Posted in art, creativity, mental health, Mindfulness, watercolour painting, wellbeing, wellness

Watercolour design pad: a simple red robin

A few weeks ago, I picked up a design pad containing line drawn images for watercolour painting. As I find drawing really difficult, I though this was an ideal way to practise my watercolouring skills without needing to draw my own pictures.

The pad contains 24 A4 size pages with 12 designs so you get two copies of each image. When I purchased it, I wondered why there was several of each image but as I messed up the first robin, I was glad of a second chance!

The pad contains animals and birds and one floral image.

I chose to start with the robin design as I love birds and we have had a robin visiting our garden each day for the past few weeks nibbling on the fat balls and seed mix I put out.

The paper in the pad doesn’t appear to be proper watercolour paper but I did find it easy to paint on and I was able to get the paper quite wet without it going soggy or wrinkling as it is quite dense.

I thoroughly enjoyed having a few quiet hours mixing and applying the paint and was pleased with the results on my second attempt which you can see below. I might add some highlights to the robin’s feet using my Posca paint pen or a white gel pen but I’m waiting a while and may do a test on a piece of paper as I don’t want to spoil my work.

My finished robin and my very messy paint palette!

I’m trying to find more time for doing creative activities as a way of boosting my mental health and after I’d finished painting I felt so relaxed and happy with what I had achieved. If you love getting creative, I can well recommend doing a little watercolouring as a way to wind down after a busy day as a change from sitting watching TV or mindlessly perusing the internet on your phone.

If you live in the UK and are interested in buying the watercolour pad, I picked mine up in Aldi but have also seen it at a slightly higher price in The Range shop. If you want to find out more about my watercolour set, click here for my previous post.

Posted in CBT, compassion, mental health, Mindfulness, psychology, wellbeing, wellness

Are you putting too much pressure on yourself? The unhelpfulness of ‘I should’ and ‘I must’ expectations

As part of my compassion group learning over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking unhelpful and more helpful thinking styles. I’ve previously talked about the psychology of using the term ‘I can’t’ (click here to read this post) when we really mean we find something difficult. In today’s wellbeing post, I’m going to focus on the pressure we put on ourselves using terms such as ‘I should’ and ‘I must’.

At the beginning of the year, I went through a really difficult patch with my mental health. I was suffering from debilitating anxiety and everything was a constant struggle. I was having panic attacks and my mood was very low. I spent a lot of time worrying that I wasn’t going to get better and found it extremely difficult to motivate myself to do anything but cry. I’m pleased to report that I’m now feeling much better and life is good. However, my improved mood and elevated motivation levels did start to cause a few issues with my self talk and my thinking and it is this which today’s post focuses on.

As soon as I started to feel better, I totally went into what is known as ‘drive mode’ and felt like I needed to make up for lost time by doing it all and not stopping. I had finally found the joy in achieving things in my day and my head was full of ideas and thoughts. I was writing huge to do lists and spent my time flitting from activity to activity in a frenzied way from when I got up at 6.00am to when I went to bed at 10pm. My head was filled with talk such as ‘I need to…’, ‘I have to…’ ‘I should…’ and all of the other terms associated with the intense desire to be productive and get a buzz from it.

The therapists in our compassion group helped us to see, however, that constantly being in drive mode and making these unrealistic assumptions of how to live can be really unhelpful. Terms such as I need to, I must, I have to and I should, put undue pressure on ourselves to perform and create expectations of ourselves that are very difficult to keep up with.

The effects of using these rigid terms have been studied by a number of psychologists and was a key part of the work of Albert Ellis. He coined the term ‘musterbation’ which has certainly stuck in my mind since reading about it online! The following quote I found online sums up the effects nicely:

“Musterbation” is a term coined by famed psychologist Albert Ellis to describe the phenomenon whereby people live by a set of absolute and unrealistic demands that they place on themselves, others and the world. For most of us, these rules come out in a series of should statements that we repeat to ourselves over and over again. These “should” and “shouldn’t” statements leave us feeling bad about ourselves because they set up standards that we cannot realistically meet. They also leave us feeling frustrated and hurt by others when they inevitably fail to fulfill our expectations. Recognizing this habit to set rules for yourself, others and the world gives you the opportunity to relieve some of the stress these messages cause. When dealing with “should” statements, it is important to keep in mind that while it may be nice to reach your goals and be treated the way you want all the time, we are human and live in an imperfect world. Therefore, the pressure to be anything all the time is more likely to cause harm than good.

Rowan Center BLOG, 2015.

If you would like to read more of their interesting article click here.

I’m now much more aware of when I’m using these terms (I haven’t stopped using them and I’m very much conditioned to their use, I’m just more mindful of when I do) and I try to reframe my thinking to be more helpful. This is taking time, but I do think it’s a really important step in increasing my good mental health. I’ve also noticed that my husband is fond of saying ‘I’ve got to…’ ‘I need to…’ and the like and so we laugh about it and then help each other to create more compassionate thoughts and beliefs too. Here are some examples and how I’ve re-articulated things:

  • I need to get rid of all of the weeds in the garden this week >>>> it would be great if I found some time this week to do a little bit of weeding as it would make the garden look a little nicer
  • I must take new and improved photographs of my products today >>>> If the lighting is okay today, I might take a few new photos of a couple of my products and upload them to Etsy
  • I really should get all of that washing done whilst the weather is okay >>>> it would be good if I did some washing this week as the basket is getting pretty full. I might do a load tomorrow and hang it out in the sunshine

You’ll notice that I’ve been more gentle and kind with my expectations too as another way of putting less pressure on myself. This is a big part of being more self compassionate which is what our wonderful therapy group is all about.

I hope you’ve found this blog post interesting and helpful. Maybe it’s made you think about the expectations you set and how you might re-frame your thoughts. Perhaps over the next week, you might notice yourself using ‘I must…’, ‘I need to…’ and ‘I should…’ a lot and you might try to be more mindful of what you say or think. It would be great if you let me know in the comments, but remember, you don’t ‘need to’ or ‘have to’, you just might like to or want to!

Much love and kindness.

Posted in 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

Posted in 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

Posted in 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.