When Mary Gave Up Her High Stress Life She Became Dedicated To Helping Others

FORMER chef turned complementary health therapist Mary-Jane Burns says as the summer comes to a close many people may be hoping to change their life and lifestyle.

But she advises that change should be made slowly and effectively in order to fully reap the benefits.

Before moving to the country Mary-Jane lived a highly stressful life as a chef in Belfast.

Working in kitchens all over the catering trade Mary-Jane, 51, was no stranger to long hours and little sleep.

Mary Jane Burns

Mary Jane Burns

Eventually it started to take its toll and she began to show symptoms which can, on occasion, be attributed to living a highly stressed life.

Then when her husband began suffering from a bad back the couple made the decision to change their lives forever.

That was 16 years ago and now living in the village of Killough in Co Down Mary-Jane, hasn’t looked back.

She said: “When I was in the catering trade I worked in lots of establishments. Catering is well known for its deadline pressures of putting food on the table at the correct time and in the right quantity. This is added to by outside pressures such as equipment breaking down, mishaps and deliveries that are beyond your control can lead to a lot of my anxiety.

“I worked as a chef in mainly industrial kitchens and also in education as well as nursing and care homes.

“Also looking back my dyslexia also added to the pressure I was experiencing, diagnosed at the age of 12 I was given help for my school work but at that time the physical symptoms such as poor co-ordination, fuzzy headedness and memory problems were not addressed.

“During my time working in a high stress situation I put my irritable bowel purely down to food intolerances such as dairy, wheat and peas in my case, which isn’t much fun when you’re a chef.

“I didn’t realise how the stress was manifesting for me. Like many people I viewed stress and anxiety as something you had to put up with and just cope with.

“I knew stress affected my work physically but I didn’t think of anxiety as a physical illness as well as an emotional condition.

“I had no understanding of my emotional Health. Kitchens are heavy work with long hours so tiredness was normal. I no longer get as tired even after a long days work.

“I now realise that although I looked healthy I was not. Statistics show that 54 per cent of people are concerned about the levels of stress in their lives.

“Around 16 years ago my partner developed a bad back and I too was becoming unwell and was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome.”

Looking within

This was when Mary-Jane finally began to really look at her own health.

She explained: “I eventually sought the help of my friend, and now business partner, Liz Elliott who advised me to see a kinesiologist. I was somewhat sceptical but while my IBS had eased to my amazement other areas of my life improved as well as my anxiety levels.

“Curiosity eventually got the better of me and I attended a course – one thing eventually led to another and unbeknown to me at the time I had stepped on to the path of full health and a career change.”


Mary-Jane is now a full time self employed complementary therapist and has set up The Health & Wellbeing Company with her friend Liz and their business partner Jimmy Smyth.

While Mary-Jane admits that for many people the answer cannot be found in simply moving house or having complementary therapy she believes that a small change can make a big difference in life.

She said: “We decided to move to the coast and live a simpler way of life. Living in a village proved to be a good choice as we know far more people than we did living in a street in Belfast. Once we settled in and became locals very quickly there is always someone to help or chat too.

“I know it has been a healthy choice and I wouldn’t have changed careers and become a complementary health practitioner if I was still in Belfast.

“I didn’t realise at that time that my work was having such an impact on my stress levels. I thought I was coping well with the catering industry but I was not.

“One of the biggest changes to my life has been that the difficulties dyslexia causes no longer affect me in the same way – partly because I can do things the way that suit me best but much to my amazement complementary therapies have not only cleared up my IBS but also helped my dyslexia.

“I know myself much better than I did before and realise that looking after myself is not a luxury but essential for good health.

“Catering was good training for being on your feet all day & setting up mobile treatment couches is easy in comparison to the heavy work of a kitchen.

“Considering the damage stress does to our health, relationships and work it makes sense to do something about it and I now understand a lot can be done and ignoring stress doesn’t work.

“Ironically stress and anxiety are the easiest conditions for the holistic approach to solve. I feel years younger than I did before.

“I am no longer dairy or wheat intolerant and can eat what I like with no adverse symptoms. This is also true for my clients . Anxiety was the cause of many of my digestive problems and a calmer way of life suits me.

“I now know several quick and easy methods for releasing stress which I use as needed and look after my health in much better way. I was looking after my car better than myself in those days.”

Dedicated to helping others

Now Mary-Jane is using her experience to help others reduce the stress and pressures of everyday life through her business.

She said: “Stress has been described as the Black Death of the 21st century. Work related stress costs the UK economy a staggering £6.5 billion last year. We hope to play our part in reducing the physical and monetary cost of stress to the economy.

“We also provide solutions to this increasing problem including Emotional Freedom Techniques EFT & Mindfulness that can easily be learned and used in the work-place and are tools for a health happy life.

“One of my colleagues has a background in mental health care and counselling so we have all eventualities covered.”

And Mary-Jane’s advice for anyone thinking of making changes to their life this season?

She said: “It’s never easy to make physical changes especially as far as diet and fitness are concerned.

“Coming into the autumn and winter it’s still dark and cold & your body begins to go into hibernation mode. Use what’s left of August to get ready to do your planning and any perpetrations required.

“Make small changes and leave your bigger changes until you’re more comfortable and you will find your changes much less effort as you’ll be working with your body clock.

“Also another good idea is not to make big changes all in one go. Break your new healthy living plan up into smaller steps as part of your preparation.”

Mary-Jane’s Top Tips For A New You

1. Enjoy
Pick activities you will enjoy (exercise type, food changes) and don’t do it all on your own. Having a friend going to the classes, gym etc provides motivation on the days you’re ‘not in the mood to go’ and you will give each other confidence too.

2. Be realistic
Don’t expect too much too soon and keep a simple record or diary so you can look back and see how things have changed or what’s not working for you.

3. Try new things
Take up something new such as a hobby, this helps give you motivation for new things.

4. Make goals
List five things you’re grateful for each day – a positive attitude helps all areas of your life.

5. Ask for help
Get good advice or help if you need it – it can save you money in the long run.

Get in touch with Mary-Jane and the team by logging on to www.thehealthandwellbeingcompany.org, find her on Facebook, Twitter or call her on 07749931255.

About the Author

Tina Calder
Journalist, commentator, author and content creator specialising in showbiz, entertainment, business, trade, human interest and lifestyle.