Posted in compassion, depression management, lifestyle, mental health, self care, wellbeing

Monday Matters: 7 ways to be kind to yourself when you’re struggling

In today’s Monday Matters post, I’m going to be talking about something which I believe many of us struggle with and that is self-kindness. At school, we’re taught to be kind, respectful, patient, forgiving and gentle with others but do we apply this same compassionate attitude to ourselves? I know I certainly don’t, and I also notice that I’m particularly harsh and critical when I’m struggling. So, here are some ways in which being kind to ourselves can help our mental health and 7 ways you can show yourself some kindness right now.

Benefits of self-kindness which are particularly relevant during periods of difficulty

  • better self-esteem
  • increased resilience
  • less self-criticism
  • increased self-acceptance
  • helps us cope better with stress
  • improved self-confidence
  • decreases anxiety and depression
  • helps us feel more optimistic

7 ways you can be kinder to yourself

Practise self-compassion

During times of difficulty, many of us tend to be really unkind to ourselves. We place unrealistic expectations upon ourselves, say engage in negative self talk, criticise ourselves when things don’t go right, place blame unfairly, find fault in what we do and fail to celebrate our achievements. Sounds pretty harsh right? And it makes us feel ten times worse than we already do. Instead, what we would really benefit from is practising self-compassion, where we offer ourselves warmth, gentleness, understanding, acceptance and empathy. A good way to do this is to imagine what you would say to a friend who was going through a period of difficulty and was dealing with the same issues that you are. Then apply that compassion to yourself. You can even take this a step further and write yourself a compassionate letter where you offer support and encouraging words and then read it back. You can find out more about the therapeutic benefits of writing here.

Focus on the good

When we’re struggling, we tend to get into a negative frame of mind. Try to break this by thinking about your positives. Here are some ideas for you to try:

Congratulate yourself on your achievements no matter how small – maybe you got dressed and went out for a walk, maybe you completed something from your to-do list or maybe you dealt with a difficult situation assertively. Just getting out of bed can be a huge achievement if you’re struggling with depression.

Use positive self-talk – I’ve written before about the impact that negative self talk can have on us and how we can reframe it. As part of being encouraging and supportive towards yourself, you can counteract negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Some examples are: I am kind to myself during difficult times, I am doing the best I can, I can get through this, I have the ability to cope, I am brave and strong.

Make an all about you list – things you’re good at, your best qualities, a ‘done list’ of all of the things you’ve achieved today/this week. Try writing a different list each day to really improve your relationship with yourself.

Nourish your body and your brain

When you’re struggling, it can be really tempting to reach for high calorie snacks full of sugar or fat and eat processed foods for your meals. The reason we crave these items is because they temporarily increase our mood boosting endorphins leaving us feeling happy, blissful, calm or soothed or provide you with a chemical sugar high. Unfortunately, these feelings don’t last and can lead to overeating and poor diet overall. And of course, an unhealthy diet can create all sorts of problems including reduced energy levels, weight gain, obesity, depression, weakened immune system and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Be kind to yourself by focusing on eating a balanced diet which includes a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Something that I find really helpful is to plan my meals in advance. This means that I’m more likely to eat healthily but also that I can ensure I’m eating a balance of different foods and a range of fruit and vegetables. And don’t forget, you are allowed a treat every now and again but it’s best if you really take your time eating it so you can savour the flavour and really appreciate it (search ‘mindful eating’ online for more info).

Get moving

When life is hard you might feel tired and lacking in energy and this might mean that even the though of exercise too much. But, something gentle, like a walk in your local park, ten minutes of basic stretching exercises or a short yoga session could make you feel so much better. Exercise releases feel good endorphins which help to boost your mood and if you engage in a mindful activity you will also be focusing on the present moment and forgetting about other concerns in your life which can lead to feelings of calm and relaxation.

Do something that brings you joy

Try to make it a habit to do something you love each day. Try to carve out at least half an hour for your own enjoyment. Here’s some ideas:

  • Hobbies – sewing, watercolour painting, papercrafting, drawing, playing a musical instrument, baking.
  • Outdoors – time in the garden, nature walk, sculpture trail, sit in the sunshine.
  • Retail therapy – a new houseplant, a scented candle, a pretty scarf, some sweets you haven’t had since childhood, some stationery.
  • Brain stimulation – crossword, word search, sudoku, jigsaw puzzle, board game.
  • Movement – yoga, stroll along the beach, mindful walking, dancing to some upbeat music, ten pin bowling, try out a team sport.
  • Socialise – coffee with a friend, take a class e.g. flower arranging, phone a relative.

If you’re struggling with depression right now, you might be thinking that nothing brings you joy at the moment so there’s little point in doing anything. However, research has found that if you do some of the things that you normally enjoy, you will still reap the benefits of the activity so try scheduling something in and then congratulate yourself for finding the motivation to do it.

Add some soothing activities to your day

When you’re struggling with your mental health or life is extremely busy and stressful, it’s a really good idea to plan something soothing to help yourself feel calm and relaxed. The activity you choose is very much a personal preference but you could try one or more or the following:

  • a hot bath with scented bath oil or a bath bomb
  • a foot massage with refreshing peppermint oil
  • read a book, under a blanket with optional hot chocolate
  • light a scented candle and watch the flame flicker
  • buy some flowers and spend time arranging them in a vase
  • cuddle something – a pet or a soft toy
  • watercolour painting or colouring in

Make good sleep a priority

A good night’s sleep benefits us in so many ways including better mood, more energy, improved cognition and stronger relationships with others. However, when we’re struggling, we’re likely to find that the quantity or quality of our sleep is affected so it’s important to take steps to fix it. This can include doing relaxing activities before bed (and avoiding known stimulants), spending time journalling about your day so you can process what’s happened and prepare yourself for tomorrow, and making sure your bedroom environment is just right. If sleep is an issue for you right now you might want to check out this blog post. Or, for really in depth look at sleep issues, the NHS has a long self help guide which can be accessed here.

Final words…

I hope that today’s blog post has been useful in providing you with some ideas about how you can be kinder to yourself. However, if the thought of doing all of these things seems a little overwhelming, trying choosing one suggestion which you think might make you feel a little better and start from there. Remember tiny steps can lead to a big impact.

Posted in Bullet journaling, lifestyle, Planning and journaling, self care

Monday Matters: 8 self care activities for Autumn

Photo credit: Piotr Laskawski for Unsplash

The end of September marks the beginning of the season of Autumn and is an ideal time to ramp up your self care regime. In today’s Monday Matters post, I’m going to share 8 ideas to get you started.

Get your home Autumn ready

As the weather turns chillier, it’s time to pack away your Summer clothes and accessories, give your wardrobe and drawers a good vacuum and then fill them with cosy jumpers, knitted cardigans, scarves, hats and gloves. I also like to adorn my sofa with a couple of soft blankets to make use of on chilly evenings.

Go on a nature walk

I love to go on long walks in the countryside all year around but being out in nature in the Autumn time is particularly special. It’s such a complete feast for the senses with all the changes that are taking place as I shared in this blog post last September.

I also like to take my DSLR camera with me so I can collect photographic examples of the season such as leaves changing colour, wild and wonderful fungi, fallen conkers, acorns and sycamore seeds, hedgerow fruits and super sweet wildlife such as squirrels and hedgehogs.

Make a deliciously warming soup

It’s now the perfect time to have a go at making your own delicious and nourishing soup. I like to make the most of seasonal vegetables and try out lots of different squashes. Each one has a slightly different taste so why not try a few and see which you like best?

Sort out your skincare routine

I find that my skin gets really dehydrated in Autumn and Winter due to a combination of having the central heating on and the drying effects of the cold and windy weather so developing a good skincare routine is vital. After my daily shower, I apply a generous amount of aqueous cream all over my body but particularly on my legs which tend to get very dry and cracked. I then use a rich vitamin E cream on my face which contains an SPF and gives my skin a lovely radiant glow. Throughout the day, I make sure I drink plenty of water, adding a sugar free Cherries and Berries squash to make it more flavoursome. Before going out for my daily walk, I apply Vaseline to my lips as a protective barrier against the elements. I use the same face wash all year round which is a mild, gentle and fragrance free one specially formulated for sensitive skin and I make sure I moisturise well after each use. I’m also debating adding a night cream to my routine this year too but I need to do a little more research on them first.

Try out an Autumn craft

Doing something creative can be a great mood booster and a chance to practise mindfulness. There are lots of ideas for Autumnal crafts for adults and kids on Pinterest but this Autumn leaf Mason Jar craft particularly caught my eye.

Snuggle up and read

Get your cosiest pyjamas on and your warmest socks. Make your favourite hot drink and then snuggle up on your sofa wrapped in a soft blanket to read a good book. Bliss!

Treat yourself to an Autumn scented candle

A cheap and easy way to create a cosy Autumnal atmosphere in your home is to treat yourself to one or two gorgeous scented candles. There are so many different fragrances to choose from and a quick Google search produce results such as pumpkin spice, warm apple and cinnamon, pecan pie, crisp campfire apples, vanilla pumpkin marshmallow, spiced orange and Autumn glow.

Make an Autumn bucket list in your bullet journal

A wonderful spread to make in your bullet journal and to ensure you get the most out of the season is an Autumn bucket list. Then you can add all of the above activities plus any of your own that you want to try. Search Fall or Autumn bucket list on Pinterest and select your favourites.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

I hope today’s post has given you lots of ideas on how to look after yourself over Autumn. I would love to hear about your plans for the season so, if you get the chance, leave me a little comment below.

Posted in mental health, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Over 60 self care ideas and activities to keep you busy and mentally well when self isolating or social distancing

Photo credit: Samantha Gades, for Unsplash

The current UK government advice is to practise social distancing in order to minimise the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). With this in mind, I present over 60 ideas and activities to help you make the most of your social distancing or isolation time if you are still feeling fit and well. Hopefully, these activities will keep you safe but productive at the same time and encourage you to support yourself in staying mentally as well as physically well. Of course, some of the suggestions will be more suited to your lifestyle than others and some may just be completely inapplicable but hopefully you can use at least half of them so that’s over 30!

  1. Paint your nails or give yourself a manicure or pedicure
  2. Give positive feedback to someone (e.g. thank someone at the supermarket for doing a good job or write an email to someone who has shared a great article online)
  3. Wash your car (or get your husband to do it – that’ll be me then lol)
  4. Send a loved one a card through the mail telling them how much you care about them
  5. Organise your wardrobe
  6. Put some food out for the birds and watch them feed through the window
  7. Have a video call with a family member or friend
  8. Light a scented candle and meditate whilst watching the flame
  9. Research a topic of interest online – maybe make notes in your BuJo or other notebook
  10. Enjoy a long soak in the bath
  11. Do a jigsaw puzzle
  12. Start a craft project that you’ve been meaning to do for a while
  13. Peruse Amazon and download a new book for your Kindle
  14. Practise calligraphy
  15. Wash your hair and spend ages styling it to perfection
  16. Create an upbeat playlist of songs you love
  17. Take a free online class
  18. Watch a YouTube video that teaches you a new skill
  19. Walk barefoot on your lawn
  20. Listen to an audiobook
  21. Get out your photo albums and revisit happy times (or flick through old digital images on your mobile phone
  22. Snuggle up under a soft blanket and watch a movie
  23. Have a home pampering session e.g. put on a face mask
  24. Do some colouring in
  25. Shine your shoes
  26. Practise Yoga or Pilates (there are lots of videos on YouTube that show you how)
  27. Re-arrange the furniture in your house
  28. Do an observational drawing of something in your house
  29. Enjoy a cup of coffee or tea whilst reading this list and make plans for your day
  30. Write a nice comment on a website or blog
  31. Find a new recipe and try it out
  32. Write in your journal about how your day has been
  33. Play cards or a board game with a family member (or plan an online game whilst being in isolation from others)
  34. Join an online community on Facebook and start a discussion about one of your interests
  35. Buy yourself something nice online for home delivery
  36. Try out some new hairstyles
  37. Find some online journal prompts and do some writing
  38. Make up a poem about how your day has changed for the better since practising social distancing
  39. Learn about your family tree
  40. Savour a bar of chocolate
  41. Do a wordsearch, crossword or other word puzzle
  42. Make a gift for a family member or friend which you can leave on their doorstep
  43. Do some origami
  44. Visit Etsy and support a handmade business by choosing and buying a little treat for yourself or a loved one
  45. Make homemade pizza
  46. Sing in the shower
  47. Massage hand cream into your hands (particularly good if your hands are dry from all the handwashing)
  48. Play games on your tablet or phone (my current favourites are Angry Birds 2 and Candy Crush Saga)
  49. Share a photograph online of something new you’ve tried whilst self isolating
  50. Buy some new stationery from an online shop
  51. Spend an hour reading your favourite magazine with a hot or cold drink
  52. Make homemade bread
  53. Sit in your back garden tonight and do some stargazing
  54. Learn to juggle
  55. Give your muscles a good stretch
  56. Send a text message to a friend checking that they are safe and well
  57. Write a list of all the things that you are grateful for right now
  58. Make a list of reasons why you love your friend / partner and share it with them
  59. Spend time engaging in one of your long forgotten hobbies
  60. Watch a favourite movie and munch on some popcorn
  61. Do some embroidery or cross stitching
  62. Cuddle your pet and show them some love
  63. Enter an online competition
  64. Repair something in your house that you’ve been meaning to get around to fixing for months
  65. Have an indoor picnic in your house (put out a picnic mat or blanket and sit on the floor in your living room)
  66. Make some (virgin) cocktails (don’t forget to drink responsibly)
  67. Do a Sudoku
  68. Close your eyes and do 5 minutes of soothing breathing

I hope you’ve found at least some of these ideas useful. Let me know if you have other suggestions which I could add to the list.

Stay safe everyone and remember, just because you’re practising social distancing, doesn’t mean you need to isolate yourself from the world completely. As best as you can, and in a way that is safe, keep in touch with loved ones and most importantly, look after you!

Posted in mental health, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Practical ways to improve your wellbeing by unlocking the power of the vagus nerve

Last week, in my compassion group therapy session, we looked at the vagus nerve and its effect on our health and wellbeing. The vagus nerve is the longest of our cranial nerves (the ones which emerge straight from our brain) and controls our inner nerve centre. It oversees a range of crucial functions, communicating motor and sensory impulses to each organ of our body (our heart, lungs, upper digestive tract, and other organs of the chest and abdomen).

The vagus nerve is critical to our overall health and it has been scientifically proven that stimulating this important bundle of motor and sensory fibres is a key in reducing our stress, anxiety and anger levels.

So, enough of the science lesson, what are the practical ways that we can get this thing working to our advantage? Here are a range of different ways:

breathe deeply and slowly

Slow and deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve in a way that can help reduce our heart rate and enable us to become more relaxed. That’s why focusing on your breath during mini meditations can be so soothing for us and is a key part of compassion based therapy.

exercise

Regular exercise such as a gentle walk stimulates gut flow which is regulated by your vagus nerve. Why not combine this with getting in touch with nature so you can enjoy some peace and quiet at the same time?

have a good laugh

There’s a reason behind the popular saying ‘laughter is the best medicine’. Proper belly laughs are thought to be great for stimulating the vagus nerve. Why not try going to a comedy show or watching an episode of your favourite funny TV series tonight? There’s even a thing called ‘laughter therapy’ according to a counsellor I used to see, although I’ve never tried it myself!

try getting yourself all cold!

Apparently any type of exposure to cold will increase vagus nerve activation. That’s why some people swear by having a cold shower first thing in the morning to get going! Personally I prefer a little cold water on my face or a nice cold glass of water to wake myself up but it’s entirely up to you how you expose yourself to a little bit of coldness!

Sing or chant

As a member of a choir, I love singing and find it really helps my wellbeing. Now I know why! Why not trying putting on your favourite music and singing along (and maybe do a little boogie as well for the exercise) to activate your vagus nerve? Chanting also works too so no wonder football fans feel so good when they shout for their team at matches.

Massage

A nice neck massage is a lovely way to stimulate the vagus nerve or why not try a foot massage to help lower your heart rate and blood pressure. I love it when my husband does a firm massage of my feet after a long day when we’re sat together watching TV. If you haven’t got an obliging partner, a session with a qualified masseuse makes a fantastic pampering treat if you can afford it.

Positive social contact

Being socially connected, be it with compassionate friends, family or even our beloved pets has been shown to help with emotional regulation though vagal stimulation. Make sure that you choose to spend time with kind hearted and thoughtful people to ensure a positive experience.

Reduce your consumption of junk food

I’m sure you already know that eating too much fatty stuff is bad for you but excess consumption of ‘junk food’ has been shown to reduce the sensitivity of your vagus nerve. The occasional treat is okay but try not to indulge too often.

Yoga and Tai Chi

The benefits of practises such as yoga and Tai Chi are well documented. They have both been shown to increase vagus nerve activity and your parasympathetic (also known as rest and digest) system in general. You can find many simple yoga sequences online and beginner classes of exercises are widely available if you want to make it a social event too.

And finally, try to make time to relax each and every day

It’s up to you what form that relaxation takes, a nice warm bath, a few uninterrupted chapters of your favourite novel, craft or art activities or settling down to watch a film. Find something relaxing to do each day will have a positive effect on your wellbeing by working your vagus nerve.

I hope you’ve found this blog post interesting and have learnt something new. Let me know if you try any of the ideas and if they have a positive effect on your wellbeing as a result. I’ve learnt so much from my compassion group therapy so far and I’ve have been working hard to put things into practise to improve my wellbeing. Hopefully I get the chance to share some more with you soon.

Until next time, look after yourself.

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