Posted in art, bullet journal, Bullet journaling, creativity, Planning and journaling, watercolour painting

Setting up my Bullet Journal for October 2022: Moon phases theme

For my BuJo theme for next month, I took inspiration from an article I read in one of my magazines which focused on awareness of the lunar cycle and how you can use the various stages of the moon to transform your life and become more in touch with your spiritual side. I read with interest and wanted to learn more so I bought a book called Lunar Living by Kirstie Gallagher.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Every morning, I spend about 20-30 minutes reading, highlighting and learning about the magic of The Moon. Today, I’m going to share the spreads that I’ve created and when I’ve finished reading, I hope to create a series of blog posts which begin to touch on some of the many things I’ve learnt. For now, here’s what I’ve currently got set up for October.

My cover page

It’s been a while since I did any watercolour painting so I decided to have a go at doing the full Moon. I found several tutorials on YouTube and decided to follow one which involved using the wet-on-wet technique. This was my second attempt and I’m really pleased with how it turned out.

Watercolour full moon

As watercolour paper is really thick, I didn’t want to stick the actual painting into my bullet journal so I photocopied it and glued it in, inside a diagram of the moon cycle (which was inspired by Amanda Rach Lee’s October 2019 YouTube video). I added the quote ‘Stay wild, moon child’ which as well as referencing this month’s theme, basically means keep being you and doing what you’re doing.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Calendar pages

I originally planned to draw the changing moon for each day of the calendar and use black fineliner or white gel pen to add the dates. However, this wasn’t easy and in the end I just did black circles and use my white Gellyroll in 0.8 to add the numbers. I then added 4 of the 8 monthly phases of the moon to the appropriate boxes for reference. I’ve also downloaded an app which shows the % of visible moon each day on a calendar and contains information which explains when there is a new moon, full moon and also when the waxing (growing bigger) and waning (getting smaller) period is.

Moon Phase Calendar app

For this month I added a small notes section and a space for goals. I’ll then work on some actionable steps to achieve my goals throughout the month in keeping with the teachings of the lunar cycle. I printed a brush letter title for the page and used black paper to add some interest behind it. Mini letter stamps from Hobbycraft were used to create the days of the week headers and other titles. A mini star stamp and my own doodles added interest to the white spaces and I also used some moon and stars washi tape I got on Etsy a few weeks ago.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

Finances – income and outgoings

I’m continuing to keep track of my finances next month and I’m finding this set up really useful. I wanted to stick with mainly black and white for my theme but light grey Tombow pen was useful for these pages.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Reading Log

On this page I keep a record of fiction and non-fiction reading and also add a hearts rating for how much I enjoyed a novel or how interesting or helpful I found that particular non-fiction book.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Manifesting with the moon

On these pages I created a mini guide to each of the eight phases of the lunar cycle and how they can be used, according to Kirstie, ‘for self awareness, self care, nourishment, empowerment, manifestation and purpose’. I found it difficult to create circles that looked good, so in the end, I printed titles and mini circles, which I coloured in and cut out to stick in. Even getting the crescent moons right was a source of difficulty but I got there in the end and my perfectionist self was happy!

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative
Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Rolling weekly

This is a set up which I’ve recently started using. Basically, it’s a list of tasks for the week and you assign them to specific days using task bullets. It means you can keep your weekly to dos separate from your weekly event calendar and you can add tasks as and when you think of them and then choose a days or days to work on them whenever you like. If you want to know more about this system, I recommend checking out Plant Based Bride’s video on YouTube.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Week 1 set up

These pages are pretty self-explanatory. A place to record events and appointments plus make notes about anything that I’m getting delivered or that I’m waiting on to arrive. I might also do a little bit of journalling at the bottom of each box if I have room left.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

I hope you have enjoyed looking at my spreads and like the way they’ve turned out as much as I do. If you have any questions or comments I would love to hear them. I always get a warm feeling inside every time someone shares their thoughts or experiences on one of my posts.

Posted in Bipolar disorder, depression, depression management, lifestyle, mental health, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel Of Wellness – Occupational

For today’s blog post on The Wheel Of Wellness I’ll be focusing on the Occupational segment. This section is all about finding meaningful ways to occupy your time whether that be doing a job you enjoy and get personal satisfaction from, volunteering your time and services for a particular cause such as a charity, helping the community in some way (either in person or online), raising a family or simply being a good partner / friend / mum or dad / sibling / pet owner etc.

When we think of the term ‘occupation’, our thoughts tend to turn to our job or the way we earn a living. However, some of us, myself included, are currently classed as unemployed (for whatever reason), in education, or are retired, but we still occupy our time in a number of useful ways. So, throughout today’s article, I’ll be talking about occupation in the broadest sense i.e. as a way of spending time, particularly in a manner that is useful for ourselves, our family and friends or our wider community.

Occupational wellness

To maintain occupational wellness, it’s important to consider how what we do impacts on our general health – both physically and mentally. Does your work leave you feeling good about yourself and as though you’re really making a difference or do you dread each and every week, feel constantly exhausted, dissatisfied and undervalued? If you volunteer your time for a good cause, does your line manager thank you regularly and encourage you to recognise the impact you’re are having both on yourself and the organisation or do you feel unappreciated and as though it is a struggle to think of the benefits? If, like me, you’re a blogger, do you get a buzz when someone likes your post, follows you or leaves a nice comment or do you feel like you invest too much time on your writing and have lost your spark? For those of you who are retired, have you adjusted to your circumstances, and are you happy with how you structure your days, or do you feel like you would benefit from making changes which support both your physical and mental health? Whatever you current situation, do you feel well motivated, happy and purposeful or is there room for improvement in this area of your wellness?

My own experience of occupational wellbeing (and lack of)

(N.B. these paragraphs may be triggering for individuals who are currently struggling with their mood in some way or have a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder)

Before my diagnosis of Bipolar disorder, when I was teaching, there were periods of time in my work when I felt on top of the world, superior to most of my colleagues and as though I was making such a difference to the pupils and the school as a whole that I was a complete asset. At other times, I felt demotivated, dreaded each week, struggled to get out of bed and get things done and found my work-life completely unbalanced and unmanageable – drowning both at home and at work. For the rest of the time, I was satisfied with the way my career was going, felt I was becoming better and better at my job and was, along with most of my colleagues making a real difference. I also felt that I was able to manage my workload and had the ability to say ‘no’ when necessary. The swings in mood I was experiencing were exacerbated by occupational / work-related stress but were also heavily affected by a mental health condition that I was unaware I had.

At the time, during a period of severe depression, I was convinced the solution was to give up my job and career and that following handing in my notice, everything would be perfect. I was devastated that this was the answer as I’d wanted to be a primary school teacher from my early childhood but, I was making myself ill and it just couldn’t continue. However, I soon realised that although some aspects of my situation had improved (less stress, better work-life balance, more time for self care for example), my mood swings (although not as severe) continued and I had highs, extreme lows and periods of balance. When I was stable, I would set goals for myself and filled my time in productive ways. I would wake up feeling good and ready to get on with things. When I was depressed, I completely lost my confidence, had extreme anxiety and felt like I was a waste of space and no use to anyone. When I was high (shortly after a depressive episode), I slept very little, was brimming with ideas for what I wanted to do and achieve, flitted from project to project often leaving them half unfinished, spent money on all sorts of items as everything looked attractive and definitely on my want/need list and basically felt like I could take on the world. This eventually caused burn out and resulted in another bout of depression or physical unwellness.

Fast forward a good few years and, although I still have mental health difficulties, a correct diagnosis, medication for my illness, a range of therapies and help from my support worker have put me in a much better place and I’m currently able to manage my moods more easily and occupy my days in useful ways that leave me satisfied and feeling like I’m making a difference (however small). I’m also able to add in mindful and calming activities into my day and can recognise when I need to take breaks and when I might be doing too much.

As some of you who read my blog posts regularly will know, I’m continually working on my physical and mental health in a number of effective ways and I even have paid work lined up with my local university for next month which will make full use of my skillset whilst offering me the opportunity to take a break during any future periods of mental ill health. I also have the chance to work and socialise with other individuals who have physical and/or mental health difficulties so I will feel less alone. For the first time since I resigned from teaching, I feel like my occupational wellness is getting to where it should be.

Asking yourself questions to consider your occupational wellness

I think it’s really important to reflect on the different aspects of your life regularly and consider how things are going. Asking questions can be hugely beneficial. Of course, the assessment questions you ask yourself will differ depending on your current life situation but below I’ve shared some examples which you can pick and choose from depending which are most relevant. You might want to spend some time thinking and considering your answers but another good idea is to make notes or do some journalling so you can deep dive into how things are for you, and evaluate if your needs are being met. This kind of activity is great for self care and building self awareness.

Again, I’ve tried my best to include everyone here but I apologise in advance if you feel like most or all of the questions aren’t relevant to you. If this is the case, you are more than welcome to drop a comment explaining why and I’ll rack my brains and see if I can create a few tailor made question ideas.

  • How would you rate your current happiness and life satisfaction? Why?
  • What is it about your current role or the way you occupy your time that makes you want to get up in the morning?
  • What does an average week / work week look like to you? Does this support your physical and mental health? Why? Why not?
  • Do you feel like your current employment / routine offers opportunities to expand your skills and use your strengths? Why? Why not?
  • If you are a student, do your chosen subjects interest you and are you learning well? Does your degree choice suit you and are you getting the help and support you need to learn? Are you able to study independently? Have you found the right balance between studying and enjoying life?
  • What are your career / life aspirations?
  • What do you feel is important in your life right now? Does your occupation / lifestyle reflect this? If there are areas for improvement, what changes do you think you could make?
  • Do you feel that you’re currently achieving balance between your work and leisure time? Are there any ways you could tweak things?
  • What opportunities do you currently have to use your individual gifts, skills and talents (try making a list of them first if you’re unsure what they are) in order to gain purpose, happiness and enrichment in your life?
  • Does how you currently occupy your time support your physical health? Why? Why not?
  • Does how you currently occupy your time support your mental health? Why? Why not?
  • Can you identify one change you could make to your life right now that would have a positive impact on your physical or mental health? (this could be asking for help rather than taking on all of the responsibility yourself, or simple putting your foot down and saying no!)
  • Social connection is considered important for wellbeing (even during periods of low mood). Can you name the ways you connect with others on a regular basis? Do these connections help or hinder your mental health? Are there any changes you’d like to make in this area to improve your wellbeing? Do you shy away from social situations during periods of depression / anxiety or low mood? Can you think of ways to remain socially connected that seem management during difficult times?
  • How do you manage your work related / family stress and responsibilities? If you struggle in this area, can you think of ways to improve?
  • What’s your current attitude towards life / work? Does this support your health or not? Why?

What about if I’m struggling with depression right now and feel pretty useless?

As someone with bipolar disorder, I have plenty of experience of depressive episodes and recognise the daily struggles. However, what I’ve learnt is that, if you feel like you’ve achieved nothing with your day, it tends to make you feel much worse. For this reason, creating a structure or plan for your time can really help. This might include going to your local recovery college to learn something new, identifying small and achievable tasks to do on each day of the week or planning activities which you know (either now or in the past) have given you a little mood boost such as going for a walk in nature, meeting a friend for coffee or doing something mindful such as colouring in, working on a jigsaw or doing some word puzzles. Then, by bedtime, you can celebrate all of your achievements no matter how tiny they are. And don’t forget, even something like getting out of bed and getting dressed shouldn’t be dismissed! Check out my post on Behavioural Activation if you want more help with making a daily plan.

Final words…

I hope you’ve found today’s blog post interesting or helpful in some way and it has made you think about your occupational wellbeing. I’ve tried to include something for everyone no matter what your current situation as I know my readers are all individual and at different stages of their lives. Let me know in the comments if a question or idea has particularly resonated with you as I love to hear the opinions and thoughts of others.

Until next time, take care.

Posted in lifestyle, social media, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel Of Wellness – Social

In today’s Monday Matters I’ll be considering the social dimension of the Wheel Of Wellness, focusing specifically on the advantages and disadvantages of social media for individuals and using a variety of media to find out what’s on in your local community with a view to improving and extending your social connections.

What do we mean by the term ‘social media’?

Social media is a range of websites and applications (apps) that enable users to create and share content (information, ideas and interests) or to participate in social networking via digital channels. Examples include Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Blogs, TripAdvisor, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Social media is used by millions of people and it has brought with it a lot of positives. However, it also has its negative side for individuals and society as a whole.

What are the main advantages of social media?

Connectivity The main advantage of social media has to be the way it connects people. Individuals from anywhere can connect with anyone regardless of their location or time zone. It enables us to easily keep in touch with friends, family, work colleagues, other students during our education and people who share our interests.

Education As well as providing opportunities for students and teachers to learn online, anyone can use social media to learn from experts and professionals. For example, I learnt brush lettering techniques for free using YouTube tutorials. I even found videos that looked at difficulties facing left handed letters and it was so nice to see lefties with beautiful handlettering. You can enhance your knowledge of absolutely anything and develop a range of skills in any field. Regardless of where you live and your educational background and level you can educate yourself, often completely for free.

Help, advice and support At one time, help used to be available from a small number of individuals such as relatives, neighbours, friends and colleagues or through reading books or magazines. Now, you can quickly share your issues in online communities and get so much help and advice you might feel overwhelmed and wonder which is most valuable! If you’re after money advice, you can join the Money Saving Expert forum, if you want local advice, you can join NextDoor and consult with your local community, if you need help with something related to your hobbies, there are countless groups on Facebook which you can sign up for.

Information and updates Another main advantage of social media is that it easily enables you to keep up-to-date with what is happening around the world. Rather than reading printed literature such as newspapers which tend to place a biased slant on things, you can seek information from more reputable sources such as the BBC or compare different articles on the same subject from multiple sources.

Awareness Social media is very good at increasing awareness of new and innovative ideas and products that can enhance the way we live and work. It also plays a huge role in helping people to be more aware of current affairs.

Builds communities There are a huge range of online communities and new ones are being started all of the time. On Instagram, you can follow hashtags which suit your interests and interact with others who share your passions. For example, I follow #hamstersofinstagram and #hamster and also post pictures of my pet for others to see. I also follow bullet journal related hashtags so I can inspiration for my own BuJo. Doing this means I can easily interact with other hamster lovers and people who love bullet journaling. On Facebook, I’m a member of various planner communities and groups who enjoy playing the game Angry Birds 2. One of my favourite groups is UKPA which has over 3.8K members. Not only do we discuss planning and share our planner spreads, but we also create lots of off topic threads related to everything and anything such as housework, friendships, productivity and lifestyle. This creates a feeling of ‘oneness’, bringing together people from different places, religions and backgrounds.

Sharing with others

Although some people seem to be in the habit of oversharing on social media, places like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram are great platforms for sharing your creativity. This might be in the form of songs, photography, poems, art work or crafts such as knitting and sewing. If others like your recordings or items, they might express an interest in buying them which could even lead to a small business venture!

What are the main disadvantages of social media?

Time wasting It is very easy to spend far too much time mindlessly scrolling through feeds on apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, watching countless funny videos on YouTube or popping online to quickly check something only to find you’ve forgotten what you were supposed to be doing and have been distracted / pulled in by the wealth of other information which pops up on the screen of your phone, tablet or computer. Before you know it, several hours have passed by and you’ve not done any of the household / personal tasks you had on your to do list for today (seriously bad news for your productivity) or spoken to anyone you know IRL (in real life), including the people you live with, or spent any quality time interacting with your pets.

Addiction Social media can be extremely addictive, sometimes to the point where it has a seriously detrimental effect on your work and personal life and your relationships with others (see above). A recent study carried out just last year, found links between FOMO (fear of missing out) and excessive use of social media. This could either mean that FOMO causes individuals to keep checking social media, or what they see on social media makes them feel as though they are missing out and exacerbates the FOMO which in turn increases feelings associated with anxiety, depression and neuroses. These emotional effects can then have negative effects on physical health too.

Cyberbullying According to information online, cyberbullying is becoming a a big issue for children and adolescents. When I was a young girl, bullying (defined as repetitious unwanted and aggressive behaviour towards an individual) generally took place during the school day. Now, with the advent of social media it can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – in other words relentlessly leaving the target with no respite. This information which I found on the Unicef website was incredibly informative on the subject and is well worth reading and talking about if you have your own children or spend time with young relatives. Of course, cyberbullying can also affect adults too and UK based Cybersmile Foundation has lots of useful help and advice available on their website.

Health issues Excessive use of social media can have a negative impact on both physical and mental health. Keeping yourself active is one of the keys to good health but constant use of social media promotes laziness and can lead to issues such as lethargy, weight gain, sleeplessness and a general inertia. Overuse of social media can also exacerbate mental health conditions. For example, seeing photos of friends having fun, being all smiley and making the most of life can sometimes cause feelings associated with inadequacy, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, loneliness, anxiety and depression.

Hacking Hacking is the process of gaining unauthorised access to data in a system or computer. This can be for a number of reasons including for financial gain, identity theft or to steal information or data. Hacking is one of the most dangerous aspects of social media usage so it’s really important to keep your information safe. See this Wikihow for simple ways to do this.

How can I make sure my experience of social media is a positive one?

I’ve written a blog post about this before so I’ll link it here rather than covering old ground. In terms of keeping safe, a few suggestions are:

  • Use strong passwords and make each one different (I write them down in a little book which only me and my husband know about)
  • Be careful about what you share. Don’t reveal personal information such as your home address, phone number or financial details
  • Familiarise yourself with the privacy policies on different social media sites. Customise your settings to control who sees what
  • Install anti-virus software
  • Delete, unfollow, unsubscribe to anything which makes you feel bad
  • Try to remember that if something seems to good to be true, it probably is!

Finding out what’s on in your local community

Although it’s nice to belong to a variety of online communities related to your hobbies and interests, its also important to have face to face interactions with others. A good way you can do this is by getting involved in things that are taking place in your local area. Events could take place in community centres, local areas, churches, leisure centres, country parks, theatres, historical buildings and if you live by the coast, your local beaches. There’s a range of ways to find out what’s happening:

  • Websites – for example, there’s a site for my local area called ‘See it Do it Sunderland’ but I’m pretty sure there will be something online for your locality too.
  • Facebook – If you type in where you live plus the word ‘events’ lots of local information should hopefully pop up
  • Nextdoor – joining this online community app enables you to interact with your neighbours, find out about community events, ask questions about your local area and get recommendations for various tradesmen
  • Leaflets and magazines – you might get a leaflet pushed through your letter box or receive a local magazine. There might also been an online magazine for your area – mine is called sunderlandmagazine.com
  • Word of mouth – work colleagues, friends, family members etc might be able to recommend something. I learnt about events from the course leader and participants at my Recovery College course.
  • Newspapers – the paper version or online edition can be a good source of information, although you obviously have to pay for this if you want regular access

Final words…

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading today’s Monday Matters post and it’s made you think about your use of social media and whether it mainly benefits you or affects you in a negative way. Maybe there are some positive changes you think you’d like to make but never seem to get around to – could you perhaps work on creating a new habit for yourself? Might you be spending too much time interacting with others online instead of making real life connections and involving yourself in social interactions with friends and family or people in your local community? Only you know what’s best for you but I know that I’m really enjoying and benefiting from the social side of going to fitness classes at my local gym group where I’ve got chatting to a number of different people with a range of life experiences.

Next week, I’ll be focusing on the intellectual segment of The wheel of wellness.

Posted in Bullet journaling, life hacks, lifestyle, Mindfulness, productivity

Monday Matters: 8 wonderful benefits of listening to music

Photo credit: Lee Campbell for Unsplash

Back in October of last year, I found my mental health deteriorating, and, once again, started to have difficulties with anxiety and depression. I’m now (thankfully) feeling much better and my improved wellbeing has enabled me to start blogging again. Whilst I was struggling, the main focus of life was on doing any little thing I could either to distract myself from how I was feeling or to improve my mood. I found music was a huge help and so, for today’s Monday Matters post, I want to focus on the benefits of listening to music. The following are applicable whatever your musical preferences and can be utilised whether you are finding things difficult at the moment or feeling happy, content and positive, like I am currently. Let’s get started..

1. Elevates your mood

Whatever our taste in music, I expect we can all name at least one song which, when it starts to play, is able to shift our mood in a matter of seconds, making us want to turn the radio up, jump to our feet and start dancing around the room or burst into song. It may be the tempo, the lyrics or the sparking of a happy memory which uplifts us. Whichever of these it is that gets us going, scientific research proves that these tunes promote the release of a neurotransmitter known as dopamine into our bodies and it is this which is responsible for making us feel so good. If you do find yourself singing or dancing along to the music too, you will be doing yourself the extra favour of encouraging happy hormones known as endorphins to flood your body as well!

Making a playlist for times when you are feeling a little low or even depressed can be really useful. This can either be on your phone, your IPod or even in your bullet journal so you can seek out those songs on Spotify, YouTube or whatever is your music player of choice. Having them written down is particularly helpful for those times when you are struggling as, at that time, you may not be able to recall songs which are able to make you feel more upbeat.

The following page was inspired by one created by @sunshine_journal_ on Instagram.

A page from by current bullet journal. Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

2. Improves your workout

According to my Fitbit app, which has just this second provided me with an activity tip (it must have somehow known I was writing this blog post):

‘Listening to music can help exercise feel easier, and even boost your speed. Songs with 120-140 beats per minute appear to have the biggest motivating effect’

Source: Fitbit app info.

Clicking through to the information, which was written back in 2017, I learnt that music can increase your speed, make you feel more powerful, make exercising feel easier (wahoo!), boost your mood and help to keep you motivated. When I was battling with my mental illness, I didn’t have the energy to do my Zumba workouts but I did make sure that I went for at least one long walk per day and my playlist helped to put at least a little bit of a spring in my step. Now I’m back to good health, the music is really motivating and some of the track make me want to break into a run (luckily I haven’t acted upon the urge as I don’t wear my sports bra whilst pounding the streets or the paths of my local park and don’t want to be off to the doctors with detached boob syndrome which I’m sure would be the resulting affliction lol!).

Here’s a list of some of my motivational music, many of which I copied into iTunes from some old CD singles which I believe I purchased whilst at uni many moons ago:

  • Choose Life – PF Project feat. Ewan McGregor
  • Forever – Dee Dee
  • Another Chance – Roger Sanchez
  • Alone – Lasgo
  • Beautiful – Matt Darey Feat. Marcella Woods
  • Treat Infamy – Rest Assured
  • The Night Train – Kadoc
  • The Silence – Mike Koglin
  • Kickstarts – Example
  • In For The Kill – La Roux

They’ve been put into a playlist on my old Apple iPod, aptly called ‘On The Go’ as I couldn’t work out how to give them my own title.

3. Boosts your concentration levels when working or studying

When I’m struggling with anxiety and depression, it becomes very difficult for me to concentrate on the simplest of tasks and even harder to be motivated to do things in the first place. Studies have shown that particular types of music can be really useful in encouraging productivity and creativity. Some tunes can also be quite therapeutic, reducing stress levels so that you are able to concentrate better. Personally, I prefer instrumental music as many lyrics can be more of a distraction than a help. Whilst conducting online research for today’s blog post, I discovered that the best types of musical accompaniment were suggested to be the following (one of them may surprise you like it did me!) :

  • classical music
  • ambient music
  • nature sounds
  • between 50 and 80 BPM (Beats per minute)
  • video game music!

You can find many different collections of classical music for work or study on YouTube but I like to create my own playlists as there’s nothing worse than a tune coming on that you simple don’t like. My absolute favourite has to be Fur Elise by Beethoven, but, my musical choices are often dependent on the type of task I’m working on.

Ambient music is a genre that is generally identifiable as being atmospheric and environmental in nature. According to online definitions, it is gentle and largely electronic with no persistent beat. One of my favourite pieces of ambient music is Porcelain by Moby and, although mostly tracks are instrumental, this one does have minimal lyrics. If your chosen music does have words, I think it is best to have the song on at a low volume so they don’t distract you.

I love listen to the sounds of nature in my local park or in the garden on a fine day. When you’re working or studying, apps such as ‘Calm’, ‘Sleep sounds’ or other relaxation and meditation focused packages, are great for providing nature sounds such as rain on leaves, Autumn woods, water flow, coral reef and wind in pines. I’m not sure how much of the Calm app is accessible for free ordinarily because I’m currently making use of an extended free trial but the sleep sounds app has lots free to use (my phone is Android but I expect there are iPhone Apps too).

According to my research, music at 50-80 BPM is good for stimulating the left side of the brain for information processing and problem solving. Again, collections of tracks can be found on YouTube but I would definitely recommend you create your own playlist of music you love. For sparking your creative juices, more upbeat, faster music is suggested (more BPM).

Who knew that music created to accompany video games could help boost your output? I certainly didn’t. The ones that I play tend to get on my nerves and I mute them but apparently they’re designed to enhance your gaming experience by stimulating your senses and blocking out other stimuli which may distract you. One game that both my husband and I always have the music on for though, is Angry Birds 2 but I’ve never thought of listening to it when working or studying – that is, until now (I may just have it playing in the background as I type away on this blog post!).

4. Calms the mind and relaxes the body

Some music can be really soothing when you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or uptight. According to a number of studies, listening to calming tracks can help you relax by slowing your breathing and heart rate, lowering blood pressure and reducing levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine (AKA adrenaline). Try searching for ‘peaceful music’, ‘soothing music’ or ‘music for relaxation’ on YouTube (I found some wonderful extended compositions by talented Norwegian musical artist Peder B. Helland whose videos also contain beautiful imagery), create your own playlist or check out some of the music on apps such as Calm.

5. Great for mindful listening

Music can be a great part of your daily mindfulness practice. Mindfully listening grounds us in the present moment and, by paying attention to what’s going on currently, you won’t be focusing on ruminating about the past or worrying about things in the future. Mindfulness is obviously a huge topic which I couldn’t possibly cover in this blog post but with regard to mindful listening to music, you can start with really paying attention to the piece, noticing its melody, rhythm, tone or lyrics and tuning in to how it makes you feel or what emotions it evokes. And of course, if your mind wanders off, as with all mindfulness practices, gently and kindly bring it back to the music without berating yourself for losing your attention or starting to think things such as ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘why do I have the concentration skills of a goldfish?’!

6. Combats isolation and feelings of loneliness

Many of us will be struggling with feelings of isolation and loneliness right now due to the effects of local lockdowns and social distancing as the result of Coronavirus. Studies have shown, however, that listening to music can combat these by triggering the release of a hormone called oxytocin which plays a key part in cultivating empathy, trust and compassion for others and creates a sense of belonging and connection.

7. Brings back happy memories

Sometimes, when you hear a song on the radio, it evokes happy memories and has the ability to transport you right back to the time when you first heard it or to a particular occasion (e.g. your wedding day, a night out with friends in your early 20s, or a family get together. Adding these to a playlist can evoke fond memories or help you recall and remember happier periods of your life when you’re feeling down. Research has shown that just replaying music helps us reconnect with the feelings we were experiencing at the time.

Talking of memory, there’s also scientific evidence that listening to music can help us retrieve memories and is also good at helping us to lay down new ones. For this reason, music can be wonderful resource for elderly relatives or those who have dementia.

8. Helps you to process difficult emotions and heal from heartache and grief

I’m sure most, if not all of us have experienced the heartache that goes with losing a loved one at some point in our lives. Although music doesn’t have the capacity to make the feelings of emotional anguish or grief go away, it can certainly help us process and make sense of things. Seeking out and listening to tracks where the lyrics seem to be describing our situation perfectly is something many of you will have found yourself doing automatically. In the past, following the breakdown of a romantic relationship, I would always find myself reaching for CDs of sad songs and having a good cry. I wasn’t sure that choosing such tunes was helpful, but according to my research, it definitely can be. In fact, listening to music which matches our mood (either in terms of tempo or lyrics), whether that be sadness, anger, excitement or joy, benefits us by activating our limbic system (the section of our brain which is directly related to emotional processing).

Final thoughts…

I hope you have found this music focused post helpful in some way and that is has encouraged you to think about using songs and instrumental pieces to benefit your mental health and wellness. Let me know in the comments if any of what I’ve said resonates with you.

Happy listening!

Posted in lifestyle, Planning and journaling, wellbeing

Monday Matters: 5 things to do in the evening to ensure a restful night’s sleep and a productive next day

Photo credit: Greg Rivers for Unsplash

A while back, I shared my newly set up evening routine which I recorded in my bullet journal during the month of May. For today’s Monday Matters post, I’m going to look at some of the points in more detail as I’ve found them to be super beneficial to ensure I have a really good night’s sleep and they might work for you too.

Get chores out of the way

I always make sure I’ve finished chores by 8pm, two hours before I go to bed. Anything that doesn’t get finished can wait until tomorrow. I dedicate half an hour to emptying the dishwasher, doing a quick tidy up and completing anything that absolutely needs to be done that day. My husband also helps too so we are super quick. Tasks that didn’t get done are migrated to the next day in my bullet journal spread.

Turn your phone to silent and take a social media break

At 8pm, the blue light filter kicks in on my phone and my tablet computer. At this time, if I remember, I also put my phone on silent and try to resist the temptation to check emails or use any form of social media. I do admit, however, that this second part is a work in progress as I think when you finally sit down on the sofa for relax, it can be seen as the perfect opportunity to do a little check in with Facebook / Twitter / Instagram or whatever after a busy day.

Take time for journaling and reflection

Next, I put on my PJs and take some quiet time for journaling and reflecting on how my day has gone. Unfortunately, this is usually the time when our hamster wakes up and starts begging to be out of her cage by knocking her wheel over or biting the bars! Anyway, I digress… I tend to write a few lines in my bullet journal at the end of my daily plan and I also have a little 5 minutes before bed book that gives prompts such as Smiling at…, Reminiscing about… Grateful for… etc which I’ve been filling in nightly since the beginning of April. This quiet time allows me to make a note of any problems I encountered and good things that happened. I see it as a way of emptying my head of clutter so I don’t lie in bed thinking and analysing.

Do a little planning for the next day

After I’ve done my reflection in my bullet journal, I write the next day and date and check out what the weather is going to be doing tomorrow. Then, I add a few things to my plan which I really want to get done. So, for example, I might want to complete some of my college assessment or might want to take photographs of some new products for my Etsy shop. At this time, I also add any chores that I didn’t get done that I would really like to complete e.g. I might decide to do a machine load of washing if I know that the weather is going to be fine or I might want to clear clothes from the drying racks if I know that it’s going to rain and the laundry basket is overflowing. Writing some loose plans for the next day and transferring any appointments from by monthly overview really helps me have a productive morning the next day as I know exactly what I want to get done when I check my bullet journal after my morning meditation.

Choose relaxing activities

By 8.30pm, I’m chilling on the sofa with my feet up ready to relax. The activities change day by day but might include watching some TV (I love psychological dramas), reading my book or playing cards with my husband whilst listening to some music. Directly before bed, I often do a short meditation or some basic stretches – anything that will completely calm my mind. My 10pm I’m usually totally ready for sleep but I do like to read a few chapters of my current novel on my kindle before drifting off.

I hope you find these ideas useful and that, if you put them in place consistently, they help you to get a wonderful night’s sleep and ensure you wake up refreshed and ready for action on the morning of the day after.

Sweet dreams,