Are you what you do?

I have often been aware that we define ourselves by the roles that we play. If we ask someone who they are they will normally reply with a list of things that they do. “I am a teacher”, “I am a…., fill in the blank. Try it yourself. How do you describe yourself to others? Who are you?

Normally this way of defining ourselves is not a problem and only becomes an issues when we are forced to change things such as in redundancy, or retirement. Most women have a changing experience of self when the last child is born, the last child goes to school or the last child leaves home. At each stage the answer to the question ‘who am I?’, changes.

Well Covid and lockdown put a new slant on this issue. I am aware of people who have been out of the workplace for prolonged periods of time are having the who am I crisis. It becomes clear that many people value themselves through their relationships with others. Walking into the workplace and having people acknowledge them and be interested in what they were doing at the weekend can give people a sense of value. As those relationships have been peeled away so has the sense of identity.

Some people have managed to maintain a sense of self through online interactions. Though, over the last few months people are now telling me that it is not the same and they are craving real, actual contact with other people.

We may not be aware of it but up to ten percent of communication is in pheromones. That is we smell each other. Dogs, obviously have a much better sense of smell than we do but we can smell such emotions as acceptance, fear, love, attraction, rejection, hatred and so on. This sense is subtle and is happening below our general awareness but it it is an important part of our relationships.

The other thing that we are missing is the nuance of gesture and body language. When we can only see someone’s head and shoulders we are not aware of their finger drumming or twiddling. We cannot see there feet moving or the knee going up and down.

Someone said to me that, in the beginning, they were really impressed with Zoom and Skype but as time has gone on they now see people as rather 2d rather than 3D, it all seems flat. The feeling was that not only are the videos becoming flat but the relationships were becoming flat as well. One person said that when they were meeting face to face they could cut a meeting short, go and have a coffee together, or even look at other things. Online they felt trapped into staring into the screen and being conscious of if they looked away it would be rude. Also the fact that the person was in a time slot in their diary they felt that they would be rude or disrespectful if they did not make the meeting last for all of the allotted time. They were then struggling for things to say or talk about.

So I have been experimenting with people to see if they can change their experience.

  1. Move the camera further away so that you are not just looking at the head and shoulders and can see more of each other?
  2. Why sit down at all? You could have a meeting standing up and get even more of a body shot in.
  3. Try not using the camera for a change and focus on each other’s voices.
  4. Agree to have sometime in the meeting, beginning or end, just shooting the breeze talking about family etc.
  5. If using just audio use your phone and put the headphones in and go for a walk. It can be quite stimulating getting out into the open air as you talk.
  6. What about moving outdoors for a video call in the garden?
  7. Agree ahead of time to stop the meeting when all that needs to be covered has been done.
  8. Add some low level background music.
  9. Maybe, don’t always sit in the same place, allow the background to change.
  10. Perhaps don’t always wear the same clothes.

If we are going to be using online for sometime to come we need to find ways of keeping it fresh and vital.

In the world of psychological medicine it has become accepted that behind the Corona virus will follow a wave of depression and possibly other mental health issues. We are about to go into the dark months when mood tend to drop anyway. We need to do all that we can to keep our own mood up and support those around us.

Take care, stay positive and look after each other.

Sean

Self help and politics

The last couple of weeks have been reflective for me. First we were away which was a nice break but secondly at the end of last week I tested positive for Covid. Thankfully i have not been too poorly with it, i struggled most with the 10 days of isolation. Anyway my thoughts have been exercised by feedback from a regular listener saying that they had decided to leave the podcast because we had become too political. It made me think a lot and question what we are doing here. I searched ‘politics’ and good old Wiki came back with…

Politics is the way that people living in groups make decisions. Politics is about making agreements between people so that they can live together in groups such as tribes, cities, or countries.’

This is a good description for me that shows politics with a small ‘p’ not party Politics with a big ‘P’. In this sense self help comes from the decisions that we make individually on how we think, feel and behave so that we can overcome our problems and lead happier and more fulfilling lives. The same process happens with groups of people from families to societies. I do not see a difference between self help and group help what I see is a process of growing awareness and waking up.

There is no difference between individual decisions and collective decisions. Those decisions will either help us or not.

The process of self help often begins in a sleepy vague sate of self awareness with ‘I have a problem’. At this stage the individual will take very little responsibility for what is happening for them. Often they will seek others to blame and also try to find others who will make it right for them. These outside agencies that are either creating or solving the problems and known as ‘Them’. “You’ll never guess what they have done now?” “You think that they would help us?” While we hang on to concepts of ‘them’ and ‘they’ and do not help our selves we cannot  change our situation.

Self help is about taking personal responsibility and doing something about our situation ourself. We will often need help from therapists and teachers, we might need training and courses, develop skills and techniques that will enable us to get  through our problems. Eventually we can become, what I call, a ‘self starter’.

Self help is a process of increasing our awareness or consciousness. In the first instance the process is very egocentric, as it should be, and we learn about ourself what has happened to us and how we have become the way that we are. As awareness of our self increases we also develop awareness of others and the needs of others. For many this creates a desire to help and to be of help. The vast majority of therapist trained to help others because they too had been through their own issues and having gone through the ego-centred phase they realised that they could help others.

The more aware or awake people become the more they are effected by what is going on around them. That might mean in their relationships, family, company, school, society, nation or even the world. With an increased awareness comes the desire to do something about it, whatever the ‘it’ is.

When someone avoids the news they are hunkering down in their own bubble and excluding the wider picture. If we are to be awake and informed members of humanity we need to be informed. That does not mean inundated with negativity. We need to discriminate so that we can see a balance of both the good and the bad going on around us. Discrimination is a fundamental characteristic of self help.

As you probably know I have had to work through many personal issues in a variety of settings and on the way I became a therapist. I have worked in the private and the public sector in mental health and the prison service. My role have often been as a advocate for service users and for staff. In my work and my own development there came a point where it was no longer enough to attend to myself and I was driven to attend to the needs of others. This is an ongoing process for me.

When I work with individuals we often begin working at the ego level and then open it out, with growing awareness, to include other people and a wider understanding of the issues. In organisations I often start with a team and open their attitudes and understanding of their place in the organisation.

We are group animals that are, as much as we might not want to accept it, dependent on each other. Humanity only works, at any level, when we work together. For me when I see people working to unity I rejoice and when I see people working to fracture what we have, I get sad. I am forever saying…

…if we all look after each other we will all be okay.

I guess what I am saying is that the podcast and my work is political but with a small ‘p’. The madness of politics with a big ‘P’ I am not interested in other than I observe with amazement and sometimes despair. 

If you take the path of self help and self development there will come a point when you will be effected by things and driven to do something about it. If enough of us can wake up enough we might just save humanity and even the planet. But does that sound too political?

Take care, be happy, help your self and where you can help other people.

Sean x 

  

Heading Off The Winter Blues

We all go down in the dark winter months. Some people crash and develop what we call SAD, seasonal affected disorder, and need to take medication. Around this time of year many SAD sufferers will be starting to take St John’s Wart, a natural antidepressant, to build their system up before the clocks go back we and begin the dark months. There is a difference between the normal drop, often known as ‘The Winter Blues’ and depression. In the main SAD is a physiological thing, the result of chemical changes in our system in relationship to the drop in sunlight, the resulting reduction in levels of vitamin D and the subsequent drop in Serotonin, the wellbeing hormone, in the brain. While depression may have a physiological basis it is mainly a reactive condition. That means that the changes in our system may have been brought about through our experiences, events or a trauma. Whereas SAD only happens in the dark months depression can happen at nay time in the year.

What happens when we get SAD and depressed at the same time?

I am concerned. For months I have been talking with people that are having negative emotional responses to Covid, fear of death, fear of other dying, the lockdown and cabin fever, Irritability with partners and family, reduction in wages and money fears, redundancy fears, lack of exercise, increased weight, boredom, increased drug and alcohol consumption, not being able to go on holiday, straight frustrated anger that we can do nothing about out situation… the list becomes endless. I see helplessness and hopelessness.

My concern is that coming out of lockdown, assuming that we do not go back into lockdown, with a second wave of infection, we will walk right into the winter blues. That is a double whammy. I expect to see a big spike in depression and depression related issues such as substance abuse, domestic violence and suicide. To survive this winter we all need to be aware of our own problems, aware of the problems being faced by those around use and, where we can do something about it. We really are in the position…

…if we all look after each other we will all be okay!

If you are currently taking antidepressants ensure that you have good stocks and do not run out. You should never come off antidepressants in the dark months any way. Please do not drop your medications without referring to your doctor and ensure that you have a good support mechanism in place.

All of us will experience a drop in serotonin this winter which, due to Covid may feel more severe than usual. For me therapeutically the worst months are November, after the world seems to have suddenly gone dark, and then if it have been a bad dark winter February when the second wave of depression begins. January and February are also known as divorce season for solicitors which is, I suspect, partly due to the winter blues and partly due to that fact that people have been forced to be together for long periods of time. This year the effects of Covid could make this even greater. We know that in lockdown domestic violence has increased. This is normally seen as the violent man though this is not always that case. Men due suffer from domestic violence as well. The stats also tell us that reported violence from children to parents has increased by 14%.

The Monday nearest to January 20th, in 2021 it will be 18th, is known as Blue Monday and is often seen as the most depressing day of the year. This can be reactive to both Christmas and New Year, that are not always the happiest time, to the financial burden that it have left us to sort out. This year we can clearly add the winter blues and Covid.

So what can we do? – Number one is we need to start right now. The trick is keeping the positive endorphins in the brain flowing. These are my suggestions for now until the end of March 2021.

1: Check your weight. If you have put weight on during lockdown it will only get worse in the dark months. We all hit the carbs in the winter because they make our brain secrete serotonin. There are other ways of getting more serotonin, see below. But you may need to ask yourself, do you need to diet?

2: Move your body. We are told that we should be doing 10,000 steps a day. Actually this should really be more like 15 – 20,000 a day. A smart watch, a smartphone or a pedometer will enable you to keep track of your daily steps. Moving your body burns calories, reducing blood pressure, improves circulation, strengthens your heart and looks after your brain.

3: Exercise. Walking is good. Power walking is better. Most of us will also need to do some exercise. When you raise your heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes your brain responds by send out a deluge of positive hormones and endorphins into your system. This vastly increases your health but it also improves your mood and feelings of wellbeing. I prefer to run and cycle. For some it is the gym or an exercise class for other it maybe a dance. Whatever it is do it. But like everything listen to your body and if you have pre-existing conditions talk to your doctor before you begin an exercise regime. During lockdown many people walked or cycled to work to avoid public transport, perhaps we could carry this on. Remember there is never the wrong weather only the wrong clothing.

4: Start a hobby. Get engaged in something. This is the positive alternative to sitting down like a couch potato watching the TV. It doesn’t matter what hobby you take up as long as it interests you. Could be reading, knitting, doing your family tree, local history, carving, painting the list is endless.

5: Have some fun. Just like exercise and carbohydrates laughing makes your brain secrete serotonin. Watching a funny film, going to a comedy show, playing games doing anything just for the fun of it. You will feel so much better
6: Communication. Lots of people have shut down in lockdown and gone a little inside themselves. This can be a sign of mid depression. Talking to others and sharing what you are feeling and general ideas opens you mind, stimulates your brain and improves your relationships.

My resource for this podcast was the Couch to 5K app. You can tell when people are using it. They have headphones in and are listing to the coach in their ear. They are stopping and walking for a while and then of they go again and you can see the relief on their face when the coach tells them that it is now time to cool down and just walk. I have seen some big people doing the app during lockdown and I have nothing but praise for them, ‘well done’. This a fabulous app that enables you to really run. I have seen people who have said that they could never run taking on 5 and 10K races with a smile.

So, look, the past months have been tough and it is not over yet. It will always last longer than we want it to. We do have choices. We do not have to drop into the pit of depression and winter blues. To get the best effect from these ideas this winter ‘Now’ would be a good time to begin.

Take care, be happy and enjoy whatever is left of the summer and, enjoy the winter as well.

Sean x

Losing the lockdown pounds – Time to Detox

So, how much weight have you put on in lockdown? I am looking at about 16 pounds mainly around the belly. My diets hasn’t really changed that much perhaps a bit more snacking and a glass of wine. My main problem has been being sedentary. Working from home has a lot going for it but when you are out in the world you move your body and that is what we are designed to do. We are built to be hunter gatherers. Going out into the bush and getting our food and supplies on a daily basis burns a lot of calories. You never see an over weight hunter gatherer.

5:2 Dieting

Along with moving as we gathered and hunted would have come the days when there was plenty and we could all pig out and the day when there was not so much to eat so we would nuts drink water to fill us up. MIchael Moslem’s 5:2 diet imitates the pattern of lots followed by lean. The science has shown that regular periods or either fasting or low calories kicks the body into fat burning mode. Our problem today is a never ending supply of food, lack of body movement and sugar.

Sugar occurs naturally in most of the plants that we eat. Our move to refine it to the white powder and then put it into everything from boiled sweets to pasta sauces creates weight gain and diabetic diseases. Also psychologically sugar spikes can create spikes and drops in mood and energy. I am sure that in lockdown many people have experienced increased irritability and moodiness. This is partly due to cabin fever and partly due to over eating the wrong foods and lack of body movement.

14,000 steps a day

With gym regimes we can easily believe that HIIT, weights and running are the ways to get fit. Well, actually, hunter gatherers hardly ever ran. They would only run to get away from something or to catch something. The trick is that they are always moving. This could be walking, jogging or simply moving around the home doing things, they do not spend hour sat down staring at a screen. The idea that we need to be doing 10,000 steps a day has become a sort of standard. Some personal trainers tell that the idea has back fired because people can develop the belief that if that have done their 10,000 steps that are now entitled to the next Mars Bar. Exercise wisdom says that we should be taking at least 14,000 steps a day and preferably more. Hunter gatherers walk between 15 and 18km per day which takes it around 24,000 steps depending on your stride.  

Get up and move

For those of us stuck in a chair for most of the day we need to get up whenever we can. Both FItBit and Apple watches remind you to stand up every hour. It is good just walking around the desk for a couple of minutes. When I was in the NHS every hour I would walk down the corridor to the waiting room to eat the next patient. In lock down the screens rolls from on to another. So unless I actively do something I could be sat there for hours.

Different desk set ups 

The alternative to the static low level desk is the rise and fall desk. By simply pressing a button the desk will rise to enable you to work standing up. All the time that you are working standing up the weight transfer from one foot to another as you maintain your balance burns calories and strengthens your core. The same effect comes from using a Pilates ball as a seat instead of a chair. While working at your computer and sitting on a ball your core and back muscles are exercised as the ball moves and you maintain your balance. The movements are small but the effects are great. I have to add the proviso of you need to check with your doctor if you have any underlying issues before climbing on the ball.

What to do next

As we come out of lockdown check your weight and decide what exercise, body movement, regime would work for you. Over all just get moving. Next is the diet. How have your eating habits changed over lockdown? Get rid of all the bad stuff and start to eat well along side your new body movement regime.

5:2 Diet and 800 calorie Diet

I have used both of these eating patterns at different times and I have seen lost of people and clients use them. When used along side a body movement programme they are amazingly effective. It is worth checking them both out. 

Detox

Many people around the world will do a yearly or twice yearly detox. I have put the detox programme that I use up as a my resource of this weeks podcast. It is a 13 day exclusion detox. Each day you take out certain categories of food to get done to one day on fruit juice, one day on just honey water and lemon, then one day on fruit juice then a daily re-inclusion of food groups back up to your normal diet. Most people will lose between 5 and 6 pounds in detox. This type of exclusion detox is particularly useful when you wish to stop smoking or drinking etc.

I shall be doing 21 days of the 800 calorie diet in September and an annual detox in October. With that and and my body movement regime that includes walking, running and yoga. I will reclaim my beach body.  

Mindfulness

I cannot leave this blog without mentioning Mindfulness. The mindful ability to focus in to the present is so incredibly helpful when attempting any behaviour change, weight adjustment or exercise regime. Check out the mindfulness toolkit on the site.

I know that once I have finished I will go down one size from a 32 waist to a 30 waist. The next trick will be maintaining my resolve through Christmas and if we get really unlucky and go into a second lockdown.

Take care, stay fit and be happy.

Sean x

Are you responsible for your actions?

In the East they call it karma. This simply means that there is a consequences to your actions. It may be positive or negative it is simply the consequence or the karma of the action that you have taken. The point is that the consequence will happen anyway we have no choice about this. However, we can intervene in our karmic process, this is called Dharma. So, Karma is the consequence of action and Dharma is to act in the right way. In English the nearest word to Dharma is ‘Righteousness’ which means to act in the right way. The philosophy in both Ayurveda and Samkhya is that if you spend your life acting Dharmically you will minimise any negative Karma.

Should we face up to what we do?

In many societies the ability to ‘get away with it’ overrules the need to take responsibility for action. The criminal justice system is full of those who are not prepared to face what they have done. Many people will plead not guilty when they know that they are.

Cause and effect

As the effect, consequences or karma, is a universal law in the end it makes no difference whether or not we take responsibility now we will still be required to pay our debt of negative actions. Equally we will benefit from the consequence or karma from positive actions. We live in a universe of cause and effect.

I have been moved to address this issue in a podcast and a blog when today the news broadcast announced that the American lady who allegedly killed a young man on a motorbike and then flew back to the USA claiming diplomatic immunity has been asked to attend the UK court virtually. Now as this case is alleged we do not know if she is guilty or not. The fact that she ran away and failed to account for her actions does not seem to go in her favour. This leaves the questions ‘why would someone run away’ rather than being accountable?

We have the opposite issue of Prince Andrew who seems to be equally unwilling to go to the USA and answer the allegations being made against him involving the Epstein case.

In Beirut we have recently seen, following an horrendous explosion, the entire government resign. This would seem to be them taking responsibility for their actions and what happened. I am sure that as the story unfolds it will become clearer.

All around us are people who seem to feel that it is okay to act in ways that can hurt or damage other people without taking any responsibility for what they are doing. On social media trolling can be so destructive. Trolling is no different to physical bullying. Bullies, thieves, robbers and muggers all have devastating effects on their victims.

In some countries the law of ‘an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth’ means that the karma is paid back in full measure equally. This would mean that the young men who knowingly towed the police officer on the back of their car until they killed him would have exactly the same done to them.

Karma and Samskars

Have you ever had a tough day, a tough period in life, or felt like nothing else could go wrong and then said ‘I must have been a wicked person in a past life time for this to be happening to me now’? Well you might just be right. The word Dharma means to act in the right way. The word Karma means the consequence of your actions in this life time. The word Samskar means an unresolved karma that was created in a previous lifetime.

We have no way of proving that reincarnation is real but if it is then that means we do not get away with anything, that all debts will have to be paid in full, there are no free lunches, so to speak.

My teacher used to say to me ‘if you are honest there is nowhere you need to run and nothing that you need to hide’. He also said ‘if you act Dharmically in this life time your next life will so much easier’. He explained that the difference between those that were having easy, happy and successful lives were those carrying a light karmic load. Those that were having a difficult, unhappy life were those carrying a heavy karmic load.

In Christianity the concept of repentance suggests that negative karmas can be dissolved if we are genuinely sorry for what we have done. This would assume that we have learned something and seek forgiveness for our actions. Alongside that goes the concept that we should also be able to forgive others for their misdeeds against us.

The bottom line for me is that we are all responsible for what we do, there are no get out clauses. The laws of karma apply to us all whoever we are, politicians, business people, royalty, diplomats, all of us. The nearest that you get to this in Christianity is ‘Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord’ or in other words no one gets away with anything. The choice is , do we face up to what we have done now or do we leave it until later? I don’t know if these unpaid karmic debts gain interest and the lessons become harder over time.

Take care, be kind, try to repair any damage that you do or have done, apologise and forgive and try and do the right thing.

Sean x

Success

I guess that most of us would hope that both happiness and success are the same thing. Ed came in with an article by Arthur Brooks “Success addicts choose being special over being happy” that got us thinking. The sub title to the article was…

“The pursuit of achievement distracts from the deeply ordinary

activities and relationships that make life meaningful.”

That statement was what connected with me. I have seen so many people over so many years chasing some notion of success while, at the same time, blindly destroying everything around them.  All got trodden underfoot, colleagues, friends, family, loved ones. When someone is truly focussed on success and see their end goal as the most important thing in their life then nothing else really matters.

“What you feed grows and what you starve dies”

In every area of life in every situation the definition of success will vary. It might be the need to have the most money, the biggest house, the best car, to be the most famous ever, to have position and status. Success truly is in the eye of the beholder.

Are you good enough to be successful?

When we drive for success what we are saying, in one way or another, is that what we are or what we do, is not good enough. We feel a need to be different to what we are and to where we are or even who we are. I am not suggesting here that we should not have ambition or a drive for self improvement, these things are good. It is that when we seek to become the best we tend to see what is around us as not the best. That where we are and what we are is not good enough.

There is often a snobbery in people that would see themselves as more successful than others.

The key feature of mindfulness is to be at peace in the present, in the moment.

Be here now

As soon as we crave things that are other than what we are or have in the current moment we disconnect from the present. The craving for what we do not have now can lead to an aversion to what is in the now. This is often the seed of both depression from worrying about the now and anxiety for worrying about the future.

Fashion is often an accessory of perceived success

Often we define people by what they have, what they wear or where they live. Fashion and possessions are a common methods of broadcasting what success we have. designer clothing, the ‘go faster’ car model, the latest phone or iPad, the watch, the sunglasses, it all tells our story of how we see ourself and how we want you to see us.

The wise sage is often depicted in very simple and humble clothes as a demonstration that the inner world of wisdom is so more much important than the outer world ‘hey, look at me’.

Fashion feeds an inability in many people to enjoy their present moment. Their clothes are not good enough, their house is not good enough, their car is not good enough, their friends and social circle are not good enough. The real tough stuff comes when someone feels that…

…I am not good enough.

Any psychologist will tell that it is hard, if not impossible, to be successful when you feel that you are not good enough. Lack of self belief might be emotional with a lack of confidence and self esteem. It could be cognitive as in ‘I am stupid’ or ‘not clever enough’. It could be social ‘I have no friends’ or ‘my friends are good enough’. The one thing that I am seeing all around me now is ‘my body is not good enough’. It used to be that people bounced up and down on yo-yo diets needing several sets of clothes as their weight went form heavy to light and back again. This has scarily turned into a body dis morphia, ‘my body is so bad that it needs to be changed’. The cosmetic surgeons and the beauty clinicians filling people’s faces with Botox and fillers are colluding in, and reinforcing, psychological and emotional damage that could blight an entire generation or more.

Listening to people who are breaking down because their Botox is wearing off or their lips are sagging and need filling because without it they do not feel the self esteem of success and cannot leave the house. Some people cannot leave the house without make up, ‘putting their face on’. We have created so many ways of confirming  to ourselves that we are not good enough. When you are not good enough you will never be, or feel, successful.

What is success?

Ed has problems with my definition that he sees as being too simplistic but, to me a successful person is some who is waking with a smile on their face feeling good about the day that they are about to have and then goes to bed with a smile on their face feeling  good about the day that they have just had. To me being successful is being happy. I have worked with people who are financially, socially and famously successful who are the most miserable people that I have ever met. I have also met people on my travels who have very little other than the joy of their family and their community and they were amazingly happy.

So, for me it is not ‘is success better that happiness? It is, being happy is being successful, without happiness there is no success.

Take sometime, look at your life and ask your self the questions, ‘am I happy?’ ‘Am I successful?’

One thing that I have observed is that people that do things that make them happy often create success at the same time.

Take care

Sean x

Staycation

Big question – Is it selfish to go on holiday abroad during the Covid Pandemic?

Between the 1950s and the 1970s Britains favourite holiday destination was Britain. The West Country was heaving with people, not only from the UK but, from all over the world. The area of Torbay was known as ‘The English Riviera’. B&Bs, hotels, caravan parks and campsites were bursting at the seams. Then came cheap air travel and cheaper holidays in poorer countries such as Spain and Greece. With the marketing for cheap flights to cheap hotels and guaranteed sunshine in Spain, “I’m off to sunny Spain” they all sang, the bottom started to fall out of the British holiday market. Could this be the time for the British holiday to come back?

When all that there was, was staycations the road systems in the UK were so bad that to get to Devon from London took long over eight hours. It was easier to set out at 11pm the night before, drive overnight, and arrive for breakfast in a cafe the next morning. Most people would get the train, it was easier and often quicker. Actually, not so many people owned a car then. The railways ran a service where the would collect your luggage from your home. Your luggage would then be sent down to your destination a few days before you left. It would be there waiting for you at your hotel when you arrived. At the end of the holiday the reverse happened and your luggage arrived at your home a few days after your return.

The Council Estates would empty out onto the holiday trains going to Kent, Norfolk, Devon, Cornwall and so on. Train seats would be booked in advance. The best were with a table, where we could sit as a family, play games and watch the countryside rush by the window. It felt like such a big occasion, a real adventure. These days it seems that we do not feel that we have had a holiday unless we have been abroad which usually means taking a plane.

I have only recently really realised the cost to the environment of air travel. The carbon footprint of a long hall holiday, especially in a jumbo jet, would require you to plant seven trees to compensate for it. Considering that I was flying to the Middle East for one week every month I owe the planet a Forrest!

The Real Staycation

The real staycation meant staying at home for the six weeks of the summer holiday. Some of us on the Council Estate could not always afford a holiday even in the UK. There was that embarrassing moment in September when we returned to school and the first thing we were asked to do was write an essay “What we did on our summer holiday”. We overcame the problem by describing what we had as “days out”. Then followed a fictitious account of what would have happened if we had been able to afford to got to the zoo, the Natural History Museum and so on. When we had to read these out to the class those that enjoyed endless trips to the seaside would look sadly at us describing our ‘days out’, we all knew that we hadn’t been anywhere.

There was a time when people worked seven days a week and the only time that they had off were the ‘Holy Days’ of the religious calendar. Eventually Holy Days turned into Holidays and the Holiday industry began. As the train network developed people went to Spa towns to ‘take the water’. In the south Brighton and Blackpool in the north became holiday destinations of choice. Gradually people by the sea or by lakes realised the sales potential of holidays for workers from the factories and the Bed and Breakfast industry was born. Then came the Hotels with star ratings, started by the AA, from two stars to five. Then came the package holiday and the trips abroad.

Is it selfish to holiday abroad at the moment?

We have just witnessed the holiday makers who rushed to Spain as soon as the lockdown was eased, only to find that they were in another wave of infections leading to their return flights being postponed. Holidays cut short and potential for ten days of isolation on their return as they could be bringing the Covid infection back with them and become infection spreaders. Is it too early to return to holidays until we know that the infection has passed? Is it selfish to go abroad on holiday? Should we be deciding to settle for a real staycation?

Holidays in the Uk make sense to me provided that we take sensible precautions and attend to sanitisation. Not travelling too far would make sense for two reasons. One limiting the spread to areas that have been low risk and reducing our carbon foot print.

The ultimate staycation

Many of us, during lockdown, have been having the ultimate staycation. This has been good for some and a horror for others. How did you get on? The are also many people who either from choice or anxiety will remain in a shielded lockdown for weeks or months to come. Some people have told me that they will not be leaving their home until the New Year. Others have developed agoraphobia and fear leaving their home due to the infection. Some have said that will not go out again until a vaccine is in place. That would probably mean that some people will end up being in ultimate staycation for over twelve months.

One thing that I am hearing about is the redevelopment of community. Groups of people, neighbours, family and friends gathering in small community groups for a picnic, bring your own food, and a chat. Some have been so successful that they are becoming weekly events. People are helping each other out from going to the shops to offering technical support, baking treats and delivering them to friends and neighbours. Could this be the start of a new community based awareness?

One of the things that I have learned during the period of lockdown is how beautiful the place that I live is. On our walks and bike rides we have discovered tracks, byways and cycle paths that were unknown to us. These have introduced us to whole areas all around us that we never even knew existed.

Here is a question that occurs to me, Why do we go on holiday in the summer? If we are going to take a flight to somewhere warm why don’t we do it in the dark months of winter when we could really benefit from a vitamin D boost? Perhaps we could spend the summer holidays actually enjoying where we live and getting to know it better.

Whatever you do this summer take care, stay safe and be happy

Sean x

It is good to cry

Over lockdown, for a variety of reasons I have worked with so many people that are crying. The tears shed have been for lost friends and loved ones, including animals, for lost opportunities, money, relationships, jobs, from total frustration in the helplessness of the situation, for children and grandchildren not seen, in reality the list has been, and continues to be, endless. Virtually all of these people have had one thing in common, they apologised for crying, as though they had let the side down, are being weak or pathetic. It is as though we see shows of genuine emotion as bad. Well, you know what? crying is good for you. The reasons are quite simple.

Evolution

Like it or not we are evolved naked apes. However unlike all other primates and mammals we have developed a more complex brain structure. The production of endorphins in the brain can lead to chemical over load that can become toxic and damaging. The easiest way to excrete these toxins is through the tear ducts. Subsequently we are the only primates that cry.

Tears

When we analyse tears we find that the chemical make up of tears for example, of anger, loss, laughter, happiness and sadness etc., all vary. Tears are not simply tears they are a specific excretion of chemicals.

Geography and tears

Evolution and geography coincide. Nearer to the equator people are much looser, freer and more emotional. The further north, away from the equator, the tighter and less emotional people become. The evolution of this is that as human beings migrated away from the plains of Africa the climate and the geography made different demands on us. Put simply in the equatorial regions food was plentiful all year around, getting fed was a relatively easy event. The further north you go the seasons kick in and the demands of nature require levels of organisation to enable survival. In short, if the barns are not full at harvest we are all dead come the winter.

Cognition versus emotion

Survival in hostile climates requires organisation and logic. There is no room for emotional out bursts that impede the production to survive. In general the further away from the equator you go the less emotional and volatile things are. It could be argued that with urbanisation and industrialisation that our dependence on the cycles of nature have diminished so that people are now allowed to be more emotional. Our grandparents and great grandparents who grew up before cars, radios, telephones, mobiles etc are often seen as being tougher than the younger generations. Perhaps we are observing their need for stoicism that enabled their survival, the make do and mend not throw it away and get something new culture.

Gender and emotion

Amazingly we still live in the world of ‘Big Boys Don’t Cry’. Well actually they do. It is just that most men are still embarrassed about showing emotion. For some reason, probably to do with alpha males, survival and competition, emotion is seen as being weak. It takes a lot to make or allow most men to openly show emotion and then afterwards most will report being embarrassed.

Health and emotion

This is a big one. When we hold emotion and do not express it there is tension created in the cardio vascular system. Our veins and arteries will therefore be constricted, when we feel free to express emotion our system will then relax. Beyond diet and cholesterol, which are highly significant to health, the constriction of the vascular system due to emotional repression can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes etc. The biggest killer of people in the UK is cardio vascular problems not cancer. As soon as someone mentions cancer many people become so anxious that they can’t even name it. Yet no one seems that worried about cardio vascular issues, strange!

Longevity

It is not yet completely clear but I suspect that a lot of dementia type issues are the result of or exacerbated by emotional repression and the effect that it has on the vascular system in the brain. Being more emotional and less ‘stiff upper lip’ might actually help us to live healthier for longer. The saddest thing is that alongside ‘big boys don’t cry’ runs the fact that men live about six years less than women. I suspect that if men did feel that it was okay to be emotional and to cry, they might actually live longer.

It is good to show your feelings even if it makes you feel vulnerable. It is okay to show your emotions of happiness or sadness. It is okay to cry. It is healthy to cry. It might just allow you to live a longer and happier life.

Take care.

Sean x

372 – What is the subliminal message?

I was mightily impressed with the Jen Reid, Black Lives Matter statue, created by artist Marc Quinn, that was put on to the Colston plinth in Bristol. He named the statue ‘A Surge of Power’. That got me thinking about the statues and the art, design and even architecture around us and the effect that it has on us subliminally, below our awareness.

The dictionary defines subliminal as ‘below the threshold of sensation or consciousness; perceived by or affecting someone’s mind without their being aware of it.’ It makes me wonder what subliminal effect the statue of Colston, as a slave trader, had on the generations that walked passed it?

At the same time Banksy was seen, or not seen in his outfit, putting his artwork in different places on the transport system. All his art carries subliminal messages. Just like advertisers and propagandists artist affect us below our awareness and effect our responses, behaviours and actions.

It took me back to a pod that we did on Nudging which is a modern subliminal way of affecting peoples behaviour below their awareness. This is mainly used in health and safety areas to encourage people to look after themselves. The rumble strips as you approach a roundabout get closer and closer together giving you the sensation that your car is speeding up. Your natural reaction is to slow down. No one has told you to slow down or asked you to slow down you have simply been nudged below you awareness into an action that makes you and other people safer.

Everyday we are nudged by others into doing what it is that we need or want us to do. These can be partners, children, siblings, friends, bosses and so on. If they are subtle we will not realise that we are being nudged. The question is, where does nudging end and manipulation begin? In reality we are all being subliminally nudged and manipulated. We only truly become aware of it when we stop long enough to look and listen to what is going on around us. This is also called mindfulness.

We are right in it at the moment as we are being encouraged to remain socially distanced at one to two metres. Every time you go into a shop there are strips of black a yellow tape showing use the distance that we should be at. Even the fact that it is black and yellow tape is a subliminal message. Poisonous animals in nature such as wasps, bees and snakes colour them selves black and yellow as a subliminal message to other creatures to leave them alone. The subliminal message is that it is dangerous to step over the line. Unless we are blind to it.

The same is true of wearing masks. The subliminal pictures are and will encourage us to use face coverings. The more effective the subliminal messaging the more people will wear the masks.

The Negative Bias

Evolutionary psychology explains that as we, indeed all beings on the planet, evolved we learned pretty early on that staying safe was a very good idea. This meant that we learned to pay more attention to the painful scary things than to the pleasurable things. This is known in psychology as the negative bias. We all know people who catastrophize events, make mountains out of mole hills and always seeing the worst possible outcomes, they are simply playing out the evolutionary negative bias to keep them self and those that they care about safe.

But there is another negative bias that subliminally effects our actions in this pandemic. These are the messages that are put out by the nay sayers. On my social media feeds there are plenty of people that do not believe that Covid 19 actually exists they see it as a conspiracy by ‘them’, who ever ‘they’ are, to control ‘us’, whoever ‘we’ are. I am unsure about the conspiracy theories though I am very sure about the effect that Covid 19 is having on my colleagues in the NHS.

There are two things here. The first is, do you believe that there is a virus or not? The second is that, whatever you belief how do you know what you know? Either way most of what you believe or feel about Covid 19 you will have assimilated it subliminally. The same is also true about your beliefs and action towards climate change. Is it just a fluctuation in the natural weather cycles or are we heading for a climate disaster? Are plastics the scourge that will decimate sea life and destroy the natural food cycles? Or, is it okay to keep on using plastics and dumping them in the ocean? All these questions right down to ‘Back Lives Matter’ are issues that we are being fed information about, subliminally, all the time.

Security and behaviour

Our behaviour is based around our need for security, for our need  to feel safe or normal. This can make us vulnerable to be nudged by any subliminal message that might make us feel insecure or threatened. The easiest way to control people is to feed them negative subliminal messages that engender fear.

Mindfulness is the only option that we have to become truly aware of who we are and what we are doing and also to be aware of others and what exactly they are up to. My stock phrase is ‘what is the sound behind their words? What do they really mean when they said that?’ ‘Can I take what they are saying at face value?’

In mindful awareness we live in a world of choice and if we are being subliminally nudged, but we are mindful enough to be aware of it, we might choose to enjoy it and see where it takes us. After all life is about learning?

Take care and be happy (that is a subliminal nudge by the way)

Sean X (so is the X that infers that I care without actually saying it)

371 The cost of staying on top

I had a realisation during lockdown that concerns our recycling, there is so much of it. It began with the realisation on the amount of stuff that we had in our grey recycling bin when it is emptied every two weeks, scary. I started looking at what I personally was contributing to the plastic mountain that is developing around the world and the mass that I’d dropped into the sea. So decision one, stop using all cosmetic products that come in plastic containers. This has been easier than I expected. I now have bars of body soap, hair soap and conditioner, then I found some blocks of toothpaste in cardboard containers. The next on the list is shaving soap. No more aerosols or plastic tubes. I am trying to be sensible and use up all the stuff that remains in plastic containers. After all, each piece of plastic that we currently create will be around for about 450 years, ouch!

Next up is tea bags. I did not realise until recently that tea bags are lined with plastic. So it is back to the loose tea and a tea spoon, I guess the name of the spoon explains a lot. I notice that on the TV they are now advertising coffee bags which, I assume, must also be lined with plastic. This journey into plastics, and my growing intention to stop, if possible, my personal use of single use plastic over this year, took me to view the Espresso machines that we use. The issue here is Nespresso capsules. The system produces wonderful coffee but at what cost to the environment. Nespresso claim that their capsules are all recyclable. Interestingly Ed sent me a Guardian article that suggests that very few of the capsules are actually recycled and that the vast majority end up in landfill any way. The recyclability of the capsules was one of my excuses for enjoying the Nespresso coffee. Worst of all it turns out that though the capsules are mainly aluminium they do also contain plastic. Now, there are refillable stainless steel capsules that are comparable with the Nespresso machine that would solve the problem. Good coffee produced in a good coffee machine but without the waste.

The issue that Ed raised when he suggested this podcast was ‘the cost of staying on top’ and reading the Guardian article it would imply that many manufacturers, not just Nestle, have to do more and more to stay on top and maintain their market share or grow their market share. While I started our drinking Nespresso in the belief that that had the recycling business sown up can I really now justify the ongoing level of waste and pollution that the system would appear to be producing? The only answer for me is to invest in the reusable pods and fill them myself with the best coffee. The magic of the Nespresso system is that they have perfected a way of blowing high pressure are through the coffee that creates the Creme that is distinctive in all good Italian coffees.

I know carry a stainless steel silicone lidded coffee cup in the car so that I don’t have to use yet another paper/plastic cup when I’m out and about and need my fix! Once I start thinking like this I wonder if I can justify the endless plastic bags that the vegetables come in. It seems that in the end the cost of staying on top, for most manufacturers, is our health and the destruction of the planet. 

As we come out of lockdown what world will we be coming out to? There are times in the social economic cycle when we have choices to make things different. Many people are looking at where and how they work. At transport and walking or using a bike. I hope that many have also been looking at their consumption and the amount of waste that we each produce.

Perhaps there is a point when staying on top is the result of creating less pollution and becoming more planet friendly. If we as consumers learn to go after products that do have good and honest green credentials then the negative effect that we have on the planet will also diminish. As long as we chase convenience, and the ease of things like for example ready cooked meals we will keep creating even more waste and while the companies that produce these goods will stay on top, they will also kill us and the planet.

I will climb down off the hobby horse now and leave you with this thought. Every bit of plastic that you use today will remain somewhere in the environment for another 450 years. In that time it will not offer anything good or reusable by nature it will simply poison and pollute.

Take care, recycle and avoid single use plastic as much as possible.

Sean x