The search for the transformed life

Well-being educator Deena Cottingham talks about how stress is at the root of chronic conditions and what to do about it

Deena Cottingham is a well-being educator and coach.

Deena Cottingham life coach
Deena Cottingham

Tell me about what you do?

Cottingham: I empower people who are seeking a fuller sense of well-being and fulfilment in their lives. There are many facets that need acknowledging in order to unblock the flow of that natural way of being. Blocks may show up as health issues – usually something chronic and unresolved – or habits and behaviours that are difficult to change. Sometimes it is a longing for something more but no idea of what or how to get there.

In a compassionate coaching relationship, I guide my clients on their inner journey to befriend and unburden parts in the way, such as the inner critic, the strict manager or the parts that put the blinders on.

By also exploring lifestyle choices, such as nutrition, physical activity, relationships and sleep, I’m able to support them in a positive feedback loop – they eat and sleep better, which leads to feeling better, which creates an optimistic outlook opening their hearts to what might need tending inside, which means they feel even better to make supportive lifestyle choices, and the loop goes around again, leading to a transformed life.

Can you tell me about your own health journey and why you chose this career path?

Cottingham: I found myself at rock bottom. What started as a stressful day doing a home staging project by myself because my assistant was sick, turned into not being able to use my hands for six months. I could barely take care of myself, and I was a mother of four with a very physically demanding business.

I searched for answers, going to a wide variety of practitioners looking for help. It was when I accepted that I wasn’t going to recover that the healing began. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and prescribed medication as the standard treatment.

That was unacceptable to me! Like, that’s it? That’s the best we can do?

I somehow knew that this pain didn’t happen to me, it was coming from within me. I declined the meds and began my journey of learning about natural nutrition, dealing with emotional wounds, and procuring alternative health care to get better. I’m so grateful to say that I’ve restored my well-being and am in a happier place within myself.

This journey has brought me back to my days of being a fitness leader and having a passion of working with people in their wellness goals. I’m all about metaphors. What does it mean to invigorate ourselves emotionally and spiritually as well as physically? Or how does the level of nourishment we offer ourselves with food relate to the level of nourishment (or lack thereof) we might be offering in other areas? We are so complex, it’s fascinating to me!

What is your sense of people’s general health?

Cottingham: I believe we’re suffering as a collective in ways that we aren’t meant to. For years while my kids were in school, I wondered what’s with all the allergies and ADHD in the classrooms? What’s happening to us as a culture?

Going through a chronic condition, I became attuned to how many other people have chronic pain or autoimmune issues or chronic diseases or anxiety and depression. Having sleep issues, as well, is just a way of being and talked about in such a casual manner. These are things that really impact the quality of our lives, which we’ve accepted as the status quo.

There’s something in our world, food and lifestyles that has us out of sync with our natural way of being. It’s heartbreaking. I believe we have lost our intuitive connection to ourselves.

How much does stress play a part in people’s physical health?

Cottingham: Oh my goodness! We are stressed! I was certainly stressed and wasn’t acknowledging it to myself. It’s really difficult to be honest about that with ourselves because the implication of needing to live differently seems nearly impossible. So you do what you have to do to make life work.

There’s a cost to that, though. Stress is at the root of every chronic condition we experience, I believe. There’s the stress of overstuffed schedules, financial commitments and consumerism, loneliness and disconnection, and the limiting beliefs behind all of that, such as I’m not enough as I am.

I’ve learned that stress has a domino effect in the body, affecting the delicate state of homeostasis. Everything gets thrown off balance as the stress hormone, cortisol, affects other hormone production, neurotransmitters which determine our mood, how our bodies store fat and utilize glucose, how we digest what we eat, and, of course, our circadian rhythm. Wired and tired is an epidemic.

And then there’s the things we do to compensate for the stress! Indulging undermines self-care. Checking-out/numbing masks self-awareness and intuition. Playing it safe limits growth and fulfilment.

What are your top tips for helping people’s well-being?

Cottingham: I love this question! Thank you for asking! My absolute non-negotiable one is:

  • Take responsibility for your own well-being. It’s not your doctor’s (or partner’s) job to make you healthy. I would call our system a sick-care system, not a health-care system. So often we cheat our health because the consequences of not taking care of ourselves take time to manifest, and then we just want to pop a pill and feel better in an hour. The same goes with our relationships and work life. If you’re not happy, it’s up to you to change. No one is going to – or possibly can – do it for you. The rest is not rocket science. We know these things, but we just don’t do them. Why not? That’s where the coaching comes in.
  • Eat whole organic food. Food production has changed drastically in the last hundred years and our bodies haven’t had time to adapt. We just don’t have the enzymes to metabolize things like plastic, pesticides, preservatives and aluminum. Processed foods contain byproducts that turn good nutrients into harmful ones. Our livers can’t keep up to filter all of this out and it takes time to show up on blood tests. So, eat more colourful vegetables and get rid of sugar, flour and chemicals. You will feel better!
  • Sleep more. Be kind to yourself in this area. Sleep is restorative and a necessity for good health. Not getting a full night’s sleep is like never cleaning your kitchen between meals. Junk accumulates.
  • Move in a way that you love everyday. I made myself run for many years and I hated it. That’s a contradiction that seemingly helps your body but hurts your spirit. Then your hurt spirit takes its toll on your body. Play tennis, do yoga, dance. It’s not about calorie burning. We’re not that simple. Bring joy into it.
  • Create a community. And I don’t mean online, although that has its place. But we need real relationships where we can touch, laugh, look into each other’s eyes and share the same space. I think there’s something to be said for having at least one person you could call at 2 a.m. It provides us with that very basic need to feel safe and secure, and that we matter to someone else. Make yourself matter by investing time into people and letting them invest in you.
  • Deal with your stress. Delete stuff off your schedule. Change what sucks the life out of you. Meditate. Get outside. Stop thinking so much.
  • Create a home that feels like a sanctuary. I can’t not talk about another passion of mine! Environment counts. Beauty matters. Loving your space, having it support your life, and feeling like you can fully relax is essential.
  • Spend more time on simple things. Preparing real food. Talking. Walking. Looking at the clouds. Slowing down gives us the opportunity to connect to and listen within.

Interviewed by Mario Toneguzzi, a Troy Media business reporter based in Calgary.

© Troy Media

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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