Posted in exercise, fitness, lifestyle, Uncategorized, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel Of Wellness – Physical – Part 1: Exercise

For the physical element of The Wheel Of Wellness, I’ve decided to split the topic into three separate posts as there’s lots I want to cover. Today’s Monday Matters is all about movement and exercise, how it affects your mental health and easy ways in which you can incorporate physical activity into your life.

Most of us are aware of at least some of the benefits of regular exercise for the body and its physical functioning but did you know that getting moving can have a dramatic impact on your mental health too?

What are the main benefits of physical activity on your mental wellbeing?

  • better self esteem – feeling good about yourself as your fitness levels improve and you meet your goals
  • reduces risk of depression or symptoms of the illness
  • enables you to connect with others – can help you meet new people and develop new friendships through doing team activities or seeing others engaged in the same activity such as going to the gym, walking in nature etc
  • happier moods – releases feel good hormones helping you to feel better in yourself and combatting lethargy by increasing energy levels
  • improved sleep – increased physical activity will make you feel tired by the end of the day and can get you ready for a restful night’s sleep
  • helps you manage stress, anxiety and intrusive thoughts – a positive coping strategy which gives your brain something else to focus on

How much physical activity should I be doing?

This depends very much on your life circumstances and your current level of fitness. You should think about what feels realistic to you right now and this might change quite dramatically if you are managing a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder.

The NHS has lots of advice on how much activity is recommended each week for different groups of people and also provides information about the different forms of exercise which are helpful for maintaining good physical health. Again, the guidelines provide something to work to when you are feeling physically and mentally fit and you should always consult your doctor for tailor made advice if you have any form of injury or limiting health condition.

What type of exercise should I choose?

The best advice I can offer here is to choose activities that you think you will enjoy and give them a go. If you choose exercises which make you feel uncomfortable or you have to force yourself to do, you’re unlikely to stick with them. So, for example, if the thought of working out at your local gym fills you with dread then setting up a membership probably isn’t a good idea. However, if you choose an activity which is fun and enjoyable, you’re more likely to engage in it regularly and make it part of your routine. You’re also much more likely to experience the aforementioned benefits to your mental health.

There are lots of different things you can try – some you might know straight away are not a good fit for you whereas with others you might need to give them a go in order to make your mind up. Highly aerobic exercises might be less suitable if you’re just starting out or have reduced mobility and you and your GP are best placed to decide what you can currently manage and what you might be able to aim towards in the future.

Being more active at home

If you have a really busy schedule, doing a short home based workout might be an easy and convenient way of fitting in some exercise. Some of the benefits of working out or being more active at home include:

  • Saves time – no travelling required and no waiting for machines or equipment (as often happens at my gym when it’s busy!)
  • Privacy – if you think you would feel self-conscious working out in public, exercising at home with the blinds shut or curtains drawn can be much more comfortable
  • Work out any time – you can decide when you want to exercise so working out at home is super convenient – you might prefer first thing before you start work or half an hour prior to cooking your dinner.
  • Flexibility – when you go to a gym class, the pressure is on to keep up with others or to push yourself to work harder. Also, there are individuals who have been doing the class for months, and some who are having a go for the first time so the instructor is trying to cater for the needs of everyone. At home, you set the pace and if you feel like a particular exercise is too difficult or needs modification then you can skip bits or find out how you can simplify things.
  • Low cost – no gym fees or expensive equipment needed. You can workout on your living room carpet or on a cheap mat. If you want to use weights, a couple of small water bottles or cans of beans are ideal when you first start out

Ideas for home workouts

  • Set an alarm to remind you to move each hour (or set up your fitness watch to vibrate). Spend 10 minutes doing exercises which are good for your current fitness levels e.g. jumping jacks, burpees, bicycle crunches, high knees etc.
  • Dancing – Put on some music with a fast beat and dance around your kitchen / living room / bedroom etc.
  • Chair based exercises – if you have mobility problems or a physical health condition which makes it difficult to be out of a chair, there are exercise routines you can try whilst sitting down. Check out this page on the NHS website or look for chair based workouts on YouTube.
  • Find some free beginners YouTube videos which have exercise regimes on – try looking for cardio workouts, yoga, balance training, Pilates, legs, bums and tums, core based etc.
  • Play an active computer game e.g. Zumba fitness, Wii Sports etc
  • Housework – doing household chores is a great way to get moving. Dusting, vacuuming, cleaning the windows, mopping floors or washing and polishing your car can all increase your pulse rate and burn calories. Also, you can make the activities as gentle or strenuous as you like and you can make each task as short or as long as you want.
  • Gardening – Gardening is a great physical activity and is wonderful for your emotional wellbeing too. Again, you could engage in more strenuous activities such as digging, hoeing, mowing the lawn and pruning. Or more gentle activities such as pulling up a few small weeds or setting a few seeds in some pots.

A few tips for getting active at home

  • do a mini risk assessment in the room you intend to use for working out – is there enough room to exercise safely? do you have a ceiling pendant light which might get in your way if you stretch your arms up? might you need to move some furniture or move your mat so you’re not in danger of hitting things? is anyone likely to enter the room and knock into you or open the door onto you? etc
  • put on your workout gear like you would if you were going to a gym – this could be shorts and a t-shirt and might include a sports bra
  • try to do different types of workout e.g. cardio, strength, stretching, core etc so you’re targeting all parts of your body each week.
  • schedule ‘active time’ in your weekly plan like you would if you were going to the gym – let others know of your intentions so they can cheer you on / ask you how things went / be out of your way at your chosen time etc.
  • try setting some SMART goals to work towards
  • remember, it’s okay to skip a workout session if you’re really busy or something unexpected comes up but try not to make a habit of it or you won’t feel all of those wonderful benefits I mentioned earlier!

Out and about activities

There are lots of activities which you can do out and about and some gyms have instructor led and virtual classes to try too. Here’s some ideas:

  • Nature walk – this could be in your local park, through woodland, on the beach, around a lakeside path, next to the river etc. You could also look online for nearby nature reserves to visit either with friends, family or alone for some quiet time.
  • Walking or running – this could be to a friend’s house, to work, to the local shops or even around the block. All you need is a comfortable pair or shoes or trainers and you’re good to go. If you want your walk or run to be a sociable activity you could join a group in your local community (try searching online for walking or running groups) or arrange to meet a friend in the park or somewhere convenient for you both.
  • Dance classes – there are lots of different types of dance which you could try – some are more active / fast paced than others. Suggestions include Zumba (high intensity), salsa, ballroom, clubbercise or line dancing.
  • Sports and games with family or friends – these can be indoor or outdoor and include ball games such as tennis, football, rounders and netball, informal games such as frisbee, throw and catch and tag and supervised or instructor led watersports such as canoeing or surfing.
  • Cycling – this could be a family bike ride or as a way of making a journey e.g. to the shops, visiting friends or family or to work. You can start off with a really short distance and then increase the length and opportunities for uphill climbs as your fitness levels improve.
  • Gym classes – some gyms have fitness classes which you can try too. These can be instructor led or virtual (on a screen). Examples include yoga, kettlebells, Pilates, spinning, zumba, body pump, circuits, step and forever fit aimed at the over 50s.
  • Swimming – swimming can be a great workout for the whole body. It gets the heart rate up but takes most of the impact stress off your joints. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to do your swimming in a heated pool with lifeguards at hand to keep you safe.
  • Outdoor gyms – lots of parks have these now and the equipment is totally free to use. Your local council / local area website should tell you where these are located so you can give them a go.
  • Mindful exercise – yoga, pilates and tai chi are great for combining moving the body with mindfulness. I also like do some mindful movement when I’m on the reclining bike at the gym – I close my eyes and think about the effects it’s having on my body (I wouldn’t recommend doing this on other pieces of equipment like the treadmill though!!!)
  • The gym – many people are put off from joining the gym as they think it will be full of muscly men and women who are obsessed with their appearance. From my experience, yes there are some people of the aforementioned type, but there are also many other individuals too who are there for a common reason such as toning, increasing their fitness levels or trying to be more active. In my gym there are people of all shapes and sizes and all ages. The ones I attend are owned by the local council and are managed by Everyone Active and I think these gyms are the best for inclusivity. Most of them will offer a free trial too so you can see if it is something you enjoy before paying for a membership.

What if I’m feeling unwell or physical activity doesn’t work for me?

There may be times when physical activity is super helpful and you can really feel the benefits. However, there may also be other times when exercise just isn’t working for you. Maybe you’re struggling with high levels of anxiety or are having difficulties with depression and you don’t have the motivation to stay active. Or, you’re feeling frustrated because everyone is trying to tell you the benefits of getting some exercise and even though they mean well, it’s actually causing you to feel guilty or to beat yourself up for not adding some physical activity to your day.

For some people, exercise can make their mental health worse, triggering anxiety or further contributing to their mental health problem(s). For example, someone I spoke with in the Bipolar forum group that I’m a member of said that her Community Mental Health Nurse completed an exercise referral for her and at first was enjoying being more active, but then she became obsessed with going and her support worker began to see signs of overtraining and a fixation on getting fit. This was causing rapid weight loss and together, they decided that the current exercise programme was having a negative effect and should be stopped or at least greatly modified. If you or your family feel that your chosen physical activities are having a negative impact, you many need to discuss any concerns with a health professional such as a mental health nurse, support worker, doctor or therapist.

Whatever it is that’s currently stopping you from being active, it’s important not to be too hard on yourself. You might just need to focus on other self care activities for a while such as relaxing in the bath, spending time in nature or curling up with a good book. When you’re feeling a little better or have got yourself on top of things, you can gradually build physical activity into your routine again. This might mean re-evaluating your exercise plans and making a few changes or trying a different type of activity.

Final words…

Although an increase in physical activity can have lots of benefits for our health, it’s important to start slowly. Doing too much too quickly is likely to make you feel overly tired or burnt out and this can mean you’re unable to keep up with the expectations you’ve placed on yourself. This can result in unhelpful or negative feelings, put you off somewhat or cause you to quit altogether.

Try to plan a realistic and achievable routine which fits with you and your lifestyle. Building up your physical activity and the intensity a little each week can make a real difference. Also, remember that rest days are important too as they give your body time to recover.

And another thing… it’s okay to slow down or take a break if your energy levels aren’t as good as they usually are or if you’re having a tough time mentally or emotionally. You can resume your routine when you start to feel better, remembering to build up again slowly if you’ve not exercised for quite a while.

I hope you’ve found today’s blog post really helpful and it’s encouraged you to think about how increasing your physical activity may help you personally. Let me know what your favourite ways to exercise are or if there’s something you’ve always wanted to try and might give a go. It could even be an activity you used to have fun doing as a kid and secretly would love to have a go at again. For example I used to love trampolining sessions at the beach when on holiday with my family. I also used to enjoy badminton in the back garden with my dad but haven’t played for over 20 years!

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

Monday Matters: Wheel Of Wellness – Intellectual

In today’s Monday Matters I’ll be considering the intellectual element of the Wheel Of Wellness. This segment is all about keeping your brain active, exploring creativity and finding different ways to expand your knowledge and skills in various areas. It also includes finding ways to challenge yourself and ensuring you do activities which stimulate each area of the brain e.g. speaking and listening, problem solving, fine motor tasks and using and developing your skills of observation etc.

What do we mean by intellectual?

Sometimes when we use the term intellectual, we’re referring to individuals who come across as ‘brainy’, clever or highly educated as demonstrated by their thought processes, reflections, use of vocabulary, problem solving and factual knowledge etc. However, the term can also refer to ways in which you can stimulate your mind.

Today’s blog post is not about trying to develop a superior intellect or the knowledge of a Mastermind contestant, but more about keeping the different areas of your brain active and becoming a lifelong learner. Good mental fitness is very beneficial for your general health and wellbeing, and, as you get older, it can help to prevent signs of dementia or, at the very least, slow down cognitive decline.

Great ways to keep your brain active and expand your mind

Puzzles The term puzzle might make you think of a box of pieces that you join together to make a picture but a jigsaw is just one type of puzzle. In fact, the term is used to defined any activity that requires mental effort and has a definite ending. This can include paper puzzles such as crosswords, wordsearches, spot the difference and sudoku, board games such as Cluedo and Scrabble, guessing games such as I spy and charades and online games such as Candy Crush, Word Cookies and my favourite Angry Birds 2! Puzzling takes lots of concentration and mental effort which is great for improving both your physical and mental health. Here’s 5 benefits for you:

  • improves your problem solving skills which can then be applied at home or work
  • a wonderful stress reliever
  • reduces your risk of mental diseases such as Alzheimer’s
  • slows mental aging
  • a good form of entertainment and can be great fun!

If you are currently struggling with anxiety or depression, puzzles are a great way to distract yourself from negative thoughts, rumination and general worry about your problems. During my last period of depression, I used to dedicate a lot of time to doing jigsaws, wordsearches, arrow words and online games as it provided respite from thoughts that I wasn’t going to get better and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

Learn to play a musical instrument There are so many benefits of learning to play a musical instrument that I could write a full blog post on it. According to my research, playing music uses both sides of the brain so you’re giving it a really good workout. Attentiveness, fine motor movements, memory and creativity are all required and as you get better at playing, you’ll become more confident, not just with regard to your instrument of choice, but also in general too. Setting and working towards goals and celebrating your achievements is bound to make you more positive and after a while, you will probably want to share you learning with others and impress them with your new skills – presenting a great opportunity to socialise with friends, family and even work colleagues.

In this month’s Happiful magazine, I also read that new research has found that learning a musical instrument (in the study they looked at the impact of piano practice) can protect against dementia in those over 60 as it strengthens white matter in the brain.

Read plenty of books, magazines and newspaper articles Being a regular reader is great exercise for the brain and both fiction and non-fiction have many benefits.

Fiction books can help improve your memory, vocabulary, empathy and emotional intelligence, analytical skills and tolerance of others. They can also be a huge source of pleasure and relaxation, alleviating stress and helping us to get a good night’s sleep.

Reading non-fiction books and articles (including blog posts) is a great way to improve your knowledge on a variety of topics which interest you. Whether you want to find out more about gardening, read about an interesting bird you spotted on a woodland walk, improve your understanding of a historical event or explore self help strategies for good mental health there are books and articles on every subject imaginable. And, if you join your local library, you can have access to a range of learning materials for free.

Many people also like to read a daily or weekly newspaper to keep themselves informed. Both the paper and online versions provide a source of global, national and local news, weather updates, the latest health and wellbeing advice, technological advances, entertainment and sports. You can even personalise the homepage on your computer so that news articles on particular topics appear first.

Learn a new skill Learning a new skill is a great way to fire up your brain. There are endless opportunities available for free online or you could try taking a class at your local college or doing a distance learning course. Here’s some examples which you might like to try:

  • flower arranging
  • photography
  • a foreign language
  • drawing
  • ceramics
  • watercolour painting
  • basic car repairs
  • Tai Chi
  • embroidery
  • good sleep hygiene
  • knitting
  • basic first aid
  • mindfulness
  • cooking on a budget
  • swimming
  • yoga
  • aromatherapy
  • Microsoft Office for beginners

As part of our course homework for last week, we were asked to have a go at learning something new. I chose something which I’ve been meaning to give a go for a long time which is developing the skills involved in creating wavy hair using a curling wand (which I purchased nearly a year ago and have barely tried out). My hairdresser showed me some of the basic techniques but it’s not so easy when you’re trying to do it on your own hair as you can’t see the back and you need to swap hands for each side meaning that for half of the styling process, you’re using your non-dominant hand for the wrapping. I found a few super helpful YouTube videos which used the same or a similar wand and have watched them a few times to get some tips. For next week’s session, I’m going to go to college with wavy hair to show off my new skill!

Try new things Trying something new is a great way to grow as a person. You might go to a restaurant you’ve never visited before, find a new recipe to have a go at, take a different fitness class, put on a different radio station, try listening to a different genre of music or go on a day trip to a place which a friend has recommended to you. You never know, you might discover a new favourite or create an amazing memory.

I took the opportunity to try out a new kind of exercise whilst I had access to all of the fitness classes for free. I’ve now discovered that I really enjoy doing pilates and although it’s a relatively gentle form of exercise, it’s great for toning your core muscles.

Ask questions This is something my husband and I do regularly as part of our thirst for new knowledge and greater understanding. For example, there are some swifts that come back every year and nest in one of the roofs we can see from our back bedroom. They’re fascinating birds and, being nature lovers, we always want to find out more about them. Some of the questions we’ve searched on Google this year include: When do swifts arrive in the UK? How many eggs do swifts have in a clutch? What do swift eggs look like? Do swifts pair for life?

You can also learn a lot from asking questions of friends, family, work colleagues and various acquaintances. You might want to get a different opinion or perspective or you might want to find out about something they seem to be somewhat of an expert in or at least know more about than you.

Try out a new hobby New hobbies are great for enhancing your skill set. Also, they present new challenges which can be wonderful for boosting your confidence and self esteem. Here’s a few hobbies that might appeal:

  • birdwatching
  • geocaching
  • upcycling
  • origami
  • gardening
  • calligraphy
  • scrapbooking
  • martial arts
  • astronomy
  • archery
  • camping

Keep a ‘things I want to learn’ list in your bullet journal or notebook Every time you think of something you’d like to know more about, write it down so you don’t forget. It might not be top of your to do list right now, but making a note can be a good reference for the future. When you’re ready, you can then pick something out to focus on and set some learning goals.

Watch documentaries If you’re a visual or auditory learner, documentaries are a great source of education. You can find out about anything you’re interested in, including wildlife, nature, different cultures, living with particular health conditions, environmental issues, technology, crime, history, arts and media, science, religion and current affairs. In the UK, Panorama and Dispatches are popular documentary programmes which tackle the latest issues, whilst Horizon focuses on a variety of subjects related to science and philosophy. I also find anything that Sir David Attenborough narrates to be both fascinating to listen to and incredibly informative.

Get creative Every one of us has the potential to be creative as long as regularly find the time to develop our skills. You might think that creativity is all about making a piece of art work or writing a story or poem, but you can be creative in many different ways. Here’s some examples:

  • developing a new storage system for all of your cleaning supplies and tools at home
  • finding an alternative solution to a problem at work
  • create a capsule wardrobe for your holiday abroad
  • choose a colour scheme for your living room and have fun choosing complementary soft furnishings
  • learn how to make bread dough and then have fun turning pieces into different animals
  • try styling your hair in a different way
  • create a costume for a fancy dress party
  • take a landscape photo and then recreate the scene as a watercolour painting
  • choose a new theme for your bullet journal spreads and have a go at designing different pages for the month

Final words…

Although as adults there are things that we feel we must learn to get by in life and to progress in our jobs or career, we should also make time to learn about things that particularly interest us. I love trying out different art techniques and a few years ago (before COVID struck), I joined a beginner’s ceramics course. I had so much fun and met some lovely people there and, even though we were given specific assignments, e.g. to make a pinch pot, our creations were all completely different and unique to us. Quite a few of us signed up for the intermediate class too to develop our skills further and try out different techniques. It was so exciting to see our finished projects when they’d been glazed and fired and we all felt a huge sense of achievement by the end of the course.

I would be really interested to know if you consider yourself a lifelong learner and, if you do, what you’d like to find out about next, which kind of hobby appeals the most, or which skills you particularly want to develop in the future.

Posted in lifestyle, social media, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel Of Wellness – Social Part 1

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. This is part 1 of 2 of the social segment which we’re exploring in my local recovery college course and I’ll cover the second part at a later date.

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 focus on the intellectual segment of The wheel of wellness.

Posted in compassion, meditation, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: 5 Easy ways to Practice Mindfulness every day

When practiced regularly, mindfulness can have a really positive impact on our mental health, reducing feelings of depression, anxiety and stress. In today’s post, I’m going to share five simple ways to incorporate mindful activities into your day so you can enjoy the many benefits mindfulness brings.

What exactly is mindfulness?

There are lots of explanations and definitions available online but I particularly like this one from the Oxford dictionary:

a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Oxford online dictionary

Basically, mindfulness is about paying attention to the here and now, showing curiosity about what’s going on in a non-judgmental way. That’s not to say that as soon as you start practicing the various techniques that your mind won’t wander, it will, and that’s completely okay. But as you get used to paying attention in a range of simple ways, you’ll likely find it becomes easier.

So here are five ideas for practicing mindfulness every day that anyone can try.

Choose an activity you do each day and really pay attention

A great way to get started with mindfulness is to choose one activity that you do every day and bring moment to moment awareness each time you do it. Examples of suitable activities could be: drinking your cup of coffee or tea first thing in the morning, brushing your teeth, taking a shower, washing your face, getting dressed, driving to work. Whichever activity you choose, focus on knowing what you’re doing as you’re actually doing it, and what you are thinking and feeling from moment to moment too. At first, you’ll likely find that your mind wanders quite frequently, but if it does, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. With time, you’ll find it gets easier to remain mindful.

Connect with each of your five senses

Using your senses – touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing is a great way to focus on what’s happening right now. You can either spend time exploring each one in turn or pick a particular sense to focus on in a given moment. So, for example, you might sit quietly at home curled up in your chair with a coffee, smelling the aroma, being warmed by the heat of the mug. You might then close your eyes and tune in to sounds within the room such as the clock ticking, and far away sounds such as a dog barking. As you open your eyes, you might change your focus to the colour of your drink or the patterns on your mug, before taking a sip and savouring the flavour. At another time during your day, you might focus in on just one of your senses. So, during your daily shower, you might choose to focus on smell, inhaling the scent of your shampoo, shower gel or soap and your conditioner and really appreciating each one. By doing this you will be immersed in your current experiences rather than dwelling on past events or getting stressed about all of the things you have to get done before bedtime.

The following mindful activity is also a good one to do when you’re feeling anxious to help distract from negative thoughts, judgements and physical sensations associated with a tense body.

  • Close your eyes or lower your head and soften your gaze. Take some slow and deep breaths in and out.
  • Open your eyes and take your focus outside of your body. Find the following:

5 things you can see.

4 things you can hear.

3 things you can touch.

2 things you can smell.

1 thing you can taste.

Focus on your breathing

Breathing is a key part of mindfulness practice as it’s something we do naturally out of necessity. There are many online exercises which focus on the breath such as alternate nostril breathing, square or box breathing and equal breathing where you focus on making the inhalation the same length as the exhalation, but the technique which I find easiest and most comforting is soothing rhythm breathing, which I was taught as part of my compassion group sessions a few years ago.

  • Sit comfortably in your chair with both feet on the ground and your hands resting in your lap.
  • Close your eyes or direct your gaze downwards – whichever feels most comfortable.
  • Gently bring your focus to your breathing feeling the ribcage expanding as the air coming in to your lungs and leaving your body as you exhale.
  • Try breathing a little faster or slower until you find a breathing pattern that feelings soothing and comforting.
  • Focus on the breath as it comes in and leaves your body. You might like to notice the sensation of cool air entering your nose and warm air leaving.
  • Turn your attention to your body. Sensing the weight of your body resting in the chair feeling relaxed and supported. Feel your feet touching the floor beneath you.
  • If your mind wanders, notice what has happened and gently bring the focus back to your breath. Even if your mind is bobbing about all over the place, just accept what is happening without judgement and come back to the breath.
  • As you bring the exercise to a close, gently wiggle your fingers and toes and bring the focus back to the room around you.

To ensure you commit to this short meditative practice each day, you might find it helpful to make an appointment with yourself in your bullet journal or diary e.g. 5 minutes after you’ve eaten your breakfast or as an end of the day thing to encourage restful sleep. Again, this breathing exercise is also helpful to calm yourself down in moments of anxiety.

Engage in mindful walking

Whatever the weather, cold, warm, rainy, bright sunshine, cloudy, try to find 10 or 15 minutes each day to go for a mindful walk outside. Take time to pay attention to the different aspects of your experience. Start by exploring how your body feels when you’re walking – your feet as they make each step, your legs as they move you forwards, your arms as the swing by your sides. Next, tune in to what’s going on around you using all of your senses – perhaps you can hear traffic in the distance or a bird singing, maybe you can see the sun shining through the trees, perhaps you can smell the damp earth. Be open to whatever you notice, wherever you are and whatever happens. Try to fully immerse yourself in the here and now. As you end your walk, bring your attention back to how you feel as a result of your practice.

If you want to read about mindful walking in more depth, I wrote a whole blog post on it last year which can be found here.

Be totally present during conversations

All too often during conversations, we’re either multi-tasking or our mind wanders so we’re not paying full attention. However, being fully present has so many benefits for the speaker and the listener. Not only will you both feel valued, you’ll have a better understanding of the other person’s needs and any information that you impart is likely to be comprehended more easily. You’ll also likely improve both your communication skills and your relationship with the other person whether you’re talking to a friend, colleague or family member.

If you want to be more mindful in conversations, the first step is to notice when your mind wanders and, without judgement (no berating yourself for being a terrible listener!), bring your attention back. Try to resist the temptation to make excuses for being distracted such as “I was bored by what they were saying”, “I’ve got so much to do I couldn’t wait for them to finish” or “they were just repeating themselves”. Just remember that mindfulness takes practice and you are just learning but it will get easier with time.

In today’s busy world, multitasking is very tempting and often encouraged, but studies have shown that humans aren’t really capable of focusing on more that one task at a time, and in actual fact, what happens is our brain constantly switches between the different demands on our attention. If you want to be full focused on a conversation, try to put distractions aside. Put your mobile phone away in your bag, close your emails, avoid looking at what others are up to or what’s happening elsewhere by facing and looking at the participants. Really listen with interest to what the other person or people are saying using gestures such as a nod of the head, a smile or an “I understand” as appropriate. Think about the words they are using, their tone of voice, body language and emotions to really comprehend what they’re saying. Let the other person finish before you contemplate what they have said and offer a response.

Being a mindful communicator takes practice and isn’t always easy, but it’s a great skill to have and can be really useful in social settings as well as work situations.

Final words…

Although in today’s post I’ve presented a number of simple ways in which you can start to be more mindful every day, mindfulness in itself is not always easy to master. It might be helpful to remember that it’s not all about being perfectly present at all times – it’s a way of slowing down and making a conscious decision to notice our thoughts, emotions and the world around us, intentionally accepting things as they are right now without judgement. Being mindful can help us to enjoy life, understand ourselves better and reduce stress. It’s something that everyone can try and, when practiced consistently, has been shown to have positive effects on our physical and mental health, happiness, work and relationships.

Feel free to let me know in the comments how you get on and if you have any questions, I’ll be more than happy to answer them if I can, or direct you to further resources which you may find useful.

Until next time,

Posted in art, Bullet journaling, compassion, mental health, Planning and journaling, watercolour painting, wellbeing

Monday Matters: Creating a ‘Words Of Encouragement’ spread to help you get through tough times

This month, I moved into a new bullet journal – a gorgeous handcrafted linen notebook from Notebook Therapy. The journal is completely blank so I set up the usual index, future log and grid spacing cheat sheet. Then I decided that I wanted to create a spread which was full of messages of support and encouragement to help me whilst I’m struggling with my mental health. The idea is that I read all of the positive content each morning a bit like you would a list of affirmations. It took me quite a while to make but I’m really pleased with how it turned out so I thought I’d share the results on here and talk a little about the process.

Creating the background

A watercolour wash

I wanted something bright and cheerful for the background so I decided to create a wet on wet variegated wash using just two of my Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolour tubes – cadmium red and gamboge yellow hue. I used an A5 piece of Aquafine smooth paper and taped the edges down so I got nice clean lines. After coating the paper with water, I swished the first colour back and forth from the top to the bottom, leaving gaps between the paint strokes. I then did the same with the second, filling in the gaps but also sweeping over the first colour slightly so that they nicely blended together. I was really pleased with the effect I achieved. When the paint was dry, I removed the tape and then scanned the piece in using my printer/scanner. I then printed it off twice, trimmed the papers so that they would fit perfectly in my bullet journal and stuck them in using double sided tape.

Finding the supportive messages

When I’d created my backgrounds and stuck them in, it was time to find some messages to stick on the pages. I spent a while thinking about what I’m struggling with at the moment and some words of positivity that I could focus on. So, for example, I’m being really hard on myself and self critical so I chose a ‘be kind to yourself’ message and a quote about being enough. Most of the images were found online by typing them into an image search (a lot of them are actually phone wallpapers cropped to size). I also got a few from a Tim Holtz Small Talk idea-ology sticker book but you could just as easily type onto plain paper and cut and stick them. I created a MS Publisher document to add the images to and cropped them and altered the size until they would all fit into the double page spread. I then printed them onto an A4 sticker sheet to make it easier to stick them in but you could easily use an A4 sheet of paper and cut them out using a paper trimmer.

What you choose to put in your spread or board would depend on the particular difficulties you’re facing. For example, you might need some confidence boosters, help with dealing with anxiety, messages to encourage you to manage your depression or some little reminders about positive body image and loving the skin you’re in. Here’s some ideas to get you started:

Confidence boosting – You’ve got this. You’re more powerful than you think. Inhale confidence. Exhale doubt. Believe in yourself. Self confidence is a super power. Once you start believing in yourself magic starts happening. I can and I will.

For dealing with anxiety – Everything is going to be alright. I can’t control everything and that’s okay. I am stronger than my struggles. Just breathe. My anxiety does not control me.

Managing depression – I am strong. I can get through this. Life is tough but so are you. Keep going. I’m enough. Stay positive. Choose to be grateful. Think positive and positive things will happen. Everything’s going to be okay.

Body positivity – Happy, beautiful and strong. Your body loves you. Love it back. My body. My goals. My happiness. Be kind to your body. All bodies are good bodies.

Final words

I made a spread in my bullet journal because it’s somewhere I look every day. However, if you’re not into bullet journaling, you could just as easily create a board out of a piece of coloured card to go up on your wall or some other place to look each morning. As an alternative to searching online, you might choose to use post it notes to write messages to yourself or cut small pieces of paper and use brightly coloured pens for your reminders. The most important thing is to make sure you look at what you’ve made frequently so you can try to take on board the supportive statements.

I hope you have found today’s post interesting and it’s inspired you to have a go at creating a similar ‘Words of encouragement’ spread. Let me know in the comments what you think you would benefit from telling yourself each day.