Posted in CBT, compassion, lifestyle, mental health, Mindfulness

Monday Matters: The beginner’s guide to self-compassion

Photo credit: kaboompics.com for Unsplash

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post which explored different ways to practise self love and gave some ideas for bullet journal spreads you might like to try. Today’s writing is an extension of this them and focuses on self-compassion. I hope you find it both interesting and useful.

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is all about showing yourself warmth, love, kindness and understanding, especially during difficult times. It’s about accepting ourselves as we are, learning to be less self-critical and avoiding judgement. It’s about being mindful of our different emotional states and the situations we find ourselves, recognising that we all make mistakes, that no-one is perfect and that we all struggle at times so we’re not alone in our suffering.

Why should I practice self-compassion?

There has been a lot of recent research into the benefits of being self-compassionate and how it can work wonders on our wellbeing. Individuals who practise self-compassion have been shown to be much happier, more optimistic, grateful for what they have, and enjoy better relationships with their loved ones. They’ve also been shown to have lower stress levels as they avoid being judgemental towards themselves, others and situations, recognise and accept that we all find things hard at times and, through mindfulness, become more in tune with their thoughts and emotions. Self-compassionate people are also likely to have a higher level of resilience as they are easily able to bounce back from difficulties and can accept and learn from their mistakes.

Self-compassion is also a great antidote for perfectionist tendencies, which I, for one, have always struggled with, right from childhood and I’m sure many of my readers will have too.

How can I bring self-compassion to my life?

Today, I’m going to share with you some simple ways to bring self-compassion into your life so that you can start being easier on yourself and show yourself the love and kindness you would demonstrate to someone else you care about.

Notice and reframe your critical self-talk

I’ve spoken before about the negative ways in which we tend to talk to ourselves before in my blog post about self love. We can be so good at saying unkind and unhelpful things such as “I’m such an idiot”, “Other people are so much better than me”, “No-one likes me” and “I’m just no good at…” etc. And, as you can imagine, this critical inner voice can destroy our self confidence and lead to feelings of worthlessness and depression.

So how can we put the lid on this damaging talk? The very first step is to start noticing when you are being self-critical. Take the time to examine the situations in which you use negative self talk, the exact words you use and the tone of voice that you adopt. You could even try keeping a little notebook of examples to reflect on. Now consider how you could reframe things in a more positive way. Focus on being self-compassionate, non-judgemental, supportive and mindful of the situation. If you find this difficult, think about what a really compassionate friend would say to you. Changing how we talk to ourselves might be hard at first but it will get easier with time and practise so keep working on your skills and congratulate yourself on your efforts.

Write yourself a letter

This is a great exercise to do if you are going through a difficult time or are struggling to accept something which has caused you mental pain. Start your letter by outlining the situation that you find yourself in and how it has or is affecting you. Next, go on to identify your thoughts and feelings and what you were hoping for or needing to make things easier. Now offer a message of common humanity which will remind you that you are not alone and encourage you to feel connected to others e.g. ‘we all make mistakes’ or ‘everyone has times when they feel…’ etc. Finally, offer yourself some guidance and positive encouragement like you would to a friend who needs your support. Sign your letter with a loving message and add some stickers, washi tapes or little drawings of something nice if you would like to. When you have finished your letter, you can either read it out loud to yourself straight away or put it away somewhere special for when you need to show yourself some compassion.

Start a self-compassion journal

Keeping a journal is a great way to reflect on how you are feeling and what is happening for you right now. I like to spend about ten minutes each evening writing down my thoughts. What I chose to write about differs each day but might include:

  • what I have achieved today
  • what I learnt today
  • ways in which I am proud of myself
  • things I’m grateful for
  • anything I found challenging today and why
  • what I’m looking forward to tomorrow
  • anything I’m feeling apprehensive about

You can finish your writing by adding some kind, understanding and sympathetic words to yourself. For example, ‘most people would get annoyed in that situation and it’s okay that you lost your temper’ or ‘things were difficult today, but hopefully you’ll have a better day tomorrow’ etc.

Use affirmations

Another great way of showing yourself loving kindness it to write your own personal affirmations and practise saying them to yourself each day. I like to create a decorative spread of them in my bullet journal every few months – it is a great way of practising my brush lettering too. Here are some examples:

  • I am enough
  • I talk to myself with love and kindness
  • I’m proud of myself and my achievements
  • I accept my flaws because no one is perfect
  • I’m doing my best and that is enough

Engage in self-soothing activities

If you know you’ve had a difficult day, your week isn’t going quite as planned or you’re finding yourself in a negative mood, you can help to make yourself feel much better by engaging in some self soothing activities.

Here’s some examples of things I like to do:

  • take a walk in nature and use my senses to explore the immediate environment
  • get under the duvet and read a good book
  • do some drawing or colouring in
  • listen to a guided meditation
  • make a collage in my bullet journal of things I love
  • do some watercolour painting
  • mindfully eat a bar of my favourite chocolate
  • watch a funny film
  • paint my nails

If you would like to read more about using self soothing for emotional regulation, you can check out this blog post I wrote last year.

I hope today’s blog post has helped to develop your understanding of self-compassion and how important it is. Let me know which of the activities I suggested appeal to you the most and if you try some of them, be sure to share how you got on.

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 fitness, lifestyle, mental health, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: 8 Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

Photo credit: Bruce Mars, Unsplash

I’m sure we’re all well aware of the physical benefits of exercise such as strengthening our bodies, reducing fat, generally making ourselves more muscular and toned, plus reducing our chances of major illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. But, there are also lots of ways that exercise can boost your mental health too that you might not have even considered. As many of my followers will know, I recently upped my activity levels in a bid to get fit. You can see my workout record that I set up for May in my Bullet Journal here and ideas for creating a routine here. But it’s not just physical changes that I’m starting to notice, I’m also feeling so much better in terms of my general wellbeing, including my confidence levels. So, for today’s Monday Matters, I thought I’d do a little research into what I’m getting out of exercising in terms of my mental health and why it’s vital to keep going with my plan if I’m to reap all of the many rewards. Hopefully, this post will help to motivate you to fit in a little more exercise into your daily routine.

8 ways that exercise helps improve your mental wellbeing

1. increased energy levels

Finding time to get moving each day works wonders for your energy levels. This in turn, helps you to deal with all of the physical and mental aspects of your day and basically anything else that life throws at you. By getting some exercise in each day such as a gentle stroll around your local park (maintaining the recommended 2 metre social distance at all times) you’ll feel more alert and will get more done. This will increase feelings of achievement which is guaranteed to boost your mood.

2. better quality sleep

Recently, I’ve found that by the end of the day, I feel physically worn out and completely ready for bed (by 8pm actually, but I always manage to keep my eyes open until at least 9pm ha ha!). This is because research shows that although physical exercise boosts your energy levels for several hours after you have worked out, it also promotes good sleep. If you fall asleep quickly, you are less likely to start thinking things over in bed (ruminating) as you lie there and a decent night’s sleep will leave you feeling more refreshed and ready for action the next day.

3. reduced depression

Exercise is well known for releasing endorphins which are a group of hormones that are secreted into the brain and nervous system. These have been scientifically proven to enhance pleasure and reduce pain which of course helps combat depression. In fact, when I went to my doctor when I was struggling with depression, she asked if I was getting plenty of exercise and I was able to tell her that I was having a brisk walk each and every day. Also, if you do your workout outside, as long as you take appropriate measures to protect yourself from The Sun, you will also be boosting your Vitamin D levels which has also been shown to reduce depression.

4. reduced anxiety

As well as being shown to combat low mood, exercise has also been found to be great at alleviating anxiety. It is thought that one of the reasons for this is that moderately intense activity uses up excess adrenaline and helps to reduce anxious thoughts. Also, if you exercise mindfully, paying full attention to how your body feels, it allows you to switch off from stresses and worries.

5. emotional comfort and support

With the current lockdown, you are only allowed to exercise with family members that you live with, but getting a workout in can ordinarily be quite a social experience too. When I was attending my yoga class, I would chat to the instructor and the ladies before and after the class and we would even talk about the difficulties we were having with some of the poses and which were working our muscles really intensely. I also received lots of praise from my teacher, saying that she was impressed with my ability and that I didn’t seem like a beginner. This was a real boost to my self esteem and made me trying even harder. Support and encouragement when you are exercising is really good at keeping you motivated.

For now, smiling, saying good morning or hello to people you see when you’re out and about for your daily exercise can help you feel a connection to others and give you a little boost. You can even strike up a brief conversation about the weather as The British are fond of doing!

6. increased self esteem

Sticking to your exercise plan is great for your self esteem in a number of ways. I’ve found that as I’ve start to see improvements to my body, I’ve begun to develop a much better self image and this has been a huge boost to my confidence levels. I’m also really proud of myself for keeping up with my new routines and the support and encouragement from my husband has increased the feeling of positivity too.

7. a boost to your brain power

Aerobic or cardio exercise has been shown to keep your brain cells healthy and improve their connections. This has a positive impact on your cognitive functioning, giving you a better memory, greater ability to make decisions and an increased capacity for learning. This enables you to learn faster and more effectively and also has a positive impact on your concentration and general productivity levels.

8. increased confidence

Depression and anxiety have a tendency to completely wipe out our confidence levels and self belief. By setting small exercise goals and meeting them you can feel a sense of accomplishment and this will give you the confidence to set your sights even further and aim higher. This can have a knock on effect on other areas of your life too.

Photo credit: Dee @ Copper and Wild

As you can see, there are so many amazing mental health benefits to exercise which can increase your wellbeing just as much as your muscle tone and fitness levels. And research shows that you don’t have to be a complete workout fanatic to reap the benefits. Moderate exercise on a regular basis such as walking, cycling or even housework such as vacuuming, mopping and sweeping can work wonders too. I’m certainly going to keep up with my routines as I’m starting to look better on the outside and feel much better on the inside and my husband has noticed so many changes already.

Last night, Boris Johnson gave us updated recommendations about daily exercise in the UK. He has said that, from this coming Wednesday, we can, with caution and a continued focus on social distancing, spend as much time as we like outdoors in communal parks and gardens. We will also be able to drive to different destinations so that we can go to other beauty spots. This is good news in some ways but there are quite a few unanswered questions for me, such as whether car parks for forests and woods and gardens will be re-opening and even more importantly, if you are travelling a long way and maybe enjoying a picnic with your family, whether public conveniences will be available for use!

We will have to wait and see what happens I guess!

Posted in compassion, mental health, Planning and journaling, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Creating a WRAP Part 5 (final in the series)

Over the course of April, I’ve produced a series of posts about the process involved in creating a Wellness Recovery Action Plan. Today is the final installment in which I look at Crisis Planning. As I stated in my last Monday Matters post, I did not complete this section of the booklet myself as my illness has never reached crisis point but I intend to go over what this part of the plan would look like and suggest some ideas of what you might include.

What constitutes crisis?

Although there is no set definition for a crisis, it can be described loosely as being a state of emergency that poses an immediate threat to your physical or emotional wellbeing. Therefore, in spite of your best planning and actions to keep yourself well, you find yourself in a situation where others need to take over your care.

Crisis planning

This part of the W.R.A.P. has 9 sections and I will go over in in turn. Although the whole plan is very personal to the individual, I can offer suggestions on the kind of information you might record in each list.

Part 1: What I am like when I’m well

This can literally be copied from the second page of your plan and is simply placed in this part of the document for ease of access.

Part 2: Symptoms

This is a list of signs that tell others that they need to take over your care. Some examples include violent out of control behaviour, psychosis (loss of touch with reality), paranoia, abusive behaviour towards self or others, inability to perform basic tasks such as bathing, brushing teeth etc, showing signs of planning own suicide (Mind website information on this can be found here).

Part 3: Supporters

This is a list of people you want to care for you if the symptoms you listed in Part 2 occur. Include family members and health care professionals but make sure you seek their permission to me added to your list so that have advance warning in case something happens in the future. You can also include a list of people you do not want included in your supporters list too.

Part 4: Medication

In this section, you can write which medications are okay to be given and which are not. So, for example, you might have reacted in a bad way to a particular antipsychotic in the past and be worried that it might make you worse if administered again.

Part 5: Community Plan

In this section, you can list your preferences for your care so you can feel you have some say in what happens when you are unwell. So, for example, you might prefer to have the Crisis team visit you at home and come up with a plan for you in consultation with your partner or you might feel that you are best off being hospitalised.

Part 6: Treatment Facilities

Here, you would list where you would prefer to be treated or hospitalised if that becomes necessary. You can also add facilities that you would rather avoid if possible and why.

Part 7: Treatments

In this part, you can include treatments and therapies which you feel would be most beneficial and those which you wish to avoid and why. You may have tried alternative therapies that have worked in the past and wish them to be administered again.

Part 8: Help from others

Here, you can write down what you want from your supporters which will help make you feel most comfortable. Obviously, this list is very personal but might include the kind of things you would like people to say to you for encouragement or avoid saying as you know they will not help.

Part 9: When my supporters no longer need to use this plan

In this section, write a list of indicators that your supporters no longer need to take over your care. What are the signs that show you are once again in control of your life? This might include features of wellness that you display which show you are well on the path to recovery.

Looking forward

Remember that if you do reach crisis point, despite putting all of the elements of a W.R.A.P. in place, this is not the end of the world and it certainly does not mean that you won’t recover. After you have taken the time to get yourself feeling better and stronger, you might like to revisit your plan with one of your supporters and discuss any improvements you might be able to make to your plan and the action which goes with it. Maybe, on reflection, you didn’t do enough to keep yourself calm and relaxed in daily life and could benefit from putting more self soothing activities into place. Or perhaps a loved one recognised signs of deterioration but you chose to ignore it or go into a state of denial. Whatever happens, you can learn from the experience and try to make plans for the future.

And that, as they say in the filming industry, is a WRAP. I hope you have found my series helpful and can see the benefits of producing this kind of document to help with issues relating to mental health. If you would like support to write your WRAP, I suggest looking into if there is a Recovery College in your local area or if you are able to work with a mental health professional as part of therapy sessions to make one.

Wishing you a wonderful week,

Posted in wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Creating a W.R.A.P. Part 4

The cover I made for my file using MS Word

In this series, I’m breaking down the aspects involved in creating a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (W.R.A.P.) and sharing my experiences of the course I did at my local recovery college where I worked on my own individual plan. In Part 1, I talked about what a W.R.A.P. is and why they are helpful. I identified the main principles and introduced the idea of making a wellness toolbox to help you think about activities which you find help your mental health. In Part 2, the focus was on identifying what you are like when you are well and making a list of every day activities which you should do to keep yourself feeling well. For Part 3, we looked at the importance of recognising your triggers or stressors and creating a plan of methods for coping with these when they occur. We also considered our own personal warning signs that we are beginning to become unwell and I shared examples of my signs and actions for combatting these. Today, the focus is on signs of further decline when your coping methods and action plans are not helping you and simple steps you can take to remediate.

Sometimes, I find that even though I’m trying really hard to keep myself well, certain sets of circumstances or aspects of life cause my mental health to deteriorate. When I start to become depressed, it seems like nothing I can do will help and thoughts such as ‘I’m never going to get better’ kick in. Even though I’ve got through periods of depression and anxiety countless times before, I always panic that this is going to be the one time when I stay unwell indefinitely.

When I made my list of signs of decline, I was actually living that depressive and anxious side of my life so it was easy to write everything down but also quite upsetting. I also struggled to come up with coping methods and an action plan and this is where the support of the course facilitator at the college became so important. If you are struggling it’s really important to reach out for help. A family member, a close friend or a therapist can all help to provide objectivity and encouragement in finding a way forward.

Now I’m feeling stable, I have added to my list. In fact, I’ve turned it into two lists – one for times of depression and anxiety and the other for when I’m struggling with hypomania. Here are some examples that may help you get started with creating your own list or lists:

Depressive episodes

crying a lot

lack of motivation

avoid doing things

anxiety on waking

isolating myself

feeling hopeless

can’t see a way forward

rocking and pacing

fragile

lots of negative self talk

let things upset me that I wouldn’t ordinarily

feeling tired all of the time

sleeping in

very poor appetite – feeling sick

hopelessness

convinced I will never get better

Hypomania

erratic driving

spending money on unnecessary things

talking non-stop

not sleeping properly

taking on too much

jumping from one activity to another

thinking I’m superior / better than most

My coping methods / action plan

Go back to my wellness toolbox and choose self soothing and mindful activities

Do things ion my ‘Daily Maintenance’ list even though I don’t feel like doing them

Get some exercise – a gentle walk in nature

Do a meditative activity e.g. colouring in

Write a short action plan for each day

Try to celebrate small achievements

Write a done list of all of the things I have achieved each day e.g. had a shower, ate some lunch etc

I hope my posts are helping in terms of managing your mental health conditions and has shown how a Wellness Recovery Action plan can help with anxiety, depression and symptoms of bipolar illness. The fifth part will be about crisis planning which is particularly relevant for those of you who may struggle with manic episodes and severe periods of depression where someone else needs to take over your care. As my mood disorder is not as debilitating as this and I have learnt to manage hypomania and moderate depression, I did not fill in this part of the plan but I will still be sharing ideas for its completion.

Until next time,