Tag Archives: mental health

“To sleep: perchance to dream”

That quote comes from Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet.  The Danish Prince thought that sleeping sounded a great idea.  It was the dreaming that caused problems.  Mind you, the guy was under some stress at the time, and that probably contributed to his nightmares.


You may be relieved to know, that having nightmares is very normal.  Everyone gets them once in a while, but if they happen often and you wake up in a sweat, or worse, screaming, then it may be a reflection of something a bit worse at work.  Nightmares can be symptomatic of a psychiatric illness or distress of some kind and are often experienced by people who have sufffered some trauma, such as abuse, war or a natural disaster of some kind.  In Hamlet’s case, seeing your Dad assassinated probably fits into two out of those three categories.

Apparently nightmares are most common in children.  Specialists think it is because they find it difficult to process things cognitively, so if they have a sudden shock or see something they can’t make sense of, then nightmares can be the way that they process the information.  Nightmares, and other dreams, happen during periods of rapid eye movement sleep, so the scariness of the dream can jolt you awake and make you feel very disoriented.


So how can you help prevent nightmares for the young or old?  Facing the cause of the nightmare is a good way of doing it.  If it is difficult to work out what is causing the nightmare, then try and work out what situations in your life are causing some stress and try and work out those situations in a positive way.

Another good piece of advice is to remove the scares.  If you do not like zombie movies and have nightmares after watching them, then… ummm… don’t watch them.  If you are like me, i.e. a complete wuss, then your range of pre-bedtime viewing is quite limited.   But I don’t like having nightmares either, so I would rather limit the viewing then freak out and leave my imagination to work it all out.

Apparently having a bedtime ritual is a good idea for limiting nightmares.  Do the same things every night at the same time.  If your child seems to have a nightmare at the same time every night, then waking them up slightly before the nightmare and then settling them down to sleep again is a great way of breaking the dreaming pattern and hopefully stop the regular problem.

bedtime snack

If you are an adult and get regular nightmares, look at your food and drink intake just before bed.  Do not drink alcohol at night, and do not eat before bed either.  It is not good for your dreams, and it isn’t good for the diet either.


Nervousness and Anxiety and what you can do about it…

Sometimes, a few nerves are a good thing.  When you are performing in front of an audience for example.  When I sing solo at Church, something I have done most Sundays for over 20 years now, I STILL get nervous.  Properly nervous, with wobbly knees and shaky legs and that sort of thing.  Interestingly, I rarely shake or wobble before I perform.  I get scared afterwards and THEN shake like a leaf.  I know, I am odd.


However… if you feel like you have suffered more than 4 panic attacks (and you will definitely know the difference between nervousness and a panic attack), then it is not a good thing at all.  In fact, it is a very bad thing indeed.  Why?  Because your system is saturated with Adrenalin and your body is living in a constantly stressed situation, never knowing whether to fight or to run for the hills.  This was great when you happened along the odd sabre toothed tiger… but not so great when you are just need to get the laundry done or go to the supermarket.

If your anxiety disorder is of a very high level (like the “I am not going out of the house ever again” level) then please, please, please get professional help.  I am not a mental health worker in any way and would not want to lead you astray with any advice.  If however, you get scared at the thought of speaking to a lot of people, or entering a crowded room, or you are worried what will happen if something or other happened, then perhaps I can help.

public speaking

Usually, if you do feel nervous, then that feeling will go away when whatever was causing the nerves goes away.  If it does not go away, then please see a mental health professional.  There is no stigma, at least not in my mind, in seeing someone who knows what they are doing.  I have done it, and it has helped me immensely.  So if you are struggling, then please, do what you know is right.

My book of choice this month, “Home Remedies from a Country Doctor” has something to say on this topic.  Here is how you will know if you are suffering a panic attack – you have moments of terror, with breathing trouble, chest pains, a heart that is racing, the feeling of choking or chills and hot flashes.  You can also experience dizziness, or a feeling that the room is closing in.  I am lucky enough to say I have had perhaps one of those in my life.  Only one.  I have no wish to repeat the occasion, but if it is only one, then I have nothing to worry about.  For an occasional bout of nerves though there are some things that you can try.


Planning ahead (which is one of my favourite occupations, because it usually involves lists) is a really good way of getting over nerves.  Effectively you are telling your subconscious that it is okay, you know what is coming, and it might keep your emotions on an even keel.

If your nervousness is caused by a phobia of some kind, then perhaps exposing yourself to what causes your fear is a good idea.  If you are horrified of spiders then I do not countenance a few minutes is a glass tank with a tarantula and their extended family, but if you are afraid of flying, then actually going on a flight can really help with that phobia.  There are courses run by several airlines to help passengers who are scared of flying, so look into it if you want to stop being scared.

panic attack

Another bit of good advice is what to do if you are having a panic attack.  You need to remember the acronym AWARE.  A stands for Awareness – label your feelings and your panic as just that.  You are not dying, you are not having a heart attack, you are panicking.  W stands for watchfulness.  You need to watch your own symptoms and as all panic attacks have a pattern, you can sometimes watch the symptoms come in waves.  Surf the symptoms as if they are a wave.  Wait for it to pass.  The second A stands for Action.  Stay active when you are panicking.  Don’t freeze to the spot, or retreat to a broom cupboard or something.  Staying active keeps the mind busy and may lessen the panic attack symptoms.  R is for Relax.  You can practice a lot of techniques which can relax you and also lessen the symptoms you are feeling.  They may include breathing exercise, distraction or biofeedback processes.  Have a look on line for relaxation techniques that might work for you.  And finally… E stands for Enjoy life.  Panic attacks happen.  Don’t let them rule your life.  Just deal with them as they arise and keep on doing the things that make you smile.

Knuts about Knitting…

My husband suggested a post about this topic, because he found an article on http://www.treehugger.com all about knitting and its health benefits.  He read it, and said that he sort of understands why I keep doing it and amassing crazy amounts of wool into the bargain.  According to the latest research, Knitting keeps you healthy.

knitting granny

Knitting is often used for therapy, mainly as a distractant.  This is especially useful in managing long term physical pain patients.  It has also been shown to help people with depression.  It builds confidence and can also mean that the knitter is engaged in conversation with interested onlookers without having to have constant eye contact.

knitting cables

Knitting is relaxing.  I would argue that attempting to do cable knitting is the exception to prove this rule (cable knitting is the work of Satan.  No.  It really is.) but apparently, all knitting is relaxing.  People have had measured decreases in heart rate, muscle tension and blood pressure.  I have certainly found that if I am tense, I have to force myself to relax in order to successfully knit my current project, whatever that may be.

Knitting connects people.  It may be the connection through what you are knitting and who it is for (Godson, friend) or indeed a link with who has knitted before you, but also there are lots of knitting groups popping up.  Knitting in a group is fantastic fun.  And great therapy in and of itself.

knitting 2

Knitting improves concentration, and that goes for all ages.   It has proved to be particularly useful for children with excessive energy.  In older people it has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia and for those of us between those two extremes, it offers a break from our busy schedules and provides a detox from the technology saturated world.

knitting 1

But best of all?  It makes people happy.  Both those knitting and those receiving the knitted items.  That has got to be a good thing!  So, this weekend, are you going to search out your knitting needles and have a go?  I probably won’t.  I will crochet instead.  But that has the same benefits.  I prefer crochet but that is just because you have half the implements and go twice the speed!

Enjoy your weekend, whatever you get up to.

The mental health benefits of learning new things…

I don’t know if you have noticed, but as of yesterday, there are a few new buttons at the bottom of the posts.  I learnt how to do that, all by myself.  Added to that, the blog post will also be automatically publicised.  This is great for me while I am so busy de-cluttering, redecorating and deep cleaning the house in preparation for it to be put on the market.  It means I can write the blogs, publish it and then let it be.  Of course, it will be the wordpress address which is publicised, instead of my own domain name, but it will only be for a few weeks while I get myself straight and then it is back to using http://www.ViridianHerbalist.co.uk (or http://www.ViridianHerbalist.com).


Anyway, I was so excited that I had learned this new skill.  I felt a definite upsurge in mood, and just felt better.  For a techno-dimwit like me to work out how to add buttons to my blog and to get my blog to publicise itself?  Well… it feels kind of miraculous!  I started wondering if there is a recognised benefit to learning new things.  So, I do what I always do when I have a question like this, and headed for Google to find out!

According to http://www.mentalhealthtoday.co.uk, Adult and community learning programmes can have significant positive impacts on the mental health and well being of people with mild to moderate mental health problems.  These impacts can last for more than 12 months.  This works particularly well for people who do not want to necessarily access the traditional treatments for mental health issues like medication or therapy.   In the research carried out the learning programmes were split into healthy lifestyle things like learning tai chi, personal well being subjects like learning cognitive behavioural techniques or aromatherapy, and creative expression subjects such as creative writing or patchwork.  All of these helped people.

tai chi

Why does it work?  Most of the articles I have read appear to indicate that the benefits for mental health are linked with the widening of social networks, improved employment prospects and the boost to self esteem.  If it is a physical thing, there are also the health benefits of getting more active and doing more as well.  All of this boosts a persons confidence, and a boost in confidence makes you feel less depressed and more able to cope.

adult learning

Please do not think that I am promoting learning as a panacea for all mental health problems.  I am not.  But if you are in danger of falling into something of a doldrum, then perhaps learning a new skill, or learning about something which interests you is a good way of turning things around.   I think the important thing is that you need to be interested in it.  It doesn’t help if you are learning something because you HAVE to.  I know that doing my accountancy exams did nothing to improve my mental health at all (because I HAD to study it), but learning about Herbalism is just dandy and makes me smile!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentines Day

Today I am breaking out of this week’s theme and I want to talk about love.   It seems appropriate considering the huge amount of fuss being made about this “Hallmark Holiday” at the moment.  I haven’t been able to move since New Years’ without seeing paper hearts and such like all over the place.


Incidentally, by love, I am not talking about the physical form of it so prevalent in the media.  Yes, it is part of the whole, and it is an important part of it, but it is not the be all and end all.  Despite what the mainstream media might suggest.


romance swans


Romance can actually bring health benefits.  Love can bolster your immune system.  Research suggests that happy couples who engage in positive conflict resolution have higher functioning immune systems than those who don’t.  By positive conflict resolution they mean talking things out reasonably and solving problems rather than having shouting matches and getting stressed out with one another.


Being in love can also make you physically fitter.  Get your mind out of the bedroom, I am still not talking about that.  If you go exercising WITH your partner you are more likely to stick to your exercise regime and make it work.  Stands to reason.  It is so boring going to the gym on your own or just taking a walk for the sake of taking a walk.




romance rose


Having an enduring relationship can also help you live longer.  Hubby just sarcastically remarked that it just felt like it was longer, but judging by the way he dodged the flying cushion, it certainly helps his reflexes.  However, research has shown that this actually works.  Apparently it is all to do with the fact that people stop indulging in risky behaviours when they “pair up”.


Romance definitely improves your mental well being, can clear up your skin (remember that glowy look you got when you first fell in love?) and a happy relationship means less stress and a happy heart.  It is all to do with the reduction of stress in the body and less free floating cortisol in the body.  Having your partner around when you are in pain can also help manage it.  Apparently it works almost as well as taking pills.




I am very aware that some of my readers may not be in a relationship or you may have lost someone.  So, I want to say this to you.  If you have had a very successful relationship, then remember those good times.  You will still get the benefit of them when you are remembering them.  If you are single and very happy with that state of life, then good for you.  Being positive about your life in all its ways is better than dwelling on the rough patches.  If you are looking around for a partner, then please don’t lose hope.  This is just one dumb day on the calendar, and your perfect match is out there somewhere.  They may be just around the corner.


Happy Valentines Day!


Sing. Sing a song. Sing out loud. Sing out Strong.

Apologies to The Carpenters, but these are the lyrics which popped into my head when I read an article recently in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.  (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/10496056/Choir-singing-boosts-your-mental-health.html)

The main thrust of this article is that people who sing in choirs, sing alone or play in sports teams seem to have a boost to their mental well being.  But the people who reported the biggest psychological boost are those who sing in choirs.  I am not surprised!


Now I have to declare an interest here because I LOVE singing in choirs.  I have done so since I was 8 or 9, and I am always singing while I go about chores and stuff.  I can’t tell you how much this worries the dog!  (Everyone’s a critic!)  My mother assures me I used to sing when I was in my cradle, up until very recently I used to sing solos at Church and I still sing in a large and highly acclaimed choir in Nottingham, near to where I live.

Why do I do it?  Well, I love music and as I don’t play an instrument, singing is the best way for me to participate in making it.  Luckily, I have a configuration of vocal chords which means I sing clearly and I am blessed with a very good ear, so if I can hear it, I can sing it.  You know, preferably in a high register because I am a natural soprano, but I can get pretty low when I need to as well.

I also love the sound that a lot of voices makes.  From Gospel choirs, to Male Voice Choirs, to groups singing sea shanties to Rock Choirs, to Operatic Choruses and good old fashioned Cathedral Choirs, I love it all.  I even have a soft spot for Barber Shop Quartets.  No, really.

from wikipedia

from wikipedia

But best of all, I love the rush that singing gives me.  When I sing a note that has been tricky to get, or the choir is singing one of those amazing oratorio choruses (Handel’s Messiah – pick one… any one!!) the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.  It is something special when 180-odd people are all singing the same thing to make a piece of music.  It makes me smile.

That is precisely the reason that singing is good for you.  The article says that it might be that the singers synchronise their heartbeats, and move together as they sing a piece.  Well, it might be that.  I suspect that it will all boil down to the fact that singing makes you smile.

By the way, everyone can sing.  Organisations such as Rock Choir (http://www.rockchoir.com/) offer opportunities for those who can’t read music, or those who don’t feel confident in an auditioned choir, or even those who don’t think that they can sing.  I bet you can.

all singing

As a Nun of my acquaintance used to say “God made the crows as well as the canaries”.  So go on.  Sing.  I swear you will feel better for it!