Posted in Health and Nutrition, life hacks, lifestyle, meditation, mental health, self care, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel Of Wellness – Physical – Part 2: Sleep

For the second part of the Physical element of The Wheel Of Wellness I will today be looking at the importance of quality sleep to maintain good physical and mental health. I’ve previously published a couple of blog posts on the topic of sleep namely 5 ways to get better sleep tonight and 5 things to do in the evening to ensure a restful night’s sleep and a productive next day which you may like to have a read of as well. Many people have issues with their sleep for one reason or another and if you’re one of them, you might want to prioritise this area of the wellness wheel and spend some time learning about the effect that sleep (or lack of) affects your body and your life and pick up some tips on how to manage this aspect of your physical health.

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep has a huge impact on our health and wellbeing throughout our lives. Anyone who has ever had difficulty sleeping will know that the quality and quantity of our slumber dramatically affects our mind, body, general quality of life and our safety. While you are sleeping, your body is actively working and preparing you for the next day.

The following is a list of the basic functions of sleep which illustrate the importance of a good night’s kip:

  • physical restoration
  • mood regulation
  • cleaning the brain of toxins
  • information processing and memorization (committing things to memory for later recall, the storing of visual, auditory or tactical information)
  • strengthening the immune system

In children and teens, sleep also supports growth and development.

In addition, further benefits of quality sleep include:

  • better heart health
  • stress reduction
  • generally makes you feel more alert throughout the day
  • can help you lose weight (you’re less likely to crave high sugar or junk foods)
  • reduced risk of anxiety and depression
  • improved appearance – healthy, glowing skin (versus dark circles under eyes, dehydrated complexion, breakouts and redness from lack of sleep, plus comments from friends and family along the lines of “you look like ****)
  • better concentration (hopefully leading to improved productivity)
  • better decision making
  • stronger immune system (so less likely to get ill / feel run down etc)
  • boosted creativity (better ideas and use of imagination)
  • better motoric response (including quicker reactions)
  • enhanced sporting performance
  • reduced risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke and obesity
  • better emotional regulation (meaning amongst other things that you’re more likely to get along with others and less likely to become overwhelmed by your feelings)

Sleep and wakefulness is controlled by two biological processes: Sleep Homeostasis, commonly known as ‘sleep pressure’ and The Circadian rhythm, otherwise known as ‘the body clock’.

What is sleep pressure?

Sleep pressure is basically, the brain’s desire and need for sleep. The more time you’ve been awake for, the greater the sleep pressure. When you wake up in the morning, you should have very little need for sleep (if you’ve had a good night) so sleep pressure is very low. As we get on with our day, the sleep pressure begins to grow so that by evening time sleep pressure is much higher, making us feel sleeping and in need of our beds! By morning, following a good night’s sleep, our sleep pressure will have reset and be back to little or no desire for further sleep.

In order to make sure that we have the right amount of sleep pressure present by bed time, we should really make sure that we get up and go to bed at the same time each day. However, I know that a lot of people will have a lie in on a weekend, which tends to make it difficult to switch off and sleep on a Sunday night (especially if Sunday night dread is at play). Taking naps should also be avoided as this can reduce sleep pressure too. If you absolutely must have a nap, tried to take it before 3pm and make sure it lasts for less than one hour.

What is meant by the term Circadian rhythm AKA our ‘body clock’?

Like all living things, humans have a circadian rhythm which is the brain’s way of aligning the body with the environment. Our sleep/wake cycle follows this 24 hour rhythm. During the day, exposure to light helps us to feel alert, awake and active. As night/darkness falls our internal body clock starts to produce melatonin, a hormone which promotes sleep.

You can help promote a healthy circadian rhythm by seeking natural light (sunshine) during the day, getting some daily exercise, avoiding caffeinated drinks after mid-day, limiting light before bed and having a set bed time / wake up routine which prepares the body for sleep at night and encourages wakefulness first thing in the morning. I’ll discuss some of these in more detail later.

Creating the right bedroom environment

It’s really important to create a comfortable and relaxing environment in your bedroom to help you fall asleep quickly and easily. We invested in a ‘posturepedic’ mattress which is pocket sprung with a latex top. We’ve had it for years and it’s still completely supportive and so comfortable. Every time we go on holiday, we always look forward to being back in our own bed! The best sheets and pillowcases we’ve found for softness and durability are bamboo ones. An added bonus for us is that they’re breathable and hypoallergenic too.

Your bedroom should also be nice and dark as the absence of light sends a signal to your body that it’s time to get some rest. A nice thick pair of curtains or light blocking blinds are essential for this (we have blinds and lined curtains which allow just enough morning light to help us wake up). Some people also like to wear a sleep mask to block out light and these are also good for shift workers who are in bed during the day.

Other essentials for a calm and relaxing space include as little clutter as possible and a quiet environment to minimise distractions. Just the right room temperature – not too hot and not too cold is also helpful for inducing sleep (experts recommend around 18.3 degrees Celsius / 65 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal). Some people also swear by lavender as a soothing and sedating scent but I find it sets my allergies off which is certainly not sleep inducing!

Sleep experts also suggest that your bedroom should be strictly for two purposes only – sleeping and sexual activity. This means it should not be used for:

  • eating, drinking or smoking
  • dealing with bills, reading letters or any form of paperwork
  • using technology or looking at screens e.g. TV, mobile phone, laptop, tablet etc.

I also like to read fiction books on my Kindle Paperwhite in bed but I do find that as long as the screen is pretty dim, I become really sleepy after a couple of chapters. If you feel that reading certain books stimulate your brain too much, bedtime reading may be best avoided.

Diet and sleep

Most people know that caffeine isn’t good for sleep due to the stimulants it contains so if you have trouble sleeping, it’s best not to drink coffee or other caffeinated drinks such as cola, sports and energy drinks for at least 4 hours before bed. Having a large meal before bed is also likely to keep you awake as your body will still be digesting the food. Also, you may find yourself suffering from indigestion or acid reflux if you eat or drink too late. If you do find yourself craving a late evening snack a small amount of nuts, a banana or a small bowl of oatmeal with berries should be safe to eat.

Alcohol is well known to cause a slowing of brain activity and make you feel relaxed and sleepy but beware that the consumption of alcoholic beverages, especially in excess has been shown to cause poor quality sleep and shorter duration so you may find yourself waking up repeatedly in the night or not feeling very refreshed in the morning. Night-time drinking may also result in acid reflux too!

A good daily routine to help you sleep

Throughout the day, it’s important to get as much natural light as you can. This could include working next to a window, taking regular outdoor breaks during the day e.g. sitting in the garden with your morning cuppa and having an al fresco lunch. Obviously this is more difficult during the Winter months but even short walks outside, maybe with a nice, hot drink can make all the difference.

Exercise (or being active) including aerobic workouts, resistance training and yoga during the day can also help with sleep. Just make sure you don’t do anything which elevates your pulse rate for at least 3 hours before bed.

In the evening time, it’s a good idea to do relaxing activities which can calm the body and the mind. This could include listening to some soothing music, reading a book, doing some meditation, writing in your journal to help put the day to rest (see my 5 ways to get better sleep tonight for an explanation of how), enjoy a warm bath or hot shower.

If you regularly struggle to sleep, something you should definitely try is avoiding using electronic devices for at least an hour before bed. This is helpful for two reasons – one, a lot of online content can be mentally or emotionally stimulating (including emails) and two, the light that these devices emit can affect your body clock by increasing alertness and delaying the release of melatonin. If you must use your phone, at least set the blue light filter or night time mode to come on after around 7pm.

What if I find myself wide awake in bed?

After approximately 20 minutes of lying awake (estimate this, do not use your clock), you should get up out of bed and leave the bedroom. Either do something boring or something really relaxing (not something stimulating (no looking at your phone!) until you start to feel tired, and then go back to bed. If you’re not asleep after another estimated 20 minutes, get up again and repeat the process. If this happens regularly, spend some time during the day assessing what you think might be causing the problem and try making some changes to your routine.

A word about sleep disorders

There are a number of sleep disorders which can seriously affect the quality of your sleep. Some of the common ones are:

  • Sleep walking / talking
  • Nightmares / night terrors
  • Sleep apnoea (obstructed airway)
  • Sleep paralysis (a temporary inability to move that occurs right after falling asleep or waking up)
  • Hypnogogia / Hypnopompia (hallucinations occurring as you wake up or fall asleep)

If you suspect that you may be struggling with any of the above, it’s really important to speak to your GP who can offer medical advice or make a referral to a sleep specialist.

Final thoughts…

If you are struggling with your sleep right now you have my completely sympathy as I’ve had real issues with insomnia in the past. However, it’s usually quite easy to identify the contributing factors which are preventing a good night’s sleep. Finding solutions to the problems is a little more difficult but I hope this blog post has given you some ideas. Remember that quality sleep is vital to your wellbeing and it’s worth investing time and energy into this aspect of your physical health.

Posted in exercise, fitness, lifestyle, Uncategorized, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel Of Wellness – Physical – Part 1: Exercise

For the physical element of The Wheel Of Wellness, I’ve decided to split the topic into three separate posts as there’s lots I want to cover. Today’s Monday Matters is all about movement and exercise, how it affects your mental health and easy ways in which you can incorporate physical activity into your life.

Most of us are aware of at least some of the benefits of regular exercise for the body and its physical functioning but did you know that getting moving can have a dramatic impact on your mental health too?

What are the main benefits of physical activity on your mental wellbeing?

  • better self esteem – feeling good about yourself as your fitness levels improve and you meet your goals
  • reduces risk of depression or symptoms of the illness
  • enables you to connect with others – can help you meet new people and develop new friendships through doing team activities or seeing others engaged in the same activity such as going to the gym, walking in nature etc
  • happier moods – releases feel good hormones helping you to feel better in yourself and combatting lethargy by increasing energy levels
  • improved sleep – increased physical activity will make you feel tired by the end of the day and can get you ready for a restful night’s sleep
  • helps you manage stress, anxiety and intrusive thoughts – a positive coping strategy which gives your brain something else to focus on

How much physical activity should I be doing?

This depends very much on your life circumstances and your current level of fitness. You should think about what feels realistic to you right now and this might change quite dramatically if you are managing a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder.

The NHS has lots of advice on how much activity is recommended each week for different groups of people and also provides information about the different forms of exercise which are helpful for maintaining good physical health. Again, the guidelines provide something to work to when you are feeling physically and mentally fit and you should always consult your doctor for tailor made advice if you have any form of injury or limiting health condition.

What type of exercise should I choose?

The best advice I can offer here is to choose activities that you think you will enjoy and give them a go. If you choose exercises which make you feel uncomfortable or you have to force yourself to do, you’re unlikely to stick with them. So, for example, if the thought of working out at your local gym fills you with dread then setting up a membership probably isn’t a good idea. However, if you choose an activity which is fun and enjoyable, you’re more likely to engage in it regularly and make it part of your routine. You’re also much more likely to experience the aforementioned benefits to your mental health.

There are lots of different things you can try – some you might know straight away are not a good fit for you whereas with others you might need to give them a go in order to make your mind up. Highly aerobic exercises might be less suitable if you’re just starting out or have reduced mobility and you and your GP are best placed to decide what you can currently manage and what you might be able to aim towards in the future.

Being more active at home

If you have a really busy schedule, doing a short home based workout might be an easy and convenient way of fitting in some exercise. Some of the benefits of working out or being more active at home include:

  • Saves time – no travelling required and no waiting for machines or equipment (as often happens at my gym when it’s busy!)
  • Privacy – if you think you would feel self-conscious working out in public, exercising at home with the blinds shut or curtains drawn can be much more comfortable
  • Work out any time – you can decide when you want to exercise so working out at home is super convenient – you might prefer first thing before you start work or half an hour prior to cooking your dinner.
  • Flexibility – when you go to a gym class, the pressure is on to keep up with others or to push yourself to work harder. Also, there are individuals who have been doing the class for months, and some who are having a go for the first time so the instructor is trying to cater for the needs of everyone. At home, you set the pace and if you feel like a particular exercise is too difficult or needs modification then you can skip bits or find out how you can simplify things.
  • Low cost – no gym fees or expensive equipment needed. You can workout on your living room carpet or on a cheap mat. If you want to use weights, a couple of small water bottles or cans of beans are ideal when you first start out

Ideas for home workouts

  • Set an alarm to remind you to move each hour (or set up your fitness watch to vibrate). Spend 10 minutes doing exercises which are good for your current fitness levels e.g. jumping jacks, burpees, bicycle crunches, high knees etc.
  • Dancing – Put on some music with a fast beat and dance around your kitchen / living room / bedroom etc.
  • Chair based exercises – if you have mobility problems or a physical health condition which makes it difficult to be out of a chair, there are exercise routines you can try whilst sitting down. Check out this page on the NHS website or look for chair based workouts on YouTube.
  • Find some free beginners YouTube videos which have exercise regimes on – try looking for cardio workouts, yoga, balance training, Pilates, legs, bums and tums, core based etc.
  • Play an active computer game e.g. Zumba fitness, Wii Sports etc
  • Housework – doing household chores is a great way to get moving. Dusting, vacuuming, cleaning the windows, mopping floors or washing and polishing your car can all increase your pulse rate and burn calories. Also, you can make the activities as gentle or strenuous as you like and you can make each task as short or as long as you want.
  • Gardening – Gardening is a great physical activity and is wonderful for your emotional wellbeing too. Again, you could engage in more strenuous activities such as digging, hoeing, mowing the lawn and pruning. Or more gentle activities such as pulling up a few small weeds or setting a few seeds in some pots.

A few tips for getting active at home

  • do a mini risk assessment in the room you intend to use for working out – is there enough room to exercise safely? do you have a ceiling pendant light which might get in your way if you stretch your arms up? might you need to move some furniture or move your mat so you’re not in danger of hitting things? is anyone likely to enter the room and knock into you or open the door onto you? etc
  • put on your workout gear like you would if you were going to a gym – this could be shorts and a t-shirt and might include a sports bra
  • try to do different types of workout e.g. cardio, strength, stretching, core etc so you’re targeting all parts of your body each week.
  • schedule ‘active time’ in your weekly plan like you would if you were going to the gym – let others know of your intentions so they can cheer you on / ask you how things went / be out of your way at your chosen time etc.
  • try setting some SMART goals to work towards
  • remember, it’s okay to skip a workout session if you’re really busy or something unexpected comes up but try not to make a habit of it or you won’t feel all of those wonderful benefits I mentioned earlier!

Out and about activities

There are lots of activities which you can do out and about and some gyms have instructor led and virtual classes to try too. Here’s some ideas:

  • Nature walk – this could be in your local park, through woodland, on the beach, around a lakeside path, next to the river etc. You could also look online for nearby nature reserves to visit either with friends, family or alone for some quiet time.
  • Walking or running – this could be to a friend’s house, to work, to the local shops or even around the block. All you need is a comfortable pair or shoes or trainers and you’re good to go. If you want your walk or run to be a sociable activity you could join a group in your local community (try searching online for walking or running groups) or arrange to meet a friend in the park or somewhere convenient for you both.
  • Dance classes – there are lots of different types of dance which you could try – some are more active / fast paced than others. Suggestions include Zumba (high intensity), salsa, ballroom, clubbercise or line dancing.
  • Sports and games with family or friends – these can be indoor or outdoor and include ball games such as tennis, football, rounders and netball, informal games such as frisbee, throw and catch and tag and supervised or instructor led watersports such as canoeing or surfing.
  • Cycling – this could be a family bike ride or as a way of making a journey e.g. to the shops, visiting friends or family or to work. You can start off with a really short distance and then increase the length and opportunities for uphill climbs as your fitness levels improve.
  • Gym classes – some gyms have fitness classes which you can try too. These can be instructor led or virtual (on a screen). Examples include yoga, kettlebells, Pilates, spinning, zumba, body pump, circuits, step and forever fit aimed at the over 50s.
  • Swimming – swimming can be a great workout for the whole body. It gets the heart rate up but takes most of the impact stress off your joints. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to do your swimming in a heated pool with lifeguards at hand to keep you safe.
  • Outdoor gyms – lots of parks have these now and the equipment is totally free to use. Your local council / local area website should tell you where these are located so you can give them a go.
  • Mindful exercise – yoga, pilates and tai chi are great for combining moving the body with mindfulness. I also like do some mindful movement when I’m on the reclining bike at the gym – I close my eyes and think about the effects it’s having on my body (I wouldn’t recommend doing this on other pieces of equipment like the treadmill though!!!)
  • The gym – many people are put off from joining the gym as they think it will be full of muscly men and women who are obsessed with their appearance. From my experience, yes there are some people of the aforementioned type, but there are also many other individuals too who are there for a common reason such as toning, increasing their fitness levels or trying to be more active. In my gym there are people of all shapes and sizes and all ages. The ones I attend are owned by the local council and are managed by Everyone Active and I think these gyms are the best for inclusivity. Most of them will offer a free trial too so you can see if it is something you enjoy before paying for a membership.

What if I’m feeling unwell or physical activity doesn’t work for me?

There may be times when physical activity is super helpful and you can really feel the benefits. However, there may also be other times when exercise just isn’t working for you. Maybe you’re struggling with high levels of anxiety or are having difficulties with depression and you don’t have the motivation to stay active. Or, you’re feeling frustrated because everyone is trying to tell you the benefits of getting some exercise and even though they mean well, it’s actually causing you to feel guilty or to beat yourself up for not adding some physical activity to your day.

For some people, exercise can make their mental health worse, triggering anxiety or further contributing to their mental health problem(s). For example, someone I spoke with in the Bipolar forum group that I’m a member of said that her Community Mental Health Nurse completed an exercise referral for her and at first was enjoying being more active, but then she became obsessed with going and her support worker began to see signs of overtraining and a fixation on getting fit. This was causing rapid weight loss and together, they decided that the current exercise programme was having a negative effect and should be stopped or at least greatly modified. If you or your family feel that your chosen physical activities are having a negative impact, you many need to discuss any concerns with a health professional such as a mental health nurse, support worker, doctor or therapist.

Whatever it is that’s currently stopping you from being active, it’s important not to be too hard on yourself. You might just need to focus on other self care activities for a while such as relaxing in the bath, spending time in nature or curling up with a good book. When you’re feeling a little better or have got yourself on top of things, you can gradually build physical activity into your routine again. This might mean re-evaluating your exercise plans and making a few changes or trying a different type of activity.

Final words…

Although an increase in physical activity can have lots of benefits for our health, it’s important to start slowly. Doing too much too quickly is likely to make you feel overly tired or burnt out and this can mean you’re unable to keep up with the expectations you’ve placed on yourself. This can result in unhelpful or negative feelings, put you off somewhat or cause you to quit altogether.

Try to plan a realistic and achievable routine which fits with you and your lifestyle. Building up your physical activity and the intensity a little each week can make a real difference. Also, remember that rest days are important too as they give your body time to recover.

And another thing… it’s okay to slow down or take a break if your energy levels aren’t as good as they usually are or if you’re having a tough time mentally or emotionally. You can resume your routine when you start to feel better, remembering to build up again slowly if you’ve not exercised for quite a while.

I hope you’ve found today’s blog post really helpful and it’s encouraged you to think about how increasing your physical activity may help you personally. Let me know what your favourite ways to exercise are or if there’s something you’ve always wanted to try and might give a go. It could even be an activity you used to have fun doing as a kid and secretly would love to have a go at again. For example I used to love trampolining sessions at the beach when on holiday with my family. I also used to enjoy badminton in the back garden with my dad but haven’t played for over 20 years!

Posted in art, bullet journal, Bullet journaling, creativity, lifestyle, Planning and journaling

Setting up my Bullet Journal for June 2022: Summer Fruits theme

Hi all, hope you are well. Today I’m going to share my bullet journal spreads for June. I’ve chosen a theme that I did a couple of years previously in 2020, but this time, I’ve hand drawn all of the fruits straight into my notebook, rather than create stickers from my own illustrations. I hope you enjoy looking at my pages for this month.

Front cover

For my front cover I wrote the ‘hello June’ title in the centre of the page and then added a range of fruits in different colours. Lightly sketched pencil drawings were filled with Tombow ATB brush pens and Crayola Supertips, then outlined using a Pigma Micron Fineliner in 01. Detail was added using the same fineliner and a sepia 0.5 UniPin for the decoration on the pineapple.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

Positive message for the month

On the previous page I created a TV series spread but I made a huge mistake with the title, so I covered it over by sticking on a simple message I printed from a website. Unfortunately I can’t credit the person who created it as I’m unable to find it online again and I didn’t save it to my computer!

Monthly Calendar Pages

My calendar pages are my usual six by six dot boxes. I find that there’s just enough space for me to record a couple of events or gym bookings each day. As you can see from the above pages, I made a bit of a mess with the banana so this time I printed one from Google images and traced it! I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s a big improvement.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative Blog

TV series record

This is a page that I started doing from last year. It’s a simple record of all of the different TV series we’ve watched, whether it’s a one off or part of a number of seasons and the particular genre. It’s great for referring back to so we can see all of the great stuff we’ve watched. We can also recommend series to family and friends.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

Activity Tracker

I really enjoyed keeping a record of my walks and workouts last month so I’ve made a similar tracker for June. The only thing I’ve changed are the motivational messages and quote.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

Final thoughts

I’m really pleased with how my pages for this month turned out and they’re certainly nice and colourful. Hopefully in the future, I’ll continue to be brave with drawing things and brush lettering straight into my notebook without practicing on paper first. Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of June.

Posted in Bipolar disorder, creativity, depression management, lifestyle, mental health, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel Of Wellness – Intellectual

In today’s Monday Matters I’ll be considering the intellectual element of the Wheel Of Wellness. This segment is all about keeping your brain active, exploring creativity and finding different ways to expand your knowledge and skills in various areas. It also includes finding ways to challenge yourself and ensuring you do activities which stimulate each area of the brain e.g. speaking and listening, problem solving, fine motor tasks and using and developing your skills of observation etc.

What do we mean by intellectual?

Sometimes when we use the term intellectual, we’re referring to individuals who come across as ‘brainy’, clever or highly educated as demonstrated by their thought processes, reflections, use of vocabulary, problem solving and factual knowledge etc. However, the term can also refer to ways in which you can stimulate your mind.

Today’s blog post is not about trying to develop a superior intellect or the knowledge of a Mastermind contestant, but more about keeping the different areas of your brain active and becoming a lifelong learner. Good mental fitness is very beneficial for your general health and wellbeing, and, as you get older, it can help to prevent signs of dementia or, at the very least, slow down cognitive decline.

Great ways to keep your brain active and expand your mind

Puzzles The term puzzle might make you think of a box of pieces that you join together to make a picture but a jigsaw is just one type of puzzle. In fact, the term is used to defined any activity that requires mental effort and has a definite ending. This can include paper puzzles such as crosswords, wordsearches, spot the difference and sudoku, board games such as Cluedo and Scrabble, guessing games such as I spy and charades and online games such as Candy Crush, Word Cookies and my favourite Angry Birds 2! Puzzling takes lots of concentration and mental effort which is great for improving both your physical and mental health. Here’s 5 benefits for you:

  • improves your problem solving skills which can then be applied at home or work
  • a wonderful stress reliever
  • reduces your risk of mental diseases such as Alzheimer’s
  • slows mental aging
  • a good form of entertainment and can be great fun!

If you are currently struggling with anxiety or depression, puzzles are a great way to distract yourself from negative thoughts, rumination and general worry about your problems. During my last period of depression, I used to dedicate a lot of time to doing jigsaws, wordsearches, arrow words and online games as it provided respite from thoughts that I wasn’t going to get better and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

Learn to play a musical instrument There are so many benefits of learning to play a musical instrument that I could write a full blog post on it. According to my research, playing music uses both sides of the brain so you’re giving it a really good workout. Attentiveness, fine motor movements, memory and creativity are all required and as you get better at playing, you’ll become more confident, not just with regard to your instrument of choice, but also in general too. Setting and working towards goals and celebrating your achievements is bound to make you more positive and after a while, you will probably want to share you learning with others and impress them with your new skills – presenting a great opportunity to socialise with friends, family and even work colleagues.

In this month’s Happiful magazine, I also read that new research has found that learning a musical instrument (in the study they looked at the impact of piano practice) can protect against dementia in those over 60 as it strengthens white matter in the brain.

Read plenty of books, magazines and newspaper articles Being a regular reader is great exercise for the brain and both fiction and non-fiction have many benefits.

Fiction books can help improve your memory, vocabulary, empathy and emotional intelligence, analytical skills and tolerance of others. They can also be a huge source of pleasure and relaxation, alleviating stress and helping us to get a good night’s sleep.

Reading non-fiction books and articles (including blog posts) is a great way to improve your knowledge on a variety of topics which interest you. Whether you want to find out more about gardening, read about an interesting bird you spotted on a woodland walk, improve your understanding of a historical event or explore self help strategies for good mental health there are books and articles on every subject imaginable. And, if you join your local library, you can have access to a range of learning materials for free.

Many people also like to read a daily or weekly newspaper to keep themselves informed. Both the paper and online versions provide a source of global, national and local news, weather updates, the latest health and wellbeing advice, technological advances, entertainment and sports. You can even personalise the homepage on your computer so that news articles on particular topics appear first.

Learn a new skill Learning a new skill is a great way to fire up your brain. There are endless opportunities available for free online or you could try taking a class at your local college or doing a distance learning course. Here’s some examples which you might like to try:

  • flower arranging
  • photography
  • a foreign language
  • drawing
  • ceramics
  • watercolour painting
  • basic car repairs
  • Tai Chi
  • embroidery
  • good sleep hygiene
  • knitting
  • basic first aid
  • mindfulness
  • cooking on a budget
  • swimming
  • yoga
  • aromatherapy
  • Microsoft Office for beginners

As part of our course homework for last week, we were asked to have a go at learning something new. I chose something which I’ve been meaning to give a go for a long time which is developing the skills involved in creating wavy hair using a curling wand (which I purchased nearly a year ago and have barely tried out). My hairdresser showed me some of the basic techniques but it’s not so easy when you’re trying to do it on your own hair as you can’t see the back and you need to swap hands for each side meaning that for half of the styling process, you’re using your non-dominant hand for the wrapping. I found a few super helpful YouTube videos which used the same or a similar wand and have watched them a few times to get some tips. For next week’s session, I’m going to go to college with wavy hair to show off my new skill!

Try new things Trying something new is a great way to grow as a person. You might go to a restaurant you’ve never visited before, find a new recipe to have a go at, take a different fitness class, put on a different radio station, try listening to a different genre of music or go on a day trip to a place which a friend has recommended to you. You never know, you might discover a new favourite or create an amazing memory.

I took the opportunity to try out a new kind of exercise whilst I had access to all of the fitness classes for free. I’ve now discovered that I really enjoy doing pilates and although it’s a relatively gentle form of exercise, it’s great for toning your core muscles.

Ask questions This is something my husband and I do regularly as part of our thirst for new knowledge and greater understanding. For example, there are some swifts that come back every year and nest in one of the roofs we can see from our back bedroom. They’re fascinating birds and, being nature lovers, we always want to find out more about them. Some of the questions we’ve searched on Google this year include: When do swifts arrive in the UK? How many eggs do swifts have in a clutch? What do swift eggs look like? Do swifts pair for life?

You can also learn a lot from asking questions of friends, family, work colleagues and various acquaintances. You might want to get a different opinion or perspective or you might want to find out about something they seem to be somewhat of an expert in or at least know more about than you.

Try out a new hobby New hobbies are great for enhancing your skill set. Also, they present new challenges which can be wonderful for boosting your confidence and self esteem. Here’s a few hobbies that might appeal:

  • birdwatching
  • geocaching
  • upcycling
  • origami
  • gardening
  • calligraphy
  • scrapbooking
  • martial arts
  • astronomy
  • archery
  • camping

Keep a ‘things I want to learn’ list in your bullet journal or notebook Every time you think of something you’d like to know more about, write it down so you don’t forget. It might not be top of your to do list right now, but making a note can be a good reference for the future. When you’re ready, you can then pick something out to focus on and set some learning goals.

Watch documentaries If you’re a visual or auditory learner, documentaries are a great source of education. You can find out about anything you’re interested in, including wildlife, nature, different cultures, living with particular health conditions, environmental issues, technology, crime, history, arts and media, science, religion and current affairs. In the UK, Panorama and Dispatches are popular documentary programmes which tackle the latest issues, whilst Horizon focuses on a variety of subjects related to science and philosophy. I also find anything that Sir David Attenborough narrates to be both fascinating to listen to and incredibly informative.

Get creative Every one of us has the potential to be creative as long as regularly find the time to develop our skills. You might think that creativity is all about making a piece of art work or writing a story or poem, but you can be creative in many different ways. Here’s some examples:

  • developing a new storage system for all of your cleaning supplies and tools at home
  • finding an alternative solution to a problem at work
  • create a capsule wardrobe for your holiday abroad
  • choose a colour scheme for your living room and have fun choosing complementary soft furnishings
  • learn how to make bread dough and then have fun turning pieces into different animals
  • try styling your hair in a different way
  • create a costume for a fancy dress party
  • take a landscape photo and then recreate the scene as a watercolour painting
  • choose a new theme for your bullet journal spreads and have a go at designing different pages for the month

Final words…

Although as adults there are things that we feel we must learn to get by in life and to progress in our jobs or career, we should also make time to learn about things that particularly interest us. I love trying out different art techniques and a few years ago (before COVID struck), I joined a beginner’s ceramics course. I had so much fun and met some lovely people there and, even though we were given specific assignments, e.g. to make a pinch pot, our creations were all completely different and unique to us. Quite a few of us signed up for the intermediate class too to develop our skills further and try out different techniques. It was so exciting to see our finished projects when they’d been glazed and fired and we all felt a huge sense of achievement by the end of the course.

I would be really interested to know if you consider yourself a lifelong learner and, if you do, what you’d like to find out about next, which kind of hobby appeals the most, or which skills you particularly want to develop in the future.

Posted in lifestyle, social media, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel Of Wellness – Social Part 1

In today’s Monday Matters I’ll be considering the social dimension of the Wheel Of Wellness, focusing specifically on the advantages and disadvantages of social media for individuals and using a variety of media to find out what’s on in your local community. This is part 1 of 2 of the social segment which we’re exploring in my local recovery college course and I’ll cover the second part at a later date.

What do we mean by the term ‘social media’?

Social media is a range of websites and applications (apps) that enable users to create and share content (information, ideas and interests) or to participate in social networking via digital channels. Examples include Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Blogs, TripAdvisor, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Social media is used by millions of people and it has brought with it a lot of positives. However, it also has its negative side for individuals and society as a whole.

What are the main advantages of social media?

Connectivity The main advantage of social media has to be the way it connects people. Individuals from anywhere can connect with anyone regardless of their location or time zone. It enables us to easily keep in touch with friends, family, work colleagues, other students during our education and people who share our interests.

Education As well as providing opportunities for students and teachers to learn online, anyone can use social media to learn from experts and professionals. For example, I learnt brush lettering techniques for free using YouTube tutorials. I even found videos that looked at difficulties facing left handed letters and it was so nice to see lefties with beautiful handlettering. You can enhance your knowledge of absolutely anything and develop a range of skills in any field. Regardless of where you live and your educational background and level you can educate yourself, often completely for free.

Help, advice and support At one time, help used to be available from a small number of individuals such as relatives, neighbours, friends and colleagues or through reading books or magazines. Now, you can quickly share your issues in online communities and get so much help and advice you might feel overwhelmed and wonder which is most valuable! If you’re after money advice, you can join the Money Saving Expert forum, if you want local advice, you can join NextDoor and consult with your local community, if you need help with something related to your hobbies, there are countless groups on Facebook which you can sign up for.

Information and updates Another main advantage of social media is that it easily enables you to keep up-to-date with what is happening around the world. Rather than reading printed literature such as newspapers which tend to place a biased slant on things, you can seek information from more reputable sources such as the BBC or compare different articles on the same subject from multiple sources.

Awareness Social media is very good at increasing awareness of new and innovative ideas and products that can enhance the way we live and work. It also plays a huge role in helping people to be more aware of current affairs.

Builds communities There are a huge range of online communities and new ones are being started all of the time. On Instagram, you can follow hashtags which suit your interests and interact with others who share your passions. For example, I follow #hamstersofinstagram and #hamster and also post pictures of my pet for others to see. I also follow bullet journal related hashtags so I can inspiration for my own BuJo. Doing this means I can easily interact with other hamster lovers and people who love bullet journaling. On Facebook, I’m a member of various planner communities and groups who enjoy playing the game Angry Birds 2. One of my favourite groups is UKPA which has over 3.8K members. Not only do we discuss planning and share our planner spreads, but we also create lots of off topic threads related to everything and anything such as housework, friendships, productivity and lifestyle. This creates a feeling of ‘oneness’, bringing together people from different places, religions and backgrounds.

Sharing with others

Although some people seem to be in the habit of oversharing on social media, places like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram are great platforms for sharing your creativity. This might be in the form of songs, photography, poems, art work or crafts such as knitting and sewing. If others like your recordings or items, they might express an interest in buying them which could even lead to a small business venture!

What are the main disadvantages of social media?

Time wasting It is very easy to spend far too much time mindlessly scrolling through feeds on apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, watching countless funny videos on YouTube or popping online to quickly check something only to find you’ve forgotten what you were supposed to be doing and have been distracted / pulled in by the wealth of other information which pops up on the screen of your phone, tablet or computer. Before you know it, several hours have passed by and you’ve not done any of the household / personal tasks you had on your to do list for today (seriously bad news for your productivity) or spoken to anyone you know IRL (in real life), including the people you live with, or spent any quality time interacting with your pets.

Addiction Social media can be extremely addictive, sometimes to the point where it has a seriously detrimental effect on your work and personal life and your relationships with others (see above). A recent study carried out just last year, found links between FOMO (fear of missing out) and excessive use of social media. This could either mean that FOMO causes individuals to keep checking social media, or what they see on social media makes them feel as though they are missing out and exacerbates the FOMO which in turn increases feelings associated with anxiety, depression and neuroses. These emotional effects can then have negative effects on physical health too.

Cyberbullying According to information online, cyberbullying is becoming a a big issue for children and adolescents. When I was a young girl, bullying (defined as repetitious unwanted and aggressive behaviour towards an individual) generally took place during the school day. Now, with the advent of social media it can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – in other words relentlessly leaving the target with no respite. This information which I found on the Unicef website was incredibly informative on the subject and is well worth reading and talking about if you have your own children or spend time with young relatives. Of course, cyberbullying can also affect adults too and UK based Cybersmile Foundation has lots of useful help and advice available on their website.

Health issues Excessive use of social media can have a negative impact on both physical and mental health. Keeping yourself active is one of the keys to good health but constant use of social media promotes laziness and can lead to issues such as lethargy, weight gain, sleeplessness and a general inertia. Overuse of social media can also exacerbate mental health conditions. For example, seeing photos of friends having fun, being all smiley and making the most of life can sometimes cause feelings associated with inadequacy, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, loneliness, anxiety and depression.

Hacking Hacking is the process of gaining unauthorised access to data in a system or computer. This can be for a number of reasons including for financial gain, identity theft or to steal information or data. Hacking is one of the most dangerous aspects of social media usage so it’s really important to keep your information safe. See this Wikihow for simple ways to do this.

How can I make sure my experience of social media is a positive one?

I’ve written a blog post about this before so I’ll link it here rather than covering old ground. In terms of keeping safe, a few suggestions are:

  • Use strong passwords and make each one different (I write them down in a little book which only me and my husband know about)
  • Be careful about what you share. Don’t reveal personal information such as your home address, phone number or financial details
  • Familiarise yourself with the privacy policies on different social media sites. Customise your settings to control who sees what
  • Install anti-virus software
  • Delete, unfollow, unsubscribe to anything which makes you feel bad
  • Try to remember that if something seems to good to be true, it probably is!

Finding out what’s on in your local community

Although it’s nice to belong to a variety of online communities related to your hobbies and interests, its also important to have face to face interactions with others. A good way you can do this is by getting involved in things that are taking place in your local area. Events could take place in community centres, local areas, churches, leisure centres, country parks, theatres, historical buildings and if you live by the coast, your local beaches. There’s a range of ways to find out what’s happening:

  • Websites – for example, there’s a site for my local area called ‘See it Do it Sunderland’ but I’m pretty sure there will be something online for your locality too.
  • Facebook – If you type in where you live plus the word ‘events’ lots of local information should hopefully pop up
  • Nextdoor – joining this online community app enables you to interact with your neighbours, find out about community events, ask questions about your local area and get recommendations for various tradesmen
  • Leaflets and magazines – you might get a leaflet pushed through your letter box or receive a local magazine. There might also been an online magazine for your area – mine is called sunderlandmagazine.com
  • Word of mouth – work colleagues, friends, family members etc might be able to recommend something. I learnt about events from the course leader and participants at my Recovery College course.
  • Newspapers – the paper version or online edition can be a good source of information, although you obviously have to pay for this if you want regular access

Final words…

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading today’s Monday Matters post and it’s made you think about your use of social media and whether it mainly benefits you or affects you in a negative way. Maybe there are some positive changes you think you’d like to make but never seem to get around to – could you perhaps work on creating a new habit for yourself? Might you be spending too much time interacting with others online instead of making real life connections and involving yourself in social interactions with friends and family or people in your local community? Only you know what’s best for you but I know that I’m really enjoying and benefiting from the social side of going to fitness classes at my local gym group where I’ve got chatting to a number of different people with a range of life experiences.

Next week, I’ll be focus on the intellectual segment of The wheel of wellness.