The latest episode of the 52 Weeks of Health Equity podcast showcased Annya Stoddart, a renowned meditation teacher and acupuncturist. Annya brought valuable perspectives on health education, fostering a culture of well-being, and power of meditation and personal transformation in navigating life's challenges. Here's a brief recap of the enlightening conversation.
I am a meditation teacher and an acupuncturist. I’ve had really a lifelong interest in health and looking after myself without medication as much as I possibly can. This is partly due to my mom's chronic mental health problems. There was a lot of support she needed, and she ended up on a lot of medication; I didn't see the results I wanted and I'm sure she didn't either. One of the reasons I started meditation is because I really wanted to address the mental health aspect of being able to manage my own mental health.
Mental health has been a focus in the media quite recently, especially after the pandemic, where we're seeing people are stressed and maybe there are things that we were afraid to talk about in the past and now have no choice but to talk about. This is a great conversation because as we age, we have to deal with parents that are aging, too, and are moving from roles of being caregivers to now being caregivers for them. Organizations say health equity is being able to reach your fullest potential and be the healthiest person you can be. It sounds like that was kind of what you're trying to do for your mom. What did you discover as you were going through this process?
I prepared myself for the worst-case scenario: dementia. I started meditating about fourteen or fifteen years ago to improve my relationship with Mom, especially after Dad's death. That became the focus of my meditation for many years—to comprehend her and communicate with her in a kinder and more patient way. I wanted to deal with it in a way that felt okay and supportive to me, where I could respect myself for doing my best for her. The constant questions arise: Am I making the right decision? What should I do? Am I doing enough? Can I be more effective? Is it time to call in professional help? You want them to be as independent as possible for as long as possible because it positively impacts their mental health. Hopefully, it slows down dementia's progression. Meditation helps me step back, find stillness, and rely on intuition for guidance. Sometimes, accepting the situation without taking action is a challenge.
Wow, when you mentioned the feeling of not being able to do anything right, meditation must have been a great help. It's almost like experiencing grief because, as humans, we always want to believe there's something more we can do. Having those skills and preparation through meditation seems to have supported you during this challenging period. Not everyone has access to all the tools they need, so sharing this particular tool is valuable, especially considering it wasn't always a perfect relationship with Mom. How do you navigate wanting to be helpful when the person might be a source of stress for you, even before dementia entered the picture?
Mom was always a very self-sufficient person and didn't readily accept help, advice, or pointers. She wanted to do things her way, and I have many of those traits too.You just have to absorb it and diffuse the negativity because nothing you say or do will matter. Whenever you suggest something, it might not be accepted and lead her down a negative path. One common dementia symptom is paranoia. Mom became very paranoid about her neighbors entering her garden, moving things, and coming into her house to hide stuff.
As a result, she confronted them frequently, leading them to call the police numerous times. Mom wasn't a criminal, but she became a red flag on the police's list. Whenever an incident occurred involving her name and address, the police responded quickly to calm the situation. Although it was a terrible situation to be in, it was also fortunate in many ways. This is because she was on their radar, and they understood what was happening. They weren't aggressive towards her or trying to imprison her; instead, they aimed to resolve and de-escalate the situation before it became even more challenging to handle.
I really appreciate your point about the police understanding what was happening and being trained to handle individuals with mental health or cognitive issues, which can make them more challenging to deal with at times. I'm in the United States, and you're in the UK, so we may have different resources available. However, it's evident that it greatly helped in managing your mom's situation.
Would you say that community knowledge and education about various health issues, including mental health, is valuable? Dementia, as we openly discuss mental health more, will increasingly impact communities as we age. So, from a community perspective, what would you like to see people become more familiar with? Perhaps even learning meditation and practicing self-calming techniques to prevent overreactions.
Yes, meditation can certainly be a valuable resource. However, the type of meditation I'm referring to goes beyond simply listening to something free on YouTube. I'm talking about engaging in a structured program that guides you through a process of gently examining your feelings, emotions, triggers, and learning how to calm them down.Once you have developed those skills, it becomes easier to navigate through the most challenging situations. There are practices aimed at expanding your capacity for compassion and sending out loving-kindness vibes, even in the most trying circumstances.
In terms of community support, in the United Kingdom, there are numerous options available such as support groups and daycare centers. These centers provide opportunities for activities like singing, dancing, exercise, and socializing with others. If you are in a one-on-one caregiving situation, these resources can be helpful for both you as the caregiver and the person with dementia. They provide additional experiences that keep their mind engaged and active, potentially delaying the progression of symptoms like paranoia, as was the case with my mom.
Would you agree that we should consider integrating more non-traditional alternative health practices when addressing disease processes to help us cope better with them? It seems like accessing such resources was beneficial for your mom. Do you think it could have potentially helped in reducing medical costs as well?
Yes, fortunately, we have the NHS here, so my mom's medication was covered by them, and she received some excellent medication that was truly helpful. The process of meditation, I believe, opens your mind to the experiences of others. Meditation isn't just about the relationship between you and the person you care for. It extends to situations where, for example, a police officer shows up because my mom believes her neighbors have stolen her handbag, and he's frantically trying to locate it while reaching out to me for assistance.
Through meditation, I can genuinely understand and empathize with how he's feeling. Meditation is incredibly beneficial in these scenarios. It allows you to observe and understand how everyone involved is thinking and feeling. From there, you can envision your role in the situation and how you can contribute to a smooth resolution. It helps you navigate and alleviate tensions in the most harmonious way possible.
It's wonderful that you mentioned empathy and the ability to put oneself in another person's shoes. In equity issues, it can be challenging to comprehend why some individuals require different forms of access or accommodations. Regarding the positive impact of meditation, it's often the case that self-care is viewed as something done solely for oneself and is therefore not prioritized. Do you think this perspective reflects a stigma in society when it comes to caring for ourselves?
Yes, it can be particularly challenging, especially for busy moms, as the responsibility of caring for everyone else often takes precedence. It becomes ingrained in their identity and role, permeating their entire being. Stepping back and prioritizing self-care can feel wrong or selfish for many women. They may harshly judge themselves for taking time away from their family, even if their loved ones actually appreciate and encourage them to relax and take care of themselves. The self-judgment often stems from the belief that they should constantly be fulfilling an extensive list of responsibilities.
It's evident that we're currently facing a global mental health crisis, and it makes me wonder if it's because women are experiencing burnout. We're not just responsible for raising children, but we're also running businesses. Perhaps we've been led to believe that we can have it all without being taught how to prioritize self-care and allocate time for ourselves. It's truly powerful to consider this. So, I'm curious, how did you overcome that feeling of guilt or the belief that you couldn't prioritize self-care? How did you get past the notion of thinking, "Oh, I can't take time for myself"?
It's difficult when transitioning from an employed background to running your own business and
being self-employed. The mindset of working nine to five from Monday to Friday tends to carry over. In the early stages of building a business, when things are not too busy, it can be challenging to justify taking time for activities outside the business. For example, meeting a friend for coffee on a Tuesday morning at ten o'clock would make me feel incredibly guilty, even if I had everything else under control. I would have appointments scheduled for the next few days in my diary, and I would be on top of my marketing. At that moment, there wouldn't be anything else I could actively do, so meeting a friend for coffee seemed like a good idea. It was beneficial for both her and my mental health to have a chat and socialize. However, the feeling of guilt persisted.
I acknowledged the guilt and had to step back and reflect on it repeatedly over the course of a year. I realized that this way of thinking was flawed. Everything that needed to be done could be accomplished, and taking time out was essential to be the best acupuncturist I could be. It wasn't productive to be burnt out even before stepping into the clinic. Something as simple as talking and having coffee with a friend or going for a walk with them was vital for my well-being. However, even going for a walk alone triggered feelings of guilt. It was necessary to let go of the guilt and understand that taking breaks and engaging in enjoyable activities were not only permissible but essential for my overall success and well-being as a business owner and practitioner.
I love that you mentioned the importance of prioritizing self-care because it's true. The expectation to constantly work without prioritizing recovery is prevalent, especially among entrepreneurs. The experience shared emphasizes the importance of personal recovery and draws parallels to the airplane instruction of putting on your own mask first. It raises the question of why we don't perceive self-care as vital as eating or sleeping and why we struggle to make time for ourselves.
I read that about 80 to 90 percent of the influences on our health come from external factors, like work-related stress, access to nutritious food, and creating a safe environment greatly influence our health. Access to good food involves having the time to prepare meals rather than relying on unhealthy takeout options. Creating a safe and cozy environment at home is often overlooked in impoverished areas.Taking time for self-care is crucial for overall well-being. What are the barriers to prioritizing self-care, and how can we reduce them?
The first step is realizing that this constant busyness is causing problems for you. How often do you feel tired? How well are you sleeping? If you're still experiencing menstruation, how uncomfortable and debilitating is it? Do you need recovery time? Are there other health issues affecting you, like constant headaches, back problems, or neck and shoulder tightness? These things consume a lot of energy and significantly impact your state of mind and interactions with others.
Taking time out for activities you enjoy, such as reading a magazine, walking in the park, or having coffee with a friend, can make you feel better and improve sleep quality. Slowing down, breathing, and relaxing are essential for your own health. It's important to allow your muscles and mind to relax by embracing moments of stillness rather than constantly staying busy. Taking this simple step can have a positive impact on your overall well-being.
What is the one thing you would like listeners to take away from this to bring more healthiness and stillness into their lives? What can they do to help themselves in this situation?
If you're intrigued by meditation but unsure if it's right for you, I have a PDF on my website explaining how it helps with anxiety and depression. You can also try a free meditation, the nine breath, available for download. Just dip your toes in the water and see how it feels. My meditation is 15 minutes long, a small portion of your day that can have a positive influence.
That seems manageable and allows people to experience it. Meditation really helped you, especially in being prepared for the challenges of caregiving and embracing self-care. It's important for all individuals, not just caregivers, to prioritize themselves. Thank you for sharing your message.
Thank you for having me, Tahitia. It's been a brilliant conversation.
The Pain Relief Clinic
Stowmarket based Pain Relief Clinic offers professional acupuncture treatment and a needle free alternative – Alphastim.
Lifestyle guides available for download from Annya Stoddart.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention article about Dementia.
National Health Service (NHS)
The National Health Service (NHS) is the publicly financed healthcare system in England, and it is one of the four healthcare systems operating in the United Kingdom.
Understanding the Social Determinants of Health
(Read more about Social Determinants of Health)