Bookish Therapy

What I want you to know about eating disorders

Posted on 26 February 2019

It is Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Here are six things I’d like the world to know about eating disorders.

Eating disorders are serious mental health illnesses

There are three things in this statement I want to highlight. The first is that eating disorders are mental health issues. There may be physical side-effects, as there are with anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, but eating disorders are an illness of the mind where one of the biggest risks to life is suicide.

Secondly, eating disorders are illnesses. They are not a lifestyle choice. There is nothing glamorous about them but equally there should be no shame attached to having an eating disorder either. One of my most-detested phrases is that someone has “admitted” to having an eating disorder. You wouldn’t say someone “admitted” to having cancer or depression. We should not use this language to describe the process of telling someone about an eating disorder either.

Finally, eating disorders are serious. They have a high mortality rate but, as importantly, every area of life can be compromised by the anguish of these illnesses. For this reason alone, we need to take them seriously.

There is no hierarchy of eating disorders

We are used to treating all cancers seriously. We don’t dismiss someone’s experience of cancer because it is in stage one or it occurs in a particular part of the body. We understand that anyone who is given a cancer diagnosis deserves compassion, treatment and support. We recognise that a cancer diagnosis at any stage of the illness can cause fear and distress. So why do we think it is okay to perpetuate the myths of hierarchies in eating disorders?

It is not okay that body mass index is used to determine whether someone is offered treatment. These measures do not tell us anything about a person’s mental distress. Nor is it okay that people with a diagnosis of bulimia, binge eating disorder or other specified/unspecified feeding and eating disorders often find it so hard to access support. Again the particular relationship with food indicates nothing about the mental suffering nor the stage of an illness. Even if it did, someone shouldn’t have to suffer more in order to be taken seriously, which brings me to my final point in this section …

I want to debunk the idea that only those with a formal eating disorder diagnosis need support with disordered eating. Again, turning to the analogy of cancer, we would never question the treatment of pre-cancerous cells. We would recognise it as an important and effective part of preventing illness. Similarly, those who are struggling with symptoms of disordered eating, but who do not meet the threshold of the diagnostic criteria, deserve to have their experiences taken seriously. This is a sensible, cost-effective and, most-importantly, caring approach to take.

Eating disorders can affect anyone

Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, age, race and ethnicity. Of course, there are ages where the illnesses are statistically more likely to start and population groups in which the illnesses will be more prevalent. But that is not an excuse to ignore those in different population groups, or at different stages in life, who become ill.

There are some brilliant books and organisations that talk about this. A couple of books I found helpful to read to broaden my understanding in this area were The Eating Disorders Sourcebook by Carolyn Costin and Midlife Eating Disorders by Cynthia Bulik. 

Eating disorders are not typically about …

  • Food: Thoughts around food, calories, exercise can be all-consuming for someone who is suffering with an eating disorder. But eating disorders are not typically about food. They are about how a person feels about themselves, how they cope and (perhaps) things that have happened in their lives. It is important to note too that restricting or overeating are not the only behaviours that are associated with eating disorders. Some people’s relationship to exercise, for example, might be the primary way in which an eating disorder takes form.
  • Weight: Change in weight may be a visible physical side-effect of an eating disorder. But eating disorders are not about weight: they are mental health illnesses and someone may be very unwell without it being obvious to those looking at them. Similarly, people may experience fluctuations in weight without having an eating disorder.
  • Control: Even when someone’s eating disorder is, for them, about wanting to feel in control then the real issues are often to be found in the things that have created such a need for control. It might be a fear of not being good enough or a response to trauma. Whatever the cause, it is the illness that is actually in control when someone is in the grip of an eating disorder.
  • Laziness, a lack of willpower or not being educated about diet: People who binge eat often know more than the average person about what makes up a healthy diet. Similarly they may show incredible discipline in other areas of their lives. Even when this is not the case, to assume that binge eating is a symptom of a person’s character rather than, for example, underlying mental health issues is unhelpful. A diagnosis tells you something about how someone is suffering. It does not tell you who they are as a person.

Ultimately, everyone’s experience of an eating disorder will be unique to them. Only they can really tell you what may have led to their illness and what factors might have perpetuated its development. Even for them, the answer to these questions may be elusive. Therapy can provide illumination sometimes but that won’t always be the case. We can’t always explain why we get ill. At the end of the day though, what matters for everyone is being able to access the treatment that allows them to imagine a life beyond the eating disorder, irrespective of the cause.

Carers need support too

Caring for someone with an eating disorder is tough. It is like caring for anyone you love who is seriously unwell: it takes an emotional toll because it is hard to see them suffer and to feel so helpless.

Carers need support. Not because they caused the eating disorder. Not because the person who is unwell is being difficult. But because when someone is ill then it is hard for everyone involved.

If you have an eating disorder, I want to be really clear here. If your loved one is affected by your illness that is not your fault and it is not reasonable to expect you to care for their mental health when you are ill.

The truth is we can all support each other better when we are well. So if you want to help a loved one, whether you are a carer or someone struggling with an eating disorder, then (if you need it and/or think it could be beneficial) consider getting support to help you maintain your mental health. Nobody should have to face eating disorders alone.

Recovery is possible

Far too many people with eating disorders are told that recovery isn’t possible. Yes, recovery can take a long time. Yes, recovery can be tough. Yes, it is often more difficult than it should be to access good treatment in a timely way. But with the right support in place then recovery is possible.

One of the most hopeful accounts of recovery I have read is The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman. I want to hand the final word to her.

In writing this book, I want to say that it is possible to get better from an illness, to make for yourself a life worth living, but also that there will be days when it seems impossible. There will be times when you think: I cannot sleep, I cannot eat, I cannot hear myself think. I cannot remember how to be happy. I cannot keep going. I say: keep going.

If you want to speak to someone about an eating disorder or you are feeling low then there are a number of places you can talk to someone. Here are some resources available to those in the UK but please remember to do your own research and seek professional guidance.

  • BEAT: A UK charity that “exists to end the pain and suffering caused by eating disorders”. Services include a helpline and online support groups.
  • The Samaritans: A charity that “offers a safe place for you to talk any time you like, in your own way – about whatever’s getting to you. You don’t have to be suicidal”.
  • The NHS: The NICE Guidelines are clear about the treatment someone with an eating disorder should receive within the NHS. I know the reality is not always that simple but remember any failure to offer appropriate treatment is a reflection on the state of service provision. It is not a reflection on your value as a person. Your suffering deserves to be heard with compassion and respect. You deserve to receive appropriate treatment.
  • Private counsellors: If you want to find a counsellor privately then organisations such as the BACP and UKCP allow people to find someone in their area. Look for someone who is well-qualified and experienced in working with clients suffering from an eating disorder. Again, get professional advice and do your own research if you’re thinking about engaging support of this kind.
Be gentle with yourself.

How To Be Happy: Reading Around The World

Posted on 17 February 2019

I have decided to read my way around the world and I need your help! I want to find books that will teach us something about how to live happily or that are an expression of aesthetic beauty. My intention is to seek out, and celebrate, loveliness in every corner of the world. It is a treasure hunt for joy and wisdom.

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The whole world?! What inspired you to undertake a project like this?

Some of my favourite books recently have been about happiness in different parts of the world and three in particular captured my imagination.

The first book that awakened me to more joyful ways of living in other parts of the world was Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying. Next I discovered Meik Wiking’s Little Book of Hygge and then I ventured into Finland with Joanne Nylund’s Sisu.

Additionally, I’ve been reading some amazing translated fiction: Elefant by Martin Suter and The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang. Reading books from around the world was making me super-happy.

About the same time, I found Sophie from Portal in the Pages who was attempting a reading-around-the-world challenge. Before I knew it, a seed had been planted in my mind. Maybe I could do this too!

So what are the rules for your Reading Around The World project?

Firstly, there are no rules. This is a project of pleasure, not pressure. But the aim is to read a book from each of the United Nation’s Member States.

It’s going to be a leisurely trip. I’m allowed to stop in a country if I want and immerse myself in its culture, selecting several books if my interest is piqued. Or I can settle for a quick stopover if I am feeling restless and tick off the country with a single book.

Ideally, I want this project to help me see the world through fresh eyes. But inevitably my perspective will be influenced by who I am, where I come from and what I have known. Consequently, I am not going to be too precious about the relationship of the author to a country. They may have been born there, lived there, travelled there or have come to know it through academic study. The key quality I am seeking is that the author, or the work they have produced, feels authentically connected to the country’s values and culture.

I will read all books in English – alas, my language skills won’t permit otherwise. Where I am unable to find an English translation of a book that contributes to my knowledge, or experience, of happiness then I am allowed to turn to other media – an academic paper, a poem, art, music, film, a recipe – in order to find a little piece of joy from that part of the world. Sometimes I may read books, cook and find a piece of art!

The only real criteria is that whatever I find should enrich my life in some way: make me feel good or spark a new way of thinking about something.

How will you track your progress?

There will be a number of ways to keep in touch with my progress on this project.

I will be writing regular blog posts letting you know what I have learned about happiness! Any individual book reviews I do will appear in the library. For an overall summary, I have a list of the countries I’ve visited in books.

If you prefer something a little gentler then you may like to subscribe to my YouTube channel where I post a video every Sunday. I try to make them super cosy and my favourite videos are the monthly reading vlogs, which are little hauls of happiness in themselves. Or at least that is the aim!

Finally, the book I am currently reading will always be listed in the sidebar of this blog and you can follow me on Twitter or connect over on GoodReads.

Can I join in?

Yes, of course!

The best way to participate is to join the GoodReads group. Here you can keep up-to-date with all the current reading plans and chat about the books. Alternatively, if you subscribe to my YouTube channel then you’re unlikely to miss anything and we can talk about the books in the comment sections.

Are you the first person to Read Around the World?

No! Lots of people have undertaken reading around the world projects. If you like this kind of challenge then you might want to have a look at the following blogs:

The difference with this project is the focus on happiness. That and the fact I’ve decided to be super flexible and include other art forms too! Some might think of it as cheating but I like to think of it as a creative commitment to shining a light on some of the loveliest, happy-making things I can find in each country.

When will you be starting?

The intention is to set sail at the beginning of March.

The first book I’ve chosen to read is Beth Kempton’s Wabi Sabi so do get your hands on a copy if you’d like to join in!

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I hope you’re as excited about this project as me! If so, please let me know what books you think could shine a light on happiness in your part of the world or spread a little wisdom. I’m really looking forward to reading all your suggestions.

5 delightful books to boost children’s mental health and make you smile

Posted on 10 February 2019

There are lots of books to help children with their mental health and, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I think they can be pretty great self-help for grown-ups too! Here are five of my favourites to help children cope with feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, grief and low-self-esteem.

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To help with anger choose … A Volcano in My Tummy

Tell me about this book in three sentences!

A Volcano in My Tummy has twenty-five lessons, which offer teachers and caregivers creative ways to help children learn about anger. It provides ideas about effective responses to anger in an easy-to-read format. The exercises are designed for children between the ages of six and ten but can be therapeutically useful for adults experiencing anger too.

Give me an example of a lesson?

Lesson two looks at the impact of bottling up anger and looks at the difference between feeling angry and the behaviours that might follow. Teachers are encouraged to find a bottle with a cork so that children can write their angry feelings on a piece of paper and then discuss how it might feel to have the anger bottled up. There is a worksheet with a drawing of a bottle where people can write all the things that they might be bottling up. Finally, children think about other ways they might handle their anger.

To help with anxiety choose … The Huge Bag Of Worries

Tell me about this book in three sentences!

Jenny is being followed by a huge bag of worries. She does everything to stop them following her around but the bag keeps on growing! Beautifully-illustrated, this book explores how the worries make Jenny feel and what she can do to ease their burden.

Why do you love this book so much?

The worries in this book are represented by little monsters. They’re obviously very worrying but I’ve never seen anything quite so cute and their facial expressions are priceless! I like to think I do a great impression of them.

The Huge Bag of Worries has sound advice too, reinforced by the beautiful pictures. One illustration shows two of the cutest worries you’ll ever see. Each has a label on it  – one for mum and the other for dad. They’re sprinting as quick as their little legs will carry them. Some worries are “sent packing because they belong to other people”, the book explains. Mmm, you think: what worries might I be carrying around on behalf of someone else? Could I send them packing too?

To help with depression choose … When Sadness Comes To Call

Tell me about this book in three sentences!

One day Sadness comes to visit a little girl. She feels overwhelmed by Sadness to begin with but then, slowly, she learns to makes friends with her unexpected visitor. The pictures tell a thousand words too in this warm, comforting book that takes the fear out of sadness.

Which is your favourite illustration?

It changes every day! At the moment, it is one of the final drawings in the book where the little girl cuddles sadness to sleep so it knows it is not alone. On the wall hangs a picture of Sadness and the little girl holding hands. It melts my heart!

I’ve popped a review of When Sadness Comes To Call in the Library if you want to read more!

To help with loss choose … Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine

Tell me about this book in three sentences!

For any child who has to face the the death of a loved one there is Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine. Published by Winson’s Wish – the charity for bereaved children – this colourful book has activities to help children talk about their feelings. It reassures children that their feelings are normal and offers ways to remember the past and look to the future.

What activity inspires you?

There is an activity where you make a friendship band of the people who care for you: each thread represents a different person. Crafty activities are brilliant for offering mindful escape and it can really help to take a moment for this kind of self-care. The finished friendship band not only reminds you that other people care for you but that you have cared for yourself and can create more pockets of time to do something that might ease the pain of grief for a moment.

To help with self-esteem choose … What to Do When Good Isn’t Good Enough

Tell me about this book in three sentences!

What To Do When Good Isn’t Good Enough explains how to recognise perfectionism, describes how it might make you feel and offers practical ways to overcome it. Easy-to-read and straight-to-the-point, the book’s text is broken up with simple illustrations and case studies. The first book to make me realise I am a perfectionist!

What were your main takeaways from the book?

I had a much clearer understanding of how perfectionists think, act and feel having read this book plus I was more equipped with tools to help challenge, and overcome, perfectionistic tendencies. I’ve even begun to embrace the failure CV since reading this book! You can read my post on 5 ways to take control of your inner critic if you want to find out more about the failure CV.

Let me know which children’s books you love for boosting children’s mental health and do check out the brilliant resources provided by Place2Be who organise Children’s Mental Health Week every February.

Feeling stuck? How to find a new perspective.

Posted on 3 February 2019

I used to work at a mental health charity with a lovely lady called Diane. She often talked to people about climbing mountains. “When you spend all your time looking up”, she would say, “you miss out on seeing how far you have come”.

Setting big goals can be exciting. Sometimes it is necessary. But the higher the mountain, the more likely we are to feel that we have made no progress.

Here are my top tips for finding a new perspective of progress when you feel as though you’re going nowhere fast.

Are children’s books actually the best self-help?

Posted on 27 January 2019

We all buy self-help books with the best of intentions. But often the very thing that had us reaching for the self-help section in the first place stops us from settling down to read the book. We have too much to do. Our ability to concentrate has disappeared. We’ve lost all hope that the book (or anything else) can change the situation. So could we have more luck if we turn our attention to another part of the bookshop? Here’s my guide to getting the most from a hidden source of self-help wisdom: the children’s book.

Put the joy first

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How often have you ploughed your way through a self-help book only to find it didn’t have the answer you were looking for anyway? Reading should be a pleasurable experience. When you take a beautiful children’s book with an entertaining adventure of a story then the chances are that even if you don’t discover the answer to life’s woes you might have had a momentary giggle. This might seem like a small consolation prize but often getting our lives back on track is not about the grand gestures. It is about regularly topping up our emotional batteries with pockets of pleasure.

Keep it short

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Children’s books are brilliant at getting to the point without waffle, making them the perfect choice for when you are low in mood, concentration levels or time. An example of this is the very lovely Huge Bag of Worries, which is written by Virginia Ironside and illustrated by Frank Rodgers. The book explores how to deal with worries and one of the points that it makes is that sometimes we are carrying worries for other people. Perhaps, it suggests, we could hand them back. The simplicity and succinctness of this self-help wisdom makes it easy to remember and the accompanying illustration gives a visual representation you can squirrel into your memory too. In fact, I like to think I do a brilliant impression of the little worry monsters but the written blog form does not allow me to demonstrate. Alas!

Engage your brain

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When people have experienced trauma, one of the impacts can be seen in the links between the right and left-hand parts of the brain. I have no evidence for this but my sense is that children’s books help to bridge the two parts of our brains. On the one hand, they make us think about language, logical ideas, present and future. At the same time, they engage our feelings and creative selves. As such, my hypothesis is that perhaps they help us take on board self-help strategies much more effectively than books that only seek to engage our language and logic-orientated brains. When I experienced a bereavement, for example, the books on loss that brought me the most comfort were the books written for children and young people: in particular the wonderful Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine.

Say hello to your inner child

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The difficulties that lead us to pick up a self-help book might belong to the adult world but often the insecurities that are keeping us stuck belong to a much littler version of ourselves. Children’s books offer reassurance to those hidden parts of ourselves in a way that makes sense to them. For example, if you’ve read every self-help book on the market about getting a good night’s sleep and everything has failed then it might be time to think whether your inner child is getting in the way. Do they need reassurance that it’s okay to go sleep? Are they playing a power game at a time of the day that requires firm boundaries? Are they feeling unsafe or worried? Give some thought to what might be going on for your inner child and see if there’s a book on sleep that addresses their concern.

Reinstate routines

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Routines offer children a sense of safety. After a day of adulting, you deserve some cosy unwind time to help you relax into sleep and children’s books make the perfect quick read at the end of the day. In her audible book, Bedtime Stories, Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estés argues that we all “go to sleep as children and awaken as children”. Adulthood, she suggests, is “only a disguise that we wear during the daytime”. If you think this theory has merit then look for books with a strong sense of story-telling to introduce into your bedtime routine. Stories are the royal road to sleep according to Estés: “we listen with the hearing of a child to stories and we imagine images with the spirit of a child”.

Escape

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One of the things that can get squeezed out of our adult lives is freedom to be creative, imaginative and to inhabit a world of innocent fantasy. Children’s books offer us a ticket into magical worlds away from the tedium of our everyday lives. From the protest of unhappy crayons to adventuring around the world with kangaroos, there is likely to be something that captures your imagination. Choose well and your journey into Bookland can entertain and educate.

If you’ve been convinced to try some self-help children’s style then I have recently added a section to the library where I will be reviewing books for the inner child. You can check out my latest BookTube video too, where I chat about the self-help lessons that can be found in three of my favourite children’s books.

What children’s books have taught you something about self-care? Let me know below.

The illustrations for this blog post have been created by Le Petite Femme, who kindly lets people use her warm-hearted drawings for free. Aren’t they lovely? You can find her over on Instagram.

5 easy ways to take control of your inner critic

Posted on 13 January 2019

Inner critics can be very chatty. Here are some ideas to help you turn down the volume on nagging negativity so that you can chase after your dreams.

1. Try giving your inner critic a silly voice

Experiment by giving your inner critic a silly voice and see what happens. Perhaps imagine them speaking in a really high pitched tone or make them talk r e a l l y  s l o w l y. It is much harder to take the inner critic seriously when it sounds comical.

2. Do some Heuristic Research

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This is about giving yourself permission to try something different simply to see what happens. The important thing to remember is that you’re not aiming for a particular outcome. If you discover something doesn’t work then congratulate yourself. This isn’t failing. It’s a valid result and furthers your knowledge. The inner critic will find it hard to argue in this research environment of permissiveness and gentle curiosity.

Importantly, the fault (if there is one) isn’t in you. Even if 99.9% of the population think what you’re doing is the answer to all of life’s problems then that doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong if it doesn’t work for you. It means you’ve discovered something quite exciting about the thing you’re researching. It’s pretty amazing if you think about it.

What’s more, even if you’re in the 0.1% of people for whom it doesn’t work then you won’t be alone. Someone else out there will be wondering why it doesn’t work for them too and, more importantly, what might help. So brush yourself off and move onto the next thing.

I wonder if an example might help here. Take, for example, meditation. It helps lots of people manage mental health symptoms. But if you’re unable to maintain a regular meditation practice (or it makes you more anxious) then you won’t be alone. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to write off meditation completely, although you might choose to do that and look for an alternative way to improve your mental health instead. But perhaps you still really want to get the hang of meditation, in which case you need to find out what helps you feel better about meditating each day. It is, essentially, a research question about the meditation process and what helps people stick to it: there’s nothing wrong with you. And imagine how amazing it would be if you could find something that helps you feel more at ease with maintaining a regular meditation practice? There’d be people lining up to hear your secret! So don’t despair and keep on researching.

If you wanted to learn more about heuristic research then Moustakas’ book is a good starting point. You can probably borrow it from your local library if you enquire. It outlines the different stages of the heuristic research process. My favourite is incubation, whereby a planted seed undergoes “silent nourishment, support, and care” towards a creative outcome. Delightful.

3. Tell your inner critic to stop it

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If you give Inner critic airtime then it will probably make the most of it. What’s more, before you know it, Inner Critic will probably start to demand a daily radio show and a pay rise. Meanwhile, the brain will get used to the sound of Inner Critic. It might even begin to miss it if it’s not there! So, start getting strict with Inner Critic and tell it that its contract has come to an end.

Stop it. These are the only two words you need for this one.

“But …”, Inner Critic will start
“Stop it”
“I really do …”
“Stop it”

You may find this approach doesn’t have much impact at the start but keep at it. It will take Inner Critic and the brain time to adjust to this new soundscape. The more you reinforce your Stop It message though then the more chance you have of regaining control.

4. Find out what your inner critic is worried about

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Often our inner critics begin life wanting to help. They think they can protect us from being hurt or disappointed. If your inner critic won’t be quiet then it may be worth spending a little bit of time listening to its concerns and seeing if there’s a way of reassuring it.

It’s best to listen to Inner Critic when you have some time and you are feeling calm. If Inner Critic is talking when you’re not feeling that way then use the Stop It approach or try telling it that you can’t listen now but will give it half an hour as soon as you can.

Then listen to Inner Critic as you would a child. The things it’s saying may not be true but Inner Critic probably feels they’re true. It’s probably feeling quite scared and upset. Acknowledge its concerns, offer it reassurance and let it know that it’s safe. If it doesn’t feel under threat then you may find it quietens down of its own accord. You may even begin to discover its playful, kinder side.

Remember, Inner Critic may have started out life with your best interests at heart. It may even be trying to help you now. But if you’re finding that it’s holding you back or its helping mechanisms have become positively unhelpful then it’s okay to explain gently what would be more helpful to you now.

5. Write your failure CV

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One of the ways our inner critic manages to hold such power over us is because it assumes that we’re afraid of failing or being seen in a bad light. Often it’s right. But by changing our relationship with the idea of failure then the inner critic’s threats will begin to be less scary.

Many of us grow up thinking that failure is a bad thing but failure is an integral part of success. Imagine trying to break a world record. How many times will you fail before you succeed? If you stopped at the first “failure”, you would never get there. It’s a little like the quote says: “You only fail when you stop trying”. I’d like to amend that a bit. If you stop trying because you decide something’s really not working for you then that’s not failure. It’s reevaluating something. But you get the idea. If you want to succeed then there are going to be bumps in the road.

Something that I think really helps to put a positive spin on failure is the failure CV. If your failure CV is pretty short then the likelihood is that your “success CV” isn’t where it would be in your dreams. Often the people we see as “successful” have a long trail of failures behind them. Not convinced? Check out these failure CVs.

There is also a TED playlist on the benefits of failure, which you can check out below.

I would love to know what helps you take a curious, rather than critical, approach to the world. Chat to me below!

15 alternatives to adult colouring books

Posted on 23 September 2018

Adult colouring books have grown significantly in popularity. But maybe you have found that they don’t work for you or you have become bored of them. If so, don’t worry: I have fifteen alternatives to adult colouring books right here!

1) Origami

Lose yourself in the art of folding! Origami can be incredibly mindful … and sometimes, I admit, a little bit tricky. But the complexities are balanced out by the beautiful things you can create and the sense of satisfaction that can be gained as you improve your folding skills.

If you want to really immerse yourself in the mindfulness of folding then this beautiful little book is a great starting point: Buddhist Origami: 15 Easy-to-make symbols to bring peace, wisdom and harmony to your home. Each project explains the meaning behind the symbol so your origami art can act as a contemplative object once you’ve finished!

I can also recommend a great little film on origami to help you appreciate the amazing world of paper folding. It’s called Between the Folds and you can watch the trailer here. An absolutely fascinating documentary!

2) Yo-Yos

Yo-Yos might not seem the most obvious alternative to colouring books for adults but I think they could surprise you! I got my yo-yo from Wilkos on a bit of an impulse but was amazed at how calming I found it. If you don’t believe me then have a look at this post on yo-yoing as meditation!

3) Sewing

Sewing is another one that can fall into the category of mindful and sometimes very annoying! If you’re having one of those days where the needle becomes unthreaded a thousand times then it may not be that stress-relieving. But get in the groove and it can be very relaxing. If you want to start with a relatively simple project then I have a great little tissue holder coming up for you. This project is not only fun to make but it also makes a great gift!

4) Create your own art

Now I promise that you don’t need to be good at art to enjoy the mindful effects of this colouring books alternative! If you don’t trust your creative instincts, there are some great tutorials on how to create something that is beautiful and allows a sense of achievement. For example, why not check out Kathryn Costa’s 100 Mandala Challenge.

5) Cooking

This is not any cooking. No, this needs to be cooking that engages all the senses. Think picking leaves off fresh herbs with the amazing scents that creates – thyme is particularly lovely for this I feel. If you prefer something a little sweeter, perhaps have a go at jam making. This is, I confess, something I haven’t personally tried but I am told that it is impossible to feel unhappy when making jam! Maybe one day I will put that to the test and let you know how I get on.

6) Jigsaw puzzles

This is a good straightforward alternative to colouring (depending on the puzzle you choose). Plus it doesn’t need to cost much money at all as you can often pick up a puzzle fairly cheaply at a charity shop. I think it makes a lovely addition to a mindful moments box.

7) Gardening

I used to have a little allotment strip as part of a scheme encouraging people to grow their own food. There may be similar projects in your area where you can indulge in some gardening fun. If you don’t have a garden or access to any outdoor space then you can expand your collection of houseplants. Poppy Deyes’ blog provides lots of inspiration in this area. Here are three of her posts to get you started.

8) Green cleaning

Believe it or not if you get yourself in the right mindset then cleaning can be as mindful and therapeutic as colouring! Personally I struggle to get into the zone for this one but one thing that can help me out is making my cleaning as green as possible. Think aromatherapy oils, homemade cleaning products in beautiful glass bottles and a cute metal cleaning caddy. Plus the rewards are great: a peaceful, decluttered, calm environment in which to enjoy other alternatives to adult colouring books!

9) Walking

This might feel a bit less creative than colouring but it’s a great way to combine mindfulness with some exercise! Below Adam Ford, author of The Art of Mindful Walking, discusses the origins of mindfulness and it’s application in a modern world.

10) Make a pinch pot

This colouring books alternative is another for which you want to head over to Poppy Deyes’ blog. Her post on making your own Marble Pinch Pot is a delight. Once you have mastered pinch pots then you can try other clay-related objects  – Poppy also had a go at a couple of candle holders and some little dishes to hold her salt and pepper!

11) Chant

I promise you don’t need to do this in public but chanting, singing or some other form of musical activity can sweep you into moment-to-moment existence. Singing skills are not required necessarily so if you want to give this a go then why not take a look at this book on Tibetan Sound Healing, which comes with an audio guide too! Available via Kindle and with a link to enable you to access the audio files online then you can get going straight away!

If you do fancy combining your sound-creating endeavours with some socialising then there is likely to be a local choir you could try or you could find yourself a teacher to help you find your voice (either vocally or instrumentally). Scales and technical exercises are particularly good for mindfulness I find … at least they are once you know them!

12) Stone balancing

Stone balancing, which is as it is described, is a new discovery for me. Michael Grab of Gravity Glue explains that in his experience a core non-physical element of stone balancing is meditation.

… it helps to breathe slowly, clear the mind, and relax, while remaining alert. Something to note: this meditate state seems also a natural symptom of feeling for balancing points. Achieving a challenging balance requires patience, and becoming fully in touch with NOW … The trick I’ve found is to PLAY and experiment. Start simple. Step by step, add complications if you feel. (Source: About Gravity Glue)

Demonstrating this patience on an epic scale, you can watch the mind-bogglingly amazing Adrian Gray balancing a ten-tonne sculpture. If you’re inspired by this or Michael Grab’s beautiful photographs to have a go at something on a more modest scale then have a look at Peter Juhl’s book, Center of Gravity: A guide to the practice of rock balancing. One reader commented: “Within hours he [Dad] was balancing his own rocks, I think it really helped him in a meditative way”. So as well as being amazing for you, this could be a great present for people who are more into problem-solving than colouring! Juhl has also written a very interesting article on sculpture in the moment, which you can find on his website. And I have one final video that explains the art of rock balancing … I have to confess I have become a bit obsessed with this art form! Beautiful.

13) Knitting

Now this does have the potential to be annoying if it’s going wrong. However, mix in a fireplace, armchair, cups of tea, maybe some friends, perhaps some cake … it could really put you in touch with your sense of hygge! And you know what I’m going to say don’t you … you can end up with some really cute things. A water bottle cover makes a nice easy starter project or you could go for something more challenging and make yourself a jumper? That should keep you mindful for months!

14) Bullet journal

If you’ve not discovered bullet journalling yet then this one could be for you. Few things relax me as much as bullet journalling and it’s productive too! In its original form, the system developed by Ryder Carroll is a fairly colourless affair, although no less brilliant or mindful for that. But people have taken the theory behind it and turned it into an art form! This is a little like colouring but more personal and purposeful. If drawing isn’t your thing then there are lots of stickers you can get for bullet journals and beautiful washi tapes for decoration too.

15) Watching other people be mindful

If you’re all out of energy then sometimes it can be quite nice just to spend a little time wrapped in a blanket watching other people being mindful. After watching the Book Castle’s beautiful video below you might even get inspired to do some mindful colouring! But in case you’re still not convinced then jump ahead for my final alternatives to adult colouring books.

Final alternatives to adult colouring books

Adult colouring books encourage us to be in the moment, indulge in a task completely and switch our brains to calm mode. Believe it or not, it is possible to achieve this state in our everyday activities. So a final alternative to adult colouring books doesn’t involve anything special at all but just a reminder that it is possible to do everything mindfully.

Whether it be the washing up or a data entry task at work, sinking into something and staying present in the moment is a skill you can develop. Adult colouring books provide a reminder of the importance of this type of self-care but don’t feel that a calm headspace needs to be limited to pockets of your day.

I am sure there are lots of other brilliant alternatives out there and would love to hear what helps you when you need a moment of engaged calm. Let me know in the comments below.

5 easy ways to start a daily gratitude practice

Posted on 23 September 2018

If you’re like me then you will start most years with a resolution to meditate more but, before you know it, your meditation time turns into an excuse to curl up in bed with your eyes closed in the middle of the day. Just me?

Meditating and practising gratitude are both great ways to improve your mental health. So if you’re struggling with traditional meditation then here are five different ways to establish (and benefit from) a daily gratitude practice.

1. Gratitude journalling

Make a note of three things in your diary or bullet journal. If you’re such a busy bee that there isn’t room then how about treating yourself to one of the lovely gratitude journals that are available? Here are three journals for you to check out.

You can get apps to record Gratitude too but there is something very lovely about giving yourself some offline time to think about this either as you start your day or before you go to sleep.

Annie Clarke talks about how keeping a gratitude journal has helped her.

2. Make a happiness haul

Each month I make a happiness haul over on my YouTube channel. If you want to do something similar without spending a lot of time editing then there is a lovely app called 1 Second Everyday, which allows you to capture a moment of every day and then pops them into a little video for you. It is so easy to use and it is amazing how watching just one second of film from a day can evoke the happy feelings you felt at that point in time.

3. Use social media

There are lots of people using social media to keep track of happy-making moments. For example, Dr Pooky Knightsmith tweets #3GoodThings every day. Social media can so often make us feel as though our lives are lacking in comparison to others. This is a lovely way to take a moment to focus in on your own life and consider what things you have to appreciate. Plus, if you’re like me and spend a lot of time online then it is a great way of receiving a little prompt to stop and take a moment to be grateful.

4. Make a good things jar or gratitude calendar

All you need for this is a glass jar, some pens and paper! Decorate your jar in whatever way you want and then write your happy moments onto a piece of paper at the end of each day and pop them in your jar. You could also note down lovely things people say about you or little quotes that make you reflect on what there is to appreciate. At the end of the year, or when you are feeling blue, you can look back over your good things jar and celebrate all the lovely things.

A variation on this, which I love, is to keep a little box of index cards or postcards. Each day you write one thing you are grateful for on one of the cards alongside the date. Then the next year you add another thing, looking back at the things you were grateful for in previous year(s). Not only does this give you a double, triple or quadruple dose of gratitude for no more effort but it may also act as a reminder of joyful things. There are some brilliant instructions about how to make your own gratitude calendar over on The Humble Foodie blog.

5. Build moments of beauty and joy into your everyday life

One of the things people sometimes recommend is building a prompt into your day to remind you to spend a little time thinking about all the good things in your life. For example, when you drink your morning coffee, you might get into the habit of thinking about the people, moments or things for which you’re thankful. You might get a gratitude pebble, make a little charm with words that you associate with gratitude or there are packs of gratitude cards at the School of Life that you could use as a prompt.

But another way to think about this is to simply build as much joy into your everyday life as possible. As Marie Kondo explains in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, if you surround yourself with things that bring you joy then gratitude will come naturally. Every time you cook with a lovely saucepan or make the bed up with some beautiful sheets or water your plants then you will feel a little bit of gratitude for the beauty in the world. Take these everyday moments and infuse as much loveliness into them as possible. Drink your favourite tea out of a cup with a saucer. Even if you’re having a microwave meal, spend time to put it on a plate. Make what you are doing feel as happy-making as you can. The same applies to the books we read, music we listen to and people we spend time with. Choose to spend time on what brings you joy. As I say, when you do this, gratitude naturally follows.

What other ways do you use to build a practice of gratitude into your everyday life? Let me know in the comments below or head over to Twitter to let me know your #3GoodThings. I would love to hear from you.