Tiredness/Insomnia

  • A Mindful Approach To Insomnia

     

    If you suffer from insomnia, you’re not alone. An estimated 50% of us in the UK struggle to get a good night’s sleep.

     

    Poor sleep doesn’t just make for an uncomfortable night; the effects of insomnia carry on into the day too. For example, we may find that our ability to focus is impaired or we may feel grouchy.

    Insomnia can increase depression, affect our physical health and has even been shown to lead us to make unhealthier food choices. It’s a problem we just can’t afford to ignore.

    The good news is that one of the many benefits of practicing mindfulness is improved length and quality of sleep. However, unlike most other methods, such as medication or counting sheep, mindfulness requires us to kindly acknowledge and accept our sleeping difficulties, rather than try to cover over them, fix them or avoid them.

     

    Changing the Goal

     

    When we can’t sleep, the thing we want more than anything is the very thing that eludes us. Our only goal is to ‘just get some sleep’, and so begins the struggle. As the night goes on, our desperation increases; the more sleeplessness we experience, the more we crave to meet our goal.

    This conflict between how our present moment really is and how we want it to be can bring up a range of unpleasant emotions. We may get angry and find ourselves remembering past events that have annoyed us, or we may become overwhelmed by depression and find that our predicament brings us to tears.

    Mindfulness offers an alternative ‘goal’. Rather than trying to get to where we want to be, we re-focus our attention on where we actually are. We stop trying to fight the situation, and instead surrender to it with awareness and self-kindness.

    The word ‘surrender’ might have negative connotations for some people. But think of it this way: You’ve just walked into a pit of quicksand. Your natural instinct is to try and get out as quickly as possible, so you start struggling against the pull. Then you notice that the more you struggle, the faster you sink.

    So what do you do? Fight more, or surrender?

    It may seem obvious in this scenario. And yet so many of us spend each night fighting to escape our sleeplessness, when in fact we need to breathe, relax and let go of the struggle to fight it.

     

    Observing with Self-Compassion

     

    Perhaps you can’t sleep because you’re feeling stressed or worried about something. Perhaps you’re in pain. Whatever the reason for your insomnia, paying attention to it in a kind, accepting way will help your body and mind relax.

    Sounds familiar? Once we’re aware of the thoughts spinning through our head such as “If I don’t get some sleep, I won’t meet my deadline tomorrow” or “This always happens! I can never sleep!”, we can take steps to create some distance from them.

    In fact, you can practice doing this right now.

     

    1. Take a moment to really feel into one of these difficult thoughts, one that you often have when you can't sleep.

    2. Notice the emotions and feelings it produces in your body.

    3. Notice any tension or anxiety.

    4. Now mentally take a step back, and think of it as simply, “I am currently having the thought of….”.

    5. If it helps, imagine that the words of the thought are written on a poster, or a t-shirt, or on the side of a moving bus.

     

    Do you notice any difference?

     

    Self-compassion during this process is key. What can often happen when we can’t get to sleep is we get frustrated or angry with ourselves. Yet imagine doing this with a baby who can’t get to sleep.

    If we take our frustrated thoughts, and imagine vocalising them to the baby (imagine the words, tone and volume), think of what the reaction would be: more crying and still no sleep.

    And so, showing kindness to ourselves is vital if we want to become calm and relaxed, and thus more open and receptive for when sleep finally arrives.

     

    Join our Mindfulness for Sleep workshop or 8-week Self-Compassion Course to support a better quality of sleep. 

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  • Restore, Reset, Reconnect

     

    After a busy or stressful period in our lives it's important that we find time to reconnect with ourselves and re-establish our inner space.  This can be the perfect time to press the reset button, so that we can enter our next chapter feeling recharged and refreshed.

     

    In order to reconnect with ourselves, we must first disconnect. That means making time and creating space to be with ourselves. In an age where our inner and outer space are encroached upon as never before, by technology, media and advertising, it can seem quite a radical act to disconnect -- but the benefits it offers us are manifold. Below are a few ideas to guide you this month.

     

    Schedule Solitude

     

    Solitude has a crucial role to play in helping us to recharge. Prioritise some time spent in your own company, and plan something nourishing for yourself -- it could be as simple as a cup of tea in your local café, or a solo stroll through the park. Use the time to reflect on your intentions.

     

    Take a Digital Detox

     

    For as many days as you can manage, unplug from technology. Put down your phone and delete news and social media apps for your return.

    Disconnect from the internet. Bring your focus back to the people and places around you. Give your brain a holiday from the constant stream of information it is inundated with.

     

    Create Space for Silence

     

    Silence restores the senses and recharges the mind and body. Stepping away from the distractions and stimulations of life every now and again can do us the world of good.

    A silent mindfulness retreat can offer refuge and space to turn inwards. We may also find it rejuvenates the relationship we have with ourselves.

     

    Relax & Release

     

    Slow down, and take time to be, rather than to do. Give yourself permission to be idle, and to experience periods of openness that you aren’t trying to shape with expectations or fill with thoughts and actions.

    Relaxation slows down brain waves, which refreshes and renews the brain's chemistry. Perhaps consider if you need a retreat day to reconnect with your mindfulness practice? 

     

    Establish a Daily Practice

     

    We can extend the benefits of a reset by carving out the time to dedicate ourselves to a daily mindfulness practice.

    The more we practice, we are better connected to ourselves and our intentions, which guide the direction of our lives.

     

    Join one of our retreat days and make some space for yourself.

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  • Beating The Winter Blues, Mindfully

     

    As we fall into a new rhythm that brings darker days and colder weather, our mood can take a hit. For some it’s a sense of feeling low-spirited, but for others it manifests as a debilitating type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D), which causes symptoms of anxiety, hopelessness, irritability and fatigue.

    Research has shown that one in fifteen people in the UK suffers from S.A.D, otherwise known as the “winter blues”. Scientific studies point to a lack of the sunshine drug - vitamin D - as the culprit, which means levels of serotonin and melatonin drop and the body’s circadian rhythms are disrupted. So how can mindfulness make a difference?

    The first way mindfulness can be used to counteract the effects of S.A.D, is by helping us to build resilience - the ability to adapt to change and overcome the unpleasant things in our lives without being overwhelmed by them.

    Whether we’re challenged by low mood or cold weather, staying present and turning towards any unpleasant feelings with a curiosity and non-judgmental awareness can help to soften the hard emotional states that arise with S.A.D and strengthen our ability to bounce back in similar situations.

     

    Join one of our seasonal workshops or courses to help the winter blues.

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    Likewise, mindfulness can help us to understand and embrace the impermanence of life. When we stay mindfully engaged in every moment, with whatever is arising in our thoughts, feelings and experiences - we gain an awareness that change is the nature of all things. Understanding the truth of impermanence can benefit us in moments of low mood, as it helps us to realise that these feelings will eventually pass.

    The next tool we have in our mindfulness practice is the power of perspective. As the adage goes: ‘change how you see, and see how you change’. For example, instead of directing our focus on what is lacking over the winter – warmth, sunshine, nature in bloom – we can choose to shift our awareness to see its gifts.

    A time of endings opens the door for self-reflection, and the slower pace brings with it an opportunity to rest and recalibrate. A conscious change in perspective, if we practice it often enough, can become embedded in our brain thanks to neurological plasticity.

    We can extend this sense of wellbeing even further by creating a daily or weekly gratitude list. From warm drinks and woolly socks, to the simple joy of having a bed to sleep in at night – there are countless things to be grateful for over the winter months.

    We can use gratitude as a buffer against negative attitudes and mind-sets by bringing our awareness to the good things in life and taking the time to savour them.

    Finally, since mindfulness goes hand-in-hand with self-compassion, adopting a regular self-care practice over the winter months can also help to remedy a low mood. Ask yourself what can you do to make yourself feel good? Nurturing habits, such as long walks outdoors, warm baths and nourishing meals can all take the edge off feelings of anxiety and depression that are associated with S.A.D.

     

    Join one of our seasonal workshops or courses to help the winter blues.

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  • Mindfully Coping with Desire

    Bee

    Desire or wanting comes as naturally to us as breathing. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t want to survive, if we didn’t crave things like food, community and rest. Our desires and wants drive much, or maybe even all, of our existence in one way or another. And yet so much of our suffering is put down to desire – a wanting of something we currently don’t have.

    So if we want to be free of suffering, does that mean we must free ourselves from wanting? Or is there another way, one in which we can still enjoy the pull of our hearts (and the adventures and experiences that brings), without being pulled away from the moment?

    Why Desire Causes Suffering

    If we’re not mindful, we may find that our desires end up constantly pulling us this way and that. A good example of how this can happen is when we’re shopping. We might have started out by looking for one thing that we wanted or needed, but when faced with so many other products we soon find ourselves wanting stuff that we might never have even heard of before! Or perhaps we’re watching a movie, see someone eating a burger and suddenly we’re overwhelmed with a craving to eat the same.

    There are other forms of desire too. We can desire to be right, and to have a solid sense of who we are. These desires can make us inflexible and cut us off from being present. For example, when we’re arguing with someone, our internal dialogue is likely to be full of justifications, stories about how we’re right and the other person is wrong.

    Our desire to be right often gets in the way of hearing the other person, as well as truly listening to ourselves, so that we remain in conflict much longer than we might really want to.

    Instead of desire resulting in us following our hearts true calling, we find ourselves trapped in a perpetual state of never being quite satisfied enough, always wanting something more or different than what is, forgetting perhaps the simple things we set out wanting to achieve.

    Desire causes suffering not because of its existence, but because it so often disconnects us from ourselves. When our sense of wanting takes us away from the present moment, that’s when it becomes painful.

    Exploring Desire

    Through practicing mindfulness we can learn how to dance gently with our desires, learning to recognise when they become restrictive (cutting us off from our presence of being) and also enabling us to enjoy them when they are enriching.

    One way that we can become more mindful of desire is to consciously look into it, so that we can notice how it arises, expresses itself and feels in our bodies. We can take a few moments to close our eyes and really focus on something for which we are feeling a particularly strong desire.

    How does that desire feel in our bodies? What emotions does it bring up for us? Then we can go even deeper, fully allowing our bodies to express that sense of wanting. If we curl our hand into a fist, what does that fist do as we go deeper and deeper into our desire? Does it soften, or does it tighten?

    What happens to our posture – do we relax, or do we sit forward and tense up in our seat? In the midst of our focused desire, do we feel comfortable, or not? As we look at it closely, is this even what we truly desire, or is it a substitute for something else, some feeling or way of being that is currently lacking in our lives?

    By spending some time exploring in this way, we’ll be able to see whether we are binding ourselves to the object of our desire and losing touch with the present. We’ll be able to tell whether our desire brings us joy or whether it is actually causing us to suffer. If we do discover suffering, we can then practice letting go, even if it’s only slightly, coming back to this moment now and trying to tap into what it is that our hearts really want.

    We may discover that by simply becoming more grounded in our presence, we naturally meet some of the needs we are seeking to fulfil from outside of ourselves, whether it be through food, entertainment, a person, a career or a material thing.

    Forgiving Our Wanting

    Another trap that is easy to slip into is wanting to be free of desire. Because desire can make us tense and grasping, that may sometimes mean we don’t like how we become when we want something. However, by resisting desire, we are setting ourselves against something which is a natural part of being alive.

    Therefore it’s important to cultivate an accepting attitude towards this tendency that we all experience. If we can practice recognising and allowing desire to be, with a gentle compassion, we will not only be free of the more destructive sides of desire, but we can also enjoy a quieter mind – one that is not so full of struggle against what is and how we are in a given moment.

     

    Explore our range of mindfulness courses and workshops and learn to better cope with your emotions. 

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  • 8 Wellbeing Benefits of Practicing Gratitude

    Gratitude

     

    Increased gratitude is a common result of practicing mindfulness. As we start paying more attention to our thoughts, we notice where we block ourselves from appreciating the good things in life.

     

    Say, for example, that you always used to get angry when stuck in traffic, but now when you bring your focus to where you are (rather than where you want to get to) you notice things such as the song on the radio or a beautiful scene beyond the car window. We can’t feel grateful for things we don’t notice, and so mindfulness and gratitude go hand-in-hand.

     

    The Science of Gratitude

     

    Robert Emmons, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology at UC Davis in California, and has been studying the effects of gratitude on over 1,000 people. The participants in his study ranged in age from eight to eighty, and were split into two groups. One group was asked to keep a journal in which they were to write five ‘gifts’ that they were grateful for each day, while the other group had to write down five ‘hassles’. Some examples of the ‘gifts’ people noted were generosity of friends, and watching a sunset through the clouds. Examples of ‘hassles’ were things like difficulty in finding a parking space, and burning their dinner.

    What Emmons found was that those who had kept a gratitude journal experienced significant psychological, physical and social benefits: a 25% improvement in overall health and wellbeing in comparison with the group focussing on what had gone wrong each day.

    Here are just eight of the many ways in which mindfully practicing gratitude can improve our wellbeing, and the wellbeing of others around us.

     

    1. Greater Energy Levels

     

    When we experience sadness or depression, our energy levels slump way down. Sometimes doing the simplest of tasks can feel like running a marathon. However, people who kept a gratitude journal in Emmons study reported that their energy levels improved. Many also started exercising more.

    People with depression are often told that exercise will help, however this study suggests it may in fact work the other way around; that being mindful of what’s good about our life plays an important role in having the energy to exercise.

     

    2. Better Sleep

     

    On average, study participants found that they were not only sleeping 10% longer than they used to, but that the quality of their sleep was improved. They reported waking up feeling more refreshed and ready for the coming day.

     

    3. Reduced Blood Pressure

     

    With our current hectic lifestyles, high blood pressure has become a common problem. However, simply taking moments to focus our attention on our loved ones or friends, or on the beauty of nature, can lower blood pressure, thus taking the strain off our hearts, brains and many other parts of the body.

     

    4. Feeling Less Lonely

     

    Gratitude strengthens relationships, not just with people we know, but with other people in general. When we’re mindful of positive traits and behaviours in others, we feel more supported, and that leads to us feeling more able to support others in return.

    When we feel safer, we become less selfish, as we no longer feel such a need to look out for our own interests above others. This leads to us feeling less lonely and isolated, as we are more able to truly connect with others.

     

    5. Fewer Physical Symptoms

     

    People who wrote down five things they were grateful for each day became less affected by aches, pains and other physical symptoms. This ties in with other studies which have found that mindfulness can ease uncomfortable physical symptoms, even chronic pain.

     

    6. Improved Attentiveness

     

    As we mentioned earlier in this post, mindfulness and gratitude are very much linked. Over time, those who deliberately thought about what they were grateful for experienced greater attentiveness. They felt more alert and aware of life.

     

    7. Taking Better Care of Health

     

    Practicing daily gratitude resulted in many participants taking better care of their physical health. Mindful individuals tend to have better self-control and are less impulsive, in many areas of life, including eating habits. Add this to more exercise and better quality of sleep, and you’ve got an all-round much healthier life.

     

    8. Increased Joy

     

    When we steer our attention to what’s good about the world, we naturally feel a greater sense of joy. It’s important to note, however, that gratitude isn’t about denying what’s wrong; solely acknowledging the positive and avoiding the negative can do us much psychological harm. But noticing good things, when and where they exist, takes us out of seeing the world as just being a bad place where bad things happen. In truth, life contains both good and bad, but mindful gratitude helps us appreciate those lovely moments in life, whilst at the same time enabling us to make more of those lovely moments for others.

     

    The Mindfulness Project runs regular workshops, courses, retreats and drop-in sessions. 

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  • The Importance of Rest

    rest

     

    It’s easy to tell when a baby or small child is tired. They might cry, get super grouchy or throw an almighty tantrum. As we get older, we learn to regulate our behaviour more, and we become better at hiding our tiredness.

     

    We may still feel grouchy, but we can function. If we weren’t able to do this, commuting home at the end of the day would reach a whole new level of unpleasantness! However, just like when we’re small, our mood changes when we get tired. Whilst we’re able to hold back from crying and screaming, we might express our discomfort in other ways.

    For example, how many arguments with our partner/children/colleagues started because one of us was tired? Tiredness can result in poor judgement, mental fogginess, lowered capacity for compassion (for ourselves and others), and when it gets really bad we become more likely to have accidents.

    And yet, despite all of this, sometimes we are just as oblivious to our need to rest as a toddler having a tantrum. We have become so skilled at hiding our tiredness that even we can’t tell when we need to rest.

     

    Running on Empty

     

    We can stumble through our daily duties without noticing much about what’s happening around us, or what’s going on within. Before we know it, we can end up totally exhausted, without having noticed how we got there. Our bodies might be tired enough for rest, but our minds are still racing away, thinking and worrying about all the things we need to do.

    When we aren’t mindful, we can easily strain ourselves. For example, we might drink caffeine to stay awake, until we crash. If we’re self-critical, we can put too much pressure on ourselves to work long hours and not give ourselves adequate time to relax. We might forfeit sleep in order to get more done, and then wonder why we can’t switch off when we do eventually go to bed.

    Over time, this way of being will deplete us. Despite everything we might achieve through pushing ourselves, we will inevitably lose our sense of joy and our peace of mind. When we’re tired, the world can seem so grey. But by slowing down and paying attention, we can start to notice the beauty of life again.

     

    Listening to the Body & Mind

     

    Being mindful helps us tune into ourselves so that we can hear those subtle signals from our bodies and minds that tell us it’s time to rest. Whether it’s through meditating daily, or setting reminders throughout the day to prompt us to take a moment to check in with ourselves, the important thing is to make the time to listen.

     

    Are our muscles tight? Do parts of our bodies ache or hurt?

    Do we feel lethargic?

    When did we last eat something or drink some water?

    And how do we feel emotionally?

    Are we feeling stressed, depressed, angry, overwhelmed?

     

    If we receive a ton of yes answers, it might be time to get some rest! By paying more attention to how our bodies feel, we become less likely to get snappy or irritable when we’re tired, and more able to take positive action.

     

    Give Yourself Permission to Do Nothing!

     

    Doing ‘nothing’ may seem in total opposition to society’s obsession with ‘achieving’, and so for some of us it can be really hard to do. But it’s important. Apart from food and water, rest is our next most basic and essential need. So why do we feel so bad about giving ourselves time for it?

    In the same way that we set aside time to exercise, we need to deliberately take time to rest, both physically and mentally. Developing a mindful bedtime routine is a good way to wind down at the end of each day.

    For example, switching off our phones at least an hour before we go to sleep can help us mentally switch off from work and life stresses. Setting aside a regular time to meditate is also useful, and gives us a chance to check in with how we’re feeling.

    Just remember that any thoughts about being lazy, not deserving the time out, needing to do other things first, whatever, are all just thoughts. We do deserve to enjoy life from a rested mind!

     

    Explore our mindfulness courses, masterclasses and workshops.

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  • How Mindfulness Can Help Prevent and Ease Burnout

    Most kind of work brings with it some level of stress, whether we’re in a position that entails a lot of responsibility or whether we have deadlines and standards to meet. We may find ourselves doing more than one person’s job without the extra pay. Or we may simply just not enjoy our work and find that we are feeling stressed and low because we feel unfulfilled.

    Work-related stress may leave us feeling exhausted, disillusioned and all out of compassion or care for our fellow colleagues or clients. Burnout doesn’t just affect us as individuals, but also the people we work with and provide services for. We may find we’re more impatient with customers, or may get overly defensive when a co-worker offers some constructive criticism.

    Fortunately, mindfulness helps us spot the signs of burnout before they become severe, and can also improve existing symptoms. For example, studies have shown that after participating in an eight-week mindfulness course healthcare professionals saw improved scores on the Maslach Burnout Inventory – a test which measures factors such as emotional exhaustion and depersonalization.

    Recognising the Signs

    For some, burnout can creep up unnoticed. How many of us let our job take precedence over our individual well-being? Of course selflessness is admirable in certain circumstances however, when this attitude goes unchecked, we may start to see serious consequences in regards to our mental and physical health. Whilst we may think we’re doing a good job by dedicating ourselves so fully to the role, if our actions lead to burnout we’ll find ourselves no longer able to care about the role at all.

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops. 

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    Although it may sound like a small thing, recognising and acknowledging how we are feeling is of vital importance. We can’t seek support without first noticing that we need to, and it can mean the difference between taking a few days off work to rest and being forced to take a long absence because of severe burnout.

    Through practicing mindfulness we become more aware of subtle changes in our mood and physical health, and can start to notice more quickly when we are struggling. Rather than waiting for a full meltdown before we take action, we can read the signals of our minds and bodies and start to take better care of ourselves.

    Using Creativity to Re-Focus

    It’s hard to pay attention when we’re exhausted or disillusioned. Whether it’s paperwork, or interacting with a client or colleague, tiredness and disinterest can lead to us making mistakes. When those mistakes are to do with someone’s health, finances or important services the consequences could be serious.

    However, staying focused becomes easier when we notice new and different things about a person or situation. Simply changing some of our fixed routines can help us see things in a new light, therefore keeping us engaged. For example, if you’re struggling to feel compassion towards a difficult client, practice mindfulness when you’re talking with them. Notice your beliefs about the person, and imagine that they may not be completely true. Try to see that person with fresh vision, as if you were meeting them for the first time. Or if the problem is repetitive paperwork, make small changes to help you focus. Try sitting in a different place. If you can’t do that, change the layout of your desk. Use a new pen and notice how it feels in your hand, notice how the ink looks on the paper. Although these may at first sound like pointless exercises, studies have shown that making simple changes to our environment or to our relationship with an object or action can greatly improve attention and focus. When we’re engaged with an activity, responding in a mindful way, we’re less likely to make mistakes or feel stressed.

    Self-Compassion and Self-Care

    How often do we show the same level of compassion to ourselves as we do for our loved ones and friends? Preventing or healing from burnout is impossible without taking care of ourselves and practicing some self-kindness.

    Far from being a fluffy or airy-fairy concept, self-compassion allows us to perform better in our jobs in a practical way, by preventing harmful burnout. Self-criticism and compassionately noticing where we can improve are not the same thing. Many of us confuse being hard on ourselves with being driven, yet without kindness we are likely to drive ourselves into a breakdown rather than towards long-term happiness and success.

    Using mindfulness to become aware of the ways in which we give ourselves a hard time, and to step out of habitual unhelpful ways of responding to our own emotional needs, helps us overcome or avoid symptoms of burnout and will also make us better at our jobs.

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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