mental health, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Practical ways to improve your wellbeing by unlocking the power of the vagus nerve

Last week, in my compassion group therapy session, we looked at the vagus nerve and its effect on our health and wellbeing. The vagus nerve is the longest of our cranial nerves (the ones which emerge straight from our brain) and controls our inner nerve centre. It oversees a range of crucial functions, communicating motor and sensory impulses to each organ of our body (our heart, lungs, upper digestive tract, and other organs of the chest and abdomen).

The vagus nerve is critical to our overall health and it has been scientifically proven that stimulating this important bundle of motor and sensory fibres is a key in reducing our stress, anxiety and anger levels.

So, enough of the science lesson, what are the practical ways that we can get this thing working to our advantage? Here are a range of different ways:

breathe deeply and slowly

Slow and deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve in a way that can help reduce our heart rate and enable us to become more relaxed. That’s why focusing on your breath during mini meditations can be so soothing for us and is a key part of compassion based therapy.

exercise

Regular exercise such as a gentle walk stimulates gut flow which is regulated by your vagus nerve. Why not combine this with getting in touch with nature so you can enjoy some peace and quiet at the same time?

have a good laugh

There’s a reason behind the popular saying ‘laughter is the best medicine’. Proper belly laughs are thought to be great for stimulating the vagus nerve. Why not try going to a comedy show or watching an episode of your favourite funny TV series tonight? There’s even a thing called ‘laughter therapy’ according to a counsellor I used to see, although I’ve never tried it myself!

try getting yourself all cold!

Apparently any type of exposure to cold will increase vagus nerve activation. That’s why some people swear by having a cold shower first thing in the morning to get going! Personally I prefer a little cold water on my face or a nice cold glass of water to wake myself up but it’s entirely up to you how you expose yourself to a little bit of coldness!

Sing or chant

As a member of a choir, I love singing and find it really helps my wellbeing. Now I know why! Why not trying putting on your favourite music and singing along (and maybe do a little boogie as well for the exercise) to activate your vagus nerve? Chanting also works too so no wonder football fans feel so good when they shout for their team at matches.

Massage

A nice neck massage is a lovely way to stimulate the vagus nerve or why not try a foot massage to help lower your heart rate and blood pressure. I love it when my husband does a firm massage of my feet after a long day when we’re sat together watching TV. If you haven’t got an obliging partner, a session with a qualified masseuse makes a fantastic pampering treat if you can afford it.

Positive social contact

Being socially connected, be it with compassionate friends, family or even our beloved pets has been shown to help with emotional regulation though vagal stimulation. Make sure that you choose to spend time with kind hearted and thoughtful people to ensure a positive experience.

Reduce your consumption of junk food

I’m sure you already know that eating too much fatty stuff is bad for you but excess consumption of ‘junk food’ has been shown to reduce the sensitivity of your vagus nerve. The occasional treat is okay but try not to indulge too often.

Yoga and Tai Chi

The benefits of practises such as yoga and Tai Chi are well documented. They have both been shown to increase vagus nerve activity and your parasympathetic (also known as rest and digest) system in general. You can find many simple yoga sequences online and beginner classes of exercises are widely available if you want to make it a social event too.

And finally, try to make time to relax each and every day

It’s up to you what form that relaxation takes, a nice warm bath, a few uninterrupted chapters of your favourite novel, craft or art activities or settling down to watch a film. Find something relaxing to do each day will have a positive effect on your wellbeing by working your vagus nerve.

I hope you’ve found this blog post interesting and have learnt something new. Let me know if you try any of the ideas and if they have a positive effect on your wellbeing as a result. I’ve learnt so much from my compassion group therapy so far and I’ve have been working hard to put things into practise to improve my wellbeing. Hopefully I get the chance to share some more with you soon.

Until next time, look after yourself.

Planning and journaling

Journalling about nature

Last week, I went on a short walk in my local park and spent some time looking at all of the different trees. I wanted to find some pines as my husband would like some pine cones for a project he’s currently working on – a DIY bug hotel for our garden!

I found a huge cone but it was much too big so I left it behind and will return to the park another time in search of smaller ones. There were plenty on the trees but I couldn’t find any wind fallen pine cones of the size required.

This morning, I documented my walk and my learning about pine cones and bug hotels in my Webster’s Traveler’s notebook insert and though you might like to see my finished pages.

Remembering my walk with a little journalling to go with a photo of my pine cone find!
Some information collected from The Woodland Trust blog on their website
Some bug hotel images found online plus ideas for what to add to our bug hotel

I hope you enjoyed seeing my journaling pages. You can find plenty of bug hotel inspiration online if it’s something you would like to have a go at making. Watch this space to see my husband’s creation when it’s finished!

Bye for now,

Laura x

art, creativity, life hacks, Planning and journaling, stain removal, stationery, stationery supplies

Stationery mishaps – pen stain removal

A very small selection of my pens 🙂

Hi guys. Hope you’re all well. This may seem like a bit of a random post from me but the idea for it came to me yesterday after I had a bit of a stationery mishap. Basically, I attended my first class of beginner’s ceramics which I recently signed up for and after finishing the vast amount of paperwork required for the course funding, I accidentally drew a great big line of black ballpoint pen across the left boob area of my light mint green top! I let out a shriek of horror as I know that this kind of pen has a tendency to stain.

When I returned home, I got to work Googling stain removal solutions and I’m excited to report that the pen is now gone and my top is saved. So, I thought, why not do a blog post for the rest of you stationery addicts out there who may, in the future, need a little support with getting pen out of your best clothes.

Please note however, that these are ideas collected from the internet and that I can’t accept responsibility if they don’t work or if they cause further damage to your garments. My aim here is to share what’s worked for others in the hope that you might be able to rescue your much loved items in a similar way.

Ballpoint pen

Stains made with this popular and usually cheap pen can be very difficult to remove. That’s why it’s best to tackle the offending mark as soon as possible. Start by determining the pen type as not all of those which have a ball contain the same type of ink. Traditional ballpoints like Bic and Papermate Flexgrip, use a fast drying oil-based ink which needs to be removed using some kind of solvent. Water-based inks, such as a Pentel roller ball, are fairly easy to remove. Whereas, gel pens are highly pigmented and, again tend to be pretty hard to get out of clothes and furnishings.

The most fabric friendly way to remove oil based ink, is using an alcohol based product. You can often find many of these in your home such as aerosol hairspray, rubbing alcohol, hand sanitiser or wipes. I used a little bottle of Body Shop hand gel which I keep in my handbag. Place the garment over an absorbent material such as a clean cloth, a number of paper towels or white napkins. Thoroughly saturate the area with the pen stain, wait around 5 minutes (probably panic about your precious garment if you’re anything like me) and then use a clean, dry cloth to blot out the stain (I used more paper towels here as this was all I had available to me). Repeat with more solvent and further areas of cloth if necessary. Wash the area with detergent or if you can see the stain has completely gone already, you can just launder as normal.

For water-based pens, if you tackle the mark straightaway, you can simply use soap and warm water to get the stain out with a gentle rub. If, however, the stain has been on the item for longer, and has set. You can use an old toothbrush to add a little friction to rub the stain out. I think this one would be useful on more hardwearing fabrics such as denim jeans.

Gel ink, according to manufacturers, if almost impossible to remove, but the best way to have a go at getting it out, is using normal detergent, stain removing gel (e.g. Vanish) or liquid hand soap. Add a small amount and rub the stain directly, rinsing with running water. Then try to blot out the rest of the ink between two piles of paper towels, white napkins or several clean clothes.

Felt tips and markers

Like the ballpoint pens, it’s important to establish what kind of ink you’re working with. If they’re washable, then the stain should come out with a standard wash but more highly pigmented and marker pens might benefit from the same alcohol based treatment which can be used for ballpoints. If the pen states that it contains permanent ink, the stain will be very difficult to get out but, according to a leading detergent specialist, it’s not completely impossible.

The trick is to treat permanent marker stains with products that can break down the oils and alcohols in the ink, exposing the colourants, and allowing you to treat the discolouration in much the same way you would any other stain – through washing! Alcohol is a solvent and is very effective and efficient at breaking down oils and other alcohols found in marker pens.

Persil.com/uk (for further info and a step by step click here)

Highlighter pens

According to my perusal of the Internet, you can try one of three methods. The first two involve using alcohol such as hand sanitiser or hairspray and the third involves using cows milk. As I’m aspiring to be vegan one day, I’ve transitioned to plant based milk and so I have no idea if this works and don’t have such stuff in my fridge but I’ve seen a variety of sites which recommend it. Apparently, you dip the stain in a bowl of the stuff and rub gently with your fingers, then rinse with plain water. Repeat if you still see a stain and then wash as normal. If anyone knows why milk works and if plant based does the job too I would love to hear from you in the comments as I’m a regular user or highlighters such as mildliners and often get covered in them with being a leftie!

Well, I think I’ve covered the main types of pen here but feel free to make further suggestions in the comments of other tricky pens or methods you’ve tried which have worked (or sob about the ones which didn’t!). Hope this post helps you and if not I’m really sorry! Remember, I can’t take responsibility if your favourite garment is wrecked I’m afraid.

Bye for now, Laura (a self confessed stationery addict) xx

mental health, Mindfulness, Planning and journaling, wellbeing, wellness

Why I’m avoiding Pinterest this month and what I’m doing instead

Pinterest – banned for September!

I love Pinterest and find it a great source of inspiration and advice for my professional and personal life. I spend huge amounts of time pinning ideas to boards, organising my collections of pins and generally poring over infographics and beautiful images. However, with attractive images and information, for me, comes a huge desire for continual self improvement and feeling like I need to have it all. And this is the bit that I struggle with and ultimately why I’m taking time out from pinning and Pinterest this month.

Self improvement, in a nutshell, is the process of making yourself a better and more knowledgeable person. It’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about and planning for. But, one of the big problems for me is, that I end up with information overload from social media and find so many ways to ‘grow’ myself that I lose sight of what I actually want right now and become unhealthily obsessed with making massive changes and improvements.

What I really need to do, is simplify and think about my current goals and the small steps I might take in order to go about achieving them. But with Pinterest, and other social media platforms if I’m honest, I see stunning images and tempting ideas and basically, I want it all. A minimalist and clutter free home which is welcoming to anyone and always tidy. A stunning garden without a single weed or patch of unraked soil. Beautiful brush lettering that just flows naturally from my hand. A neat and ordered bullet journal with no mistakes or Tippex on the pages. A blog and a handmade business that everyone’s reading and talking about. Perfect, glossy hair that has that ‘just been to the hairdressers’ bounce. Skilfully applied ‘flawless’ make up. The list goes on, and on, and on.

So, for this month, I’m taking a step back. I’m reassessing my goals and thinking carefully about how I’m going to work towards achieving them. And for this, the only resources I need, are my vision board that I created back in January (which you can see here if you haven’t seen it already), my inspirational brand image board for my business (click here if you want to see) and a couple of goal related collections I made in my BuJo. By looking daily at my vision for this year and analysing what I actually want right now from my life, I hopefully won’t be distracted by all of the other stuff. This should help increase my productivity and in turn my achievements instead of creating total overwhelm and the feeling of personal dissatisfaction that often comes with creating an unachievable ideal.

I’m not going to totally avoid social media this month as I do like to know what’s going on in the world but I’m hoping my efforts to curb my tech time will help in some way. By writing my intention here to you all, I’m also hoping that my plan sticks and that I benefit from it, even if it’s just in some small way.

Have you ever given yourself some much needed time away from social media? How did it work for you. Let me know in the comments and wish me luck!

Bye for now, Laura xx

Business branding, creativity, Planning and journaling, Selling on Etsy

I made a vision board for my Etsy shop: my brand and its core values in photographs

I don’t know about you, but I love looking at inspirational images and spend many hours each week perusing Pinterest, Google Images and pretty pictures in magazines. I also love using glossy photographs to create my vision board for the year. You can see my board for 2019 which I shared in a previous post here.

A while ago, I spent several days considering brand identity and core values for my Etsy business. My shop has been open for over two and a half years now but I wanted to make sure that my products reflected what my brand was all about. I worked on developing a list of adjectives which describe what I want to be at the core of my business. Then, alongside this, I chose a range of images which reflected my beliefs about what LJ Designs NE is all about. Below is a list of what I came up with (in no particular order of importance!) and a photo story of how I went about making my vision board some weeks later.

  • nature inspired
  • fun
  • fresh
  • creative
  • reflective
  • organised
  • delightful
  • peaceful
  • colourful
  • productive
  • playful
  • simple
  • compassionate
  • efficient
  • friendly
Over 40 images printed on photograph paper. Colour themes, ideas and inspirational messages included.

After spending a good while cutting the above out I had a very sore wrist and a big pile of gorgeous images.

When I’d finished cutting out all of my images, I laid them all out on the floor to see how much room they would need to be displayed. I then popped to The Range and bought an A1 piece of mounting board in a lovely charcoal grey colour and a large Perspex clip frame. I chose a Perspex frame as I’ve had issues with clip frames getting broken in the past and didn’t want a recurrence of this.

To ensure I was happy with the placement of the pics, I started by placing them onto the board with small pieces of Blu-Tak so I could play with the arrangement a little.

I did have the intention of using double sided tape to adhere the images permanently but in the end, I glued them on with Pritt Stick so that if I put them on a little wonky I could sort them out!

The finished board with all of the images glued on and the Perspex frame clipped in place.

I’m so pleased with how my brand vision board turned out and can’t wait to put it on display in my craft room / office. I hope you find it visually appealing too and agree that it reflects my key ideas about my little Etsy shop.

Have you ever tried a similar process for your handmade business? If not, I thoroughly recommend it. I had great fun and I now have a board full of beautiful pictures to remind me of what’s at the heart of my brand and to inspire me when I’m working in my craft room each day.

mental health, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

There’s no such word as can’t!

So, let’s have a show of hands. Who looked at this title and thought back to their childhood and what they were told by well meaning parents each time they uttered words about not being able to do something? Who has heard themselves using this very phrase as an adult when a small person in their life has said, in an exasperated tone ‘but I can’t do it!’? Who also knows, that as an adult, they’ve found themselves many times to be the one making the ‘I can’t’ statement e.g. I can’t draw, I can’t swim, I can’t cook etc? So, is the term ‘can’t’ a superfluous word which should be removed from our dictionaries at once, or, more likely, do we need to think about our use of it and assess whether this is actually what we mean? Personally, I think the latter is likely to be favoured by most of you, but have you ever considered why?

The reason for this particular blog post is related to an idea from a compassion group which I’m currently signed up to and which I attend each Wednesday afternoon. It’s part of a therapeutic service offered by my local wellbeing team and was suggested by a therapist I was seeing on a one-to-one basis. There are 9 of us who attend and work alongside two therapists who run the group. Last week, we were talking about our experiences of doing a simple meditative breathing exercise at home which we had been asked to do for homework each day. One of the group members said, when sharing her thoughts, “I can do the rhythm of breathing here but I can’t do it at home”. Although this was met with nods from a number of the group, the response from one of the therapists was very different. She didn’t say ‘there’s no such word as can’t’. What she said was, that we all need to be mindful of using the word can’t in this kind of situation as an I can’t mentality can hinder self compassion, feelings of self worth and all of the other things that our group is all about. It’s this alternative way of thinking which I believe holds an important message for us all, but particularly those of us who struggle at time with our mental health.

You might be thinking that there are some things that you simply can’t do. An example here could be, I can’t fly. I’m not blessed with the physical make up which enables an ability to fly i.e. wings, so therefore this statement is true and factually accurate. You would of course, be correct in this case. However, if I share another ‘I can’t’ which I myself am a frequent user of ‘I can’t draw’ then the same logic cannot be applied because I am capable of drawing but what I actually mean is I’m not particularly gifted in this area.

Changing this mentality a little further though, can mean re-phrasing our utterances more carefully so as to give them an even more positive tone involving much more self compassion. If, as in the examples above, you aspire to be better at something, you could change what you say to accept where you are now but also where you would like to be in the future. So “I can’t do soothing rhythm breathing at home” would be rephrased as “I’m finding it difficult at the moment to do the breathing at home but I’m hopeful I will get better with practise”. In the same way, “I can’t draw” would become something more like “I find drawing quite difficult at moment but I’m working hard to develop my skills and techniques and I’m getting better with practise”.

I’m sure you can think of many examples of times that you’ve been a victim of the ‘I can’t’ mentality and there will be many reasons for this such as fear, lack of self confidence, feelings of failure or inadequacy. But, if we think carefully before we use self deprecating phrases then we can set our minds free from this way of thinking about ourselves in order to try to become more loving, compassionate and kind towards ourselves.

Accepting who we are, celebrating our achievements, letting go of our perceived failures and seeing ourselves as a work in progress with strengths and areas for improvement, we can stop with the negative self talk and hopefully feel better about ourselves and our lives.

I hope what I’ve said here makes sense and that it has at least made you think about how you talk about yourself to others. If you have any other hints or tips about self compassion, I would love it if you shared them in the comments. Also, let me know if there are any “I can’ts” that you find yourself particularly struggle with and find yourself beating yourself up with.

Until next time, stay strong, positive and kind towards yourself.

Much love, Laura xx

art, creativity, watercolour painting, wellbeing, wellness

Creative time – using my new watercolours!

In my last blog post, I talked about my new Daler Rowley watercolours. Yesterday, I put them to good use on a simple painting project which I found in a magazine. The magazine, pictured below, is a creative special from the makers of Project Calm which includes ‘a carefully curated collection of wonderful creative projects for you to try at home using easy to find art supplies. Following a quick flick through the pages, I decided it looked like the perfect mag to provide inspiration and some easy projects to get me started with my watercolours and also some cheap Gouache paints that I picked up in TKMaxx a few weeks ago.

The magazine, which retails at £12.99 and can be purchased from Sainsburys and probably a host of other retailers, includes artists stories, information about useful art tools and supplies, a range of projects, plus a 64 page sketchbook and paintable postcards.

I decided to start with one of the postcards. The idea is you choose seasonal paint colours to fill a floral, paint by numbers, image. I decided to choose the summer one and therefore selected bright and intense colours for my design. On the reverse of the postcard, you add samples of your chosen colours and this becomes your palette.

My chosen colour palette

To be honest, this seemed like a good idea in theory, but in reality, you were unable to see the samples whilst painting on the front and you needed to carefully select the colours you chose for the paint by numbers system if you wanted a good looking image where the stems of the flowers were a green colour! I remedied the samples situation by taking a quick shot on my phone to refer to as I painted.

Although the results aren’t perfect, mainly because I could have done with a much tinier brush to keep within the lines, I did enjoy the process and found it very therapeutic. We all need some ‘me time’ and for me personally, nothing beats a little relaxing creative project.

I hope you enjoyed this quick post and it has inspired you to indulge in some creative me time or spend a few minutes doing something you find relaxing. On that note, I would love to hear about your favourite way to spend your ‘me time’ and why? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time…

Much love, Laura xx