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Send your autopilot on holiday

26 Jul

This article is part of the series “31 blogs in 31 days” during July 2017 on howtofab.com.

I am a big fan of Adriene Mishler’s “Yoga with Adriene” channel and have been following her videos for a few years now. Two of her “mantras” she repeatedly uses during her routines and that I simply low are:

“Find what feels good” & “Stay connected”

So simple and so beautiful.

We spend so much of our lives in autopilot mode without realising it – from our wake-up coffee in the morning, doing our make-up, commuting to work, doing our work, commuting home, our evening programme etc. Autopilot is not necessarily a bad state to be in, but when used in excess, it dulls our live to a worrying point as it detaches us from what’s actually going on around and inside us. When we are in autopilot mode, we do things out of routine, without thinking, without asking ourselves what it is we actually want right now, or whether there is an alternative, a better way than our usual way of doing things. And more often than not, things we do out of routine and without thinking aren’t great for us. Even if they aren’t super bad, when we are not consciously tuned into them, we don’t enjoy them as much as we can and we are hence cutting ourselves short.

Find what feels good – there is not one right way of doing Yoga just as there isn’t just one right way of living your life. Every day presents us with a multitude of choices and perhaps what felt good yesterday isn’t the same as today. Whenever you feel nervous, irritated, whenever you can’t concentrate or you feel any discomfort, repeat those words and see if you can find out what you need in that moment. (This circles back to my article on Stress – “What do I need right now?”). Or if you notice yourself doing a routine task – is this making you feel good? Could you change it in a way that would make the experience a better one?

Staying connected – while I note it more with women, I think that also men struggle with their mind-body connection. I am a great supporter of a holistic take on life, health and happiness, and I strongly believe that our bodies tell us when they are in pain (often through our thinking), just as our minds tell us (often through our bodies). When we have lived on autopilot for too long, we may no longer notice or understand those signals and messages, but they are there and for us to be found.

Consciously monitoring and scanning our bodies and thoughts for messages, good or bad, for aches or pains, tingling or whatever sensations – and welcoming anything we may find, is a first step to a healthy relationship with ourselves. So many processes in our body happen well below our level of consciousness – our metabolism, breathing, digestion, growth etc. And of course we can’t consciously be aware of all these things all the time. But sometimes we should remind ourselves that while we take it for granted, our body works in our best possible interest – it has nothing but our wellbeing at heart (illnesses like cancer aside).

It sometimes takes just a few words to remind us that there are also things we can do consciously ourselves to support those processes. It doesn’t have to be Yoga, a calming cup of tea and closing our eyes for a few minutes, an invigorating walk outside, a quick stretch, 2 minutes of conscious breathing or really, really enjoying that piece of chocolate or glass of red wine…. if that makes you feel good, do it, but make sure to really, really enjoy it! And even if it’s something “naughty” you are considering – enjoy it! And if there is anything you could do right before or right after that you know will make the impact less painful, do it. Making conscious decisions, with your autopilot switched off, and listening to your mind-body connection – that certainly helps you to find what feels good.

Picture: Stocksnap via Pexels / CC0

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A different take on a Balanced Life

18 Jul

This article is part of the series “31 blogs in 31 days” during July 2017 on howtofab.com.

“Work-Life balance”. That phrase. The holy grail. The source of much unhappiness, especially within younger (<30 year old) people. Everybody wants it, demands it, looks for it – often without much success. Because some people are looking in the wrong place. Because Work and Life are perceived as two different, opposite, separate things. Like sun and moon – life happens when work is over. Overlap is a bad thing – checking work emails at home is bad, bad, bad behaviour, we all know that. (Of course, on the other hand, we still consider checking our Facebook at work as a basic human right….)

Work is part of life – and our life is part of our work. When we adopt a holistic approach to our life and when we welcome work as being part of that, the easier we come to terms with the fact that things are interconnected and that while we may show some character traits more at work and others more at home, we are in fact one human being. And we never are really that different at home or in the office. When we are forced to separate and isolate our needs and wants, we run into trouble.

Looking for balance is not a bad thing at all, but while many people often focus on a perceived Work vs The Rest Of Our Life dichotomy, I have found other criteria more useful.

  • New / routine: how much new input can I really take before I over-load myself? how much routine is good for me, gives me a sense of security, before I perhaps get bored and seek new ideas?
  • Active / passive: do I have enough down- (=processing) time? am I spending enough time being physically active? what’s a good amount and type of exercise for me and how can I realistically fit it into my weekly schedule?
  • Me-time / Others-time: how much time do I want and need to spend with just myself? how much time am I happy to spend with others? who are these others?
  • Lead / follow: if you are primarily one or the other, of if certain areas of your life require one more than the other – do you also have enough room and time for the other one? would you like to flip it around every now and then?
  • Home / away: are you away too often / not often enough? would you like to spend more time at home, or spend the time you have available in a different way?
  • Spending / saving: not just money. time, energy, anything you can give or keep. Are you spending your resources on the things that are important to you? are you over-spending in some and perhaps under-spending in other areas?

Instead of looking at these categories in an “either / or” way, try to see how much of each you want and need and where you are most likely to get it. If you can find balance within each major area of your life (work, relationship, family, friends, time with yourself) or if the areas create balance between each other. A holistic view of your life, where all important areas are connected with each other, will make it easier to see if the things that are important to you, as an holistic human being, are being catered for or if there is a lack or an imbalance anywhere.

The categories mentioned above are just exemplary. They work for me but perhaps other categories make more sense for you.

Picture: ejaugsburg via Pixabay / CC0

 

Don’t Worry – It’s Useless

14 Jul

This article is part of the series “31 blogs in 31 days” during July 2017 on howtofab.com.

Yesterday’s article was about Regrets and why they are often misplaced and unfair. Today I am having a similar go at Worrying, another questionable human pastime.

Many of us have mastered the art of lying awake at night, occupying our mind with all the different ways in which something may go wrong.

Worrying is in fact useless – it serves no constructive purpose. Because:

“If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying?

If you can’t solve it, then what is the use of worrying?” 

Shantideva, Indian Buddhist sage, 8th century

I know this sounds simplistic and perhaps even arrogant. But if you give this thought a chance, can you see a purpose behind worrying?

Even worse actually, worrying keeps you from feeling and dealing with the underlying fear. The difference may seem subtle, but worrying relates to a potential threat in the future, something that may also very well not happen at all. Fear is a much more concrete signal that alerts you about real or perceived danger.

Worrying usually means going round and round the same circles of thoughts and feelings, without any progress. It’s like being suspended in mid-air. You start to focus on your problems, you feel helpless, your thinking gets clouded by seeing potential threats everywhere. And you may start taking bad decisions out of being worried. Because although you may think that spending time being worried means you are dealing with a problem in a rational way, worrying is far from being rational.

It’s perfectly rational being alert of potential threats around the corner. It’s perfectly rational to prepare for those threats or dangers. Actively doing something to prepare or mentally going through possible scenarios, weighing up their likelihood and then coming up with plans about what can be done in each of those situations – that’s a much more constructive approach. Yes, bad things may happen in the future, but you are not making them any less likely to happen by worrying about them here and now.

If you catch yourself in such a mental and emotional spiral, really ask yourself the question:

“Is this exercise serving any constructive purpose?”

It’s not  – Don’t Worry, Be Happy.

It’s rather – Don’t Worry, Start Thinking Constructively About Ways In Which Potential Threats May Be Averted  🙂

Picture: Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay CC0

 

Melancholology (by Dr. Fab)

2 Sep

Those who have known me for a while, or who can read between the (not exactly subtle) lines, might know this about me: I can get sad sometimes. Or at least a bit down. At times seemingly without a reason and within the space of 2 seconds. This manifests itself in various ways: I can be in the middle of a group gathering and I become really quiet. Or I am at a party and suddenly leave without telling anybody. Or I prefer playing the piano to watching TV. What not so many people know is that this is something I ‘have had’ since I was very young. That feeling of simultaneous emptiness and heaviness that sits very deep within me, an exquisite sadness – but a soothing one, one without tears. A penetrating shadow that can hug and warm from the inside. That desperate need of belonging, or generally longing for something. Something deep and beautiful, trying to be meaningful. And something that always seems out of reach.

I have never really been able to put my finger on this. It is something that has been part of me since I was about 9 or 10 and it also has not always been there. It has been like a companion who checks in every now and then. But during the past few months, I have seen her (definitely female) quite a lot. I thought I was ‘just down’, exhausted, bored, lonely – many words seemed to get close, but nothing really nailed it. Until last week.

Life has a funny way of holding things up in your face sometimes. Whilst I thought I was going to burst with frustration over this strong but evasive feeling, one thing I came across, as a word or concept, all the time was this: Melancholy. I have always loved this word – not sure why – but had never thought much about it. Then I looked it up, and boy, I was hit in the face. I spent about 3 hours on a magical mystery internet tour, flew from one page to another and there it was – the explanation to my state of mind and heart, that had felt so indescribable beforehand. Words that got right to the bottom of it. And suddenly, I had this sense of relief sinking in, right into the pit of my tummy. Because I found a concept, a word, a description – something that told me I was not going mental.

So, what is melancholy? I am NOT trying to give a professional analysis here. After all, all I have done is as much reading as can be done in 1 week BUT I have 20 years of experience with this. This is what I feel qualifies me to talk about this subject. Or at least give some kind of account on why and how it relates to me.

Melancholic people are described as having a desire to connect with the world in a deep and meaningful way. They think a lot, and don’t always share their thoughts. Through this thinking, they often become ‘sad’ – although this is not a sadness that can be eased by tears or shopping. It is a Sweet Tristesse that can also give a lot of pleasure. It is also not paralysing, it can guide you to the greatest highs of highs, but also to some very low lows. It can be very intense and overwhelming, especially if it has not been understood. At times, the soul wants to stretch out and reach the far ends of what is possible to conceive, and sometimes it wants to crawl back into itself, getting to that place where everything comes together. The most trivial moments (often especially sought out) can have hugely enriching and exhausting effects on melancholic people.

Conceptually, melancholy is not something you ‘suffer from’, it should rather be understood as a gift, because not everybody is capable of it. It enables you to make deep connections, to reach emotional and mental spheres that can feel like ‘secret worlds within worlds’.

One thing that is important to mention, Melancholy is not Depression. Depression is an illness that requires treatment as it can be harmful and destructive to the extreme. Melancholy can be a first step, and can lead to Depression. But it must be understood as something very different: a frame of mind, a way to see and connect with the world. Empathy for example is a big part of Melancholy, but something that people suffering from depression are often not capable of.

These things are described as being connected to the Melancholic Mind: Autumn, Afternoon, Poetry, Classical Music and Literature, Earth, Leaning (your body or head against something), the color Grey. Stern facial expressions. Dusk and Dawn. Nostalgia. Getting lost in thoughts. Soft spot for Alanis Morissette (just kidding). Many great artists and politicians are renowned for being melancholic. During the Fin de siècle period, many people got lost in this in-between ‘the end of an era’ and ‘the beginning of a new century’ situation that triggered a lot of beautiful, melancholic art.

Interestingly, and this is something that is very true for me, melancholic people have the need to find words to explain and define, and also have a need to express their ‘condition’ – they even show it off sometimes.  I have done things for effect. Not so much now, but in the past. When I was younger I also wrote a lot of poetry, pretty sad poetry, I had such a deep desire to put words to this feeling of heaviness and detachment. But I did not hide these poems. I actually gave them to everybody who would read them. I mean, look at this blog for heaven’s sake! And I am so, so, so guilty of being that person who, when asked ‘is everything ok?‘ (obviously triggered by something), would say ‘oh, yes, of course!’ whilst my face and my heart would say the opposite and all I want is for somebody to grab me, look deep into my eyes, soul, heart, everything, and tell me they can ‘really see me’ and they will be there for and with me. I am helplessly romantic and sentimental and the thought of a perfect union with somebody is one that fills me with breathtaking joy. But I am also a sceptic and superb at undermining my own behaviour and success in that area, because at the end of the day I can not imagine there being this one person who would really be my ‘other half’.

I can think of so many other examples now: As a teenager I spent EVERY SUMMER, tucked up in my darkened room reading the Mists of Avalon. I prefer Chopin to Bach. Autumn is my favourite season. I love getting lost playing the piano. I would much rather run a slow Marathon than a 400 meter Sprint. My favourite literary figures are Madame Bovary and Effie Briest. I have frustrated many boyfriends and my family by ‘not talking to them’ and suffered at the same time from this urgent need for them to ask me how I am feeling. I have felt so lonely in the middle of my best friends whilst feeling blessed for having them. And I love company and parties. It would be a foolish lie to pretend otherwise – there are just too many witnesses! But do I really relax into them? Rarely. Do they sometimes even enhance the feeling of isolation? Yes. Interestingly, melancholy and joy do not exclude one another – which for example is the case with depression – quite the opposite actually. Joy and contentment can be found through melancholy.

What do I do now with this revelation. Nothing actually. But I know how to deal with my secret friend when she comes to visit again. I will embrace her and allow her to take me on whatever journey she wants to take me on. I will surrender to her, because quite frankly trying to defy her would not work. And it’s not like I can call her or ‘activate’ her – she comes as she pleases and I might just as well bake a cake her for and put the kettle on.

As I am writing this, one thing is becoming clear. Those who have a melancholic string to their emotional bone will totally understand what I am talking about. Those who don’t, will take me for an overdramatic, self centered, pathetic, pseudo psychological hippie litte girl. Melancholy is a delicate subject, one that makes a lot of sense to those who can experience it. And one that is sheer bullocks for those who can’t. Which is fine. It’s a bit like a secret club. And there are many things that escape my frame of understanding (or interest) – like rugby. Or cars.

Also, not everybody who has ever written a poem or a song or who likes dreaming, or staring at things, is necessarily melancholic. Some people are just lazy, grumpy, weird, in a bad mood, like to complain or are simply otherwise negatively charged. That is not melancholic. That’s being a sourpuss or an ass.

And with that I will leave my little sweet sour indulgence. I might want to share, but on this occasion, I don’t want to show off.

Fabienne wants to relax please

5 Apr

And….it’s April. I have officially crossed the 3-month mark of being in Germany and have so far resisted all temptations of booking a return flight to Newcastle – even when coming home a teeny bit tipsy or after a shit day.

Although I can not be sure, I would say that I have mostly arrived now. The download bar still has some percentages left but it’s a single digit I think. After all, I am the proud owner of a bicycle now which in Berlin means more than a passport, especially now that summer is on its way. And I have not randomly started a conversation in English with a shop owner or the postman in almost 2 weeks.  High fives all around.

Actually, it’s almost to the day 12 months ago that certain conversations started taking place that would eventually lead me to Berlin. At the time, I was a bit nonchalant about it all and I was so pleased with my newly acquired Status Quo, but curiosity got the better of me and has taken me on a quite a ride since then.

But what I can’t seem to shake is a certain nervousness. I constantly have the feeling that something bad is about to happen. It’s a bit like ‘The Fear’ when you wake up after a heavy night out with too much vino. Or when you can’t find your phone. And I don’t really know why. The new job is pretty full-on and demanding so I can attribute a good 34% to that. It’s all pretty good in the hood though, so the rest leaves me a bit clueless. After a very hectic 6 months, all I want is to sit down, breathe out and relax and do what I occasionally did exceptionally well last year – absolutely nothing. Or read a book. But as soon as I close my eyes, this weird energy starts chasing around my body and mind. Which I have not yet managed to harness and transform into ‘doing exercise’ unfortunately. And which is also why is has taken me about 4 hours to write this post as I have constantly been checking about 57 other browser tabs. And this really pisses me off. I am normally a well organised person who can tackle a big work load. But with my current normal stress level being already at 67.7% when I wake up, it only takes 2 unexpected emails to tip me over the edge. About 6 weeks ago, en route to New York, I actually got to a point where the barrel spilled over – at the time, I actually thought I was having a melt-down. In retrospect, I would call it ‘exploring and breaking through new barriers’.

On the plus side, this mad energy has also created some momentum in my personal life. You will find no revealing details here, but most friends who have subscribed to my weekly Gossip Bulletin Emails, have recently taken to responding in capital letters and with a lot of exclamation marks!!!! And maybe, who knows, once the dust has settled and/or I am happily married with two children, I might spill the beans!!

But seriously, I am in need of some badass chilling out. Any tips, or impromptu invitations to a weekend away will be much appreciated. And yes, I have heard of certain recreational drugs, red wine, hot baths and BBC Radio4… Chilling out can’t be that stressful!

Wheat the F*%k

26 May

I can not tell you how relieved I am to be writing my fourth blog right now. After all we were living in a state of mad danger last week.  My 30th birthday and Rapture on the same weekend was quite something, but as it turns out we’re all safe. Phew. Everybody relax. Until I turn 40.

Anyway, this little blog is about something completely different: A life without wheat. Yeah, that’s as exciting as it’s gonna get, so feel free to check out now. I am not gonna quote wikipedia or other dubious statistics though if that helps.

I gave up wheat about 5 months ago and dear me, what a difference it has made. After living with a ‘problem tummy’ for 15 years it was the last thing to try out and I actually didn’t have high hopes. I had seen a good dozen ‘specialists’ over the years and had countless ‘procedures’ done without any result. IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) was the only actual diagnosis I was given at one point but nobody knew how to treat it so I was left as clueless as I was before.

With problem tummy I mean being bloated all the time, cramps (that have caused me to pass out in the past), digestion problems, feeling as if I was carrying a bag of stones, lethargy and sometimes being really sad for no obvious reason. By the way, I did not know that the last point was related until afterwards.

I had known for a long time that bread and pasta were in the ‘bad boy’ category of food groups but I always thought that was merely a weight control thing. So anyway, one day I went shopping and spontaneously decided to go ‘wheat free’ for a few days. All I had to do was not buy anything with wheat in it – bread, pasta, pizza, noodles, biscuits. I didn’t fancy the wheat-free products in the beginning as they all looked a bit suspicious in their plastic packaging and were a bit too pricey for my liking. So off I went into the wheat-free zone and after 36 hours I was a new person. My belly had miraculously shrunk, there were no pains and I generally felt as if a veil had been lifted. My mood became much better, I felt much lighter and I started to feel comfortable in my body again.

5 months later and I have not really looked back. Of course I had my slip-ups which were immediately punished with very unproductive afternoons and sleepless nights. I try to cut wheat out as much as I can without turning into a dinner guest from hell. I also don’t go down the whole gluten-free alley as that would mean no Soy Sauce. And being heavily addicted to Sushi, that’s not an option. The wheat-free products you can buy (bread, pasta, pizza, fish fingers etc) are ok, but they do cost a lot more than normal products. Being wheat-free is not always easy, especially when a devilish hungover tells you that all you need is a McBreakfast, but the negative consequences are so obvious that I usually manage porridge or fruit or something similarly disappointing in those moments.

I don’t know whether I am allergic or intolerant and whether or not this is coeliac disease or not – but I don’t care. Not eating wheat makes me feel good – physically, emotionally and psychologically. So it’s a bit of a no-brainer to stay away from it. You can get absolutely doolaley doing too much research into the subject matter and before you know it, you have a dairy, water and air intolerance as well.

I am amazed how many people have told me that they think they have an intolerance as well. All I can say is to try it out for a few days and see what the difference is. This is not the same as no-carbs by the way, you can still eat rice and potatoes. But by all means, do not walk past an Italian restaurant when you’re hungry. Determination is one thing, but the smell of a pizza is something else!