Death

Checking the daily figures of fatalities due to Covid-19 has become part of our new normal, and as hard as it is, it does us no harm to take a moment to reflect on death and dying. We are reminded that life has an end point, and so we need to make the best of the time that we are fortunate enough to have left. We will all die someday, that is inevitable, but most of us hope that it will be far away in the future, and we prefer not to think about it. However, it is an imminent reality for so many more people due to the pandemic, and we cannot ignore its presence, it is a daily occurrence on a tragic scale.

 Naturally, this is not a topic that we like to chat about; it makes us feel vulnerable as we have limited control over it, but we must embrace the uncertainty of life. Watching so many people die certainly brings our own mortality into the spotlight. I never fail to appreciate the fact that Parkinson’s, though life-changing, is not a terminal diagnosis.

 Many of us are crippled by fear and anxiety if we think about our mortality, but there are many lessons to learn when we do take the time to reflect on them. Death may be easier to deal with if you have lived the life that you want and have few regrets about time misspent. It may sound morbid, but reminding yourself about death may encourage you to live a life with no ‘what-ifs’ or regrets. If we were immortal, then we might fall into the trap of cruising along and we would just keep putting off our dreams again and again, death does not allow us to do that. When thinking about death, it can be helpful to remember that there are certain things that you can do to ‘death-proof’ your life to an extent; most important of which is taking care of your health. Just do what you can do, know that you’ve done all that you can, and that the rest is beyond your control. Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow, we only have these moments, and they are precious, so please use them wisely.

Some of you may have lost a loved one to this virus or due to other circumstances, all of us will experience loss at some point in our lives. Moving on after death can be a long and hard road, there will be good and bad days, but this process can teach us many lessons; just as we don’t want to ‘go there’ with death, we often don’t want to with grief either. Thinking about death or grief can arouse strong emotions, it can hit you like a truck, it is easier to gloss over it, but these emotions need to be embraced and honoured. Allow yourself to get teary and release the grief rather than trying to numb it; crying is healing and very cathartic. This is a process, there is no right or wrong way to do this, and it can take years to adjust to living without someone who you love, it can be helpful to think about special moments and memories that you shared. Losing a loved one can be one of the worst things that you will ever go through, but it can make you appreciate how blessed you were to have had that person in your life, and also to appreciate those who are still alive and with us. Life involves taking the rough with the smooth.

Think about what you would do if you only had six months left to live. What would you stop doing? Many books have been written containing lessons from the dying; most would tell us not to worry about the small stuff, take time out for ourselves, appreciate the everyday pleasures in life, and most importantly to look after our health. None of us know how much time we have left, so no matter what happens, make sure that you’ve made your life a good one, and don’t take a second of it for granted…

If this blog has raised any issues for you, please talk to a family member or friend, alternatively there are support agencies such as Bereavement Care (free helpline – 0808 808 1677).

 

If this blog has raised any issues for you, please talk to a family member or friend, alternatively there are support agencies such as Bereavement Care (free helpline – 0808 808 1677).

The Simple Life

The World is winding down, and unless we are front-line workers, most of us are living much simpler lives and are hibernating away for our health and well-being. How are you embracing your new humbler way of life away from the old fast-paced hectic one? Parkinson’s has taught me that decelerating works wonders for my health, and this pandemic is showing me that it may actually save my life. So, are you finding this time to be limiting or in fact liberating?

I am using this time to take stock, whilst not for a second forgetting the pain that others are going through, the financial worries that many people have, and indeed how much our key -workers are doing for us. Most of us have been forced to shed many of the accoutrements of our old lifestyles; and this breathing space away from the daily grind of spinning too many plates, may help us to reflect on what really matters, and also what doesn’t. Some of us may be wondering how we will ever go back to our old lives of rushing through the day flitting from task and trying to do more than is ever possible. Can you keep up that unsustainable pace for another 10/20 years? Do you even want to?

Parkinson’s gave me a permission slip to slow down, and it is my mission to help others to do the same. I do a lot of reading on neurological health, and neuroscientists show that our brains are not wired to handle so many activities simultaneously, it leads to burnout or worse; it’s a high price to pay! What do you want out of this second go at life? I urge you to use this time to reflect on what can be tweaked or even removed from your schedule, find balance, do some soul searching and get your mojo back. Pick happy over busy every time…

You may be starting to find joy in the simple things such as your home; you might never again get to spend this amount of time in it. My house is my place of sanctuary and safety, but I am fully aware that not everyone has that same refuge, and so for that reason, I am extremely appreciative and content with the home that I have.

We have all had to start shopping more consciously as food supply is limited and deliveries are not always accessible, and so many of us are living more within our means and have broken the cycle of endless shopping and consuming without thinking. There is also a greater appreciation of food and those who supply it, both of which we can tend to take for granted. Shopping sprees are on hold and so we may have found clothes that we haven’t seen in years, I know that I have underestimated how many clothes that I actually have and only wear half of what I own. I will most definitely be reflecting on what I spend my money on in the future.

Perhaps your attitude to your job will change? You may feel the desire to review how much time that you spend working. You might feel the need to reflect on how much your job encroaches on your personal time or how well you parent because of it. Is it impacting your health and stress levels? We all need to work to pay the bills, but we also need to be fulfilled and enjoy what we do. Now is the time to set clear boundaries between our work and home lives; saying ‘No’ in work does not mean that you are lazy, but it does mean that you are putting your well-being and your loved-ones first.

So, does your future life look the same as the old one?  Will you still race through life frazzled? I hope that we can all use this as a time for evolution and growth. Life throws us many curveballs, but I have learned to always count my blessings and appreciate all that I have. If you entered ‘lockdown’ stressed and overwhelmed, I sincerely hope that you leave it with a renewed zest for life. Not everyone will get that chance… 

Nothing Else Matters

Like many of you, I am frightened; I am extremely worried about elderly and vulnerable loved ones, our country, and what we will be left with when we get through this crisis. This is a period of change that none of us are prepared for physically, mentally or emotionally; but we have no choice other than to dig deep and to do all that we can to help ourselves, our families, the local community and those heroes working tirelessly for us in the NHS. I am currently writing from a privileged position in that I can self isolate and I have not been directly impacted by the virus, my heart goes out to those who are not as fortunate.  

I have been in isolation for the last two weeks, and so I have had a lot of time to reflect on what we are going through. I haven’t given a second thought to letting go of the many unimportant activities that have been part of my life for many years, but I have been thinking about the health of both myself and those whom I love, as in the end, nothing else matters.

We will never be the same people that we were just a few months ago; some of us might lose loved ones, some of us may fall ill, but I hope that all of us will emerge as better people, I believe that we owe that to those who will not survive this. We must resolve to learn from this tragedy and use this pain as a way to grow, we must turn our wounds into wisdom. The logo for my blog is a peacock feather; one of the reasons that I selected this is that it is believed that a hungry peacock will be willing to eat thorns when food is scarce, but these thorns produce wonderful feathers, something beautiful is created out of something so hard to digest, and so, I too, always try to turn my own thorns into peacock feathers.

Rock bottom is a  catalyst for change and I truly believe that  we are being urged to slow down, be still, renew, refocus, and to totally reassess our values. Many of us are key-workers who are still working outside of our homes, but the rest of us now have down time like we have never had before; it’s time for some silence and solitude.

It’s time to do an inventory of our lives.  Many of us will now have a greater appreciation for all that we already have and for our health. Sometimes we need to be pushed into circumstances to make us change. Our health matters so much more than the ‘stuff’ that we have, there is more to life than making money at the expense of our health and time with our families. Is it worth always striving for more whilst sacrificing what really matters?  

By the end of all of this we will have developed a resilience to cope with whatever comes our way, and hopefully we will stop ‘sweating the small stuff’. The things that we used to worry about seem so insignificant and pointless, life has thrown is a major curve ball that puts all else into perspective.

Hope is essential at this time, try to choose faith over fear. These are terrible times, but we have to carry on and hope for brighter days ahead. Trust that thing will not be like this forever, live in this moment and don’t worry about doomsday scenarios that have not and may not happen.

When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I learned to accept that I must give up control, and that is something that we must all surrender to in these difficult times. Many of us have a profound dislike of uncertainty, we cannot control what will happen over the coming months, but we can control how we react to it. We can choose to be selfish or to share, to help or to hinder, to socialise or to save lives. What’s it going to be?   

Loneliness

Loneliness affects all of us at one stage or another; it hugely affects those with both mental and physical health challenges and whilst technology connects us in so many ways, studies show that we are now more disconnected than ever. We are glued to our screens, we don’t talk on phones, and when we do meet up with others, we are too busy posting about it and taking selfies to take time to connect with those who we are with. We can give the appearance of having a fantastic life on social media but still be very lonely if we are craving ‘likes’ for our validation.

Loneliness certainly impacts those who have chronic illnesses; we feel different from those around us and that nobody understands what we are going through, we stand out, we are often seen to be ‘swinging the lead’ or lazy, and people will often stare at us which just adds to the isolation. Meeting new people can mean that we have to explain ourselves and our needs; all of this scrutiny just adds to our anxiety.  We lose our sense of identity and who we used to be and what we used to be able to do, we lose our independence, we are forced to leave behind our old identities to forge our ‘new normal’; all of which can be very distressing and traumatic. We often withdraw from social situations as we feel disconnected, crowds overwhelm us, but we do find solace in online forums or support groups where we are amongst our tribe and those going through the same issues that we are.

I am fortunate in that I love to be alone by choice and I need time alone to recharge after a period of ‘doing’ or being with others. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing support network who understand that I need to balance socialising with them alongside my own time to just be alone. Social connection is essential for cognitive development but so too is quiet time. I never take for granted how lucky I am to have a choice in the matter, and I appreciate those who let me either show up or decline offers as I decide.

I don’t have all the answers on how to help those who are lonely but I know that one way to help is to be kind to others, we have no idea what is going on in other people’s lives and it must be awful to look back on your day knowing that you have caused pain to someone else. Do you add to other people’s burden? Do you make people feel that they matter? Don’t underestimate the power of a kind act; kindness is a laudable trait that we should want to possess. Would people describe you as kind? You can be an amazing success financially, and in your career, but what matters most is how you treat people. I truly believe that what we put out will return to us; that can be unkindness on social media, thoughtlessness or trying to make ourselves feel better by bringing others down.

Equally, this kindness works both ways; resentment strikes when it is one way and none of us should be a doormat, kindness shouldn’t leave you drained and exhausted, it is good to be empathetic but not if you are risking your own mental health and fatigue. We can be supportive without trying to solve other people’s problems, we don’t have to be the solution as we are not the keeper of other’s happiness, just our own!

We are all dealing with something others may not know about and small acts of kindness can make more of a difference than we will ever know, those who are lonely often feel that nobody cares, so go on and show them that indeed somebody does…

Exercise

I spend a lot of time researching how to calm my anxious brain and there is no doubt that exercise helps to promote relaxation and balance; this is not surprising given the connection between the body and the mind.

Exercise is often prescribed for people with mental health problems; it is clearly crucial to both our mental and physical health. In the past, my exercise programme was never balanced; it was either a famine or a feast, but I do find that my symptoms are helped immensely now that I make time for physical exercise.  I’ve said it repeatedly, but the health of my body is a manifestation of choices that I have made along the way, I will no longer be a passive victim, I am now taking responsibility for my own health. Exercise does wonders for my physical and mental health and most importantly my Parkinson’s symptoms.

So, do you prioritise physical exercise? Are you physically fit? Are you happy with your fitness levels? It’s tempting to give up on the New Year’s resolutions at this time of year and to stay in a warm cosy house rather than exercise outside or queue for machines at an over-packed gym, however, our bodies are our homes on Earth, so we must manage our lives to allow time for exercise. Are you concentrating on one area of your life at the expense of exercise? There comes a point when you realise that things need to change…

Research shows that only 10% of illnesses are determined by genetics, 90% are lifestyle related; and so the importance of exercise cannot be overstated.   Exercise helps our immune cells to fight disease and infection, it improves heart health and inflammation, it also reduces our chances of being diagnosed with many cancers, osteoporosis, diabetes and even dementia.  Walking is one of the best things that I can do for Parkinson’s as it improves brain function and releases dopamine, which my brain has stopped producing. Walking outdoors, particularly in nature, can be a euphoric experience for me, I can be physically exhausted but feel totally alive!  

Exercise also greatly improves mental health; it boosts your mood and releases your happy hormones, it gives your brain a break from its stresses and to-do lists, it is a great way to escape and to deal with anxiety and depression.  Exercise helps to release negative emotions, to live in the moment and to be in a state of peace. Taking this time for yourself helps you to connect to your body, take back control of your life, tune out the outside world and focus on yourself, it literally takes you away from it all.

Just get started; you don’t need fancy clothes or an expensive gym membership. Your house or the outdoors can be your gym, those who live longest aren’t necessarily doing 5 spin classes a week, they just move every day and throughout the day. Exercise doesn’t have to happen separately from life, integrate it into your day, walk in the morning, at lunch or in the evening, it doesn’t have to be about taking it to the extreme. Do exercise that you enjoy and you’re more likely to crave that dopamine hit. Aim for your 10,000 steps a day outside if the thought of a testosterone filled gym puts you off.

Strength training is just as important as cardio; you don’t need to aim for bulging biceps bursting out of a tight t-shirt, it’s not about vanity or looking like The Hulk, it’s about aiding your physical health. Loss of muscle accelerates as we get older and strength training improves bone density and even helps to prevent osteoporosis.  You won’t necessarily bulk up as this takes specific training and a specialised diet, but you will feel the psychological and physical benefits of pumping iron.

When you have a chronic illness, exercise becomes a blessing and not a chore, you are grateful for the movements that your body can make and will do anything to ensure that it continues, exercise is not about weight loss for me, that is just one of the side effects. I don’t ‘have’ to exercise, I am blessed that I ‘get’ to exercise, unfortunately there are so many people who don’t have this opportunity. I appreciate exercise as it is my workout for the body, mind and even my soul.

So, get the trainers on and go hustle for those muscles. Most importantly, don’t forget that shopping counts as cardio! Just do whatever you can to take care of your body and rest assured that it will thank you for it…

SLEEP

The modern world is exhausted! Most of us don’t have the time to get enough sleep; we then try to muster up the strength to power on through the day and by the end of it, we feel like we’ve run a marathon.  We feel the weight of never-ending to-do lists; we have too much to do and excessive demands are put on our time, consequently the time that we devote to sleep is being squeezed and squeezed.  Modern society pushes people to their limit; it encourages people to challenge themselves, to be achieving and to always be on the go, there is little thought to the cost and the impact on our health. We wear our tiredness like a badge of honour; it is a sign that we work hard and are tough, and it is a symbol of what great martyrs we are. I have no doubt that years of sleep deprivation was a key component in contributing to my early diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease; my body was screaming out for rest; I didn’t stop, and so it made me do just that! 

So, did you get enough sleep last night? Did you get your 8 hours? Did you allow your body and brain enough time to rest, recover and repair? Are you at a tipping point? I would imagine that most of you who are reading this would benefit from more sleep; I know that I would. We are not super-human and sleep is not a waste of time or indulgent. Our health is governed by the amount of sleep that we get; and so, it’s time to make some changes…

Our bodies and minds need rest, refusing to slow down greatly increases our risk of being diagnosed with a chronic or indeed terminal illness. Sleep influences all areas of our lives; it is essential for neurological, mental, physical and emotional health. Lack of sleep impacts every cell, tissue and organ; it affects stress levels, concentration and immunity. Cortisol levels surge when we are tired, and too much cortisol causes inflammation and chronic illness. When we are tired, we are more likely to crave junk food and fail to exercise. Sleep deprivation has been linked to reduced life expectancy, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, morbid obesity, cancer, and the list goes on… The health of my brain is an absolute priority to me, and so, I have to be selfish with my sleep, I must make time for myself. I am not lazy but I take every opportunity that I can do to get some rest and relaxation, I no longer feel guilty for allowing myself to have a break, I am just tuning in to what my body needs and refusing to damage my health any more than I already have done.

Alternatively, you may suffer from insomnia and will have spent last night staring at your phone in the hope of dropping off to sleep. You may have spent the night calculating how much sleep you would get if you fell asleep in the next five minutes. Not everyone can easily slip into a deep sleep. Many of us will stare at the ceiling for hours and our over-zealous brains will start to think about something that happened years ago and what we should have said and done, we might even reflect on every bad decision that we have ever made, or we make up imaginary situations that will most likely never ever happen. Well, there are many things that you can do to promote good sleep, they won’t work for everyone, but they are certainly worth trying…

Firstly, it is essential that you avoid food with chemicals and toxins as these are not helping your body to relax; your body is working overtime to cleanse itself of the harmful substances in junk food and alcohol. Sugar and toxins hardly have a sedative effect on the brain, instead they raise and elevate stress levels. Low carb diets also lead the body to go looking for energy, we need ‘good’ carbs to stay asleep. Plant foods containing calcium and magnesium can lower stress levels, and magnesium encourages the release of melatonin which is needed for sleep. Chamomile tea is very soothing and a great way to help your nervous system to unwind as you get ready for bed.  

I have already written about the benefits of meditation; it is an excellent way to help the body to relax, and there are so many excellent apps and resources on YouTube that can be availed of.  ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) is growing in popularity as it induces feelings of relaxation; it has a meditative effect and can help anxiety. There are literally millions of ASMR videos on YouTube; they range from whispers to waves, and whilst it doesn’t work for everyone, it does help many others.

Those who exercise, particularly outdoors, report better sleep as it releases stress and endorphins. Yoga Nidra videos can be accessed online; these encourage total physical relaxation, release tension and calm the nervous system by helping the body to switch off.

So, to conclude; anything that stops you getting sleep needs to be addressed; find a way and take control. Say no to people pleasing and set some boundaries. Those who think that you are lazy are probably struggling with their own guilt about taking time out as they also want more sleep. You need to take responsibility for your health and well-being. Stop everything and be selfish. If you don’t do this for your own body, then who else will?  

Hello 2020

The New Year is an obvious time to reflect on the year that has passed, but it is also an opportunity to plan for the year ahead.  Living with Parkinson’s means that I live in a constant state of self-evaluation and self-improvement; I regularly have to evaluate what is and isn’t contributing to my health and well-being, but I feel that this should be something that we could all benefit from doing regularly, not just once a year. The New Year is a time of optimism and hope; it is a time to look at the areas of our lives that aren’t working and then to make the necessary changes, it is a time to sync with our souls and do more of what makes us happy.

Think back to the year that has gone. What would your life look like today if you had kept last year’s resolutions? Are you a better version of yourself now than you were at the start of the year? What did you hope to achieve this time last year? Did you do it? Have your dreams gone unrealised? Many of you will be answering ‘no’ and feel that this represents failure, but if your resolutions were not kept, then perhaps they never happened for a good reason; life is unpredictable and can derail us, maybe they were shallow goals that didn’t show an understanding of what really mattered, or you may be standing still as that is easier than making changes to your life, there may be a fear of failure and of not being good enough, or perhaps you are just drifting through life whilst waiting for the arrival of death?

Many of us will have been through some tough times last year, it may not have been an easy year and in no way do I want to dismiss anyone’s pain; but I would imagine that you are a lot stronger and abler to handle whatever else is thrown at you, and you will have certainly learned some valuable lessons along the way. Every setback gives us an opportunity to grow and develop.

If you are discontented with your life, then that is a sign that something needs to change. The New Year is a time to explore what needs to stay and what needs to go. There are things that can’t be changed, but there are many parts of your life where you have choices and options. Change causes us fear, but does that mean that we should stay in a situation that is soul-destroying? Are you still going to be held hostage this time next year?  Perhaps it’s time to reflect on what’s important to you and build a life around that?

One way that I start the New Year is by doing a vision board; this is a visible reminder of my goals for the year ahead, it can be done on a cork board, a page, or on your phone, the options are endless. The important thing about creating a vision board, is that it should be somewhere where you can check in with it regularly to assess your progress; most resolutions are broken by the end of January, but a vision board is a good way to keep up the momentum and prevent us being stagnant. List all of the things that you want in your life and the things that make you truly happy, use positive words or images from magazines, have an optimistic mindset, feel the emotion of achieving those targets and plan a life that you today would be jealous of. If fear didn’t exist, then what would you do? Vision boards are positive and less about ‘giving up’ things and more about welcoming in what you desire. Think of your vision board as a prescription for happiness and a visible reminder of your goals.

Don’t forget to follow creating a vision board with action though! Why not give it a go? It has worked for me. Plant that seed of hope and possibility today, then buckle up; by this time next year you might be amazed at what has happened …

Happy New Year!  

Medicine or Poison?

I love food, and there is no denying that it is one of life’s greatest pleasures. The role of a healthy diet in our lives cannot be overstated; the food that we eat has a direct impact on our physical, mental and emotional health, and if we eat correctly, we can enable our bodies to work to their optimum. Good food can keep us balanced, improve brain function, reduce our chances of being diagnosed with so many illnesses, help us to have healthy immune systems, and help our bodies to regenerate and rejuvenate; it is a natural healer with the power to transform health and wellbeing. 

I am in no way a nutritionist, but I have been eating low quality food recently and have noticed a significant dip in my health, but after just two weeks of eating well again, my symptoms have improved greatly. I spend a lot of time researching the impact of food on our health and I am in no doubt that, ‘We are what we eat’. Good food is the essential ingredient in building new neurotransmitters in my brain, and a diet lacking in nutrition will exacerbate many of my symptoms, there is a direct correlation between the health of my gut and the health of my brain. I am not about to lecture you on the health benefits of a vegan diet, but I am just asking you to reflect on the food that you eat and how much of your diet is plant-based (fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and pulses). How much processed food do you eat? How much food do you eat in its natural state? How kind are you to your body? Are you eating for the health that you want?

‘Let food be thy medicine’. Hippocrates.

Before diagnosis, my eating habits, like my whole life, were unbalanced; it was either a famine or a feast. I varied between meticulous ‘clean eating’ and the other extreme of mindlessly inhaling processed and ‘yellow food’, with very little fruit and vegetables. When I don’t eat enough plant-based foods, I am tired and lethargic as my body is not getting the nutrition that it is craving.  When we eat a lot of chemically enhanced food, we are increasing our chances of being diagnosed with an array of cancers, strokes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and coronary problems; we are literally poisoning our bodies. The World Health Organisation has even classified processed meat as a carcinogen, yet we give this to children…

Repetitive poor eating catches up with us eventually, it did with me.  Ill health doesn’t happen overnight, modern life has normalised junk food and we ride the sugar rollercoaster daily, but a poor diet is impeding good health. A bad diet is one of the main culprits linked to poor health and chronic illness.  This blog is not asking you to cut out junk food completely, or asking you to starve yourself, but rather to keep it as a treat in moderation and as part of a balanced diet.  It is not about calorie counting or fad diets, it is just an attempt to use my experience to nudge you to use food to nourish and cleanse your body, rather than creating inflammation and toxicity.

As I have mentioned before, anxiety is one of my PD symptoms that I struggle with the most; my body is always primed for threat, so diet is crucial to keeping my brain and nervous system calm. I am taking control of my health, and so genetically modified foods that are laden with sugar and endless preservatives must be kept to a minimum. Processed foods are brain stimulants, whereas plant-based foods are antioxidants. If you have a neurological condition like myself, then blueberries are one of the best foods to eat for neurological health and getting rid of debris. B- vitamins are essential for the health of your brain as is magnesium (a calming miracle), I have found these to have a great impact on my recovery and I seem to deteriorate when I fail to take these supplements.

Toxins will manifest in some sort of illness and I’m determined to ensure that I don’t have any more devastating news in a doctor’s office.

Food can have a calming and purifying effect on the body, it has the ability to reset our immune systems, it can help us to heal a lot faster or avoid many illnesses. When we start eating good food, our bodies will start to repair themselves and purge any toxins. Research shows that the majority of our diet should be plant-based, that we should keep animal protein to a minimum, eat as much food as you can in the state that it was grown, and check sugar content and preservatives on ingredient lists as these are literally poisoning your body.

If I haven’t convinced you of the importance of eating well, then I would highly recommend that you watch The Game Changers and What the Health on Netflix, also read The Longevity Diet by Valter Longo (all proceeds are donated to charity). Just eat well and listen to your gut. Healthy eating takes motivation and determination, but the pay off in terms of your health is most certainly worth it!

MIND CONTROL

Many of us would agree that our minds can cause us more harm than our worst enemies; the mind can bombard us with racing thoughts and make life a rollercoaster, alternatively, it can uplift us and keep us serene amidst the chaos of modern living. Anxiety is one of the symptoms of Parkinson’s that impacts my life most significantly; and so, I have had to throw myself into facing it head on. I am attempting to step off the merry-go-round of worry, palpitations, dizziness and what is often called ‘monkey-mind’.

There is no question that the mind affects our health, Parkinson’s patients often find that symptoms worsen when they are stressed and under pressure, but that symptoms improve when in a state of calm and relaxation. Holistic practitioners are fully aware of the mind and body connection, and many doctors of conventional medicine would also agree. 

Our health is often a manifestation of what is going on in our minds and our thoughts govern our lives; we can drink all of the juices that we want, do yoga, eat well and get plenty of rest, but if we don’t deal with our toxic and chaotic thoughts, we will never live happy and healthy lives.

As an experiment, think about someone that you love; you may feel a rush of dopamine as you release your happy chemicals. Now, think of someone who upsets you and causes you difficulties; reflect on the physical reaction that you felt in your body. So, are your thoughts helping or harming you?  Are you adding to your own suffering? Are you a prisoner of your mind? If so, then you are putting stress on your immune system and negatively impacting your health. Perhaps it’s time to retrain your mind?

It might sound easier said than done, but it can be achieved through practice. The discovery of mindfulness has been a real turning point for me, and it is used to treat many neurological conditions and other serious illnesses; it decreases stress, lowers blood pressure, and it helps to deal with depression and anxiety. Surely anything that can help you to live a more equilibrious life is worth a try? In our chronically overstimulated lives, taking a break to connect with your mind and soul should be the most important part of your day.

Looking after your mind is as important as food, water, exercise and sleep; it requires some deep inner work, but it helps you to break free from your thoughts and realise that they are not tangible or real, they are merely thoughts. Enstasy is the practice of being able to retreat for a few moments, observe your thoughts and step out of them, rather than joining in with the drama. It takes practice to not give your thoughts power, and we only give them power when we listen to them or believe them.

We are all busy and don’t have the time to spend the day in lotus pose listening to panpipes (my idea of pure bliss though), but there are ways that we can train our brains to be calm throughout the day, and meditation is one such tool. Purists might disagree with me, but I believe that meditation can happen whilst doing mundane tasks, taking a shower, as you do the dishes, cleaning your teeth, sitting in traffic, walking the dog and so on; these can be moments to become aware of our breathing and thoughts, and in doing so, detox the mind.   Some sceptics may dismiss this as hippy mumbo-jumbo, but there is a vast amount of research showing the benefits of meditation to our health; it is backed up by the science.

This one small change can have a ripple effect on the rest of your day, and the more you do it, the more it will become second nature, just start by being conscious throughout the day. Meditation helps you to release anger and resentment, it makes you feel calmer and more appreciative; and it can consequently make you a much nicer person, rather than a snappy adrenaline filled maniac!

So, try to set some time aside for yourself; your anxiety is a sign that some need is not being met and must be dealt with. Prioritise yourself and take some time out to check in with your mind. Spend some time each day in meditation, even if you start with just 5 minutes. There are lots of excellent apps and resources to help you: Insight Timer is free, or try out Buddhify, Calm or Headspace.   

Why not give it a go? I sincerely hope that by this time next year at least one of you might even be running your very own ashram J .

Try to MAKE time to look after your health before you are FORCED to make time for illness…

STRESS

Are you run ragged? Do you never have a minute? Are you always on high alert? Do you feel burnt out most of the time? Do you overreact? Are you always angry? If you are answering ‘No’ to these questions, then you are the exception rather than the rule. If you answered ‘yes’, then it’s time for an intervention. Your body is sending you a distress flare, listen to it; it is telling you in no uncertain terms that you have lost control of your life and you are not living correctly. Shut it down or your body will do it for you.

I am certain that dealing with stress and disharmony is a key factor in recovering myself from Parkinson’s. For years I didn’t look after my nervous system; my body was bombarded with the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, and my immune system was left exhausted. My body and brain were in chaos; and so here I am, living with a chronic illness. No amount of money, no job, no clean house and no to-do list is worth your health. Read that again!

Stress is just accepted as part of everyday living, it seems to be acceptable to work people to the point of burn out, and we feel under pressure to be all things to all people. We use caffeine to function and alcohol to relax, we crave sugar, we are sleep deprived and snappy, we have no alone time, we have palpitations, we are exhausted and full of bitterness and resentment.  It’s time to start making choices that are a right for our health and not those choices that are easier; these issues will not go away until they have taught us what we need to know.

If you continue to live a lifestyle that is burning you out, then it is likely that you are creating a series of health problems for yourself; stress is linked to so many conditions; a few of which include cancer, heart problems, MS, arthritis, alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, depression and obesity. Our bodies are not designed to be under constant stress, if we don’t give them a chance to recover, then they quite simply will not do so. Our health is very often a result of choices that we have made along the way, it’s time to stop and reflect on the choices that we are making.

It is also important to reflect on whether or not we cause others to be stressed. Are you a pushy parent? Are you an aggressive manager? Do you create conflict regularly? Do you bring negative or positive energy into people’s lives? If so, stop!

Equally, are you someone who needs to try to be more resilient and get your stressors into perspective? Are you a perfectionist? Do you compare yourself to others? Are you competitive? If so, stop!

So, what can you do? I would advise making a list of your causes of stress; list those that you can address and those that you can’t. Take responsibility for changing what you can, then decide to change your reaction to what you cannot eradicate from your life; as the saying goes, ‘It’s not the load that weighs you down but how you carry it’. Have ‘me-time’ every day, stop everything and be selfish, exercise, eat well, sleep, cut down alcohol and caffeine, meditate, laugh, dance, sing, surround yourself with positive people, do things that you love, and let go of all guilt! Basically, give your body time to rest and recover.

Doing all of these things will make your life happier. You will be a better partner, parent, friend and employee, but most importantly, these changes may save your life. It’s time to take responsibility for your health, take accountability and be your own health advocate and physician. You are not a passive victim in your life, you need to connect to the messages that your body is giving to you.

We can all learn wonderful lessons from those who have health problems; I beg you to address your stress levels now before you don’t have that choice. Trust me, your body, mind and soul will thank you for it …