How do you ‘get better’?

 

After a slightly ‘muddled’ start to the week I’ve been doing a bit of thinking whilst out on my walks in the woods beyond the house. Nothing is really wrong but for some reason I have forgotten about the small but important things in life and focused on things that do not matter, like buying a new carpet which I can’t afford. It is a paradox really. Small things are often of the biggest importance. So today I asked myself this question: how many times do I need to be pummeled and prodded by the Universe before I realise that I have a God given chance to use my days wisely?

Does age bring us wisdom? I’m really not sure. I know I am not the same person as I was in my twenties, I think differently and have different opinions, but whether I have life worked out any better, I’m not sure. One thing I do know for sure though, is that life is not about making predictions, it’s not about having the best of everything or being the best at everything. I wish I could remember that more often than I do and get on with being grateful for what I have now. I wrote recently about living in the moment – living in the now, and I have come to the conclusion that this is the only thing we can be sure of. Today.

I’ve been thinking about my little nephew who died when he was just a few months old but who had and still has, a big place in my heart. He would have been 28 this month –  a little person who should have had a whole life ahead of him; who should have had the chance to play, be naughty once in a while, to grow up and to fall in love. His mum should have had the chance to give him a lifetime of cuddles. How could we have known a few weeks before he was gone, that the family holiday we took him on would be his last? I can only think that for the short time he was here, he was able to teach us about love and how to cope in the face of terrible loss, to be compassionate, and to somehow become better people because of him.

I have written a lot about anxiety in recent blogs, and how we try and deal with anxious times. Most of us get anxious when we fear things that are out of our control – and sadly the unexplained or unexpected can happen in life and somehow we have to cope.

I think the simple questions in life turn out to be the most profound. Maybe in this world, where unrest and tragedy unfolds in the media on a daily basis, we would do well to think about some simple questions. Maybe even write down some answers so we can ‘ground’ ourselves when we feel we are on unsteady ground.

Where are you from? Do you think about your roots; your home town where you were born? Do you remember growing up and spending time with your grandparents? Do you have happy memories? Think about the people who made you and helped you become what you are now; even if the memories aren’t always good ones they have been a part of you and you can learn from them.

Where is home now? Home is the one place where we can totally be ourselves, shrug off the cares of the day and do absolutely what we like. Our home is small but we have a sign in our hall which reads ‘Love Grows Well in Small Houses’ and I look at it everyday and know it to be true.

Right now, at this very moment, you can tell yourself how important it is to enjoy your everyday life – it is the life that is currently flashing unnoticed right before your eyes. It is the time you will look back on before long and wish you had back. Let the future come naturally but live willingly in the moment.

What are you going to do next? Are you doing what you really want to do and going where you really want to go?  It takes time, especially if you are the sort of person who always wants to please people, but remember that it is important to do what makes you happy as long as you are not hurting anyone else in the process. Maybe think about taking another turn along the path that is seemingly laid out for you. Who knows what may turn up there.

Each day you grow older but each of those days has the ability to be extra special and only happens once.

With the future comes uncertainty for all of us, but by concentrating on today rather than thinking about tomorrow you will ease up on worrying and focus on reality  – that is really all any of us can do if you think about it, no matter who we are.

Spending more time with loved ones is the key to being happy. If you are a parent and even a grandparent,  you will know how those precious early years pass so quickly and before long you are watching your children forge ahead on their own. By showing your children love as they grow and by showing them how you love those in your life you will be passing your love on into the future. This is the way we ‘get better’ and the world gets better too.

  ‘You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.’

                                 Henry David Thoreau 

 

  ‘What day is it?

‘It’s today,’ squeaked Piglet.

’My favourite day,’ said Pooh.

                          A.A.Milne

 

A Crystal Ball for the Holidays?

I wrote last week about the anxious feelings we can experience with the holiday season fast approaching. There are so many extra things to think about this time of year and many of us can feel extra jittery and stressed. We may find ourselves more reliant than ever on those we love. Sometimes though, we find that those around us have their own problems and anxieties which sometimes present themselves in unexpected ways.

If you had a crystal ball and could see into the future, do you think you would find happiness? Would you put an end to anxious feelings you experience if you knew how life was going to pan out for yourself or others?

I recently came across a story about a ‘Naughty or Nice’ book. The heroine of the story mysteriously received a book through her post box which enabled her to find out more about the people she knew, and the actions they appeared to be taking to achieve what they wanted in life. Just by uttering a name over the book, the girl found that the book magically opened and revealed unusual and sometimes apparently undesirable things about the people she thought she knew. What was interesting was the girl’s reaction and the conclusions she came to after seeing what was revealed in the book. Rather than being helped by what she saw she was often dismayed and perplexed, and felt let down by neighbours and colleagues, and the people she loved.  Rampaging around she accused people of various misdemeanours and often made them ashamed or shocked. Things got worse and her life started to unravel.

However, before long, she realised that if she turned the book over, there was another side to each story. People did things for a reason; they were led to perform certain actions because of a series of events. Sometimes what looked bad on the surface wasn’t really bad at all but just part of an ongoing story. Once she saw that everyone had their frailties and their own wishes and desires, indeed, their own story, she forgave, and built both old and new relationships. The book showed that hardly anyone is just ‘naughty’ or just ‘nice’, but perhaps a bit of both at times.

We may feel it would be a good thing to see what lies ahead and why things happen like they do, but I think most of us do not really need a crystal ball or a magic book. If we give ourselves time and give time to other people we can probably work most things out and find the real reasons for why things happen as they do.

So when we are feeling our own lives are complicated or we are bowed by worry or stress, it is good to remember that very few people live perfect lives. Almost certainly, anxiety and fear manifest themselves in our behaviour and can show that we are uncomfortable in our situations;  we may feel isolated, but chances are that others will be feeling the same too at times. We are not the only ones who’s behaviour can be misinterpreted, so don’t beat yourself up after a night out; don’t go home and worry about how you come across to people. Chances are they won’t have noticed – they will have been more concerned about they came across to you!

Most people have times when life gets them down, but if you are someone who doesn’t have anxiety, I urge you to be a bit careful with your words and reactions during the holiday season. What may seem silly to you could be a genuine concern for someone else. At the very least, look at both sides of the story.

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Keeping Anxiety at Bay for the Holidays.

It’s the time of year when there is a lot to think about. Perhaps more than usual. If you are prone to anxiety,  the thought of coping with Christmas plans can add to your anxious feelings or to the feelings of someone you love. While for many, Christmas is nothing but exciting, this is not always the case for those who suffer from anxiety, depression and conditions such as OCD.

Do you find yourself caught up with the stress of the pre – Christmas rush? The build up seems to start earlier each year and before we know it we are bombarded with all sorts of smart advertising containing supposedly endearing stories and mini films with the ‘ahhh’ factor, that are really there to entice us into spending money in the big, well- known stores.  The media paints a picture of wonderment and happiness; we would all love this of course, but for some people this is not how Christmas is for them. The world is not perfect all of the time and we need to hold on to that thought and remember we are not the only ones who get anxious this time of year. For some, loneliness can be a real problem, perhaps because of the loss of a loved one, and the sadness of loss can certainly feel desperately raw at this time of year.

Christmas parties, whether it is with colleagues or old friends can be hard to cope with at the best of times, but add anxiety to this and before you know it you may dread the social scene. You can be out of your comfort zone having to speak to people you don’t know well and worried about having to impress – maybe a new boss or confident looking colleagues. With parties closer to home, it may be a case of meeting new neighbours or friends you haven’t seen in a while.

Food shopping is something else to negotiate – for some reason we feel the need to buy massive amounts of extra food this time of year; ok we may have people coming to stay or extra mouths to feed at Christmas Day, but even if not we tend to buy stuff we wouldn’t normally buy – think big tins of biscuits, the Turkish delight, the boxes of dates and the mountains of Yule logs and mince pies. I know it is good to have a treat this time of the year, but perhaps we do get tempted to buy too much. Then there is the alcohol too – would we dream of drinking chocolate liqueurs and mulled wine (often not even worth drinking) or egg nog any other time of year?

Apart from the fact we end up spending a lot more money on food and wine this time of the year resulting in a negative effect on our bank balance; eating and drinking extra calories and rich food this time of year can make anxiety levels worse and again have a negative effect on us, this time on our health.

Buying presents is something most of us get concerned about. Of course, we want our loved ones to have something they like to open on Christmas Day , especially the children, but for an anxious person, the results of spending a lot of money in a short space of time can seem very scary and worrying. Money aside, the crowds, loud jarring music and queues can make Christmas shopping seem unbearable.

So okay, the above situations are those which most of us have encountered at sometime in our lives and I am painting quite a grim picture of what should and can be a magical and completely enjoyable time of year. Beacuse it really doesn’t have to be such a stressful time of year. Who makes it that way? And why?

Going back to the advertising, we are taught from quite an early age what we can expect Christmas to be like. But it cannot apply to us all. We are not all the same. And we are all coping with our own personal situations. What may be wonderful for one person may not be right for another. What do most of us remember when we look back down the years? Piles of presents around the tree, huge amounts of food and big parties? Or do we remember the excitement of hanging the stockings at the end of the bed and the thrill of opening the small gifts in the early hours, so lovingly and haphazardly wrapped by a caring parent.  Or sadly, there may be memories that are not quite as happy, and that may be another reason Christmas evokes pain and stress.

Maybe this year  – with still some time ahead before Christmas is really upon us, we can decide to take a different view and look at what is really important. One thing that always strikes me every year, and I always comment on to my husband without fail every year, is that the build up to Christmas is huge; we all rush around trying to get things done, caught up in the whole rush and excitement and then suddenly we arrive at Boxing Day and hear murmurs and mutterings of: ‘well that’s that for another year’, and: ‘where are you going for your holiday this year?’ It seems to be indicative of the society we have become: always looking for the next thrill, the next celebration or occasion before we have had time to enjoy and digest what has just occurred. So this year how about making a decision not to get too ‘wrapped up in Christmas ‘? Have a year where you do not make too many commitments. Be honest with people and say no in the nicest possible way if you don’t want to do something. Do most of your present shopping online and do it in your own time. Book an online food shop well in advance if it suits you, and apart from the convenience you won’t be so tempted to buy lots of unnecessary goodies (which aren’t really goodies at all). Also, explain to everyone that your Christmas this year may be a little more low key and that includes your present giving. Offer loved ones time instead. Time is the most valuable gift of all.

Decide a few things in advance to help keep your anxiety at bay. Plan to eat healthily and avoid too many stimulants like caffeine and alcohol. Have plenty of rest and not too many late nights. Cortisol is the body’s most powerful stress hormone. It causes a number of changes in the body, including increasing stimulation and the perception of fright. Getting regular good rest and sleep can keep cortisol production to a minimum and reduce the feelings of dread.

If you reduce your expectations about the holidays you will not be disappointed when things don’t always go according to plan; likewise if you are feeling calm you will be more able to enjoy things and ‘go with the flow’. Good things that do occur can be received with joy and thankfulness. Do things you like to do too, like walks in the clear, crisp night when the stars are out and the world is peaceful. Spending time doing the things you love and want to do is a great way to celebrate the Christmas season and you will feel better for it. This isn’t being selfish but just being your true self. Having healthy boundaries is essential when you are prone to anxiety.

A good tip is to think and act a bit more like a child at Christmas – have you noticed how children don’t run around getting stressed about Christmas? Far from it! They just enjoy the time while it is there.

So now that the lead up to Christmas has started remember that every day is special and also has it’s own challenges and delights. When the events of the holiday season threaten to overwhelm you, breathe deeply,  take time out until you feel calmer, and look forward. Look forward to celebrating in your own way and until then remind yourself there are no rules to follow for a good Christmas break!

                                            4E00940A-9DE6-4012-BE8E-66A33A06B8BD

The Importance of Sleep and the Effects on Anxiety

I am continuing on the theme of anxiety this week, and the condition that seems to conspire to make it worse -lack of sleep.

Good quality sleep is so important. Ideally we should get eight hours a night. With families to look after and demanding jobs or even a thriving social life, we often do not get that peaceful night’s sleep that we should. Sleep plays a big role in your physical health and mental health. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repairing your body and supporting good brain function. In children and teenagers, sleep also helps support growth and development so perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on our teenagers when we have trouble getting them out of bed! Lack of sleep can impact on us in many ways and even harm over time; deficiency can raise your risk of some chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, and can also affect how well you think, react, work, learn and get along with others. It can affect our safety too; if we are tired when performing important tasks such as driving or operating machinery we can be prone to accidents. Children who lack sleep may struggle with school work and examinations.

Sleep helps your brain work properly. While you are sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day; it is forming new pathways to help you learn and take in information. It may be that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain , so if you are sleep deficient you may have trouble making decisions or controlling your emotions and behaviour. It will also play a part in anxiety and depression.

Sleep is important in regulating the hormones in your body such as insulin which controls your blood sugar, and important growth hormones in children. Another interesting point is that lack of sleep makes you hungry, so if you battle with your weight and controlling your eating it may be worth thinking about a few early nights!

Melatonin and sleep

The pattern of waking up naturally when it is light and sleeping at night when it is dark is a natural part of human life. A key factor in how we sleep is regulated by exposure to light or darkness. You may say this is obvious, but in modern times we do not really sleep in the way our ancestors did or indeed as animals do. Melatonin is a natural and beneficial hormone produced by the pineal gland in your brain. During the day this gland is inactive. When the sun goes down and darkness occurs, the pineal gland starts to function and releases melatonin. This has the effect of naturally slowing the body down and preparing us for sleep. When we sleep melatonin levels stay elevated in the body and then fall again with the light of the new day. So we see that light affects how much melatonin the body produces. During the shorter days of winter, your body may produce melatonin either earlier or later in the day than usual and this change can have an effect on mood, often called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is good to make sure your curtains are drawn at night and the bedroom is dark; all appliances should be switched off and try not to have a television in the room! Leave your mobile out of immediate range too! (It can be done!) All electronic devices can interfere with your sleep. One thing I try and do (and often find it hard to stick to) is to have a ‘wind down’ spell after 8pm. This means staying away from the computer and leaving unfinished work until the next day. Most emails can wait until the morning! Also, I try to avoid listening to late night news so that I don’t go to bed feeling troubled.

In the dark night hours, there is nothing much worse than laying awake tossing and turning. Every minor problem and worry about tomorrow becomes magnified and before you know it you have a whole list of possible bad scenarios bubbling up in your mind. The best thing to do in this situation is to get up. Instead of staying in bed worrying about how many hours sleep you will be missing and fearing you will be a wreck the next day, go and make a warm drink and try and clear your mind with some calm thoughts. Do something else for thirty minutes until you feel really tired. Just be sure it’s not something too stimulating or involving bright light.

When laying in bed, try relaxing all the muscles in your body from head to toe. This is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation and is a good way of winding down when you get into bed at night. Once you are laying quietly, work through your muscle groups from head to toe. Start with your face: lift your eyebrows and wrinkle the forehead, then close your eyes tightly before opening them and relaxing. Tense your lips, cheeks, and jaw muscles by grimacing, then feel the serenity come over you as you relax all your facial muscles. Work down through the body, tensing and then relaxing the shoulders and arms, the chest and abdomen, (breathing deeply and exhaling as you relax), the back muscles, hips and buttocks, and lastly, the legs and feet. After you have systematically tightened and relaxed all the muscle groups in your body, you should feel more relaxed and calm. You may even fall asleep half way through!

Relaxation CDs

I love to listen to soothing music at night. It’s great for helping you drift off. I recommend any CD by Bliss – find out more at: http://www.bliss-music.com Also anything by the wonderful Lucinda Drayton  – look at her website: Lucind Drayton – Music-Life-Meditation http://www.lucindadrayton.com

Sleep is very important in helping put away the thoughts from yesterday; with good restful sleep the brain can organise and sort the good thoughts from the bad and do away with ‘mind chatter’ so you can awake refreshed and ready to face a new day with new mental awareness.

During the day and often the evening too, especially this time of the year, I have a Himalayan salt lamp plugged in. I have read various reports about their possible health benefits, such as cleansing the air, helping to reduce allergies, increasing energy levels, helping with sleep, treating Seasonal Affective Disorder, and producing an environmentally friendly light source. Whatever their benefits, I do know they certainly lighten up any room with their friendly warm glow and seem to freshen the air too. You can place them on a desk, in your living room, next to the bed or anywhere you choose.

When you are awake at night and feel the darkness closing in, remember that everything will feel better in the morning. Ok not everything perhaps, especially if you have any ongoing troubles, but you will be able to put things more into perspective when you are up and about, have opened the curtains, and chased away the night. And if you do lay awake worrying, remember also,  that there is nothing at all you can do about anything in the night time hours, so you may as well get to sleep and think about it again another time!

Sleep well!

dreaming

As the sun sets, fold away your cares of the day and leave them outside your door. Then, wait to glimpse the moon and stars and know the Universe is wiser then we can ever be’.