power of the mind

Real health #24 To change your habits, first change your mind

Yesterday I shared about how taking consistent, simple actions can set you on the road to success when it comes to reaching your health goals. But we all know we are creatures of habit and often in the beginning behaviour change is hard! Our brains are designed in such a way that all of our past experiences shape who we are today. We wake up in the morning and after a split second all our familiar thoughts come flooding back. We realise who we are, where we are and our mind already has an idea of how the day will go. We get out of bed, have our familiar morning routine and get on with our day, mostly in autopilot.

This isn’t a bad thing, it’s actually our brains’ way of making things easier for us. It allows us to go about our day without thinking too much, following the familiar path that we have created through our habits. But what happens when you want to change those habits and your life? If you want to act differently, you have to start to think differently first. In order to start eating healthier you have to let go of the image of you as an unhealthy person who hates vegetables and start to see yourself as the type of person who loves to nourish their body with good food. To become someone who enjoys exercise and keeping fit, you have to stop telling yourself that you are lazy, unfit and that you hate exercise. Or if you need to gain weight for your health you need to let go of the image of yourself as the skinny one or the fit one and start to embrace a new version of yourself that is more relaxed and free around food and exercise.

In short you want to create a new identity for yourself that aligns with the positive changes you want to make. You want to see yourself as the type of person who just does these things without even thinking about it, even if you aren’t there right now. We are all chattering away to ourselves most of the day without even realising it and these thoughts create our identity. To change this idea of yourself, start to think about the type of thoughts that your ideal self would have, then start telling yourself those things! I don’t mean just thinking them half-heartedly and deep down thinking otherwise but really feel and believe this as a possible reality and take actions based on those thoughts and feelings. It might feel unnatural at first but over time the nerve patterns in your brain will be hard wired and the new thoughts will become your default.

Whether you think of this as affirmations or you focus on the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy theory that the way you think affects the way you feel and the way you feel affects your actions, it’s the same idea that your thoughts become your reality. I have seen this play out in my own life with one of the biggest health challenges I have had – overcoming insomnia. The hardest thing was that after months of struggling with sleep, my brain was programmed to expect that I would sleep badly and wake up during the night. I would go to bed telling myself “I’m going to have such a good sleep” or “tonight I will sleep like a baby” but my sub-conscious mind didn’t believe it. Deep down I believed that things would be the same as always and that is how the same pattern ended up playing out for years!

I would also wake up in the morning and the first thought I would have would be about the time and how much sleep I got. I was so focused on my sleep that I let the amount of sleep I got dictate my energy levels and mood. The interesting thing was that during a period of letting go of obsessing about my sleep, I realised that some days I slept well and still felt exhausted whereas other days I slept less and actually felt more energised. I started to tell myself that my sleep quality and my happiness were two seperate things. Once I let go of the expectation, this gave me permission to be happy even when I slept badly and I actually started to feel better (and over time sleep better too!). Implementing this fully is a work in progress for me but it was mind blowing. And the same thing can be applied to other changes you want to make in your life too.

If you already predict the outcome that you won’t like healthy food or that you will fail at exercise then this is most likely what you are going to see happen for you. Instead, try giving yourself the chance to explore and genuinely see how you feel. Let yourself imagine the possibility that you will enjoy these things and be successful! If you’re interested in learning more about how to change your mindset and build habits I definitely recommend reading Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Joe Dispenza and The Power of Habit by Charles DuHigg. If you are wondering HOW you can possibly change your thoughts and start to access your sub-conscious mind, stay tuned for tomorrow’s post where I will be sharing how meditation can help you to change your thoughts as well as how to start a meditation practice.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on changing your mindset to reach your health goals.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again!

Other posts you might like

computer stress

Real health #21 A new perspective on insomnia. How to get a good nights’ sleep

Insomnia.. where do I start?! It’s crazy that something as natural as sleep seems to be slowly getting more and more difficult for us humans. Insomnia rates in the UK were already high at 1 in 6 but, according to the Guardian, since the start of the COVID19 pandemic this has increased to 1 in 4. There are so many articles out there giving tips on how to wind down at night and get a good nights’ sleep. I even wrote a post last year about dealing with sleep disturbances and how to create a calming evening routine to help you fall asleep fast. I still think this is very relevant and definitely a good place to start for anyone struggling with insomnia. But something that I have been thinking about lately is that getting a good nights’ sleep actually starts in the morning.

What do I mean by this? I mean that if you are spending all day in high-alert stress mode, an evening routine can only do so much. Sure it will help you to relax and calm down but for some people it isn’t enough. Especially for those who have been struggling with insomnia for a long time, or for those who are struggling with early waking insomnia where you might have no problem falling asleep but can’t seem to stay asleep. This was exactly the problem I had, I would always fall asleep within minutes of getting into bed as I was so exhausted. But no matter how tired I was I would wake up between 2 and 4am and lie awake for hours on end, feeling tired and wired. Or if I did sleep through the night, my sleep would be so restless and unrefreshing that I’d still feel like a zombie the next day. If you are currently going through this, I totally understand how frustrating it can be but trust me, it can get better!

So back to how getting a good nights’ sleep starts in the morning. The way we start our day and how we think and act during the day is extremely important for being able to relax and sleep at night. Nowadays we have so many things in our lives that cause stress, whether we realise it or not. This includes obvious things like a stressful, high-pressure job, financial worries, family or relationship issues but it also could be “normal” day to day things like the news, technology and social media, excessive productivity or too much caffeine. We have so much information at our fingertips and it can be easy to become overwhelmed. Emails, notifications, news alerts all come directly to our phones meaning that we are switched on at all times. There is always something to respond to, something new to read, listen to or do.

With technology helping us, the pace of life and work is so much faster. We can achieve so much more in a day than in the past when if you wanted to speak to someone you had to call them or send a fax. And if you needed information you had to walk to the file room to search for it rather than a quick search on an online data base. These things are great but what is it doing to our minds now that we can easily send 10 emails in an hour whilst simultaneously searching for an answer on Google the minute a question pops into our heads? We are thinking so much faster but less deeply. We are becoming like machines. The phrase “continuous partial attention” was developed by Linda Stone over 20 years ago for this state of being hyper-connected and constantly scanning for something to respond to. She explains really well in her article the difference between simple multi-tasking, with comes from a desire to be more productive, and continuous partial attention which is driven by a fear of missing out.

Continious partial attention damages our ability to concentrate on one thing and in the long term it puts you in fight or flight mode, increasing stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline that can affect your ability to sleep. Especially if you are a hard worker or a perfectionist, you can easily fall into the trap of doing too much. Maybe you are jumping from one productive activity to the next without taking a breath in between or juggling multiple activities at once. It could be work tasks like trying to write a report whilst responding to emails but also more fun things like listening to podcasts and reading articles. These tasks need a lot of focus and uses a huge amount of brain power to focus on multiple things at once, putting us into a state of high-alert.

If you feel like you are constantly in vigilant mode and struggle to concentrate on a task without your brain wandering and seeking other activities or distractions.. this could be you! Maybe you feel this constant sense of urgency, like you have to rush all of your tasks for no reason. Maybe you have a heaviness in your chest, your breathing is shallow or you find yourself holding your breath. Maybe you feel like if you’re not productive you are losing time. If you spend your day in this non-stop whirlwind of doing, is it any wonder why it’s difficult to fall asleep at night? You might be reading this and thinking you don’t have this problem but you still can’t sleep, and maybe that’s true and this isn’t the message for you. But I am sure I’m not the only one who was living this way.

In my experience, a huge key in overcoming insomnia and getting a good nights’ sleep is slowing down. This means moving more slowly throughout your day, starting from how you wake up in the morning. If this feels relevant for you and you want my advice, I’ll leave you with my top tips for how to overcome insomnia and get a good nights’ sleep:

  • Let your body and mind wake up gently with a calming morning routine. Try to leave your phone alone for the first hour of the day and let the news, emails and any other tasks wait.
  • MEDITATE. I can’t stress this one enough. You don’t need to do anything fancy, just set a timer for 5-20 minutes and sit quietly. If you can’t do it, great, that’s a good sign that you need it! With regular practice you can train your brain to settle, relax and focus.
  • Block out times in your calendar for tasks and try to focus on one thing at a time and not multi-task unless it’s for very simple tasks. Turn off your notifications and keep your phone away from you as every interruption and distraction adds stress to your system. You can set times during the day to check in rather than being available at all times.
  • Take your time and notice if the need to rush comes up. Value your health and happiness over productivity. You might actually find you get more done as your mind will be clearer when you are more relaxed
  • Plan regular breaks throughout your day to check in with how you’re feeling, connect with your breath and maybe go outside or move your body to let go of any built up tension
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and feel inspired to give these tips a go. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences, I’d love to hear from you.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

benefits of journaling for mental health

Real health #10 The benefits of journaling for mental health

Yesterday I ordered a pack of 6 of my favourite A5 bound notebooks that I use to write my journal and it got me thinking about the benefits of journaling for mental health. I have been journaling on and off for over 10 years and in the last 3 it has become part of my routine that I can’t do without. My journal is like my therapist, friend, co-worker, spiritual guide all in one. I use my journal to keep track of the highs and lows of my life, to work through struggles with my work, relationships, family or inner life and to dig deep into what is under the surface of my conscious thoughts. My journal is there when there are things on my mind that I can’t say out loud to anyone and it is there when I don’t even know what is on my mind. Journaling is what finally helped me to overcome disordered eating and move on with my life.

Some of the benefits of journaling for mental health include better processing of difficult emotions, management of stress and anxiety, increased clarity and direction for your life and cultivating gratitude, mindfulness and present awareness. I’d recommend to anyone to start a journal, even if you think your life is boring or you have nothing to write. Trust me there is always something! Don’t let the fact that you “aren’t good” at writing stop you from starting a journal. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Nor does it have to be interesting to anyone but yourself or even be legible. Just the act of getting things down on paper can be extremely therapeutic, even if you never look at it again or decide to rip it up or burn it afterwards as a sign of letting go.

Journaling techniques for mental health

There are many journaling techniques you can use if you’re not sure where to start. In her book Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth, therapist and author Kathleen Adams describes ways to use a journal to work through past and present relationship issues, find your creative expression and get to know yourself on a deeper level. Some of the techniques she includes are:

  • Stepping stones (journaling prompts)
  • Dialogues (with people, situations, feelings)
  • Captured moments (descriptive writing)
  • Free association (mind mapping and lists)
  • Stream of consciousness (letting your unconscious speak)

You can experiment with different ways of using your journal depending on the outcome that you want. If you want to record the moments of your life, maybe a big travelling adventure, your child growing up or a special occasion you want to remember, you can use captured moments to engage with the present moment and capture everything you feel with all of your senses. Writing in this way helps you to be present and mindful and to let your creativity flow. If you’re feeling stuck in some area of your life, you can use free association techniques such as mind mapping or list making to get creative and seek innovative solutions. Or if you are feeling numb and disconnected, you can use stream of consciousness writing and see what comes up.

Written dialogues can help you to see the perspective of someone you are currently in, or have previously had conflict with or to see the positives in what seems like a dire situation. Journaling dialogues are a good way to process and let go of past hurts, even with people who are no longer in your life. The technique that has helped me the most is stepping stones or journaling prompts. Sometimes all it takes is for you to ask to right question for you to find the solutions you are looking for. Journaling about my disordered eating patterns led me down the path of asking questions about my self-worth, my values in life and discovering hidden shame, anger, disappointment and fear that were underlying my behaviours.

Journaling also helped me to understand why I was struggling with insomnia. Using the mind mapping technique was a way to uncover some underlying worries and situations which were affecting my sleep. Some of the things that came up were obvious such as work stress, drinking coffee and feeling physically uncomfortable but through this journaling technique I also had some realisations that I hadn’t thought of before including being stuck in the victim mentality, worrying about not being productive if I didn’t get enough sleep, comparing myself to others and getting jealous of their ability to sleep (any fellow insomniacs will understand this one!) and suppressing my anger. Understanding these things helped me to overcome my insomnia and start to finally recover my energy levels.

How to start journaling for mental health

Starting a journal practice is easy because there are no rules! All you need is a notepad and pen of choice, some spare time and the motivation to explore. You can choose a dated journal or a blank notebook, lined or plain paper, pocket sized or A4. You can write in ballpoint pen, coloured pencils, fountain pen and ink or a mix of them all. You can write in prose, bullet points, poetry and add doodles and sketches to the page if you feel like it. You don’t need to worry about writing neatly, spelling correctly or perfect grammar. In fact, the less you censor yourself the better when it comes to journaling. Just sit down, set an intention for your journal session, choose a technique and write until you don’t feel like writing anymore. This can be five minutes or an hour. You can include journaling in your daily routine or you can write when the mood strikes. Really it is up to you to find whatever feels good and feels like you.

Some days you might feel stuck or just a few words and others you might write pages and pages with the words seeming to flow out from nowhere. Whatever happens, try not to judge yourself and just let the process unfold. You can create an atmosphere by clearing out your writing space, maybe lighting a candle or playing some music to set the mood. Start by closing your eyes and taking a few slow, deep breaths to centre yourself and focus your attention on your intention, whether that is to explore a certain topic, vent out some trapped emotion or to reflect on the day. Start to write and if you get stuck, try taking a break to read back what you have written and take a few more deep breaths. Once your journaling session feels complete, close your notepad and store it somewhere safe. Having a ritual with a clear start and end gives your journaling practice that touch of magic and mystery that we all need a bit of in our lives these days.

Your challenge for day 10 is to think about how you could include journaling into your routine and maybe get yourself a journal and start your own practice.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed these quick tips on the benefits of journaling for mental health and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on how to have fun on your journey to health.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post, check out the recommended posts below and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

yoga for increasing energy - runners lunge

Healing fatigue through yoga and self-awareness

I shared a couple of months ago about my experience with insomnia and fatigue and my path to healing. I can honestly say I feel like a new woman and I am grateful every day to feel “normal” again and not like a half-woman-half-zombie like I did for most of the last few years. Since we moved to Greece and I took a break from my full-time job, things have just got better and better. I am sleeping at least 8 hours most nights, waking up feeling energised and motivated to work on my blog, my health coaching and to teach my yoga classes and I finally feel like I can enjoy my hobbies again and conversations with loved ones without feeling like I am just going through the motions.

Today I taught an online yoga class with the theme of “self-awareness” and it really got me thinking about the role of self-awareness in healing from fatigue. As well as a lack of self-awareness as part of the cause of fatigue. Not paying attention to how you are feeling internally, both physically and emotionally, makes it extremely easy to cross your own boundaries. To not know when you are over-doing something or when something is lacking in your life. It’s easy to keep giving and meeting the demands of others or to keep striving towards a goal and not even realise your cup is empty until you totally crash and burn and are simply unable to do all of the things you used to. In my case, crashing and burning didn’t even stop me. I continued trying to keep up with my work and it was my social life and other fun things that suffered instead.

Self-awareness in healing fatigue

Self-awareness can mean lots of things but in the context of healing fatigue I see it as:

  • Paying attention to your energy levels throughout the day and noticing which activities boost your energy and what depletes you. Getting honest with yourself about any habits that you have which are stealing your energy, maybe excessive use of social media, drinking too much coffee or not going outside all day and seeing if you can gradually let these go. Then consciously including energy building activities such as yoga, deep breathing and meditation into your day.
  • Tuning into your physical body sensations. Listening to what your body needs whether it’s something as simple as being cold, hungry or thirsty or whether you need a break, to rest or move and stretch your body. Not sitting in front of your computer ignoring all the signs from your body because you are “too busy” or “there’s not enough time” but giving your body what it needs to feel good in the moment and working in partnership with your body rather than against it.
  • Being aware of your mood and emotions and asking what you need to bring yourself back into balance. Finding ways to express any emotions that come up and release any stuck energy, especially anger or sadness as these emotions can really drain us if we don’t acknowledge and express them. I find dancing or just shaking my body like crazy is a great way to get energy moving and to release stuck emotions stored as tension within the body.
  • Observing your thoughts and mental state. Noticing any unhelpful thought patterns that send you into a spiral of anxiety, fear or stress. Often we play out the same patterns that come from the same root wound such as a fear of not being good enough or not being liked by others. We tend to over-think things, catastrophise and think of the worst case scenario (including when it comes to any fatigue symptoms we are experiencing!). Becoming aware of our thoughts and questioning whether they are true and helpful is the first step in creating a more healing mental state.

How yoga helps to develop self-awareness

My yoga practice has helped so much with building this self-awareness and eventually being able to get on the path to healing my fatigue after years of drifting around and jumping from one thing to another. Yoga gives us that safe space to shut out the world and turn inwards, to really get quiet and pay attention to what is going on inside. Yoga encourages us to be with our breath and body, to move at our own pace and rest whenever we need to. In yoga we learn not to push and force ourselves into postures but to keep a beginners mind and know that we are gradually moving along the path and we will get there in our own time. Getting on the mat every day (or at least a few times a week) helps us to observe the changes in our body and mind over time. We can notice if we’re feeling more tired or energised, more anxious or calm, if we have any areas of tension or tightness in our body and we can listen and learn what to do to feel better.

How yoga helps with fatigue

Unlike other types of exercise, yoga can actually increase our energy reserves rather than leave us feeling more fatigued. After a class people talk about having that “yoga glow” where you feel blissed out and super chilled. Well this is also a really healing place to be! It puts our body into the parasympathetic nervous system state e.g. rest and digest rather than fight or flight. Certain yoga postures are great for improving circulation, gently stimulating the nervous system and boosting energy levels. When I’m feeling sluggish, some twisting postures, back bends and inversions really help to wake me up and get energy moving in my body again. When you are feeling run down or exhausted, it’s better to go for the more supported postures where you can really relax and let go help to calm the nervous system and build energy reserves (see my yoga for your period sequence for some examples of relaxing postures for when you are feeling fatigued).

Over to you…

I hope this article helps you whether you are struggling with fatigue or if you just want to boost your energy and feel better. Leave a comment below and share your experience or tips if yoga has been helpful on your journey to healing from fatigue.

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on dealing with fatigue and how to recover and regain your health and life. And please share with anyone you think might be interested
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

My experience with insomnia and fatigue

Fatigue is such an awkward topic to discuss. It’s one of those conditions that people who haven’t experienced just don’t understand. It isn’t visible so unless you go around complaining about it all of the time, people assume you are fine. Or if you do try to explain to others they think it is the same as just being tired after a bad nights’ sleep. You go to the doctor and if blood tests come back normal, they tell you you’re healthy and act like you are making it up. Maybe fatigue is “all in your head” in a way as often it does have a psychological root but that doesn’t mean the physical symptoms aren’t real and often debilitating.

My experience with fatigue started 5 years ago. In my final year of university, after 4 years of too much stress, caffeine, partying and terrible eating habits, I developed gastritis. This is a painful inflammation of the stomach that would plague me all day but be even worse in the middle of the night when my stomach was fully empty. The pain would be so bad I’d wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep because it was like someone was stabbing me in the belly. The sensation was like the peak of the hunger pangs you get when you are really starving, except it wouldn’t come in waves it would just stay at that intensity. Horrible.

So I started getting only 4-5 hours sleep a night and from 3am I’d be awake trying anything to ease the pain and relax so I could get back to sleep: herbal teas, dry snacks, gentle yoga, guided meditations. This continued for months and at first it was manageable but after a while I started feeling like a total zombie during the day. I went to the doctor and he put me on PPI medication for my gastritis which didn’t help and actually made my fatigue worse because it affects absorption of certain nutrients so I came off it after a few months. I remember being at work during that first year after graduating and nearly falling asleep during meeting on so many occasions. Looking back I probably should have been off sick but it was my first job I was so determined to keep going and find a solution.

Over the next few years I did find things that helped and eventually managed to cure my gastritis fully. I still have a sensitive stomach so I can have a flare up if I drink too much coffee, alcohol or fried food but on the whole I don’t have symptoms. However, my sleep patterns still didn’t improve much even after the gastritis faded. I would still wake up during the early hours and not be able to get back to sleep or if I did sleep through the night I would still feel exhausted the next day. I look back at photos of myself from that time and it’s pretty emotional to remember how I felt. And I struggled to understand how people couldn’t see that I was suffering when it was written all over my face!

It’s crazy for me to think now how I kept going for years like that but I did. I barely had the energy to maintain my social life but I still managed to work, enjoy my relationship and my family. I remember going on trips or days out and enjoying them but feeling like I wasn’t fully present, like I just couldn’t fully immerse myself in the moment. I felt like I was dragging myself through every day doing things because my mind wanted to make the most out of life, even though my body just wanted to lie in bed all day. I couldn’t engage in conversations and being with people often felt draining.

Last September we moved to a new city and I think this is where I hit rock bottom with insomnia and fatigue. I started a new job and I was completing my research project for my nutrition degree alongside. I was so depleted and still couldn’t sleep. It was like my body was on alert mode all of the time. There were a couple of nights where I didn’t get any sleep at all and by the next day I would be feeling so out of it and delirious. You’d think that by the next night I would be so exhausted that my body would make up for it but I’d still have that “wired but tired” feeling. I would pass out at 9pm only to wake up again at 2am. I had so many mini break downs and emotional outbursts. The weekend would come and I would be crying all of Saturday morning. I felt like a 2 year old not able to control my emotions at all.

Fast forward to 2020, this is where the real healing began. I actually think being in lockdown helped a lot as working from home full time meant I could take breaks and naps during the day when I needed to. I also managed to cut out coffee completely for long periods which I had never been able to do before. I was definitely leaning on it as a crutch, especially when I needed to show up for something and wanted to do my best. But being stuck at home with no schedule no social obligations was a blessing in disguise for the first few months. Finally I realised that it was ok to be tired and that instead of fighting my body I would just have to listen to what it was telling me.

I ate really well, building up some nutrient stores that had been depleted through lack of sleep and stress. I went for walks in nature every day and really got back into my yoga practice. I focused again on menstrual cycle awareness and living in tune with my cycle as best as I could. I spent alot of time reading, reflecting and journalling, trying to weed out some of the old mental and emotional patterns which were causing me stress and keeping me stuck. And finally I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I started to get 6-8 hours sleep most nights (even though I was still waking up at 5am it was a big improvement!). I had days were I felt energised and had waves of random happiness that I hadn’t experienced for a long time. I felt my silliness and playful start to come back which I didn’t even know was missing.

Even though I have come so far I still feel like I am on a healing path with this. I don’t feel like my energy levels are as high as they could be and I am still sensitive to stress. But I have learned through all of this how to manage it and to look after myself when I have low days. And I trust that things are only going to continue to improve. Recently I have been really busy at work and preparing to move house and I have felt the fatigue coming on again in the last few days. Actually that is what motivated me to write this, to remind myself how far I have come and that overall things are getting better! I have the energy to pursue my passion for writing again and to help others through my nutrition and health coaching which I’d only dreamed of doing a year ago.

Over to you…

I hope that by sharing my story I can give hope to anyone who is suffering with fatigue for any reason that things can get better! I am so grateful for all of the people who supported me in my life during this time (especially my parents, my nan and my boyfriend) and I want to do what I can to help others in a similar situation. Please leave a comment if you feel like sharing your experience or can relate to any of my story. I think one of the hardest things about insomnia and fatigue is the deep loneliness that you experience when you feel like everyone around you is free whilst you remain trapped in this cage. But that is the beauty of online spaces, you might not know people in “real life” going through similar things but you can find others to relate to and connect with from all over the world which is amazing 🙂

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on dealing with fatigue and how to recover and regain your health and life
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

Dealing with sleep disturbances

Insomnia is something that has been part of my life for a looooong time now. I’ve never been a night owl or someone who can sleep in till noon but I did used to have a healthy sleep pattern and wake up feeling refreshed. Somewhere along the line this got disrupted and I’d say for the last 5 years my sleep has not been great. I’ve probably averaged around 5-6 hours a night and after a while it really started to take its toll. Its only been in the last month or two that I finally feel more balanced and that I have a healthier relationship to sleep so I wanted to share a few things I learned along the way.

What are the types of sleep disturbance?

In my experience there are 3 main types of sleep disturbance:

  1. Not being able to fall asleep
  2. Not being able to stay asleep (or waking up too early)
  3. Not getting quality deep sleep

These can be acute (short term) or chronic (long term) and can happen for many reasons. I tend to fall into the second category, I can fall asleep easily but I often wake up in the middle of the night or very early in the morning and struggle to get back to sleep. However I have spoken to lots of people who have the opposite problem and lie awake into the early hours not being able to fall asleep then struggle to get out of bed in the morning. The third type is probably more common than most people realise as it has become the norm to not feel refreshed in the morning then plough through the day using coffee to keep us awake.

What causes sleep disturbance?

So many things are at play in the quality of our sleep that its hard to say the “true cause”. Often its a combination  physical, psychological and environmental factors. Many people today are stressed with the high pressure, busy lifestyles we lead. Anxiety and worry as well as other mental conditions can lead to sleep disturbance or insomnia. For others it could be physical such as pain or discomfort, caffeine or alcohol intake, blood sugar imbalance or nutritional deficiencies. In some cases environmental factors such as too much noise or light in the bedroom, use of phones or laptops in the evening or being too hot or cold in bed.

For me, it is mostly psychological and definitely related to stress and my “type A” personality of wanting to do things well. This means I often have things on my mind even when I don’t realise it and can wake up in the night planning what I need to do the next day. Anxiety around sleep also doesn’t help as worrying about how much sleep I am missing out on and how tired I will be just exaggerates the problem and keeps me awake.

What can we do to improve sleep?

There are some absolute basics of “sleep hygiene” which I think is always a good place to start:

Technology

Make sure you have a blue light filter installed on your phone/laptop if you use them in the evening. The blue light emitted from screens makes our brains think it is day time and can mess with your body clock and sleeping patterns. Even better, switch off all devices at least an hour before bed

Lighting

Again on the topic of light try to dim the lights as much as possible in the evening. Lamps, fairy lights and candles are all great to help you wind down in the evening and get ready for sleep. Himalayan salt lamps are really beautiful and are said to boost energy, clean the air and aid better sleep. When you actually get into bed it should be as dark and cave like as possible. Blackout curtains are great, especially if you live somewhere with a lot of artificial light or where it gets light early in the morning. I also sleep with an eye mask as I find it comforting and part of my sleep routine. I found a super comfy cotton one (here) which doesn’t put pressure on my eyes and it’s really made a difference.

Temperature

Our body temperature actually drops to its lowest point during the night as we are not moving or digesting food to generate heat. The recommended bedroom temperature for optimal sleep is 16-18°C (60-65°F). Check you don’t have your heating set too high in the winter and try to keep your bedroom as cool as possible in the summer. I’ve never tried it but apparently putting your sheets in the fridge is helpful

Noise

If you live in an apartment or on a busy street it could be something as simple as noise keeping you awake. Its not something you can easily control unless you want to move out into the countryside but I have found ear plugs really helpful in getting a better night’s sleep. I have tried all sorts of different ones so you might need to try a few until you find a comfy pair. I like the mouldable silicone ones (these) as I sleep on my side and the foam ones stick out and feel uncomfortable

If these don’t work what can I try?

Caffeine

Everyone is different when it comes to caffeine and only you know your body best. I used to rely heavily on caffeine, even more so when I was struggling with sleep as it was the “only way” to get through the day when I was feeling exhausted. I managed to decrease to one coffee in the morning so I thought this couldn’t possibly be affecting my sleep over 12 hours later but actually caffeine takes a long time to break down in our body. It has an average half life of 6 hours which means if we drink a coffee at 10am then half of that will be in our system at 4pm and a quarter still at 10pm. Who would drink a quarter coffee before bed an expect to get a good nights sleep?? Once I managed to quit coffee altogether it really helped my sleep and energy levels during the day (after the first few difficult days!). If you don’t know if you are sensitive to caffeine give it a try for a couple of weeks as this could be the key.

Hydration

We are always bombarded with messages these days telling us to drink more water to be healthy. I do agree that hydration is important but we can over do it. If you are peeing every hour and it is clear, you are probably overdoing it. I know I have definitely gone through periods of waking up during the night to go to the bathroom and for a healthy person this shouldn’t happen. If this is you then try to have your last drink after dinner, maybe a herbal tea or other relaxing drink, a few hours before you go to bed. Make sure you are drinking during the day and taking in hydrating fruits and vegetables but there is no need to drink pints and pints of water as your body will be unable to absorb it.

Relaxation

This one is not always easy but allowing yourself to “wind down” before bed is really important. Give yourself half an hour to an hour before you head to sleep to sit quietly and listen to music or read a book. Maybe do some stretching or yoga if this is your thing or find another relaxing activity that you enjoy. Try to avoid intense tv programs or heated debates before bed as this can increase your stress hormones and keep you awake. If you have a family to look after it can be hard sometimes to find this time but having a routine before bed can help to program your brain and prepare for better sleep. It can be better to stay up an extra 30 minutes to give yourself this time and get better quality sleep that to head to bed in a stressed out state worried about not getting enough sleep.

Journalling

It might seem cliche but writing in a journal before bed can be a great way to empty your mind and allow your brain to relax into deep sleep. Try to get any worries and stresses of the day out of your head and onto paper. Even if you are resistant to writing at first just start and over time it will get easier. If you are someone like me who tends to run through their to do list in the night, try to write it all down before bed. What needs to be done, what have you done so far to work on it and what will you do tomorrow? Close the book and put it away in a drawer before you go to bed and that will signal to your brain that it is safe to relax until the morning.

Exercise

Moving our bodies is necessary part of a healthy lifestyle but can also help with sleep. Using energy and getting the blood flowing helps our bodies to detoxify and release tension. It doesn’t have to be anything extreme but getting 30 minutes of movement on a daily basis can really help improve sleep quality. Walking, yoga, dancing, jogging, cycling… anything which seems fun to you just give it a go and see how you feel. On the other hand if you are working out intensely in the evening, this could be contributing to sleep issues as it can raise cortisol levels. Exercising in the morning is best but if the evening is the only time available to you try to get your workout in before dinner and allow your body a few hours to relax again before bed.

I’ve tried all of this what can I do now??

Aromatherapy

Relaxing scents such as lavender can help to calm down your nervous system and prepare for sleep. Try scented candles or oil burners, oil diffusers or have a relaxing bath with essential oils and salts added in. You can also get lavender sprays for you bedroom or pillow which can help you brain to associate the scent with sleep.

Supplements

I have tried over the counter sleep medications in the past and not enjoyed the experience. They would help me to sleep through the night but I never felt refreshed adn would often feel more groggy and foggy headed than if I’d been awake all night. On the other hand I have found herbal remedies and supplements to be effective. My favourites contain chamomile, valerian root, sour cherry, lemon balm and lavender as well as B vitamins and magnesium which both help with relaxing the nervous system. Two I like at the moment are “Bee-rested” and “Melissa dream” which can be found in the UK but there are many similar products out there.

Mindset

I’ve saved this one till last but it is actually one of the most important ones and that is your attitude towards sleep. I know I have been in a panic and tears many times in the morning after having barely any sleep and having to get up and go to work. But I start to question myself and think “so what if I’m tired, what is the problem”? This raised so much resistance in me at first but actually I realised that the pressure and worry I was putting on myself was making the problem worse. I was defining myself as an insomniac which was programming my mind to attach to the problem and prevent me from getting back into a normal routine. Once I accepted the situation and stopped panicking when I woke up in the night I started to feel and sleep better.

What should I do if I wake up in the night?

Finally I want to give a few tips about what to do if you wake in the middle of the night or early morning and can’t sleep. I know I have been there and it is a very frustrating, isolating and lonely time. I used to toss and turn in bed sometimes trying to sleep for 4 hours before having to drag myself out of bed. Now I never stay in bed longer than half an hour if I’m not asleep. The best thing to do is to get up, go into another room and sit quietly in dim lighting until you feel ready to sleep again. Try reading or journalling or any other activity. Instead of worrying about being awake, see it as bonus peaceful time.

I hope some of these tips can help any of you struggling with sleep. It can be the most frustrating thing and it really affects our quality of life and don’t have the energy to do the things we enjoy during the day. If you have any stories or extra tips please share in the comments as I think this is a really important topic 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

An imperfect beginning

I have put off starting this blog for a while now. Partly because I wasn’t exactly sure of what I wanted to write about but mainly because I wanted it to be perfect.

I thought that I needed to know everything before I shared what I have learned.
I  wanted to have perfect health before I wrote about my journey.
I was worried that whatever I wrote wouldn’t be good enough.
I was waiting for a less crazy time in my life when I could give 100% to every post.

But let’s be honest, if I waited for the ideal moment then I’d never start.

“Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception – we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable – there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying.”  
Brené Brown

There is never going to be a perfect time or perfect topic or perfect story. Now I realise that if I’m not writing this blog for anyone else then why does it need to be perfect. Chances are no one will read it anyway amongst the billions of blogs out there so I am doing this for me and if it ends up a complete mess that’s just fine.

But as you are reading this, welcome to the imperfect beginning to my imperfect blog! I’m feeling pretty lost with my health right now struggling with insomnia, exhaustion and generally not myself. I am becoming reacquainted with my monthly cycles after struggling with hormonal issues for most of my life and woooooww this stuff is fascinating. I am convinced that paying attention to our monthly cycles as women is key to feeling happy and fulfilled in life.

If you are interested in learning more about how to embrace and live in flow with your hormonal cycles and experience your best health feel  free to follow along and learn from my wins and struggles as I go. And please send me a message as I’d love to start a conversation with like minded people 🙂