Posted in Health and Nutrition, lifestyle, Planning and journaling, self care

Monday Matters: 7 benefits of home cooking

Over the last few months, my husband and I have been trying out some new recipes, making sure that, at least once a week, we cook a meal from scratch. We’ve had some amazingly tasty dishes and afterwards, I’ve typed out any that we’ve really enjoyed (making any alterations to ingredients and method) and added them to a file we keep in one of our kitchen cupboards. We’ve ended up with a personalised cook book of laminated recipe cards with both vegan and vegetarian options.

There are so many benefits of home cooking on a regular basis and for today’s post, I’m going to focus on some of them which I feel have made a real difference to me personally.

Quality family time

To ensure we have plenty of time and energy for cooking, my husband and I tend to do our cooking from scratch on a weekend, mostly on a Saturday night. On a Friday evening, we have a routine of looking online for some veggie or vegan recipes which use seasonal ingredients and are not too difficult to prepare. When we’ve found something that appeals, we make a shopping list and pop to the supermarket late Saturday afternoon to collect what we need.

When we get back, we make a start on preparing our meal together. I take the lead and my husband assists me. As well as the process helping me to develop my confidence again following months of being unwell with depression and anxiety and having poor appetite, it’s been really nice to spend quality time together in the kitchen and at the dining table enjoying what we’ve made (or pulling faces on the rare occasion when what we’ve made has ended up being revolting!) We even work as a team to load and unload the dishwasher with the vast amount of pots and pans afterwards.

Easy to adapt dishes according to your taste, likes and dislikes

When you go to a restaurant or get a takeaway, you might be able to ask for something to be omitted from the dish (such as a sauce) or swap your chips for salad, but you’re generally limited to one or two changes. However, when you cook a meal at home, you can adapt a dish in as many ways as you like. For example, you can add more or less spice and herbs, serve the dish with your favourite veggies on the side, omit the salt and pepper and change the sauce or dressing. You can use your preferred type of cheese or alter the recipe to make it less calorific. And you can easily simplify a dish that has a long list of ingredients or swap something you don’t like for something you love.

An example of this is the vegan butternut squash and chickpea tagine that my husband and I made this week. We found two different recipes online, one had some negative reviews saying it was tasteless and the other had lots of different spices in it which we didn’t have at home. I used the information from both to create a mildly spiced version which included ingredients listed in one or the other recipe and altered the cooking time as I knew the veggies would take longer to soften. We thoroughly enjoyed our food and I’ve now typed out our heavily edited recipe so we can remember the ingredients, measures and method for next time.

As you become more confident in the kitchen, you’ll learn which ingredients work together and will be able to make changes to recipes and cooking methods to suit you and your family. You might also want to do what I do and save successful dishes by copying and pasting a recipe into a Word document, editing the ingredients and method and then printing and laminate the sheet to keep to make again. I’ve also created a template on MS Word so all of my sheets are A5 with the same font type and size, margins and layout.

Portion control

Often, when eating in a restaurant, the portion sizes are way bigger than you’d serve at home. Also, it can be tempting to make the most of your evening out by selecting a starter and a main course, then finishing off with a dessert. You might also choose sugary drinks, wine or cocktails to accompany your food and often you’ll have more beverages whilst you wait for the different courses to arrive. Before you know it, you’ve racked up more than your daily calorie intake in just one meal.

At home, when cooking for yourself or your family, you’re more likely to make just one dish and serve it with a side of your favourite veggies, salad or a tasty bread to fill up your plate. The portion size can also be easily controlled by you so overeating is avoided.

When my husband and I make a meal at home, we tend to serve a small portion from the pan or oven dish (putting more on my husband’s plate than mine in-line with recommended calorie intake) and then have some more if we find we’re still hungry. Otherwise, we transfer the rest to a smaller container and save the leftovers for another day. In a restaurant, it’s tempting to clear your plate, even if you’re full, either because you’re not eating mindfully and don’t notice you feel full, or because you’ve paid a lot for the meal and don’t want to leave some of it.

You can control the cost and quality

When you go to a restaurant or get a takeway, you have to pay the price stated on the menu and the chef has made choices about the quality of the individual ingredients that make up the dish. When you cook at home, you choose the price you want to pay for the items on your shopping list. You select the fresh foodstuffs which look and smell good (and are in season) and the quality you feel you deserve and can afford. If you want to choose free range eggs for a dish, you can. If you prefer organic produce, you can choose specific items which meet with your expectations. When money is a little tight, you can pick basics ingredients from your supermarket own brand collection to make budget friendly meals.

Healthier dishes

Restaurant meals, takeaways and supermarket ready meals are often loaded with salt, sugar, butter, cream or other additives that should be consumed in moderation. When you make your meals yourself, you can control exactly what goes into your dishes and this often makes them a lot healthier. You can use fresh ingredients and add herbs and spices to make your meals taste good. You can choose whether to add salt, decide between butter or vegetable oil to shallow fry and even find different ways to sweeten your dishes. Studies have found that those who frequently cook meals at home have healthier diets overall and consume much less calories per day.

Good for your mental health

It might surprise you that as well as being good for your physical health due to the nutritional benefits, home cooking can also be great for your mental health. When I was struggling with anxiety and depression a few months ago, my support worker suggested that I try planning and preparing one meal per week as part of my work on behavioural activation. There were a number of ideas behind her suggestion, including trying to find joy in cooking again, improving my appetite, having a sense of purpose when going to the supermarket (I had to challenge myself to make a list of items needed for the recipe and collect them independently), being assertive when advising my husband how to assist with the preparation, feeling a sense of achievement and confidence building. It also became a wonderful mindful activity which took me away from my anxious thoughts. Although it didn’t do much to improve my appetite at the time, it was wonderful for my self esteem and, overall, was a really positive experience.

Now that I’m feeling much better, my husband and I are continuing to try out new recipes regularly and it feels great when we sit down to enjoy the fruits of our labour. Preparing and cooking a meal is also a great way to slow down and focus on all of the physical processes involved such as weighing out ingredients, peeling, chopping, blending and stirring – all of which demand lots of attention and can help to relieve stress.

It makes you more creative

I’m used to getting creative with my art and craft supplies, but cooking at home can also make you creative in the kitchen too. When I first started making meals (back when I was at university), I tended to find super easy recipes with simple ingredients and follow the instructions carefully. Now, I look for dishes in books, magazines and online and I’m not frightened to try out new cooking methods, change up the ingredients or merge ideas from several different recipes together. The more I cook, the more my confidence grows. I also find I can throw things together to make meals using whatever is left in the fridge and kitchen cupboards and most of the time, they turn out great!

Final words…

I hope you have enjoyed reading today’s post and it has encouraged you to do more home cooking. The only downside we’ve found is that the dishwasher is always full to bursting and it takes ages to dry everything and put it all away. However, if you make twice as much of the dish, you can enjoy the leftovers another day and then you have barely any washing up to do!

Posted in compassion, meditation, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: 5 Easy ways to Practice Mindfulness every day

When practiced regularly, mindfulness can have a really positive impact on our mental health, reducing feelings of depression, anxiety and stress. In today’s post, I’m going to share five simple ways to incorporate mindful activities into your day so you can enjoy the many benefits mindfulness brings.

What exactly is mindfulness?

There are lots of explanations and definitions available online but I particularly like this one from the Oxford dictionary:

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, used as a therapeutic technique.

Oxford online dictionary

Basically, mindfulness is about paying attention to the here and now, showing curiosity about what’s going on in a non-judgmental way. That’s not to say that as soon as you start practicing the various techniques that your mind won’t wander, it will, and that’s completely okay. But as you get used to paying attention in a range of simple ways, you’ll likely find it becomes easier.

So here are five ideas for practicing mindfulness every day that anyone can try.

Choose an activity you do each day and really pay attention

A great way to get started with mindfulness is to choose one activity that you do every day and bring moment to moment awareness each time you do it. Examples of suitable activities could be: drinking your cup of coffee or tea first thing in the morning, brushing your teeth, taking a shower, washing your face, getting dressed, driving to work. Whichever activity you choose, focus on knowing what you’re doing as you’re actually doing it, and what you are thinking and feeling from moment to moment too. At first, you’ll likely find that your mind wanders quite frequently, but if it does, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. With time, you’ll find it gets easier to remain mindful.

Connect with each of your five senses

Using your senses – touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing is a great way to focus on what’s happening right now. You can either spend time exploring each one in turn or pick a particular sense to focus on in a given moment. So, for example, you might sit quietly at home curled up in your chair with a coffee, smelling the aroma, being warmed by the heat of the mug. You might then close your eyes and tune in to sounds within the room such as the clock ticking, and far away sounds such as a dog barking. As you open your eyes, you might change your focus to the colour of your drink or the patterns on your mug, before taking a sip and savouring the flavour. At another time during your day, you might focus in on just one of your senses. So, during your daily shower, you might choose to focus on smell, inhaling the scent of your shampoo, shower gel or soap and your conditioner and really appreciating each one. By doing this you will be immersed in your current experiences rather than dwelling on past events or getting stressed about all of the things you have to get done before bedtime.

The following mindful activity is also a good one to do when you’re feeling anxious to help distract from negative thoughts, judgements and physical sensations associated with a tense body.

  • Close your eyes or lower your head and soften your gaze. Take some slow and deep breaths in and out.
  • Open your eyes and take your focus outside of your body. Find the following:

5 things you can see.

4 things you can hear.

3 things you can touch.

2 things you can smell.

1 thing you can taste.

Focus on your breathing

Breathing is a key part of mindfulness practice as it’s something we do naturally out of necessity. There are many online exercises which focus on the breath such as alternate nostril breathing, square or box breathing and equal breathing where you focus on making the inhalation the same length as the exhalation, but the technique which I find easiest and most comforting is soothing rhythm breathing, which I was taught as part of my compassion group sessions a few years ago.

  • Sit comfortably in your chair with both feet on the ground and your hands resting in your lap.
  • Close your eyes or direct your gaze downwards – whichever feels most comfortable.
  • Gently bring your focus to your breathing feeling the ribcage expanding as the air coming in to your lungs and leaving your body as you exhale.
  • Try breathing a little faster or slower until you find a breathing pattern that feelings soothing and comforting.
  • Focus on the breath as it comes in and leaves your body. You might like to notice the sensation of cool air entering your nose and warm air leaving.
  • Turn your attention to your body. Sensing the weight of your body resting in the chair feeling relaxed and supported. Feel your feet touching the floor beneath you.
  • If your mind wanders, notice what has happened and gently bring the focus back to your breath. Even if your mind is bobbing about all over the place, just accept what is happening without judgement and come back to the breath.
  • As you bring the exercise to a close, gently wiggle your fingers and toes and bring the focus back to the room around you.

To ensure you commit to this short meditative practice each day, you might find it helpful to make an appointment with yourself in your bullet journal or diary e.g. 5 minutes after you’ve eaten your breakfast or as an end of the day thing to encourage restful sleep. Again, this breathing exercise is also helpful to calm yourself down in moments of anxiety.

Engage in mindful walking

Whatever the weather, cold, warm, rainy, bright sunshine, cloudy, try to find 10 or 15 minutes each day to go for a mindful walk outside. Take time to pay attention to the different aspects of your experience. Start by exploring how your body feels when you’re walking – your feet as they make each step, your legs as they move you forwards, your arms as the swing by your sides. Next, tune in to what’s going on around you using all of your senses – perhaps you can hear traffic in the distance or a bird singing, maybe you can see the sun shining through the trees, perhaps you can smell the damp earth. Be open to whatever you notice, wherever you are and whatever happens. Try to fully immerse yourself in the here and now. As you end your walk, bring your attention back to how you feel as a result of your practice.

If you want to read about mindful walking in more depth, I wrote a whole blog post on it last year which can be found here.

Be totally present during conversations

All too often during conversations, we’re either multi-tasking or our mind wanders so we’re not paying full attention. However, being fully present has so many benefits for the speaker and the listener. Not only will you both feel valued, you’ll have a better understanding of the other person’s needs and any information that you impart is likely to be comprehended more easily. You’ll also likely improve both your communication skills and your relationship with the other person whether you’re talking to a friend, colleague or family member.

If you want to be more mindful in conversations, the first step is to notice when your mind wanders and, without judgement (no berating yourself for being a terrible listener!), bring your attention back. Try to resist the temptation to make excuses for being distracted such as “I was bored by what they were saying”, “I’ve got so much to do I couldn’t wait for them to finish” or “they were just repeating themselves”. Just remember that mindfulness takes practice and you are just learning but it will get easier with time.

In today’s busy world, multitasking is very tempting and often encouraged, but studies have shown that humans aren’t really capable of focusing on more that one task at a time, and in actual fact, what happens is our brain constantly switches between the different demands on our attention. If you want to be full focused on a conversation, try to put distractions aside. Put your mobile phone away in your bag, close your emails, avoid looking at what others are up to or what’s happening elsewhere by facing and looking at the participants. Really listen with interest to what the other person or people are saying using gestures such as a nod of the head, a smile or an “I understand” as appropriate. Think about the words they are using, their tone of voice, body language and emotions to really comprehend what they’re saying. Let the other person finish before you contemplate what they have said and offer a response.

Being a mindful communicator takes practice and isn’t always easy, but it’s a great skill to have and can be really useful in social settings as well as work situations.

Final words…

Although in today’s post I’ve presented a number of simple ways in which you can start to be more mindful every day, mindfulness in itself is not always easy to master. It might be helpful to remember that it’s not all about being perfectly present at all times – it’s a way of slowing down and making a conscious decision to notice our thoughts, emotions and the world around us, intentionally accepting things as they are right now without judgement. Being mindful can help us to enjoy life, understand ourselves better and reduce stress. It’s something that everyone can try and, when practiced consistently, has been shown to have positive effects on our physical and mental health, happiness, work and relationships.

Feel free to let me know in the comments how you get on and if you have any questions, I’ll be more than happy to answer them if I can, or direct you to further resources which you may find useful.

Until next time,

Posted in lifestyle, productivity, Setting goals and intentions

Monday Matters: 7 benefits of decluttering and some ways to get started

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been making a start on decluttering and re-organising some parts of our home. So far, I’ve got rid of some unwanted clothes, purged my vast collection of magazines and begun the mammoth task of clearing out and re-organising my craft room. I have a lot of ‘stuff’ and, at times, the process has been overwhelming and stressful but I’m doing a little bit each day and slowly, I’m seeing the difference it’s making. For today’s Monday Matters, I thought I would consider some of the main benefits of decluttering your home as I feel that knowing the effects it can have on health and wellbeing will help me to keep going and also might encourage some of you to dedicate a small amount of time each week to tackle an area of your home or a particular type of clutter. I’ll also offer a few ways to get started including some ideas based on the popular ‘Kondo’ method.

So, let’s start with some of the main benefits which can make a real difference to your life…

  1. You’ll have more energy

A house full of clutter is very draining. There’s always things out of place and constantly seeing your stuff everywhere will likely consume your thoughts as soon as you enter your home or spend time in a particular room. Also, you’ll regularly have to make decisions about where to put things and this can cause stress and deplete your energy levels.

Clutter can make you feel both physically and mentally tired and can also prevent you from relaxing and replenishing your spent energy after a busy day. On the other hand, a tidy and clutter free home lowers stress levels as it is an inviting and calming place to be, where you can fully wind down.

2. Your sleep is likely to improve

A tidy and clutter free bedroom promotes peaceful sleep and allows you to switch off more easily. Whereas a cluttered environment fills the mind with uneasy thoughts and has been found to cause disrupted and less restful sleep. You might think it doesn’t matter if you have lots of stuff in your bedroom because you can’t see it when you turn out the light but your brain will be stimulated as soon as it sees the ‘chaos’ causing feelings of overwhelm and stress.

It’s best to make sure most of the items in your bedroom are put away and that a small number of carefully chosen objects are on display which reflect the style you want to achieve. So, for example, your bedside cabinet or table might have a pretty lamp, your Kindle or book and a single framed photograph.

3. You’ll feel more organised

Having an orderly home will mean that you can find things more easily. If all of your things have a particular home and similar items are grouped together, you’ll feel super organised and you’ll know exactly what you have and where each item is located. Less clutter will help you feel in control whereas an excess of stuff will have the opposite effect.

You’re also likely to feel extremely proud of your home and want to show it off!

4. Fewer allergens will be present

This is a really important one for me as I’m asthmatic and have a condition called allergic rhinitis which is triggered by dust and molds. If you have stuff everywhere, it’s very difficult to keep your home free from dust. Also a build up of clutter has been shown to contribute to poor ventilation in your rooms which can cause mold. Surfaces with only a select few items on them can really help reduce the number of allergens in the air and on your furniture which is great for anyone with asthma and other similar health conditions.

5. Cleaning and tidying will become a breeze!

Whilst I was struggling with depression and anxiety, my support worker helped me to plan some small housework tasks throughout the week to encourage me to contribute to the many chores involved in running a home so I was able to feel a sense of achievement. On one of the days, in my weekly plan, we decided that I would dust and vacuum our bedroom. When asked the next week how I’d got on, I mentioned that I’d got overwhelmed and upset because just tackling my dressing table had been a gargantuan task as there was so much clutter to clear before I even attempted to clean the dusty surface. I ended up just doing the dressing table and my chest of drawers when all of the other furniture really needed doing too.

Having less clutter will make keeping your home clean much easier and so much quicker. I’m not saying that dusting, vacuuming or mopping floors will become enjoyable, but it’s likely to be much less of a chore.

6. You’ll be more productive

If you want to get things done quickly and easily you need an environment with as few distractions as possible. This is why many offices have a tidy desk policy as it promotes efficiency and effectiveness at work. Less clutter in your home has the same impact. It means you can focus on the task at hand rather than being drawn towards your stuff which needs sorting out or has just become too much to deal with.

7. Overall, you’ll feel happier in your home

Clutter is known to fuel depression and anxiety as it promotes feelings such as sadness, stress, guilt, despair, shame or inadequacy. It can also make you feel embarrassed and apologetic if you have any visitors. A clutter free home, however, can have a really positive effect on our mood by freeing us of these negative emotions making us feel more content and generally happier.

As you can see, doing a spot of decluttering can really help improve your physical and mental health and generally make your home a more pleasant place to be. But, getting started isn’t easy, especially if you have a lot of stuff. Here’s a few suggestions to get you going…

Visualise what you want

Once you’ve committed to decluttering, try a little visualisation exercise. Think about your ideal lifestyle and create a picture in your mind of what it looks like. Also, imagine how decluttering will help you work towards or achieve this and how you will feel as a result of your improved home. Perhaps you’ll have a well-ordered space where everything is neat and tidy. Maybe you’ll feel more organised and happier. Or, you might be able to relax more easily when you finish work. You could even find that you have more time to do the things you love with the people you care about. Obviously, this will differ greatly depending on your personal goals and the lifestyle you want. You might even want to write down some of your ideas after visualising so you can re-read them to help you stay motivated. If you prefer pictorial representations, you could make a vision board for your bullet journal or to pin to your wall.

Dedicate some time

It’s a good idea to regularly schedule a block of time in your bullet journal or diary and think about what will work best for you and your lifestyle. You might choose 10 minutes and set a timer for a quick spot of decluttering or an hour on a Sunday afternoon if you want to tackle your entire wardrobe. If you have a family and the stuff doesn’t all belong to you, try to get everyone involved in the process ensuring everyone takes some responsibility and can reap the rewards too. Make sure, whatever timeframe you choose, you stick to it, just like you would any other commitment.

Start small

In her popular first book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying, Marie Kondo identifies a particular order to decluttering your home. She suggests starting with clothes and invites you to get all of your clothing together and work through it to decide what you want to keep based on if each item sparks joy. However, if you have lots and lots of clothes like I do, it might be worth starting much smaller. A good way is to categorise your clothing and just working on, for example, t-shirts or trousers. Working on a small number of items can help to prevent overwhelm and make the process less stressful.

Think about what bothers you the most

Although organising expert Marie Kondo suggests a set order for decluttering, you might want to start with something else or a particular space. For example, if the mess in your living room stresses you out when you sit down to watch TV, you might want to start with visible clutter in there. Or, if the state of your bedroom may be contributing to a less than restful sleep, you could tackle this first. Whatever would have the most impact, as long as it’s not too big a job, may be the best area to start.

Deal with visible clutter first

Also related to impact and choosing what to work on is visible clutter. You might have a cupboard under the stairs which is full of junk but does it bother you all the time or only when you need something from the back of it? You might be best off starting with your desk top, your dressing table, the top of your chest of drawers or floor space if you want to really see your progress. Then, when surfaces are cleared, you can tackle cupboards, drawers and cabinets.

Make a decision about the items you don’t want or need straight away

As soon as you’ve decided what to keep, including what sparks joy and which items are useful in your life right now, make plans for your discard pile. Some of your stuff will be fit for the bin (and you’ll wonder why you still have it!), some might be perfect for donating to charity, and a small number of items could potentially be sold on ebay (but only if you have the time to photograph and list them straightway and then deal with them once they sell / don’t sell). It’s really important to take action on the items immediately, so take the bin bag(s) out as soon as you can, place donations in a box and head straight for the charity shop that same afternoon and create your ebay listings as a matter of urgency. The quicker the items are gone, the sooner you can start enjoying the benefits.

Final words…

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading today’s Monday Matters post and it has prompted you to do some decluttering. Let me know in the comments if you’re already enjoying the benefits of less clutter or if you are keen to get started. It would also be great to hear any other tips you have for beginning the process.

Happy decluttering!

Posted in compassion, depression management, lifestyle, mental health, self care, wellbeing

Monday Matters: 7 ways to be kind to yourself when you’re struggling

In today’s Monday Matters post, I’m going to be talking about something which I believe many of us struggle with and that is self-kindness. At school, we’re taught to be kind, respectful, patient, forgiving and gentle with others but do we apply this same compassionate attitude to ourselves? I know I certainly don’t, and I also notice that I’m particularly harsh and critical when I’m struggling. So, here are some ways in which being kind to ourselves can help our mental health and 7 ways you can show yourself some kindness right now.

Benefits of self-kindness which are particularly relevant during periods of difficulty

  • better self-esteem
  • increased resilience
  • less self-criticism
  • increased self-acceptance
  • helps us cope better with stress
  • improved self-confidence
  • decreases anxiety and depression
  • helps us feel more optimistic

7 ways you can be kinder to yourself

Practise self-compassion

During times of difficulty, many of us tend to be really unkind to ourselves. We place unrealistic expectations upon ourselves, say engage in negative self talk, criticise ourselves when things don’t go right, place blame unfairly, find fault in what we do and fail to celebrate our achievements. Sounds pretty harsh right? And it makes us feel ten times worse than we already do. Instead, what we would really benefit from is practising self-compassion, where we offer ourselves warmth, gentleness, understanding, acceptance and empathy. A good way to do this is to imagine what you would say to a friend who was going through a period of difficulty and was dealing with the same issues that you are. Then apply that compassion to yourself. You can even take this a step further and write yourself a compassionate letter where you offer support and encouraging words and then read it back. You can find out more about the therapeutic benefits of writing here.

Focus on the good

When we’re struggling, we tend to get into a negative frame of mind. Try to break this by thinking about your positives. Here are some ideas for you to try:

Congratulate yourself on your achievements no matter how small – maybe you got dressed and went out for a walk, maybe you completed something from your to-do list or maybe you dealt with a difficult situation assertively. Just getting out of bed can be a huge achievement if you’re struggling with depression.

Use positive self-talk – I’ve written before about the impact that negative self talk can have on us and how we can reframe it. As part of being encouraging and supportive towards yourself, you can counteract negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Some examples are: I am kind to myself during difficult times, I am doing the best I can, I can get through this, I have the ability to cope, I am brave and strong.

Make an all about you list – things you’re good at, your best qualities, a ‘done list’ of all of the things you’ve achieved today/this week. Try writing a different list each day to really improve your relationship with yourself.

Nourish your body and your brain

When you’re struggling, it can be really tempting to reach for high calorie snacks full of sugar or fat and eat processed foods for your meals. The reason we crave these items is because they temporarily increase our mood boosting endorphins leaving us feeling happy, blissful, calm or soothed or provide you with a chemical sugar high. Unfortunately, these feelings don’t last and can lead to overeating and poor diet overall. And of course, an unhealthy diet can create all sorts of problems including reduced energy levels, weight gain, obesity, depression, weakened immune system and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Be kind to yourself by focusing on eating a balanced diet which includes a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Something that I find really helpful is to plan my meals in advance. This means that I’m more likely to eat healthily but also that I can ensure I’m eating a balance of different foods and a range of fruit and vegetables. And don’t forget, you are allowed a treat every now and again but it’s best if you really take your time eating it so you can savour the flavour and really appreciate it (search ‘mindful eating’ online for more info).

Get moving

When life is hard you might feel tired and lacking in energy and this might mean that even the though of exercise too much. But, something gentle, like a walk in your local park, ten minutes of basic stretching exercises or a short yoga session could make you feel so much better. Exercise releases feel good endorphins which help to boost your mood and if you engage in a mindful activity you will also be focusing on the present moment and forgetting about other concerns in your life which can lead to feelings of calm and relaxation.

Do something that brings you joy

Try to make it a habit to do something you love each day. Try to carve out at least half an hour for your own enjoyment. Here’s some ideas:

  • Hobbies – sewing, watercolour painting, papercrafting, drawing, playing a musical instrument, baking.
  • Outdoors – time in the garden, nature walk, sculpture trail, sit in the sunshine.
  • Retail therapy – a new houseplant, a scented candle, a pretty scarf, some sweets you haven’t had since childhood, some stationery.
  • Brain stimulation – crossword, word search, sudoku, jigsaw puzzle, board game.
  • Movement – yoga, stroll along the beach, mindful walking, dancing to some upbeat music, ten pin bowling, try out a team sport.
  • Socialise – coffee with a friend, take a class e.g. flower arranging, phone a relative.

If you’re struggling with depression right now, you might be thinking that nothing brings you joy at the moment so there’s little point in doing anything. However, research has found that if you do some of the things that you normally enjoy, you will still reap the benefits of the activity so try scheduling something in and then congratulate yourself for finding the motivation to do it.

Add some soothing activities to your day

When you’re struggling with your mental health or life is extremely busy and stressful, it’s a really good idea to plan something soothing to help yourself feel calm and relaxed. The activity you choose is very much a personal preference but you could try one or more or the following:

  • a hot bath with scented bath oil or a bath bomb
  • a foot massage with refreshing peppermint oil
  • read a book, under a blanket with optional hot chocolate
  • light a scented candle and watch the flame flicker
  • buy some flowers and spend time arranging them in a vase
  • cuddle something – a pet or a soft toy
  • watercolour painting or colouring in

Make good sleep a priority

A good night’s sleep benefits us in so many ways including better mood, more energy, improved cognition and stronger relationships with others. However, when we’re struggling, we’re likely to find that the quantity or quality of our sleep is affected so it’s important to take steps to fix it. This can include doing relaxing activities before bed (and avoiding known stimulants), spending time journalling about your day so you can process what’s happened and prepare yourself for tomorrow, and making sure your bedroom environment is just right. If sleep is an issue for you right now you might want to check out this blog post. Or, for really in depth look at sleep issues, the NHS has a long self help guide which can be accessed here.

Final words…

I hope that today’s blog post has been useful in providing you with some ideas about how you can be kinder to yourself. However, if the thought of doing all of these things seems a little overwhelming, trying choosing one suggestion which you think might make you feel a little better and start from there. Remember tiny steps can lead to a big impact.

Posted in life hacks, lifestyle, self care

Practical Tips for Coping with the Summer heat

The summer is now in full swing and we’ve recently seen plenty of sunshine. The hottest day this year so far in the UK was recorded on Saturday 17th July, with the temperature reaching 28C in Sunderland and even higher further south. Some people love the sun and cope really well with the heat and high humidity. Others find it more difficult, including those with very fair skin like myself, some people with long term health conditions and the elderly. With this in mind, today’s post gives some practical suggestions on how to cope when it gets a little too hot for your liking.

Keep yourself hydrated

The usual advice is to drink eight glasses (2 litres) of water per day. However, in the height of summer, we tend to sweat more so this should be increased by at least half a litre (two extra glasses). You should also ensure that you drink at regular intervals throughout the day. Signs of dehydration include excessive thirst, dry mouth, dizziness or light-headedness, fatigue, not needing the loo very often and dark coloured urine. Try not to let it get to this stage by carrying a bottle of water with you and taking regular sips. And if you’re not keen on water, trying making some fruity sugar free squash instead (our favourite is cherries and berries).

Choose your outfit with care

If you know you’re going to be out in the sun a lot, choose an outfit which is light coloured and loose fitting so that cool air has better access to your skin. To keep the sun off your face (and protect your hair and scalp), opt for a peaked cap or wide brimmed hat – again it’s best if this is a light colour because they reflect light and heat whereas dark colours absorb them.

Avoid the mid-day sun

The sun is strongest between 11am and 3pm so try to seek shade between these times. This could include using a parasol when out in the garden or sitting under a tree when enjoying a picnic. We like to take fold up chairs with us when we go out in the car so we can position them somewhere shady as picnic benches are generally in full sun.

Don’t overexert yourself

Avoid doing any intense workout during times when the temperature is high. If you must exercise outdoors, for example running or bike riding, try to do it early morning or early evening when it’s not so hot. Other vigorous activities such as moving furniture or heavy gardening are best left for another time too.

Stay cool indoors

If there’s a nice cool breeze, throw open your windows to let it in. Try to create what is known as a cross breeze by opening a windows on both sides of the house and leaving doors open to allow the air to circulate. For extra impact, trying using a fan or two as well. Closing the curtains or blinds in rooms that face the sun is helpful too.

Repurpose your hot water bottle

I found this tip online last week. You fill your hot water bottle with the usual amount of liquid but use cold water instead. Then, you pop it in the freezer a few hours before bed. You can either pop the bottle in your bed before you get in it or you can place it under your feet to help to regulate your body temperature. I wouldn’t recommend snuggling it like I do my hot water bottle though as it might be a bit too intense!

Go for cold meal options at home

Having hot meals which are done in the oven can make your home hot and the person cooking them. Cold meals such as salads are a much better option. There are so many different ones to choose from and it’s a good idea to make a meal ideas list and also to download some new recipes to try.

Apply ice or cold water

If you’re feeling uncomfortably hot, a great way to cool yourself down is to apply ice or cold water to your body’s cooling points. You’re probably already aware of your wrists as a good part of your body to hold under running cold water but other places to apply ice or something else cold include your neck, the inside of your elbows or knees,, the tops of your feet and your inner ankle. For a longer term cooling sensation, you could try using an ice pack (wrapped in a thin cloth) or a cooling gel pad, or you could plunge your feet into a bowl of cold water. A cool shower during the day can also help but it’s not a good idea to take a cold shower any time before bed as it can increase your energy levels which is unlikely to help you doze off!

Final words…

I hope you’ve found these tips for coping with the soaring temperatures helpful. If you have any further ideas, I would love to hear them in the comments. Of course, it goes without saying that however much you love or dislike the sun, you should always ensure that you use appropriate sun protection to stop yourself getting burnt. The recommended level in the UK is now a minimum of SPF 30 with at least 4-star UVA protection but this will obviously be higher in other countries. And don’t forget to apply it liberally and regularly too.

Keep cool and enjoy the rest of the summer!