How to create the ideal sleep environment

Posted May 25th, 2018

Man in bed suffering from insomnia

If you regularly have trouble falling asleep, keep waking up in the night or suffer from insomnia, there may be a hundred reasons why this is happening. Perhaps an underlying medical condition, such as chronic pain, an overactive thyroid or kidney infection is causing you to sleep badly. Sleep deprivation can also be a symptom of stress, anxiety, depression and a host of other issues.

Whatever the cause, if it’s interfering with your quality of life or stopping you from performing your daily tasks, something must be done. Obviously, your first port of call should be your GP who can investigate (and hopefully eliminate) any physical health problems that might contribute to your poor sleeping.

If you think the cause may be related to your mental health, counselling or psychotherapy may help. Here at KlearMinds, we have a highly skilled team who have worked with many different people, and therapies that are designed to help you achieve positive, lasting change.

Meanwhile, back at home, there are some practical steps you can take to create the best possible sleep environment for yourself.

Comfortable bed

It all starts with having the right mattress. If your body is not optimally supported, you won’t sleep well. Too soft, too hard – everyone has their own preferences, but do get professional advice on the type of mattress that’s best for your body shape and weight. Do you sleep on your front, back or side? Suffer from chronic pain? Try out different mattresses in the showroom and look out for manufacturers offering trial periods (typically around 100 days) with a money-back option if the mattress doesn’t pass the home test.

Tech free zone

Your bedroom should be a place for rest. By all means watch a film, answer emails or catch up with social media in the evening, but keep it out of the bedroom. In fact, it’s a good idea to ban all gadgets and gizmos – TVs, laptops, tablets, smartphones etc – from the bedroom altogether. Not only do they have the effect of stimulating the brain when you want it to switch into sleep mode, any lights and noises emanating from the devices can disrupt your precious sleep.

Relaxing bedtime routine

Make it a priority to view your bedroom as your personal sanctuary. If necessary, use the next weekend to declutter and decorate to create a calming, restful vibe. A nightly wind-down routine is a great way to prepare your body and mind for bedtime. There are many tried and tested techniques you can try including a warm bath, a hot cocoa or herbal tea (no caffeine or alcohol!), relaxing essential oils (lavender pillow, roll-on aromatherapy blends, yoga or breathing exercises, ½ hour’s journal writing or reading in bed.

Ideal room temperature

A cool bedroom (6-18°C) will aid your sleep, while a hot room (24°C+) will make you toss and turn. Make sure you have a choice of winter and summer bedding at your disposal and use it wisely. During the warmer month, airing the room before in the evening will maximise cool air circulation (but do close the window if there’s a draught). In the winter, have a hot water bottle or fluffy bedsocks ready for extra snugliness that will help you drift off.

The importance of darkness

Our body’s circadian rhythm responds to light and darkness – we are biologically programmed to sleep when it’s dark and wake up when it’s light. Work with your body by keeping your sleep environment as dark as you can, eg by fitting blackout blinds, having a ‘no light at night’ house rule, wearing an eye mask and keeping phones and computers out of the bedroom – the blue light emanating from LED screens actually suppresses the release of melatonin, which our bodies need to relax and fall asleep.

No noise

Finally, make sure your sleep is not disturbed by noise, either from outside (traffic, dogs barking etc) or inside (night owl teenage kids, snoring partner, household appliances etc). Sometimes, earplugs are the only way to get some peace and quiet! That said, while loud, sudden noises will wake you up, soothing continuous sounds can be helpful to fall asleep to. Why not try one of the many ‘white noise’ apps available, or one that plays soothing nature sounds?

Filled Under: Anxiety, Depression, Happiness

Colouring books for adults – what are the benefits?

Posted November 24th, 2017

Adult colouring books have been around for a few years now – have you tried them yet? It might be silly to think that something as simple as a colouring book could be beneficial to our health, but research does support this idea. In fact, the benefits for the adult brain from the simple act of colouring has been known for over 100 years, with many psychiatrists throughout history recommending the practice to their patients.

Relieves stress and worry

Colouring is said to have stress reducing benefits. It calms the part of the brain related to the stress/fear response and stimulates the part of the brain that is responsibility for logic and creativity. In 2005, a study documented reduced anxiety in participants after only a short time of colouring in geometric patterns. Colouring for at least 5 minutes before bedtime is said to help you sleep better, while colouring therapy is used experimentally to treat anxiety and stress related disorders.

Boosts concentration and creativity

Adult colouring books are becoming increasingly popular among creative professionals and executives in high stress jobs. The reason is that there’s evidence to suggest that even short colouring sessions can boost focus and concentration, spurring creativity. Some companies are so convinced of the benefits that they make time for group colouring sessions to improve the focus and creativity of employees working on a major project.

Has a calming, meditative effect on the mind

The psychological benefits of meditation and prayer are well known, but many people struggle to ‘switch off’ and calm the mind. Colouring is a hands-on activity that can be used to overcome this issue. It allows you to be active – to ‘do’ something – but without needing your full concentration. Studies have shown that colouring and similar activities have a meditative effect on the brain.

Improves relaxed and social interaction

Recently, colouring time has started to become a social activity, with many clubs and local community groups putting on ‘colouring’ meetings. Take your colouring book along and meet others who also enjoy colouring. Spend time focusing on this relaxing activity while having a natter and making new friends. As a social exercise, it’s a fun activity that you can even share with your kids!

While colouring therapy is used experimentally to treat sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and stress related conditions, it isn’t recommended that you use it in place of regular therapy with a qualified psychotherapist or counsellor.

That said, as a complementary activity that is both relaxing and enjoyable, there’s certainly no harm in putting an adult colouring book on your Christmas list.

Filled Under: Anxiety

Are you having a panic attack?

Posted September 27th, 2017

Anxiety Wordcloud

A panic attack is an extremely intense psychological event. An overwhelming wave of fear may strike without warning or apparent reason, but with an intensity that is both debilitating and immobilising. In fact, the sudden onset of severe anxiety may make you think you’re going crazy or are about to die.

You may only ever have one panic attack or suffer from recurrent episodes that may be triggered by particular circumstances that make you feel endangered and unable to escape. Triggers can be specific situations that are particularly fear inducing to you, such as public speaking, being stuck in a lift or crossing a bridge.

Whether you are normally a happy and healthy person or your panic attacks are part of a wider mental health issue such as panic disorder, social phobia or depression, it is treatable and the sooner you seek help, the better. Coping strategies can be used to deal with the symptoms, while effective panic attack treatment can help you regain control of your life.

Signs and symptoms

A panic attack develops suddenly, typically reaching its peak within 10 minutes and lasting about half an hour. Perhaps surprisingly, the signs and symptoms are physical rather than mental and often mimic very serious health issues. Typical symptoms include:

• Chest pains
• Shortness of breath
• Dizziness or fainting
• Muscle weakness
• Racing heart
• Tingling or numbness in hands/feet
• Hot and cold flushes
• Nausea
• Trembling all over
• Feeling detached from reality

Could it be a heart attack?

Since the signs and symptoms of a panic attack are so physical and severe, it is easy to mistake them for heart attack symptoms. However, there are some important differences:

• Heart attack induced chest pains tend to radiate more through the shoulder
• Heart attacks peak straight away while panic attacks tend to peak after around 10 minutes
• Heart attacks may involve vomiting

Panic attacks often cause incredibly intense feelings of impending doom, like something terrible is about to happen. Unsurprisingly, many panic attack sufferers will head straight to the doctor or hospital to get treatment for what they think may be a life threatening medical emergency.

Admittedly, the symptoms can be confusing to the lay person and often the only way to obtain clarity when you’re having an attack is to seek medical advice right away.

How to treat panic attacks

Panic attacks can be treated successfully with counselling and psychotherapy to help sufferers understand and manage symptoms, overcome attacks and reduce the frequency of occurrences. Panic attack management therapies can also help with the development of skills needed for coping successfully with any future attacks.

Panic attacks can be treated successfully with counselling and psychotherapy to help sufferers understand and manage symptoms, overcome attacks and reduce the frequency of occurrences. Panic attack management therapies can also help with the development of skills needed for coping successfully with any future attacks.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is generally viewed as the most effective psychotherapy for dealing with panic attacks and panic disorder. Focusing on the thinking patterns and behaviours that bring on panic, CBT can help to reshape these thought patterns. Relaxation training and exposure therapy may also be used to help overcome the problem.

Psychotherapy is a useful tool to help panic attack sufferers understand the root of the problem through childhood experiences, previous personal difficulties or past relationships and remove any underlying issues that may give rise to panic.

Finally, it is useful to have an arsenal of self-help tips at your fingertips to help you cope with anxiety and minimise your exposure to it. These include:

• Deep breathing exercise to relieve hyperventilation and calm yourself down
• Relaxation techniques (e.g. meditation, yoga) practised regularly to combat stress
• 30 minutes of regular exercise a day (e.g. walking, running, swimming, dancing) to relieve anxiety
• 7-9 hours of good quality sleep per night to maintain a healthy balance
• No smoking, alcohol or caffeine or other stimulants since these can provoke panic attacks in some people
• Social contact with friends and family to avoid isolation induced anxieties
• Education about panic and anxiety to help you recognise symptoms

Filled Under: Anxiety, Panic

Procrastination and 7 top tips to get over it

Posted July 7th, 2017

‘Tomorrow is a mystical land where 99% of all human productivity, motivation and achievement is stored’, it says on the internet. Put another way, if your mother ever told you to never put off until tomorrow what you can do today, she was right.

Many of us suffer from procrastination – a myriad of avoidance techniques we have mastered to not do what we know in our hearts of hearts should be done. If you’re feeling frustrated with yourself about the lack of progress that comes from dithering over a work assignment to forever postponing DIY jobs at home, or you’re stressing about continually dodging the bigger decisions that you know full well need to be taken – you might need help.

We’ve come up with 7 life coaching tips to help you get over your procrastination habit, take charge of the tasks in hand and get on with your life. Not only will you find yourself becoming more productive, you will love the new found focus and energy that propels you towards your goals.

1 – Overthinking creates problems that were never there.

There is a fine line between good planning and overthinking every aspect. Planning is a necessity, of course, but you can never plan for every eventuality or avoid every mistake. Spending too long on creating the perfect plan is counterproductive. It’s time to stop thinking and start doing.

2 – Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.

The longer you dwell on a particular thing, the bigger it becomes in your head. If the issue in question is a difficult one, the problem will grow and grow until it becomes a monster so large you’re even more afraid to tackle it. No matter how you feel, tell your negative inner voices to be quiet and force yourself to just make a start.

3 – You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.

The distance between where you are now and where you want to be (the top of the stairs!) may look overwhelming – but only if that’s where you look. Rather than focusing on the end result, break it down into smaller chunks and take it one day at a time. Taking the first step will make you feel good and lead to you wanting to take the next step and the one after that. Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time.

4 – Swallow the frog first.

The ‘frog’ is your biggest and most important task of the day, the one that you want to put off the most. It is also the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on your day. Whether you’re dreading making an important phone call or doing your tax return, do this first. You will feel a great sense of relief once you’ve accomplished the task, and the rest of your to-do list will seem a doddle in comparison.

5 – Nothing happens until you decide.

Procrastination is the feeling of wanting to do something but not taking the action that aligns with that thought, which leads to inner conflict. Don’t get lost in limbo land. Instead, boost your confidence and self esteem by taking action – any action – and teach yourself that you can be a decisive person. By repeating this pattern time and again, your prophesy will be self-fulfilling.

6 – Face your fears and do it anyway.

Of course, it’s always hard to make mistakes, to get hurt, to take responsibility for your actions and to risk looking like a fool. But if that is what’s stopping you from putting yourself out there you’ll never know whether you could have succeeded. In order to live fully and without regret, you may need to push yourself outside your comfort zone and just go for it. Failure is the mother of success, according to an old Chinese proverb.

7 – Finish what you started.

Taking the first step of a task may be difficult but getting to the end of the task may also be a problem. If the energy has gone and you never finish what you started, you can experience feelings of self-doubt, fatigue and stress. Review the job in hand and decide whether it really needs finishing – there’s no law that says everything must be completed. If it doesn’t require finishing, then terminate the project. If, however, it does need finishing, give yourself one last push and feel a whole lot better having achieved your goal.

Filled Under: Anxiety

Breathe yourself calm

Posted May 15th, 2017

What could be easier than breathing? We do it all the time, and yet not all breaths are created equal.

Deep breathing can be a great tool to use when you’re in a state of anxiety, high stress or are dealing with a panic attack. The simple action of taking deep breaths is soothing and calming on body and mind.

If you want to use your breath to calm yourself, all you need to do is to stimulate the right part of the body’s nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system controls our rest, relax and digest response. When it is activated, the body is in a state of calm, with dilated blood vessels and lower blood pressure, a slow heart rate and calm breathing.

How to get there? Your outbreath needs to be slightly longer than your inbreath. This stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the diaphragm all the way to the brain.

There are many different breathing exercises you can try to put your body into a parasympathetic state, but the simplest is this one:

  1. Find a comfortable place where you can sit quietly in a relaxed pose but with your spine upright. Close your eyes and begin breathing normally through your nose.
  2. Next, take a deep, slow breath in through your nose counting to two, hold for one count, and exhale counting to four, then hold again for one count. Make sure you breathe smoothly and evenly.
  3. If this feels too easy, you could try inhaling for 4 counts and exhaling for 6, or even 6 inhales and 8 exhales, just so long as it still feels comfortable.
  4. On the outbreath, try experimenting with breathing our through your nose, through pursed lips or through your mouth to see what feels best for you.
  5. Do this breathing exercise for a minimum of 5 minutes and notice a real difference in your state of mind.

If you find breathing exercises helpful to combat stress and anxiety in your life, you may wish to try these 3 video guided exercises:

Filled Under: Anxiety, Happiness

CBT FOR ANXIETY – HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?

Posted March 16th, 2016

cognitive behavioural therapy anxiety how many sessions

When you suffer from anxiety, you want to feel better as soon as possible.

These days many people seek cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as their treatment of choice for anxiety issues. This is because evidence based research demonstrates that CBT for anxiety can be a highly effective treatment and GPs often recommend it.

How long will it take? This is a question many people ask when seeking treatment. (more…)

Is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy More Effective Than Medication in Treating Anxiety?

Posted March 17th, 2015

cognitive behavioural therapy for anxiety

The strong feelings of fear, unease and worry that are hallmarks of anxiety can have a very negative impact on your life. Making the decision to get help for anxiety is a positive step. At the same time, it merits the question: what treatment should you choose?

Two of the most popular treatments for anxiety are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and certain types of medication. This is due to the fact that both methods demonstrate good evidence in the successful treatment of anxiety.

However, is CBT more effective than medication in treating anxiety? How can you choose between the two, and when should you use both? (more…)

Cognitive Distortions and Thinking Errors – How Can CBT Help?

Posted November 28th, 2014

Cognitive Distortions cbt

 

When you’re feeling worried or stressed, would you say your thoughts are mostly positive or negative? If you’re like most people, negative thoughts run rampant and you might feel that you have trouble controlling them.

Some people who suffer from anxiety or depression say they wish they could “shut off” their thoughts. Often, it is actually these thoughts rather than the specific incident or situation that is causing the anxiety or depression in the first place. (more…)

Ten Tips For Managing Panic Attacks

Posted November 16th, 2014

10 tips for managing panic attacks

Once the feelings of panic start to set in, these thoughts have a way of taking over and can give rise to intense fear and pain. When a panic attack strikes, sufferers are often too overwhelmed by the panic to feel able to think about ways to manage the situation.

If you are armed with some coping strategies before a panic attack strikes, it can be possible to reduce the intensity and even prevent panic from happening at all.

Here are ten useful tips for dealing with panic. Read this list and keep it handy so you can be prepared the next time you feel panicked. (more…)

Filled Under: Anxiety, Panic
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