Posted in compassion, depression management, lifestyle, mental health, self care, wellbeing

Monday Matters: 7 ways to be kind to yourself when you’re struggling

In today’s Monday Matters post, I’m going to be talking about something which I believe many of us struggle with and that is self-kindness. At school, we’re taught to be kind, respectful, patient, forgiving and gentle with others but do we apply this same compassionate attitude to ourselves? I know I certainly don’t, and I also notice that I’m particularly harsh and critical when I’m struggling. So, here are some ways in which being kind to ourselves can help our mental health and 7 ways you can show yourself some kindness right now.

Benefits of self-kindness which are particularly relevant during periods of difficulty

  • better self-esteem
  • increased resilience
  • less self-criticism
  • increased self-acceptance
  • helps us cope better with stress
  • improved self-confidence
  • decreases anxiety and depression
  • helps us feel more optimistic

7 ways you can be kinder to yourself

Practise self-compassion

During times of difficulty, many of us tend to be really unkind to ourselves. We place unrealistic expectations upon ourselves, say engage in negative self talk, criticise ourselves when things don’t go right, place blame unfairly, find fault in what we do and fail to celebrate our achievements. Sounds pretty harsh right? And it makes us feel ten times worse than we already do. Instead, what we would really benefit from is practising self-compassion, where we offer ourselves warmth, gentleness, understanding, acceptance and empathy. A good way to do this is to imagine what you would say to a friend who was going through a period of difficulty and was dealing with the same issues that you are. Then apply that compassion to yourself. You can even take this a step further and write yourself a compassionate letter where you offer support and encouraging words and then read it back. You can find out more about the therapeutic benefits of writing here.

Focus on the good

When we’re struggling, we tend to get into a negative frame of mind. Try to break this by thinking about your positives. Here are some ideas for you to try:

Congratulate yourself on your achievements no matter how small – maybe you got dressed and went out for a walk, maybe you completed something from your to-do list or maybe you dealt with a difficult situation assertively. Just getting out of bed can be a huge achievement if you’re struggling with depression.

Use positive self-talk – I’ve written before about the impact that negative self talk can have on us and how we can reframe it. As part of being encouraging and supportive towards yourself, you can counteract negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Some examples are: I am kind to myself during difficult times, I am doing the best I can, I can get through this, I have the ability to cope, I am brave and strong.

Make an all about you list – things you’re good at, your best qualities, a ‘done list’ of all of the things you’ve achieved today/this week. Try writing a different list each day to really improve your relationship with yourself.

Nourish your body and your brain

When you’re struggling, it can be really tempting to reach for high calorie snacks full of sugar or fat and eat processed foods for your meals. The reason we crave these items is because they temporarily increase our mood boosting endorphins leaving us feeling happy, blissful, calm or soothed or provide you with a chemical sugar high. Unfortunately, these feelings don’t last and can lead to overeating and poor diet overall. And of course, an unhealthy diet can create all sorts of problems including reduced energy levels, weight gain, obesity, depression, weakened immune system and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Be kind to yourself by focusing on eating a balanced diet which includes a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Something that I find really helpful is to plan my meals in advance. This means that I’m more likely to eat healthily but also that I can ensure I’m eating a balance of different foods and a range of fruit and vegetables. And don’t forget, you are allowed a treat every now and again but it’s best if you really take your time eating it so you can savour the flavour and really appreciate it (search ‘mindful eating’ online for more info).

Get moving

When life is hard you might feel tired and lacking in energy and this might mean that even the though of exercise too much. But, something gentle, like a walk in your local park, ten minutes of basic stretching exercises or a short yoga session could make you feel so much better. Exercise releases feel good endorphins which help to boost your mood and if you engage in a mindful activity you will also be focusing on the present moment and forgetting about other concerns in your life which can lead to feelings of calm and relaxation.

Do something that brings you joy

Try to make it a habit to do something you love each day. Try to carve out at least half an hour for your own enjoyment. Here’s some ideas:

  • Hobbies – sewing, watercolour painting, papercrafting, drawing, playing a musical instrument, baking.
  • Outdoors – time in the garden, nature walk, sculpture trail, sit in the sunshine.
  • Retail therapy – a new houseplant, a scented candle, a pretty scarf, some sweets you haven’t had since childhood, some stationery.
  • Brain stimulation – crossword, word search, sudoku, jigsaw puzzle, board game.
  • Movement – yoga, stroll along the beach, mindful walking, dancing to some upbeat music, ten pin bowling, try out a team sport.
  • Socialise – coffee with a friend, take a class e.g. flower arranging, phone a relative.

If you’re struggling with depression right now, you might be thinking that nothing brings you joy at the moment so there’s little point in doing anything. However, research has found that if you do some of the things that you normally enjoy, you will still reap the benefits of the activity so try scheduling something in and then congratulate yourself for finding the motivation to do it.

Add some soothing activities to your day

When you’re struggling with your mental health or life is extremely busy and stressful, it’s a really good idea to plan something soothing to help yourself feel calm and relaxed. The activity you choose is very much a personal preference but you could try one or more or the following:

  • a hot bath with scented bath oil or a bath bomb
  • a foot massage with refreshing peppermint oil
  • read a book, under a blanket with optional hot chocolate
  • light a scented candle and watch the flame flicker
  • buy some flowers and spend time arranging them in a vase
  • cuddle something – a pet or a soft toy
  • watercolour painting or colouring in

Make good sleep a priority

A good night’s sleep benefits us in so many ways including better mood, more energy, improved cognition and stronger relationships with others. However, when we’re struggling, we’re likely to find that the quantity or quality of our sleep is affected so it’s important to take steps to fix it. This can include doing relaxing activities before bed (and avoiding known stimulants), spending time journalling about your day so you can process what’s happened and prepare yourself for tomorrow, and making sure your bedroom environment is just right. If sleep is an issue for you right now you might want to check out this blog post. Or, for really in depth look at sleep issues, the NHS has a long self help guide which can be accessed here.

Final words…

I hope that today’s blog post has been useful in providing you with some ideas about how you can be kinder to yourself. However, if the thought of doing all of these things seems a little overwhelming, trying choosing one suggestion which you think might make you feel a little better and start from there. Remember tiny steps can lead to a big impact.

Posted in life hacks, lifestyle, self care, Uncategorized

Practical Tips for Coping with the Summer heat

The summer is now in full swing and we’ve recently seen plenty of sunshine. The hottest day this year so far in the UK was recorded on Saturday 17th July, with the temperature reaching 28C in Sunderland and even higher further south. Some people love the sun and cope really well with the heat and high humidity. Others find it more difficult, including those with very fair skin like myself, some people with long term health conditions and the elderly. With this in mind, today’s post gives some practical suggestions on how to cope when it gets a little too hot for your liking.

Keep yourself hydrated

The usual advice is to drink eight glasses (2 litres) of water per day. However, in the height of summer, we tend to sweat more so this should be increased by at least half a litre (two extra glasses). You should also ensure that you drink at regular intervals throughout the day. Signs of dehydration include excessive thirst, dry mouth, dizziness or light-headedness, fatigue, not needing the loo very often and dark coloured urine. Try not to let it get to this stage by carrying a bottle of water with you and taking regular sips. And if you’re not keen on water, trying making some fruity sugar free squash instead (our favourite is cherries and berries).

Choose your outfit with care

If you know you’re going to be out in the sun a lot, choose an outfit which is light coloured and loose fitting so that cool air has better access to your skin. To keep the sun off your face (and protect your hair and scalp), opt for a peaked cap or wide brimmed hat – again it’s best if this is a light colour because they reflect light and heat whereas dark colours absorb them.

Avoid the mid-day sun

The sun is strongest between 11am and 3pm so try to seek shade between these times. This could include using a parasol when out in the garden or sitting under a tree when enjoying a picnic. We like to take fold up chairs with us when we go out in the car so we can position them somewhere shady as picnic benches are generally in full sun.

Don’t overexert yourself

Avoid doing any intense workout during times when the temperature is high. If you must exercise outdoors, for example running or bike riding, try to do it early morning or early evening when it’s not so hot. Other vigorous activities such as moving furniture or heavy gardening are best left for another time too.

Stay cool indoors

If there’s a nice cool breeze, throw open your windows to let it in. Try to create what is known as a cross breeze by opening a windows on both sides of the house and leaving doors open to allow the air to circulate. For extra impact, trying using a fan or two as well. Closing the curtains or blinds in rooms that face the sun is helpful too.

Repurpose your hot water bottle

I found this tip online last week. You fill your hot water bottle with the usual amount of liquid but use cold water instead. Then, you pop it in the freezer a few hours before bed. You can either pop the bottle in your bed before you get in it or you can place it under your feet to help to regulate your body temperature. I wouldn’t recommend snuggling it like I do my hot water bottle though as it might be a bit too intense!

Go for cold meal options at home

Having hot meals which are done in the oven can make your home hot and the person cooking them. Cold meals such as salads are a much better option. There are so many different ones to choose from and it’s a good idea to make a meal ideas list and also to download some new recipes to try.

Apply ice or cold water

If you’re feeling uncomfortably hot, a great way to cool yourself down is to apply ice or cold water to your body’s cooling points. You’re probably already aware of your wrists as a good part of your body to hold under running cold water but other places to apply ice or something else cold include your neck, the inside of your elbows or knees,, the tops of your feet and your inner ankle. For a longer term cooling sensation, you could try using an ice pack (wrapped in a thin cloth) or a cooling gel pad, or you could plunge your feet into a bowl of cold water. A cool shower during the day can also help but it’s not a good idea to take a cold shower any time before bed as it can increase your energy levels which is unlikely to help you doze off!

Final words…

I hope you’ve found these tips for coping with the soaring temperatures helpful. If you have any further ideas, I would love to hear them in the comments. Of course, it goes without saying that however much you love or dislike the sun, you should always ensure that you use appropriate sun protection to stop yourself getting burnt. The recommended level in the UK is now a minimum of SPF 30 with at least 4-star UVA protection but this will obviously be higher in other countries. And don’t forget to apply it liberally and regularly too.

Keep cool and enjoy the rest of the summer!

Posted in lifestyle, self care

Monday Matters: 10 benefits of reading fiction books

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

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

1. Improves your capacity for empathy

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

2. Widens your vocabulary

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

3. Reduces stress

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

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

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

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

5. Better sleep

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

6. Increases happiness

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

7. Better analytical skills

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

8. Inclusivity

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

9. Creativity

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

10. Improved emotional intelligence

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

Final words…

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

Thanks for reading!

Posted in Bullet journaling, lifestyle, Planning and journaling, self care

Monday Matters: 8 self care activities for Autumn

Photo credit: Piotr Laskawski for Unsplash

The end of September marks the beginning of the season of Autumn and is an ideal time to ramp up your self care regime. In today’s Monday Matters post, I’m going to share 8 ideas to get you started.

Get your home Autumn ready

As the weather turns chillier, it’s time to pack away your Summer clothes and accessories, give your wardrobe and drawers a good vacuum and then fill them with cosy jumpers, knitted cardigans, scarves, hats and gloves. I also like to adorn my sofa with a couple of soft blankets to make use of on chilly evenings.

Go on a nature walk

I love to go on long walks in the countryside all year around but being out in nature in the Autumn time is particularly special. It’s such a complete feast for the senses with all the changes that are taking place as I shared in this blog post last September.

I also like to take my DSLR camera with me so I can collect photographic examples of the season such as leaves changing colour, wild and wonderful fungi, fallen conkers, acorns and sycamore seeds, hedgerow fruits and super sweet wildlife such as squirrels and hedgehogs.

Make a deliciously warming soup

It’s now the perfect time to have a go at making your own delicious and nourishing soup. I like to make the most of seasonal vegetables and try out lots of different squashes. Each one has a slightly different taste so why not try a few and see which you like best?

Sort out your skincare routine

I find that my skin gets really dehydrated in Autumn and Winter due to a combination of having the central heating on and the drying effects of the cold and windy weather so developing a good skincare routine is vital. After my daily shower, I apply a generous amount of aqueous cream all over my body but particularly on my legs which tend to get very dry and cracked. I then use a rich vitamin E cream on my face which contains an SPF and gives my skin a lovely radiant glow. Throughout the day, I make sure I drink plenty of water, adding a sugar free Cherries and Berries squash to make it more flavoursome. Before going out for my daily walk, I apply Vaseline to my lips as a protective barrier against the elements. I use the same face wash all year round which is a mild, gentle and fragrance free one specially formulated for sensitive skin and I make sure I moisturise well after each use. I’m also debating adding a night cream to my routine this year too but I need to do a little more research on them first.

Try out an Autumn craft

Doing something creative can be a great mood booster and a chance to practise mindfulness. There are lots of ideas for Autumnal crafts for adults and kids on Pinterest but this Autumn leaf Mason Jar craft particularly caught my eye.

Snuggle up and read

Get your cosiest pyjamas on and your warmest socks. Make your favourite hot drink and then snuggle up on your sofa wrapped in a soft blanket to read a good book. Bliss!

Treat yourself to an Autumn scented candle

A cheap and easy way to create a cosy Autumnal atmosphere in your home is to treat yourself to one or two gorgeous scented candles. There are so many different fragrances to choose from and a quick Google search produce results such as pumpkin spice, warm apple and cinnamon, pecan pie, crisp campfire apples, vanilla pumpkin marshmallow, spiced orange and Autumn glow.

Make an Autumn bucket list in your bullet journal

A wonderful spread to make in your bullet journal and to ensure you get the most out of the season is an Autumn bucket list. Then you can add all of the above activities plus any of your own that you want to try. Search Fall or Autumn bucket list on Pinterest and select your favourites.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

I hope today’s post has given you lots of ideas on how to look after yourself over Autumn. I would love to hear about your plans for the season so, if you get the chance, leave me a little comment below.