Sunday, April 10, 2011

Caring for the carer

Carers are people who provide care and support to those who are ill, frail or disabled. It is estimated that every 3 in 5 people will become carers at some point in their lives.

Carers are often family members or friends and they do it out of the goodness of their hearts. Their job is often unpaid, and although caring can be a rewarding experience, carers can also struggle with social isolation, discrimination, financial or health problems. A new survey by Carers Scotland showed that more than half of responders have a long term illness or disability themselves, most often back pain, stress, anxiety or depression.

photo by Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot

If you are a carer you are by definition someone who can put another person first - this is great, but you can't forget about your own needs. If you don't make sure you are well and happy, your energy to support your loved one will suffer. It's as simple as that: you need to look after yourself first in order to care for someone else.

Here is a list of 8 top tips on how to look after yourself when you are a carer:

1. Eat healthy and regularly - food is a source of energy, so don't forget to eat regular meals.

2. Drink plenty of fluids, particularly water; avoid too much tea, coffee or alcohol.

3. Keep fit - exercise not only boosts our energy level, but also helps building strong bones, muscles and joints, improves sleep and promotes mental and emotional well-being. You don't have to go to the gym three times per week but make sure that you take regular exercise adjusted to your level of fitness. IF you can, try exercise outdoors, preferably in nature.

4. Be mindful of your own stress levels - learn how to recognise and manage stress in positive way.

5. Don't forget about your own needs and make sure you have time for yourself. Meet friends, relax, have a hobby. You need to recharge your batteries and your inner source of happiness.

6. Make sure you sleep enough and have rest and regular breaks. Read more about sleep hygiene and benefits of good night sleep.

7. Don't feel embarrassed to ask for help. Learn how to do it, if you find it difficult. It's NOT a sign of weakness.

8. Make sure you have enough support for yourself. Talk to someone you trust or find a support group for careers.

More support for carers at Carers UK website. More information for carers in 'Caring - The Essential Guide'.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How to care for a person with Alzheimer's Disease

This is an Alzheimer's Blogging Competition entry organised by The Disabled Shop Blog.

For as little as £1 or $1 you can support Alzheimer's research, help defeating the illness, win fabulous prizes (one year membership of Aweber, one year's membership of Survey Monkey or e-commerce, get a regular writing gig for The Disabled Shop to name a few only) and promote your blog.
All you need to do it donate money (all profits will go to Alzheimer's Research UK), write your post, email the organisers and promote it.
For more details and web addresses for donations and post promotion see The Disabled Shop Blog.

Here is my entry for the contest.
General principles of how to care for a person with Alzheimer's Disease as suggested by WHO.

1. Help your loved one establish a daily routine as soon  as possible and keep it going.In the early stages, the person suffering from AD is able to adapt to necessary changes, but in more advanced stages changes to the layout of the room, times of meals, etc can cause a lot of confusion and anxiety.

2. Provide your loved one with a well-balanced diet, rich in proteins and fibre, and calorific value adequate to the weight and height. Ask a dietitian or your GP for help if necessary.

3. Make sure their personal hygiene is good.
4. Establish a good, or even rigid routine for toilet habits.

5. Minimise risk of tripping, falling or slipping accidents
, by ensuring your loved one wears securely fitted soft slip-on shoes, reducing or eliminating potentially dangerous furnishing and securing floor covering.

6. Take care of appropriate fluid intake during the day, and try to reduce any drinking after 6pm.

7. Help managing abrupt changes in mood by keeping the environment calm, following established routines, keeping things simple, using calming, positive music.

8. Reduce the risk of the sufferer wandering: secure the doors, make sure they wear an identification bracelet or a card, and don't leave the house unaccompanied.

9. Maintain night time sleep pattern, avoid naps during the day.

10. Make sure your loved one receives appropriate medical treatment for Alzheimer's Disease and any coexisting medical and emotional conditions.

More details on WHO website.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Top tips for a happy marriage

A recently published research (Tempting fate or inviting happiness?) shows that spouses who idealise their partner are more likely to have a happy marriage (at least in the first three years). So love is blind and we'd better leave it this way?

Psychologists, social scientists and marital specialists have been trying to identify ingredients of a perfect couple, happy marriage or successful relationship.
The most popular one are those of John M. Gottman on predictors of divorce and David Olson's Enrich inventory which helped identify a list of top ten strenghts of a happy couple.

photo by photostock

What are the key attributes of happy couples according to these studies?
How to achieve happiness in your relationship?

1. Good communication - happy couples exchange ideas, feelings, news, beliefs, they share problems - all that in a polite, respectful and appreciative manner. They listen to one another, try to understand and be understood

2. Ability to adjust to change - happy couples are creative in ways they resolve conflicts or address problems.

3. Good balance of togetherness and separateness - happy couples do things together and spend quality time together, but also allow for periods of time to self.

4. Constructive resolution of conflict - when criticising, happy couples don't generalise ('You always do this', or 'You never say that'); they attack the problem not the person, they don't withdraw from the interaction.

5. Agreement in financial matters - happy couples agree on how to handle money.

6. Satisfying sexual life - happy couples' sexual life is a s good as their emotional life; they give and receive satisfying amount of affection and they don't worry that their partners may want to have an affair.

7. Shared values - happy couples share values and spiritual beliefs.

8. Shared parental responsibilities and agreement on child rearing methods.

Here you can find more information on the qualities of successful marriages.

What do you think is important for a couple to have a satisfying relationship? What are your tips for a happy marriage?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Depression-proof your life

A recent article in the British Journal of Psychiatry warns that the current economic crisis and changes in traditional female and male roles are likely to cause an increase in depression rates among men.

photo by Salvatore Vuono
Men and women often experience depression differently. For many women depression means feeling sad, worthless or guilty, while men are more likely to admit to feeling easily tired, being irritablelosing interest in once–pleasurable activities, and struggling with sleep.

Different life events may also affects both genders differently, and a commentary on Men's Health Forum argues that unemployment has a much bigger impact on men because of male identity being strongly related to professional roles and work, and men's social network are more likely to be work-centred. In this context losing a job not only means losing a source of income and an important role of a breadwinner, but also affect your self-esteem, confidence, sense of belonging and a crucial source of support.

In the current climate of economic uncertainty is there a way of depression-proofing your life?
It is impossible to guarantee that you will never become depressed but here is a list of 7 steps you can take to reduce the risk of becoming depressed:

1. Take care of yourself. Build your self-esteem: list things you like about yourself and learn to accept what you can't change. Make sure you do things you enjoy as often as you can. Surround yourself with people who you like and who like and support you. Don't take too much on. Learn to say no.

2. Manage stress. Changes in the brain triggered by stress are similar to those in depression, and chronic stress can cause physical damage to your brain. So learn to relax, meditate or release bad emotions, whether through exercise, yoga, meditation or talking to someone trusted.

3. Get regular exercise. Even when you not feeling like it, get up and go for a walk, run, to the gym or a game of your favourite sport. Exercise is a fabulous antidepressant as it releases hormones of happiness, boosts our own serotonin levels (low level of serotonin is the mechanism of depression), reduces stress, helps getting rid of body tension and improves sleep. These benefits can be further increased if you exercise outdoors.

4. Be connected. Social isolation and loneliness can cause depression, and depression increases your chances of feeling isolated. Cultivate supportive relationships - family, friends, social groups you belong to. If you currently don't have many supportive people around you, join a group or forum - whether it's a hobby club, your local church, or a group dedicated to supporting people with depression or other mental health problems.

5. Develop healthy lifestyle habits. Get enough night time sleep. Have regular routine. Eat healthy.

6. Get rid of that negative thinking. Whether you're guilty of all-or-nothing, jumping to conclusion, overuse 'should', disqualify the positive or tends to see what fits your mood - try to change it. Here's more information on cognitive distortions that can lead to depression.

7. Ask for help when you need it. Learn how to recognise signs of depression and don't be afraid or embarrassed to ask for support and seek professional help.

What are your favourite ways of keeping depression at bay?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Toxic People part 2 - The Gloomy Loser

photo by Simon Howden

'This is not going to work, I've tried three times. I don't think we'll ever be able to launch this. It's a good idea, but people don't understand it, and they won't listen because I'm in it. I can talk to the manager but he never listens to me. I think he doesn't like me. It's all because that accident I had last year - I had to take time off work and he's been on my case ever since. What can I do about the fact that I have a bad back? I can't sit at the desk all day, some days I can't even get up in the morning. You know me, you know I don't slack, but people don't care if you feeling well or not. It's all about how much money you can bring us. Nobody cares about little people on 5th floor. We're just numbers.'
I know what you're going to say- it doesn't make any sense, but it does. Because ...'

It may not make much sense, but do you recognise the pattern? The doom and gloom, the victim and the bottle-half-empty?

I've had a friend like that once. At that time I thought the world was not fair to her - she'd had a really terrible childhood and in her adult life she struggled to find friends. We were both students, working as volunteers with young people. I was young, optimistic, full of energy and positive feelings for the world.
It didn't last long though - neither the positive feelings for the world not the friendship. She sucked my optimism and faith in good will out of me. The more I tried to prove the world was a nice place, full of good people, the more she was trying to prove me wrong.
I went back home drained of energy and hope... And only when I left her overwhelming gloomy presence I was able to see it was her influence.

The Gloomy Loser loses out on joy, happiness and life - everything what is positive. What does she/he gain? The 1st Prize in The Most Miserable Person in the World.
I'm not joking. Many of GL actually do enjoy (if I use this word) and are pride of the doom and gloom.

What are the signs of a Gloomy Loser?
Apart from doom and gloom, it's masochism, sabotage and self-sabotage, pessimism, scepticism, worry, anxiety, apathy, hypersensitivity, self-destruction. They are unhappy and blame their childhood, life, weather, other people for that. They drain your energy, trash your advice (their favourite games are 'Why don't you - yes, but...' and 'Kick me'), suck the life out of you like out of you like Dementors.

What may attract you to them?Your own good heart, good will to help people and maybe even your urge to be a rescuer... Perhaps, like me, you think you may be able to share your energy, luck, optimism with someone less fortunate.
When faced with a Gloomy Looser don't do it. Their glass will always be half-empty.

Why are they toxic?Not only they suck life out of you, but also hope. Their doom, gloom and bad luck spread onto other people. If you're not careful, you may find yourself in my position - losing your faith in good people, feeling hard done-by, and believing that whatever you do will never make any difference.
Hopeless, isn't it?

When should your alarm bells ring?When after talking to them you feel exhausted, negative, hopeless or even depressed.

What are your ways of dealing with Gloomy Losers?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A healthy mind in a healthy body

6 simple, scientifically proven tips for better mental and physical health

It's such an old adage I'm surprised people still feel they need to prove it right or wrong.
A new paper by Roger Walsh, professor of psychiatry and human behavior from the University of California rewieved available research on the effects of Therapeutic Life Changes (TLC; do not confuse with TLC= Tender Loving Care, although it's not as much different).

TLC are simple changes in everyday life from nutrition, to relationships, recreation and spiritual involvment. They cheap, effective, enjoyable and don't have as many side effects as pills. Moreover - it's you who can make them happen.
You can make your life happier and healthier.

Here are the summary of Prof Welsh's findings:
6 Super-simple sientifically proven tips for better mental and physical health:

1. Exercise outdoors - it will boost your sense of well-being, improve your cognitive performance and reduce the risk of memory loss

2. Eat your fruts and veggies, and fish -  it will help you keep those grey cells top notch, and if you suffer from schizophrenia or an affective disorder (e.g. depression, bipolar affective disorder) it may also reduce the symptoms

3. Surround yourself with people you love and who love you, make up with your ennemies - having good relationships with other people improve your chances of being well physically and mentally

4. Learn to relax and manage stress - you will be able to manage your anxieties, insomnia and panic attacts

5. Meditate - it will help you become  more stable emotionally, enhance your ability to empathise with other people, reduce your stress and increase your brain size (sorry, brain only ;-)!

6. Get involved in a local community or become a volunteer for a charity - altruism and contribution foster joy and generosity and generally boost mental and physical health.

Same old same old? Yes, but now it has been oficially proven by science. Do you need any more evidence?
Don't wait for it.

Go for a walk.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Effective treatment for chronic insomnia

photo by graur razvan ionut

is a problem which affects milions of people every night (one third of adult population). If you ever had difficulty falling asleep, maintiaing your sleep or early awakaning, you know that insomnia is not only a nighttime problem. Lack of sleep seriously affects ability to function during the day, reduces quality of life, affect physical and mental health.
Here you can read more about types of insomnia and its causes .

Even one sleepless night can be a horrible experience (as an parent, been there, done that), but chronic insomnia is a struggle on several levels. One of the biggest challenges is treatment. Unfortunately, the medication which is currently used (succesfully!) in insomnia creates tolerance and dependence. It means that the longer you take your sleeping pill, the less likely it is to help you sleep, you are more likely to need higher doses, and if you stop taking it you may experience very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Is there any non-drug effective treatment for insomnia then?
Many doctors would use antidepressants or antipsychotics, even if the sufferer doesn't have any of these disorders because these drugs have sedative (soothing, calming) effects. However in many countries these medication are not licenced to treat insomnia. Moreover, as Dr David M. Allen warns in his post, there may be other potential side effects of long term use of antipsychotics for patient without psychotic illness.

If not medication, what then?
You should always start by improving you sleep hygiene.
If your sleep problems are not related to any other physical or mental health problems (chronic primary insomnia) American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the following non-pharmaceutical approaches:

1. Stimulus control therapy
(training, which helps the sufferer re-associate the bed and bedroom with sleep and re-establish sleep-wake cycle)

2. Relaxation (learning different techniques to help you relax your muscles and deal with intrusive thoughts at bedtime)

3. Sleep restriction (this approach suggests that you don't stay in bed when you are not asleep)

4. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) with or without relaxation (CBT part is focused on helping you change your beliefs and attitudes to insomnia)

5. Multicomponent therapy (a combination of sleep hygiene, stimulus control and sleep restriction strategies)

6. Paradoxical intention (in this method the sufferer is told to stay passively awake and avoid any effort to fall asleep)

7. Biofeedback

You can read the AASM report here.

Have you ever try any of these approaches? Did they work for you?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Toxic People part 1 - The Sellotape Girl (or boy)

photo by JMJast

'How is your new girlfriend?'
He cringed. The subsequent 'Aaaarhg riiiight' made me think he didn't really want to talk about it.
'You've even stopped coming to the club. No time for old mates and pool,' his friend carried on.
'Been busy,' he mumbled looking nervously in the window.
'Busy-busy,' the friend gave a sharp laugh. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink. 'Busy snuggling in the park, hey? I know. I saw you the other day. Holding hands and things. She was all over you, mate!'
'Yeah, she is a bit over the top.'
'She's quite dishy though.'
He sighed.
'I can't play pool in the club 'coz she's joined it. Get it?' His voice grew a little stronger. 'She's got no clue about pool and thinks it's boring but joined the club to spend more time with me. She's changed her uni timetable to go to the same classes. She likes whatever I like. She wants to be friends with all my friends. I've got nowhere to hide!'
'Oh, s..!'

He got off at the next stop. She was waiting for him. Slim, pretty, gaping at him with her mouth open. She tried to grab his hand but he hunched and he put his hands in his pockets.
She was all over him before the bus left the stop.

I don't know that guy, but he reminded me of a teddy bear wrapped with sellotape. And his lovely girlfriend seemed like a perfect example of a Sellotape Girl.

The Sellotape Girl (or Boy)
wants to be liked and loved so much they don't care about the price. They are nice, sickly nice, they always say 'yes'. They listen to you, they agree with you. They take up your hobbies, your political views, your friends, your breathing space. They want to be with you for the rest of their lives. They want to hold hands, do everything together - even go to the toilet. They wait for you. They give up their hopes and dreams (if they have any left as they have always given up their own things for other people) to live your hopes and dreams. They always laugh at your jokes, even the really bad ones.

They are organically unable to make decisions, take sides or argue. They are unable to exist without other people - they've never lived alone. They're terrified of being alone.
Their biggest fear and the drive of their all actions is the fear of being abandoned, so they do everything to avoid it, to keep you close. They need constant reassurance that you like/love/accept them. They want unconditionnal, neverending love. Their needs are so huge no one can possible meet them. They are like a bucket with a hole - however much you pour into it it never fills up.

Inevitably, they get abandoned. No-one mature and sane enough can stand this level of closeness and neediness for this long.

Sellotape People wrap around you so tight you can't to breathe. They have no spine and are transparent. They stick so close, peeling them off can be painful.
They are like sellotape.

What may attract you to them?Their affection, attention and dedication to you. For some people it maybe alos the illusion that you are The One Who Can bring them love and attention they need and deserve.

Don't confuse it with?
Many relationships start with the need for closeness, intimacy and sharing, holding hands and wearing the same clothes. This is normal in the first stage of love called The Enchantment.
The same is also true in close friendship (minus physical intimacy).

Why are they toxic?They wrap around you like ivy (or sellotape) and will take anything and everything you give them. They are extremely needy but also like buckets with a hole. Their needs are so immense, they can never be 'filled up'.
What they need is everlasting, unconditional love only mother can give them, with the closeness of 'two people being one' intensity possible only in prenatal and newborn stages. You can't give it to them, can you?

When should your alarm bells ring?When you realise you're feel stifled, constraint, can't be yourself, or can't fill that void they want you to to fill.
Or when you feel you want to dump them.

Do you recognise this type? What made you think this person was/is toxic for you?
What would you advise to people in a similar situation?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

How to recognise toxic people (introduction)

'I'm depressed again,' C would say slumping into an armchair. 'My energy is at zero. I've been sick. I can't eat. I feel like the life have been sucked out of me.'
'Have you seen your sister lately?' I would ask.
'Yes. We had a family do last Saturday.'

It would take C a couple of weeks to recover and she would function fairly well until the next meeting with her sister. C's sister was a 'professional critic'- ready to find a flaw in anyone and anything, and particularly C. She was very outspoken when it came to finding someone to blame for anything not up to her standards. She drained life and light out of C, but C was unable to defend herself, nor avoid her sister.

'My mum always told me that we had to stick together, because we only have each other in this world.'
It took C many months of therapy to be able to let her mother's death-bed message go and just take care of herself.

This is just one of many examples of toxic people. I'm sure you all have know someone who has made you feel the way C felt after the meeting with her sister.
I have met quite a few in person, and heard of many more from friends, colleagues and patients. As a result I had to learn how to recognise and deal with them to preserve my sanity.
I want to share my experience and knowledge with you in this little series of posts.

Here are 13 signs of a toxic person:

1. Talking or even thinking about talking to this person evokes bad emotions in you (anger, frustration, fear, disgust)
2. After talking with her/him you feel sad, stupid, nervous, inadequate, you lose your confidence and your self-esteem suffers.
3. You feel as if this person sucked life or joy out of you.
4. You feel constantly judged and/or unappreciated
5. You feel this person does not respect you, or you find it hard to respect him/her
6. You feel used, emotionally blackmailed, or abused.
7. You have cried, got drunk or ate a lot after talking with this person.
8. You feel relieved after this person is gone and don't want to see her/him any more.
9. You have felt like hitting this person at times.
10. When with this person you don't behave in usual way: you're tense, unpleasant, 'on edge' or stutter
11. You have to chose your words carefully and make sure you don't hurt this person when talking to them.
12. You have headaches, backache, feel sick after a chat with them.
13. You would rather never talk talk to this person again.

Do you recognise any of these signs? Is there any particular type of person who makes you feel this way?
What do you do to cope with the feelings they provoke in you?

These people may (and usually do) have their own 'issues' - reasons why they interact with others the way they do, but this doesn't mean you should put up with their behaviour at your own expense.
If you want to know how to deal with toxic behaviour, come back here. I will be writing about different types of toxic people over the next few week.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Do these bones make me look fat?

How unhealthy relationships can maintain a deadly illness

6-12 February is a National Eating Disorders Awareness Week in Canada as announced by Canadian Mental Health Association. This event aims at providing information on eating disorders and dieting, encouraging individuals and their families to acknowledge the problem and seek help, provoking changes in social attitudes and celebrate the natural diversity of body sizes.

Why is it so important to be aware of eating disorders?

Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating are becoming increasingly common, particularly in westernised countries, and are affecting younger people, also males. Eating disorders are associated with several complications, including osteoporosis, infertility, tooth loss, kidney failure or cardiac arrest. The most dangerous of eating disorders, Anorexia, has the highest mortality rate among psychiatric problems. 5% of all patients will die prematurely.
Anorexia is a deadly illness.

The beginnings of an eating disorder are often benign - a young person wants to lose weight to look better. But somehow they don't stop when they reach their goal.
WHY? What keeps this battle with their own body going?

As with any mental illness, it is impossible to pinpoint a cause or a reason for a person to develop this particular problem. Instead, we look at the predisposing (what we are born with), precipitating (triggers) and perpetuating (maintaining) factors in the bio-psycho-social model.

We don't have any influence over our predisposing factors, we can't turn back the time and avoid triggers, but we can try to change what keeps it going.

What keeps anorexia going?

What are the kind of interpersonal relationship that maintain the deadly course of anorexia?
1. Overprotection (kangaroo strategy) - too much emotions and too much controlWrapping the sufferer in cotton wool or treating them with kid gloves can make the sufferer feel suffocated, disempowered, unable to grow and become self-efficient. This approach reinforces the vicious cycle of co-dependency and 'eternal infant' feeling.

2. Criticism (rhinoceros strategy) - too much logic and too little warm emotionsUnfortunately, logical arguments about food and weight can't win with the illness. The sufferer's mind is so affected by starvation, it believes you inhale calories from the aroma of food or absorb them through the skin. Shouting and attempts to control the sufferer's behaviours may make them more rebellious and resistant.

3. Anxiety and hostility (jellyfish strategy) - with too much emotions and too little controlBursing into tears, cutting the family off the world, being angry, self-blame or attempts at being a perfect parent won't work either. This approach can make the sufferer feel bad for causing so much stress to the family, so they may avoid contact and stop telling the family what is happening.

4. Disengagement (ostrich strategy) - too little emotions and too much controlAvoiding talking about the problems at all not only reduces the chances of the sufferer receiving help, but also makes them feel unloved and worthless.

Which approaches do work?
* Just enough caring and control (dolphin strategy)
* Just enough compassion and consistency (St Bernard's strategy)
source: Treasure J., Schmidt U, Macdonald P. The Clinician's Guide to Collaborative Caring in Eating Disorders.

Here are links to trusted sites with more information on Anorexia, Bulimia and overcoming Eating disorders

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Games people play

A: 'I hate my job. I'd rather be a hairdresser.'
B: 'So why don't you become one?'
A: 'I don't have qualifications.'
B: 'Why don't you enrol on a course?'
A: 'I don't have time. I've kids to look after.'
B: 'Can't your husband look after the kids twice a week?.'
A: 'No, he's too tired after work.'
B: 'Could your mother babysit while you're at college?'
A: 'Yes, but it's pointless asking her because...'

Do you recognise the pattern?

I'm sure many people have met someone who plays the game 'Why don't you - Yes but'.
Once upon a time I lived with a girl who played it. She was a nightmare to live with. One day the girl read Eric Berne 'Games people play' and recognised herself in this game, as well as in Kick Me, Look How Hard I've Tried, Ain't it Awful and... She felt very, very embarrassed and decided to change it.

Several months of therapy and years of much happier life I still keep coming back to this book. It provides good introduction to Transactional Analysis (TA), talking about our inner Child, Adult and Parent and how these interact with different ego states of other people. But most of all Berne provides interesting perspective on the nature of human relationships, showing why people engage in games, invest so much in such destructive patterns of interations and why they are sometimes willing to put even their own life at risk to win.

Games people play can be deep-seated, engrained, incredibly distructive, and suck other people in. Are you an active player? Have you ever been manipulated into any of these games?
Would you like to be able to recognise them, or even stop playing?

Berne's book is an eye-opening, life-enhancing read, which is entertaining at the same time. Shame that while providing so much insight Berne does not give advice how to stop those games. Ability to recognise a game is not always enough to stop playing it.

Read more reviews on Amazon and an interesting application of Berne's theory to online interactions by Adrian Chan here
More about Eric Berne and his works here.

My Rating:
Life changing factor: 5/ 5
Easy-to-read factor: 4.5/5
Help-me-fix-it factor
: 3.5/5
Total: 13/15 (changed my life in a major way)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Night-night, sleep well

Photo by Dynamite Imagery
According to the newest study  The Great British Sleep Survey by Mental Health Foundation over 30% of Britons may have insomnia or other sleep difficulties. Unfortunately, their problems with sleep are not limited to tossing and turning in bed or poor concentration the next day.

The rapport also shows that people with sleep problems are 4 times more likely to have relationship problems and 3 times more likely to struggle with low mood.

It is well know lack of sleep can lead to mental health problems, (particularly depression), immune deficiency, and even obesity and Alzheimer's.
In a nutshell: good night sleep is crucial to sanity.

Those who have ever experienced insomnia know how frustrating it is. The longer you toss and turn, the more you realise it's going to be hard to go to sleep. The more you realise, the more anxious you become that you won't have enough rest. So you worry more and try more -  until it's time to get up.
Worse, in the night time seems to slows down, 15 minutes feels like an hour, everything is bigger and blacker. With little to distract us our minds go into the vicious cycle mode and we end up working ourselves up into increasingly depressed states of mind.

Although the survey don't reflect the demographics in Great Britain (e.g. 3 times more women then men took part in the study, while the ratio in the population is around 1:1), more robust studies show that more and more people have sleep problems.

Is there any way of improving your sleep without turning to pills?
Here's my 8 tips for a better sleep:

1. Have a regular bedtime and awakening time. Go to bed every night at the same time. Set your alarm clock for the same hour every day. It is important that your stick to your decision to establish a good sleep pattern.

2. Avoid napping during the day, or if you have to, don't nap for longer than 30-45 minutes. Every nap 'steals' from your precious nighttime sleep.

3. Watch what you eat and drink 4-6 hours before the beddtime. No caffeine, no alcohol, no spicy, heavy food!

4. Exercice regularly during the day, preferably outddors. It's not just the physical exercise that improves your sleep. Being outside, exposed to daylight helps set your biological clock.
Avoid exercise 4 hours before bedtime.

5. Take care of your sleeping environment. Make sure your bed and bedding is comfy, the room is quiet, not too hot or too cold and well aired;

6. Reserve bed for sleep and sex. No reading, no eating, and no TV watching.
Many people say they fall asleep while watching TV. While this may work for some, generally TV is likely to disrupt your sleep, because of violent or disturbing content or constant flickering light.

7. Have a healthy bedtime routine. Children need bedtime routines to 'put them in the mood' for sleep. It's a shame that we as adults forget about the benefits of pre-sleep rituals. They are easy to establish and usually pleasurable: a relaxing bath, light read, light snack, relaxation.

8. Don't take your worries to bed. Probably the most difficult advice to follow (been there, done that). A good bedtime routine may be helpful in putting this in practise

More advice on sleep hygiene from Helpguide.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How to plan your career change

photo by graur razvan ionut

A very good friend of mine has recently quitted her daytime job as a teacher and is launching  her business in tourism. My other half is cutting and polishing his CV, thinking laterally how to best transfer his skills and experience to completely new areas.

And so I am, considering my career options and digging out notes from a career guidance course I attended (a little absent-mindedly) a couple of years ago.

This is my DIY Career Guidance:

1. Set aside
regular time to think about your career

2. Make a list of things you want from your career. Make another list of things you want from your personal life. Be as specific as you can, e.g. 'want more job satisfaction' is too vague - get to the bottom of the problem and name the specifics aspects you want improvement in. Don't worry if what you want seems too ambitious or impossible - write it down anyway; you may not be able to become an astronaut but you may find a profession in which your need for adventure will be satisfied better than in your current job.

3. Make a list of your achievements in both, professional and personal life. Don't forget to include your achievements in sport, community work or hobbies.

4. Make a list of your skills - be as generic as possible when naming your skills, e.g. a doctor who is a good at diagnosing is a fabulous data gatherer and analyst; a tour guide will be a great organiser with excellent communication skills. Again, don't forget about your 'outside the workforce' skills, gained in household activities, hobbies, or voluntary work.
Here is a checklist of transferable skills gained outside the workforce.

5. Reflect on your personality and working styles - what you like and dislike at work. If you find it difficult, take a personality test (one of the most popular is Myers-Briggs Type Indicator).
Here's an activity to help you reflect on your working style and here's an article on career choice and career development using MBTI).

6. Think about career options, which match your skills with your wants. If you find it difficult, ask family, friends, colleagues, or a career advisor (check your local uni or search the web). Keep expanding this list until you find something that appeals to you.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

How to keep your toddler busy for 15 minutes (StaySaneSunday)

Anyone who has ever spent more than a couple of minutes with a 2-3 y.o knows how difficult it is to keep toddlers entertained. This becomes a gigantic tasks if you have to do it day by day, and for hours. How hard the job of parents of a toddler can be, only another toddler's parent can know. On the top of that many parents work, and all of them have to do cooking, cleaning, washing, shopping and everything else called life. Been there, done that.

Unfortunately, at this stage many children are still unable to play by themselves for longer than a few minutes.
Most of the time toddlers' parents are happy to play with their children, read them the same books gazillion of times, sing brain-washing songs and smile, but there are times in every parent life when they've had enough.

What to do if all you want is a little peace and quiet and your toddler is clinging to your leg?

How to keep your toddler busy playing on their own for 15 minutes?

1. Make sure that your house or the room your child is in is toddler-proofed.
Think: hot surfaces, small items, sharp object - anything that can be potentially dangerous in your child's hands should be hidden from his/her reach. Never underestimate toddler's creativity and ability to wreak havoc.

2. Rotate your child's toys
Divide toys and books in a couple of groups (boxes) and rotate them. Put a couple of 'favourites' in each box, but make sure that the Absolutely Favourite Toy is always out and available. If you have friends with a child of similar age, you can try swapping toys with their child.
When you feel like you may 'loose it', get one of the boxes out. Your child will be excited to 're-discover' his/her new toys.

3. Make up and have a 'Rainy Day Box' always ready.
Put a new toy and/or a never-read book, fresh art supplies, a new game, or things like your old mobile phone or makeup bag. Don't overuse it. The instant attraction of the RDB is its specialness.

4. Put them in front of an age appropriate TV programme or put their favourite DVD on.
Research shows that too much TV long term can harm a young child, and the maximum recommended amount of time spent by a toddler in front of a TV should not exceed 2 hours.
This is all true - TV should be watched in a healthy way and it's best when parents can watch the programme with their child, but when you're just about to lose your sanity, 15 minutes of their favourite cartoon may actually do more good than bad to your child, you, and your long-term relationship.

What are your ways of keeping your toddler busy when you need to restore your sanity?

photo by Filomena Scalise courtesy of

Friday, January 21, 2011

What to do when you are unhappy with your life?

Whether it's your job, your relationship, your life, or only just your head (or rather what's going on in there) there may be a time when you feel unhappy with it.
What to do when wake up one day and feel unhappy with your life?

The easy answer is to find out what's wrong with your life and change it.
But what if you don't know what's wrong with your life? How to figure out why you are unhappy?

1. Sleep on it.
Sleep not only boosts learning abilities of our brain by improving our memory, but also helps us to make connections between seemingly unrelated bits of knowledge we have and be able to see 'the bigger picture'.
This must have been known to our ancestors, since mane cultures and languages have their own proverbs suggesting that The morning is wiser than the evening. Many things, monsters living under the bed included, don't look as bad or scary in the morning light. It's the change of perspective.

2. Go for a walk.
Exercise releases endorphins - the hormones of happiness. Exercise also improves thinking processes, particularly those related to decision-making. Many people claim that the rhythm forced by regular breathing and the movements of their body puts their mind into a 'special mode' and enables them to think 'outside the box'.
Any exercise will do, walking is just the easiest one to take.

3. Talk to a trusted friend.
It does not need to be a long confession session, or a quest for answers to your problem. A good, honest chat with someone who knows you well and really care about your happiness (or unhappiness) may help you to reflect on your life. Remember - a problem shared is a problem halved.

4. Talk to a stranger.
Have you ever talked to a stranger on a train or in a waiting lounge of an airport? I couldn't understand why people would chose to share their biggest fears or deepest secrets with complete strangers, until one night in a chatroom. I was very unhappy after a failed relationship and I spoke about it with someone I never met before and never after. This person provided me with an interesting perspectiveon relationships and asked a question I'd never asked myself before. The answer to this question was the key to my unhappiness.
Many people find talking to a stranger easier: you will never meet again, so it's easier to be open and honest. People who don't know you are also more likely to tell you what they really think, while friends or family may be more cautious and chose not to hurt your feelings.

5. Talk to a professional.
Your doctor - particularly if you suspect you may be depressed; or another trusted health care professional.
You may also want to talk to a counsellor - a professional who is trained to listen without judgement, help you to see thing more clearly, provide you with a different perspective, or help you explore your thoughts and feeling. The point of counselling is better understanding of yourself, personal growth and development.