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

Monday Matters: Introducing Friluftsliv and how to reap the benefits of this popular Norwegian practice

Photo credit: Scott Goodwill for Unsplash

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know how much I love the great outdoors and how enjoyable I find spending time in nature. It’s really beneficial for my mental health and I try to make getting outside a big part of my daily self care routine. I’m sure most of you have heard of the Danish concept of Hygge (hue-gah) which is loosely translated as a feeling of peaceful cosiness and makes you think of soft and snuggly blankets, a flickering fire or the soft glow of candles. But, you may not have heard of the idea of Friluftsliv, and neither had I until last week. In a nutshell, it’s all about living an outdoorsy life and is a popular practice in Norway, which incidentally is consistently ranked as one of the happiest countries in The World. Today’s Monday Matters introduces you to Friluftsliv and considers some ways in which you can adopt its principles into your life wherever you may live.

The term Friluftsliv, which is apparently pronounced free-loofts-liv, was coined by writer Henrik Ibsen back in 1859 and is made up of the Norwegian words for free, air and life and can loosely be translated as open-air living. Although it might be difficult to remember the name, the concept is luckily a lot easier to grasp. Not only is Friluftsliv about spending time outdoors, it’s also about being mindful of our personal experiences, feeling a connection with the natural world and appreciating all that it has to offer no matter what the season or what the weather brings. The benefits of all three of these have been widely studied and are known to be wonderful for our physical and mental wellbeing.

Having been mainly stuck inside for most of our time due to lockdown restrictions, many of us are now experiencing a strong desire to go out on long walks, sit in the sunshine and enjoy the fresh air of our outdoor spaces both near and far in any way we can. Now that we can drive to a range of locations and facilities in parks and other green spaces are starting to open up, it’s becoming a little easier to relax and enjoy nature. Obviously, we still have to be aware of others and stick with the social distancing recommendation of two metres where possible but we are able to find moments of peace and quiet now.

Photo credit: Toomas Tartes for Unsplash

You might not have immediate access to fjords, mountains and rural hideouts but we can all incorporate elements of Friluftsliv in our lives and feel its rejuvenating effects. Here are some ideas that you might like to try:

Find out what your local area has on offer

If you type in search terms such as ‘nature reserves’ or ‘places to walk’ and the name of your local area into Google you should be able to find lots of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. I started by search in Tyne And Wear and then expanded to the whole of the North East of England and wrote down a range of ideas in my bullet journal. Some of the places we have been to many times before, whilst others might be good for the future. I just wrote the name down for now but will of course need to check out any facilities and if they are currently open as there are still social distancing measures in place.

Be in the moment

One of the key elements of Friluftsliv is mindfulness and there are so many benefits of being in the moment and forgetting all about the stresses and strains of modern day life. As you enjoy your chosen outdoor space, try bringing your attention to your breathing, noticing the sensations as you inhale and exhale, thinking about the processes involved and the key part that trees play. Next, explore your immediate environment using your senses. Maybe you can hear birdsong or trickling water, perhaps you can feel a gentle breeze ruffling your hair or the smell of damp leaves. Really take the time to appreciate all that nature has to offer us. Perhaps find a spot to sit to a while and observe all of the different colours. Maybe you will have the chance to watch different birds and animals as they go about their daily lives. You might like to try going back to this same location at different times of year and noticing changes in the seasons. As you really concentrate on what is happening right now, you’re likely to be filled with a sense of calm and peacefulness. Just let it wash over you and enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

Photo credit: Kalen Emsley for Unsplash

All weather experiences

The UK has very changeable weather and you never know quite what to expect. It’s approaching the end of July and as I write this it is raining really heavily. You might think that it’s ‘stopping in’ weather and you could describe it as ‘a miserable day’ but as long as you dress appropriately, a nice walk can really help to lift the spirits. I’m not suggesting you take yourself out in the middle of a thunderstorm or a harsh gale, but a little rain, the crunch of snow underfoot in winter or a chilly wind in Spring or Autumn is perfectly fine with the right clothes and accessories. I’ve lost count of how many knitted hats and scarves I have in my drawer and I love wearing them all. I’ve also got plenty of sun hats and caps too to protect myself from The Sun and they’re all chosen for their bright and cheery colours and patterns.

Photo credit: Matt Heaton for Unsplash

Enjoy a nature holiday

As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, our holiday abroad for this year has been postponed until next year but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a nice break here in the UK. We’ve been to some amazing places in the countryside and some of our favourites have been staying in log cabins in forests and woodland. The idea of going camping (or glamping) also really appeals as I love the idea of being surrounded by nature. There are also self catering cottages in more rural locations which can be used as a base for walking holidays.

Photo credit: Michael D. Beckwith for Unsplash

Take up a new outdoor hobby

There are lots of hobbies you might like to consider that encourage you to go outdoors. I love taking my camera out and about with me to capture signs of the seasons such as Autumnal berries, squirrels gathering nuts for the winter, blackbirds searching for tasty worms on our lawn, blue tits collecting nesting materials and new buds developing on the trees. Sometimes I just absorb nature and use my senses to explore, whilst at other times I like recording my finds in photographs. I also often take my binoculars out and about with me so I can do a little birdwatching either at nature reserves or in woodland areas. Hiking or cycling are some other great pursuits as you can enjoy the psychological benefits and have a wonderful workout too.

Photo credit: Steve Harris for Unsplash

Picnics and alfresco dining

We like to take any chance we can in the Spring and Summer to enjoy picnics by the coast, at a nature reserve or in a country park or garden. The car boot always has a folded blanket and a couple of folding chairs in so we’re always prepared whether there are purpose build benches or not. We’ll often take a book or magazine with us too for when we’ve finished eating. Our garden patio also has a table and chairs with a parasol so that we can eat our lunch or dinner outside when it is fine.

Try a little skychology

I love looking at the ever changing sky during the day, first thing when the Sun is rising, in the evening at Sunset and at night to see the twinkling stars. Skychology is a relatively new term which recognises that looking up and noticing what’s going on up there has the potential to make you feel calm, connected and present. My husband I regularly sit out in the garden after dark (sometimes with a glass of wine) and find it really peaceful. In fact, much to our excitement, we actually spotted an inquisitive hedgehog one night and have started putting out food in the form of special biscuits which we picked up in a local garden centre. We’ve seen at least two different ones now (one was much smaller) and we were amazed how noisy they are when they’re eating and wandering around. The little one snuffled its way to our wildlife pond for a thirsty drink too!

Photo credit: Diego PH for Unsplash

Snatches of outdoor time

I’m lucky enough to work from home and can sit at my dining table for a direct view of our garden and can pop outside for a quick stretch whenever I want. I can also go out for a walk around the block or drive to a local park or a woodland area. But, if we make it a priority, we can all find a little time to spend outdoors at least a few times a week if not every day. Maybe just enjoying your morning cup of coffee or your breakfast in your garden first thing or taking a stroll through your local park when you finish work. For me, finding time to get outdoors is so vital for my wellbeing that it has become part of my daily routine.

Digital detox

Finally, it’s also a really good idea to take a break from social media and your phone for a while to encourage complete relaxation. If you can’t bear to leave your smart devices at home, try burying them in the bottom of your bag and avoid looking at them for a few hours. A lot of quite remote places have no signal anyway!

Final words…

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Friluftsliv and are keen to incorporate elements of it into your life. Let me know in the comments how you plan to embrace nature in the future or what you enjoy doing in the great outdoors. There’s so many wonderful things to see out there that once you start, you’ll soon crave your nature fix every day!

Bye for now,

Posted in creativity, life hacks, lifestyle, Mindfulness, wellbeing

Monday matters: 7 mindful hobbies for stress reduction and relaxation

Hobbies are a great way to focus on the present, reduce stress and anxiety levels, leaving you feeling calm and relaxed and with a wonderful sense of achievement. What’s more, they’re an excellent form of mindfulness which is proven to benefit you in a number of ways both mentally and emotionally. Here’s some hobbies that I currently enjoy, have tried and loved in the past and one that I would love to try in the future.

Zentangles

I had a go at producing some Zentangles quite a few years ago when they were featured in a magazine (I think in Breathe). I found information from the article that I’d cut out in one of my journals a few days ago but I couldn’t actually find the patterns that I did. I do remember that I found them really relaxing to do and was pleased with the results so I decided to give them another go.

The Zentangle method was created in 2003 by an American couple called Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts. They describe it as an ‘easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structure patterns’ which they call tangles. The three and a half inch tangles are drawn on a small square of paper, and are made using a combination of dots, lines, simple curves and orbs. You have no idea what your finished piece will end up like as you focus on the process rather than worrying about the results. To find out more about the method and to see some beautiful examples visit the official website. For now, here’s some from a complete beginner (me!):

My first attempt at Zentangle in a long time. Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it creative.

Birdwatching

I love birdwatching in my own garden, whilst out for nature walks and from various hides in local reserves and parks. It’s such a relaxing activity yet one which requires plenty of concentration and patience. Although our back garden is relatively small, we have a range of feeders in a little wildlife area and have recently purchased a new covered table which the birds are just starting to take to. We also have a small pond, several bird baths, plenty of shrubs, plus a fence covered in ivy which is full of spiders and their webs. Our space has recently become really popular with a range of small and larger birds and we even had a sparrow hawk visiting last month!

I bought a pair of binoculars last year so I could see birds up close when I visit the hides in nature reserves across the North East but you really don’t need to have any equipment to enjoy birding – just your eyes and your ears, making it a cheap as well as mindful hobby.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Journalling

Mindful journalling is all about the act of expressing your thoughts and feelings on paper and is a wonderful tool for reflecting, evaluating and processing all that is going on in your life. Done regularly, journalling has many benefits including stress reduction, improved mood, emotional regulation, more self confidence, better immunity, a sharper memory, increased productivity and the ability to empathize with others.

I’ve been journaling for a long time now and it has become a part of my daily routine and something I would really miss if I stopped doing it. I mainly tend to put pen to paper in the evening as I like to reflect on my day, record what I grateful for and write about what I’m looking forward to the next day or what I’m anxious about (click here to see my previous post which describes the ‘putting the day to rest’ technique in detail).

I do sometimes do some journalling in the morning as a way of starting my day on a positive and creative note and find the book ‘Five Minutes in the Morning – A Focus Journal’ provides some great prompts to help me decide what to write about. I managed to pick it up really cheaply in my local bookshop but it’s also available on Amazon as an ebook which you could use if you bought a special notebook to write in.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

The journal is split into different sections, each with a particular focus and considers topics such as the power of writing, creating clarity, considering what’s important in your life, developing an attitude of abundance, solving problems and challenges, productivity and goal setting. It’s up to you how you use the book, you could either work through each prompt in order or you could just pick and page at random and see what you find.

Another book that I really love for prompt ideas is ‘Mindful Journaling’ by Tara Ward. The focus of this book is on exploring mindfulness in a variety of ways and then recording and evaluating your experiences of doing the different tasks. Recently, I completed an activity where you put something in front of you that you would like to eat and reflect on how the food stuff reached your bowl or plate and all of the processes involved in sourcing the ingredients and creating the product. I chose some Crunchy Nut Cornflakes and had so much to write about and it made me eat them much more mindfully afterwards too.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Sketching

I used to hate drawing as I thought I was no good at it but recently I’ve started to really enjoy developing my skills. My favourite things to draw are plants and other aspects of nature such as leaves, berries and fruit. I always really take my time and focus in on the outline shape of the objects and then add detail carefully. Apparently this style of drawing is known as a ‘Zen method’ which is all about observing and following the contours of the object with your eyes whilst letting your hands draw. You can find out more in renowned Dutch artist Frederick Franck’s book ‘Zen seeing, Zen drawing’ which I have neither seen or read but it sounds like it is focused on mindful drawing as a meditative technique for observing and discovering the world around you.

My first attempt at still life fruit sketching! Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Watercolour painting

As those of you who follow my blog will know, I got into watercolouring about 9 months ago and have enjoyed experimenting with different techniques including creating washes, wet on dry and wet on wet methods. Now I’ve learnt the basics, I’ve started to try out my skills on creating actual art pieces. This is my first try at wet on wet poppies and adding stems using wet on dry. In order to create my piece I spent some time looking at photographs of poppies and the work of other watercolour artists. I then really focused on the process of mixing colours, getting the right consistency of pigment to water and then allowing the colours to blend on the page. I wasn’t concerned about the finished look but I think it turned out well, for a beginner anyway!

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Pottery

I’ve done two ceramics courses at a local wellbeing centre and found them to be amazingly beneficial. I met some wonderful, like-minded people who I got on really well with and involving myself in playing with the clay to explore different techniques and then designing and making my own pieces was so relaxing. The sessions were three hours long and in that time, I found that my mind was fully focused on the tasks at hand and the level of concentration required helped me to switch off from my anxious thoughts and feelings. Most weeks, we also got some of our freshly fired work back and it was so exciting to see our pieces at various stages of the making process and celebrate what we had achieved as we developed our skills.

Obviously, at the moment, there are no ceramics classes available which you can attend due to lockdown restrictions still being in place but it is certainly something I would recommend looking into in the future if you enjoy getting creative with your hands.

Flower arranging

This is a mindful activity that I would love to have a go at in the future as I imagine it’s really interesting to learn the various techniques involved and you can produce some stunning pieces to decorate your home and bring you joy. There are loads of free video tutorials and tips available online from florists and expert flower arrangers if you want to discover the basics or if you sign up to Skillshare you can do a full online course at home. I know my local college usually offer beginner’s floristry sessions but it may be a while before they are able to start them up again.

Photo credit: James Coleman, Unsplash

Do you do any of the activities I’ve listed already or do you have other favourites? Have you found you have more time to do hobbies because of the lockdown restrictions?

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

Monday Matters: Plantastic ways that gardening boosts your wellbeing

Over the period of lockdown, many of us have been finding ourselves with extra time to spend in our gardens and will have no doubt experienced the many benefits that gardening brings for our bodies and our minds. Today’s Monday Matters post is a collection of reasons why gardening and looking after plants is so good for your wellbeing. At the end of the article, I’ve also included a number of gardening related quotes from poets, famous gardeners, psychologists and other gardening fanatics that I’ve collected and would like to share with you.

Gardening is great exercise

Digging, planting, mowing the lawn, weeding, raking, deadheading and pruning all burn calories, increase flexibility and give your muscles a really good stretch. Some activities are obviously more labour intensive than others, but on average, an hour of gardening has been shown to burn up approximately 300 calories. And what’s more, this form of exercise not only helps your body and strengthens your heart, but also gives you an amazing space to sit it and enjoy the glorious sunny weather we’re currently having.

Mindfulness whilst gardening

Gardening is a great opportunity to practise mindfulness techniques which focus on being aware of the present moment and our current thoughts and feelings and the sensations which we are experiencing. When gardening mindfully, we appreciate the process and use our senses to explore, rather than thinking about the future and worrying about how we are going to get our space looking perfect or Instagram worthy. Before you even collect together your tools and start the jobs on your gardening to-do list, spend some time appreciating your outdoor space, maybe considering all that you have achieved so far or focusing on how grateful you are to have a garden. Use your senses to explore, taking in all of the sights, sounds, smells and sensations such as the bright and colourful flowers, the amazingly active insects as they dart from plant to plant, the different leaf shapes, textures and scents, the birds singing or the breeze gently blowing your hair.

When you do start on the hard work, continue to pause and use your senses to explore your bodily sensations and immediate environment such as the texture of the soil between your fingers, your muscles flexing as you move the mower back and forth on your lawn, the sun warming your skin, the water sprinkling the ground as you use your watering can, or the array of different plant shapes and petal colours in your borders.

Focusing on the present will help you to slow down and take a break from the fast pace of modern life. It will also enable you to forget about all of your various stresses and anxieties for a while as you really concentrate on what you are doing and how it is making you feel. In this way, gardening becomes a kind of meditation which is amazing for your mental wellbeing.

Gardening in the sunshine

It’s well known that to much sunshine can be harmful for your skin but as long as you apply an appropriate level of sun cream and seek shade during the middle of the day, the sunlight can have lots of mood lifting and health benefits. It is believed that exposure to the sun increases the release of seretonin in the brain which makes you feel happier, calmer and more focused. Vitamin D is also produced by your body naturally in response to sunlight and this has a number of benefits including regulating your wake and sleep cycle, improved immunity, stronger muscles, reduced inflammation, reduced risk of osteoperosis, reduced risk of some forms of cancer and reduced risk of type 2 diabeties.

Getting in touch with your creative side

Gardening is a great way to express yourself creatively. You get to decide on a design for your garden based on your budget and the space you have available to you including the kind of areas you wish to have such as somewhere to sit and relax or dine al fresco to fruit and vegetable patches or wildlife havens. When you’ve learnt about the type of soil you have, planting times and which areas of your garden get the sun and at what time, the fun of visiting garden centres to choose plants or packets of seeds to grow your own begins. You can select the colours you find appealing for flowering plants and spend time reading different labels to establish which plants are best suited to each garden condition. Even if you don’t have flower beds, you can choose from a huge array of pots and containers to put on your patio to create a container garden.

What if I don’t have a garden?

If you don’t have access to your own garden, don’t fear, you can still benefit from plants and nature in a number of ways. Most garden centres have now re-opened whilst keeping to social distancing rules and many supermarkets are stocking a range of houseplants making it really easy to bring beautiful greenery into your home environment.

Photo credit: Alena Ganzhela for Unsplash

Another way of brightening up your space is by treating yourself to a bouquet of fresh cut flowers of your favourite blooms. Again, these can easily be found in your local supermarket and a good quality bunch should be guaranteed to last for at least seven days.

Photo credit: Christie Kim for Unsplash

If you’re feeling creative, you could also make a pretty collage of plant images collected online. I did this last month to go with my succulents theme in my bullet journal. Basically, I went onto Unsplash and Pexel and searched for cacti and other succulents and then printed off some of my favourite images on photo paper. Then I stuck them into my journal and added some decor using my brush pens and some stickers. Just looking at the spreads brightens my mood.

One of the double page spreads I made last month

Finally, here’s those quotes I mentioned which I think are really motivational and thought provoking at the same time:

‘Gardening adds years to your life and life to your years.’ – Author unknown

‘A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.’ – Gertrude Jekyll (British garden designer, writer and artist)

‘We might think we are nurturing out garden, but of course it’s our garden that is really nurturing us.’ Jenny Uglow (British biographer, historian, critic and publisher)

‘Gardening: It grounds us… gets us out of our busy heads and back into our bodies. Alone there on our knees, we can breathe. With our nurturing hands duly occupied, while gardening we allow ourselves the time & space to truly feel – peace, pride, satisfaction, joy.’ Cardthartic Birthday card (cardthartic.com)

‘The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.’ – Alfred Austin (English poet)

‘By becoming in tune with the seasons of growth and fall, preparation and harvest you make your mind and your body happier and healthier. By having a direct stake and involvement with the process of plants growing, of having your hands in the soil and tending it carefully and with love, your world and everyone else’s world too, becomes a better place.’ Monty Don (Gardeners World presenter and keen horticulturist)

‘Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts.’ – Sigmund Freud (Austrian Psychologist)

‘Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.’ Mary Sarton (American poet)

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the many health benefits of gardening and my post has encouraged you to get outdoors and spend time in your own outside space or even visit one of your local parks to have a picnic and appreciate the floral displays and plants there. Let me know in the comments what your favourite aspects of gardening are and what you’ve been getting up to over the last few months.

Posted in fitness, life hacks, lifestyle, mental health, Mindfulness

Monday Matters: Why am I not losing weight despite working my ass off?

Those of you who regularly read my blog will know that my Monday Matters series is generally concerned with mental health and wellness. So, you might be thinking, how come this post has veered off that topic completely and is about weight loss, or more importantly lack of? Well, if you are trying to lose weight yourself through a combination of dietary changes and increasing your activity levels, you will know that when you step on the scales each week (or maybe even daily) to check your progress, it feels pretty rubbish if they read exactly the same as the previous time (or even worse, the number has crept up!). And the likelihood is, that this has a really negative affect on your mental health in terms of mood, confidence levels and motivation to keep going. So really, this post is totally on topic.

For the benefit of myself and any other readers who are working hard on their fitness and hoping to lose a few pounds on the way, here’s a collection of reasons why those scales might appear to be stuck and what you can do about it…

You’re not resting enough

I talked about the importance of rest days in my previous post here where I gave suggestions on how to create a workout for beginners but I didn’t know at the time that exercising too much could actually cause weight gain. Apparently, if you over exercise, your body can get stressed out and increase the production of cortisol (the stress hormone) which can contribute to you putting on weight. The solution for this one, is to make sure you incorporate rest days into your workout schedule where you don’t do any intense working out such as aerobic exercise or HIIT programmes (High Intensity Interval Training. Fitness experts recommend you train five days a week and have two rest days.

You’re not getting good quality sleep each night

Also related to rest is our sleep habits. If you’re not getting enough Zzzzzs then you’re not giving your body the chance to repair muscles and tissues. In fact, lack of sleep can also lower your metabolism which doesn’t help on the weight loss front either. Different people need different amounts of sleep to function well but you’ll know what feels right for you. I personally like to get between 7 and a half to 8 hours each night. If you’re struggling with getting good quality sleep, you can check out last Monday’s post in which I presented some ideas on how to get better kip.

Another issue with lack of sleep is that it can drastically affect your mood. If you’re sleep deprived, you can feel irritable, confused, depressed and lethargic the next day and this can reduce your general activity levels or make you reach for quick energy boost food and drinks which are often not healthy choices. As well as tracking your meals, you could also track your sleep and your mood to see how they affect each other and your food choices.

Your calorie intake is too high

According to dieticians, a woman needs to eat approximately 2000 calories to maintain her weight. For weight loss, you should be eating less than this each day. Obviously, this depends on age, weight and height as well as a range of other factors but the simple fact is that in order to drop some pounds, more calories need to be expended than are entering the body. I have a Fitbit which tells me how many calories I’ve burnt each day (usually around 2400 on an active day) but I really have no idea how many calories I have coming in because I don’t measure them. Some people swear by counting calories religiously but I think a better solution is to keep a food and drink diary so you can see exactly what you are consuming each day and how often you’re eating highly calorific items. This will help you examine your diet and can help you see if you’re making bad food choices or overeating.

Your calorie intake is too low

Conversely, it’s also possible to eat too little due to a highly restrictive diet and this causes you to go into starvation mode. The effective of this is that your body tries desperately to conserve energy which can prevent you from losing weight. A common symptom of starvation mode is that you feel extremely tired all the time which is certainly not good for your health. Again, I would recommend keeping a food diary so you can track how much fuel you are giving yourself each day. You should also check that you are getting a balanced diet and not avoiding any food groups. There’s lots of advice online about making sure you eat properly and as I’m no expert on the subject, I’ll just share this link from the NHS.

You’re eating and drinking ’empty’ calories

The source of the calories that you do take in is really important if you want to lose weight. If you are eating a drinking things that have little or no nutritional value then you may find that this is preventing weight loss or even causing you to gain. Food and drinks that contain a high level of solid fats or processed sugars are generally to blame. These are found in fast foods, pre-packaged desserts, fried foods, carbonated soft drinks, salted snacks, energy drinks and alcohol.

If you don’t want to deny yourself of these types of food and drinks altogether, you should at least make sure that they are the occasional treat and don’t feature too heavily in your diet. You should also try to balance them out with healthier choices and ensure you increase your activity levels accordingly. Keeping a food and drink diary can also help you to spot how often you are eating these types of items.

You’re focusing wholly on weight loss and ignoring other indicators of success

When you step on your bathroom scales you are simply learning how much you currently weigh. What you’re not finding out is how much of that weight is muscle, how much is fat, how much is water and how much is your bones and your bodily organs. So really, checking the scales is quite a limited way of discovering your progress and success levels. Therefore, if weighing yourself isn’t providing you with the motivation you need to stick with your current eating and exercise plan, you might be better off with a different approach. I’ve already shared my exercise tracker that I have as part of my bullet journal set up for May and I’ve really enjoyed filling it in and celebrating my achievements. Here’s the partially completely version (I moved BuJo part of the way through May so I photocopied them and stuck them in).

As well as monitoring your workouts, you could also find other ways to check in with yourself, for example, you could be more mindful of how your clothes feel and fit or you could do a pictorial record of what you look like each week in your exercise gear using your camera phone. You might also try setting yourself some performance related goals and congratulate yourself when you achieve them e.g. with a nice, bright workout top or some new leggings. My husband and I have both noticed positive changes with my body in terms of better posture from my yoga, toned muscles from my aerobics, weight training and targeted stretching and slimmer waistline and face.

If the scales are leaving you feeling discouraged, I also recommend writing some fitness related affirmations. They might not directly cause you to gain muscle and lose fat but they can be a great way to provide or increase motivation. Here’s some that I’ve recently added to my BuJo:

My overall health and mood are improving as a result of my increased exercise levels.

I enjoy working out and the energy it gives me.

My body is getting stronger, fitter and healthier every day.

I am proud of myself for exercising regularly.

You’re suffering from water retention

Water retention is when your body is failing to eliminate excess water. This can happen for a number of reasons and is particularly common in women at different times in their hormonal cycle (e.g. the week before your period). If you are being really careful about your diet and are exercising regularly but it’s having absolutely no effect, you may be carrying excess water weight. Physical signs of water retention include swelling e.g. of your ankles, breasts, fingers or stomach, puffy face, hips and abdomen and stiff joints.

Fluid retention can sometimes be caused by medication so if you think this might be the case, have a chat with your doctor about it. Other causes can be too much sitting about in one position so to combat this, try to get moving for a few minutes each hour (Fitbit watches are great for reminding you to move!).

You can also make dietary changes to reduce excess water, for example, increasing your intake of magnesium (found in whole grains and leafy green veg), vitamin B6 (found in bananas, potatoes and walnuts) and potassium (found in bananas, avocados and tomatoes).

You’re not staying hydrated

Talking of water, you need to make sure you’re getting plenty throughout the day so that you stay properly hydrated. Your body actually tends to store water when you’re dehydrated which can cause bloating and weight gain. You should try to drink at least two litres of water a day and more if you are doing intense exercise that causes you to sweat. You can also add hydrating foods to your diet – some of my favourites at this time of year include watermelon, strawberries, peaches and nectarines. Staying properly hydrated helps to flush out extra fluids and sodium from your body. It also helps you to avoid constipation which as well as being unpleasant can also cause extra pounds on the scales.

You’re eating mindlessly

Mindless eating is when you’re not giving your full attention to what you’re eating. This could be because you’re busy doing something at the same time e.g. watching a movie and snacking on crisps or chocolate or because you’ve let your attention wander to something else e.g. chores you need to do or what you want to do later in the day. Mindless eating can lead to overeating and the feeling of being ‘stuffed’ as you tend not to stop when you start to feel full.

The complete opposite of this is mindful eating which is where your attention is wholly focused on what you are consuming. If you are eating mindfully, your conscious of every bite or every sensation in your mouth until the point you swallow. This makes you eat more slowly as you savour each mouthful of your food. It also helps you to know when you are full and satisfied with what you’ve had which makes you more likely to stop before you become overly stuffed.

There are many ways that you can eat more mindfully. Always try to sit down for your meals, preferably at a table and away from any electronic devices. Spend some time appreciating what’s on your plate visually before you start to tuck in. Think about where different elements of your meal have come from and who has helped to make them available to you. Do you feel grateful for what you have to eat? When you start eating, go slow and take small bites, really savouring the taste and texture. Focus on enjoying each and every mouthful until you feel full.

Your medication is causing increased appetite

When I went through a bad spell with my mental health, I started to take two forms of anti-depressant medication alongside each other. One of these was Mirtazapine, and although my mood greatly improved, I found that I was constantly hungry even after eating a large meal, whereas before I had no appetite and lost weight. I’ve now stopped taking this particular drug as I watched my weight creeping up and didn’t want it to continue. When I talked to my doctor about it, he said that all antidepressants can cause these issues. According to my online research, when you start to feel better, things begin to become more pleasurable and this can include food. Now, I’m not going to stop taking my Citalopram and wouldn’t suggest you stop any medication which helps you but it is worth bearing in mind and monitoring your food intake closely.

A final recap

In summary, the key thing to focus on when trying to get fit and healthy is fat loss and developing a well defined and toned body. So, make sure you measure your progress in a range of different ways instead of just obsessing over your weight. Also try to ascertain if your calorie intake is less than your expenditure by doing some basic monitoring of your diet and finding out roughly how many calories you burn doing the different exercises in your weekly workouts.

Wishing you lots of success on your health and fitness journey, keep up the hard work!

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,