Recovering from M.E./Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
There are two fundamental components to recovery from M.E. Or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: (1) Following appropriate medical protocols for identifying and treating the underlying biochemical, immunological and hormonal problems - the physical aspects and (2) Addressing the emotional and psychological factors which both contributed to the M.E. and result from having M.E or chronic fatigue. It is the synergy between these physical, medical protocols and an emotional/psychological 'toolkit' which is effective. People need both in order to recover.
A useful metaphor to help understand the process of M.E./C.F.S. is the overloaded boat. Imagine the outline of a cargo boat, floating on the sea. Each person - healthy or not - is such a boat which carries certain loads. One load common to all would be 'genetic factors'. Other factors might be 'work stress', 'physical injury', 'anxiety', 'relationship problems' etc. 'Immune factors' would be in there too as would be 'personality type', 'lifestyle' and 'diet'. Everyone has a range of loads yet the majority of these boats continue to float. People with M.E./ C.F.S have overloaded boats. Overloaded boats sit lower and lower in the water and for some, sink. Such additional loads might include 'organophosphate poisoning', 'hormonal disruption', 'hypoclycaemia', 'antibiotic overuse', 'emotional trauma', 'negative body image', 'eating disorders', 'chronic stress' and - with respect to personality types - ' achiever patterns'. The actual loads vary of course for each person but will invariably include what could crudely be differentiated into physical loads and psychological and emotional loads. One load common to most who go through the process of M.E./C.F.S. is ' the diagnosis of ME/CFS'. This load can be visualised as sitting on top of all the others. For those not fortunate enough to have appropriate, well-informed medical help, it includes the ignorance and unhelpful attitudes of clinicians consulted by people as they search for a diagnosis and answers. Such attitudes can lead to the person's belief either that there is nothing organically wrong with them or that they will be sick for ever. A common experience too is frustration and the further stress arising from a lack of understanding from family and friends.
One of the tools which is particularly helpful in working with M.E./C.F.S is a form of energy psychology called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). This can be described as a blend of acupressure - or acupuncture without the needles - and psychology. It involves tapping on certain meridian points whilst talking about a problem. It looks extremely odd but it is highly effective for a wide range of problems whether apparently purely physical (such as pain, including fibromyalgia), psychological or emotional. We can use EFT to address issues right here and now - such as pain, sleeplessness, anxiety, stress - or to visit the past when addressing trauma.
Some other tools for addressing emotional and psychological aspects come from NLP. which can be expressed as reprogramming the brain or changing the way we think and feel in order to become more effective, happier, healthier. It is about solving problems but it also concerns bringing about improvements. With M.E./C.F.S we can use various NLP techniques to change unhelpful beliefs, relieve anxiety, relieve stress, increase happiness, remove phobia, remove painful memories, manage weight, change unhelpful habits, improve relaxation, alleviate grief and more. NLP works mainly in the present; it does not require us to delve into our past to any great degree. The processes are varied but what they have in common is focus upon how our brain experiences a situation through our senses and stores that experience. Such changes are often rapid and permanent. Like EFT, there are some NLP techniques which a practitioner can teach you to do for yourself. In fact, some such homework is essential in order to make progress. Clients going through ME/CFS I find are highly motivated and welcome the ability to take some control by doing such things themselves.
There is a strong overlap between NLP and hypnosis and 'Ericksonian' hypnotherapy can be very beneficial for people with M.E./C.F.S. Basically, we explore a wanted change then induce a trance, greatly increase relaxation and install the change.
When addressing the psychological factors and what Dr Sarah Myhill refers to as the "emotional hole in the energy bucket" the good news is that it is not essential to empty that overloaded boat completely. We just need to remove or reduce some of those big loads. Will alleviating the emotional and psychological factors have an impact upon the physical and physiological component of the CFS process? The answer is a resounding 'yes'.
Virginia Hayden 1st June 2017
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Is there (emotionally) intelligent life on the planet?
We need to be reminded that our emotions are part of our intelligence. We tend to think of intelligence as a cognitive function which we apply to live our complicated lives – to work or study, to create, to negotiate difficulties, to solve problems. In Western culture in particular, we are apt to forget that we also have emotional intelligence. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we do need and use our emotions to live our complicated lives – to work or study, create, negotiate difficulties and solve problems. If we are not in the habit of listening to emotions, we are failing to use an important resource.
Another tendency is to regard difficult emotions as negative. Thus we like feeling happy or excited but would rather do without feeling anxious, unhappy, sad, scared, suspicious, frustrated, guilty…. It is more useful to classify emotions as “uncomfortable” or “difficult” rather than “negative”. All emotions – including the uncomfortable ones – are there for a reason: they have, what we call in the trade, positive intentions. They have a message to deliver for our own benefit and if we try to push the emotion away or suppress it, perhaps by over-eating, drinking, smoking or over-working, that emotion does not give up. It will continue to pester us until we pay attention. There are techniques for listening to and interpreting emotions which can be learned. But the very simplest way is to get into the habit of paying attention to a feeling which crops up. Instead of pushing away sadness or anger, for example, deliberately focus upon it. Stop for a moment and acknowledge that a feeling is there and consider where it is. Because although emotions begin in our mind (usually triggered by a thought), they appear in our body. In fact, paying attention to our emotions is the same as paying attention to our body. And if we usually ignore one – emotion or body – we ignore the other; we can say that we have a poor relationship with our body and emotions. If this relationship deteriorates too far for too long, we can become very ill. So, locate that feeling. Is it in your gut, your heart, your neck, big toe or wherever. Focus upon that feeling in that area and breathe slowly and deeply for a minute or two as you focus. As you do pay it attention, the difficult emotion is likely to lessen. If you are able to notice what is wants to convey to you, perhaps in the form of a thought or image popping into your mind, a sensation, a sound or an intuition, it may well cease completely because it has fulfilled its function.
Virginia Hayden 1st March 2017
Stop dieting and lose weight
We know that dieting makes us fatter in the long run. Following a diet may help us lose weight in the short term and may even do so quickly. But following that diet is stressful because we are constantly monitoring our food and most importantly, we are denying ourselves, maybe even starving ourselves. From the point of view of our body chemistry a couple of things are worth noting. Firstly, the stress may severely reduce the amount of serotonin which is produced in our brain. Serotonin can be thought of as the “neurochemical of happiness”. For those of us for whom emotional eating is an issue, low serotonin is bad news as we may be driven to eat because the act of eating increases serotonin production, albeit briefly. Secondly, our metabolic rate – the rate at which we burn our food as fuel – is decreased when we diet. This is because our body ‘recognises’ that we are in starvation mode and must conserve energy. So what happens when we stop dieting, as we do when the diet takes us to our target weight or, when we simply give up? The starved body recognises that the famine period is over and eagerly grabs onto food for storage to make up the weight loss and to build up fat in readiness for the next period of famine. (I.e., the next diet!) That fat and weight gain is made easier of course, because the body’s metabolic rate got reduced during the diet. As for serotonin, well, we are miserable from regaining weight.
There are ways to avoid this situation and to lose weight gradually whilst becoming generally happier. Of paramount importance is banishing diets from our life. We need to learn a natural way of behaving and eating which is healthier and permanent. NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) shows us how with strategies developed from modelling the behaviour of naturally slender people. We can learn a “naturally slender eating strategy” and reprogramme our brain such that it becomes automatic - we don’t even have to think about it once we have installed the new habits. Such a strategy teaches us to pay attention to what our body actually wants, rather than – for example – to that advert for pizza or that cake display in the supermarket. It involves devastatingly complex rules such as “Only eat when you are hungry” and “Stop eating when you are no longer hungry”. No discomfort is involved and we need deny ourselves nothing. Our focus shifts from the immediate and short-term pleasure of eating perhaps large amounts of pizza or cake, to the longer term pleasure and satisfaction of our body. And, eating in this way may well include occasional pizza or cake, in small amounts. The result is a more even metabolic rate, increased well-being and gradual weight loss.
Another strand of the solution to weight gain addresses a particular aspect of the naturally slender eating strategy: “(Only) eat when you are hungry”. I.e., tackling the habit of emotional eating. Many of us, for various reasons, eat not because of hunger but because we seek comfort and to control uncomfortable emotions. A stressful situation at work or home may lead us to that stash of chocolate bars we keep in the desk drawer or ‘spare’ sausage rolls in the fridge. For some, this emotional eating is a response to a chronically low serotonin level because – as noted above – eating temporarily increases serotonin. We need a new, or rather a healthier approach to our emotions. Emotions are part of our intelligence and each strong feeling we experience has a message to convey. It may be trying to tell us that a certain situation needs to be addressed and changed, despite our rational decision being otherwise. (Think of having a ‘gut reaction’ against a decision you have consciously made.) If – as is common in our society – we ignore that message and repress the uncomfortable emotion, perhaps by over-eating or over-working, the emotion will keep coming back and demanding attention. Ignoring emotions in the long term can lead to serious health problems.
We can learn to manage and use our emotions and thereby stop the habit of emotional eating. Approaches include “Amygdala Depotentiation Techniques” which are far easier to learn and apply than to pronounce. In 20 minutes or so, we can learn techniques which directly affect the neural pathways involved in the stress response and actually change our neurochemistry. More simply put, we can change the way we feel and get rid of the need for emotional eating.
4th January 2017
We all experience anxiety, perhaps at particular times such as facing a driving test or other type of performance appraisal or giving a speech. On such occasions some anxiety is useful: adrenalin is available to keep us alert, sharp or on our toes. When the occasion has passed, so does the anxiety.
Anxiety can become a problem when it interferes significantly with the way we function in our personal or our work life. The anxiety may become disproportionate to a situation or is present constantly without any obvious reason. In the former case we would not necessarily need to delve and discover why the fear was disproportionate but accept that - for example, the performer with severe stage fright - needs to control and reduce its intensity so that s/he has just enough anxiety to keep sharp for performance. There are various tools for doing this. Hypnotherapy might be used. Then there is the NLP process of 'neuro-hypnotic repatterning' which sounds more cumbersome than it is. This method of reducing or reversing anxiety requires us to recognise that the fear has a physical presence in the body and to notice where that is and the fact that it moves. By changing the direction and speed of this movement (called 'spinning ' the feeling) the feeling changes radically and is no longer anxiety. At the unconscious level, the brain recodes the experience. This can be a 'one-time application' such that when you are in a similar situation again - such as performing or speaking in front of a room full of colleagues - the former anxiety is just not there; it is controlled because the brain has learned a new way of reacting.
If you are someone who has constant anxiety for no apparent reason, again, hypnotherapy can be useful to install a more helpful state. It would be important to find out exactly what state you do want instead. Is it relaxation? Is it confidence or safety or is it something else? Having discovered what you want instead, we can use NLP to give you an 'anchor' to which you have instant access and which calls up your desired state. Such an anchor might be a particular gesture or word which you can use at will to get back that feeling of confidence, safety or whatever it was you wanted.
It may be that if you have constant anxiety, there are underlying, unhelpful beliefs about yourself or the world, "I. In this case, we can replace those with more helpful beliefs using NLP or Emotional Freedom Techniques.
Next: Is it anxiety or a phobia?
29th October 2016
If someone is feeling depressed, instead of asking 'why', it is more useful to ask 'how'. Richard Bandler might begin with the question "How do you know you are depressed?" I imagine this could be quite annoying and wouldn't be surprised if a few people had not been tempted to throw something at him. But what he is trying to find out is how that person is thinking and 'creating' the depressed feeling. This can be elicited in some detail such as the images formed in their mind, their internal dialogue - what they say to themselves - and any other soundtrack accompanying the images and what exactly the feeling is like. For example, it might feel like a weight or burden but however the depressed feeling manifests itself, it's useful to know exactly how and where it is in the body.
We sometimes talk of 'depression'. I.e., a noun, a thing (possibly a heavy weight or a dark cloud). Things can be difficult to get rid of. It is more useful to think of this feeling as a process - feeling depressed - because we know that processes can be interrupted and changed. By finding out how our minds create the feeling, we can interrupt that process and change the images, the sounds, the feelings. Feeling depressed can become a repeated pattern of thoughts and feelings: we develop unhelpful ways of thinking and behaving which simply make us feel awful. The thoughts make us feel awful or depressed by affecting our neurochemistry. As we repeat the unhelpful thoughts and behaviour, the unpleasant feelings and specific neurochemicals which go with them are reinforced. We can get stuck with 'unhappy neurochemicals'. Such neurochemicals can of course be changed with medication. But we can also change them with NLP, reprogramming our brain. We can change that existing pattern to something more useful: we change the way we think, which changes the way we feel and the neurochemicals zooming around not only in our brain but throughout our body.
We can choose to change those 'unhappy neurochemicals' for 'happier' ones, for example, by using pattern-breaking techniques. Learning and repeating relatively simple techniques to change our thoughts - break those thought patterns and replace them with more helpful ones - not only changes the neural pathways set up in our brain by habitual depressing thoughts but actually creates new neural pathways which are associated with more supportive thoughts and with feeling happier.
Finally for now, lets go back to my previous blogs about laughter and chocolate (though without the sugar, of course). We've probably all heard that eating chocolate increases such 'happy' neurochemicals as oxytocin and serotonin. Well, the good news (bad news?) is that we can increase such neurochemicals by laughing. Laughter is a simple form of pattern-breaking. I'm not suggesting that we deal with feeling depressed simply by laughing but it's a good place to start on our own. Remember that anything which can make us laugh is good and that we can even do this artificially by forced or pretended laughter. Quoting Richard Bandler again: "Feeling good is good for us."
Virginia Hayden 16th September 2016
A number of people have consulted me about what they call their "sugar addiction". For some, the determination to deal with this is linked to the need to lose weight and increase fitness. Occasionally it is to tackle or ward off diabetes. There are various ways to help people with this. For example, EFT is excellent for removing the emotional aspect of a desire for sugar. The advantage of using EFT is that you can do this yourself if you don't have a practitioner to help you. NLP - with or without hypnosis - would take the bad habit (in this case, eating sugary food or rather, non-food) remove it and then replace it with a better habit. The better habit need not be eating something different but could involve getting your unconscious mind to identify a totally different behaviour which would give the same satisfaction and benefits which you used to get from eating sugar.
Of course, even with a new, better habit installed, it is nice to know that you can give yourself a food treat. This is where my home-made chocolate comes in. Because many of the ingredients of chocolate are beneficial.
Virginia's home-made sugar-free chocolate
It's easy to see chocolate as a guilty choice and something we should cut out. But if we read the ingredients on a chocolate product, it's not the cocoa solids nor even the cocoa butter which is the problem but the extremely high sugar content. Here is a recipe I concocted for a sugar-free (and dairy-free) chocolate. Do experiment with the quantities of cream, oil and cocoa and indeed, the stevia, to get the texture, sweetness and taste which you like best. I use all organic ingredients when I can - except the stevia which I haven't found available as organic.
* Beat 1 free-range egg in a bowl with a small can of coconut cream
* Melt 3-4 tablespoons of coconut oil (which is a solid at room temperature) in a pan
* Add the melted oil to the bowl
* Add to the mixture in the bowl, 1 dessertspoon of cocoa powder (Green & Black is good), teaspoon or less of vanilla essence, 1-2 droppersful or liquid stevia.
* Beat all the ingredients together to give a thick cream and pour that into a container to put into the fridge.
* After a few hours in the fridge, the consistency remains creamy but thicker. This can be spread as a chocolate "butter cream". Leave your chocolate overnight and it is the consistency of fudge. Eat as a - well, chocolate. (6th August 2016)
Laughter and therapy
Most of us know this from our own experience. But why is it that if we find ourselves in our own, personal dire straits, something which unexpectedly triggers a laugh makes us feel better, even if only briefly? It is because laughing and even smiling broadly changes our neurochemistry. Furthermore, the 'happy chemicals' are not restricted to the brain but circulate throughout the body, affecting physiology and contributing to healing. A single laugh can boost our mood but the more we can laugh throughout the day, the better; the benefits accumulate. What fascinates me about this is that we may have the benefits of laughter even if that laughter is artificial. This means we can make ourselves laugh deliberately, as a daily exercise, even if we believe we have no cause to laugh. Although, if we find ourselves thinking 'Oh, I've got nothing to laugh about', then perhaps we are taking ourselves too seriously. As the psychologist and therapist Owen Fitzpatrick writes "If you frown at your problems they will seem bigger, smile at your problems and they will get smaller." I would add that if we laugh at that problem we may gain a new perspective and new ways of looking at a problem suggest new solutions.
People who come for therapy and coaching usually expect the whole business to be terribly serious. But I find that adding some lightness, some laughter, is invaluable.
My recipe or recommendation today is to make a habit of laughter: viewing, reading, listening to, talking about things which make you laugh and if necessary - make yourself laugh artificially, as a daily exercise. You may find that a forced giggle rapidly becomes a real one. (21st August 2016)
Look out for forthcoming blogs on 'Being Depressed' and 'Being Happy'.