Embracing the Lead-up to Christmas.

How do we deal with the pre-Christmas rush?

I first wrote this blog a few years ago. Re-reading it, I realised it is probably even more relevant today when there are many anxiety inducing factors around. Unstable political parties, global warming, over-stretched health systems…I could go on…. More than ever, we need to stay grounded, to remember that most of us just want to do our best; to be peaceful, calm and happy, and go with the flow. Peace is high on my list for sure. I am determined to switch off regularly, to step out into the frosty clear night and look up at the stars. Somewhere out there in our amazing universe lies the answer to all our questions and fears if only we could trust in that….

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. Because 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!

closeup photo of person wearing white long sleeved shirt holding turned on string lights
Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Finding Strength

For those days when the worry monster lurks in the shadows….

 

There is no doubt that we live in a time of doubt, fear for the future, uncertainty and economic frustration. I worry about the state of the world and indeed our country. But most of the time I can cope with worry from outside because although it gives concern  (and is even totally baffling at times when one sees the behaviour exhibited by those who are supposed to lead us!) it is possible to shrug my shoulders, offer a few expletives, close my door, light the fire and feel secure in my own patch.

Sometimes, though, the sands shift beneath my feet. When someone close to me is suffering and I can’t find a way to make things better, I experience doubt on a gut level – the kind that can punch hard and bring me down. So one thing I have to remember is when I ache to my very bones with stress, I have to find a way forward. Negativity is contagious but I have to remember that we cannot take care of others if we don’t look after ourselves and look forward.

Remembering we have love and we have hope is so important, especially when things seem a bit grim. When we are consciously keeping a loving heart we can share it with others and help make both theirs and our own immediate world better.

These are some guideline I try and follow when things are getting me down. Hopefully, they can help you too:

Keep Trying

If you make yourself keep going, even when it is the last thing you feel like, you will eventually get stronger and closer to where you are heading.

Be Grateful

Remember what you have. We all have something or someone to love. Even when I am fearful I know I have wonderful things in my life. You do too I am sure. Write down tonight all the things you feel grateful for.

Think Differently

Change your words. It is easy do be dispirited and make remarks like  ‘ I knew this would go wrong’; instead, how about saying ‘ah well, maybe that wasn’t the best result but next time will be better’.

Take Care

Be kind to yourself. Don’t blame yourself when things go wrong. You have tried your best and you will continue doing your best. If you do make a mistake, own up to it, learn from it but then put it behind you. Very few of us actually want to treat anyone or anything badly and those that do can’t be our concern. Continue doing your best.

Avoid Ideals

Let misconceptions go. Look at things differently. Try not to be governed by past ideals or be ruled by others who want you to continually fit into their expectations of you. I really struggle with this one. It is natural to want to please people but sometimes you just have to be yourself, and that takes courage.

Be Proud!

Celebrate your accomplishments. Think of all the good things you have achieved. Trust me, it is a lot, and often it is the smaller things, the gentle kindnesses or actions that don’t always propel you into the limelight, but are more important than anything famous and showy.

Speak Carefully

Remember how words affect others. Sometimes when we talk, less is more. Listen, then choose your words carefully when advising others.

Exercise

As usual I will mention the outdoors. Any worry will lessen slightly when you are outside and at one with nature. Breathe deeply. Look at the trees standing strong and firm. Shred the anxiety of the day, even just for a while. There is a natural world out there which can take us away from the laptop for an hour or more.

There is always a but….

As I am writing this I think there are times when any advice can seem trite. So many times we hear well-meaning phrases trotted out. We are supposed to nod sagely and take heed. It isn’t always what we want or need.  I am aware that there are days when sorrow gathers round like a heavy cloak or fear takes over. Those are the times we may just need a hug or just to sit quietly with someone we feel really understands. I do not want to make light of anyone’s pain and how can we ever know entirely what another person is going through? All I can add is that somehow, at least for me, onwards and upwards is the the only way. And the odd bit of advice may just be enough to allow a little glimmer of light in.

Whatever you are going through, you are deserving of love and care. Take it easy out there. In the never ending love of this universe, you are a small, yet very precious thing. You are worth everything.

With love …

close up of tree against sky
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time To Embrace Autumn….

Finding ways to welcome the shorter days….

Some things worth thinking about now that Autumn is here. Darker days can sometimes make anxiety worse so I have written down some new habits/ ways of thinking, I will try to embrace….perhaps you would like to try them too! (Some may be easier than others!)

Try to get into the habit of getting up a bit earlier – start with 7am, then 6am, then 5:30am. Go for a walk with a big coat, and a warm scarf and watch the sun rise.

Likewise, at the end of the day try to go to bed earlier. The sleep you have before midnight is very beneficial. Put some restful essential oils in the burner for half an hour while you read, then turn off all electronics and make sure the room is as dark as possible to aid melatonin levels. Wake up in the morning feeling rested and ready to face the day.

Get into the habit of cooking yourself a hearty breakfast. Make some creamy porridge on the stove – forget the microwave! Add a dollop of organic thick cream, sprinkle with cinnamon and a little coconut sugar. Sit and eat it and do nothing else.

Stretch out and take some gentle exercise or practice some yoga. Maybe put some favourite music on.

Buy a good quality water bottle. Try to drink the whole thing in a day, then try drinking it twice. ( I really struggle with this one).

Get into the habit of writing. Write down your thoughts. Writing is so beneficial. Perhaps buy a new diary or journal.

Strip your bed of your sheets. Make your bed in full. Sprinkle with lavender. Finish with cosy throws and leave some warm bed-socks tucked under the end of the covers.

Dig your fingers into the earth, plant some bulbs ready to awaken next spring.

Organise your room. Fold away all your summer clothes (and bag what you don’t want), clean your mirror, your laptop, vacuum the floor. Light your favourite candle every day.

Breath. Practice your deep breathing. Ground yourself.

Have a luxurious bath. Maybe add some Epsom salts. Wash your hair, and take your time. Lather your whole body in moisturiser. Spray yourself with scent.

Take some time to get out into the fresh air. Put  your headphones, go to the beach or the nearest park and walk. Smile at strangers walking the other way and be surprised how many smile back.

Reach out to friends. Have a chat with old acquaintances. Arrange to catch up soon.

Think long and hard about what interests you. Poetry? Art? Literature? Curl up with a good book by the fire.

Be the person you would ideally like to be. Let some things go. Be generous with your time. Listen. Compliment people and be kind. Walk with a straight posture. Look people in the eye. Ask people about their story. Talk to acquaintances so they become friends. Give to the local food bank whenever you can. Be willing.

Turn your face to the sunshine. Daydream about all the things you still want to do.

Take small steps to make it happen for you….remember it is the little things that really are the big things…..

9B599B59-2D57-4306-8C6B-7BC2E5ABFA48

Being Your Own Composer In the Music of Life…

When the notes in your life seem wrong turn them into your own unique song.

September is here again and walking out from Dove Lane this morning I could sense a wistfulness in the air – a glimpse of change. The air is still warm enough to pop out without a coat and the grass is still a little dry from the long, summer days, but the blackberries are ripe in the hedges and there are some dry leaves crunching beneath my feet. Autumn waits in the wings and cooler air may soon whisper through the trees. We still have a few warm days to enjoy and but that summer holiday feeling is fading and we notice the gradual shortening of the days.

For some of us, any change, even a change in the seasons can encourage feelings of unrest if we are prone to anxious feelings. Sometimes it isn’t always easy to walk forward and embrace the next stage of our lives. Perhaps we feel events are looming we would rather not think about or we find it hard to be positive and look at the bigger picture. Maybe we are worried about past mistakes or imagined difficulties. Maybe we feel fearful because we hear and read so much in the media that unsettles us – especially lately! Most of us have days where we feel everything seems to be against us, or perhaps we can’t seem to focus or get things right. Just like a composer writing a song – sometimes the notes just come out wrong.

So there can be times when we feel out of tune with our surroundings. Maybe we are not in the right frame of mind to listen to or appreciate what we are seeing or hearing. I guess life is a bit like that – we can be swamped with worries or negative emotions at times, or even just the chaos of a busy day, so that all the good sights and sounds around us are smothered or blurred around the edges. But if we manage to take some time out – perhaps go and have a walk in the woods or just take ten minutes out of a busy day to have some quiet time – then we can often find we can enjoy the very things we previously felt out of kilter with.

In unhappy or muddled times, remember the clouds will one day pass. And the sooner you welcome the sun the sooner it appears. I find that remembering what I am grateful for helps me get through jittery times. I have learned through past experiences what supportive friends I have and also, how self-reliant I can be when I have to. I remind myself how limited our time on this planet truly is and that every second counts.

We are all connected and even if you feel you are struggling, remind yourself there is someone somewhere going through the same thing as you, and they are getting through it just like you will. You can dwell on what isn’t going your way or you can focus on what you have within your power to change.

If you think about what would happen if you just allowed yourself to live in the moment and not think about your current situation, how might that feel? Sometimes life is not about dreams coming true but what we learn when we take our path through life. There are times when we need to let go of our expectations and actually just concentrate on what is happening today. And remember, those past experiences or perceived missed opportunities we dwell on have actually made us stronger and given us our character.

So lets think again about a composer writing a song and this time the composer is you; even if your notes seem to sound wrong, they are your notes and you can turn them into the best song of all. Your song.

512B8215-81F7-4C1A-8FFA-9F8A7F641302

Why I Like Sunsets

 

Sunset, also known as sundown, is the daily disappearance of the Sun below the horizon due to Earth’s rotation. As viewed from the Equator, the equinox Sun sets exactly due west in both Spring and Autumn.

Someone once noticed that I have many pictures of sunsets in my photography collection and I must admit, I can never resist stopping to look at a beautiful sunset wherever I am.

I was looking through my photographs recently and realised I had hundreds of pictures relating to sunsets. I think the stunning beauty nature brings us is always awe inspiring but why do I find myself so moved by sunsets?

You know, when one is sad, one can get to love a sunset’      Antoine De Saint 

IMG_0250

I believe it is because it takes me beyond my physical dimension. There is peace and silence. I sense that time stops and maybe there is even an understanding of eternity. Dormant spirituality is awakened. How can such beauty be transient? I can feel the  enormity of creation, and see the breath-taking colour palette laid before me.

5A879AFA-28F4-4214-82EA-1D8C839391CD
Peace above the chimney tops..

When we stand in peace and stillness , we can let go of any pain, anger, fear or sadness, at least for a while. We can take a breath, renew our thoughts and know that the sun will rise again tomorrow.

  ‘Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn’.      Ralph Waldo Emerson 

When you’ve had a challenging day look outward instead of inwards….

 

And just to show the sun does rise again…a beautiful sunrise taken from my back garden:

If You Want to Change the World Stop Trying to Change the World!

Just look around at the moment. Here in the UK it is difficult to make any sense of the current politics and the behaviour of some of the politicians does not fill me with confidence and certainly not any admiration. I have followed various parties in my time time but I have come to realise that we can never be satisfactorily governed, or certainly not governed in a way which keeps everyone happy.

Many points of views are bandied about. I imagine those people who become politicians set out with the wish to change things – to make a difference and create change for the better. We see up and coming politicians come to our attention, fresh faced and full of hope and wise ideas. We are impressed if they support our cause, and we gather and discuss them at length, ever hopeful that the state of ‘things’ will improve.

But so many theories are put forward and so many theories are rubbished. Criticism hails from every corner. Praise is rarely given. Instead, people who put themselves forward to govern are often ridiculed or knocked off their shaky and newly acquired pedestals. They are heckled when giving a speech even if they dare to cough. They are laughed at when they half-heartedly attempt to join in and dance with some visiting children in an attempt to appear approachable.  Their private lives are scrutinised. They keep going, they may climb the political ladder and find power, but rarely, if ever, do they have a straightforward path.

But I have digressed. Because I am not here to write about politics. I do wonder what make us all tick though. And I wonder where genuine kindness and politeness has gone when I see how those in the public eye are treated and treat each other.

How do we change things? How do we try and change the world?

Perhaps we shouldn’t wait for others to change. They won’t. It is no good waiting for others to take responsibility for our future. Do we make the change ourselves? We can increase our awareness, read and listen to wiser people. But old habits are hard to change. And it is easy to say “No one else is changing so why should I?” And we may not want to change the beliefs we feel are important to us. They are part of who we are. The main thing to avoid is resistance. Being an immovable object. If we resist something or someone we are in conflict. That makes us and those around us unhappy. Many people make themselves unhappy every day.

There is a paradox in all this. When you stop trying to change things, you will often find things WILL change. Both in your world of your inner consciousness and in the world around you.  If you go about your business being kind, peaceful, loving and happy you will make a difference just by being you.

“Ah yes” I hear you say, “That’s all very well. But it smacks of laziness. Someone has to take responsibility and run the country/business/health centre.” It is true that we may not look like we are doing much, but when we act from a natural state, good thoughts and acts happen. We are not interfering with anyone else. If we could all come from a place of peace and goodwill, we will interact well together and THEN we will make headway.

A1DB2878-4F45-4BA6-88BA-EDF57A9EAD6D

 

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!

 

dreaming