How Good Are You at Managing Stress? Turns out I’m rubbish

My ‘Free’ Basils – see below

How are your stress levels? Do you manage stress quite well or are you currently reading this in a darkened room with a large glass of something to hand and handfuls of your hair on the floor? Circumstances have forced me to consider my own methods for dealing with stress (read on) and I’m really interested to hear your tips, too.

Until fairly recently I’d have said I was really good at managing stress but I was wrong. Turns out I am a bit rubbish which was quite a shock to me. The signs were all there if I’d only cared to look, but because I viewed myself as a person who manages stress well I didn’t spot them. I wrote about it a little in a previous post. I’m sharing this with you now because it’s been such a profound experience and is affecting how I now choose to work. In brief, my husband of 42 years suffers (and I use that word advisedly) from severe anxiety and depression. He has been very ill for quite some time. I won’t bore you with all the details but about 2 years ago I also had major surgery which took about a year to recover from. I really didn’t believe it would take that long but the doctors were right, who knew? My immune system was compromised by the amount of antibiotics I had had to take for years. I tackled it like I do everything else. I read a much as I could on the biome, did a course with Jeanette Hyde (see here), and generally worked hard on getting well.

Apart from my husband’s illness life was good. Both our children were happy and settled in relationships and work, I became a grandmother, I was working with some wonderful women, and I was absolutely relishing being well. Every time I was able to jump up from a chair without pain I felt compelled to comment on it (friends very good-naturedly put up with my frequent Pollyanna moments.)

I joined a choir, attended a Pilates class, and started a book club (Women Writers Book Club) at home. I put on my first RenewYou course in my kitchen and began planning for a studio in the garden to use for coaching and other courses. I even started to put together a course on wellness and trialled it in May. I thought I had it all under control.

Then towards the end of May I realised I hadn’t. My husband was as ill as ever and I was despairing of ever getting the appropriate help for him. My sleep was disrupted. I had quite a lot of things to do and found I was dreading it. They were social things which I usually love. I started to cancel events if I could. For about a week I felt I was dragging myself around in lead boots. I queried if I was actually depressed myself, but, having worked in the field of psychiatry I was pretty certain it wasn’t that. My body, however, was most definitely under stress and I predictably went down with a bug. After a few days I had to take to my bed. I thought I had flu and dutifully took paracetamol, lots of fluid, and honey to stem the non-stop coughing. From this point it all becomes a bit blurry as my temperature soared to 41 degrees celsius and I began to hallucinate. My husband called the emergency line and suddenly there were two women in green jumpsuits in my bedroom (even in my hallucinatory state I was pleased to note it was two women). There was mutterings of possible organ failure and then I found myself in an ambulance on the way to A & E.

RUH, Bath

Well, that was a shock. Even more shocking was the diagnosis that followed – not flu but severe pneumonia in my right lung. The respiratory consultant was very keen to know how I had acquired it and asked lots of probing questions. After a short while he pronounced that I was under so much stress in trying to manage my partner’s illness that my immune system had been compromised again, and that I had to pay more attention to myself and get regular breaks. Oh, and it would take me about three months to be fully recovered.

I can’t tell you how horrified I was by that. It challenged something very fundamental about the beliefs I hold on myself; namely that I can cope with anything life throws at me. It also played into some of my thoughts about ageing and how differently women are viewed as they grow older. (The cloak of invisibility which descends on older women.) I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.

That said, it has actually been a VERY GOOD THING. ( Pollyanna returns.) I have taken the advice on board. I am working a bit less and, perhaps more importantly, have finally learned (64 next birthday), that sometimes I need help as well a being the helper. Here is one good thing to come out of it.

Wellness for Women

I trialled a new idea for a course at the beginning of May with a small number of brave women. They were very complimentary, bless them, but I know it wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be. It was about general wellness, how prescient! I must learn to practise what I preach… One huge plus of being unwell was the love and support of friends and the long conversations and visits. I want to tell you about one friend in particular, Mary Love.

Mary is a nurse by profession. We are almost exactly the same age and worked together in the NHS for many years. Our first encounter was trying to conduct an interview with a pervy chap from HR and silently working out how to limit the damage he was doing with his ridiculously sexist and random questions. Mary had her own epiphany and left her management role in the NHS to live and work in a beautiful place in Southern Ireland.

Mary Love by John Post

Recently she has set up her own business called Mary Loves Mindful Eating. For years Mary and I were the same size, which is to say we both needed to be about 6 inches taller to be the ideal weight for our height. Then Mary transformed herself. We were talking about this and Mary said it is extremely hard to lose weight when you are severely stressed and also if you are not sleeping properly. That rang  a bell. We talked some more and a germ of an idea was born. Mary wants to expand her practice to the UK. I am building a studio in the garden this Autumn. After about 30 minutes we realised the obvious thing to do was to create a course together. Obviously.

It will not, I promise you, be a course about being thin and glamorous and conforming to some ridiculous idea of what women should look like. I have spent a lifetime helping people make constructive and positive change in their lives and Mary has the medical knowledge, qualifications and experience. The day will be about looking after yourself, being healthy and leading a fulfilled life. I can’t give you any more details yet because it’s a work in progress but I can promise you it will be properly researched, backed up by evidence, and most definitely enjoyable.  Mary is attending my RenewYou course in October, as a participant, and I am experiencing her mindful eating course combined with managing stress. The course will launch in January for anyone wanting to have a great start to 2020 and will be in my garden studio near Bath. I am slightly feeling the pressure to be healthy by that date and, if not 6 inches taller, the healthy weight for my height. I think it will probably involve some follow up coaching but more details will follow. We have pencilled in Monday, January 20th, 2020. If you’re interested in putting your name down for this please get in touch, no obligation at all.

Horticultural Therapy

You might be wondering why I have illustrated this piece with  picture of basil plants on my kitchen windowsill? Well, I am very into ‘horticultural therapy’, or gardening… My garden has been a very real source of pleasure to me in my recovery. I couldn’t do much to begin with so for a few weeks I read a lot. One of my favourite books is Alys Fowler’s The Thrifty Gardener. She recommends getting hold of a supermarket pot of herbs and breaking them up into small pots as a money saving way of propagating plants. As luck would have it my local supermarket had basil plants on offer looking a bit sad and pot bound. I rescued two of them and kept one as my ‘control’. The other I teased out all the individual seedlings and replanted into smaller pots. I managed to get 19 (19!) new plants which are now all flourishing. I can’t tell you how much pleasure I got from that and if you come on my RenewYou course in October I will probably manage to work pesto into the menu. If you do the plant thing do let me know.

RenewYou, Monday, October 14th 2019, near Bath

Positively life changing


Posted on August 15th, 2019 by

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