Category: UIO: You Inside Out

Drawing on Unknown Character Strengths

Here we are the last day of January 2020 and the year feels weighty and heavy in so many ways already, with huge challenges the world over from Australia to China and change in the UK and tragedy in the US and many other places.

When the chips are down, it is so easy to look down and stumble but thankfully we are spirited people, if you will.  At the worst of times, we often find the will to pull through, drawing on character strengths we didn’t even know we had.

Nearly three weeks ago, I found myself in such a time as this.  Let me tell you about it:

On a rainy Saturday, I flew to the US (Albany, GA) to surprise my father for his 85th birthday and a surprise party and set out to have a relatively normal time—cooking for him and so on. 

But calm turned into a sort of storm on Monday morning shortly after I exited the house to pick him up for a treatment he gets regularly.  Seconds after I tried to release the garage door from the keypad on the wall to no avail, my US phone ring and a happy baby sister was on the other end of the line, just checking in to chat as she drove to an offsite meeting (she is a teacher).  A great feeling washed over me to hear from her and also, I knew she would know what to do. Quickly she ascertained that the door not opening was a local problem because the twin door opened as normal. Still I had to spring the car and she had just the solution: to use the emergency cord and presto, the door went up and I reversed the car out.

Still on the phone with Chanta, I hopped out of the car, the engine running, and used my might and power, my right hand to pull down the ailing door. Unbeknownst to me, my hand was in the crease of one of the door panels as it folded to close and with all the power of a garage door it closed on three of my fingers and I yanked and saved two of them (though they got scrapped) but my middle finger did not escape. Trapped. 

My scream was loud and sudden and Chanta’s concern matched it, getting me off the line in an instant and calling 911 (same as 999).  In the next few minutes, I launched at least five prayers, asking for strength to lift the door with my left hand, followed by the act of trying to no avail. Alas, I prayed for the resolve to endure the situation.  And following this prayer, I too called 911.

For 20 minutes or perhaps more, I talked to the EMS operator, explaining there was no blood and yes there was some pain and a bit of a giddy feeling and then I had a practical moment where I talked out how to save myself and my finger in the event that I fainted. All I could think was that my head would  hit the asphalt and part of my finger would be left in the door. So, I dropped on my knees in my London best (Ultra Suede trousers and Jimmy Choo flats) and leaned my body against the door.  I sort of remember explaining this, but as I was likely delirious, who knows.

I do remember being asked if I was having trouble breathing, as I was intentionally taking deep breaths to avoid a panic attack. In my state of shock, all I could think was stay calm, there is nothing you can do but stay here until help comes, so with all the adrenalin my body could muster up, that’s what I did as the EMS operator assured me that firemen and paramedics were on the way. 

As they closed in, I heard the sirens and imagined them trying to drive the fire truck around the house. I told the operator to tell them that they had to leave the truck, the driveway was too narrow and suddenly three beautiful men (looked like angels) burst on the scene bearing at least one crow bar but in the end, it was the brain that came through when one of them used the garage opener in my dad’s car to release the twin door and then release the one I was trapped in and as it went up panel after panel, I had a weak moment.

“It is not going to let my finger go,” I cried out meekly and just as I said “It is not opening” it did and out my finger came, the tip really white and as flat as a spoon.

No, we did not photograph it and no I am not making it up, though I have written fiction.  Dizzily I ambled over to the car, ushered by one of the firemen, who looked as relieved as I did. I remember accounts of saved fingers and fears of surgery and then more sirens and the paramedics and my sisters rushing to the scene.  More angels!

Then came the flood of tears and an awkward hug bestowed upon one of my sisters; maybe I was checking that I was really alive. But still I was relatively calm, now feeling more embarrassed than anything. I rambled about how stupid I felt even though the paramedics and the firemen reminded me it was an accident and that actually I was far from stupid, having come out with my finger.

It was not until I was in the ambulance, on the stretcher, with an IV in my arm, feeling faint, that I grasped the danger of the situation. As my blood pressure bottomed out twice, the ambulance tore down the street, screaming towards the hospital. Then all the frightened (internal) troops begin to march in, heckling me. Thankfully, the brave, patient ones had held them off when it was most necessary and again proceeded to push them away.

To cut to the chase, after a bit of bureaucracy I was in and out of emergency in three hours or less with a very bruised and contused finger—no broken bones, no deformities, no long-term implications—just a slow and painful healing process that has slowed me down immensely (my finger feels like a hard shell at best and nerve pains fire off when least expected).  The good news is that I learned about lots of character strengths that I didn’t even know I had.

While I would not repeat the situation for all the Jimmy Choo’s in London and that is a lot of shoes, I am feeling blessed to have incurred limited physical damage and to have come through ahead of the game emotionally and mentally, too.  Yas!

So, though the year has started out heavy, it’s good to know that what’s inside is often enough to pull through but it also contains the stuff you are really made of. Unbelievable.

Oh, and yes, a special thanks to the 911 operator for comforting me, the three firemen who sprung me and the wonderful two paramedics who took care of me and rushed me to the hospital.  Amazing! Not one time did they consider it a small matter. The world is better for their likes. Blessed!

 

Exciting Beginnings: Embracing Yourself for a Happy New Year

This morning while waiting for a prescription I overheard an elderly woman ask with reticence, “Is it really 2020?” The middle aged female pharmacist smiled and nodded and touched the lady’s hand lightly, as she signed whatever was before her.

I couldn’t help but smile to myself, having had similar thoughts now for the last nine days. Is it really  a New Year. Where has the year gone? What does it all mean?

Lots to think about, yeah? And sometimes the thoughts can get crushed or twisted amid the the hype and celebration,  which almost always focuses on resolving to do something or other.

Admittedly, I have never been big on the hype and pressure around making New Year’s resolutions, not because I am a kill joy contrary to some belief, but because I tend to be more of a realist than an idealist.

Instead of focusing on kicking all the bad habits that I have acquired over the year or resolving to fix something in a few weeks that has taken far more time to break, I tend to enjoy  the flavour of the New Year, rather than to get bogged down in the pressures of it.

I have always thought there was something exciting about a new beginning, something which encapsulates the tenderness of youth, something which holds promise and therefore, refreshes and invigorates the spirit. And New Years and Birthdays both have such characteristics.

And though I have spent every single day of this year thus far with a horrible head cold,  I am somehow feeling refreshed and ready for the excitement ahead, not only for what it means for UIO podcast, but also what the new beginning means for teenage girls.

Last year, we added six new podcasts and interviewed some amazing women on the key issues including empowering girls and we are looking forward to getting out even more stimulating, timely and relevant podcasts this year. Also, I watched stories come in from near and far about girl power, how many of you are excelling in sports, academics and activism and so many of you laid the foundations in 2019 to take on new challenges and influence change for years to come. And that is just the beginning.

Just think what you will have accomplished by the end of the year. I am thinking about what is ahead for UIO, too, but let us not  think too long and hard: let’s keep it moving.  Otherwise, we’ll  be asking ourselves the very question I started this blog off with: Where has the year gone?

Thankfully, it’s only just begun. Forget about those fleeing and self-defeating resolutions. Embrace yourself and have a Happy New Year. For more inspirational advice, check out On Girls’ Rights with Lindsey Turnbull.

The Future Is Bright, The Future Is Female

I am thrill to share this space with Charlotte Harding and Bex Bastable, two journalists living and working in Sussex and Hampshire with a passion for sharing stories and empowering the next generation of fearless females.  To this end, the two set up Generation Tribe  to inspire and empower teenage girls and young women. Both are the eldest of ‘sister tribes’ and want to use their elder-sibling skills in paving the way to help a wider community of girls. 

Do check out the story behind Generation Tribe. 

In today’s modern world we are all surrounded by images on social media of people living their best lives and it can make you feel a bit ‘less than’. We want to offer young people a place away from selfies and weight loss tips.

We think many young women struggle with self-esteem, confidence and anxiety, particularly around their futures. That’s why we wanted to create a space where teenagers can read stories of women who have been in their shoes but have gone out and created a life they love.

We think it’s important to show girls lots of examples of people who have succeeded in their careers and create a community where successful women are accessible and seen by the younger generation. This is the website that we wish we had had when we were growing up.

We feature career success stories of women who have been where our readers have, at a crossroads not knowing what lies ahead beyond school. There are stories from a digital compositor in visual effects (VFX) and animation working on films such as Harry Potter and Star Wars, a speech therapist, someone who worked a summer at Disney World Florida, a newspaper editor, X-Factor contestants band Four of Diamonds dancer who appeared on Strictly and many, many more.

As well as success stories, we feature relationship advice, budgeting tips and guides on living sustainably, whether it’s ethical and natural beauty products or lowering your carbon footprint.

Also, talking about mental health is really important to us.  We have both shared our stories of dealing with our own mental health including anxiety and going to counselling. It is important to break down the taboos. And we have features from Childline looking at a number of issues from how to keep safe online to how to leave an unhealthy relationship.

We started using our own networking of women, but as the website has grown we have moved beyond this and are amazed with the amount of women who have reached out to us.

And while we are aware that no career is set in stone we also want to show young women and teenage girls that just because when you were at school you opted for one career doesn’t mean as you get older you have to stick with it. If you want to go down another career path that is completely fine.

We believe the future is bright, the future is female. So why don’t you Join our Tribe.

www.generationtribe.co.uk

Twitter @Join_OurTribe

Facebook @GenerationTribe

Instagram @GenerationTribeUK

 

Embracing You: The Spirit of Identity

Now is the time to embrace your identity but it isn’t always easy to do so. To this end, I am delighted to adapt and repost this blog from August last year on the tough topic.  Check it out along with our podcast on the subject to as you embrace yourself for a great holiday season.

Identity is one of those things that is always there from birth–we get many tags if you will–a gender, a race and nationality, a weight, a health check and eventually a name and all sorts of abilities and so on. Still, as if it has never been there before identity, as a huge concept, pops up on the teenage radar screen with blinking red lights: Warning! Warning! This is your gender, your sexuality, your race, your ability and here is what it means.

The pressure is on to identify with different parts of you and if there is an internal clash or negative connotations about something you identify with, this can cause problems.  It is important to make the point that identity and mental health are linked, if only because clashes and negativity can cause anxiety, worries and so on.

In some instances, anxiety and stress can escalate into depression, even self-harm. And even in the majority of instances when it doesn’t escalate, the stress over identity is to be taken seriously. At the very least, bad moods and low self-esteem can set in.

And though it is easy to say don’t worry about it, that is easier said than done. It has taken me many years to really understand this and even now I have my moments. Rachita Saraogi and Rebecca Thomson, in our  UIO: Your Identity Inside Out podcast, advise not owning the negativity, leaving it with the people who perpetuate it. You might not be able to change them, but you can change your views on how you view yourself, who you are.

That’s the spirit!

Reflecting on my teenage years, I remember obsessing a lot about hair— its length, its texture and so on. While I can’t say that I have ever consciously disliked my hair for its texture or length, I was not immune to beliefs about Afro hair, if you will, the talk about good hair and bad hair.

Admittedly, there were times in my life when I wanted a certain hairstyle because it was popular and considered the highest mark of beauty. For example, long straight hair was the in thing but as I wasn’t in charge of my hair, my mother was, I didn’t get it.

I doubt if it had anything to do with the political belief that relaxed hair is somehow symbolic of a European standard of beauty. Her reasoning more or less had to do with growing up too fast and economics.

Nowadays, many teen girls have returned to natural hair, as part of a resurgence of the natural hair movement in black communities around the globe, which proposes that hair is healthier for the individual physically and mentally in its natural state.  Furthermore, some believe that natural hair suggests a stronger sense of identity with one’s heritage and straight hair suggests the opposite.

Though I don’t agree with the line of thinking, I think it is wonderful to see teen girls and women with Afro hair in its natural state—the ponytails, the braids, the Afros, but just the same I love seeing hair in all of its versatility as long as it is healthy and well maintained.  That is what is key for me and mainly why I continue to relax my hair—it is either for me to maintain, though I have worn braids over the years, returning my hair to its natural state and in high school, I sported an Afro.

Regardless of style, I identify strongly with my hair and what I have learned about this over the years is that it is mine, part of my beauty, part of my health, and rightly or wrongly it is a big, big, big part of my self-esteem. Thus, regardless of trends, movements, beliefs, politics, I need to be happy with my hair—not the world.

And nowadays, I don’t make any excuses or apologies for that. End of story. Underneath the hair is where my real identity lies and it is up to me to embody that. That’s the spirit!  For tips, check out Your Identity Inside Out

 

I Am a Sufferer of the Tired Teen Epidemic

This week I’m please to have Shannon Amos, The Untamed Optimist, share her blog on Students Overworking. It’s such a fitting subject for todays’s teens with exams galore and high participation in sports and all the rest and goes hand in hand with sleep deprivation, subject of one of our latest podcast.  Check out what Shannon has to say to students and parents alike about how to manage the overload.  And get more tips from UIO: On Sleep.

High school is the perfect time to get ahead in education before college and get an early start for your career; but it’s also proving to be a great time for students to overwork themselves to the point of exhaustion.

Students nationwide are being pressured by family, the school system, and themselves to do the best in school that they possibly can, yet many of them take this too far and overwork themselves, causing disruptions in sleep schedules leading to daytime sleepiness. This “tired teen epidemic” as I like to call it, is a way of acknowledging this unhealthy relationship with the idea of perfection and its association with high achievements in both the educational system and society. I myself have fallen victim to this a lot as of lately and completely understand the unhealthy situation these students have put themselves into to get ahead in school.

Colleges are seeming to get pickier and pickier with accepting their applicants and the pressure put on students to be the “best” in their grade or school is increasing as time goes on. Many students involve themselves in after school clubs, sports, and involve themselves in groups that not only engage them in their community more; but absorb most of their free time, making it difficult to relax and rest their bodies and minds while growing.

Lately, I have found myself coming straight home from school and eating before planting myself in the recliner or my bed and napping for what should only take 20 minutes but ends up being closer to an hour.

As an extrovert, I find socialising with people to be energising unlike many of my introverted friends that find school exhausting simply for all the social interactions they must make throughout the day. I find these interactions to be energising and often find myself feeling sluggish on days where I socialise less—which is strange because after a long day of conversing with friends I still find myself falling asleep as soon as I sit down!

Being expected to maintain good grades (whatever the standard may be) vs. actually following through with it are two separate battles that both take their tolls on me and a surprising amount of my peers, so I have no doubt that kids nationwide are struggling just as much.

The truth is, we live in a world where kids can relate to each other’s mental breakdowns more than they relate to their political views. Ask any kid their opinion on the amount of homework they are given and the expectations teachers and parents alike set for them and why they feel a certain way about the topic. Nearly every student my age has voiced a negative opinion on the expectations set for them and the affect it has had on their mental health, me included.

“The truth is, we live in a world where kids can relate to each other’s mental breakdowns more than they relate to their political views.”

The thing is, schoolwork is becoming more and more of a chore for kids like me, and it really starts to take its toll early on in the school year. Even just a few months in, I personally find the workload to be overwhelming and the stress caused by it amounts to much more mental fatigue.

Worrying about getting good grades, keeping them up, staying involved in clubs and sports, maintaining an active status in your community, and pulling all-nighters to finish that English paper that’s due tomorrow are all reasons why students today are losing sleep. But losing sleep is just half of the problem. The act of losing sleep leads to less energy to put toward learning which often leads to less excitement about involvement in the first place.

Sadly, this tiredness tends to come out as just that—falling asleep in class, sleeping in late, and my guilty pleasure: napping immediately after getting home. This is often seen as laziness by adults that—while dealing with their own stressful responsibilities—don’t have to deal with this school related stress.

“Acknowledge that when you are trying so hard to do your best that you push yourself beyond your limits, you are no longer doing your best.”

One thing I have done lately is acknowledged that while I am perfectly capable of getting straight As and maintaining them, it is not necessary for me to get them to be considered a “good” student. Many high school students feel this immense pressure to be “perfect” academically and feel like failures when unable to keep up this excessive expectation.

To any students who are finding themselves beyond stressed out with school, work, and other responsibilities, know that it is completely valid for you to take a break. It is unreasonable to expect “perfect” grades or an extensive list of community involvements and it is 100% okay for you to take a step back to relax, even if it means putting off some of that extra work to do so.

Many students fail to acknowledge their past achievements, constantly feeling as though they have not done enough to deserve a break, leading to being overworked and burnt out. Acknowledge that when you are trying so hard to do your best that you push yourself beyond your limits, you are no longer doing your best.

To any parents of teenagers or students in general, give your kid a break. Students tend to overwork themselves trying to be the “best” they can be and fail to see how it is actually doing them more harm than good. Don’t create an avoidable barrier between you and your child because you don’t acknowledge their past achievements and make it clear to them that their best should be enough—even if it’s not “perfect”.

Taking the High Road To Tackle Poor Body Image

First things first. I’d like to wish all of our American followers and listeners a very Happy Thanksgiving today. As I celebrate with family, I have been reflecting on body image and our review of the latest podcast series 3. This week we have covered some of the later episodes of the series and in particular Episode 5. Here I spoke with Charlotte Aynsley about Internet Safety and in particular Body Image. The two go hand in hand.

I hardly know anyone who hasn’t faced problems with body image at one time or another. Of course, there are cases more extreme than others, which lead to eating disorders and other physical and mental health problems. No ifs, ands or buts, these are serious matters. Common body image issues that are less serious such as seeing oneself fat obsessively and consistently, however, are not to be dismissed lightly either, as they can also have a bearing on self-esteem and lead to health hazards.

Because body image and self-esteem are intrinsically linked, even those most confident hit lows about their body.

“I am fat; I’d like to lose a few pounds and then I’ll feel better; Only if my bum were bigger or smaller for that matter,” are just a few of the phrases that many women and some men use about their body on a regular basis. It’s all about perception and assumption that everyone else sees it that way, too.

According to a report by researcher Helen Gallivan, 53% of 13 year-old American girls are unhappy with their bodies. This number grows to 78% by the time girls reach 17.  And In another survey, carried out by Edelman Intelligence for the 2017 Dove Global Girls Beauty and Confidence Report, it emerged that only 46% of girls globally had high body esteem, while the figure was even lower in the UK (39%). Of the countries included, only China and Japan fared worse.

Over the years, I have been told often that I don’t see myself the way others do, particularly at retreats, leadership conferences and so on. While others tend to see me as a confident woman who is comfortable in her own skin (and I am most of the time), I have low moments too. This came home to roost while  having coffee with two longstanding friends during what I thought was a high point in my life.

You look great, Sonja, but you might be a little thin, one of them said and the other agreed. How is your work-life balance? Are you eating  right?

Excuse me, I am bigger now than I have ever been! If anything, I need to shift about three pounds.  Long silence, which plunked a pink elephant in the room.

Then you have a body image problem, one friend said. I’ve never known you to be happy with your body. Never! And the other chimed in:  She’s right! Maybe there is a self-esteem issue, too. Pink Elephant turns dark grey at this point and mist falls over the room!

I do not have a body image or self-esteem problem, thank you very much, I stress while refusing a pastry that might contribute to weight gain. I feel and look great, so how can I have a body image problem. End of conversation!

Actually, that conversation, though not recalled verbatim, did not end there. I recounted it in my mind’s eye repeatedly, until I decided to take a deeper look  at my obsession with body size and what was really going on. Though I’ve never been overweight, I’ve always referred to my thighs as thunder thighs and my bum as rather enhanced. Often when I am trying on clothes, I hear myself announcing: “I will never get into that,” and then slip right into it. Sometimes, of course, I don’t slide into a pair of jeans, for instance.

And when this happens, the key is knowing that the jeans are too little and that I am not too big. It has taken me awhile to get my head around the negative body image stuff, but with a heighten awareness I now know that when a few extra pounds drag me down, it has more to do with the consequences of eating and drinking unhealthily than anything else.  Thus, I get a grip on my diet and I don’t mean dieting, rather eating good foods that my body enjoys.

Make no mistake about it, the issues I have dealt with over the years don’t compare to some of the more serious matters that others contend with, but my problems are real and have often hung over me like a dark cloud from time to time. So nowadays on the odd occasion when I am told that I don’t see myself the way others do or that I have a body image problem, I don’t hit back defensively and go into a slump, I take the high road, if you will, taking a few tips from the ladies of UIO: You Inside Out.

  • Banish self-deprecating talk!

  • Focus on health!

  • Embrace genes, fanny and all!

  • Focus on likes and not on dislikes!

  • Make the most of the haves (that is what you have); ignore the have nots!

These tips can help with all poor body image problems. Though weight rates high amongst such issues, it is not the only culprit. For instance, as a girl, I do remember feeling unattractive as early as puberty, from disliking my wide, flat nose, mainly because peers teased me as such, and then later detesting my new breasts, which looked like mounds on my chest. And then as a young woman, I couldn’t understand why I had stick thin legs. It is a wonder I grew into a confident woman at all.

But I did and so can you with self-esteem in tow. When the low moments hit, and they will, just take the high road. You can find the links to the podcast here

you can subscribe to our podcast feed, or you can access the podcast on iTunes here.

Tuning Into Your Thoughts For A Good News Story

After more years than I care to admit to, I finally made the connection between food and physical health, though it took a few intolerances to convince me. Yet I still haven’t quite gotten my head around food for mental and emotional health, which has more to do with thinking than anything else. Of course, real food can muddle the mind, too.

But let’s face it, our thoughts do play a major role in our emotional and mental health. One article that I read years ago puts it like this: thoughts are stories that we tell ourselves or that someone else tells us about ourselves.

That’s all good as long as the stories are all good. But when it comes to emotional abuse, the stories can cause health hazards, even if they appear to be good stories. Radio personality, Jillian ‘JJ’ Simmons, guest in our latest podcast, On Emotional Bullying, says that sometimes emotional abuse masquerades as love.  When her emotionally abusive boyfriend would often ask her to stay home, preventing her from going out and seeing friends and loved ones, she told herself his request had to do with love.  Although he wasn’t going to be at home with her, he would tell her that he wanted her to be the first person he saw when he returned.

In a healthy mind, this logic breaks down rather quickly but in a mind that is under the spell of emotional abuse, it makes perfect sense, even if it is telling a bad news story. I can relate. Though I can’t say I have had a similar experience, I have had tricky situations that have consistently caused me emotional unrest, leading to wear and tear on my self-esteem and keeping a negative story alive.  This stuff is not in your face but it is in your mind, even if you can’t see it.

JJ points out that you have to be on your guard and recognise emotional abuse for what it is. Name calling, taunting, controlling and so on all fit the bill. One of her hot tips for self-protection is to take care of yourself at the core. This means working on your self-esteem and ultimately knowing who are. In addition, she says it is important to watch what you feed your mind. Easier said than done, right.

Actually, it is as simple or as complex as watching what you feed your body.  As much as I love croissants and cinnamon rolls and the list keeps going with pastries, I have been gluten intolerant for years now.  Admittedly, the first year or so I would remove all gluten from my diet for about three months at a time, most of the time before a holiday, and then on holiday I would eat whatever I jolly well pleased and pay for it later. 

Though the physical discomfort would come, it was tolerable and then one day, it just wasn’t anymore.  So now I don’t focus on the foods that I used to love, regardless of consequences, I focus on the ones that love me sincerely. And you know what, I am healthier and happier for it.

As for my food for my thoughts, I’m getting there.  Key to my journey is tuning into the narrative that I am feeding my mind directly or indirectly and also recognising what really is emotional bullying and what is not.   Of course, there are healthy disagreements and different ways of life between friends, acquaintances and family members that call for healthy resolutions. That’s a fact of life.

For more hot tips and tools on how to protect yourself against emotional bullying, listen to On Emotional Bullying with JJ Simmons on our website, iTunes, Soundcloud or wherever you listen to podcasts. Meanwhile, tune into your thoughts to ensure your own good news story.

Keeping Anxiety At Bay

Anxiety has a way of getting up close and personal during the busiest of times. And let’s face it, the holiday season is ripe for the picking. With all the latest Christmas ads launching in the UK this week, including John Lewis’ Christmas ad, the pressure can start to rise be it from a financial perspective, or the pressure to host the best Christmas.

Here is a recap of such an incident that hit me hard in 2018. How the feeling that something was seriously up with my health but the reality was that I was experiencing anxiety.

Back to this place and time in 2018.

Most of my shopping had been done, plans had been made for the big cook off, I had a lovely champagne tea organised with two close writer friends to celebrate my birthday and of course, Christmas was a major success. All was going on track with UIO, too.

I was poised to deliver a blog  and plans were progressing on some exciting work to do with our website and the Wait Awhile campaign (this was back with the planning!)

 Somewhere in the folds of my mind, I must have been unsettled because little by little the symptoms of anxiety began to needle me—a prick here and there, all the regular stuff such as feeling tight and restricted on the oxygen flow that runs deep within. Try as I did to ignore it tossing and turning throughout the night, I sort of caved in upon rising Thursday morning.

Instead of leaping out of the bed and counting my blessings, I lay staring at the ceiling thinking what is wrong with me? I felt so tight muscular wise but also tight inside as if I was going to smother. All sorts of out of the periphery answers streamed into my head and caused the weight of my worries to get even heavier.

At last I dragged myself out of the bed and two hours later turned up at my training session rather weary. You see on the drive there, things got worse. Every time I coughed I felt a pain right behind my left breastbone but I persisted.

It was only after admitting the symptoms to my wonderful personal trainer, Laura Miles, that I begin to face my reality. Though what I was feeling felt like all sorts of other very serious conditions, it was anxiety, even if I didn’t think it had a right to be lurking around. Enough said personally.

The point is as we approach the end of the year, we are bound to feel more stressed than ever. And though this is meant to be a festive, fun and relaxing time of the year, in reality it can be quite the opposite. The body goes into the fight or flight mode—you know the one in which released hormones activate the nervous system to cope with a dangerous/threatening situation.

Sadly nowadays, we often find ourselves highly stressed, in fight or flight, unnecessarily, which can lead to panic attacks and so on. Our latest podcast episode Series 3: Episode 6 – On Social Anxiety which compliments another two podcasts around Mental Health  Series 1: Episode 6 – Your Mind Inside Out and Series 2: Episode 2 – On Undiagnosed Mental Illness offer excellent advice and hot tips on how to manage stress. Great listens gearing up for the holiday season and during it also.

In the meantime, here are some tips on keeping anxiety at bay.

1) Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Admittedly, I jammed too much in for one day. Had I spread the joy over a couple of days, I might have spared myself some anxiety. 

2) Limit drinking (avoid drinking for teen girls). Not a big drinker at all, but I like my champers, particularly during a special occasion. Surely a glass of champagne and a glass of wine in the evening couldn’t have contributed to the issue. It can and likely did as when the body is already stressed, alcohol, as a toxin can fuel the situation.

3) Breathe deeply. Shallow breathing has become a way of life, which is unsustainable, and it was only when Laura suggested some breathing exercises to takes breaths from my diaphragm that I started to feel my oxygen flow naturally again.

4) Turn off the chatterbox that is on continuous loop. When she says you need to go to the emergency room (A&E) for this and that, revert to point three, lying flat on your back and touching your stomach to feel your breath, if at all possible.

5) Catch a breath of fresh air. Go for a walk, a run if you fancy, that is if you are not on crutches. That can put you at a disadvantage for high impact activity but by all means, get outside if you can and again revert to point three if the sun is out and the grass is dry.

6) Eat whole foods and avoid foods that you cannot tolerate. I know, it’s cold and sometimes it’s easier but remember diet is so important.

But having a calm, out of fight or flight mode, holiday has to be worth it to both your body and your mind. It is to mine.

Take a listen to our latest podcast episode. Claire Eastham has some brilliant tips on social anxiety, remembering that it isn’t your fault, how she lives a normal life, even with anxiety disorder. She has some great tips on belly breathing, as well as a You Tube video too.

We’d love to know what you think of this episode and others!

Giving The Brain Its Props

It has been quite an insightful experience for me to do our podcast On Social Anxiety—such a common disorder but perhaps just as misunderstood or perhaps even more than health anxiety, which I could write a book about. But I won’t as this blog is not about being called a hypochondriac with a view that it is all delusional rather it is about being typecast as shy or eccentric and therefore being often begrudged any empathy or support for your condition.

Thankfully, I haven’t suffered with social anxiety but UIO guest Claire Eastham, best-selling author of We’re all Mad Here, has and  was able to shed some light on just how serious the matter is.

Too often we simply give the body a lot more respect than the brain, Claire explains, citing examples like not telling someone that they have to run in a race when they have a broken leg, as opposed to telling someone that they have to recite a presentation like everyone else; they are not different, no matter how much they are trembling at the notion. 

The instruction is often with good intent, which is why education about the disorder is so important. Unchecked, unmanaged social anxiety can lead to serious health problems, amongst them panic attacks, which I have had. Claire also gives insight into what a panic attack can feel like and believe you me, it can feel absolutely awful.  Amongst the whoppers that I have had was the one that sent me to the emergency room, totally convinced I was having cardiac arrest.  And though all checked out fine, the doctor sent me on to a cardiologist to be absolutely sure that I was well.

The point is, Claire stresses, your brain tricks the body to feeling that it is under threat and you either think you are going crazy or that you are going to die. But the good news is there are some great tips on our podcast on how to mitigate social anxiety and panic attacks.

In the meantime, as I reflect upon my teenage years, I can pinpoint a few situations where a fellow student most likely had social anxiety and was tagged as eccentric.  In one particular case, my friend was painfully quiet but not really shy when you got to know her, but she certainly struggled with socialising. During a major time in her life, she was visibly sweating and shaking to the point that everyone thought she would collapse. But even then, people said that she’s just weird and she should just get on with it.

To this day, though I don’t see much of her, she’s isolated from her peers because people see her as an outcast because she struggles in social situations. Seriously I am hoping that the word is getting out, particularly amongst teenagers, that social anxiety is real and left undiagnosed, can cause great harm to your mental and emotional health.

Though there aren’t any stats that I know of confirming that girls suffer social anxiety more than boys, girls do deal with related issues disproportionately such as questions with body image. To this end, they want to be perfect, look perfect, etc…. and can obsess about their body in any case and if suffering with social anxiety, the obsession can become worse, leading to even more harm.

For example, Claire talks about looking at her face several times before meeting a friend but knowing that once the moment is over, it is over, whereas on social media, the moment is never over because there is a selfie, a picture to remind you that you are not perfect, at least that is what your anxiety tells you.

Thus, the importance of getting the word out that social anxiety is real, it is not something that everyone has (something an acquaintance said to me) or a dislike of people as Claire points out.  It is a very serious irrational situation in which people struggle with socialising at high risk to their mental and emotional wellbeing. 

Key here is to give the brain its props. When it is unwell, it needs to heal equally as much as the body. Have a listen to On Social Anxiety on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. Or sign up for our RSS feed to ensure you never miss a UIO podcast, a great resources for teenage girls, their parents and guardians and teachers, too.

 

 

Playing It Safe On And Offline

Halloween has rolled around too fast for me, not enough time to get with the programme, at least that is my excuse. The truth be known I have never been a big Halloween fan but growing up, I loved a sweet or two now and again and a party or two as a teenager and then young woman, so I happily kitted myself out and went along with the gruelling fun.

But I could not do the haunted houses, the scary movies, etc… and still don’t. I just don’t find the pulse racing, adrenaline pumping, nerve jittering moments much fun.

And fun was always the key for me but as I get older, enjoying Halloween has become as much about staying safe as it is having fun. In the pre-Internet days, staying safe on Halloween and in general was a bit more local, if you will, but nowadays, staying safe goes far beyond stepping out of the front door, though the latter is no less important.

But with the accessibility of the Internet, there is no need to leave home to find yourself in an unsafe space on or off Halloween. In our podcast with E-safety Expert Charlotte Aynsley, we discuss some of the obvious unsafe spaces such as sharing explicit images and cyber bullying.

And there are many others.  For example, the space of glorifying self-harm and suicide. This week, Ian Russell, father of Molly Russell, who committed suicide at 14, continues his quest to ensure that self-harm propaganda is off the Net. And as Aynsley pointed out in On Internet Safety, the authorities continue to make progress in general in keeping the Internet Safe, but there is a long road to travel, as it is a not an easy task, dealing with a world which is not necessarily regulated.

Another troubling area on the Internet has to do with Body Image. In some instances, as pointed out by Leah in our podcast On Being A Teen Girl Now, some of the pressure to have a certain kind of body comes from advertisers stalking teenage girls, if you will.  Imagine a message or ad about being thin elusively cropping up on your page.  Inappropriate no matter how you look at it but that much more to target young vulnerable girls.

Again, the authorities are cracking down on this sort of thing. Still work has to be done on all sides—education being a big, big part of progress. The key here is that all unsafe spaces don’t look unsafe.

For example, issues around Body Image can come from the close connections–wanting to look and be a certain way because you believe that everyone else has the look, albeit some of the pressure comes from celebrities. Aynsley points out that this is one of biggest Internet safety issue for teen girls.

While such issues can impact physical health, they can also have a major influence on mental and emotional well-being, not always as detectable as a problem straight away, but equally as dangerous. 

So, if you are headed out for Halloween tonight or even staying in for that matter, stay body positive. If you want to check out what is online.  There are loads of wonderful body positive bloggers and podcasts too for a reality check. UIO has two: Your Body Inside Out with Judit Ressinka and Your Body Image Inside Out with Laura Miles.

And of course, our latest podcast On Internet Safety has loads of hot tips on body image and staying safe online.

Now about my Halloween. I am going to play it safe—curl up with a good book and I know just the one, We’re All Mad Here by Claire Eastham, guest on next week’s podcast On Social Anxiety. Stay tuned and yes, stay safe.