Online Counsellor, Psychotherapist, Mindfulness Breath Work & Yoga Trainer

Mindful eating for happier and healthier eating habits

So many distractions, so little time! This is often the attitude we bring to our eating, something to get over and done with while also working at the computer, comparing or contrasting ourselves to the latest Instagram pic or being pre-occupied with planning our week ahead.

There are many benefits to bringing a more conscious awareness to our eating habits. These include:

Awakening the senses – You begin to really tune in to the taste, texture and real enjoyment (or not!) of the food you are eating. This is a whole sensory experience to be appreciated rather than distracted from.
You eat enough but not too much – In becoming more aware of your eating, you don’t end up eating mindlessly therefore you recognise the feeling of being sated, fully satisfied when you have eaten enough. This is better for weight management.
A calm mind leads to a calm body – Your inner critic is not activated nearly as often. Mindfulness tends to lead to more self-acceptance and self-kindness. You tend to make healthier choices and have a less punishing self-dialogue… “I can choose to eat this or that….” replaces, “I should not”, “this is bad”, “I have no control” etc. This is the very internal dialogue that leads to binging or purging.
Making healthier choices – When we eat mindlessly, we are less likely to make healthy choices. With a more mindful approach to our body and how we think we are more likely to nurture and care for our body and speak to ourselves in a more compassionate way.
Bringing awareness to our eating patterns – We soon recognise that food is just food, not good or not bad – we can choose to eat an amount that makes us feel good and make healthy choices that energise and nurture.
Mindful eating helps us to listen to the messages of our body – We eat when we’re hungry, savouring the taste and being present to when you have eaten enough. You eat and stop eating before you are ravenous and therefore you’re less likely to over-eat. We place the right portion size on our plate to satisfy our hunger. Sometimes, we need to re-train ourselves to know this. Most of us live in a world where we have access to plenty of food so with mindful eating, we can let go of our famine mentality… “this is enough food for me, I have enough.” If we overeat, we create health problems for the future. Also, it just doesn’t feel good!
Letting go of early life conditioning – Very often, we have learned an approach to food which is much more about numbing out e.g. emotional eating, or we may have learned our eating habits from our family of origin. For example, I grew up in a large Irish family with six brothers. I learned to eat very large portion sizes, way beyond my physical needs. When I recognised this, I began to eat a portion size that was more appropriate to my build. Combined with my yoga practice and a far more compassionate self-dialogue, this led to a much healthier and leaner body size without major effort (I’ve never been a fan of calorie counting!). I became more interested in natural, healthy, organic foods and less interested in dense, energy zapping foods. I do eat savoury and sweet things, I just do so with more appreciation and awareness.

Whether you are changing your eating habits to support weight management or whether you just want to be kinder towards yourself, eating mindfully will awaken an appreciation for the effects of self-nurture inside  and outside the body.  This naturally leads to increased energy and more ease around food as you free yourself from unhelpful eating habits.

You can begin today to enjoy your meals and savour the taste. Eat in silence sometimes to heighten your awareness. Let go of distractions and bring kindness towards how you speak to yourself about your body. Try adopting the 80/20 rule. Overall healthy and nutritious 80% of the time and allowing for the 20% when you may indulge a little. After all extremes are not healthy or good for the mind, body or soul – enjoy!

Ann Bracken MA, Grad.Dip. PG Dip
Ann Bracken is an accredited (AMBICA, AMIACP) Online Coach/Counsellor CBT Psychotherapist & Author.

Ann provides Mind-Body Health & Wellness Coaching via Skype/FaceTime & Telephone.

She is also a qualified Mindfulness Yoga Teacher & Nutritional Therapist. See full profile & Online Booking info on www.annbrackentherapy.com

Fertility Thinking – creating positive change to lower stress and improve mood

Managing infertility problems can challenge even the most optimistic of minds! When faced with fertility difficulties, dreams of a hoped for child can transform into feelings of pressure with each passing month. It is the uncertainty of how long it will take and what you will need to ensure physically, psychologically and financially that leads to increasing levels of distress.

Taking care of your mind health provides you with the much needed resilience and self-kindness that will see you through. It also contributes positively to your decision making process and how you manage treatment.

CBT for fertility related problems supports you to identify the problem thinking styles and understand their emotional response e.g. harsh self-dialogue full of self-blame leads to increased stress, sleep disturbance and irritability. It can also lead to strained relationships with family and friends.

By becoming aware of your internal dialogue in triggering situations, you can begin to challenge and change the unhelpful thinking patterns and find a more self-supportive internal dialogue. This has also been shown to change how we feel.

Watch out for the following ways of thinking which increase feelings of distress:

Catastrophising – the language we use when we are in this thinking style contributes to stress and anxiety; “It’s always’s going to be like this”. It usually jumps quickly to the worst case scenario, “IVF only ever works for other people, it will never work for us”.
Fortune Telling – In fortune telling, we assume that we know our future and it usually ends badly! “If this does not happen for me, my partner will leave me.”
Mind Reading – Like fortune telling, mind reading is not an ability that we generally possess. However, in times of stress, we can believe that we will know how everyone will respond. Fortune telling usually doesn’t offer an alternative perspective.
Over focusing on the negative and not acknowledging the positive – “Nothing good happens to us” etc. It is important to write about all the areas of your life – friendships, career, relationship with partner, health and hobbies/interests, spiritual self and acknowledge what is working to resource yourself in the present. Write down 3 things daily that you’re grateful for or did well.
Believing your “shoulds” – the tyranny of shoulds can be constant particularly if you discover that you need treatment you weren’t expecting. “This should not be happening”, “I should have known this sooner and acted on planning a family ten years ago”. Shoulds are usually demands we make of ourselves without first exploring why we may have chosen a route, e.g. “I did not know I had a fertility related problem until now and I can only make a choice to treat something I know I have.”
Blaming – the fertility road can be smooth and bumpy at times. Try not to get caught in the blame game. This can be very subtle but can
cause us to feel even more depressed; “it’s my fault, if I hadn’t worked
through my last cycle it would have worked, I was too busy, I’m to blame for all of this.” The frustration can also be projected onto our partner; “why isn’t he feeling the way I do?” or “it’s her fault anyway and now she can’t cope with it, why should I deal with this.” It is so important to let go of this way of thinking as it can quickly erode self-confidence and damage your relationship.

Use Supportive Self-Statements
When you notice that every event associated with fertility is beginning to be interpreted negatively, keep a note in your journal. Notice what thoughts and feelings arise in different situations. If they fit into any of the unhealthy thinking styles above, begin to challenge them and let them go.

This can also be helped using positive self-statements. No-one ever ran a marathon by telling themselves off at the starting line! You could try some of the following;

• I (and we) are doing all we can to support ourselves in our desire to have a baby. We are courageous and I will support myself and eachother in this.
• I have gone through similar tests and have managed. My fears are thoughts not facts, I am strong and can manage this test.
• Keep going (e.g. taking medication or needles etc). This is only temporary and it is worth it. This short term discomfort is for my longer term goal.
• I am a worthwhile person and can show kindness to myself during this time.
• I can bring balance to my feelings and my thoughts and support myself with wise decisions.
• Well done! I have faced a fearful experience and managed it. I will reward myself with a nurturing event or act of kindness.

You can also add some of your own…

Bringing Mindfulness to your Thoughts

Instead of becoming pre-occupied with what are thoughts are telling us and often reacting from, rather than reflecting on the content, we can become more aware of our thinking nature with mindfulness. Rather than becoming swept away with thoughts and inner stories about what we are experiencing e.g. “this is absolutely awful, I can’t cope with doing another test.” We observe the fear, without being swept away emotionally by it, observing the thoughts as just that – thoughts not facts. This leads to a greater inner calmness and clarity of mind.

Ann Bracken is an accredited (AMBICA, AMIACP) Online Fertility Counsellor & Author (Mind, Body, Baby – Hodder & Staughton)
Ann provides Fertility Mind-Body Health Coaching via Skype/FaceTime & Telephone.
She is also a qualified Mindfulness Yoga Teacher & Nutritional Therapist.

Bookings via website:
www.annbrackentherapy.com
Instagram: annbrackentherapy
Twitter: @Fertility_Talk

Mind-Body Psychotherapy: A whole person approach to emotional, psychological and relational support.

Mind-Body Psychotherapy is a unique integrative approach to therapy, in that it brings the mind and body into the therapeutic space. When we experience issues relating to mood, such as high stress, anxiety or low mood, for example, it affects our thinking and beliefs about ourselves and others. Naturally, this can then influence how we relate to others and also what we do or don’t do because of our thoughts and feelings (e.g. avoidance behaviours). When we feel emotionally distressed, it also releases stress hormones into our body which further escalates symptoms that we may be struggling with. For example, when we feel anxious about a particular outcome, this may show up as tightness in the chest or tension headaches for example. As this cycle continues to escalate, it can cause further physical, emotional and relational issues.

Mind-body psychotherapy, also known as somatic psychotherapy, is an integrative therapeutic approach that recognizes the intricate connection between the mind, body, and emotions. It acknowledges that our physical experiences and psychological experiences – thoughts and emotions are deeply intertwined and as such, influence one another. In addition, to exploring psychological issues, we explore their impact on the body to promoting overall well-being and healing.

How can past events and past relationships influence the Mind and Body?
In today’s fast-paced world, it can be challenging to bring mental clarity and emotional balance if we are feeling triggered by our own internal narrative (e.g. I’m not good enough) or other people’s expectations. In addition, our sense of self has also been shaped by earlier life and relationship experiences. This combined, can positively or negatively affect our overall wellbeing.

For example, if you experienced an excessive amount of criticism as a young person and also only received praise for doing well in exams, this can lead to a belief that you are only of value if you constantly achieve 100% in all areas of life which can lead to placing unrealistic expectations on yourself and potentially others. This belief would also leads to rigid internal thinking styles, such as… “I must succeed in this, there is no other option and if I don’t it means I’m a failure”. This type of thinking will trigger internal stress which results in the release of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.

The physical impact of repeated escalations in stress result in potential negative affects on various systems in our body – it can lead to increased blood pressure, heart problems, digestive system issues, a compromised immune system and/or hormone imbalances. In addition, the release of the bonding hormone, ‘oxytocin’ is compromised and as such, it can be more difficult to feel that sense of connection to ourselves and others as our nervous system is in a constant state of high alert – also known as, ‘fight, flight or freeze.’ Over time this is expressed psychologically as high stress, anxiety or low mood and disconnection. The good news is that we can also work on re-dressing this and eliciting the ‘relaxation response’ more often, thus activating the parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ system instead of setting off our sympathetic nervous system. This promotes homeostasis or balance in our physical systems in addition to bringing more clarity to our thoughts and decision making processes and how we connect to others. Put simply, a healthy, balanced mind promotes a healthy balanced body and vice versa.

Mind-Body Psychotherapy approaches include…

1. Embodied Awareness: Mind-body psychotherapy emphasizes developing a heightened awareness of bodily sensations, emotions, and thoughts. By paying attention to these experiences, individuals can gain valuable insights into their psychological well-being by understanding emotional and relational triggers and being more conscious of next step choices.
2. Non-judgmental Exploration: This therapy encourages individuals to explore their experiences without judgment or criticism. It creates a safe space for individuals to express and process their emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations and understand their relational or bonding (attachment) styles. This generally leads to healthier and more life affirming choices in those areas.
3. Integration of Mind and Body: Mind-body psychotherapy focuses on integrating the mind and body to promote restorative healing and positive change. It recognizes that unresolved emotional issues have the potential to manifest as physical symptoms. By addressing both aspects, individuals can achieve a more balanced and harmonious state.

Techniques Used in Mind-Body Psychotherapy:

1. Somatic Experiencing: This technique helps individuals release and resolve trauma or stress stored in the body. By gently guiding individuals to notice bodily sensations and facilitating their
expression, somatic experiencing aims to restore a felt sense of safety and well-being.
2. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): MBSR combines mindfulness meditation, body awareness, and gentle movement to reduce stress and promote self-awareness. It helps individuals
cultivate a non-judgmental attitude towards their experiences, enhancing their ability to cope with challenges and build resilience. It also leads to more compassion towards oneself and others.
3. Breathwork: Focusing on conscious breathing techniques, breathwork helps individuals regulate their emotions, reduce anxiety, and increase relaxation. It can be used to release tension
held in the body to promote a sense of calmness.
4. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment therapy approaches explore; the nature of thoughts, emotions and behaviours and how to recognise and create change, of unhelpful beliefs or habitual thinking styles that are not aligned to your overall goals (in relation to yourself or perhaps work, life or relationship goals). Therapy aims to support you in increasing personal fulfilment and joy as you process and heal, thus becoming more in ‘flow’ with your life aspirations.

Benefits of Mind-Body Psychotherapy:

1. Enhanced Emotional Well-being: By addressing the mind and body together, mind-body psychotherapy can help individuals gain a deeper understanding of their feelings and develop healthier emotional balance. It also supports more clarity of mind and less ruminating on hypothetical worries.
2. Identifying and expressing our Needs: When we become more aware of our felt sense experience along with understanding our habitual ways of thinking or behaving when triggered, we become more attuned to our ‘needs’. We don’t behave or relate from past experience expectations (e.g. people can’t be trusted… because my previous partner was unfaithful – or – others will let me down and I can only rely on myself … because my emotional needs were not met as a child and young person due to a pre-occupied or emotionally distant parent etc.) In identifying our emotional and connection needs, we make healthier choices and let go of self-sabotaging ways of being in relationships.
3. Stress Reduction: Mind-body techniques can effectively reduce stress levels by promoting relaxation, improving emotional regulation, and fostering a sense of balance.
4. Physical Healing: As mind and body are interconnected, mind-body psychotherapy can alleviate or lessen some of the physical symptoms associated with, or exacerbated by, psychological distress; such as chronic pain, headaches, hormone imbalances, memory difficulties, heart problems and digestive issues.

When you think of any significant problem or issue that you have faced in your life, you will also remember how it felt and also how it may have impacted your internal narrative and given rise to certain beliefs or ways of relating. You may also remember how this showed up in your body e.g. stomach problems or tension migraines. In addition, earlier life relationships can influence our expectations in how others will treat us or activate certain ‘defences’ in behaviours or trigger feelings that may or may not be helpful in the current situation or relationship. Mind-body psychotherapy recognises this and works towards supporting the whole person while recognizing the profound connection between the mind and body.

By incorporating techniques that address both aspects, individuals can experience improved emotional well-being, reduced stress, and enhanced physical healing. It also tends to lead to healthier relationships as you let go of beliefs and their corresponding behaviours or defences that no longer serve you, e.g. people pleasing or being the ‘fixer’ because that was a role always expected of you, in favour of becoming more attuned to yours and other’s needs and relating more authentically to these. There is wisdom in the saying; To Thine Own Self be True. If you are seeking a comprehensive therapeutic approach that considers the whole person, mind-body psychotherapy may be a valuable option to explore on your journey towards wellness.

Therapeutic Journaling – for emotional healing & insight

Keeping a journal is both therapeutic and pragmatic; it provides a space to express difficult emotions and, at times, to reason with the part of us that feels overwhelmed. This can lead to new ideas and possible solutions. It helps us to access our ‘wise mind’ by bringing balance to our emotional and rational self during all-important decision-making moments. Journaling also gives the writer permission to give full expression to conflicting internal views, working through problems and accessing the subconscious mind. For those of us who tend to overthink our problems, writing can help to quieten the mind, contributing towards clarity of thought and lessening tension in the body.
Previously, Barack Obama as US President outlined the value he placed on writing in a diary, describing it as, ‘an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about and what my deepest values are’. In creating a space to write, we can access parts of ourselves that may not be finding a voice in the automatic pilot of our day-to-day lives. Writing can help to shine a light on our deepest understandings and what we truly believe at the core of ourselves. This can often get lost in the expectations we have of ourselves or those imposed externally, for example by family, friends or society.
Writing our uninterrupted thoughts and feelings is a way of accessing our own truth about issues (past or present) we are experiencing.

A 10-Step Journaling Guide

1. In the spirit of self-care, buy yourself a really special journal.
2. For habit forming, Write (not type) your journal at the same time daily.   
3. Write continuously for three pages and then stop … to be continued.
4. Park your inner critic! This exercise is not about having the correct spellings or grammar; it is about
thoughts, feelings and musings about issues you may be facing and all that that entails. Keep writing and
writing and writing; no editing required.
5. You can write about problems you are facing, relationship issues or dreams you aspire to. Include all your
thoughts and feelings, what’s going well, what is challenging etc. It is your space to write all your hopes,
fears, challenges and resolutions.
6. Firstly, start with the facts (as you see them) then write about your feelings and emotional responses – what
I do because I feel that way.
7. Finally, write about any positive learning or insights you can move forward with. What can you do now to take
care of yourself into the future? If you can’t connect with the last question, begin with: if I was taking
care of myself, I would …
8. Remember, you can journal to gain a deeper insight or to use it as an emotional dustbin! It is not about
getting it right, it’s about getting it on the paper.
9. If something is too difficult to write about, you could try to write about it in the third person. It gives
you another perspective, for example, if I was a good friend of mind observing this, what would I say or do?
Do not write if you feel emotionally overwhelmed. This may be the time to seek counselling support.
10. Writing without judgement allows us to access our inner voice of truth or intuitive self. You may be
surprised to find that it’s not always what you expected.

Journaling to Heal
People who engage with expressive writing report feeling happier and less negative than before writing. Similarly reports of depressive symptoms, rumination and anxiety tend to drop in the weeks or months after writing about emotional upheavals according to 30 years of research findings by Professor James Pennebaker, author and Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas.

As it gives voice to our feelings, journaling can help us to gain a deeper self-understanding and improve communication within couple relationships. It can help us to gain new perspectives to help clear the path for new experiences.

Some women and men I have worked with in my Online Therapy practice have used journaling to process issues or relationship problems in their life or during times of transition to help them move forward with wisdom and clarity, supporting self-empowered decision-making.

Finally, when you have followed the above Journaling Steps as a way of learning how to journal, moving forward, you can continue in your own way. Write with complete abandon and simply write intuitively –to process events in the past or the present; how you feel (emotional responses) about what is happening and opinions or thoughts you hold about it. Include insights gained or what you’d like to do differently moving forward.

Remember, if at any point, you find the exercise too distressing, leave it and return when it feels more manageable or consider seeking counselling support.

Ann Bracken is an Online Counselling Psychotherapist/Life Coach and Author. She is also a lecturer in BA Hons. Counselling & Psychotherapy (ICHAS) and is a qualified and accredited Clinical Supervisor, Yoga Teacher, Mindfulness Trainer and Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

She is passionate about bringing a Mind-Body Health and Healing approach for positive therapeutic change. More information & Bookings on: Annbrackentherapy.com