Posted in CBT, compassion, lifestyle, mental health, Mindfulness

Monday Matters: The beginner’s guide to self-compassion

Photo credit: kaboompics.com for Unsplash

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post which explored different ways to practise self love and gave some ideas for bullet journal spreads you might like to try. Today’s writing is an extension of this them and focuses on self-compassion. I hope you find it both interesting and useful.

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is all about showing yourself warmth, love, kindness and understanding, especially during difficult times. It’s about accepting ourselves as we are, learning to be less self-critical and avoiding judgement. It’s about being mindful of our different emotional states and the situations we find ourselves, recognising that we all make mistakes, that no-one is perfect and that we all struggle at times so we’re not alone in our suffering.

Why should I practice self-compassion?

There has been a lot of recent research into the benefits of being self-compassionate and how it can work wonders on our wellbeing. Individuals who practise self-compassion have been shown to be much happier, more optimistic, grateful for what they have, and enjoy better relationships with their loved ones. They’ve also been shown to have lower stress levels as they avoid being judgemental towards themselves, others and situations, recognise and accept that we all find things hard at times and, through mindfulness, become more in tune with their thoughts and emotions. Self-compassionate people are also likely to have a higher level of resilience as they are easily able to bounce back from difficulties and can accept and learn from their mistakes.

Self-compassion is also a great antidote for perfectionist tendencies, which I, for one, have always struggled with, right from childhood and I’m sure many of my readers will have too.

How can I bring self-compassion to my life?

Today, I’m going to share with you some simple ways to bring self-compassion into your life so that you can start being easier on yourself and show yourself the love and kindness you would demonstrate to someone else you care about.

Notice and reframe your critical self-talk

I’ve spoken before about the negative ways in which we tend to talk to ourselves before in my blog post about self love. We can be so good at saying unkind and unhelpful things such as “I’m such an idiot”, “Other people are so much better than me”, “No-one likes me” and “I’m just no good at…” etc. And, as you can imagine, this critical inner voice can destroy our self confidence and lead to feelings of worthlessness and depression.

So how can we put the lid on this damaging talk? The very first step is to start noticing when you are being self-critical. Take the time to examine the situations in which you use negative self talk, the exact words you use and the tone of voice that you adopt. You could even try keeping a little notebook of examples to reflect on. Now consider how you could reframe things in a more positive way. Focus on being self-compassionate, non-judgemental, supportive and mindful of the situation. If you find this difficult, think about what a really compassionate friend would say to you. Changing how we talk to ourselves might be hard at first but it will get easier with time and practise so keep working on your skills and congratulate yourself on your efforts.

Write yourself a letter

This is a great exercise to do if you are going through a difficult time or are struggling to accept something which has caused you mental pain. Start your letter by outlining the situation that you find yourself in and how it has or is affecting you. Next, go on to identify your thoughts and feelings and what you were hoping for or needing to make things easier. Now offer a message of common humanity which will remind you that you are not alone and encourage you to feel connected to others e.g. ‘we all make mistakes’ or ‘everyone has times when they feel…’ etc. Finally, offer yourself some guidance and positive encouragement like you would to a friend who needs your support. Sign your letter with a loving message and add some stickers, washi tapes or little drawings of something nice if you would like to. When you have finished your letter, you can either read it out loud to yourself straight away or put it away somewhere special for when you need to show yourself some compassion.

Start a self-compassion journal

Keeping a journal is a great way to reflect on how you are feeling and what is happening for you right now. I like to spend about ten minutes each evening writing down my thoughts. What I chose to write about differs each day but might include:

  • what I have achieved today
  • what I learnt today
  • ways in which I am proud of myself
  • things I’m grateful for
  • anything I found challenging today and why
  • what I’m looking forward to tomorrow
  • anything I’m feeling apprehensive about

You can finish your writing by adding some kind, understanding and sympathetic words to yourself. For example, ‘most people would get annoyed in that situation and it’s okay that you lost your temper’ or ‘things were difficult today, but hopefully you’ll have a better day tomorrow’ etc.

Use affirmations

Another great way of showing yourself loving kindness it to write your own personal affirmations and practise saying them to yourself each day. I like to create a decorative spread of them in my bullet journal every few months – it is a great way of practising my brush lettering too. Here are some examples:

  • I am enough
  • I talk to myself with love and kindness
  • I’m proud of myself and my achievements
  • I accept my flaws because no one is perfect
  • I’m doing my best and that is enough

Engage in self-soothing activities

If you know you’ve had a difficult day, your week isn’t going quite as planned or you’re finding yourself in a negative mood, you can help to make yourself feel much better by engaging in some self soothing activities.

Here’s some examples of things I like to do:

  • take a walk in nature and use my senses to explore the immediate environment
  • get under the duvet and read a good book
  • do some drawing or colouring in
  • listen to a guided meditation
  • make a collage in my bullet journal of things I love
  • do some watercolour painting
  • mindfully eat a bar of my favourite chocolate
  • watch a funny film
  • paint my nails

If you would like to read more about using self soothing for emotional regulation, you can check out this blog post I wrote last year.

I hope today’s blog post has helped to develop your understanding of self-compassion and how important it is. Let me know which of the activities I suggested appeal to you the most and if you try some of them, be sure to share how you got on.

Posted in Bullet journaling, compassion, mental health, Planning and journaling, wellbeing

Monday Matters: 8 wonderful ways to practise self love and some supportive BuJo spreads for you to create

There are lots of articles around at the moment about reaching out and being kind and supportive towards other people but it also really important to be good to yourself too. Self love is essential to our mental health and wellbeing and it should also be made a priority if we want to lead a happy and fulfilling life. Today’s Monday Matters post features a collection of eight ways in which you can practise self love and includes some ideas for bullet journal spreads with this focus in mind.

Start and end the day in the right way

No matter how busy you are, try to find the time to check in with yourself first thing in the morning and last thing before you wind down for bed. Tell yourself something positive before you start your day. Look in the mirror, and say something encouraging, for example, “you are awesome and don’t you forget it!”, “let’s do this!”, “today is going to be a great day” – I guarantee it will make you smile. In the evening, when reflecting on your day, think of something you did well that makes you proud – better still write it down in your bullet journal so you can look back at it some other time. Celebrate your wins whether big or small.

Stop comparing yourself to others

You are completely unique. There’s no one on earth that is quite like you, so stop comparing yourself with other people and appreciate how special you are and be grateful for everything you have. Take time to think about all of your qualities and if you find yourself struggling and in need of some help, ask your friends and love ones to tell you what they like about you. And remember, what you see on social media, is just the best snippets of someone’s life, an edited version that doesn’t show their bad hair days, the massive mistakes they made in their bullet journal before they developed their IG worthy spread, the times when they could barely drag themselves out of bed and the days when everything went wrong and they could have cried and probably did.

Practise self care

In my Wellness Recovery Action Plan series, I talked about making a long list of all of the things that you can do that you enjoy and that make you feel good. I came up with a list of over 100 activities including painting my nails, going out for dinner, looking at photos from happy times, flying a kite and going for a walk along the beach. Some of the ideas take minutes, whilst others are great for an hour or an afternoon of ‘me time’. I try to make sure I do at least 1 thing of my list each day and often do several. It’s not self indulgent, it’s just one of the ways I look after myself and keep myself mentally well.

Forgive yourself

Things can and will go wrong for you at times and you will make mistakes. You might do something that makes you feel really embarrassed or you might say something unkind to a friend or loved one in the heat of the moment. Accept that you are only human and that no-one is perfect, including you. Show the same kind of compassion to yourself as you would to someone else who got something wrong or is ashamed of their behaviour. The best thing to do is forgive yourself and then reflect on and learn from your mistakes in a kind way that enables you to use them to help you grow as a person.

Watch how you talk to yourself either out loud or in your head

On the subject of being kind and considerate towards yourself, be mindful of your inner critic. We can say some pretty awful things to ourselves at times, for example, I often find things slipping from my mouth such as ‘you idiot’, ‘I don’t believe you’ve just done that!’, well that was a stupid thing to do wasn’t it’ – and I bet I’m not alone? If you find yourself being downright horrible to yourself at times, think about how you could be more supportive and encouraging or what you would say to a friend or loved one in the same situation. A key technique used in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT for short) is to spend time focusing on (and writing down) your critical thoughts, reframing them or analysing how much you really believe them. If you find yourself being really unkind and negative towards yourself this will most certainly have a negative impact on your self esteem and self worth. It may even be helpful in the future to think about finding a professional who can work with you to develop strategies that you can employ for making changes.

Look after your body

Pay special attention to what you need and treat your body in the way it deserves. Keep yourself hydrated throughout the day and eat food that makes you feel good such as plenty of fresh fruit and veg. Create a good skincare routine for your face and body and have a make up free day at least once of twice a week to keep your skin looking young and healthy. And if your body is craving rest or a change of scene, listen to it and give it what it needs. Encourage yourself to have a lie in, enjoy an afternoon nap, go for a nature walk, have a relaxing bath or simply go and sit outside in the sunshine and do absolutely nothing.

Explore your creative side

Spending some time being creative is a wonderful way to express yourself. There are so many different ways to do this such as drawing, painting, journalling, poetry or even some interior decoration (when was the last time you treated yourself to some new cushions or a few pretty ornaments to display on a shelf?). There’s no right or wrong way to be creative so leave your inner critic behind, immerse yourself in whatever it is you’ve chosen to do and really enjoy the process. You might surprise yourself with the results too!

Examine your relationships

We all deserve to be surrounded by people who love and care for us so think about the quality of each of your loving relationships and friendships. Does the person accept you for who you are? Are they they for you in good times and bad? When you see or speak to them, do they make you feel happy and alive or completely drained and stressed out? Do they meet you half way or are you always the one that reaches out to them? Are they happy for you when you meet a goal or achieve something new? Do they really listen when you have something to say or do they turn the conversation back to themselves?

Recognise those people who you feel don’t have your best interests at heart or make you feel less than great when you see or speak to them. You might not be able to remove some of them from your life completely (especially if they’re a family member or a work colleague) but you can try to limit the time you spend with them or work on changing your approach to dealing with them, e.g. setting firmer boundaries and learning to say no.

Bullet Journal Self Love Spread ideas

  1. Things I love about myself

Spend some quiet time sitting and thinking about what makes you special and what your best qualities are. Try to come up with things related to your appearance, your relationships with others, your work ethic and your skills.

I really enjoyed creating this spread and it made me see that there are so many things that I love about myself. And of course, friends and family are likely to love these things about you too.

A simple spread using Tombow dual brush pens and a 0.3 pigment liner

2. Self love motivational messages

For this spread, I took to Google and typed in phrases such as ‘self love’, ‘self kindness’ and ‘self care’. I then clicked on images and selected a range that were visually appealing to resize and paste into an MS Word document. To make it easier to build my spread, I printed the pages on A4 sticker paper ready to cut out and stick in. I also tried to have a basic colour scheme of purples, pinks and greens to create a cohesive look. I found so many wonderful short texts and images that I was able to do two double page spreads which are so beautiful to look at. I added a few stickers and a little bit of washi to the blank spaces to complete the look. I’m so pleased with how they turned out and I’m sure I will find myself visiting the pages regularly.

Self care ideas

This is the kind of list I’ve created before as part of my Wellness Recovery Action Plan but I thought I’d do a similar one in my bullet journal with slightly less ideas so that it would all fit on a single page. Most of the ideas are completely free or cost very little (except maybe the retail therapy if I see lots of nice things!).

An amazing resource for self love encouragement

If you loved the ‘self-love hedgehog’ in my bullet journal spread, you absolutely need to check out the amazing website https://chibird.com/ where you can find many more self love, mental health and wellness related graphics. The website owner Jacqueline Chen’s art work in so wonderful and just looking through the resources can be part of your self love practice. She’s even produced a book which you can pick up on Amazon.

Final thoughts

Well done for taking the time to read this blog post as it shows you think self love is important! I hope it’s given you some fresh new ideas on how to be compassionate towards yourself in ways that you would be to others that you love. Let me know in the comments what the first thing is that you’re going to do this month to be all kinds of lovely to yourself.

Posted in compassion, mental health, Planning and journaling, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Creating a WRAP Part 5 (final in the series)

Over the course of April, I’ve produced a series of posts about the process involved in creating a Wellness Recovery Action Plan. Today is the final installment in which I look at Crisis Planning. As I stated in my last Monday Matters post, I did not complete this section of the booklet myself as my illness has never reached crisis point but I intend to go over what this part of the plan would look like and suggest some ideas of what you might include.

What constitutes crisis?

Although there is no set definition for a crisis, it can be described loosely as being a state of emergency that poses an immediate threat to your physical or emotional wellbeing. Therefore, in spite of your best planning and actions to keep yourself well, you find yourself in a situation where others need to take over your care.

Crisis planning

This part of the W.R.A.P. has 9 sections and I will go over in in turn. Although the whole plan is very personal to the individual, I can offer suggestions on the kind of information you might record in each list.

Part 1: What I am like when I’m well

This can literally be copied from the second page of your plan and is simply placed in this part of the document for ease of access.

Part 2: Symptoms

This is a list of signs that tell others that they need to take over your care. Some examples include violent out of control behaviour, psychosis (loss of touch with reality), paranoia, abusive behaviour towards self or others, inability to perform basic tasks such as bathing, brushing teeth etc, showing signs of planning own suicide (Mind website information on this can be found here).

Part 3: Supporters

This is a list of people you want to care for you if the symptoms you listed in Part 2 occur. Include family members and health care professionals but make sure you seek their permission to me added to your list so that have advance warning in case something happens in the future. You can also include a list of people you do not want included in your supporters list too.

Part 4: Medication

In this section, you can write which medications are okay to be given and which are not. So, for example, you might have reacted in a bad way to a particular antipsychotic in the past and be worried that it might make you worse if administered again.

Part 5: Community Plan

In this section, you can list your preferences for your care so you can feel you have some say in what happens when you are unwell. So, for example, you might prefer to have the Crisis team visit you at home and come up with a plan for you in consultation with your partner or you might feel that you are best off being hospitalised.

Part 6: Treatment Facilities

Here, you would list where you would prefer to be treated or hospitalised if that becomes necessary. You can also add facilities that you would rather avoid if possible and why.

Part 7: Treatments

In this part, you can include treatments and therapies which you feel would be most beneficial and those which you wish to avoid and why. You may have tried alternative therapies that have worked in the past and wish them to be administered again.

Part 8: Help from others

Here, you can write down what you want from your supporters which will help make you feel most comfortable. Obviously, this list is very personal but might include the kind of things you would like people to say to you for encouragement or avoid saying as you know they will not help.

Part 9: When my supporters no longer need to use this plan

In this section, write a list of indicators that your supporters no longer need to take over your care. What are the signs that show you are once again in control of your life? This might include features of wellness that you display which show you are well on the path to recovery.

Looking forward

Remember that if you do reach crisis point, despite putting all of the elements of a W.R.A.P. in place, this is not the end of the world and it certainly does not mean that you won’t recover. After you have taken the time to get yourself feeling better and stronger, you might like to revisit your plan with one of your supporters and discuss any improvements you might be able to make to your plan and the action which goes with it. Maybe, on reflection, you didn’t do enough to keep yourself calm and relaxed in daily life and could benefit from putting more self soothing activities into place. Or perhaps a loved one recognised signs of deterioration but you chose to ignore it or go into a state of denial. Whatever happens, you can learn from the experience and try to make plans for the future.

And that, as they say in the filming industry, is a WRAP. I hope you have found my series helpful and can see the benefits of producing this kind of document to help with issues relating to mental health. If you would like support to write your WRAP, I suggest looking into if there is a Recovery College in your local area or if you are able to work with a mental health professional as part of therapy sessions to make one.

Wishing you a wonderful week,

Posted in compassion, mental health, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Creating a W.R.A.P. Part 3

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been sharing my experiences of writing a Wellness Recovery Action Plan to support my mental health. In Part 1, I shared what a W.R.A.P. is and why it’s useful as well as how to create a wellness toolbox. In Part 2, I wrote about making a detailed list of adjectives to describe what you are like when you are feeling well and also how to make a maintenance plan of every day activities that help to keep you well. This week, the focus is on triggers and how to cope with them, plus creating a list of early warning signs of deteriorating mental health. Obviously, this is very personal to you as an individual but I hope by sharing some of my lists you get the idea so you can have a go at making your own.

Triggers (AKA Stressors)

Triggers in your life are external events or circumstances that make you feel uncomfortable. They can include situations in your work or personal life that you know tend to stress you out or upset you. Writing these triggers down won’t stop them from happening, but it can help us put coping methods and action plans in place for dealing with the emotions that are felt.

The following are some examples of my triggers so you can get the idea for making your own list:

spending too much time alone

criticism from others

being overly tired

family friction

making a mistake

not being listened to

change to routine

packing to go on holiday

mental health themes in TV dramas

feeling left out

being wrongly judged

My coping methods / action plan

Do everything on my daily maintenance plan – keep routines going

Pick out some activities from my wellness toolbox

Talk to a supportive person about what has happened

Turn negative self talk into positive

Use mindfulness techniques

Do some soothing rhythm breathing

Focus on tasks that are easy to do

Make lists e.g. a packing list for holidays

Early Warning Signs

For this part of the WRAP plan, you make a list of signs that tell you and others that you’re not feeling mentally well. This helps friends and family to look for signs of deterioration and is also good for sharing with medical professionals. For me personally, I have different signs depending on whether I’m starting to become depressed or anxious or developing hypermania.

Signs of depression and anxiety

loss of appetite / comfort eating

feeling tearful over things that wouldn’t usually affect me

lack of motivation

feeling tired even after lots of sleep

agitation

want to be alone

irritability

poor concentration

feeling worthless / helpless

Signs of hypomania

constant talking – unable to switch off

mind in overdrive

erratic driving

spending lots of money to fix things

hyperactivity

sleeplessness

agitation

irritability

flick from one task to another in a bid to get it all done

Coping methods / action plan

Do relaxation exercises – meditation, yoga etc.

Pick out some activities from my wellness tools

Tell someone I trust how I feel

Do everything on my daily maintenance list

Seek medical help

Get some exercise

Ask for support with household tasks

Challenge negative thoughts

Celebrate small achievements

Although I found these tasks difficult to do at the time as I was living with the depression and anxiety symptoms, I do think they are really useful lists to make. I also found it beneficial to talk with others about coping methods and get ideas from them too.

I hope you are finding these posts informative and useful. I really recommend creating your own WRAP either by yourself or with a loved one or therapist. Sitting down and really thinking about yourself and what you are like at different times can really help. Also if you can feel yourself becoming stressed or unwell, you can put things in place to help prevent you from becoming worse.

Of course, the current situation with the virus is a huge source of stress and worry so, now more than ever, we need to look after ourselves and ensure self care activities are high on our agenda. A lot of our routines and aspects of our daily lives have changed beyond our control and for many, this will be one of your main triggers so make sure you put things in place to help you cope.

Until next time, stay home and stay safe and well,

Posted in art, compassion, creativity, Planning and journaling, Setting goals and intentions

Creating a lockdown vision board

With the country in lockdown for the foreseeable future many of our routines will have changed and so will our priorities in life. With this in mind, I decided to create a vision board which focuses on what I want for myself right now. This post is all about how I made it and includes a brief explanation of each of the elements. I’m really pleased with how it turned out.

As one of my goals for the moment is to experiment more with watercolour techniques, I created the background for the board by using a wet-on-wet technique and a limited palette of three colours. I used coldpress watercolour paper which did wrinkle a little but you couldn’t tell when I put it into the photocopier part of my printer. I copied it twice and then orientated them differently to create the two page spread.

After creating the backdrop, I thought carefully about my hobbies and interests and how I can engage in them further. I came up with nine ideas:

  1. to work on my drawing and painting skills
  2. to increase my strength and fitness
  3. to continue to work on my brush lettering (being a leftie makes it hard!)
  4. to grow my blog by posting regularly
  5. to develop my macro photography by using my DSLR in the garden to snap insects
  6. to focus on being grateful for my life even in these difficult circumstances
  7. to practise mindfulness to enable me to live in the moment more
  8. to use my compassion based learning to improve my self love and kindness
  9. to do much more journalling

Drawing and painting

There are some amazing online tutorials out there and I’ve already subscribed to a number of YouTube channels. One of my favourites at the moment, is Shayda Campbell’s florals work which includes lots of sketches of flowers and watercolour techniques which are really easy to follow. Another arty channel that I’ve recently started following is Hullo Alice for watercolour tutorials and bullet journal spreads.

Strength and fitness

I’ve already mentioned my daily yoga practice in a previous post and I’m continuing to develop my ability to do a variety of poses. The style I do is called Iyengar and I’m currently using this channel. I’ve recently ordered a folding chair which I’m hoping in sturdy enough to use.

Brush lettering

I’ve been doing brush lettering using my Tombow dual tips and Fudenosuke hard tip pen for a long time now but still find certain letters difficult. I’ve decided to practise more by doing the lower and upper case alphabets on alternate days and at least one quote per week in my BuJo. The practise sheets I’ve been using are from the magazine publication Simply Lettering. I’ve already made progress but I still think it’s super hard for lefties like me!

This blog

Whilst I was struggling with depression and anxiety I really didn’t have the confidence in myself to work on my blog. I had no ideas and no inclination to put pen to paper. But now, I’m pleased to say that I’m brimming with topics I want to write about and the words flow onto the page with ease. I’m back doing my Monday Matters series and I’m enjoying using my bullet journal again. Also, I hope to share with you some of what I’m doing to work towards the items on my vision board.

Macro photography

My DSLR has been in its case for months now and I’ve just been using my camera phone to take the odd snap. I splashed out on a macro lens a couple of years ago but haven’t really experimented much with it yet. I figure now, as we’re getting lots of insects in the garden, would be a great time to work on developing my skills in this area of photography. I’m not saying I’m going to get shots as wonderful as the one on my vision board but I’m going to give it a go!

Gratefulness

It’s easy to focus on all of the negative aspects of the lockdown but that’s a guaranteed way of getting myself depressed again so I’ve decided that one of the things I’m going to do each day as I socially distance myself, is to record what I’m grateful for. I bought a journalling book from Paperchase a while back called ‘5 Minutes Before Bed’ which includes space to write down your thoughts. There are a variety of different prompts and motivational quotes to keep me focused.

Mindfulness

I attended a mindfulness course at my local wellbeing centre last year and found it really beneficial. However, I haven’t really kept up the practise and really struggled to stay mindful during my period of poor mental health. But, I’m determined to focus on living in the moment and I’ve bought a journaling book to help me do this. The book provides a variety of activities to do to increased mindfulness and a space to write how you got on doing each task. I intend to do a blog post on this when I’ve completed some more of the book.

Self love and kindness

When you are struggling with your mental health, self love and kindness tend to go completely out of the window. I personally found that I had no capacity for self compassion and would constantly beat myself up over how I was feeling. Now, with an increase to my medication, I’m well again and able to show love and kindness to myself and others. I chose the bright heart hands image to remind myself that whilst working towards my goals, I want to remember to approach things with a gentle kindness.

Journalling

I’ve already mentioned the two journals which I’m using at the moment but I intend to reflect on how I’m doing my writing in my bullet journal regularly too. I find journaling really therapeutic and an important way of focusing the mind so it’s definitely something I want to do each day.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my vision board. As you can see, I’ve got plenty of ideas for self development that I want to put in place over the next few months. Maybe it’s given you inspiration for things you’d like to do whilst in lockdown mode. However, if this is not where your head is at right now and you find yourself lacking in motivation due to the current situation, then just accept that this is the case and focus on self care and self love to get you through. There’s nothing wrong with having lots of down time right now as you get used to life whilst social distancing. However you intend to structure your life in the coming weeks, remember to keep safe by keeping your distance and celebrate any small achievements along the way.

Until next time, take care,