Mental Health is being talked about more openly and has our attention more than ever. So have you ever really considered this and what it means to you? Or is it something you are more likely to brush over or ignore completely?
So far we have explored why we need to sleep and the implications if our sleep is disrupted or reduced in quality. This last chapter looks at some of the reasons you may not be sleeping well and offers some things to think about to develop sleep habits that encourage better quality sleep.
Poor sleep does have potentially serious health implications, so if you are persistently not sleeping well seeking professional help is advisable. See the NHS advice at the end of this article.
There is nothing quite like naturally waking in the morning after a good night’s sleep, feeling fully refreshed and excited for the day to start. I love those mornings.
Personally, a good night’s sleep is an 8 hour or more scenario. Any less has a definite impact on how I feel the next day; my mood, my ability to cope with the daily challenges, no matter how insignificant and my concentration. Most of us can relate to feeling tired and the tendency to feel less ‘with it’ but did you know that research shows people who consistently get better quality sleep live longer?
So valuing your sleep and aiming for consistent, good quality sleep seems sensible for us all.
Sleep. Something we all do and are all familiar with. Whether we are an 8 hour a night person or refreshed with less, we all need it. It is essential to our survival.
Scientists think that pretty much every land dwelling mammal experiences sleep. Even dolphins sleep – although with half their brain at a time, which is a rather clever way of them staying alert enough to avoid predators and stay afloat to breathe.
Scientific studies mean we now know a bit more about sleep and why it is important, although there is still a lot that we do not know. Why we need daily sleep is still not certain for example.
So what is sleep all about and why do we need it? Let’s start with a little bit of science…
Have you ever looked on whilst someone tried something adventurous, scary, thrilling and you thought,
‘I wish I could do that… but…’ ?
And then inserted some spurious excuse to talk yourself out of trying, like, ‘I’m too old/ young/ big/ small/ weak/ strong…’ ?
If the answer is yes more times than you would like you are likely living in the comfort of your Comfort Zone. On the face of it this might sound like a good place to be. However, there are also great benefits to stepping out of it…
I’m in the minority of people my age, I don’t have any kids. I’ve never had to rear them, house train them or release them into the wild (but in case you didn’t notice, I have had a fair amount of experience with animals…)
Despite this lack of experience with kids, I do know that the things they are told and the stories they hear play a big part on their development. I know it’s wrong to keep saying to them, things like:
Looking after your physical and mental health and wellbeing requires constant attention. There are many factors that impact your wellbeing which fluctuates in response to your life circumstances and experiences. In the Eat, Move, Be Happy Mental Health series, we explore the link between our physical and mental health more, introducing self-awareness as an important tool in helping you develop good health and wellbeing practise. See How Healthy are You? and How can we fight the stigma of mental illness? In Eat Better we also talk about the essential role of regular debrief time in helping you develop healthier eating habits.
When something is worth valuing, it also requires effort and energy to build and maintain. For example, people accept that relationships, be they with a partner, friendships or colleagues, need attention to be at their best. When learning something new or developing a skill, you expect to spend time to understand the theory and knowledge required and then to practise the steps in how to apply the knowledge or skill in the right way. You are prepared for this to take time, with some repetition, mistakes and for this not to go without a hitch or two along the way. No-one expects to be able to jump behind the wheel of a car for the first time and be an expert driver.
Maintaining optimum health and wellbeing is no different. It doesn’t happen by magic and requires energy and effort to understand your personal complexities and nuances that help you be the best you can be. You know yourself better than other people do.
This module looks at ways you can help yourself develop greater awareness of your health and wellbeing and channel your energy and effort more effectively.
I came across a story several years ago that I refer to frequently, including once in an interview. The boiling frog phenomenon describes how, if a frog is placed in a pot of boiling water it will immediately jump out, the water is too hot. However if a frog is placed in a pot of cool water and a low heat applied, the immediate surrounding is comfortable so the frog stays in the water. Eventually the water heats up and gets too hot for the frog to jump out.
I know that is a pretty grim analogy, however how often have you found yourself in a situation where you suddenly feel totally overwhelmed, helpless and maybe even hopeless? When you find yourself in this place, not only do you not know what to do for the best, but often you do not have the energy to do it.
It is likely that your feeling of being overwhelmed increased gradually, much like the temperature of the water for the frog. By the time you recognised the potential impact of the situation on your stress levels, it was too late to avoid that feeling of lack of control and hopelessness. Not a good place to be and a sign of chronic stress, or a long-lasting exposure to stressful triggers.
Not all stress is bad for us. Some stress can be motivational, for example physical training is a way of putting your body under acute stress to challenge it to improve in either fitness or strength. Acute stress responses are also the body’s way for humans and mammals to prepare for fight or flight, an evolutionary survival trait.
The trick is to be able to pay attention to the temperature of the water isn’t it? At Eat, Move, Be Happy we also think it is about paying attention to what is causing the water to heat up in the first place and having ways of cooling the water down, or of jumping out, before it gets too hot to handle.
This article looks at ways you can improve awareness of your stress levels and what triggers an increase in stress for you. It also explores why some people appear to be able to cope better than others with more stress and ways you can be more effective at maintaining more acceptable stress levels more of the time.
Self-care is commonly referred to in relation to looking after mental health and wellbeing and is often mis-understood. I have heard it described as being indulgent or selfish, putting personal needs above those of others and as a practise for people who want to spend time alone.
Broadly speaking, self-care is about looking after yourself and it seems like common sense and pretty straight forward doesn’t it?
Human behaviour tells us time and time again that common sense is not so common. There are many examples of seemingly obvious choices that would benefit our health and wellbeing, for example eating less junk food, exercising more frequently and yet we don’t do it. We have looked at why this happens in What is Stopping you from Starting?
Self-care is another classic knowing-doing gap (see Turn Your Plan into Action for more on this). On a basic level it makes perfect sense and not many people would disagree – and yet we don’t always think this applies to us.
This article will help by:
Improving awareness of what self-care is and what it isn’t
Challenging thinking about your current self-care approach
Sharing practical Top Tips on how you can broaden your range of self-care resources and practise it more of the time.
Resilience is often thought of as a quality that some people have and described as the ability to ‘bounce back’. Lots of social and psychological research confirms this is only part of the story.
According to the charity Mind:
“Resilience is not just your ability to bounce back, but also your capacity to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances, whilst maintaining a stable mental wellbeing.”
This makes sense to us at Eat, Move, Be Happy. We would also add resilience is learning from tough experiences, gaining confidence and growing emotionally stronger as a result. We particularly like thinking about resilience as something everyone can develop with practice, rather than a personality trait that people either do or don’t have.
As this time of lockdown continues amid the huge impact of Covid-19 on our lives and lifestyle, I have been struck by the number of times I hear about what life will be like once this is over. Which got me thinking…
When Lockdown is over…
The issue of ‘when lockdown is over’ seems to mean different things to different people. I hear about ‘looking forward to getting back to normal’ and ‘I’m going to keep going with my exercise…’ or ‘I can’t wait for this to all be over’. And in this time of uncertainty, one thing is certain, lockdown and the restrictions that come with it will not be over in the flick of a switch. I think a more accurate way of thinking about this is as lockdown relaxes. However, as the restrictions change this will also bring new levels of uncertainty and take time to adjust.
In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.
Which raises some interesting questions?
How can we focus on the things that really matter to us and move forwards?
How will we continue with the important things once lockdown relaxes?
How can we get better at living with the uncertainty that impacts our everyday life?