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, yoga

Over 20 physical and psychological benefits of yoga that will help your body and your mind

As those of you who follow my blog will know, I started attending an Iyengar yoga for beginners class several months ago. After three sessions, the class was suspended due to Coronavirus and then shortly after that, the complete lockdown began. Keen to continue my practise, I’ve built up my collection of equipment and have found suitable classes on YouTube. I’m pleased to report that I’m doing at least 10 minutes of yoga every day and I’m reaping the physical and mental benefits already. So, in this post, I thought I’d share with you how yoga can transform your body and your mind. Please bear in mind that, although I have fully researched the article, most of what you read is my own limited experiences of practising and I am not an expert yogi!

Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that originated in India around 5,000 years ago. There are many different styles but all types focus on increasing strength and flexibility and breathe control in a way which boosts physical and mental wellbeing. The type of yoga that I practise is called Iyengar and this form places emphasis on detail, precision and alignment. When you begin, you are encouraged to use a variety of props such as bricks, blocks, blankets, a strap, a bolster and even a special yoga chair. This equipment is designed to assist you in your practice so you are able to form the asana (poses) correctly.

Although yoga is performed slowly and carefully, so won’t count as part of the recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, it is an extremely good strengthening exercise with lots of benefits for your physical and mental health. This makes it an incredible worthwhile practice to adopt alongside more aerobic activities that get your heart rate up. It is also suitable for all ages and fitness levels. In fact, B.K.S. Iyengar who developed the Iyengar style, still practised for several hours per day when he was in his nineties, before his death at the grand old age of 95!

Physical Benefits of yoga

From the very first week that I went to my yoga class, I could feel my muscles getting a really good stretch in each pose. Now I’ve been practising for a few months, I’m beginning to develop increased flexibility throughout my body. I’m still using lots of equipment in my practice such as bricks, blocks, a strap and a bolster, but I’m able to push myself a little bit further each time as my muscles lengthen. Overall, my body feels a lot better and stronger already.

I’ve always suffered from back and neck pain since my teenage years and a physiotherapist that I went for a rotator cuff injury in my shoulder and sciatic pain identified bad posture as part of the problem. He suggested a variety of physio exercises but also said that in the long term working on my core strength by doing Pilates or yoga would really help. I’m now starting to find that I have much better posture and reduced pain in my body in general. I still suffer from neck and shoulder pain at times but I am hoping this will lessen with daily yoga practice.

A big part of yoga is a focus on the breath. When you bring attention to your breathing, you find that you take full and deep inhalations and exhalations and this can help to increase lung capacity and improve the function of your blood vessels which may lower blood pressure. As an asthma sufferer, I was pleased to learn that yoga can improve your breathing technique and develop your ability to control the depth of your breathing.

Although I’m having no trouble sleeping at the moment, I do tend to develop insomnia during times of high stress. I was pleased to read then, that yoga can promote better sleep and that people who practise some kind of meditation each day find they fall asleep quicker, stay asleep longer and have better quality sleep than those who don’t.

Many yoga poses, such as downward facing dog, have a weight bearing element to them and this has been shown to strengthen your bones and ward off osteoporosis. I find this particularly useful to know as weakening of the bones is very common as we get older, and it often effects women.

Photo credit: Form on Unsplash

Psychological benefits of yoga

Yoga not only transforms your body, it can also improve your mental health in so many ways too. Even after my very first class, I felt calm and relaxed and generally blissful. We did lots of strengthening and stretching poses and then for 10 minutes at the end of the session, the teacher put on some relaxing music and we did some restorative poses that were nice and easy to stay in whilst working on progressive muscle relaxation. The asana (postures) were so lovely that I didn’t want to move out of the final pose at the end!

When you are practising yoga, you are concentrating fully on each of the poses and the transition from one posture to another. You focus on your breath and the lengthening of various muscles, and this full awareness can be seen as a kind of movement based meditation and mindfulness practise. The benefits of meditation are backed by scientific study and include stress reduction and lower levels of anxiety, improved outlook on life and better self image.

As someone who suffers from repeated bouts of depression and anxiety, I was pleased to note that yoga is great for managing both conditions. People who consistently practise have been found to have increased serotonin levels (which contribute to wellbeing and happiness) and reduced cortisol levels (the body’s main stress hormone). In fact, during a telephone appointment with a mental health nurse last month, she suggested I give yoga a try as an adjunctive treatment – she was happy to hear that I’d already started to give it a go.

Yoga can also increase confidence levels and improve self esteem. It teaches us to slow down and pay attention to ourselves and the current moment. Doing this enables us to focus and find the mental clarity within us that we need to solve problems, make decisions and create improvements to our personal situations. This is in contrast to our modern society which encourages us to work harder and faster, buy more and consume more, compare ourselves to others and seek external validation for everything we do.

I hope today’s post has helped you develop a better understanding of yoga and the physical and mental benefits of the practice. Although there are no yoga classes in the UK and many other countries running currently due to the lockdown, I would recommend that you start to learn yoga by attending a class. This is so that the yogi (instructor) is available to correct your postures, give advice and supply extra equipment to help you if needed. When you have perfected particular asana, you can then start to practise them at home.

Let me know if you already regularly practise yoga and are thriving from the physical and mental benefits to your practise. If you haven’t given it a try before, I hope my post has given you the encouragement you need to give it a go.

Namaste,

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

Monday Matters: Creating a W.R.A.P. Part 3

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been sharing my experiences of writing a Wellness Recovery Action Plan to support my mental health. In Part 1, I shared what a W.R.A.P. is and why it’s useful as well as how to create a wellness toolbox. In Part 2, I wrote about making a detailed list of adjectives to describe what you are like when you are feeling well and also how to make a maintenance plan of every day activities that help to keep you well. This week, the focus is on triggers and how to cope with them, plus creating a list of early warning signs of deteriorating mental health. Obviously, this is very personal to you as an individual but I hope by sharing some of my lists you get the idea so you can have a go at making your own.

Triggers (AKA Stressors)

Triggers in your life are external events or circumstances that make you feel uncomfortable. They can include situations in your work or personal life that you know tend to stress you out or upset you. Writing these triggers down won’t stop them from happening, but it can help us put coping methods and action plans in place for dealing with the emotions that are felt.

The following are some examples of my triggers so you can get the idea for making your own list:

spending too much time alone

criticism from others

being overly tired

family friction

making a mistake

not being listened to

change to routine

packing to go on holiday

mental health themes in TV dramas

feeling left out

being wrongly judged

My coping methods / action plan

Do everything on my daily maintenance plan – keep routines going

Pick out some activities from my wellness toolbox

Talk to a supportive person about what has happened

Turn negative self talk into positive

Use mindfulness techniques

Do some soothing rhythm breathing

Focus on tasks that are easy to do

Make lists e.g. a packing list for holidays

Early Warning Signs

For this part of the WRAP plan, you make a list of signs that tell you and others that you’re not feeling mentally well. This helps friends and family to look for signs of deterioration and is also good for sharing with medical professionals. For me personally, I have different signs depending on whether I’m starting to become depressed or anxious or developing hypermania.

Signs of depression and anxiety

loss of appetite / comfort eating

feeling tearful over things that wouldn’t usually affect me

lack of motivation

feeling tired even after lots of sleep

agitation

want to be alone

irritability

poor concentration

feeling worthless / helpless

Signs of hypomania

constant talking – unable to switch off

mind in overdrive

erratic driving

spending lots of money to fix things

hyperactivity

sleeplessness

agitation

irritability

flick from one task to another in a bid to get it all done

Coping methods / action plan

Do relaxation exercises – meditation, yoga etc.

Pick out some activities from my wellness tools

Tell someone I trust how I feel

Do everything on my daily maintenance list

Seek medical help

Get some exercise

Ask for support with household tasks

Challenge negative thoughts

Celebrate small achievements

Although I found these tasks difficult to do at the time as I was living with the depression and anxiety symptoms, I do think they are really useful lists to make. I also found it beneficial to talk with others about coping methods and get ideas from them too.

I hope you are finding these posts informative and useful. I really recommend creating your own WRAP either by yourself or with a loved one or therapist. Sitting down and really thinking about yourself and what you are like at different times can really help. Also if you can feel yourself becoming stressed or unwell, you can put things in place to help prevent you from becoming worse.

Of course, the current situation with the virus is a huge source of stress and worry so, now more than ever, we need to look after ourselves and ensure self care activities are high on our agenda. A lot of our routines and aspects of our daily lives have changed beyond our control and for many, this will be one of your main triggers so make sure you put things in place to help you cope.

Until next time, stay home and stay safe and well,

Posted in life hacks, mental health, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Creating a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (W.R.A.P.) to support good mental health. Part 1.

A few months ago, I did a six week course at my local recovery college that focused on creating a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (W.R.A.P.). The concept of a W.R.A.P. was originally developed in 1997 by Mary Ellen Copeland and a group of like-minded mental health recovery advocates as a way of monitoring wellness and periods of difficulty, keeping yourself well and recording how you would like to be supported and by whom in the event of future issues.

At the time of attending the course, I was in a really bad place and found the sessions quite overwhelming and would end up in tears on a regular basis. However, I could still see the benefits of making a W.R.A.P. and completed all of the tasks and homework each week. I was really proud of myself for continuing to attend the group and now I’m well again, I would like to share my learning with you and discuss how you can go about making your own plan.

The first session of the course involved an introduction to the W.R.A.P. and discussion about how we were going to be supported in the creation of the document. We were given a handout so we could record our ideas each week and tailor our plan to suit our individual needs. If you would like to find out more about the plan from its original creator, you can click here to be taken to her website.

WRAP is a tool that can aid an individual’s recovery and its underpinning principles support the recovery approach. WRAP is a way of monitoring wellness, times of being less well and times when experiences are uncomfortable and distressing. It also includes details of how an individual would like others to support them at these different times.”

There are 5 main principles to the W.R.A.P. and these are:

Hope – that you will get well, stay well and go on to meet your dreams and goals

Personal responsibility – it’s up to you to decide what will most likely help to keep you well and who you would like to support you in order to give you the very best chance at staying well

Education – learning everything you can to enable you to make good decisions about your mental health and how you would like it to be managed

Self advocacy – making sure you have everything you need, want and deserve to support your wellness and recovery

Support – although it is primarily your job to ensure you stay well, the plan encourages you to accept that at times, you may need help and support with managing your mental health and that you can give selected others the chance to work with you to improve your quality of life

After learning about what W.R.A.P. is all about, we were set of the task of brainstorming ideas for a wellness toolbox. This was basically a list of things you enjoy doing which make you feel good. Mine included colouring in, painting, drawing, meditating, meeting a friend for coffee, reading, walking in nature, gardening and volunteering for a good cause. The benefit of working with a group of people who also struggle to maintain good mental health was that you could listen to suggestions from them and maybe try out some of their ideas if they appealed too.

For homework each week, we were invited to collect an item to bring in which could be put in a physical wellness tool box either as reminders of activities or to actually use to support your recovery or to keep yourself well. Ideas from myself and others included colouring in books, jigsaws, a scented candle, a chocolate bar, some bubble bath, photographs of loved ones (including pets!), memorabilia from special times and favourite books. The possibilities are endless!

I wrote a long list of ideas into a MS Word document and printed it off to put in a folder but you could also create a visual board using pictures collected from magazines or the internet or even do a Pinterest board. I think it’s a good idea to have a hard copy of your ideas so you can share it with people who support you in the maintenance of good mental health such as family members, friends or even your mental health professional or doctor.

I hope this has made you think about what you would include in your wellness toolbox. Let me know in the comments below what you find really beneficial for helping you personally to maintain good mental health – you never know, it might just provide me or someone else with an idea to try in the future.

Much love,

Posted in compassion, life hacks, mental health, Mindfulness, Planning and journaling, Setting goals and intentions, wellbeing, wellness

Practical ways to declutter your overloaded mind

Photo credit: Element5 Digital, Unsplash

There are a plethora of books and articles both online and in print about the benefits of decluttering your possessions in order to simplify your life and create more order. However, it’s not just our homes which can become cluttered and cause feelings of overwhelm and low mood. Our minds are equally susceptible and can easily become overloaded with worries, stresses and all of those emotions that come from spinning too many plates. Today’s blog post looks at practical ways of managing this mental clutter to improve our wellbeing.

1. Identify your current priorities in life

A good place to start decluttering your mind is to spend some time quietly reflecting on your life right now. Start to consider how you currently spend your time and use your energy and then begin to think about how satisfied you are with this situation. If you find yourself wanting to implement some changes, try focusing your attention on how you would like to live or what your ideal day would look like. This can help you establish what’s really important to you and enable you to prioritize. For example, you may decide that you are neglecting to look after yourself properly and need to give self care more of a focus or you might want to spend more quality time with your partner, your family or your friends.

2. Set some goals and instil some habits

When you know what your priorities are, you can work on setting some goals and creating some habits which help you to achieve these. For example, if having more ‘me time’ is at the top of your list, you may decide that you want to spend one hour per week learning a new skill or taking a class. If having more time together with your family is an area you’d like to work on, you might schedule a regular movie night, games evening or brainstorm or list of ways you would like to have fun together in your bullet journal or notebook. If you do use a bullet journal and like to have a habit tracker as part of your weekly or monthly spreads, your goals can inform the habits you choose to include. For example, if having a tidy space to study or work is one of your desires, you might choose to have a habit such as ‘ten minute desk tidy’ at the end of each day.

3. Practise mindfulness

Mindfulness is the process of bringing one’s attention to the current moment and concentrating on the flow of our thoughts, emotions, what is going on around us and bodily sensations without judgement. It can help us to reduce the time we spend dwelling on past events (rumination) or becoming anxious about the future and help us to become more calm and compassionate towards ourselves. Becoming more mindful can help to declutter our minds of worries and anxieties by creating a more relaxed state of being.

4. Take time to breathe

A big part of mindfulness and self compassion is about taking time out. Our busy lives often create minds which are full of mental chatter which we find difficult to silence. We can all find time to settle our minds by taking the time to slow down and a great way to do this is by changing your focus to a more soothing activity such as rhythmic breathing or a mini meditation. If, like me, you have a bullet journal or planner, try scheduling time to have a break as part of your daily plans or add meditation to your habit tracker. By being more mindful and checking in with your body and how you are feeling, you can also more easily recognise when you might need to pause or slow down.

5. Getting it down on paper

Another really helpful way of clearing mental clutter is to write it all down. There are many different ideas for how to go about doing this but popular methods include doing a ‘brain dump’ or regularly engaging in reflective journaling. A brain dump is basically where you put everything that’s on your mind down on paper or into a digital document. How you spill the contents of your brain is up to you. Some people like to just scribble down their thoughts and feelings onto a page of their journal or onto any random piece of paper they have available whenever they have lots on their mind. Others prefer the regular practise of creating ‘morning pages‘ where they dedicate time each day to writing it all down as soon as they wake up. Personally, I like to add thoughts and ideas to my daily plans in my bullet journal and spend some time each evening, reflecting on how my day has gone and writing a few things down underneath my bulleted lists. If you want to find out more about the bullet journal method for organisation, I recommend visiting Ryder Carroll’s website here or reading his book which explains the method in detail.

For specific projects, you may find that creating some sort of visual way of organising helps to get your thoughts on paper in a logical way. A spider diagram, is a popular method and one which you may have used at school. Basically, you start by placing your main thought, idea or topic in the centre of the page and then you add branches from this when you think of subtopics. These subtopics can then be broken down further by more branches, creating a kind of spiders legs effect on the page. A quick ‘Google’ search online shows lots of examples of this technique which can be a helpful way of structuring all of the information in your mind.

6. Avoid information overload

This point is particularly relevant to our lives today in the digital age. With so much information at our finger tips online, especially through our use of various social media platforms, it can be very easy to become overwhelmed and feel like we are ready to explode. There are many ways to avoid overloading ourselves with information, including limiting the amount of time we spend online. Also, if you have already spent time assessing your current priorities, then you can use this to inform what you focus on. For example, at the beginning of the year, I decided that I wanted to improve my gardening know how, so I thought about the steps I would need to take to do this and then spent time and energy improving my knowledge through reading about the plants in our garden, finding seasonal gardening tips online and watching gardening programmes on the television. I then recorded my learning in a garden journal. Also, avoiding negative and unreliable media sources can help your online presence positive and informative. For example, I tend to stay away from sensationalised news articles and always try to turn off my notifications for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for a while when I’m super busy.

7. Out of your mind and into your body

In a previous blog post, I talked about ways to stimulate your vagus nerve and included plenty of suggestions about how to use the power of this cranial nerve to stimulate your body and relax your mind. By moving our attention to our bodies and reconnecting to the world around us, we create much needed space in our minds which helps us to gain better mental clarity. Going out into the garden to feel the fresh air, listen to the birds or get some sunlight on our skin, taking a quiet stroll in the local park, or even just putting on a favourite song and singing out loud whilst having a quick boogie can all help.

8. Take some time to unwind

Your brain needs regular breaks to rest and recharge itself and so creating white space in your calendar or planner is a must. Spend some time away from your phone or tablet and do something relaxing which makes you feel happy. For me, a walk in nature, reading a book or doing something creative, such as painting or drawing are some of my favourite ways to unwind. I like to create pages in my bullet journal for self care and ‘me time’ activities so that when I’m feeling frazzled, I can get some inspiration for self soothing behaviours.

Photo credit: Victoria Bilsborough, Unsplash

I hope you have found today’s post useful and it has helped to provide inspiration on how you might take steps to declutter your busy and active mind. I would love to hear any others ideas that you find work really well for you at times when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed.