The New Harmony Agenda

Long time no type. Again! Seems to be a pattern of mine.

I got too busy again. I got kinda crook too. And updating my blog was the last thing on my mind. Even though I enjoy it. Even though writing is like a release for me. Even though I know it might help somebody else going through the same things as me. Even though I want to develop a consistent habit. Even though, even though, even though. But alas, I stopped anyway.

And here I am starting again (again, again).

And I have a plan. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last 6 months, or so. I’ve been studying for the last 2 years in formal courses to give me some new qualifications, and I’ve also been doing a whole lotta learnin’ informally too, about myself and my body and my other needs (physical, emotional, spiritual etc). I’ve been a content-consuming machine for years now. I love to read and listen and learn, and I want to help myself and help other people by sharing what I’ve learned.

So expect some changes around here over the next couple of months. I mean that about the website, but also about my life in general. I have reached a threshold or tipping point in my life in a number of ways.

Physically, I have become so fed up with my difficult and frustrating pattern of digestive issues that I’m about to embark upon a radical gut healing program called GAPS. I have also been working really hard on my fitness/health values and beliefs. I tried a program that was amazing but wasn’t for me, and I have begun jogging regularly with my husband the Exercise Physiologist. I have also been practicing and studying meditation and yoga, which have had profound impacts on my life. But still, there is fatigue and hormonal dysfunction (thyroid, adrenal, reproductive…) and major tummy problems. The list of foods that no longer agree with my body is getting longer and longer and at some point (that point is now!) I believe I have to stop treating the symptoms of whatever is going on in my insides and start actually looking at and treating the cause.  GAPS is nothing to be sneezed at, but hopefully it will help me heal for good this time.

Professionally, I have found a lot of clarity about my next steps and made some big decisions about the future recently. I have been granted one year’s leave without pay for 2017 from my teaching position in a state school in Queensland. This means that I will not be teaching in schools, other than some supply work (substitute teaching for those not up with teacher talk!). Part of this is because my husband and I would like to do some travel, and because I want to really focus big time on my health and getting really, really well before we even think about having babies. That is a big WHY. But it’s also because I want to focus myself full time on the creative projects that have been in my head for years. I want to write blog posts and articles and books, I want to compose music, I want to explore my creativity and I want to really put into practice the new qualifications I have gained over the last 2 years. I want to explore what it means to do all of these things without the constant pressure of trying to fit them in around the school term! But I also really, really want to make a difference in a very different way than I am currently able to do as a teacher.

I am launching a new business called ‘Self-Care for Teachers’ because I feel so passionately about preventing teacher burnout and supporting staff wellbeing in schools and ultimately I want to change the conversation (and maybe the education system!) from the ground up.

I am also going to be refocusing The Harmony Agenda as a website and as a business. Up until now I haven’t really had a brand and it has been mostly a badly updated personal blog. I have been coaching a little bit on the side of my job but I haven’t made that much of an effort to get new clients because I honestly haven’t made it a priority. But I’m ready now to really put myself out there into the world and make a real difference. It will remain a personal blog but I am planning to include a lot more informational topics too. The themes will remain the same: health, happiness, self-care, wellness, slowing down, listening to your body and befriending your emotions. But all the teacher stuff will be moving over to Self-Care for Teachers so the focus of each website will be more streamlined. I am multi passionate but I have felt scattered and confused trying to fit everything under the Harmony Agenda banner. This will hopefully help streamline my brain and what I’m offering to the world!

Oh, and I am also starting a podcast with my best friend Madison about our journeys with starting up businesses but doing them slowly and in a way that supports our health and happiness! So stay tuned for that!

Personally, I have just turned 29 and that has helped in the clarification process. I’ve had some major news about my thyroid recently that I promise I will update you on in another blog post (please don’t worry, it’s good news) but it brought a lot of big truths home to me. I’ve also been doing a lot of reflecting on the fact that next year I turn the big ’30’ and what does that mean for me? There have been a lot of questions lately about babies, or more specifically, when will we be having them. And the truth is, I don’t know when, but not right now. I don’t want to put it off forever, or even for 5 years, but I just know deep down that now is not the right time. My body is not 100% and hasn’t been for many, many years. If nothing else, that is reason to pause and heal so that one day I can be the best vessel possible for a new human being, and so that my own experience of pregnancy and being a new mum isn’t complicated and made more difficult by recurring health problems that could be fixed.

I also am faced with some decisions regarding whether I will even be able to teach with little ones, and the truth is I don’t think I will be able to. I am already part time and only just find I can manage my own health at this schedule. Most women go back to work after maternity leave to the level of part-time teaching that I am currently doing, so it doesn’t leave a lot for me to drop back to. I am aware there are many options and we won’t know until we get there and all of those other arguments. But I basically don’t want to be forced into a position where I have to go back to work at a higher fraction than is good for me. I’ve been forced to do that before (and there were no babies in the picture), and it was absolutely terrible for my health then, and I am under no illusions that it would be any easier if I had to do it again, let alone with the pressures of being a Mum (or the desires I have for being a present, healthy Mum instead of an absent, exhausted, ill parent). So the decision and the plan right now is to try to get extremely well and also build up some other income streams so that if I do decide to return to teaching after maternity leave, it’s because I want to and feel well enough to, and not because of financial desperation.

Plus, we want to do some more travel before we have babies, and I have so many creative ideas that I want to pursue too.

So the NEW Harmony Agenda for me is basically to enjoy the luxury that I have of being a middle class, Western woman with access to contraception and professional choices and amazing health care and a supportive family and with a world to explore. I am taking a gap year, not so much to find myself but to attempt to design my life so that it supports my health and my family plans and my other deep desires in life.

I am so infinitely grateful to be able to do this. The gap year doesn’t start until 2017 but planning for it starts now and I am throwing myself wholeheartedly into the process. I am excited and thankful and scared and excited all rolled into one! I hope you will stick around to hear how it all plays out for me over the next few months and into the gap year of 2017.

Chronically stressed? Self-Care is the antidote!

Like most people in the modern world, I have struggled a lot with feelings of chronic stress. In fact, it’s highly likely that the detrimental physiological and psychological impacts of stress have contributed significantly to my ill health over the last decade. Thankfully, I’m fairly well these days, and I am much better at keeping my stress levels in check. That hasn’t happened by accident, though. It has happened through a deliberate and conscious change in the way I approach life, and as per usual it all comes back to the importance of self-care.

So what is stress?

Well, there’s a number of types. We all need a bit of stress to survive and thrive. The positive type of stress is called ‘eustress’ and it usually relates to events in life that are exciting and joyful. Can you imagine how boring life would be without anything to get us up and moving? I’m sure you can think of a number of times in your life where you felt a bit of pressure to perform, but you enjoyed it and probably felt that you might not perform so well without that heightened sense of awareness. So a little bit of stress is actually quite good!

It’s ‘distress’ that we usually mean when we complain about feeling stressed. But even ‘distress’ is good for us, in small amounts. Our bodies are always working to keep us safe and alive. So even though it might not feel very nice, that adrenalin rush when you have a ‘near miss’ while driving in traffic, or the muscle tension and hyper-alertness you feel when you hear a noise in the backyard late at night are actually a good thing. They are your body’s way of making sure you are alerted to and respond appropriately to danger.

These uncomfortable sensations were first described by a scientist named Walter Cannon in 1915, but they are much older than that. It’s called the ‘fight-or-flight’ response and it’s one of the things that we share with other living creatures: an inbuilt survival mechanism, part of the sympathetic nervous system, that sees the body act first and think later. Within seconds of perceiving a threat, the body’s full energy potential is realised so that a person (or an animal!) can either fight or flee. It’s easy to imagine the scenario of a predator approaching and needing to fight for your life or run away and avoid the predator altogether. But it can also be about other threats to life, such as accidents and natural disasters, when you might have to fight a fire, hide from a cyclone or flee from a flood.

In any and all of these situations, the ‘distress’ we feel is extremely beneficial.

Without it, our conscious mind might take too long to respond and we might die! Our body is clearly operating from the perspective of “it’s better to be safe than sorry” when immediate physical danger is concerned.

The problem is that these days we don’t face a lot of immediate physical danger. Our basic survival is more certain than it probably ever has been in history.

We do, however, encounter a lot of mental and emotional circumstances that our bodies perceive to be emergencies.

A deadline at work, an angry interaction with a fellow human, a pile of bills in the mail, rush hour traffic and many other modern situations that pose no real threat to our lives still upset our mental and emotional equilibrium. Remembering that the fight-or-flight response involves the body acting first and thinking later, it’s hardly surprising that as soon as we perceive an emergency, despite it being no physical threat, our body immediately propels us into a heightened state of arousal so that we are ready to get physical (fight or flee), just in case.

Suddenly we experience a cascade of symptoms: eyes widening, heart racing, blood pressure spiking, muscles tensing, breath shortening and attention narrowing in on whatever it is that has triggered the response.

We usually are unaware of these symptoms at the time, but I’m sure they sound familiar to you. At one point or another you have probably noticed one or all of them. Yet, there are other responses in the body during fight-or-flight that you probably have never felt or noticed. Digestion stops, sexual function is inhibited and the body’s healing processes are shut down. After all, digesting food and producing sperm/releasing eggs is hardly a priority when one might be about to be eaten by a lion or crushed by a landslide. The body diverts all its energy and nutrients and endocrine function to basic survival, which is good…as long as it’s only for a short period of time.

The problem is chronic stress: our modern world bombards us multiple times a day with deadlines and pressures and frustrations that continually trigger our fight-or-flight stress response.

But we can’t fight or flee! Most of the time we have to just ‘suck it up’ and ‘deal with it’. So we are walking around in a chronic state of low- to mid-level fight-or-flight response. Our sympathetic nervous system is continually activated, which basically just makes us feel like crap.

It also means our digestion, sexual function and healing processes are constantly impaired.

That’s a big problem because our bodies are essentially not able to do what they need to do to keep us well. Is it any wonder then that stress related illnesses are so common?

Thankfully, there is a solution that is natural, free and relatively simple.

In an ideal world, after the fight-or-flight response gets triggered and the danger has been successfully fought or fled from, the body will go back to its natural state of homeostasis. This is when the parasympathetic nervous system is in control and it’s a state that is sometimes called ‘rest and digest’.

From that nickname alone, it’s easy to see why it’s important — that’s the state our bodies need to be in so that digestion, sexual function and healing can happen. It was discovered by Harvard scientist Dr Herbert Benson in the 1970s and it is literally the opposite of the fight-or-flight response in the body. It decreases the heart rate and blood pressure, decreases muscle tension, reduces the amount of adrenal hormones in the blood and builds happiness. Dr Benson called it ‘the relaxation response’.

The best thing is that although fight-or-flight is an unconscious response, the relaxation response can be triggered consciously and with volition. One of the best ways to do this is through meditation and purposeful muscle relaxation. Both techniques will slow down the breathing and this tells the body that it is safe and it can switch back on the rest-and-digest functions that are so important for our long term health. Of course there are other activities that can trigger the relaxation response too, like yoga and other exercise, doing something you love and spending time with people who make you happy.

And that’s why I come back to self-care: a regular habit of consciously triggering my relaxation response is vital for my health and happiness.

Just like brushing my teeth helps me manage tooth decay, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation help me manage my stress. Actually, some types of meditation can even be done while brushing teeth! By deliberately switching on the relaxation response, I am able to switch off the stress response and get my body back to doing what it’s gotta do to be well.

If you are struggling with the uncomfortable physical and emotional symptoms of chronic stress, know that there is a powerful and simple solution that you can build into your self-care routine. Whether you do yoga or meditation, a favourite sport or hobby, or simply decide to spend more time with your favourite people, know that when you do so you are combating the negative effects of chronic stress by triggering the relaxation response. And best of all, it’s completely free!

 

Self-Care for first year teachers PART 1

Your first year of teaching is exciting, exhausting, scary and rewarding. There are so many new things to learn and so, so much work to do. Non-teaching friends and family don’t really understand the demands of the job, you are still feeling like a bit of an imposter (are they really letting me in the classroom by myself?) and the students can and will test you because you’re new. There are so many expectations to meet, a lot of new names to remember and lots and lots and lots of paperwork.

It is all too easy as a teacher to always put your needs at the bottom of the list. This is even more of an issue in your first year as you are eager to prove yourself and likely trying really hard to avoid any negative assessments of your abilities. But with anywhere between 8% and 50% of early career teachers leaving the profession in Australia, it’s absolutely vital that you look after you.

Here’s a few dos and don’ts for self-care in your first year:

  1. DO prioritise your sleep. I cannot stress this enough. It’s too easy to stay up until the wee small hours every night trying to get your preparation perfect and finish all the marking and get everything done. But without adequate sleep, you are no good to anybody, especially yourself. You will be far more productive and efficient with proper rest. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and good sleep is what will keep you carrying on for the whole term, semester and year. Practice sleep hygiene and be disciplined about making sleep a priority — everything else will be easier because of it. And, if you are having trouble sleeping seek help sooner rather than later.
  2. DON’T talk about teaching with people who don’t get it. Unfortunately, there are still people out there who think it’s “9 to 3, all those holidays and full of softy whiners”. If you are anything like me, you’ll be tempted to engage in a debate with them or try to convince them that actually, you are doing 60 hour weeks minimum and the holidays are often spent working too. But don’t do that. Conserve your precious energy and also your even more precious mindset. Just give them a token response and change the subject.
  3. DON’T over-schedule yourself. Err on the side of under-scheduling so that you build some slack time into your life for when things take more time than anticipated. And they will. Everything will take longer to do in your first year, so give yourself the benefit of being prepared for that. Be very discerning about what commitments and engagements you say yes to, both at school and at home.
  4. On that note, DO make time for a social life. It’s really, really important for your mental and emotional health. However, don’t spend the whole time talking about school! If you socialise with other teachers, make sure you plan to do some things that will completely distract you from schoolwork. Also, allow yourself to say no to social engagements that you know will leave you feeling drained. You know, the ones that you feel obligated to attend, the ones that you know you will have to spend time with people who distress you, and the ones that are on the night before report cards are due. DO socialise, but make it enjoyable rather than another stressful item on your to-do list.
  5. DO remind yourself that ‘this too shall pass’. This disaster of a lesson, this crappy day, this boring staff meeting, this stressful reporting period, this hectic term, this full-on first year….it WILL pass. But remember that that applies to the good stuff as well as the tough stuff, so remember to enjoy the great moments as they come and go too!
  6. DO incorporate some kind of daily relaxation practice. When we are chronically stressed we operate a lot of our day in ‘fight or flight’, which isn’t good for us over the long term. The antidote is to activate our relaxation response and trigger our body to ‘rest and digest’. I recommend doing this in the evenings, before bed. It makes for much better sleep! There are many ways to do this: a variety of types of meditation, guided relaxation, visualisation, EFT, sex, yoga….the list goes on. The trick is find what works for you. There are loads of videos on YouTube to get you started for free.
  7. DO plan snacks, and lots of them! There will be days when you will only get 5 minutes to eat here and there between classes and playground duties and lunchtime lesson prep and after school meetings. Have an abundance of quick, healthy, filling snacks to grab and go so that you can keep your motor running all day.
  8. DON’T be an island. Communicate with your colleagues and speak up if you need help, sooner rather than later. It’s so easy to be worried about being a burden, and sometimes our pride makes us feel that reaching out is weak. But remember that most people are happy to help, and it’s much easier to plug a small leak than repair a sinking ship. If you’ve made a mistake, admit to it early on — we’re all human, everybody makes mistakes. If you don’t know something, ask — we’ve all been first years, we know there’s a lot to learn. If you need to vent or help finding resources or back-up with a student’s behaviour or advice on how to discuss something with a parent, your colleagues are a wealth of knowledge. Yes, we’re all busy but we know that a rising tide lifts all boats.  Reach out, communicate, speak up — you won’t regret it.
  9. On that note, DO find a mentor, coach, professional adviser (or one of each!) and also DO practice discernment in your choice. Take note of how you feel after you speak with them. If you leave feeling worse than when you arrived, find somebody else to debrief with and ask for advice. It could be a trusted colleague who will be your mentor at school, or you might seek out the services of a professional outside of school.
  10. DO monitor your expectations. It’s going to be a busy year. You aren’t going to be perfect. You aren’t going to be able to do everything like the experienced teachers. You are going to get sick (kids love to share their germs!). You are going have good days and bad days with the students in your class. You are going to be completely exhausted and it is going to be a roller coaster ride.

Ultimately, it’s an amazing, exhausting, scary, rewarding learning curve. Remember to prioritise your needs. Self-care is so important and will be vital to your success both professionally and personally this year. If you would like some extra support, come and join the Self-Care For Teachers Facebook Group. And stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog post!

Personal barriers to self-care

There are five main facets of self-care: physical, personal, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Most of us find one or two of the facets to be natural strengths. Similarly, for most of us, there are one or two areas that don’t come naturally to us. IMG_2715

I’m no different. Emotional self-care comes naturally to me. It always has. For as long as I can remember I have been very in tune with my emotions and I have found it like a default for me to consciously practice emotional self-care. I naturally, intentionally and consistently employ strategies to ‘tend and befriend’ my emotions, seeking extra care when I feel I need it in a timely and determined manner.

It’s partly a case of nurture also: simply be being female I have had more encouragement in our society to engage with my emotions than I would have had were I male. I also was fortunate in that my parents are both emotionally intelligent people with experience as counsellors, so that has definitely helped. Perhaps it is no wonder, then, that I have developed a fascination with and strong desire to help others tend and befriend their own emotions.

I realise that’s not the case for everyone — many of the coaching clients I work with are looking for some support in the area of their emotional self-care. Simply reaching out to a coach and acknowledging that this is something you’d like to work on is an important step, because it requires both awareness and action. There are also many people for whom coaching or some other form of therapy would be of great help, who either ignore their emotional needs altogether or who are aware of their needs but do not intentionally care for them. Self-care of all types requires both conscious awareness and intentional action to be successful. The emotional side of things just happens to come naturally for me, and was then further encouraged through nurture.

Personal care, on the other hand, does not come naturally to me. Of the 5 facets of self-care, this is the area that I have consistently put last. It’s the area that I have to put the most conscious awareness and effort into. In all honesty, I’m a bit lazy. I have often been known to try to stretch my hair another day before being washed, my legs another week (or three!) before being waxed. I would frequently have either no polish on my nails, or it would be chipping off. It was not uncommon for me to get 3 haircuts a year, and still feel like that was too many! I just find personal care to be a big effort and it always ended up last on my list of priorities. (I feel I should mention here that personal care and hygiene, although overlapping, are slightly different. I brush my teeth and wash my hands and bathe every single day. I’m good at hygiene!)

As a high school teacher it doesn’t really matter what I look like (as long as I’m dressed modestly) and, in fact, in terms of behaviour management, I find the plainer I make myself the better. The longer I have been teaching, the more comfortable I have become with making less effort with my outfits, and easily settled into a boring, comfortable uniform of polo shirts, jeans or denim shorts and sensible black sandals. In a small country school, this is perfectly acceptable. On special occasions like ANZAC Ceremonies and Awards Nights, I dress up a bit. But after my first year I pretty much completely stopped wearing make up to those events and I never wear it on a normal school day. I have friends who won’t leave the house without a full face of make up on, which I’d like to point out that I have no problem with. It’s just that I’m the opposite — whether from laziness, defiance or lack of time, I rarely wear make up on special occasions let alone day to day. Even wearing make up to my own wedding was a big decision, and I wore hardly any.

Personal care just doesn’t come naturally to me. I have realised, though, that just because it doesn’t come naturally doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it. I did have to examine what about it I do and don’t like, and what parts exactly were barriers for me, in order to put it higher on the priority list. For example, it makes me feel really nice when I have neatly manicured hands and pedicured feet. But, I prefer to do this myself  in the comfort of my own home than have others do it. Similarly, eye make up is just a no for me, but I’m learning to appreciate a good base and blush and lip gloss!

So these school holidays I’ve been consciously and consistently making personal care a top priority. I had a massage a fortnight ago. I had my hair cut (at a nice salon too!) last week, and I took the time to straighten it the day I took this picture. I have been making sure I get dressed in nice clothes every day (not “holiday clothes” a.k.a. track suits) and have put on some makeup and jewellery almost every day. I had my eyebrows waxed today and I booked my next appointment as well.

I know for some this would all seem terribly ordinary, but it’s a big thing for me. It has required conscious awareness of my weaknesses, the obstacles and how to overcome them. It has also required intentional, consistent action. In other words, it requires discipline, which doesn’t sound very sexy or exciting.

Often people say the reasons they don’t practise more self-care is that they don’t have enough time and/or they don’t have enough money. Except, it’s not actually about the time or the money. It’s about what you value, and your priorities. People find time and money for things they really value. But, it’s also about discipline. Self-care requires discipline to be consistent, which is the only way to make it effective. It also is about having an understanding of yourself and your own personal strengths and weaknesses, and applying that discipline accordingly. What requires a lot of discipline to me (like putting on make up every day) is a piece of cake to someone else. That’s the thing about barriers to self-care: some of them are individual to us. A facet that comes naturally to one person is a conscious acquired skill to someone else.

So, which facets of self-care come naturally to you? And which require some more discipline? I’d love to know, so let me know in the comments below!

Slowing down in the name of self-care

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning here in the Harmony House. The weather is cool but drizzly, which is a nice change after the heat of the previous week. I have had a lovely slow morning where I woke without an alarm and felt refreshed, I took my time having breakfast and making my West End Matcha tea and then I listened to a the latest episode of The Slow Home Podcast while I pottered about the house tidying up. Crinkle the cat was hanging around, my darling husband was sleeping in and then watching sport and then cooking bacon and there was absolutely no urgency or rushing. It’s got me feeling very reflective.

In short, it was my ideal morning. I feel very grateful to have realised that several days a week (usually 3 but sometimes more, sometimes less) I get to live a version of my ideal day. Mostly it involves being a homebody, lots of self-care, spending time with my little family, a phone conversation with one of my loved ones and learning about topics I love. Often it involves coaching of some sort, whether that be working with a client, participating in a webinar or doing some further study. All of these things, to me, represent a significant slowing down from the life I lead the other days of the week.

That life sees me rising very early (often before the sun), commuting for over an hour, functioning at work amidst the chaos and feelings of ‘never enough’ and ‘too busy for a toilet break’, followed by either a long commute home, dinner and bed, or staying overnight in the town where I work as it is too long of a commute to do both ways every day. There are many things I love about that life. I actually enjoy my commute because I get to listen to awesome podcasts and sometimes have long, meaningful conversations with my bestie via the magic of hands-free mobile technology. I really love the people who open their homes to me when I need a home-away-from-home and they feed me delicious food and we have many wonderful conversations. And I really enjoy many aspects of my job — especially the connections with lovely staff and students and the great music we get to enjoy and create.

But ultimately that life represents a lot of things that are not ideal for me. It’s frantic and exhausting for a start. Anyone who knows a teacher knows that it’s far from the 9 – 3 job some people think it is. The days really are chock-a-block full and lunch-times are not really a break but a chance to chase up students who you need to see and prepare for lessons and organise all manner of ensembles and rehearsals. The more days I have off in a week, the worse the busy-ness of the 9 – 3 hours gets. Since I’ve had the fit-bit it has become easier to see just how active these hours are for me. I regularly do 12,000 steps in a day at school. That’s without any attempt at setting aside time for exercise. On more than one occasion I’ve made it to 20,000 steps in a school day. There is also the emotional drain of a system that is never-ending in it’s quest for ‘perfection’ and where some of the clients and customers are really, really hard to get along with. As a highly sensitive person, I find it really draining to be interacting with such hostility so regularly. Plus, the constant improvement agenda and quest for more, more, more and better, better, better is quite a trigger to this recovering perfectionist. It’s also in stark contrast to my values, which is also emotionally draining.

The other problem is that this life also takes me away from my home and haven 4 days a week (sometimes more!). It’s an epiphany I’ve had before but I’m realising anew lately just how crucial this haven is for my health and happiness. It’s the reason I’m really not keen to have any guests stay over-night ever again, actually, although this is an ongoing conversation in our household at the moment. But being at home, either alone or with Stuart, gives me the chance to recharge my energy and block out the frantic noise of the world. It’s crucial for my self-care, it’s what reconnects me to my husband and to myself. So having to get up and rush to leave by 6.15am every work-day morning and either not get home until 6.15pm or, if I stay overnight in Esk, until the following day robs me of that re-charge time. As much as I love the dear friends I stay with in Esk, and as much as they look after me and give me everything I could possibly want in a home-away-from-home, it isn’t actually home. It’s not my space and staying there means I don’t get to see my husband or my cat for usually 36 hours minimum, sometimes closer to 72 hours depending on the week. Of course I know that is nothing compared to the separation that some couples deal with and I also know that I can choose to drive home any night that I like and I can even choose to work somewhere else. But neither of those options are really better options to me. In fact, this situation is the best that it could be right now. But that doesn’t mean it is the ideal. And it’s certainly not slow, which is what I’m craving right now.

So, next year, I am planning on dropping back to a 50% teaching load which will end up as 1 x full day and 2 x three-quarter days of teaching. At this stage, it will probably be Monday, Wednesday and Friday, which will mean three big days of commuting and busy-ness, but I’ll get to be home in my haven with my husband every night and I’ll get a day off in between every work day to recover and recharge and refocus. It’s more slowing down and another step towards my ideal life and I’m really looking forward to it.

Before then, though, I still have 7 weeks of the term to get through. This coming week I’m working 5 days because we have our school Awards Night on Tuesday (usually my day off) so I’ll be working Tuesday and staying away from home 3 nights this week. After that, the marking and reporting cycle will begin in earnest, so things are about to ramp up in that regard. As a result, I’ve decided to take the pressure of myself with The Harmony Agenda for a while. I’ll be blogging still, but perhaps not as regularly. I had planned to re-launch the Self-Care Matters E-Course in November in the new 12-week format but I don’t think I will now. I think I’ll leave that until the New Year because it does need some re-working and I won’t be able to devote the time or energy to it that I’d like at this stage.

I also plan on focusing more of my energy into developing resources for other teachers to be able to prioritise self-care. As such, I’ll be putting as much of my knowledge into practice to get through this term in as slow and self-care-filled manner possible. I am starting a Facebook group for teachers to support each other in self-care because I see a real need for a safe space for this online. And I will continue with the coaching part-time as well.

I feel really grateful to have not only the opportunity to create a version of my ideal life on the weekends and the odd day off during the week, but also to have the perspective to realise that for now, although I’d really like more of the ideal life, I need to do what needs to be done to get there sustainably. At the moment that means slowing down on the business building because I have to focus on staying well and doing my job well too. I know this isn’t forever and that at some stage in the future I will miss this school and these students, so I will appreciate them while I can. And I’ll focus on the nice bits and try to let go of the not-so-nice bits. And I’ll remind myself that even when I have to slow down and change my plans, even when I make less progress in all areas of my life than I want and especially when I feel like I have let myself or others down, I am enough, already and always.

My health and happiness has to be my priority, and that’s ok. I want to help as many people as possible to realise that they can prioritise themselves too, but I want to do that in a way that is congruent and sustainable. No use burning myself out spreading the self-care message! So for now I will live my values as much as possible, slow down and practice self-care, and lead by example. That’s my harmony agenda. What’s yours?

A powerful reminder of why it really is all in your head!

“It’s all in your head.”

Anyone who has ever had an invisible disease or health condition, or even simply a prolonged illness, knows the power these words have. In one sentence, a person can completely dismiss every painful and awful symptom and all the things you are doing to try to fix it. These words don’t just dismiss your illness and invalidate your feelings, they actually completely dismiss and invalidate YOU. It brings up a whole lot of shame and guilt about the condition for starters, and your trustworthiness on top of that.

If someone says ‘It’s all in your head’ what they are really saying is ‘I don’t believe you are really suffering from [insert condition here] and I think you are just trying to get attention’. This can be annoying when it comes from someone who isn’t important to you and really bloody frustrating when it comes from a health professional from whom you are seeking advice and treatment. But it’s completely devastating when it comes from someone close to you who is supposed to care about you…

…like that voice inside of you. In my almost-decade of invisible illnesses, I can count on one hand the number of times another person has actually said that to my face (although they may have thought it, who knows.) But at my worst, I said it to myself A LOT.

The problem is, I was right, but in completely the wrong way.

What I said to myself that it was all in my head, what I meant was that my physical and emotional symptoms and sensations were invisible to others, nigh on impossible to prove and therefore I must be imagining it.

WRONG! This wasn’t just false, it also kept me treating my body in ways that perpetuated the very symptoms I was hoping to alleviate. By denying my experiences and the messages my body was sending, I continued with the patterns of behaviour and thinking that got me there in the first place.

The truth is that the problem was all in my head, but not because I made it up to get attention (or for any other reason), but because my thoughts and beliefs were what led me to the point of chronic, invisible illness to begin with. And if the problem was in my mind, so was the solution. I just didn’t know it yet.

Massive disclaimer, just in case it isn’t already clear: I am NOT saying that I could ‘think myself better’ and take no practical action to actually treat the very real conditions I was suffering from. I believe people who push that kind of solution are only delaying a person’s actual recovery and in some cases are spreading a very dangerous message. That is IN NO WAY what I am saying here.

Did I have definite infections and physical symptoms that needed clearly defined medical treatment? Yes! Did I avail myself of everything modern medicine could do for me in order to get better? Absolutely yes!

And did I need to step up and take responsibility for my health instead of hoping for a quick fix and expecting the solution to be completely external to myself?

Yes I did. And there-in lies the gold: I had actual medical conditions that required medicine and in some cases surgery and supervision by proper health professionals, but I also needed to actually change my attitude altogether.

Only when I began to accept my health challenges instead of denying them did my journey of recovery begin. Only when I began to ask that little voice inside me to actually validate instead of dismiss my physical and emotional symptoms did I begin to trust myself. Only when I allowed myself to actually believe that I was truly sick, did I begin to treat myself in a way that would ultimately lead to wellness.

The irony is that the old “it’s all in your head” thinking was based on the idea that if I believed myself to actually be unwell, then I would get worse. But actually, the opposite happened! I stayed locked in denial for far too long. I was continuously abdicating responsibility for my health and wellbeing to external people and things, quick fixes and magic pills. I resented the fact that I continued to be unwell, despite the fact that I was working so hard to ‘think positive’ and ‘soldier on’.

IMG_2044Facebook has a new ‘memories’ feature that allows you to look back on what you posted on this day in years gone by. Today, one of my memories was of a status from 2009 which is the epitome of everything that was working against me in my mindset back then.

It reads: “Ellen…wants an upgrade, this body is definitely faulty and surely it’s still under warranty.

I would never write or say or even think anything like this now, not because I don’t still have health conditions (I do) and not because I no longer get sick and tired of feeling sick and tired (I do) but because I no longer believe the core message. The girl who wrote this believed that her body was not her responsibility. She made a joke about a body being like a kitchen appliance that you can replace when it malfunctions. Of course she knew this wasn’t physically possible with a human body (well…outside the realms of science fiction and things like organ transplants, neither of which really apply here). But her underlying belief was that her body wasn’t connected to her consciousness and that neither were really within her control. She didn’t take responsibility for enough of her choices regarding her health. She believed there was an inherent problem with her body, that it was faulty and therefore unable to be fixed.

But that was all in her head! I now know that my body is not faulty. I truly and deeply know this, it’s not even in the realm of belief anymore. My body is infinitely wise and tries in every way it knows how to get my attention. It knows what it needs and if I continue to ignore its whispers, its cries get louder and louder and much harder to ignore. That’s actually pretty much exactly what happened the year after I wrote this status. No longer did I have the whispers of ‘chronic fatigue’ and ‘recurrent tonsillitis’, but instead the shouts of whooping cough and thyroid cancer. Thankfully, the absolute awful illness that is whooping cough and the truly scary thing that is the big C shocked me into change. Slowly at first and then with increasing speed and accuracy.

There is no warranty and nor would I want one, these days. I don’t recall exactly what ailment I was suffering at the time I wrote that status, although my guess is it was yet another bout of tonsillitis. What I do know is that there were some very major health crises on the way so things were about to get worse before they got better.

The funny thing is, I did get the upgrade I asked for, just not in the way I wanted. I still have the same body (if you ignore the idea that all our cells regenerate and every 7 years we are a completely new being) but I have completely changed the way I think and feel about it. More importantly, I have taken responsibility for the way I interact with it on a daily basis. I am in no way perfect at it, but I really listen to the messages it is sending me now and I actually do a damn good job of heeding its warnings and following its instructions. I honour it and care for it because I love and care for it, truly, madly and deeply.

And that change in attitude, that newfound send of love and commitment, that total and complete transformation: that, ladies and gentleman, really IS all in your head!

Self-Care with Samuel L Jackson

Tonight it’s Friday night and I’m hanging out on the couch with my husband watching my favourite lifestyle tv and The Graham Norton Show. Tonight, Samuel L Jackson is on and he just gave some really excellent life advice. Warning: this advice comes with the usual Samuel L Jackson explicit language!

While discussing excessive Hollywood diets and ‘celebrity personal trainers’ he says:

“You know what you always tell trainers? “Motherf*cker, you work for ME!”

And I felt like cheering at the TV! This is EXACTLY the attitude more of us need to take in our lives, especially when it comes to our health. This is a lesson that it took me a long time (half a decade!) to learn, and in some cases learn the hard way. And since I realised that my doctor, coach and other practitioners work for me I have had such a different experience of not only my appointments but also my body and health altogether.

I often hear women frustrated that their doctor isn’t listening to them, that they are being dismissed and handed prescriptions that they don’t want. It isn’t just restricted to doctors but all types of practitioners that this happens with. I’m in no way anti-doctor, however I am against being a passive patient who hands over all control to the man or woman in a white coat. Or the psychologist, coach or counsellor whose office you walk out of feeling worse. Or the celebrity diet guru telling you that their meal plan and their meal plan only is what will work for you. Or, in Samuel L Jackson’s case, the personal trainer telling you to go harder when your body is saying no.

In a former life, this was me. I overtrained because I followed the advice of a well-intentioned PT giving advice to me that completely ignored the fact that I had chronic fatigue syndrome. I continued seeing a psychologist for a few sessions who, short of making me worse, certainly wasn’t helping me get better. And I spent an awful lot of my time in doctors offices having my symptoms dismissed and being given prescriptions for drugs or surgery which, if I had my time again, I’m not sure I would repeat.

It’s really only been in the last 18 months that I’ve truly started to stand up to practitioners when they are giving me advice that just does not sit right with me. Last year, in my gynaecologists office, I had to justify to her why I didn’t want to be on hormonal contraceptives anymore and why I wouldn’t let her perform an unnecessary and ‘maybe it will work, maybe it won’t’ procedure on my cervix. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It was so scary to speak up and say ‘Actually, no, I don’t want that. Maybe it works for many other people, but my instinct is telling me it isn’t right for me right now.’ Now, my gyno was a nice lady and I’m sure she meant well, but I’m also pretty sure that she felt she knew better than me what was right for my body. (Amazingly, the condition cleared up on its own when I went off the hormones, no scary cervix scarring needed. Funny that!) It was really, really hard to stick to my convictions when put on the spot by her, but I’m so glad I did.

Since then, I’ve been faced with a few more opportunities to stand up for myself with health professionals, and also with other kinds of people I’ve hired. And it has required a bit of a self-pep-talk each time and I always end up sounding way more tongue tied and far less articulate than I hope. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter because it’s MY body and MY choice how I take care of it. My agenda for my life and body may not always align with that of the practitioner or other person that I’m speaking to, and that’s ok.

So from now on in these situations my new mantra will be courtesy of Samuel L Jackson:

“Motherf*cker, you work for ME!”

How self-care and focus will help you reach your goals

Well, it’s February already. By now many people’s New Years Resolutions are faltering, if not completely forgotten. But not me! Not that I made specific ‘resolutions’ this year but I did spend a fair chunk of my time in January contemplating and planning the year ahead. I created a 2015 calendar overview, chose a ‘word of the year’ and decided on my core desired feelings for the year. And so far, 6 weeks into the year I’m happy to report that I’m doing better than I’ve ever been. So how have I managed this? I’m so glad you asked!

Firstly, I made it a priority. As many of you will know, the last 6 months have included a huge amount of change in my life. I have been through a huge amount of personal growth. I took up part time study on top of my day job, I began business building, I lost and then grieved for my beautiful cousin, I got engaged, my new fiancé and I bought and then moved into our own home, we had an engagement party, Christmas and New Year in the same fortnight, I completed the assessment for the first part of my course and we also planned the wedding. The majority of this all happened in the last 2 months of 2014. It made for a very stressful, expensive and busy time. I wasn’t on the blog much, because I just didn’t have time, and then in January when things settled down and I did have time I made a conscious decision to take some time out for me.

And I’m so glad I did. I was able to settle into our new home, spend some quality time with my fiancé and nurture my very tired body with quality food, movement and rest. I also found that giving myself some mental space suddenly made a lot of room for new and exciting ideas! It’s going to be a great 2015.

Strategies for success

So let’s talk strategies. In the past using a calendar and diary has always been part of my life. However, last year in particular I let it slip. I attempted to make the transition from paper to digital scheduling and it worked, initially. But I found it needed a great deal of daily maintenance to keep up to date, not to mention being constantly plugged in and connected, which is something that is fraught with distractions for me. Plus, I could never seem to get the ‘global’ view that I wanted and needed because there would always be a need to scroll or change pages or maximise/minimise the image in order to read it. So eventually I let it slip and my productivity and sense of ‘having-it-together’ slipped along with that. Reflecting on this I decided to make the change back to a hard copy diary and paper calendar this year as an experiment. Well, already I can tell you that it is a resounding success! Old-fashioned pencil-and-paper scheduling FTW! I’m sure I’ve talked before about how writing is a psycho-neuro-muscular activity so even the act of writing something down imprints it into my brain more than keying it into my phone. But I also get the global view of the day, week, month and year that I need to get perspective on how I will be spending my time. It is SO much better. I highly recommend it!

The next strategy is a ‘word of the year’. I’m pretty sure I got this from Liz Gilbert in her book ‘Eat, Pray Love’ but I also have recently heard Natalie Sisson of The Suitcase Entrepreneur using this strategy as well. So I chose my word: ‘quality’ (as opposed to quantity, which is something I’d been thinking about A LOT over the moving house process!). The quality over quantity sums up pretty much everything I want this year in a lot of areas: relationship, possessions, food, exercise, work, entertainment, reading…the list could go on forever! So my word for the year is quality. 

Then during a number of coaching sessions over the month of January the word ‘peace’ came up for me a lot. And I realised that peace is my core desired feeling for 2015. This concept comes from the book The Desire Map by Danielle La Porte. I haven’t finished reading it yet but what I have read so far I really resonate with. It’s something I’ve heard and read about quite a lot over the holiday period as I deepened and explored my coaching journey. So my core desired feeling this year is peace.

What you focus on is what you get.

The last strategy is really what has made all the others a success though, and what is giving me confidence that I really can and will achieve my goals in 2015. And that is simply frequent, consistent focus. One of my favourite success principles is ‘what you focus on is what you get’. And I really have been living that this year. Every day I have made a conscious effort to focus on what I want instead of what I don’t want, what I’m grateful for instead of what I feel I’m missing and what the next actions are in order to create the life I want. I haven’t put a lot of pressure on myself to do this. I haven’t beaten myself up if I miss a day. And I haven’t tried to completely overhaul my life in large, dramatic ways at once. Instead, I’ve focused on small actions that take me step by step towards what I want to do, have and be. And I’ve focused on them frequently and consistently. And now, 6 weeks in, I’m seeing and even more importantly I’m feeling the benefits.

Some of my daily actions are to have a green juice, do a 2 minute meditation, perform at least 1 act of personal self-care, a 10 minute tidy-up or de-clutter and 5 minutes of some kind of movement every day. I have also made sure I check my diary and review my lists of to-dos for the day, week and month if not every day then at least every other day. Some other daily strategies I’m now adding seeing as those seem to be under way fairly well include a 1 sentence journal, a conscious wind-down before bed and 5 minutes of stretching every day. I have signed up for yoga and am feeling immense benefits of even just 1 class a week (although if I can get to more then I do) and have been going for at least 1 big walk a week too. Exercise and I have had a checkered history so I’m taking baby steps here with my commitments. I’m also making sure I commit to weekly coaching sessions to keep me on track and to help me stay motivated. It’s also nice to be able to share the ‘wins’ with someone who is 100% in my corner and has no agenda other than to help me succeed.

Right now, I’m really feeling the snowball beginning to build as these good habits start to become more automatic and the benefits start to feel very real. This only makes me feel even more motivated to keep going. Don’t get me wrong, there have been times when I have gotten lazy or distracted and either intentionally or unintentionally not done some of these habits. And I feel worse because of it. So that is also helping me stay on track. It’s a great feeling and it all comes down to focusing on what I want and taking the time to implement the small self-care strategies to help me get there!

So how are you going with your resolutions? Did you make any? What do you want 2015 to be for you? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook, I’d love to hear from you. 

Self-care Spring and Body Boosting

So 2 months ago I wrote a post about my intention to make September all about self-care. I did that, and then checked out of the blog for a while, which was part of my process for managing all the things going on in my life and maintaining my equilibrium. But even though I wasn’t blogging, I was self-caring. And it has been going so well for me that I decided to extend the even to encompass all of Spring!

As part of this, two weekends ago I invested in myself and attended a workshop on the Sunshine Coast run by one of my favourite podcasters, Kim Morrison at her beautiful new Twenty8 premises. It was absolutely fabulous and I so enjoyed learning more about self-care from Kim, about nutrition from Sarah Clarke of Natural Earth Health Products, and connecting with the many like-minded people also in attendance.

I plan to do a review of all the things I learnt at this workshop in an upcoming blog, but tonight I just want to celebrate because I received my Twenty8 order in the mail today. I can’t believe how quickly it arrived! I only ordered on Wednesday night, and this morning there was a little post-office parcel slip in the mail box. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning unwrapping all my beautifully wrapped and scented gifts!

Beautiful Twenty8 Products

I am so happy and cannot wait to pamper myself with these beautiful self-care products. They are all natural and ethically produced, so I know I am not putting anything nasty onto my skin, which is very important to me right now. They smell absolutely divine, so it feels like such a treat just holding them and breathing the fragrances in. And the best part? They support me in my self-care journey and help me prioritise nurturing my body every day.

Kim Morrison developed these products and teaches people about self-care processes that help support them in their busy lives. One of these practices is called a daily body boost. Using a carrier oil and a couple of drops of essential oil (plus the magnesium spray if you are lucky enough to have some) the idea is that when you get out of the shower, you rub the deliciously scented oil all over your body while practicing good self talk and repeating positive affirmations. These can be about the mind, body or soul — whatever works best for you or whatever you most need to hear.

Kim says she hasn’t missed a day of body boosting in over 28 years, which is just amazing. I only started a few weeks ago and I have already missed a couple of days, but that’s ok. I have started and I have been doing it regularly and I LOVE it! Already I feel that it has helped me. So thank-you, Kim Morrison, for your wonderful products and beautiful example of how to take care of yourself. I plan to continue to body boost throughout this Self-Care Spring, and probably into Self-Care Summer as well!

Now over to you: what are you doing to support and nurture yourself during Self-Care Spring?

Start again and be grateful!

So, long time no blog posts. Again! Lately my blog has just been at the bottom of the to-do list once again. And this time, I’m not even going to think about mentally beating myself up for that. It’s cool. It’s what needed to happen. There has been A LOT of change in my life since the last post about self-care, and ironically part of my self-care routine this last 6 weeks has been to not stress about blogging and not put too much pressure on myself to progress in my coaching journey too quickly.

A brief update: I got engaged to my wonderful partner Stuart (yay!), started writing a music teaching book and this week we bought a house! On top of that, there has been holidays, work, study, wedding planning and some more health stuff going on. So it’s been quite busy and I haven’t been placing too much pressure on myself because I know that looking after myself, especially allowing time to rest and relax, is the most important thing and is what allows me to get all those other important and urgent jobs done.

This weekend has been pretty amazing and inspiring. I have been reading a lot, coaching and being coached, doing some big life planning with the love of my life about our future and some business planning with my bestie and business coach Maddi. Like I said, this week Stuart and I bought a house (ok, so we are in the process of finalising it…it hasn’t actually all happened yet, but we’re well on the way) and this has really forced us to sit down and get focused on our future in a more detailed way than ever before. We had our first ever formal ‘money date’ this morning, and it was wonderful. More on this in a future blog. Even more exciting is that yesterday Maddi and I began putting steps in place to make our podcast happen. Actually, we recorded two pilot episodes. These may never go to air, but it is the first step and we are both very excited about it. I will definitely keep you updated about this in weeks to come. Hopefully we will launch the podcast by Christmas! Exciting!

So I had been meaning to update the blog all week because there have been a lot of exciting learnings for me this month. What really kick started me getting back into it was a post I read this morning on Naomi Arnold’s site Project Healthy Happy Me. In light of the fun Maddi and I had yesterday recording our podcasts and talking about gratitude and with the encouragement I got from Naomi’s blog post, I decided to start again with my blogging routine and write a little list of all the things I am grateful for this week! 🙂 So here it is:

1. My wonderful fiancé Stuart. He lights up my life and I am so excited about our future together.

2. The knowledge I have. This includes self-knowledge as well as various content specific knowledge. Knowledge is power and it’s so great to acknowledge and feel the sense of empowerment that comes with all forms of knowledge, but especially self-knowledge.

3. Coaching! It’s related to point 2, but I am so grateful for the insights and empowerment I receive from having a coach (or 3!). Yesterday I had a coaching session as the client and it was just fantastic. One of my coaches, Vanessa from Three Sixty Coaching, has helped me feel so empowered and determined to create the life I want. It’s all happening and she has really helped me with it. I also love being a coach and paying it forward to help others create the life they want.

4. Still related, but access to information and resources is a huge gratitude item for me. There are so many incredibly knowledgable people out three. Some of them I am privileged to know and learn from directly, and some I only know indirectly and learn from through their products (books, blogs, podcasts etc). But either way, I love learning and I love having the access to info that the internet provides.

5. My super team of encouragers and inspirers. This primarily includes my sister Naomi and a number of girl friends, including Maddi. Like I said, she and I are about to launch a podcast about life and business and relationships and health and we are very excited. Maddi has two businesses, one as a business coach and consultant and a side project at Cheeky Whispers. Check her our, she’s rad 🙂

6. ABC DigJazz! We have had this playing in our house all morning and it is just so soothing and calming and a perfect back-drop to grown-up conversations about life, money and the future!

7. Flowers! There are fresh roses in a vase next to me that are just SO fragrant. I got them from our garden on Friday. Gorgeous! Jacarandas and silky oaks are in bloom here, as well as all the other beautiful spring blooms. So happy, so inspiring 🙂

8. A tidy house. I am so much more productive when my environment is un-cluttered. I feel like there is always more to do in the de-clutter area but a tidy house is enough for me for now 🙂 With an upcoming move I am sure we will again do the cull of our possessions, and I actually can’t wait!

9. A cool drink on a hot day. There’s a bit of a heat wave going on at the moment, and I am so grateful for the tinkling of ice in my glass that keeps my drink cool next to me. Such a simple thing but so refreshing 🙂

10. Being excited about the future. I feel so lucky to have so many things to look forward to in coming months, including moving into our very own home, getting married, going on a honeymoon, launching a podcast, publishing a book (probably self-published, but hey, it counts!) and continuing to learn and grow. I am very grateful for the great things coming up, and for the perspective that any challenges I’m currently dealing with are also opportunities to grow. Yay!

 

That’s it from me today, but watch this space for more frequent updates soon 🙂

 

Grace and peace, y’all!

 

Ellen x