Welcome to the State of Mind Psychology Services blog posts page. Here you will find different blog posts with helpful tips about how to improve your wellbeing.
To read any of the blogs written by Dr Steven Mahan, click on the links below
- “I’m just exhausted…”: A guide to improving your sleep pattern
- How to succeed in your New Years’ Resolutions by being ‘SMART’
- The importance of self-care and self-kindness: An easy tip to improve your wellbeing today
- Eating our hearts out when there is too much on our plate: the psychology of “comfort eating”
Sleep is an essential part of our wellbeing, but almost everyone experiences problems sleeping at some time of their life.
We all know that feeling when we are absolutely and truly exhausted. This is often the result of a number of factors, such as a busy lifestyle, work demands, and responsibilities at home. We can also feel exhausted because our concerns and worries mean we don’t sleep very well. Sometimes our concerns make it hard to drift off to sleep or we might wake up frequently through the night thinking about them.
Sleep disruption is common, especially during times when you may feel emotionally overwhelmed. Anxiety, relentlessly replaying the day’s events, and heightened emotions may significantly interfere with your sleep.
When we aren’t sleeping well, the physical exhaustion that comes from not sleeping can make our concerns and stresses feel that much worse, meaning our mental health declines further, making it more difficult to sleep well. And the vicious cycle goes round and round.
Sometimes we engage in behaviours that exaggerate this cycle, without being aware we are actively making our sleep worse. For example, we might go to bed late because we want to work late. We might lie in bed thinking about our worries over and over (also known as ruminating). We might get increasingly frustrated with ourselves for not sleeping.
Part of making changes to our sleep pattern to promote a healthy level of sleep (also known as ‘sleep hygiene’) involves working out where we are going wrong with our sleep and taking committed action to improving this. However, it often takes some time to get problematic sleep under control and this is rarely solved overnight!
The list below shows some ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ of sleep hygiene. These do’s and don’ts may help to improve your sleep pattern. And when we are well rested we are in a better position to improve our mood and general wellbeing:
- Go to bed at the same time each day
- Get up at the same time each day
- Get regular exercise each day, preferably in the morning
- There is good evidence regular exercise improves restful sleep
- Get regular exposure to outdoor or bright lights, especially in the late afternoon
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom comfortable
- Keep your bedroom dark enough to facilitate sleep – thick curtains will help with this, or wear an eye mask
- Keep your bedroom quiet – try thicker curtains or even wear ear plugs to avoid being woken by noise
- Use your bed only for sleep – try not to watch TV in bed
- Take a warm bath or shower about one-hour before bed
- Use a relaxation exercise just before going to sleep or a relaxation tape
- Try muscle relaxation to help de-stress and unwind, e.g. a warm bath or a massage
- Keep your feet and hands warm. Wear warm socks and/or gloves to bed if needed
- Exercise just before going to bed
- Engage in stimulating activity just before bed, such as playing computer games, watching an exciting programme on television or movie, or having an important discussion with a loved one
- Have caffeine in the evening (coffee, teas, chocolate, etc.)
- Have alcohol in the evening or use alcohol to sleep (it may make you drowsy but it doesn’t improve sleep and you will be more likely to wake to go to the toilet)
- Smoke before going to bed – nicotine is a stimulant and will keep you awake
- Watch television in bed
- Go to bed too hungry or too full
- Take another person’s sleeping pills
- Never take daytime naps or doze off in front of the TV in the evening – keep yourself awake with something stimulating or you risk resetting your body clock or disrupting the amount you’ll need to sleep that night
- Command yourself to go to sleep. This only makes your mind and body more alert
- If you lie in bed awake for more than 20-30 minutes, get up, go to a different room (or different part of the bedroom), participate in a quiet activity (e.g. non-excitable reading or television), then return to bed when you feel sleepy.
If needed, you could try over the counter sleep remedies, such as Nytol, but these are no substitute for addressing the problems that cause poor sleep. Sleeping tablets do not address these issues either and are not suitable for many people. Either way, check with your GP before taking any medication.
When considering these do’s and don’ts, it is important to note that everyone is different and that what works for you may not work for someone else. This list is also not exhaustive – the most important aspect is to establish a routine that works for you.
If you have concerns about your sleep pattern or your mood, State of Mind Psychology Services may be able to help. Alternatively your GP may be able to advise you about alternative methods of promoting improved sleep.
When trying to improve your sleep pattern, try making one or two changes at a time, rather than changing everything at once. That way you will be better able to recognise what is working for you and you will have a personalised sleep hygiene plan that is bespoke to your needs.
For further information about sleep hygiene, please complete an enquiry form by clicking here.
With a New Year often comes a state of mind where many people feel they have a good opportunity to make some much needed changes in their lives. New Years’ Resolutions sometimes surround a lifestyle change, such as to be healthier or to lose weight. They sometimes surround activities, such as spending more time with loved ones and friends or learning a new skill.
Despite our best intentions, according to Statistic Brain, only 8% of those who set New Years’ Resolutions are successful in achieving their resolution.
I wonder if so few people achieve their resolutions because many set resolutions that are either too great a task to achieve or because their goals are not SMART (that is, they are not Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely).
If you are someone who is setting a New Years’ Resolution, try making your resolution a SMART goal instead and consider the following when setting your resolution:
Specific: What is it that you want to achieve? If your resolution is to be healthier, for example, what does this mean to you? Does this mean attending the gym a certain number of times a week? Does it mean walking a certain number of steps each day? Being more specific can help to focus your resolution so that you know exactly what your goal is.
Measurable: When will you know if you have achieved your goal? Or how will you know if you have achieved it? How are you measuring achievement of your goal?
Achievable: Is your goal within your limits? Or do you need to set and achieve some short-term goals first?
Realistic: If your goal is to be healthier by going to the gym every day before and after work, for example, this resolution might be specific and measurable, but it possibly isn’t achievable or realistic if you have a busy lifestyle and lots of commitments. You might also be more likely to give up on your resolution if it feels too big to achieve and unrealistic. Try having a more realistic goal instead and you’ll be more likely to succeed.
Timely: Rather than having one long-term resolution, why not break it down into smaller short-term goals that you will achieve by a certain date. Also think about if you’re giving yourself enough time to achieve your goal.
Whatever your resolution, I hope that 2017 brings you health and wellbeing. Happy New Year.
Often life brings with it a great abundance of responsibilities: work, family, school, education, friends, chores, gym, health concerns, and endless to-do lists. It is very easy, therefore, to forget how important it is to have time to stop, take stock, and to appreciate and allow time for the things that bring us pleasure or contentedness.
We are often incredibly good at having time for others and for caring for others. And we are often very good at not doing the same for ourselves. This has a remarkable consequence on our mental health that is often really easy to overlook.
When we go for prolonged periods of time without giving ourselves and our wellbeing much consideration, it is very easy for our stress levels to increase, for our ability to cope with the responsibilities and challenges of life to reduce, and for our mental health to suffer.
A question that I often ask my clients is “How do you show yourself kindness?”. And 9 times out of 10, it is a question that utterly throws them. I have had responses such as “well, I’m not selfish so I only have time to care for my loved ones”, and “I’m too busy for that”. But the relationship between self-care (that is, doing activities that give us a sense of relaxation or contentedness), and our wellbeing is astounding. When we have time, even just 10-minutes, to do something that we enjoy or that recharges our energy and resilience levels, we inevitably feel a little more at ease. That tension that builds through the day has an opportunity to reduce slightly (or totally). We become more resilient to the challenges that life throws our way.
When discussing self-care with clients, and how important it is for their wellbeing, they often think I am suggesting they take hours each day to care for themselves, which in itself leads to questions such as “but how will I have time for X?”, “ if I did that, I’d get more stressed because I’d have so much to do!”, and so on. But self-care comes in all shapes and sizes. Some of my previous clients have suggested the following as ways that they self-care:
Go for a short run
Go for a walk
Have a relaxing bath or shower
Phone a friend
Watch your favourite film or TV show
Engage in physical exercise
Have your favourite drink or snack
Read a magazine
Turn your phone off after a certain time at night
Do some colouring in
The list is potentially endless!
The main principle of self-care is: no matter how big or small the activity, no matter how long it takes, it is important to allow yourself time to do something that you find soothing and/or enjoyable. This will be different from person to person.
If you have any worries about your ability to self-care, or feel your lack of self-care is affecting your mood and wellbeing, contact State of Mind Psychology Services.
Eating is arguably at the very centre of our being. It plays a complicated role in our daily lives and wellbeing, as well as a key part in how many of us socialise and spend time with others. For very few people, food is merely a means of staying alive; eating only what is needed in order to maintain their health and their ability to function throughout the day. For the majority, however, food has a more complex role in their wellbeing; it can be an opportunity to socialise with loved ones, a rite of passage or a ritual to mark a special occasion (such as a birthday cake or wedding cake). It can also be a way of self-soothing in times of distress (widely known as comfort eating), and it can also be a sign of difficult economic times and social hardship when food is scarce.
The fact is, for the vast majority, food is one of life’s great pleasures. Many people, therefore, use food as a way of soothing their emotions from time to time and arguably there is nothing wrong with eating for comfort every now and again.
Comfort eating, or “emotional eating” as it is more commonly termed by psychological therapists, becomes problematic when it becomes our automatic response to soothing difficult thoughts and feelings, however.
If every time we got bored, sad, or stressed, we ate half a cake, for example, it wouldn’t be long until we struggled with obesity and the many physical health co-morbidities that often accompany obesity. These may include Diabetes, high-blood pressure, muscle and joint complaints, as well as difficulties with basic activities of daily living, such as bathing and dressing. And with obesity often comes an array of complex mental health co-morbidities too, such as low self-esteem, social anxiety, self-loathing, and depression.
Emotional eating may prove a distraction from life’s great abundance of stressors; those precious few minutes where it’s just you and your favourite treat. Many people who have this relationship with food describe these moments as providing a brief pause in their levels of stress, not dissimilar from someone who gets drunk on alcohol to numb their emotional pain.
Overeating by emotional eating often becomes a vicious cycle that is difficult to break: experiencing certain emotions can lead to emotional eating, leading to reduced low self-esteem, guilt, and shame after the episode of eating, followed by greater susceptibility to stress and a greater dependence on food as a method of trying to soothe these emotions. The irony is that, in time, food ends up becoming the aggravator, and not the comforter.
It is important to know that if you struggle with emotional eating or a complex relationship with food and eating as a method of coping with emotions, professional help is available. Psychological therapy can support “emotional eaters” to have a healthy relationship with food and with eating, so that they can eat their favourite treats in moderation, but without depending on it to soothe difficult emotions. This often results in maintainable weight loss without the need for diets and improved wellbeing. Through psychological therapy, individuals can develop more appropriate strategies to soothe difficult emotions than by emotionally eating; these strategies will arguably result in a greater sense of comfort and self-soothing without the subsequent guilt and shame that often accompanies emotional eating.
If you feel you struggle with emotional eating, State of Mind Psychology Services can help.