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

Monday Matters: A mini guide to walking mindfully

Photo credit: Stanislav Vlasov for Unsplash

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

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

A mindful walking meditation

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

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

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

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

Walking mindfully

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

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

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

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

Thich Nhat Hanh

Here are some wonderful ways of combining mindfulness and walking:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final words…

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

Posted in lifestyle, mental health, wellbeing

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

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

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

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

improve your mood

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

boost your productivity levels

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

reduce fatigue

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

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

lower stress and anxiety levels

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

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

better air quality

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

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

help to make rooms more comfortable

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

therapeutic effects

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

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

And one more thing…

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

Easy care plants for beginners and busy people

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

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

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

Final words…

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

Posted in lifestyle, Mindfulness, wellbeing

Monday Matters: How to have more fun (as an adult)

Fun times! Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

Last week, after watching one of our favourite crime dramas, namely Line Of Duty, I popped online and spent a few minutes checking out related tweets on Twitter. As always, when your phone cookies learn of your interest in a particular topic, related content starts to show up on all on Google. On this occasion, I was more than happy that this happened as I found a couple of YouTube videos that really had me and my husband laughing hysterically. One was a Sports Relief spoof featuring Lee Mack and the other was a selection of “Tedisms”. Belly laughs are great for stimulating the vagus nerve which has a huge positive impact on your well-being. I certainly felt really good for the rest of the evening! Anyway, I do try to find things to laugh about each day but adding ‘have some fun’ to your daily to do list is a good way to increase your chances of smiling and laughing on a regular basis. So, in today’s post I’m going to share some of my best ideas on how to inject more fun into your life.

But first, what are the health benefits of having fun?

Aside from laughing being great for stimulating your vagus nerve, having fun (defined in the Oxford dictionary as enjoyment, amusement or light-hearted pleasure) is great for your overall health. Here are some of the main benefits:

  • reduces stress
  • increases our serotonin levels AKA the happiness hormone
  • can provide a much needed energy boost
  • better memory and concentration
  • improved sleep
  • helps us to be more resilient in the face of daily pressures
  • leaves us feeling more positive
  • better social connections e.g. with partner, friends, family etc

So, how can we ensure we have much more fun in our lives as adults?

Here are some easy ways to make sure you have fun each and every day:

Set an intention to have more fun

When we think of goal or intention setting, most of the time, we focus on serious lifestyle changes such as losing weight, exercising more, drinking less, cutting down on sugar etc. But, having more fun in your life can be just as impactful as any of these, so why not create a habit or intention where you actively plan to add more fun stuff to your week. If you start your day or your week with ‘I intend to have fun today’ or the affirmation ‘I dedicate each of my Saturday afternoons to fun activities which will make me smile’, I’m sure you’ll soon be reaping the benefits. I think in this case, setting an intention of increasing the amount of fun in your life is better than having a goal of a fun life because then you’re focusing on the process rather than the destination.

Decide what fun looks like to you

Of course, to have more fun in your life, you need to have a clear idea of what fun means to you. To some people, it might be an aqua zorbing session with friends or family, whilst for others, who aren’t adrenaline junkies, an afternoon making and baking cute animal shaped biscuits might be preferable.

If you’re a bullet journaller, I recommend making a spread dedicated to all the things you haven’t done in ages but know you would enjoy again, plus things you always meant to try but have so far never got around to. Otherwise, you could create a list to pin to your kitchen noticeboard. If I was creating a paper list, I would be decorating it with stickers and washi tape to make it visually attractive too but that’s just my personal preference! You’ll notice some of my ideas are activities which involve some kind of expense e.g. going to see comedian, whilst others are free things that take up relatively little time, like doing some doodling.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

Schedule some ‘fun’ into your planner or add it to your calendar

Instead of thinking ‘I wish I had more fun in my life’, a good way of increasing the fun is by actively sectioning off some time in your daily or weekly schedule. You could say that for half an hour after you eat dinner, you’ll engage in something fun or you might decide that between 1 and 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, each week, you’ll engage in a particular activity (from the list you wrote in your BuJo or have attached to your notice board).

One of the things my husband and I love to do is play the game Angry Birds 2 on our tablets each evening. As soon as we finish eating, we ‘retire to the drawing room / library’ (AKA our living room) and dedicate at least 20 minutes to playing. It’s become a complete non-negotiable and part of our daily routine so it’s a habit which is as ingrained as brushing our teeth morning and night.

Have some reminders in the form of quotes and sayings

If you go on Google and type in ‘quotes and sayings about having fun’, there’s an abundance of them to choose from including some with pretty backgrounds and borders. The best ones will be those which resonant most with you but here’s a few that you might like:

Always make time for the people that remind you, life is meant to be fun.

‘Enjoyment of life generally includes being socially connected, having fun and feeling a sense of purpose.’ – Mallika Chopra

Time flies whether you’re having fun or not. The choice is yours.

When you start enjoying your life, you will see how amazing this world is.

‘Have fun, be yourself, enjoy life and stay positive.’ – Taliana Maslany

Every once in a while, you gotta stop worrying, stop thinking and just let go. Have some fun in your life. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

“Fun is one of the most important – and underrated – ingredients in any successful venture. If you’re not having fun, then it’s probably time to call it quits and try something else.” – Richard Branson

Whichever quotes or sayings you choose, I recommend adding them to your BuJo, wall or noticeboard – any place which you regularly look so that they are most impactful. It’s also important to actually take the time to read them regularly as just seeing them stuck there on the page or wherever, isn’t going to help you absorb the important messages!

Get together some fun related resources

Just like kids have a toy box, you can have your own ‘box of fun’. Similar to the wellness toolbox which I talked about in part 1 of my WRAP series, your box could contain fun resources such as jigsaw puzzles, lego, Jenga, tubs of slime or playdoh and anything else that you might want to use. You could also create a set of pictorial cue card reminders e.g. containing pictures of fun things such as a photo of all of your art materials, a picture of your pet to remind you of the joy he or she brings, the menu from your favourite café or restaurant, some pictures of the views in your favourite park or some pancakes with maple syrup drizzled on them. Basically, anything that you love which brings a smile to your face.

Spend time with fun people

Spending time with my niece (who is featured in the top photo) is always fun as a) like most kids, she’s an expert at playing and having fun and b) she has a wicked sense of humour. I’m either laughing at her antics or giggle along when she makes a joke.

I’m sure most of us can name some friends or family members who we love to be around due to them being fun. Now that lockdown is finally easing up, we can make the most of the relaxation of rules to get together with people we just love to spend time with.

On the other hand, I’m sure we can all bring to mind friends and acquaintances who can be a little draining and leave us feeling a bit ‘ugh!’ if we spend too much time with them. Obviously, I’m not suggesting avoiding these individuals, as, let’s face it, we’ve all been through times when we’re probably not the best of company, but we should also try to have a balance of relationships to suit all of our different needs.

Find joy in the little things

If I asked you to think of some fun things ‘off the top of your head’ that you could do tomorrow, you’d probably think of big things like going to see a favourite band, spending a day at a theme park or jetting off on holiday to somewhere exotic. But having fun doesn’t have to be about big adventures or expensive days out. We can also invite joy into our lives by appreciating the little things and making everyday experiences fun just by being relaxed and light-hearted. For example, the other day, I went to my local park for a walk and saw two squirrels chasing each other around and up a tree. It was just a little thing but it brought a smile to my face and it was fascinating watching them racing around at top speed. It also made me think about their reason for chasing each other, and, as it was likely to be part of the mating ritual, the thought of glimpsing baby squirrels in the near future is a pretty exciting one too.

There are plenty of ways of finding simple pleasures when observing nature or experiencing aspects of our natural world. Stargazing, cloud watching, bird song, looking at the amazing structure of the inside of a flower, watching a bee collecting nectar and so on are all pretty awe inspiring if you take the time to appreciate the experience. This is a key element of mindfulness as it involves really living in the moment and as well as bringing joy, it can also bring a complete sense of calm which can allow us to find fun in everyday moments.

Get yourself ready for some fun

I’m sure we can all recall engaging in something that should be fun and feeling deflated afterwards as we didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as we should. If we start to analyse why, it usually has something to do with us not being ‘in the mood’ which basically means we have loads of serious stuff going on in our head and are feeling wound up. For this reason, before you embark on any activity that’s on your ‘fun things to do’ list, it’s important to take time to de-stress. Doing a little meditation, yoga or going for a short walk in the fresh air helps to clear your head ready for living in the moment and being present. Then you can really focus on what you are doing and hopefully, experience the fun you are desperately craving.

Final words…

I mentioned this post to my nurse when I went for a blood test this morning as she was really interested to her about my blog and the topics I cover. Her response was “ooooh let me know the link and I’ll follow your advice to the letter because I could do with some more of that in my life’. Hopefully, if you feel the same, as I expect many of us who have busy lives may do, you will have found my suggestions useful. Although I’m by no means an expert on having fun, I am in a positive frame of mind right now and believe having fun helps to maintain that positivity. If you like what you’ve read or you have further ideas about how to have more fun feel free to give this post a like or a comment.

Thanks for reading, and have fun!

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

Monday Matters: Journalling for Wellbeing

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

If you have been following my blog for a while now, you will have seen from some of my previous posts that I’ve been a fan of journalling for a while now and really enjoy using both my bullet journal (BuJo) for planning and recording and my Traveler’s notebook journals for creative memory keeping. In today’s Monday Matters, I’m going to give a brief introduction to journalling, describe some of the ways it can support your mental health and wellbeing and provide you with some different types of journalling that you might want to try.

What is a journal?

A journal is a safe and private space for you to record your thoughts, feelings and reflections on life. It’s a place where you can write daily or just occasionally, when you feel the urge. You can produce a few short lines or a couple of pages depending on the type of journaling you want to do and what you’d like to get from it. There are no rules to follow and so it is a great way of letting your guard down and expressing yourself in any way you choose. Many people decide to share their journal with others – as you can see on Instagram or Pinterest, but this is completely optional and something you should only do if you feel comfortable or if you find it beneficial in some way.

There are many different kinds of journal that you may want to keep and you can either choose to have several on the go at once or keep it simple with one space to write something each day. There are also lots of dedicated books and booklets available for purchase if you want one with a structured framework in which to write but I personally prefer to create my own using a blank notebook. Here’s a list of some of the most commonly kept journals:

  • dream journal – a space to write down what you dream about and then think about what each specific one might mean
  • travel journal – a book in which to write about all of the places you’ve been, adventures you’ve had, people you’ve met on your travels, places you want to go in the future etc.
  • specific timeframe journal e.g. a record of a holiday, baby’s first year, wedding planning etc
  • reading journal – a record of the books read, your rating and your thoughts on them
  • garden / nature journal – details about your garden e.g. new plants, plans and layouts, nature spots etc
  • gratitude journal – a place to record one or two lines about things you are grateful for or a list of things you are thankful for each day
  • progress journal – a place to document your achievements in a particular area of your life e.g. yoga practice, work you’ve done towards your goals etc.
  • project journal – if you are working on a particular project, you might record how you are getting on e.g. photos of a house renovation or photos and words relating to decluttering a particular area of your home
  • creative journal – a scrapbook / junk journal style where you stick in tickets, receipts, leaflets etc and record your life experiences, adding decorative papers, stickers, stamped images etc
  • personal development – a record of how you have grown as a person, for example, a Level 10 life assessment followed by ways in which you have made progress in the different areas in order to work towards a better life

If you keep a bullet journal, you may even decide to create dedicated pages within your monthly spreads. For example, I draw up a 2 lines a day gratitude journal each month which comes after my cover page and monthly calendar.

What are the benefits of keeping a journal for good mental health and wellbeing?

Regular journalling can greatly improve your quality of life and various studies have proven it to be wonderful for your wellbeing due to the positive impacts it has on your physical and mental health. Some of the main benefits include:

Reduction of anxiety, stress and depression Journalling helps in a number of ways. The physical process of writing can be good for calming your mind and soothing your emotions as it is a meditative kind of activity. Writing can also boost your mood and put you in a more positive mindset – gratitude journalling is particularly great for this as it focuses your attention on appreciating the small things in your life that make things better. Getting all of your thoughts and feelings on paper can also help you rationalise and process all of the things that are going on for you at the moment. As you write, you may think of alternative ways of looking at things or find some solutions to your problems. You can even write a love letter to yourself where you identify difficulties that you are currently facing and offer kindness and compassion to yourself.

Improved self awareness Journalling can really help you get to know yourself better. Learning what makes you tick has been shown to help you deal with life’s ups and downs and can make you more much more resilient in the face of difficulties. It can also enable you to spot patterns and recognise any traps you may fall into on a regular basis.

Better cognition Regularly writing in a journal has been shown to boost our cognition. Cognitive skills include attention, memory, organising information, learning and solving problems. Also, if you engage in a reflective style of journalling which helps you process negative emotions and thoughts, you are creating room in your mind to explore your creativity and engage in more positive activities.

Reach your full potential Many people like to keep a journal to establish, track and achieve their short and long term goals and writing things down can be a great way of checking in with yourself to see how you are progressing.

Nightly journaling can provide an opportunity to reflect on how you feel your day has gone, any issues you had and how you dealt with them (whether in a good way or less than helpful way!), what you are looking forward to tomorrow and anything which is worrying you. This can help you make progress in both your personal and professional life and also encourages you to celebrate your achievements no matter how small.

Improved physical health Studies have found that regular journalling can decrease symptoms of long term health conditions such as asthma and arthritis. They also shown that it can boost your immune system, helping to reduce your chance of catching common illnesses such as a cold, and making your body better able to fight off any infections.

Are there any negative aspects to journalling?

For me, there’s just one and this is related to my perfectionist tendencies. Sometimes, I become overly concerned with aspects of writing such as cohesion, penmanship (handwriting, spacing etc), readability etc, which kind of detracts from the thoughts and emotions that I’m trying to get down on paper. Although I’m getting better at embracing the imperfections, this is still very much a work in progress. One way you can combat this is by writing down everything that’s in your head and enjoying the therapeutic effects, then destroying your pages by shredding them or hiding your writing by covering it with papers, thick layers of paint, pretty images etc,

Things to remember when you start journalling – some tips for beginners

No matter what kind of journal or journals you choose to keep, remember that it should be all about improving the quality of your life whether that’s making you more organised, relieving stress, having a creative outlet, recognising your achievements or any other of the wonderful benefits that come with a regular journalling practice. As a beginner, try to think about what you want to get out of keeping a journal. Do you want it to be all about reflection? Do you want it to be a record of your experiences and how you felt about them? Or do you want to focus on being more grateful and appreciative of the things you have in your life? Find your purpose and once you are clear on this, think about how you might present things.

There are many styles of journalling and there are no right and wrong answers. Some people write to just get everything out of their head in order to create some space – a popular method to create ‘morning pages‘ where you do some free writing first thing in the morning and fill a couple of pages without thinking about spelling, punctuation and grammar. However, this in not for everyone and not something I’ve tried. So one of the questions you might ask yourself is, do I want something that I can look back on for years to come or do I just want to focus on actually getting all of my thoughts and feelings out with no regard to what my pages look like as I’m not going to be looking at them again?

Also, when you first start, you might want to experiment in order to find your own journalling style or styles. In doing this, it may be tempting to spend hours perusing the internet looking at the work of others for inspiration and ideas. However, this can cause overwhelm and hightened stress levels before you even get going. Comparing yourself to other journallers can leave you feeling inadequate which is certainly not going to lead to good mental health and wellness! Also, you may be ‘wowed’ by everything you see online and end up buying every supply available – washi tapes, stamps and inks, watercolours, gouache, brush pens, gel pens stickers etc, when really, it’s probably better to start simple and choose a few basic supplies that suit your style e.g. a nice pen and some tape to stick in a few photos and maybe a couple of embellishments until you find what you like.

Of course, if your passion is the act of writing, you might just want to fill your pages with words and add only basic decoration in the form of a border or a cute sticker. Other journallers might prefer to create arty pages, adding decorative elements such as photos, sketches, watercolour, stickers, stamped images and so on, plus a few lines of text. Again, there’s no right or wrong answers – just do what you feel comfortable with.

Final words…

I hope you have enjoyed reading today’s post and it has whetted your appetite for a little journalling. Maybe you’re completely new to the idea or you’ve tried journalling in the past and would like to give it another go. Remember, start small and above all have fun with it as this is more likely to make it a habit you want to keep. You certainly won’t reap the wellbeing benefits if you do it only once or a couple of times, but if you journal as part of your daily or weekly routine, I’m sure you will soon see the benefits and want to continue. If you want to learn more about instilling new habits like journalling check out this post. Let me know in the comments if you are already a regular journaller and what impact it’s had on your life.

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.