Therapeutic Powers of Writing Poetry

In case you missed it, here is an article I wrote for the November 2019 issue of In the Moment magazine about poetry therapy. Don’t forget, I’m running some writing therapy workshops in Norwich this spring. More here.

By Leah Larwood

In recent years creative writing, and indeed, poetry therapy has become an increasingly popular route for those looking for ways to improve their wellbeing. Yet putting pen to paper in order to process thoughts and feelings is actually an instinctive tool we learn very early on.

Over the years I’ve experimented with writing short stories, half a novel, a chapter of a memoir, a third of a screenplay and many journal entries. Yet for me, the most transformative and enriching writing form has been poetry. It’s offered a different ‘way in’, and on many occasions has channelled new awareness and insights from my psyche onto the page.

I’ve also experienced a real sense of accomplishment when writing a simple poem. Every word counts. A poem is succinct, packed with meaning. Unlike attempting a short story or a novel, it offers a faster dose of fulfillment – often it takes just a few hours to write a draft poem.

Poetry isn’t just a vehicle to express your feelings and opinions, it’s also a way to develop your voice, identity and character. In short, poetry hands you your power back, should it have ever left you.

Reading poetry is equally important too; the best poems will inspire you to reflect, dream, observe and grow. Poetry has of course experienced a revival in recent years. It’s partly thanks to modern poets such as Hollie McNish, Kate Tempest, Yrsa Daley-Ward and Rupi Kaur, who are masters (or rather, mistresses) at expressing contemporary concerns or truths.

In fact, truth telling is another reason why poetry continues to be universally loved. Briony Bax, Editor of leading poetry magazine, Ambit said: “Hollie McNish tells the truth in a way that makes us uncomfortable, she talks about the realities of living and uses her experiences to write about the caverns in our class system.”

You see, the therapeutic powers of poetry are not limited to just helping those through periods of low mood. It’s also an evocative way to be heard. Writing just a few lines of poetry can allow you to process experiences, often leading to new realisations about yourself and others. For others, it’s simply a way to work things out. Poet and Ted Hughes Award winner, Hollie McNish said:

“I’ve always written poetry. I guess at first it was confusion, or anger, or on a lighter level, humour. I liked working things out through poetry but also having a laugh too. It has certainly really helped me pick apart my thoughts on things and take my time more. As in, thinking things through, working things out more. It has also been an outlet of my honest thoughts on things, a place where I can just write for myself about whatever I want. What I then choose to share with other people comes second to that”.

Indeed writing for yourself, and no one else, is absolutely crucial. Being unedited allows you to authentically explore what maters to you. Also, by sculpting your emotions or concerns into a poem, it can give your conscious mind a holiday. It’s a great way to tap into the fountain of activity ‘beneath the iceberg’, within the subconscious mind. That’s where the ‘gold’ lies. Or as the Australian poet Les Murray describes poetry, “a zoo in which you keep your demons and angels”.

There are many other poets, myself included, who often use personal themes to explore past traumas, experiences or relationships. Poet, artist, tutor and Eric Gregory Award winner, Helen Ivory said:

“I found that using the character of Bluebeard, that famous wife-murderer (!) in my fourth collection Waiting for Bluebeard, enabled me to write about an abusive relationship I was in for eleven years. I found myself one day writing about a character called Bluebeard, which was around seven years after I had left him.  Until that point I just had an amorphous dark shadow over that time. How could I be the woman living in Bluebeard’s house? 

“I wrote the poems to understand how, and the poems began with my childhood and the shadowy figure of my father. In this way the writing process was extremely therapeutic for me, though I didn’t actually think that at the time. I didn’t force myself to write anything to help me organise things inside my head, but that’s what happened – I claimed my life.”

As a result, many people have connected with Helen’s poetry – her poems have enabled others to write or share their own experiences of domestic abuse too.

So what is it that makes poetry so therapeutic? Scherezade Sanchita Siobhan, psychologist and published poet said:

“Poetry’s therapeutic value is linked to its limitlessness. You can imagine yourself in newer, different places and thereby you can be transported away from the current clutch of worries or anxieties. You can create a collage for a world you wish to inhabit without being impeded by the notions of practicalities and borders.” 

That was particularly true for me. I started dabbling in poetry just before I fell pregnant and then again when I started suffering from postnatal depression. As a busy and shattered new mother, I found it to be a manageable form. Writing poetry uplifted me in such a way that I was able to break through the feelings of isolation and grief by rediscovering my identify. I began to recognise myself again by communicating my reality onto the page. Sometimes this was executed with some ambiguity to the reader, which provided a ‘safe space’ where needed.

During those hazy mornings and difficult nights, what I was scribbling onto scraps of paper, in between feeds, wasn’t poetry. Much of my therapeutic writing did later transform into poems, but in those early days, words were fragments from my mind looking to escape. I captured all the dark thoughts, the things I couldn’t share with anyone. In fact, it was these most challenging times that brought a wellspring of inspiration. The page was a place I could go to make sense of things. Often, I’d end up finding missing pieces of the jigsaw – writing things I had no idea I was feeling or thinking.

Interestingly, I’ve recently discovered that there are specific types of poems you can explore, depending on how you are feeling. Psychologist, Scherezade Sanchita Siobhan added:

“Poems come in many different shapes and sizes. I have used haibun as a format for clients who have debilitating anxieties or OCD as part of their journaling practice. Elegies can be read and written to comfort one in times of grief or loss. There is a sense of companionship I derive from having read a poem that mirrors my current state of being. This can be true for others as well.”

However, I’m a big believer that you don’t have to fully understand technique or form to be able to write a poem or benefit from poetry therapy. Poets and teachers may argue that there is a great deal that can, and must be learned about form. With poetry therapy, what’s important is the process of writing, not the outcome.

Luckily, these days there are many opportunities to explore poetry seriously, for fun or as a form of creative therapy. There are also countless magazines, workshops, online courses, poetry schools, masters programmes, retreats, mentors, grants, competitions and regional 1:1 poetry clinics to choose from.

The most important thing to remember is to just write, from wherever is calling. Remain close to what matters to you, write free but stay true, and let the process unfold without overthinking it.

Must Read: Poetry Therapy Top Pick

William Sieghart has just launched a new book on the heels of his best-selling anthology, The Poetry Pharmacy. Poetry saved William’s sanity as an unhappy child and it became the thing he shared when he founded the National Poetry Day and the Forward Prizes for Poetry.His second self-help book, The Poetry Pharmacy Returns, is designed around modern anxieties, with poems prescribed to ease the mind. Themes include overthinking, pushy parenting, anxieties and insecurities, romantic exhaustion, misogyny and political apathy. From William Wordsworth and Robert Frost to Wendy Cope and Kate Tempest, The Poetry Pharmacy Returns is a collection from which to draw solace and strength.

How Does Hypnosis Actually Work?

I love anything to do with the subconscious mind and dreams. Though my interest in hypnotherapy really began when I became pregnant. It’s true that for some, hypnosis feels shrouded in mystery. So I thought, I need to blog about this to show just how helpful it can be.

What is hypnosis?

My favourite explanation of hypnosis so far is that it’s simply a guided meditation, it’s completely natural. We’ve all been in a hypnotic state thousands of times, and many many times throughout an average day, though the majority of us haven’t had the tools to tap into its full potential. If you practise meditation, yoga, lucid dreaming, mindfulness and reiki these are all obvious ways of evoking the state of hypnosis.

Hypnosis isn’t when we are asleep; it’s an altered state of consciousness. It’s when the conscious mind is so relaxed, the subconscious mind becomes accessible. Everything we’ve learnt is stored in our subconscious and when in a state of hypnosis, it’s possible to tap into the goldmine of your subconscious to change patterns. The hypnotherapist is simply the guide. It’s the individual receiving hypnosis, who has the biggest impact on the degree of change they experience. Largely through the strength of their motivation and intent.

It’s then about using a series of techniques to tap into the individual’s highest potential. For hypnotherapy to work, it’s crucial that you’re relaxed. Hypnotherapy is about focusing your attention, to maximise your responsiveness to suggestion in order to manifest positive change, to help change patterns, behaviours and your psychological state.

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Pic: Taken in Autumn 2018 by Alex Cameron

How does it work?

Daydreaming is the first of the levels in a trance state. Beta is the waking state, where we are fully conscious, logical and make decisions whereas alpha is known as a creative state – full of imagination. Theta is a dream state and delta is where deep sleep occurs. Alpha and Theta are the states when we are the most susceptible to hypnosis, where behaviour modification will occur.

It seems Hypnosis is simply about being in a deep-enough state of relaxation to access the subconscious and affect positive change. In fact, most recently (just one week after our first hypnotherapy class back in October) I was asked to read my poetry to a room of famous poets. I’m petrified of public speaking by the way. More about this shortly!

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Pic: Taken by Alex Cameron

What do you experience?

When in the hypnosis state, both your conscious and subconscious mind usually enter into the alpha state, a relaxed dream-like state which allows these two parts to communicate. We don’t want one or both states to fall into an unconscious sleep but for the two to communicate.

It seems everyone is different in terms of what they experience during hypnosis. In terms of the psychological and physical aspects, sensations and overall experience. Some people are fully aware of everything going on, others feel sleepy yet still aware and others will do into a deep trance-like state, where they wake from the hypnosis with no recollection.

What about self-hypnosis?

More about my recent experiment before the poetry recital.

It was by chance that the following happened. As I drifted off asleep the afternoon before the recital, giving myself some reiki, I felt myself drift towards sleep but before I did, I inhabited a very relaxed space that was empty of thought, I’d almost go as far as to say I was in a deep trance. The reiki and my breathing brought me to this space. When there, I seized the opportunity and repeated: I am confident reading my poetry, I am comfortable in large groups. The following evening I was still anxious about it but when I came to read my poetry it was as though I was having an out of body experience. There was two of me – the anxious me stayed seated and a new me stood up and read aloud three poems steadily. I paused, added intonation and was animated. Everyone said how calm I seemed! Call it placebo, coincidence or effective self-hypnosis, but it worked.

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Pic: Artist – Dariah Lazatova

What happens if you stay in hypnosis?

Afterwards I was slightly curious about the hypnotic state and what would happen if you stayed there. Coincidentally I encountered information in one of the books I’m reading at the moment and that said if you entered hypnosis and were to remain in a trance – with no hypnotic suggestions or further guidance – you would either simply fall asleep then wake from a pleasant nap or return to full consciousness on your own.

How can hypnosis help?

Hypnosis can be used to produce anaesthesia in the body, which can help with dentist appointments for example. It’s great for anxiety, phobias, helping you to stop smoking, drinking, over-eating. It can improve sleep, reduce stress and control pain. It can even help control bleeding and the heart rate! So it seems that the hypnosis state, which seems very focused, can enable you to powerfully remove your attention (and your mind) from psychical pain, taking you to a calm, peaceful, pain-free space instead.

Have you had any experiences of hypnotherapy? What did you have it for? How did you feel during the session and has it helped you to change any unhelpful patterns?

How to Make Rose Glycerite & Tincture

I don’t know about you but I always feel sad when the flowers in the garden start to disappear for another year. There’s a hint of regret and loss.

But that’s been the great thing about exploring herbology, I’m discovering more and more ways to use wild herbs and plants for the benefit of health and day-to-day use. Holding onto a few plants and herbs before they turn to seed, to make tinctures, glycerites and lip balms, has been a fun way to make use of dying nature, while also saving some money here and there.

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I’m by no means an expert and still very much a novice but I like sharing what I’ve learnt in hope it will help you guys too.

I was really drawn to the scent rose a few years ago. I started using the Neal’s Yard ‘rose’ range, and then rose essential oil in my diffuser, which is soooo expensive. But the smell is completely alluring.

It’s definitely heart-centred stuff. Well, it would be. Roses have been long associated with matters of the heart. There’s a good reason why – they are indeed a tonic for the heart. Quite literally.

So I decided to make some rose glycerite. I discovered that rose tincture is particularly good for the following:

  • Viral infections
  • Sore throats
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Menopause
  • Dry skin
  • Feeling unloved
  • Feeling unloving
  • Grief

I was particularly interested in rose to help with viruses, as we seem to experience lots of those still during the winter. As for some of the other heart-centred emotions associated  with love, being unloved and grief – well I’m wondering if this remedy will come in useful for the winter months too perhaps, especially if you suffer with low mood.

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How to make rose glycerite

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You can use garden roses for this and in fact, they are great as long as they haven’t been sprayed.

You’ll need the fragrant roses! Damask roses are great apparently but we don’t have any of these but we didm inherit several varieties, though not all fragrant.

Simply pick fragrant rose petals. If need be, wipe off and dry any dust or bugs, and pop the petals in a jar with a mixture of 60% vegetable glycerine and 40% water. You can buy food grade organic glycerine on Amazon and other places online. I even spotted some in Sainsbury’s on the ‘baking shelves’, though it wasn’t so cheap in small quantities.

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Then pop on a sunny window or in a warm place. Stir occasionally to keep the petals beneath the surface of the liquid.

You can keep adding petals over the coming season as and when they turn transparent.

After around 6 weeks when the last petals have lost their colour, strain the liquid and bottle.

It should taste delicious and smell of rose. Mine haven’t matured as yet but I’ll let you know once my oldest batch has finished its cycle.

How to use

1 tsp. for sore throats and viral infections.

For a broken heart or grief, mix half with hawthorn tincture and take 1 tsp. several times a day.

You can also use it as a face lotion for dry or sensitive skin – mix half with water and apply daily.

How to Make Rose Tincture

This will have similar effects to the glycerite, but will act faster and a little deeper. It’s made with alcohol so it’s clearly only for adults whereas the glycerite is child-friendly. Simply fill a jar with fragrant rose petals but don’t over-stuff, and top with vodka or bandy and steep.

Keep in a cool dark cupboard and shake once a day.

Transfer into a tinted dark glass jar after 4-6 weeks.

Great for the same issues listed above.

How to Make Poppy Tincture

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I made my first poppy tincture last summer and it was a success!

I harvested the petals last June, made a tincture a couple of weeks later and it’s been sitting on a dusty shelf in my kitchen for a while. I’ve literally only started using it recently since having a bout of insomnia. Apart from one particularly bad night, it’s worked every time. Now that poppy season is upon us, I thought I’d blog about it.

I’ve always been a big sleeper, as humans we all differ. I need a minimum of 8 hours and to feel normal I need around 9 – 10 hours a night. To feel on top of the world I need 11. I know, mad right? But it’s not a total waste of life, because I’m a lucid dreamer. But that’s another blog post.

 

However, being a Mum of a four year old, I only receive 9 hours sleep perhaps once a week or fortnight if I’m lucky. My average is around seven. As a result, I have had bouts of insomnia in anticipation of limited sleep, specifically difficulty getting off to sleep. Hence my exploration of poppy tincture!

Not only is it good for aiding sleep, it’s also…

Good for:                    Nervous digestion, irritable bowel, headaches, over-excitability, anxiety and nervousness.

Available:                   Flowers and seeds are used, harvested in summer.

Habitat:                      Arable land and other disturbed ground.

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Norfolk Poppy Field by Insta Friend Erna Gotyar

Poppy Identification

To make poppy tincture you need the common red poppy (papaver rheas) which is pictured above, and not to be confused with the opium poppy, pictured below, which has a much thicker stem, is taller and generally grander in appearance, and has grey-green leaves. The opium poppy flowers are usually lilac with darker centres, although we also have red opium poppies growing in our garden. So avoid this variety, it should be obvious but if in doubt look into it thoroughly. The opium poppy has a dangerous reputation because of its hallucinogenic and potentially harmful effects.

Apart from the red poppies pictured in the left-hand pic, all the other poppies in the above ’tiles’ are opium poppies: the lilac ones you see dotted around in the left pic, and also the red poppies top-right and bottom-left pics (above). Their stems are thicker, it feels as though you could snap them.

Just look out for the common red poppy, which is the one that grows in abundance in wastelands, fields and gardens. It’s stem is very thin and fuzzy, with paper thin silk petals. Though just be mindful that the opium poppies can grow next to the common red ones, as shown in the left had pic above.

It’s important with herbalism and making tinctures that you are certain that you’ve selected the correct plant. Always check with a herbalist if unsure. There are lots of identification books out there. And if you have any concerns or other health conditions it’s always best to seek advice from your GP first.

How to Prepare Poppy Tincture

It’s really easy to make! Simply fill a jar with fresh red poppy petals, then top it up with vodka. Shake well and add more vodka if needed to fill the jar. Store in a cool dark place like a cupboard for two weeks. Strain and bottle.

This tincture is very warming and is better for treating pain than poppy glycerite because its more rapidly absorbed by the body. It will keep for a couple of years.

Dosage: Start with half a teaspoon at bedtime and monitor effects before considering increasing to one teaspoon.

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Poppy Glycerite

You can also make a glycerite with poppy petals, which is better for children, just buy a food grade glycerite and add 60% glycerite to 40% water. Stir well and place on a windowsill or somewhere sunny. Shake or stir the contents every day. Once the petals have faded white you can remove them and add fresh ones until you have a rich deep colour. It will keep for a year.

In addition to the other benefits already mentioned, the glycerite is also good for irritable coughs.

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Disclaimer: It’s important with herbalism and making tinctures that you are certain that you’ve selected the correct plant. Always check with a herbalist if unsure. There are lots of identification books out there. And if you have any concerns or other health conditions it’s always best to seek advice from your GP first.

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Cover Picture: Norfolk Poppy Field by Erna Gotyar 

 

 

 

Wellbeing: How to Make Daisy Tea

Forage in the UK: March – November

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Wild daisies are one of the many flowers that you can eat and use in cooking. They make a lovely addition to salads and smoothies and you can also make medicinal tea from them too.

It’s timeless and well-loved and daisy tea is a great thing to make with small children.

Though, I should add a bit of a disclaimer here too, whenever we’re picking herbs from the garden or plants from the wild, I’m cautious about explaining to my four year old that it’s important to check with a grown up first before you eat any of these wild herbs or flowers. But I think with the right guidance and supervision it’s a beneficial thing and their knowledge of the natural world will only grow.

I first discovered the power of daisies during a foraging course I took part in last year. If you’re interested in foraging for herbs, you can find more here in my post from last year. This post also takes you to a weblink to a different article I wrote for Female First. 

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Health Benefits

Wild daisies are great for lingering coughs, liver, kidneys and inflammation. They are also known to be a blood purifier. Daisy will also strengthens appetite and metabolism.

Country folk are said to use it for various other things too including swollen feet, digestion, and externally for rashes and wounds.

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How to Make Daisy Tea

To make daisy tea, the first step is to make sure you harvest daisies that haven’t been sprayed with any chemicals. If you know your garden is free from chemicals, that’s probably your best bet otherwise find a secluded spot in the countryside, away from arable fields.

To make a small teapot of daisy tea, simply take a small handful of daisies with fairly short stalks, and steep in boiling water and wait for around 5-10 minutes.

Or you can add a couple of small spoonful to a cup of boiling water instead.

You can drink up to three cups a day and as with any herbal remedies if you’re breast-feeding or pregnant it’s best to avoid them just in case, as there isn’t the research available.

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Poetry Pairing

I haven’t done a recipe post with a poetry pairing for some time now! I used to do this often when I started blogging. Whereby I would post a favourite recipe and instead of selecting a wine to pair with the meal I would offer a suggested poetry pairing, a poem you might like to read with your meal, something that matches the tone, texture and mood of the food. The below is perhaps a bit ‘on the nose’ but I trawled through quite a few and I kept coming back to this. It reminds me of innocence, and youth. Plus I could quite imagine Emily approving of daisy tea.

So here we go…

The Daisy Follows Soft The Sun

By Emily Dickinson

 

The daisy follows soft the sun,

And when his golden walk is done,

Sits shyly at his feet.

He, waking, finds the flower near.

“Wherefore, marauder, art thou here?”

“Because, sir, love is sweet!”

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3 Wellbeing Books for Spring

Here is a round-up of three delightful wellbeing books Eddison Books Ltd sent me recently.

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Natural Painkillers: Relieve Pain with Natural Remedies and Exercises by Dr Yann Rougier & Marie Borrel (£12.99)

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This is an incredibly user-friendly book that breaks down how to manage pain naturally. It starts by explaining just how pain is transmitted in your body and then it goes onto suggest foods that can contribute to alleviating pain. I’m a firm believer in using the mind to support pain relief. Hypnobirthing worked really well for me during child birth and in this book it gives you some great advice on using deep-breathing and relaxation to support pain relief. The last section offers practical advice for common aliments.

I’m very interested in herbology after a short course I took part in last year. This is a great book for offering natural remedies for things like period pains, indigestion, bloating, chest pains, heartburn cramps, stiff neck and joint pains. It lists all the different types of pain you might encounter, including every-day things like head aches, bloating and ear ache, right through to blisters, back pain and reflux.

Did you know that pineapple has anti-inflamatory properties? And peppermint can relieve a headache? Or that you can alleviate joint pain by massaging specific points on the wrist?

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Natural-Painkillers-Relieve-remedies-exercises/dp/185906437X

The Ketogenic & Hypotoxic Diet: Lose Weight and Improve Health with This Low-Carb, High-Fat, anti-Inflammatory Plan by Olivia Charlet (£12.99)

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This book claims to offer a revolutionary diet that fights disease and promotes healthy weight loss. It also shows you how to incorporate key ingredients into your diet. The idea is to eat more fats and a lot less sugar if every kind. It’s based on scientific research that is linked to helping to prevent things like diabetes, dementia and cancer.

So overall I did enjoy reading about this approach but I was less keen to read about certain ingredients being part of the plan such as meat, and particularly ham, which, even if you are a meat-eater, isn’t processed pork one of the most unhealthiest meats? So, although this one isn’t for me personally, there were some sterling healthy vegan recipes such as the Golden Turmeric Milk drink, Macadamia Nut Cheese and Almond Crepes, which I shall be certainly trying out!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ketogenic-Hypotoxic-Diet-low-carb-anti-inflammatory/dp/1859064337

 

Essential Oils You Can’t Do Without: The Best Aromatherapy Oils for Health, Home and Beauty and How to Use Them (£12.99)

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My Dad first introduced me to essential oils when I was a teenager. Back then I thought they were just pretty fragrances and didn’t realise that they were so beneficial in a number of ways. They seemed a bit hippy, and faddy. But I was wrong. I later discovered some wonderful benefits for headaches and relaxation that continue to work for me today. This book offers 300 different ways to use essential oils every day.

I really enjoyed leafing through this; it offers some great solutions that can help with beauty care, housework, health and gardening. I love a practical solution that’s also better for the environment.

In this book you’ll find more about the six recommended multipurpose oils: tea tree, lemon, lavender, peppermint, rosemary cineole, and damask rose. All of these are ‘must-haves’ and the book shows you how you can also combine certain oils to help with various things. It offers ideas for using these oils to help with things like anxiety, insomnia and high blood pressure.

It also tells you how to use the oils to turn them into lotions and face masks. This is something I’ve done in the past and had plans to do more of this summer, so I’m looking forward to producing more now I have this useful guide to hand.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Essential-Oils-You-Cant-Without/dp/1859064361

 

8 Ways to Support Someone With Cancer

Big C Centre, Norwich Shoot Feb 2018

One in two people are said to suffer from cancer, which makes it all the more important to be prepared in case a loved one receives a diagnosis in the future. Even if it’s your best friend’s family member that has the diagnosis, your friend will need the support too.

There were certain things that really supported the situation for a member of my family, and also for me too. I’ve worked for the Big C as a comms consultant and case study writer now for nearly three years. So it’s strange to be writing this, being on the other side of the fence for a change, but I can safely say I have an even more rounded view of what it’s like for someone dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

Big C Centre, Norwich Shoot Feb 2018
Big C Centre, Norwich

How to support a person with cancer or their loved one

Naturally, a cancer diagnosis doesn’t just impact the person with the diagnosis. It can be really tough for those closest to the person with cancer. They are probably trying to be strong for the person who is unwell. They will have to continue working, caring for their own family yet likely to be caring and supporting their loved one with cancer, as well as trying to process their own emotions and grief.

I think one of the biggest most important thing to remember is to bring it up with your friend or family member. Just like when you’re supporting a friend with grief of a loved one, it’s important to acknowledge it.

Many don’t know what to say when someone has been diagnosed with cancer and so they often end up not saying anything or not very much. What’s helpful is saying something, anything, just acknowledging it and checking in, even a simple “How are you guys doing? Thinking of you lots at the moment. I’m here if you need to talk.”

Big C Centre, Norwich Shoot Feb 2018
Big C Centre, Norwich (Feb 2019)

These ‘tips’ are useful for when supporting a friend who has a family member with cancer, but it is also good advice for when supporting the person with cancer too.

Check in regularly: Do check in on your friend. A text message twice a week to assess how they are coping and also to check on any latest developments with tests and the treatment plan.

Moral Support: If it’s someone you know very well who has cancer, they may need some support attending or driving to hospital appointments. It’s always good to check. If you do attend appointments to support someone with cancer, try to distract your friend or family member with positive things to lift their spirits. Though try to tune into their mood to see what feels most helpful for them.

Food Made with Love: While your friend or family member is undergoing treatment, they probably won’t feel well-enough to cook for themselves for a little while, so now would be a good time to offer to make healthy food to help with recovery. Perhaps see if you can involve other friends too. Always check first about their diet because many cancer patients will be avoiding sugar, and bowel cancer patients have a very specific diet before, during and after treatment.

Expect silences: Do expect your friend to disappear now and then. Social media is often the last place they will want to be. They probably won’t have the time to go out socialising or meet for a coffee to chat about things. Though they might. Everyone is different. Just accept they may go quiet on you, and that’s OK. If they have gone quiet, you don’t need to be quiet too. Just a short email or message to say: I’m thinking of you, I’m here if you’d like to chat.

Friend Mail: You might like to send your friend a card and/or a small token to show them you are thinking of them. Those tokens and well-wishes really mean a lot.

Diarise the tough days: Ask your friend when they expect to find out test results and ask when the big appointments are – when chemotherapy, operations or radiotherapy starts. Try to send them a message on those days, they might be especially tough.

Free support: You might like to find out if you have a local cancer charity that can support your friend and their family. We’re very lucky here in Norfolk to have the support of Big C who offer cancer patients and their families free counselling, massages, reiki and reflexology, support groups, not to mention many other supportive services and advice on things like nutrition and financial support.

Your friend might not know about these kind of services available to them as they are likely to be too busy to begin to even think about it. If it feels appropriate and you think they might benefit, consider signposting them to their local cancer charity and free services available to them.

Complimentary Therapies: I used reiki on my family member to help with relaxation and healing. It was a godsend to have this tool at my fingertips. But don’t worry if there isn’t time to learn how to practise reiki, you can also often find reiki practitioners that not only operate out of a clinic that will be happy to treat from your home.

It’s also possible to ask for distance reiki, which means you don’t need to leave your home. We were very lucky to have the support of our Reiki Share group here in Norwich, whereby individual members of the group kindly sent our family reiki. It really made a big difference.

In addition to that, my good friend Claire, practises Bio-Energy Healing which is another form of energy healing. She’s based in London but was able to send distance healing at a designated time. This helped to prepare for her treatment and she reported back that she felt incredible peace and calmness after the session.

Lastly, acupuncture before treatment begins is also an option. There’s actually a Cancer Clinic at Treat Norwich, that offers specific treatments to support those before and after treatment.

Reiki and Bio Energy would be my suggested ‘top two’ therapies for during treatment and while the individual is weak and needing bed-rest, because it’s possible to send distance healing with both and doesn’t involve any effort on the patient’s part.

Big C Centre, Norwich Shoot Feb 2018
Big C Centre, Norwich

Creative Writing Therapy

If you found this post helpful, you might also be interested in a blog post I wrote for Big C a few months ago about how to use writing therapy to improve your wellbeing.

I’ve found creative writing a really helpful and therapeutic tool in the past. There’s more about how to use creative writing to help support you through the dark days. See the link above!

I’d love to hear about any experiences you’ve had with cancer. Whether it was dealing with a diagnosis yourself or supporting a loved one with their diagnosis. How did you cope?

Big C Centre, Norwich Shoot Feb 2018
Big C Centre, Norwich

Eat the Seasons: Winter Special 2019

 

OK so we’re in the thick of it now. Winter. No signs of sweet berries, unless you stock piled some from the summer – this is the first time I’ve actually done this and I must say I’m feeling slightly smug about my freezer habits for the first time in my life. But if you haven’t, Sainsbury’s do rather good frozen fruits too.

As for other winter foods. There are heaps around that you can get all the best nutrients from. It’s best to avoid out of season veg if you can, for a few reasons.

Nutritionists and foodies both agree that it’s important to incorporate seasonal produce in your diet. Not only will it have a positive impact on your health and on the planet but on your purse strings too.

It’s also a great opportunity to vary your diet, try news things and experiment with different foods. Plus, you’ll probably find that your taste buds change (for the better) and it’s heaps healthier. So what’s all the fuss about seasonal foods?

Here are just five reasons why seasonal produce is a much smarter choice:

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  1. Seasonal Local Foods Taste Better

Firstly, seasonal fruit and veg will always taste fresher, lovelier, sweeter and riper. When that piece of fruit or veg has naturally ripened and has been harvested at the right time, it will have stacks more nutritional content and flavour too.

When overseas crops have been imported, usually they have been harvested early and then chilled so they travel well. However, when they are refrigerated, this reduces the flavour.

Before they even make it to the supermarkets, they’re often kept at a holding house where they’re heated so that they can complete the ripening process. This of course is artificial and doesn’t yield the same quality, flavour or texture.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this with things like watery, bland tomatoes and pale tasting strawberries!

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  1. More Nutritional

 Local produce that has been purchased in-season and close to its natural harvesting time, will have a better nutritional content. When overseas produce has been stored for some time, it will loose a lot of its goodness.

Local fruits and vegetables will also look brighter and less limp and dried up. Supermarkets often buy out of season produce that’s been treated to kill germs and sometimes they are preserved in wax to extend the shelf life.

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  1. No Nasties

 When fruit and veg has been imported, you just can’t guarantee what’s happened to them after they’ve been picked! Regulations for pesticides and herbicides vary drastically. The UK is pretty good but there are loads of countries, even those within Europe, that have relaxed laws about chemicals being sprayed on fruits and vegetables.

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  1. Easier on your bank balance

It’s a known fact than when farmers have a huge crop of seasonal produce, the cost to consumers will go down. Plus, they don’t need to worry about travel expenses and storage, production and therefore this is passed onto us the customer!

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  1. More Environmentally-Friendly


 Eating seasonally reduces the demand for out of season produce which further supports more local produce and supports local farming in your area which means less transportation, less refrigeration, less of those hot houses and less irradiation of produce.

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It’s a no-brainer, right?

However, it’s easy to loose track of what’s ‘in’ and what’s out of season. So starting this winter, I’ll be blogging about foods from each of the seasons over the coming year. Below is a list of seasonal, local foods for the winter.

UK Seasonal Winter Vegetables

EAT THE SEASONS
December January February
Cauliflower

Cranberry

Lettuce

Pear

Pumpkin

Quince

Apple

Beetroot

Sprouts

Cabbage

Cauliflower

Celeriac

Celery

Chestnuts

Jerusalem artichoke

Kale

Leek

Onion

Cabbage

Pak choi

Parsnip

Pear

Romanesco

Salsify

Spring onion

Swede

Sweet potato

Turnip

Apple

Beetroot

Sprouts

Cabbage

Cauliflower

Celeriac

Celery

Chestnuts

Chicory

Jerusalem artichoke

Kale

Leek

Onion

Cabbage

Pak choi

Parsnip

Pear

Rhubarb

Romanesco

Salsify

Spring onion

Swede

Sweet potato

Turnip

 

Apple

Sprouts

Cabbage

Cauliflower

Celeriac

Celery

Jerusalem artichoke

Kale

Leek

Onion

Parsnip

Purple sprouting broccoli

Romanesco

Rhubarb

Spring onion

Swede

Sweet potato

Turnip

 

In the Spotlight:

My Favourite Winter Seasonal Veg

I’m currently addicted to Romanesco. It’s half between a cauliflower and a broccoli. Try it roasted in the oven with a generous drizzle of olive oil and with slices of shallots or thin slices of red onion and some garlic. Cook for around 20 – 25 mins on 180 degrees. It’s great as a side dish to fish dishes and other veggie mains.

 

 

Fruit and veg stall pictures taken at Mike & Debs – Norwich Market, one of my favourite spots in Norfolk for local veg. www.facebook.com/MikeDebsandSons

6 Wellbeing Smartphone Apps

I’m a book kind of person, not a Kindle or a tablet sort of girl. I prefer paper and ink, the sound of crisp pages turning and the excitement I feel when I buy colourful or metallic stationery. So I’ve surprised myself over the years at just how much I love apps. It’s been a gradual process but apps do have an advantage over books in many ways. I particularly like the way they feel manageable and easy to ‘dip into’.

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So here are my top six wellbeing apps that I use and why I like them.

1) Clementine

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This is my new favourite app! Clementine app was created for women by Kim Parker after she developed severe anxiety while pregnant and then newly promoted at work. Hypnotherapists and sleep experts have prerecorded a series of really supportive meditations and mantras to help with confidence, stress and sleep. I’m interested in hypnotherapy so I’m particularly keen on this app. In fact, I also wrote a blog post for these guys recently about ‘Micro Resolutions’ – check it ooot!

I love the “take a breather” session on this app – click play and within five minutes you’ll be feeling on track again, and the “Sleep” sessions have been great too. I’ve listened to the “deep sleep” session before bed, and woke up the next day more refreshed – it actually works people! Try it! You’ll also love the affirmations. I have various ones I’m testing out as part of my studies and you can simply add your own affirmations, or ask the app to surprise you. You can then set the app to send you reminders of your affirmations throughout the day. Lovely.

2. Dream:ON

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Calling all dreamers. This app can help to influence your dreams! It also helps you to keep an eye on your sleep cycle and it does this by monitoring your level of movement through the night . You can also select your chosen “soundscape” which is how it can help influence your dreams. Now this is the great bit. If you’re a lucid dreamer like me, you can also set it so that you’re woken during the optimum part of your sleep cycle. The idea being that you fall back to sleep again and are more likely to have a lucid dream. But that’s a whole other blog post about lucid dreaming! At the end of the night you’re presented with a graph of your sleep cycle, and you can set the app so that you wake up more gently than you would with an alarm.

http://www.dreamonapp.com

3. Sleepy Sounds

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This was an accidental discovery! We actually used this app for our little girl when she was a baby and toddler; the sound of the hair dryer would send her off to sleep and of course, it wasn’t practical or safe to keep an actual hair dryer going through the night, and so we discovered this! There are other settings which play the sound of water and waves. I’ve kind of become addicted to this and still now – three and a half years on. Our daughter doesn’t use it any longer but I still I listen to the sound of waves as I go to sleep and throughout the night. It evokes the most amazing beach-themed dreams!

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/sleepy-sounds/id464660332?mt=8

4. Head Space

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We all appreciate that mindfulness has great benefits on our wellbeing. Not only on our mood but in the way we tackle life. It’s been proven. But it is often tricky to keep up a practice. The Head Space app has been a great way to get back in the game. I’d also say it’s a good starting point for anyone new to meditation. It’s a beautifully designed app that gives you 10 meditations and four brief videos explaining what meditation is, along with a series of facts and questions. You can opt to pay for the full use of the app but the free recordings are good.

http://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app

5. Insight Timer

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This is my favourite meditation app at the moment. I prefer it to Head Space because it’s feels more grounded and there’s more of a community vibe. It also offers a really eclectic and broad selection of different guided meditations, there’s something to suit everyone – 14,000 different meditations in total! Don’t just take my word for it. It’s home to more than 6,100,000 meditators and is rated as the top free meditation app on the Android and iOS stores.

https://insighttimer.com

6. Clue

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A good friend of mine recommended this and I’ve been using it for well over a year now. It’s a way to track your menstrual cycle. Over the space of a few months, it gets to understand your cycle. You manually input how long your period lasts and the app then predicts when you’re next due. Genius. No surprises. It can track your energy levels appetite, skin, digestion and also when you’re most fertile.

https://helloclue.com

What are your go-to wellbeing apps? Feel free to share any you have here in the comments.

Female First: Things to Do By The Sea In Winter

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Call me strange (many do) but I prefer going to the coast in the winter. Here in Norfolk we’re pretty lucky to live just a stone’s throw from a plethora of beach options, and then there is neighbouring Suffolk too.

Even if you don’t live close to the sea, a drive to your nearest coastal spot in the winter will be well worth it still, I promise.

The main differences are that you’ll just need warmer clothing, you’ll spend less time outdoors, and you’ll spend less time doing the things you would do in the summer. But there are other things you can do.

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I don’t know what it is about our January day trips at the weekends, but I just seem to connect more with the sea at wintertime. It speaks to me. It feels wildly romantic for a start and more atmospheric, alive. The other reasons I prefer the winter at the coast is that it feels as though you’ve escaped to somewhere very, very different. We’re a little cooped up indoors during the winter here in the UK, so by making the effort to head out to the coast, it feels as though you’ve ventured to a foreign land. Also, it’s often far quieter in the winter, and in my opinion, more beautiful. The sky might not always be bright blue – though it is sometimes – but the sea is a stunning sparkling colour and instead, the sky is often dramatic.

Vinegary chips always taste better in the winter too, trust me! Take a flash of mulled wine, hot spiced apple juice or some chai tea with you.

If you’re interested in ‘things to do at the beach in the winter’, then read on.

I recently wrote another article for Female First on Things to do by the Sea in Winter. There’s lots of ideas here on things to do in the colder months – just click on the link.

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Here are two other wellbeing-inspired ideas that I didn’t mention in the article…

Winter yoga or meditation

There’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a spot of yoga or meditation on the beach in winter. Though you may wish you just do short bursts of activity, say 15 minutes, weather dependent. What a setting for it! Remembering to wear warm yet comfortable clothes, the sound of the waves, stillness of air and spaciousness are sure to leave a strong impression on you after your session.

A wish upon a wave

Tap into the expansiveness of the ocean to set your intentions for the year ahead. Take an eco-friendly piece of paper – like some rice paper (or a large pale leaf if you can find one) and write on it either your intentions, wishes, sankalpas or hopes and dreams for the coming year. Use some seaweed or other natural items from the beach to attach the paper to a medium-sized stone. Then throw your wishing stone into the waves. See what comes back…

Cosy Bolthole By the Sea

Looking for a winter bolt hole by the sea? You might like to read a review of one of my favourite spots in Aldeburgh. The Brudenell Hotel: Find out more about this super cosy retreat, where you can see and hear the sound of the waves from your bed! (Click on the Brudenell link or the picture below.)

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What do you do at the coast in the winter? I’d love to hear any other ideas you have. Love Leah X

 

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