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, meditation, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: 10 practical tips for starting an effective daily meditation practice

This month, I decided to implement a daily meditation routine and have spent some time researching how to get the most out my mindful minutes and encourage consistency. Today’s Monday Matters post shares some tips on creating an effective daily practise and how the different types of meditation can have a positive impact on your life.

Photo credit: Ben White for Unsplash

Why meditate?

Research has shown that there are a huge number of benefits of regular meditation for mind and body. Some of the main positives are:

  • Improves your self esteem and confidence and increases your levels of optimism
  • Helps you sleep better
  • Can make you more productive
  • Improves your brain function
  • Helps you appreciate your life more
  • Increases your attention span
  • Provides a sense of calm, peace and balance
  • Reduces pain and improves the immune system
  • Makes you feel more energetic, creative and spontaneous
  • Helps to control your thoughts
  • Decreases depression and anxiety
  • Reduces cravings such as for junk food, alcohol and cigarettes
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increases compassion towards yourself and others

but there are many more and once you start to fit meditation in your life, you will soon reap the rewards.

How can I fit meditation into my busy life?

When I attended a mindfulness class through wellbeing services a few years back, everyone talked about how wonderfully calm and relaxed they felt after each meditation. Yet, when asked if they’d used the CD full of mindful practises at home over the rest of the week, most of the participants said that they didn’t have time! However, with the benefits listed above, surely taking ten minutes each day to meditate is worth fitting in to your schedule? I bet if I’d asked the attendees if they’d had time to mindlessly scroll through social media for half hour they would offer a different response. Hopefully the following tips will help to commit more easily.

10 tips for starting a daily meditation practise

  1. Start small Like with any new habit, it’s best to start small and create a mini goal to work towards such as to meditate for a few minutes each day. There are plenty of 5 minute meditations on YouTube to choose from and a variety of different apps which offer free trials.
  2. Make it a routine There are some things you do automatically every day without thinking e.g. brushing your teeth, taking your mediation, applying your make up etc. These tasks have become a routine and you can easily add meditation to this list too. I recommend choosing a set time and sticking to it. I like to do mine first thing in the morning before I start work and then I can be sure it doesn’t get bumped off my to-do list. You could choose last thing before bed if you want to get all relaxed ready for sleep. Find out more about the science and practice of creating habits here.
  3. Choose a comfortable place Where you meditate is up to you but try to pick a place where you will not be distracted and feel at ease (not too relaxed that you begin to feel sleepy though!). You can sit in a comfortable chair, curled up on your sofa, on a cushion cross-legged on the floor or even lie on your bed. You can also use props such as a cushion, bolster or blanket to help you get nice and snug.
  4. Try out different meditations to help you with different aspects of your life There are so many kinds of meditations available – breathing, gratitude, compassion, confidence, focus etc. Think about what you’d most like to instil in your life right now and work from there.
  5. Use guided meditations at first When I first tried meditation a fair few years ago, I used to think it was all about just sitting their cross legged and completely emptying your mind. I used to get really frustrated and eventually decided it was impossible and wasn’t for me. Now I use the audio tracks from the class I attended as well as the Calm app and short guided sessions on FitBit premium. I have a free trial for both apps and I particularly love using my FitBit app as it logs all of my sessions for me so I can check my progress and how consistent I’m being.
  6. Journal about your experiences Take time to reflect on your practice, what went well, what you struggled with, how you felt during and after, if you came up with excuses to miss your session and why this might have happened etc. If you felt really relaxed, it helped you have a more productive day or you enjoyed a wonderful night’s sleep, celebrate your achievements and use them to motivate you to continue. If you found it really difficult to switch off and ended up feeling really frustrated, think about what you could do differently next time or accept that it is all part of the learning process and it will become easier with time. Or, if you forgot to do your daily meditation this time, how could you make sure you stick with it? Could you set an alarm or get a reminder from the app you are trying out? Might you attach the practise to another of your daily routines e.g. do your session straight after your morning cup of coffee?
  7. Remember repetitive activities can be meditative too If you find you’re struggling with just sitting and meditating, remember meditation is all about attention and awareness and you might find that doing a mindful activity such as colouring in is much easier for you. I wrote a post full of ideas earlier this year which you can find here. Movement meditations are also an option such as tai chi, yoga or mindful walking.
  8. Be kind to yourself Remember to treat yourself with compassion as you develop your practice. Accept that it might not be easy at first and that your mind will keep wandering. Know that it’s okay to find it difficult and you’re not doing it wrong (try not to judge yourself). Just bring your mind gently and kindly back to your breathe and start again.
  9. Apply your mindful practice to other activities Meditation is all about focus and so is a kind of mindfulness that can be applied throughout your day. For example, when you shower, really concentrate on what you’re doing and how it feels, use your senses to immerse your thoughts in your experience – inhale the scent of your shower gel, observe the water running down your tiles or the screen, listen to the sounds the water makes as it hits the bath or the shower tray. You can even get into a meditative state as you do your daily chores as I explained in this blog post.
  10. Use a habit tracker (but keep it simple) If you’re a bullet keen bullet journalist like me, you probably know all about habit trackers and have seen many examples on Instagram and Pinterest. Habit trackers are great for monitoring your progress and consistency and keeping you motivated. However, if you add too many habits, the filling in process can become an onerous task and you are likely to get sick of colouring in boxes, adding dots, ticks or crosses. I recommend tracking a very small number of habits and only choosing one or two new ones to focus on and selecting other things that you want to become more consistent with.

So that’s it, lots of reasons to add meditation to your daily routine and my top 10 practical tips for beginners that will hopefully help you develop a successful meditation habit that you can stick with. Let me know in the comments if starting a daily practice is something you’re interested in and today’s blog post has either given you the motivation to get started. If it has, I hope you are soon on your way to enjoying the benefits for body and mind.

Until next time,

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 lifestyle, mental health, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: 6 Ways to Ensure a Positive Social Media Experience

Photo credit: Georgia de Lotz for Unsplash

The negative effects of social media are well documented and there’s a lot of evidence from a variety of studies about it being detrimental to our wellbeing causing issues such as anxiety, depression, loneliness and low self esteem. However, I believe it is perfectly possible to have a positive and rewarding experience online if you moderate the time you spend and are mindful of how you engage. Today’s Monday Matters post focuses on things to consider and strategies to adopt to help you get benefit from social media whilst sheltering yourself from the more negative aspects of exposure.

Limit your time

I think most of us will agree that we spend far too long on social media each day and that a lot of that time is taken over by mindless scrolling. A study I found online suggested that 30 minutes a day is ample time to spend catching up on various platforms yet a different study found that the average is nearly two hours! If you think social media is taking up too much of your precious time then it probably is and it might be a good idea to schedule a specific time to check in. So, for example, you could decide 6.30pm until 7pm is a good time but make sure you check in again and decide if this amount and time is working for you.

It’s also a good idea to avoid social media later in the evening as it can affect the quality of your sleep. The light on your phone or tablet has been shown to reduce melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep cycle. Also, some online content can cause something called ‘cognitive arousal’ which basically means you get wound up when you should be winding down!

Try turning off your notifications

A good idea for controlling the time spent is to turn off your notifications for the different platforms, as I find, when they pop up on your phone or tablet, particularly if the notification is accompanied by a sound, that’s often all that’s needed to send you down the social media rabbit hole! For example, I recently changed my notifications for YouTube as I was getting so many messages about new videos on channels I subscribe to and suggested videos I should watch that I was totally developing FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) syndrome. Now, the only time I’m notified is if someone likes or loves a comment I left or replies to it. I may even turn the likes and loves off at some point too!

A screen shot of my current YouTube settings

Be wary of emotive language

Since starting my own business, I’ve become super aware of the use of emotive language to get you to click. You may be familiar with ‘click bait’ which can be defined as ‘content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page’ but there are more subtle ways of getting you to click too. Just two minutes on Pinterest and you will see pins containing phrases such as ‘Must have…’ ‘…you’ll definitely want to bookmark’, ‘…beyond brilliant’, ‘How I tripled my blog traffic…’, ’31 lazy ways…’ etc etc. Again, this plays on your FOMO to make you want to click and save the pins for later. I wrote a blog post about avoiding Pinterest some while ago and my time away was due to the fact that I felt it was having a detrimental effect on my wellbeing and making me feel really overwhelmed.

I’ve recently become really aware of how my local newspaper use language on Twitter to get you to check out their webpage. A lot of their tweets start with ‘Shocking’, ‘Exclusive’, ‘Disgusting’ and other similar emotive words and when you click to find out more, it’s just the same old stuff that you really didn’t need to know about. I know they have to sell their stories, but again, it’s another way of getting you to spend time interacting with content that has the potential to wind you up or makes you feel overly anxious or get you feeling down about the state of the world or your locality.

We can all do without too much negative press right now and in my opinion, reducing your exposure or at least being wary of its affect should be a top priority, particularly if you are prone to anxiety or depression or are currently struggling with your mental health. There are a lot of articles online and in magazines about the affect of watching too much Coronavirus news and The WHO (World Health Organisation) have some great advice related to social media and news in relation to mental health.

Be mindful of your personal experiences

To have a happy social media experience, I think it’s really important that you are mindful of how much time you are spending and the effect that it has on your mood and your general productivity levels. If you often find yourself feeling a little bit rubbish, lacking in motivation, tired or completely down, then you may need to evaluate what you’re looking at and why it’s making you feel like this. For example, if looking at beautiful bullet journal spreads on Instagram leaves you feeling like your own BuJo is completely inadequate and that you are rubbish at drawing, lacking in creativity or doing it all wrong, then maybe it’s time to take a break or stop the mindless scrolling – remember the most popular content will be at the top of your feed and as the platform is mainly about aesthetic beauty you’re going to see flawless images which are likely to be highly edited. On the other hand, if you are left feeling highly motivated, creative or on a high, then you might consider social media to be a good mood booster and a wonderful way of helping you to be productive.

Stop the comparison

We all have issues with comparing ourselves to others at times, often in an unfavourable way, but social media often makes things worse, particularly for young people. Not only are you exposed to a huge volume of information from different posters but what you’re seeing is often only half of the picture (or maybe even less) and often heavily edited to show things in the best light. The ability to follow, like and love may also contribute to feelings of self doubt or worthlessness as you reflect on why others have more followers than you or why some friends are getting more likes and loves.

In order to break the comparison habit I think the first step is to recognise that you are doing it and then to realise that it isn’t helpful and is likely to be having a really big effect on you mentally and not in a good way either. When you begin to realise this, you can start to make changes to what you choose to view and your perception of the content that you consume.

A lot of what is presented on social media is advertising and presents an amazing lifestyle, glossy hair and flawless make up coupled with a perfect body, bang on trend outfits and stylish accessories to match. The danger with this is that we start to beat ourselves up as we don’t meet the same standards. What I try to do is reflect on how ads work and remember that they are very good at persuading you to want what is presented and feel that you are incomplete until you have it. I like to assess how clever they are and how far from reality they are. I’m not saying that I don’t get swayed by adverts, we all do but I think being more mindful helps.

It’s also good to remember that what you see online is in digital format and is often altered using filters, photo editors and Photoshop. In fact, the photograph may have been taken literally hundreds of times until the right angle and best lighting conditions are achieved too. So basically, what you are seeing is not really as it seems. The people in these images may seem full of confidence and joy but underneath they might be struggling with lack of self esteem and loneliness or finding aspects of their life really difficult right now.

Evaluate what you get out of being present on social media

There are lots of benefits of using social media such as keeping in touch with friends, being part of an online community, learning new things, hearing a range of perspectives on a topic, keeping you informed, getting help and advice, and fun or entertainment. In fact, being present on social media has been shown to help people feel more connected and useful as they feel they are positively impacted on the lives of others. It’s a good idea to sit down and think about what you personally get out of your experience and the impact it has on your life.

If there are particular apps that you feel aren’t doing you any favours, don’t be frightened to delete them or take a break until you are in a better headspace or in a different mood. I know that my social media experience depends a lot on how I’m coping day-to-day and if I’m struggling with anxiety and depression, I tend to keep my distance from Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest as they only make me feel worse. When I’m feeling happy and in a good place mentally, I enjoy looking at a range of content and it makes me feel motivated to make changes and improve my life. However, I still need to be mindful as I can start to feel overwhelmed and try to change too much all at once in a bid to get a perfect life (which by the way is completely unobtainable)!

Final thoughts

Social media plays a big part in our modern lives and there’s no changing that. Having a happy experience is all about developing your awareness of the positive and negative aspects and being mindful of how your time online is affecting your wellbeing. I hope today’s post has given you some things to think about and will bring about some changes for the good if you feel that is what is required.

Happy surfing!

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.