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Happiness Weekly’s best tips for helping others

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You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you. John Bunyan

The efficiencies of the internet are moving us towards a more insular world and it is becoming more difficult to be mindful of helping others. According to the Dalai Lama that is our sole purpose in being here on earth – to share our compassion and help others.

The Pay It Forward movement has been particularly active on Facebook this year. You may have noticed several posts that read:

“To start this year off in a caring way I’m participating in this Pay-It-Forward initiative:

I don’t usually buy into these things, but due to a recent act of generosity I have decided to get involved, this is for real.

The first five people who comment on this status with “I’m in”, will receive a surprise from me at some point in this calendar year – anything from a book, a ticket, a visit, something home grown or made, a postcard, absolutely any surprise!

There will be no warning and it will happen when the mood comes over me and I find something that I believe would suit you and make you happy.

These five people must make the same offer in their Facebook status and distribute their own joy. Simply copy this text onto your profile (don’t share) so we can form a web of connection and kindness.

Let’s do more nice and loving things for each other in 2014, without any reason other than to make each other smile and to show that we think of each other. Here’s to a more enjoyable, more friendly and love-filled year.”

So while our modern world seems to be encouraging selfishness, greed and isolation – Happiness Weekly looks at some ways that you can help others this week without having an agenda of your own. Truly helping others means there’s nothing in it for you – in fact, the person you may help may never be able to repay you and that’s the ultimate aspiration in truly helping others.

 

The benefits of helping others includes:
-          Connecting you to someone in an otherwise very lonely world
-          Enhancing someone else’s life
-          Making the world a better place to live

Things you can do to help others
-          Teach them something new
-          Smile and be friendly
-          Volunteer for a charity
-          Start your own charity
-          Make a donation
-          Share your knowledge
-          Help someone do something – e.g. cross the street, change a flat tyre, get from A to B
-          Donate something you don’t use
-          Comfort someone
-          Buy food for a homeless person
-          Listen to someone
-          Do a chore for someone
-          Send a nice email
-          Share your favourite things (movie, song etc) – if you enjoyed it, someone else may too
-          Give a loved-one a massage
-          Praise someone publicly
-          Be patient with someone
-          Tutor a child
-          Make a care package for someone
-          Speak up for someone – sign a petition, write a letter etc.
-          Offer to babysit
-          Share what you have
-          Find out what’s valuable to someone and get it for them
-          Present an opportunity to someone or make them aware of it
-          Give transparent feedback to better performance (without being too critical)
-          Introduce people to each other, help people network
-          Give someone a gift
-          Do something nice for someone without expecting anything in return
-          Welcome a new neighbour by baking for them
-          Use your power to help people around you have a good day
-          Only see good in people and treat everyone accordingly

We’re all here together and the only certainty is we have one life and we’re living it now. Help others to be the best they can be where ever you can, because if everyone surrounding you is doing the same, imagine the powerful world we would live in.

Pages that helped inspire this blog:
http://www.zenhabits.net/25-ways-to-help-a-fellow-human-being-today
http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnhall/2013/05/26/10-ways-to-help-others-that-will-lead-you-to-success
http://tinybuddha.com/blog/how-to-help-someone-who-wont-help-themselves
https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/get-started/outside-the-classroom/volunteering-how-helping-others-helps-you

How to get to sleep quickly

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I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know? Ernest Hemingway

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have this amazing ability to fall asleep within seconds every night. Seconds! It’s almost like I’m hypnotised … someone can go “Go to sleep” – and that’ll be it, I’ll be asleep. How do I do it? Through my journey of becoming more self-aware, I discovered that stress has the opposite effect – I can go from sleeping really easily, to not sleeping at all. Anxiety has been known to keep me up all night. And, unfortunately, I’m one of these people who can’t function very well off less than eight hours of sleep a night – especially during winter! Did you see my post about the benefits of receiving sleep? You can read that here.

These are my tips for how to fall asleep quickly:

Step one – know your blocks … and avoid them!
If something is keeping you up at night or wakes you in the middle of the night, it’s important to know what it is that is disturbing you. Ask yourself some questions: Is it your body clock that naturally keeps you awake? If so, how can you work with that? Is it stress? Is it noisy neighbours? Perhaps it’s that you woke late in the day and your body doesn’t need that much rest? Have you stopped being as active as you usually are? Take a look at your lifestyle and any changes that may have caused you not to be able to sleep easily at night, and don’t be afraid to head to the pharmacist and collect a set of ear plugs and eye mask if that will help!

Step two – watch what you eat
Don’t eat so much in the evening that you’re completely bloated. Don’t go to bed on a full stomach – it won’t be comfortable or easy to sleep and it’s also harder for the food to break down. Avoid stimulants in the evening at all costs. No coke, don’t drink too much alcohol or eat too many sugary foods. Avoid carbs where you can – fish and vegetables, steak and salad … a protein and some leafy vegetables or salads is the best way to go!

Step three –get as comfortable as you can
I find that if I go to sleep with my partner, then I’ll sleep all night – perhaps I subconsciously think of him as my protector. But if I’m sleeping on my own, I will wake during the night, generally to a noise. The trick to sleeping all night is to get as comfortable as you can with your surroundings. I try to use a pillow to act as his body-double when he is not around, to trick myself into noticing it less. I have noticed in the morning the pillow often ends up on the ground … fortunately my partner does not! I also notice that when I’m sleeping alone that I wake more easily to noise and disturbances and I find it hard to get back to sleep after that. In this scenario I try to do some meditation – and I keep a second lock on the door to ensure that there are no unexpected visitors during the night. If I’m really concerned, I’ll get up to check the door is locked before returning back to bed – once I know the door is locked, I can rest more easily.

Step four – don’t watch the clock
I notice that a lot of the time when people wake during the night they immediately check the clock, and their mind instantly does the maths “Oh – two hours to go… what if I can’t get to sleep in that two hours? But it’s only four in the morning… I’m going to get bored…” and so their mind wonders and worries and it will keep you up. Checking the clock just gives you another reason for your mind to wander onto something that will only disturb you. The light from looking at your clock will also wake you more than you would otherwise feel if you don’t look at the clock. Learn to trust your alarm clock. Set your alarm and tell yourself you won’t look at your clock, or your phone, unless you are disabling the alarm in the morning.

Step five – keep a worry pad
When stress has me awake in the night, I do my best work! I keep a worry pad next to my bed, I will come up with an action plan and write it all down. Once I’m satisfied that everything is on paper and I won’t forget it the next day, I generally find I’m able to return to sleep more easily. Worst case scenario, I will start working but get a much earlier night the following evening.

Step six – make the room as dark as possible
Make the room as dark as possible, and as soon as you shut your eyes, tell yourself that you won’t open them until morning. Once I’ve set my mind that it’s bed time, I just won’t let myself wake up. Lights out is lights out. The darker the room is, the easier it is to sleep. Use an eye mask if you need to.

Sweet dreams!

Don’t get SAD this winter

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome. Anne Bradstreet

For some people winter can be a severely debilitating and isolating time as they suffer Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and are managing depression-like symptoms. The exact cause of this condition isn’t fully understood but it is generally put down to lack of exposure to daylight during the winter months.

“It’s important for people to get up in the morning and get some exposure to sunlight, ideally before 8am. Dawn and morning light is believed to be integral in regulating our biorhythms. Combining this with exercise is really important. If people feel this is not helping they should go to their doctor for more advice,” Associate Professor and beyondblue Clinical Advisor, Michael Baigent said.

Are you SAD?
Symptoms of SAD are similar to depression and include:
Sadness
Tiredness/Fatigue/Drowsiness and indifference
Depression
Crying spells
Sleeping more than usual
Irritability
Trouble concentrating
Body aches
Loss of libido (sex drive)
Poor sleep
Overeating (especially carbohydrates)
Weight gain
Low mood for most of the day
Loss of interest in usual activities
Inability to focus
Constant fatigue
Insomnia
Mood swings
Excessive energy/Anxiety
Poor appetite/Weight loss
Weakened immune system during the winter
Feeling generally “under the weather” without a cause
Isolating yourself/Avoiding social functions.

How can you avoid getting SAD this winter?
“Everyone’s affected differently by SAD so what works for one person won’t for another. But there’s usually something that will help, so don’t give up if the first remedy you try doesn’t work. Just keep trying,” said Sue Pavlovich – a SADA (the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association) committee member.

Lighten up
One of the more common treatments for SAD is light therapy which involves a light box that emits bright, fluorescent lights (10,000 lux) for about half an hour to an hour a day. Alternatively, brighten up your home or office by letting some natural light shine in. Some people find that using a dawn simulator – a bedside light, connected to an alarm clock, which mimics a sunrise and wakes you up gradually – as well as a light box can enhance SAD moods.

Get outside
Try to do some outdoor activities as often as possible during the daylight hours in winter and let light come through your windows at home and work. Fresh air is essential for a stable mood, so it’s recommended to get outside for at least 10 to 15 minutes a day, regardless of the temperature.

Exercise regularly
The same with most mood boosting techniques, exercise is highly recommended. While exercise alone doesn’t cure SAD, it will improve your mood. Get walking every day for at least twenty minutes to boost serotonin levels.

Treat yourself with aromatherapy
Aromatherapy can be a healthy way to replenish the mind and spirit. What we smell can have a profound effect on how we feel because odours travel through the nose to the limbic system – the emotion-controlling part of the brain. Essential oils or candles that are reminiscent of spring and summer days – such as lemon, rosemary, peppermint, lavender and honeysuckle – could help. Concentrate on scents that bring back positive memories. To increase alertness and encourage happier moods try jasmine, bergamot or citrus scents.

Take vitamins
A lack of essential vitamins can affect people with symptoms similar to depression. Take vitamin B to increase alertness and reduce depressive thoughts and anxiety, Vitamin D is linked to sunlight. Ensure you are getting enough iron, zinc and calcium in your diet. Incorporating multi vitamins or vitamin-specific supplements into your diet may assist with combating SAD.

Eat well
If you don’t want the vitamins – eat dairy products, whole grains, spinach, eggs, fish (especially salmon), fortified cereals, vegetables and nuts. Fish oil tablets will also help. Try to resist your cravings for rich, decadent foods in the colder months. Eat less sugar. Make homemade soups which are warming and nutritious. Gaining weight will only make you feel bad, so make sure you continue to eat healthily and look after yourself. Cut back on white flour-based products, caffeine and sugars. Chicken is a good dietary source of vitamin B6 or pyridoxine. Vitamin B6 is also found in wheat germ, brown rice, spinach and sunflower seeds. Fish contains high sources of vitamin B12 or cobalamin. Vitamin B12 is also found in shellfish, dairy products and organ meats. According to a “Mens Health” study in 2004, vitamin B12 can help control some symptoms for anxiety, depression and fatigue. Peanuts, brewers yeast, beef kidney, beets, tuna and swordfish contain vitamin B3 or niacin. Vitamin B3 improves blood circulation and stimulates the production of serotonin. It can also help to treat symptoms associated with SAD such as oversleeping and fatigue.

Socialise often
Spend more time socialising. Actively work to avoid the isolating symptoms of SAD, and push yourself to go out even when you don’t feel like it. Make social outings – meeting up with friends for coffee or dinner or visiting family members – a priority in your winter life. Accept any invitations to social functions. Try to avoid negative people.

Get organised
Reset your goals and priorities and make an effort to stay organised. Rearrange your to-do list into something practical and actionable. Start small and move onto the bigger things.

Review your stress management regime
Learn to manage stress better with yoga or meditation. Learning deep breathing skills will help you to release stress naturally.

Avoid alcohol
Challenge yourself to go a month without alcohol. Alcohol has a strong link to depression, and it is better avoided in the winter months if you are already struggling with SAD symptoms. Especially avoid binge drinking – if you do drink, drink in small quantities. The last thing you need when you’re already feeling low is a hangover!

Sleep well
Make sure your room is completely dark at night. Use earplugs to block out any noises that may disturb you in the night. Ensure you get at least eight hours sleep a night – but try to avoid sleeping any longer than that, even on weekends.

Musical mood
Create a playlist in iTunes to lead you up from the blues to a better place. Ramp up the tempo and themes to lift your mood. Choose songs you can relate to but are still positive and upbeat.

Read a book
Read a motivational book for tips and advice that get you ready to take on the world. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is very popular. There are many more inspiring reads, which I will blog about in coming weeks.

Keep warm
Rug up – being cold will make you more depressed! Staying warm can reduce winter blues by half. Keep warm with hot drinks and hot food. Wear warm clothes and shoes, keep your home between 18ºC and 23ºC.

Find a new hobby
Keeping your mind active with a new interest will ward off SAD symptoms. It could be anything from playing bridge, knitting, singing, joining a gym (and going), keeping a journal or writing a blog (this can also help you to express your feelings) etc. The important thing is that it is something you look forward to and can concentrate on.

Join a support group
There are SAD support groups around… mostly in the UK but I’m sure if you put some effort in you could find one or even start one. Sharing your experiences with others who can empathise, make be very therapeutic and make your symptoms more bearable.

Get painting
Paint your house bright colours or place bright paintings around the house to distract from the dreariness of the winter months. Pick a room you spend a lot of time in and try a vibrant paint or artwork in there.

Learn something new
Take a class and learn something new. It can keep your mind off the winter gloom, particularly when it gets you out of the house and meeting new people.

Change your perspective
Winter is inevitable in most countries, so it’s better to focus on the things you love about winter than the things you don’t like. Embrace the season and start a list for yourself and expand on it as you think of things. Take up a winter sport such as netball, ice skating, hockey or snowboarding – staying active will boost your energy. People tend to spring clean, why not winter clean? Live for today! Quit your job if it is too stressful. Take responsibility for your mood – it puts you in control and enables you to change it.

Make your bed each morning
This means you need to get up and get going, and it also helps you to feel organised. Simply by making your bed each morning, you have achieved just one thing and you’re on the path to achieving so much more! Pat yourself on the back for the little things you can do when things are feeling difficult – remember always focus on the good, don’t waste energy contemplating what can’t be done.

Stay productive
Keep setting goals to work towards and set yourself little projects. Avoid letting household chores pile up, it will only make you feel worse. Try to stay on top of things. Keep everything simple in the winter months, try not to over-plan or overextend yourself – it will only make you feel stressed.

Avoid jet lag
Try to avoid travelling during winter months and if you do, stick to no more than one time zone difference. Jet lag is particularly difficult for those with SAD – and if you must travel, go somewhere sunny and warm.

Manage your own expectations
Allow yourself extra time to do things – when you feel lousy, you work at a slower pace. Don’t try to live up to your usual high expectations, try to cut yourself some slack over the winter months.

Buy a pet
Cute animals in your life always help boost your mood. If you are unable to buy your own pet, head to a pet shop where you can play with theirs and not have the responsibility of caring for it.

Treat yourself
Celebrate your accomplishments for the year so far and treat yourself. Plan something exciting that you can look forward to – a weekend away, a trip to the day spa or a dinner party.

Relax
Read a book or a magazine, go to bed early, try some meditation, light candles, participate in a yoga class, do some deep breathing exercises etc. Try to work out what helps you to wind down quickly when you are stressed and keep it in mind for the days that are really difficult.

Get help
If things are really out of control, get some professional help. Talking it out with a psychologist, counsellor or GP may help. Just like depression, SAD can be a very serious psychological problem. The sooner you get help, particularly before winter sets in, the better you will be able to cope with any SAD symptoms you may experience. Offence is the best defence.

For more information about Seasonal Affective Disorder refer to
Dr Normal Rosenthal’s book – Winter Blues: Everything you need
to know to beat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

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