I’ve touched upon aspects of self care and wellbeing in previous sections of this guide, including eating and sleeping well, taking walks, looking after your mental health and including exercise into your routine, and making sure that you have enough supplies for your health conditions such as medicines.
However, it’s a good idea to remember to look at your health and wellbeing in a holistic way and to think of what the main things that might affect you could be.
As we near the end of November, I’ve noticed a few things in my own life, so I thought I’d share them with you.
Firstly, I feel like hibernating. I’ve noticed that my body, mind and mood are being affected with this wintery season. It gets darker a lot quicker, light levels are lower, and there is a drop in temperature. I feel like with the natural cycle of the seasons, my body too is winding down and preparing for rest. Actually, if I didn’t have to work I’d probably be napping during the day like a curled up little hedgehog! 🙂 I’ve given out a lot of good advice such as maintaining exercise and healthy eating habits, and getting enough rest and sleep as well as staying active, but when it comes to it although I have been trying to do these things I am feeling a little sluggish and looking forward to not having to do very much.
Secondly, the desire for hibernation is coupled with a season of activity – which may not be such a bad thing, but it also means having to be realistic about what I can actually manage, and to pace myself. I’m blessed to have friends to meet and events to attend and things to prepare for, but it’s not always easy to ‘keep up’. As our bodies are perhaps slowing down and preparing for a time of rest we seem to try to pack in as much festivities as we can, and on the one hand that’s a good thing in making sure we don’t end up in a ‘slump’ hiding away from the world and perhaps giving in to low moods, but on the other hand it also means that we don’t have endless amounts of energy and so to stay well we need to pace ourselves and to be wise and selective in how we use our time as well as caring for our bodies and not over indulging.
Thirdly, it is the season for coughs, colds, sore throats and infections! And it’s hard to avoid these altogether, but it is something we can try to prepare for in advance.
So, what are the takeaways or key points that you can glean from all of this?
Accept that your body may react to the changing of the seasons by naturally slowing down, and that this may leave you feeling a little sluggish, tired or lethargic.
Pace yourself and try to maintain as much balance as possible between rest and play.
Listen to your body, and if you can slow down and wind up on big work projects, pace yourself with social events, don’t overpromise or overcommit to doing things, be flexible, be kind to yourself and manage the expectations of yourself and others and prepare a winter survival kit for coughs, colds, and also for any other important aspects of your life and safety. You might want to also have a winter survival kit in your car just in case of emergencies!
In summary, be realistic and take it easy. There may be a good reason that nature slows down at wintertime and it may be good for us to do so too.
1. Keep a list of emergency contacts handy so that you can easily call someone if you need help. Also, phone or reach out to a friend and connect to people face to face when you can even if it’s not an emergency. We all need each other.
Sleep it off: sometimes we really need the chance to rest our bodies and our minds. If you have tried the other tips, maybe you could try to get some sleep. Make sure that you have eaten well and maybe have a warm drink and then giver yourself some rest and the chance to heal.
During those holiday days when you may not have the structure of your usual routine, it can be easy to fall into bad sleep patterns. That’s not to say you can’t stay up late, but just over all make sure that you are getting the right amount of sleep for your wellbeing, I think between 7 to 8 hours a night is recommended. Try not to oversleep or deprive yourself of sleep, and if you need to nap during the day from time to time, then perhaps the winter ‘hibernation’ and holiday period affords a good opportunity for you to catch up on your rest and recharge your body and mind.
Keep everything in balance as much as you can. You might have a lot of events to attend to (or you may not) such as family gatherings, work nights out, meeting up with friends, or maybe travel as well. Be careful not to overstretch yourself while you try to make the most of your time, and be mindful of how important good sleep is for your overall health and wellbeing.
Anxiety can leave you feeling pretty small. If you battle against anxiety, you know that this ‘nemesis’ can leave you feeling overwhelmed, underprepared, backed up against a wall, cowering in a corner with your hands over your face, wishing it all would just go away. But guess what? You lived to fight another day. And if you stay in training, one day you will find that you have the courage to step away from that corner, lift your head high, tell anxiety who’s boss, and win the battle as you take the next step to accomplish your goal however big or small that goal might be. Don’t get me wrong, anxiety like most opponents doesn’t give up easily…winning one battle doesn’t mean that you won’t face others in the future, but as you stay in training, build resilience and learn how to use your ‘armoury’ then you will become increasingly stronger and better prepared so that it doesn’t continue to overwhelm your every day life in such a debilitating way as it might be doing just now.
You’ll probably realise, and if you’ve read my previous blog posts on related issues then you’ll know, that I speak from years of painful experience in this regard. However, I have learnt a fair bit in this difficult journey, it certainly has been a battle against a persistent foe, but as small as we might be feeling when experiencing anxiety, panic attacks and related conditions, we can become ‘superheroes’ in our own way as we overcome our own battles, and use our increasing skills and strength to help others.
You are not alone
I know how debilitating living with Generalised Anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, etc can be. My heart goes out to you if you are overwhelmed by these things just now. I’d love to share with you some of the things I’ve learned that help me make progress on this journey. It continues to be a daily challenge, however, it does get better the more you understand. Actually, the reason I started writing this was prompted by almost having a ‘meltdown’ this evening because I couldn’t find an address that I needed, but I was able to ‘talk myself out of that corner’ that I felt backed up against.
Quick tips for your training to become a ‘superhero’ in your fight against anxiety.
Arm yourself with knowledge – know your opponent.
You can’t really win this fight if you don’t know what you’re up against. I know the fear of feeling that your head and heart are about to explode, hyperventilating and feeling that you will be sick (or in my case, actually being sick a couple of times), collapsing physically in a heap, feeling dizzy, stressed, and worrying that you might be going crazy because of the relentless and unceasing bombardment of thoughts firing at you like arrows from all sides.
Knowing that these are ‘normal’ symptoms of a condition that many people share was one of the first steps for me for making sense of things and lessening the fear that something far worse was happening to me. So find some recommended resources – there are plenty out there such as MIND in the UK https://www.mind.org.uk/ but there will be plenty of others that can help explain to you what’s going on in your body, brain and nervous system. You’re not going crazy if you’re experiencing anxiety or panic attacks – you are in fact incredibly brave as each small thing that may seem easy or effortless to other people, is a monumental task for us.
2. Get support from a professional.
I am so blessed and thankful that living in the UK I have free access to health care, including support for mental health conditions such as anxiety. I had to face in myself the ‘stigma’ that I felt in reaching out for help but things had got to such a point that after years of stress my body was overloaded with stress hormones and I physically and mentally couldn’t cope any more. I needed support, and actually reaching out to get that, as scary as I felt it was at the time, and as reluctant as I was, is one of the best things I have done in my recovery.
Work at getting rid of and overcoming any stigmas you might have about getting help for mental health. Just as you wouldn’t feel ashamed about getting help for a broken arm, for diabetes or migraines or other physical conditions, you and I have no reason to feel ashamed if the chemicals in our brains, our hormones, nervous systems and consequently our thoughts are ‘not working properly’. Nor would you sit at home trying to repair your own broken arm, or at least I hope you wouldn’t, so learn from my mistakes of trying to get through things on my own for so many years, and losing out on quality of life and suffering more than necessary, by getting help from someone who knows and understands what is going on. If you live in a country where you have to fund your own health care, try to find out if there are charitable groups with a strong background in mental health that can offer you some support, phone a related helpline and ask if someone can help you understand what’s going on, access online resources, including YouTube videos such as those by licensed therapist Katie Morton – she is lovely and explains things very well. But don’t try to go it alone when you don’t need to. Even ‘Batman’ has backup, so why shouldn’t you? 🙂
3. Friends, family and a support network.
Related to this, share with trusted friends and family members and try to build up a support network. You might not like the sound of this at first, but you won’t always be what you might feel is ‘the needy one’. You are strong too and can reciprocate help. Having friends and family involved to supplement the support from professionals, rather than feeling like you are overburdening people who might not have the resources to help, can be a big part of your recovery, and your training on your ‘superhero’ journey 🙂 Just knowing that you have someone who is aware that you might need a bit of encouragement when you both are walking into a crowded room, or going out with friends, or that you might need a bit of extra time as ‘leeway’ when leaving the house to meet them because anxiety can strike when you’re not expecting it, can help build and preserve understanding within these relationships. You might find that they also struggle and that you can be sources of mutual support to each other.
4. Breathe, breathe, breathe!
You and I really need to practice this regularly and stay in training. This is one aspect of becoming resilient that we cannot afford to neglect. Breathing properly is essential for life. It is also essential for quality of life. When we panic, we hyperventilate, we breathe short, shallow breaths, sometimes ‘gulping’ in air, or holding our breath, and we can breathe erratically and too frequently. Everything speeds up! We send our bodies and brains into fight / flight / freeze mode, adrenaline and cortisol go up, we might start pacing up and down, looking for a ‘way out’, sweating, crying or facing a melt down. An inevitable response is that we then have to contend with racing thoughts, mostly negative and self-deprecating, or ‘catastrophising’ about the situation and imagining the worst which means our anxiety goes up rather than coming under control.
This is why breathing properly is so essential. I know, I know, ‘it’s easier said than done’, right? That’s true, but it’s also not as hard as you think. You’ve seen in films how someone panicking might be given a paper bag to breathe into, and gradually the pace and intensity of their breathing calms down. You don’t need a paper bag, but you do need to breathe in a more helpful way. Try this – breathe in through your nose for a count of 4, breathing so that your belly rises on the in breath, hold the breath for 4 seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for a count of 5. There are different variations on this for the amount of time, but the main thing to remember is breathe in through the nose, hold, and breathe out through your mouth, allowing your tummy to rise and fall with the in and out breaths, and making sure that you exhale for just a bit longer than you inhale. This helps to regulate the oxygen and carbon dioxide in your system, calms the nervous system and get you out of the ‘fight / flight / freeze’ state into being more in control of your body and mind.
We need to keep practicing this though, daily. Start small, for a few seconds at a time if that’s all you feel you can manage, and then just build from there and keep going – it works wonders! At first I felt frustrated when doctors kept on at me about the breathing when I felt I needed something more to help me, but simplicity is really the key sometimes, and just trust me they know what they’re talking about when they prescribe ‘breathing’ properly as the medicine you need! Sometimes, as the saying goes, the best things in life really are free!!! 🙂
This is a very personal journey, so ask for advice, information and guidance from healthcare professionals. Tell them what your concerns and symptoms are and consider whether taking medicine to help with anxiety, might be a helpful option for you, even if just in the short term to take the edge off things.
6. You are what you think?
Be transformed by renewing your mind. Challenge and intercept your negative thoughts, and grow in understanding of the connective cycle between thoughts, feelings, reactions and actions. You might need help with this at first, but it is essential, and as with breathing, it is a daily and lifelong training we need to maintain. Initially it feels impossible to rise up from the onslaught of negative thoughts incessantly bombarding our minds, and they seldom turn up alone. But if you can address and intercept your thoughts then you can gain mastery over your physical, mental and emotional reactions.
Stay in training even on good days, because if out of the blue anxiety strikes you will be better placed and practiced to talk yourself down into a calmer more rational state of body and mind, as I was this evening when facing a potential ‘meltdown’.
For example, if you have to walk into a room full of people, you might be indulging in negative self-talk such as “I’m so awkward, everyone’s looking at me, I can’t do this, I need to get out of here” etc. This leads to feelings of stress, anxiety, self-consciousness, fear, shame, awkwardness, distress, low self esteem, and so forth. You then might react with a racing heart, hypervigilance, wringing your hands, keeping your head down, avoiding eye contact, clenching your fists, while experiencing symptoms of dizziness, nausea, pain, etc. This leads you to take the actions of walking quickly to where you’re going, avoiding eye contact with others, or seeking an exit (don’t worry, I do this often but I’m working on it, and getting better gradually and you can too) or make excuses to leave. Alternatively, you might have a ‘fight’ reaction and snap at someone, become agitated in your movements, or you might ‘freeze’ like a rabbit startled by the headlights of an oncoming vehicle, which is often what anxiety can feel like.
See how powerful a thought is! So, instead, focus on your breathing, arm yourself with new, positive and affirming thoughts such as ‘I can do this’, and keep practicing these and see how much better you come to feel over time. Basically, you need to learn to ‘be your own best friend’ in all of your self-talk and thought processes – it takes a lot of hard work, but we all need to keep at it to see the benefits.
7. Five, four, three, two, one.
A simple and helpful ‘grounding’ technique has been so beneficial to me, so please do try it yourself and keep practicing even on good days to train your mind. Observe 5 things you can see, four things you can hear, three that you can touch, two that you can smell and one that you can taste. This really helps get us out of our own heads, grounds ourselves in reality and helps us feel safe.
8. Brain training
You’ll be amazed at how much your brain is capable of when you put in the work to take care of your mental health. Brain training is a good and enjoyable way to start, and this might take the form of puzzles, cross words, card games, mind challenges, riddles, touch typing, learning a new language or skill, etc.
9. Exercise and Nutrition
Just as we need to exercise our brains for health and well being, physical exercise, even starting small at first for 5 minutes a day if you are not used to it can boost our endorphins, our ‘happy hormones’, lift our mood, help our bodies, brains and nervous systems and regulate our emotions, while fuelling ourselves with healthy and nutritious foods and water can boost our mood and also help us feel calmer and more balanced.
10. Sleep – Zzzzzzzz!
Good sleep is something I struggle with and have to keep working on. Often I feel anxious before going to bed and can’t settle, or my sleep might be interrupted. I need to work on this, we all do, but little by little, step by step we can make improvements so that we can reap the healing benefits of sleep and rest. Even if we can’t sleep, we can practice stilling our minds, and disconnecting from the overload of online information and chatter, so that we are in a more restful and rejuvenating state.
So that’s my top 10 for now. No one said it is going to be easy, but you and I deserve a better quality of life than we have with anxiety, and it is possible…we are superheroes afterall! 🙂 x
‘Life as it happens to me’ has me at a point where I am attempting to climb a proverbial mountain. I am by nature a ‘night owl’. I love the idea of being a morning person, and the few times I have been able to have a good stretch of time in the morning has been really good. I know that there is research about people’s circadian rhythms that mean some people are more inclined to being either ‘larks’ or ‘owls’, and it’s hard to fight against it. Hard perhaps, but maybe not impossible…I’m sure it has been done. I am also a very creative person, and so it is not easy for me to turn my thoughts and ideas off and have a good night’s sleep and wake up refreshed and ready to go in the morning.
The thing is, for me, there are extra dimensions to this ‘problem’. I went through a period of time when I was not able to have a full night’s undisturbed sleep for three years. It was exhausting, frightening and just a horrible time for me.
Additionally, I have anxiety, panic attacks and complex post traumatic stress which means night time can be difficult and if I get to sleep early I might still have nightmares, be unable to settle into a good sleep and wake up at various points during the night. So in the morning, I am not able to get up with my early alarm, and added to that I have the anxiety of getting ready and out the door, and am very rarely on time for things because of these added challenges to my body and brain. However, I have overcome so many other things in my life and this although I have tried time and time before is on my list. And friends, I need help!
I have read things, watched videos and sought advice on how to overcome this aspect of my life, but it is not something I have ever been able to sustain despite my efforts. Some aspects of healing of my conditions take time, but I am determined to get on top of things but it can get discouraging.
I need help to keep me accountable, to help me get on track in the first place, then stay on track, and although I’ve probably heard most of it all before, I need advice and helpful tips and tricks. I wish there was a switch that could just make things work, but there isn’t and society has its framework geared towards ‘morning people’. Any help, advice or stories from your own experience if your natural rhythm is more nocturnal would be so welcomed. I share a lot of advice on other life issues, but this is one I have no expertise on, so please help this frustrated little owl! 🙂 Thanks friends. xx
I don’t know about you, but where I am it seems to be the season for cold and flu viruses doing their rounds. This year, it seems to be hitting people a bit harder than usual, including myself. There are few places at the moment where you won’t encounter someone with a sore throat, cough, cold or who is generally looking and feeling ‘under the weather’.
I am recovering (hence being able to sit up and write my blog) after being sick for over a week. I often find myself pondering, as my mind wanders, the analogies that exist between day to day happenings and life on a deeper level. So this time, friends, the life lessons come from the humble, common cold virus.
I had set myself a goal of having zero sick days this year. I also was quite adamant that I wouldn’t get sick when I realised that there was something in the air, as it were. However, those ‘promises’ were short lived when my body decided to grind to a halt against all my good intentions to stay well. I haven’t had a cold like this for quite a while, and certainly not one that caused me to be ill for over a week and unable to leave the house. Life has a funny way of teaching us. Here are some of the lessons that this cold taught me:
1. Sometimes life just happens, and we have to ‘roll with it’.
As I mentioned, I had no intentions of getting sick, and with my regular routines of exercise and quite healthy eating, I was doing alright to maintain a good level of health. But as we know now, I did get sick, and there really wasn’t much I could do to stop that from happening.
Sometimes life just happens, and we have to ‘roll with it’. Against all our plans, and despite our determination, sometimes life’s happenings get the better of us, and we find our self ‘on the bench’ or in the sick room, watching from the sidelines as everything continues without us .
Have you ever been there? Whether you have or haven’t, there’s no sure way to know whether or not you will be in the future. While we can’t necessarily prevent certain things happening, we may be able to lessen the likelihood of them happening. And where we can’t do that, we can build our daily resilience by building our character, working on our attitude and mindset, and taking care of what has been put in our care…being ‘good stewards’ of our giftings, belongings, responsibilities and relationships. And if you haven’t been doing that, and you do find that ‘the rug has been pulled out from under you’, you can still be intentional about how you think about and respond to the situation you find yourself in.
2. Busy isn’t always best…listen to your body and mind when they urge you to rest.
Now, when I did accept that I wasn’t going anywhere fast, I came up with a plan to get better as soon as possible and get back to work within a day or two. While some people are able to do that, my body had other ideas, and I was devoid of much energy and unable to move or to do the simplest things. Most of us live in societies and cultures where we are constantly compelled to be busy. We equate busy with useful even though being busy doesn’t necessarily mean being productive. When we stop walking by rivers, or cloud gazing or listening to the rustle of leaves in the park, in other words when we don’t ‘stop to smell the roses’, we allow ourselves to tune out of creation’s natural rhythms, and tune into the chaotic frequency of noise, bustle, busyness, and the frantic hurry of modern day life. If you have ever experienced ‘burnout’, times of stress, anxiety, panic attacks or other similar symptoms, you know that there is only so much your body, mind and heart can take before it simply takes a break, with or without your permission.
Believe me, busy isn’t always best…and I have a feeling that you know it yourself. Even when I was unwell, I wanted to clean, to tidy up the mess of the household work that I wasn’t able to do because I had no energy, and I just had to focus on getting better and obey my body which refused to do much at all other than rest, sleep, fight off the virus and ‘check out’ of ‘normal’ everyday life.
Don’t let it get to the point in life where you burnout, and where you are forced to grind to a halt. Take care of yourself daily. Yes, we all have to deal with life in a rapidly changing, moving world (well, at least most of us do), but that doesn’t mean that you have to add that extra thing to your ‘to do list’. Stop and rest a while. If you work in an office, do you really have to sit at your desk to eat lunch? Can you just ‘get away’ from it all for 20 minutes, and find a few moments to yourself to rest and eat and think without interruption? Do you need to be ‘plugged in’ to the world and all its happenings 24/7? Can you switch off earlier or more often and limit the time you allow your mind to be bombarded and overloaded by messages, stories, images and the constant stream of information that we face in an online world? Can you take a walk in nature more often? Can you choose to read a book rather than scroll through news feeds? Can you find the time to take a nap? Do you really need to ‘do it all’, and if so, is that ‘one more thing’ you have to do worth sacrificing your mental and physical health and wellbeing for?
3. We need each other
Robert Putnam in his well known article, ‘Bowling Alone’ wrote about the importance of ‘social capital’ in a world where people are increasingly ‘bowling alone’. We all gain from positive interactions, connections and relationships. It is necessary for a healthy society and healthy individuals.
I live alone, and when I was sick I really struggled to simply look after myself. How nice it would have been to have someone help out with simple things like doing the dishes, preparing food, or getting medicine. If you have such a someone in your life, please let them know you appreciate them 🙂 I had to do it all myself, but thankfully I was able to order groceries and cough and cold medicine to be delivered to my flat and that certainly helped when I was unable to go outside. While I didn’t have physical help, I did have contact over the phone with my family, and even that helped ‘keep me going’. Most of us don’t like to be dependent on others, but we are interdependent – that’s part of what it means to be human. Foster those good healthy connections and relationships. Reach out and ask for help when you need to, but also try to strengthen yourself to be able to be as resilient as possible if you do find that you have to go it alone in seasons or circumstances of life. And perhaps most importantly, be reminded that there are people, young, old and middle aged alike, who against all their wishes and determination, do find that they are dependent for help – perhaps their bodies or minds have ‘given up’ in some way, perhaps they no longer function as they once did, perhaps they are in a situation and state in life that they really didn’t wish for, and they simply cannot get by without the help or care of others. Maybe this is a temporary situation…maybe they have to endure this for a long time. We don’t like to feel dependent, but sometimes we are….and sometimes someone really could benefit from that offer of help, or from the unasked kindness of a hot meal made for them, a little help here or there…the risk of having the offer rejected is not so important as the potential impact of helping and encouraging someone who really does need it. Be brave…take that chance.
It’s an obvious one, but something so many of us struggle with….getting enough sleep. Yet it is essential for maintaining our health and wellbeing. We may be busy, but we cannot afford to trade off getting things done with compromising our health. It is amazing how sleep restores – there are so many functions going on within our bodies that we are barely aware of….don’t they deserve to get the rest and sleep they need? 🙂
5. What are you taking for granted?
So now we come to the final life lesson that the common cold has for us today: Gratitude.
How funny it is that we humans often take something for granted until we no longer are able to do or have it. We may moan about our jobs, but when we are unable to attend our work we find we miss it, or at least appreciate the ability we normally have to carry out our work. When we are confined indoors, we find a new appreciation for the outside world – for blue skies overhead, the sound of birdsong, the whisper of a breeze on our skin. When we are immobile, we think upon how wonderful it is to be able to move, to function, to have health and to do simple things on our own. When we are unwell, we appreciate health. When we are alone, we appreciate company. When we are tired, we appreciate strength.
Do you have any of these today? Do you have strength enough to do your housework? Be grateful and don’t grumble. Do you have a job to go to? Try to appreciate it, along with your ability to do it. Do you have someone to help you with the day to day things of life? Hold off from any judgements you may have of them for *how* they are helping, and show your appreciation that you have them in your life in the first place. Do you have health? Enjoy it, be thankful, use it to bring something good into the world today. Do you have money in your pocket, a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and a mind that is still functioning? Be grateful. Look after yourself, and those around you, and don’t wait until you no longer have it to appreciate what you have right now. xx