Posted in mental health, wellbeing, life hacks, productivity

Monday Matters: Information overload and 5 helpful ways to deal with it

Photo credit: Abigail Keenan for Unsplash

In our current society, information overload has become a real issue for many, if not all of us and one which can seriously impact our mental and physical health and general wellbeing. In today’s Monday Matters, I’m going to consider what is meant by the term, discuss ways in which an information-rich environment can affect us and present 5 ways you can make it easier to deal with.

Put simply, information overload is when we are faced with so much information (much of it irrelevant to us) that our brains become overstimulated and we find it impossible to fully process it all. If I were to make a list of all of the types of information we’re bombarded with every day for most of us it would include texts, emails, news articles, search engine results, news broadcasts, advertisements: online – via banners, pop ups, game and social media interruptions, on TV, radio and on billboards, notifications from social media, the stuff we read as we mindlessly scroll through the aforementioned social media, telephone calls, radio shows, TV programmes, blog articles, discussions in meetings, with customers, colleagues or other acquaintances – the list goes on and you’re probably exhausted after reading just this sentence. All of this can lead to feelings of overwhelm, stress, inadequacy, anxiety, confusion, exhaustion and a general lack of control. It can also result in physical health symptoms such as headaches, increased blood pressure, vision problems and insomnia. It can affect our work quality, decision making, memory, efficiency, self esteem, confidence and sleep.

With that list of unwanted side effects of information overload, it’s pretty vital that we find ways to cope with and control what we consume each day. Hopefully the following tips will help.

Make your morning routine tech free

When I say tech free, I don’t mean giving up on using your alarm clock to wake up, lights to see clearly, or your heating to keep yourself warm, but avoiding the use of communication devices such as your phone, tablet, laptop and TV can help make your morning routine both mindful and productive but also a relaxing and stress free one. On my best days, I will wake up using my new Sunrise alarm clock (so I don’t immediately have to pick up my phone) and fill in my 5 minute journal. I’ll then make myself a healthy breakfast of wholewheat cereal with soya milk, a piece of fruit, a glass of squash to take my morning medications and my first cup of coffee of the day. Whilst eating and drinking, I try to focus on being mindful, showing gratitude for what I’m consuming, thinking about the nutritional content and how this will fuel my body, and not allowing anything to distract me from the process. Next, whilst I’m finishing my coffee, I begin reading, highlighting and completing journalling tasks in my current non-fiction book. At the moment I’m reading Manifest by Roxie Nafousi and I have the hardback edition which feels good in my hands and makes it much easier to mark important points, annotate or complete tasks. My reading lasts for around 20 minutes and is another quiet, slow and relaxed element of my routine. Finally, I’ll get myself ready in the usual way by showering, brushing my teeth, washing my face and doing my skincare before starting on my tasks for the day.

As I said earlier, the above is followed on my best days when my morning routine is a mindful and relaxing start to my day. However, on some days (thankfully not very often since evaluating and making changes), I will pick up my phone, check notifications from in the night, view the content from these, look through my emails, go on YouTube to see if there’s any new videos from vloggers I subscribe to and then watch the content, check the news, pop on Facebook to wish friends or family members a happy birthday (and then start looking at my feed) before taking a second to breathe and think about all of the ideas, things on my to do list and random stuff which is filling my mind from all of the information I’ve already consumed before I’ve even finished my coffee (which I’ve probably barely even tasted!). So, which routine would you prefer to give you a good start to your day?

Of course, I’m not saying that my personal routine would suit everyone, and I’m conscious that some of you will have responsibilities towards others or an early work start, but I think we can all benefit from a calmer, more peaceful and mindful start to our day.

Think about the content you wish to engage with and why

There are certain types of information which we have little or no control over. For example you might tire of listening to your boss and other members of senior management talking about targets or sending you long-winded emails, your colleagues might frustrate you by regularly interrupting you from your flow of work to ask questions etc. but you can’t really tell them that you’re going to ignore them for a week and stop attending meetings because you’re trying to feel less overwhelmed by all of the information you consume (well you could but I’m pretty sure you would be waving bye bye to your job pretty soon). However, outside of work, we can generally make choices and set boundaries which help to limit our exposure to information. Here’s some ideas to think about:

Focus on your current interests Choose content from a reliable source which is relevant to your current interests. For example, you might read non-fiction texts and watch videos about watercolour painting because it’s something you enjoy doing in your free time and want to get better at. You might search for Pinterest content which shows Spring outfit and fashion ideas because you want some ideas on how to update your wardrobe. Or, you might search online for exercise ideas from qualified instructors which focus on building core strength because you’ve heard it will help to improve your posture and make you more toned.

Consider your goals Think about your current aspirations, desires and goals to help you decide what kind of information will benefit you in the long term. For example, if you want to work on creating a vegetable garden so you can enjoy your homegrown produce in your meals, you will probably want to read articles in magazines or online from from reputable sources such as Gardener’s World or RHS. You might also plan to watch YouTube videos for planting tips or buy a comprehensive guide to making the most of your plot. The key is to live in alignment with your current priorities whilst making choices which reflect you values and beliefs.

Ignore information and media content which doesn’t make you feel good Think about the effect certain information has on your mood. For example, if reading and watching local or national news makes you feel sad, angry, frustrated or anxious, try to limit your exposure or try avoiding it for a while and see how you feel (if there’s anything major happening in the world or your local community, you’re certain to hear about it somewhere and then you can find out more if you need to). If looking at your friend’s social media feed makes you feel inadequate and as though your life is uninteresting and uneventful, try giving it a miss for a while. Similarly, if you follow content creators on YouTube who always appear to be super-organised, productive and well put together and it makes you feel like your life is an absolute mess or that you’re a domestic slattern, it might be time to unsubscribe.

Remember, social media is designed to be addictive The designers of social media platforms and the teams running them want you to spend hours scrolling and thrive on the fact that you keep coming back for more. That’s why it’s so hard to cut down or stop. In their book Make Time, Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky refer to these apps, and other sources of ever updating information, as infinity pools, which provide constant distraction from what we would actually like to focus our time on each day. If you struggle with productivity issues or decisions about what to prioritise in your life, their book is well worth a read. For now, try spending a little time reflecting on your current social media usage, asking yourself questions such as:

  • How do I feel after using (insert S.M. platform)? Why?
  • What times of day do I find myself using S.M.?
  • How much of my time per day / week is spent on S.M.? (Some mobile phones can track this for you and compare your usage over consecutive weeks)
  • What impact does my S.M. usage have on my mental health? Do I feel more connected with others who share my interests or inspired by the content I consume? Alternatively, does it leave me with feelings of isolation, inadequacy, dissatisfaction, loneliness (and anything else that makes you uncomfortable)?
  • Would I describe my social media habits as unhealthy? e.g. is it the first thing I think about when I wake up or do I scroll just before or in bed and end up not being able to sleep?

Make a plan to take control of the information you choose to consume before it takes control of you!

Turn off your notifications and alerts

One of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the volume of information that comes your way is by turning off notifications and alerts from the various social media platforms and apps you use. Again, you should think about whether the notifications and alerts are a distraction or are useful for you. So, for example, I have a star gazing app and I quite like the messages I’m sent a few times a week which tell me about particular celestial bodies that can be viewed that night and opening the app shows us where to find them in the sky. I also get an alert which reminds me to fill in by Bipolar mood tracker each evening as it’s important for me to see what affect different events or activities have on my mood and wellbeing. Of my two email accounts, one is for professional and important stuff like work related opportunities, Etsy shop sales or messages from customers etc., whilst the other is for all the random marketing emails from various shops and companies which I don’t want to be notified of throughout the day. For online orders that I’ve placed, I’ve found there is the option on Yahoo Mail to received notifications of dispatch and delivery information. I’m not quite sure how it works but I presume it searches for key words within the emails.

The second thing you can do is go into your phone settings and set up a ‘do not disturb’ when you are busy (which you turn off at a time of your choosing) and a sleeping schedule which means that after a selected time in the evening and before a chosen time in the morning, your phone does not send notifications of any kind. You can alter this so that alarms can still go off if you need any reminders. For example, I have an alarm set to remind me to take my evening medications and another one to remind me to book my exercise class for the next week when it gets to 10.15pm (annoyingly, if I don’t book straightaway the class fills up with 1 minute of going live!).

Take a break (away from social media)

I’ve discussed before how I use the Pomodoro technique to be productive during the day but one of the most important aspects of the method is taking regular breaks. It’s tempting to check in with social media at these times but I make a point of doing something different so I’m not still looking at a screen and I don’t end up losing track of time. Some ideas for activities to do in your break include:

  • get outside or open a window and inhale some fresh air
  • do a mini meditation
  • listen to some music with your eyes closed or have a little boogie
  • make a hot or cold drink
  • enjoy a healthy snack
  • read a book or magazine
  • do some doodling / colouring in
  • do some stretches
  • declutter your workspace

Do a brain dump

If you feel like you’re drowning in thoughts, feelings, ideas and to-dos, it’s a good idea to get it all out on paper. This is the idea behind a ‘brain dump’, where you free write everything that is currently on your mind onto a blank sheet in a format of your choosing – in long hand, note form, spider diagram style etc. and it can be a powerful way to relieve stress. When you’ve finished, you can decide what to do with all the information – do you need to add something to your calendar or schedule in a time to explore further? might you need to add a few things to your to do list for the next week? would you benefit from talking to someone about how you’re feeling? maybe you need to seek out some positive news stories or make plans for a self care day or a weekend away?

Final words…

I hope you have found today’s tips helpful and feel inspired to try some of them as a way to improve your health and wellbeing. If you do give any of the suggestions a go, I would love to hear how you get on. I know that it can be tempting to consume as much information as you can through the fear of missing out (FOMO) but remember that a lot of what’s out there is neither useful, helpful, relevant or worthy of your time so try and adopt the joy of missing out (JOMO) approach instead!

Posted in reading, StoryGraph

I joined StoryGraph and I absolutely love it!

As those of you who read my bullet journal posts will likely know, I keep a record in my BuJo of the titles of the books I read each month and give them a rating out of five hearts. This is so I know which novels and non-fiction books I’ve read in January, February and so on. It also means that, if I wanted, I could count up my total for the year. I use a simple design so it’s quick to set up and takes minimal time and effort to fill in. However, this week, I was introduced to a cool app called StoryGraph on which you can log all of your books, add a rating, identify the reading format (e.g. digital, paperback or audio) and much more. And as well as being a great resource to keep a record of your reading, it’s super easy to use so I’m already hooked! Today, I thought I’d share some of the many features of the StoryGraph app so you can decide if it’s something you would be interested in using too. As well as there being an Android and iOS, there’s also a desktop version which you can log into using the details you set up on your phone.

Adding books already read

After signing up for an account, which required an email address, username and password, I started to add all of the books I’ve so far read this year by referring back to my current and previous bullet journal. This was quick and easy to do, using the ‘Search all books’ bar at the top of the home screen and selecting ‘read’ from the drop down. What I wish I’d known from the start, is that you can select the format of the book (hardback, paperback, digital – for me Kindle, or audio book) by clicking on the word ‘editions’ (which is underlined) when you’ve found your book. If you go into preferences, you can also default to your preferred format by choosing from the drop down menu – mine is set to digital as I mainly read on my Kindle.

Creating a To Be Read pile (or virtual bookshelf)

This is something I’ve done before by sticking mini book pictures into my bullet journal but, as you can imagine, it’s quite a time consuming spread to make. In Storygraph, you just search by title, select from the available editions and then select ‘To read’ from the drop down menu and it will appear on your shelf which you can swipe along to view more.

Logging the books you are currently reading

You identify the book or books you are currently reading, you can either select from your TBR list or search for the titles and select ‘currently reading’ from the drop down menu. If you want to see how long it takes you to read a particular book, you can record the start date and click on ‘mark as finished when you’re done. Of course it’s up to you what kind of details you want to add but the more you log, the more interesting and in depth your statistics will be.

When you finish reading something, you are given the option of adding a rating, a review and key information about the book (including themes and pace). The rating system allows you to get really precise so rather than 4 out of 5, you can choose 4, 4.25, 4.5 and so on. You can then check the average rating out of 5 which you could use to inform your book choices in the future.

Viewing your ‘Reading Journal’

This part of the app contains all the information about your recent reads and the start and end dates if you entered them. The further you scroll, the further back the information goes. At the end, it shows any books that you didn’t enter start and end dates for.

Setting up a reading challenge and checking on your progress towards it

This is completely optional but a nice little feature which can be accessed by clicking on the profile button shown on the right, then the three lines in the top right corner, followed by ‘reading challenges’. You can set goals for reading a particular number of books, number of pages read or hours spent reading (this one would involve you entering the data for this). I chose to set myself a goal of reading 40 books this year and you can see my progress on the screenshot below.

Viewing your reading statistics

Your current reading statistics can be viewed by clicking on the pie icon at the bottom of your screen. The data is generated from the information which was included when you selected your edition of each of your books and includes details such as the mood of the books you’ve read, how many pages your books tend to have, your percentages of fiction and non-fiction read, plus the different genres of your texts (and more!). Here’s some examples of my information as screenshots.

Final thoughts…

So far, I’ve only entered my book reading information from January 2023 but I’m amazed by the interesting statistics that can be viewed from fairly limited data. I might be tempted to print out screenshots of some of the graphs and pie charts to add to my bullet journal in the future, possibly halfway through the year or at the end of 2023. As I’ve only been using the app for less than a week, there’s quite a few more features which I haven’t yet used so haven’t discussed in today’s post. So far though, I’m really enjoying using it and learning more about what it can do.

Have you tried StoryGraph already or is it something you might like to try? Let me know if you have any question about the app or if you get stuck with any of the basic features if you give it a go. As I said, I wished I’d known about selecting from the different editions from the start.

Happy reading!

Posted in goal setting, journalling, lifestyle, Planning and journaling, reflective journalling, Setting goals and intentions

Monday Matters: Using my new Five Minute Journal to promote happiness and personal growth

I first came across The Five Minute Journal when watching YouTube vloggers sharing their relaxing yet productive morning routines. I was interested to find out more about the journal, so I checked out a few video walkthroughs and found that many people were saying it was a life changing practise for them and one which really helped improve their mental health.

As someone who will try anything to improve my health and wellbeing, I decided to give it a go (even though I felt that the journal was quite expensive). I’ve been using it for nearly two weeks now, and I’m really enjoying it and benefitting from the quiet thinking time it provides first thing in the morning and last thing at night. So, today, I thought I’d share my thoughts on The Five Minute Journal, my experiences of using it and ways in which it’s helping me.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

What is The Five Minute Journal?

The Five Minute Journal is a product created by Intelligent Change and is one of a small number of tools which promises to positively change your life in just five minutes a day. The company claim that you will love the journal for five very particular reasons:

  • It’s the simplest thing you can do to be happier – due its focus on positivity, structured approach whilst keeping it simple and easy to stay consistent
  • It’s built on proven psychology – it’s better to focus on positive behaviour traits and creating simple but effective routines
  • It’s a journal for people who don’t write journals – it takes just five minutes a day and so is ideal for time pressed individuals who have always loved the idea of keeping a journal but have, in the past, tended to make excuses for not doing so.
  • It’s a snapshot of your positive experiences – it’s a wonderful record of all things positive in your life and just flipping back to a certain day should help evoke the feelings that accompanied the memories.
  • It’s a commitment you can stick to – as well as the five minute promise, the book is also full of tips and ideas at the beginning which help you to get started and stay committed to the process

Key features of the book

The Five Minute Journal is a hard back book with a linen cover and comes in an original natural linen covered or a choice of five other colours namely royal blue, earth green, blush pink, bold black and sunshine yellow. I opted for the pink colour but from my research, it looks like the original colour is the most popular choice.

The book consists of over 260 pages, with approximately 30 pages explaining how the journal works at the beginning, 6 months worth of daily journalling pages and 11 ruled pages for notes at the back. The pages are a cream colour and feel like good quality. Having used a ball point pen and not being happy with my handwriting, I have since tried a few different pens out on the note pages at the back with no bleed through so I will be converting to a finer nibbed liquid ink which I use in my bullet journal.

As part of the introductory pages, you are invited to create a written commitment which encourages you to think about your reasons for wanting to keep the journal, a reward which you could give yourself if you stick with writing for 5 days, a promise to yourself if you don’t manage 5 consecutive days and your own ideas of how you can ensure you practise daily. In addition to this, you identify one of your biggest current challenges in life, an identity statement that remedies the challenge, major obstacles to writing on a daily basis and actions you can take to overcome these obstacles.

Each page in the daily journalling section of the book consists of a space to write the date, followed by a motivational quote or a weekly challenge (once every seven days or so) and then a section for morning and night time entries. In the morning, you are advised to write as soon as you wake up as it is the perfect opportunity to set a positive tone for the day. The day time section prompts you to write 3 things you are grateful for, 3 things that would make the day great and one daily affirmation

My thoughts on the process so far

I found the introductory pages to be really useful and made sure I read them all before starting to fill in the daily entries. As well as an explanation of how the journal should be used, it gave tips including:

  • write your morning entry as soon as you wake up, even if you can think of excuses not to (e.g. feeling sleepy, might make you late for work etc)
  • write your evening entry just before you go to sleep (even if you’re feeling super tired, have a headache or need to get up really early in the morning and should be having an early night etc)
  • write things that you are grateful for, even if you don’t yet have them in your life (e.g. I’m grateful to be in a loving and healthy relationship with my perfect partner – law of attraction style)
  • try choosing different areas of your life to focus on each day or week if you get stuck e.g. relationships, an opportunity that you have, something great that happened or you saw yesterday, something simple nearby you e.g. the pen you’re holding, your comfortable bed, your cosy pajamas etc.
  • get specific with your gratitudes e.g. I’m grateful for my friend x as she encourages me to eat healthily and take some daily exercise etc.
  • when writing about things that would make your day great, choose things you have control over, e.g. rather than writing ‘a warm and sunny day’ you could write ‘wearing warm clothes and taking a walk in nature’ or ‘finding time to exercise’
  • use the daily affirmation to re-affirm something you already know or repeat something you really want for yourself e.g. I listen to my body and give it what it needs, I take time for rest and relaxation after a busy day, I have the power to create the life I want, I hold the key to my own happiness etc
  • use the highlights of the day section to find the positives and special moments you experienced e.g. listening to the birds sing in the garden, coffee, cake and catch up with a good friend, enjoying a brisk walk on the beach, trying out a recipe you found in your magazine and really enjoying the dish etc
  • use the ‘What did I learn today?’ section as an opportunity for reflection e.g. ‘taking five minutes to do some stretches first thing helps to wake up my body’ ‘I sleep much better if I avoid social media after 8pm’, ‘I get so much more work done if I keep my desk neat and tidy’ etc

When I first started the journal, I did exactly what it said in the guidance and filled in the morning section whilst still in bed. However, now, I like to take my journal downstairs sometimes (usually during the week) so I can look in my bullet journal to see what commitments I have that day. This makes it easier for me to fill in the ‘What would make my day great?’ section. For example, I might put ‘taking some time to rest and recharge after working on a blog post all morning’ or ‘keeping myself hydrated throughout the day whilst talking to the students’ etc. Things I might not have thought of if I hadn’t taken some time to think.

In terms of my night time entries, where it suggests completion just before going to sleep, I find it better if write mine in bed prior to reading my Kindle. This is because quiet reading whilst lying down often makes me feel incredibly tired (even to the point of dropping off and whacking myself in the face with my Kindle), so I’d rather fill it in when I’m still properly awake. This is working really well for me and I still drift off with a mind relatively empty of thoughts.

At the beginning of the journal, it invites you reward yourself if you manage to write for 5 consecutive days. I really wanted a sunrise alarm clock/lamp so I researched them online and picked one out on Amazon that was relatively inexpensive but had really good reviews. I’m pleased to say I now have the item on my bedside cabinet and I absolutely love it. Plus, it stops me needing to use my phone as my alarm (or as a light if I get up to pop to the loo) which, in turn, means I don’t get tempted to check the various notifications which have appeared overnight before even getting out of bed.

Afexoa Sunrise Alarm Clock

Although I managed to keep up the practice for 5 full days, I’m now on Day 13 and I’ve forgotten to fill in my night time entry a couple of times already. Once, I was drifting off to sleep and remembered and filled it in straightaway but last night, when I got up, I realised I hadn’t done yesterday’s night time section. Rather than chastising myself for forgetting, I simply filled last night’s in first thing this morning and reflected on possible reasons why I’d not remembered to do it – it was on my bedside cabinet under my Kindle but we went to bed quite late and I was very tired (and feeling a little under the weather).

I’m so far really enjoying using my journal but I have found parts of it more challenging to fill in. For me, the gratitude part is easy as I’ve previously done a daily gratitude pages in my bullet journal. I’m also used to identifying activities to fit in to my day that are focused on ‘me time’ so I always have plenty of ideas for this. Creating a daily affirmation is often quite difficult so I’m in the process of creating a page full of encouraging mantras which I’ve found on Pinterest to help me. Writing three highlights for the day is my favourite part of the journalling progress and I always have plenty to write – sometimes I find there’s not enough room here! Finally, jotting down something I’ve learnt that day (the original journal had the question ‘How could I have made today better?’) is probably the hardest part as I’m not used to doing this kind of reflection. I do get something written each time but it takes me quite a while.

Although it’s known as ‘The Five Minute Journal’, I reckon it currently takes me a lot longer to complete – probably at least 10 minutes in the morning and another 10 just before bed. I’m sure as I continue with the process, ideas will pop into my head during the day which I could incorporate into my entries and this will things quicker and easier. If not, I think the process is still really beneficial and well worth persevering with.

I also found that it was a good idea to refer back to my journal throughout the day to re-check my daily affirmation and to remind myself of my three ideas for what would make my day great. I might try making a quick note of these in my BuJo in future to see if that helps further.

The Main Benefits of keeping The Five Minute Journal for me so far

Having used The Five Minute Journal for nearly two weeks now, I can really see how beneficial it is for my health and wellbeing. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

  • it helps me set the tone for the day and encourages me to end it on a high note
  • it allows me to think about ways in which I can bring more joy to my day rather than focusing wholly on my ever expanding to-do list
  • it helps me to set some intentions for the day and then check back in with myself to see how I got on with them
  • it helps me find the good in every day, even if I have a super busy (and exhausting) or particularly stressful day, there are plenty of positives if you dig deep to find them
  • it’s great for personal development as I spend time reflecting on what I’ve learnt and how this can help me live an even better life
  • the ‘what have I learnt today?’ section has helped me reflect on good and bad habits – for example, doing a mindful activity such as my jigsaw helps me to relax and unwind after a busy day (plus it helps me to rest my voice after talking to different groups of students), whereas ruminating over the feedback I gave and ways in which I could have made it even better is pointless and unhelpful
  • the daily emails that I signed up for have help me learn different ways to approach filling in the pages so that it doesn’t become a repetitive process
  • some of the daily quotes really resonate with me and they all make you think or are a good reminder of things you can do to control your own happiness levels
  • the weekly challenge was a really great way of trying something new and exploring how it made me feel – I’ve only completed one so far but I enjoyed it and it made me feel really good afterwards. I’ve flicked forward to see what’s next and I can’t wait to try it!
  • daily affirmations are helping me to feel better about myself as a person and also increase my confidence, resilience and motivation to take on new challenges
  • although it takes me a bit longer than 5 minutes to fill it in, I do find that it is an incredibly worthwhile practice and that my entries will get better and faster with time

Final words…

I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out about The Five Minute Journal and reading my initial experiences of using it to promote happiness and personal growth. Let me know in the comments if it sounds appealing of if you’ve given a similar style of journalling a go before.

Posted in art, bird spotting, bullet journal, Bullet journaling, goal setting, lifestyle, Planning and journaling, watercolour painting

Setting up my Bullet Journal for March 2023: woodland songbirds theme

My idea for my March theme came from a walk my husband and I took at Rainton Meadows which is a stunning nature reserve situated in Houghton-Le-Spring in Sunderland. Whilst heading down the path next to one of the many ponds, we heard the unmistakable twittering of a group of long tailed tits. It was easy to spot them amongst the bare branches of a nearby tree and we stood watching them flitting around, presumably collecting tiny insects. As one of my favourite little woodland birds, I enjoyed observing their busy behaviour and I commented to my husband that I would love to have a go at drawing and painting one. When we got home, I searched for photographs of these cute birds and was excited to give it a go. I decided that if I was pleased with the result, I would incorporate my painting in my March set up. Needless to say, I’m over the moon with how my watercolour turned out so it became the image for my cover page.

Front cover

My painting was based on a reference image I found online (thanks for sharing Andy Bright) and the photograph features a long tailed tit gripping on to a single branch. I’m surprised the bird stayed still enough for such a stunning portrait as I’ve never managed to take a decent photo of this sweet but flighty bird!

For my art piece, I used a combination of Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolours, a cheap white gouache, a bright white Sakura gelly roll pen and a couple of coloured pencils to sharpen a few details. I worked on a small piece of Daler Rowney Aquafine smooth watercolour paper using the wet on dry technique. It took me a while to get the two pinky colours the way I wanted them but I’m developing my colour mixing skills as I experiment. Overall, it took me about three hours to complete my work and I think it was time well spent!

Original art work by Laura Jones

As the watercolour paper is very thick, I didn’t want to paste it directly into my bullet journal so I scanned it on my printer and printed it out. The results weren’t as good as I would have liked (my printer was relatively cheap), so I experimented a bit to see if I could get something that showed the colours in their true form. In the end, I printed the painting on a 4×6 inch glossy photograph paper which I could stick into my bullet journal. I’ve now got my painting underneath a large and heavy book hoping to flatten it out a bit as it’s started to curl!

Monthly Calendar

I wanted to continue with the woodland birds theme but knew that I would struggle to draw quick and simple birds and get my pages completed in good time, so I decided to search Google images for some watercolour paintings that I liked and then printed out mini versions on photo paper. I wish I could credit all of the original artists here but as I couldn’t always find them I will encourage my readers to search for the works online should they wish to find out who they were painted by.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative


I’m still benefitting from keeping a record of my income and expenses so I’ve done another financial tracker this month. I also found some little piggy bank stickers in my stash so I decided to add one as decoration to go with some new watercolour washi I got from Amazon.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

Habits trackers

I’ve been tracking some of my habits as part of my rolling weekly but decided I want to keep a better record, so I created a whole spread for them. The plan is to add a dot or a cross each day I complete my habit. I knew I had some little bird stamps in my stamping supplies so I added these as some quick decoration.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

Final words…

I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at my spreads for the month of March. I’m so pleased with how my watercolour painting turned out and I’m enjoying mixing different colours and trying out a range of techniques. I think I should also celebrate getting my pages done before the end of February, photographing and uploading my images as well as typing up a quick blog post to share them.

Wishing you all a wonderful March,

Posted in Bipolar disorder, lifestyle, mental health, Planning and journaling, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and tips for coping day-to-day

I was introduced to the highly sensitive personality type several years ago when I started a discussion on the Bipolar UK charity website. My reading since then has helped me learn more about being a HSP and the associated traits and characteristics. Much of my research has resonated and I feel that being sensitive is part of my bipolar disorder and something which requires day-to-day management, particularly during periods of mental illness. So, today, I thought I’d share some of the main signs of being a HSP and discuss ways of managing the condition.

What is a Highly Sensitive Person?

A highly sensitive person (HSP) is an individual who is thought to have an increased or deeper central nervous system sensitivity to physical, emotional and social stimuli. These are normal and perfectly healthy character traits which brings about a number of strengths and challenges for the individual.’ HSPs often excel creatively and can be incredibly empathetic. They also often tend to notice things that others may miss or make connections that many individuals do not see.

The term was coined by psychologist Doctor Elaine Aron in the 1990s and her research has suggested that around 15-20% of the population have the personality type. She is continuing to study Sensory-Processing Sensitivity (SPS) now and as well as having a website dedicated to her findings, she has written a number of books and developed a self-test which can help you decide if you’re a HSP.

Signs you are a Highly Sensitive Person

  • Throughout your childhood, parents or teachers saw you as shy or sensitive.
  • At school, you became extremely anxious when taking part in timed quizzes, tests and exams. This probably caused pressure to perform and might have caused enough stress to make you perform badly or fail to achieve the expected results.
  • As an adult, you try to avoid potentially upsetting or overwhelming situations.
  • You tend to become stressed or overwhelmed when you have lots to do.
  • You’re generally really good at reading the emotions of others (even those you’ve never met before) e.g. when you walk into a room, you can sense the atmosphere and are able to use subtleties such as facial expressions, body language and tone of voice to establish how individuals are feeling.
  • After a really busy or long day, you find yourself desperate for some quiet/alone time to lower your stimulation levels, soothe your senses and to help you relax and recharge
  • Unexpected or loud noises really startle you and you may consider yourself to be ‘jumpy’ in general
  • You’re a deep thinker and spend a lot of time ‘in your head’ reflecting on anything and everything. This also means you are often prone to negative thinking and rumination (going over and over things in your head).
  • You always choose your clothing super carefully. Rough or restrictive items irritate you. For example, I can’t stand anything with a high neckline such as jumpers with turtle, rolled or polo neck and will always need to leave the top button of a blouse undone. I’ve also had to give away three of my jumpers recently as they were a little bit scratchy on the inside and caused me irritation.
  • Other sensory stimuli can cause overwhelm. This could include bright light, noisy or crowded places.
  • You tend to have less tolerance to pain than others.
  • You prefer to work in a very quiet environment which is free from distractions e.g. you have found working alone from home to be preferable to working in an open plan office.
  • You find any sort of change difficult or upsetting whether it is positive or negative e.g. being in a new relationship or getting a job promotion can cause extreme amounts of stress. HSPs tend to find a lot of comfort in routine and anything new or different can cause overstimulation.
  • Raised voices and an angry tone can cause tension and upset even if the rage isn’t aimed at you.
  • You tend to be a people pleaser as you don’t want to let people down. This may lead to you saying yes when you really want to say no.
  • When you’re feeling really hungry, you might find your emotions are affected quite strongly resulting in you getting ‘hangry’, irritable and moody. I think most people have experienced being in a bad mood when they’re haven’t eaten for ages but in a HSP, this might happen more regularly or felt more strongly. According to Dr Aron, this is because HSPs are more sensitive to spikes and dips in blood sugar levels.
  • Stimulants affect you more than others. You might find caffeine gives you a real buzz even if you consume very little. Alcohol may have the same effect.
  • You hate conflict and tried to avoid it as much as possible. This may result in you doing or saying whatever you can to keep the other person happy.
  • You may avoid TV shows and films which contain lots of violence because they feel too intense and leave you unsettled. As someone who loves watching crime dramas and anything psychological, this one doesn’t really apply to me but if you find yourself being triggered you will definitely want to choose your evening viewing with great care.
  • Any form of criticism can be distressing and often completely devastating. This can result in people pleasing, criticizing yourself first before anyone else gets the chance or simply avoided the source of criticism. This is certainly one of my main triggers and something I have struggled with from childhood and right through my adult life. It doesn’t matter if the criticism is meant to be constructive or falls in the middle of a number of compliments – I will nearly always be deeply upset and often go over things in my head again and again. Praise can leave me on a high all day but even a slight criticism can make my mood plummet in seconds and completely spoil my day or the rest of my week if I let it.
  • You may find yourself being deeply moved by music and other creative pieces such as works of art, poetry, drama and writing.

Ways to manage your sensitivity on a day-to-day basis

Create a set morning and evening routine Set routines provide an element of control even when everything around you is changing. For me, my morning routine includes a short journalling session, a healthy breakfast of wholewheat cereal and a piece of fruit, 15 minutes of non-fiction reading (with a cup of coffee), stretches, stepping outside to listen to the birds and check on how the garden is doing, and setting my intentions for the day. In the evening, I’ll get my PJs on, do something mindful like my jigsaw or playing a game on my tablet, then my husband and I will watch something on TV. My phone is set to automatically transition to night mode at 8.00pm and I tried to avoid using my electronic devices after this (very much a work in progress at the moment!). Just before bed, I’ll think about how my day has gone and do some reflective journalling. I’ve just bought The Five Minute journal to make my sessions more structured and I hope to write a blog post on how this is going very soon.

Make sure you get a good night’s sleep We all know that quality sleep is essential for our physical and mental health and it is especially important for HSPs. If you know that this is an area of your life you could benefit from working on, check out this post which contains an in-depth look into the topic.

Plan in some downtime HSPs can become easily overwhelmed so it’s important to schedule in regular times each day for resting and recharging. As I’ve shared in a previous post, I use the Pomodoro Technique during the day and I consider the five minute breaks to be vital for preventing overwhelm. I also schedule in longer breaks with plans for relaxing or mindful activities such as drawing or painting, listening to music or going for a walk in nature.

Create a sanctuary space in your environment which feels calm and safe This could be a comfortable chair in your living room, an outdoor location at the bottom of your garden or a spot in your conservatory. If you share your home with others, let them know how important this sanctuary is to you and why you find time and space beneficial. You might also want to consider making your home a more pleasant place to be as a whole by keeping rooms clutter free and well-organised. This is something I’m working on right now, especially in my craft room as this is where I often spend most of my day.

Eat a healthy diet and make sure you eat regularly through the day Try to include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables each day and use the balanced plate to ensure you get enough of the different food groups. Make sure you eat regularly to avoid feeling hangry. Check out this blog post for more information on maintaining a healthy diet.

Consider trying mindful exercise Good choices of mindful exercise include Tai Chi, yoga and Pilates. I also try to stay in the moment during gym sessions by really focusing on how my body feels during each exercise. I try to schedule my gym visits when I know that it is relatively quiet (mid afternoon is a good time for me) as even with ear plugs in, I tend to get over stimulated if there’s lots going on around me. Fitting in a daily peaceful walk in nature is also really beneficial, especially if you choose spaces and times that are less busy.

Use soft lighting in your home When you’re out and about during the day, the type and strength of lighting is generally out of your control. However, in your home, you can choose soft lighting such as candles, lamps, less powerful bulbs and dimmer switches to make things more comfortable.

Identify your triggers When reading the above list, some of the points are likely to have resonated with you more than others – perhaps you found noisy crowds really difficult to cope with or maybe too much social media creates information overload or feelings of inadequacy. Whatever you particularly struggle with, make notes and then work on finding ways to combat them e.g. going shopping when it’s quieter, limiting your time online, carrying snacks for if you start to feel hungry, taking regular mind breaks etc.

Talk to a therapist Working with a therapist, specifically to develop strategies for managing your particular difficulties can really help. Try to choose someone who knows about HSPs so they can offer more specialist advice and support.

Celebrate your positive qualities Although being an HSP comes with its difficulties, it also provides gifts and real strengths which should be celebrated and put to good use. Awesome traits of the HSP can include creativity, conscientiousness, being deeply intuitive, having excellent problem solving skills being and being empathetic.

Final words…

I hope you have found today’s post interesting and informative. With approximately 15-20% of the general population being considered as Highly Sensitive, it’s likely that even if you don’t recognise yourself as a HSP, a loved one, family member, friend or work colleague may have some of the difficulties presented above and would benefit from developing strategies to manage day-to-day life. Personally, I find that I struggle a lot more during periods of low or high mood and things don’t affect me as much at times of stability. I also think that increased stress and pressure can also make things much more difficult and this is when it becomes even more important to apply the above coping strategies.

I would love to hear your thoughts on today’s topic so feel free to leave a comment below if you wish to do so.