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.