Author: Debbie

Brain Fog Clouding your Day?

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brain fogLike many ME/CFS sufferers, I experienced debilitating brain fog for most of the time when I was ill.  For those of you that haven’t experienced this symptom, brain fog is the term used to describe impaired mental and cognitive functioning.  Years ago when I used to attend an aerobics class, I remember the teacher telling the class to imagine we were moving through mud (although the reasoning behind this is totally irrelevant to the issue in hand, I think the idea behind this is to imagine resistance so that the muscles of the body have to work harder!).  Well, for me, brain fog is the cognitive equivalent of trying to move through mud.  My thought processes seemed to go in slow motion and no matter how hard I tried to formulate a coherent thought, it was like trying to access information from some very slow, archaic computer, which clunked along seemingly operating but either not retrieving the correct information, or doing so so slowly that I had forgotten why I wanted it or garbling the information causing me confusion and frustration.  Holding a sensible conversation was totally impossible; I could not follow logical trains of argument on even the simplest of topics let alone formulate responses.  Following a short television programme or reading a few pages of a book, likewise ended up in a garbled and addled brain, confused, befuddled and exhausted by the sheer effort of trying to follow a linear trail of information.

Brain fog is an extremely common symptom for ME/CFS sufferers and I think I can safely say that all of our clients with ME or CFS have experienced this for at least some of the time before their recovery.  But what exactly is brain fog?  Well one hypothesis is that any stress impacting on the sufferer can exacerbate this symptom, the reason being is down to how our brain physiology changes when under stress.

Our brains have evolved significantly from the time 6 million years ago when we began to stand up and walk. Scientists believe that back then our brains were not so different from reptiles today. They could handle the essential functions of survival and little else. Eating, temperature control, running away or fighting, reproduction just think of what the average lizard does and you get the picture. As we evolved we developed new parts of brains with new functions. The first of these new areas is often referred to as the mammalian or limbic part as it has characteristics you associate with mammals. Emotions, feelings and basic communication are things you would normally associate with a dog or a horse. Look into a reptile’s eyes and you don’t see much emotion, but look into your dog’s eyes and we can often detect the emotion. The final new part of the brain is the cortex or neocortex; this is the clever part of brain that is involved with creativity, complex thought and language.

So how does this relate to stress? When stressed it is that old reptilian brain that takes over, and the rest of the brain goes on hold for a bit. If you think about it, this makes sense. When faced with a tiger, prehistoric man had few options. ‘Thinking’ would be likely to slow us down and result in a painful death! The part of the reptilian brain responsible for this prioritising of functions is known as the Amygdala.  Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, uses the phrase ‘Amygdala hijack’ to explain what happens, which I think sums it up very well. When the amygdala interprets a situation as a threatening it hijacks the brain, beginning the cascade of reactions involved in the fight or flight response.

Along with creating problems with our thought process, the amygdala also affects our memories. How many people remember of the details of a life threatening situation? How often does it all appear a “bit of a blur”? This is because stress affects our ability to store and retrieve memories[i]. Chronic stress in particular can negatively affect memory and learning[ii]  Even now, when I try to remember fine details of my illness before I recovered, it still seems a blur, because I don’t think my brain really focused on storing this information at the time; it was too busy counteracting the stress I was under and the stress associated with the condition itself.

Stress effectively robs us of the ability to think of anything more complex than running away or fighting and chronic stress hampers our ability to remember and learn. I don’t know about you but this certainly does sound like Brain Fog to me.

Thankfully, once I had started on my holistic journey back to health the fog did gradually clear, as I took control of stress and my limbic brain took over again and thinking through mud became a thing of the past 🙂

Debbie

Sky Blue River

 

[i]Kuhlmann, S., Piel, M., Wolf, O.T. (2005). Imparied Memory Retrieval after Psychosocial Stress in Healthy Young Men. Journal of Neuroscience, 25(11), 2977-2982.

[ii]Pasquali, R. (2006). The Biological Balance between Psychological Well-Being and Distress: A Clinician’s Point of View. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 75, 69-71.

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Do One Thing to Lower Your Blood Pressure Right Now…

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which may also help to:breth2

  • raise the efficiency of your breathing,
  • improve your ability to solve problems,
  • improve sleep
  • encourage a calmer emotional state
  • calm an agitated mind and
  • boost your thinking

What is this miraculous thing…?
Well, its not some hi-tech pharmaceutical drug or some prohibitively expensive course of therapy on some tropical island; its actually free, easy to do and at the tip of your nose.  Its called Alternate Nostril Breathing and its a its a method of breathing that is so very easy to do in only a few minutes a day, but which has some amazing health benefits.

Why is it Important? Alternate Nostril Breathing has been performed by Yogis for millennia.  In Sanskrit, this method of breath control is called Nadi Shodhana and it involves unilaterally breathing through the right and then left nostril. However, the power of this form of breathing has only relatively recently come to the attention of Western cultures. Research in the late 90′s showed that Alternate Nostril Breath improved the balance of activity between the left and right brain hemispheres.  We have learned that breathing through the right nostril fires up the sympathetic nervous system and left hemisphere of the brain, whilst breathing through the left nostril activates the and right hemisphere of the brain and the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the relaxation response. Practiced (once or thrice) daily for a few minutes, your mind will become clearer.

 

So what do you need to do?  Well…

  • Sit comfortably, ideally on the floor to ground and centre yourself.
  • To prepare, gently place your right thumb against your right nostril and your ring finger against your left nostril.
  • Breathe normally
  • Then press your thumb against the side of your right nostril to close it and breathe slowly in through your left nostril.  Then close your left nostril by pressing on the side of your nose with your ring finger whilst releasing your right nostril and slowly breathe out through your right nostril.
  • Then breathe in through your right nostril, close it with  your thumb and then release your finger from the side of your left nostril and breathe out through your left nostril.
  • Continue in this manner for as long as is comfortable.

Whilst my wife Debbie was recovering from, she used this method of relaxation regularly to help balance and clear her mind and also felt the practice helped her to deal with anxiety and stressful thoughts about her condition and her future.  It only takes a few moments each day but I think the results are far reaching 🙂  Do let me know how you get on with it and what benefits you experience by commenting below 🙂

Pete

SkyBlueRiver.co.uk

References

IMMEDIATE EFFECT OF ‘NADI -SHODHANA PRANAYAMA’ ON SOME SELECTED PARAMETERS OF CARDIOVASCULAR, PULMONARY, AND HIGHER FUNCTIONS OF BRAIN N.K. Subbalakshmi, S.K. Saxena, Urmimala, and Urban J.A. D’Souza

Back to Health One Step at a Time

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For myself and for many of our clients, learning how to effectively manage CFS/ME symptoms is only part of the path to recovery.  In our workshops, Pete and I often observe our clients and see the light bulbs ping on, as they realise how their actions, behaviours, beliefs and lifestyles have been aggravating their symptoms and as they learn what they can do to effectively impact on their symptoms.  It is a great feeling for us, and also for our clients who often arrive at the workshop the next day ready to take on the world.  But it is at this point that we often have to advise them to rein things in and it was the same for me during my journey back to full health. 

There comes a point in time when you can’t believe how good you are feeling, both physically and mentally and you just want to move the body that has felt so awful for so long and delight in the newly regained feeling of health.  However, it is important at this stage to remember that your fitness levels have been severely compromised for being ill for often a long period of time.  You can easily and quickly learn how to reduce and manage your symptoms to increase your health and well-being (our three day intensive workshops our testament to this) but getting your fitness levels back takes time.  During those long days and nights I spent feeling exhausted, achy and without hope, my  muscles were slowly atrophying though lack of use.  Lack of exercise meant that my vital organs were not used to capacity and so my fitness levels suffered.  Like any athlete who has not exercised for a considerable period of time, you cannot expect to run a marathon without building up slowly and this is exactly what I had to do.  It was frustrating at times, as my mindset knew that I was over ME for good, but my physical body just needed a bit of nurturing to get it back to full fitness.

So the journey to fitness would start with frustratingly very slow and short walks with Pete and our dog.  Pete would drive us to the local reservoir or woods and Pete would stride off into the distance, whilst I ambled on at the rear with Sky, our dog, running between us.  After those first few walks I felt like I had run a marathon, my body was so out of condition.  The normal fear would creep up on me; does this mean that I am relapsing?  It took Pete to help me take a breath and gain some clarity to realise that what I was experiencing was what any healthy but unfit person would experience under the circumstances.

I also struggled with thoughts of fear and guilt; ‘what if someone from work sees me?’  This is a really common thought pattern in our experience, which many people with CFS and ME experience during their recovery.  For me, using EFT and tapping on these feelings was really helpful and allowed me to enjoy my journey back to fitness rather than sapping my energy by focusing on negative emotions.  This is one of the reasons we teach you how to use EFT on our workshops as a tool to help you with similar thought patterns which may be impeding your recovery.

Over time, slowly and gradually the walks became easier and more effortless and I could feel my muscles gaining strength and my stamina increasing.  We have seen similar results with our clients; walking seems to be a great exercise to help us to regain our fitness levels.  There are lots of benefits associated with walking, including strengthening the heart and lungs and increasing overall fitness, as well as improving lower body muscle endurance as well as muscle strength.  But as importantly are the psychological benefits of walking.  When you walk your body releases a chemical called of serotonin, which is the natural feel good chemical.  There is also a release of feel good hormones called endorphins.  Both of which mean that you feel good at the end of a walk and should encourage you to keep going on your journey back to health and well-being 🙂

Debbie

Find out More:

Walking For Health

The Nutritional building blocks you need to understand to help you in your recovery from ME/CFS

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When I was recovering from ME, nutrition played an important part in my journey back to health.  Although what I did was trial and error and without the knowledge that Pete and I have since accumulated over the years, the focus on nutrition I adopted when ill and through my recovery has stayed with me now I am back to full health.

I would like to share with you some of the nutritional building blocks I put into place during my journey and also what we have learnt along the way. We cover this topic much more fully on our workshops in which you will get a comprehensive understanding on how to adapt your diet to maximise its health benefits, but the information here will go a long way to help you gain an overview of the importance of good nutrition and how it can help you support your body whilst you recover.

Nutrition plays two parts in helping you break the cycle of ill health.  A good understanding  of nutrition is important firstly to help you avoid foods that put additional stress on your system when your stress hormones are already on overdrive and secondly by teaching you how to support your body’s own ability to heal and thrive.

When your body is already fighting illness it needs nutritive foods to aid it in its recovery. There are some foods which rather than healing the body, put additional stress on the body and it is these foods that we should be ideally avoiding or at least reducing our consumption of (drastically!). Nutritional stressors include stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine, highly processed foods such as cakes, ready meals etc, sugar, refined grains such as white flour, products and white rice and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame; foods that put your body into a state of stress and toxicity. Moving away from such foods will give your body a better chance of focusing on healing, rather than having to digest and process foods which put a further load on an already compromised system.

The second aspect of nutrition which is vital is to include foods which are nutritious and support our health and recovery. To get right down to basics, the starting point should be a focus on our cells. Our body is made up of trillions of cells which can be thought of as the building blocks of our body. Cells are the fundamental units of life the bricks from which all your tissues and organs are made.  If your cells cannot operate efficiently, the functioning of your tissues and organs, which are built of your cells, will become compromised and ill health and dis-ease can follow.  It is therefore imperative to keep your cells nutritionally supported so that your body can heal and thrive.

For your cells to carry out their functions in supporting your body’s health and healing there are certain things the cells need for optimal health. To maintain cell health the cells need a variety of amino acids, essential fatty acids, minerals and vitamins and crucially also water. The best way to ensure that you provide the cells with their nutritional requirements is to drink 2 litres of filtered water a day (water, not tea, coffee etc!) and eat a balanced wholefood diet incorporating lots of fresh vegetables and fruit (ideally organic).

Your cells need a full spectrum of vitamins to enable them to produce energy and fight free radicals.  B vitamins are important here.  Additionally, as your cells are protected by a membrane which relies on a good supply of healthy fats, it is important that your diet includes fats such as omega 3 to ensure that the outer membranes of your cells are strong and  healthy.

Your immune system will also need help through nutrition during the time of healing and recovery.  Antioxidants including vitamins C and E are important here so including foods high in these vitamins is often beneficial.

During my recovery my focus was on organic foods with lots of vegetables and fruits, often blended into smoothies or juiced which were easily digested and did not overburden the body.  I personally also took supplements in the form of Vitamin D and Co-Q10 having read studies suggesting that they may also be beneficial in supporting the body when it is fighting ME.

This has been a bit of a whistle-stop tour through a few nutritional building blocks which I hope you have found useful.  If you feel that you would like to learn more about how nutrition can help you, do please sign up for our FREE webinar series which goes into more detail on this topic and others to help you on your road to recovery.

Best Wishes

Debbie