start is to neutralise the phrases you’re using to talk about what you’re eating. Eliminate the good-bad dichotomy. Allow yourself to eat the foods that you find satisfying and pleasurable.’
That sounds lovely, but I worry that if I gave myself permission to enjoy the Brie and Camembert with a baguette and all the organic butter, I’ll consume an unhealthy amount. By thinking of it as ‘just food’, I’m keeping things in balance.
In the interests of research, I decide to try this approach. Every day for a week, I have my French cheese course after dinner. It is a revelation! For a start, after day four, the unthinkable happens and I start to lose interest in cheese. Maybe some dark chocolate would be nice? I’m not a chocoholic, so two squares is enough.
‘The more often you give yourself permission to eat what you want, the less you will feel a pull to overindulge on those things. They will lose the charge they have over you,’ says Thomas. In my case, I also realise that by not focusing so much on ‘reward’ foods, I’m not rushing through my main meal to get to the treats. No guilt, no shame – and less overeating.
“Ask, do I feel good after eating this item? Or is it what I call ‘the taste of disappointment’, when you know you are going to feel bad?”
Part Three:Mindful eating in 3 steps - Bring awareness to mealtimes and address your poor eating habits...
1. RECONNECT WITH HUNGER
As an experiment, stop eating between meals. Many of us have fallen into unhelpful patterns of grazing all day, eating leftovers from the children’s plates or doing a 4pm coffee run and grabbing a cake while we’re at it. We have forgotten what proper hunger feels like. ‘If you are not hungry when you start eating, it’s difficult to know when you are full,’ says psychologist Cinzia Pezzolesi. ‘You need to notice when hunger disappears and what fullness feels like. Mindfulness helps you reconnect with the natural self-mechanisms that we tend to ignore when we are trying to control our food intake.’
2. NOTICE HOW DIFFERENT FOODS MAKE YOU FEEL
The next time you find yourself overindulging in unhealthy food, pay attention to what your body is telling you. ‘Ask yourself, do I feel good after eating this item? Or is what you’re experiencing what I call “the taste of disappointment”, asks Pezzolesi,‘when you just know, even as you are eating, that you are going to feel bad afterwards, perhaps even guilty? There is a fine line between something that tastes delicious and feeling that you have overdone it, which leads to feeling bad about it,’ she says.
3. EAT WITH FULL ATTENTION
‘The practice of mindful eating embraces the idea that you can eat anything you want, when you want, as long as you are connected with the experience. That means putting away your phone, turning off the TV and staying present with how the meal is affecting all five of your senses. Afterwards, consider how your body feels. You might be encouraged to make a different choice next time, such as choosing to eat only a small piece of cake because you know that if you eat more, you won’t feel great. Or you might eat the same way the following day... It’s the difference between restriction and choice,’ says Pezzolesi.
Part Four:What unmet need is being fulfilled by food?
If you still feel an emotional drive to consume certain foods, it’s time to conduct a little self-inquiry to uncover what else might be going on in your relationship with food, and whether your eating habits are serving you well.
‘When clients come to me in this situation, I ask them – what need do you think your habit is meeting?’ says nutritionist Laura Thomas. ‘That need might be that you are living through a global pandemic right now and that is tough. So, food might be offering you something valuable – comfort, pleasure, joy, safety or a sense of connection. Just reframing what you’re doing can take the sting out of it,’ she says.
But identifying the source of your emotional discomfort is only half the solution. The other aspect is to look at your psychological toolkit for coping. ‘A person might examine their typical response to difficult emotions, and realise that in their toolkit they have Victoria sponge, crisps and biscuits,’ says Thomas. ‘If you haven’t developed alternative tools or skills to get through life’s difficulties, and someone tells you that you must remove those foods, what are you left with? Food, in this instance, is serving an important need. It’s not helpful to tell someone they have to stop the behaviour that is making them feel better.’
A more useful response is to develop new, non-food-based coping strategies alongside comfort food. It’s about broadening the range of options available to you. ‘Ask yourself, what other tools could you add? Going for a walk, phoning a friend, meditation or therapy, if appropriate, and integrate food as one of several resources,’ says Thomas. ‘Also, learn to see that comfort eating is a useful response. It is communicating that you have an emotional need that requires soothing. Recognise that eating may be the best tool you have to meet that need right now and give yourself some compassion and acceptance. There is nothing to feel guilt and shame about!’ she adds.
Refreshingly, Thomas believes that eating is a form of self-care, and an affordable one at that. ‘The term self-care has been hijacked by capitalism,’ she observes, referring to the fact that expensive spas and complicated juice cleanses now use the phrase as a marketing strategy. ‘Meanwhile, a packet of biscuits costs about a quid. There is no more fundamental way of caring for ourselves than feeding ourselves and nourishing our souls, as well as the cells in our bodies.’
Part Five: The 4 types of eating - why and how we do them
In her wellness practice, which integrates the wisdom of Chinese medicine, holistic and intuitive health coach Kit Yoon breaks down the main ways we consume our food.
"In lockdown, we experienced fear, uncertainty and unease, as well as many other negative emotions. It’s no wonder people turned to food for comfort, connection and relief. Where emotional eating goes awry is when we judge ourselves over it – because the more criticism we heap upon ourselves, the more self-sabotage ensues. Acceptance that it is a normal to eat emotionally sometimes will stop the pattern of self-criticism and self-sabotage."
Kit Yoon’s ‘four types of eating’ may offer clarity on how you eat:
Fuel eating: When we consume for fuel, we satisfy the body and its hunger until we are satiated – for nourishment. What is key is to know how you want to feel before, during and after eating. If you want to feel physically satisfied, then fuel eating is what you’re looking for – but be sure to allow other types of eating in your life as well.
Joy eating: This is when you eat foods that may not serve your body nutritionally, but they can satisfy your heart and mind, or other types of hunger outside of the physical. Allowing yourself to experience joy eating mindfully can make eating holistically satisfying.
Fog Eating: This happens when we are no longer mindful or conscious of our actions around food. It may be the last few bites of the dish, it might happen between meals and it could be taking place throughout the day. We can stop fog eating by slowing down, so we are aware of what we are doing. We can also decrease fog eating by planning meals and snacks ahead of time.
Storm eating: Storm eating is when we are eating because of our emotions – loneliness, anger, guilt or frustration. This type of eating piles on more negative feelings, such as shame, and can spark self-sabotaging behaviour, for example binge eating. Because of the negative feelings linked to binge eating, it can lead to more storm eating and so on... Episodes become cyclical and we forget why we storm-ate in the first place.
Words: Anita Chaudhuri
Part Six: Case Study
“I stopped denying myself and made friends with food” - Kirsty Ketley, 40 is a Nanny and Consultant from Surrey
"After decades of self-punishment and a negative body image, a reader found harmony – and realised that love, laughter and treats go together
Saturday nights mean snacks in front of the TV in our house. Our children, Ella, eight, and Leo, four, are allowed to stay up late with my husband, Stuart, and me for the big event – with crisps and popcorn! This family time became the highlight of our weekends during the grind of the pandemic.
Until the first lockdown, I would forgo the treats while the family indulged – or feel guilty if I joined them. As a trained nanny and parenting consultant, I understood child nutrition and knew that everything in moderation was the key to a healthy life, balanced with plenty of physical activity. I tried to instil this sensible attitude in my clients, who fretted about only serving salt- and sugar-free food to their offspring. Yet, for most of my adulthood, I had failed to apply my knowledge in my own life. I grew up in Derbyshire in the 1980s. My parents weren’t strict about what we ate, but our meals were home-cooked and portions moderate. However, by the time I hit my teens, the diet industry was everywhere. Slimming shakes and self-denial were in vogue, while the so-called perfect female form was waif-like model Kate Moss.
As a girl with a naturally larger chest and hips, and the first of my friendship group to hit puberty, I was self-conscious about my body, even as the Spice Girls were liberating women with 'girl power'.
I was a keen cross-country runner and extremely fit, but guilt slowly attached itself to certain foods. This got worse when I started working in a nursery and my colleagues were constantly counting calories.
I loved eating out but started to worry about what people would think if I ordered pudding, although I was a healthy size 12 and ate sensibly. The reality was that no one cared and, looking back, I feel sad that I denied myself the pleasure of certain foods for so long. When my daughter was born prematurely in 2013, I suffered from postnatal depression and I stress-ate to cope. With my second pregnancy, I developed gestational diabetes and had to follow a strict diet, which meant that I actually lost weight during pregnancy.
But it took the pandemic to make me reassess my relationship with what I ate and finally let go of negative associations with certain foods. Meals became a way to create structure in our weeks, fill time and feel happy amid the uncertainty and chaos in the world. When my work dried up during lockdown, Ella and I baked cakes and shared our recipes on social media.
Stuart and I love cooking and we enjoyed meals as a couple whenever we could. If he made a rich chicken pie, I stopped worrying about the creamy sauce and puff pastry and just enjoyed it.
My main revelation in finding balance was about being active. The restrictions meant I wasn’t running around in my busy job any more and walks were limited to strolls at a child’s pace. I realised that feeling unhealthy and sluggish was linked to being sedentary and had little to do with whether I denied myself pudding! This epiphany means I’m trying to move more and worry less. Since life has opened up again, longed-for reunions with loved ones have been a feast of laughter, good food and wine. Life’s too short to skimp on the crisps!"
NEED MORE? GET FREE ONLINE COACHING ON 'HOW TO STOP EMOTIONAL EATING'
In our free four-week coaching course for subscribers, Dr Julie Leoni, author, educator and researcher will guide you through an indepth look at emotional eating, and help you begin to understand why you comfort eat in order to create healthier habits which help you deal with your emotions without using food, and stay healthy while you do it! If you're a subscriber, get access now for free here: How to Stop Emotional Eating | Psychologies.
To subscribe to Psychologies and get access to this coaching programme click here.
Entrepreneur Shann Nix Jones, author Harriet Griffey and psychotherapist Kathryn Kinmond outline essential strategies for work-life balance in one environment
1. Master your habits: ‘Use “stackable functions” – a term from permaculture that describes getting more value out of a single activity. For example, if you take the children to school every day, you could walk part of the way, which would give you family connection, time in nature and exercise. That way, you shoehorn more meaning into your schedule,’ says entrepreneur Shann Nix Jones.
2. Be kind: ‘Working with others virtually can be frustrating and there is often miscommunication. When you’re not sitting next to someone, you don’t know what issues they might be dealing with. Your colleague may be struggling with other challenges, such as caring for relatives. Kindness goes a long way,’ says author Harriet Griffey.
3. Dare to connect: ‘If you’re feeling lonely working alone, go for a walk and acknowledge the people you pass on the street. Making eye contact is beneficial. Finding small ways to interact with other people, in whatever way we can, makes a big difference,’ advises psychotherapist Kathryn Kinmond.
4. Get organised: ‘When you’re working from home, anything that helps you feel organised is good. I like to colour code my notebooks. Black is for business planning, green for clients, blue for private journalling and red for notes from classes and workshops that I’m taking,’ says Nix Jones. ‘Transitions are important and this way I’m sending my subconscious a signal that I’m moving from one type of task to another.’
Readers dilemma: I am not usually competitive, but I am jealous of my sister, who has made a lot of money and plans to retire soon and travel the world. We are both in our 40s. I have struggled for money all my life as a single mother. Envy has changed the way I think of her and I almost wish her bad fortune (only about money). I compete with her over silly things, such as how much exercise we do, who works harder and who is the better parent. Please help me accept that our lives followed different paths and, while I do meaningful work I love, I will never be rich. She owns houses, cars and has a trust fund for her child, who is brainy and a gifted athlete. I have wonderful children too but my sister just seems to win on all fronts... Name supplied
Mary's answer: Thank you for being open about a feeling that many experience, but few will admit, let alone have the courage to try and change. I talked to Eddie Chauncy because he is not only a therapist, but an accountant. He suggests a cognitive trick for when we catch ourselves obsessing about someone else’s life. It’s saying out loud the simple phrase ‘that is what she is doing, but this is what I am doing’. It acknowledges the distraction, but also encourages you to refocus on your own life. You will know from your own children that sibling rivalry is a normal part of finding our place in the world. Within a family unit, everyone is sharing resources, so we compare ourselves, and it is also the first place we learn about the power of emotional triggers. I am sure that, on a certain level, you are aware that your sister has troubles too, whether or not she tells you about them. Part of your frustration could be that this awareness does not make the di cult emotion go away. Is it possible to acknowledge that we are all bigger than any one feeling, and be tender with the part of you that feels the pain of envy – perhaps saying to yourself ‘this is hard right now’? There are other parts of you that can feel proud of raising wonderful children, and knowing that they are also proud of you. Is there a way to turn the competitive urge in a positive direction, and create even more fulfi lment in your life? In Chauncy’s words: ‘It sounds harsh, but it’s true: we distract ourselves with comparisons, but the real progress is made working on our own lives.’ He fi nds that small things can ‘reduce the discomfort of debt and need and make more space to live a fulfi lled life’. Again, part of you knows this – you mention meaningful work – so it might be about making tiny tweaks to your habits, such as consciously noticing and celebrating moments in your day when you think ‘money can’t buy this feeling’.
For years, Lauren Barber repressed her feminine energy – now she sees it as a superpower, the font of her creativity, health, power and sexuality. She offers some powerful and liberating exercises, so you can reconnect with your feminine energy and become the goddess you are...
Apart from a few years during my late teens, I have spent my whole life believing I was unsexy. I wasn’t elegant or poised – I was messy and chaotic. As I strived for success in a business I created, I shut off my emotions to appear strong. I was fiercely independent and the fact that I was a woman didn’t even cross my mind. The world told me I needed to switch off my femininity and switch on a linear and consistent outer shell. When I turned 30, after punishing my body in the gym and restricting my food intake in a bid to achieve the ‘perfect’ body, I was anxious, exhausted, without a menstrual cycle, in a relationship that was falling apart and with a damaged disc in my back. I was so disconnected from myself that I pushed through workouts in agonising pain.
Emotionally, I was empty; depleted of life force, sexual and creative energy – the things that I now see as innate superpowers. There was a void, something missing, but I couldn’t work out what it was. I ventured into what I call a journey of remembering. I used practices such as womb yoga, a deeply feminine form that is all about working with the female anatomy and energy, listening to my body’s wisdom and intuition and understanding my sexual energy as more than about sex but as a font of creativity. I began to connect deeply with my body in a nourishing and gentle way that felt both alien and familiar at the same time. It was like an ‘unlearning’ – as if something within me remembered, and had lived this instinctive way before, but had forgotten it. I felt my spark return. I rediscovered an inner confidence and was more trusting of the path my life was taking, despite huge challenges. I started to love my body beyond appearance, and I felt alive. There is not one area of my life that has not been affected by this. Eventually, I trained as a yoga and meditation teacher and a sex, love and relationship coach. Self-love, self-connection and self-intimacy cannot be fully reached without a sense of embodiment. Our minds will only take us so far. What follows are some of my favourite practices to help you reconnect with your feminine energy.
These practices are nurturing, nourishing and replenishing – designed to support the nervous system and guide you to your female essence. This is an outline, so feel free to experiment. We are all unique, so if something doesn’t feel good, leave it or tweak it...
1. WOMB, SPACE AND BREATHING
WHY? This is a beautiful practice to help you fully reconnect with your womb space. From soothing discomfort, rebuilding trust after difficult circumstances or tapping into your feminine creativity, this practice can support a range of different struggles that we all face. I use the term ‘womb space’ because even if you do not have a physical womb for various reasons, there is a powerful energy in this part of the body. It is an area that may be encompassed with shame, grief and all manner of darker emotions, so it is easy to become disconnected from it. During my own healing journey from a place of ignoring the needs of my body and punishing it relentlessly, I found this simple practice helped bring awareness to a part of me that had been forgotten.
While lying down or seated, bring the palms of your hands to rest over your womb space.
As your hands lie there, start to take a few slow, deep breaths and imagine the breath travelling all the way down into your womb space.
Focus on the rise and fall of your hands as you breathe and simply let your attention rest in this space. I like to ask my womb space ‘what do you need?’ to guide me.
For a soothing practice, try taking a few breaths morning and evening when you are in bed before you rise or drift off to sleep.
2. BREAST MASSAGE
WHY? Breast massage, used in many ancient traditions, including Taoist and Ayurdevic practices, creates a soft, loving connection with the body and opens the heart space. It is also a wonderful way to get to know your breasts intimately, which will allow you to notice any irregularities. When we are connected to our heart and allow this space to be open and expansive, we can be more loving, kind and compassionate towards ourselves and others. This practice can be performed using energy, while not touching the breasts, and can be done over clothes or on bare skin. If you are doing breast massage on bare skin, it is nourishing to use an unscented oil, such as coldpressed rapeseed, coconut or almond. If you have had a mastectomy, this practice can help build a loving connection with the breast area. If you feel sensitive in this part of your body – particularly if hormonal or breastfeeding – it is beneficial to do it without touching your skin. If you have any unhealthy breast tissue, only do the first version of this practice.
Create a sacred place where you feel warm and safe. Perhaps light a candle or diffuse some incense.
Warm your hands by rubbing them together gently, then bring your hands to rest over your chest and take some deep, relaxing breaths. Spend as much time here as you like. l When you are ready, use the palms of your hands to gently massage down on the outside of the breasts and up on the inside – this is a releasing direction which helps free energy that needs to be cleared. You can do this with both hands at once or, if you have larger breasts, one breast at a time.
Perform the breast massage for a few minutes to begin with, but you can build up to five to 10 minutes.
Come back to rest your hands on your heart space before switching directions to go up on the outside of the breasts and down on the inside. This is an energy-building direction. If you have unhealthy breast tissue, continue with the original direction.
If you are doing this without touch, imagine a flow of energy moving out from your palms into your breasts.
If you don’t have much time, do this practice during your daily shower.
“When we are connected to our heart and allow this space to be open and expansive, we can be more loving, kind and compassionate towards ourselves and others.“
3. STANDING HIP CIRCLES
WHY? We store a lot of stuck energy in the hips and pelvis that can create a stagnancy and reduced sense of vitality. In yoga, the hips are known as the ‘junk drawer’ of our body where many emotions are held. This practice can boost sexual and sensual energy which often has a positive impact on creativity and confidence. It also eases stiffness.
Stand in bare feet at least hip-distance apart.
Begin by rocking your pelvis back and forth in a circular motion.
Once you have done this for a few minutes, start to move your hips in a clockwise circle for a minute or so before changing direction.
Next, make figures of eight with your hips.
Then, allow your hips to lead in any way that they wish for a minute or so at the end of the practice. Trust your body to guide you.
The purpose of this movement is to connect with a juicy, delicious and liberating movement that feels good. It isn’t about forcing or pushing although, in the beginning, if you are not used to moving this way, it can feel a little awkward. Keep going!
“Dancing is one of the most liberating movements – but we have been told how to dance and that it must be polished, pretty and perfect.“
4. WILD WOMAN DANCING
WHY? Dancing is one of the most liberating movements we can make. But we have been told how to dance and that it must be polished, pretty and perfect. It is empowering to find a piece of music that activates a feeling of abandon within and let yourself dance like a wild woman. Dancing can allow you to connect with your whole body. You can stomp your feet, wave your arms and shake your hips. It can be playful or sensual, fast or tender – it allows us to express all versions of ourselves.
Find a piece of music that has a beat or tune that makes you want to wiggle.
Press play… loudly if you can.
Dance like nobody is watching! If resistance comes up, dance with it and move it through the body. I was nicknamed heffalump at school because I was the most ungraceful dancer– so this is definitely not only for those who ‘can dance’. Everyone can dance if we allow ourselves! When I share these practices, it is never about teaching, it is about remembering. Our feminine powers are ingrained but they are often buried. It is an excavation – an unlearning and a reclaiming. We are coming home.
Readers Dilemma: I love my job and the immediate team I work with. I am a contractor, so the benefits to me are that I can fit my work around childcare, I plan my diary and choose when to go on holiday, and I do the work my way. The cons are no sick pay or holiday pay, no guaranteed salary at the end of the month nor any other additional benefits that come with being an employee. However, I feel as if I am being treated very much like a staff member, expected to be available and at my desk all day, yet without any of the benefits. I know it would do me well to shift my perspective but I am struggling to do this. Can you help me? Name supplied
Mary Fenwick Agony Aunt's Answer: Although you might feel alone in solving this issue, you are part of a new way of working. At least one in 10 adults in the UK works on freelance contracts or gigs. You are living both the upside (flexibility) and the downside (what are the rules?). I talked to Jamie Woodcock, an academic and the author of The Gig Economy (HarperCollins, £18.99). He says it’s easy to forget that work is always a negotiation: ‘Most of us feel we have to take what’s offered but, historically, work has changed, and whole industries have transformed.’ A good place to start is checking what’s in your contract, and how that might compare with standard conditions in similar roles. The ACAS helpline (0300 123 1100), an independent body for workplace relationships, is a useful source. The name stands for ‘advisory, conciliation and arbitration services’ which means they don’t take sides, but will help you to understand your position. What are the existing networks in your field? What is the union that covers your type of work? Do you have friends or former colleagues who might share their experience of working like this? For example, I’m a member of a Facebook group specifically for freelance women journalists, and I might ask: ‘How are other people dealing with this?’ With a bit more knowledge, you could open up the conversation with your workmates or boss. A team discussion about working hours and expectations might help everyone, or perhaps a standard sign-off on emails, such as: ‘I’m a contract worker, I check my messages here at X times on Y days.’ If you work in a niche area, I suggest contacting the Independent Workers’ Union, which has a general member’s branch for people who don’t fit another category yet. Don’t hold this worry on your own: this is something a lot of people are figuring out together.
Working alone or from home can sound like an amazing option, giving you more freedom, flexibility and less commute but it’s not always easy, especially right now with potentially more family and distractions around you than usual, says Juliet Thomas
HAVE YOU EVER mulled over a conversation, wishing you’d said something that was important to you, or dared to disagree? Whether at home, work or socially, we’d all like to communicate authentically and effectively. And, in a world where having an online voice can be crucial to your career, knowing how to get your message across in a calm and lucid fashion is a must-have skill.
In this special Dossier Podcast episode, we explore why speaking up is vital for our wellbeing and a fairer society. We look at the barriers that keep us silent and offers strategies to help us use our voice with confidence. Plus, don't miss the famous Psychologies Quiz by therapist at the end of the episode to identify what's stopping you from speaking up, and ways to overcome your personal blocks.
Poet Seamus Heaney said: ‘Finding a voice means you can get your own feeling into your own words and that your words have the feel of you about them.’ This episode shows you how...
Written by Anita Chaudhuri, narrated by Ali Roff Farrar.
Sucrose (as in straight up white sugar) is broken down pretty high up in the digestive tract so it doesn’t reach the large intestine where most for your gut microbes live and contrary to some opinions have such a negative impact on our gut health. However excessive consumption of any sugar still carries chronic disease risks, most notably type-2 diabetes. And the fact that something is labelled a ‘natural’ sugar such as coconut blossom, honey, maple syrup, agave or such like doesn’t really make much of a difference. Sugar is sugar at the end of the day and it amounts to the same thing.
“All things considered, especially for the health of our gut, when it comes to sugar I would go straight-up rather than opt for the artificial stuff.”
The no-added sugar line might seem favourable but it comes with a host of issues. The idea that artificially sweetened foods and drinks can satisfy our taste for sugar without negative consequences is highly questionable. Evidence is emerging that links certain artificial sweeteners, including sucralose, aspartame and saccharin, to metabolic diseases and crucially they also appear to negatively impact on our gut health. Research indicates these ‘fake’ sugars may alter the metabolic activity of gut microbes and the positive substances they produce that help to manage inflammation in the entire body. Even some of the more recent plant-derived versions such as stevia and xylitol can be highly processed with many people reporting tummy troubles after consumption.
I wholeheartedly believe when it comes to sugar a little bit of what you fancy does you good. One thing is for sure, we shouldn’t feel guilt around sugar as the self-imposed judgement and anxiety that comes with restriction is far more detrimental than having a bit of cake or chocolate here and there. Sugar should be part of an overall whole-food and nutrient-dense diet. We just need to be smart about it and enjoy it mindfully and for the treat that it is.
"The benefits of a gratitude practice are well known" says Katie, "and journalling is the most popular method. It’s about giving yourself time to reflect and remain conscious of the things that you are thankful for every day. Research shows that our brains are geared towards negative thinking, but gratitude helps us tune into the positives and move away from negativity. Of course, practising gratitude is far easier when we’re experiencing good times! A gratitude practice is most difficult during strenuous periods, yet these are when it is most crucial."
Consider the following if you would like to begin or strengthen your practice:
1. Think of gratitude as a way to help you deal with a crisis. Practising gratitude during the most difficult periods can be a way to help you cope and take your attention away from negatives.
2. Over time, turning gratitude into a habit will help you grow more resilient and gratitude has been shown to reduce stress.
3. If trying to practise gratitude during a challenging time, don’t be too concerned about what you write down. It could be something as simple as the sun rising, drinking a cup of co ee that was particularly enjoyable or remembering to unload the washing machine. Nothing is too silly or small. Sometimes, the little things are the most important and uplifting, and help keep us going.
Tip: You don’t have to buy a journal unless you want one. You can easily keep a gratitude list on the Notes app on your phone. Simply write down three things that you are thankful for every day – that’s it. You will soon feel the benefits, I promise.
”Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity… It makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow“ - MELODY BEATTIE
‘Confidence: The Journal: Your Year Of Positive Thinking’ by Katie Piper (Quercus, £9.99)