Posted in Bipolar disorder, Bullet journaling, CBT, depression management, mental health, Planning and journaling, wellbeing

Monday Matters: Useful ways to track your mood

At the end of April, as part of my post on self-awareness and self-acceptance, I mentioned the usefulness of mood trackers as a way of learning more about how your mood changes and about different things which impact your mood. Although there are hundreds of examples of bullet journal spreads featuring decorative, pretty and colourful trackers (just type #moodtracker into Instagram or search Pinterest), I find that many are a little basic and are more about aesthetics than being an effective learning tool which helps you manage your mood. So, today, I’m going to explore why mood tracking is helpful and discuss some more useful ways of tracking your mood which go beyond colouring in shapes to show if you’re happy, sad or neutral.

Why track your mood?

You might simply track your mood to see if you spent more time feeling happy than sad during any given month but there are so many more benefits to be had such as:

  • It can help you to better understand your triggers and their impact – as well as genetic and physical factors affecting your mood, social and environmental factors play a big part too. By learning about your triggers, you can take steps to minimise the effect and work on developing healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Enables you to identify patterns – after you’ve tracked your mood for a while, you can start to look for patterns, so for example, you might notice that you always feel particularly stressed or down on a Monday after a weekly meeting at work, or anxious in the build up to going supermarket shopping on a Tuesday, or you might notice that a period of depression always kicks in at the end of Autumn and lifts when the weather starts to become brighter in the Springtime.
  • Helps you to develop strategies for managing your moods – when you’ve established patterns, you can then work on developing strategies to combat the effects of various triggers, such as working on positive self talk, doing relaxing breathing meditations, scheduling in something fun on a Monday evening, connecting with nature or getting a little Winter sunshine.
  • Helps you to track your progress – once you’ve put the various strategies in place, long term mood tracking can help you to see if what you’ve put in place actually works. And if you know specific things are really useful, you can do more of them!
  • Can help you to get an accurate diagnosis or appropriate self help strategies – you can take the information you’ve collected when you see a mental health practitioner such as a community psychiatric nurse (CPN) or your psychiatrist and then can use this to help you get an accurate diagnosis or to to make suggestions on how to manage your symptoms more effectively.

In fact, mood tracking is a key element of CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and related exercises are often given as homework due to the fact that they can really help you manage your mental health much more effectively.

Issues I’ve had with keeping a basic one page per month mood tracker in my bullet journal

One of the first issues I had with a basic mood tracker was that my mood changed so much throughout the day that I wanted to record it all and ended up splitting the shape or section for that day into about 4 different colours e.g. I was tired first thing, then I was annoyed about something someone had said, then a little later in the day, I received some great feedback and I was happy, then by the end of a busy day I was either exhausted or extremely stressed at the amount of work I had to do the next day. A more useful idea is to record each time your mood or emotional state changes and what has made it change (i.e. the trigger or circumstances). Then you can come up with some strategies to combat the moods which are causing difficulties e.g. developing relaxation techniques, reframing particular thoughts and feelings, talking about things that are causing you to feel stressed etc.

Also, I think that a lot of mood trackers become restrictive when they only have a set number of moods such as happy, sad, neutral, tired and stressed. What if you feel embarrassed and it had a huge impact on your mood? What if something someone said has made you feel completely inadequate and this leads to feelings of self doubt and lots of negative self talk? There are so many different moods and I think it’s important to recognise them all. I downloaded and laminated a mood wheel a while back now and have found it really useful to find the words to pinpoint exactly how I feel. There’s lots of these available online and this one is available here.

A wheel showing every mood and feeling you could possibly think of!

Finally, recording your mood is more useful if you also take the time to journal about what caused the mood / emotion and the impact it had in terms of thoughts and subsequent behaviour. Then, you can come up with ways of going forward.

My idea for a more useful mood chart for your bullet journal

It took me a while to come up with a set up which isn’t too onerous but is helpful in identifying moods and emotions and can also be used to record action techniques such as those I learnt in CBT, Compassion and Mindfulness sessions to manage the moods. The main focus, I guess, is on negative moods but it’s also important to recognise positive moods so that you can try to find ways to inject more positivity whilst making sure that you don’t get too high if you are inclined toward mania or hypomania.

Obviously, this is an idea that I think will probably work for me so bear in mind that it might not suit you, but I hope that it might give you an idea for a layout which you can modify to fit your own needs. You might also think that the chart is time consuming, and yes, it does take time, but, if it helps you deal with your moods effectively, I think it’s well worth doing.

The date and mood/emotion columns are pretty self explanatory and I’m using the above wheel to help me best describe how I feel. The ‘why’ column can be used to identify the circumstances which caused the mood such as lack of sleep, a particular situation that you faced, a comment made by someone or an event which has occurred or may be about to happen. You might also like to record your related thoughts as these can really impact on things too. The final column ‘actions’ could be used to identify ways of improving your mood or providing a remedy to high levels of stress or excitement. Some ideas include:

  • work on reframing the thought that made you feel bad in some way
  • take it to court to consider the evidence for your thoughts / beliefs – this is a great CBT technique and you can find related PDFs here.
  • plan in some relaxing activities to combat stress / help you relax
  • talk to someone about what has happened with a view to getting an alternative point of view
  • go for a walk in nature
  • find something else to focus on if you’re finding yourself ruminating

A useful way to track bipolar moods

For bipolar disorder symptoms, the free charts from Bipolar UK are great for tracking changing moods so you can recognise signs that you are slipping into a depressed mood or becoming hypomanic or manic. My personal preference would be more room to make notes about triggers, so I would use the first sheet as to record my mood and then create a weekly page for information about events, triggers, wellbeing activities or interactions with others.

Using an app on your phone

If you’re not a fan of pen and paper methods, you could always track your moods on your phone. I’ve found several options and some are more in depth than others. These are all available for both iOS and Android but there are some I’ve read about that are just available for iOS). As with all apps, if you want access to all of the features, you’ll need to pay a subscription for Premium access, but there are some which offer simple ways of recording basic information and tracking things over time.

Daylio This one is particularly popular and, due to it having lots of clickable icons, you can quickly record how you feel, state what your sleep has been like and mark off what you’ve been up to during the day (e.g. hobbies, health related, kindness and compassion related and chores). There’s also the option to add some notes to sum up your mood and your day. I found the mood labels annoying at first as the really happy face one said ‘rad’ but after some exploring, I discovered you could change them to something you would actually say, I chose ‘joyful’. After consistently entering your data over a period of time, you can create graphs to see how your mood has changed over the weeks and you can also see how doing different activities impacts on how you feel. Also, to help you get into the routine of filling in your data, you can set a reminder for a particular time, for example, I tried 8pm so I could reflect each evening.

Bearable This one has loads of bits and pieces that you can record alongside your mood. You can add if you had a headache and if you had an mental health symptoms such as stress, anxiety and depression. You can also identify factors which may have impacted on your day such as how busy you’ve been, if you’ve been to work and how much screen time you had. You can say where you’ve been, how much physical activity you’ve engaged in and if you’ve been socialising and what your sleep has been like. Again you can set reminders and edit what you want to track.

emoods Another app which looks like it might be really helpful for individuals with Bipolar disorder is emoods. Each daily log has a space to record how much sleep you got (in increments of 0.5 hours) and your mood, focusing on the four areas of depressed mood, elevated mood, irritability and anxiety, rating them from none, mild, moderate to severe. Over time, the data you enter can then be made into various graphs so you can see if there are any patterns. You can also record if you had any symptoms of psychosis, if you attended some form of talk therapy and your medications (type and dose). Finally, there’s a box to type in anything else which is relevant and may have had an impact on your mood.

Tracking your moods on your phone has several benefits – you can have lots of data in digital format and it doesn’t take up lots of space like a paper version would and you can get graphs of your data which would be difficult and time consuming to create in your notebook. Personally I found both records to be useful but I much prefer working in my bullet journal.

Making it a habit

If you’re going to go to the effort of making a decision to track your moods and learn from it, you also need to make filling in the diary or using an app. a habit and part of your daily routine. If you use a paper based method, you might choose set times during the day to sit down and do some journaling. It’s helpful if you reflect on things pretty much straightaway so you can complete some action steps but it might not be feasible to make notes there and then so you need to find what works for you. My previous blog post on habit creation might help you with making sure you stick to filling in your chart but a simple way of reminding yourself is to set an alarm on your phone or a reminder with a notification tone in your calendar.

As I said earlier, the apps which I tried include the option of notifications to remind you to fill in your information at various points in the day which can be really helpful as long as you choose useful times for the messages to pop up.

Final words…

I hope you have found today’s post useful and it’s given you the key points about why it’s helpful to track your moods and some ideas for how to go about it. If you are really struggling with your moods, however, I would recommend you consider trying CBT as a trained therapist can help you to you look at your emotions and also teach you key techniques for dealing with unhelpful and negative thoughts.

Posted in Blogging, bullet journal, Bullet journaling, Planning and journaling, watercolour painting

Setting up my Bullet Journal for June: Butterflies theme

June is here and the weather is finally starting to warm up and give us blue skies and sunshine. As our gardens start to fill with flowers, we get more and more bees and butterflies visiting and the latter is the focus of my bullet journal this month. Again, I wanted to get my watercolour paints out, this time for a single focal image. I hope you like the results and that they inspire you to give a butterfly theme a go some time. The pages took me quite a while to produce, hence me being a little behind schedule sharing them but better late than never eh?!!

Front cover

One of my favourite butterflies is the peacock butterfly with its bright colours and its spectacular eye spots. I found a photograph online and printed it for reference and also did a black and white copy which I traced so as to get the butterfly looking symmetrical (yes, I cheated but I wanted the focus to be on the watercolour, not drawing!). I spent a while creating the perfect bluey colour and I’m definitely getting much better at colour mixing. The other colours were relatively easy to get right but the painting took a long while as I used tiny brushes for the details. I also used a Pigma Micron to do the stripy detailing along the top and a while gel pen for the spots. I was pleased with the results and the use of pale yellow paper at the top and bottom of the page has nicely hidden a problem I had with water dripping on the page which caused some of the Tombow ink from the calendar page to seep through (I may have cried a little when I messed up though!).

Watercolour peacock butterfly
Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

Calendar page

After spending a full afternoon on my front cover, I decided to keep the decoration on the calendar page quite simple. The line drawn butterflies were lightly sketched first to get the wing shapes and symmetry looking okay and then I inked them with a 0.3 Pigma Micron. I was surprised by how long it took me to draw them but then. drawing isn’t a strength of mine.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative
Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative
Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

Gratitude pages

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that I’ve been doing these gratitude pages for a while now. At the moment, I’m struggling with negativity due to various medical complaints impacting on my mental health and this means that finding things to be grateful for becomes a little more difficult but all the more useful. Sitting down and coming up with two or three things each night, reminds me that there are some good things to be thankful for. I’ve filled in the first two days to give you an idea of the kinds of things I write.

The meadow washi tape with gold accents is a nice addition to the page and I also added lots of tiny punched paper butterflies around the title section. I used a multipurpose glue and a little pin head to apply it to the reverse – time consuming again but they look cute I think.

Photo Credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative
Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

Yoga Session Tracker

Another spread I’ve been doing for a while to record my daily yoga practice. I write down which YouTube yoga routine I’ve done so I can make sure I’m targeting different parts of the body and ensure that I’m not repeating sequences too often. I was keeping a yoga journal too but I seem to have got out of the habit of writing in there at the moment so this will do for now.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing my spreads for this month. I’m also planning on setting up a mood diary but I will hopefully be sharing this in my next Monday Matters post on the 7th. I’m now going to spend half an hour checking out everyone else’s spreads for this month as I love looking at a variety of themes and layout styles – I may have to set a timer though as it’s easy to lose hours on blog posts, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube as I’m sure you’ll all be well aware!

Just one more thing before I go…

I just want to share this little graphic which popped onto my phone screen yesterday. Thank you so much to all of you who take the time to read my blog – I appreciate every single view, like and comment.

Posted in lifestyle, meditation, mental health, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: A mini guide to walking mindfully

Photo credit: Stanislav Vlasov for Unsplash

Walking has to be my favourite form of exercise and it’s something I do each day. Sometimes my walk is for a particular purpose, for example, heading to the post office with shop orders or running another errand, but mostly, my trips out are simply for the pleasure of getting outdoors and appreciating what’s there. Both are good exercise, but the later is best for body and mind.

For me, there are two types of mindful walking – one, which I was introduced to in my mindfulness classes, is a kind of meditation where the primary focus is on observing the bodily sensations of walking, the other is where you connect with your environment, paying attention to what is going on around you, using all of your senses to fully immerse yourself. Both forms of mindful walking have their benefits and I will consider each of them here as you might like to try them both.

A mindful walking meditation

Many people think that meditation is all about sitting still and trying to empty the mind. This is not the case. Rather, meditation is a set of techniques that involve focusing the attention on a particular object, thought or activity with a view to achieving heightened awareness and a sense of clarity, peace and stability. Examples include seated practices such as breathing exercises, visualisations, body scans and sound baths where instruments are used to focus the mind. Others involve movement, for example yoga, tai chi and mindful walking.

A mindful walking meditation is typically done in a small space and is taken at a slow, careful pace. You might choose to walk up and down your back garden (or in square shapes depending on the layout of your plot) or back and forth along your hallway. Anywhere where you can fit in around 10-15 paces and which is relatively peaceful so you won’t be easily disturbed. You can walk barefoot or wearing light shoes. Once you’ve decided upon your walking space, you bring your complete attention and awareness to the process of walking:

  • Start by bringing your attention to your feet. Notice any sensations there before you begin.
  • Take slow, small and intentional steps.
  • Have your hands clasped behind your back, by your sides or swinging gently – do whatever feels most comfortable for you.
  • Focus on each and every part of your step – the lifting of your foot, moving the foot forward, the placing of the heel on the ground followed my the rest of the sole and then placing your weight on it ready to move your other foot.
  • At the end of your path, pause briefly before intentionally making a 90˚ or 180˚ turn.
  • As you walk, you can focus your attention on one particular aspect of your walking e.g. your breath as it comes in and out of your body, the movement of your feet or legs, the contact of your feet on the ground, the balance of your body as it moves.
  • If your mind starts to wander, notice what has happened and then kindly and gently bring you focus back to your walking.
  • You can also incorporate a mental mantra to help you maintain focus. I like this one: Breathing in: ‘In the here’. Breathing out: ‘In the now’.
  • There isn’t a set length of time you should do your walking meditation for but around 10 minutes should be enough time to reap the benefits.

If practised consistently, walking meditations are excellent for your wellbeing. They can help to reduce anxiety and depression, improve sleep, increase blood circulation, aid digestion, improve balance and even boost creativity.

Walking mindfully

If you’re off out for a longer walk somewhere, maybe around your local park, through woodland or forest, or even just for a wander around your local neighbourhood, you can still practise mindfulness techniques but in a slightly more relaxed way than the above meditation.

Defined as ‘a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations…’ (Oxford Dictionaries), the practice of mindfulness has so many benefits including:

  • improved awareness of the world around us
  • an ability to find joy in the present moment
  • better appreciation of what we have
  • feeling calmer and happier
  • more compassionate towards ourselves
  • developing a more positive mindset
  • better able to deal with difficult and unhelpful thoughts
  • a higher level of self awareness

The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Here are some wonderful ways of combining mindfulness and walking:

Checking in with your body As you embark on your walk, try spending some time exploring what’s going on for your body right now. Is it feeling stiff? Do you have any tightness or tense areas in your muscles? Are you standing upright with an open chest or are you a little slouched? Are your feet ready for a little exercise or are they already aching from a previous walk? Try to approach this in a non-judgemental way, for example if your back feels a little sore, just accept that this is the case rather than labelling it as bad and berating yourself for slouching whilst you were working at your desk.

Observing the act of walking Just like in the walking meditation, you might spend a few minutes getting curious about how you’re moving and what happens with your feet as you take those first steps. This could include thinking about which part of your foot makes contact with the ground first, how you distribute your body weight as you walk, what you do with your arms as you walk e.g. are they stuffed in your pockets or swinging gently by your sides. Do any tense areas of your body seem to ease as you walk? etc. Again, try to avoid judging your walking technique or labelling any sensations in your body as bad.

Adopting the beginner’s mind A key element of mindfulness is having what is known as a beginner’s mind. With this approach, you let go of any previously held ideas or preconceptions about what you might experience and become open to whatever happens, seeing things with a fresh pair of eyes. So, for example, on my walk in the park this morning, I could have thought about it being the same old park, with the same old water and the same old trees and bushes. Instead, I really engaged with the experience, noticing a cute baby rabbit munching on the grass, a squirrel leaping onto a tree with fright as I approached, the freshly painted benches, pairs of mallards hanging out together near the pond and a tree covered in pretty white blossom. In this way, the same walk can be very different each time and bring new joys and experiences.

Acceptance Another aspect of mindfulness is acceptance and seeing things as they really are, rather than trying to change things. This too can be applied to our walks. If, for example, you are out for a walk and the weather changes and it starts to rain, the temptation might be to grumble, hunch your shoulders, speed up your pace and try to get to somewhere warm and dry. Alternatively, you could accept the weather for what it is, observing the change of the light, the colours of the sky, the sounds of the rain on the ground or on your umbrella or coat, and maybe even enjoy the experience of the cool water on your skin or the droplets as they form of the end of your nose.

Use your senses As you walk, really tune in to the experience using your sense of touch, sound, sight, smell and even taste. So, for example, during a walk along the beach you might explore how the sand feels beneath your bare feet or what happens when your shoe takes a step. You might really listen to the sound of the waves crashing or watch the sun glinting on the water. You could savour the flavour of a cool ice cream or recognise how you can also taste the salty seaweed strewn all around. The alarming cries of gulls might take you by surprise but then fade into the background as you hear a couple of children giggling as they create a giant sandcastle. You might roll up your trousers ready for a dip in the freezing cold sea and let out a little squeal as the tide washes over your feet. Wherever you go on your walk, there are so many different experiences to be had and if you take the time to appreciate them all, I can almost guarantee that there’s lots of fun to be had as you explore. A great way to ensure you make the most of your time is to tap into a child-like sense of curiosity and wonder – explore and appreciate all of the little things no matter now many times you’ve seen or experienced them before – pick up a shell or a feather and look at all of the intricate patterns on it, watch the babbling brook, focusing in on how it travels over the pebbles and rocks and trying to spot any birds visiting the water.

Appreciating the different seasons It’s Spring at the moment in the UK and the perfect time to look out for signs of the season. From March, you might see snowdrops, catkins dangling from the trees, leaf buds forming, toads making their journey to the pond, pretty scented blossom and newborn lambs. You might hear pattering rain, the wind gusting through the trees, birds singing, sheep bleating, buzzing bees or the quiet tinkling of a stream. In Summer, you can look out for trees in full leaf creating a canopy over the woodland floor, the bright sunshine peeping through the gaps, meadow flowers such as buttercups, yarrow, cornflowers and poppies laced with pretty butterflies and ladybirds. Even on a walk around your local area, there’s so much to experience – the faint sound of a lawn mower or the smell of freshly cut grass, the cooing of wood pigeons, fledglings learning to fly a robin singing in a tree, the high pitched screech of swifts soaring in the sky or something rustling in a neighbourhood front garden. There are yet more experiences to be had in Autumn and Winter, and as long as you dress appropriately for the weather, any time is a good time for a nice, refreshing walk. At different times of year, consider the position of The Sun at different times of day, the effect the weather has on rivers and streams – sometimes almost flooding the banks, bursting and gushing with water, yet at other times almost dry and how the earth changes from being dried and cracked in the Summertime to soggy, leaf filled and musty smelling in the Autumn.

Reflection At the end of your walk, either pausing on a bench, in the car or when you get back home, try taking the time to reflect on the experience, bringing to mind everything that you noticed and all of the different experiences you had. You might also want to think about how you feel – perhaps more relaxed, energised or ready for a nice sit down to rest your weary feet.

Final words…

During the lockdown period, many of us have found ourselves going for walks more often, developing a love of the great outdoors and appreciating the benefits it brings to the mind, body and soul. We’re now seeing other leisure opportunities opening back up such as non-essential retail, cafes, bars and restaurants, and although it’s nice to have access to these, nothing beats some time out in the fresh air connecting with nature. Any brisk walk is good for your physical health but add mindfulness into the mix and your mental health can benefit in so many ways too.

Posted in compassion, mental health

Monday Matters: 7 ways you can offer support to someone with a mental illness

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

I’m really lucky to have a very supportive husband who does everything he can to help when I’m struggling with my mental health. He seems to know exactly what to do and what to say and, although he will admit that life is hard for him too when I’m going through a period of difficulty (albeit only saying this when I’m feeling well again) he works tirelessly to look after me and make things easier, whilst at the same time, maintaining a busy full time job. With this is mind and knowing that most of us will have a partner, friend, family member or colleague who has mental health issues at some point, here are 7 ways that you can offer much needed support.

Ask ‘How are you? Twice.

Most of us will be able to sense if someone we know is having difficulties. They may seem a little quiet, look washed out or just not quite their usual self. The ‘Ask twice’ campaign recognises that most of us, when asked ‘How are you?’ tend to offer up the standard response of ‘I’m fine’ or ‘I’m okay’, even when we’re really not. Asking a second time can make all the difference as it can let the person know that you’re really interested in their welfare. It’s up to them whether or not they choose to open up to you, but at least you’ve let them know that you are there if they need you.

Make time to listen

Before you make the effort to ask someone if they’re really okay, it’s a good idea to think carefully about when is a good time for a mental health and wellbeing conversation. If they do choose to open up, it’s important that you both have a lengthy window for a chat and an appropriate space to too. Picking a quiet place with no distractions shows that you are seriously interested in what they have to say and also helps the person know that they won’t be overheard by others.

Remember, some people may never have spoken about their mental health before so might be worried about opening up and sharing how they feel. Others, like me, may have shared their thoughts and feelings with a variety of people including therapists and doctors. They may also have already received a diagnosis from a health professional. In this case, they may just need a listening ear, some reassurance or even a hug (according to my reading, a cautious cuddle is possible from 17th May when this post goes live!). In making a judgement about what the individual needs good listening skills are essential. Some basics include:

  • be patient and listen really carefully – lots of eye contact, supportive gestures such as a nod or supportive words such as ‘take your time’.
  • avoid second guessing – try not to jump in too quickly or make assumptions about what the person is saying
  • offer phrases which validate what the person is saying e.g. ‘that must be really hard’ rather than offering advice or solutions – don’t try to fix them!
  • avoid phrases which dismiss the person’s feelings or suggest that they can easily change how they feel e.g. don’t say things like ‘you’ll be fine’, ‘I know how you feel’, ‘everyone feels this way’, ‘it could be worse’ or ‘cheer up’.
  • use open ended questions e.g. ‘is there something I can do to help?’ ‘are there any signs I can look out for which might tell me you’re struggling?’
  • paraphrase – repeat back what they’ve said in similar words so you can check you understand fully
  • offer them reassurance – remind them that they have the strength to get through this, they have a support network to help them and that thing are going to be okay.

Read up on the person’s particular health condition

Everyone’s experience of mental health difficulties are different but there are some common symptoms to look out for and read up on. There’s lots of information available online and good places to start include the NHS Website and Mind. For specific conditions, you can also check out dedicated websites such as Anxiety UK, Bipolar UK, PTSD UK and ADHD UK. You might want to find out for yourself or you might want to share these resources with the individual so they can learn more about their diagnosis or discover self help strategies. There are also online communities which enable both of you to ‘meet’ others to share experiences, stories and tips for managing particular conditions.

Offer practical help

With some mental health conditions, day-to-day living becomes really difficult. Offering support such as getting shopping, making a nutritious meal, giving them a lift to a medical appointment or doing a household chore for them can be a big help. Other support you could offer includes working with them to make a list of things to share with the doctor (or questions to ask), reading literature about mental health conditions either in booklets or online and helping them to make notes, developing a bank of self help strategies to try.

Regularly check in with them

After the initial chat with the person, make sure it doesn’t end there. Someone who is depressed, anxious or struggling in some other way is very likely to withdraw from social contact with friends and family, but this kind of isolation can make things worse. Checking in with them regularly and occasionally suggesting short, one-to-one get togethers such as a quick coffee or a brief walk around a local park reminds them that you care and are still thinking about them. They might turn down the face-to-face contact if they’re feeling really bad but at least they will know that you’re there.

Even if you don’t see the person regularly, you can still show them you’re thinking about them by sending regular texts asking them how they’re doing or inviting them for coffee, a walk in the park or something similar. You might only get a few lines back or sometimes no reply at all but remember that your words are being read and are helpful.

Support them in getting further help

Depending on where the person is in their mental health journey, this might be offering to go with them when they visit their GP, looking into different treatment options or going online to find out more about a particular condition and self help strategies which are recommended. You could even offer to do something together which might help, such as going for regular walks in the sunshine, attending yoga classes or going to a support group.

Don’t forget to look after yourself too

Listening to and supporting someone who has a mental health difficulty can be challenging and at times very draining. You may find yourself getting upset or struggle to cope with seeing someone you love having such a tough time. If you live with the person, you might also be taking on the majority of or all household activities and chores such as cooking, cleaning, tidying and child care. In order to look after someone else as much as you can, it’s really important to find some time to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally. If you are adopting the role of caregiver when the person is unwell, you’re likely to need to have regular breaks where you spend some time alone or with others. And remember to set some boundaries between yourself and the person you’re looking after so that as well as having some space, they’re reminded that you have personal needs and limits too.

Final words

I really hope you’ve found today’s post useful. Figures suggest that about 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems every year and the lockdown restrictions which have been in place during 2020 and 2021 have made things particularly difficult for a lot of us. Therefore, it’s likely that at least one of your immediate family, close friends or colleagues may be finding things hard right now and could benefit from your help and support.

Posted in lifestyle, mental health, wellbeing

Monday Matters: 7 health benefits of keeping houseplants plus easy care varieties to choose

Currently we have lots of trays of seedlings all over the windowsills in our house as we get our baby plants ready for life outside when the weather warms up (hopefully some time this month!). To make way for them, we’ve had to reposition some of our many houseplants so our space is looking a little bit cluttered right now! I’m sure it won’t be long until the little plant plugs are transferred into our garden beds and the indoor plants can have pride of place again. In today’s Monday Matters I’m going to be sharing some of the joys of keeping houseplants, including 7 ways they’re beneficial for our physical and mental health. I’m also going to give my suggestions for some easy care varieties that take minimal time and effort and still look good.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

We have a range of different houseplants which we’ve accumulated over several years. A few of them have been grown from cuttings (such as our Christmas cactus which bizarrely decided to flower at Easter this time) but most have been bought quite cheaply from local garden centres. You can see a small selection of them above which I’ve grouped together just for the photograph! We love our plants because they look good, but recently I’ve learnt more about the excellent health benefits that come with them which I want to talk about today:

improve your mood

There’s a reason why people take flowers and plants to hospitals when they visit – they’re great for cheering us up. Whether it’s beautiful scented flowers or interesting and colourful leaves, plants are lovely to look at and can radiate a feeling of positive energy and make us feel much happier. They’ve also been shown to reduce negative thoughts and emotions such as sadness, anger, fear and stress. In addition, all houseplants require some basic maintenance and this can create a feeling of being needed which is particularly useful during periods of low mood associated with some mental health conditions.

boost your productivity levels

Various studies have found that working in a space containing greenery is great for productivity. Having a few potted plants on your desk improves cognition (AKA mental processing) and also makes you able to concentrate for longer periods of time. This is good news for office workers and students who want to increase their performance and get more done, more quickly.

reduce fatigue

Fatigue is a serious issue for many of us resulting in feelings of tiredness and exhaustion, irritability, poor motivation and concentration, lack of appetite and weakened immune system. Whilst plants can’t completely cure modern day fatigue, they can certainly help to improve some situations and causes. At work, they can create a more calming and informal environment, offering reminders of the joys of nature. At home, they can create a relaxing atmosphere where you feel more content. Plants may also help to relieve symptoms such as headache and aching joints.

Having a plant filled home has even been shown to help alleviate symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (AKA Winter depression), one of which is chronic fatigue. Although one of the main treatments for SAD is to try to get as much natural light as possible, studies have also found that exposure to plenty of greenery through indoor gardening can improve our mood and as the plants are often near to or in the window, the individual can benefit from light exposure as they tend to each of their pots.

lower stress and anxiety levels

Looking after houseplants can be a great mindful activity where the focus is shifted to the here and now, helping you to forget about all (or most) of the everyday stresses and strains of modern life. Starting from reading up about the plant and then potting the specimen in a cute new pot before finding the perfect location for it. Then you have maintenance tasks such as regularly checking the soil to see how moist it is, looking carefully at the plant to find out if it’s completely happy where it is, or is showing signs of underwatering or lack of exposure to light etc. Removing any dead leaves or flowers or checking a book or online article to find out more about the plant if it appears to be struggling.

One study conducted in Japan has even found that just gazing at a plant for a short amount of time can significantly reduce anxiety levels. I think to get the most out of your observation though, it’s important to really look and appreciate it as a living thing. So, for example, you could pay attention to the leaf shape and structure, the colour of the stem and the leaves, the shape and height of the plant, how it smells and how it feels – glossy, bumpy, spiky etc.

better air quality

A recent NASA study discovered that houseplants can help clean the air we breathe by reducing toxins. Apparently there are lots of pollutants in our home that you probably didn’t even know about. Sources include cooking, cleaning products, poor ventilation, some building materials, home furnishings, heating systems and damp. The air purification ability of the plants depends which varieties you choose, how big they are, how big the room is and how many you have but about 5 decent sized plants in a medium sized room should make a difference.

A word of warning though: Never rely completely on plants to clean your air. Simple solutions such as using chemical free cleaning products, removing mould, opening windows, choosing low odour paints and finishes etc. should be first on your list.

help to make rooms more comfortable

Plants can completely change the environment in a room, making it a more pleasant place to be. As well as the aesthetic benefits, plants can help to raise the humidity level as part of their respiration process and photosynthesis. A room which is more humid can help relieve dry skin conditions such as eczema and lessen symptoms of colds and asthma. Large houseplants can be useful for absorbing sound in a noisy environment so are ideal for rooms with hard floors. They can also provide a screen from unattractive aspects of a home such as plug points and trailing wires or help to give a pleasant dappled shade if placed beside a bright and sunny window.

therapeutic effects

The benefits of getting close to nature are widely studied, with research showing that spending time in a green space can have a huge positive impact on wellbeing. Going outdoors is beneficial but you can also enjoy nature from inside your home if the weather is preventing you from wanting to step foot outside or if anxiety or depression are making things extremely difficult for you. Having some potted plants is a great way of getting started and they can be enough to provide you with a routine of having something to give care and attention to, without being too onerous and overwhelming whilst you are struggling with your mental health.

Having an array of houseplants has also been shown to help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. This is believed to be due to the mindful activities of watering and nurturing which make us feel needed and evoke a sense of purpose within ourselves and a feeling of joy from believing that we are making a difference to the world.

And one more thing…

Aside from these great health and wellbeing benefits, houseplants look fantastic too, providing cheap and cheerful décor for your home. The different shades and textures of greenery itself offers great appeal and if you choose a range of striking pots and containers these can also add extra visual interest. We particularly love our recently acquired areca palm and the cute pot and stand. The extra height means that we can have the plant on the floor in the corner of our living room. When it gets bigger, the foliage will also hide the plug points and the cables along the skirting board too!

Easy care plants for beginners and busy people

There are so many different plants to choose from that it can feel overwhelming when you go to the garden centre. For beginners, I recommend starting with plants which can withstand sporadic watering, can tolerate a range of different positions in the home, and only need feeding every now and then. Here’s my favourite minimal care house plants:

  • spider plant (Latin name: Chlorophytum Comosum) – easy to look after and as it matures it creates trails of little baby plants that look amazing. Plus, it is really good at cleaning the air by reducing toxins which are emitted from everyday items in the home.
  • mother in law’s tongue (AKA snake plant or Latin name: Sanseviera) – if you think you might forget to regularly water your plant, this one is for you! This is probably the toughest houseplant I know. We have three now as we divided our original one down as it got a little big for the pot. A great one for the bedroom too as it releases oxygen into the air during the night.
  • rubber plants (Ficus Elastica) – create visual interest with the big, leathery, glossy, oval leaves. Also high on the list of plants which eliminate toxins from the air (according to NASA).
  • areca palm (Dypsis Lutescens) – a popular household plant which is good for releasing moisture into the air – a bonus for anyone who suffers from dry skin in the winter time
  • cacti – a huge variety of types available so choose one that you like the look of – some even have little flowers but these only grow in ideal conditions and if regularly fed). You can get some in miniscule pots and others in bigger containers – you can even get some that come with the decorative ceramic pot already installed, meaning that you don’t even need to think about getting a tray or container that’s the right size.
  • Chinese money plant (Latin name: Pilea peperomioides). Mine is pictured above and although I haven’t made my millions from having it, it has attractive circular shaped leaves and an interesting dark brown trunk like stem.
  • Aspidistra – also known as the cast iron plant due to it being almost impossible to kill! This has upright, lance like leaves which are quite a dark shade of green. Apparently, the plants were extremely popular in the Victorian times as they could be placed in relatively murky hallways and still survive!

Whichever plant of plants you choose, it’s good to experiment and if you fail on your first attempt and find your prized plant looking a little worse for wear, see if you can revive it and if not, learn from the experience and have another go.

Final words…

I hope you have enjoyed reading about the benefits of keeping houseplants and it has prompted you to consider getting your own plant baby to look after. If you have your own beloved plant or are on the hunt for one, let me know in the comments. Also, if you have a garden, like we do, you might want to check out this post which is all about the wellbeing benefits of gardening.