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Life is a Rollercoaster

Life is a Rollercoaster

Do you sometimes feel as though you are on a rollercoaster and you can’t get off?

Life is so full of ups and downs that sometimes we feel dizzy. I know I have often wondered when I can get off the ride. 

This is life. 

Life is a glorious mix of good times and challenges. Without the challenges we don’t learn and without the good times we might just give up all together.

In the words of Ronan Keating: “Life is a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it!”.

Why is it though that the difficult times always seem to last so much longer than the good times?

Well, it is due to a simple evolutionary process which is designed to keep us safe but which can, if we don’t learn to control it, lead to the feeling that life is just one long pit that we are trying to climb out of.

Over many centuries our brains learned to remember the challenges and dangers we faced more vividly than the fun times. This is for the very sensible reason that very few people die or are seriously impacted by laughing or enjoying themselves. It is vital for our survival that we are able to remember when something causes us hurt, either physical or emotional though. Psychologists call this the negativity bias.

As a result we become more alert and take in every detail of the dips in the ride in an attempt to avoid that part of the ride if we see it ahead in the future. 

If only it was that easy.

Of course any pain always makes us more present and more likely to be on high alert, when we are soaring high and enjoying life we just go with the flow and don’t pay anything like as much attention to the things happening around us. 

rollercoaster

We are pre-programmed to feel that it can’t last, when life is good, and that “life is always hard” when we are struggling. 

I remember buying a new car a few years ago and within hours of buying it everything started going wrong. The two weeks it took to get everything sorted (the garage bought it back and I replaced it with a reliable alternative!) felt like the longest two weeks of my life. It’s the same when we are ill, time stands still. Yet when we are on holiday or having fun with our friends the time passes so quickly we wonder if it ever happened.

 Apparently the majority of parents have feared that something bad will happen to their child, while watching them sleep peacefully in their bed. It’s the way most people are wired. Statistically though less than 9% of the things we worry about ever happen. I’d play those odds with almost any situation. So what can we do to allow ourselves some mental freedom and ease our feeling that we are riding a never ending emotional rollercoaster.

 

Is there anything we can do to help us appreciate the good times more and diminidh the darker days? 

Mindfulness

Well, it won’t surprise you to hear that mindfulness is a great start. 

Ensuring that you are fully present whatever you are doing will help you to remember the good times more and you will start to balance the scales a little. (Read  Can being mindful ease anxiety? for more information)

Cut down your screen time

Spending less time on screens avoiding “real life” will also help. When we are going through difficult times we often reach for our devices and either get lost in social media or play games to distract our brains from what is going on. This may be an effective short term strategy, but if you’re not careful you then miss all the good things happening around you too. You have to participate in the whole of the rollercoaster ride to really be living your life. 

Gratitude

Focusing on feeling thankful, whether it is by writing down the things you are grateful for, or saying them outloud, will begin to teach your brain to look out for all the good things in your life. This will, over time, shift your focus from the upsetting, or depressing aspects of life, and you will learn to pay more attention to all the joy and blessings. Make sure you work your gratitude into your daily routine. 

Eat well

We know that our stomachs act as a second brain as far as mindset and mental health and what we eat really impacts our mood. If you are consuming lots of sugar, processed food, caffeine, and alcohol, you will find it harder to see the positives because you will feel tired, anxious and lacking in energy. When you feel this way it is much harder to find the joy in life. We comfort eat for the instant gratification but long term it just adds to the rollercoaster feelings and is really damaging to our wellbeing.

 

So, the next time you are going through some rollercoaster times in your life, stop and think about all the positives you can find. It may only be that you have a roof over your head and something to eat, but that is more than many people have. 

Remember:

This too shall pass.

 

 

Writing for Wellbeing

I have been writing to support my wellbeing for as long as I have been able to write. From innocent stories typed on my Mums typewriter to grown up journalling I have always used writing things down as a way to process my emotions and work through any challenges I might be facing.

As a teenager I fear my many penfriends often got a deeper, more soul searching letter than they were anticipating as the confused ramblings of my adolescent brain spilled forth uncontrollably onto the paper. Little did I realise at the time, just how important this was for me in organising my thoughts and feelings. 

Now as an adult I fully understand the benefits of writing for wellbeing. Whether it is getting things out into a blog or article, or journalling in a notebook until I have worked through whatever it is that is holding me back.

How does it work?

Well, when we write we access a different part of our brain to when we talk. This is particularly true for handwriting over typing. When we write, we are fully focused on what we are writing which allows our brains to calm down in the same way mindful breathing or meditation might. We relax and emerse ourselves in the process.

By writing freely, as we might when journalling our mind takes us on a journey. It allows us to discover ideas that we may not have thought of in any other context, to discover solutions to problems and gain clarity. It increases our self awareness and provides insights which are ours and ours alone, where a conversation may help us to find solutions but they may be directed by the person we are talking to. 

 

How do I write for wellbeing?

Well, put simply, you just start writing. 

You can use a pen or pencil, notebook or scrap of paper, desk of the back of a book on your knee, and just start writing. 

 

You might have something on your mind that you want to try to work out; a relationship that is troubling you or a challenge at work, or you might just want to start writing and see what comes up. 

Some people find it easier to start with a writing prompt, others prefer to flow freely. 

You may choose to give yourself a time limit and to make yourself write until the time is up. This can be helpful because you often find that the really important things come up after you think you have written everything you possibly can!

The important thing is that you write.

Writing for wellbeing

Writing is the therapy that you can do all by yourself. 

It is the perfect excuse to buy a new notebook, even a new pen… ooh stationery! But, more important than being an excuse to buy new stationery (and there aren’t many things more important than that believe me!), it is so incredibly good for you!

You don’t have to find hours and hours to sit writing in a summer house. You can literally sit for five minutes in the morning or evening, or whenever you get chance, and write. 

journaling

As humans we need words, we need stories, that is how we document our lives, how we learn and most importantly, how we impart wisdom. We have always told stories as a way to share knowledge and folklore. We tell our children stories of when we were younger to demonstrate why we are asking them to behave in a certain way and the consequences if they stray from the path. 

We are narrative beings. We make sense of our lives and the things we go through by sharing stories.

Have you ever noticed that you may have different favourite stories, films or TV series depending not just on your mood but your age and what is happening in your life. We do one of two things, we use stories to escape or to learn from someone else’s life experience. We may look up to certain characters in our teens and find them un-relatable in our forties because we have grown past them and we now need to find the wise characters in their sixties and seventies in order to learn from their lives.

We need stories, including our own, to live happy, contented lives. 

 

What are you waiting for? 

Grab a writing implement and something to scrawl on and get writing. Start writing your story or just whatever is in your head today. But write, just write. Every single day. It will honestly change your life. 

Writing

Daily Rituals to Change your Life

Rituals

Daily rituals have been a real game changer for me.

I’m not talking about complicated ceremonies, although if that brings you joy that’s great. I’m talking about having simple rituals that brings you pleasure, that help you to achieve your goals and most importantly that make you happy. 

I have always had a morning routine. At some points in my life it has been as simple as: shower, dressed, empty the dishwasher, make the packed lunches, have breakfast and take the kids to school. But it always happened in the same order and at roughly the same time, that way nothing was forgotten, everyone knew what was happening and we were all on time. 

Routine and ritual is so important to help children feel secure.

Unsurprisingly, routines and rituals also make us feel secure. We know what is supposed to happen and when and that helps us to feel in control and allows us to organise our lives. 

This year my routine changed dramatically. In addition to all the changes due to the pandemic, my youngest started high school. For the first time in over 14 years I don’t have to do a school run in the morning and afternoon every day. As a result I have gained around an hour and a half a day. 

New rituals

I decided immediately that this time was not going to be wasted, but it was time I had truly gained. So I promised myself that I would sit and enjoy breakfast every day instead of rushing to eat something between making packed lunches and dashing out of the door. More significantly though, I made the decision to up my exercise game. 

For years I have been told that my joints were damaged and that combined with asthma and a lot of negative associations going right back to childhood, had resulted in a real dislike and almost fear of exercise. 

Don’t get me wrong, I have always walked a lot and enjoyed dancing and have kept moving, but anything more structured than that was a no no.

So at the start of the year I bought myself a cross trainer/exercise bike and a dumbbell. Since then, five mornings a week, I get up, sort out the children then do at least 15km on the bike and do some weight training.

This probably sounds like a very small insignificant change to some of you reading, but let me tell you, it has transformed my life.I feel stronger, my body is toned, my joints don’t ache as much and I have so much more energy the rest of the day. 

Small changes have a huge impact.

The best part is that I decided this year that I was going to start reading more for pleasure too. I have always read, but for years I have only read non-fiction books that could teach me things that would be helpful either for work or for my life. I have been reading so much more this year and I have totally rekindled that love of stories. Even better, I have discovered that if I do my cross training first in the morning, I can read while I cycle! I can exercise my brain and my body at the same time. What’s more I cycle for longer because I get into the story!

ritual

My daily ritual recommendations

These two small changes have improved my mental and physical health in ways I could never have predicted. These are just the new routines I have created in the last few months. By adding to our rituals slowly over time we can totally transform our lives. I highly recommend making one change, then once that has become embedded in your daily routine, add another, and another.

My top rituals for a happier, healthier day are as follows:-

  • Get moving. Whether it is taking the dog for a walk every morning, a morning yoga routine, going for a run… Whatever you enjoy doing, by getting moving first thing in the morning your whole day is energised. If you can’t manage a morning exercise routine find time later in the day. 
  • Find a morning routine that suits you. This might seem like an obvious one for this article, but everyone has lots of little things that they have to do every morning. It might be putting the washing on, emptying the dishwasher, feeding the pets, packed lunches, walking the dog… Find an order for all these essential tasks and do them in the same order every morning. By creating a ritual around them you won’t forget to do anything and you don’t have to think about as many things when you wake up because it all just happens like clockwork.
  • Don’t hit that snooze button! Set your alarm for a time that works for your morning routine and when your alarm goes off have a good stretch and get moving.
  • Little and often is better than blitz and forget. I used to try to do the housework one day a week. I thought that by getting it all done it would be out of my mind then and I could focus on other things. Things like housework are better tackled in small bite-sized chunks though. That way they don’t feel as daunting and you can keep on top of them rather than blitzing and living in mess, then blitzing again. Now rather than blitzing the whole house, I water the plants on a Monday morning, I keep on top of the kitchen ever evening, I put the vacuum round whenever it looks like it needs doing and I fit the bathrooms in when I have a few minutes… It all gets done but it doesn’t feel like I am tied to it all the time.
Writing
  • Read and write every day. This one is so important for me. I love to write, even if it is just my gratitude journal. I find it incredibly therapeutic writing and getting my thoughts in order. Whether it is writing an article like this, or a plan for what I am going to create over the coming weeks. It is a wonderful way to settle your mind. Reading, is now one of my non-negotiables, along with my exercise, I love escaping into a book, even if it is only for ten or twenty minutes. I always have a book with me in case I arrive early or an appointment is running late. For me reading and writing are input and output and they are as essential as food. If you haven’t tried journalling as a way to improve your wellbeing, I can’t recommend it enough.

My final recommendation is taking time to do something just for you every day. Even if it is a simple as having a cuppa and watching half an hour of your favourite tv programme. Perhaps you love having a bath or you enjoy dancing around your kitchen. It doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive, but it does have to fill your heart with joy. 

Make sure your new rituals make you happy. If you don’t enjoy exercise, then commit to dancing for 20 minutes every day while you prepare the evening meal or park as far away from the supermarket as you can and walk a little further. Take the stairs instead of the lift. There are so many little changes that you can make that will have an impact on your physical and mental health. 

Let me know what part of your daily routine is your favourite.

Mental Health Awareness Week – 10th-16th May 2021

Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week is 10th -16th May 2021

This week you will see lots in the media about mental health. It will be all over your social media feeds and celebrities will bravely share their experiences in order to normalise mental health struggles. Powerful stuff!

I am in awe of anyone who is brave enough to share their mental health journey publicly because I know how difficult it is and the judgement that has come with that in the past. Thankfully, over recent years the stigma associated with mental health issues has diminished and it is more acceptable to be open about our challenges than ever. 

 

That doesn’t make it easy though.

If you are reading this as one of the few people on the planet who has never had a mental health struggle in their life, don’t think for a minute that it is ever easy to share our mental wellbeing challenges. 

For most people, at least an element of their struggle is worrying what people will think and how they will cope in a new situation. Sharing their deepest, darkest internal battles is therefore one of the bravest, most difficult things someone will ever do.

There are countless organisations and movements now voicing the challenges those of us with mental health and supporting us on that journey, not just this week but all year round. They are incredible but we still have to be brave enough to admit that we are struggling. Unfortunately many of these services and organisations are under funded and as a result have shockingly long waiting times. 

Mental health awareness week

I have been very open about my mental wellness journey and not just during mental health awareness week. I am fortunate that I am a sharer, and my driving force in life is supporting others and helping them unlock their full potential. I know that being honest about my challenges is a vital part of that work. It hasn’t always been easy though. The first time I wrote a blog about my own depression and anxiety I was terrified, but over time I have got used to it and grown a little braver because of it.

My daughter was incredibly brave and shared her story on my school website almost two years ago now. I have never been more scared than I was posting that blog. Not only was it a very intimate piece by my daughter, but I was also concerned that I would be judged because I am a wellbeing professional and my own daughter struggles with her wellbeing almost constantly.

The reality though is that most people do. 

Even with all the tools I have in my mental health toolbox I still have days when I can’t get myself to a point where I even want to try using them. Those days happen less and less as time goes on, in fact I can’t remember the last time I had a day like that, but I would never been presumptuous enough to think that I never will again. One thing that is for sure, is that our mental wellbeing is a changeable and unpredictable beast. We may go for years feeling great, then one event derails us. 

Mental wellness

Throughout our lives we are constantly climbing that mental health mountain and gaining new perspective with every step.

With time and practice it gets easier to see the early warning signs and take evasive action. If I start to feel tired and notice I am eating more junk food than usual, I know that is my early warning so I correct my diet, up my exercise and self care and give myself more healing that I usually would. That is usually enough for me to avoid having a slump day.

It takes practice though, it isn’t an overnight change.

What sort of things can you do if you are realising that you need some help with your mental wellness?

  • Talk. Talk to someone you trust, someone who makes you feel safe. Sometimes just sharing your feelings can be enough to help you shift that feeling. One thing is for sure though, if you can find one person to confide in, it will be a weight off your mind, and it is instantly someone else to support you when you are feeling weak and frail. 
  • Ask for help. This is one of the hardest things in the world. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, just having someone help you with your housework, picking the kids up from school or cooking you a meal can be a game changer. You will almost always find that when you ask for help, that person has been wanting to support you but didn’t know what you needed.  
  • Visit your GP. Sometimes we all need a bit of medical intervention and GPs now have a long list of support that they can offer you not just pills. They may be able to refer you to a counsellor or support group.
  • Do all the things you know you should be doing to support your mental health. Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, spend time with your loved ones, watch a film that makes you laugh, put on some music and have a good dance… All these things will counteract the stress chemicals your body is producing in reaction to your fear and anxiety.

 

Make sure you are checking in with your friends, colleagues and loved ones regularly too. Just asking “How are you feeling?” or “Are you ok?” may be enough for some people, but if you feel deep down that their “I’m fine!” answer isn’t true, ask them again “How are you really feeling?” their response might be life changing and give them the support they have been needing. 

So as we move through Mental Health Awareness Week stop and think about all the ways you could support not just your own, but other people’s mental health. How can you raise awareness and support others all year round?

As wonderful as it is that we have this focus on mental health for a week every year, we must remember that this is an issue for many, many people, all day, every day. So if you are struggling as you read this, please, don’t go through this alone. However you are feeling, you are definitely not alone. If you need a someone to talk to who is totally neutral and doesn’t know anyone in your life, by all means message me. But please talk to someone. You will get through this and the sun will shine again.

Cosy change

For more support and information about mental health awareness check out these links: 

 NHS Mental Health Charity Helplines

 The Next Step

Shift your Focus

Can being more mindful ease anxiety?

Anxiety

Anxiety is an issue for so many people.

I have wrestled with anxiety on and off my whole life. 

It is like the quiet house guest who you forget is living in your house until they become really demanding and spoil your day. ​​Like many

Like many emotional states there are varying degrees of anxiety. For some people it is something which makes them feel sick and as though they don’t want to do something. Others though are completely crippled by its impact on their lives. Anxiety can make it impossible to leave the house, spend time with friends and even get a job. So can something as natural and ancient as mindfulness really help?

The short answer is yes, it really can.

The longer answer needs some science and some techniques, which will hopefully help you if you are struggling with anxiety. 

Are you ready? Take a deep breath and let’s dive in!

Let’s get the science out of the way then we can move onto the more fun parts of this longer explanation. When you feel anxious there is a physical change in your body, your breathing becomes more shallow and your heart rate increases. This change is then detected by your brain which sends chemical responses round your body; sending more energy to your heart, lungs and muscles and redirects blood and function to those areas and away from your brain.

This is where things start to get difficult because at this point our ability to think logically and remember all the times we have survived this situation before vanishes. Our brain is incapable of rational thought, problem solving and even recall when we go into this fight, flight or freeze state. 

In order to feel more calm and regain this mental function, we must breathe. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Unfortunately our state of mind is causing our breathing to be shallow and fast and unless we consciously change our breathing we will remain in this state and it may even escalate into a full panic attack. 

Learning some mindful breathing techniques is a great way to quickly and easily calm yourself when you feel this way. Something as simple as 7:11 breathing (7:11 breathing is simply counting to 7 as you breathe in and 11 as you breathe out) or following a video like this one I created for my Calmer Classrooms programme, can help you to calm down really quickly. The advantage of many breathing techniques is that you can do them without anyone being aware that you are implementing a life changing strategy.

Prevention not cure

These techniques are great when you are already in the grips of an anxious episode, but the real magic of mindfulness is that it can help prevent you from reaching that point. 

Mindfulness is the process of being present, being in the moment, being reflective. It helps us to appreciate what we have and doesn’t worry about what will be. It teaches us to focus on the task in hand and deal with what is coming when it arrives. Given that anxiety is effectively a fear of the future, of what might happen, just by shifting your focus to what is happening you are reducing your ability to feel anxious. Given that research has proven time and time again that as little as 9% of our worries actually come true, that means that up to 91% of our worries are actually worth worrying about. 

journaling

Mindful journaling

Another mindful activity which can really help with anxiety is journaling. The process of writing everything down that pops into your head allows you to process the thoughts more easily and often see the reality of the spiral you have got yourself into. Just buy yourself a notebook and take time every day to just write until you have no more thoughts left. Don’t think about what you are writing, just whatever comes into your head – write it down.

This process also helps you to see how infrequently our fears become reality. The other really useful activity is a gratitude practice. Writing down every day all the things you are grateful for. This helps to train your brain to look at the positives in your life rather than the negative, worrying thoughts. Once you realise how fortunate you are, you have a roof over your head, clean water to drink and clothes to keep you warm, you will worry less about what might be, but in all likelihood, won’t ever happen.

Mindful movement…

Living mindfully is also about listening to your body. Mindfully moving when we need to, and we do need to. Particularly if you are an anxious person making sure you get enough exercise is vital. When we exercise our body can process all the stress chemicals our body releases when we worry, so just going for a walk if you start to feel anxious, will instantly calm you down. It doesn’t have to be strenuous movement, just movement. You can dance in your kitchen, take the dog for a walk or do a spin class, just move! In addition to the checmical impact movement will have on your anxiety, moving will change your state and allow your brain to start seeing the situation differently. You will begin to process the information you are working through in a more effective and calm way and you will feel so much better.

Get outside, take a big deep breath of fresh and and move that body! 

mindful movement

If anxiety is an issue for you, or a loved one, start small. Implement small daily changes and begin to see how these little changes can have a huge impact on your reactions and how you deal with situation. You can get through this.

I have, and still do. One day at a time. 

 

For lots more mindful ideas to fit into your daily routine check out my article: Every day mindfulness or why not download my free ebook: You’ve Got This for lots of easy to implement mindful ideas.

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