Tag Archives: Thoughts

Self Care In A Pandemic (76): When It’s HaRd To Keep Going…

I know that blogging about mental health and self care in a pandemic is good for other people, and it helps me too to write and explore my thoughts. Yet, you may have noticed that I haven’t blogged for a few days, or perhaps a week or so since my last post, I can’t quite recall. Sometimes, friends, it’s hard to keep going, even with the things that we know are good for ourselves and for other people. And that’s ok.

It’s ok to have peaks and troughs, ups and downs in life. For many of us, the pandemic and lockdown is just one aspect of what we are going through just now. Many of us are overcoming longstanding mental health issues in addition to some of the cares and concerns of present day, and that can be tough.

For the most part, I’ve found that the tools and techniques I had previously learned to help me to overcome complex post traumatic stress, anxiety and depression were helpful in sharing with others and sharing ideas of how we can progress through this pandemic. Yet lately, I’ve been struggling a bit with some of these recurring issues. Sometimes it is hard to keep going, and I’m sure there are many among you who know what I mean. Our minds can at times be scary places and can throw up all kinds of traumatic memories, sensations and even things of their own imaginings, and when we are in lockdown it can seem all the more intense.

So what do we do? Let me remind us of two truths:

  1. We are not our thoughts and feelings.
  2. This too shall pass.

When I was a child I thought I was my thoughts and feelings and I thought I was all of the horrible things that people called me. I had no concept that the rush of anxiety and the hormones my body was producing and the intense emotional, psychological and physical pain I felt made me feel awful together with the abusive words and treatment from other people against my very personhood. I thought I was awful and horrible and disgusting because people and my own body and brain made me feel that way, and I did not know how to de-escalate those feelings. The result was a very dark season of my life when as a child I thought there was something terrible about me and when everything felt so bad and the reality was that I was severely traumatised. I also for the first time no longer wanted to be alive. I’m using that language so as not to trigger anyone.

Well, by God’s saving grace, I survived. I’m overcoming things. Yet at times my brain and body throws up those awful experiences and it’s my job as an adult to know that those things are separate from my worth as a person and to learn ways to de-escalate those feelings.

Perhaps you are struggling with unwanted or uncomfortable or awful thoughts and feelings and you need someone to remind you that you are not your thoughts and feelings and you are not the bad things that you may have been told. That’s not how your worth is defined as a human being. You are worthy because you are human and the God Who Created you loves you and wants to restore you, forgive you, clean you up, heal you and give you a future and a hope. That’s not to say that there won’t be ups and downs but Jesus Is strong enough and loves you enough to get you through.

So, regardless of what you believe right now, know that your worth is simply in your humanity. You are not what you feel, you are so much more than that, you are valuable and important. That is a FACT.

Secondly, this too shall pass. There have been times when life has been hard as a child and then later in adulthood when traumas resurfaced that my brain started throwing up those horrible thoughts and feelings about not being able to cope and about giving up on life, etc. If I gave in to those thoughts and feelings, then I wouldn’t be here writing these words of encouragement to you. Those thoughts and feelings came and over time and with effort and God’s grace, they went, or lost intensity. I no longer feel that way. So if you are feeling overwhelmed, helpless or stuck in this pandemic or in some difficult circumstance or by your own mind, know that it is a temporary state and just as the seasons change so too will the way you feel, and you can take steps (read my many blog posts to find some suggestions) to feel better. The sun will shine again my friends.

In addition to this, I’d like to encourage you to do the following:

Engage your logical brain especially when your thoughts and emotions start to overwhelm you. It can be tough to do things that are good for us when we’re not feeling just quite right, but you can do it, I believe in you. Maybe you could do a crossword puzzle, or play a non-triggering computer game such as solitaire. Maybe you can go outside for a walk if that is available to you and start to notice things of a certain colour, or count how many birds you can see. Maybe you can set yourself some small tasks around the house, or if you are in a better place you can engage with some of your much loved hobbies from playing an instrument, listening to music, dancing, exercise, reading a book, cross stitch, gardening, cooking, or some kind of arts or crafts. When we engage with our senses this helps to activate certain healthy brain areas.

Connect with other people and let someone know how you’ve been feeling. It’s understandable that you may feel you don’t want to ‘offload’ onto others if you think they are going through their own things, but it is important to have human contact and to be able to bounce ideas off other people and to know that those connections are in their own way a form of ‘grounding’ in present reality. We don’t always have to talk about our ‘stuff’ but it is important to keep in contact with other human beings. If you don’t have someone to talk to then you can always call a helpline. And if you aren’t up for that, always know that you can read my blog for encouragement and advice and know that you’re not alone in whatever you are going through.

Try to maintain a routine outside of your head. It’s all too easy to get lost in our minds and trying to figure out or to solve our problems from the inside out. I’ve struggled with this a lot over the years and that’s ok. One thing that does help me get from one moment to the next is to have tasks to do outside of my own head and it gives my mind a focus knowing that I have to get up and do this or that rather than allowing myself to lie down under the weight of whatever it is I am thinking or feeling. Perhaps these could include eating something healthy, reading a book, doing a bit of exercise, getting fresh air, playing an instrument, writing a blog post, or watch something non-triggering and uplifting such as a nature documentary. Sometimes the things we do to help ourselves can also uplift those around us or those we are connected to online, such as in the blogging community.

So if you are finding it hard to keep going right now, remind yourself that you are not your thoughts and feelings, you are worthy as a living being, a human being and try to give yourself some positive affirmations. Also remind yourself that this too will pass and you will move forwards and feel better again just as you have in times past. Try to engage your logical brain, stay connected with other people who are good influences in your life, and set yourself some small self care tasks that will help take you out of your head. If like me you sometimes feel like you ‘shouldn’t’ be struggling, or you feel bad because of your mental health struggles, then know that it is completely normal, all human beings have faulty minds in some way or another and encourage yourself that you are looking for healthy ways forwards, even by reading this blog you are doing so, so give yourself a ‘well done’ and a pat on the back for that because small steps matter.

Remind yourself that you are not alone, and take a look through my blog archives for plenty of helpful material on managing your mental health and self care in the pandemic and otherwise just generally in life.

Even if all you feel able to do today is the smallest of steps then that’s ok, because small changes add up. We all have our ups and downs, and I had to take some time out of blogging over the past few days because I was finding things difficult again myself. That’s ok. I am proud of you for reading this blog post especially if you have been finding things difficult. That could be one of the tasks you have done to care for yourself and there are plenty of posts you can come back and read later on too to help keep you going and give you ideas for how to persevere.

Well done, my friend. Let’s keep taking those small steps forward to care for our bodies and our minds in what has been a challenging time and to remind ourselves of how far we have come and that we can keep going.

You are worthy, you are important, you are here for a reason and you have the strength to take that one next step and the next, and the next and on and on……

All you have to do is live a moment at a time and you CAN do that.

Be blessed. Stay safe and know you are important, worthy and loved. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (72): Psychologically Crossing Over In The Pandemic….There Is Another Side….

Have hope.

Dear friends, have hope.

Perhaps life, the pandemic, your experiences have put you in a psychological box and kept you ‘stuck’ within what you think is the realm of possibility.

However, as someone coming through on the other side of complex PTSD, I am living proof that there can be psychological crossing points in our life, where after we have suffered, and pressed through, we can come out stronger and wiser on the other side.

What challenges are you facing today? Particularly what psychological bridges do you need to cross? Will you take that journey? Will you believe that you can cross over to the other side? It may be tough going at times and it may be psychologically gruelling but you are strong enough and if you persevere you may find a brighter day ahead, new avenues of thought and freedom.

If you are at a psychological bridge in your mind, know that persevering, pushing through, keeping on going through the strain and the pain will lead you to somewhere new and you will not be the same. We can’t go through such psychological shifts and remain unchanged even if it takes time for us to see that change and even if on the surface it seems that nothing has changed at all.

If you are in lockdown, it may on the surface seem like you are repeating the same habitual patterns over and over again, day after day. You wake up, you go through whatever morning routine you go through, you eat, work, play, sleep and repeat and your days on the surface vary little from one day to the next. But what makes you different from other people who do the same or similar things and stay ‘stuck’ mentally? Maybe on the surface not much has changed, but are you being transformed by the renewing of your mind? Are you allowing your mindset change and in doing so you change the way you see, experience and appreciate the things around you, things that would otherwise seem ‘ordinary’, ‘mundane’ and ‘commonplace’?

A lot of life is spent in normal times in our fast paced societies running away from things, running to the next thing, filling up our minds with information, distractions, escapism. In lockdown perhaps we’ve spent time with escapism and distraction and while at times these can have a helpful place, such as if we need for our own mental health to distract ourselves, living like that is unsustainable. Moreover, we’ll get bored of it after a while. We can’t live life if we’re always running away from it, or from ourselves. Maybe you’ve been there pre-pandemic times. Maybe your and my constant ‘running’ or escapism has led to breakdowns or burnouts or psychological fatigue at various points.

What if we were to cross some psychological bridges as we make our way slowly and carefully through this pandemic? Perhaps in less time than we anticipate it our societies will be back to more of what we were used to as ‘normal’ and staying at home will seem like a distant memory in time. Maybe then we will long for the extended periods at home that we are having to go through now. So, will we use this time well? Will we take time instead of being dissatisfied to cultivate gratitude? Will we learn and train our minds to be thankful and to see the beauty and the life in the everyday?

Will we cross other psychological bridges that we have needed to for so long now? Don’t waste this time that you have right now, your mind may lead you to some new destinations where you can see your life with greater depth, clarity and gratitude. Cross that bridge. Begin today. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (69): Be Aware Of What You Focus On…

Hi friends, I must admit that the mornings here in Scotland are getting a bit challenging for me to deal with at the moment. I’m not sure if the sun is shining in your part of the world, but where I am the sky is a big grey sheet and it is drizzling with rain. Trees are bare branched and there is a bit of a wind whistling through them. I and many others are probably longing for spring and a bit of sunshine (when hopefully the general population won’t go crazy and be irresponsible with going outside or forgetting about social distancing…but that’s for another chapter!).

Whatever the weather is like where you are, it is part of the human condition to sometimes struggle with focusing on the things that our bodies, minds and hearts experience that might get us down. We need to have a plan in place for times like that and the more we can implement better thought habits the better we will be for it through the course of our lives.

My sleep was a bit unsettled, I woke up with unsettling feelings and thoughts inside, and then I woke up to grey skies and a ‘dreich’ day as the Scots say. I knew that I had to get out of my head a bit and so I opened the patio door and got some fresh air on my face. I could see and hear birds, and even saw a fox running behind our garden fence! I appreciate these things having lived the first part of lockdown 1.0 on my own in a tall flat with no garden space or balcony!

It did me good to get some fresh air, but I still felt unsettled. I had breakfast and did some exercise, all the while building up on the new and more helpful thought patterns and neural pathways. This can be effortful at times. We can forget to breathe. We can get lost in the tangle of unsettling thoughts and feelings. We can become overwhelmed and stay stuck focusing on the wrong things. Memories and impressions arose in my mind. Perhaps they do for you, and not particularly the ones you want to remember. Sometimes we want to ‘swat’ them away. Yet there is power in learning to sit with those difficult thoughts and feelings safe in the knowledge that we are not our thoughts, and they will not last.

If you are struggling with things today, be aware of what you are allowing yourself to focus on. As I said in an earlier post, it is normal to have ups and downs, but sometimes those difficult spells can feel really hard to us. That’s why we need Help from Above, and we also need practical tools and strategies.

So whatever it is you are finding yourself focusing on, if it is a negative thing that is, sit with it for a moment, take a deep breath and try to reframe your thought into focusing on something else more positive and productive. The fact that you have read this far in my somewhat rambling blog post is a positive thing in itself! πŸ™‚

Keep moving, feel your feelings, externalise them in some safe way if that helps such as journaling or chatting to a friend, or praying through them to God. Remind yourself that you are not your thoughts and feelings, and that they will pass.

Think of something more positive to turn your attention to and do that for a while. It takes time. We can feel destabilised and discouraged when we feel these difficult things as if we are those things but we are not. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are valuable. And there is an important reason we are here today and we all have a purpose. If you don’t know your purpose, I have written a post about that and finding it in the very things that are right in front of us. You can find a purpose for the next five minutes, and the next, and the next and going on from that….so just focus on the next step on those difficult days.

Remind yourself also that it takes time and practice for all of us to make new neural connections, and trains of thought and patterns of behaviour as our brains readjust from negative thought patterns, experiences and beliefs that we may have been used to or conditioned by for many years. But we can make a change and each small step is important.

There are a couple of verses in Christian Scripture that help me and encourage me with this: ‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12:2) and ‘You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make /set you Free’ (said by Jesus Christ Who also comforts us by showing us that He Is The Way, The Truth and The Life). John 8:32, John 14:6.

We can be free. And even with everything going on in your life today, you can make progress. If you are in a ‘slough of despond’, if you feel like you have fallen down a metaphorical well and don’t know how to get out, don’t let the darkness overtake you, don’t look down at the ground, don’t stay stuck in your difficult thoughts and feelings – instead, like an intrepid explorer find that spark within you that says ‘keep going’, ‘you can do this’ and like a curious child, look for the solution to a puzzle that can be solved. Look up to the light streaming in that otherwise darkened well, look for the foot and hand holds on the side and begin, one small effort at at time to climb up. You CAN do this.

We will speak again soon, friends. If you are doing well, keep going. If you are doing very well, reach a hand out to help someone else. If you are feeling stuck, you can make progress. Just do that next one thing, and be aware of what you choose to focus on. It’s ok to feel those tough feelings, to sit with them a while, to process them, to responsibly vent them without hurting anyone else, to be creative about it, but don’t stay in that place all day. Focus on something new. Do the next thing. And never give up. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (67): Ups And Downs Are Normal…

Perhaps you’ve been making strides forward in some area of your life, or even managing to keep a relatively even keel at various points throughout the pandemic and through lockdown if you are also in that situation.

Maybe you’ve hit some rough waters and things feel a bit more ‘up and down’ as you try to hold on through choppy waters.

That’s ok, friend. It’s quite normal. It’s part of being human to have good days and bad.

What we can do though is to keep seeking to build in resilience into our day to day life and habits. Sometimes I feel like I might be seeing light break through an area of my life that has been challenging for a while, only to realise that my heart and mind are uncovering other areas that need focus. That’s ok too.

If you’re beginning to feel a bit unsettled, don’t worry, it’s normal, and it won’t last forever. Take a breath. Gather your thoughts, try to get some perspective, pray and reach out for help if you need to.

Another thing you can do is continue to think about your ‘self care toolkit’. I may have mentioned this before, but the thing with our minds is that we can so often forget the good learning we’ve done and when we begin to feel all a bit ‘at sea’ again we may feel flustered and not sure of what to do next.

What is in your self care tool kit? What tips and tricks do you do to help you keep calm, stay grounded, and take the next step forwards? Perhaps you need to remind yourself of these or write down some new ones so that you can bring your thoughts back to things that will help you move forwards.

And remember that in moving forwards, the smallest of steps matter. It might feel monumental on a day in which you’re struggling to simply get out of bed, make your bed, shower and get ready and to look after your body and mind. Be kind to yourself. These small steps matter.

Here are some tips that you can incorporate into your own self care routine when you are having some ups and downs:

  • Remember to breathe properly. This helps to calm your nervous system and those racing thoughts. Breathe in through your nose for 5 counts, allow your belly to expand. Hold for five, and breathe out slowly and deeply through your mouth, expelling the air, for a count of 7. Repeat as often as you need to.
  • Get a bit of fresh air to clear your head. If you can’t go outside for a walk and if you don’t have a garden, try to open your windows from time to time, look up at the sky, and feel the fresh air on your face. Even a few moments of this can add a feeling of refreshment to you in a difficult moment.
  • Stay active. Maybe you’ve got a good exercise routine going. Try to keep things in balance so that you are neither over doing things or being inactive. Do things for the right reasons to look after your body and mind and not to ‘punish’ yourself. If you don’t know where to start, try some stretches, move your body a bit and do whatever it is in your capability to do even if for a few seconds or minutes to begin with. Your brain will start to enjoy the movements you give your body and you may just find yourself taking the next steps.
  • Eat well and drink plenty of water. Maybe you need to change your lifestyle considerably if you have unhealthy eating habits whether over indulgent, eating the wrong foods, or eating too little or too restrictively. Know that it’s ok to start small. Ask for professional help if you need to, there are so many resources out there, don’t feel that you are alone. Set yourself the challenge for making small changes to be more healthy and give yourself a ‘pat on the back’ when you accomplish each small task.
  • Read. Reading is good for the mind. Try also to learn new things, study and watch or listen to something educational. It’s fine to enjoy entertainment but our minds also need stimulation and learning otherwise they can get caught up in all kinds of negative mental health loops. Sometimes a good distraction and learning something new can work wonders and build new positive neural pathways and connections.
  • Keep in touch. We all need each other. Try to figure out who the right people are to have in your life right now and how you can mutually encourage each other and try to avoid toxic relationships, and try to get help if you need to.
  • Invest in your long term mental health and overcoming things that are detrimental to you or are road blocks to you. Maybe you have long standing issues or traumas that need to be addressed. Try thinking of ways to move forwards with these and know that it’s ok to go slowly if you need to. We all have something to overcome, you are not alone.
  • Keep healthy hobbies near at hand. Whether they are crossword puzzles, colouring in books, model making kits or cross-stitch, a musical instrument, sketch books, a pen and paper to write your thoughts, whatever they may be try to make it easy for yourself to pick up your hobbies because they are good for you.
  • Help someone else and gain perspective. Sometimes we can feel swamped with our own worries and problems and anxiety can take over. We can seek ways to help other people or even be more aware of the needs of others and this can help us gain a better ‘mindscape’ too. Don’t be overwhelmed or take in too much information that you can’t handle, but do try to look to the needs of others and help other people where and when you can, but try not to overload yourself or become overwhelmed by it.
  • Monitor your news and social media intake. Know the facts but take a break too. Have some distance from all the bad news of the world from time to time and make sure that you are looking after your mind and what you allow yourself to think about.
  • Take a break. Sometimes slowing down and focusing on the small things of life can work wonders. Make a cup of tea or whatever it is you like and slow down and take time to enjoy some simple moments.
  • Sleep routine. This one is a struggle for many of us but try to allow yourself good hours of rest. Maybe you struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep for various reasons. Do what you can to calm yourself down and make your sleep area cosy and comfortable and try to stick to as regular a pattern as possible and make sure you get enough rest.
  • Be thankful and try to be positive. In the midst of the storms we still see rainbows. Write down three things you are thankful for today, or simply take the time to be mindful of them or give thanks for them.
  • Make time for the things that you enjoy.
  • Have faith.

We all have ups and downs. It’s ok. Try to look after yourself and remember that one small step at a time still matters.

Take care. With love and prayers that you will stay strong and keep persevering. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (52): Muddling Through…

There will be days in this journey when we’re just ‘muddling through’. If you’re struggling in this way and feeling a bit down on yourself, remember that muddling through is so much better than giving up. We can afford to lie down and rest for a while, but we’re not the ones to give up. And when we are renewed in our strength we’ll find ourselves more able to reach out a helping hand to others. There are so many needing a helping hand and a caring friend right now.

I’m muddling through a bit myself at the moment. My brain likes to remind me from time to time that I’ve been traumatised and it’s not a fun place to be. There’s power in taking that one little next step. There’s power in resting in faith and reaching out to God to help, strengthen and heal us – to admit that in and of ourselves we aren’t sufficient – we need things like forgiveness, and healing and renewal, and….LOVE. We need love. The Love of Jesus Christ to help and hold and heal us.

Even those of us who do know His Perfect Love, who have been rescued, ransomed, healed, restored to God and forgiven and given a new life, we also muddle from time to time. We might forget His Great Promises, or even if we remember, we might just feel overwhelmed or a bit lacklustre because of our traumas, our fears, our frailty as human beings and because of all the big things going on in the world.

It’s easy to want to run away and hide, but Love will find us if we are open to being found and rescued. Sometimes we get caught up in our struggles, but we will find a way to take that next one step.

Right now I have just finished my lunch break (I’m back to working from home) and am doing some work tasks while listening to a podcast on extraordinary people – people who have overcome the odds. It helps to give ourselves a bit of perspective, and to know that we are not alone in this world or in our struggles.

So many people have overcome so many difficult things simply by persevering in taking those next steps, and I believe, with help from Above.

What next small step will you take today? Balance your times of rest with times of action and keep moving steadily forwards a little at a time, even if that forward movement is a bit like mine at the moment and feels like a wobbly muddle rather than a determined sprint. That’s ok. I think.

Feel free to share your encouragement with me so that I can come back here again and encourage all of you all the more.

Take care dear friends. Take that next small step forwards and if you are feeling strong, reach out to someone else and let them know that they can find the strength to take one more step at a time too. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (40): Be Inspired, But Don’t Compare…

In the UK, there are a couple of well known insurance companies with catchy ‘theme tunes’ (or ‘jingles’ if you use Americanised English) as part of their adverts.

One is called ‘Go Compare’ with a caricatured opera singer singing ‘Go Compare, Go Compare…!’ Some might find it a little annoying, but it certainly sticks in the mind, and as far as advertising is concerned, I suppose that’s the point – to be memorable, and to ‘stick’.

Another cute advert that you might be aware of is one with animated / toy Meerkats that deliver the lines. Their slogan lets us know that it’s not ‘Compare the Meerkat’ but ‘Compare the Market dot com’ in an Eastern European accent. Almost everyone over here will know these characters because they’ve become so memorable. I even know that the original Compare the Market meerkat is called Sergei! Another is Oleg, the baby meerkat. They offer discounts, cinema vouchers and added extras as part of their low cost insurance. Let me just say that I’m not sponsored by anyone, but it just proves my point that these things can be catchy and stick with us.

Our culture teaches us to compare:

So what does that have to do with anything, and with self care in the pandemic in particular? I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that our culture, particularly western culture or cultures that use a lot of advertising and / or social media encourage us to compare our lives with others or with a ‘dream like’ life.

We are prompted to compare our skin with the skin of airbrushed models so that we will buy that next beauty product that will make us more like the ‘ideal’. We are compelled to compare our bodies, our lifestyles, our health and fitness, our belongings with other people’s and to fill up that ‘lack’ in our lives by buying that next product or paying money to make our lives better in some way.

Sometimes we are prompted to compare our lives with those who are poor or suffering in some way so that we will realise just how much we have, how much they need, and give towards fulfilling the need of others through charitable acts. Such comparison can be good, when we are giving towards causes that are just and fair and above board and that actually do help other people. While comparison can be ‘the thief of joy’, it can also be a humbling force that causes us to be more grateful and to give to other people out of love, duty or kindness, and in that case it can help us to live more thankful and giving lives.

Aside from the world of advertising, social media also can be a source of comparison with our peers. This can prompt a variety of reactions within us if we are part of those worlds. I imagine that people who constantly scroll through social media may do so to keep in touch with others, but they may also find ways to celebrate their friends blessings and achievements. However, as the news stories often highlight, there is a darker side to this psychologically. I’ve read quotes that say that the pictures other people share of their lives are often the ‘highlight reels’ of what is going on with them. We may never know that, but what we do know is that studies show that constant comparison can have a detrimental effect on our mental health and wellbeing.

Is this something you need to think about in the pandemic when issues such as loneliness, poor health, illness and low self esteem may be more at the fore than usual? Do you need to take a step back?

Of course we don’t need to be part of the worlds of social media to experience the comparison trap. We might experience it through the updates of a friend through text, email, letter or face to face. Even though we are separated by the pandemic restrictions, we are in many ways more ‘connected’ than ever. We need to forge out mutually healthy and beneficial connections, but this is not always the case when people are part of worlds when they gain insight into the lives of people they are not necessarily close to.

It is good when we face comparison to take a step back and be grateful for what we have, for our own lives, and to seek to be inspired. Comparison isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s what we do with it that matters and how we process our thoughts, emotions and reactions.

There is a verse in the Bible that says: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn”. What a verse to hold to in 2020 and going forwards, with so many ups and downs and contrasts! Christianity prompts us to lift our eyes away from ourselves to Jesus Christ and to love and serve Him and other people.

If you are struggling with the comparison trap, know that you are human, everyone experiences it to some extent, and don’t beat yourself up for it. Perhaps you need to take a step back, work on a change of attitude, or think about whether something is ‘triggering you’.

I don’t experience much of this on Word Press blogging. Actually, until recently I have enjoyed the variety of things coming up in my news feed on the bloggosphere. Unfortunately, however, I felt the need to unfollow someone whose blog I enjoyed reading because of the contrast that wasn’t good for my mental health – something good is happening in their life and while I don’t personally know them, I am pleased for them from a distance. But at the same time, it feels like they are sharing a lot about this good thing and it is in a way a stumbling block for me, and so to protect my mental health I’ve had to consider not seeing those posts so much. I can choose to go to their blog and read it when I like, but I’ve also chosen not to have those posts randomly pop up in my feed when I’m not mentally ready to see them, because the contrasts are difficult for me. That’s ok. We all need to consider each other, but sometimes we’re not so good at doing that, so we learn as we grow.

I try to write posts that will encourage all of you, but please do let me know if there is anything that you find challenging or want me to consider in how I can better support you through my writing.

In the meantime, remember that your life is unique, beautiful, one of a kind and incomparable. As you live it, seek to uplift other people and don’t let your successes cause anyone else to stumble as far as you are able or it is in your power to do so.

Your life is precious. Live it well. Today. Be blessed. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (26): Be Kind To Your Mind…

Hi everyone, glad to be with you on this journey.

Do you ever find that you tend to write about the things that are challenging you? If so, you’re in good company πŸ˜‰ I’ve titled this post ‘Be Kind to Your Mind’ precisely because this is the advice and help I need myself right now.

You know those times when outwardly things seem to be ‘fine’. Someone asks you how you are, and you reply ‘I’m fine’ as that generic and perhaps helpfully deflective catch-all phrase that barely touches the surface of how you actually are. A handy phrase for those social situations when you’re not entirely convinced that the person asking how you are actually wants to know, or is just offering you a pleasantry by way of an added extra to ‘hello’.

Well, in that case, ‘I’m fine’. Psychologically, my mind is going over various things (ah….I’ve become one of those people who then proceeds to tell you a little of how I actually am, even though you didn’t ask πŸ™‚ lol. I guess that’s permissible in the blog-o-sphere where you can subtly tune out or close the page and I’d be none the wiser! I hope you don’t though πŸ˜‰ ). Yes, as I was saying, I’ve been having ‘stuck thoughts’. Memories that made me feel bad at the time, things that seem to ‘trip me up’ from time to time. My mood has also been a bit of a struggle as I fend off depression. I’ve come a LONG way. I need to acknowledge that. A few years ago I was getting treatment for severe clinical depression, severe and debilitating generalised anxiety disorder, panic attacks and complex (‘severe and repeated’) PTSD. You’d think a few ‘sticky thoughts’ wouldn’t be such a big deal, but when it comes to the mind, you can never be too kind to yourself.

You see, our minds don’t store all information in a linear, chronological or systematic way. Where events are tied to strong emotion or trauma or feelings such as shame, fear, fight and flight, freeze, disgust, self hatred, humiliation, rejection, abuse, even if looking back as an adult logically those things may not in the grand scheme of things seem all ‘that’ bad (for example the wounds of verbal abuse when growing up in front of peers) those events become memories that are stored haphazardly, chaotically and often tied to intense emotion. Now, if like me, you experienced a stream of such events over time, building up, and consequently knocking you down, wearing down your self-esteem, sense of identity, selfhood, worth as a human being, the result can be trauma, dissociation, body dysmorphia, depression, anxiety, and all that kind of stuff.

We can move from season to season, stage to stage, putting one step in front of another in life, but the ways our brains store information don’t always add up to a nice neat ‘film’ of events in our minds. Flashbacks occur when those intensely emotional ‘memories’ haven’t been processed and stored properly in our minds and they often recur again and again intensely until we get help to deal with them. It’s like a scene from a scary movie flashing on the scene of your mind and bringing forth an intense emotion.

Well, that’s a lot to deal with in one post….but I want this to be helpful for you and I both. Our minds are fragile things, yet they are also powerful. Maybe you’re going through a lot right now. Maybe you’re struggling to process things. Maybe your mental health is really beginning to suffer. Maybe you just need to know you’re not alone and you’re not going crazy.

So, here are a few pointers if you are struggling.

  1. Know that you’re not alone, and it is ok to ask for help. In fact, it’s more than ok, it’s heroic and brave in many ways. Find out what professional help is on offer if you need it. Please don’t wait and suffer as I did by placing a stigma on yourself. You’ve probably been through a lot, and minds need to be cared for just as much as bodies do. There is no shame in getting help. If you don’t need to go down that route maybe it’s worth calling a helpline, speaking to a trusted friend or family member, or joining a group of people who can help motivate you from where you are to where you want to be.
  2. Please don’t suffer in silence. Externalise things. Ok, so maybe point 1 is a bit too much for you at the moment, but there may be other ways of getting things out of your head, so to speak. Try writing things down, expressing things creatively or letting someone know maybe not in detail if you don’t want to yet, but just let someone know you’re going through a bit of a difficult time.
  3. Read to be inspired. Sometimes we can find great help and direction from others who have ‘been there’ before us, or who are going through something similar right now. I find that while in my peer group there may not be many people I can relate to about such issues, although there are one or two for whom I am grateful, I can find my ‘peer group’ from people’s lives stories, their blogs, books or videos online. There is so much out there to help, encourage and inspire, and if anything you will see that you are not alone. There will be someone out there who while not having an identical experience to you will have gone through something you can relate to and find strength from.
  4. Positivity. Try to fill your mind with things that will build it up and make it a safe and happy place to be. Get creative, look at beautiful pictures, watch an uplifting film, talk to people who are positive, read blogs and books that inspire and give you hope. With so much ‘doom-scrolling’ going on in 2020, your mind deserves a break!
  5. Share your positivity. Grow in those mental positivity ‘muscles’ by sharing your positivity by externalising it whether by telling someone something encouraging or writing it in a blog post and passing it on.
  6. Share what you have learned from your struggles. Similarly, there is much to be gained by sharing your lessons with someone who may be struggling in a way that you used to. Let’s all keep encouraging and helping each other up and using our words for kindness.
  7. Light relief. I guess this could refer to a couple of things – light levels and laughter. We all need to laugh and it can be so good for the mind, even in trying times. Also, in winter, try to get a bit of sunlight if you can or try not to wallow away in dark rooms in your home – turn on the light. Spiritually, I can always encourage you, particularly in this season, to Seek the True Light of Jesus Christ to light your life path and lead you safely on. πŸ™‚
  8. It will pass. Know that whatever mental health or other struggle you are going through just now, it will pass. Try to think of your tricky thoughts as leaves upon a stream and allow the waters of your mind to take them gently away. If this is constantly difficult, you may need to get some extra help, and I hope you will find the right resources for you where you are, and if not in person, hopefully on the internet.
  9. Be Kind. It’s hard being a human. We often have to deal with a lot and it can impact our mental health. Be kind, kind, kind to your mind. Water it like a little flower, nurture it like a beloved friend, be kind.
  10. Keep learning, and keep up with your hobbies, and set small achievable goals. Ongoing learning and hobbies or creativity in general can work wonders for mental health, as can setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound) goals for ourselves. Routines are also good for giving our minds a predictable structure, which can also make spontaneity all the more fun when we break free from the patterns from time to time. But we do need a dose of structure, and predictability even if that is as simple as making your morning cup of coffee and then seeing where the day takes you from there if that is your personality type. But keep learning, play games that will help with your mental agility, ‘stay in training’ mentally, and you will build up that resilience.

And even if all of that is too much to take in at the moment, simply know that you are not alone, you are Loved, you are worthy, you are important simply because you are a human being and you are you. You are unique, you have so much potential, and even right now as you are if you are feeling broken, worthless, downcast or bad in someway, you are still valuable, a treasure, and I value you and know that you can do great things with that remarkable mind of yours.

So be kind, be kind to your mind. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (15): Gratitude over Grumpiness Can Help To Win Your Day!

These are frustrating times, right friends? They are certainly challenging and frustrating times for the world at large. We’re probably all a bit frustrated with hearing just how ‘unprecedented’ the times we are living through actually are! Enough already, 2020!!

Yet, for some, perhaps many of us, we’ve been living through or have been faced with seasons of frustrating times long before the pandemic. Some of us may have had to contend with a whole range of challenges and frustrations in life including but of course not limited to in this fallen world, some of the following: poverty, low self esteem, abuse, trauma, mental illness, health issues, eating disorders, unfair treatment, unfair upbringing, unkind people, prejudice, lack of access to opportunities, things going wrong time after time, the comparison trap of our peers reaching milestones while we face difficulty after difficulty, self hatred, self esteem issues, financial struggles, neighbourhood disputes, natural disasters, and oh how sadly and frustratingly the list can go on, and on!

If reading all that has made you a bit frustrated with me, then I do apologise, but don’t give up just yet, there is hope to come, so let’s take the next step together.

Sometimes our frustrations can build because of the gap between how we want or desire things to be and how they actually are. Feeling like this can affect not only our feelings and perceptions about ourselves and the situation we are in, but can have a knock on effect on everything else going on in our lives even if other things are not that bad at all.

Think of it this way, do you ever find that you are doing some ‘ordinary’ task in your day such as taking a shower, going for a walk, tidying your home or making dinner. All the while your mind is giving you a show reel of the things that annoy and frustrate you and get you down. Before you know it, you’re so caught up in your frustrated thoughts that you lose sight of the good that you are actually living in right now. I’m not downplaying the severity of the tough things we all go through at some point or another as human beings. Goodness knows, I’ve felt the stab of those ‘glib’ responses of other ‘well meaning’ people including friends, who just wanted to ‘fix’ me, my situation, or tell me off or what to do in times of real suffering. No one needs that kind of ‘advice’ so I’m not going to give it to you. I’m not going to tell you that thinking better will take away your grief, or that you shouldn’t think or feel a certain way because there is so much else happening in the world, and you should just feel grateful for what you have.

No, none of that, but what I do want to offer you is something that has helped and continues to help me in tough times or times of frustration or need. We can shift our perspective and retrain our thought patterns so that the way we process our experiences can help give us a bit of a ‘lift’ even if in the short terms so that we are not adding weight to our existing worries and troubles. As Jesus Christ graciously challenges us, “who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”.

That puts things in perspective a bit, but it’s not always easy to get off the ‘rocking chair’ of worry and frustration. Sometimes when I’m in the shower or washing the dishes or doing some task I’ll notice my mind begin to wander into ‘grumpy land’. I start to divert my thoughts upwards and ‘now-wards’ if I can coin a phrase, and just start thanking God. Thank You for the clean running water, thank you that I can hear, see, touch…and then I get on that train of thankful thought that leads me to a better place mentally, psychologically and can help me to live a better day.

I think today is American Thanksgiving. Perhaps this could be a good day to give ourselves a refresher in living life with an attitude of gratitude to use that cliched phrase. It may be cliched but it is powerful. At least it can be, if we let it.

Many people nowadays talk about mindfulness. Some people are quiet wary of the term. It is something doctors have helped me with in times of struggle and is a good tool to have if you struggle with anxiety or any mental health challenges really. It is in a way a means of redirecting your focus from the inner workings of your mind to looking outwards, noticing things with your five (or perhaps more, if you have some superpowers? πŸ˜‰ ) senses, and ‘getting out of your head’. I’ve written about this in previous posts and have a lot of posts about helpful things relating to mental health and anxiety so feel free to delve into my archives, or do a search on my main page and hopefully you will find something helpful for where you are at right now.

Being thankful may not fix all of your problems right now. But it can help you to protect your mental, emotional and consequently physical health. It can help you to become an encourager rather than a complainer, and it can help you to heal. If you are grieving over the loss of a loved one, you will need to process your grief and it is important not to deny the whole range of emotions you are feeling – you can’t just wish them away – you have to go through that difficult tunnel, but even while you are in there you can still see the flicker of lights along the way while you wait to get to that great Light once you get through this tough season. How? You can begin to be thankful for all of the special times that you did have with that person. It may be a small step, but perhaps it will lift you at least a little in times of pain.

You may be in a frustrating living situation. You might be alone, or maybe you are feeling frustrated by the people you are living with. Instead of staying on the negative train, ring the bell for the next stop, get off, change tracks and choose a new destination. Start being intentionally thankful and looking for the good in the situation, in the solitude, or in the people around you and if none of those, then in the lessons you are learning that will make you stronger, more patient, more resilient and perhaps the leaders of the future in your sphere of influence when someone needs encouragement from someone who has ‘been there’.

Whatever you are feeling frustrated by or anxious about right now, there is something you can choose to be thankful about. I am a person of faith but I am also a believer in neuroscience, and for me the two go hand in hand because the Creator Who formed and fashioned the intricate workings of our brain also tells the most learned and the most innocent ‘do not worry’, He tells us to ‘take your thoughts captive’ to ‘be transformed by the renewing of your minds’, and to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’. There are so many more references that can be found in Christian Scriptures that give us real and practical hope, health and healing for our mental health, but ultimately it is Christ my King, Who Is the Healer and Who can and does ‘guard my mind and heart in Christ Jesus’….with a ‘Peace that transcends all understanding’.

If right now you just want to think about the neuroscience, well I’m sure there is a great likelihood that you’ve come across the phrase ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’ (and this is something I’ve also written about previously). We can create ‘tracks’ of thinking that can reinforce and trigger similar thought patterns. As someone who has overcome years of debilitating anxiety, panic attacks, complex PTSD stemming from childhood trauma in the form of ‘bullying’ physical, emotional, psychological and other long term stressors, and severe clinical depression, then you can take it from me, the person writing these things from experience that there is reality and Truth in the fact that the way we think can deeply impact our lives, and also very hopefully that our brains have ‘plasticity’ and we can reform and reinforce new thinking patterns based on Truth. As we are encouraged in the new testament book of Philippians: “Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable–if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy–dwell on these things”.

I’m convinced that the way we think not only impacts our own days and lives but also the way we think of, relate to and treat other people in a small scale as well as a larger societal scale.

I think you have great power to lift your thoughts, change the outcome of your day, and impact the lives of the people around you as you share Truth with them.

We can stay seated in the Rocking-chair of Grumpiness, or we can get up, take action and get on a new train of thought that actually leads somewhere.

It’s not easy, friends, I know. And I certainly don’t mean this to be a ‘glib’ post, but hopefully having read a very little of some of the challenges I have faced and am overcoming, you know that there is something in what I am saying. These days are frustrating on a number of fronts but you can change your perspective about them. You can be a leader, in time. You can speak for Truth and Love and Hope, in a world that is languishing in darkness, hate and fear.

Life may be extremely frustrating for you now, and I hear that, I feel it, I’ve been there. I’m not putting pressure on you that you ‘should’ think this way, but just gently and lovingly encouraging you that you don’t need to stay ‘stuck’. Let’s keep on encouraging each other, and perhaps a good place to start today is by choosing to be Thankful, and then choosing it again, and keeping on going until it is a train of thought that we more naturally get on each day.

Be blessed. Stay safe. With love, in sincerity and Truth. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (13) – Be Active and Not Reactive – Take Time To Process…

I’m fairly sure that if you are reading this, and are looking for ways to better care for yourself and others during this pandemic, then you are likely to have encountered some challenges along the way this year.

I mean, really, which of us haven’t encountered challenges? I’m sure we are all dealing with something. That being said, how we get through things can have a lot to do with not just our circumstances and means of help, but also how we process (or don’t) the things going on in our lives.

Let’s take for example somebody does or says or doesn’t do something to you and this stirs up your emotions, you start thinking about the situation and feel almost ‘stuck’ in your thoughts, and you *react* to things in a visceral way. There may be certain situations in life when an immediate ‘gut’ or visceral reaction is appropriate and even necessary, such as if you or someone else is in immediate danger and you need to do something instantly, but in the main, this kind of response is not helpful, to ourselves, other people, to resolving the situation, or to our wellbeing.

If you think about what you’ve had to take in this year, even if you’ve not had a lot going on in your own personal circumstances, the chances are you’ve had to process quite a lot. The fact of the pandemic itself has been a big thing for us all. Then there has been the various lockdowns and easing of restrictions, the daily ‘count’ of deaths in some countries where we are presented this in the news or by politicians’ daily briefings, social and political unrest, the situations of friends, family members, colleagues or acquaintances, our own day to day routines and the impact on our living, job, relationship and mental health situations, and so forth. Whether you have experienced the ‘big’ things hitting you this year, like grief, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, loneliness and isolation or other health concerns or you name the thing that you’ve been dealing with, or if you are somehow coping or trundling along without a great deal of change in your personal situation, either way, the fact that we are in a pandemic year will have impacted you in some way, and it is important to take note and take account of that.

The reason I say this is because living through these things in a ‘reactive’ way can be damaging to our health and can also impact our relationships and be damaging to those around us. Can you think of anyone you know who when they see a news story that raises a reaction in them, they start calling people names, or swearing, or getting agitated or anxious? There are a lot of people reacting in such ways at the moment. This impacts their immediate physical, emotional and psychological health, and most likely not in a good way.

If you are that person, soaking up the news and experiences of 2020 in a very reactive way, then chances are you are causing yourself some damage. So what’s the solution?

I’ve found in recent weeks that things have been affecting me such as work stress, or changing dynamics of friendships. When I get those ‘warning signals’ in my ‘gut’ so to speak, when those anxious thoughts and feelings start to arise, I know that it’s time to take a step back, to take a break, to take a few deep breaths and get a bit of space from the situation and focus my mind on something calming and grounding.

Doing this can produce an almost ‘immediate’ effect on our nervous systems. However, in itself, it is not enough. We not only need to get distance and calm ourselves down in the immediate situation, but we need to put in a little bit of effort to make sure we are giving ourselves the time, space and chance to process our thoughts, our feelings, our instinctive reactions so that we can move forwards positively and actively rather than reactively.

There are various ways that we can process what we are dealing with and it is probably good to have a range of ‘tools’ and techniques to hand, and it is good when we can also find ways to use what we learn to benefit other people.

So what could you do?

One thing is finding a way to externalise your thoughts and feelings. This could be by writing or journaling, for example.

Talking to someone else can also be a very helpful way to diffuse intense emotions, and can help give us a more balanced perspective, as well as helping us feel that we are not so alone in dealing with our problems, challenges and issues. If you are physically alone, perhaps you could have a few friends or family members that you can talk with every now and then, on the phone or online. And if you feel like there’s no one in your life that you know who you can turn to, then perhaps you can seek out some helplines that you can phone. I have done so in the past in times of depression, anxiety and crisis, even though I have friends and family members. Sometimes we need to just talk to someone else, because maybe those close to us aren’t available or we don’t feel comfortable always turning to them. Sometimes we just need to hear the voice of another human being and chat things through and that’s perfectly ok, and definitely not something to feel ashamed about. That’s what they are there for.

Creativity can also be a balm to troubled emotions and it can also be a stepping stone into community where you can link up with like minded people, and these days there is so much going on online, even if you don’t wish to connect personally you can still find sources of inspiration by watching or reading about what others are doing and this may help you as you seek to process or externalise or express your own thoughts, ideas, feelings and experiences. Creativity could be expressed in a variety of ways such as art, music, song, dance or play or so many other things.

Community can also be a source of easing our inner tensions, diffusing pent up emotions, sharing experiences and letting us know we’re not alone. For me, keeping a sense of connection with church and other Christians has been an encouragement, but at the same time, sometimes we need to be careful that we aren’t left feeling alone by being a part of a group, which can happen from time to time. Try to find a helpful balance for you.

Nature is also a source of calm for me, that helps settle me down and release those ‘reactive’ thoughts and feelings. It helps lift my mind and take my mind off certain negative trains of thought.

There are many more calming and soothing things you can do to gain space, perspective and help process your thoughts and experiences and it is so important to do so to enable you to act rather than react to situations.

That’s not to say everything will somehow sort itself out, but you will be in a better place to make positive decisions in your own life in response to what you are facing. I’m personally finding it necessary to reassess some of my friendship dynamics this year so as to avoid being taken for granted for example, or even forgotten about, and so that I can protect my mental and emotional health as well as that of others. I’ve found that even though I’ve been really productive at work this year, working from home, that doesn’t necessarily stave off the stress that accompanies work at times, and it is my responsibility to step back, and find a healthy balance for myself so that I can act positively rather than simply react instinctively to ongoing challenges and situations.

So what about you, friends? Does any of this resonate with you or do you find it helpful? What do you do that helps you? Whatever you are going through this year, I hope that you will take the time, and find a way to step back, process, and move forwards in a way that will contribute to your health, happiness, wellbeing and that of those around you.

Take care, stay strong, and sending each of you uplifting prayers for this day and those ahead of you. Peace. x

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Self Care in A Pandemic (6). Sleep…

How many sheep do you need to count before you can fall asleep? I’m not sure if an answer has been found to that conundrum, but I am sure that we have all heard time and time again about the benefits and importance of sleep.

Sometimes, however, we just need a gentle reminder. At the start of lockdown in March (in UK) I was in good company among many others who were having vivid and sometimes disruptive dreams. It wasn’t altogether out of the ordinary for me as I went through a time for a few years when almost every night was a battle to get through sleep-wise. Thank God for His Peace in my life now, and more ‘normal’ sleep than before. However, conversations opened up among friends that they were having vivid, unsettling dreams and were struggling with their sleep too. I started noticing articles online from psychologists and medical professionals regarding this phenomenon in the pandemic. Perhaps it has been an issue for you too?

It is hardly surprising with all the new and at times overwhelming information we were having to process at the start of the pandemic. Have we grown somewhat ‘used to’ hearing these things on the news and have they become part of that oh so unpopular ‘new normal’? Our vocabulary has changed in 2020, and we are using words and phrases in common parlance that would have seemed strange to us a mere twelve months earlier. Maybe we’ve found ways to adapt, cope and be positive as time goes on? Maybe for our own mental and emotional wellbeing we’ve distanced ourselves from the facts and figures and human toll of the pandemic for the most part in order to get from one day to the next.

However, things keep changing, and with winter approaching, people are facing new concerns and having to process a whole host of new information. For example, in the UK, we have varying restrictions due to the pandemic in different nations (Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales), and even within the 4 nations, there are differing regional rules and protocols. Some regions and cities have re-entered lockdown or a form of lockdown, there are different rules with regards to the closing times of certain premises and such like. On top of that, there have been restrictions on visiting other households and a ban on this in Scotland apart from a few notable exemptions. And with winter approaching, people have concerns regarding how they will survive on their own, whether they will be able to see friends and family, whether they will have enough money to make ends meet, whether their family members will be ok in care homes, or whether supermarkets will once more run low on certain essential items.

All this can make for restless nights and troubled sleep. We know that we need to take care of our sleep and I for one do tend to struggle with this, but it is worth reminding ourselves that it may well be time for a self care ‘check in’ in this regard.

When was the last time you got a full 7 or 8 hours sleep?

Are you giving your body the chance to process, restore and repair itself as is needful, with a good sleep routine, as far as is possible?

Are you regularly staying awake through the night or avoiding going to sleep?

Do you give yourself the chance to nap during the day if you need to?

Are you oversleeping, which in itself can be detrimental?

We really need to focus on this aspect of self care, especially if like myself you struggle in this area. Even if all you can do is make small changes for the time being, please seek to do so and keep taking positive steps forwards because in order to stay as fit and healthy as you can, maintain a healthy immune system, and look after your mental, emotional and physical health and be there for others if needful especially as winter approaches, then moving towards better sleep needs to be a priority for us all.

Check in with yourself today. Think about what your personal challenges are in this area and what you can do to overcome them. Is there anything by way of a calming evening routine that you can implement in your life? Do you need to stop watching, reading or listening to the news earlier in the day? Are you giving yourself enough time and opportunity to process what is going on in your mind, and to allow your body and brain to do this at a subconscious level through the restorative blessings of sleep?

I’m sure we are all in need of at least a little (if not a lot) of improvement in this area, and I wish you all the very best with it. Perhaps this can be the gentle nudge in the right direction that you need.

Take care, and I pray that you will sleep well. x

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