Mindfulness and Wellbeing

How Sleep Can Improve Your Mental Health and Well-being

Although sleep is an often-overlooked aspect of maintaining good mental health, its importance is undeniable. Research shows around 75% of people with depression also show signs of insomnia. A lack of regular healthy sleep can have negative impacts on your mental health and well-being.

As part of our aim to increase mental health awareness, we want to discuss how sleep can improve your mental health, and what you can do if you feel you aren’t getting enough sleep.

How does mental health affect sleep?

Poor mental health can negatively impact your quality of sleep, and a lack of quality sleep can cause further mental health problems and worsen any existing mental health conditions.

These are a few mental health disorders that can impact sleep:

How does lack of sleep affect the brain?

Our brain needs sleep daily, and without regular, consistent, healthy sleep, we risk developing short-term and long-term negative effects that can impact our mental health and cognitive function.

Common short-term effects of lack of sleep include::

  • Memory difficulties
  • Concentration issues
  • Decreased cognitive function
  • Anxiety
  • Weak immune system
  • Irritability

Over time you can develop long-term issues from lack of sleep. Studies show that prolonged lack of sleep can lead to changes in the brain, making you at risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and chronic depression.

Our bodies are in a state of healing as we sleep, our immune system needs sleep to work properly. With lack of sleep, your immune system is weakened, and you are at increased risk of developing physical illness. Sleep is responsible for regulating hormone balances in the body. A lack of sleep can lead to an imbalance of hormones in the brain which can impact our mood and cognitive function.

How can quality sleep improve mental health?

The mental health benefits of quality sleep are undeniable.

Here are some of the benefits you can experience by improving your sleep.:

1. Improved mood

Sleep deprivation can make you feel tired, moody, anxious, and irritable constantly. Improved sleep leads to improved mood, which improves your general mental health.

2. Improved cognitive function

Our brain relies on sleep for optimal performance. Getting enough healthy sleep can lead to increased cognitive function, improved memory, attention, and a better hormone balance, which means our bodies can function like they should!

3. Reduce risk of mental disorders

Improved sleep can lead to a decrease in risk of disorders such as anxiety and depression, which leads to a better quality of life.

4. Improved overall physical health

Our physical bodies rely on sleep to heal and function effectively. Without proper sleep, we can become unhealthy and reliant on unhealthy foods like energy drinks and sugary foods to function throughout the day. This can lead to a cycle of unhealthy behaviours.

Improved sleep can lead to an improvement in physical health, which can make us feel more positive and mentally healthy.

What are the causes of sleep problems and how can we improve them?

If you’re experiencing sleep issues, it is important to get to the root of the problem so you can understand what you need to do to rectify the issue.

Here are a few things that can cause problems with sleep:

Stress and anxiety

If you’re going through a stressful period in your life, perhaps from work or your personal life, you may find it difficult to fall asleep.

Tips: Try unwinding before bed, practice relaxation techniques and limit your screen time before bed. This can reduce anxiety levels.

If you want to learn more about anxiety and how to treat it, find out more with our anxiety course.

Poor sleep habits

Unhealthy sleep habits include:

  • Staying up late
  • Inconsistent sleep schedules
  • Consuming caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol before bed
  • Eating heavy or spicy meals before bedtime
  • Using electronic devices and social media before bed
  • Lack of bedtime routine

Tips: If your sleep routine involves any of the above, it may be the reason why you suffer from a lack of healthy sleep. Eliminate any poor habits and watch your sleep and mental health improve.

Medical conditions and medications

Some medical conditions such as allergies, chronic pain or sleep disorders can make it difficult to sleep. Similarly, certain medications can cause sleep problems.

Tip: Speak to your doctor about your sleep issues and for any advice they can give you.

Caffeine, alcohol, and poor diet

Your diet plays an important role for your mental health and your sleep. If you have a bad diet, it could be the cause of your sleep problems and this can in turn be impacting your mental health.

Tips: Keep a balanced diet by reducing your junk food, caffeine and alcohol intake to improve your sleep, physical health and mental health.

How much sleep is important for mental health?

The amount of sleep we need changes throughout our lives. It is important that all ages get the sleep they need to maintain good mental health.

Here are the amount of hours of sleep recommended for each year of age:

  • 1-2 years: 11-14 hours
  • 3-5 years: 10-13 hours
  • 6-13 years: 9-11 hours
  • 14-17 years: 8-10 hours
  • 18-25 years: 7-9 hours
  • 26-64 years: 7-9 hours
  • 65+ years: 7-8 hours

If you want to learn more about mental health, enrol on one of our mental health courses today.

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How to have fun without alcohol: A guide to a sober social life

Whether you’re quitting alcohol for physical health or mental health, there are many ways you can have fun while avoiding alcohol. Although drinking culture is extremely prevalent in the UK, there are many ways you can have fun without a drink.

Shawmind is an early intervention charity, working towards educating people to have the knowledge and understanding on how to look after their mental health. Whether you’re wanting to quit alcohol for mental health reasons, financial reasons or productivity reasons, in this article, we’ll be giving you an insight into how to have fun without the alcohol.

What are the benefits of a sober social life?

Improved physical and mental health

Although it may seem harmless, alcohol is a drug. This means that long-term usage can have serious physiological and psychological effects. This includes liver failure, dementia, breast cancer, depression, anxiety and more.

A life without alcohol returns your body to its natural, alcohol-free state, which allows it to flourish and function how it is meant to.

Increased productivity

A life without alcohol can bring your energy back. Staying sober can increase the quality of your sleep and make you feel more energised. You’ll have a better mental and physical state which can make you feel more motivated.

Cut costs

The cost of your social life doubles or even triples when factoring in the cost of alcohol. You’ll be saving tons of money that you can put towards more necessary things if you cut it out. Not only will you be saving on alcohol, but you’ll be saving on taxis too!

Improved relationships

A sober mind is a clear mind. Without alcohol, you will be able to approach relationships with a clear mind. You will also have more energy and motivation to spend time with family and children. This can develop stronger relationships.

Better clarity and perspective

The physical and physiological effects when you stop drinking can give you a better outlook on life. Because you feel better, you will have better thoughts, and feel more motivated to look after yourself. You will also start to realise how to have fun with meaningful people, hobbies and interests.

How to socialise without alcohol

So much of adult social situations in the UK is centred around alcoholic drinks. From evenings out with friends, to pub-Fridays after work, it can be difficult to understand how to restructure your life to be alcohol-free.

Here’s a few things you can do to have a good time without drinking.

Creative pursuits

Pick a creative hobby that you might be interested in. This can be photography, painting, pottery or cake decorating! Find time to work on your creative interests. Find like minded people in your creative field, this will allow you to have a social network where alcohol isn’t the common ground.

Volunteer work

If you want to do something beneficial and productive for the community, volunteer work is a great way of helping those who need it. You could even work with those wanting to get sober. Or, you could help homeless people whose lives have been affected by alcoholism and substance abuse.

Fitness and sports

When you stop drinking, your body will become much healthier and energised. Use this newfound energy to work on your physical and mental health by taking up exercise. This can be anything from walking on the treadmill, playing tennis or learning yoga.

You can join classes at your local fitness centre and make good friends with people with the same interests as you.

Cultural events

Concerts, festivals, museums and theatre shows are designed to be enjoyable without alcohol! Watching your favourite artist or show is a fun activity, and you are guaranteed to enjoy it without feeling like you need a drink.

Game nights

Game nights are great social events where friends and family can get together and have fun. Rather than serving alcohol, opt for your favourite snacks and let everyone know it will be a sober night. This way, you’ll feel comfortable and won’t feel pressured to drink.

How to build a social circle

Being around people who drink can be difficult for sober people. Although some may be comfortable with it, other sober people may prefer to opt out of drinking events and choose to develop a sober social agenda.

For this, you’ll need to develop a sober social circle. Here’s a few things you can do:

  • Find sober people in your area through online communities
  • Make social connections through shared interests and passions
  • Host alcohol free gatherings like a sober games night
  • Attending sober events
  • Join a sober society if you’re a student at university
  • Join clubs and groups focused around a shared interest, like a book club or football club.
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4 ways to implement mindfulness in the classroom

Incorporate mindfulness into classroom activities by including breathing, sensory experience, guided imagery, and movement exercises into the day-to-day curriculum.

Teaching mindfulness in the classroom is more important than ever. 66% of school-age children are currently experiencing stress and worry about school, exams and homework and teachers and parents are equally concerned and anxious for them. Our lives are hectic, and we frequently find ourselves dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness is important for children because it teaches them to live in the present moment, to enjoy and experience what is in front of them rather than dwelling on the past or worrying for the future.

Educators understand that children learn best when they are at ease, safe, and calm. Imagine if, in addition to the gift of lifelong learning and the tools to become compassionate and productive adults, we could also offer our children the gift of mindfulness – the ability to use their breath and mind to live a happy and healthy life. Teachers will benefit from mindfulness as well, because we all know that a happy teacher has a happy classroom.

Here are 4 ways to implement mindfulness in your classroom:

1. Mindfulness Through Breath

We commonly take short breaths into our chests when we are upset or anxious. You may utilise your breath to soothe both your body and mind by inhaling deeply into your abdomen. Place your right hand on your abdomen and your left hand on your chest to practise mindful breathing. Feel the smooth rise and fall of your breath. Count to three as you inhale, then three more times as you exhale. If it’s more comfortable for you, close your eyes. Try mindful breathing on your own first, then with your students. They can pretend to fill a balloon in their stomachs, or you can use a Hoberman Sphere to show the breath visually.

You may use this easy breathing technique throughout the school day to aid with transitions, before tests, or in stressful circumstances.

2. Mindfulness Through Sensory Experiences

Sensory experiences also assist youngsters in focusing and relaxing. In the classroom, try listening to soothing music or other peaceful noises. You might also take the kids outside to listen to the sounds of nature. They may make mind jars or play I Spy. This exercise entails placing objects with strong, recognisable odours (such as cinnamon, flowers, cheese, or popcorn) in jars and having the children estimate the items based on their sense of smell. Close their eyes, give each child a cotton ball or sponge, and have them guess what they’re holding to focus their sense of touch. Sensory tables with containers of water, sand, ice, or themed items are fantastic. Use Play-doh, clay, or Slime to encourage developmentally beneficial imaginative play.

3. Mindfulness Through Guided Imagery

Guided imagery fosters the development of children’s imaginations. It also aids in the integration of new knowledge with existing knowledge. When you begin a new topic in your lecture, have your students close their eyes (if that is comfortable) and walk them on a fictitious journey. If you’re studying the ocean, for example, have students envision getting into underwater vehicles and travelling around the ocean waters in search of fish, creatures, and plants. Finish the guided relaxation with a few deep breaths, and then they can sketch their thoughts and discuss them as a class. Depending on your curriculum subjects, you may take them on pretend adventures into outer space, to the beach, forest, or a deserted island, on a safari, or up a volcano. Take your children on journeys through relaxation stories to help them calm down and re-energise.

4. Mindfulness Through Movement

Humans are born to move. Our distant ancestors spent their days running from predators or hunting for food. Movement is a natural part of human life that has become a luxury in modern times. Introducing movement into your classroom allows your students to tap into their natural way of learning. Yoga is a simple strategy for adding movement to your school day. Children can mimic their environment to develop their self-expression and self-confidence. They can practice yoga in their chairs, in the gym, or outside. Again, using poses that correspond with your class topic makes the motion relevant and meaningful for your students.

Are you interested in learning more about mindfulness?

Our 6-week Mindfulness course teaches the learner what mindfulness is, the importance of mindfulness in relationships, the neuroscience of self-compassion, and an understanding of how to apply mindfulness in your life.

Our CPD Accredited Understanding Stress course teaches the learner what stress is, how it can be managed and prevented, and how you can support someone who is struggling with stress.

For more information on how stress, including stress management through mindfulness, download our stress guide.

At Shawmind, we want to make it easier for you to handle moments of poor mental health by reducing stigma and increasing awareness and support options. That’s why all funds raised through our online courses support Headucation – our mission to train teachers in the basics of mental health support.

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How can mindfulness help with stress?

As April is Stress Awareness Month, we want to bring light to the benefit of mindfulness in the management of stress. Currently, there are 822,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety, whilst 66% of school-age children are experiencing stress about school, exams and homework. These high figures emphasise the need for stress management and minimisation techniques. Most of the time, regardless of the situation we are experiencing, there are a variety of techniques out there to cope with what is happening. Practicing mindfulness gives us another great option for coping with and reducing stress.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Improves wellbeing

Being mindful makes it simpler to enjoy life’s pleasures as they happen, to get completely engaged in activities, and to cope with negative situations. Many individuals who practise mindfulness find that by focusing on the present now, they are less likely to be obsessed with anxieties about the future or regrets about the past and are better able to build strong relationships with others.

Improves mental health

Mindfulness is seen as an important element in the alleviation and treatment of several mental health illnesses. These include, stress, anxiety and depression, amongst many others.

Improve physical health

Mindfulness techniques can also help improve physical health. People often use mindfulness to help relieve stress, lower blood pressure, cope with chronic pain, and improve sleep.

How can mindfulness help manage stress?

1. You become more in tune with your thoughts.

You can then step back from them and not take the extreme ones so literally. That way, your stress response is not triggered in the first place. This leads to not immediately reacting to a situation. Instead, you have a moment to pause and then use your calm mind to come up with the best solution.

2. Your ability to focus increases

This allows you to complete your work more efficiently. Mindfulness can give you have a greater sense of well-being, and this reduces the stress response.

3. You can switch your attitude to the stress.

Rather of focusing on the negative consequences of being stressed, mindfulness allows you to think about stress in a new way. Observing how increasing pressure can make you feel more energised has a good impact on your body and mind.

4. You are more aware and sensitive to the needs of your body.

Mindfulness switches on your “being” mode of mind, which is associated with relaxation. Your “doing” mode of mind is associated with action and therefore, often the stress response. Through this “being” state of mind, you will be able to focus on how your body really feels and provide it with what it needs. You may notice pains or emotions that previously you could not pinpoint, and this allows you to take appropriate action to soothe them.

5. You are more aware of emotions.

Through mindfulness, and being in touch with your own emotions, your level of care and compassion for yourself and others rises. This compassionate mind soothes you and inhibits your stress response. As your emotional intelligence rises, you are also less likely to get into conflict with others as you have more understanding of their feelings.

Are you interested in learning more about mindfulness?

Our 6-week Mindfulness course teaches the learner what mindfulness is, the importance of mindfulness in relationships, the neuroscience of self-compassion, and an understanding of how to apply mindfulness in your life.

Our CPD Accredited Understanding Stress course teaches the learner what stress is, how it can be managed and prevented, and how you can support someone who is struggling with stress.

For more information on how stress, including stress-management through mindfulness, download our stress guide.

At Shawmind, we want to make it easier for you to handle moments of poor mental health by reducing stigma and increasing awareness and support options. That’s why all funds raised through our online courses support Headucation – our mission to train teachers in the basics of mental health support.

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How to look after your mental health this Christmas

Christmas is traditionally associated with joy and happiness – but for many, this isn’t the case. For those who already struggle with mental health, Christmas can pose many challenges for them, while 1 in 4 people say the Christmas period even makes their mental health worse.

No matter how you spend the festive season, we don’t want you to suffer so here are some tips to help you look after your mental health this Christmas.

How can Christmas affect mental health?

Social Anxiety at Christmas

For those with social anxiety, the gatherings of friends and family at Christmas can be difficult and overwhelming. Here are some ways you can manage social anxiety at Christmas

  • Talk to someone about how you’re feeling before the party/gathering – getting it off your chest can massively help
  • Prepare conversation topics in advance so you can feel relaxed and confident when socialising
  • Plan for a safe space if you start feeling overwhelmed e.g. go outside for a break or take some time to yourself in the bathroom
  • Know it’s ok to say ‘no’ – if you want to leave early or don’t want to go at all, it is perfectly ok to say no

Eating Disorders at Christmas

Christmas can be particularly challenging for those with eating disorders since there is a lot of emphasis on grand meals, snacks and festive treats. Here are some tips to help anyone with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder:

  • Don’t make a fuss about the Christmas meal, make it as similar to normal meals as possible
  • Opt for buffet-style meals rather than sit-down pre-portioned meals
  • After planned meal-times, shift the focus to non-food activities like games that you can enjoy
  • Try to avoid comparing yourself to others
  • Also, try to avoid comparing this Christmas to previous years

Stress at Christmas

Christmas can be very stressful for many reasons whether it’s an increased feeling of responsibility, the financial burden of gifts and food, or a need to have a ‘perfect’ Christmas. Here are some ways you can manage your stress this Christmas:

  • Set realistic expectations about Christmas – this can lessen the pressure you feel to make it ‘perfect’
  • Take a break – no matter how small. Even 5 minutes to yourself can help you feel calmer and less stressed in the moment.
  • Avoid comparing yourself to others, especially on social media – nobody is perfect.
  • Challenge the thoughts you have that something ‘needs’ to happen over Christmas
  • Create a ‘Christmas Routine’ that can help you feel more organised and focused even when out of your usual routine

Loneliness at Christmas

For those who spend Christmas alone, it can be an incredibly difficult time. If you’re feeling alone this Christmas, try some of these tips:

  • Volunteer for a charity to help and spend time with others
  • Say ‘yes’ when invited to gatherings – even if you’re unsure
  • Give yourself a project to keep busy and distracted
  • Treat yourself to activities you can only enjoy alone like reading or pampering

Read more about how to deal with loneliness

Depression at Christmas

Christmas can be a tough time for those who struggle with depression when everything in the world seems to be telling you to be ‘happy’. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can also be triggered around this time. Here are some ways to manage depression over Christmas:

  • Avoid excessive alcohol and substances as these often intensify feelings of low mood
  • Stay active – exercise, even a short walk, can help you release endorphins that help you feel good
  • Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ or set boundaries with others
  • Avoid comparisons to others or previous years

Grief at Christmas

Grief can be particularly difficult over Christmas. Recent losses can make you feel less engaged with the season than you usually would while even losses that occurred years ago can make you feel secondary loss. While you shouldn’t try to deny your grief this Christmas, there are some things you can do to help manage it:

  • Be mindful of your triggers so you can plan for time to recover
  • Manage your expectations – grief can make it more difficult to complete tasks so don’t worry if you can’t do as much as usual
  • Talk to others – whether it’s friends, family members, or professionals
  • Make time for your own wellbeing including sleep, exercise and fun

Read more about supporting your mental health during grief 

Nobody should have to suffer with mental health this Christmas. At Shawmind, we recognise that half of all mental health problems start in school so we’re on a mission to improve mental health support for young people and reduce their mental health struggles as adults. Help us in 2022 by connecting us with the head of your children’s school, donating or learning more about our #Headucation campaign.

Want to learn more about some common mental health conditions? Sign up for our online mental health courses.

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5 ways to build positive mental health

Everyone has mental health – for some, it’s better and for some, it’s worse. Mental health often fluctuates and even those who generally have good mental health can have low moments.

However, there are some things you can do to look after your mental health and build a generally positive state of mental wellbeing.

Use these tips to improve your own mental health or use these as teaching points for children so that we can improve the mental wellbeing of the next generation.

Be mindful

Mindfulness is the ability to focus on the present and can help to build positive mental health by reducing how much we dwell on the past or fret about the future. Not only that, but by improving our mindfulness we can appreciate the present more, become more attentive and improve our self-awareness – all of which contribute to positive mental health.

You can practice mindfulness almost anywhere e.g. while taking a walk, eating, sitting down or during your regular commute!

Kickstart your mindfulness journey with our 6-week mindfulness course that combines humour, sensitivity and true stories to teach you essential mindfulness techniques.

Stay active

Many studies have shown a link between exercise and positive mental health – when your exercise your body releases endorphins that make you feel good. Staying active doesn’t mean that you need to hit the gym every day – a simple stretch in the morning or a stroll at lunch can be enough to get your endorphins going.

Need some healthy living inspiration? Check out these books from TriggerPublishing.

Help others

Helping others is a great way to support positive mental health as it can help you achieve a sense of accomplishment and gain perspective. Often those who are considered more ‘generous’ tend to have positive mental health and strong resilience.

There are plenty of ways you can help others, such as

  • Having a conversation about their worries
  • Raising money or donating to a charitable cause (why not donate to Headucation?)
  • Look out for signs of anxiety or signs that someone is struggling with their own mental health
  • Complete a task with or for someone else
  • Volunteer with a local charity or at a local event
  • Tell your own story. Writing can be cathartic and by telling your story you could be helping someone to feel that they are not alone, that there is hope that things can get better. Our friends over at Cherish Editions provide potential authors with a great platform to do just that.

Learn new skills

Learning new skills keeps your brain stimulated, gives you a new challenge to focus on and leads to a great sense of satisfaction. Those who learn new skills regularly often report better wellbeing and mental health.

You can learn new skills to support your career, take up a new hobby or improve your knowledge of something that you’re interested in.

Not sure where to start? Develop new skills with FlourishZone or improve your mental health knowledge with Shawmind’s online mental health training courses.

Connect with people

Talking to people and forming relationships are some of the best ways you can look after your mental health but for many, it can be daunting to open up to others.

Proximity to family, friends and colleagues makes them some of the most convenient people to connect with but being vulnerable with those we know can often be more difficult than opening up to strangers.

Joining activities like gym classes or social clubs can be a good way to meet new people to build relationships with – or you can visit mental health support groups and drop-in sessions like Shawmind’s Breathe Café if you want to talk with someone impartial.

There will likely be a time in your life when you will struggle with your mental health but by building these habits into your life you will become more resilient and generally have more positive mental health.

At Shawmind, we want to make it easier for you to handle moments of poor mental health by reducing stigma and increasing awareness and support options. Help us do this for the next generation by supporting Headucation – our mission to train teachers in the basics of mental health support.

Donate to our fundraiser or sign up for one of our training courses.

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The importance of looking after your wellbeing when you work from home

When the UK went into a national lockdown in March of this year, it’s probably fair to say none of us expected the impact would last as long as it has. Now in our second lockdown, we’ve returned to a familiar routine of staying at home and only leaving for essential reasons. As part of this, many of us have returned to our desks at home – if we even returned to the office in the first place.

Although there are numerous reasons we should be taking additional care of our mental wellbeing during this uncertain time, this article will focus on people working from home and the unique set of challenges that brings.

Of course, working from home has been positive. We’ve had more time to spend with our friends and family where possible, or time to prioritise health and exercise. Many of us have also been able to save the money we’d typically be spending on the daily commute.

Indeed, these are key reasons why 44% of workers plan to ask for permanent flexible working arrangements after coronavirus restrictions are fully lifted. The research, from Direct Line, also confirms that the pandemic is making employers think differently about their response to flexible working requests and their office space needs. That could be great news for any employees wanting to make the switch to home working.

But as you might have experienced during either of the lockdowns, there are some drawbacks too. It can be hard to find a balance between work and your home life, for example. It may be tempting to check your emails outside usual hours, or extend the working day. It’s easy to see how work can creep into the time you’re supposed to be spending relaxing or unwinding from the day. This is when it can affect your wellbeing.

And it is something which happened during the lockdown, with ONS data from April 2020 showing that 30.3% of employees at home worked more hours than usual.

With more people than ever potentially working from home, here are some of the ways you can look after your wellbeing:

Create a clear divide

If possible, have a designated space for working. Ideally this would be a room where you can shut the door – to keep out distractions while you’re working and to shut work away at the end of the day. But not everyone has the space to give up an entire room. Instead, you might have dedicated space in a quieter room of the house – somewhere you can tidy your laptop away at the end of the day.

The important thing is a clear divide between when you start your working day and when you finish it. Of course, some days you might do additional hours and this might have been something you did in the office too. But when it becomes a habit, it can affect your wellbeing. You need to be able to switch off in the evenings and have time to yourself.

Use a schedule 

If you need to be strict with yourself, create a schedule for the day. And be detailed – include times for showering and getting ready, as well as when you have a lunch break (away from your desk). Not only does this allow you to schedule in key tasks and meetings, but it ensures you don’t forget about essential day-to-day things you’d do without thinking if you were commuting to the office.

Bad habits are common for home workers, so you’re not alone if you’ve been staying in your pyjamas all day or skipping lunch. But pay attention to these habits and start to do something about them. A schedule is a great way of making you do things daily, turning those bad habits into good ones.

Take regular breaks 

How often do you take breaks when you work from home? In the office, natural opportunities for a small break from your screen occur quite often. Making hot drinks, someone coming over to your desk, bumping into someone else in the corridor or having a catch up after a meeting. Having your colleagues around might also encourage you to have a proper lunch break.

But at home – especially if you’re working alone – you have to create these opportunities to have a break yourself. It’s important for your productivity and to avoid burnout. You must allow yourself to have a break and you shouldn’t feel guilty for it.

Continue exercising and socialising where possible 

Although it’s tricky to predict what will and won’t be allowed at the moment, it is important to keep up exercise and socialising while you’re working from home. Exercise is as important for the mind as it is the body. Typical working from home positions are desk jobs, meaning you’re sedentary for most of the day. Getting up and moving – whether it’s a walk, run, online workout or yoga – is crucial. Some people even ‘walk’ to work by doing a lap around the block before they sit down at their desk.

As for socialising, people have been very creative in how they keep in touch with friends. If you can’t meet up in person yet, do plan some time to catch up with friends on the phone or online. Depending on who you live with, working from home can be quite isolating. You need to create opportunities to talk and socialise with other people.

How do you look after your wellbeing when working from home? Share your suggestions with us.



Article written for Shawmind by Mark Gray
Mark Gray is a freelance graphic artist and content writer from Berkshire, UK. He enjoys travelling, attending tech conferences, surfing, and gaming. He is also a newbie in the small business world but has big dreams in store for him.


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Relationships and Mindfulness in Quarantine

The current times are often described as unprecedented. Most of us have been presented with new experiences and challenges to overcome. It continues to be a time where our limits are tested. Not only does being in lockdown or quarantine challenge us personally, it can also challenge our relationships.

Mindfulness is something often recommended to help people re-engage with the present moment. While everyone has the potential to practice mindfulness, it is something you need to learn to do and keep doing to improve. It can bring awareness and caring into everything we do – so in these troubling times it can not only help us personally, but also in our relationships with others.

Being in a relationship in quarantine

You could have gone into lockdown with your partner, or ended up spending the time apart. Both situations may have their own challenges. If you’re apart, it’s hard to have the same quality time together. Video calls are a lifeline, but they are no substitute for real human contact. Although you miss your partner, you may find it difficult to fully communicate and connect with them.

But if you’re together, spending more time in the same space than ever before, you may end up arguing over little things. It isn’t surprising that difficulties arise as people figure out how to live and work together, perhaps without having the same hobbies and social interactions they would otherwise have outside the home.


How mindfulness could help your relationship  

Relationship problems are always common, and being in quarantine together makes these problems even more likely to occur. The stress and anxiety of dealing with the COVID-19 situation can take its toll on anyone’s mood, and this can easily create a tense atmosphere.

Mood swings already occur alongside mental health problems, and hormone imbalances such as low testosterone can also contribute to this. The stress of COVID-19 is likely to bring these symptoms to the surface, and make them even more intense.

You need a way to communicate and try to understand each other, including why the same disagreements keep happening. It’s not about “who’s right and who’s wrong”. It’s about understanding behaviour patterns, and influencing them for the better.

Whether these problems are new to your relationship or you feel at your wit’s end, mindfulness could help – especially during these challenging times – for the following reasons:

  • It helps us to be more attentive. With a focus on being in the present, mindfulness helps tackle the problem of being distracted – by phones, emails and so on. You learn to redirect attention to the current moment. That can really help partners listen to one another and feel more connected.
  • It can reduce your negative emotional reactivity. According to Psychology Today, studies have shown that practicing mindfulness for eight to ten weeks can change the brain’s regulation areas. It reduces the part which can send the brain into ‘fight or flight’ mode and inevitably cause problems.
  • It enhances self-awareness. When we spend more time in the present, we can learn about ourselves and observe our thoughts. It can help us identify earlier if we’re tempted to act out in unhealthy ways and then restrain this impulsive behavior.


Tips for mindfulness

The great thing about mindfulness is anyone can do it. It doesn’t require any special skills, or knowledge. Anyone can become a master!

You can do it while you’re eating, when you’re on a walk, or even just sitting still. To start practicing mindful meditation, sit quietly and focus on your breath. Begin to notice your thoughts, any feelings in your body and the things you can hear around you.

The idea is to focus back to the present if you notice your mind starts to wander elsewhere.

However you decide to start being mindful, the following principles apply:

  • Pay attention to how you feel – both physically and mentally
  • Accept those feelings, without judgement
  • Choose to return to the present when your mind wanders

Remember to always be kind to yourself. It’s natural for your mind to wander or distractions to take your attention away. You just have to learn to accept, observe and return. If you and your partner dedicate time each week to practicing mindfulness, you could start to see the rewards in the time you spend together as you become more aware, understanding and empathetic.

Mark Gray is a freelance graphic artist and content writer from Berkshire, UK. He enjoys travelling, attending tech conferences, surfing, and gaming. He is also a newbie in the small business world but has big dreams in store for him.


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From Broken to Balanced

How to Break Bad Habits Before They Break You

Many bestselling self-help books are about creating healthy habits. You may have read several of them such as ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People’, ‘Atomic Habits, ‘Tiny Habits’, ‘The Power of Habit’ or ‘Make Your Bed’.

Some also address how to break old unwanted habits. The combination of this freedom plus installing new desirable and sustainable behaviours is nirvana.

Over 40 per cent of our daily actions are habitual. Think of them as repeat responses (that have worked for us in some way in the past) that are automatically fired by our brains as a shortcut to success.

Sadly, your subconscious mind isn’t very subtle. Each day you are alive it regards that its job is done. That’s because we are wired via the primitive part of our brain, to simply survive to ensure that our species continues.

Now, with extended lifespans we want lives that are more nuanced. Lives that include being happy and fulfilled and the ability to feel good about ourselves and our choices.

So, when a ‘bad’ or undesired habit keeps cropping up we not only can find it hard to break but also suffer from feelings of failure that we can’t stop it.

It is like we are living our own personal Groundhog Day with recurring habits that can keep us in pain or hold us back. Culturally, we are then led to believe that if only we had more willpower then we would be able to change.

If ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’ were true then all New Year’s resolutions would come true and everyone who went on a diet and has shown that they have the will to lose weight would do so. Permanently.

Sadly, experience has probably taught you that intention means nothing and these well-intentioned actions can be thwarted and you end up feeling worse than before. So, know this; it is NOT because you lack willpower or are weak willed.

Speaking consciously, it highlights the need to develop a proper mindset, framework and systems to create the actions and habits to enable you to succeed. Plus, a really compelling reason WHY.

According to neuroscientist Jud Brewer M.D., Ph.D., the secret to creating a habit that you can stick with is to become ‘enchanted’ with it.

He says that when we try new things we are, for a while, really enchanted with them. So, remembering how this feels and focusing on the “Bigger Better Offer (BBO)” of what that new habit will bring you (in other words the ‘why’ of doing it) is key.

While we regard people with good habits and successful lives as being highly self-controlled, research in this area indicates what they are really good at is understanding how situations influence our actions.

They create the right environment for desirable repeated actions. In addition, they eliminate friction and the temptation to fall back into an old familiar old pattern of behaviour.

In other words, they set themselves up for success. Rather like someone wanting to ‘Stay Sober for October’, they replace the habit of a glass of wine each evening with something else.

This could be a substitute for the wine that keeps the ritual of pouring it out.  So, they select their favourite wine glass, put some olives in a dish and then pour a chilled glass of Kombucha instead.

Success can also be achieved by distracting yourself at the key ‘trigger’ time. Subscribing to an online Pilates class at 7pm followed by watching a movie at 8pm for example will get you through the ‘temptation time’ when it was easy to reach for that habitual drink.

But are conscious actions enough? Wearing my therapist hat here, it is true that ‘will’ or willpower does reside at your subconscious level.

The prefrontal cortex creates and regulates logic, reason, willpower, voice, decision making and good judgment in the brain. It can regulate emotional responses because it adapts to solve problems (caused by the emotional responses of the subconscious).

This is why people talk about rewiring your brain.  Neural pathways (through the RAS or Reticular Activating System) are reinforced via repeated emotional responses that lead to actions, and those actions are founded on a few key factors.

Firstly, a trigger or a cue. This can be a conscious behaviour such as getting home and changing into your sweat pants and feeling the need to relax each evening.

Secondly there is a routine. And we can get into new ones quickly. Think of walking into a shop now and how you look for the hand sanitizer then apply some almost automatically.

Thirdly there is a reward.

The good news is that once you recognise the pattern that is no longer working for you, it can be broken. After all, if it is a really destructive behaviour you don’t want it to break you.

The frustration of vowing to change a behaviour (even if the behaviour isn’t physically unhealthy) and then failing repeatedly to do so can affect adversely your emotional wellbeing and self-esteem. The counter is to take control and here, to help you at any time, is a handy new HABIT:

H: Have the right environment to foster success

A: Avoid triggers or use diversionary tactics at times they appear

B: BBO – What is your Bigger Better Offer or reason WHY?

I:  Install new routines

T: Treat yourself as a reward for creating and maintaining a new habit

Rosalyn Palmer is a Transformational Coach and Therapist, author, columnist and broadcaster. She is Newark based and has an international teletherapy private practice as an Advanced Rapid Transformational Therapist, Clinical Hypnotherapist and award-winning coach.

Rosalyn is the wellbeing expert on Radio Newark show Girls Around Town and for The Newark Advertiser. She features regularly on podcasts and in many publications for her easy to understand mental health advice.

As author of the award-winning self-help book: ‘Reset! A Blueprint for a Better Life’ she shares many of her own former challenges as a stressed-out MD of a leading London PR agency and then offers practical advice for readers to create more balanced lives.  Rosalyn is now also a co-author of Amazon No.1 bestselling self-help books ‘Ignite Your Life for Women’, ‘Ignite Your Female Leadership’ and ‘Ignite for Female Changemakers’.

A member of the National Council of Psychotherapists; General Hypnotherapy Register & Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council.

Formerly the MD/Founder of Award-winning PR agency RPPR, Head of Marketing for an International charity and Head of Insight for a T&D company, and with an enviable CV from leading London agencies in the 80s and 90s, Rosalyn has grown from many challenging life experiences. This colours and tempers her writing, broadcasting and speaking.

Rosalyn Palmer CC.Hyp. MPMH. ARRT.

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Progress vs. Perfection: The healthy way to achieve your goals

The word perfect originates from 13th Century France meaning “consummate state or form, that degree of excellence which leaves nothing to be desired”.

Nothing to be desired…

We all strive for happiness and positivity in our lives; no matter how or what this manifests itself as. It is true, we ALL seek perfection of some kind.

Perfection is something I do not strive for, because in a world where everything is ‘perfect’… would we even exist? Would there be disparities in our identity and who we are? Would we all be the same if there was just one idea of what ‘perfect’ means?

For me, as a high-functioning autistic person; I see perfection as something VERY far out of my reach; not only because of my disability, but because of my mental health and how I see myself and position within the world.

This is because I see my life experiences as occasions and events that have helped to shape who I am, how others see me and how I adapt to an ever-changing world.

Progress is more important to me than perfection. Being able to set a goal and work towards it; but know that is challenging yet achievable at the same time.

Nothing is impossible, but when we seek perfection- we often find ourselves fixated on just those steps- and forgetting about what truly maters to us in our lives.

Positioning yourself in a world that is constantly evolving can be tough- especially as we are not JUST our name or our location, our gender identity, our career, our social ‘status’… we are SO much more. We are not just labels.

When you have mental health challenges it can be especially important to not dwell on perceived ‘imperfections’ as this can lower confidence and lead to negative behaviours and emotions. I know this is true as in the past I have sought so-called perfection and turned to self-destruction as a result.

I have learnt to accept the imperfections as parts of me that are progression points- things that make me human. The labels assigned to me are irrelevant and I try my best to focus on shaping my own identity.

To help me with this, I have found it useful to adopt a growth mindset. Where everybody is striving for perfection; I try to strive for progress instead.

To see those difficult times as moments I can move on from, shape, change mould and reform myself as someone who tries their best to face any challenge head on.

This does not necessarily mean having the confidence, but having the desire to see a change, to work towards goals but constantly reset those goals when you eventually reach them.

So, on World Mental Health Day, if you take anything from this short blog post… remember to:

  • Focus on what you are good at and do more of it
  • Find what you enjoy and do more of it
  • Perceived faults and imperfections DO NOT define you

Claud is a creative educator, theatre artist and mental health and disability advocate with a passion for inspiring others to reach their potential.

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