This is a guest article by Lucy Wyndham

Debt causes worry and poor well-being for many consumers daily. In DebtSafe’s wellness survey, 71 percent of South Africans said that financial stress had influenced their overall health, and 87 percent of them felt tired, worried and depressed due to their debt. In fact, debt continues to be a leading trigger of depression in the country today. This feeling is not specific to South Africa either. Around the globe, consumer health is feeling the effects of rising debt balances. Anxiety levels are higher than before, and consumers are losing sleep over money-related issues, debt included. As debt levels climb higher, well-being continues to be impacted both emotionally and physically. With the links between the two being repeatedly proven, taking the time and responsibility to properly manage your debt means you can positively affect your psychological health and vice versa.

Formulate A Plan

When debt piles up, a common feeling is the loss of control. By formulating a debt plan, you are giving yourself some of that control back. While there is no guarantee that your repayment plan will work out exactly as planned, a plan will provide some direction, and if done correctly, anticipate the need for contingencies. Start by analysing your debts according to their interest rates, timeline and requirements. From this, you can determine the best repayment method for your situation like the debt snowball repayment method. 

A key part of your plan is carving out the money to repay these debts, which you can do by incorporating your budget and cost-cutting, or seeking ways to earn extra money like asking for a raise at work or exploring passive income streams. If you find yourself confused about any element in your debt repayment plan or simply wanting an expert opinion, feel free to speak to a financial or debt adviser, who can lay out your options for repayment and help you formulate the plan. Alternatively, there are a host of mobile personal finance apps available that can help with tasks, including debt ranking, budget creations and income investment.

Split Your Financial Rebuilding Into Manageable Blocks

One of the most common reasons people feel overwhelmed and fail to deal with their debt is that they attempt to tackle all of it at once. When viewed in its entirety, and especially if you have amassed sizeable debt, it can seem daunting and unbearable. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy, sadness, anxiety, and in some cases, depression. Once you have formulated a debt repayment plan, split it into small manageable sub-plans, either by goal achievement or timeline. This does two things: it acts as a checkpoint in your debt journey, and it also can act as motivation as you deal with your debt. As you progress in your debt journey, you can enjoy the feeling of accomplishment and getting close to your financial goals. If you have multiple debt accounts, you may want to use this as the marker - i.e. marking when you have repaid one credit card or loan. 

Create A Budget And Include Space For Personal Care

Having a budget helps you to identify where your money is going and plan for your income, which means better control of your money. In McKinsey’s recent survey of South African consumers, more than half are living paycheck to paycheck, while most of them are holding back on their spending. This makes sense, since 7 in 10 of them are most worried about losing their employment income and feeling unprepared for this eventuality. 

Creating a budget allows you to cut your unnecessary costs and provide for what is necessary and essential to your peace of mind. For example, establishing a rainy day fund can ease the worry of job loss or work as a fallback plan should you end up spending more than you planned to when drafting your budget. However, when drafting your budget, don’t get too carried away with the cost-minimising measures, and be sure to leave space each month for self-care, whether it is a monthly gym fee, yoga and meditation classes, or regular sessions with a stress counsellor. A better balanced mental state allows for a clearer mind and better decision making, including when it comes to your debt.

Share Your Worries With A Professional

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of sharing your fears and worries with someone. Voicing your troubles, including those about money, can help you feel relief and provide you with a sounding board for advice. You can choose to speak to a family member or friend, a certified therapist, or a financial counsellor. With a financial expert, they may be able to provide options for your specific financial situation, such as debt consolidation. A therapist, on the other hand, will help you navigate the emotional feelings you are experiencing as a result of your financial situation and how best to handle them. Once you are armed with the right tools to handle negative emotions, there is less chance of your judgement being clouded. 

Don’t forget the importance of a contingency fund. Knowing that you are protected in the event of a change can provide peace of mind and significantly reduce feelings of stress. The feeling of uncertainty can evoke negative emotions, including fear and anxiety, which in turn can trigger poor emotional, mental and physical well-being. With such strong links between personal finance and our well-being, taking care of debt means indirectly taking care of our health and happiness.

This is a guest article by Lucy Wyndham

Confidence is one of the largest dictators of our everyday behaviour, according to The National Academies Press: self-esteem has the power to uplift and sabotage. Esteem refers to our beliefs regarding our own personal worth and value, and describes the feelings we experience resulting from those beliefs. Esteem is a powerful motivational mechanism that influences how hard we strive to fulfil personal aspirations and to take care of ourselves. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, then, that self-esteem and wellness are closely linked. When one suffers, the other often follows suit. Whilst self-esteem is more complex than the two-dimensional high vs. low comparison we typically hear about, there are many ways we can go about boosting our own self-esteem, subsequently improving our overall well-being. And working out is a big one. 

Be Kind To Yourself

The challenge is that our self-esteem is fairly unstable to begin with. It consists of the ways we feel about ourselves overall, as well as how we value ourselves in very specific sectors of our lives, and is subject to frequent fluctuation. Because of this, the conversations we have with and about ourselves are very important. According to the Journal of Health Psychology, adopting the habit of using positive affirmations can be very beneficial, as long as we use them correctly. When our self-esteem is particularly low, declarations that are too contrary to how we’re currently feeling can actually make us feel worse. This can prove to be particularly accurate when it comes to exercise. It’s easy to fall short of workout goals, miss days at the gym, and get down on ourselves as a result. Preemptive praise for how hard we’re going to work to achieve something vs. all the goals we’re going to reach has the power to increase our motivation. Eliminating self-criticism is crucial, since it tends to show up most prevalently when we’re feeling low, and only serves to further damage our self-esteem.  

Hold Yourself Accountable

In addition to our inner monologues, the way we physically manifest our self-care can help to improve the way we see and value ourselves and our overall sense of well-being. This is where exercise comes in. The physical benefits of exercise are well known but, according to the Journal of World Psychiatry, it’s also effective in reducing depression, anxiety and general stress levels. Regular physical activity is equivalent to an investment in your mind and body, and such a healthy habit can promote your sense of self-worth while making you feel strong. Thinking about fitness centre memberships and fancy gym equipment can be intimidating, especially when you’re not feeling your best.

Luckily, when it comes to fitness, working out doesn’t have to equal going out. Working out at home has many benefits outside of the obvious convenience factor. You can save money, avoid gym germs, and work out in a private and comfortable environment. There are many advantages to incorporating equipment into your home workout to reap the mental health benefits of cardiovascular activity. Stationary bikes and ellipticals are good ways to get your heart rate pounding without taking up much space in your home, but there’s also plenty you can accomplish using simply your body and gravity. Exercise leads to an improved body image, and by reaching even your smallest workout goals, you’ll feel accomplished, which is an important facet of healthy self-esteem. 

Improving self-esteem does require a bit of work. It entails adopting and maintaining more careful emotional and physical habits. The way you feel about yourself lays the foundation for how you navigate life and the way you treat others, so putting in the work is a worthy investment.

The Psychology of Lucid Dreaming

This is a guest article by Lucy Wyndham

In the last decade there has been a great deal of research conducted into the potential benefits of lucid dreaming with regard to our overall health and well-being, and there have been some interesting findings. This article will look at the role of lucid dreaming in regard to both mental and physical health.

What is lucid dreaming?

A lucid dream happens when someone reaches a state of conscious awareness while asleep, once in this state of conscious awareness it is possible to manipulate your dreams and ultimately decide what happens during the dream. Studies show that 55% of people have had at least one lucid dream in their lifetime. Most episodes of lucid dreaming occur spontaneously, however it is possible to self-induce a lucid dream with practice.

Dreams and mental health

Research has shown that dreaming is essential to a healthy mind. Dreaming happens during the REM sleep phase, and your waking dream recall is much stronger during the final phase of REM sleep when the brain is at its most active, which is also when lucid dreaming tends to happen. 

Studies show that REM sleep is important for brain development, and the more time that someone spent in REM sleep the better they are at dealing with anxiety, worry and fear and the less likely they are to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Overnight therapy for the mind

Mathew Walker, professor pf psychology at California University and author of the book Why We Sleep believes dreaming to be a form of overnight therapy he states that dreaming “provides a nocturnal soothing balm that takes the short edges off of our emotional experiences so we feel better the next day.”

Lucid dreaming and motor learning

The scientific and medical community has become much more interested in lucid dreaming since discovering that practicing motor skills during a lucid dream actually results in real life improvement. Scientist found through a brain imaging study that the neural mechanisms associated with physical movement in the brain lit up during a lucid dream, just as it would in waking life, this is enough evidence to demonstrate that motor learning had taken place. 

These findings show that it is indeed possible to practice certain motor skills during a lucid dream and see an improvement in your waking ability as a result, whether is be practicing a new sports manoeuvre, a new art form or playing a musical instrument.

Lucid dreaming and self-improvement

Lucid dreaming could therefore play a role in self-improvement by helping someone develop different skills and talents which is important to personal growth and self-image. A lucid dream episode could also be valuable in helping someone to visualise their goals and all the positive emotions that are associated with that, this can be a powerful experience that can boost confidence, self-image and improve your mood throughout the day. 

The lucid dream world holds the potential for someone to create their own real life scenarios in which they are happy, fulfilled and successful, which can help improve mood and wellbeing in waking life as well as help give someone the confidence and self-belief that they need to achieve different life goals.

Connections Between Mental Health Symptoms And Poor Sleep 

This is a guest article by Lucy Wyndham

More than one-half of insomnia cases occur in individuals with anxiety, depression or psychological stress. Across the globe, health officials find that sleep disorders  contribute to public health issues, and mental illness is at the core of this conversation. Cumulatively, a combination of effective mental health treatment and good sleep hygiene solutions can help combat sleep-related disorders and promote psychological well-being. 

Sleep and Mental Health Risks 

Traditionally, insomnia and other sleep disorders as symptoms were viewed as symptoms of psychological disorders. But the origins of both cases are more of a “chicken and the egg” phenomenon: the scientific community now believes that sleep problems directly contribute to psychiatric disorders. By extension, treating a sleep disorder may also help alleviate symptoms of poor mental health, if the two exist concurrently. In fact, researchers at the University of Oxford Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute reported a 60% improvement rate in mental health symptoms through treating sleep-related issues.  

Safe Remedies For Sleep 

Fortunately, there are a number of medicinal and non medicinal solutions for addressing a lack of sleep. A psychiatrist can work with you to devise a medication routine that promotes healthy sleep with minimal side effects. There are also a number of lifestyle choices you can make to encourage proper rest, such as turning off your smartphone and sleeping on a comfortable mattress. If you suspect your mattress is worn or filled with allergens, consult mattress reviews before purchasing a new one so that you find a mattress optimal for REM sleep. It is also important to stay active during the day: researchers from the University of Michigan recently reported that daytime exercise is linked to improved sleep performance in women over the age of 50, one of the demographics with the highest rate of sleep disturbances worldwide. 

What Is Sleep Hygiene? 

Sleep hygiene consists of a variety of different practices that are necessary for developing a quality sleep routine. Frequent sleep disturbances and daytime sleepiness often indicate poor sleep hygiene. To improve the quality of your sleep, experts recommend giving yourself a half hour to “unwind” before bed without looking at your smartphone, which can stimulate alertness. During the hours before bed, practicing mindfulness meditation reduces insomnia symptoms, particularly if you are feeling anxious. Meditation is also linked to a host of other positive health benefits, including reduced brain fog, more clarity, and better focus, all of which can contribute to eliminating mental health disorders. 

Globally, the growing conversation about mental health needs to incorporate sleep and adequate solutions for addressing poor sleep routines. Ensuring proper sleep has tangible positive implications for treating mental illness, particularly for individuals struggling with anxiety and depressive thoughts at night.

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