Laughter – The Best Medicine

Take time out to have a giggle today…

There is no better cure for a bad or sad mood than laughter. Not just a little giggle but hard to breathe laughter which is a bit like having an emotional cleanse. It’s hard not to feel better after a convulsion of hysterical laughter. Think of that feeling when you suddenly find something amuses you to the point of no return: breath comes in short pants, you double up and totally lose it. You straighten up then convulse again and again, tears streaming down your face. Sometimes you remember the moment for ages afterwards. Laughter should be a daily ritual for us all – a feel good factor to help us through the day, but sometimes spontaneous laughter eludes us. Stress hormones, depression, boredom and many other factors tip us into a mood that makes it impossible to feel jolly. I was feeling this dark mood today until I reminded myself of some funny experiences I’ve had in the past. Sometimes what sets us off along the path to possible hysteria may not be anywhere near as funny to someone else. Sometimes they are ‘you had to be there’ moments and indeed when you try to recount a funny story to someone some of the mirth gets lost along the way, but just for fun this week I want to write a few true stories that hopefully may amuse you .

For some reason some of the amusing things that have happened to me concerns cats. I don’t have a cat now but in the past we have had two. Both totally full of character and both typically eccentric like our family. Let me introduce them:

Jim : The most handsome Ginger Tom. Looked like a cat who should have been cast in a production of Garfield The Movie. Used to share his lunch with a Magpie. Prone to explosive diarrhoea which usually peppered the kitchen walls.

Fred : Black and white. Very fluffy with a bushy tail. Scared of his own shadow, adorable. Always walked into a room sideways. Had his own giant cat bed (the family sofa which he would let you sit on occasionally). Took a morning constitutional walk the same time every day always following the same route.

Jim’s story.

One morning I felt some foreboding as a letter fell onto the mat bearing the logo of the local Veterinary Surgery. That could only mean one thing: Jim’s annual vaccination was due. This may not sound too worrying, but for a cat who had a morbid dislike of cat baskets this posed quite a problem. Somehow we had to attend. I am not normally a  deranged woman but I have to say on this occasion sensible reasoning went out of the window on the appointed day, and for reasons best known to myself I decided to take the cat in the car sitting on my lap whilst I persuaded my husband to drive. Jim, sensing adventure, started getting restless and began to knead his paws on my thighs before exploring the interior of the car and then climbing on to my back. It did not bode well. As we drew up outside the vet’s surgery the receptionist looked from the window, perturbed to see us arriving in such an unusual fashion. But there was no going back. We had come this far and WE WERE GOING IN. But first we had to get out of the car without Jim making a quick getaway . Good-naturedly, Jim allowed me to clamp him tightly to my chest and I manoeuvred the two of us out of the car and made for the entrance to the surgery. Thinking all was going well and this was a doddle, we entered the waiting room. Unfortunately , a sense of unease followed as we eyed the full waiting room. Here before us was a total menagerie of birds, rabbits, dogs, cats, hamsters and even a (hopefully) docile python coiled up in a glass case. Their owners looked at us with a mixture of sympathy and pity and started muttering among themselves. I was aware that Jim was beginning to struggle in my arms , even for a relatively placid cat this was way too much temptation tinged with a dose of fear. The receptionist looked at us with something close to horror and walked firmly to the clinical room. I heard her announcing to the young vet that there was a woman and a possibly wild cat in reception that had better be seen. (Or maybe it was a wild woman with a cat – I can’t remember which way round we were announced). A harassed looking veterinary surgeon emerged and, after apologising profusely to the packed waiting room for letting us jump the queue – ushered us in. More mumbling and raised voices ensued and the snake rather alarmingly uncoiled, raising its head and poking out its forked tongue in protest. A parrot in the corner then ruffled its feathers, its owner looking embarrassed as it was distinctly heard to squawk ‘bloody hell, bloody hell!’ Once we were inside the surgery it was suggested we get on with the vaccination as quickly as possible. The vet grabbed Jim in no uncertain terms by the scruff of the neck to plunge the needle in and the job was done. ‘Mrs H’ said the poor harassed chap, ‘I don’t think I need to tell you that bringing a cat along unsecured like this is not a good idea.’ I apologised profusely and totally agreed, promising never to attend again with a loose cat. He showed me out . Grimly, the receptionist handed me a cardboard cat box and demanded I put Jim inside. With a shriek, Jim broke loose from my arms and made for the door. Luckily the snake’s owner was a retired rugby player and caught him in an admirable tackle . Wailing and much flying of fur followed. We tried to edge Jim towards to box whilst holding him in a vice-like grip. He struggled free again and jumped on top of the box, purring smugly as if on a winners’ podium. The receptionist had had enough. She approached, flapping a towel, which she deftly wrapped him in in one fell swoop and unceremoniously bundled him into the box. I paid up and slunk out, the box moving and tilting at dangerous angles, muffled yowls of cat indignation emanating from within. In the car I viewed my reflection with horror . My hair was on end and ginger cat hair coated my pink lip gloss most unbecomingly. My hands were shaking and I gripped the the sides of my seat tightly to steady myself as my speechless husband drove us home. Back at the cottage I let Jim out of the dreaded box, whereupon he looked at me accusingly, leaped off and didn’t return for three days.

Fred’s story.

You would think I had had enough of cat antics, but as luck would have it, soon it was necessary for Fred to pay the vet a visit. Sadly, he had been injured by another cat in a fight and needed some attention. Luckily he didn’t have such an aversion to cat baskets as his erstwhile friend Jim if he was enticed in with a treat. Fred’s problem was his nerves, and when he felt cornered he would go crazy. All started well and on entering the vet’s surgery I placed Fred on the table as asked. A slight hiss could be heard from Fred but nothing too untoward. The wound wasn’t serious and after inspection it was cleaned and sprayed with antibiotic spray. Another slight hiss ensued and I noticed Fred’s hair starting to go on end. However, we were nearly there so no panic. Then the vet spoke. ‘His nails are a bit long, I think I will just give them a little trim.’ I looked at him as if he was totally mad but said nothing. ‘Just hold him for me’ he instructed, approaching with clippers. ‘It won’t take a moment.’ Fred had other ideas. As the vet tried to steady and position his paws, he shrieked and leapt off the table, ricocheting off the walls as he tried to find a way out. Eventually, after flying past us at eye level, he ended up in the open store cupboard and could be heard crashing around the shelves. The vet sighed and went to catch him. Time passed. More crashing and wailing reverberated round the room. Eventually, the vet came back in, his white coat in shreds and his hands wrapped in towels. Fred was dangling from his grip by the scruff of his neck. Wordlessly he pushed him in the basket and shut the lid. Eventually his voice returned. ‘We will leave the nails’ he said and ushered us out with a sigh.

Post script – In all seriousness I do realise Jim’s story could have gone horribly wrong and I would never recommend taking an animal loose in a car etc. Jim was unharmed and lived a long and happy cat life, seemingly unscathed from his escapade with his foolhardy owner, but still…..

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The Importance of Sleep – the role it plays in your physical and mental health.

I wrote the following words for an article a while back. Having read something again yesterday about the importance of sleep to health, I thought it worth putting out again. I have added a bit more regarding  the possible protective role it plays in breast cancer.

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 cause 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).

Most of us know that the hormone melatonin helps regulate our sleep. But it also seems to play another role – suppressing cancer growth. Think of melatonin as helping to put cancer cells to sleep at night. Various studies have shown that women who interrupt their melatonin production by working night shifts appear to be at increased risk. Even living on a brightly-lit street may increase risk. Therefore, it’s probably best to sleep in a room with heavy curtains or black-out blinds and no lights. There is also something else you can do! Yes, eat more vegetables. Higher vegetable intake seems to increase levels of melatonin.

 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!

I love to listen to soothing music at night. It’s great for helping you drift off. There are many relaxation CD’s available online or you can listen via youtube.com. Also, there is now a brilliant App called Calm which you can download and listen to some brilliant bedtime stories! I challenge you to stay awake and listen til the end!

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!

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’.

Sleep Well!

 

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