Walk and Talk Therapy

walk and talk london therapy nature

Going outside is a proven feel good. Uncomplicated and forgiving.

What is Walking Therapy?  It’s therapy outside.  I often sit with my clients on a big tree trunk, shaded by a canopy of leaves.  Other times we just walk around the park and depending on the time of the year can grab a few blackberries on the way.  Therapy outside is all about you, but it’s making you feel better through talking, but also walking in a positive surrounding.   It helps with perspective so often and provides you with an introduction to doing the same, going for a walk – without your therapist.

So what’s behind it all?   Research from all over the world is showing that people who spend quality time in green space have fewer health complaints and live longer and that the green space itself is a stress buffer, helping people cope better with life’s adversity. Other studies have found that invisible chemicals (called phytoncides) in some trees can reduce stress hormones, lower anxiety and improve blood pressure and immunity.  It can also help us sleep deeper and actively help us to ‘sleep ourselves well’.

We all know instinctively that being outdoors provides us with the benefits of getting natural sunlight, which comes in the form of much needed vitamin D.  What we may not know is that being outdoors in the sunshine provides our system with a natural stabilisation of hormones especially melatonin levels –  a super healer and regulated of our system.  Unfortunately melatonin is what is destroyed when you spend a lot of time with the screen.

Taking of Tech, studies have shown that screen time is associated with increased fatigue, depression, anxiety, ADHD in children, and poor concentration.  Enter the Japanese researchers, who have found that people who lived closer to or near forests had significantly lower rates of lung, breast, uterine, prostate, kidney, and colon cancers.  The health improvements of walking in forests has even led them to open Forest Hospitals with astonishing recovery for the patients even needing less medication!  So wouldn’t it make sense to want a little of that?

What happens if you’re based in a city like London – not exactly the amazon.  Good news nature benefits us even if it comes in little urban pockets.  In fact in the city there’s even a greater need to connect outside and outside yourself. Walking, Talking – you feel not just good – but double good.

If you don’t have a park, it can be a river or the coast.  Walking and talking is beneficial, but do make sure you’re therapist has trained for walking and talking therapy and that they’re insured to do so.

Feedback:  I felt so much better after having met with Fiona outside as opposed to the usual therapy rooms. ( I was even able to  take my dog !)  It was empowering.

Another client combined both online and being in the park by talking to me on his phone, while I too was outside, he said, “It was such a great session, refreshing and afterwards I was really able to process surrounded by the trees and flowers in the park”. 

Finally: I loved my session outside, it was so relaxed and easier to talk there.  We sat in the shade on a really warm day, drinking water and chatting.  I felt really hopeful afterwards.  

Book in for a complimentary chat or walk and talk appointment here

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Note:  If you’re a therapist or coach and would like to learn how to integrate walking and talking into your practice we hold training sessions – ( outside, not online )  during the months of May-September.  More here.

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Biohack Sitting

Are you an Active Couch Potato?

Living a modern life for many means we’re spending increasing periods of time sitting.  Since 1960 the number of jobs that involves sedentary activity has increased by a massive 83%. That’s a whole lot of sitting!  What are the implications?

It was found that our athlete heroes are actually not necessarily better off than those of us who are partial to a bit of sofa love.  Dr. Richard Weiler,  who’s credentials include physician for a British premier league football club and Senior Sports Physician at the British Olympic Association, looked into what his footballers did off the pitch. What he found was surprising. About 80% off pitch time was spent in sedentary states.

I’m reminded of my favourite dystopian film Wall-e!

It turns out that just because we exercise, it doesn’t give us a pass to have a mega ass-rest.  Too much sitting is bad.  Just a few hours of sitting suppresses a gene that helps our cardiovascular system maintain a healthy aspect, and reduces the reparative inflammation that works our natural defence against injury.  Not good for a footballer, not good for us.   This gene specifically reacts to how are we spend our whole day. It reacts to our overall low intensity physical activity. A burst of exercise doesn’t seem to turn these identified genes back on.  

These genes are sensitive to sitting but not affected by exercise.

All it takes is over 2 hours of sitting and the gene suppression begins. If you spend about 7 hours a day sitting you need a solution!  This is where low intensity physical activity comes in. We’ve to start thinking about doing just a little bit of movement spread over our day rather than packing it all in at the end or at the beginning of our day.  When we do these intense exercise bursts we tend to think we’ve earned butt-time and crash on the couch – it’s called the ‘compensation effect’.   But the key is we’ve got to stay moving all day.   Micro moving!  This is good news for those who aren’t that fond of exercise.
Bonus: Moving also helps clear our mind, our productivity goes up and so does our processing.

Researchers discovered 70,000 deaths a year in the UK were linked to a lack of activity. Westfield Health surveyed 2,000 people for the NHS and found only 60 per cent knew inactivity was bad for their health, but sadly only 12 per cent thereafter took action to reduce the time they spent sitting down.

So what can we do?  
1) Start using a standing desk or if that’s too much a hybrid standing/sitting desk.  There’s treadmill desks too if you feel eager!
2) Set a reminder on your phone and get up to think on your feet.
3) Don’t send internal eMails – visit in person and deliver the information.
4) Take some stairs if it’s just a few floors to get somewhere.
5) Go for a walk in a local park at lunchtime.
6) When you are standing – be mindful of standing with your shoulders back. Balance.
7) No playstation sitting marathons for you ( or the kids! )

.. To be honest it’s fairly instinctive – but also quite personal to how you live your life.  Just give it some thought and know a little can make you healthier than a pro-footballer!  Who knew emptying the dishwasher could save your life!  ?

.. What can you do to Move a bit more throughout your day?  

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CBD with Therapy

CBD therapy in London.

As a specialist in Anxiety Solutions I am increasingly being asked both professionally and by friends just ‘What is CBD’?

We’re hearing so much about CBD these days, people talking like it’s magic, the wonder solution to all. Well it’s not. However people do use it as a food supplement much as people might Chamomile to sleep. Whether clinically proven or not they use it for anxiety, stress, insomnia, PTSD and some situations of ADD with their personal reports ranging along the spectrum of symptoms gone to an ease of feelings.

For my part I help many clients come off anti-depressants with talk therapy, but here too are people who claim great results with CBD supplementation.

CBD is a food supplement

My concern over these claims is: – that irrespective of whether someone is taking pharmaceuticals prescribed by a medical doctor or considering CBD – guidance, support and or therapy should always be included. For instance, I find it more than unacceptable that people are prescribed anti-depressants, without actually having the support of qualified talk therapy too. GPs are not qualified in psychotherapy. Ultimately taking an anti-depressant without identifying and supporting what’s actually wrong is just putting a plaster over the situation as opposed to helping someone, empowering that person to understand or cope. And it’s the same with CBD.

I’m in horror ? when I hear that people go to popular high street chains and expect the person who is working the till or managing the stock to be able to advise on CBD?  But people don’t even know what questions to ask or what to consider.  It’s a confusing area.

All in all. If you want to fix the electrics, get an electrician don’t DIY. All responsible psychotherapists have to undergo continuing professional development and learnings – and that is the case for my part too. So ask someone who knows.

Please contact me for a complimentary consultation.

If you are considering CBD the below are good questions to consider in your choice.  The products I use satisfies these.

1) Products grown outside in the sunshine,
2) Grown in organic soil,
3) Grown in Europe under licence
4) No GMO
5) No herbicides
6) No pesticides
7) Only brand qualifying for US prescription authorisation.

And know that the experience that one person has, may be different for others.

CBD isn’t classified as a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, it isn’t in the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 either. As long as no medical claims are made and it is clearly marketed as a food supplement, then it is legal to possess, buy and sell.

I am a psychotherapist, not a medical doctor consequently I am qualified to help with mental health.

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Ancestral Health: Why is it important

The future is here: self-driving cars, virtual assistants, and groundbreaking medical technologies—along with stubbornly high and growing rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, autoimmune disorders, allergies, asthma …

 

We’re living in a time of incredible innovation and advancement, yet we’re sicker and more overweight than ever before. Chronic disease has reached epidemic levels, and modern medicine can’t seem to halt its progression.
Our disease has essentially moved from outside of us – infectious diseases, to now coming from inside – chronic disease and it’s killing more of us than every before.


By following the blueprint for healthy living that our hunter–gatherer ancestors laid out for us so long ago, we can help stave off the long list of uniquely modern chronic conditions, stay naturally lean and fit, and age gracefully. 

Chronic disease may be our “new normal,” but it definitely isn’t our “normal normal.”

Paleontological and archaeological findings have gathered much evidence about our ancient’s health, but perhaps the best argument for us being mindful of this health is the fact that remaining hunter–gatherer societies—who live as closely as possible to the way our Paleolithic ancestors did hundreds of thousands of years ago—don’t generally suffer from the most common chronic conditions. For instance Type 2 diabetes is so rare among these and other contemporary hunter–gatherer populations that few reports looking into its prevalence even exist.

Mismatch: Why our Health Is so Different from our Ancestors’ Health

So what happened? How did the majority of us go from being naturally inclined toward health to being seemingly guaranteed at least one debilitating diagnosis in a lifetime?

In a word: mismatch—between our blueprint for living – our genes, physiology and biology on the one hand and the modern environment we’re living in on the other.

All organisms are adapted to survive and thrive in a particular environment. When that environment changes faster than the organism can adapt, mismatch occurs.

Our environment is almost unrecognizable from that of our ancestors, and we aren’t eating, moving, or resting like the hunter–gatherers that we still are, biologically. We know from hard evidence that this mismatch—pitting environment against biology—is the primary driver of chronic disease.

Some of the starkest examples of this include studies and observations of existing 21st century hunter–gatherers reporting that when they leave their villages and trade their traditional ways for a Western lifestyle, they develop diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular complications.

Our hunter–gatherer ancestors provided us with a blueprint for healthy living.

Eat Real, Nourishing, High-Quality Foods

The fastest way to recover your natural health is to return to a way of eating and living that more closely matches what your genes and biology are designed for.   We know, without a doubt, that hunter–gatherers did not consume refined sugar, flour, and seed oils, (or what is referred to as “the three horsemen of the apocalypse”) because they promote overeating and inflammation, which is at the root of all modern disease. The introduction of industrial food processing has had the most detrimental effect on our health of any other factor in the last few hundred years—and possibly in the entire history of humankind.

Move

Movement played a major role in daily life for hunter–gatherers. After all, they spent the majority of their time, well, hunting and gathering. They had to exert themselves, and often quite strenuously, to survive: our ancestors sprinted, jogged, climbed, carried, and jumped intermittently throughout the day, on top of walking an average of six miles and running one-half to one mile per day.

In other words, they didn’t sit all day like so many of us do. We spend endless hours working at computers, watching TV, and commuting by car. In fact, the typical city dweller is now sedentary for about 60 percent of his or her waking life and sits for an average of six or seven hours every day.  Sitting has been called the new smoking, and for good reason: it’s linked to heart disease, insulin resistance, cancer, and the list goes on. What’s more, research has found these same negative health outcomes in those who exercise but still spend the majority of their day seated.

Sleep More 

Conjure up an image of a hunter–gatherer, is he or she lounging lazily on a sofa? Although they were almost always on the move, these people relaxed, too. Our ancestors alternated strenuous and demanding days of physical activity with days of rest, an instinctual response that protected them from injury and fatigue.

Our modern lifestyle is a stark mismatch in this regard. We live in a culture that values productivity and activity above all else and is almost scornful of rest and relaxation. “Resting” for many people means browsing the internet or engaging with some other kind of sleep-sapping, artificial light-emitting electronic device that is anything but restful for the brain and the body. We’ve not only forgotten the value of rest—we’ve forgotten how to do it.

Sleep soundly, and for seven to eight hours a night. You can’t be healthy without adequate sleep.

Stress Less

Our ancestors experienced stress when fleeing a predator or out on a hunt. But, they punctuated these stressful times with moments of calm. We simply aren’t built for chronic stress, as evidenced by the immense amount of research illustrating that it wreaks total havoc on our bodies.

There’s no way to completely remove stress from your life, but you can avoid unnecessary stress by learning to say no to projects or commitments you can’t handle, staying away from people who get your blood boiling, and turning off the news (or at least limiting your exposure to it), as examples. To mitigate the harmful effects of the stressors you can’t avoid, try relaxation practices and techniques such as walking in nature, yoga, and calm breathing.

Prioritise pleasure. Dance, sing, listen to music. Be social, play with your pets, laugh with friends, love your family and spend time outdoors. Eat local and sleep.

Adapted by NatureSense from
Chris Kresser, M.S
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Nature Therapy: A Medical Perspective

Nature sense - medical perspective

Nature therapy is an, evidence-based field in medicine. It is defined as “the prescriptive, evidence-based use of natural settings and nature-based interventions”. Simply put, it’s about using nature to help us heal—and using scientific data to find those green prescriptions.

©John La Puma. Alternative and Complementary Therapies. Apr2019

When people think of nature therapy, they might think of it a simple call to “go outside more.” But the truth is there’s so much more to nature therapy than that. There are so many sub-disciplines within nature therapy that show the diverse range within the field: adventure therapy, animal-assisted or pet therapy, blue care, care farms, ecotherapy, forest bathing, green exercise, nature meditation, therapeutic horticulture, wilderness immersion, and more.

Because nature therapy is such a wide umbrella, the existing research in nature therapy and green medicine comes from all over the map, spanning disparate fields such as horticulture, interior design, architecture, forestry, wildlife management, auditory and color science, and herbal and botanical medicine. This interdisciplinary approach brings a huge amount of dimension and variety to the field.

In contrast to the US, Nature therapy is much more advanced in the UK, Australia, Japan, Korea, and much of northern and central Europe. Nature therapy is much more expansive, varied, and far-reaching than some might have originally perceived it to be.

Why do we need it?
There are innumerable (and scientifically documented!) ways that nature therapy is beneficial for our health.
Here’s one salient example: studies have shown that walking in natural settings, like a forest or park, has been linked to improved short-term memory, concentration, cortisol levels, natural killer cell number and activity, heart rate and blood pressure. Exercising in nature—in sight of and preferably near water or greenery—is more effective and therapeutic (not to mention less expensive!) than exercising indoors.

A recent Stanford study of nature therapy showed significantly reduced rumination after a 90-minute walk in nature compared to a 90-minute walk through an urban environment. In this same study, those who walked through nature for 30 minutes a day reported a decrease in negative thinking. Magnetic resonance imaging showed that the nature walkers had lower activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared to urban walkers.

Rumination, which is little discussed, but often searched for, is commonly seen in people with anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder. So by simply switching your morning run from a treadmill to your local park, you can multiply and diversify the kinds of benefits you’re getting, both physical and mental.
There are so many people with a wide variety of medical conditions who would benefit from nature therapy. People with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, insomnia, hypertension, and myopia have specifically been shown to benefit from time spent outside. The research continues to emerge in this area, showing benefits for physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: nature therapy has impacted improved postoperative recovery, birth outcomes, and pain control for patients; studies of community gardening have shown reduction in glycosylated hemoglobin in people with diabetes with no intervention other than growing vegetables; and gardeners have been shown to be less likely to develop dementia than non-gardeners.

How Nature Therapy can be undertaken?
Nature therapy’s mission is to prevent and improve various symptoms, clinical conditions, and general well-being for patients, and the field is dedicated to making these kinds of tools available to every family—regardless of their proximity to blue or green space. One of the most amazing things we’re learning from this research is that there are ways to get the health benefits from nature without actually immersing yourself in it, or exercising in it (although both are really fun!).

Whether it’s out of fear or lack of access, some people can’t get to the great outdoors—but bringing the great outdoors to them can have huge impacts. Even just putting up a poster of nature or looking out a window onto nature provides quantifiable health benefits. A pioneering study by psychologist Roger Ulrich studied patients with a view of a window and those without. Among 23 of the matched post-op patients, the ones with a view of nature from their bed had fewer complications, needed less medication, and left the hospital sooner compared to those staring at a brick wall.
Another way to get a dose of nature therapy from inside is to cultivate and care for your houseplants. And many of us have built-in animal therapy at home in the form of our beloved pets. So if you water your indoor plants and regularly cuddle with your cat or dog: guess what? You’re already engaging in nature therapy without even knowing it.

Why now?
So many forces are converging to give rise to the field of nature therapy, one of which is the personal, social, environmental, and financial consequences of the disconnection from nature that so many people are feeling these days. Both climate change and its accelerated pace, as well as to our relationship with technology, contribute to this growing disconnection.
Climate change affects more than just the climate; our obsession with personal technology contributes to our disconnection from nature; U.S. adults look at screens for 11 hours daily on average. These days, people stay inside nearly 22 hours a day; so many of us have little familiarity with nature and, even worse, are actually fearful of it and unsure how to adapt to it.

If we realise that the dual forces of global warming and overwork are separating us from our natural position as part of nature instead of apart from it, I believe we would be less likely to stand by and watch its plunder as it and we are threatened.

As extreme weather events become dizzyingly common, as the arctic shelf dwindles irrevocably, as politicians debate and argue over the Green New Deal, the question of how we can live differently for the health of our planet, our communities and ourselves is in the forefront of everyone’s mind. Nature therapy is just one answer to that question, empowering us to take ownership of healing ourselves—and perhaps, in the process, help heal each other.

Full Article Here

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Shining a light on our Mood

Here’s some of the QUESTIONS that people ask me in my practice?

  • Why don’t I have FOMO but JOMO?
  • I’m anxious but I just don’t know why.
  • I’m so tired – always, even after I just wake up.
  • Why can’t I get pregnant?
  • I can’t seem to think straight – everything’s foggy?
  • I want to come off my medications …

We all are touched by these questions every day, and every day we have to put them to the side (and where does that stuff even go?) The questions I’m asked in my practice have changed over the years.  I’m going to shine a light on what’s going on but also give you an insight into how we can live better, with less stress in our screen filled world and reduce that background hum of anxiety we do seem to carry.

With tech we’re like kids in a SWEET SHOP. We know deep down so much of it is bad for us, but we like the stuff and taking it away would be horrible! We’re at a stage where we think tech is the big solution – and we’re not that wrong – but we need to take stock and understand how to combine our digital delights effectively with our lifestyles in order to not get sick.

Much of what we learned in school is outdated – that we only use 5% of our brain the rest just junk -Mistake! The same with DNA the bits we didn’t understand we labeled Junk – Bigger Mistake! And up until recently we were increasingly we taking our arrogant ill-informed wisdom out on the SUN – it’s evil was the guideline for doctors! That is until very recently when the Nobel prize in science and medicine highlighted the importance of circadian biology. The rhythm of day and night.  The sun has got bad press.  But it’s one of the keys to our health and wellbeing.

SUPERCOMPUTER
How would you take it if I said Wifi has been around for – yep, billions of years. The receptors working on data transfer the speed of light with software powered by water and chemicals. That’s us and the sun!   Our Circadian Nobel prize winners discovered what the ancients long knew about the sun. That is’s vital.  Delving deeper into science it turns out, that our eyes do not just do the job of seeing but they run the supercomputer – in not just us but the whole planet – in every single living thing on it. Even in blind people – they still have the receptors to set our software in motion to set our master-clock.

STEPPING INSIDE
We used to live 90% outdoors, now we’re 90% indoors. We’ve lost connection with our WiFi system. Exacerbating the circadian disruption is that inside our bright world we’re further staring into lights – screens. LED and screen or blue light . With the full spectrum missing, the natural built in warning means it’s like you’re staring at the midday sun! Your body thinks it’s high noon – all day and into the night. This excess light time also disrupts our other clocks.  A fundamental one is our digestive clock – it seems as long as our eyes are open our mouth is open too! So not only is our sleep – our reparation time – disrupted so too is our eating cycle – we’re now averaging a span of about 15 hours of light time and eating time. We’ve got a biological mismatch of cogs and clocks.

ILLNESS
Without optimised circadian time keeping – the door opens to obesity, coronary and cancer diseases and emotional disruption – from our moods to our ability to think clearly.  Clocks and cogs keep things running smoothly.  In the way the world eventually agreed to a common clock that GMT is 00:00 meaning we can get flights, launch satellites and use servers globally.  But without which we have costly confusions like with the States who have all their dates backwards and have had to rework space programmes because they were using out of date measuring systems when everyone else is in metric. Having a master clock makes things work .. like clockwork.

OPTIMAL LIVING
Our new tech has not been designed to work with us, the more advanced biologic interface. We’ve got to give ourselves a break though. Mother Nature has had more than a few billion years to get to perfecting us. And she never left us the instruction manual … so how do we keep our sweeties, adjust and go forward. It’s no secret that doctors are overwhelmed and left behind – medicine is not helping as it did and for many it’s now even harming. Coupled with that in this digital age, we’ve also got the age of information, people have taken things into their own hands – it’s called Optimal living or Biohacking or if you don’t buy into the computer analogy it comes down to the same thing. How to live in Harmony with tech.

THE DARK
As with most great things – it starts in the bedroom! This is the only place you’ve got actual control of in your 24 hours of modern living. So it must in this modern age truly be a sanctuary so that you can become physically as well as emotionally resilient of your day. There are 100’s of daytime Biohacks optimising modern living that we could go into, but your bedroom triggering our repairing and sleep hormone, melatonin, must be the place you start.  And actually it’s the most simple.

First it’s the power of the dark that ultimately brings light into our life.   If you’re on your laptop close to bed time or staring at your phone until your turn off your LED light. Well you’ve just told your melatonin that it’s mid day. So it goes away till much later.  Or perhaps you ate close to bed time so your body has to work, not repair.  Basically what’s happening in these instances is that you’re just getting fat and sick at night.  Hack wise, bedrooms must be dark and ideally have red lights only or salt lamps. Think sexy. For that a midnight wee – ideally a night red light in the bathroom.

Learn to respect the bedroom. If you’ve children a red only light is the only light that doesn’t trigger the wake up cells. Red light at night. Parent’s delight!

Wifi – and charging your phone:  Don’t do it in the bedroom.  You’re just charging your head and stopping your hormone system working optimally.  You’re mismatching the code into the supercomputer.  It has to work overtime, you wake up tired.

LIVE LONG LIVE WELL
I’m about Anxiety and Workplace Wellness. I’ve only touched the iceberg of optimal living. It’s just one part of my practice, one that takes in understanding the environment that we’re in so we can be well longer physically and mentally. Thriving in a screen filled world. About respecting the supercomputer that we are. Understanding that we’ve moved far from Nature and that’s not good for us. Getting outside more with a good Circadian understanding and a dash of Biohacks are a fascinating growth area to balance this.

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Discovering the most advanced computer on Earth

ancestral living nature sense spain and london

We’re mammals that lived 90% of our life outdoors.  Now we’re over 90% indoors, “So what!”  we shout from our Alexa managed, central heating life, while drinking a diet soda from our internet synced fridge.

I lived the dream. Wide open beaches, hanging with my family and friends watching the sunset.  I went for three months – came back after 7 years! On returning, most people didn’t focus on why I went away or what it was like. It was always why did you come back?

Was it a gut instinct. Or perhaps just that seven year cycle of change.  Who knows for sure but coming back was, I thought, the end of my practice – Nature Sense, but it was only just the beginning.

Life there was pretty good.  On driving back home to my small fishing village, the continent and mountains of Africa to my right would rise and the grounded expanse of the beach lay in front to welcome.  It was away from the more formal setting of my clinic in Gibraltar that I developed NatureSense.  I’d see my clients – in the hills or on the beach.

Nature is just laden with metaphor where interpretation is oftentimes just not necessary.  Change for many just happened – and for many it was easier.  Plus there was just a connection to something greater.  When you sit on a sand dune with the Mediterranean to one side and the Atlantic gazing out across the strait – knowing that in times past there happened the world’s most amazing waterfall,  bursting the banks of the ocean to create the sea.  It’s then you know without words there’s a whole ton of stuff that’s so much bigger than you are.  It shifts you. You actually realise what the word ‘awesome’ is and it’s a million miles from describing the latest Marvel comic release.  It’s something you feel.

How did that fit into London?  At first it didn’t – returning back seeing clients – I was working with a new puzzle.  So much more anxiety than I’d been used to, so much more medicated depression and worse, loneliness with all the stresses.  People I’d seen before leaving the city were stressed because of something identifiable.  But here, now – it was like I had to become an Anxiety Whisperer – to decipher and explain that anxiety was a friend not a foe -that it was trying to deliver a message.  But one that was getting blocked.

I was finding I  had to get people to reacquaint themselves with themselves they’d been on anti depressants for so long that they didn’t really know how to react. I had to convince people that anxiety did have a reason.  That it was OK to feel it not fear it.

It was hard – so I had to dig deeper into the story, I had to look into the darkness of the city to find out what on earth was making the experience of this wonderful city so hellish, for so many.

On one of my early morning walks with the dog -( my therapist!) – I realised that I was dealing with people who were quite simply not just disconnected from each other – but from their fundamentals.  Sure they were having trouble with their rent, were going through break ups, wanted to talk at meetings but found it scary .. but the thread went deeper.  They carried something with them – I first thought it was just being too busy, but that was not really fully the answer. Perhaps it was social media, again not really the answer and eventually I realised it was because they were disconnected from life. There was a wire disconnected in their plugged in world.  With a fundamental missing they were working with only half the power.  Resilience was missing, emotional intelligence neglected over academic pursuit, eating shit food, Netflicking their nights and weekends away but still being tired … and never ever going for a walk.  A simply but fundamental to living well.  Or to coin the phrase that is now so often used, but so little understood – wellbeing.

If it was as simple as going for a walk – wouldn’t we all do it.  Well no!  As it’s not so sexy, it’s way too old fashioned, and besides how advanced is walking?  We have smart phones now, we’re totally dominating whatever is to be dominated.  We have an app for everything so walking?  Seriously!

I had to agree – so I knew I had to go deeper.  And that’s how I  discovered the most advanced biological computer –  us – and how to hack it.

NEXT
Shining a light on our mood

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Why Going Outside is Good for You

Going outside is good for you

Time outdoors can do wonders for our mental health, but we often neglect to fit it into our day. Green therapy helps us to feel connected and embrace uncertainty, says positive psychologist and therapist   Fiona Austin

being outside is good for you

Eco therapy, Green therapy, Biophilia… there are so many words to describe the oldest therapy in existence.

With the increase of technology in our lives and the exponential surge in pace, it is no mystery that there’s a corresponding acceleration in anxiety and depression. Bizarrely many are looking away from the obvious natural solution to balance this: Prescribing on one hand even more technology, in the form of apps and CBT bots and on the other hand, even more medication. In reality a complementary answer lies on our doorstep. Simply being outside. This is not new, there’s more supportive data on the efficacy of going outside for health, than we know what to do with.

It used to be that a child that was different was one one that stayed in doors, while the others played outside. Now it’s the other way around. In the past, on weekends many of our parents made room for a walk. Now, it seems people have lost the art of a healthy use of free time. The pursuit of joy is dying with the attention demands of a plugged in life. People opting to just veg and box binge. The fact is, is when we experience a challenge, a change of scenery or pace we become exhilarated and that effort results in positive energy. Sofa surfing drains us, but just walking by the water can be energising! We’re growing apart from what balances us naturally.

too much TvAs a specialist in anxiety, many people that I see suffer from an undefined hum of dis-ease, stopping them going out or being socially present, or worse just not following their desires. Then follows a type of depression or hopelessness. In my therapeutic programme called Nature Sense – my clients explore a gentle way to reduce their stress, their issues. It’s essentially about developing our innate common sense, the sense that has never let us down and got us through many a millennia to where we are now.

Has nature become an inconvenient place where there’s nowhere to charge our phone? I’m no luddite, but personal technology seems a bit like alcohol, a little can be nice but too much and then we’re in an abyss. There’s a notion that squashing our natural side, our flow is better because we believe, to be in control of nature makes us somehow stronger. Prescriptions that include experiencing nature through a VR headset along with a vitamin D supplement is touted as better than actually smelling and feeling it. But it’s Vitamin N for Nature that we need.

Just because we think we can control the environment doesn’t mean that solution is more effective. On the contrary, it’s the unpredictability of nature that increases our confidence. It’s the patterns that shadows cast that trigger our creativity. It’s the wonder of the smells and sights that take us from our problems, into the moment where we meditate without even knowing how. We’re mindful and suddenly we’re happier.

One of the things I do with my clients in our Walk and Talk sessions is just walking randomly. We don’t stay on a path, we explore – and this is in central London, not some big forest. Simply the metaphor of going off the path can be harnessed to leading into exploring your dreams of what you’d like for your life, if you strayed off the path. Possibilities seem more tangible when you work outside.

It’s been reported to me by clients that normally when they see a therapist, there’s at times a silence but when this silence happens in a walk and talk session, it’s accompanied by the sound of birds, the rustle of trees – they’ve said “it feels easier”. “It’s a gentler therapy, more powerful.”

Of course there’s screentime – we clutch on to our phones in social situations blocking us from connecting. With nature therapy it’s phone down face up. It’s teaching you to connect with confidence and know that the answer to your life is not within the phone, but within the ability to give yourself space to think. It’s mindfulness without the app!

It’s not just my clients, I also teach therapists and coaches irrespective of their school of thought or background. Teaching other therapists is important in a bigger sense too. If we don’t value being outside, who’s going to save it for us. We are the stewards of this fragile earth. It’s important we show how valuable being outside is otherwise the green spaces we have around us, will just turn into car parks. So I teach therapists how to safely and responsibly harness the power of the outside for their clients and for us all.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in a city, the countryside or by the sea, client or therapist – learning to bring the outside within – to heal – is the most wonderful gift. It’s about going outside to heal inside.

After all, the the first lady of therapy is Mother Nature herself, it’s time we let her guide us!

This article originally  appeared in Welldoing.org

Fiona Austin is the lead therapist in BMCC:  Body Mind Therapy Practice.  Where mental health is something that’s integral to your lifestyle.

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Channelling our inner Squirrel ?

Seasonal affective disorder nature Sense

.. or are you more a bear?

Understanding SAD:  Seasonal Affective Disorder.

With the nights getting longer, some of us are truly affected. Understanding that this is just our inner mammal getting ready for hibernation can go a long way to turning around what is for some an extremely debilitating feeling.

It’s a fact that when summer is behind us and autumn rolls in, GP’s start to get themselves ready for the increase in seasonal blues at their surgery. Correspondingly, in the office, managers and HR departments receive an increase in sick notes with the nebulous ‘low mood’ listed as the reason for absence. In medical literature this is known as SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Symptoms of what is medically classified as a mild to moderate depression do include feeling sad but also can include a general lowered mood, anxiety, lethargy, social withdrawal, decreased libido, increased appetite and at its darkest, literally and figuratively, hopelessness.

There’s a widespread misunderstanding that simply clinically observing a sequence of patterns is sufficient enough to conclude there is “something wrong with us”. Then with our feelings named into a disorder, we oftentimes take ourselves off to the GP, who due to time, resources, process never mind a lack of psychological and dietary training – often resort to medication. Increasingly for talk therapists we see people prescribed antidepressants who don’t realise that once you get on that train, there’s no easy way to step off. Antidepressants themselves are definitely not seasonal!

When we understand that our seasonal reaction is normal, our anxiety can dissipate. This in turn can open the door to us using this time for – not just our mental and physical improvement – but also our productivity. Knowing these patterns are actually quite normal and may not need medicating, but just self awareness and informed understanding, can really help.

It’s important before we all press through that shinny foil for perceived winter happiness that we consider a number of aspects. First and in its basic form, we need to both deal with and accept that summers end and that can feel pretty grim in itself. It’s OK to feel this, but better to understand the feeling and give it a more appropriate name. Recharge could be one. Taking a more business perspective it could be considered a good time to capitalise, yes, put our heads down but instead to be more productive while it’s there!  Building on this is the inescapable fact that we are actually still mammals, (maybe if a squirrel doesn’t fit your style, what about a bear!) This decrease in our upbeat flip-flop feeling is evolutionarily appropriate. In the not so distant past, winter was a time that food was scarce, the days shorter and colder, so a little extra cosy in the cave feeling, was appropriate. Electric lights and falsely longer days have had a deleterious effect on us. Our body’s evolution took millions of years, relatively new inventions do not mean we have fully physiologically adapted. Hence our body influencing our feelings.

Obviously there are people with SAD that are actually much more than just sad and who are deeply affected. First thing to check – and is normally not part of a doctor’s remit – is our Vitamin D. This is especially relevant to people of colour where Vitamin D insufficiency is more prevalent due to the differing melanin absorption. That said, the more pasty of us do also need this this sunlight boost so as to metabolise effectively and for our cells to function. Light it is said by many is as important as food! This brings us to diet. In the summer, we’re not just outside more but we’re also eating in a different manner. Diet must be considered but again is not part of a doctor’s main training. Let’s just say, takeaway pizza with a side of doughnuts washed down with a coke are not really going to help with your mood. Our nutritional considerations are closely followed by the big one – exercise. Our body including our organs were not designed to be placed quite so much on the softest purchase from Sofaland or propped up in the latest ergonomic chair. It’s all still sitting! We need to get up more. Thankfully, unlike in the US, British and European doctors ‘prescribe’ exercise as a first-line treatment for depression. So get out there! (Even squirrels leave their tree in winter.) Apart from the benefits of movement in itself, exercise positively impacts dopamine and serotonin. The very same chemicals that antidepressants aim to manage. There are innumerable studies that detail regular aerobic exercise is as effective as antidepressants in reducing symptoms of mild to moderate depression. Unfortunately traditional psychiatry lags far behind psychotherapists and health coaches in terms of treatment considerations, preferring medication prior to talking! Not a way forward. Talk therapy is by far the most beneficial route for seasonal blues and may need a minimal of visits to reframe ‘low mood’. Further, if coupled with any of the above insights correctly applied, can make a world of long lasting difference.

Alas, popping a pill and watching Netflix, seems so much more inviting to many! We must realise that the impact of taking antidepressants along with staying indoors even more, is simply not a way forward for our health and longevity. There’s so much you can do before medicating away the winter.  We are programmed to have SAD – so let’s start calling it out for what it is as opposed to a named cluster of symptoms. What about squirrelling? Maybe not – but let’s at least talk about it and learn. There’s nothing wrong with having season blues. It is very well treated with talk therapy and can be the key to living an incredible winter, as opposed to one that disempowers.


Fiona Austin is a positive psychologist and optimal health coach practicing in London, online and in the workplace.

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Nature Therapy Recommended Reading

naturesense reading list for nature therapy and forest therapy

This is an ever expanding list.  
Please do send me your favourite suggestions

 

Book Worm in the House

Richard Louv
Last Child in the Woods
Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life,
The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age

Dr. Qing Li
Shinrin-Yoku: The art and Science of Forest-Bathing.  How trees can help you find health and happiness.

C.G. Arvay
The Biophilia Effect:  A scientific and spiritual exploration of the healing bond between humans and nature.

Ober / Zucker
Earthing.  Introducing you to tapping into the power of the earth, just by taking off your shoes!

Jorn Viumdal
Skogluft (Forest Air) The Norwegian Secret to Bringing the Right Plants Indoors to Improve Your Health and Happiness

Linda Buzzell
Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind

Theodore Roszak
Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth/Healing the Mind

Claire Cooper Marcus, Naomi Sachs
Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces

Wallace Nichols
Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do

John Ratey
Go Wild: Eat Fat, Run Free, Be Social, and Follow Evolution’s Other Rules for Total Health and Well-being

C.G.Jung
The Earth Has a Soul: C.G.Jung’s Writings on Nature, Technology and Modern Life

Eva Selhub, Alan Logan
Your Brain on Nature

Daniel Winterbottom, Amy Wagenfield
Therapeutic Gardens: Design for Healing Spaces

Peter Wohlleben
The Hidden Life of Trees

C Mc Dougall
Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe and Ultra Runners:
Great for the anthropology and how we were literally born to run.  Barefooting it!  You do not have to like running to find this not just a fascinating read but it’s fun at the same time!

UK charity ‘Mind’ on Ecotherapy

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