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Finding Wellbeing Amid Yorkshire Fog

By Annette Murray - Personal Tutor

Right now, when an aspect of nature is causing high levels of fear and uncertainty, I still find myself turning to nature to feel a sense of calm, connection and perspective.

Lately, I have found myself thinking about this very humble plant that used to grow in the fields next to the house where I grew up. It’s probably one of the most common plants in the UK, but you have probably never heard of it, nor ever stopped to look at it closely. It’s not obviously colourful or exotic, it doesn’t have a beautiful scent and unlike Wordsworth’s daffodils, I doubt anyone is ever going to write poems about it. But it’s something I really love - and it’s called Yorkshire Fog.

Unless you’re a farmer or, like me, someone with a past career caring for wildflower meadows, you might not know that Yorkshire Fog is a type of grass. Unlike the coarse, razor sharp blades of marram grass I remember from the sand dunes of my childhood; Yorkshire Fog is covered in tiny, downy hairs making it very soft to the touch, lending it another common name, velvet grass.

Like many grasses, it also flowers. When opening to the sun, the crowns of flowering spikelets are reminiscent of a field of oats. Each stem is like a plush chord of grey-green velvet, ornamented with soft purple tassels, tickly to the touch.

If you were to ask me what I first remember about being in nature, I would say the feel of Yorkshire Fog as I run it through my fingers. It’s a feeling so familiar and comforting to me that whenever I glimpse it, I instinctively touch it. Then there I am - in the sunshine, playing freely in the fields near my childhood home; and I’m smiling.

All that comfort from a simple blade of grass.

Like the touch of Yorkshire Fog, it’s our senses - what we see, hear, smell, feel or (with caution) taste when in nature - that can turn an ordinary stroll outdoors into a restorative escape. The cushion of moss that springs beneath my feet; the deep, rough ridges of tree bark; the scent of wild garlic; or the pattern on a pebble that catches my eye. Absorbing myself in my surroundings, I can forget my troubles, at least for a while.

Nature, with its ability to capture my attention, is a plentiful source of contentment and curiosity in my life - and also provides endless opportunities for connection.

For instance, my fondness for Yorkshire Fog led to me discover its charming nick-name -  “striped pyjamas” - owing to its distinctive purple and white striped roots; and “Lanatus” (part of the scientific name Holcus Lanatus) means “wooly”. Amusing facts like these I can’t help but share with others.

Yet I don’t need to talk about nature to feel a sense of belonging. Just watching it reminds me that I’m surrounded by life of all kinds and I feel instantly uplifted.

I know I’m not the only one who has fond memories of nature; or feels better for having spent time in it. It’s something many of us instinctively do to relax and unwind. Indeed, research has proven that spending time in nature can indeed make us feel healthier and happier

I imagine your own experiences are evidence enough.

At a time when a walk outside is one of the few freedoms we can still enjoy, I wonder what favourite memory of nature you will revisit? Or have yet to create?  Nature can be found in even the most urban of environments, if you’re paying attention.

I wonder, what can you see when you really look?

What can you feel?

What can you smell?

What can you hear?

What can you discover that you didn’t know before?

Who can you share it with?

Perhaps you can go on a scavenger hunt like the one suggested here: www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2020/01/nature-scavenger-hunts/

Or decide before you go out what 5 things you are going to find e.g. a twig covered in moss, a spikey leaf, a spring blossom, an insect, a songbird.

Perhaps set yourself a challenge to learn the names of 5 plants; or how about learning some bird song? :  www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8-dOm7-WEI

If going outside isn’t possible for you, there are still ways to connect with nature from inside your home. Here are some ideas:

If you have garden, spend time in it pottering or just sitting. Or perhaps put flowers where you can see them from a window.

Can you feed the birds or put out some water for them? www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/feeding-birds/when-to-feed-garden-birds/

Can you day dream out of a window and see the clouds in the sky? What shapes are they making?

Do you have a house plant you can tend to? Try looking at it from different angles and notice what patterns you can see.

Perhaps you can open a window and hear bird song outside? Or why not listen to the RSPB’s Bird Song radio: www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/campaigning/let-nature-sing/birdsong-radio

Save a picture of nature as wall paper  on your desk top or take a virtual tour of the National Parks in America from the comfort of your sofa: https://artsandculture.withgoogle.com/en-us/national-parks-service/welcome

Why not take a photo and tell us what you have found or share your tips? You can share them on our social media or by emailing us at wellbeing.college@health-in-mind.org.uk

In this uncertain time, rest in the certainties that nature offers. Nature will always provide opportunities to engage our senses, awaken our curiosity and create fond memories.

And winter is always followed by Spring.

Taking Notice

By Kirsty Bremner - Personal Tutor 

I'm delighted to be sharing with you my experiences of the last few weeks and what I have learned about myself by taking the time to notice.

Routine is something important and reassuring to me and yet has been unavoidably altered by what’s going on in the world right now.

I continue to work three days a week but now instead of commuting to the office I simply have to open my laptop and have my work mobile to hand. There are of course others in my home who are also adjusting to this new routine. Different is not necessarily difficult: this is what I have been telling myself.

I have come to notice that I am in fact more patient than I thought I was!

There have been technical glitches, moments of uncertainty, neverending requests for snacks and ‘what are we having for dinner?’ type questions. I have been asking myself what is more important in the heat of the moment and realising that rather than sticking to the rules rigidly harmony and happiness in the family are the things that right now matter the most.

It’s true that the person I have had to be most patient with, however, is me.

By slowing the pace right down, breaking tasks into small chunks and generally just taking every day as it comes I am noticing I am being kind to myself.

This is what will keep my spirits going for as long as it takes.

There are plenty of other things I have noticed over the last few weeks but one thing to have come into focus is my need for regular contact with others. I now feel extremely grateful to technology for allowing me to keep this going in new ways.  

Togetherness in Being Apart

Togetherness in Being Apart – By Jo Highet

In the last few weeks, whilst being lucky enough to continue to work, albeit from home, I have become aware of things which I would not normally notice. This is perhaps due to not having to constantly rush around before the long commute to work, the dog walk at an early hour and fitting in many tasks before leaving the house. It has allowed me to have space to become aware of and connect to sounds which I normally don’t notice or I am too preoccupied to hear…

I am really enjoying birdsong - I am now tuning into garden birds songs-hedge and house sparrows, starling and wrens etc. I have also felt connected and heartened by their lives carrying on as normal - they are beginning to build nests, forage for food and prepare for their new families - as they always do-the cycle continues on regardless -they are probably wondering why the humans are around so much more!  Now there is so little noise from traffic and life has slowed down significantly I have noticed these pleasant sounds all around. The bird which seems to raise its voice above the others is the blackbird - one of the first of the dawn chorus and last to sing to us in the evening. 

I welcome the town clock striking the hour- there is something comfortingly familiar about it. I find myself connecting to and enjoying silence, whereas before I listened to the radio/watched tv a lot more often. It may be part of my own self-care that I choose not to watch/listen to the news too much and find solace in the quiet. As I listen at this moment in the house all I can hear is the slight roar of the stove, my dog’s gentle snoring - only intermittently interrupted by herring gulls on the nearby roof.

The other thing I find myself connecting to is how people around me at work and in the wider community have connected with, tuned in to their creative side in their response to their lives being somewhat different at the moment. This is wide ranging from groups involved in sewing protective masks for NHS staff, children painting rainbows on stones on signifying hope and distributing around local homes, artwork appearing in windows of many homes, colleagues are creating challenges to keep us all in touch, and there are many ways we are being encouraged to be creative online - we are even being given virtual access to museums, parks and galleries.

Finally - when on my daily dog walk I have noticed that although people are keeping to social distancing guidelines they being much friendlier - it’s as if we are all reaching out to connect with each other. This is so obvious on Thursday evenings when people in town, cities and settlements across the nation have a collective clap for the NHS and Key Workers across the country - there is a real sense of solidarity - our togetherness whilst being apart.  It is this I remind myself of each day as we live our lives differently just now.  I find it helpful to remind myself of how welcome connecting even in a small way with others is as we are living our lives slightly differently at the moment.
 

Journaling

By Kirsty Bremner

Do you have lots of feelings buzzing around your head?

Would you like to make sense of them?

Are you wanting to understand yourself a bit more?

Are you curious about connecting with what’s going on in
your mind?

If so, writing a journal might be something for you.

What you write in a journal can give you clues to your needs, maybe even what you would like for your future.

What you write can reveal your preferences, your tendencies and even what you are really like.

You can experiment freely with ideas about your relationships, job, friendships, interests and habits

Here are a couple of links to articles about the benefits to mental health of journaling which you might find useful and interesting.

Mind

The Telegraph

Happy journaling!

Connecting With Myself and Others

Connecting with myself and others by Lynn Bellis

I have noticed how much I enjoy my view of the world outside my window more and more each day, I live in a small village outside Kelso and I am next to a farm. Feeding time in the field opposite is lovely to watch. All the cows and calves running to get to the food first and the calves are adorable. Their legs are at that stage where they look like they don’t belong to their bodies properly.

I usually work in the office in Galashiels and my view there is not so pretty. It is a wall made up of corrugated iron and brickwork.  I tend to ignore it and look at my computer screen, that has the most beautiful screensaver of the natural world on it. Today it was Mount Fuji in Japan by the way, but my view of the fields right now is the real thing.

In the office, besides the dull view, it is mostly a lively, busy place with some moments of calm. It is the team that create the atmosphere in the office and it is a really, supportive one.  We are a small group and we look out for one another and at times, we find ways to laugh. That is what I miss most, the sound of shared laughter.

In recent weeks, we meet on video calls to check in with one another and to carry on with the business of the college. That goes someway to maintain our relationships and of course we use email and the telephone to keep in touch.

Working from home has its benefits, for example, I have more time for self-reflection, more thinking time and gazing at my lovely view. I have more time to enjoy the outdoors and walking by the river. This brings back lots of happy memories of walking with my dog. He is no longer with us unfortunately and I miss him but memories of him paddling in and drinking from this river also make me smile. On a clear day like today, the stones at the bottom look in touching distance.

However, as much as I would miss my beautiful view and the peacefulness of working from home, I miss the social interaction with the team, volunteers and students more.  So, when this period of lockdown is over and I head back to the office, I will be taking a screensaver of my view with me so I can have some part of home with me every day.
 

"Know Thyself"

Socrates once said – “Know Thyself”


Knowing and connecting with yourself can allow you to understand and acknowledge the different aspects of yourself; your strengths and your weaknesses, your tolerances and your limitations, your passions and your fears, your thoughts and your feelings.


Right now these might be getting put to the test, you might be beginning to find something you once tolerated is no longer so easy or perhaps you’ve found a new strength in yourself and you’re managing to find new things to explore. However you’re feeling just now, taking the time to check in  with yourself and acknowledge you are having these experiences can be a powerful way to look after yourself.


Gretchen Rubin, Author wrote: "My first commandment is to “Be Gretchen”—yet it’s very hard to know myself. I get so distracted by the way I wish I were, or the way I assume I am, that I lose sight of what’s actually true."


Sometimes we can lose sight of ourselves and we can become overwhelmed by our own and others’ expectations of what we should be. Taking time to consider what our values, strengths and interests are can help us to reconnect with what really matters to us.

Learning Through Podcasts

Learning Through Podcasts - By Kirsty Bremner

For the days when you find you can’t quite concentrate enough to pick up a book or even read a magazine article, podcasts can be a great resource. You can simply install an app on your smartphone or tablet and start exploring the extensive range of episodes on a range of subjects. Some people enjoy listening while they go out for a walk or run, others like to listen while they cook. Finding a time that works for you can be part of the fun! Pre-lockdown I would listen to a podcast when I was out and about in my car, often on long journeys around the Borders.

So, these are just a few of the podcasts that I have found myself enjoying. They vary in theme, tone and length but they all relate to positive mental health. Enjoy!

Mentally Yours

Hosted by Ellen Scott and Yvette Caster from Metro.co.uk 

Episode: Recovering Together (24 Mins)

An interview with the creator of a piece of gig theatre about psychosis. The central themes are friendship, consideration, and togetherness. The show being discussed is written in a lyrical, poetic style. I really enjoyed this podcast as it felt optimistic in tone despite a very serious subject, perhaps due to the fact that it was communicated through the medium of theatre.

Episode: Working Freelance (32 Mins)

The woman being interviewed describes having had anxiety from a young age and speaks openly about her experiences through different times in her life. She touches on things lik,e how on reflection she feels early intervention at age 11- when she started experiencing challenges - could have been really critical and transformational, instead of at 18.
It is apparent she has awareness of the way she compares herself to others - that there is a pattern of her feeling that the problems of others are far more serious and therefore more worthy of attention than hers. If I were to have one point of discomfort while listening it would be that I dislike her use of the phrase ‘mental illness.’ However, I appreciated her honesty and felt it was useful to hear her reflect on and wonder about her situation.

All in the Mind 

Programme presented by Claudia Hammond (broadcaster, author and psychology lecturer) exploring the limits and potential of the human mind

Episode: Pain and the Brain (28 Mins)

I found this quite technical - lots of scientific theory but themes which were explored were interesting and relevant to mental health - expectations, the placebo effect, the link between pleasure and pain. 

Episode: Tackling Mental Health Myths (27 Mins)

Claudia visits an art exhibition which tackles the myths around mental health. 

Episode: How can you feel less Lonely? 

I thought these were really accessible clips that are just brief enough to introduce themes and provoke thought on the subject of loneliness and how we can help ourselves to feel less lonely.

Short and simple ways of reaching out to others in order to feel less lonely. I thought it was a good introduction to the topic.

Life Cycle 

A Radio Scotland Podcast Presented by Endurance Athlete Lee Craigie

Episode: Hope (28 Mins)

I found the story of Jamie Andrew incredibly moving, compelling, inspiring... the flicker of hope that he feels was instrumental in his survival. Some philosophical discussion around the nature of hope with Father Roddy Johnstone I see as a comfort and offer of encouragement. 
This episode ends with Madeleine Black’s ideology- borrowed from another- that HOPE stands for Hold On Pain Ends

Feel Better, Live More 

By Dr Rangan Chatterjee

Episode 104: How Being Kind Helps Your Immune System, Reduces Stress and Changes Lives with Dr David Hamilton

Episode 97: How exercise changes your brain and reduces your risk of depression with Brendon Stubbs

These are simply a few of my own favourite podcasts that I have discovered recently. I like the variety not only in topic but also presenter, style and even length. Perhaps you can find some of your own.

I hope you will find as much enjoyment from podcasts as I do and that they will become another way for you to keep learning! 

Learning Through Books

Learning Through Books - By Kirsty Bremner

There is much evidence to suggest that if we keep learning then our mental health and emotional wellbeing will benefit. Often having a sense of purpose and feeling that we are keeping our brain active can be part of this.
Books can bring us so much enrichment - there is nothing quite like getting absorbed in an exciting plot to keep us busy and bring us pleasure.
The following themes were adapted from the article:
http://www.inspirationboost.com/8-reasons-why-reading-is-so-important.

This appeared in the original Wellbeing College course ‘Read your way to Wellbeing.’

Why read books?

To expose yourself to new ideas

For self development

To increase your understanding of a topic

Because reading can help prepare you to take action

Because reading is a way to connect with the experience of others

To boost your imagination and creativity

Experiment and find what works for you!

Identify with the experience depicted

Escape into a different world for a while

Learn new factual information

Remember, what works for one person, might not be right for you. It’s about trying, sharing what you have found and comes down to personal taste.

The following books are suggested because they can help your wellbeing in the ways I have just mentioned.

1. The Recovery Letters

Various contributors. Themes of resilience and recovery
In 2012, The Recovery Letters was launched to host a series of letters online written by people recovering from depression, addressed to those currently affected by a mental health condition.
Addressed to ‘Dear You’, the inspirational and heartfelt letters provided hope and support to those experiencing depression and were testament that recovery was possible.

2. Stressed, Unstressed: Classic Poems to Ease the Mind

3. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

4. Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

7. The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy

8. Sane new World by Ruby Wax

9. Sunbathing in the Rain by Gwyneth Lewis

10. Heaven on Earth: 101 Happy Poems, edited by Wendy Cope

11. The Lido by Libby Page

Finally, there is the very popular Books on Prescription scheme in the Scottish Borders. It aims to help people who may be experiencing stress, anxiety, depression or other psychological problems.

You can access it here.

Reading books and being open to keep learning can bring us many things - to inform us, connect us with experiences of others, even to escape into a different world for a while.

Hopefully you’ll find some which inspire you and guide you to keep learning.

Happy reading!

How I Learned to be a Genius in a Few Short Weeks

By Annette Murray

As someone with an active mind, it’s good for me to channel my mental energy into solving a problem or two. I’m always happy to be distracted by a puzzle, quiz or game of some sort. Whilst it’s nice to win, it’s equally important to have a fun distraction and learn something new along the way.

I’m a fan of the odd crossword. My general knowledge is pretty average so, I must confess, I probably spend more time than I ought to peeking at the answers! Even more so if the crossword is cryptic. 

I have long since been in awe of people who can solve cryptic crosswords. I have a couple of family members who are nearly always to be found tackling one whenever I visit. Their commitment is such they can take weeks pondering over a single puzzle – their dedication invariably rewarded by that sweetest of “a-ha” moments when the answer finally pops into their head! 

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to understand the first clue…… 

Mission Impossible?

Yes, like the contestants on University Challenge, people who can solve cryptic crosswords are simply geniuses. Mental giants with minds far superior to my own and those of the average person. No, my brain just does not work like that. Or so I thought……

That’s when I discovered the book “How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords” by Kevin Skinner. I probably stumbled across it browsing the shelves of Waterstones or such like. As if often the case with books, it seemed to tap into a latent desire of mine just waiting to be released – in this case, I apparently had a burning ambition to solve all clues cryptic.

I can recall now the surge of excitement as I flicked through the first pages of Mr Skinner’s guide, spurred on by the lines: “Contrary to popular belief, one does not have to be exceptionally intelligent to understand and enjoy them..…”

Surely this was promising too much?

With the encouragement and reassurance of a parent teaching a baby to take its first steps, the author guided me to a better understanding of the cryptic concept. The word means (‘obscure’ or ‘secret’ apparently – that much I knew!). 

Like Miss Marple on the trail of her prime suspect, I was determined to infiltrate the plotting mind of the cryptic crossword setter, bent on thwarting me. With each chapter came the steady revelation of a new type of clue and the eager opportunity to practice solving it. 

Day by day, answer by answer, my sense of confidence and anticipation grew. Soon, I became adept at spotting the signs: deciphering the Anagram from the Double Straight, the numbers that really mean letters, the words hidden in words……  

It wasn’t all as easy as ABC though. Those Homophones (words that sound like other words) really made my heard hurt. But I persevered and at last, the mystery was solved! Within days I had completed my first full cryptic crossword - without looking up the answers! 

Mission Accomplished

Yes, it’s official. I too am a genius.

Well, maybe not (I confess, I might have peeked at a solution or two). But it does describe the scale of satisfaction I felt achieving something I genuinely thought was beyond me. It cemented my belief that with some patience, determination and a helpful guide, I can learn most things.  

Like all of us, I need the right amount of challenge to stay motived (too much I feel overwhelmed and disheartened, too little then I’m bored). I also need to know when to seek help from someone who has learned more than me. Kevin Skinner and his book in this case.

Above all, when learning something that doesn’t come naturally to me, I resist all temptation to compare myself to others. Unlike my family, I’ll be sticking to beginners’ crosswords for now, but I have given myself a pat on the back for my progress, nonetheless. 

In any case, when I focus on enjoying learning for the sake of learning itself, I find the results I want come all the faster. Perhaps you have noticed that too?

Now you may not be into crosswords but I’m willing to bet a subscription to Puzzler that there is something you’ve always wanted to learn, or are at least intrigued about how people do it?

I wonder, what steps you can take to follow that curiosity today?

In the meantime, can you solve this clue: What one does with too much sun and potatoes

Drop us an email with your answers and we'll let you know if you're right!

(Here’s the link to Kevin Skinner’s book, just in case……)

Sleep in Mind

Sleep in Mind - By Jacquie Lamont and Jo Highet

During this time of uncertainty when routines are different and our thirst for information may be greater than ever - it can be very tempting to stay up later reading on our phones, tablets or laptops- it  is likely that more people’s sleep will be impacted. Below is a blog written by one of Health in Mind’s volunteers, Jacquie, generously sharing her own experience and learning as a result of insomnia.

Sleep is vital for our wellbeing and general health, but for the most part when we sleep well we take a good night’s sleep for granted. However, when you start to struggle you realise how important sleep is and how difficult the daytime can be. I learned this recently when I struggled with chronic insomnia for over a year. My problems first started when I came off migranine medication after 6 years.I had just got my sleep routine back on track when I developed kidney stones and my sleep was further disrupted with all the pain and problems that that caused. 

I am now sleeping well, getting between 7 and 8 hours a night routinely. That’s not to say I don’t still have the occasional blip but I now know what to do to get myself back on track. So I would like to share with you a little of what I have learned during this experience.
Getting good quality sleep is important for both our physical and mental health. It can also improve productivity and overall quality of life.

We know how important it is for babies and toddlers to have a good bedtime routine to help them get to sleep and this doesn’t end as we get older. Everyone, can benefit from practicing good sleep habits and you don’t need to have a sleep problem to benefit from implementing a few changes. Good sleep habits are known as sleep hygiene,I have put together a short guide on sleep hygiene which I hope helps.
 

What is sleep hygiene?
The term “sleep hygiene” refers to a series of healthy sleep habits that can improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. These habits are the cornerstone of a good night’s sleep. 

They include your behaviour during the day, and especially before bedtime, as your routine or lack of it, can have a big impact on your sleep either promoting a healthy night’s sleep or contributing to sleeplessness. Even a few slight adjustments can, in some cases, mean the difference between sound sleep and a restless night.

If you have difficulty sleeping or want to improve your sleep, try out some of these healthy sleep habits.

Keep a consistent sleep schedule.
That means going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, even at weekends or during holidays. This can be challenging especially at the moment when many of us are at home due to the restriction imposed on us by the coronavirus.  

Get some exposure to day light. 
Exposure to sunlight during the day, as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. 

Try not to nap during the day
By napping during the day you are reducing your sleep drive and making it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep all night. However, if you must nap try to make it no more than 30 minutes.

Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7 hours of sleep.                                                                       An adult between the ages of 18 to 64 is said to need 7 to 9 hours sleep a night. Those older than 64 many need less but only slightly, 7 to 8 hours a night

Avoid going to bed if you are not sleepy.
You want to teach your body that bed means sleep
If you don’t fall asleep after 30 minutes, get out of bed.
Don’t lie in bed tossing and turning it just leads to anxiety about falling asleep. It is better to get up do something relaxing and try again when you feel sleepy. Worrying about sleep makes the whole process of getting some shut eye that much harder.

Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
A regular nightly routine helps the body recognize that it is bedtime. This could include taking warm shower or bath, reading a book, or light stretches. When possible, try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and simulating activities before attempting to sleep. Do something relaxing and non-stimulating to let your mind relax. It could be meditating, reading, (a book or magazine – no screens) or listening to relaxing music or an audio book. 

Use your bed only for sleep and sex only.
Again this is to allow you to associate bed with sleep only. So don’t be tempted to watch TV, read your emails or check your phone.

Make your bedroom as comfortable and as quiet and relaxing as possible.                                                          Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature. I am sure it goes without saying that your mattress and pillows should be comfortable. The bedroom should be cool, between 60 and 67 degrees. As our body gets ready for sleep our body naturally cools down, so a cool temperature helps with this natural process. Bright light from lamps, cell phone and TV screens can make it difficult to fall asleep, so turn them off or adjust them when possible. Red light displays on digital alarm clocks are more sleep friendly than green. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, and "white noise" apps. Keep a window open if you can, and a fan may be helpful in the summer when the weather is hot.

Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings.
This helps our body to make melatonin the body natural sleep inducing hormone.

Turn off electronic devices at least one hour before bed.
The blue light from our devices can interrupt our natural sleep pattern and it is a good idea to have less stimulation and allow your mind quieten down.

Avoid having a large meal too close to bedtime.
If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack. It is best to have your main meal at least 3 hours before bed. Heavy or rich foods, fatty or fried meals, spicy dishes, fruits, and soft drinks can trigger abdominal discomfort. When this occurs close to bedtime, it can lead to painful heartburn and indigestion that disrupts sleep.

Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet.
As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling, can drastically improve night time sleep quality.  For the best night’s sleep, most people should avoid exercising too close to bedtime.

Avoid consuming caffeine in the afternoon or evening.
Caffeine is a stimulant and can have long half-life. Remember caffeine is not only found in tea and coffee but in some soft drinks and chocolate too.  

Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime.
While alcohol is well-known to help you fall asleep faster, too much close to bedtime can disrupt sleep in the second half of the night as the body begins to process the alcohol often causing multiple awakenings and/or difficulty getting back to sleep.   

Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.
If you find your night’s sleep disrupted by visits to the loo try reducing your fluids in the evening or setting a time when you have your last drink for the night.

You don’t need to try all of these at once, perhaps pick one or two that feel achievable and give them a try.

On a personal note I found taking a high dose probiotic and inulin really made a huge difference to my sleep. I discovered this pretty much by accident as I developed bad IBS symptoms after taking a number of courses of antibiotics for infections caused by kidney stones. Antibiotics are well known to knock out your gut friendly bacteria and the relationship between gut health and overall health is just really beginning to be understood. There is a strong gut brain connection and the gut is often referred to as the second brain.

If you want to know more about using Inulin have a look at the Truth about Sleep by Dr Michael Mosely.

Although lack of sleep can have a huge impact on our lives there are things we can put in place to help. It is very individual and the reasons for our lack of sleep can be wide ranging.

If you would like to read more you can do so here:

Mind 

Sleep Foundation

The Practice of Kindness

The Practice of Kindness - By Annette Murray

This week, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, I was due to teach yoga for the Wellbeing College around the original theme of ‘sleep’. Obviously, a lot has changed since then and we are instead focussing on kindness. Well yoga teaches nothing if not flexibility – and it has a lot to say about kindness. I encourage you to embrace your version of it - whether you practise yoga or not.

Most people are introduced to yoga through the physical practice of asana (the postures) at a yoga class. Many students, realising yoga benefits not just the body but the mind and emotions, inevitably discover the wider wisdom and teachings of yoga.

Between 1200 and 2000 years ago, the known teachings and practices of yoga were collated by an ancient yogi called Patanjali in a text known as the Yoga Sutras. Among these teachings are the Eight Limbs of Yoga, a set of eight practices that guide the student along the yogic path towards personal growth and ultimately, greater peace of mind.

First, do no harm

The Yamas (or restraints) are the first of these practices. Ahimsa, meaning non-harming or non-violence, is the first Yama. As the yoga teacher and author Eddie Stern explains:
“On a deeper level [ahimsa] means there is an absence of harm within us; there is no inclination for it in us, no chance that we would cause harm to someone.”  
The suggestion in the Yoga Sutras is that someone in whom this level of kindness is fully embodied, will bring peace to anyone in their presence. 
It’s a lovely thought isn’t it?

But an ideal such as this can feel out of reach for most of us, especially when we are eeriencing stress, fear, anxiety, or other states which may lead us to harm others. Whilst most of us can refrain from obvious acts of physical violence, more often we harm others unconsciously and unintentionally through our words and behaviour, because we ourselves are in pain.

How then are we to practise ahimsa as we deal with the challenges of everyday life? For me, the key lies in the word “practise”.

Patience and practise

A yoga class is not mere exercise, it is a practice in observing ourselves. Whenever we become aware of difficulties on the yoga mat, we have an opportunity to bring compassion and curiosity to those difficulties. In other words - we can practise kindness towards ourselves.

For example, ahimsa asks that we be kind towards our body – not over stretching or causing ourselves pain as we hold a posture, not pushing our body beyond its natural limits. In my experience, a tight muscle will yield sooner to gentle encouragement than it will to force.

If we can learn such care towards the body, so too can we extend this to the mind and emotions. Can we learn to notice difficult thoughts and feelings that arise for us and treat  them with compassion? If being kind to ourselves feels too hard, or something we don’t deserve, can we try, at least, to not add to our suffering and simply observe without judgement?

If you have attended a yoga class, you may have noticed the state of harmony and balance it can bring about. Perhaps you have experienced this in other ways, after a long walk in nature or time spent on your favourite hobby?

When our nervous system is calmed, we can more easily access clearer, creative states of mind. Our perspective becomes wider and we can respond to ourselves and others with greater kindness and compassion. We may not be able to rid ourselves completely of harmful thoughts and feelings, but we can learn, with patience and practise, to notice them as they arise and choose a kind response consciously. 

What kindness is in you? 

Whilst the perception of any contemplative practice, like yoga or meditation, is that it helps us “go within”, I believe their purpose is to allow what is within to come out. And what is within is undoubtedly kind. Why else would we be moved by the stranger who gives us a lovely smile, or lets us ahead of them in the queue, the sincere “Are you okay?” from a friend, the cup of tea that appears without us asking for it?

Kindness is not just a universal principle that connects us, but also one that is uniquely expressed by every individual.  A practice like yoga - or any activity that helps us relax and tap into our joy and creativity - is vital, because through it we learn to express ourselves. The things we love to do - or how we do them - often reveal the ways in which we can best help others.

Perhaps you love to cook or are great at organising things; maybe you’re a good listener or great with finances? Perhaps you have a great sense of humour, or people say you have a lovely, calming voice? You may love creating art or music?
I love words and have helped others at times with a simple letter or card, sent during a difficult time – but they wouldn’t thank me for cooking them a casserole! My kindness to myself often lies in writing down how I feel – and in knowing I can’t help everyone in every way, so I embrace what comes naturally.  When you see suffering in yourself or others, how might your kindness express itself through the things you love? Perhaps it’s in ways you have not yet thought about.

We place so much emphasis on self-care at the Wellbeing College because it is only in practising being kind to ourselves that we learn how to be kind to others. Ancient yogis understood this too, which is why ahimsa is fundamental to the practice. Start with yourself, have compassion for your pain and as you learn how to be kind to yourself, let your kindness be seen by others. That way we will all move closer to a world full of ahimsa.

“One Simple Thing – A New Look at the Science of Yoga and How It Can Transform Your Life, by Eddie Stern