Category Archives: Stress management

How do you connect with a Horse?

By being present in the moment…
and by not being present in the moment.

The older I get, the better I understand that living a happy life is all about keeping things in balance. In my 50 years, I have seen fashion come and go, even in the self-improvement world. I have lived long enough to see the pendulum swing from one end side to the opposite side: the exact opposite of what is fashionable today may be fashionable in 10 years’ time.

Mindfulness is fashionable now. I am all in favour of mindfulness as a counterbalance to multi-tasking and living in the past or the future. So much so that my day-job is running mindfulness and meditation workshops.

However, as is often the case, my horses have once again taught me that jumping on the latest bandwagon, no matter how convinced I am about its effectiveness, may not be the perfect solution to the  stress of modern day living that I had hoped it to be.

My teacher on this occasion was Leo, the 14-year old ex-bullfighter that we rescued at the gate to the abattoir three years ago. Before Leo came to us, he had been very badly abused. You can read the story of this scared but courageous horse here. In the first year that Leo was with us, I asked next to nothing from hm. I spent a lot of time with him, as close as he would allow – in the beginning, 20 m was way too close for Leo – just being present in the moment with him. Over time, this tactic worked. He got used to me being there and gradually allowed me to come closer and closer.

It was during this period that  Leo taught me the importance of alternating being present with him in the moment…with not being present with him in the moment.

It was a concept I had some difficulty taking on board. Mindfulness is supposed to be good for you. It IS good for you, my clients and retreat participants thrive when they incorporated mindfulness into their busy schedules.  Horses are by nature mindful animals. As prey, they have to be present in the moment at all times, to detect the approach of a predator. So why could Leo tolerate it only in such small doses?

When you are standing right next to a horse that has been mistreated by people in the past, in the field or in the school, it is not particularly difficult to remain mindful. You quickly learn that one too sudden move could result in a very painful kick. As Leo used to be a bullfighter, he moves extremely quickly, and even if you can see the kick coming, you rarely have time to get out of the way. So you pay acute attention to what is happening at the moment, while at the same time, staying as calm as you possibly can.

It was on a day that I have loads of other things on my mind that I discovered the effect of not being mindful had on Leo. As time went by, the kicking stopped and I one day found myself making a shopping list in my head, as you do, while scratching Leo’s favourite spots. Until then I had always been very careful to remain mindful in his presence. The effect on Leo was interesting. No doubt I was now more relaxed in his presence, relaxed enough for my mind to wander into the future, and he responded by relaxing as well.

I thought about it afterwards and decided to alternated mindfulness and multitasking while I was with Leo. The effect was noticeable. When I was present in the moment, he was alert, when I was not, he was relaxed. As I spend a lot of time trying to find ways of communicating with Leo, a horse that was mentally totally shut down and unreachable when he came to us, this was a precious new way of getting through to him.

For example, when I work with Leo, I remain present in the moment. When our work is done and I am grooming him, I let my mind wander. He is used to this pattern now, so much so that it can be used in threatening situations to calm him down. Recently, while out on a walk, we suddenly found ourselves in a position where we had to confront an aggressive, wildly barking dog. Luckily the dog was no real threat as it was behind a sturdy fence. Leo went into hyper-alert I-am going-to-bolt-back-home-any-moment-now mode and I calmly went into I-wonder-what-I-should-cook-for-supper-tonight mode. Leo noted my distraction and calmed down somewhat. We managed to walk past the hysterical dog without too much prancing and eye-rolling.

Obviously, mindfulness is not the only factor at play here but in my opinion, being mindful and not being mindful does have a noticeable effect on Leo’s behaviour.

What I am really trying to say is that mindfulness is good as long as it is balanced by non-mindfulness. There is nothing wrong with spending time in the past, some of our memories are pleasant after all and from others, we may learn something useful. Nor is there anything wrong with spending time in the future, we do after all have to plan our days. Problems arise when we spend too much time rehashing the past or when we spend too much time worrying about the future. Multitasking is a useful skill to have, as long as we do not spend all our time multitasking.

The trick is to keep everything in balance and this includes mindful and less mindful periods.

If you would like to meet Leo, please join us for a Connect with Horses Workshop here in the south of France. If you would like to follow Leo’s progress, please subscribe to this blog and to our newsletter at the top right of this page.

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Stress Addiction

I have been thinking a lot about stress lately. Mostly because I have recently been introduced to a new concept: stress addiction.

Those of you who know me, know that I have always considered stress as the number one enemy of my patients’ mental and physical health. After all, 75% of all GP consultations, in one way or another, has something to do with stress.

I have always accepted that a certain amount of stress is essential if we want to realise our potential. It is only when the amount of stress exceeds our ability to use it to our advantage that stress becomes our enemy rather than our ally.

Stress addiction, however, is a concept I have not come across before. It appears that there are now people who are getting high on stress. People who wear their high stress levels like badges of honor, drawing their peers’ attention proudly to how little sleep they are getting, how their downtime is spent racing to meet deadlines and how they are too busy to take time off.

When we find ourselves in stressful situations, hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released and circulate our bodies. However, when cortisol and adrenaline remain present in our system for prolonged periods of time rather than reducing once the perceived threat has passed, this hormonal “high” can get us hooked — and looking for more. We find ourselves craving additional boosts of adrenaline on top of the adrenaline already chronically present in our bloodstream.

This lifestyle seems now to have reached epidemic proportions. In an attempt to escape boredom and make themselves feel more important, people are getting addicted to stress. The problem is that chronic stress causes a variety of long-term physical and mental problems, that much has not changed. The only difference is that where we in the past were the unwilling victims of stress, we are now actively chasing it.

Sigh.

Obviously, I shall have to adjust my stress management workshops with horses to address this new trend. I have no idea what our horses are going to think about this – hoses use the release of the stress hormones to help them escape dangerous situations – it is essential to their survival and in that sense more of a friend than an enemy. I have been teaching workshop participants these last 5 years how to manage stress so that they can use it to perform better than ever before.

This approach will certainly not help anybody who is addicted to stress, quite on the contrary!

So I have decided that it is time for a major and in-depth update of my knowledge of stress. I had barely formulated this decision when the perfect solution landed in my lap: attending The Global Stress Summit. According to the host, Dr Heidi Hanna, “during this summit, 35 thought leaders will teach you about the “new” science of stress.” I have to admit, she has gathered together a most impressive group of people who shared their knowledge with us from the 24th of April to the 1st of May.

I have attended many virtual summits in the past – there recently was an excellent mindfulness summit. My problem is that it is just too much information to take in at once, so for the first time ever, I am actually going to pay to have access to all the videos online so that I can listen to each in my own time and digest the information in bite-sized portions.

So everyone attending our stress management workshops with horses this summer is going to benefit from my up-to-date knowledge. I will be teaching participants how to

  • Recognize stress-related signs, symptoms and conditions
  • Understand historical and present-day stress/resilience research
  • Learn how stress can be harmful or helpful
  • Practice important stress-management skills
  • Gain simple, practical tools to build a more resilient brain and body

Stress Addiction

Money can buy Happiness

Do you hate Mondays?

Or maybe my question should have been, “Who doesn’t hate Mondays?”  Apparently there are a small number of people who actually do NOT hate Mondays.

Really?

We work to earn money to pay for and buy the things that we need. Money pays our rent, our mortgage, our insurance, our loans. With money, we can buy clothes, groceries, cars, services etc.

To earn money we have to work even though many of us dislike or hate our jobs. Some of us feel entirely indifferent towards our jobs. We get through Monday to Friday on automatic pilot and only really come alive during the weekend.

We have all been told and most of us firmly believe that money can not buy happiness.

It turns out that this is not true. Money CAN buy happiness:

If we were wrong about money and happiness, maybe we are also wrong about having to work despite hating our jobs?

Some people jump out of bed every Monday morning. I do. I love my job. I didn’ t always feel this way about work. I use to have a very stressful job and it took several cups of strong black coffee to get me out of bed, not only on Mondays, but on most days.

Somewhere along the line, I decided that life was too short, that I did not want to live my life this way anymore. Now, when I am working, I lose track of time. An hour feels like 5 minutes to me. What I do looks easy and effortless because it makes best use of my talents, training and experience. I love equine-assisted experiential learning specifically and personal development in general so much, that I could talk about it the whole day long. My work is a source of intense joy and it gives meaning to my life. I believe in what I do. I feel like I’m making a difference and I do it with all my heart, mind and soul.

Getting here has not been easy, I had to make several painful sacrifices. I was worth it though, a thousand times over.

How about you? Do you also feel that life is too short to spend 5 out of 7 days feeling miserable because your too stressful job does not inspire you?

Secure Your Future ebookIf so, I can help. Come and spend a few days with us here in the south of France. Or read my book, Secure Your Future.

I would like to hear from you. If you could do any sort of job at all, if you were free to choose a job that you loved, what would you choose? Please get in touch at margrethamontagu@gmail.com  or post a comment below. I am seriously interested in your choice!

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Can self-hypnosis help me cope with stress?

What does the word HYPNOSIS make you think of? 

There is a very good chance that you immediately think of swinging watches. Or stage shows featuring people clucking like chickens. Or maybe charlatans gaining access to their victims’ bank accounts and stealing all their savings. Maybe the word makes you think of the brainwashing of prisoners and even of people committing crimes instigated by a hypnotist. Read more…