Getting Ready for Christmas

As we wind down the weeks and days to Christmas the pressure of getting everything done, getting the “right” presents and juggling financial and time constraints can get overwhelming.

Although the advertisers and shops would like us to believe that everything is rosy, snugly, comfy and relaxed, at times the lead up to Christmas can be incredibly stressful for lots of reasons:-

  • It’s an additional financial burden
  • With whom do you spend Christmas?  Does this mean upsetting other family members?
  • What to buy family/friends that “have everything”?
  • How to get organised so everything is done before the big day.
  • Missing loved ones over the festive period.


At this time of the year we are more exposed to pressures from media, retailers and our own family and friends.  But what is the essence of Christmas?  Are we kowtowing to commercialism?

For some, Christmas is an affirmation of their beliefs, for others a chance to reunite with people. However we can get swept away in the hype and pressure and start to lose a sense of ourselves and our values.

Can we ignore the expectation to spend lots of money?  What would that say about us?  Over the years I have found that providing experiences rather than presents can mean so much more.  The experience of spending quality time, doing something different, doing a kind act often lasts a lot longer that something that is bought (and maybe not wanted).  What exactly do we need?  For most of us we actually need very little in material terms but what we do need and want is love, friendship, companionship, fun and laughter in our lives and those things are priceless.

So here are some tips to lessen the Christmas stress:

  • Make a list throughout the year of things you would like. Then in December you have a list you give to others – you get what you want and others don’t have to think so avoiding unwanted gifts.
  • Each evening, plan the night before, 3 priorities tasks from your to do list.
  • Take a walk everyday to clear your head.
  • Be mindful of what you are doing/feeling/seeing/hearing – spend a bit of time in the present (excuse the pun!) moment rather than in your head.
  • Delegate! Allow others to share the tasks and jobs.
  • Don’t forget to have fun!
  • Plan in time for relaxation and being pampered
  • Tap away stress using EFT
  • Remember the things that are really important in your life and put aside the pressure from others.

So good luck with the lead upto Christmas, enjoy the process and activities and make sure that you continue to be true to yourself.

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Managing Our Stress

Stress affects everyone. At times stress can be energising, positive and motivating but when demands upon ourselves exceed our perceived ability to cope then stress can become a problem.  The effects of stress are different for each person, for example it may affect our sleep, eating habits, relationships or concentration to do our job.

Stress is rarely contributed to just one thing but to many factors over a period of time.

When stress becomes prolonged or excessive and we perceive that we cannot cope with demands then the impact upon our lives can be detrimental.

At times it is others that first recognise that we are stressed rather than ourselves.  It can be easy to keep our head down, keep going and ignore warning signs.  Sometimes we only recognise how stressed we are after the situation has gone!

The starting point is to increase our awareness of how we are feeling, what our body is telling us, notice changes in our behaviour and hear what others are saying. Only when we are aware can we do anything to help ourselves.

What are those warning signs?  This will obviously differ for each person but here are a few that may be familiar to you:

Physical – increased muscular tension, headaches, feeling nauseous, sweating

Emotional – feeling anxious, increased irritation, frustration

Behaviour – decreased or increased sleeping, lack or increase in appetite, withdrawing, increased alcohol/coffee/smoking, lack of tolerance

Cognitions (thoughts) – blaming others, everything appears negative, increased worry about everything, not being able to switch off thoughts


So what can we do?

Identify what is causing the stress and determine whether:-

  1. a) it is under your control and you are able to do something to change it
  2. b) it is something that you cannot change and therefore find a way to accept the situation
  3. c) you can just let it go, as in the long run or in a few weeks time, it really won’t matter or it isn’t important


Share your concerns and seek out the right people that will be able to support you or be able to make changes with you.

Look after yourself physically by having a healthy diet, get enough sleep, take exercise, engage socially with others and actively do relaxation eg have a bath, listen to a mediation tape, have ring fenced quiet time.

Talk to yourself as if you are your best friend; be kind, compassionate and caring to yourself.  Praise and compliment yourself on how you are doing and how you are coping.

End the day by giving gratitude for what you have in your life – family, friends, home, health, faith, work etc.

Keep in mind that the stress will pass and spend each day focusing in the here and now.  Turn worries into problems and look at how to solve them.

So how can I help?

Book yourself a Reiki session which promotes relaxation, re-balancing and restoring of energy levels.

Book an appointment to learn Emotional Freedom Technique (or Tapping) as a self-help tool that decreases intensity of emotions and promotes a different way of looking at situations.

Book a coaching session to gain practical and structured advice on how you can make steps forward.

There is nothing to be ashamed of feeling stressed and the more we understand our early warning signs and do something to help ourselves the more in control we feel thus decreasing our levels of stress.  Keep healthy 🙂

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The Therapeutic Relationship

When you work with people as I do, one of the most important aspects of that work is the relationship I have with that person.  How I work and what I do are almost secondary to the therapeutic relationship.  That relationship is unique and maybe for some, it is the first time that they have felt heard without  judgment and given space and opportunity to share their issues.

For me, this starts from the moment a client contacts me which is usually by email.  My reply needs to portray sincerity, understanding along with information and an openness of what I do and how I work.  I often suggest an Insight session which is a no-obligation, complimentary phone call and enhances further the therapeutic relationship.

It is for me to listen, ask the right questions, show understanding and establish rapport and a sense of trust with the person in order to put them at ease.  In effect they are speaking to a stranger at the end of the phone about personal issues!

I ensure that what goes on in the conversation is confidential and that whatever is agreed I follow up the next day if not before.  From then, when we meet, it is about welcoming the person, putting them at ease in the environment where we are working and explaining that the working relationship is a two way process.  It is both our responsibility to be honest and that it is fine to say if things have gone off track or could be done better in a different way.

I believe in integrity, trustworthiness and openness.  If I say I will do something I make sure I do it.  In between sessions there is email support and always an opportunity for my clients to get back to me with further questions or concerns.  I am there for them with support, understanding, encouragement, honesty and humour (if needed!).

There may be times when this relationship can be a bit harder to achieve but it is up to me to work at that and to bring it about.  My goal is for my clients to have a positive, rewarding and genuine relationship with me as their therapist as this enhances and supports greater change and results for them.

You can read a bit more about Insight session and hear other’s experiences of our work together:

“Karen’s manner was lovely and all questions answered in detail and with a smile. I can imagine having a very useful 1 to 1 with Karen, but she was (also) excellent in a group environment.”

“Her approach is not only based on her considerable skill, but also on a compassionate platform which enabled me to feel safe and supported at all times.”

“You have such a calm and reassuring manner and your advice and tasks are so clearly explained that I found them easy to follow.”

“Karen is a very pleasant, empathetic and professional practitioner. I would highly recommend her services.”

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Stacking Up Your Resources!

As I write, there seems to be no chance of an Indian summer and with evenings drawing in and temperatures dropping now is the time to boost our resilience.

Our wellbeing and health, whether that is physical, mental or spiritual, is always finding ways to re-balance and restore.  I liken it to a see-saw – when stress or demands start weighing the see saw down, we need to top up and increase our resources to counter balance this weight.

Resources can be both internal and external and we need a mixture of both to maintain our resilience and health as we come into the next part of the year.

We all currently have or do things that boost this store of resilience such as going on holiday, being with family and friends, engaging in hobbies and interests to name but a few.  However, sometimes we need to do more – to counteract the heavy weight of demands.

So what else can you do?

Internal resources refer to the health of your mind and body.  Are you listening to what your body needs?  Are you giving it the best “fuel” that it requires?  Getting enough sleep?  It is so easy to ignore the expertise of our bodies until it gives us a big wakeup call and we come down with a cold or sprain an ankle.  We are then forced to stop and we have no choice but to look after ourselves.

Are we looking after our emotional health as well as we can?  Are you nipping stress in the bud, sharing problems or managing/ prioritising issues?  We know that mind and body are integrated so what affects one will impact upon the other.

Stack up on your external resources by bringing in relaxation time whether that is having a bath rather than a shower, socialise, exercise or declutter.  Give yourself permission to look after yourself.  If something is not working – change it!  Bring in new healthy habits rather than just go along with habits of doing and thinking that no longer bring any benefits.  Treat yourself – a day out with friends, booking a complimentary therapy session, a mini –break.

The resources on the end of your see-saw don’t have to be expensive or time consuming.  Small changes can be powerful.  The most important thing is to remember that you have control over the equilibrium of your see-saw – give yourself permission to balance and you will get through these forthcoming months with more resilience, health and energy.

Have a healthy Autumn!



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Are We Being True to Our Values?

Values and beliefs are two very different aspects of ourselves which warrant being defined in order to understand the role that values play in our lives.

Beliefs are often thoughts that we have said or heard so many times in our heads that we turn them into believing they are true.  They are cognitions, thoughts that may have started many years ago in our childhood or been adopted from others beliefs and we have made them our own. We believe these beliefs to be true with the effect that they influence our decisions and behaviour.

Values, on the other hand, are a measure of what we hold as important or dear to us.  They are not based from past information and are universal so that others can hold the same values as us.  Values motivate us to bring into our lives people, work, tasks, interests that meet our values because they are important to us.

Examples of values are:-

Achievement                     Compassion                       Fairness                            Justice

Honesty                               Integrity                            Independence                  Friendship

Health                                   Ethics                                Fun                                     Humour

Communication                  Wealth                             Love                                     Adventure


When we are living our lives by our values then we are content.  Organisations also have values and if they are not congruent with our own then we may feel stressed, dissatisfied, frustrated in that workplace.

People that we meet, the ones that we get on really well with or have a “connection” with, will probably have the same values as ourselves.

Most of the time we don’t stop to think about our values but they are subtly driving our behaviour and motivating us to seek them out.

We are more likely to succeed in our goals and achieve more if we know why our goals are important to us.  Knowing what our goals will bring to us links into our values.  When I am working with clients who want to have a career change, we hone down on what is really important, what is the bottom line, what can’t they live without.  Once we get past the material values of money etc what comes out reflects them as a person – a sense of autonomy, making a difference to others, honesty, open communication to name but a few.  By knowing what is important will help drive the need to seek these out in their next career move thus enhancing satisfaction, content, motivation and passion.

As mentioned we may have many of the same values but what makes us unique is the order of our values, which ones would we prioritise over others? What could we not do without in our lives.

Here is a good exercise that helps priorotise your values by Steve Pavlina and a website that explains about the difference between beliefs and values.

An exercise that I often use is one that looks at what you must in your life, what would be lovely to have and what would be absolute fantasy – download here.  When you have down each area then tick off the ones you currently have in your life.  From there you will be able to identify what is missing and look at how you can bring them back into your life.

If you are feeling frustrated or dissatisfied in some aspects of your life take a bit of time just to check whether you are incorporating your true values into your life.




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One Year on in Full Self-Employment

The World of Self-Employment

A year has passed since I left the NHS after 34 years.  I can’t believe how quickly it has gone!  I already had Red Oak Coaching up and running for the past 12 years but it was always part time along with the hours I worked as an Occupational Therapist in mental health for the NHS.

I had lots of worries about leaving the NHS and working full time in my business.  I was concerned that I might feel really isolated, especially over the winter months, and miss the daily chat/support with my mental health colleagues.  Just having someone sitting alongside you at the desk was often reassuring when things became tough.  As a sole trader it was just me at my desk!  I learnt to engage a lot more on social media sites and to make sure I booked in time for coffee with friends.

Networking has also played a large part in reducing any of my fears of isolation.  Attending breakfast and lunch time events meant I could talk “business” – the aspirations, pitfalls and moans about working on your own.

I also increased my activities and seem to be playing a lot more golf as well as attending exercise classes.  It may come across that it’s all enjoyment and interests, but it is not!

The other worry for me was being structured and motivated throughout the week.  Yes, it was much more tempting in the summer to do gardening when the sun was shining but I have clear goals on what I want to achieve in my business and being part of a women’s business group has kept me on track.

I admit it has not always been plain sailing and there are some days when it is tough to become motivated and keep focussed.  These are the days when I prioritise just three tasks to do and always make sure I go out for a walk during the day.

My biggest concern leaving the NHS was the decrease in money.  I do have less money coming in but I just “cut my cloth accordingly”.  If I have lost out in money I have certainly gained in time, freedom and health.  I have less stress in my life, I choose how I spend my time and if there are deadlines it is because I have chosen them.  It’s a win-win situation.

So one year on in full self-employment and I just love it!  It’s been a step well worth taking and I can only see it becoming better and better with each passing year J

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This was the sound I heard most in Fiji.  The sound of hello and welcome from adults and children alike.

I was in Fiji for a two week volunteer project, living and working in a traditional Fijian village and helping out at the local kindergarten.

It was a short flight from New Zealand but the heat slapped you in the face on arriving at Nadi.  It was their winter season but still in the high 20s.

Dratabu, the village where I was staying, was about 10 minutes outside the main town of Nadi.  Nadi itself was a noisy, dusty and busy town full of shop owners encouraging you into their shop and home to the largest Hindu temple in the Southern Hemisphere.

By contrast Dratabu was quiet although a village of 500 people.  The houses were of all shapes and sizes made from concrete and tin.  There was a real sense of community governed by the Chief.  In the morning one of the head men would walk around the village shouting out instructions for the day such as clean the community hall, cut the grass in the cemetery or attend the health screening.

In the village women had to wear sulus ( a type of sarong) with your knees and shoulders covered.  You weren’t allowed to run or wear a heat, so as not to be higher than the chief.

My host family’s house had electricity but no running hot water, no shower (a bucket and bowl instead), no fridge, with cooking done outside on a wood fire.  Food was basic with mainly large quantities of carbohydrates such as rice, taro or cassava with a little meat but very rarely any vegetables.  Fruit was mainly paw paw and pineapple.  Although the house was kept clean there were the biggest cockroaches I ever saw!  I nicknamed them “tippy-tappies” for the sound they made across the floor at night!

The village kindergarten had two classrooms for 4-5 year olds catering for about 34 children.  However they didn’t always attend and may wander in well after 9am. Whilst waiting for everyone to arrive the children would entertain themselves by drawing on individual blackboards.  For some reason they loved my very simple drawings of cats and dogs!  The rest of the morning was very unstructured as there was no national work programme to follow and no specific routine.  Once a week, songs and rhymes were sung along with getting to know the sounds of the alphabet.  The children were divided into about 4 groups and given things to do such as playing with plasticine, threading beads or cutting our pictures.  A mid morning snack was had with the children bringing in from home often huge meals of rice, friend eggs, cold potato chips – again very little fruit or veg.

Ofter this it was play time outside, a beautiful setting with tyre swings and roundabouts and a tree to climb.  Health and Safety went out the window but it was great to see kids just being themselves.

Following this they would come in and have a ten minute rest on the floor before waiting to be collected by their parents.  At times the teacher would cut their nails, send notes to parents suggesting cleaning of wounds or treatment of scabies or to bring a handkerchief as they were full of colds (it was their winter).

For a few days there was a national theme of saying no to drugs and abuse.  The children cut out shapes of hands to stick on lollipop sticks and hand painted a banner.  We then marched with the older children to the community hall where the chief sat alongside guests and proceeded to sit through two hours of speeches.

The best bit was when the Fire Brigade arrived and the children could have a go at sitting on the fire engine.

The children were delightful, exuberate, noisy but often having a short attention span.  There were a few bright kids there but there were no specific development activities for them.

I was able to introduce a few additional activities but in a very simple format.  There is a quite a contrast in educational development between Fiji and Western Europe however Fijian kids have more freedom to explore and run around and be kids.

I found my time in Fiji to be challenging yet interesting and increased my appreciation of what I take for granted such as a mattress, a shower and good healthy food.  I loved the people of Fiji for their friendliness and passion for rugby and hope that their basic health care and education continues to improve for the following generations.



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