The benefits of forest bathing

What is the main similarity between sushi and forest bathing?

They are both imports from Japan!

When sushi first arrived on the shores of the UK there was much scepticism about the food. But look at how it has taken off. Perhaps forest bathing will go the same way.

What is forest bathing?

Many people might think forest bathing is something to do with swimming in a river that flows through a forest. In fact, it has nothing to do with swimming, nor bathing. Instead, it is all about using your senses to soak up the atmosphere of a forest.

Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Surprisingly, it is also one of the most heavily forested countries too. In the 1980s, The Japanese government, concerned about high stress levels, carried out research that found a two-hour forest-bathing session reduced blood pressure and lowered cortisol levels. Cortisol spikes during periods of stress and although we need this steroid, continual high levels can be detrimental to our wellbeing.

Trees release phytoncides, which are antimicrobials. These help to protect them from insects and bacteria. The research in Japan concluded that phytoncides could have an anti-microbial effect on humans. In Japan, forest bathing, known as shinrin-yoku, was introduced as a national health programme.

More recently, the Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences at Japan’s Chiba University, measured physiological effects of 280 people. Blood pressure, cortisol levels and pulse rates were measured during a day in the city and then compared with the same biometrics taken during an hour in a forest. The study found that forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol and greater parasympathetic nerve activity, which is associated with stress reduction.

Scepticism

Yes, I was definitely sceptical when I first read all this stuff about tree-hugging. And then I thought, why not give it a go. I started researching shinrin-yoku a few years ago and I am now fully hooked on the concept. I have always enjoyed walks in the forest, but I have found a whole new dimension to time amongst the trees.

Forest bathing is not simply ‘walking in the forest’. Instead, it is about allowing all your senses to experience mindfulness in nature. It is a form of meditation.

I often take small groups into the forest for art and photography therapy. One of the first things I do now is to get my group to sit down and close their eyes. I ask them to concentrate and to ‘feel’ the ground beneath their feet. After a few minutes, I ask them to concentrate on their breathing and to enjoy inhaling the scent of pine trees. Next comes sound. Concentrating on the different sounds of the forest can reveal amazing things that might otherwise be missed. Finally, after about 15 minutes, I get my group to open their eyes and look up into the canopy. I challenge everyone to find at least twenty different things. Usually they spot many more than this.

Mindfulness in nature can really help to reduce stress, and to bring about a feeling of happiness and contentment.

I would highly recommend spending some time in a forest. But don’t just walk amongst the trees, instead enjoy all they have to offer the senses. You could even end your forest bathing session with a Japanese tea ceremony, which involves taking tea infused with foraged nettles, pine needles or blackberries. The first cup is traditionally offered to the forest, as a thank you.

Let me know if you have tried forest bathing and mindfulness in nature.

 

 

 

 

 

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They are not laughing now

I know this an old story, but I like to keep it alive. It is a story of hope for everyone who has self-doubt and for those who hide behind a caricature they present to the world.

Whenever I work with a new client, particularly those who are struggling with their identity, I always send them a link to a clip on YouTube. The reaction I usually get from people who haven’t already seen the clip is incredible. Most people are moved by the shy 47-year-old who has spent her life being dismissed and written off. I have watched it many times and I am still moved by it today.

I am talking about Susan Boyle. She lived in a small town in Scotland, and she dreamed about being a professional singer since she was 12 years old. Susan was bullied at school and she suffered from mental ill-health throughout her life. Shy, retiring, and a person with massive self-doubt describes Susan. I could go on and on with words such as ‘lacking self-confidence’, ‘insecure’ and ‘reserved’ – all of these describe Susan Boyle.

But Susan had a dream, and she kept hold of that dream. In many ways, I think her desire to achieve her aim was stronger than her low self-esteem. Her dream kept her going.

Persuaded by friends and relations, Susan took the plunge and applied for the TV show, Britain’s Got Talent. When she stepped onto the stage at the auditorium in Glasgow, the judges laughed, winced and cringed as the very nervous Susan Boyle tried to introduce herself. The audience was laughing too. They were anticipating an awful performance. Judges and the audience had written-off Susan before she got started. They were looking at the outside of the person rather than anticipating what was within.

And then an incredible thing happened. Susan raised the microphone and she started to sing. Within 30 seconds the audience were on their feet. Susan delivered a stunning performance, a performance for every person who has ever felt they were robbed of hope.

At the end of the performance, Susan watched the packed auditorium deliver a standing ovation. The presenters, Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly, grinned from cheek to cheek. The judges’ expressions were of shock, surprise and wonderment.

Piers Morgan, one of the judges on the show, said: “Without doubt, that was the biggest surprise I have had in three years on this show.” Morgan told Susan, “When you stood there with that cheeky grin and said, ‘I want to be like Elaine Paige,’ everyone was laughing at you. No one is laughing now.”

That audition was almost ten years ago and since then Susan has gone on to release many albums and has toured the world. However, she has been suffering with health problems and hasn’t done very much, at least musically, for the last three years. But things are changing again because she will be releasing a new ‘come-back’ album before the end of the year.

I think Susan’s story is great. People who watch the clip are often inspired to do things they have been dreaming about. They give it a go regardless of what people think of them. That is the crux of this tale. Not everyone will end up with a £50 million fortune like Susan Boyle, but everyone can give it a go.

People might mock, they might laugh, and they might try to discourage you from your dream. Don’t let them. Hang onto your dream and visualise it. If you want something badly enough, give it a go. Let them laugh and mock if they want to, because deep inside you will be fulfilled and happy.

Please watch the clip and let me know your thoughts.

 

 

 

Get rid of the toxic people from your life

How many times do you get to work in a really positive mood, thinking the world is at your fingertips, only to find that your enthusiasm and energy is sucked out of you before you’ve had your first cafe latte of the day?

I worked with a woman who spent the first 20 minutes each morning ‘offloading’. I would get to work about an hour before Wendy (not her real name), and I would often sit at my desk really pleased with life and enthusiastic about the day ahead. I would dream about my successes and I would enjoy being me. Then Wendy would come in!

Wendy saved up all her troubles from the day before so that she could offload each morning. She wouldn’t talk to me or with me, no, she would talk AT me. Wendy would rant about other people and how they were stupid, incompetent and how they were making her life miserable. I would eagerly wait for Wendy to shut up. Left deflated, I would rush out for a double espresso in a full fat latte – with a triple chocolate muffin on the side.

Wendy sucked the energy from me. Wendy was a toxic person.

Interestingly, I had a psychotherapy session with a client a few weeks ago. She is desperately trying to succeed in her job and she is very ambitious. However, every day she seems to burn out quickly; her energy and enthusiasm dissipates by mid-morning. Thinking she was ill, she visited her GP but thankfully there was nothing physically wrong with her. During our session it became obvious what the problem was; she worked with a Wendy! The toxicity from her colleague was sucking the energy from her and was causing her great anxiety.

I thought it might be a nice idea to reflect on my session with my client and put some thoughts together about toxic people. They really can cause harm.

If you work in an office, especially an open plan office, take a few minutes to listen to people around you. How many of them, while on the phone or talking to a colleague, are negative? How many people criticize others, complain about other people and generally rant about how hard their lives are being make by other people? They are all toxic!

How many toxic people are sucking your enthusiasm?

It is not the person that is toxic – it is their behaviour

If you want to succeed in life it is important that you remain enthusiastic and motivated. It is equally important that you recognise things that might be negatively affecting your enthusiasm. It is important to recognise toxic people in your life. Sometimes you can’t get rid of them completely and rarely will you be able to change them, but it is important that you recognise them and recognise their impact on you.

Whenever I have a life coach session with one of my clients we talk about ‘developmental blockers’. These are things that are blocking you from achieving your goals. Developmental blockers can often be people – toxic people in particular.

It is not the person that is toxic, it is their behaviour. Sometimes people offload onto others because they haven’t been able to accept their particular situation, therefore everything and everyone else is to blame. They cherish the opportunity to rant to another person about their crisis. They are usually in much need of therapy but they haven’t recognised this in themselves. So, they offload onto others.

Most toxic people are indeed in crisis. They create dramas in their lives so that they can become the center of attention, thereby manipulating others. They try to get their needs met through criticism of others and through bemoaning their bad fortune. Just think about some people you work with or people you know.

Often, toxic people will leave you drained of energy, sometimes you might compromise your own values when talking to them. It is really important, for your own survival and success, to recognise your role in the interaction with toxic people, so that you can acquire defence mechanisms.

Typical traits of toxics

Do you know a toxic person? Think about people in your life who might show some, or all, of the following.

Toxic people are manipulative. They want to use other people to accomplish their own goals and objectives. Nothing is equal in their relationships though, it is all about them and their terms.

Toxic people are highly judgemental. They will be the first to criticise others while never accepting their own faults. They never apologise.

Taking responsibility for your own feelings is a wonderful trait to have. However, toxics will never do this. They will blame others for their own feelings. They are always the victim and they will use their victim status to seek sympathy from others.

One of the most interesting aspects of a toxic person’s behaviour is their ‘divide and conquer’ attitude. They will almost always want to make you chose them over someone else.

Have you ever had the feeling that you need to defend yourself and your actions when talking to a colleague at work? Well, that is not surprising because toxic people will shoot your ideas down quickly, and they will seldom be interested in your point of view.

Whenever I talk with my clients about relationships they have with other people some key phrases come up time and time again. My clients often say things life “I feel emotionally wiped out after speaking to her” and “I am left frustrated and unfulfilled”. These are common feelings when working with toxic people. They can drain your enthusiasm, leaving you feeling inadequate and unworthy.

Surviving toxic behaviour

Researchers in Germany, from the Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology, found that exposure to negative stimuli caused their subjects’ brains to show massive stress responses. They concluded that whenever we are subjected to something negative our brains treat this as a stress. Electrical energy in our brains change, which affects our short-term mood. So, unbeknown to us, these toxic people are actually having a biological effect on us.

We can’t avoid toxics, they are everywhere. But we can develop strategies to neutralize their effect on us. Here are a few suggestions.

If you were to sit next to someone who blew cigarette smoke in your face, would you continue to sit and take it? No, of course not. Yet, you might be willing to sit and listen to a negative person while they wallow in their problems. It can seem rude to stop them but there is a fine line between being helpful by listening and getting the life drained out of you. Ask them, very directly, how they are going to fix their problem. See what happens when you do this. Toxics don’t like to come up with solutions, so asking them how they are going to solve their problem can have a dramatic effect.

I often suggest to my clients that they think of themselves as a counsellor. When listening to a toxic rant, imagine yourself as their therapist. You listen intently and try to put yourself into their world. At the end of the session, think about how different (and good) your world is compared to their one. This technique is called distancing and it helps to put a barrier between their life and your own.

Recognition of your own emotions is critical. Think about your own emotions. Are you getting wound up by the person’s rant, or are you near to breaking point? Are you praying that the floor opens up so that you can get a break from the barrage of negativity. Recognition of your own feelings while listening to others can work wonders for your own sanity. It actually puts you on a higher plane than your speaker. This is another form of distancing.

Where you focus your attention will determine your emotional state. If you think negatively, your brain’s neurons will make connections that store those negative thoughts. This is why cognitive behavioural therapy is a wonderful tool, because it changes your thought process – more on this later. You can use a similar technique while listening to a toxic. While they moan and groan in their negativity, you need to turn those thoughts into positives. For example, while they go on about a colleague, in your own mind you should picture the colleague and think about positive things about her, things that you like and admire about her. You could reflect these back to the toxic to see how she reacts. Distancing yourself and your world from the toxic’s world is a crucial element of maintaining your sanity.

Toxic folk can be good for us

You know, I actually learned a lot from working with Wendy. I certainly learned how to distance myself so that her world was kept very separate from my (nice) world.

I need to catch up with my client to see how she is getting on with her colleague.

I would love to hear your tales about toxic people you might know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have a rare personality?

According to the Myers-Briggs personality model, the INFJ is thought to be the rarest of personality types. INFJs read people very well and they can easily see ‘behind the mask’ that some people unconsciously wear. They are people with many layers, they can be mystical and very private and, above all else, they are rare. Sound familiar?

Firstly, let’s look at what I mean by the Myers-Briggs personality model. During the early part of the 20th century, Carl Gustav Jung, an early psychologist, came up with a theory that each one of us falls into the category of ‘introverts’ or ‘extroverts’. Introverts tend to focus on their internal world while extroverts prefer to focus externally.

In the 1920s, Jung’s theory was further worked on by Katherine Cook Briggs. She was a teacher and had a fascination with personality types. Together with her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, they developed a 16-personality model, now known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (trade marked in the US).

The Myers-Briggs model is based on the idea that we have basic preferences, and these can be categorised into four main areas. These are:

Do we prefer to focus on the outer world or do we prefer to focus on our own inner world: Extroversion (E) or Introversion (I)?

Do we prefer to focus on basic information we take in or do we prefer to interpret and add meaning to the information we get: Sensing (S) or Intuitive (I)?

When making decisions, do we prefer to look for the logical or do we prefer to consider the people element: Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)?

And finally, do we prefer decisiveness or do we prefer to remain open and procrastinate for a while: Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)?

Now then, if we put all of the above together, we get 16 variations. For example, an ISTJ person is someone who is systematic, factual, organised and pragmatic, while an ESFP is a person who craves excitement, is energetic and sociable.

Back to the rare people

You might think that, because there are 16 personality types or combinations, there would be an equal amount of each in the population. However, this is not the case. The most common personality type is the ISFJ, with just over 13% in the population. The least common, with only 1.5%, is the INFJ.

INFJs are gentle and caring but intensely complex individuals. They look for hidden meanings in things and they rarely take situations at face value. One of their greatest strengths is their ability to ‘feel’ things and to intuitively understand other people. INFJs have been known to experience psychic intuition. Their sixth sense can often be difficult for them to explain, so they give up trying, which can leave them feeling isolated and misunderstood.

It is not unusual for INFJs to absorb other people’s emotions. They don’t just sense the emotions of others, they can actually feel them in their own bodies. No other personality type does this quite like an INFJ. They truly have superpowers!

Shallow and one-sided relationships don’t usually work for INFJs. As introverts, they have limited social energy therefore finding their true soulmate can be difficult. When they do find that person, they will feel like a miracle has happened.

A word of caution

As a professional psychologist and counsellor, I sometimes use Myers-Briggs as a starting point at my consultations. I know from doing the tests myself that the results can be consistent, so I am a great fan of the theory. However, I must stress that there is an awful lot of misrepresentation online about personality traits. I have come across websites that claim to predict how unstable each personality type can be and how some are more susceptible to mental health problems than others. Let me assure you, there is no conclusive research so far that shows specific traits are more or less likely to suffer from mental illness.

Having said the above, discovering your personality trait can be good fun. There is a great free test at http://www.16personalities.com.

Let me know if there any other INFJs out there!

 

 

 

 

 

If you change nothing, nothing will change!

I thought it might be nice to reflect on the success I have just had with one of my clients. Obviously, I can’t use her real name and I can’t share her details, so for now I will call her Julie.

I had a wonderful Skype meeting with her last week. She was excited and talked non-stop for the first ten minutes. You see, Julie had just received her first royalty payment for a book she has written. I won’t share with you the amount she received, suffice to say it was the equivalent of six months income for the average UK and US employee!

What makes this story more poignant is that Julie almost ended her own life two years ago. She experienced a really bad run of luck and it all got too much for her. Her doctor prescribed antidepressants and he recommended she see a counsellor. That’s where I came into her story.

In need of a life coach

Actually, Julie didn’t need a counsellor, she needed a life coach. Sure, her mental health wasn’t all it could have been and there were some issues that were troubling her, but the root of Julie’s problems was centered around her feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and lack of confidence in her abilities. Julie wanted to change her life, she wanted to get out of the rut and drudgery of her daily grind, but she didn’t know how. No amount of antidepressants or other medications would have helped Julie to make changes in her life.

Julie was a very creative person. She loved to paint, draw, take photographs and she really loved to write fiction. However, her lack of self-confidence was always the stumbling block. When I first met Julie she showed me a wonderful portfolio of pencil drawings she had done. But each time she pulled out a drawing for me to look at she would say stuff like “this one isn’t very good” or “I don’t like the sky in this one”. After looking at ten pictures I stopped her and asked if she could find one she really liked. She couldn’t bring herself to say any of her work was ‘good’.

I won’t go into detail about why Julie lacked self-confidence. There was a whole load of reasons. Sometimes, the wrong thing to do is to look back for reasons. Sometimes it is better to look to the future and forget the past. Some people need psychoanalysis before they can move on to greater things in their lives, but some people just need to look at the ‘here and now’. It is always a dilemma that I have when working with new clients; do I go for the treatment that is based on analysis or do I go for life coaching techniques. With Julie, I decided life coaching was the answer.

What is life coaching?

Let me pause for a second to explain a little more about life coaching.

Life coaching is a means of helping people, usually a person, tap into their true potential and to realise their aspirations and dreams. I like to use the analogy with tennis. Suppose you wanted to take up tennis as a new sport. You could read a book on the subject, you could watch numerous YouTube videos, and you could talk to other players about the sport. However, none of those things will get you playing tennis. So, you decide to buy a racket, some balls, and find a wall to practice against. You might pick up the basics through self-teaching, but you will almost certainly pick up bad habits too. You might find progress is very slow and you may become demoralised and give up.

You might find a tennis coach. He will teach you the basics, then, as you progress, he will teach you more advanced techniques. Perhaps you will get into competitions and your coach will support you through your matches, helping you to analyse your opponents strengths and weaknesses. Your coach will set you goals and objectives and he will work with you to help achieve those. He will pick you up and dust you off when you fall down and he will encourage you. He will almost certainly push your boundaries, but in a safe and encouraging way. Together you will win. But the one thing he will not do is to play your matches for you. YOU will do that yourself. YOU will learn, YOU will play, YOU will win.

Life coaches have the ability to help you shed light on difficult situations. They will do many things, such as setting regular goals and targets, looking at the big picture so that you can look at the detail, have regular check-ins, motivate, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and, most importantly, help you to work smart rather than work hard.

I read an interesting piece about life coaching in a recent edition of the Public Management magazine. The author reflected on a recent study that showed training alone increases productivity in companies by about 22% while training combined with coaching increases productivity by over 80%.

Life coaching is incredibly popular now. Why? Well, it is simple really. More and more people are getting tired of what they ‘should’ do and are ready to do something special and meaningful with their lives. The problem is, most people can’t seem to see a way to reorient their life. A life coach has a vast toolkit that can be used to help reset and move forward.

Back to Julie

Julie wanted to change but her self-doubt held her back. For years she didn’t change. The desire was there but she couldn’t see a way to make a breakthrough. Her self-esteem was rock bottom, her mental wellbeing was in need of help, and her belief that she was a valuable person was almost non-existent. There was one positive thing about Julie that I recognised immediately – she wanted to change. In fact, her desire to change was as strong as I have seen in anyone before.

I started work with visualization techniques. Between us, Julie and I pictured success. Julie didn’t want to be a millionaire, she didn’t want fancy cars or exotic holidays, she just wanted a life that was fulfilling. So, we pictured it together. Through a combination of relaxation techniques and self-hypnosis, Julie was able to start ‘seeing’ her new life. A good start.

After you see what the future might look like, the next stage is to plan how to get there. It really is like a journey. If you want to arrive at your destination, you need to travel. So, together Julie and I planned her journey. We looked at her strengths and weaknesses. We looked at the things she could do now, and we looked at subjects she was passionate about. We came up with a plan. Julie would write a book. She had been scribbling away for years but she never thought her idea would fly. Well, it was time to give it wings.

Life coaches need to check-in regularly, so that was exactly what I did with Julie. I checked on her progress, I motivated, I listened to her when she was down and struggling and I picked her up again. Her strength grew each week. We developed ways to help her build self-confidence and we laughed when my ideas went horribly wrong (yes, life coaches get it wrong sometimes!).

Finally, it was judgement day. Julie had sent her work to a literary agent. To her surprise and delight, the agent emailed and asked to meet for a discussion. I spent two hours with Julie before her meeting with the agent. We had coffee and we walked in a local park. I needed to build her confidence to an all-time high so that she would go into her meeting and wow that agent. And she did.

Beaming from cheek to cheek, Julie emerged from her meeting triumphant. Her agent agreed to get a deal for her. And the rest, as they say, is history. Julie is writing her second book.

The one thing I want you to take away from Julie’s story is this. I, as the life coach, didn’t write her book – Julie wrote it. Julie came up with the ideas for the book, Julie constructed all the characters, Julie spent days, weeks and months writing, and Julie closed the deal with the agent – not me. All I did was to take a person who needed direction and work with her to help her find the answer. Life coaching is wonderful.

I really hope you enhoyed my piece on life coaching.

I have a new podcast series on life coaching coming out very soon. Keep in touch.

http://www.ahelpinghand.biz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Migraines are a real pain – can hypnotherapy help?

Most people have suffered from a headache at some time in their lives. Usually, the pain is mild and a couple of painkillers is often enough to block out the pain so that normal life can resume. However, migraine headaches are quite different. Sufferers quite often have to stop what they are doing and hide away in a darkened room until the worst of the episode passes.

The pain from a migraine can feel like the temples are going to explode. some people say the pain is like a garden rake scraping over their eyes and head. Some have said that their head feels like a balloon that is overfilled with air and is about to burst.

Many migraine sufferers get a feeling of being washed out and drained of energy after an attack, looking pale and feeling tired for a day or two after an episode.

Migraine has been recognised as a medical condition for centuries. Unfortunately, it is a complex disorder and medical science is not able to offer definitive reasons why some people suffer from the condition. We know that as many as 20% of the population are affected, with women three times more likely to experience migraine than men.

Thankfully, migraine attacks are not life threatening, although to many sufferers the condition can seem like the end of the world. One of the biggest problems with migraine is that you can never really predict when an attack will occur. A person could be driving, going off on holiday, about to pick up the kids from school or about to go our for a meal with friends when the dreaded migraine strikes.

The sequence of events

Research has helped us to understand what happens during a typical migraine. Some people notice that they yawn a lot more in the hours leading up to an episode while others say they have lots of energy. Some crave certain foods. These unusual signs may be experienced a few hours before a migraine comes on, or they can be experienced a day before.

Migraine headaches can be classed in two different ways; with aura and without aura. The ‘classic’ migraine usually starts with some sort of visual disturbance, referred to as an ‘aura’. About 25% of sufferers know that a migraine is starting because they notice a disturbance in their vision. Many of my patients say their ‘eyes go funny and out of focus’ or they see ‘zig-zag lines’ that move across their eyes. Some people say they have blind spots in their vision.

The aura stage of migraine can last from a few minutes to an hour or more. This stage is usually followed by the first signs of pain in the head.

The ‘common migraine’ is when there is no aura. The attack starts with a headache, which quickly develops into a thumping pain in the right or left side of the head.

Most people experience other symptoms during the early stages of a migraine. Speech many be affected, with difficulty forming words. Some people have a tingling sensation in their fingertips, which often spreads up their arms. Many people experience tingling in their tongue.

One of my patients told me that he suffers from about five migraines each year and they all follow exactly the same pattern. They start with a visual disturbance that lasts about 20 minutes, followed by difficulty speaking. He gets tingling in his fingers and tongue and then the headache starts, mild at first but it quickly develops into a thumping pain in either his left or right temple. He feels completely drained for the next 24 hours.

Similar symptoms to a stroke

Some of the symptoms of migraine can be frightening, particularly the speech problem. Often referred to as ‘migraine babble’, this part of the migraine cycle is one of the most noticeable signs that a person is experiencing something untoward. Speech problems, or transient aphasia, probably occurs when blood vessels over-dilate, which is thought to be the main cause of migraines. Different parts of the brain are affected by over-dilation, which partly explains why many people get these unusual symptoms.

Understandably, some people are afraid that their migraine is a symptom of a stroke. The good news is that there is little evidence to suggest that a stroke is more likely to occur during a migraine. A stroke is when a blood vessel in the brain in either blocked so that oxygen is prevented from getting to brain tissue, or that a blood vessel bursts inside the brain. Migraine is neither of these two things.

Trigeminovascular theory of migraine

So what causes a migraine?

The answer to this question is not an easy one. For many years, it was believed that over-dilation of blood vessels in the brain caused migraine pain. However, over-dilation doesn’t quite explain why the attack occurs.

Research has shown that electrical changes that go across the brain are linked to the early stages of migraine, particularly the aura effect. This wave of electrical activity is quickly followed by what is called ‘spreading cortical depression’ and it is during this phase that constriction of blood vessels occurs. Studies have shown that as the waves of spreading depression pass over the brain there is a drop in oxygenation of that segment of the brain. Thankfully, the drop in oxygen levels doesn’t last long, only until the wave of electrical energy passes over. This could explain why some of the symptoms that migraine sufferers experience are similar to those of a stroke victim.

There is also evidence of brainstem activation at the beginning of a migraine, and there is strong evidence that migraine is linked with abnormally excitable neurons in the trigeminal nerve. In summary, something may trigger abnormally excitable neurons to fire, which causes a wave of electrical energy to pass over the brain, resulting in constriction of blood vessels and a drop in oxygenation.

What excites the neurons?

So, what causes the over-excitement of these neurons? Various things can do this, including low magnesium, abnormal calcium channels or inherited brain chemical abnormalities.

Regardless of the scientific pathology, it is generally accepted that migraines are started by ‘triggers’. Some people are more susceptible to certain triggers than others. But the story about triggers is complex too. A person exposed to one of their known triggers might not be enough to start a migraine. For example, red wine is thought to be a common trigger. A person who is susceptible to red wine may drink a glass every day for a year and never have a migraine. We know that more than one trigger is usually needed.

I often talk about ‘tipping the balance’. Imagine if red wine is one of your triggers. You might drink a glass with no effect. However, if you had a glass of red wine on an empty stomach after driving a long journey following a few days of lack of sleep or sleep disturbance, you may have tipped the balance and, hey presto, a migraine is triggered.

All of those things mentioned above can be triggers. I classify triggers in nine categories: lack of food, specific foods, sleep disturbance, stress and anxiety, exercise (not enough or sudden bursts), long travel journeys, changes in the environment (lighting, noise), neck pain, and hormonal changes in women.

Three or four of the above occurring together may be the root cause of a person’s migraine. That is why it is such a good idea to keep a migraine diary. Whenever I have a patient who needs treatment for migraine, I always ask them to keep a diary so that we can discuss their habits and lifestyle at their first appointment.

Can migraine be treated?

Some people are prescribed preventative medication by their GPs. These can have varying degrees of success. Beta-blokers, serotonin antagonists and tricyclic antidepressants are common drugs that are known to help migraine sufferers. However, they can take more than three months to start working and they often have unwanted side effects.

A popular relief medication that is available over the counter are tablets that contain sumatriptan. Taken as early as possible whenever a migraine is noticed, this medication can help reduce the effects of an attack and, in some people, they can shorten the episode.

But medication is not the cure, it is merely a sticking plaster to help relieve the symptoms. To get to the root cause of migraine another approach is needed. One very successful therapy is hypnosis. Treating and preventing chronic migraine headaches with hypnosis is a cost-effective alternative to drugs. Hypnotherapy doesn’t just help relieve the acute symptoms such as pain, it can also help stop migraines completely, by looking at the underlying reasons why migraines are occurring.

Two uses of hypnotherapy to treat migraine

There are two uses of hypnotherapy in the treatment of migraine. Firstly, self-hypnosis is a technique to help patients deal with the pain when an attack does occur. Teaching self-hypnosis can be a wonderful alternative to using painkillers. Patients are taught how to induce a deep state of relaxation whenever a painful headache comes on. Some of my patients say that 20 minutes in a self-hypnotic state usually takes the pain away completely.

Secondly, and more importantly, is the use of hypnotherapy as a way to treat the underlying cause of migraine. Stress and anxiety are two of the most common triggers of migraine and so it is important to treat these properly. A migraine is the body’s way of telling us something is wrong. It is something abnormal. However, the conscious mind might not be able to understand exactly what is wrong. I will talk about the conscious and subconscious mind in later posts.

Hypnotherapy is a gentle and powerful way to reach into the subconscious mind to understand why migraines are being triggered. There is a reason why people have migraines. Neuroscience can help explain the ‘what’ but it cannot fully explain the ‘why’. The subconscious mind has most of the answers but it is only accessible through deep relaxation and through hypnotherapy. By discovering the underlying reasons for migraine, the patient can be helped to eliminate them completely.

I hope you enjoyed this brief insight into migraine headaches. I would love to hear your stories about migraine and how you manage to cope with this debilitating condition.

Check out my podcasts on http://www.ahelpinghand.biz

 

 

 

 

 

Stress or pressure – is there a difference?

Stress or pressure

We often hear people talking about being under “stress”. Tight deadlines at work, colleagues who can be a little tetchy, and that damned IT system playing up again can all result in people complaining and saying ‘I’m stressed out today’. Well, generally speaking, they are not ‘stressed’. Actually, they are under “pressure”.

There is an important difference between pressure and stress. Someone who is suffering from stress will certainly know about it, because they will have needed help to sort themselves out. But more on that later. Firstly, let’s talk about ‘pressure’.

Pressure is good for us. Pressure helps the body to prepare for the ‘flight or fight’ response. Our brain wants to keep us safe so whenever it senses danger it releases chemicals into the body. I refer to this as ‘pressure events’ that trigger a response.

What is a pressure event? Well, it is anything that the brain detects as danger, or put another way, something that the brain detects as abnormal. Imagine sitting quietly at lunchtime, sitting in a comfy chair while enjoying a sandwich from Marks & Spencer. Someone creeps up behind you and shouts BOO. Almost immediately your brain will respond. You heart rate will go up, your arteries will dilate a little, your breathing will increase and your pupils will dilate too. All of this will happen in less than one second. Your brain has sensed danger and has put you on a state of readiness to react. But, you are not under stress. You are under pressure.

Brain and body arousal

Without getting too scientific, the following sequence of events follow a pressure event. The pre-frontal cortex of the brain senses something is abnormal. An immediate response is made through the Hypothalamus Pituitary and Adrenal System (the HPA axis). A special hormone is released, called the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH).

The pituitary gland comes into action at this stage and it releases adrenocorticotropic-releasing homones (ACTH) into the blood system. ACTH acts on the adrenal cortex and tells it to release cortisol. The adrenal system then releases adrenalin into the blood system, while insulin is produced in the pancreas to convert some glucose into glycogen, just in case the body needs a blast of energy.

And all of this happens because someone said BOO!

The point I am making here is that the brain will react to pressure. Sometimes, pressure is because of an external event or sometimes it is simply because we think something. When we get angry at a person the brain sees this as a pressure event and, again, releases all those chemicals.

Pressure on a daily basis is good for us. It tests the central nervous system and it gives it a good workout. We might experience over 100 pressure events every day. Think about it. The driver who cut us up this morning, the coffee machine that delivered a latte instead of an Americano and the MD who failed to read the report that you spent last night preparing. These are all pressure events. And, they are good for us. Well, maybe not the MD one – that is just downright annoying!

Crossing the line

Now then, I want to explain something that I call ‘crossing the line’. Imagine a line drawn in the sand. The line is just out of reach of the tide. Imagine placing a brand-new ipad on the sand just above the line, on the dry side. You sit back and watch the tide come in. You know that it will ebb and flow as it gets nearer and nearer to the line, but you know that the usual tide never quite reaches the line in the sand, so your ipad is quite safe.

One day, an unusual event occurs. The tide comes and goes as usual but you start to worry because the ebb and flow is getting faster. Something is wrong today. Suddenly, a vast tide comes up, crosses the line and drenches your brand-new ipad. It is damaged beyond repair.

The line in the sand is analogous to pressure events. When pressure bobs about inside our brains it can come and go nicely, without causing too much harm. However, when pressure events start to come more frequently, and pile on top of one another, there comes a point when the line is crossed. That is the stage when pressure changes to stress.

With most people, crossing the line is a major and serious stage. Most people will never be able to get back below the line again, not without proper help. Their symptoms will continue to manifest as irritability, sleep disturbance, eating disorders, compulsive behaviour and a whole load of other things.

Antidepressants and therapy

Crossing the line is when normal everyday pressure turns into a serious medical condition. At this stage, a person will be in much need of help. It is far from impossible to get back to normal again, but it will take time and patience. Depression is a very common symptom at this stage. A person suffering from stress should visit their GP, who will more than likely prescribe medication, often antidepressants. One of the most common types of antidepressant are the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). These help to sort out the chemical imbalances in the brain.

Why does a chemical imbalance occur in an otherwise healthy brain? Well, the answer is simple really. Remember the story about BOO? All those chemicals that are released each time we have a reaction to a pressure event need to disperse. If pressure is under control and we are not subjected to too much pressure, the flood of chemicals can fairly easily dissipate and be converted into chemicals that can pass out of the body. However, when these chemicals reach an amount that overwhelms the brain and body, the balance within the brain can be disturbed. We need medication at this stage to sort out the imbalance.

Something very important though is that medication on its own is not always enough. Medication will definitely treat the symptoms but they rarely fix the cause. Cause and symptoms is something that I will mention a lot in further posts and podcasts. Suffice to say for now is that symptoms will always appear because something is wrong. The cause of the problem needs to be fixed and this is where counselling and therapy come in. Hypnotherapy is an excellent technique for delving into the brain to access the cause of the problem. Find the cause and the symptom will disappear.

Check out my podcasts on http://www.ahelpinghand.biz