Thursday, 27 July 2017

An insomiac's guide to sleeping soundly

Sleep - love it or loathe it, it's way more important than we tend to think. For some of us, a restful night's snoozing comes naturally, but for others it can feel like a minefield. Recently, whilst reading a Women's Health article on 'clean sleep', I was inspired to start paying more attention to my own habits.

As someone who has dealt with insomnia in the past, I know all too well how important sleep really is. It's definitely one of those things that you only realise are important when they're gone. Back when my sleeping problems were at their worst, I did a great deal of research into how to deal with the issue, and eventually did manage to improve my sleep quality massively. It took time and effort, but through the methods that follow, I went from getting around 4 hours of sleep (on a good day) to peacefully sleeping for 7 or more hours most nights. I've listed my methods in reverse order of their usefulness (in my opinion), so if you want to try a few but not all of them, I'd start with the ones at the bottom.

5. Self-hypnosis

Ok, I'll admit this does seem a bit out-there, and a few years ago I would've laughed at this suggestion too. Having said that, a few years ago I didn't really understand hypnosis. Ultimately, despite its connotations, hypnosis is not much more than a very deep state of relaxation. Whilst having hypnotherapy for a phobia, I was taught how to carry out self-hypnosis, and to this day it remains my tool of choice when I'm either very stressed or struggling to sleep. I would really recommend going in with an open mind and researching this further if you're having issues with with relaxation.

4. Prepare for the morning

If there's one thing that's bound to make sleeping more difficult, it's worrying about the million things you need to do in the morning. I find it so useful to make sure I'm fully prepared in advance. I'm not a morning person at all, so as well as aiding my sleep, it makes for a much less stressful morning. Make a list of the things you tend to worry about most in the mornings; this could be what to wear, what to have for breakfast or things to remember for work. Try to prepare as much as possible before going to sleep - write reminders, prepare breakfast in advance etc.

3. Bath/shower at night

Whether it's best to shower in the morning or at night has always been up for debate. Of course, there's arguments for each side, however if you're a troublesome sleeper I would argue the night-time option is more beneficial. Personally, a relaxing bath before bed really settles me down and prepares me for sleep. I always prefer a bath, but I don't think the method is actually that important, just go for whichever suits you. It's definitely the act of washing off the day and feeling fresh before bed that helps me snooze more soundly.

2. Declutter

The space in which you sleep is way more important than you may realise. For me at least, messy room = messy mind, 100%. It's quite a hard thing to describe, but it's as though all that clutter in the room represents the jumble of thoughts in my mind. Linking in to point 4, clutter can also cause stress more practically; you're more likely to be kept awake worrying where something is if your space isn't organised.

1. Technology cleanse

If I had to choose which technique alone is best when it comes to getting more quality sleep, I would go for this one every time. As far as I'm concerned, technology (especially social media) before bed is almost always a terrible idea. There's loads of opinions out there on exactly how long before bed you should put the tech down, but I try to stick to an hour, or even half an hour; I think this is an effective yet doable time-scale.

In conjunction with these methods, try to keep your sleep schedule pretty regular. It's also really useful to figure out roughly how many hours of sleep you need per night; both too little and too much can have a detrimental effect. Hopefully some of these methods can be useful, but remember that if you're really struggling with you sleeping it's important to go to your GP. Problems with sleep aren't always, but can be a result of an underlying condition like depression or anxiety.

Sweet dreams!


Thursday, 20 July 2017

5 things blogging has taught me

Since it was recently the 6 month anniversary of my blog, I thought this would be a fitting post this week. Starting a blog was definitely an idea which I toyed with for ages before finally going for it, but each time I got serious I seemed to think of another way in which it could 'go wrong'. However, it's been a great 6 months and I can honestly say that finally getting my head down and doing it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. Surprisingly, as well as providing me with the creative outlet I'd hoped for, my first 6 months of blogging have taught me some valuable life lessons. Here are the top 5 things blogging has taught me so far:

1) Authenticity is key

Before I started blogging myself, I never really understood how many people fake their stats, especially on social media. As a new blogger, it's so easy to get disheartened when you're working so hard yet not getting the views, but it's important to remember that it's not always going to be like that. We've probably all been tempted to 'cheat' in order to easily get more followers/likes on social media, but I've learnt now that it's so much more rewarding to work on genuine interaction and writing to the best of your ability. This way, you know that when somebody follows you, gives you a like or views your blog it's because they really do like what you're doing. Although the first few months can be frustrating at times, this is definitely a better way of doing things. Seeing your real progress as it happens is truly so fulfilling, even if it's a slow process.

2) The power of planning

Despite always being a bit of an organisation freak, I never fully understood the power of planning ahead until I started blogging. For the first few months, I kind of had a 'make it up as I go along' approach. However, I soon learnt the benefits of having at least a loose plan of what to post throughout the month. By forming a plan, it's easier to make sure topics are varied throughout the month. It's also easier to plan posts to fit around specific dates and themes over the year, as well as saving the time and stress of having to think of something to write on the spot. My general go-to now is to jot down ideas as they come to me (often at the strangest times), then plan things out more rigidly when I have a list of ideas to choose from. I find this to be a much easier method than trying to think of what to write on the spot, as it's incredibly difficult to force inspiration.

3) Invest in your passions

I'm by no means saying here that you need to spend money on something in order for it to be a success, but if you're setting out to do something that you're serious about, it's so important to really invest time, energy and potentially some money to get you started out. For me, I'd tried blogging so many times, but the thing that made me stick at it this time was buying a theme for my site. Seeing it looking so professional, and knowing that I'd spent money on it stopped me from giving up right away. It doesn't have to be money, but making sure you're truly invested in what you're doing is so useful when it comes to resilience and sticking power.

4) Quality over quantity

It's so easy in life to get caught up in numbers (see point 2), but blogging has made me realise that quality is far more important than quantity. I think in writing this is especially true. There have been a few instances now where I've cut down the frequency of my posts, for example over exams, because I've realised how much I hate the idea of not writing to the best of my ability simply to 'keep up'. This can definitely be applied to many areas of life; if you need to slow down in order to deliver your best work, it's much better to be honest rather than rushing and not doing things well.

5) Failure is nothing to be afraid of

This is a huge lesson I've learnt! My biggest fear when starting this blog was how embarrassing it would be if I just totally failed, but I've since realised that was such a silly fear to have. Whatever you're pursuing and however big the dream, just go for it! No matter how things pan out, you're winning just by working on your goals fearlessly. It's not about what anyone else thinks, it's about how following your passions and dreams makes you feel.


Thursday, 6 July 2017

Why body confidence has nothing to do with the way you look

As a young teenager I, like so many, would constantly critique the way I looked. More to the point, I would obsess over other people's traits and how I wanted to look like them. Every day was, "I wish I had her curves" or "Why can't I have hair like that?" At this time, I viewed almost all aspects of life from a "why is the world so against me?" perspective, and my body image was certainly no exception. Everything was so unfair.

It took me years to realise why my opinion of my own body never improved. Everything I tried was to look better; I wore makeup to look less 'plain', I changed my haircut to try to look like someone else, and the amount of times I VOWED to 'eat healthier and exercise'. Of course, it never panned out that way. I expected to go out for a run, eat an apple and suddenly be this motivated, fit, gorgeous person. Looking back, the failure was inevitable, because no amount of exercise, make-up or veg can make you into a different person. Each time my efforts appeared to be in vain, I looked at things from the same perspective; "why me", "it is actually impossible for me to exercise", "why is it so easy for everybody else?" It was a completely toxic way of thinking.

Realising my mistake was a slow and indirect process, which came about when I joined the gym (for the third time) in October of last year. Readying myself for the worst months of SAD*, I was adamant it wasn't going to get the best of me this time. Over the years I had learnt the most powerful tool for me mentally is to take good care of my all-round health. To my surprise, for the first time ever, I found committing to the gym relatively easy. For a while I couldn't figure out why, but eventually realised it was because - in contrast to every previous attempt - I was adopting healthier habits to feel better, rather than to look different. And there was another unexpected side effect; my body confidence began to soar. At first I thought this was odd, seen as I didn't look drastically different from when I started out.

However it eventually dawned on me that I had begun to see my body as something strong, powerful and capable. My body was no longer something to be looked at and judged, but something with a purpose and a job. That job is keeping me healthy. In time, I realised that all of my past insecurities are really nothing to worry about at all. For example, I used to get so hung up on my shoulders being wide and a bit out of proportion. Now my perspective has totally changed; it dawned on me that despite having quite a big chest considering my 5'2 frame, I have never suffered with back pain as a result. Having broader, strong shoulders has almost certainly helped with this. This simple shift towards realising that your unique features are about much more than the way they look, is so empowering. Just think for a second about all our bodies do for us; if we get a cut, a sprain, or an illness, our body immediately gets to work to try to heal us. It really is all about perspective, and viewing your body as something functional rather than aesthetic, something to work with rather than against, can strangely make you so much happier with it all round. Not at a certain size or shape or weight, but however it happens to look when it is helping you to feel happy, healthy and strong.

*Seasonal Affective Disorder