This recording is a based on the guided practice I regularly use in my work and wanted to provide something people could practice on their own. It is a relatively brief and straightforward introduction to mindfulness meditation practice.
It is time of us to reclaim our right to a full night of sleep. In doing so, we can be reunited with that most powerful elixir of wellness and vitality. Then we may remember what it feels like to be truly awake during the day.Matthew Walker – Why We Sleep
Research shows that sleep plays a vital role in pretty much every system in the body. This includes cognitive functioning and our emotional state. So, when life seems to be throwing everything at you, one thing you can do to increase resilience and maximise your performance is to get enough sleep (and yes that is 8 hours).
It’s so easy to sacrifice sleep when you’ve got a lot to do, or when a good party or staying up late chatting with friends beckons. However, the impacts of sleep deprivation soon build up, so it is highly recommended to catch up with sleep and get back into a routine as soon as you can. For now, I will let the evidence (Walker, 2017) speak for itself and focus on what you might do to improve sleep.
When we’re struggling with stress, worry or low mood, often this shows up as disrupted sleep: struggling to get to sleep, or waking up during the night, or waking up too early (or all of these!). Then the lack of sleep exacerbates the problems we were struggling with. So for example, you’re worrying about an assignment and you can’t sleep, then the lack of sleep hinders concentration, focus, memory, cognitive functioning, emotional balance etc. Which then makes it even harder to get the work done. So you get even more stressed out. Sound familiar?
So clearly, it’s important to do our best to break out of this vicious cycle. The rest of this article focuses on tips to improve sleep so keep reading. And here is a guided meditation to help you settle for sleep, give it a try and let us know what you think.
Things to avoid or reduce:
- Cut out caffeine from 6:00 pm onwards
- Avoid computer games that get lots of adrenaline going, close to bedtime
- Bed is for sleeping (or sex) don’t work in bed or watch telly and
- It is best to avoid all screen based devices, so put away your laptop, tablet or phone
- Turn off the phone, or put it on airplane mode and a few feet away from the bed
- Alcohol seems to help at the time because of it’s temporary sedative effects, but later on it causes all sorts of rebound problems, and disrupts the sleep rhythms.
- It is likely that alcohol interferes with a range of essential psychophysiological processes that happen in our sleep, so make sure you have enough nights of sleep without alcohol to catch up with essential REM sleep etc.
- Nicotine is a stimulant, smoking close to bedtime will make it harder to settle
- Avoid a heavy meal close to bedtime
Things that help with sleep
- During the day, getting some exercise and exposure to some daylight is a good idea
- Get bedding, duvet and pillow to suit you, if possible arrange the room so it feels ‘right’ to you
- A nice warm herb tea is comforting (there are lots to choose from, try Camomile)
- Have a good sleep routine, waking up and going to bed at the same time every day
- A good bedtime routine helps, do things that are calming: reading, bath/shower, brush teeth, getting makeup off, changing into comfortable sleep clothes, listening to music, meditating, very gentle stretching
- Reading in bed or listening to music or guided meditations is good
- Have enough water during the evening, have some water beside the bed and have a sip before settling, have a sip if you wake up in the night (tea, coffee and alcohol will make you want to pee in the night, but water doesn’t irritate the bladder so works just fine)
- The room should not be too hot, in particular cool your feet, try sticking them out of the covers, try and get some good ventilation
- Get the room as dark as you can
- If the environment is noisy you could try earplugs, or headphones to play ambeint sounds or ‘white noise’
- There are lots of aromatherapy herbs worth exploring, Lavender is worth a try, just put a few drops on a tissue somewhere in the room
Strategies for when the mind is overactive, when we’re trying to switch off for sleep
- Reduce the adrenalin in the system, here are a few more ideas to turn down the ‘activation dial’: This calming breath exercise, guided safe place visualisation, think of 5 things you are grateful for, remembering a time when you felt safe and relaxed
- If there is a persistent thought of something you have to do, it is probably trying to remind you of something important. Acknowledge it and write it down on your list of important things to consider the next day. Out of your mind and on to your list.
- Step back from ruminative thinking, learning to let go. This might not be easy but is one of the most important mental skills we can learn. Mindfulness teaches us to get better at this; here’s an introduction
The guided meditation above has been specifically designed to help you settle for sleep, listen to it in bed so that you can fall to sleep without having to get up. You can also play it if you wake up in the night. We can’t force ourselves to go to sleep, so be gentle with yourself. And if you don’t always fall asleep then you’ve got a win-win, because you’ve done you daily meditation instead.
Walker, M., 2017. Why We Sleep. Allen Lane.
I really like this band and while listening to their stuff I came across this interview. As well has being in a band that write great songs, and having an amazing voice, the lead singer Conor is really articulate about mental health. I’ll let him speak for himself…
We need to talk and connect with others to get through hard times. This space is all about the various ways we can improve our wellbeing. Mindfulness is a great way to increase resilience. Feel free to check out our downloads.
The World Health Organisation recognises World Mental Health Day on 10 October every year. This year’s theme set by the World Federation for Mental Health is ‘mental health for all’ (Mental Health Foundation)
“Mental health problems can affect anyone, any day of the year, but 10 October is a great day to show your support for better mental health and start looking after your own wellbeing” (Mind)
In the articles below here you will find advice around lots of different ways to look after your wellbeing. Maybe mark World Mental Health day by a small act of kindness to another person? Perhaps start by being kind to yourself by trying out this compassion meditation.
Between us, our team has about a hundred years of experience of supporting students (slight exaggeration maybe 😊!).
Here we’ve collected together the main things we’ve found that might be helpful to you as you begin your journey here at University.
We’re also drawing on things that final year students have told us they wished they’d known when they started. Things they wished they could’ve gone back and told their younger self. So now you get the benefit of that too.
It’s natural and OK to be nervous: don’t get caught up in thinking everyone else is confident, that they know what they are doing. Most of us came to university terrified! Just let it be. Be curious, explore, get to know the person next to you, and your tutor, the person in the café/shop/local pub. Explore the nearest fell, learn to meditate, and before you know it, you’ll start to relax and get into the flow of university life.
There’s so much to do! Starting University often brings with it a lot of things that need to be done. Registration, student finance, preparing for lectures etc. Making a list of everything that needs to be done can help you to prepare and makes sure you don’t forget anything important.
While it’s a busy, exciting time, it can be easy to get swept up with all the things that need to be done. Remember to take some time for self-care that allows you to rest and recharge both physically and mentally. Don’t feel that you need to spend all your time being busy, you need some time to yourself.
You won’t be the first person coming to university to feel homesick: It might be frightening or upsetting if you’ve moved away from home for the first time, and your parents/family/loved ones have left after dropping you off. Feeling this way is perfectly normal and will soon pass.
Getting involved in an activity or socialising will help to give you something else to focus on. Living independently might feel overwhelming for the first days or weeks; adding a routine and some structure to your day will help you to settle in.
If the weather’s nice (or if you’ve got some bracing Cumbria weather then put on some warm clothes), and you’ve got some free time, a walk around campus is good exercise, which usually improves mood. It also allows you a chance to familiarise yourself with the campus, which helps to avoid trying to find your lecture or meeting on the day.
Balance: Although your university work is of course important, try not to lose perspective when it comes to your studies; remember you are more than a grade and it does not define you.
If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed by deadlines and exams, get organised! Create a revision/essay timetable, breaking down your work into smaller, digestible chunks. That way you know what you need to complete and when.
Don’t overdo it. Try not to study any longer than you would if you were doing an average working day (around 7 hours). Allow for plenty of breaks and be boundaried. For example, if you have a lot of work, then study 9am to 6pm (with several breaks), and then mark the end of study time by doing a self-care activity, whether that be coffee with a friend, a walk or gym session or your favourite hobby.
Routines and Self-Care: When we feel worried or stressed, we might struggle to relax or sleep, which can then lead to getting more tired. We can start to lose touch with things we used to enjoy or give us pleasure, things that sustain us, eating and sleeping properly, getting some exercise. And all this makes it harder to concentrate, which then creates more stress. So, what can we do to help ourselves out of this cycle?
- Get into a routine with sleep, preparing meals, and exercise
- Make time to do things you enjoy, chatting with people, a hobby…
- Stay ‘connected’ with others, especially spending time around positive and supportive people
- Doing something that gives you a sense of achievement for example, learning something new or completing a piece of work
- Time to pause, relax and reflect. Check in with yourself at the end of the day, reflect on what you have achieved and what gave you a sense of pleasure and closeness
- These things help to nourish both our mind and body
Try something new: Coming to University can be a time to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Although we are constrained by Covid, where possible, maybe it’s time to try something new. Take a fresh look at the societies and clubs available. It’s a good way to meet new people and have some fun.
Some useful maxims to live by: (We like the cheeky positivity of NLP and would like to share some of this wisdom with you)
‘There is no such thing as failure only feedback’. Such a great way to approach life! It supports me every time I get things ‘wrong’. For example, applying this to a situation where maybe I got a disappointing grade. Rather than thinking this is evidence that I am not good enough, to remind myself that it is now a great opportunity to learn how not to repeat the same mistakes and approach my work differently next time. It’s an opportunity to identify needs, tap into the available resources at the university and get skilled up.
‘If it’s possible in the world its possible for me, it’s just a matter of how’. There are many examples in the world of people achieving amazing things and reaching their personal goals. Sometimes we forget what drives us to where we want to be. If we refocus our attention of why our chosen topic is important to us, we can then access what is valuable and meaningful to us. Once we reconnect to our life purpose we can continue driving forward and stay positive.
A useful tip for people who are worried about worrying. Sometimes overthinking can be a problem because having too many choices prevents us from making a choice and we remain inert. It can be useful to reframe this ‘The person with the greatest flexibility of thought and behaviour will have the greatest influence in any interaction (Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety). The things we think of are often limited by our own life experiences, thoughts and feelings. By listening, learning, and maintaining our curiosity, we can start to think beyond what we know. This leads to richer understandings, and a greater number of thoughts, feelings, behaviours and choices available to us.
People make the best choice available to them, given their model of the world and resources available to them at the time. This helps us to stop beating ourselves up over the mistakes that we make. Remembering this can also help us to develop patience when dealing with others, as we learn to accept that other people’s ideas and feelings are as important to them as ours are to us.
If you’re struggling just ask for help, your university will have support services in place.
Student Minds have also produced some good information about coping with the transition to student life in the time of Covid.
Many thanks to the Mental Health and Wellbeing team for their contributions to this blog.
We live in stressful times. There is just so much in the news and social media to cause us to worry. And then there are the stresses and strains of everyday living as well!
Would you like to increase your coping skills? Is there a way to connect with yourself, others and nature to increase wellbeing and resilience? Here’s your chance to be kind to yourself and to create a nurturing space for yourself. We can’t ‘magic away’ the struggles of everyday life, but we can increase our ability to cope and our strength to stand up and face adversity.
We at Mindful-Monkey are facilitating these in association with the amazing Go-Getta team. There are two different projects, being delivered virtually over Zoom, open to those aged 18+ living and working in Leicester, Leicestershire & Rutland. And they are free to attend!
- Virtual ‘Wellbeing’ Sessions:
These sessions aim to introduce you to practical, easy to use, skills that can help to increase wellbeing, reduce stress, and increase your ability to manage difficult emotions, anxiety and low mood.
Drawing on the NHS recommended ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ we will help you to use ‘life hacks’ and tips to live a more healthy and positive life. These include:
- Breathing and focusing techniques to help calm and centre
- Simple mindfulness meditation practices to focus and quiet the mind
- Visualisation techniques to increase feelings of wellbeing
- Movement and postures that can settle emotions, and help us to feel more grounded
- Learn how self compassion and self acceptance can be a key to wellbeing
- Health behaviours that enhance your physical and mental wellbeing
- You will be offered resources to take away and practice to help strengthen these skills.
Every Sunday 10:00 am – 12:00 pm and Thursday 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
From 2nd August – 11th October 2020
2. ‘Mindfulness Plus’ course:
Over 16 weeks, participants will be taught Mindfulness techniques aimed at learning to focus and quiet the mind. Simple guided exercises show participants how to increase feelings of calm and wellbeing.
The course will progress to include various other mental health and wellbeing strategies such as Movement, Breathwork, EFT and DBT you can use in your own life and work. This course is particularly helpful for professionals looking to learn new skills and knowledge to share with others they may support.
Every Monday 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm and Wednesday 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
From 10th August – 25th November 2020
To register your interest and sign up, please visit: https://go-getta.org.uk/virtual-mindful-mentoring-sign-up
Please feel free to share widely with your networks and colleagues, and do not hesitate to get in touch with any queries.
Earlier this year as part of University Mental Health day we asked students to tell us their Mental Health and Wellbeing tips.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to share their thoughts. We had lots of really good ideas and wanted to share this wisdom with others (this is mostly in their own words, in a few places we’ve added a comment or a link). Here is what they told us:
- Enjoy the little things
- Take time for yourself, even when you “don’t have time”
- Set aside some time in your day to do something for yourself that makes you happy… take the time to recharge your batteries and clear you mind for the next day
- Make time for things you love
- Look after yourself and give yourself time
- Watch you fave Netflix show
- Make sure you always speak out if needed
- Take a nice relaxing bath, (or shower if no bath available)
- Selfcare Sundays
- You are the number one priority! Put yourself first and worry about others later, self-care before anyone else
- Listen to music and relax (here’s a breathing exercise to do just that)
The company of friends, it’s good to talk
- The most important thing is to talk to a family member or trusted friend about what’s worrying you. Let them hug you and give you a shoulder to cry on
- Spend time with people you love! (You’d be surprised how much evidence there is that kindness is good for us!)
- Talking to people always helps
- Keep very social with your friends so you’re never lonely
- I walk my dog, and talk to family and friends about my worries
- Talk about it, have a cup of tea and a nice chat (with biscuits)
- Do things that make you happy and spend time with people that are supportive
- Make sure you always have a date with a friend booked in the diary!
- Having a good balance between finding time for yourself, and socialising with peers and friends
- No topic is taboo, even if it is hard, talk as much as you can about your mental health
- Be around people who care and they will help bounce you out of any bad feelings/moods
- Just talk about it, people will listen and it’s a weight of your chest
- Do not keep toxic people in your life, even if they are on your course
Mind your thinking, and learn to meditate
- Take every day as it comes. If you’ve got things on your mind, switch off at night, write them down and put them aside, come back to them when the time is right. Don’t overthink every little thing, it will seem worse and spiral out of control
- Practice mindfulness as a normal thing (Excellent idea! As well as lots of other benefits, mindfulness has been shown to help develop skills in stepping back from rumination (negative-overthinking) here’s a practice to get you started)
- Think of a positive thing you’ve done today, even something small counts
- Download the ‘headspace’ app. Take advantage of the sleep music and exercises
- Accept yourself, there is only one of you
Small steps and a good balance
- Start writing, rather than facing assignments as whole, less stressful, less full on
- Get organised, and reward yourself with each step (this fits very nicely with suggestions in our post on procrastination)
- Make sure you plan time well, so that you make time to step back and take time for yourself
- Social life and studying should be evenly split
- Take deep breath, get a cup of tea and make a plan, and start again
Get out in in the fresh air
- Get some activities that are not to do with the university, like walking through the park or going to a place that calms you
- Go for a walk whatever the weather!
- Go for a nice walk
- Walking with headphones
- If you can take a break and get outside, even just 5 or 10 minutes away from a screen, getting some fresh air can clear a foggy mind
- Spend time outdoors in nature
- Go to the hills
- Make sure you get enough sleep. Have a good regular amount of sleep
- Give yourself time to relax and do a self-care routine, e.g. bath, read a book, pamper yourself
- Have 20 minutes off your phone before bed every evening to help sleep. Try reading, drawing, knitting, sewing, talking to friend or yoga instead (yes definitely better than too much screen time)
- Use headspace stories to fall asleep
I wrote this post for our University of Cumbria Wellbeing Blog, please feel free to pass it on to anyone you know that might find it useful. Even if you are not a student, the ideas apply to any situation where you have been under a lot of pressure and have been in a state of heightened alert or nervous activation, working on something really important.
You’ve got to the end of the semester or the academic year, and you’ve submitted your assignments, survived your exams… it’s all done, phew!
Wait what! Where’s the elation, the euphoria? This is very confusing!
During the stress and struggle of the days leading up to deadlines, we imagine how wonderful life will be after the work is done! The relief, the joy, the freedom!
Yet strangely sometimes we don’t feel as ecstatic as we had imagined. We expected to feel just great. What happened to all those good feelings, what a disappointment!?
Time and time again I hear students describe this as an anti-climax, a feeling of emptiness; sometimes even feelings of anxiety, as if you’re standing on the edge of a precipice.
But since submitting my dissertation last month I’ve been in a weird limbo. My executive dysfunction has got quite bad because I have no urgent deadlines, so I can’t even bring myself to do the things I really want to do and instead just daydream about them all day. So trying to get myself unstuck has been a bit of a struggle.Anonymous student
Please don’t beat yourself up about not feeling as you expected to. Let’s consider what might be going on, and what you might do about it:
The crash in mood is a comedown from all that adrenalin. This is a very real phenomenon; it happens all the time. If you’ve been in a heightened state of excitement and alert for a while, you’ve been pushing out that adrenaline (and dopamine), you’ve been using up your resources, the batteries can get pretty flat. The higher you were and the longer you stayed there, the more intense the comedown.
Solution: That flat feeling is your system recharging, and the neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine, are restocking. Don’t fight the feeling, accept it, rest up, pamper yourself, sleep. It will pass, and you will soon feel much better. I call this ‘cognitive override’, you might say to yourself: I’ve been working my socks off, and achieved so much, I’ve made it through. This feeling won’t last – it’s just my nervous system recovering, I will feel better once I’ve recharged.
You’ve got used to having all your time structured around the work you had to get done, you’ve had a purpose, now you’ve got all this empty space and that feels weird. Life feels empty – you don’t know what to do with all this time on your hands, the days ahead feel like a vacuum.
Solution: You’ve got so used a particular state of alert and focus. When the situation changes your nervous system doesn’t know how to come out of that, just yet. You need a bit of time to get used to the new situation and become convinced that there really is nothing to do but chill for a while. And then when you’re ready, to begin to discover what you want to do next.
There’s a feeling of anxiety, you’re on a cliff edge, about to step into the unknown. This fear of the future is understandable – suddenly there’s more uncertainty than you’re used. You’ve been in a place where you always had the next goal in front of you, the next task. Now it all seems more uncertain.
Solution: Accept the feelings, as natural, give yourself space, time to think about the future, accept that uncertainty is a part of this major transition in your life. So maybe the uncertainty of not knowing is the feeling you get just before you discover something new.
So, what next? Once you’ve had a chance to recharge those batteries, give yourself permission, a bit of space, to be uncertain. Take a bit of time, to reconnect with yourself, and your surroundings; rest, take a walk, talk to friends, meditate. In this space of not knowing exactly what will happen next, let yourself rediscover the sense of freedom, the excitement of new possibilities…
We recently had the Mental Health Awareness Week – hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. The theme is kindness. They rightly say that: in times like these when the world feels upside down, Kindness is the way to turn things the right way round.
“We all know that being kind is the right thing to do but did you know that kindness is good for you? A little act of kindness can boost your mental health, reduce stress and it can cheer you up to think of someone else – not forgetting, of course, to be kind to yourself. It is a path to a society that better protects our mental health”https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week
They point to research evidence for the positive impact of kindness on protecting and improving mental health. Their survey has shown that almost three quarters of UK adults say it’s important that we learn from the coronavirus pandemic to be more kind as a society. Also almost two-thirds of UK adults say that being kind to others has a positive impact on their mental health.
Psychologists have long shown that kindness to others (altruism) also has a positive effect on the giver (Fehr & Fischbacher, 2003; Kurzban, et al., 2015; Wang, et al., 2020).
There is evidence that accessing states of caring and compassion have a profound healing effect on us (Gilbert, 2010) and there appears to be a evolutionary neuro-biological basis for this (Porges, 2011).
Based on ancient wisdom, a growing body of research suggests that kindness & compassion meditations activate these healing systems within us. These meditative practices can be effective as part of the treatment of a wide range of mental health conditions and promote physical and emotional wellbeing (Graser & Stangier, 2018; Hofmann, et al., 2011; Shonin, et al., 2015).
Here is a short introductory guided meditation to help cultivate this state of self healing. Please read the guidance below before you try it.
- This guided meditation requires active engagement and participation, so while it can be calming, it does ask for some mental effort
- A bit of perseverance is likely to pay off, with a bit of practice the positive effects of meditation increase
- If you find it difficult to settle and follow along with the guidance, then you might need a bit more brain-training with a breath practice
- By using the meditation, you are taking responsibility for your wellbeing. It is not a substitute for counselling or treatment. It is an educational and self-development resource
- Meditative practices have been shown to offer powerful tools for mental health and wellbeing by helping to develop enhanced emotional and thinking skills. They are not a quick fix and require effort and practice
- Meditation is not usually suggested as mental health first aid. It can be very helpful in managing difficult emotions, yet this skill takes time to build. I think when you’re feeling anxious or unsettled, there are lots of other helpful things you can to do first, for example here is a calming exercise which I have used with many people (link opens in dropbox where you can directly play the file or download it for offline use)
- Of course if you are acutely unwell then please get appropriate support, make yourself safe, and come back to this practice when you are feeling stable enough to engage with it
- I hope you find this meditation helpful, feel free to get in touch with any feedback
Fehr, E. & Fischbacher, U., 2003. The nature of human altruism. Nature, Volume 425, pp. 785-791.
Gilbert, P., 2010. Compassion Focused Therapy. Hove: Routledge.
Graser, J. & Stangier, U., 2018. Compassion and Loving-Kindness Meditation: An Overview and Prospects for the Application in Clinical Samples. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 26(4), pp. 201-215.
Hofmann, S. G., Grossman, P. & Hinton, D. E., 2011. Loving-kindness and compassion meditation: Potential for psychological interventions. Clinical Psychology Review, Volume 31, pp. 1126-1132.
Kurzban, R., Burton-Chellew, M. N. & West, S. A., 2015. The Evolution of Altruism in Humans. Annual Review of Psychology, Volume 66, pp. 575-599.
Porges, S. W., 2011. The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, Self-Regulation. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Shonin, E. et al., 2015. Buddhist-Derived Loving-Kindness and Compassion Meditation for the Treatment of Psychopathology: A Systematic Review. Mindfulness, Volume 6, pp. 1161-1180.
Wang, Y. et al., 2020. Altruistic behaviours relieve physical pain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 117(2), pp. 950-958.
During the current lockdown there is a lot of good advice out there. Our contribution here is just a small practical thing that you can do to help reduce stress and increase wellbeing. There is strong evidence that stress levels can have a significant impact on our immune functioning.
This is a short guided meditation. The visual element is just to add flavour, it is OK to close your eyes during the practice, if you like. At just under 8 minutes you can pop this on anytime you have a bit of time to spare.
Mindfulness isn’t the same as relaxation, but is a very good way of building wellbeing if practiced for a time. A very common misunderstanding is to expect to have an ‘empty mind’ or feel more relaxed (which may or may not happen). So if there is agitation or lots going through the mind, then there is no need to suppress anything, just observe what’s there.
Meditation is not first aid for anxiety. It can be very helpful in managing anxiety (and other difficult emotions) yet this skill takes time to build. I think when you’re feeling anxious or unsettled, there are lots of other helpful things you can to do, for example here is a calming exercise which I have used with many people (link opens in dropbox where you can directly play the file or download it for offline use).