mental health, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Practical ways to improve your wellbeing by unlocking the power of the vagus nerve

Last week, in my compassion group therapy session, we looked at the vagus nerve and its effect on our health and wellbeing. The vagus nerve is the longest of our cranial nerves (the ones which emerge straight from our brain) and controls our inner nerve centre. It oversees a range of crucial functions, communicating motor and sensory impulses to each organ of our body (our heart, lungs, upper digestive tract, and other organs of the chest and abdomen).

The vagus nerve is critical to our overall health and it has been scientifically proven that stimulating this important bundle of motor and sensory fibres is a key in reducing our stress, anxiety and anger levels.

So, enough of the science lesson, what are the practical ways that we can get this thing working to our advantage? Here are a range of different ways:

breathe deeply and slowly

Slow and deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve in a way that can help reduce our heart rate and enable us to become more relaxed. That’s why focusing on your breath during mini meditations can be so soothing for us and is a key part of compassion based therapy.

exercise

Regular exercise such as a gentle walk stimulates gut flow which is regulated by your vagus nerve. Why not combine this with getting in touch with nature so you can enjoy some peace and quiet at the same time?

have a good laugh

There’s a reason behind the popular saying ‘laughter is the best medicine’. Proper belly laughs are thought to be great for stimulating the vagus nerve. Why not try going to a comedy show or watching an episode of your favourite funny TV series tonight? There’s even a thing called ‘laughter therapy’ according to a counsellor I used to see, although I’ve never tried it myself!

try getting yourself all cold!

Apparently any type of exposure to cold will increase vagus nerve activation. That’s why some people swear by having a cold shower first thing in the morning to get going! Personally I prefer a little cold water on my face or a nice cold glass of water to wake myself up but it’s entirely up to you how you expose yourself to a little bit of coldness!

Sing or chant

As a member of a choir, I love singing and find it really helps my wellbeing. Now I know why! Why not trying putting on your favourite music and singing along (and maybe do a little boogie as well for the exercise) to activate your vagus nerve? Chanting also works too so no wonder football fans feel so good when they shout for their team at matches.

Massage

A nice neck massage is a lovely way to stimulate the vagus nerve or why not try a foot massage to help lower your heart rate and blood pressure. I love it when my husband does a firm massage of my feet after a long day when we’re sat together watching TV. If you haven’t got an obliging partner, a session with a qualified masseuse makes a fantastic pampering treat if you can afford it.

Positive social contact

Being socially connected, be it with compassionate friends, family or even our beloved pets has been shown to help with emotional regulation though vagal stimulation. Make sure that you choose to spend time with kind hearted and thoughtful people to ensure a positive experience.

Reduce your consumption of junk food

I’m sure you already know that eating too much fatty stuff is bad for you but excess consumption of ‘junk food’ has been shown to reduce the sensitivity of your vagus nerve. The occasional treat is okay but try not to indulge too often.

Yoga and Tai Chi

The benefits of practises such as yoga and Tai Chi are well documented. They have both been shown to increase vagus nerve activity and your parasympathetic (also known as rest and digest) system in general. You can find many simple yoga sequences online and beginner classes of exercises are widely available if you want to make it a social event too.

And finally, try to make time to relax each and every day

It’s up to you what form that relaxation takes, a nice warm bath, a few uninterrupted chapters of your favourite novel, craft or art activities or settling down to watch a film. Find something relaxing to do each day will have a positive effect on your wellbeing by working your vagus nerve.

I hope you’ve found this blog post interesting and have learnt something new. Let me know if you try any of the ideas and if they have a positive effect on your wellbeing as a result. I’ve learnt so much from my compassion group therapy so far and I’ve have been working hard to put things into practise to improve my wellbeing. Hopefully I get the chance to share some more with you soon.

Until next time, look after yourself.

mental health, Mindfulness, Planning and journaling, wellbeing, wellness

Why I’m avoiding Pinterest this month and what I’m doing instead

Pinterest – banned for September!

I love Pinterest and find it a great source of inspiration and advice for my professional and personal life. I spend huge amounts of time pinning ideas to boards, organising my collections of pins and generally poring over infographics and beautiful images. However, with attractive images and information, for me, comes a huge desire for continual self improvement and feeling like I need to have it all. And this is the bit that I struggle with and ultimately why I’m taking time out from pinning and Pinterest this month.

Self improvement, in a nutshell, is the process of making yourself a better and more knowledgeable person. It’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about and planning for. But, one of the big problems for me is, that I end up with information overload from social media and find so many ways to ‘grow’ myself that I lose sight of what I actually want right now and become unhealthily obsessed with making massive changes and improvements.

What I really need to do, is simplify and think about my current goals and the small steps I might take in order to go about achieving them. But with Pinterest, and other social media platforms if I’m honest, I see stunning images and tempting ideas and basically, I want it all. A minimalist and clutter free home which is welcoming to anyone and always tidy. A stunning garden without a single weed or patch of unraked soil. Beautiful brush lettering that just flows naturally from my hand. A neat and ordered bullet journal with no mistakes or Tippex on the pages. A blog and a handmade business that everyone’s reading and talking about. Perfect, glossy hair that has that ‘just been to the hairdressers’ bounce. Skilfully applied ‘flawless’ make up. The list goes on, and on, and on.

So, for this month, I’m taking a step back. I’m reassessing my goals and thinking carefully about how I’m going to work towards achieving them. And for this, the only resources I need, are my vision board that I created back in January (which you can see here if you haven’t seen it already), my inspirational brand image board for my business (click here if you want to see) and a couple of goal related collections I made in my BuJo. By looking daily at my vision for this year and analysing what I actually want right now from my life, I hopefully won’t be distracted by all of the other stuff. This should help increase my productivity and in turn my achievements instead of creating total overwhelm and the feeling of personal dissatisfaction that often comes with creating an unachievable ideal.

I’m not going to totally avoid social media this month as I do like to know what’s going on in the world but I’m hoping my efforts to curb my tech time will help in some way. By writing my intention here to you all, I’m also hoping that my plan sticks and that I benefit from it, even if it’s just in some small way.

Have you ever given yourself some much needed time away from social media? How did it work for you. Let me know in the comments and wish me luck!

Bye for now, Laura xx

mental health, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

There’s no such word as can’t!

So, let’s have a show of hands. Who looked at this title and thought back to their childhood and what they were told by well meaning parents each time they uttered words about not being able to do something? Who has heard themselves using this very phrase as an adult when a small person in their life has said, in an exasperated tone ‘but I can’t do it!’? Who also knows, that as an adult, they’ve found themselves many times to be the one making the ‘I can’t’ statement e.g. I can’t draw, I can’t swim, I can’t cook etc? So, is the term ‘can’t’ a superfluous word which should be removed from our dictionaries at once, or, more likely, do we need to think about our use of it and assess whether this is actually what we mean? Personally, I think the latter is likely to be favoured by most of you, but have you ever considered why?

The reason for this particular blog post is related to an idea from a compassion group which I’m currently signed up to and which I attend each Wednesday afternoon. It’s part of a therapeutic service offered by my local wellbeing team and was suggested by a therapist I was seeing on a one-to-one basis. There are 9 of us who attend and work alongside two therapists who run the group. Last week, we were talking about our experiences of doing a simple meditative breathing exercise at home which we had been asked to do for homework each day. One of the group members said, when sharing her thoughts, “I can do the rhythm of breathing here but I can’t do it at home”. Although this was met with nods from a number of the group, the response from one of the therapists was very different. She didn’t say ‘there’s no such word as can’t’. What she said was, that we all need to be mindful of using the word can’t in this kind of situation as an I can’t mentality can hinder self compassion, feelings of self worth and all of the other things that our group is all about. It’s this alternative way of thinking which I believe holds an important message for us all, but particularly those of us who struggle at time with our mental health.

You might be thinking that there are some things that you simply can’t do. An example here could be, I can’t fly. I’m not blessed with the physical make up which enables an ability to fly i.e. wings, so therefore this statement is true and factually accurate. You would of course, be correct in this case. However, if I share another ‘I can’t’ which I myself am a frequent user of ‘I can’t draw’ then the same logic cannot be applied because I am capable of drawing but what I actually mean is I’m not particularly gifted in this area.

Changing this mentality a little further though, can mean re-phrasing our utterances more carefully so as to give them an even more positive tone involving much more self compassion. If, as in the examples above, you aspire to be better at something, you could change what you say to accept where you are now but also where you would like to be in the future. So “I can’t do soothing rhythm breathing at home” would be rephrased as “I’m finding it difficult at the moment to do the breathing at home but I’m hopeful I will get better with practise”. In the same way, “I can’t draw” would become something more like “I find drawing quite difficult at moment but I’m working hard to develop my skills and techniques and I’m getting better with practise”.

I’m sure you can think of many examples of times that you’ve been a victim of the ‘I can’t’ mentality and there will be many reasons for this such as fear, lack of self confidence, feelings of failure or inadequacy. But, if we think carefully before we use self deprecating phrases then we can set our minds free from this way of thinking about ourselves in order to try to become more loving, compassionate and kind towards ourselves.

Accepting who we are, celebrating our achievements, letting go of our perceived failures and seeing ourselves as a work in progress with strengths and areas for improvement, we can stop with the negative self talk and hopefully feel better about ourselves and our lives.

I hope what I’ve said here makes sense and that it has at least made you think about how you talk about yourself to others. If you have any other hints or tips about self compassion, I would love it if you shared them in the comments. Also, let me know if there are any “I can’ts” that you find yourself particularly struggle with and find yourself beating yourself up with.

Until next time, stay strong, positive and kind towards yourself.

Much love, Laura xx

art, creativity, watercolour painting, wellbeing, wellness

Creative time – using my new watercolours!

In my last blog post, I talked about my new Daler Rowley watercolours. Yesterday, I put them to good use on a simple painting project which I found in a magazine. The magazine, pictured below, is a creative special from the makers of Project Calm which includes ‘a carefully curated collection of wonderful creative projects for you to try at home using easy to find art supplies. Following a quick flick through the pages, I decided it looked like the perfect mag to provide inspiration and some easy projects to get me started with my watercolours and also some cheap Gouache paints that I picked up in TKMaxx a few weeks ago.

The magazine, which retails at £12.99 and can be purchased from Sainsburys and probably a host of other retailers, includes artists stories, information about useful art tools and supplies, a range of projects, plus a 64 page sketchbook and paintable postcards.

I decided to start with one of the postcards. The idea is you choose seasonal paint colours to fill a floral, paint by numbers, image. I decided to choose the summer one and therefore selected bright and intense colours for my design. On the reverse of the postcard, you add samples of your chosen colours and this becomes your palette.

My chosen colour palette

To be honest, this seemed like a good idea in theory, but in reality, you were unable to see the samples whilst painting on the front and you needed to carefully select the colours you chose for the paint by numbers system if you wanted a good looking image where the stems of the flowers were a green colour! I remedied the samples situation by taking a quick shot on my phone to refer to as I painted.

Although the results aren’t perfect, mainly because I could have done with a much tinier brush to keep within the lines, I did enjoy the process and found it very therapeutic. We all need some ‘me time’ and for me personally, nothing beats a little relaxing creative project.

I hope you enjoyed this quick post and it has inspired you to indulge in some creative me time or spend a few minutes doing something you find relaxing. On that note, I would love to hear about your favourite way to spend your ‘me time’ and why? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time…

Much love, Laura xx

Planning and journaling, wellbeing, wellness

BuJo love!

Hi all, hope you’re having a lovely Summer and that those of you who have kids are making the most of having some extra family time. Over the last few months, I’ve been falling in love with getting creative in my bullet journal all over again. So much so that I’m already on p.79 of my Scribbles That Matter notebook and have 16 pages at the end of the notebook filled too!

I can’t share every page or this blog post will take you the whole of the holidays to read but here’s some of my favourite spreads. I’ll keep it photo heavy so you can just see rather than spend ages reading and digesting! Of course, if you have any questions about the layouts or my supplies, I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments.

Also, I’ve just read an email about adding columns to your WordPress blog posts so hopefully I’ll be able to apply what I’ve learnt below!

Enjoy x

Just a little reminder for those days when my mental health isn’t as good and I’m on a bit of a downer.

My cover page for August using a combination of stickers, hand lettering free hand drawing and colouring

I like to make a packing list for each time we go away. This time it was a visit to family. The great thing about putting it in my bullet journal is that in years to come, I can refer back to it to make it quicker and easier next time.

I’ve now started adding any leaflets or information on local events or exhibits to my BuJo so I have a handy reminder or ideas for places to go and things to see. This information is a combination of cuttings from The Crack magazine, screenshots from my phone and extra info which I’ve found online.

I’ve uplevelled my reading log and just love this layout which includes space to give hearts out of 5 for how much I loved reading a particular book.

As much as I’m loving drinking Summer drinks such as pineapple, orange and lemon squash and Mixed berries cider, I still need at least 3 cups of coffee to function on busy days!

I have lots of frames ideas pinned to one of my bullet journal Pinterest boards but as someone who needs a little reminder at hand (I’ve just turned 42 and need things right there and in multiple places!!!!) creating a spread in the back of my bullet journal has been really helpful. As you can see, this is ideas bank 1 as I’ve had to go on to a separate double page for yet more ideas.

This spread is a work in progress but I love it so far. And if you’re wondering what’s with the stickers and the black and brown paper – they’re hiding mistakes better than Tippex! (lol)

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at the spreads I’ve shared. If they’ve given you some inspiration or got your creative juices flowing, don’t forget to leave me a comment and maybe even attach some photos of your own bullet journal spreads.

Much love,

Laura xx

mental health, Mindfulness, Planning and journaling, wellbeing, wellness

Currently… a little update on what’s going on for me in July 2019

It was so hot, we needed lots of sun cream and had to stroll round slowly looking at all of the tiny ducklings.

I’ve been absent from my blog for a while due to some personal issues that I needed to focus on but I’m now back, and getting fully on top of my game. So, I thought I’d post a little update on me now I’m in productive mode and enjoying life.

currently loving:

… our new wildlife pond. My husband, Michael, has done a great job on it and even though it is only dinky, we already have some resident water snails! The birds love it too and can regularly be seen drinking from it after hopping around our wonderfully bright and colourful garden. It’s very much a work in progress but we’re hoping to get some frogs in there soon (especially as next door have a similar pond and they might come visit ours!).

currently reading:

… a wonderful self care book from The Blurt Foundation founder, Jane Hardy. I’m using it as my current Miracle Morning text and using one of my Mildliners to highlight key points and ideas to help me improve my mental health by looking after myself better. I can already list the positive effects it’s had and there’s so many ideas for bullet journal spreads and things to implement.

The Self-Care Project is for those who have been feeling off-kilter for a while but have not been able to put the finger on the ‘why’. It is a no-nonsense, practical journey to help you do just that. It’ll walk you through the case for self-care (why it’s so darn important), why it isn’t selfish at all, help you explore what self-care means for you, what your obstacles might be and provide advice on how to chisel out daily space for self-care in a practical, achievable and realistic way.

Jane HARDY, founder and CEO of THE blurt foundation
Lots of great information in here if you’re interested in improving your self care habits

currently making:

projects from Daphne’s Diary magazine. This bird décor has been on my to go list for a few weeks now and I finally got it made. Couldn’t decide where to hang it so it’s currently attached to the knob of our under stairs cupboard where it get lots of light from our front door.

So cute!

currently celebrating:

… completing my two classes at The Recovery College. I did a course on Emotional Resilience in the Spring Term and then did a Beginners Tai Chi class in the Summer Term. The college is for anyone who is living with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

The Recovery College leaflet resting on my new Scribbles bullet journal notebook!

currently planning:

… how my niece Lexi and I will celebrate our birthdays next month. She was born on the same day as me (3rd August) and she will be turning 8, whereas I will be turning slightly older! Hopefully we’ll have glorious sunshine like today.

currently feeling:

… extremely motivated and as though I want to do it all in order to make up for lost time when I was unwell. This totally goes against the teachings of the self care book so I’m trying really hard to stick to a routine in which I plan some shop work, some household chores, a bit of gardening and at least 30 mins of relaxation.

Over to you…

I’d love it if you dropped me a comment about what you’re currently up to this month or what you have planned for August 2019. And don’t forget to raise a glass on the 3rd of next month (I’m sure you don’t need an excuse but I’m giving you one anyway!).

mental health, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

The Benefits of Drawing as a Mindfulness Activity (a guest post by Emma from Invaluable)

Today’s blog post is by guest blogger Emma from Invaluable who writes about the many health benefits of drawing and sketching. She includes a link to a related infographic with further detail and an opportunity to download a printable checklist of ideas and inspiration which you can stick in your sketch book or journal.

You don’t have to be a Leonardo da Vinci to reap the benefits of creating art. Artistic activities like journaling, crafting, and writing host a slew of benefits that many aren’t aware of, and drawing in particular has a variety of health and physical benefits. Drawing is a great activity for mindfulness, a way to reduce anxiety and let your brain focus on the task at hand while blocking out all other distractions and triggers. Next time you have the urge to sketch, instead of critiquing your own and focusing on improving skills, let yourself get lost in the activity and reap the endless benefits it has on our mind, body, and soul.

Drawing helps increase creativity. This is one of the reasons it’s highly recommended for children as the creation of vivid imagery forces us to use our imagination and in turn develops important areas of the brain.

Drawing improves memory. Drawing is an important activity for those with Alzheimer’s disease. It helps boost recalling skills and sharpen the minds through imaginative thinking.

Drawing improves communication. Drawing forces us to communicate through images, often without words, and this way of expressing inner thoughts and feelings often helps those who are shy or have certain disabilities.

Drawing helps relieve stress. Life is complicated, and an activity like drawing helps to relax from everyday demands. It’s a release, where many can temporarily exit the world of worries and focus on something more desirable.

Drawing increases our emotional intelligence. By enabling one’s emotions to be emitted through art, we in turn can have a better grasp on our feelings.

Sketching can also help you be more observant and improve your senses. Clearly, there are ample health benefits to drawing, listed above. Invaluable created a neat infographic that outlines all the science-backed benefits of sketching, and how we can use the practice to help with emotions we feel throughout our daily activities. It’s something anyone, even the most novice of crafters, can reap the benefits of, so use the visual printable for inspiration next time you’re willing to give it a try.

I hope you enjoyed reading about the benefits of mindful drawing and are keen to try out some of the ideas yourself. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.