Day Nine

SLEEP

Last year I was asked to deliver a keynote speech and four workshops for 100 carers who worked for a charity. The event was in London, so I travelled up from Cornwall the day before and stayed with one of my friends, who happened to live close to the venue. We decided to get a takeaway and on the way back to her house picked up a beverage, she chose a beer and I chose a Dr Pepper. I didn’t want to feel at all hungover so opted for the sugar kick instead.

What I failed to remember is that Dr Pepper also contains caffeine, and as I lay awake all night, I cursed myself for making such a careless error!

Theory

Matthew Walker is a neuroscientist and sleep expert who researches the impact sleep can have on our brain and body. He states that the phrase ‘sleep while you’re dead’ has very real implications, finding in his research that depriving yourself of sleep can actually shorten your life. Walker suggests that the average adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, but in reality, research suggests that on average we’re only getting five to six hours.

There’s a huge array of implications for not getting enough sleep. It affects your ability to remember new information and concentrate. It can affect your mental health with the NHS claiming that ‘chronic sleep debt may lead to long-term mood disorders like depression and anxiety’. You’re also more likely to have an accident at home, work or on the road if you’ve not had enough sleep.

Walker states that getting enough sleep each night is the best health insurance anyone could need. He states that sleep is the foundation for good health and self-preservation. Yet unlike other healthy choices there’s a lot of shame attached to getting a good night’s sleep. We are proud to boast about our 5-mile run or the salad we’ve had for lunch, but if we claim to need 8 hours sleep each night, people assume we’re lazy.

So how can we ensure a decent nights sleep and make it part of our daily self-care practice?

Ideas

These are Matthew Walkers ideas which he suggested in an interview with Dr Chatterjee on his podcast Feel Better Live More

  • Only drink caffeine in the mornings – if you have a coffee at midday a quarter of that caffeine will still be in your system at midnight. opt for decaf drinks! i.e no Dr Pepper before bed!!
  • Create a bedtime routine. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time in the morning. Leave a healthy window of time for you to acquire the sleep your body needs.
  • Avoid looking at blue light. The sun is a source of blue light as is any digital screen or LED bulb. If you’re bedroom is filled with artificial blue light your body will think it’s still daytime, so switch those lights down low and tell your body you’re ready for some sleep!
  • Sedation is not sleep. Avoid alcohol too! Alcohol affects the quality of your sleep, so avoid those nightcaps!
  • Associate your bed with sleep. If you’re laying awake for longer than 20 minutes get up and read a book, only go back to bed when your body feels sleepy. Avoid eating at this time too, otherwise you’ll start to associate no sleep with snacks. (Something I’m very guilty of!)

Resources

Matthew walker’s Ted Talk and book

NHS website 

 

 

Day Eight

LAUGH

It may feel hard to laugh in these unpredictable times, but I can guarantee it will make you feel better if you do. I see laughter as our body’s inbuilt resilience, something we can access if we know how too. I know laughter isn’t going to cure everything, but it certainly will ease some of the stress you may be experiencing.

Theory

Laughter has a multitude of health benefits. There is research to suggest that laughter can boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure and increase your pain threshold. Yet what I find fascinating about laughter is its ability to make us feel instantly better, to bring us closer together and make us feel connected to something bigger.

Laughter is a natural stress reliever; it helps to cathartically release suppressed or blocked emotions. It also gives us instant access to the present moment; because when you’re laughing you can’t be thinking about the past or catastrophizing about the future you are fully present.

I had a video chat with two of my best friends the other day, we talked about the C word and then went on to investigate the variety of ways facebook could transform our faces. At one point my face merged with a foot and then a thumb (pictures below) and my god did we laugh!

Exercises

  • Smile – It really is that simple, smile in the shower, smile when you’re doing the washing up, smile, smile, smile! It lifts your mood, it relaxes the muscles around your eyes, and it gives you a kick of serotonin which makes you feel ace!
  • Try a laughter workout, this one by Robert Rivest is ridiculously silly in all the best ways and if you’re anything like me you’ll find it hard not to join in!
  • Surprise your colleagues with fancy dress. This idea came from an attendee of my Harnessing you Playful Presence day. Her job requires regular skype meetings and to make her colleagues laugh she decided to choose a new fancy dress costume for each day! One day she’d drawn a moustache on her face, the next she wore a big silly hat! Be playful! The world has gotten very serious, but there’s always room for a bit of mischief!
  • Play with and exaggerate your emotions, this might sound weird but it works. If you’re feeling angry, bored, frustrated, times that emotion by 10 and really play it out, exaggerating it until it feels ridiculous. You’ll find yourself laughing in no time!
  • Check out Laughter Yoga online, there are plenty of videos on youtube and practitioners offering laughter skype calls and all sorts. It’s silly but it will make you feel good, so what is there to lose?!

Books

Laughter therapy by Annette Goodheart – How to laugh at everything in life that isn’t really that funny!

Laugh; Everyday Laughter Healing for Greater Happiness and Wellbeing by Lisa Sturge – a simple colourful book with lots of ideas and information about all things laughter.

The Happy Brain by Dean Burnett – Exploring the neuroscience of positive emotions.

fun

Day Seven

ACCEPT

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!…

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Rumi

I love this poem because it illustrates the uncertainty of being alive. Like I mentioned on day 4, we love to have routine, because routine is predictable and predictable is safe. The unknown feels threatening. Yet the only thing we can be certain of is change.

My mum trained to be a hypnotherapist when I was a teenager. She decided to use the white family as guinea-pigs, trialling out her new hypnotising voice and visualisations. At this time in my life, I was so fearful of being out of control, of something going wrong or not being able to deal with the potential disasters that might be around the corner. I suffered greatly from compulsive thoughts and anxiety. The visualisation my mum chose has stuck with me and feels relevant to share with you now.

Imagine a small stream, with the water flowing over rocks and moving past obstacles. This stream then meets a point where it joins a fast flowing river, along with many other streams coming from all directions. The river then becomes a waterfall. Large quantities of water spill over the edge into a deep pool at the bottom. The water on the surface of the pool is turbulent, but deep down under the surface the water is calm.

The streams represent aspects of life; family, friends, finances, love, career and so on. The river represents these aspects of life coming together. The waterfall represents something unexpected. The turbulence of the water on the surface represents the shock and discomfort. The stillness at the bottom of the pool represents the ability to find calm in the face of challenge.

Sometimes life is beyond our control. We can’t stop the water from rushing over the edge, but we can accept it and find comfort in the calm of the pool.

Ideas

  • Learn to inhabit your body, cultivate moments in your day where you are still, take some deep breaths in and out, find calm in that stillness.
  • Try a body scan meditation. This will help you to notice the sensations of your body without reacting to them, accepting whatever arises! For example, having an itchy nose and not scratching it!
  • Make friends with your vulnerability, discomfort or fear. Hold space for it, accept what is here and know that it will pass.

‘Bring acceptance into your nonacceptance. Bring surrender into your nonsurrender. Then see what happens.’ Eckhart Tolle

Books

Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach- Accounts of people Taras worked with and loads of meditations to try.

The Tao of Pooh and the Tee of Piglet – Insights from pooh bear and piglet and how this relates to Taoist Philosophy.

 

Day Six

gratitude

For anyone who knows me well, they will know I’m a big fan of gratitude. I find great comfort in savouring the moments of joy, the snippets of contentment and the tenderness of connection.

Theory

We are designed to see and react to the negative things around us. It’s a survival instinct, we’re constantly scanning our environment, observing and preparing for any potential risks or threats.  Having this awareness keeps us alive and in many ways is a superpower. However, this means we naturally have a negativity bias, finding it easier to be negative about situations than positive.

It’s very easy to fall into this default setting when there is uncertainty in the air, but I could really think of nothing better to practice than gratitude in these threatening and restless moments.

Gratitude sets our focus to the good things. It cultivates an unwavering feeling of hopefulness, appreciation and joy. It helps us to notice and celebrate the moments, people, places, health and opportunities that we might regularly allow to pass us by.

‘Gratitude helps us catalogue, celebrate, and rejoice in each day and each moment before they slip through the vanishing hourglass of experience.’  Dalai Lama 2016

Some may be sceptical of gratitude, seeing it as unrealistic or ‘hippy dippy’. Yet in a study conducted by Professor Robert Emmons, he discovered that ‘grateful people do not seem to ignore or deny the negative aspects of life; they simply choose to appreciate what is positive as well.’ (Abrams 2016)

There is always a balance, you can’t live in this world without experiencing pain. Yet it’s important that like the sunflower we turn and face the sun. That we learn to savour the moments of each new day and marvel in how fortunate we are to be alive.

Ideas

  • Before you go to bed think of three things that happened in your day which you are grateful for. With each thought invite the feeling of the moment into your body, let it fill your heart, let it unleash a smile on your face; allow yourself to bathe in the appreciation of each precious moment. I have done this practice off and on for many years, it’s a wonderful strategy to share with your partner, children, friends and family. I find it eases my mind before I go to sleep, and I’m sure it improves the quality of my dreams!
  • Find a gratitude rock, this could be a pebble from the beach, your garden, a riverbed etc. every night before you go to sleep go back over your day and remember all the good things that happened, then think of the ‘best thing’. With this in your mind, holding your stone in your palm, say ‘thank you’. I like this practice because it makes you search through your day remembering many good things in order to find the best moment. I also love that there’s a physical object that somehow holds or represents these moments of gratitude. (Bryne 1988)
  • Use your senses! It’s easy to get caught up in the chatter of your mind, so I often slow down and try and savour a moment; the rich taste of black coffee, the soaring buzzard above my head, the smell of wild garlic the heat of my shower in the morning. Pause and savour these sensory enlivening moments.
  • Make a gratitude diary. Write a list of the things you’re thankful for, when you wake up in the morning, over your lunch break or after dinner. You’ll find that once you start it’s quite difficult to stop!

Books

The Magic by Rhonda Bryne (author of The Secret) – A book full of practical activities that make your experience of being alive just that little more magic!

The Book of Joy – a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abram – I devoured this book, so many thoughtful insights on fear, suffering, acceptance, compassion and gratitude!

14,000 things to be happy about – the title says it all (good toilet book)

Day One

 

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Cultivating a good breathing practice can work wonders for your mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s free, it’s easy and all it takes is practice!

Theory

We’ve all heard of the fight or flight response; this is our emergency response system helping to protect us from danger. When the stress response is triggered our body becomes hyperalert, releasing adrenaline and cortisol into our blood, which helps us to fight off the danger or run from it. Our palms start to sweat, our heart starts to beat faster, we may experience tunnel vision and our muscles tense guarding us against the oncoming threat.  This response is crucial to our survival, but it can also cause havoc when it comes to perceived or potential risks.

The stress response is our inbuilt alarm system, there to protect us from physical danger, like a near miss when crossing the road or meeting a stray tiger on the way to work! However, what’s interesting is the brain doesn’t recognize the difference between a perceived or potential risk and physical one. In other words when you’re thinking and worrying about what might happen in the future your body will go into fight or flight. That inner alarm will start bleeping!  It doesn’t matter whether that threat is right there in front of you or potentially going to happen in the future, it is still a threat to your existence!

Living in survival mode is exhausting and can be the start of a downward spiral, affecting both your physical and mental health. Learning to deactivate your stress response is crucial, and is where the breathing comes in.

‘Human beings have the ability, by directing attention and awareness, to enter extraordinary states of calm and relaxation.’ Brantley 2007

When you breathe intentionally, you focus on the present moment, coming back to the simple sensations of the here and now. With this increased awareness of the present moment you are able to actively deactivate your stress response, giving your brain and body a chance to rest and rejuvenate.

Practice

  • Sitting comfortably on a chair or a cushion, place one hand on your belly and one on your chest.
  • You can shut your eyes or keep them open whatever feels better for you.
  • Start to lengthen your breath, breathing in for the count of 5 and out for the count of 7.
  • Notice the gentle rise and fall of your belly and chest as you breath in and out.
  • Allow your shoulders to release back and down as you exhale, softening the muscles in the face, eyes, cheeks, jaw.
  • If your mind starts to wonder gently bring your attention back to the sensations of your breath.
  • Continue for as long as feels good.

I find that making slight changes in my environment tells my brain it’s time to be still. This can include decluttering the room before you begin, changing the lighting, putting your phone on aeroplane mode, and lighting an incense stick or candle.

Things to Remember

Notice your triggers! If watching the news and being on social media 24/7 is making your shoulders tense, your stomach churn and your chewing your nails like there’s no tomorrow, then you’re probably experiencing the stress response. Give yourself a break, look at the news once or twice a day and not first thing in the morning or last thing at night!

Online Resources

Tara Brach – Free talks and meditations https://www.tarabrach.com/guided-meditations/

Insight timer – A meditation app with hundreds of pre-recorded meditations https://insighttimer.com/

Dharma Seed – Free talks and meditations https://dharmaseed.org/talks/

Books/audiobooks

A Life Worth Breathing by Max Storm -I have this as an audiobook it’s great and his voice is like honey!

Calming your Anxious Mind -how mindfulness and compassion can free you from anxiety, fear and panic by Jeffrey Brantley (quoted)

Mindful little yogis by Nicola Harvey – Full of fun games and exercises that help children to practice mindfulness.