Posted in life hacks, lifestyle, self care, Uncategorized

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!

Posted in lifestyle, Planning and journaling, psychology, wellbeing

Monday Matters: 9 benefits of practising gratitude and how to get started today

Last year, I wrote a couple of blog posts about gratitude. One was about how I was practising gratitude despite the situation with COVID-19 and the local lockdowns that were being enforced, and the other presented a few ways in which you could start to practice being grateful. Today, I want to dive a little deeper into the core benefits of a daily gratitude practice and share ideas on ways you can get started with a view to make it part of your routine.

What is gratitude?

Gratitude is about being aware of and thankful for all of the positive things and situations in your life and their impact on you. It’s about regularly taking a moment to reflect on and appreciate what you have, even during particularly challenging times.

Finding gratitude is a skill that anyone can develop and there are so many benefits of a daily practice. Read on and you’ll see exactly why I’ve made it a habit and part of my nightly routine.

9 Benefits of practising gratitude

Makes us feel happier Gratitude encourages us to focus on the positives in our life, helping to reduce negative emotions such as anger, resentment and regret. It can also minimise feelings associated with depression such as sadness, worthlessness, self-hate and guilt.

Reduces stress High levels of stress can leave us feeling extremely tense, anxious, restless and overwhelmed. Luckily, cultivating feelings of gratitude is the perfect antidote. According to research, being more grateful lowers the stress hormone (cortisol) in our body, making us feel much calmer. It can also minimise negative self-talk which can help you to feel confident in dealing with everything life throws at you.

Improves our self-esteem One of the main things that ruins our self-esteem as adults is comparing ourselves with others in an unfavourable way. Instead of engaging in this destructive behaviour, try focusing on gratitude instead. Boost your self worth by thinking of all of your strengths and their impact on your day. Rather than feeling envious of or resentful towards others, try complementing them on their skills and be grateful for how they help you in your life.

Better sleep Finding time each evening to pause and reflect on what you’re grateful for helps you to end the day on a calm and more positive note. This can help you to wind down before bed and has been shown to improve sleep quality and quantity. If you’re really struggling with your sleep, I recommend doing some reflective journalling (see point number 1 of this post) before spending time filling in your gratitude log.

Improved physical health Those who practise gratitude have been shown to exercise more regularly and have medical check-ups more often. When we reflect on what we’re grateful for, we’re likely to show more appreciation towards good physical health and this can prompt us to take better care of ourselves.

Increases resilience We might have lots going on right now which is making life super tough for us, but practising gratitude can help us see the bigger picture, appreciating that we still have lots to be thankful for and assuring us that we have the ability to cope with what’s going on and get through it, coming out stronger on the other side.

Improves our romantic relationships Gratitude plays a key role in strengthening our loving relationships. By actively pay attention to the positive things that our partner does, we learn to appreciate them more, show our gratitude and give them thanks. Expressing your thankfulness is likely to motivate them to do more things to show they love and care about you. Also, when you feel gratitude towards your partner, the chance of you behaving in a positive, kind and caring way back is greatly increased.

Reduces materialism There’s strong evidence that being materialistic i.e. being overly concerned with material things rather than spiritual, intellectual and cultural values leaves a person feeling depressed and dissatisfied with life. Learning to be grateful for what you have reduces these feelings and increases happiness and life satisfaction.

Increases optimism Developing a daily gratitude practice can help you to become a more optimistic person by encouraging you to focus on what’s going right rather than dwelling on negative aspects of your life. If we perceive our current life to be good, we’ll start to believe that this will continue in the future.

My top tips for getting started

With this many benefits, you’ll probably want to get started straight away so here’s a mini guide to help you begin:

Keep it simple It’s best not to develop some elaborate routine that will become too onerous and make you feel like finding gratitude is a complete chore and one which you can’t keep up with. When I first started I made a simple ‘two line a day’ spread in my bullet journal and decided to come up with two or three things each day. This takes me less than 10 minutes each evening and things often pop into my head during the day which I want to add (a benefit of the practice being ingrained).

Choose your method of recording Think about what style of journal appeals to you most – would you prefer writing in your notebook or BuJo or are you happier writing notes on your phone using a dedicated app? I use my bullet journal but I have looked into a couple of apps for research, Gratitude App provides daily prompts and also challenges which run for between one and three weeks. Examples of prompts are ‘Why did you start gratitude journalling? Express gratitude to yourself for taking this step’ and ‘Express gratitude for the new beginnings life gives you’. This is good if you need a little help on the ideas front. The other app is Presently, which is a lot more simple and just gives you space to free write what you’re grateful for each day. Both apps offer alarm prompts as reminders to write.

Make it a habit I’ve written before about ways to cement habits but in brief, you need to start with a cue or trigger which reminds you to do your daily practice e.g. a time, such as 8pm (for which you can set an alarm) or before/after another habit such as when you’ve emptied the dishwasher, after dinner or before you settle down to watch TV. Then, you need to focus on the benefits you receive from the habit, so, for example, you might re-read this list, or, when you get established, you might reflect on how you feel as a result of practising e.g. calmer, happier or sleeping better.

Add a little variety Try to find different things to be grateful for each day and make sure you are really specific so you can see the impact of things in your life e.g. the sunshine because it dried my washing nicely, my ability to persevere with an arduous task until I got it finished, the reassuring words my friend said to give me the strength confidence to get through a difficult time etc.

Share your gratitude with your family and friends If I write about something my husband said or did which I’m grateful for, I tell him. This helps him to know that I don’t take him for granted and that I really do appreciate him. The same can be applied to other family members and friends.

Final words…

As you start to practise gratitude, remember it takes time and effort to make it a habit. Each evening, I like to read through all of the things I’ve listed so far that month as a positive reminder of all of the great things and experiences my life brings. And, I make sure that I express gratitude for the fact that I’ve kept going with my daily routine, even during tough times or when lack of motivation kicks in. Of course there have been a couple of days when I’ve been super busy and a change of routine has meant that my ‘two lines a day’ didn’t get filled in, but I’ve just accepted it and reflected on why it happened so that I can put in place strategies to ensure that not completing my gratitude practice doesn’t become a habit instead.

Posted in beginner photography, lifestyle, mental health, nature, wellbeing

Our Wetlands Trip plus 13 Reasons Why You Need More Nature

Last weekend my husband and I went to our local Wetland Centre for the afternoon. We enjoyed a picnic in the sunshine, lots of bird spotting and a good, long walk. I also took my DSLR camera and got some nice shots of more common species and non-native varieties of bird, plus a few of the cute little family of Asian short-clawed otters . Although there were quite a few groups of visitors due to it being the weekend, the reserve includes 103 acres of open spaces and wetlands so we were able to find peace and quiet to enjoy our surroundings and explore. We had an amazing time and left the place feeling super calm and relaxed.

This week is World Wellbeing Week and it serves as a reminder of the importance of taking time to look after our physical and mental health. Connecting with the natural world, especially in spaces where there is water, is a key way of doing this, and although you may not have a Wetland Centre on your doorstep, we’re all able find ways to appreciate the outdoors.

A quick reminder of the key benefits of getting out in nature

  • Walking is a great form of exercise and reduces risk of obesity
  • Better energy levels
  • The chance to disconnect and slow down
  • Improved creativity due to lower stress and anxiety levels
  • Better air quality – less pollution
  • Reduces anxiety
  • A calm space where there are less triggers which may cause low mood or upset
  • Lowers blood pressure and makes us less tense
  • If the Sun is out, we can soak up vitamin D which is important for our general health
  • Lowers depression – boosts serotonin levels and promotes feeling of wellbeing
  • Increases our ability to heal
  • Helps with cognitive functioning – memory, processing, recall etc.
  • Being outside is great fun!

Photos

As I said, I took lots of photos with my DSLR camera on our way around the extensive grounds, Some turned out better than others, especially as a few of the birds observed from the hides were quite far away. I also tried to take some shots of the meadows but unfortunately it was a little too breezy. I’ve since printed a collection of them ready to do some journalling of our day but I thought I’d share a few of my favourites on here. I’ll let the images speak for themselves but will pop the species names underneath as a caption.

black swan
Female Chiloe widgeon
Red breasted goose
White-headed duck
White-faced whistling ducks
Puna teal duck
Mallard duckling – nothing different but super cute!
Avocets
Not a great photo but sweet little oystercatcher chick with mummy and daddy!
A little glimpse of the Asian short-clawed otter family

Final words

I hope my post has been a good reminder of the benefits of time spent in nature and that it’s prompted you to explore places and spaces that are available in your local area. You can either choose to mindfully soak up the atmosphere or create a photographic account of your time, or, as I did, combine the two. Let me know what your favourite nature space is where you live and what you particularly love about it.

Posted in CBT, depression, lifestyle, mental health, Planning and journaling, psychology, wellbeing

Monday Matters: Negative self-talk – its impact on you and 3 ways to challenge and reframe it

For today’s Monday Matters post I want to discuss something which I’m currently really struggling with, and that is negative self-talk. I’ve been taught various strategies in different therapy sessions throughout the years but applying them when you’re really struggling is easier said than done. Also, during periods of better mood, the techniques tend to be forgotten about as the amount of negativity is much less. So, here’s some examples of different types of negative self talk, an outline of how it damages us mentally and three key ways to challenge and reframe it.

What is negative self talk?

Before you can begin to challenge your negative self-talk you need to know exactly what it is so you can label it as such as soon as it pops into your head or out of your mouth. Basically, we have lots of thoughts running through our minds all of the time such as ‘I wonder if there’s anything good on TV tonight?’, ‘I haven’t done any watercolouring this week, perhaps I’ll have a go at some tomorrow’ or ‘I feel a bit rough today so I’m going to take it easy’. These kinds of self-talk and reflection are perfectly normal and help you to make decisions and get on with things in your life. However, when the self-talk becomes harsh and self critical, such as ‘I can’t believe I did that, I’m such as idiot’, this is when it becomes a problem and can be really damaging in all kinds of ways.

The main forms of negative self-talk (AKA cognitive distortions)

The following are some of the main forms of negative self-talk. In psychology, they’re known as cognitive distortions because they’re inaccurate, exaggerated, irrational and negatively biased.

Overgeneralisation – this is where we draw conclusions about things in life or the future based on things that have happened (often once) in the past e.g. all men are liars, we’re bound to get stuck in traffic, bad things always happen to me, I’ll never be able to do that, I always fail.

Catastrophising – very closely related to the above, this is where we imagine and believe the worst will happen and completely blow things out of all proportion, for example, during a period of depression, saying that you will never get better and will spend the rest of your life miserable, or following the end of a romantic relationship, stating that you’re unlovable and will never find anyone else.

Mental filter – this is when we experience positive and negative things but only focus on the bad stuff and filter out anything good. So, for example you might have had a day out at the park, enjoyed a picnic in the sunshine, strolled around the lake, feed the ducks and swans and admired the cute, fluffy little cygnets before getting an ice cream from the café. But, on return home, you might say that you had an awful time because you were stupid enough to drip ice cream on your t-shirt and that you got burnt because you failed to re-apply your sunscreen.

Predicting the future (AKA fortune telling) -this is where we predict what is going to happen based on little or no evidence, for example, we might say things like: ‘I just know I’m not going to get the job’, ‘I’m not going to the party because I’ll have an awful time’.

Mind reading – here, you assume what others are thinking, often in a negative way. So, for example, you might decide that your friend hates your clothes because she didn’t say how nice your new dress looked, or you might conclude that your husband is sick of you because you keep getting upset all the time.

Black and white thinking – this one involves thinking in extremes rather than anything in-between or in a ‘shade of grey’. It commonly involves the use of the words ‘always’ or ‘never’. Some examples that I’ve said recently are: ‘I always mess things up’, ‘I’ll never get better’ and ‘I’m a complete mess’.

Labelling – these are things that you say about yourself either in your head or out loud which are wholly negative and unhelpful e.g. ‘I’m a fat pig’, ‘I’m useless’, ‘I’m such a failure’ etc.

Shoulds and muststhis involves putting undue pressure on yourself and creating unreasonable expectations which become impossible to keep. For example, you might say ‘I should be a better wife’, ‘I must tidy up all of this mess’, ‘I should exercise more’, I must make sure I’m on time for my appointment’. Using ‘I need to…’ isn’t particularly helpful either e.g. ‘I need to lose weight’, ‘I need to be a better mum’, I need to get that work done’. I’ve written an in depth blog post on this previously as it’s something we covered in my compassion group classes.

The consequences of a tendency towards negative self-talk

As well as causing high levels of stress for both the individual and their close family and friends, negative self-talk has a number of negative consequences including:

  • lack of self belief
  • poor levels of resilience
  • diminished ability to make positive changes in your life
  • reduced self-confidence
  • decreased motivation
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • likelihood of depression and anxiety being exacerbated

Personally, I find that negative self-talk goes hand-in-hand with depression and feelings of anxiety which only serves to make things worse.

3 ways to tackle your negative self-talk

In order to remedy our tendency to negative self-talk we need to recognise when we’re involved in it and actively challenge our words. Here are three ideas on how to do this:

Recognise it, write it down and challenge it

There are a number of psychological studies that have looked into developing awareness of self-talk and the key findings suggest that those individuals who wrote down their own personal examples in some form of log book showed greater insight into the specific content of their self-talk and the consequences of its used. They were also able to start challenging their initial thoughts in order to create more balanced conclusions.

Recognising and challenging your self-talk takes time and commitment but is really worthwhile doing. The following example is my own and I hope, by sharing it, you can see how the process works (you may need to click and enlarge it to see properly). When challenging the evidence, I find it helpful to think about what a good friend or my lovely husband might say in response to what I said.

Take it to court

This is a great technique, which I used in my chart above and feel is really helpful for cross examining your self talk. It commonly used in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and involves metaphorically take the thought or belief to court and place it in the dock. You then find evidence for and against the thought or belief, considering the factual evidence and not opinions. Working for the defence, you try to prove that the accused (your thought or belief) is truthful and correct by providing evidence that shows that your thought or belief is 100% totally true. You can see examples in column 4 of my chart. Then, working for the prosecution, you look for evidence that this thought or belief is not true 100% of the time. For this, you need to select good quality evidence that would hold up in court. Finally, the judge summarises all of the evidence and composes a final statement which is realistic, rational and balanced. This should then help you to see alternative ways of thinking and enable you to undermine your extreme and unhelpful though. You can find worksheets to go with this technique at Getselfhelp.co.uk.

Find more positive alternatives

When you catch yourself saying negative things, try to come up with more positive alternatives or different ways of looking at the situation. Again, think about what a good friend or your partner would say to counteract your thought or belief. Here are some examples which might help:

Negative self-talkPositive self-talk
I hate feeling like thisIt’s okay to feel like this, my feelings are valid
I’m never going to get betterThis is temporary and I have the ability to get through it. I’m taking things one step at a time.
I hate my bodyI’m grateful for everything my body can do, I’m healthy and strong and my body is beautiful.
My life is awfulThere are so many good things in my life right now.
I’m getting everything wrongEveryone make mistakes and we all have days that are better than others.
I need to do some exerciseI would like to do a little more exercise so I can feel more toned.
I can’t do itIt’s going to be hard work but I can do it
I’m so stupidI made a mistake, so what, everyone makes them!

Final thoughts

You might not need to complete these exercises all of the time but when you find yourself dealing with feelings associated with anger, depression or anxiety, try to make time to stop and become more aware of your thoughts. Then you can start to reflect on them, challenge your views and find alternative ways of looking at things. Hopefully, after developing the skills associated with thought investigation and thought challenging, you’ll find it easier to put the ideas into practice and conquer your negative self-talk and start being nicer towards yourself.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

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

Monday Matters: A mini guide to walking mindfully

Photo credit: Stanislav Vlasov for Unsplash

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

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

A mindful walking meditation

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

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

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

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

Walking mindfully

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

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

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

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

Thich Nhat Hanh

Here are some wonderful ways of combining mindfulness and walking:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final words…

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