Topic: Self care

The feelings are there anyway

It’s OK to feel your feelings… but then what?

I have long been struck by how much we try not to feel. How much I try not to feel. How we are surrounded by things which orchestrate, choreograph our feelings and yet, we aim to avoid feeling. Or, we passionately express our feelings in peculiar places like on the social media post of someone we’ve never met or rant at the bus driver.

Recently, I read this from Elisabeth Brooke’s book Herbal Therapy for Women (a book to which I turn often to guide me on using herbs to support a patient from an emotional perspective).

In our culture, we are not encouraged to express our feelings – it is more acceptable to remain cool and logical and not rant and rave.

Elisabeth Brooke, Herbal Therapy for Women (1992)

Since the writing of the book, I think that this has changed and now we are bombarded with images of people overwhelmed with emotion in times of extremity – reality TV is full of emotive scenarios and people being plunged into places which expose them to their fears. I am not sure this counts. These are large feelings in usually unreal situations such as swimming under ice or dropping off a cliff with some elastic around you. These are the choreographed spaces where you would be fool NOT to feel terrified, as it goes against every grain of our survival instinct to do these things.

But, what I think Elisabeth is talking about, are the day-to-day feelings which we push down in order not to be seen a certain way, or to appear miserable/complaining/negative… there’s a long list of the things we’d rather not be seen to be. But, they are all very real daily experiences, some of which are messages which need to be heard.

‘Messages which need to be heard’. Messages which we often try to ignore, push down or hope will just go away. Messages from our bodies. Messages from our hearts. And, this is what Elisabeth goes on to say:

From a health point of view, this is a disaster as the feelings are there anyway, whether they are expressed or not.

Elisabeth Brooke, Herbal Therapy for Women (1992)

This is what struck me so forcefully; “…the feelings are there anyway…” Those feelings are there anyway. You have those feelings whether you choose to acknowledge them or not, whether they are expressed or not. Whether we express them appropriately or not. Whether we dish them out to whichever poor soul gets in the way or not. They are there anyway.

This is obvious and logical. But, for some reason, it has struck me as new. And, it has given me ready pause for thought. Each time we fight down our feelings, or they subside, or we squash them out of existence, we are not releasing them, we are not healthfully acknowledging them, we are trying to pretend they are not there.

This. This is what’s so important to me. As, it is my strong belief that those squashed down feelings are not lying passively in a forgotten corner, they have not become benign because they are ignored. I believe that they are on many levels creating a kind of chaos in physical and emotional health. And this is the crux of how how I want to be supported in my journey. And, it is the way I aim to support the people who come to me. To release those things which are creating internal havoc in our systems. Whether it is a light, ‘niggly’ symptom or a swathe of raw emotion, they almost invariably have come from a place within our psyche. We are all one. There is no mind, body, spirit. It is all one.

So, in our defense, we set up all kinds of protective mechanisms against re-feeling or re-experiencing whatever it was which caused us that first pain. This is normal and a predictable response – we are programmed for survival. And, whilst they worked and served us well for that instance, they rarely do, once it is over. But, we fiercely protect ourselves against pain and keep those protections in place because they worked that first time.

I feel. I feel deeply and often. It’s sometimes overwhelming. It’s sometimes cathartic but it’s always there. Day-to-day feelings as well as feelings from old experiences and protections. I think this is normal. Am I more attuned to my feelings? Some of them but certainly not all of them. Do I try to push down and ignore my deeper, more hurt parts of my self? Of course. Does this work out for me? No, not really.

But, just like you, I am often afraid of my feelings. And, it’s all very well being told it’s OK to feel them, but what if they overwhelm me, create more trouble, are too much, will destroy those around me or I can’t cope with them? What then?

And, you can feel it coming, can’t you? The moral of this story.

Well, I am not sure I have one. It’s a journey I am still on. A journey I anticipate will be with me the rest of my life. But I am trawling the murky depths. I am exploring what it is like to feel my feels. And, I am finding out that they don’t destroy me or anyone around me as long as I don’t act out on them. And, that’s the key. I have learned that feeling is one thing. Acting out and trying to give them to someone else is quite another!

So, what do I do? I think. I feel. I tap and I use herbs. All of these things have the power to shift and change my experience of the old, the new and the current space.

And, I am exploring new modalities, ways of thinking and being, ways of understanding our inner world and this is a wonderful journey.

I am not going to stop you being too afraid to face your feels. I don’t have that power but if you are ready to take that first step towards lifting your life out of those old feel patterns get in touch.

Serve up Love for you

What is the best possible love you can give to yourself? How can you invest in you?

I am beginning to think that the most radical form of self love is in what we put in our mouths. When I hold myself accountable to my future self, the food choices I make are infinitely better than when I go with ‘a bit of what I fancy’.

We know that choosing food when we are hungry makes us far more likely to choose instant fix, dopamine boosting easy foods. There are studies which show that when we pre-plan our meals, we make much healthier choices than when we buy hungry. And, if you’ve ever had to squeeze in a supermarket trip before lunch you’ll know that you come back with very different things to usual! Different’s not always a bad thing but in this instance, it usually is!

Lucy’s Saturday lunch

My lunch yesterday looked like this and today, it was pretty similar just with brown rice and lentils rather than Mortadella.

I know that when I eat like this, my energy is better, that I am contributing to my health in all the forms it’s possible. I have green veg and artichoke for my liver, tahini for calcium for my bones, beetroot and olives for my cardiovascular system, chick peas and butter beans for protein, raw fermented kimchi and raw garlic for my digestive system, avocado and olives for a lot of tastiness and good fats…

That was a power plate. And when I look to my future, I want to be in the best possible health. I want to be around for my daughter in a supportive state (if she wants it!)

I believe I am contributing towards a positive future. We all have much longer life spans than our ancestors but what about a long health span? I intend to be as fit as I can for as long as I can. And then I can enjoy my life for longer, I won’t be a burden on anyone. If we all ate well, it would change so much about our health! And, just think how much more resource the NHS could funnel into other areas of health if it weren’t overburdened by lifestyle diseases.

I belive that food is fundamental to all of this. It isn’t the only factor as we also need to get good sleep, take herbs to address health issues, truly relax so that our nervous systems can replenish and exercise to faciliate and keep mobility.

Start by serving yourself a plate of self-love this Valentine’s.

A-ha moments

Of all the things I value the most highly, it is the discovery of a greater understanding of what makes me tick. Over the years, I have explored many different mind and body techniques, EFT-tapping, counselling, therapy, CBT, Alexander Technique, Shiatsu, massage, osteopathy, craniosacral and more.

The moments of “A-HA!” which I remember the most clearly are the ones I have unearthed myself.

The first moment of a-ha

When I learned from Gretchen Rubin’s 4 Tendencies Quiz that I am an Obliger, it seemed incredible to me that all those years of therapy had failed to reveal to me that the reason I struggled so hard with taking up a new habit or actually getting round to creating my own website was not laziness. Falling into the ‘Obliger’ tendency which makes me an excellent employee as I respond primarily to external motivators. And, new habits are not externally driven and, clearly, neither was my website (although I got there in the end!)

I couldn’t believe that after all this soul searching, naval gazing and analysis, that such a simple facet of my personality could be new to me. It was a huge relief to find that there was a driver behind it and knowing about it helped me to find effective strategies to get round it. PHEW!

I ask all my patients and clients to take this quiz as it is really helpful knowing what drives each person to make changes. With Ogliber patients I am more likely to say ‘do this X times per week by the next time I see you’. If I said that to a Rebel or a Questionner, I would get nowhere! With a Rebel I sow a seed with choices, with a Questionner, I would ask them to research a few different options and then plump for the one they prefer. With upholders, I have to be careful not to ask too much and that what I ask of them doesn’t clash with their own requirements of themself.

I love this framework and have found it really interesting working with myself knowing this aspect of myself.

The second a-ha moment

This one is all about clutter. I have been untidy all my life. I have been a very effective medical secretary and administrator with fabulous systems in place but incapable of keeping my own spaces tidy. Strangely, although this one is still at the stage of unfurling, I know that once I can take on board the fullness of the implications, this will change my life (and my partner’s – a minimalist who hates clutter…) The root of it is that I need to have things right in front of me. Those intensely detailed filing systems which I love -in theory- because they appeal to my very organised and methodical brain simply don’t work for me because I need things to be out. The things I use day-to-day need to be in front of my eyes.

I learned this from Cassandra Aarssen’s Clutter bug quiz where I came out as a Butterfly! I was really shocked. I love the systems of a cricket but I never stick to them and it would appear that this is because I need things simple and right in front of me. Put it tidily away in a drawer? It’ll never been seen again. A truly out of sight, out of mind person! Who’da thunk it?

Actually, I am still not sure I believe it but, I am quite excited about adapting my ‘tidying’ styles to this more visual approach to see what happens. And, I have already arranged my pretty notebooks so that I can see them rather than trapping them in a drawer and forgetting which one is for which project.

What have you discovered about yourself which felt revolutionary/revelatory to your life? Email me at: lucy.blunden.botanicals@gmail.com to let me know

Joyous practice

Do you have a hobby or regular activity which brings you true joy?

I’ve always loved playing the violin but particularly playing chamber music. The close connection between the instruments, the interplay of each written part and the bond of shared joy in certain pieces of music and composers all adds to the joy of playing the instrument. Before lockdown, I played for 4 months in a local orchestra and our gig was fabulous but it just didn’t hit that deep soul place which rewards me quite like chamber music does.

Since lockdown, I have hardly played at all. So, it has been quite a re-build to get back into it in preparation for a concert in a church and a very special weekend away. (I talk more about that in my blog on

I felt once again so honoured to be invited stay in a friend’s beautiful farmhouse in the most northerly part of Yorkshire with views across to Ingleborough. She is a gloriously hospitable host and her house is luxurious and it’s like staying in a 5* hotel. I’m seriously grateful to be invited and it’s all part of the experience but, I think I’d gain just as much joy from the music-making if we slept in a barn!

There is a deep connectedness which springs up between players, a need to listen very closely, attend to the slips of another when we get out of place and blend our voices together. When I describe it, it sounds like the kind of harmony we require in our human relationships as well as our musical ones.

I was also deeply moved by the music itself. To have been almost music-less for so long and then to slide back into the familiarity of place with musicians I’ve played with for 15 years and create the joy of Schubert and Brahms, Purcell, Strauss and Lawes literally brought me to tears. It’s like Heineken, it reaches into parts of me that other things simply do not.

I’ve come home feeling enriched, that my cup is up to the brim and filled with a deep satisfaction. I am determined that I won’t take so long to find this space again.

What do you do which brings you true joy? How often do you experience something which fills your heart, makes it soar and feel like it will burst?

Can you think of something which you could cultivate into a joyous practice? It doesn’t have to be high-brow, difficult to master or anything other than joyful. It definitely needs to be absorbing. It needs to bring you out of yourself and your busy brain space and into a different zone.

I’ve heard others reflect that kitchen dancing brings them deep joy. No special training required for that one!!

Food Plate

Working with my patients on their health, I always look at their food choices. I say that the herbs are like your dominant hand – really effective on its own at getting things done all day long – but when you bring your other hand (food!) along to the party then that’s when we really make a difference to your health. And, those differences are the ones you are empowered to continue by yourself.

What we think we eat and what we actually eat are often quite different. We also tend to think we eat pretty healthily but once we examine it, the things we’ve put in our mouths e.g. after temptation (shop tills, TV adverts), stress and comfort eating and so on have come our way, it can turn out to be quite different to the things we have intentionally put in our mouths.

5-A-DAY? It’s just not enough. And, many of us don’t even achieve that. Aim for 8-10 instead with only two of those being sweet fruits.

My favourite way of thinking about what to eat is based on rainbows! Eating a daily rainbow of fruit and vegetable colours is a great way to get a good variety of the nutrients we need. The BHF talk about it here but mostly we don’t eat 5-a-day let alone the much more ideal 8/10-a-day. If counting portions isn’t your thing, imagine your lunch and dinner plates are 50% covered by colourful veg. Then you will hit that target. It doesn’t have to be 50% steamed veg, it includes pulses, beans and a whole heap of fun, tasty and exciting ways to eat veg like in warm or cold salads.

In my opinion, the NHS eatwell plate is not the best balanced version. I much prefer the Alliance for Natural Health plate instead (there is a different one for children under 6 years old). Look at how differently it is balanced with a strong emphasis on vegetables, low emphasis on fruit and only gluten-free grains, plenty of protein and fats and a good wallop of spices and herbs thrown in for good measure.

A wobbly screen shot of the ANH food plate!

Just think of all the wonderful meals you could eat and feed your family with if you ate like this! Does your diet look like this?

HOW I DO IT: Currently, most of my fruit eating goes on my breakfast with stewed apples (sweetened with cinnamon), some berries or dates if we’ve neither of those in the house. Lunch is often a big salad with a slice of homemade brown Spelt bread with seeds and a protein – tuna & beans, smoked salmon, occasional mortadella/salami/ham etc. We have been experimenting with recipe boxes and the veg portions in our evening meals are generally too few but as I get to know the recipes better, I will be padding them out with more veg or beans.

Sleep part 6 – Sleeping soundly

Do you sleep well?

I used to. I used to sleep so many hours and so easily. And then, I started to share a bed and, even worse (for my sleep!), became a mother… both of which seem to have interfered with my ability to fall asleep, stay asleep and remain that way until the alarm wakes me.

My sleep got broken!

How do you fix broken sleep? After all, it should be so natural, right? We’re born to it and whilst it can take a few years, we usually sleep really well as children – deep, peaceful, restful and undisturbed sleep. Not always, of course, because life happens as well, but generally, it’s that way.

I think I have fixed my sleep…

What did I do?

I have been using the most unlikely practice.

I am using ‘sleep tape’ at night. No, it isn’t an old fashioned way of talking about pre-recorded music on a cassette, I am putting medical tape over my mouth at night! Sounds weird, huh? I started 3 weeks ago and my sleep is transformed. It’s really as simple as that.

The full glory of sleep taping…

I have had the best sleep in years since I started doing this peculiar thing and I hear from others that they are experiencing the same.

CAUTION: this is not suitable if you have sinus congestion or a cold

However, there are many, many scenarios in which this may improve your sleep too!

Are you game to give it a go? What have you got to lose?

Let me know if you experiment with sleep tape and how you got on.

With thanks to Ben Wolff and James Nestor for awakening me to this idea.

The Spring herbalist

As the sun warms us up and the blossom cheers our spirits, we unfurl from our Winter hibernation ready to face the world again, much like the sticky buds of the Chestnut trees revealing their fresh, green new leaves.

The garden has leapt into life, the bulbs are gifting us their vibrant colours and Winter’s grey is finally starting to ebb away. What a relief. Spring has definitely started when Sunday’s dawn chorus is followed by the hum of lawnmowers!

Now is the time to think about those health changes which were too difficult as optimistic New Year’s resolutions in dark, dreary January.  When better to ‘spring clean’ yourself than with the lightening of the days?

Tips for aiding your Spring clean:  A cold infusion of fresh herbs

These wonderful can be gathered from your local park (watch out for dog toileting areas!), or if you’re really lucky, your garden!

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) leaves in Spring are less bitter than later in the year. Add a few to your salads and dose yourself with natural nutrition. Dandelions are diuretic but also a rich source of potassium. So, where a pharmaceutical diuretic leaches potassium from your body, dandelion assists in the elimination of excess water but also replaces the potassium! Clever plant. I get goosebumps when I think about how complete that is. You’ll find dandelion in most places where there is grass.  The yellow flowers are a giveaway but seek out the younger, smaller leaves.

Cleavers (Galium aparine) is a rampant, climbing weed which gest everywhere but it’s a herbalist’s dream! For your ‘spring clean’ it is a wonderful addition. It gives a light green flavour with a touch of the cucumber about it. One herbalist once said to me ‘imagine all those tiny hooks scrubbing and scouring through your lymph system’; a really great analogy and something for the post-Winter remnants. Readying you to spring into Spring.

Pick a large handful of each herb, place in a jug and cover with fresh cold water. Leave overnight and pour out a cup to drink the following morning. Feel the power of the green flowing through you. Drink in the fresh vitality of live plants from this simple and natural infusion! To make a more fragrant version, add a few leaves from a lavender plant.

Herbal ID

Dandelions and Cleavers are gentle herbs but be very sure that what you are picking is the correct thing – herbal mis-identification can be serious.  It may be natural but so are plenty of deadly plants!  To be sure, use a good ID guide or ask your local herbalist. I have written about mindful foraging

DISCLAIMER:  Before dosing yourself up with wild crafted herbs, be aware that if you suffer from long-term health conditions or are pregnant, it may not be suitable for you to follow these ideas.  Please check with a qualified medical herbalist first.

It didn’t work for me

Sometimes, it just doesn’t. A bit like if you attempted to fix your car when it breaks down. If you aren’t a mechanic, you may or may not get it right.

Also, mechanics don’t always get it right first time as cars (and bodies) are complex.

However, if you tried an over-the-counter herbal preparation there may be many reasons why.

  • It wasn’t prescribed for you

When you visit a medical herbalist, you are being assessed using the same approach to understanding your body that nurses and GPs do.

A herbalist looks at everything about your health before prescribing for you.

In a shop, the staff may not have had a medical training.

  • You chose it from a list of herbal options in a book

Whilst there is nothing wrong with this, it is a symptomatic approach and which can be very helpful, it may also simply not work for you.

Herbs are complex and so are we.  To get it right may require some understanding of the herb’s full action picture before being used.

  • You chose it for symptomatic relief

Again, there is nothing wrong with that but the cause of your symptoms is not addressed when you just treat the symptoms. Symptom relief is often very effective with herbal treatment but is not going to stop the illness. It also doesn’t take into account how a few apparently minor symptoms may all contribute to the same condition and the herb of choice wasn’t treating all of those things.

  • It wasn’t good quality

Some of the herbal supplements available in shops use different plant parts than those which are used by herbalists. For example, Echinacea is a brilliant herb. Herbalists use the root. Some capsules contain leaf and root. Now, the leaf also contains some of the good stuff but nothing like as much as the root.

Book in to see a medical herbalist for the choice of herbs which will best suit your body’s needs. 07492 511 366

Sleep Part 4 – Over-The-Counter remedies

Over-The Counter remedies

There are lots of over-the-counter (OTC) sleep preparations. They can really help and some are excellent. There are two things about them which I don’t like:

  • They are often standardised extracts rather than full profile herbs
  • They usually contain valerian root
  • They may not actually have all that much herb in them.

Valeriana officinalis is a go-to sleep herb for many people and lots of herbalists. However, if you’ve ever taken it and found yourself MORE AWAKE after taking them than before, the chances are you’re like me (and roughly 5% of people), and you react in the opposite way to valerian!

Wow. Yes, it is possible to take a sleep herb and be more awake.

That kind of experience tends to give herbs a bad reputation. If you take something and it doesn’t work, you’re then likely to assume that all things like it also don’t work. After all, it’s been manufactured and then sold in a pharmacy, so it must be good.

Also, valerian root can leave people feeling a little muggy the day after, like they have a bit of a hangover. So, taking larger quantities may not be a great idea.

I prefer that the herbs I take are whole plant. If it is root, then I mean all of the root rather than pulling out the known constituent from the herb which is currently shown by research to be the active one. As a herbalist, I like the synergy which occurs between the constituents and how they inter-react. This is something which is hard to quantify and get scientifically accepted proof for. But, it has been shown that for example, the plants from which we can derive salicylic acid have constituents which protect stomachs unlike the synthetic derivative known as aspirin. There is an intelligence in the full spectrum of the plant and I prefer to have that in its entirety in my medicines.

I like collections of different herbs in a sleep mix. Then you get the benefits of a range of different ways in which your sleep is improved. It might be that you need to still your mind, relax your body or cool down from overheating.

I talk more about the different ways to improve your sleep in further posts on sleep. Look for Parts 5 and beyond.

Do you want to work on your sleep? Please get in touch as herbs are a gentle, non-addictive way to really improve the quality and length of your sleep.

Eating for Retirement

 

Saving for your retirement is now an absolute necessity if you wish to have any chance of autonomy over your living care arrangements. Perhaps you have a private and state pension and feel well covered for eventualities.

Eating for your retirement may sound like a strange concept. For me, it’s like an additional pension.

Dr Lisa Mosconi is a brain specialist who began in the field of genetics. Tough science. As her career progressed and her knowledge increased she started to find questions from her patients were unanswerable. “My parents both have Alzheimer’s, so my genetic predisposition is higher than average, what do I eat to change that?”

So, first of all, we have to get our head around the idea that genes are NOT SET IN STONE! We don’t have to live out our parents’ diseases. We can influence the expression of our genes with our environmental choices and that means lifestyle and food choices.

Dr Mosconi sees brain scans a lot. On those scans, she finds the somewhat shocking information that our brains can show signs of the deterioration of dementia in our 40s and 50s. Long before the cognitive symptoms that become visible usually in our 70s.

What if we could do something about that?

Well, actually, we can. Dr Mosconi studied nutrition to start looking for answers for her patients. And suggests these are 5 of the top things we can do for our brain health:

  1. Drink more water
  2. Eat caviar (!!) or any fish roe, or oily fish
  3. Eat dark leafy greens
  4. Eat berries (including the ones which don’t have vast carbon footprints!)
  5. Use lots of extra virgin olive oil

I don’t know about you, but I can hear a dozen recommendations but unless I know the whys and wherefores, they don’t have as much impact on me.

 

So, number 1 – every function of the brain requires water for the chemical reactions taking place. When we don’t have enough, we impair those functions and dehydration causes our brains to shrink! Our brains are 80% water. 2l per day is enough.

Set an alarm, reminder or put notes about the house. Drink more water!

Number 2 – Eat caviar. Fish eggs are like a microcosm of the macrocosm of our brains! They contain a very similar balance of brain chemicals and so eating it is direct brain food. All fish eggs are beneficial. Oily fish (including wild tinned salmon or anchovies) is also useful and, they all contain the DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) part of Omega 3 fatty acids which the brain needs.

Number 3 – Berries! Everyone tells us to eat berries. Blackberries (are free!) have the most comprehensive antioxidant properties. Gooseberries are also marvellous. Grow a few bushes in the garden and allow some blackberry plants to remain! Blasted weeds… they always win out in the end. 🙂

Number 4 – dark leafy greens. We’re all talking about them but the phytonutrients contained in leafy greens are protective of the plant and also of us. They have disease fighting capabilities! Wild greens are even better (a-ha, the herbalist awakes once more…)

Number 5 – Extra virgin olive oil. Full of goodness in the form of Omega 3s and vitamin E – which is renowned for its anti-ageing properties. It is also protective of the heart so it’s like a 360 degree goodness.

Get used to having these things on the menu. Get creative. So far, I can only think of fish eggs as a topping for eg blinis but there must be more ways than that!

Nigel Slater says that tinned salmon is only useful for fish cakes. Now, that sounds like a great way to get that oily fish in and use up left over spuds.

Stick a big handful of organic spinach leaves on your plate under your meal. It will wilt if it’s hot and contribute to the salad if it’s cold. YUM!

Water – tap is fine. Spring is ideal. Plastic free is best. 🙂

And berries, well, let’s get picking this Autumn…..

If you are concerned about your brain health, call me to chat about herbs which can support your brain and cognitive health alongside these wonderful foods.