Stop. Take a Minute.Make it Simple.

Do you ever feel completely overwhelmed with everything that is going on?

I suspect a lot of people do because one of the most common reasons people give for not exercising or looking at what they eat is that they are too busy.

I’ve said here before that really this can be overcome with planning, working out what you need to prioritise and what you can realistically do, being realistic about your goals.  I stand by this, but I also get it.

I think it’s a natural feeling to have sometimes, to be completely overwhelmed.  Whether you already train regularly, eat pretty well,  juggle lots of jobs and tasks or whether these are things you aspire to do but don’t feel like you do right now, sometimes it just feels like there’s too much stuff.

Sometimes out of nowhere the balls your kept in the air for ages feel like too many balls or trying to change one small thing in your house of cards feels like it will bring the whole thing down.

This is when you need to stop and evaluate.

‘Hustle’ is great.  If you want things you do have to work, whether that be in your career or working towards your ideal physique, but when you attempt to do everything perfectly you can end up reaching the point you actually are doing nothing because it’s all just got too much.

Sometimes you need to sit and look at everything on your to do list.  Take off some of the pointless tasks that don’t really matter.  Look at your training, look at your diet and pin point exactly what is you need to focus on right now and forget about everything else you hear about and think maybe you should be doing too.

My plan for the 6 weeks or so before Christmas?  Well I noticed these last few days I’ve been putting off important shit because I’ve felt a little bit overwhelmed.  When I’m overwhelmed i comfort eat, when I comfort eat I feel sluggish and don’t really want to train.

I’ve stripped my work load back to a manageable amount of work, with the things that will earn me money taking priority.  I know I’ll get more results taking longer to do things I want to do but actually doing them rather than just saying I really must get on with that.

I’m going to track my food, not cut stuff out or eat differently (It’s Christmas, there’s going to be cake and I’m not saying no!) just make sure I’m staying within my TDEE.  That will make me feel better about training – Training I want to hit hard.  Not hard as in spend hours in the gym, but plan my sessions in and treat them like appointments and be 100% present in the session to be the best of my ability that day.

Essentially I’m planning to finish 2019 by focusing on doing the basics well.  That’s going to make life feel simpler and therefore reduce that feeling of juggling lots of balls.

If right now you feel like you can’t hit your fitness goals because you’ve too much on try taking a look, seeing what you can drop and what really simple things you can commit to right now to get you closer to your goals by the end of 2019.

World Mental Health Day 2019

 

World Mental Health Day this year is focusing on suicide prevention, there’s some useful downloads on their website about this topic for a variety of situations and it’s worth a read (website link below).

https://www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2019/10/10/default-calendar/world-mental-health-day-2019-focus-on-suicide-prevention

There are two school’s of thought with ‘days’- mental health, women’s day and so on.  Yes – in an ideal world we wouldn’t need specific days to remind people are inequalities and reduce stigma.  We don’t live in an ideal world though and what these days do is start conversations – some of those conversations may well be forgotten tomorrow sadly, but for some the onslaught of coverage on one day could set in motion the impetus to make a change- either for someone specifically affected or in making someone more mindful.

There’s so much that I could write about today- from personal experience but I’ll limit this blog to three brief things I think worthy of being mindful of if you know someone who is currently struggling with any mental health condition.

One

It can be frustrating for those around someone who is struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts.  Often you try and help and feel like you’re being met with resistance at every turn.  These illnesses are not logical though and as well meaning as your advice may be you might not get the reaction you hope for.  You can offer the most practical and solid advice in how someone might feel better but self care is hard when you are really ill and even though it’s the thing that will help it can feel practically impossible to do.  As frustrating as that may be for you believe me the person affected will be equally, probably more frustrated and knowing those around them are frustrated can just add to the difficulty of climbing out of a hole.

If you know someone who is struggling, be there for them, offer an ear, even offer advice, but accept you can’t fix it and you may feel like you repeat yourself a million times before anything lands.  Don’t take that personally – you being there is probably helping even if it feels like it isn’t.  If someone is suicidal, as much of an impact and stress that will place on you and others around them- remember the stress they feel to get to that point is far greater- frustration and anger are normal and understandable responses but when people get ill they aren’t doing it to piss people off or make life hard for others, get time off work or get attention.

Two

From my own experience when I went back to work after being off for a long time due to mental health issues I found it really hard and one reason for this was there was no understanding of mental illness in the way there would be for a physical illness.  The procedures in place just didn’t work for managing what was wrong with me.  I’m lucky I have a good manager who took time to listen to me and understand and that helped me settle back in, but at first it was really hard because I felt like I was having to fight against a system at a time when I really didn’t have the capacity to do so.  It took me to bite the bullet ask for a conversation and try and explain.

You can understand in situations like this how so many people fall between the gaps and end up unemployed, isolated and feeling like there’s no way out.  It’s easy to drop out the system (if you stop going to the doctors because you really just can’t face anything they don’t chase you up for instance), you can have to jump through hoops to get help but often have no motivation to do so.  You actually have to fight to get help (or have someone fight for you) and often you just can’t when your ill.  You may lose your job because your company doesn’t recognise mental illness as a genuine illness and not have the capacity to fight that.

These situations could be improved with education.  I don’t just mean companies educating their staff to understand mental illness, I mean in some cases companies themselves need to understand better how mental illness can affect staff and how best to handle it at a variety of stages- both preventative measures, catching signs of problems early on and dealing with the aftermath of serious issues.

Three

Today is about making people aware of the importance of mental health, of being open about discussing it- because more people than you would ever anticipate will be affected to varying degrees over their lifetime.  Being aware everyday is important though.  If you notice that a friend or a colleague doesn’t seem quite right you haven’t got to have a conversation with them if you don’t feel comfortable.  It might be mentioning your concern to someone closer to them who could check in on them.  But equally it could be dropping them a message or calling them for a chat, inviting them for a coffee or lunch, anything to connect with them.  You know that thing we call being nice, letting people know they have people around them.  On a day to day individual basis that can be the thing that makes the difference, and because you never really know how much people are struggling making not being a dick a general life rule is probably the best way to help others maintain good mental health, not least because you never know what sort of things could affect someones so something you say in passing which means nothing to you could affect that person for hours even days after.

Jump 4.2 – Week 5

You know when you have those weeks where you just feel a bit blah, where no matter who much you try and do and even manage to do you have a nagging sense of failure.

That’s been me this week!

I’ve actually been pretty productive and got quite a lot done, I’ve trained, and I’ve eaten reasonably well – hitting a small calorie deficit, if not the 20% I was aiming for. I’ve also hardscaped my garden (which felt like it burnt around four million calories as well as burning my back!).

But I’ve not felt brilliant. The tough thing about these weeks is what do you do if you know you’re basically on track but you still feel a bit rubbish – it’s not the same as knowing you feel crap because you’ve not trained or have eaten nothing but takeaways.

What I have done is follow module 5 of Jump, get the training in, modifying it a bit on the days I felt crap and lethargic so I still did it just at a slightly reduced intensity. I’ve done yoga everyday, noted down things I’m grateful for every day, for more fresh air and generally tried to keep myself plodding along without dwelling to much on the nagging anxiety.

When we sign up to programmes or plans or start new health kicks we want 100% perfection and the moment we slip up or don’t do every single workout or eat every single meal we think I’ve fucked that up, I need to go back to the beginning and start again doing it 100% this time. This is why so many people don’t complete fitness programmes however they are structured.

Life is rarely uniform, things crop up all the time and the most successful lifestyles are ones which allow you to ride the ups and downs, have good weeks and bad weeks but importantly not stop and start again after the bad weeks.

To be fair just writing this reminds me that what I’ve felt of as a bad week really wasn’t bad at all, I’ve just not felt very sprightly and have been a bit run down. That’s not a reason to call a week a failure because if anything getting to the end of weeks like that and being able to brush yourself down and be ready for a new week is part of creating a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.

Jump 4.2 – Week 4

I’ve reached the half way point of Jump.

This week was a tough week – work, people, my period; you know those weeks where you aren’t feeling it- I’ve had one of those.

But the great thing I’m finding about this programme is that doesn’t matter. Life doesn’t need to be going perfectly to be able to work through it. Even though there’s been frustrations I’ve not felt down about it – I’ve used habits already practiced on weeks 1-3 such as writing down what I’m grateful for and what I have done well to stop myself getting down about what hasn’t worked and to stay upbeat and keep working to get things done nonetheless.

Training has been ok – I’ve not completed everything but I’ve had some good sessions. My food intake has been ok – I haven’t hit a calorie deficit this week – mainly because I’ve craved chocolate. Again what I’m pleased with here is how I feel about that. Sometimes these things would stress me out and make me feel like a failure because I haven’t done things perfectly. Right now I feel like perfect isn’t a necessity and although I’ve things I’d like to improve in week 5 I don’t feel like not being perfect so far has meant my experience on this programme hasn’t been useful so far.

This week’s message from my experience would definitely be that it’s worth changing your mindset towards yourself and your training / nutrition when want to improve how you feel and train.

Patience, Honesty, Yoga

Over the last two weeks I’ve taken on my own little personal challenge.

I think I’ve mentioned before how I struggle with my flexibility (I know planks of wood that bend more) and as much as I’m aware I need to work on this and it’s something I would always say to clients and class members it’s an area of my health that I neglect.

With this in mind and knowing that tightness in my hip and quad is very probably the cause of a recent knee injury I sign up for a twelve week yoga course.  Several things appealed to me about this course.

  • It’s all video based so you can do it in your own time following the instructor via a weekly video.
  • The yoga instructor is also a Body Combat instructor and having seen a previous video they had produced on mobility wok for Body Combat I felt this was likely to a type of yoga beneficial to my mobility.
  • Each week has a different focus which appealed to both my limited concentration span and learning a variety of moves to be able to use going forward as and when I want or need to focus on one area.
  • The sessions are around 20-25 minutes long and you are encouraged to practice several times across the week rather than just doing one hour long yoga practice- this for me seemed much more manageable.
  • You are also part of a group with weekly Facebook lives where you can ask questions and get feedback, for someone not from a yoga background that is really useful and increases your accountability.

So far I’ve practiced three times in week one, twice on week two and once so far this week (week three) although I intend to get another two to three sessions in this week.

In my head when I signed up I said to myself – I will practice every single day.  That obviously hasn’t happened, but that’s OK, because I’ve gone from zero mobility work to 50 minutes plus a week over the last couple of weeks.  However you look at it, that is progress.

Another thing that I have gleaned from the last couple of weeks – and it’s been centred around the yoga practice but is really key to how you approach all aspects of your own health / fitness regime – is about being honest with your practice.

By being honest with your yoga practice they mean accepting your body and it’s current ability.  That means not progressing a move to progress it until you are comfortable and performing the current move week.  It means acknowledging when you need to adapt a move to get the best out of your session and not being too proud to do so.

These two key elements of the mindset of your yoga practice are equally beneficial when applied to the rest of your training.

I’ve had lots of conversations with people over the last few weeks, and can openly admit it’s something I’m prone to do as well, about the all or nothing approach to fitness.  We want to be fit and healthy – and we want it now.  Society is result oriented and whilst we all want change we also want it now, we tend to be less keen on the idea that those results can take time and require gradual change.  It’s why we do often start a new plan or course with the intention to commit 100%  and then get disheartened and feel like we have failed when we aren’t 100% perfect in week one.  Then we get the urge to quit, start again, that this isn’t for me.

The reality is few of us will ever do anything 100% perfectly.  Life will get in the way, require adaptations and compromises and if we give up on things when the first stumbling block comes along we will not reach our goals.

What experience does show me however is that if you do stick to things for ‘most of the time’ results come.  Set backs are just that, they aren’t the end of the road, simply something to overcome and move on from.  If you are doing nothing and this week you do something you have progressed.  Results may be slower but they will be more long lasting.  Quick fixes tend to be quickly back to ‘where you were before’ as well.

Equally, being honest about where you are and want to be with your fitness is important.

Your goals need to be reflective of the effort you can put in.  If you can train twice a week then training for a physique show is unlikely to be a realistic goal for you.  However, reducing your body fat and getting fitter in two sessions a week is entirely possible.

You also need to be honest about what you are really doing.  Putting weight on even though you’re eating less? Yet you aren’t using my Fitness Pal to track your calories and aren’t really counting the calories in your two coffee shop coffees or the sauces that you put on food because they are barely anything.  It’s easy to think you are in a calorie deficit but when you track EVERYTHING realise you aren’t.  It really comes down to being honest about what you are doing.

You could even go more specific- what do you lift?  Do you lift it was strong technique?  Would you get more out of your session if you lifted less, better?

My message for this blog, which following the conversations I’ve had recently more than just me needs to remember, is this.

Wherever you are at with your fitness goals, it is a continuous journey, when you reach a goal it doesn’t end, new goals will arise and you will keep on working.  What you can do and, indeed, want to do will change over time.  Sometimes you will not do everything right, maybe for days and weeks on end, that doesn’t mean starting over or failure.  Sometimes you will meet people who can lift more than you, are leaner, more flexible and this doesn’t mean you have failed because the only progress that genuinely matters is what you can do now compared to what you could do before.

Patience and honesty are key tools to have in your fitness armour.

Also, I can highly recommend adding a bit of yoga to your life!

I have been practicing Yoga with The Kicking Asanas 12 Week Yoga Challenge.  You can find more information on the services Michelle offers here:

The Kicking Yogi

What’s the hardest thing in the land of fitness?

What’s the hardest thing in the land of fitness?

Working out how to train?

Working out what to eat?

I don’t think so.

For me it’s accepting that you will never be perfect.

You decide to start something – training for an event, looking to drop a dress size, whatever it may be.  You have your plan in place and you’re committed to doing it.  Day one does well, so does day two, then day three something comes up and you can’t eat what you planned or miss a training session and suddenly it all feels like it’s unravelling.  Fast forward a week later and you’ve completely dropped your plan and feel like you need to start again.

It’s so easy to fall into this trap.

It’s why so many people don’t reach the goals they set themselves.

A lot of us are very bad at accepting that one slip up doesn’t really matter.

I’ll admit this is something I’ve always been bad for.  I’d start the week ready to have a totally perfect week and get to Friday upset with myself that it hadn’t happened.

Then I learnt (OK I had drummed into me) that PERFECT DOES NOT EXIST.

BUT.

A couple of not perfect things in an otherwise positive week won’t derail my progress.

Now, I get if you are on show prep or similar and a few days out then a slip up could make a massive difference.  But if you want to feel good on the beach in a couple of month times and go over your calorie goal one day in a week it really isn’t going to matter that much.

As people we tend to focus on the negative over the positive.  So there could be 9 great things about our week and one bad thing and you can almost bet your life we will spend more time thinking about that one negative.

So how do you get the results you want?

You accept that things don’t have to always go to plan for progress to happen.  If in a week you miss one training session but have two really good ones, those two good ones haven’t been cancelled out by missing the third.  If you’ve eaten everything you planned most days but on Tuesday had a cake, that cake hasn’t cancelled out all the nutritious stuff you’ve also fed your body.  If the last month felt really really positive but this week you’ve felt a bit off that doesn’t cancel out last month.

In the same way people say one healthy meal won’t make you slimmer or one exercise session won’t make you fit.  Well nor will the cake make you fat or missing that gym session and going to the pub mean you’re back to square one.

Find your goal. Make your plan. Then stick to it?

Nope.

How about:

Find your goal. Make your plan. Do it as best you can and when life gets in the way don’t start again just keep going and do what you can.

Not as catchy so probably won’t catch on but might mean you’re a little more likely to hit those aims.

Social Media, Mental Health and Living Your Best Life

Social Media isn’t reality, did you know that?

It feels like recently there has been a lot of acknowledgement that people tend to post a ‘best of’ of their lives of Instagram and Facebook- nights out, impressive meals, pretty hotels etc. and that can sometimes make us feel bad about our own lives; that we are perhaps not exciting enough, successful enough, interesting enough.

More people now, possibly in response to this, post more mundane / normal things on Social Media (if you want to know what I’ve eaten at any given time check my Instagram stories and there will be a not very attractive meal that may or may not have some nutritional value to it but to be honest is likely to involve cake, because I’m a fitness instructor and like to fuel my body with foods that provide it with value but I also really really like cake).  That’s good right- fewer perfect lives and more normality will make people feel less disheartened?

But actually does it?  Is my account any different from someone living their best life?  I would say my social media is reasonably warts and all, I post the days I eat the food I planned but I equally post the unplanned cake and chocolate.  I post pictures on nights or days out but my Twitter account, which is basically a tool for complaining to Northern Rail about their ever worsening service, demonstrates that my daily commute is far from glamorous and my days are simply long most of the time.  Yet even I unwittingly self ‘airbrush’ my own life.  In what ways?  Well, obviously not everything I do or eat gets posted, so I might not specifically hold back certain things and post others, but what I do post can’t totally reflect my day or who I’ve seen / spoken to or how I feel (I’m a historian by degree and we will tell you that all historical accounts are subjective so this isn’t something new with the advent of Facebook).  If I’m feeling a bit anxious or down for whatever reason I’m a lot less likely to post anything, so it’s not that I always feel OK and sarcastic as my accounts may suggest, just that my response to not feeling on top form is to withdraw a little rather than tell the world.  So even if you follow people who are pretty open and honest you still don’t see everything.

This make me sound like I’m not keen on Social Media but that isn’t the case at all.  I use many forms frequently and find the positives outweigh the negatives for me personally most days.  But nothing is cut and dry.

Social Media allows fitness professionals to talk to people openly beyond the clients in their gym and there are many excellent fitness professionals, both well known on Social Media and those only known more locally, who provide great insights to people for free.  This can potentially then encourage someone to go and seek out more advice and make huge strides in their fitness journey.  Equally, advice and posts could be misunderstood or someone could take advice that was meant for a different demographic to them and not get the results they want.  So positives yes, but we also need to be careful about what we say and promote.

Social Media can connect people who would otherwise not have met and provide opportunities to get advice and mentorship from such people and allows businesses to connect with clients on a more human level.  Equally it can cause debates and misunderstandings as people don’t know each other to understand why they have those opinions or view points because their situations are different. It often appears easier to argue with someone you never have to see and that can create an environment where people feel more able to say things they wouldn’t in person.

Social Media has opened up conversations around mental health.  Now I’m still a little dubious about this.  I like how people feel more comfortable talking about it.  I am less keen on how sometimes when people do post things about their own mental health they can be met with well meaning but not necessarily helpful reactions.  It’s tough to know whats really going on behind even the most honest of status.  I think being aware of the emotions of the people we talk to daily is a better way to show support to others.  Watching out for the signs that suggest that someone is maybe a bit stressed or anxious is possibly going to be more helpful on a realistic level.  However well meaning, we aren’t doctors or health care professionals and whilst listening to people express their feelings on Social Media can help both break down barriers and make the person in question feel heard / better understood, it also encourages us to offer advice – which might end up being helpful but equally could not be. Our feedback could end up being harmful to the person posting. Nonetheless the reduction in stigma surrounding mental health issues is a positive thing.

Social Media can help keep you motivated.  I know of many social media accounts which responsibly promote building a healthy mindset and teach hacks and systems which allow you to approach life’s challenges and which don’t try and fix whether you are ‘happy’ or not (if you are interested I can direct you to some people). Equally however there are well meaning posts that show a happy picture and a quote about only wanting to deal with positive vibes.  Those posts are probably normally quite personal to that individual and reflect what they are feeling at that moment and are not a dig at others.  Yet I sometimes feel they could have a negative effect on people who maybe at that point do not feel positive.  Because let’s acknowledge that depression means you don’t always feel positive but that this doesn’t mean you are a ‘negative’ person.  In reality we all have days when we don’t feel 100% positive and that doesn’t make us negative people.  Sometimes we don’t need to be told to be more positive we just need to be able to vent or have a rant and clear out our mind / work though our thoughts. When we post on social media we don’t always think how our words could be interpreted by others, nor can we be held responsible for how someone else takes our words of course – this is just another one of the double edged swords of the medium.

Like real life, Social Media isn’t all great and isn’t all bad – it’s messy and can be viewed differently day by day.  So in reality how we respond to anything whether it be something showing someone’s ‘best life’ or someone posting something real and honest is going to depend on how we feel ourselves that day and on any given day the same post could be viewed as inspirational and motivational or equally something which makes you feel a bit shit. That’s our internal reflection of what we see more than what is actually posted.

So yes, sometimes accounts may only show the best bits, but I think all accounts however honest and real can affect people in different ways regardless iof intention.

How do we deal with that, because for a lot of us, Social Media is a part of life and just dropping out isn’t necessarily an option we want?

Well in part I think just acknowledging that Social Media is always a life through a filter or a censored opinion – even when we think it’s totally real- it’s just not possible to be 100% real via a computer / phone or photo, even when you try. I go back to history as my example, as a historian all sources are tainted by subjectiveness – be they propaganda materials or diaries and personal testimony.  

Some people are more honest and open in how they use Social Media though so you could look to pick people to follow who match with your values and make you feel better / empowered rather than crap – people who will talk to you, respond to questions with honest answers.  If there are people on your feed on any site who make you feel rubbish you can remove them or mute them (because you may not be able to remove your mums neighbour three doors down without causing awkwardness in the supermarket).

If we choose to use Social Media for positive it can be a great addition to our life, it just needs to be something that we are aware of how it affects us and react accordingly to that. That means breaks when needed and setting boundaries that work for us (because everyone’s limit will be different).

Beyond that, I believe working on our own emotions and head space is a really important thing. How we train, eat, feel can be impacted by Social Media only so much when we are in the best place we can be at the time. How often does a post trigger you into a mood on a bad day but on a good day you’d find the same thing funny? That is why when I don’t feel so great I spend less time talking on Social Media. It is also why I haven’t just invested time and money into my physical well being but I also work with a trainer on my mindset as well – our wellness is a much more rounded package than just our bodies.

For me systems and creating habits in the real world, which help me respond differently to triggers than I used to is the key to then feeling healthy towards what I see on Social Media (and beyond).

This blog started as one thing and then sort of meandered elsewhere so apologies for the random nature of what has essentially been a mind dump on how I feel about Social Media and mental health, but as I said I have systems in place that help me process my own thoughts and sometimes this blog ends up being one of them … so here it is a very public social media style way of considering social media.

Also – sometimes we just do nice things and want to post them for people to see. So as reflective as I have been sometimes we really just had a nice holiday and want to share!

Would love to hear your thoughts – whether you agree of disagree!