Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Adopting a healthy bedtime routine

It’s not unusual for many of us to experience disrupted sleep, with one in three of us suffering from sleep deprivation. There are several factors that can impact our sleep, these include:

  • Stress 
  • Anxiety
  • Excessive noise
  • Bedroom temperature
  • Caffeine or alcohol
  • Shift patterns
  • Mental health issues
  • Certain medicines

A continuous lack of sleep has many implications on our wellbeing and can cause us to feel bad-tempered, agitated, impatient and lacking focus. But there are also more serious side effects that can take a toll on our mental and physical health, which can result in diabetes, heart disease and traffic accidents. By creating a bedtime routine and making small lifestyle changes, it becomes easier to unwind, relax and sleep better.

Why we need bedtime routines

Adopting a bedtime routine where you get into calming habits such as reading, taking a bath or meditating 30-60 minutes before you go to sleep can really assist your body and mind into knowing when it’s time to go to sleep. So, what are the benefits of a healthy bedtime routine and better sleep?

  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Improves memory and focus
  • Improves mood
  • Reduces risk of heart disease
  • Reduces risk of high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes

In a study undertaken by Jessica Lunsford-Avery, an assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, it was found that “The more irregular these sleep patterns, the higher risk for obesity, hypertension and elevated blood sugar, and the higher the projected risk of developing heart disease over the next decade.”

How can we adopt a healthy bedtime routine?

1. Stick to a set time to go to bed

It’s important to train your brain into knowing when it’s time to go to sleep and when to wake up, which we often call our body clock. By sticking to the same routines, your brain will soon become accustomed to bedtime and will automatically let you know when you are tired.

2. Switch off electronics

All electronic devices, including televisions, mobile phones and computers emit a blue light that fools your brain into believing that it’s daytime, thus producing less melatonin. This will ultimately keep you awake and prevent you from falling asleep.

3. Have a light, healthy snack

While it’s widely known that eating a heavy meal before bedtime can cause acid reflux and indigestion, a lighter healthy snack and a warm caffeine-free drink can settle your stomach and induce sleep.

4. Have a warm bath

Slipping into a warm bath an hour before bedtime will increase your body heat, and once you step out of the bath, it then begins to cool, making you feel more relaxed and sleepier.

5. Practise meditation or breathing exercises

Both meditation and deep breathing exercises help promote relaxation. As well as relaxing your muscles and helping you let go of any tension, it will quieten your mind in preparation for a good night’s sleep.

6. Listen to relaxing music

Not only can music distract you from everyday stresses, but it can also help both your body and mind relax, easing you into a more peaceful sleep.

7. Prepare your bedroom

It’s important that your bedroom is a calm and tranquil space where you feel comfortable and at peace. Make sure it’s the correct temperature, quiet and dimly lit. You could even light a scented candle to add to the calming ambience, but ensure you extinguish it before you fall asleep.

Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Herbs and spices for a healthy body and mind

Owing to their healing properties, herbs and spices have been used for centuries as holistic remedies for physical health. But it’s only been in more modern times that studies have shown their benefits on mental health. As well as being used to season food and treat aches and pains, they are now more commonly used to improve cognitive ability and reduce the effects of stress and anxiety.

Benefits of herbs and spices

Many herbs and spices contain antioxidants and other powerful properties, and they have a wide range of health benefits such as:

  • Helping to promote weight loss
  • Controlling blood sugar levels
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Improving heart health
  • Reducing blood pressure
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Helping to prevent Alzheimer’s disease
  • Easing stress and anxiety
  • Aiding insomnia

Herbs and spices and their healing properties

Turmeric

One of the most popular spices used for its health benefits is turmeric. A study published by Science Direct showed that this spice is most effective as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. It’s also often used to minimise free radicals and reduce the physical symptoms of stress on the body. More recent research shows that turmeric may improve brain health and ward off Alzheimer’s disease.

Cinnamon

Used by ancient civilisations for thousands of years to treat illnesses, cinnamon is still popular today owing to its therapeutic properties. It contains antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties and provides many health benefits including reducing blood sugar levels and improving cognitive ability.

Cumin

As well as being a popular aromatic spice used in cooking, cumin is rich in antioxidants and is used to assist weight management, lower cholesterol, and manage the effects of stress. Studies have shown that cumin has antidiabetic properties and can reduce blood sugar levels following a meal.

Peppermint

While peppermint is often consumed for its vibrant flavour, it also has a wealth of health benefits. It can relax the digestive system and reduce pain from bloating and indigestion. It’s often used to lessen the symptoms of IBS and prevent nausea and vomiting.

Ginger

Packed with antioxidants and healthy compounds, this vibrant spice is used for both mental and physical health. Ginger is great at fighting off stress, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, and reducing the risk of heart and lung disease. Its anti-inflammatory properties also mean that it is often used to treat osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Lavender

This sweet-smelling herb is more than just a pretty flower, it’s used for a whole host of mental and physical health benefits. As well as promoting better sleep, lavender is also widely known for alleviating the effects of stress, anxiety and depression as it can help to reduce blood pressure and lower the heart rate.

Popular herbs used to ease symptoms of stress and anxiety

  • Lavender
  • Chamomile
  • Turmeric
  • St John’s wart
  • Lemon balm
  • Passionflower
  • Basil
  • Nutmeg
  • Kava kava
  • Peppermint
  • Cumin
  • Ginger
Note: herbs and spices can be potent and some can interfere with other medications or can exacerbate medical issues. Please check out any contraindications before taking any remedy. 

Friday, 8 July 2022

Signs your friend is hiding their stress

Friendships play an integral role in our lives, not only for sharing the good times but also for the times when we need a shoulder to cry on. However, there are situations where we might not want to admit, even to our closest friend, that we are struggling with our mental health. So, although on the outside our closest companion may appear to be happy and confident, behind close doors they might be suffering in silence.

Most of us will experience stress at some point in our lives but how we deal with it can impact both our physical and mental wellbeing. Confiding in a close friend can really help us in our times of need, but what can we do to help those who are suffering alone? Stress can affect us in many ways, from our physical appearance to our actions, but sometimes it’s hard to recognise especially when people hide their emotions.

How to recognise when your friend is stressed

If you notice any of the following, it could be that your friend is suffering from stress:

  • They are short tempered, impatient or irritable.
  • They fidget more than usual, perhaps bite their nails, or appear nervous and scared.
  • They struggle to make decisions and don’t seem to pay attention when you’re speaking. According to a study by the National Library of Medicine, “stress activates some physiological systems, such as the autonomic nervous system, central neurotransmitter and neuropeptide system, and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, which have direct effects on neural circuits in the brain involved with data processing.”
  • They seem unhappy and unable to enjoy themselves.
  • They lose interest in the things they usually enjoy.
  • They forget things more easily and struggle to concentrate.
  • Their food habits change and either they eat too little or too much.
  • They smoke and drink more often or they start to use recreational drugs.
  • Their spending habits increase.
  • They either exercise excessively or stop their usual routines.
  • They don’t want to socialise, and withdraw from friends and family.

Reasons why a friend may hide their stress

One of the main reasons that people hide their stress is because they don’t want to look like a failure, and they worry about what others may think of them. Although mental health has become much more of an open topic in recent years, people still find it difficult to let go of their pride and ask for help when they’re struggling. On they outside they might appear to have it all, but on the inside they’re fighting a constant battle to carry on as normal.

7 ways to support a friend who is suffering from stress

If you’ve noticed any of the symptoms above and you’re concerned that your friend is going through a stressful time, the best way you can support them is simply by being there and listening to them. By lending a non-judgemental ear and perhaps letting them know that you’re there for them no matter what, it might encourage them to open up and release their feelings. It’s likely that your friend won’t thank you for any advice as they just need some friendly support and maybe a distraction from their internal thoughts and emotions. Some of the ways you can help your friend is by:

  1. Enjoying a night together listening to your favourite music and reminiscing about past times.
  2. Encouraging them to take part in an activity with you, whether it’s a sport or something creative.
  3. Offering to help with their workload if possible or even basic household chores such as cooking, shopping or cleaning.
  4. Depending on what your friend might need help with, offering to organise their appointments, research information for them or simply be by their side when they need you.
  5. Listening to how they feel and being patient with them when they’re angry or bad tempered.
  6. Reassuring them that they won’t always feel this way and that things can improve.
  7. If they’re willing, trying relaxation techniques together such as yoga, meditation, or just walking in the countryside.

Monday, 13 June 2022

Positive things we should say more often

When used constructively, the words that we choose to speak can have a positive impact on both yourself and others. Similarly, negative or offensive language can be detrimental to our mental wellbeing. Ultimately, the language we use can determine how we feel about ourselves. 

While the use of negative words can reduce our self-esteem or make us feel angry and sad, positive words can increase our self-confidence and make us feel happy. Words provide an extremely powerful tool that can shape our beliefs and influence our behaviour so it’s important that we choose them wisely not only to improve our own mental health but also those around us.

Referenced by the Business Relationship Management Institute, the book called Words Can Change your Brain, written by neuroscientist Dr Andrew Newberg and communications expert Mark Robert Waldman, states that “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress”.

Positive things we can say

I love you – Possibly the greatest words you can say to anyone. The three words “I love you” speak a thousand words as the person not only accepts you for who you are but also loves you for all your faults, which is the best compliment of all.

I’m sorry – Not only does “I’m sorry” mean that the person respects you, but it also means they have considered your feelings and regret any upset they have caused you.

Please/thank you – Although it’s basic manners to say please and thank you, whether to a stranger or someone you know, it’s a way of showing respect to others. Generally, most people will appreciate you using manners and it can have a positive impact on their day and how they treat others.

I’m always here for you – When someone is feeling anxious, stressed or depressed, it’s not uncommon for them to believe that they are alone and have no one to talk to, so by reminding them that you are there for them can be reassuring.

Do you want to talk? – Many people find it difficult to ask for help or talk to someone when they’re struggling as they feel it can be a sign of weakness and are afraid that they’ll be judged. By offering your ear you might encourage someone to release their thoughts and feelings, which can have a huge impact on their wellbeing.

You’re stronger than you think – Stress and depression can be extremely damaging to physical and mental health, often leaving a person feeling unable to cope with day-to-day tasks. A gentle reminder of how strong they are might just give them the push they need to keep going and overcome difficult situations.

Well done – Many people are so busy juggling their careers and home lives that sometimes they only see the negatives and don’t realise how much they have achieved in their lives, especially in the workplace. Whether you congratulate a work colleague, friend or family member on their achievements, even the smallest amount of recognition can go a long way to boosting someone’s confidence and making them feel appreciated.

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Taking care of yourself when you’re caring for others

Being a carer for someone who suffers from a mental or physical illness comes with both advantages and disadvantages. Although care giving is generally an act of love and can be extremely rewarding, it can, over time, have a negative impact on your own wellbeing if you don’t take care of yourself.

  • Juggling a full-time job with caring can be physically and mentally exhausting.
  • It can also put a strain on your personal relationships.
  • Caregiving can be a cause of financial concern as you might have to contribute to any costs, especially when it’s a close family member.
  • You neglect your own wellbeing as you have less time to spend doing the things you enjoy. 

Because you are spending the majority of your time thinking about others, it becomes difficult to make self care a priority. Over time, this can cause stress and anxiety which can result in total burnout or symptoms of depression. But before we can take care of others, it’s vital to ensure you are looking after yourself first. You might believe that this is selfish but it’s critical for you to be the best carer that you can be.

Tips for self-care

  1. Spend at least 30 minutes each day doing something for yourself, whether that’s meditation, taking a relaxing bath, watching your favourite programme. or going for a walk.
  2. Accept help from others whenever you can. This doesn’t mean that you have to rely on people all of the time but now and again accepting help can really take some of the load off and let you recharge.
  3. Break your routine sometimes. Routine can be really positive but too much of a strict routine can also be stressful and tiring.
  4. Often carers shut off from their own feelings and emotions because they believe that they have to be strong at all times, but this can cause a build up of stress and can result in exhaustion. Speak with a close friend, family member or health professional if you’re feeling overwhelmed and tired as this can be a great outlet that will relieve some of your stresses and worries.
  5. Make time for family and friends so that you can laugh together and enjoy fun activities – after all it is said that laughter is the best medicine.
  6.  Practise deep breathing and relaxation whenever you have a moment. When we are so busy and stressed out, we often forget to breathe properly and release the tension in our shoulders. It’s been proven in lots of studies that deep breathing techniques can help us manage stress and reduce feelings of anxiety. 

An article published by Harvard Business Review, looked at research into breathing exercises and the effect on reducing stress. Following a stressful task, a group who had performed breathing exercises prior to the task were “not only in a more positive emotional state, but were also more able to think clearly and effectively perform the task at hand.” This just goes to show the importance of taking care of yourself before taking care of others.

Further information

For more tips on looking after yourself and giving yourself the compassion and care you deserve, check out our our FREE pdf booklet Understanding and Learning How to Be Self-Compassionate – A Workbook and Guide

Monday, 16 May 2022

Managing parents' expectations

Trying to find a compromise between our parents’ expectations and our own life goals when we’re growing up, particularly during our teenage years, can sometimes be a struggle. Perhaps they have certain ideas of the route you should go down, whether that’s college, university or a specific job path, but your ideas don’t match up to theirs. Having a difference of opinion certainly isn’t uncommon but when you feel as though you’re underachieving or you’re a disappointment to your parents, it can have a serious impact on your mental wellbeing. In an article published by the Journal of Adolescent Health, it was found that “high parental expectations, emphasis on academic achievement, or feelings of not meeting parents’ expectations are associated with worse mental health.”

While we all want to please our parents and live up to their expectations, it shouldn’t come at a cost of negatively impacting our self-confidence or trying to be something we’re not. There are many different types of expectations you might be faced with, and not all of them will necessarily relate to your career or education. Maybe your parents expect you to dress or act a certain way, or maybe they have religious beliefs they want you to follow. Whatever the expectations are, if they are making you unhappy, anxious, stressed or even depressed, you should try to find a way of addressing the issue.

Ways to manage expectations

Firstly, it’s important to remind yourself that just because you don’t have the same views or expectations as your parents, this doesn’t make you a bad person.

  1. Make a note of all your strengths and practise positive self-talk or positive affirmations. By doing this regularly, it can increase your self-confidence and reduce any feelings of not being good enough.
  2. Try to understand your parent’s expectations from their perspective, after all they do have many years’ experience and often only want the best for you. Perhaps they are more aware of any pitfalls ahead and want to prevent you from making similar mistakes that they made when they were younger. 
  3. Write down the things that make you truly happy and the kind of expectations you have for yourself. Find some time to sit down and talk to your parents about their expectations and how they are making you feel. Try to stay calm and tell them about your own expectations. By having a calm discussion, listening and letting each other air your thoughts, you might find that you come to a better understanding.
  4. If you are still struggling to agree and it is impacting your mental health, remember that, ultimately, it’s your own happiness that is important. Once your parents see that you are happy within yourself, they might begin to ease off and respect you more as an individual.

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

How gardening can help improve mental health

As well as spending time outdoors soaking up the vitamin D and fresh air, gardening has a whole heap of benefits and natural healing powers that can significantly improve your mental health and wellbeing. All your green-fingered hard work will be rewarded with so much more than a pretty garden.

It improves mood

Connecting with nature, from listening to birdsong to inhaling the sweet scent of flowers, can make you feel calm and relaxed, and it’s also a good way to distract your mind from overthinking and negative thoughts. By practising mindfulness and savouring every moment of being in the garden, whether that’s weeding or watering the plants, you’ll feel more in tune with nature. Simply being outside also comes with its health benefits as the Vitamin D gained from exposure to sunlight can lower blood pressure and strengthen the immune system.

It boosts self-esteem

As humans, it’s not only in our nature to want to be cared for but also for us to nurture others. To be relatively successful in your gardening efforts, you need to take good care of the plants and flowers that you grow in order for them to flourish. By nurturing them and seeing the results of your labour, you’ll start to feel a wonderful sense of achievement, which in turn will boost your self-esteem and confidence.

It reduces feelings of stress and anxiety

Combined with enjoying the peace and natural beauty of any garden, gardening is a great stress buster. As well as the physical act of gardening, being among nature and the great outdoors can make you feel calmer, which will ultimately lessen your symptoms of anxiety and stress.

It improves attention span

If you struggle with concentration, by regularly paying attention to one activity at a time, such as gardening, without any distractions, you can gradually improve your attention span. Because of this, gardening can offer fantastic natural therapy for anyone with ADHD of other conditions that make it difficult to focus.

It provides exercise

Garden activities such as mowing the lawn, weeding, raking or digging are great forms of physical exercise and are often more enjoyable than going to the gym. A study undertaken by the John W. Brick Foundation found that regular physical activity could improve symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.

It reduces feelings of loneliness

Often when we’re pottering around in our own garden, at a community garden or at an allotment, we’re introduced to like-minded people who share a love for gardening. This is a great way to meet other people and get chatting about your hobby. Alternatively, you could join online gardening communities to help you feel connected and prevent feelings of loneliness.