Unless you have been under a blanket media ban over the last couple of years, you will have started to hear the word menopause more often. It’s in advertising, it’s on our TVs (thank you Davina McCall), it’s got its own month and day (October and 18th October). There is plenty of information on this online, here are some useful websites if you want to know more about what it is, who it affects, what symptoms there may be and why it’s important:
But I want to talk about how mindfulness helped me come to terms with MY menopause experience. My menopause journey started abruptly at age 33 following surgery for endometriosis, removing my womb and ovaries. I experienced many of the symptoms listed on any of the above websites and was unable to take HRT (too many difficult and debilitating side effects) so was left with “non medical” interventions.
My major issues were with anxiety, aphasia (losing words), lacking confidence, focus and concentration, fatigue, headaches and migraines. With little help and medical support, I began to investigate ‘alternative therapies’ and found mindfulness signposted as a way of managing anxiety.
My menopause journey was well underway by this time, I had left a senior role in a corporate IT, become self employed as a way of relieving my workload and stress, and was frankly struggling to cope with anything approaching a ‘normal’ life. The attitudes of mindfulness as described by Jon Kabat-Zinn were a revelation to me, and working on those principles meant that I was able to start managing my menopause ‘madness’.
Non judgement – giving myself a break as I discovered that none of the symptoms were ‘my fault’. Giving my GP a break as I realised she simply had never had any training or education on how to manage menopause without HRT.
Acceptance – recognising that this was something that was going to be with me for the rest of my life, and that I could manage it successfully if I made some changes.
Patience – adapting to a slower pace of life, managing my stress by doing fewer things, but doing them better. Allowing the lifestyle changes I was making to take effect, over time.
Trust – in my own perceptions of what my body required. Listening to my own needs and trusting in my own research.
Beginner’s mind – this was crucial for my health and mental wellbeing. I had to remain curious and open minded about my experiences, and treat each new symptom as opportunity to learn more about my body and its needs.
Non-striving and letting go – stopping myself trying to be someone I could no longer be, and abandoning of all of my preconceptions about menopause.
I could not have coped with the changes I had to make in my life without mindfulness to help me accept them and embed them through regular practice.
About the author
Helen Morris is a Mindfulness Teacher and Menopause Coach based in France. She is available online but will travel
A celebration of mindfulness teachers across the UK
Celebrating our Mindfulness Now Family
” This special day will be a chance to catch up with fellow graduates and tutors and to network with other members of our growing community. Promising to be a day of supportive mindful practice, the sharing of experiences, networking and learning something new.”
Time to celebrate the many achievements of our amazing Mindfulness Now graduates. This year is also a particularly special one as it marks the 10 year anniversary of our training school!
We are immensely proud of our community and would like to invite you to come and celebrate with us on Sunday 28th April 2024 at the home of Mindfulness Now, the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham.
We have 8 great workshops planned for the day…
Nick Cooke Compassion Focused Coaching Clare Harris Embodied Confidence: Navigating the Spotlight Mindfully Aston Colley Mindfulness Yoga Kate Angell Tai Chi Chih – Joy through Movement Léo Taylor Authoring meditations from our own stories and experiences Nikki Street Experiential Virtual Reality Amanda Carter-Blackford Mindful Journalling Dr. Nikki Chatfield Mindfulness for Diabetes and Cardiovascular Health
This special day will be a chance to catch up with fellow graduates and tutors and to network with other members of our growing community. Promising to be a day of supportive mindful practice, the sharing of experiences, networking and learning something new. In further celebration of our 10 year anniversary, we are also pleased to announce the launch of the Mindfulness Now Teachers Bursary Fund. Any profit made from this special day will be added to this fund. Initially, we will be supporting the training of mindfulness teachers within small community based projects/ organisations.
As usual there are a limited number of tickets available for this day. Please book your tickets now to avoid any disappointment!
£49 pp (Each ticket price includes a vegan packed lunch and refreshments.
Need to stay over?… For those of you who may be travelling and need to stay over in Birmingham, Edgbaston Park Hotel has offered us a 15% discount for any of our graduates staying the nights of 27th or 28th April 2024 using the promo code MAC24. The code will be valid until 16th March 2024 on the flexible rate.
For further information, please explore booking.com or airbnb.co.uk for other good and more affordable accommodation options.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) certified professional training with a key focus on assisting those with anxiety
"… irrespective of the number of symptoms we have, or how serious those are, provided that we respond to them in a mindful way we will feel happier and better able to function. Unwanted symptoms do ‘miraculously’ tend to reduce, even though this is not the primary aim!"
It was Sigmund Freud who famously described anxiety as ‘fear spread thinly. What a lot of sense this continues to make in our present day and age. However, Freud’s belief about the causes of anxiety and his method of treatment varies widely from present day understanding and treatment. Freud’s work was predicated on theories of how sufferers would have ‘repressed’ (hidden from conscious awareness) the causes of symptoms, including anxiety, and that repressed memories connected to the originating causes would be released and brought to conscious awareness, understanding and release through his famous ‘talking cure’, psychoanalysis. We discuss this approach in our Mindfulness Based Clinical Hypnosis (MBCH) training. www.mbch.org.uk
Scientific evidence since the 1980s has shown that many talking therapies including clinical hypnosis, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based therapies, can be effective in dealing with the symptoms of anxiety. One of the most successful approaches is ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), which is pronounced as the word ‘act’ for good reason. It’s about taking action. It was developed in the USA by psychologist Steve Hayes, along with his colleagues Kelly Wilson and Kirk Strosahl. The original body of work has been further developed and expanded by others, including Dr Russ Harris who has authored a number of well-respected books including the self-help guide ‘The Happiness Trap’.
Steve Hayes, describes ACT as an ‘oddly counterintuitive model of work’. It can be engaging and playful and teaches us skills to handle unwanted and painful thoughts and feelings in a way in which they have far less significance or negative affect. This is where mindfulness skills are brought into play. It also takes the view that, irrespective of the number of symptoms we have, or how serious those are, provided that we respond to them in a mindful way we will feel happier and better able to function. Unwanted symptoms do ‘miraculously’ tend to reduce, even though this is not the primary aim!
ACT has been scientifically researched and proven to be effective in helping people with a wide range of issues including: anxiety, depression and chronic pain. Even those with severe psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia have gained remarkable benefit. It has also produced similarly high levels of success with some of the less serious conditions which we may encounter in our day-to-day work, such as smoking cessation, weight reduction and reducing stress. The high level of supporting scientific evidence has ensured that ACT has grown in popularity as a form of psychological treatment around the world.
30 years in the making
It’s taken a while to get there. The original development of ACT was around 30 years ago and yet it was not until nearer to 10 years ago when it began to find its current high level of popularity. There are a number of reasons for this delayed enthusiasm:
• 30 years ago ACT seemed to fly in the face of conventional psychological theory in the sense that most approaches aimed to reduce unwanted symptoms. ACT takes a very different approach and one that is much more focussed on the idea that quality of life is primarily dependent upon mindful, values-guided action • ACT is a mindfulness based intervention and 30 years ago these were in their infancy and seen as a little way out! • The original writings on ACT were peer reviewed as being ‘overly complex’. Heavy on rather complicated theory but light on practicalities
The ACT acronym
ACT is sometimes seen as a rather large model but the real beauty of it is the way that it can be simplified and easily explainable to clients. I favour this very simple acronym which sums it up neatly.
A = Accept your thoughts and feelings and be present.
C = Choose a valued direction
D = Take action!
Key themes of ACT include developing psychological flexibility, encouraging self-awareness and examining beliefs and values. Here we encourage our clients, rather like we would in a coaching exercise, to explore their innermost beliefs and values. What would they live and die for? What would they say is their life purpose? Translating this into a behavioural context, what qualities of ongoing action matter? How do clients want to behave on an ongoing basis?
Clients are taught how to ‘defuse’, or separate from their unwanted thoughts, emotions and mental pictures. They learn how to observe them more passively or step back and view them from a distance, rather like clouds passing by in the sky. ACT employs a number of different styles of metaphor, which are often a great way of teaching clients in an indirect and more acceptable manner.
Nick Cooke is presenting a one-day CPD training on ACT for Anxiety on Saturday 24th May 2024. Being presented in a live, interactive format on Zoom, timings are 10.00 AM to 5.00 PM. The fee is £130 to NCH members and £160 to non-members. Places are strictly limited so please book early by contacting Rachel at Mindfulness Now (CEC) on 0121 444 1110 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
This little article contains my personal perspective on a, so called, mini-retirement – what’s it all about, the differences between it and a full retirement and between it and a holiday. Why should we do it? – are there rules for it? Is it a requirement to be old? Lastly some tips from someone who’s done it.
I originally trained in marketing and environmental science and took my first mini-retirement of 4 weeks after selling my share in a garment hanger reuse and recycling business which colleagues and I set up in my 30s to help M&S to meet its environmental obligations. The work was hugely stressful, and I was very glad of some down time.
Since then, I’ve come to really appreciate the value of the mini-retirement, of at least a few weeks, hopefully at least once a year. As I entered my 60s, with a successful practice in wellbeing and education, including my own clinic and training centre, I naturally considered retirement. However, I decided that, as long as I was well enough and loved my work, there was no point. In fact, I’ve known a number of others who have deeply regretted their retirement and not fared well with it.
In my case I’ve been fortunate enough to streamline my practice, partly due to the COVID lockdown, including selling my clinic and training centre and transitioning into the world of hybrid working, with a combination of online and in-person work.
Being part of a team makes the concept of mini-retirements more workable although, for those of us self-employed, we have to accept that other than any residual income, our mini-retirement will cost us financially. The financial loss will be fully compensated for by a period of freedom, rest and recharge, along with hopefully some new learning.
To me, holidays are normally very brief breaks and easy to arrange. They don’t get in the way of my client schedules. Mini-retirements, by contrast are much more of a challenge and require the cooperation and understanding of clients/participants and colleagues.
I strongly suggest that we don’t fall into the trap of believing that because we are fortunate to love what we do, that it is not real work and therefore we don’t need breaks. I have to admit that sometimes, over the years, I have been absolutely rubbish at taking breaks and I’m pretty sure that, on more than one occasion, it has had a serious negative impact upon my health.
Of course, these days there are numerous holidays which are advertised as ‘mindful’ holidays – whether that’s painting, river cruising or writing. Personally, I think that any holiday can be a mindful one as long as we stay with the experience of it. One of my colleagues tells me that he is brave enough for he and his partner to go to the airport with only passports and credit cards and then select a departure destination from the announcement board and buy tickets! As he said to me ‘the worst that can happen is that we end up going back home, and at its best we find an exciting new adventure’.
This same friend was horrified when I told him that I normally take my laptop computer on holiday with me (well surely it deserves a holiday too?). Sometimes I enjoy spending some time writing and find that being in a fresh, enjoyable location can inspire some creativity (my grandchildren are not at all impressed with this)! So, I think that the rule should be… not to have rules. Let nobody tell us what we should or should not do, and just see what happens.
Good luck with taking your breaks, however they happen and, you never know, maybe see you on the beach sometime! I’ll probably be the only one with a laptop computer as well as an ice cream!!
Recent neuroscience, over the past 20 years has scientifically proven that it really is entirely possible to take steps to totally change the structure and function of your brain – in effect ‘re-wiring’ it so that we become happier, mentally healthier and are able to express love, kindness and compassion for yourself and others more readily. Furthermore, by taking deliberate steps to develop your brain in positive ways, the research actually suggests that you’ll be more successful in life and work generally too.
The concept is called “self-directed neuroplasticity” by the researcher Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz in his book, “The Mind & The Brain” (Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force). Schwartz puts forth a compelling argument that you aren’t at the mercy of genetically-predetermined brain activity. Rather, you are in the driving seat because you play a decisive role in influencing your own brain’s structure and function by deciding where and how to focus your attention. You can do this by actively choosing what to think about. In his book, Dr Schwartz uses brain scans to prove the efficacy of self-directed neuroplasticity and these show how OCD patients, stroke victims, musicians, and more have used this approach to change their brains for the better. Dr Rick Hanson and Dr Daniel Siegel have also made tremendous contributions in this field.
What is neuroplasticity?
It used to be the case that medical science considered that our brains were more or less ‘set’ by the time we reached adulthood. Neuroplasticity (Neuro = nerve, Plasticity = changeable or malleable) is a term that describes how your brain is capable of constantly changing its internal shape, connections and functions in response to your environment, thinking, emotions, behaviour, as well as injury.
What is self-directed neuroplasticity?
Since we know that the brain remains plastic and ‘re-wires’ itself for our entire lives, self-directed neuroplasticity is a tool that we can use to consciously control how we want our brains to work. So, for example, if you want to increase your ability to feel and express happiness you might start a gratitude journal. You are ‘forcing’ your brain to behave in a certain way – for example in the case of keeping a gratitude journal your brain quickly adapts to experience and express a sense of gratitude more often and more readily. Similarly, anytime you learn a new skill (e.g. how to play a musical instrument), your brain structure and function changes and will adapt to whatever you challenge it with.
Using Self-Directed Neuroplasticity
Everything that your brain is exposed to will have an influence upon it; your behaviours, environment, social group, sleep cycle, supplements, drugs, etc. By becoming aware of what influences your brain will help you to consciously change those influences that may be causing more detriment than harm. Here are some steps that you can take to harness the life changing power of self-directed neuroplasticity:
The baby-steps of awareness: You may be aware of a variety of things that you’re unhappy about and/or things in your life that you dislike. Choose one thing at a time and become aware of the particular habit, mood, etc. that you’d like to change. Don’t try to run before you can walk – only try to change one thing at a time.
Attention: When creating self directed changes, focus all of your attention on implementing a healthy thought pattern and behaviour. Of course, this will require effort, but remember that whatever you focus your attention on will become your reality. If you choose to focus on feeling down, angry or depressed, these feelings will amplify. If you choose to concentrate on gratitude, this attention magnifies your happiness.
Volition – you’ve got to want to do it: At the beginning of attempting to change your brain, it’s going to be uncomfortable. We are all set in our own ways and self-directed neuroplasticity is not an entirely comfortable process and you do need to make a little effort – but it is undoubtedly effective. Attempting anything new is often scary – imagine throwing yourself into water without knowing how to swim – your brain either adapts and figures something out or you drown. While the “sink or swim” example is pretty extreme, you may well face some degree of internal resistance near the beginning of your change. Although our brains are so adaptable, they do tend to want to keep repeating the patterns they’ve already learned. With plain old willpower and consistently focusing on gratitude instead of depression (for example), your brain will adapt, and you’ll soon find that your general mood ‘set point’ will be much higher on the happiness scale.
Just do it: Be consistent and engage your new neural pathways for at least 15 minutes each time any unwanted thoughts occur. This helps because it shifts your focus away from the bad, and onto the good, and this is what leads to permanent brain changes over time. Ultimately, feelings of depression will be overpowered (and more difficult to produce) due to the fact that it will be easier, mentally and physically to express and experience happiness.
The beauty of the changing brain: Over time, and with consistent focused effort, your brain changes become more solidified. However, there is one caveat: use it or lose it! Remember that your brain is constantly in a state of change and that you must keep ‘feeding’ it with the positive changes that you desire – the more you practice a healthy behaviour, the easier it is to maintain. It is well known that Buddhist monks who practice mindfulness or forms of meditation involving compassion tend to rarely experience depression – this is because their brains become “wired” to preferentially express positive emotions after years of practice.
As already mentioned, the practice of mindfulness is proven to have a profoundly positive effect in ‘growing’ our brains. One of the ‘golden’ rules of psychology is that we tend to get more of what ever we focus on. It’s a generalisation of course. So, if we find ourselves frequently focussing on what we don’t want then sadly, that’s the direction our brain may grow in. On the other hand of we instead focus on the direction of travel we aspire to, that’s in tune with our values, then almost miraculously, that’s the way our brain structure will be forged. All of the popular mindfulness meditations will be valuable, including the ‘Mountain’ a wonderful guided visualisation including a great metaphor for resilience, and especially ‘Loving Kindness’, otherwise known as ‘Metta’ meditation which teaches us to focus on compassion for others as well as for ourselves.
With many thanks to “Grow your own brain!” Self-Directed Neuroplasticity, article by Jayney Goddard MSc, FCMA, FRSM, FRSPH
Nick Cooke, for Mindfulness Now, is offering a full day online CPD training on the above title, interactive on Zoom on Saturday 5th February 2022. The cost of attending is £130 for Mindfulness Now /CEC students and graduates and £160 to all others. Training manual and CPD certificate for 7 points included. To book please call 0121 444 1110 or email email@example.com.
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