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It’s safe to say that it’s not an easy time right now – for anyone. With another national lockdown, schools and businesses closed, it’s not the positive start to the new year we’d all been hoping for. And as a nation, it’s starting to have a big impact on our mental health. Anxiety about job security, anxiety about your family getting ill, about money, home-schooling, returning to normality.
And often, it’s at night when anxiety really goes to work. When you’ve finally slowed down and the days' distractions are gone, you can find yourself lying there, awake, and falling down the rabbit hole of stress, worry and fear.
Anxiety leads to lack of sleep, lack of sleep leads to anxiety – it’s a vicious cycle. But
what’s one of the most important things for maintaining good mental health? Sleep. So it’s really important to try and reclaim the night and be intentional about fostering calm and encouraging deep, restorative sleep.
I’ve struggled with mental health issues, to greater and lesser degrees, my whole life: I’ve come to accept it as a part of who I am. And, although I can’t really say I always see it as a positive, it does mean I’ve developed a great toolbox of tried and tested techniques to help with nurturing calm, switching off and actually falling asleep at bedtime.
Here are my top tips.
Take a bath
It’s so simple, but the benefits of a nice hot bath are endless. Taking a bath can help soothe skin, boost immunity, relieve muscle pain and relax the physical symptoms of anxiety, like tight high shoulders and a clenched jaw. Heat, mixed with the essential oils from quality bath salts like Westlab can help you breathe easier – and slow, controlled breathing is a cornerstone of positive mental health practices, used in everything from mindfulness and meditation to childbirth!
And the benefits of bath salts don’t end with breathing. They offer a whole host of benefits from combatting stress and fatigue, to detoxification and reducing inflammation – all essential areas in promoting peace, boosting health and calming anxiety.
And, for extra stress-relief, you can personalise your bath with the things you love the most, whether it’s music, a book or simply silence.
Personally, I like to indulge in baths with the full spa experience. When my anxiety is high or I’ve had a tough day, I light plenty of candles, stock my bath caddy with pampering products and pour in a generous amount of Westlab Sleep bath salts. The calming scent of jasmine and lavender, the soothing oils, the flickering candlelight – it’s amazing how quickly I start to relax and feel the benefits.
Put down your phone
I know it. You know it. But let’s all hold our hands up and say it’s the piece of advice we always ignore. It’s become a bad habit for many of us; we’ve come to rely on mindless scrolling to help us relax. But it’s doing the complete opposite – we’re letting our final thoughts of the day be invaded by the looming deadline on our Google calendar, the snarky email in our inbox, the photoshopped selfie of an instagram influencer wearing a thong bikini next to a Balinese infinity pool, when we just ate half a cheesecake in front of Bake off.
Not to mention the infamous blue light they emit, which suppresses the secretion of melatonin and shifts your circadian rhythm, causing altered sleep and potentially even more anxiety.
It’s a hard truth, given how reliant we are on them – but phones are not that great for our health.
Get a routine
We constantly talk about the benefits of routine for children, but often seem to neglect the idea of a routine for ourselves.
And when I say routine, I don’t mean anything complicated – there’s no need to delay bedtime by two hours with a complex beauty and yoga regimen. Just a couple of simple things that are personal to you, and help remind your mind and body that it’s time to sleep, are enough. It could be taking your meds, stretching, moisturising, using roll on essential oils or reciting affirmations.
The comfort of repetition that’s found in a simple routine, that’s ideally done around a similar time each evening, will really help you to release anxiety and prepare for better sleep.
If your mind is still busy, try some soothing background sounds. I personally like the sound of a crackling fire or stormy night, but lapping waves, babbling brooks or even the lively sound of the rainforest work well. You can also find some brilliant spa or zen playlists on Spotify or YouTube.
If you’re like me and are prone to emotional triggers, steer clear of regular music where a particular melody or lyric might stimulate an unwanted response.
You can also get some fantastic guided sleep meditations now too – even Headspace is on Netflix! Experiment with different things and discover what works well for you.
Try lulling your brain into a calm, pre-sleep state by playing little games or making lists in your head. I often play I Went To The Shop And I Bought… or the Alphabet Game, for example listing all the foods beginning with C or all the girls' names beginning with S, to give me something to concentrate on other than my constant stream of thoughts. I guess it’s the adults version of counting sheep.
I really hope some of my top tips help, and I’d love to hear from you with anything I’ve missed. Tell me, what tips do you have to guarantee a restful night?
Jo, My Anxious Life x