The Shadow of the ‘Worry Monster’.

Sometimes, a little light is all you need…

When I started my blog a few years ago now, it was intended to be quite generalised. It was about pursuing the gentler path in life and concentrating on kindness and compassion, and I guess, the twists and turns we all experience in everyday life.  These topics are still close to my heart and I will write about them from time to time; life throws up all sorts of weird and wonderful things at us and there will always be new subjects to ponder on! Sometimes we need a bit of humour too to send us on our way!

One thing I have noticed, though, is the feedback that comes from my comments on anxiety. It seems, unfortunately, that many of us suffer from anxious times and there is a real need for ongoing support and backup for those battling with anxiety. Because of this I want to concentrate mainly on this topic for the foreseeable future.

If I can reach out to any of you who need support then I feel my words are doing their job. It’s amazing to think that with all the help at our disposal, we still need good, down to earth support. And it is ongoing. Anxious feeling may come and go. We are not suddenly cured from having unsettling feelings no matter how good the counsellors or the gurus we turn to. Sometimes, other occurrences in our lives just tip the balance between feeling ok to feeling unstable and miserable. Then, we can get despondent too and ask ourselves how we are going to cope with the latest situation that has cropped up. The lurking ‘worry monster’ is difficult to shake off. He doesn’t have much else to do but hover in the background. I feel sorry for him really – he doesn’t really have a life. You do! Once you meet him head on he will shrivel, trust me.

What we have to remember is this: ‘Sometimes, just a little bit of light is all you need’. We can take strength from so many places if we reach out and look for it. Be open. Be open to people – it makes a difference to how they treat you. Be honest. Say you aren’t feeling your best. Don’t give masses of detail. I find you don’t need to. Sometimes, less is more. Just tell who you are dealing with at the time that you aren’t having the best of days. You would be amazed how people can push aside their own ‘stuff’ and give you their kind attention. Most people are genuine and will do all they can to help you, but you have to give them a chance. Find your inner voice somehow. Be brave and help will come to you in spades.

I do appreciate that everyone has different issues going on. I have had a bereavement this week and it has taken all my power just to keep going. But I do keep going somehow. Going through the motions of everyday life helps. I say this countless times, but it does really help. However bad you feel (unless you are physically incapacitated) keep to the simple routines and try and get some things done, however small. It will help and give you a feeling of achievement when you can tick off a few things on your ‘to do’ list.

Funnily enough though, I will add this here: don’t worry too much about standards. This is something I struggle with. I have always felt appearances are important. Makeup on, hair done, house tidy, fridge full of food etc. But, here’s the thing. You can give in a bit! Let a few things go – it’s not the end of the world if you are not looking pristine! Friends may even quite like to see you not quite at your best, it shows you are human. I’m not talking totally let yourself go, but just cut yourself a bit of slack. Sop worrying what people think! They are busy with their own lives; they may love you but they still have their own stuff going on and they are not sitting there thinking you have gone to pot. (Unless you really have, in which case if they are a good friend they are on their way round right now!)

So this week I ask you to focus on this. You are loved. Honestly you are. You may be feeling bad but someone cares, really cares about you, even if you don’t feel it to be true. Get out a piece of paper. Doodle a bit. Make a pretty border. Leaves, bows, swirls, whatever. In the centre of the paper, write this is your best handwriting : ‘You are loved’. Use some coloured pencils if you have them. Be fancy. Then put your picture in a prominent place and look at if often. I promise you, it will help.

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So, this week. Leave the ‘worry monster’out in the cold. Do not feed him no matter how much he badgers you! Whatever is going on, if you feel bad, talk to someone who cares. Or look up online help sites if you need to. Or see your doctor if you are worried about anything. Ask and it will be given.

     ‘When the north wind blows, And your world is grey, My friendly heart hears all you say. Call my name, In your darkest night, I’ll find a way to bring you light. And if your world Is tumbling down, I’ll wrap you in a cosy gown. I’ll feed you soup , And bring you wine, For your life is a part of mine’. 

                                       (C) Lyn Halvorsen

Does the Universe Have us Covered?

Is there a force bigger than us that we can hold on to when life seems to be a struggle?

I‘ve been talking to someone close to me who suffers from anxiety and trying to talk them through it. When someone is seeing the world around them as a bleak place it is very hard to come up with something that will make them feel better. I find myself offering techniques and advice that I know from experience can help, but at the same time I sometimes question the suggestions I offer, even though I am praying that the smallest bit of advice could just be enough to provide a ray of hope or bring a spark of  light in a dark time. Of course,  anxious feelings arise for all sorts of reasons; there may be health worries, both real and imagined, relationship problems, problems relating to the past, work related problems and many more, and each cause may need to be addressed in a different way. Sometimes just a loving hug and a chat with a friend may be enough to help the clouds to disperse and the anxious feelings to lift, but at times when a person is in the severe grip of anxiety then professional help may be needed. Whatever the situation and whatever help we seek or try to give, is there a force bigger than us that can we can hold on to when life seems to be a struggle?

Does the Universe really have us covered?

I think it does. I really hope it does. Why are we here otherwise? We may hear a lot of bad things and we are bombarded with bad news constantly; we know bad things happen to good people, but we also hear amazing stories on a daily basis  – tales of amazing feats of bravery, courage, bravery and kindness. We hear about people who never give up; who find hidden strength from somewhere. We marvel at new life, when a baby takes its first breathe;  we despair when we lose someone dear to us and we wonder how we can ever recover, yet somehow we know that this is all part of the pattern of life.

I think of myself as a spiritual person with a Christian background. I was brought up to go to church regularly and read the bible;  I like the background that has given me even if I don’t attend church now on a regular basis. I like to believe there is a power that is bigger than us, that is all encompassing and is loving, and I find that even though I often have doubts, faith is what gets me through. Faith in a world that is inherently good and a life force that cannot always be explained and is beyond understanding. What compels eels to cross the Atlantic from the Saragossa Sea to spawn in the Irish rivers of their origin, or birds to cross whole continents, following a favoured route that no one could explain, to land atop the same trees every year? In the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives we forget that miracles happen around us every day; we lose our powers of observation and fail to see the wonderful and awesome occurrences happening in nature on  daily basis.

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So what should we do to reconnect with the Universe when we feel we have been set adrift? If we can hold on to that faith we have deep down, whatever the sort of faith we have or follow, we can feel grounded in times of crisis. A spiritual practice I have found to be good is a ‘loving kindness meditation’. Just set some time aside, shut your eyes and generate feelings of compassion by repeating phrases such as ‘may you be happy, healthy and free of pain.’ Direct this to yourself at first then gradually increas your circle to include you family, your friends, the country and then finally, the whole planet. You can alter the words to find something that you feel comfortable with. Do this on a daily basis and at times when you feel stressed or anxious. Make time for this even when you are busy and notice the difference it makes to your day.

Thinking again about my loved one. I wish I could do more to make her feel better and I wish I could take all her worries, wrap them in a cloth bag , throw them out to sea, wish them love and wave them goodbye for good. Indeed, I will picture that very thing happening. In the meantime, I will actively help in every way I can until she can move forward with regained positivity. Even then I will be by her side – figuratively if not physically. And I will have faith that the Universe does have us covered.

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 I lay upon the ground today, Looked up to the sky,

Concentrated on the clouds, As they drifted slowly by. 

Connecting with the Earth beneath, As it wore a peaceful face,

I felt the whole world turning, In this quiet and tranquil place.

And could I see a reason, Shine through the clouded sky

For all the actions unexplained, The many questions why?

I saw beauty and perfection here, Sweet birdsong filled the air,

So I must trust life’s answers, Lie in wait, somewhere.

(C)    Lyn Halvorsen

Dealing with Anxiety, Post Christmas Blues and Embracing a New Year…

 

0CABF23E-5C2A-4B60-8706-3730EA147E8DHello and Happy New Year. Thanks for sticking with me!

Every year I enjoy the build up to Christmas – more so this year because our elder son and his family where over from America for ten days in early December for a visit. To say we were excited was an understatement. We hadn’t seen the children (five came – they have a big family!) for two years and I hadn’t had chance to meet and hug our newest little granddaughter.

 

We had so much planned, starting with a visit to a pantomime which was quite a revelation to the American children! Being a large family they rented a property which was set in a very magical town nearby which was beautifully lit up for Christmas. Our English grandchildren enjoyed being with their cousins they have so little chance to see, and it was heartwarming to see our two sons and daughter-in-laws together too. So we all had fun together; we had quality time with each of the children and we made time for hugs, for chatting and for making memories. We took them to our favourite haunts and looked at old familiar places through the eyes of our grandchildren and saw new things. We were amused at the way they loved going into English pubs, buying cupcakes and eating beans on toast! Everyday we would get into the car and go and see them for at least part of the day. But as always happens, time passed very quickly and before long I was steeling myself for the inevitable heart wrenching goodbyes which never get any easier no matter how many times one goes through the process.

So we put on a brave face and waved them off. The consolation of such times is the knowledge that they are happy, loving children who are so interested in the world around them and have so much to occupy their minds.

With Christmas still ahead, we headed off to Cornwall to a holiday home kindly let to us by a family friend. We were perched up on the cliff overlooking the bay I had visited so much as a child. We went armed with a mini Christmas tree and enough food to last well into the new year! There was plenty of time to take early morning walks along the (blustery) beach and visit nearby family. On Christmas Eve we attended the church I was baptised in as small child and where my grandparents were regular attenders, having lived in the Cornish town all their lives. In the candlelit church I could almost feel their presence and with it the comfort of old traditions. Do our loved ones who have gone before us look down and watch over us? I like to think they do. As we stepped out in the early hours of Christmas Day the light shone through the church windows just as it had all through the years before, somehow giving a feeling of continuity and at the same time, rekindling old memories.

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Christmas passed in a flurry of bracing walks across the cliffs, visits to friends and family  and plenty of eating and drinking. All too soon we were packing the car up again and heading home.

So that takes us to New Year’s Eve. This time although for a lot of people it brings the promise of new beginnings, for me, It is hard to let go of Christmas. It seems to me, Chritsmas is the one time of the year when everything is different – almost like normal living is suspended in time and we can forget about the normal worries and problems that can bother us the rest of the year. It may entail more work if we are entertaining, but we have an excuse to grab a glass of wine, eat an extra piece of cake, shelve the bills until another day. We may complain when we have to spend time with acquaintances  we perhaps wouldn’t see other times of the year, but we do it, and that is because we care. It is about togetherness and being sociable, and following age old traditions that deep down are important to us.

One thing that saddens me is hearing people say Christmas is over for another year by the time Boxing Day arrives! So much planning and pleasure surely cannot disappear so quickly! If you are someone who suffers from post Christmas blues, I can assure you, you are not alone! If you have are prone to anxiety, perhaps you managed too keep anxious thoughts at bay with the distractions of Christmas only to find those unwanted thoughts returning in the new year? Being surrounded by jolly people making plans for the next year can sometimes be a bit overwhelming; all the talk of detox diets and new exercise regimes are certainly positive, but rather than rush headlong into the new year here are some suggestions for easing yourself kindly into 2018:

Don’t rush to take all those decorations down you put up so lovingly a few weeks ago; how about leaving a few fairy lights up so there is still a bit of festive feel to the house? When the decorations are all down, fill the house with as many early daffodils as you can afford. They really will lift your heart.

It is not necessary to make a long list of plans and new year’s resolutions, in fact, they are usually broken by the end of January, instead use the first few weeks of January to make time for some gentle meditation and uplifting reading.

Enjoy getting outdoors; walking and looking for the first snowdrops or listening to the birds is more uplifting than huffing and puffing at the gym.

Eat wholesome and nutritious food but don’t deprive yourself too much. Think comfort food. Enjoy plenty of freshly brewed tea or even a mug of hot chocolate on a cold afternoon.

Maybe think about starting a journal and writing down your thoughts. It’s amazing how therapeutic putting your thoughts on paper can be. You don’t need to shoe it to anyone – unless you want to of course – you may turn out to be a budding writer!

I once decided to wrap a few small presents for my children to come home to after their first day back at school after the holidays, just fun things that brightened their day. Do that for someone you care about, perhaps after the first day back at work. If someone needs cheering up it really works!

Finally, remember, Christmas isn’t the only time for a bit of magic and I have to tell myself this. Angels, too, are for life, not just for Christmas!

Blessings to you and I wish you the happiest of days.

Surviving Treacherous Times…Finding your own compass…

If you were washed up on a desert island and desperate to survive, I wonder what survival technique would serve you best? No matter how fit and strong you were, if you weren’t mentally strong you would find it difficult to keep going. Bulging muscles and gym enhanced fitness might help you bounce around the sand for a while but without mental fitness you would soon start to panic or go into ‘freeze’ mode. You would only be able to run around searching for ships on the horizon, and an immediate solution, for so long. While it is certainly good to keep physically fit, there is much more to survival than that. Often the person with hidden strengths survives against the odds.

Just as we would find it hard to cope alone on a desert island, this time of year especially, with all the extra stresses and strains, we may feel we need to go into survival mode. We may not be lost on that desert island but we may feel just as stranded and panicked. It may not only be the stresses of Christmas that bring us down; there could be more serious worries in our lives; worries about finances, health, relationships or body image may become more pressing during the festive period. There is something about Christmas that heightens our emotions and makes us feel things, both good and bad, more deeply.

The strongest survival skill comes from managing the mind. Everything you do and experience comes from your mind after all. It is hard at times I know, but there are some basic tips to help you settle your mind and feel more in control. Just as when trapped on that island, if you worry too much you may panic in stressful situations. In times like this just STOP.  Stop and find a quiet space and take a breather. Pause and do nothing and think about your situation and what is really bothering you. Think carefully about what to do next. Are you stressed by loud music and crowds in a shopping centre for instance? Can the shopping wait to another day? Is it really that important? Think about finding a quieter area to regain some calm. Remember most things aren’t as crucial to get done as you think.

If you were stranded somewhere you would probably make yourself a base camp – somewhere where you felt safe and could shelter from the storm. In the same way so it is also needed in normal life – make sure your surroundings at home are peaceful and comfortable – create your own safe haven and your own ‘go to’ place. Escape to this place from time to time and especially during frantic days, and feel the calmness there. If you work in an office keep your own space uncluttered and perhaps keep a photo on your desk of loved ones or have a framed positive quote that you like. Have a little corner that is just yours and rest your eyes on a scene that is tranquil. If you can go for a walk at lunchtime and play some peaceful music on your headphones you will feel more able to cope with the day.

Make a plan – in  the desert you would formulate a plan so that you could attract help and the possibility of rescue. Do the same in your mind to help you ease your worries. Think of who may be able to help you in your current situation, whatever it may be. Be open to advice. Put out feelers  – you will be surprised where help may come from.

Work out your everyday survival techniques. Have an imaginary compass in your mind – picture it pointing you in the right direction – the calm and happy direction. If you have a problem that is really worrying you, picture your compass rotating until it points you to a place where you can work out your problems. Picture it pointing you to a friend who is ready to receive you with kind and open arms. Imagine it sending you towards your own personal North Star where peace and contentment abounds. It is amazing how this can help you find a way forward and calm your mind.

Every time you leave your own particular safe place, your ‘base camp’, and venture out in a calm and peaceful way and can cope with what ever is outside you will be building confidence and more able to take control of different and even anxious feelings. Also, knowing you have a place to retreat to and recharge your batteries will help, even if you just go there in your mind when you are in a chaotic place.

So next time you feel you are anxious or jittery, put your mind to survival and find the path you lost.

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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

 

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!

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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’.