Category Archives for stress

Wellbeing Wonder Number 2: Sleep MHAW17


Sleep is one of those things that when you’re getting enough of it, you don’t even notice it, but when there’s an issue with it (as any new parent will tell you), it can dominate your life.

There seems to be a little bit of conflicting evidence about how much sleep you need…is it 8 hours or 10 hours or is Maggie Thatcher’s 4 hour’s enough for the macho ‘super busy’ amongst us? Well, it depends on you and by the time you reach a certain age, you know how much sleep you need to make you function properly. There is even some thought that women need more sleep owing to the complexity of our brains 😉

For me personally, sleep has magical restorative powers like nothing else and one of the reasons most of us feel so good on and after holidays is the extra sleep and rest we allow ourselves; like the little afternoon naps…

The power of the nap

You either love it or hate it and I’m a lover of a little afternoon nap. Indeed, I’ve got a little sunny napping corner in my house where it’s perfect to curl up for a 20 minute afternoon nap, but not quite comfortable enough to go for an all out sleep.

There’s plenty of evidence that an afternoon nap of around 20 minutes is great for your productivity and learning capacity. Winston Churchill apparently had an afternoon nap every day during the war, so if it’s good enough for Winston…!

Dealing with sleep issues

Unfortunately sometimes sleep becomes an issue and most of us have times where we are struggling with sleep. This can often be due to something stressful or worrying that’s happening in our lives and a changed sleep pattern is often one of the first signs something’s not quite right. You might struggle to get to sleep, or have a consistently disturbed sleep, wake up super early every day or indeed be sleeping far more than usual.

What’s worked for me at times like these is going back to sleep basics and trying to accept that it’s a phase that will most likely pass. And of course, trying to deal with whatever it is that is stressing or worrying you if the most helpful thing, though sometimes that’s easier said than done. So what are the basics of a good night’s sleep?

Sleep Basics

  • Create a calming atmosphere in your bedroom…piles of clothes, or unread books do not a soothing sleep-sanctuary make. You don’t have to make your bedroom into a pinterest-worthy zen-like space, but a bedroom that is calm and soothing is a good start.
  • Turn off your phone and laptop and television well before bed. Yes, we all know that blue light emissions don’t help with sleep, but how many of us actually turn them off the recommended 1 hour+ before bed? If you’re having sleep issues, it’s probably the first thing you should try.
  • Make a conscious effort to relax. It might be having a bath, doing a bit of yoga, or a trip to the gym followed by a sauna, but finding the way that you relax and unwind is an important part of ending the day and helping your brain to switch off.
  • Meditate – I’m a huge fan of meditation (more on that tomorrow) and simply focusing on your breath for a few minutes can be enough to calm a racing mind. There are plenty of apps and youtube sleep meditations – my favourite is the Andrew Johnson’s lovely soothing deep sleep app. There’s an irony of course in that your phone then has to be on…but you can put it somewhere you can’t reach it 🙂

You can read yesterday’s ‘wellbeing wonder’ post about exercise here. 



Managing Stress


We all get a bit ‘stressed out’ at times. Juggling work and busy homes along with life’s inevitable ups and downs can make even the most chilled-out person feel under pressure. But our modern lives are becoming more stressed than ever. While occassional, acute stress can motivate us and improve performance, when we experience ongoing, chronic stress we can experience mental and physical health problems.

The impact of chronic stress on our health

Long-term exposure to stress has been shown to cause mental health problems like anxiety and depression and recent research sugests it can even lead to dementia. It can also cause physical health problems including high blood pressure and heart attacks, generally weaken the immune system so you are more susceptible to infections and exacerbate conditions like irritable bowl syndrome (IBS), insomnia and eczema.

What happens when we’re under stress

As discussed in this post on anxiety, when we feel threatened, the brain gives the ‘danger’ signal, we go into ‘fight or flight’ mode and the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol surge into our bodies. If the danger is fleeting, then the physical and mental symptoms of stress are short-lived. However, when our lives have too many stress factors in them and we move from one stressful situation to another, the constant exposure to stress hormones can cause problems. We can experience psychological symptoms such as feeling overwhelmed, finding it hard to switch off and becoming easily agitated and frustrated. We may also see physical symptoms such as stomach and skin problems or insomnia, and we may develop ongoing anxiety or depression. Some people may also turn to unhelpful coping mchanisms such as drinking which can cause further issues. So, how do you stop stress taking control?

Some tips to manage stress

It’s very difficult to erase stress from our busy lives, and indeed stress is an inevitable fact of life. However, you can make small changes that can make a big difference to how you feel and indeed, how you react to stressful events. The tips unsurprisingly are similar to those on how to deal with anxiety.

  1. Eat a healthy diet – see 5 good mood food tips
  2. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise every day.
  3. Try a little mindfulness.
    There is increasing evidence that mindfulness can help with stress. Yoga and meditation of any kind encourage mindfulness, which is really just paying attention to the present moment, or you could go on a Mindfulness course in person or online.  Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction (MBSR) has been shown to have a significant impact on stress reduction.
  4. Try to get enough sleep – this can be tricky as it’s a vicious cycle when you feel stressed. There are some good sleep tips here.
  5. If work is the main cause of your stress, think about ways you could reduce the impact. It might be time to try to move roles, find a new job or just try to manage your time more effectively.
  6. Talk to someone you trust about how you feel. Just talking in itself may well help, or they might be able to help you come up with practical ways to reduce your stress factors. If you can’t talk to someone close to you and stress it taking its toll on your mental or physical health, talk to someone else – it could be your GP, someone at your local Mind or a counsellor or psychologist.