Can you beat stress with a wellbeing device?

I must admit, I am a gadget junkie. I love smartphones, ipads, fitbits and anything else I can get my hands on. But I had never really thought much about stress-relieving gadgets, until one of my clients started to wax lyrical about her ‘stress balancing bracelet’. I couldn’t resist, so I bought one to try out.

We all know that stress can affect our quality of life. But sometimes, it can be difficult to see exactly where stress is coming from. Does it peak during our daily commute to work, is it something to do with an irritating work colleague, or perhaps it is something related to home life? More often than not, it is a combination of many factors.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could track our stress levels as the day, weeks and months go by? Maybe that way we could see what, where and when our stress levels peak. Well, this is all possible with one of the many stress monitors that are on the market.

But first, a word of caution. I am a psychotherapist and, as such, would never advocate substituting professionals counselling for a device that is worn on the wrist, or on any other part of the body. Having said that, I do think these devices have their place.

Stress monitor

The Wellbe Stress Balancing Bracelet is a Bluetooth-enabled unit that integrates with a smartphone app. Basically, it uses a proprietary algorithm based on your heart rate and variable heart rate to identify stress levels, and calmness, throughout the day.

The bracelet comes in various colours; cork effect, silver and black. It is lightweight to wear and the strap comes in small, medium or large. The unit charges via a USB cable, which is provided in the kit.

Setup through the Wellbe app was fairly straightforward. Downloading the app and device pairing went smoothly. Their website is quite informative and provides a couple of good videos to get you started. The videos aren’t really necessary but they provide interesting background to the device.

Finally, after setting up the  basics, you will need to take baseline measurements, but the app and the device provide step-by-step instructions.

The smartphone app

When wearing the bracelet, measurements are taken automatically every hour, and the app updates the data quickly. Based on your heart rate and variable heart rate your stress level is measured on a 100-point scale, from ‘calm’ to ‘high’ stress.

wellbe2

You can see real-time information on the app. The really nice thing about this device is the correlation between stress levels and time/location. For example, if your stress level peaks at, say 10.30 in the morning, you will be able to see where you were at that time. Over a period of several days and weeks, and even months, you will be able to analyse when and where you are experiencing the most stress.

Another great thing about the device is the ‘alert’ function. It will notify you if you are getting close to ‘high’ levels of stress. It will even suggest relaxation exercises. I tried the ‘ambient music’ exercise and it worked really well. According to the bracelet, I lowered my stress level from high to calm in just under ten minutes while listening to the music. Ambient music is only one of many different exercises the app will suggest for you.

In addition to the exercise suggestions, there are many podcasts to download and listen to. The bracelet will prompt you when it ‘thinks’ you need a podcast! According to the Wellbe website, there are over 30 hours of content available via their app. There is the option to subscribe to a larger collection but it is not really necessary. Thankfully, the app doesn’t bombard you with prompts to pay for a subscription and there are no in-app purchases, which is good.

Disadvantage

One of the annoying things about the bracelet, which I also find with my fitbit, is the intermittent readings. I like to wear the strap quite loose around my wrist and often the data link gets lost.  If the strap is not positioned correctly it is easy to lose data.

As always, battery technology hasn’t quite kept up. The device will only last two days before needing a charge. It is not really a problem because I put it on charge everyday when in the shower in the morning.

In conclusion, I thought the bracelet was wonderful. It is more than a toy, it can give you a really good indication about stress levels and how they vary over time. The app, in my opinion, is excellent and the vast variety of content to help alleviate stress is very good too.

The main disadvantage for me was the short battery life and the data loss. However, I think the latter is more to do with how I like to wear watches and bracelets.

Overall, a nice piece of kit. Not too expensive either; it retails in the UK for about £115. Well worth the money and I would certainly recommend it.

Take a look at the Wellbe website or Amazon for availability.

Let me know if anyone has tried a stress balancing bracelet.

 

If you change nothing, nothing will change!

I thought it might be nice to reflect on the success I have just had with one of my clients. Obviously, I can’t use her real name and I can’t share her details, so for now I will call her Julie.

I had a wonderful Skype meeting with her last week. She was excited and talked non-stop for the first ten minutes. You see, Julie had just received her first royalty payment for a book she has written. I won’t share with you the amount she received, suffice to say it was the equivalent of six months income for the average UK and US employee!

What makes this story more poignant is that Julie almost ended her own life two years ago. She experienced a really bad run of luck and it all got too much for her. Her doctor prescribed antidepressants and he recommended she see a counsellor. That’s where I came into her story.

In need of a life coach

Actually, Julie didn’t need a counsellor, she needed a life coach. Sure, her mental health wasn’t all it could have been and there were some issues that were troubling her, but the root of Julie’s problems was centered around her feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and lack of confidence in her abilities. Julie wanted to change her life, she wanted to get out of the rut and drudgery of her daily grind, but she didn’t know how. No amount of antidepressants or other medications would have helped Julie to make changes in her life.

Julie was a very creative person. She loved to paint, draw, take photographs and she really loved to write fiction. However, her lack of self-confidence was always the stumbling block. When I first met Julie she showed me a wonderful portfolio of pencil drawings she had done. But each time she pulled out a drawing for me to look at she would say stuff like “this one isn’t very good” or “I don’t like the sky in this one”. After looking at ten pictures I stopped her and asked if she could find one she really liked. She couldn’t bring herself to say any of her work was ‘good’.

I won’t go into detail about why Julie lacked self-confidence. There was a whole load of reasons. Sometimes, the wrong thing to do is to look back for reasons. Sometimes it is better to look to the future and forget the past. Some people need psychoanalysis before they can move on to greater things in their lives, but some people just need to look at the ‘here and now’. It is always a dilemma that I have when working with new clients; do I go for the treatment that is based on analysis or do I go for life coaching techniques. With Julie, I decided life coaching was the answer.

What is life coaching?

Let me pause for a second to explain a little more about life coaching.

Life coaching is a means of helping people, usually a person, tap into their true potential and to realise their aspirations and dreams. I like to use the analogy with tennis. Suppose you wanted to take up tennis as a new sport. You could read a book on the subject, you could watch numerous YouTube videos, and you could talk to other players about the sport. However, none of those things will get you playing tennis. So, you decide to buy a racket, some balls, and find a wall to practice against. You might pick up the basics through self-teaching, but you will almost certainly pick up bad habits too. You might find progress is very slow and you may become demoralised and give up.

You might find a tennis coach. He will teach you the basics, then, as you progress, he will teach you more advanced techniques. Perhaps you will get into competitions and your coach will support you through your matches, helping you to analyse your opponents strengths and weaknesses. Your coach will set you goals and objectives and he will work with you to help achieve those. He will pick you up and dust you off when you fall down and he will encourage you. He will almost certainly push your boundaries, but in a safe and encouraging way. Together you will win. But the one thing he will not do is to play your matches for you. YOU will do that yourself. YOU will learn, YOU will play, YOU will win.

Life coaches have the ability to help you shed light on difficult situations. They will do many things, such as setting regular goals and targets, looking at the big picture so that you can look at the detail, have regular check-ins, motivate, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and, most importantly, help you to work smart rather than work hard.

I read an interesting piece about life coaching in a recent edition of the Public Management magazine. The author reflected on a recent study that showed training alone increases productivity in companies by about 22% while training combined with coaching increases productivity by over 80%.

Life coaching is incredibly popular now. Why? Well, it is simple really. More and more people are getting tired of what they ‘should’ do and are ready to do something special and meaningful with their lives. The problem is, most people can’t seem to see a way to reorient their life. A life coach has a vast toolkit that can be used to help reset and move forward.

Back to Julie

Julie wanted to change but her self-doubt held her back. For years she didn’t change. The desire was there but she couldn’t see a way to make a breakthrough. Her self-esteem was rock bottom, her mental wellbeing was in need of help, and her belief that she was a valuable person was almost non-existent. There was one positive thing about Julie that I recognised immediately – she wanted to change. In fact, her desire to change was as strong as I have seen in anyone before.

I started work with visualization techniques. Between us, Julie and I pictured success. Julie didn’t want to be a millionaire, she didn’t want fancy cars or exotic holidays, she just wanted a life that was fulfilling. So, we pictured it together. Through a combination of relaxation techniques and self-hypnosis, Julie was able to start ‘seeing’ her new life. A good start.

After you see what the future might look like, the next stage is to plan how to get there. It really is like a journey. If you want to arrive at your destination, you need to travel. So, together Julie and I planned her journey. We looked at her strengths and weaknesses. We looked at the things she could do now, and we looked at subjects she was passionate about. We came up with a plan. Julie would write a book. She had been scribbling away for years but she never thought her idea would fly. Well, it was time to give it wings.

Life coaches need to check-in regularly, so that was exactly what I did with Julie. I checked on her progress, I motivated, I listened to her when she was down and struggling and I picked her up again. Her strength grew each week. We developed ways to help her build self-confidence and we laughed when my ideas went horribly wrong (yes, life coaches get it wrong sometimes!).

Finally, it was judgement day. Julie had sent her work to a literary agent. To her surprise and delight, the agent emailed and asked to meet for a discussion. I spent two hours with Julie before her meeting with the agent. We had coffee and we walked in a local park. I needed to build her confidence to an all-time high so that she would go into her meeting and wow that agent. And she did.

Beaming from cheek to cheek, Julie emerged from her meeting triumphant. Her agent agreed to get a deal for her. And the rest, as they say, is history. Julie is writing her second book.

The one thing I want you to take away from Julie’s story is this. I, as the life coach, didn’t write her book – Julie wrote it. Julie came up with the ideas for the book, Julie constructed all the characters, Julie spent days, weeks and months writing, and Julie closed the deal with the agent – not me. All I did was to take a person who needed direction and work with her to help her find the answer. Life coaching is wonderful.

I really hope you enhoyed my piece on life coaching.

I have a new podcast series on life coaching coming out very soon. Keep in touch.

http://www.ahelpinghand.biz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Improve life by controlling your mind

There are many things in life that are beyond our control. World events, radical views of other people, and political decisions are some of the things that can infuriate us, causing us to have anxiety, fears and even hatred.

Often, our lives can seem out of control. Sometimes we can feel trapped in a life that is dull and boring. A recent survey concluded that more than 70% of people are in jobs they don’t like, but they can’t leave because they need the income.

In all this haze of things that can upset us, there is one thing that we can take responsibility for, and that is our own state of mind. People can control us but they cannot control our minds. And we can change our state of mind for the better. We can learn to live a life that is wonderful, even if we can’t control external influences.

How?

Transform your mind

Meditation is a means of transforming the mind. It is a way of learning to accept the life we lead in a way that fulfils us. It is a way to achieve happiness, greater physical health, and better mental wellbeing.

In this series on meditation, I am going to explore the subject in detail. I will be looking at the scientific background to meditation and I am also going to look at the various forms of mediation that are used by religious and non-religious groups around the world. Most importantly, I am going to teach the subject so that you can learn the basics. This post is a shorter version of my first podcast on the subject; Mediation Part One.

So, let’s make a start. What is meditation?

Well, it is a practice that is rooted in ancient history and it is a topic of modern science. Over the last ten years there has been an increased awareness about the subject, with many scholars, psychologists and neuroscientists carrying out research into the benefits of regular practice.

The brain is full of beta waves

If you were to hook up your brain to an electroencephalogram (EEG) during meditation you would find that your brain beta waves decrease. Beta waves dominate our normal waking state of consciousness. Beta waves are seen when we are alert, when we are problem solving and focused on a task. These waves show that the brain is active.

When we meditate, our beta waves slow down. Researchers have found that practicing meditation for 20 minutes every day, and slowing down our beta waves during this time, can have a significant effect on our mental and physical health. During meditation, the brain is able to make new neuro pathways that connect the left and right hemispheres. Scientists believe that the formation of these pathways helps to trigger healing in the body and help to reduce anxiety and mental distress.

During meditation, brain waves slow down to much lower frequency waves. When the brain changes to low frequency waves the level of neurotransmitters and endorphins in our brain increases and it is well-known that lower frequency brain waves increase the amount of serotonin, an important chemical that alters our mood. Many meditators say they reach a ‘natural high’ at the end of their session. This is usually because the level of endorphins that make us ‘happy’ increase during meditation.

Endorphins boost our cognitive ability and our ability to concentrate. They help improve our memory and our ability to learn new things.

Different waves for different things

The subject of brain waves is complicated. We have different brain waves, each of which produce different things that the brain needs. Why do we sleep? Well, during sleep our brains enter different states of activity and brain wave frequency. Chemicals are released at specific frequencies, and the balance of these chemicals is essential for mental wellbeing.

Regular meditators experience ‘extreme bliss’. This is usually achieved when brain waves slow right down to much lower frequencies; the delta brainwave. It is impossible for people to experience delta states when they are awake, it is only when we enter into deep meditation that we experience this state of consciousness.

Delta waves is known to have a profound effect on the physical body. This is when the body can really heal itself. The pituitary gland is instructed to release human growth hormones to help repair and to rejuvenate muscle and tissue. Delta waves are associated with deeper connection into the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind is where we have all the answers to life, but it is hard to reach. Only for a few minutes during sleep do our conscious and subconscious minds connect. However, during the delta state, our conscious and subconscious minds are connected and it can reveal many interesting things.

Have you ever had a “gut feel” about something? Of course you have. Where did it come from, that gut feeling. Well, it probably came from the subconscious mind. As you cultivate your delta brainwaves, your intuition will increase, bringing with it an unbelievable ability to trust your gut instincts.

Many people believe the delta brainwave is the bridge between higher planes of reality. Spiritual gurus believe it is while in the delta state of mind that they connect with life’s universal energy. This is where you can learn to tap into the forces that govern our existence.

Meditation is good for us

From a scientific point of view, then, meditation is good for us. It certainly can do no harm. The key is to do it regularly, twenty minutes every day is a great starting point. As you become good at it, your brain will go quickly into delta state, and it is during this state that the real benefits of meditation will occur.

For a longer explanation of the science behind meditation, listen to my first podcast on this series; Meditation Part One.

In part two I will look at some of the western philosophies of meditation.

http://www.ahelpinghand.biz

Meditation is the key to happiness

Perhaps not the key but definitely the locksmith

Okay, so as soon as you read the word “meditation”, you are going to turn off. Or, you are going to think about baldy monks or hippies on cocaine. But, please, give it a chance and read on.

“Meditation is the key to happiness”. That’s what I read recently on a blog. Well, I don’t really believe it is the “key” to happiness, it is perhaps the locksmith who can sell you the key!

I have read numerous books, features, blogs and other stuff on the subject of meditation and I have found a plethora of different theories and opinions on how it works. Even after all the stuff I have read, I still don’t know exactly how it works. But, the one single thing that is important in all of this is – it actually does work.

I started teaching meditation ten years ago. Most of my committed students would be very unhappy if someone were to stop their daily practice. That is how important it is in many people’s lives.

I want to introduce you to the practice of meditation. I am not saying you have to do this to achieve your dreams but it will most definitely help you to achieve what you want from life.

My theory

Everything we do involves energy. When we eat, talk, walk, run, even sleep, we generate and use energy. When we think, neurotransmitters in our brain link up, to create thoughts and memory. Neurotransmitters use energy. Everything involves energy.

Although scientists are good, they are still not good enough to know everything there is to know about energy. However, scientists do mainly agree that meditation allows us to capitalise on the lower frequency energies within our bodies.

The lower frequencies of energy in our bodies is where all the healing takes place. Low frequency resonance helps muscles to repair, it helps digestion of food, it helps brain chemicals sort themselves out and it helps our organs to work better.

But, there are some spooky things too. Things that I don’t understand but I will mention it for the sake of a balanced view.

Cosmologists believe that low frequency is the pathway to “connection”. It we are generating low frequency energy, we will be linking up cosmically. That’s the mystery part of meditation. That is why Buddhists, Zen monks, Taoists and a whole bunch of other ‘ists believe that meditation is the key to success.

In conclusion, I think there is some science we know about and there is a lot of “mystery” elements of meditation that we don’t know about. But, and here is the big part, meditation works.

Try it and you will be amazed

My major recommendation to anyone who wants to live a fulfilled life is to get into meditation. I honestly believe you will be amazed if you embrace this simple idea.

You will find a million books, CDs, DVDs pamphlets and other stuff to buy. You will find courses that range from ten minutes to two weeks. All these things are designed to – take your money. There is no need to spend anything at all on learning the basics of meditation.

All you need to get started is instruction on a simple technique. I have a free podcast that you can download to help you get started.

Before you listen to the podcast, find a nice quiet place to sit. It only takes five minutes so silence the mobile phone, the TV, the kids and take time out for yourself. Sit on a chair that gives your back support. You don’t need to sit in the lotus thingy. You won’t need to chant or sign. Just sit quietly and enjoy the calmness that you will feel.

I am keen to hear all about your experiences with meditation.

Before I go, here’s a funny. Why did the meditation teacher give no change when a student paid for a meditation cushion? Because change comes from within.

Check out my podcasts on http://www.ahelpinghand.biz