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,

Posted in compassion, life hacks, psychology, wellbeing

Monday matters: Procrastination and 10 ways to minimise it

The second instalment of my Monday Matters series is focused on procrastination, something which effects most, if not all of us on a fairly regular basis. In fact, studies have shown that around 20% of the population are chronic procrastinators! In this post, I will consider what procrastination is and why we procrastinate, the forms it takes, and most importantly, steps we can take to minimise it in a bid to become more productive and achieve our goals.

What is procrastination?

The act or habit of procrastinating is where we put off or delay doing something, in particular a task which is unpleasant or burdensome, but which really requires our immediate attention. It can take on many forms such as not tackling the pile of ironing you’ve been meaning to do for the past week, leaving a bill payment until the last minute, avoiding a difficult conversation with someone at work or telling yourself you’ll start developing a more healthy lifestyle starting next week. Whatever it looks like, procrastinating can pre-occupy our thoughts and be a cause of stress, anxiety and even depression. It can even take over our lives and have a huge negative impact on our future.

Signs of procrastination include filling your day with low priority tasks, leaving a high priority item on your ‘to do’ list for a long time (for example, if you use the bullet journal system, you may repeatedly migrate a particular item to the next day or following week), making endless cups of tea, coffee or snacks, reading emails lots of times but not actually actioning any of them, or waiting for the right time or the right mood to get started with something.

So, why do we procrastinate?

Procrastination is a voluntary and unnecessary delay in undertaking something, but most people struggle to control it. There can be different reasons for not undertaking a task and these generally relate to poor time management, fear of failure (or sometimes even success), lack of motivation related to low mood or an unrealistic view of the self.

For some of us, as we think about starting a task, we can develop feelings of anxiety about getting it done. This can then cause us to become overwhelmed and then avoidance starts. Not getting the task done then becomes a source of guilt and shame and these negative feelings create a never ending vicious cycle.

Perfectionists are also frequent procrastinators. Because they hold such high standards, they often fear being unable to complete a task perfectly, so end up put it off for as long as they possibly can. This performance related anxiety causes them to seek out much less threatening or ‘safer’ options.

How can we minimise the effects of procrastination?

The first step to minimise procrastination is to begin to be more self compassionate. Forgive yourself for procrastinating and try not to feel guilty about it. Accept that everyone procrastinates at times and it’s okay to do so. Also, remember that it is particularly common in people who suffer from issues with anxiety or low mood.

When you have developed more understanding towards yourself, you can then work on your ability to take responsibility for your actions (or inaction!) and begin to believe in your ability to make small changes to enable yourself to be more productive. Here are some ideas I’ve collected from my compassion group work and from my reading:

  1. Ignore your mood and just get started – it doesn’t matter if you feel like doing it or if it seems like the right time, some tasks just have to be done. And besides, it might take you less time than you expected or you might feel a whole lot better when you get it out of the way!
  2. Break a project down into small manageable steps that can be accomplished – just a little bit of progress towards a goal will help us to feel better about the task and increase our self esteem and motivation to continue.
  3. Do some planning – at the start of each day, create a timeline of how you intend to spend each hour and try to stick to it as best you can, for longer projects, set deadlines for each task. That way, if you don’t finish what you had planned for today or this week it will affect your future plans.
  4. Get the worst or hardest bit done first – as Mark Twain once said ‘If it is your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.’ By completing your most important task first you’ll have the satisfaction of this achievement which will hopefully provide you with the motivation to get even more done.
  5. Think about your use of language – use positive affirmations as a way forward e.g. I can eat healthily, rather than I need to go on a diet, I am someone who exercises rather than I want to do some exercise. This helps to change the distance between yourself and your behaviour.
  6. Set time limits and then reward yourself for sticking with it e.g. 40 minutes of work and then I’ll have coffee, a biscuit and 10 minutes catch up on Facebook, when I’ve tidied and cleaned the living room, I’ll sit back and watch my favourite TV show.
  7. Minimise distractions – put your phone in another room, turn off your notifications, close all of your social media and email tabs, work in a clean and clutter free environment. Choose a place where you are most likely to be productive. This could be your home, the library or a quiet cafĂ©.
  8. Change your internal dialogue – instead of fixating on how much you dread a given task and forcing yourself to do it, try changing your mindset, deciding in advance that its completion will make you happy. Also, rather than using phrases such as “I need to…” and “I have to…” try changing to “I chose to…” or “I would like to…” as these imply that you have a choice and help you to feel empowered in making a decision to act.
  9. Let others know what your goals are – telling family and friends what you want to achieve can help in several ways. Firstly, it can hold you accountable, and secondly, they can offer you support and encouragement along the way.
  10. Remember, done is better than perfect – focus on just completing a task rather than getting hung up on minute details. Then you can celebrate the fact that it is finished. You can always go back to it to make improvements another time.

I hope you’ve found today’s blog post helpful in terms of developing your understanding of procrastination and how we can minimise its effects. If you have any more tips, please do share them in the comments.

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 Business branding, creativity, Planning and journaling, Selling on Etsy

I made a vision board for my Etsy shop: my brand and its core values in photographs

I don’t know about you, but I love looking at inspirational images and spend many hours each week perusing Pinterest, Google Images and pretty pictures in magazines. I also love using glossy photographs to create my vision board for the year. You can see my board for 2019 which I shared in a previous post here.

A while ago, I spent several days considering brand identity and core values for my Etsy business. My shop has been open for over two and a half years now but I wanted to make sure that my products reflected what my brand was all about. I worked on developing a list of adjectives which describe what I want to be at the core of my business. Then, alongside this, I chose a range of images which reflected my beliefs about what LJ Designs NE is all about. Below is a list of what I came up with (in no particular order of importance!) and a photo story of how I went about making my vision board some weeks later.

  • nature inspired
  • fun
  • fresh
  • creative
  • reflective
  • organised
  • delightful
  • peaceful
  • colourful
  • productive
  • playful
  • simple
  • compassionate
  • efficient
  • friendly
Over 40 images printed on photograph paper. Colour themes, ideas and inspirational messages included.

After spending a good while cutting the above out I had a very sore wrist and a big pile of gorgeous images.

When I’d finished cutting out all of my images, I laid them all out on the floor to see how much room they would need to be displayed. I then popped to The Range and bought an A1 piece of mounting board in a lovely charcoal grey colour and a large Perspex clip frame. I chose a Perspex frame as I’ve had issues with clip frames getting broken in the past and didn’t want a recurrence of this.

To ensure I was happy with the placement of the pics, I started by placing them onto the board with small pieces of Blu-Tak so I could play with the arrangement a little.

I did have the intention of using double sided tape to adhere the images permanently but in the end, I glued them on with Pritt Stick so that if I put them on a little wonky I could sort them out!

The finished board with all of the images glued on and the Perspex frame clipped in place.

I’m so pleased with how my brand vision board turned out and can’t wait to put it on display in my craft room / office. I hope you find it visually appealing too and agree that it reflects my key ideas about my little Etsy shop.

Have you ever tried a similar process for your handmade business? If not, I thoroughly recommend it. I had great fun and I now have a board full of beautiful pictures to remind me of what’s at the heart of my brand and to inspire me when I’m working in my craft room each day.