A couple of years ago, I spent a long period feeling pretty awful. I won’t bore you with the details – if you’re interested, you can read more about that here and here. For about a year, from 2017-2018 I suffered the effects of a sort of ‘mystery illness’ that left me feeling exhausted, in pain and occasionally a little bit desperate. The whole experience had a profound effect on both my physical and mental health – and taught me a lot about the nature of invisible illness, too.
Fast forward to mid-2019, and I’m grateful to be feeling much healthier. I take part in weekly Parkruns, manage the odd 10K, and in my spare time willingly fling myself into the icy waters of the North Sea. It’s easy to imagine such activities as the domain of those bursting with endless reserves of health and vitality. In reality, behind the Instagram photos there are good days, bad days – and rather a lot of naps.
When I trace through my route to feeling better, there isn’t one thing I can pinpoint as the silver bullet. It’s been a gradual progression – an accumulation of lots of little things.
In a lot of ways, I’ve built my own defences. A sort of armoury of wellness to stop the clouds from rolling in.
With so many of us feeling exhausted, in pain – and perhaps even a little bit desperate – I thought it might be useful to share a few pieces of that armoury.
Could any of this form the basis of your wellbeing armoury, too?
EPSOM SALT BATHS
It may sound a little far-fetched, but I truly believe that taking regular Epsom salt baths was a huge factor for me in terms of starting to feel better. I began taking salt baths late in 2017, after reading a lot about their benefits online. I’d read somewhere (I can’t recall exactly where now, but just go with me for a minute), that in order to reap maximum benefits in terms of mineral absorption and detoxing, it was worth staying in a salt bath for at least 40 minutes. And so, almost every evening for months on end, I did exactly that. Now, whether it was the bathing, or just the experience of taking 40 minutes to myself each day that helped, I don’t know (and honestly, I don’t think it really matters). What I do know is that the aches, pains and sore throat I carried around most days seemed to dissolve in the water each evening.
It’s a habit that’s stuck with me – these days I still take salt baths once or twice a week.
Another important thing for me in terms of general wellbeing has been journalling. I’ve kept journals on and off throughout my life, and while I was feeling poorly they were a helpful monitor of what I was experiencing day to day. Later, I started incorporating journalling into my morning routine, (you can read about that here), and it’s a habit I try to stick to during term times. These days it’s just a page or so of brain-drain, but it helps me offload feelings and emotions that might otherwise get ‘stuck’ somewhere inside my psyche. I notice a huge difference in my mood when I get a chance to fit my morning pages in (and it’s also a good way to incorporate a daily gratitude practice). Putting pen to paper helps me process my emotions and frees up my mental outlook for a positive start to every day.
MORNING GOLDEN TIME
On the subject of mornings, another helpful change for me has been developing a sort of ‘golden hour’ in the morning (again, this works better for me in term times). When my sons are at school, they have something called ‘golden time’ – a period when they can enjoy a fun activity of their own choosing (to the best of my knowledge, a reward for being good!) In a similar way, I allow myself an hour each morning where I do a few things that feel good for me – drinking a cup of peppermint tea, spending ten minutes on my journal, doing ten minutes of yoga and doing five minutes of strength exercises (these ones). I then say a few affirmations (more on that in a minute) while I potter around getting things ready for the day. If this all sounds a bit indulgent, there is a pay off – getting up earlier than I have to so I can get the house to myself for a while. I’d say the early wake up call is worth it. Like most of the ‘little helpers’ in here, it charges my internal battery and sets me up for a better day ahead.
QUALITY LEISURE TIME
Another important factor for me these days is leisure time. Making sure I carve out a little time here and there to do something positive I enjoy. Whether that’s reading, running, swimming, or spending time with like-minded people at my writing group – it all serves to fill my cup up, and helps make me feel part of a wider community. It took me a long time to realise that having leisure time isn’t selfish. And guess what? It turns out expending energy on hobbies can actually build up depleted stores.
As much as I love the digital world, I do often find it a little overwhelming. And as someone who absorbs pretty much everything, now and again I have to remind myself to take a virtual step away. For me, this means having certain rules in place around when and how I interact with social media (which, you’ve guessed it – work better during term times). Despite the lapses, though, I’m getting better at recognising when I need to go offline for a while and take a mental health-boosting digital break.
DIET & SUPPLEMENTS
When I was feeling ill, I made several visits to a qualified nutritional therapist and on her advice gave up gluten and dairy and took several daily supplements. For a few months, I even gave up coffee, and virtually stopped consuming sugar for a while. These days, I stick to a gluten free diet, but I have relaxed things slightly on the no-dairy front. And I’m back to loving a good cup of coffee (on the odd day, sometimes even three!) I have no illusions as a health expert so please consult a professional if you’re considering making any serious changes to your diet. In my experience, dietary changes, rather than being the be-all-and-end-all, work best as part of a broader lifestyle shift towards sustained and better health.
LEARNING TO SAY NO
One of the things I have always struggled with is saying ‘no’ to things. It’s often part of our personalities to want people to like us, and how are people ever going to like us if we don’t always agree to do the things they want?
Unfortunately the logic is often flawed here, and saying ‘yes’ to things we should have said ‘no’ to can often lead to bitterness and resentment. This is something I still struggle with on a regular basis. In the meantime, I try to focus on this quote:
Saying no can be the ultimate self care
AFFIRMATIONS/POSITIVE SELF TALK
Something I’ve found helpful over the last couple of years is saying affirmations. Affirmations are positive statements, said aloud, that declare something is already so. For example, one of my most-used affirmations over the past few years has been ‘I am healthy. I am creative. I am a writer.’ In general terms I might say things aloud like ‘I am happy, calm and anxiety free.’ When I became nervous about driving a new car recently I kept repeating the mantra ‘I drive confidently and without anxiety’. It’s ever-changing.
Try it, for whatever you might need to manifest – probably in private 😉 . (And if this sort of thing appeals to you, watch The Secret; based on the ‘Law of Attraction’ and the interesting premise that our thoughts and feelings might help create the experiences we attract).
BEING YOUR OWN BEST FRIEND
Most of us, I think, can be guilty of being a bit hard on ourselves. Whether it’s bowing to perfectionism, comparing ourselves to others, or just expecting too much on bad days, we all need to give ourselves a little break. These days, I try to imagine what I’d say to a friend who was having a hard time – would I tell her she had to pull herself together and get on with it? No I wouldn’t.
There’s always room for a little more kindness and compassion.
Especially if that means being a little kinder to yourself.
What about you? Do any of these tips sound like things which might help your health and wellbeing? What do you already have in your wellbeing armoury? I’d love to know your thoughts!
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