Think of emotions like motorcycle couriers desperately trying to get a message to you

A few weeks ago a lady I was chatting to before a Body Attack class asked me “Can you help with guilt?”

I replied “Yes guilt, anger, shame, resentment” and then went on to say something that I often say to clients which this lady found helpful so I thought I would share it, here goes:  

I think the problem is that emotions tend to get labelled positive or negative and “negative” ones like guilt, anger, shame, resentment etc are considered not OK. The way I see it though, Evolution is very efficient, if these emotions weren’t useful we wouldn’t have them, Evolution would have got rid of them years ago so rather than working like mad to get away from emotions we have been taught to believe are bad perhaps we’d be better off asking ourselves “what is this emotion about, what is it trying to tell me?”

Think of emotions like motorcycle couriers trying to get a vital message to you. They’re trained to chase you all round town until they get the message through.  Just as a black clad biker with a black visor wordlessly and determinedly tracking us wherever we go and lying in wait for us as we come out of meetings, or wake up in the wee smalls or in the morning, appears quite threatening so do feelings like anxiety, anger or depression. We want to get away from them which just seems to make them all the more determined to catch up with us when in fact the poor thing is desperately trying to do its job and get a message to us. 

Next time then, when you feel an emotion you want to run away from, think of it as just doing it’s  job and consider pausing, smiling, taking the envelope and reading the message, reading what Anger or Anxiety (or whatever emotion it is), is trying to tell you and letting it go on its way.  Generally Anger rides into town when something has gone from being OK to not OK, Anxiety when something feels off and so on.

I think the trouble starts when emotions are overexpressed because we have been taught that they are bad so don’t greet them with a grateful “thank you for bringing x or y to my attention”. Rather we go to great lengths to avoid them in a “La la la I’m not listening” sort of way which seems to make them bigger and even more determined to the point we can’t contain them anymore, they manage to sell our defences a dummy and burst out in an uncontrolled way.

When we read the envelope, sometimes it is our shit in that the other person is, actually, behaving normally and they have, unknowingly (and maybe we didn’t know this was in us either) touched on something we experienced in the past and all the emotion from that is flowing from there through a wormhole into the present so, having taken this moment to pause, observe what is going on inside ourselves, observe them (their body language, their face, their words) and reflect we might decide, “actually this is my shit, I am right back in primary school and that awful memory in Year 3” and share with the other person “oh my, when you did that I got a real ‘blast from the past’ when my teacher did x or y and shamed me [insert situation + person = emotion as appropriate] that I am feeling a bit wobbly, please give me a moment” and then we stand a chance of getting what we need, an empathic soothing “OMG what a bitch / bastard they were to you”.

Equally we may think “no, actually, I think if anyone was in this situation they would agree that actually it is the other person’s shit” in which case the fact you have taken that pause to observe what is going on in you means you are in a much better state to give them the benefit of the doubt and say “oo, I am not quite sure I got you there, please would you say that again” giving them the chance to say “yeah, I am so sorry that came out all wrong, what I meant was….” or say the same thing and then you can think “am I prepared to go to the mat on this or might it be they have just had a different upbringing and set of experiences that have brought them to this moment with that attitude and, you know what, it’s not worth any consequences that might arise from engaging,  I’m going to let it go”. 

Either way we are reflecting then acting rather than reacting (and the good thing about that is we are less likely to OVER-react).

So, next time you feel an emotional motorcycle courier pulling up beside you in response to something someone says, does or does NOT do (not holding the door open for you a real hot one here!) consider pausing, letting it kick down the side-stand, hand you the envelope, opening it, reading what your motorcycle courier emotion is trying to tell you and create a bit of space in which you can choose what you do (or don’t do) next.

Claire Dyson is a BACP accredited Integrative Relational Counsellor based on the outskirts of Weybridge, Surrey. Claire helps individuals, couples and those seeking freedon from eating they experience as compulsive, addictive even, through her practice Untangle Your Life. To find out more please visit, call +44 (0)7950 986 085 or email Thank you.

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© 2020 Untangle Your Life, all rights reserved.


A brief insight into “overthinking”.

I have *decided to change the description I write in the narrative of each invoice I raise from “Nth session” to “Nth Session” which kicked off a whole lot of chatter:

With the tingle of what I recognise as my old, “hyperventilating as it tries to alert me to danger” friend Anxiety now fizzing in my stomach,  my commentary begins “now I need to go back over all of the invoices I have ever created and ‘correct’ them to this new format” – a hangover from being constantly fearful of doing something “wrong” as a child in case I was punished (I didn’t like being punished).

followed by

“it is OK, a capital letter is not a significant change, you are not messing up the entire accounting system, all is well, you can leave those invoices as they are” in my best “nurturing parent” voice.

It all takes time though, mental energy and this is why mental “idiosyncrasies” like this can get so out of hand and fill one’s whole mind, one’s whole day, render us incapable of making even the most (apparently) simple decisions and endanger mental health……so when the chatter starts, deep breath, it is probably OK.


* = not using a capital felt “wrong” hence the knee-jerk “I must correct it” and this knee-jerk gone along with as “Adult” me thinks it looks more aesthetically pleasing….or  do I think that or is some cultural convention exerting it’s pull on me….and suddenly, there I am, overthinking again!!

Come to a Self Esteem Workshop 21/09/17


Self-Esteem: What it is, why it matters and how to get some is a workshop running in Brooklands (on the outskirts of Weybridge, Surrey, KT13) on 21st September 2017.

When setting out to do things differently in our lives, compassionate self-acceptance is a firm foundation on which change and growth may be built.

What though if your self-esteem is somewhere underground meaning at best, you feel a failure and at worst you actively hate yourself?

The aim of this workshop is to learn how to support your own self-esteem and not be over-reliant on the good opinion of others to feel good about yourself.

Whilst the workshop is free, spaces are very limited so please use the link below to book now to avoid disappointment, thank you.

Self-Esteem: What it is, why it matters and how to get some

Microbiome: The buzzword of the moment but what exactly is it?


A biome is “a large naturally occurring community of flora and fauna occupying a major habitat such as a forest or tundra.”  We offer a habitat for microorganisms e.g. bacteria, virus and fungus, which form our microbiome. Whilst microbes that cause athlete’s foot, body odour or bad breath are annoying most “pay their rent”:

“Most of the microbes in the microbiome do not cause disease. In fact, humans rely on microbes to perform many important functions that we cannot perform ourselves. Microbes digest food to generate nutrients for host cells, synthesize vitamins, metabolize drugs, detoxify carcinogens, stimulate renewal of cells in the gut lining and activate and support the immune system” (National Human Genome Research Institute website)

“detoxify carcinogens” means protect us from cancer-causing substances.

Believe it or not for every human cell which makes up our body there are 10 bacterial, viral or fungal cells.  Technically then we are a “supra” organism, a collection of individuals which behave as a single unit with enhanced function”.  Interesting thought isn’t it?  How “human” actually are we?

We tend our gardens to create conditions which encourage the flowers and vegetables that we want to grow and deny water and fertilizer to those we don’t (so weeds and also pests like slugs, snails, green / black / white fly and so on).

It can be helpful to things of tending your gut microbiome in the same way.  Doing this well reduces IBS, obesity (so high blood pressure, heart disease), type 2 diabetes, and allergies (asthma, eczema). Dr Gewirtz (Cornell University) changed the weight of mice by over 15% just by shifting their intestinal bacteria and we humans have the same link.

Adjusting your diet to shift the balance in favour of gut bacteria which keep us lean (Bacteroidetes) by “feeding” them and “starving” those which feast on the sugar we give them and busy themselves with increasing our stores of fat (Firmicutes).

Stress hormones kill Bacteroidetes which is why we put on weight when stressed and, at the risk of being boring on this subject, another reason to use excercise, mindfulness, meditation, knitting, colouring, jigsaws, model making and other hobbies to reduce stress levels along with socialising with good friends, joining clubs or going to MeetUps.

Dr Michael Mosely has published “The Clever Guts Guide” and Dr Alan Christianson advices:  

Eat a high-fibre diet e.g. wholegrains, porridge, beans (especially kidney or pinto), nuts etc.  Stop Firmicutes running riot by avoiding added sugars and processed carbs (white bread, pasta, cake).

Encourage Bacteroidetes gradually by introducing a tablespoon of pinto or red kidney beans to supper each evening for two weeks before moving onto more normal serving sizes.  This avoids gas and bloating caused by other microbes getting in on the act before your Bacteroidetes multiply.

Sleep and eat according to regular schedules. Like our sleep-wake cycle, the rhythm of gut bacteria changes throughout the day. Shift work, jet lag and erratic meal times can hurt good bacteria (as can overuse of antibiotics).

The old idea of health was that it was the result of strenuous effort and deprivation. Not only was that not fun, it did not work. The new revolution is that being healthy, lean and energized is a product of being at peace and in sync with the world inside and around you.

© 22/05/2017 Untangle Your Life 2017

Change how you think of change


Struggling to get started on changing some aspect of your life?

Perhaps adopting DiClemente’s and Prochaska’s way of looking at change will help.  Rather than thinking of change as a single act their research suggests it is a process with a number of stages including lapses along the way (please refer to photo above).

A lapse is exactly that, a small slip down the spiral not a collapse.  Be gentle with yourself and avoid “all or nothing” thinking.  If your goal is to get fitter by walking 10,000 steps a day and you didn’t manage it today that’s OK, no need to set fire to your trainers and face plant a pizza.

Precontemplation (Not Ready)

We’re either unaware being unfit is problematic or acutely aware but unsure what to do or not confident we can do anything after past, unsuccessful, forays into Lycra.  We underestimate the benefits of changing and overestimate costs, both monetary and in terms of the effort involved.

Contemplation (Getting Ready)

We’re coming around to the idea that there might be some advantages to the change e.g. being able to enjoy physical activity with family and friends versus dreading it.  That said, we’re alternating between thinking this and believing the work involved is just too much, too uncomfortable.

Preparation (Ready)

We stop assuming change is too tough and start researching how to go about it e.g. join other people who are trying to get fitter so we feel less conspicuous.  We try out different classes to narrow down activities we like. We buy the fitness DVD of a celebrity or sports personality we admire so we can workout in the privacy of our own home when it suits us.


We’re done preparing and ready to go for it.  We know what we are going to do, we have a goal and a plan. We have put in place the support systems that we need and actually, you know what, it is beginning to feel a bit exciting.  Crucially this is not a “quick fix” rather we know that slow and steady is the way to embed lasting change.


Once we’ve got fit we have evidence we can do it, have been through (and survived) lapses so we feel more confident in our ability to sustain our fitness and motivated to keep at it because of the benefits we’re feeling.


This really is Nirvana, the ultimate goal of change, a stage where we’d no more think of NOT doing our favourite form of exercise than stop breathing.  It is like we were never our former unfit selves.  If we don’t do the activities that we have chosen as a means of keeping fit then we feel like something is missing in our lives.

© 03/05/2017 Untangle Your Life 2017

Ideas for how to manage cravings

A another counsellor asked me a few days ago to write a few bullet points for them about how to manage cravings so I scribbled some thoughts down. I wondered if they might be useful to others hence posting them here.

In my experience the best way to manage cravings is to get to the bottom of what is driving the craving and address THAT.

To do this, when a craving comes, stop, pause and notice what happened immediately before the craving started.

  • If your stomach rumbled, or it’s over 3 hours since you last ate something, you are probably hungry and the craving is because your brain is wanting you to restore blood sugar levels in the most quick and efficient way possible by going for calorie dense foods hence planting these in your mind (or making you super-aware of them so you notice them every where). Acknowledge you are hungry, that eating high sugar food is going to send your blood sugar through the ceiling setting up another crash (and round of cravings) in a few hours and that fatty foods are a heart attack waiting to happen.  Opt for something with low GI carbs e.g. brown bread, and a high protein content as this will be more filling and release sugars into your blood stream steadily over a longer period of time.
  • If you walked into a newsagent to get a paper and you crave a pastry because that’s what you always do then we are dealing with habit.  Your brain is triggered by the situation to complete an action done so many times before it is now programmed into your “auto-pilot”. You have (unwittingly) trained your brain “in this situation [buy a paper] do X [buy a pastry]”.  So, if you are hungry see above, if you are not then say to yourself “this is just a habit, I’m on auto-pilot, I don’t need a pastry” and leave.  The way to break habits is to disrupt them by doing something different e.g. get your paper delivered or buy from a newsstand that does not sell food.
  • If someone shouted at you or frightened you or a situation in which you were feeling “on duty”, trapped or tense comes to an end (like you get home after a difficult day at work, you have put the kids to bed or finally an activity you dislike but have to do or be part, of ends) and suddenly all you can think about is food then this is emotional eating and alternatives are:

Sharing those feelings with others so as to get support and soothing this way so ‘phone a friend to say you’ve had a mare of a day and have a giggle.  You can also smash habits this way.  If you have trained your brain to link coming home with eating i.e. when that door slams you get this overwhelming urge to inhale the contents of the biscuit tin, do what Julia Buckroyd suggests and schedule a mutual “how was your day?” call with call with a parent, friend or sibling. If you find yourself tending to say the same things over and over (that is, feelings of anger or resentment or being mis-understood are familiar old friends and your “unload the day” buddy is getting tired of hearing them) consider counselling to get to the bottom of what is driving them but ONLY if they are troubling you to the extent that they are stopping you enjoying your life. DON’T come to counselling just because someone has said you should. You need to want to.

Tidy something up: a stationery cupboard, a book shelf, paperwork, a weedy flowerbed.  There is something about becoming absorbed in creating order in one area of life that seems to compensate for having no control in other areas.

Build in “me” time for Pilates, reading, colouring, embroidery or other activities done purely for the joy and enjoyment they bring and NOT because they are “productive”.  Having “me” time is productive, it calms, recharges and soothes.

Allow yourself rewards like pedicures and massages rather than heading for hot buttered toast once work is done.

Think of a happy memory (Julia again, and the two suggestions below) a place you were on holiday, a memory that makes you smile whenever you think of it, a view that caught your breath,  then close your eyes and mentally re-live it to calm yourself.

Think of a person who totally loves you for you, not for what you have the potential to be or for what you have achieved but who simply loves you because you are alive. A person who is totally on your side and thinks you are wonderful and imagine them with you and smiling at you.

Tell yourself you are safe and OK and repeat a mantra: “this too will pass”, “when you are going through hell, KEEP GOING”, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same”, “I am the Master of my Fate, I am the Captain of my Soul”, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming”…whatever works for you.

Go for a mindful walk paying full attention to the beauty of nature along the way:  Look at the spring leaves and the patterns on them, the flowers and whenever your thoughts drift to whatever is troubling you or a “I wonder what he MEANT by that?” commentary starts (which often kick starts the craving as means of soothing it) notice your attention has wandered and gently bring your focus back to where you want it to be right now which is on getting the full, calming benefit of your walk (or whatever “me time” activity in which you are involved).

I would like to make a special note about boredom.

Many people I meet eat because their lives consist of work-sleep-work-sleep-work-sleep-work-sleep-work-sleep-work-sleep-work-sleep-nothing-to-do-on-Saturday-nothing-to-do-on-Sunday and off the cycle goes again.

Work can be full-time paid employment or running a family (akin to running a small business), caring for an ailing spouse or for elderly parents or other relatives.  If people are happy in their work, whatever form it takes, all well and good.  If we are not satisfied in our work then this can lead to boredom (or anxiety, anger, resentment or a host of other feelings that we try and eat because we dare not speak them aloud for some reason we give ourselves, some rule we have imposed) and we end up using food to (literally in some cases) spice up our lives and make things more interesting.

Assuming you cannot change your work to something that does interest you (and ask your self “can I REALLY not change this work or is fear, some out-dated rule or other ‘should’ holding me in place?”) then I would suggest that an antidote for boredom is to just have experiences.

If you go and try archery and love it, great, now you have a hobby to absorb you and don’t need to fill the time with eating.

If you tried archery and hated it you can ring a friend, tell them how awful the experience was, laugh about it and feel better.

To find new experiences join Meet Up groups,​, local WIs, anything to break up the monotony.


© 03/05/2017 Untangle Your Life 2017

How to add a new habit

Relying on motivation or willpower alone to make a change in life is often not enough to embed new behaviours e.g. those required for better health.

In this talk Bill Fogg suggests making our existing habits the trigger for us to automatically do the new behaviours we want and to start small with a new “Tiny” habit.

So, “after I pee, I will do 2 press-ups” has grown to doing 12 each time he visits the bathroom.  The idea is that when you do the existing action, afterwards you’ll  get the urge to do the new one automatically so, to quote Nike, “you just do it” rather than having to remember to do it or find the motivation to do it.

Your brain takes a shower whilst you sleep

This 11 minute TED talk reveals research that shows that when we are asleep our brain (literally) washes away waste products created by metabolising the nutrients brought to it by its blood supply.

One of these waste products is amyloid beta which, if left to build up into plaques, is implicated in the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Another good reason then to make sure you get enough, good quality sleep.

Reframing Lent


Seeking inspiration for this post, sunshine, snowdrops, daffodils and blue tits inspecting the bird box in my garden all turned my thoughts to Spring and new starts and my spirits soared.  Then I remembered Lent with its fasting, suffering and penitence and wham, my mood dropped like a portcullis.  “Why do I have this negative attitude towards Lent?” I wondered and set out to investigate.

I discovered that sugary pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras (literally “Fat Tuesday”), with its carnival and feasting, symbolise how our ancestors used up rich foods in one glorious blow-out before Lent.  Little positive PR for austere Lent to be found there!

Then I read how the Greeks approach things slightly differently.  Lent starts two days earlier on the Sunday evening with a service at which people bow to each other asking for forgiveness for their shortcomings in the previous year.  In this way everyone starts the next day, called Clean Monday, with a clear conscience and renewed feelings of love from, and towards, those around them.  I read elsewhere that the logic for choosing what we take on during Lent is not only to make up for what we regret having done or not done in the past but also to help us grow as people.  Lent, if you will, is about character building.

Here was the positive spin I sought.  We forgive others their failings and are forgiven in return. We stop beating ourselves up about the past.  We choose something for the 40 days of Lent that will be tough yet means something to us so we come out as better people.

Think then of something you have been meaning to do to improve your health and wellbeing, banish your personal critic (what’s done is done, move on) and with a clean slate commit to that something for 40 days.  If your mind has gone blank here are some ideas:

Eat fresh foods rather than all the packaged stuff

Vow to leave work at the office

Be kind to yourself (whatever that means to you)

Reduce or eliminate added sugar

Raise your heart rate for 15 minutes daily

Stretch muscles and creaking bones by taking up a class or sport

Reduce nicotine intake

Watch TV or downloads for an hour less a day, talking to friends and family instead

I wish a purposeful, determined Lent to one and all.

© 2017 Untangle Your Life Ltd

What is love?


In 1392 the poet Chaucher linked St Valentine’s day to romantic love by declaring it to be the day birds chose their mate. Things have snowballed somewhat since then with an estimated £1.9 billion spent in 2016 expressing love on this single day in the form of flowers, confectionary, cards and so on. Is this love? If we can’t pull off some amazing scheme that has our sweetheart swooning at the romance of it all on the 14th of Feb will we forever be alone?

Happily, not. The 2013 survey “Enduring Love? Couple Relationships in the 21st Century” found gestures such as flowers and chocolates, less important than the thoughtfulness behind them. Saying “thank you”, making a humble cup of tea to show appreciation or sharing household chores and / or family responsibilities were prized most highly by all participants.

Recognition of the time and effort required to complete the everyday mundane tasks which underpin relationships and the smooth running of the household was also highly valued as were surprise gifts and small acts of kindness. All participants identified good communication as important along with open conversations to unburden the stresses and strains of the day.

Thoughtfulness and appreciation as aspects of love are reflected in one of the four words the ancient Greeks had for love. Eros is about what we want, about being fulfilled by our lover, possessing them. Less well known is agape which is characterised by the desire to fulfil the beloved. It seems to me this is the love most prized in that 2013 survey.

World renown for his 40+ years spent working on marital stability and divorce prediction, Dr John M. Gottman can spend 5 minutes with a married couple and predict, with 91% accuracy, whether their relationship is for keeps. Of the twenty emotions Gottman monitors during an interview with a couple, if he sees defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism and contempt (“The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse”) then urgent work is advisable. So a couple’s relationship may look perfect (as evidenced by how they mark Valentine’s day) and yet, in reality, be anything but.

What is love? For me it is this definition from the 1998 film “Meet Joe Black”:

Joe Black: … But Allison loves you?

Quince: [Quince nods yes between stifled sobs]

Joe Black: How do you know?

Quince: Because she knows the worst thing about me and it’s okay.

© 2017 Untangle Your Life Ltd