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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So, a new term starting amid what seems to be interminable uncertainty for parents and young people.  Who really understands the education system now!?  What are free schools?  And academies – and how come they seem to be able to opt out of things like feeding children according to nutritional standards?  How will your child get on if you didn’t get your first choice of school?  Are they going to change the A level system again?  Were GCSE results a disappointment?  

What about the Young People?
It can be difficult for parents to understand and cope with changes and new Government initiatives – but what about the young people?  I was one of a ‘guinea pig’ generation – the first year group to take SATS at every age group, the first to take AS levels etc., and particularly as I got older, I found the uncertainty of having new qualifications tried out on me quite stressful.

Young people pick up very quickly on Mum’s, Dad’s and their teachers’ anxiety.  If they didn’t get the results they wanted or expected they will be naturally disappointed.  They may also feel they have let parents/themselves down and be worried about what happens next.  These sorts of concerns can damage fragile adolescent confidence and may lead to low self esteem. If feelings of failure and disappointment aren’t dealt with well, they can carry on into adult life and sometimes impact on future achievements.


So What Now?
Whenever I talk to concerned parents, I focus on communication, or more importantly listening. When adolescence sets in, the onset of grunting, swearing and moping from young people can often lead to a complete lack of communication, and a lack of desire to communicate on the part of the parents.

However, communication is what will enable anything your young people are struggling with to be aired and if necessary, dealt with.  Sometimes just sharing concerns and realising that you understand is enough.  



Top Tips
Here are my top tips for communicating with your young people:
 
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"If feelings of failure and disappointment aren’t dealt with well, they can carry on into adult life..."























  • Choose your time – if you know that there’s a programme they love watching, or that they’re hungry when they get home – that’s a bad time to communicate!
  • You know your child – put yourself in their position.  How would they want to hear from you?
  • Get on their level – if they’re sitting down, sit down etc., don’t stand over them – how would you like it?
  • Rapport – don’t expect to get the topic round to things that you wouldn’t  normally discuss straight away.  It’s the classic ‘sex chat’ thing.  How would you like it if you bumped into someone and they went straight for the difficult questions?  Gain rapport first, choose easy topics and things that they enjoy (even if you don’t).  Then once you are chatting comfortably, lead the subject. 
  • Ask questions, and LISTEN to the answers.  Avoid giving answers, avoid ‘telling’ and listen, understand and respond – you’ll be amazed what you learn.

What if that’s not enough?

If you think that there’s something your child’s not coping well with, and you’re concerned, confidential, impartial coaching may help. 


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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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Every body’s talking about the Olympic legacy of encouraging more people to take part in sport, and certainly anything that can be done to improve the nation’s fitness, and especially that of our children, is to be encouraged.  But I’d like to see another legacy – one of us feeling rather more positive about ourselves.

Despite not being a great sports fan I have loved every minute of it from the start of the opening ceremony to the end of the closing, and I can’t wait for the Paralympics to start.  Hasn’t it been lovely with everybody talking about how good we are, how well we’re doing, what a great show we’ve put on?  For two whole weeks all the negativity evaporated, people actually talked to each other, people were smiling – even the newspaper headlines were positive and excited. 

Do we deserve to be so down on ourselves?
Low national self esteem seems to be ‘Great’Britain’s special subject – largely led by the newspapers.  Whenever I remark on this I’m told ‘Good news stories don’t sell newspapers’ – is this really true I wonder?  Have newspaper sales dropped in these weeks – I doubt it; if they have then we get what we deserve.  All the things that have made us feel great about the Olympics from architecture and engineering to creativity and sporting excellence are here all the time – we just choose to ignore them.  

Take a bus more or less anywhere in London or any of our cities, sit on the top deck if you can and you will pass fantastic buildings – old and new – which, if you were a tourist in a foreign city would have you gasping and grabbing your camera.  Thomas Heatherwick who designed the fabulous Olympic cauldron has been designing amazing buildings, structures, furniture and, objects for two decades – including The Rolling Bridge in Paddington (check it out on YouTube) – there has been an exhibition of his work at the V&A this Summer. 

We have incredible orchestras and theatres – our great National Theatre has tickets for £12  
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and  the Royal Festival Hall starts at £9 and regional theatres are also more reasonable. And the London theatre fringe is an absolute mine of brilliant material, generally very inexpensive because nobody is being paid for doing it! Most of our great art galleries and museums are free – how many countries can say that?  And it’s not just the cities - our countryside is second to none (especially when it stops raining!), our gardens are beautiful and our towns and villages all have their own unique history and charm.   


Let's try for a bit of balance
I’m not suggesting we should ignore what’s wrong – the banking scandals, corruption in the Police force and media, the recession, the NHS crises et al.   But why not look at it in context?  When individuals come to us with low self esteem they will often use phrases like ‘I’m useless...or hopeless... or no good’.  To which our first response is generally along the lines of ‘Are you an entirely useless person, or is it more that there are lots of things you are good at, and at the moment you are struggling with [x]’! This changes the focus to the positive and ‘at the moment’ is key –  indicating that what is less than perfect can change.  
 
So, let’s just remember all the things that make Britain great – not just for these few weeks – but permanently, and even when individual stuff doesn’t look that good ‘at the moment’.  I’m sure we’ll all feel better for it!

If there’s something you’re struggling with 'at the moment', check out the rest of our website and get in touch.  



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I was very pleased when I saw that it was #Groomsweek for ‘You and Your Wedding’ on Twitter. The concerns of the male members of the wedding party are often swept under the crystal sprinkled table, whilst more important decisions, such as what colour to have the chair sashes, are made.

As an NLP coach and actor, I regularly coach grooms, best men and fathers of brides to allay their fears and give their best on the big day.

Top concerns among grooms include saying their vows, making their speech and what the best man will say in his speech. 

Here are some top tips for grooms to get the best out of their day (it is their day too you know!):


 Vows
  • Remember why you’re there in the first place. It’s about you and your future wife – you may only say these vows once, so take your time and make sure she hears them.
  • Rehearse your vows out loud – don’t let the wedding be the first time you say them – even if you’re a big ‘lad’ you might be surprised by the emotion of the occasion!
Speeches
  • When writing your speech, focus on the message. This is your soap-box moment – all the people in the room will have been chosen to be there (even your obscure uncles and aunties) – what is important for your guests to know? Write bullet points of the key things you want to say. If you think it’s important to cover these points, then the guests will too. Ask the family of the bride if there is anyone you should mention who isn’t at the reception.
  •  Rehearse your speech out loud. The more you rehearse, it will become ingrained in your muscle memory and it will be like second nature when you’re at the wedding. Mark on it where you want to take breaths – you’ll be surprised how useful this is.

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  • Take a few minutes each day to visualise yourself (on a TV screen) delivering the speech excellently. This will help programme you to expect success rather than failure. 
  • On the day, make yourself responsible for putting the audience at ease – if you’re thinking about how they feel, you’re less likely to be focussing on yourself. 
  • Take a deep sigh-breath before you start and take the audience in. This will calm you down.
  • If you are saying something light hearted, smile - that way the audience will too!
  • It sounds obvious, but read the bullet point first, then look up, take in the whole room and speak. Allow eye contact – it creates connection with the audience and you’ll feel supported by them.

Best Man Speech
  • If he’s your best-man, he’s most likely your best-mate. Communicate to him in advance what the tone of the reception is going to be, what the bride’s family are like, what you expect from him and how far he can take it. A bit of advance notice as to prudish parents is well worth it in the long run!

If you’re getting married soon, congratulations! Feel free to get in touch for some coaching sessions to help prepare you for your big day.



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Curiosity ... the name of the latest Mars exploration rover– a wonderful name for an extraordinary piece of equipment.  Because more than anything it explains why it’s up there!   We’re curious – endlessly– about planets, about space and our place in the Universe, about what other life may exist somewhere and about what our eventual future might be.
  
Curiosity, more than anything else, has been the engine of human development – look at how children learn – the endless why, how, what, when questions that can drive any parent to distraction, especially as the child’s expectation is that the parent should know all the answers!  Think about the inventions we all take for granted bread, cotton, penicillin, plastic – the inventor may have been looking for the answer to a problem, but the curiosity was there – ‘I wonder what would happen if .....’


So why should we stay curious as we age?                 
Looking at the world with a sense of curiosity makes a real difference.  Remember what is was like to be a child when you wanted to know absolutely everything about everything – how happy and exciting life was then when everything seemed new.  Sadly a lot of us lose that sense as the years go by, but you can re-create it. For instance, it’s great to take a curious attitude in your relationships with people  - instead of being angry or complaining about someone’s behaviour, ask questions - ‘I wonder what is happening for him to make him behave that way?’, ‘what would have to be happening for me to behave that way?’  You may find it gives you new insight and helps you to react more  sympathetically and be less stressed by how others behave. 
  

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 Staying curious about what’s going on in the world, new inventions, new artists, new books, new music, new technology adds a real freshness to life. At my age,  it seems to be a popular habit to moan or adopt peers’ opinions, writing things off without making an effort to understand them.  I have found that the more you retain your curiosity the broader your interests will be, the more‘alive’ you will stay as you get older, the more interesting and active a person you will be and the easier you will find it to relate to your children and grandchildren. 


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The British Medical Journal has announced the results of a large scale study has revealing that there is a correlation between even relatively minor mental health issues such as stress and anxiety and premature mortality.  I can’t say I find this particularly surprising, but it’s interesting to have one’s natural instincts verified by scientific research!

What do we mean  by 'stress'?
We talk about ‘feeling stressed’ but often what we’re really describing is a collection of physical and emotional symptoms – these can be different in different people, but common ones are headaches, tension in the neck and shoulders, churning stomach or feeling sick, sleeplessness – or the opposite – extreme tiredness, loss of  appetite,   irritability, weepiness etc.   If we ignore them, and don’t deal effectively with the cause of the stress, the symptoms can become chronic and it’s not surprising that they have a negative impact on our  overall health.   An unfortunately common reaction to stress and anxiety symptoms is to resort to alcohol or drugs - which, while they may make you feel better for a short while, can obviously increase the risks to your health if they become a regular habit.

So what can you do about it?
There’s lots you can do to combat stress, and NLP has a number of excellent techniques.   The first thing is to be aware of your symptoms – listen to your body.  Notice where and when you feel the stress most. What is causing the stress? Is it something you can avoid (a different mode of transport to work for 
example) or, more likely, something you could avoid if you re-evaluate your priorities and have a look at your work/life balance?    
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If it’s something that you really can’t avoid, then the next thing to look at is your reaction to it. There are techniques to help you change the way you react to a particular stimulus so that you can interrupt and stop the onset of the stress or anxiety symptoms. This will enable you to look at and deal with the‘stressful’ situation from a different, and potentially more effective perspective. In addition to reacting to and dealing with ‘stressful’  situations differently,  and preventing their onset through careful planning, there are also lifestyle adjustments that can help reduce stress across the board - for example regular exercise and relaxation.

Stress and anxiety can both be very uncomfortable feelings, as well as damaging to your health.   NLP coaching can help you identify the causes of your ‘stressy’ symptoms and look at ways to manage them. 



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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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The Evening Standard ran an excellent article by Simon English yesterday entitled “Fear and self-loathing in the City”.  At the moment, there is a palpable feeling of hatred towards bankers – and unsurprisingly.  I feel as let down by the financial system as anyone.  However there are 400,000 people in the City of London, and over two million people working in financial services around the country and I believe that the vast majority of them are hard working, honest people who, though they may be high earners, do not earn £25 million and are at least as horrified and embarrassed about all the scandals as us on the outside.  Having worked in one of the ‘big banks’ myself earlier in my career, I met up with a friend working in the structured products side of things (a lot of which are linked to LIBOR etc.) and, cynical as she usually is, she said that even she was ‘shocked’ at the recent scandal.

For these people life is tough at the moment.  I met another friend of mine whose job I wasn’t aware of at a function the other day and, when I asked how he was, he very quickly wanted me to know that neither he, nor his brother are ‘bankers’ in the way we understand it – though both of them work for very well known banks!  That sort of feeling doesn’t do a lot for your self-esteem.  There is huge insecurity – the ES article says that traders are shedding staff by the hundred.  There are rumours of another big clear out in the big banks.  There’s a feeling of injustice as bankers seem to take all the flak – most of it from MPs and journalists who are can hardly claim to be squeaky clean – and nobody much bothers about GlaxoSmithKline who have just paid out £1.9 billion in the largest healthcare fraud in history. 


 A positive approach to insecurity

Many in the industry are certainly wishing they had made different career choices – and 
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wondering where to go from here if they lose their job – or even if they don’t lose their job but want to get out of the industry anyway.   If you’re in this situation there are options.  It is possible to change careers and many skills are transferrable.  A good first step is to have a think about your values – what really matters to you? What makes you happy? What about your current role - what do you like/not like about it etc.? Once you know what’s important to you and what you enjoy, options will become clearer and more defined. 

Think before applying blanket criticism
And if you’re one of those crying out for the bankers to be lined up and shot, it is worth considering  that the vast majority of them are almost certainly innocent of any wrongdoing, have mortgages and families to support just like the rest of us and life isn’t easy for them right now either – it could even be worse.  And if those lower down the banking hierarchy become so disillusioned that they stop caring ... things could even get worse for all of us. There’s a great maxim in NLP which is to criticise the behaviour rather than the person...worth bearing in mind!

If you’d like more information on coaching for career-change or stress management, feel free to get in touch.


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A time comes for many of us when parents or other elderly relatives reach a stage when they are no longer coping with independent living because of either physical infirmity or mental deterioration.  Some of us are lucky (or unlucky!) enough to be well into middle age before this happens – but whenever it does it brings a whole raft of new and unfamiliar problems and emotions.  

There are huge practical decisions to be made around possibly moving them in with you, home care, residential or nursing home care, arranging Power of Attorney if they are becoming incapable of managing their affairs and so on.  There are massive financial implications to these decisions and, for those unfamiliar with the system it’s very easy to make very costly mistakes – I know I did the first time I had to deal with it.  The benefit and social care systems are complex and frequently changing – and look  likely to change again, possibly for the better, but I’m not holding my  breath!


What about the emotional implications?
 Apart from the practicalities, there’s a vast emotional load attached to being in this situation.  For a start there’s the role reversal – suddenly you are in a position of caring for the person who has cared for you as a child, and in many ways since –  a situation that can feel uncomfortable.  If their memory is going it can be at best unbelievably irritating and at worst agonisingly painful as you seem to lose the person you’ve known all your life. There’s the inevitability of the end – you know this isn’t going to get better which can be very hard to contemplate.  There can be a lot of guilt – you might feel you should have them at home with   
you, but practicalities such as accommodation and work mean that is impossible.  You may also try to manage their emotional journey – the 
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 idea of giving up their independence can be terrible, the loss of dignity in having to be ‘cared for’, their own fear of the inevitable. 

I haven’t got all the answers by any means, but having been through it all a few times, I can offer practical advice and help you to diffuse stress and manage your emotions. 

A few tips that might help 
  • Talk to someone who’s been through it all before– who at least knows what questions to ask and who to ask
  • Try not to rush – if the need becomes urgent look at short term respite care to give you time to think and make the properly considered decisions – for the person needing care, and for you       
  • Be kind to yourself –  recognise that this is an intensely stressful time and take time out to look after yourself and the others in the family – you may need to re-prioitise and leave out things that aren’t strictly ‘necessary’.     
  • Don’t be afraid to get help with managing your feelings – it’s not a weakness – you won’t be able to help anyone if you reach the end of your tether.  
If you'd like more help then get in touch.


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