Category Archives for The Mind

Wellbeing Wonder Number 3: Meditate #mhaw17

wellbeing-wonders-meditate-icon

Today’s wellbeing wonder is a big one for me and has definitely changed my life. Every morning the first thing I do is meditate. Just for 10-15 minutes and it’s the best habit I have.

Why mediate?

It’s not woo-woo, it’s science – honest! There is much evidence that meditation can have a significant impact on stress levels and actually changes the brain. The silicon valley set (in my spiritual Californian home) are all over meditation, understanding the many benefits it brings to introvert technology types and driven founders alike. It has certainly helped me to feel calmer and deal with life’s ups and downs and the feelings of anxiety that arise during stressful times.

How to meditate?

Meditation is ridiculously simple and very hard at the same time! It’s like trying to tame a cute little puppy. Sometimes the mind is willing to be still and do as you ask and then just when you think you are making great progress, it refuses to come when its called and is causing mayhem all over the place. But you learn that both are ok. It’s all part of the process, and, as with exercise, consistent persistence is the key. Some days are easier than others, but all days can be meditation days.

How to get started with meditation?

The easiest way is to download an app. I used headspace for a long time and it’s a really great way to learn the basics and beyond. There are 10 free sessions and then £45 (or less if you have a friend who uses it and can give you a code) buys you access to more meditation packs than you can shake a stick at. It’s a beautifully simple app and Andy Puddicombe, the co-founder talks you through it. His ted talk is worth a watch too about the benefits of mindful meditation. Highly recommended and the woo-woo factor of headspace is low 🙂

There is also the Calm app, which again offers some meditation for free and has a variety of music and backgrounds to choose from. Birdsong or a crackling fire anyone? It features a lovely, soft and gentle female voice guiding you through and offers a good variety of meditations to try. Woo-woo factor is low to medium

I’ve recently been using insight timer, which gives lots of flexibility for whether you want to have a guided meditation (and there are lots to choose from) or just meditate by yourself with some timing guidance. I like it, although the quality of the guided meditations does vary a little (and there’s something ironic about getting annoyed because the meditation you’re listening to is a bit rubbish!). Woo-woo factor is medium to high depending on your choice of meditation! 🙂

There are also plenty of free guided meditations on YouTube and podcasts, so there are plenty to try.

You can of course forget about having a guided meditation and just simply meditate. Focussing on your breath is a good place to start or you can try a mindful bodyscan like this one I made for Mind Moose last week. Plenty of folks reporting that they found it relaxing and so have their children, so worth a go if you’re feeling a bit stressed!

I would say that you need to give meditation a try for at least a couple of weeks or ideally a month to see how you feel at the end. In my opinion, it really is worth 10 minutes of your day and a real wellbeing wonder.

 

 

7 reasons why holidays are good for our minds

reasons-holidays-good-mind

As I sit here looking out at my chickens sheltering from the pouring rain, I can’t help reminiscing about my recent gloriously relaxing holiday in the sunshine. Sigh!

Since coming home a couple of weeks ago I feel much more calm, relaxed and focussed than before I went.  I can see things more clearly, am full of creative ideas and feel totally motivated to get cracking with them. It got me thinking about why holidays are so good for our minds…

Bring Me Sunshine

Of course not all holidays involve sunshine, but let’s talk about those that do. There is evidence that sunshine is great for our brains in a couple of ways:

  • Sun increases serotonin levels
    Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter that helps to transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain. Low serotonin levels are thought to be a factor in depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. You may have come across SSRIs, popular anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac, which increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. The intensity of light that sunshine brings has the same effect – it increases the production of serotonin in the brain and can boost our mood. It’s why high intensity light (SAD) lamps are recommended for people who have lower moods throughout the darker winter months.
  • Sunshine helps us make Vitamin D
    Also, there is emerging evidence that vitamin D is not only essential for healthy bones but for the production of serotonin – and of course the best source of Vitamin D is from exposing skin to the sunshine. And it’s a great reason for getting outside whether on holiday or not! The NHS suggest exposing your unprotected skin to sunshine for 10-15 minutes a day is enough for light-skinned people to make all the vitamin D they need – any more and it’s time to reach for the sunscreen.

What Do You Mean We Need a Break from the old routine?

Working, washing, cooking, shopping, cleaning, dog walking, gardening…the list goes on for those of us who work, look after a home, bring up children, try to look after ourselves and nurture our relationships with our family and friends. It can be pretty exhausting by itself, but throw in some of life’s curveballs and a bit of extra pressure and it can easily to head in the direction of dangerous levels of stress.

Being on holiday allows us – if we’re lucky – to take a break from all the day-to-day chores and responsibilities – someone else makes all the food, cleans up after everyone and your main task is to spend time with the people you love, relax and have fun – total bliss! Which brings me to…

An opportunity to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with their’s

The airline safety announcement analogy is so very true and on holiday we can get more of a chance to actually do it. Those of us who are mums are so used to putting others first, but good holidays really do allow us to focus on a bit of ‘me time’ and recharge our batteries.

Of course, this does depend on the age of any children you have, who you’re on holiday with and what type of holiday you’re having ; however even just the fact that you don’t have to do any of the usual chores frees up SO much time for you to spend on things you would actually like to do – whatever they may be. Whether it’s a morning yoga session, a swim in the pool, a read of a good book or scuba diving, there just is so much more time in the day on holidays, and the chances are you can get some very good quality me time in there somehow.

(As an aside, if you have small children and they are stuck to you like a limpet for the whole holiday, do not fear, they will be teenagers soon enough and then they’re quite glad for you to have ‘me time’!)

A chance to slow down and relax

Linked to this, is that holidays generally mean more relaxation – whatever that means to you personally. It may be lying on a sunbed for 2 weeks, or lots of activities every day, but relaxation is the order of the day and boy is it good for your mind – and body.

Holidays also remind us of the beauty of living life at a slow pace. Hours disappear messing about in the sand, sitting and chatting in a café or watching the sun go down is time well spent. We don’t hurry to get on with the next thing or worry about walking the dog, washing the dishes and finishing that presentation and what we’re not doing, we just enjoy the moment. Which of course is what mindfulness is all about and if the holiday forces align correctly, there are many beautiful mindful moments.

Seeing things more clearly

Such moments of course gives us the chance to clear the mind from daily ‘clutter’ and allow you to see things with a new perspective, perhaps reassessing aspects of your life, your values and your goals. Holidays give us time to reflect on who who we are and where we are going – and crucially whether this is the direction in which we’d like to keep travelling!

Coming up with creative solutions to niggling problems seems easier on holiday. This may be something to do with travelling to another land – Maddux and Galinsky’s studies found links between living abroad and increased creativity

Reconnecting

Everyday life can chip away at family connections and spending quality time with the ones you love helps to reconnect on a deep level. Lehto, Choi, Lin and MacDermid found in their studies of 265 travellers that going on holiday as a family contributes positively to family connection, bonding, communication and feelings of belonging. This is really important for us all – and especially our children – to feel.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside.

Finally, I am reminded about some of the cognitive benefits of being by the sea – covered more in my post on reasons from psychology that learning to surf rocked my world. Recent evidence suggests that being near large expanses of water is very good for the mind. So, even a trip to the seaside can be great for you if you can’t go on a full holiday.

So there you go, 8 reasons why holidays are good for your mind – which sound like 8 good reasons to book another holiday to me! And remember, holidays need not always be super luxurious to have all, or most of these benefits for your mind – it’s what works for you and your loved ones that’s important – and taking a well-earned break. Now, where did I put those travel guides…?