Less Stress, More Ease

This is very different for animals. Every day they face finding food and shelter to survive or being eaten by a bigger and more powerful animal. Once they escape from the lion or tiger they can rest and recover until the next chase. 

Sadly, for us humans, we tend to remain in this heightened state of fear and worry even after we’ve survived or overcome a challenge. We ruminate on ‘what if’ and ‘what might happen’.  This eats into the time we could be spending building supportive relationships or looking after our health and wellbeing. 

We humans are designed to face short-term stressors. Our ancestors had solvable and urgent survival goals – build a shelter, find food, find water, and connect with your family/community.  When they failed to achieve these then they did not survive for very long.

Modern life has evolved beyond this simplistic model. With modern technology we believe ourselves to be so much more sophisticated than our ancestors. 

We are connected to everyone online and sometimes disconnected from the people in our lives and the communities where we live. Loneliness is prevalent amongst all age groups.  We invite stress when we compare ourselves to people we see on social media, even though we have nothing in common with them.

Everyday we’re bombarded with news of suffering, divisions and greed in different parts of the world, and closer to home. This feeling of powerlessness can add to our feelings of stress. 

We have access to vast amounts of data, yet we make poor decisions. 

Photo by Shirley Anstis; Waterfall to symbolically wash away the stresses of life

For example, we know water is good for the body yet that is often the last thing we drink. We know that healthy food keeps us well, yet we make unhealthy choices regularly. There have been an increasing number of studies linking diet to gut health to mental health which means what we eat can affect our mood and thinking ability.

The truth is stress can be debilitating or it can be a motivator by helping us to do better.  The first step is to recognise who or what is causing you stress and begin to take steps to reduce the impact of this. At the same time build your capabilities so that you can tap into your resilience when facing a stressful situation.

Recognise that some things are in you power to control and those things you can begin to resolve. Other stressors may be within your power to influence, and you will need to work collaboratively, with others, to find a solution. And finally, there are stressful things in the world that we do not have the power to solve yet we can choose to be a positive light in our corner of the world.  You are welcome to contact me for holistic counselling or coaching here

So, what can you do to tackle your level of stress?

Pay attention to your body and when you feel stress – who or what increases stress in your life?

Once you become aware and notice then you can try to pre-empt these influences and become proactive instead of reactive.

For example, could you introduce clearer boundaries for yourself and others so that you agree to demands that are realistic for you?

Are there people in your life who you love and care for, but you feel stressed in their presence? Is there anything you can do about that?

As well as noticing what increases stress in your life you can also review what practices reduces the experience of stress for you.

A few ideas to improve your resilience and reduce the impact of stress on your life:

  • Regular exercise, movement or dancing
  • Spending more time in nature
  • Better quality sleep
  • Music and other sounds
  • Developing more authentic friendships and not just contacts
  • Having a creative outlet such as baking, journalling, knitting, colouring, painting 
  • More presence, less multi-tasking
  • Inviting in more positive people and spaces
  • Doing therapy to work through past or present pain and trauma.
  • Trying one or more of mindfulness, meditation and prayer
  • Working on your mindset, patience, resilience
  • Finding a purpose bigger than yourself that nudges you forward. 

Hopefully by becoming more aware of your stressors and increasing your ability to be resilient you will find it less difficult to cope with the many surprises life throws your way. The pace of change will continue, so it is about finding solid ground to stand on. 

Do sign up for my newsletter here to keep connected. Continue to develop good habits and begin to trust yourself.  Let’s truly embody our individuality and do less of the comparing and competing.  Wishing you less stress and more peace.

Therapeutic reflections on The Interview

So often we see and hear what we’re looking for rather than what is real. In his much talked about interview, Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, shows the profound impact that therapy can have on an individual who is ready to look back on their life and make choices about their future. As I reflect on this, I can see four areas that affect all of us, regardless of our background.


Who we are on the inside and how others perceive us is not the same thing. This might be true in the family, in the workplace and numerous other groupings. We already know this about celebrities and political leaders. This fine if you are marketing a particular persona for your brand image but it is quite a different and more painful thing if others are deliberately spreading inaccurate information about you. None of us would like that. Especially if it’s done on a global scale and they get paid to do it. Connecting to and appreciating our own story gives us a deepening sense of our own self, autonomy and resilience.

Therapy helps us to take an honest look at ourselves, who we have been and how we want to show up in the world. Many of us become more self-aware as we get older. This could lead to self-acceptance and a desire to continue growing and learning. For others it may be an excuse and explanation for all that happens to them, abdicating the potential for choice and growth.

The potential for transformation

This new self-awareness could lead to lasting transformation. We do not need to continue to be who we have been. We’re often drawn to stories of great transformation. I know that is particularly true in religious circles, when a former criminal finds faith and the put all their energy into helping others to turn away from crime. There could be the unhealthy person who then becomes an advocate for a healthy lifestyle. But transformation does not need to be so drastic to be worthwhile. We love those fully packaged make-over stories but forget that we can do this for ourselves, from the inside out.

Personality and birth order

Personality and birth order affects our experiences in our family of birth. We know this is true in our family but often forget this is true for other people too. The experiences of the eldest, the youngest, the middle and only children are all different. The state of the relationship when you are born may be different to what your siblings experienced. I know with my siblings, with differing age gaps, we have memories of our parents at different ages. For example, parents who are newly-weds are not the same parents when child number four comes along.

In Prince Harry’s case, and this is somewhat obvious but important, he is the only one of his father’s children not to be an heir. The Queen had 4 children so 3 of them shared that experience of not being the heir. The Cambridges have 3 children so 2 of them will be able to share that experience. But Prince Harry is one of two. Every day, every mealtime, every holiday, being reminded that you are not the chosen one and there is nothing you can do about it for the rest of your life.

Living our values

Becoming aware of our values can be very empowering. If we decide that truth is a value we hold dear then we will tell the truth regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us feel. There might be a lot to lose by telling the truth so it can take a lot of courage.  Families sometimes encourage us to keep secrets to avoid shame and guilt. This is particularly true in families where there is abuse.  Some families will believe the child and report the abuser. Other families will accuse the child of lying and leave them unprotected.  In those spaces where people are believed and therapy is sought, healing and forgiveness can happen. For those who are trapped and not believed, the wound is deeper, and healing can take a lifetime.

We can all become more self-aware, begin to live to the values we hold and remember that other people may be going through a lot internally. Childhood, adolescence, adulthood and ageing are all difficult in different ways.  We live forward and reflect after.  We are all a work-in-progress, and we can’t tell anyone else how to live their one precious life.

Candice and Nikesh discuss their latest books

Candice Brathwaite and Nikesh Shukla at Henley Literature Festival 2021

Candice and Nikesh were interviewed by Leah Boleto who did an excellent job at connecting and differentiating the authors as they shared their unique and yet related journeys.

The audience got to hear from the authors on what is important to them and the inspiration behind their books. Candice‘s book is called ‘Sista Sister, notes on things I’ve learned the hard way, so you don’t have to’. Nikesh’s book is called ‘Brown Baby: A Memoir of Race, Family and Home.

Candice wanted to write a book that would have been welcomed by her younger self. She speaks of Sista Sister as a coming-of-age book that centres identity and personal development. Looking back at some of the episodes recounted in the book she is still shocked at what we can put ourselves through to attain some arbitrary concept of beauty. Now at 33, with age and hindsight, she is confident in who she is. She remembers too that before Black Lives Matter (BLM) her book was rejected several times but now people are interested in stories centring a variety of women. Her main aim is for someone like the younger her to see “my life now and know that they can have such a life and that they are deserving.”

Nikesh had followed two comedy books with The Good Immigrant. It came out in 2016 and was very successful. He shares that he hadn’t realised what it would be like to tour the country and some of the world talking about race in a post- Brexit post-Trump world. “It messed with my head,” he says.  He then became a parent and wrote an article trying to explore his daughter’s response to her dolls; she ignored the white one but continuously hid the brown one. In exploring that he stumbled upon the question that is at the centre of his book –

“How do we raise our kids to be joyful in a world that feels bleak that I feel so angry about?”

Both books touch on parenthood as the parent and as the child. Having moved out of London Candice is aware of the different ways this might affect her daughter. When her preschool child experienced racism from another child she began to look for solutions and this led her to paying for public school. Whilst that was the best option for her child, she was now working through her sense of privilege that she can afford to do that, whilst many others did not have that option.

Nikesh started writing the book as a parent but as he looked forward to raising his daughter, he kept remembering his mother. She passed away when his first novel came out, so he kept busy and avoided dealing with it. With the birth of his first child the memories of his mother brought his grief to the fore. He wanted to connect to his mother’s wisdom but in reconnecting to all of that he would have to say goodbye to her again. He wanted to capture her on the page. The writing took him to a dark place but there was a sense of lightness once the book was done. Now 10 years after his mum’s death he is reimagining a life without her.

For Candice there was grief too.  Her father died whilst she lived in Italy some years ago. Despite being an only child, she was not given the opportunity to clear out her father’s house and does not know where his ashes are. She admits to feeling orphaned and accept that she may never get closure.  She has a vivid memory of seeing him in the funeral parlour and how awful they made him look. In random moments she thinks she’ll set up a funeral parlour herself so no one else will be left with such an unsettling image of their loved one.

After he moved to Bristol, Nikesh spent some time commuting to London and staying in his childhood bedroom. He was able to clear out his mother’s stuff. In clearing out the family home he came across one of his mother’s Tupperware dishes in the freezer. As he heated up the meal it smelt like her kitchen and her food. Turning on the radio to her favourite station made it ‘a magical thing.’.  It also made it clear to him that he needed to start cooking this food that he grew up on.

He is now building a life in Bristol, getting to know the community and engaging with important conversations. More recently in talking about the Colston statue his kids found out about the Bristol bus boycott. They wanted him to explain what racism was and he went from trying to explain it to them, to just seeing the world through their eyes.

Candice shared the negativity she can receive from being the first to do many things. She admits to being delusional but explains that is the only way she could aim and believe in the possibility of the life she has now. She felt she needed that extra belief and manifestation was that for her.

Both authors spoke to the challenge to create in the modern age and the distraction of social media. They suggest that it is not possible to do their best work if they are tied up in conversations online.  Some advice for us creatives is to give the brain space and take time to sit with complicated feelings. Candice quoted a friend’s mother “silence can never be misquoted.” Nikesh quoted Michaela Coel who said that it’s okay to disappear for a while and see what comes in the silence. He has been taking walks and seeing what comes. As Candice reiterated, it is about living in alignment with ourselves and knowing “I am deserving of a good life.”

Shirley Anstis

Author of Black British Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, 22 Stories of Passion, Achievement and Success

A Life Well Lived

I’ve been thinking about writing something on death for some time now. Our shared global pandemic has made us all confront our own mortality and deal with the loss of people we know and people we don’t know. 

HRH the Duke of Edinburgh and Her Majesty The Queen

The death of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip, has given us an opportunity to reflect on what a full life in the public glare could look like.  I guess it is about bringing to life those things that matter to us, regardless of public opinion. In his case it was about looking after the natural world and conservation, becoming one of the founding members of the World Wildlife fund (now WWF) in 1961. Through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, he will continue to transform the lives of young people from all backgrounds across the world. What might it be for you and me?

Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet in Blackbird

I’ve recently watched two moving films which also centred a life well lived. In the first, Blackbird, Susan Sarandon plays a mother dying from a terminal illness. As death comes closer, she gathers her husband, best friend, children, their partners and her grandchildren together for a final weekend.  It makes me wonder who in my life I would want to be with me if I knew it was my final weekend of life. I choose to leave that hanging, knowing that if that did happen, I would intuitively know what to do. What’s interesting in the film is that all the projections, assumptions and unfinished arguments gets addressed. It’s like there is no place to run to. We’re so good at putting off arguments or sidestepping issues but what if there is no next time for those conversations?  

Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall in The Judge

The other film is The Judge with Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall. Here we have a father and son who both love the law and are great at it. The father chooses public service as a judge and the son chooses to become rich by defending wealthy criminals. When the matriarch in the family dies the son returns home for her funeral.  In some ways the father and son are strangers to each other, having not seen each other for more than a decade. In other ways the matriarch was the glue that passed information about one to the other  so that they knew of each other’s lives.  

The whole process of trying to grieve, reconnecting to who they were when they last saw each other, and finding who they are now, is very awkward and uncomfortable. Everyone in the film has experienced hurt and disappointment, as only family can do. Gradually the son realises that his father is terminally ill, and this may be affecting his judgement and memory. Can this proud father allow the prodigal son to look out for and look after him? Does this angry son care enough to put his big city career on hold and be there for his weakened father? We watch them tousle with each other emotionally before reconnecting to their bond.  Eventually, just before he dies, the father says how proud he is of his son. 

I’m not sure what to take from any of these stories. Perhaps it is about being true to ourselves and what matters to us.  It is also about having those difficult conversations before time runs out. My parents have both passed away. As a counsellor I knew the importance of trying to have those meaningful conversations with parents. I tried to have those conversations with both of them and was probably more successful with my mum.  My dad was experiencing some memory loss near the end of his life so looking back was confusing for him. 

We don’t know what the future holds and how much time we have left. Just thinking of that is difficult but yet it makes me so grateful for life and health. It’s such a gift and a blessing. How can I show up in my life and in my relationships? It’s something we all need to engage with. Let me know if any of this resonates with you. Stay well. 

One Year On

A day to reflect on a year in lockdown

Today marks one year since our first lockdown in the UK.  We’re being encouraged to pause and reflect on a challenging year, so many have become ill or have died: lost livelihoods and lost lives. There has been a lot of suffering.

I’ve found it very hard to think of the year as just one year – it feels like we’ve had about 3 years in the past 12 months. So much has changed – our family meet-ups, our work, our schools and places of learning, our socialising, our communities, our places of worship, celebrations, entertainment, exercise, holidays. There are many others. Thankfully we continued to have school support otherwise this blog would be very different.

I’ve missed family gatherings, social spaces, entertainment, restaurants and foreign holidays but I’ve also appreciated the quiet spaces and calmer existence. I imagine that this enforced social distancing has been much harder for extroverts. I enjoy walks in nature and given that this was all that was allowed we had to discover new walking areas near where we live. We were able to sneak in a staycation or two in Wales and Cornwall in 2020 so that helped tremendously.  Time by the see can be very soothing as we imagine the sea washing away our worries. Have you found a way to make regular walks or exercise interesting for you?

I realise that I’ve got through this time by being incredibly busy and maintaining two online women’s circles; one weekly and one monthly. These connections existed pre covid-19 and have been invaluable.  I will be hosting more circles for women coming out of lockdown as we try to reconnect with ourselves and each other. Sign up to the blog to find out when these go live.

The continuous conversations about illness and death have made me want to make the most of the time I still have. In 2020 I threw myself into writing courses and completed my third book. I was able to offer a few writing workshops, and these brought as much pleasure to me as the participants. I had offered these face-to-face before 2020 and was pleased to be able to take them online.  I’m forever grateful that work and family life have remained stable, and I was able to transition my counselling practice online. Like many home-based workers I’ve found it hard to maintain good eating and exercise habits and this needs to be a focus going forward. This has been my way of coping, but I’d love to know what has kept you going?