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Posted in lifestyle, mental health, wellbeing

Monday Matters: 5 ways that having a pet can improve your wellbeing

My lovely mug featuring our very own Rosie, which my husband got me as a surprise!

If you follow my blog and have read my intro page, you’ll know that as well as being a wife, I’m also a hamster mummy to the gorgeous Rosie. Due in part to my mental health difficulties, my husband and I made the decision not to have children. However, I still love looking after things and having a pet is a great way of doing this. Today, I’m going to share five ways that having a pet, whether a furry friend or something scaly, can support your health and wellbeing.

  • helps manage loneliness and depression

Keeping a pet can be great for combatting loneliness as they may help you to feel needed and can also be a source of companionship. People might feel lonely for a variety of reasons such as loss of a loved one, aging, moving away from family and friends, marriage breakdown or divorce. It’s even possible to feel completely alone when you are surrounded by others, especially if you have depression, feel misunderstood or uncared for. Pets can help as they are often very reliant on their humans for care and attention, and, depending on the type of animal chosen and their temperament, might also offer unconditional love and affection towards their owner.

Additionally, having a pet gives you something else to think about when you are finding yourself consumed by negative thoughts and are therefore a great distraction when you are struggling with anxiety or depression. Obviously, some animals need more attention than others and dogs have been found to be particularly good at offering emotional support to their owners at times of difficulty.

  • helps you make friends and improves your social life

The obvious pet that comes to mind for this one is a dog where there’s the potential to meet other dog owners in the park or other place that you take then for walkies and get chatting either about your own pets or about other common topics such as the weather. However, you can also make virtual friends online by joining a group on Facebook dedicated to your furry, feathered or scaly friend. For example, I belong to a Hamster group where we share cute or funny pics of our little ones, discuss any issues we might be having and console each other during times of loss. You can also share images on Instagram – I personally use #hamstergram, #hamsterlife, #hamstersofinstagram etc and gorge on cuteness from other members. And there are even little videos to like and comment on.

  • can substantially improve your mood

Pets can be great for elevating your mood and making you feel happier. I certainly found this to be true when I was struggling with depression, but even if your low mood is just temporary and due to, for example, a bad day at work or a particularly stressful commute home, a pet can be a great tonic. Also, studies have shown that making eye contact with your choice of creature can stimulate the production of oxytocin aka the love hormone whilst spending time together can boost serotonin, a substance which regulates mood as well as supporting a range of other aspects of wellbeing.

  • provides sensory stress relief and help you unwind

I love having cuddles with Rosie and sitting her on my knee for a stroke. Petting a furry friend has been shown to be a really soothing activity and one which helps release the stresses of the day. Now, you might say, but I keep fish, I can hardly get them out of the tank for some close one-to-one time, but you can still use your other senses to help you relax. For example, watching tropical fish as they glide around their environment or watching them feed or weave through the plants can create a sense of real calm and relaxation. In fact, that’s why they are sometimes found in the waiting room of a dental surgery or in hospitals. Other pets in tanks, such as stick insects, can also be fascinating to watch as they feed on leaves or blend in to their surroundings.

And even if you don’t have the time or energy to invest in a pet of your own, you can still enjoy wonderful sensory experiences by appreciating visitors to your garden. Simply observing a bee sneaking inside flowers, doing its waggle dance to collect pollen and smother its back legs with bright yellow can be a delight for your eyes. Hearing bird song as you relax on a garden chair may be just the kind of amazing tune that your ears need after a busy day.

  • helps to improve your relationships

Research has shown that keeping a pet can help strengthen your relationship with your partner and even your kids. According to my reading, whether you already feel pretty close to your loved ones or not, having a pet is something you both have in common and this creates a new bond where you both share similar feelings and sentiments. This certainly holds true for my husband and I as we often spent time interacting with Rosie together and she is regularly the subject of discussion on an evening when she is up to her usual antics!

Things to consider before you get a pet

Of course, before you all rush out and get yourself a new pet, you need to make sure that you have time for one and that you know all about the type of creature you are thinking of getting. Some basic questions to ask yourself could include:

  • how long does this pet live on average?
  • what does the pet like to eat?
  • how much exercise does it need?
  • which habitat is required to keep the pet healthy?
  • what basic equipment is required to keep this type of pet?
  • how much does it cost to keep this pet per week or year?
  • how big does it get?
  • do I have enough time to properly care for this pet?

All pets require some form of commitment, so make sure you’re able to make one before purchasing or adopting!

Final words

I would love to hear about your experiences of having pets and what you think are the main benefits for you. I know some of my followers keep guinea pigs and rabbits, whilst others have a dog or a cat. My husband and I even enjoy caring for wildlife in our garden such as the birds and our nightly hedgehog visitors – all of which can have similar benefits to our wellbeing. Pets can also help other family members too. For example, they can be great for your children as they can learn the skills associated with responsibility and, from a young age, can develop their communication skills and widen their vocabulary as they chat to or about the pet. Even visiting an elderly relative with your dog or cat can be wonderful to enable them to find meaning and joy in their life. I’m sure you can bring to mind may other benefits too so feel free to share them in the comments.

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

Setting up my Bullet Journal for April: April showers theme

Hi everyone, hope you are all well and enjoying the warmer weather. This month, I’ve gone for an April showers theme featuring umbrellas and raindrops. Again, I had fun practising my drawing skills for the brollies and I also decided to get out my watercolours for the cover page using my Winsor & Newton Cotman paints for the large umbrella and my watercolour pencils for the tiny raindrops. I hope you enjoy looking at my spreads.

Cover page

For my cover page, I kept it simple with a single umbrella which I sketched in pencil onto hot pressed (smooth) watercolour paper and then inked using a Pigma micron pen in 02. I then wet some Cadmium Red deep straight out of the tube and used it for the top of the umbrella, applying the paint with a size 6 brush. After that had dried, I added a tiny amount of black to the mixture to create a darker contrasting hue for the underneath of the umbrella. By letting the first colour dry thoroughly, I avoided any colour bleeds when applying the darker colour. After leaving the umbrella to dry overnight to avoid any smudging, I drew the raindrops with the Pigma pen and then coloured them in with a dark blue watercolour pencil before using a small damp paintbrush (in size 0) to activate the paint. I was really careful not to lean on any of the wet paint as I didn’t want any issues like those I had with the calendar page as you will see next! The image was then scanned into my computer, pasted into a MS Publisher document and the month added.

Monthly calendar

For my calendar, I wrote April on dot grid paper and then cut it out to stick in as the header. The calendar is my usual six dots x six dots grid drawn with a 0.3 Pigma pen. The umbrellas are hand-drawn and coloured in with my watercolour pencils and then wetted to activate the paint. The raindrops were also done in the same way. As you can see, there are a few smudges, one from some Tombow ink and the other from accidentally dripping water on a couple of the raindrops. I’ve tried to cover them over with my white gel pen but I’m still not happy with it!

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

Another two double page Spring collage!

I enjoyed creating the other collages so much that I decided to do another one. Again, the photos are from Google Images. The paper backgrounds are from a paper pack I got from The Range and the hearts and flowers are cut with mini punches from Hobbycraft. Some stickers and ephemera completed the spreads nicely! The pages are such a joy to look at and I’m so pleased with how they turned out.

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

Yoga session tracker

This is where I record the session I followed on YouTube or the e-book sequence I followed. I also write in my yoga journal but I find writing in here gives me an at a glance record so I can be sure to have focused on stretching different parts of my body throughout the month. Again, I got smudges of Tombow elsewhere – the joys of being a leftie!

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

TBR and reading information spread

Again, I wanted to do a spread which shows the books I plan to read over the next couple of months. I also have an extra novel that I’m not going to get around to by the end of March too but I’d already done the spread so I shall read it in a few months time.

The benefits of reading fiction spider diagram was useful for reminding me about the benefits of reading for pleasure and also gave me the idea of writing this blog post. I’ve also done a bit of journalling about my reading and the books on my virtual TBR pile. I think it’s nice to include colour versions of the covers in my BuJo because, as I think I’ve said before, you don’t get to see them on the Paperwhite version of Kindle.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

2 lines a day gratitude

A simple spread where I record at least three things a day for which I am grateful. I did this last month too and really enjoyed filling it in each evening.

That’s most of my spreads that I thought you might like to see this month. I have really got into using my bullet journal again now that my mental health has improved. I would love to know what theme you have chosen and, as usual, if you’ve shared your spreads on your blog, don’t forget to include a link so that other readers can have a nosey as well as me!

Happy bullet journalling!

Posted in lifestyle, self care

Monday Matters: 10 benefits of reading fiction books

My current read is The Missing Ones by Patricia Gibney Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Since my mental health has improved, I’m finding myself reading a lot less books from my (virtual) TBR pile as I now only read in bed on a night and not most afternoons as I did previously. Also, I’m so busy during the day, I can only manage a couple of chapters before I find myself drifting off to sleep. I would still like to make sure I read a couple of fiction books each month, plus at least 2 chapters each week from my current non-fiction book. In order to make sure I keep up with reading novels, I decided to do a little research into the benefits of regular reading of fiction. I was quite surprised by some of what I learnt and thought my blog readers might like to see too. So, this is the subject of my Monday Matters blog post for this week – 10 ways reading fiction can be helpful as well as pleasurable.

1. Improves your capacity for empathy

If you’re anything like me, when reading some genre of fiction, you’ll likely find yourself imagining what it would be like to be one or more of the characters in the book. Studies has shown, that doing this helps to activate the parts of the brain responsible for showing understanding towards others and seeing things from an alternative perspective. So, by devouring lots of books on a variety of themes, you are strengthening your ability to be empathetic towards people in your life.

2. Widens your vocabulary

The more you read, the wider your vocabulary will get, especially if part of your TBR pile includes more literary works. I love learning new words when reading and, because I mainly use my kindle, I can check out the meaning of those I’m not sure of by selecting the text and opening the dictionary. In fact, on a few occasions, when I’ve been super tired and reading a paperback, I’ve found myself tapping on a word to discover what it means! (please tell me I’m not the only one who has done this ha ha!).

3. Reduces stress

Becoming immersed in a book has been shown to be extremely good at making us feel less stressed. Reading can lower blood pressure, slow our heart rate and help us release tension in our muscles. So basically, by dedicating some time each day for a quiet reading session, we can calm the often incessant mental chatter, soothing our minds and bodies.

4. Mental stimulation which leads to less mental decline than non-readers

Just like doing Sudoku, crosswords and word searches, reading of any kind provides excellent mental stimulation. By keeping our brains active, we’re helping to delay the onset of mental decline associated with conditions such as dementia.

In fact, scientific studies have shown that reading novels strengthens brain function in all kinds of ways, both during the actual act of reading and for days after. One study found that when the tension in a story mounts, brain activity increases too!

5. Better sleep

Reading a couple of chapters before turning out the light has been shown to help us have a better night’s sleep. Studies found that just ten minutes can help us wind down really effectively. Also, if you make it a regular part of your bedtime routine, your brain will associate reading with quite time prior to slumber.

6. Increases happiness

Regularly burying your head in a good book has been shown to have the potential to make us happier by banishing depressive thoughts and feelings and generally improving our mood. Reading can also boost self esteem which is likely to have a positive effect on our confidence levels and our beliefs about ourselves and our abilities.

7. Better analytical skills

If you like reading crime fiction, psychological dramas with lots of twists and other stories with complex plots like I do, you’ll be pleased to know that not only will you be enjoying a cracking read, you’ll also be improving your analytical skills too. Analytical skills include developing your ability to visualize, conceptualize, and solve both simple and complex problems using all information available – in essence, great life skills which can be applied to every day situations and come in really useful at work or school too.

8. Inclusivity

In a nutshell, inclusivity is the quality of including many different types of people and treating them all fairly and equally. Reading can help you do this by introducing you to characters from all walks of life so you can learn about cultural differences and issues which may present themselves in certain communities or through particular life experiences, making you more open minded.

9. Creativity

The fact that reading broadens our minds and experiences (sometimes transporting us to completely different worlds) has also been shown to help us to be more creative. By fully engaging in the books we choose, our imagination flows freely and our creative juices are stimulated.

10. Improved emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence which can be defined as ‘the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically’ (Oxford dictionaries) has been shown to be greatly improved, especially if you read widely. According to research and a number of theories, reading fiction provides a safe place to explore different emotions and prepare us for the stresses and strains of real life. Also, by reading about a range of different cultures and life situations, we increase our capacity for empathy and understanding towards others.

Final words…

According to a number of statistics, reading fiction for pleasure is very much on the decline, both in adults and children. This is a shame because, as you can see, there are so many benefits to regularly picking up a book and becoming engrossed in a story. I hope that today’s post has encouraged you to assess how much time you devote to reading and has also perhaps persuaded you to dedicate a few minutes each day to this great mindful activity. Let me know in the comments what your favourite reading genre is and what you feel are the personal benefits for you.

Thanks for reading!

Posted in CBT, compassion, lifestyle, mental health, psychology, wellbeing

Monday Matters: The psychology of optimism and how to become a glass half full kind of person

Photo by Brett Jordan on Pexels.com

When I was struggling with anxiety and depression at the end of last year and the beginning of this one, I found myself being very negative and developing a very pessimistic view of the future. I was convinced things (I) would never get better and spent a lot of time wallowing in self pity and believing I couldn’t make myself well no matter how hard I tried. Now I’m feeling well, I’m happier and full of optimism and any challenges I face don’t feel like mountains that I’m unable to climb. I’ve always known that being optimistic is a key part of wellbeing but how can we remain that way all of the time, even when things are a little (or a lot) shitty? Today’s Monday Matters post looks at the psychology of optimism and how we can foster it no matter what life throws at us.

What is optimism?

According to the Oxford dictionary, optimism is ‘a feeling that good things will happen and that something will be successful; the tendency to have this feeling’. The exact opposite of this is ‘pessimism’ which is described as ‘a feeling that bad things will happen and that something will not be successful; the tendency to have this feeling’. Further to this, an optimist is ‘a person who always expects good things to happen or things to be successful’, whereas a pessimist is someone who ‘always expects bad things to happen’. I do think these are oversimplified definitions, however, as most people realistically know that over time, good and bad things will happen to us all and that it is our reaction to events and thoughts and feelings which can be described as mainly optimistic or pessimistic.

Why are some people optimists and others pessimists?

Early research into the subject tends to suggest that an optimistic or pessimistic view is largely an inherited biological trait, but more recent works have shown that environmental factors can influence us too. In other words, we are born one way or the other but our life experiences can impact on us too so, for example, we may learn to have a positive outlook from our childhood if we have an optimistic parent who encourages associated traits such as self belief, resilience and acceptance. Conversely, being surrounded by pessimists who believe they are hard done to, always see the worst in a situation and have a tendency to be negative overall can influence our thoughts and feelings about life too.

So, even if you are a ‘glass half empty’ type of person, it is possible to learn to be more optimistic or reduce pessimism by working on challenging and changing your thought processes. This does mean that if you have always been described as an optimistic, there is a chance that, with certain life experiences, you may develop a more pessimistic view (sometimes temporarily) but there are many ways of of combating this.

What are the benefits of being optimistic?

There are so many benefits of being of being an optimistic person in terms of physical and mental health. Optimists:

  • have healthier lifestyles, for example they exercise more, have a balanced diet, are less likely to smoke or binge drink and just generally make better choices with regard to their health
  • have better quality relationships with family, friends, partner or co-workers
  • have more life satisfaction, happiness and high levels of psychological and physical wellbeing
  • are good problem solvers and tend to strive for what they want as they believe themselves to be capable of high levels of achievement
  • are more motivated
  • have better self esteem
  • are generally more successful
  • accept their failures and learn from them
  • have a better immune system
  • have lower cortisol levels (stress hormone)
  • actively pursue their goals
  • recover from physical illnesses more quickly
  • take less time to recover from surgery
  • less likely to have a stroke or cardiovascular diseases
  • have lower blood pressure
  • emerge from difficult circumstances with less distress than pessimists
  • see setbacks as temporary events caused by circumstances
  • are more likely to engage in health related self care activities such as regular check ups

How can we learn to be more optimistic?

The idea of learned optimism is a concept developed by a leading American psychologist called Martin Seligman.

learned optimism involves developing the ability to view the world from a positive point of view.

Seligman

He believes that the positivity associated with being an optimist can and should be cultivated and that being optimistic is a key part of good health and wellbeing. So, pop on your positivity glasses and read my suggestions on how to train or rewire your brain.

Shift your focus – instead of thinking about what you can’t control, focus on what you can instead. In any situation, there are things that can’t be changed and things that can. If you spend your time obsessing over the former, you will quickly become stressed and frustrated. However, if you look at what you do have control over, you can control the controllables and forget about the rest.

See setbacks as temporary – it’s not the end of the world if something goes wrong or doesn’t go the way you expected, it’s something to be learnt from. Resolve to come back better and stronger!

Regain your sense of control – focus on what you can do to improve a situation and believe in your ability to make things better rather than focusing on the barriers. This is in contrast to ‘learned helplessness’ associated with pessimism.

Watch out for unhelpful phrases – talk such as ‘I never…’, ‘I can’t…’, ‘I always mess up…’ etc is not helpful and can create a negative mindset. Try to catch yourself saying them and come up with some alternatives which are more positive – ‘I might be able to…’, ‘I could…’ etc.

Think about the company you keep – some people seem to complain about everything and never have a positive word to say. After so many minutes of talking to them, you might find you start being negative too. It’s almost like the pessimism is contagious. Conversely, spending time with a optimist, can encourage feelings of optimism and make life seem much more rosy. I’m not saying cull everyone from your life who isn’t a ‘glass half full’ kind of person, but you might want to think about who you spend most of your time with.

Avoid overgeneralising – After something has gone wrong for you, have you ever found yourself thinking or saying that the world is conspiring against you, or everyone has got it in for you? Remember that one set back in one aspect of your life does not mean that everything is going wrong. Neither does it mean that you are unlucky or any of those other things that might pop into your head or out of your mouth!

Take a balanced approach – In every situation there are positives and negatives. Unfortunately, the society that we live in often encourages us to focus on the more negative side and ignore the many positives. I like to do some gratitude journaling each evening to focus on the positives in my day. I might also have a few negatives that become problems to work on solving, but I try not to dwell on what I can’t change or those minor irritations which we all have.

How can we stay optimistic during tough times?

As I said earlier, when I was struggling with my mental health for so many months, I found it very difficult to be optimistic in relation to the present moment and the future. But there are ways of remaining positive, even during periods of difficulty. So, what could I have done differently? Some of my online reading has suggested that optimism doesn’t require you to brush aside anxious and negative feelings, but rather to accept them whilst being hopeful about what the future will bring. Obviously, this is easier said than done when you are consumed with difficult emotions, but the idea is that you work super hard to acknowledge that things are difficult right now, but try to hold on to the belief that things won’t always be like this. Here’s some ideas of ways that this can be made easier (not easy of course, but having an I can get through this attitude is a big part of it):

  • try to practise self compassion – accept that things are a struggle right now, but also remind yourself that you’ve got through difficulties before and you can do so again
  • disrupt the negative thought cycle – focus on the breath, change your environment (go for a walk in nature), confide in someone you trust about how you are feeling and seek a fresh perspective
  • jot down some coping statements e.g. I can take this one day at a time, this is frightening and I can handle it, I am a resilient person and I can get through this etc.
  • practise gratitude – even when things are hard, there’s always small things to be grateful for – the friend who texted to say she’s thinking of you, the tranquillity as you sit drinking your coffee in your sunny garden, your warm coat on a chilly day etc. At certain times, it might be difficult to focus on the positives, but it’s not completely impossible and taking the time to be grateful has been shown to really help.

Final words…

I hope today’s Monday Matters has been helpful in some way and that you will give at least one of the ideas a go. Lockdown is beginning to ease now but there is still a little uncertainty around about the future making things difficult. As I type this, I’m feeling positive and optimistic, yet whilst I was unwell, things looked bleak. So, it just goes to show that things can and will get better.

Take care until next time,

Posted in art, creativity, lifestyle, mental health, Planning and journaling, watercolour painting

Currently… life update March 2021

I haven’t done one of these updates for a while (it was last March in fact!) so thought I might spend an hour or two composing one this afternoon. There have been quite a few changes since the last one so here goes:

Currently adjusting…

to a new mental health diagnosis. Yesterday, I had an appointment with the mental health team and psychiatrist to discuss issues that I had been having for an almost six month period. Basically, last year, I met with the team as I thought I had cyclothymic disorder which is a mild form of bipolar. However, it felt nothing like a mild illness, with me being very depressed since mid September 2021 and only getting better a few weeks ago. My appointment lasted two hours and it was really helpful as I had a long chat with a member of the team and then a video call with the psychiatrist who is working from home. I’ve now been diagnosed with Bipolar 2 and will be embarking on a completely new treatment plan which doesn’t involve anti-depressants – one of which I’ve been on for over 20 years! So now, I have a new condition to read up on and get my head around. Well, I say a new condition, but really I’ve had it for around 24 years and have only just been correctly diagnosed.

Currently buying…

nothing but the essentials. I have so many clothes, accessories and crafty bits and bobs that I really don’t need anything but food, drink and a few toiletries right now. In fact, I’m about to embark on a huge declutter of stuff as the wardrobe is fit to burst and my craft room has enough materials to last a lifetime and beyond.

Currently enjoying…

seeing glimpses of Spring. Things are starting to pop up in the garden, the birds are singing and the weather is starting to improve – today I went out without my coat on for the third time this year! Although I hate too much sunshine with having very fair skin, I love putting on my sunglasses and going out for relaxing walks or spending time in the garden. when the weather gets milder.

Currently learning…

all about productivity and organising stuff using a very popular method. Although I’ve not read the book, I’ve been able to use information from various infographics and YouTube videos to learn about the Getting Things Done Method by David Allen. I’m hoping to implement the main ideas shortly to help me get super organised and work efficiently throughout the week so I have the weekends totally free to spend time with my husband or on personal projects. If you want to learn the basics, I recommend you check out this YouTube channel as Emma provides a series of videos which talk you through GTD and shares real examples of how she follows the principles.

Currently making…

watercolour paintings to be used as designs for greetings cards. It all started when I couldn’t find a nice card for my dad for his birthday so I created a variegated watercolour wash using some of his favourite colours and then added some gold paint flecks to give it some sparkle. Then I started looking at tutorials on YouTube and Pinterest, had a go at some of them, and now I’m hooked on making my own unique cards. I even made my own envelopes using the We R Memory Keepers 1,2, 3 punch board!

Currently pinning…

a range of watercolour tutorials to give me ideas for cards and front cover designs for my monthly bullet journal set ups. I’m now using a Scribbles That Matter journal so the pages are nice and thick, although often I do the painting on hot pressed watercolour paper and then scan, print and stick it in. If you want to see some of my pins, you can check my Pinterest here.

So, that’s a mini update on me and my life currently. I hope you enjoyed reading about what I’m up to. I might do life updates more regularly in future, particularly if my new treatment plan for Bipolar 2 helps to keep me well. And if anyone reading has Bipolar disorder and writes about how it affects them in their blog, I would really love it if you dropped the link in the comments so I can check out your experiences and see if I can pick up any tips on managing the condition. Until next time, keep safe and well.