There’s been a lot in the media the last week about this, with some typically sensational and misleading headlines such as the Daily Mail - "Working more than eight hours a day raises the risk of heart disease by 80%".  All the noise has resulted from the publication of two studies, one in the American Journal of Epidemiology focusing on working hours, and the other in The Lancet concentrating on general job strain and not ‘feeling in control’.   

Having looked at the excellent explanations on the NHS Choices site, the general conclusion seems to be that, even when other factors are taken into account, workplace stress can have a significant effect on a person’s risk of having a heart attack. However, this effect is less significant than other lifestyle factors such as smoking or lack of exercise.

So, what can you do about workplace stress?

Take a hard look at what’s causing your stress.  If you’re working long hours – could you improve your time management or are you doing it just because everyone else does – and is that a valid reason?  If you feel you’re struggling with the tasks you’re asked to do, 

look at what additional skills might help you to  
cope better and look at training options.  If you feel bullied, or you have no control, check how your colleagues are feeling and consider approaching your boss with a  proposal on how to change things.  If none of this works, then look hard at your values and consider whether you are in the right job – or at worst do everything else you can to reduce your risks.

What else can you do to reduce your risks?
There’s plenty of advice around – smoking is the No 1 risk factor.  Maintaining a healthy weight, keeping your alcohol intake within the recommended limits and taking regular exercise are all very important.  Easier said than done?

Need a second opinion?
Sometimes when you’re in a situation, it can be really difficult to see things objectively and you just keep trying to sort things out and it doesn’t work.  NLP coaching can help you take a fresh look at what’s going on for you, whether you need a career change or just some motivation to improve your lifestyle.


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There is a long article about sleeping pills in today’s Guardian – apparently 1 in 10 of us now take them regularly,  a total of 15.3 million prescriptions costing the NHS £50 million last year, 8.2 million of which were for Zopiclone and Temazepam, the most commonly prescribed drugs for insomnia.  Neither of these drugs are recommended for long term use (more than 2-4 weeks) as they are inclined to cause dependence, can have unpleasant side effects and be very painful and uncomfortable in withdrawal.

I have, however, met probably hundreds of clients who have been taking these drugs every night for years. If GPs stop prescribing, then people will resort to street drug dealers or the internet to obtain drugs of doubtful origin and questionable content.  


So why can't we sleep?              
I ask the same question I asked about depression a few weeks ago, what is  it about our society that causes so many people to have so much trouble sleeping?  I believe that many people’s sleeping problems are caused by an over-stressful life and the inability to turn off their brain at night - we work long hours, often take work home with us or even work from home, are too inclined to check our emails just before we go to bed, leave our smart phones on overnight etc.  I know that if I have had a particularly stressful day, or am dealing  with something I am anxious about, I will either have trouble getting to sleep or wake in the middle of the night and be unable to go back to sleep.  When I was single it was easier, I used to just turn on the light and read till I felt ready for sleep.  Now, not wanting to disturb my partner, I tend to just lie there with my mind whirring – not ideal!  


But I generally find that, as long as I get up at the normal time and keep my routine the same,


 I will sleep fine the next night as I will be very tired.  


Another cause of sleeping problems is, oddly enough, worrying about not sleeping!  We are led to believe that we need 8 hours sleep a night, and if we’re not getting it we tend to obsess about this which has precisely the opposite effect from what we would like!  Many of us in fact need less sleep than this, or can function perfectly well on less as long as we get a longer night every now and then.  And many people, especially older people, are actually sleeping much more than they realise – many times I’ve been told by an elderly person ‘I haven’t closed my eyes all night’ while care workers have said they were sleeping soundly each time they were checked!  

   If you are finding that night after night you are lying awak for hours, then exhaustion will set in and you do need to do something about it. 

What are the options?
    The Guardian article says that CBT can help, and the Government is spending £144 million on increasing NHS access to it ... but my experience is that it is patchy and waiting lists can be very long. NLP can help in a similar way to CBT, and I would urge people to use one of these to learn some stress management techniques before heading for the GP and the sleeping pills route. 

Insomnia is a real problem for some people, and can be very distressing.  But it really is worth learning some simple mind-management techniques and only using medication as a short term last resort.  NLP coaching can help with you learn these techniques, and also help if you've already got a problem with drug dependence.  


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Currently hemmed in due to the Olympic torch coming through Southwark, my thoughts have turned to the Olympic legacy. One of the government’s aims is that the Olympics will enthuse more people to get involved in sport and thereby increase the health and fitness of the nation. There is however a big difference between doing sport and watching sport – supporting your national or local teams...often by shouting at a TV in a pub, celebratory (or commiserative!) pints in hand.

Lucy Mangan quoted a survey in Stylist Magazine this week stating that 99.99999% of school age girls in the UK had been put off exercise by bad experiences of PE lessons and school sports. Can watching super-fit athletes (sponsored by McDonalds) on the telly really change such long held beliefs – beliefs formed on muddy pitches whilst being shouted at by over-zealous instructors and perved on by acne ridden boys?

There must be some truth in the inspirational effect of TV sport however – every year during the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, my local courts are completely full of people failing to get balls over nest and grunting loudly. For about three weeks. 

Stylist magazine also challenged eight of their team to take on sporting challenges they’d aim to complete by the first day of the Olympics. Only three succeeded. Various reasons cited for the failure of the remaining five included not choosing the right sport, laziness and fitting it in around work.



So what is the answer? How can the nation beat growing obesity with such little will-power and commitment? In my humble NLP based opinion, the answer is threefold:

1.       Tackle the entrenched beliefs you may have about sport and exercise that were formed at a young age. Ask yourself questions such as – When was the last time I did sport? What exactly was it about it that I didn’t like? Is that still relevant today? Is there a way of doing it differently that would mitigate that thing that I don’t like? 

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2.       Set well-formed, achievable goals – before committing to a sport and a schedule that is completely unsuitable which will only serve to entrench your beliefs about you and sport, look at it from a different perspective: How much can I realistically fit in with my workload whilst maintaining a social life? (If the answer to this question is ‘none’, I suggest a good look at work-life balance!). What sport best suits my needs? What milestones can I put in to review my progress? (Expecting yourself to become an Olympic athlete within three weeks is not a reasonable milestone!) What could get in the way? How can I plan to handle these obstacles?

3.       Motivation – Look at your motivation to achieve your goal. What are the effects on your health if you don’t exercise? What if you continue not to exercise for the next five years? What will you think about yourself? What will other people think about you? What if you do achieve your goal? What will that do for you? How will people’s opinion of you change? Asking these sorts of questions will clarify and amplify your motivation to stop ‘laziness’ becoming a factor.  

Health and fitness goals are often blocked by poor planning and ‘stuck’ thinking. To really achieve you have to have the right frame of mind. A few sessions with an NLP Coach can help you address any limiting beliefs, set well-formed goals, and address your motivation to make sure you achieve.



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A lot is expected of of people today, and due to the demands of a pressured career, health is often something that gets overlooked. 

In general life coaching sessions, when I first meet a client, I ask them to make a values hierarchy. In NLP a value is a feeling – either of something we want more of, or something we want to move away from, e.g. less stress, more stability etc. People are at their happiest when they are living to their own personal values. I play a game with my clients saying that if the client could only have one of these feelings what would it be?...and then another, and so on until we have a list of about ten. Then, nine times out of ten, I say ‘what about feeling healthy’ or ‘not feeling unwell’. ‘Oh yea! I forgot!’. The exercise is often repeated and health often comes very close to the top, if not at the top. Because the truth is, if you don’t feel well, it’s almost impossible to enjoy all of the other values. 



Do we take our health for granted?
So why does health so often get left off the list? One reason is that many people have negative beliefs about exercise – often formed at school – ‘I don’t do exercise’, ‘it’s just not me’. These statements become part of your identity and can go unquestioned for years, rearing their heads whenever the topic comes up – these rules become an easy alternative to thinking things through and coming to reasoned decisions. If you ‘don’t do exercise’, you have the perfect answer to any exercise related question without ever having to think about it! Ask yourself – are those beliefs really relevant today? Would I not enjoy any type of exercise, ever? Often, with a bit of loosening, you realise that it’s a belief formed very early in life that has held you back ever since. 

What else? Another reason is that health in our society has become synonymous with looks and weight. This can be very off-putting for some people, particularly if you’re not into starving yourself, or dying your skin another colour, or being injected with potent poisons. However, if you think of it in terms of a value, feeling healthy, it can often change your mind.

Anything else?  Perhaps the most important reason we tend to ignore our health is we don’t really notice it till it’s gone – subconsciously we think we’ve got all the time in the world, and can certainly get away with those bad habits for a few more years.


Gradually declining health can be very subtle, and before you know it, you’ve got a struggle on your hands. However, there are signs. Ill   
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health will affect your working life and performance in your career because your body and your mind work in harmony – they are all 
part of the same system. Exercise is actually a perfect way to switch off your brain for a while and recharge. 

Things to watch out for – poor concentration, feeling sluggish and tired all the time, loss of appetite or ‘comfort eating’, frequent mild headaches, aches and pains in your back, shoulders and neck, unexplained tearfulness, irritability – there are lots more, but you get the picture.

So what? If you know that feeling healthy, or not feeling unhealthy is one of your values, you will be happier if you work towards that in your life. This needn’t involve massive change – you don’t need to run a marathon next month, you can do small things to bring more healthy feelings into your life.

TOP TIPS
  • Check your values - is feeling healthy, or not feeling unhealthy one of them? If so, what are you doing every day to fulfil that value?
  • What do you believe about yourself and exercise? How long have you been believing this? Is it still relevant today?
  • Watch out for the warning signs – poor concentration, feeling sluggish and tired all the time, loss of appetite or ‘comfort eating’, frequent mild headaches, aches and pains in your back, shoulders and neck, unexplained tearfulness, irritability.
  • Take small steps and get quick wins. Walk two stops instead of getting the tube, start the day with some fruit, join the gym at work and do 20mins in your lunch break a couple of times a week, walk around the block at lunch (and if you don’t feel you can go out, look hard at your values again. What really matters to you?!), go out dancing etc.



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