60 seconds

60 seconds on… Bipolar Disorder

In response to my previous post, I thought I would start a mini-series of blog posts called the ‘60 seconds on’ series. These will be posts on a range of mental illnesses outlining definitions, symptoms and effects each disorder can have on an individual and their lives. The aim of these posts is to be short but sweet, allowing individuals to gain awareness on mental disorders when and wherever they have a spare couple of minutes free. A lot of information on mental illness is usually presented through the media, which can be hugely biased and exaggerated to create emotional reactions from the viewer or reader. But sadly this can also lead to stigma against those suffering from these disorders. I’ll include a range of resources and websites at the end of this post, should anyone want to learn more about the disorder presented.

Today’s post is about bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness in which an individual’s emotions become magnified, often unpredictably. Bipolar disorder can cause an individual to experience severe mood swings, experiencing either high or low moods. 

  • feel overly happy and energised. They may find it difficult to stay still or go to sleep.
  • feel like they can do anything in the world and may start to make lots of ambitious plans.
  • become irritable and impulsive, which can lead to them making reckless decisions, such as going on shopping sprees and buying things they can’t really afford.
  • have an exaggerated positive outlook on life, a heightened sense of self-importance and may spend an excessive amount of time doing the things that they find pleasurable.
  • Have a lack of focus, moving quickly between ideas.
  • experience a deep depression, where they feel sluggish, hopeless and very sad. 
  • feel worthless and like nothing is ever going to get better for them, feelings which can lead to thoughts of suicide.
  • display aggressive or irritable behaviours and have feelings of guilt afterwards.
  • lose interest in the things that used to bring them joy. 
  • become withdrawn from life.
  • feel unable to eat or sleep.

During both high and low moods, an individual with bipolar disorder may experience hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there) or delusions (believing things that are highly unlikely to be true).

However there is a period of stability for the individual, between these high and low moods. The number of mood swings an individual experiences can vary, some may only experience a couple over their lifetime whereas for others they may be a lot more frequent. 

Bipolar disorder can have an impact on an individual’s life in a number of ways: 

  • hallucinations and delusions may make it difficult for the individual to distinguish real life from their imagination.
  • some may feel that they are not in control of their own emotions. 
  • During depressive episodes:
    • an individuals self-worth can dip, which could lead to them carrying out self-harm or contemplating suicide. 
    • individuals may feel lethargic and lack the motivation to carry out daily tasks, which could lead to issues in their career. 
    • individuals may become withdrawn and avoid seeing people which can have an effect on their support network.
    • individuals may struggle with their sleeping and eating behaviours which could have an effect on their physical health.
  • During manic episodes:
    •  an individual can act erratically and sometimes irresponsibly which could lead to financial worries due to extravagant spending. 
    • They can find it difficult to communicate with those around them because they can’t focus and their thoughts are quickly changing all the time. 
    • An individual can become impulsive and this can result in them carry out risky behaviours with regards to drugs, alcohol and sex. 
    • An individual may act aggressively, sometimes towards others which can put a strain on their relationships.

I hope that this post has been informative and useful!

Extra information about bipolar disorder can be found by clicking on the links below:

Rethink Mental illness

NHS

Youngminds

Mind

research

How much do we actually know about mental health disorders? – Survey results

It was recently mental health awareness week, where organisations and influential individuals highlight the importance of looking after your own mental wellbeing and considering the effects of mental illness on an individual. This got me thinking about the term mental health awareness itself, and what it means to possess it.

We are increasingly seeing more people speaking out about their own experiences with mental illness, with big celebrities such as Adele recently discussing aspects of living with post-natal depression. I believe that as a nation we are becoming more aware of conditions such as stress, depression and anxiety, whilst considering the effect these can have on an individuals day-to-day life. This is only a good move in my opinion and a increase in awareness will hopefully help to beat the current stigma that individuals with a mental illness face on a daily basis.

But carrying on from this, I wonder how much the public know about other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia? Personally I don’t see much information being disseminated about other mental illnesses that aren’t depression or anxiety. But it’s just as important that individuals are informed about all mental illness to challenge all forms of stigma.

I wanted to find out how much individuals felt they knew about a range of different mental health disorders. In order to do this I designed a little survey and posted this online. It asked participants to indicate on a scale (ranging from ‘nothing’ to ‘a lot’) how much they felt they knew about a number of mental health disorders, from depression to obsessive compulsive disorder. It then followed this up with two questions asking them if they would like to know more about the mental disorders mentioned and if they thought it would be beneficial for them. The results of this survey are outlined below:

Eighty one people took part in this survey. With regards to their perceived knowledge on a range of mental health disorders, the results are outlined below. The figure shows the average knowledge score and where this is placed upon the scale. The mental disorders mentioned have been sorted from most known about to least known about.

To be honest, I was not that surprised with the results. As I thought, individuals felt that they knew more about disorders such as depression and anxiety. I don’t know exactly why this is the case, but I could speculate that this is because these are more widely spoken about as opposed to illnesses such as dementia and schizophrenia. The next figures show the percentage responses to the two questions posed at the end of the survey:

The results above seem to be positive, with only 12% of participants indicating that they would not like to learn more about the mental disorders mentioned. On reflection I wondered if these people already felt that they knew a lot about all the disorders mentioned so they don’t see the purpose of learning more? Something to think about…

Further to this, 70% indicated that they see the benefit of learning more about the range of mental health disorders mentioned. I think this is great news and really encouraging going forward. I hope that in the future, more information is provided about all mental health disorders, not just depression and anxiety.

I realise on reflection that my previous posts on this blog have focused heavily on anxiety and depression. I aim to provide more information on a wider range of mental health disorders in my blog posts going forward. I hope you found these results as interesting and promising as I did.

Stay safe x

Advice and tips, Understanding

Are you struggling with stress? – The signs you should look out for

Stress refers to an individuals reaction to being put under pressure. For us human beings, it is totally normal to encounter stress on a daily basis. Only the other day I was stressed rushing about the house trying to find something. I then proceeded to step on a plug which definitely didn’t help the situation, leading to a string of expletives rolling out my mouth (sorry mum!).

Although in some situations, stress can be useful as it can motivate action (like a flight or fright response), the charity Rethink Mental illness suggests that too much of it can also make us ill.  But when is the amount of stress an issue? Obviously, different people can handle varying amounts of stress, but below is a list of indicators and symptoms of stress to look out for. 

  • Sleep issues – Some individuals may feel tired all the time, while others may have difficulties with being able to sleep.
  • Headaches – Constant stress can also cause some individuals to have headaches or migraines.
  • Changes in thought patterns – Those experiencing extreme or long periods of stress may start to feel depressed or even experience suicidal thoughts. 
  • Changes in behaviour – The feelings of stress can feel overwhelming and lead to an otherwise calm individual becoming irritable or aggressive towards themselves or others. The sense of dread that stress can create can also lead to an individual losing their sense of humour, as they struggle to cope with the burden. 
  • Feelings of anxiety – Stress is often associated with nervous feelings and anxiety. For example, the stress of preparing for an exam can make an individual feel nervous to complete it.
  • Loss of interest – Stress can also make individuals feel a loss of interest in their relationships and hobbies. 
  • Restlessness – Struggling with stress can lead an individual to constantly worry, which can result in restlessness or fidgeting (such as nail biting).
  • Indecisiveness – Some may find it difficult to make decisions due to the constant worry that they feel.
  • Lifestyle changes – Some may cope with stress by engaging in unhealthy behaviours, such as drinking too much or taking drugs.

Stress can have the ability to interfere with and influence an individuals physical and mental well-being. Exposure to prolonged amounts of stress can contribute to a number of health issues. These issues can include, the development of mental illness, weakening of the immune system or the worsening of current health conditions such as asthma.

If you find yourself able to relate to the points explained above, you may need help and support for your stress. Luckily there’s a lot of information and support online, which I think would be a great first port of call. Here’s a list of resources on stress and forms of self-help which I hope are useful:

Mood juice – This is a great in depth self-help book. You can print it out and complete the exercises that aim to identify and challenge the sources of your stress.

What is stress? – Another detailed guide on stress and its causes by the UK charity Mind.

Stressbusting– This website has an extensive list of treatments for stress and how they work, from yoga to mindfulness

Stress management society – This website has a stress test, to indicate your current levels of stress and whether they are dangerously high. They have so many resources here to help manage your stress, including free guides and printable colouring books. 

As it’s mental health awareness week, I think there’s no better time to raise awareness of stress and the effect too much of it can have on our wellbeing. It’s important to keep checking in with yourself and how you are feeling each day. If you are feeling overwhelmed it may be time to take a step back, identify the sources of your stress and reach out for support (whether this be from yourself or others).

Advice and tips, My Experiences

Your mental wellbeing – When should you seek help?

First of all, I hope you are all keeping well in these weird times. I rarely read and watch the news these days but whenever I do catch it I never see them addressing or talking about the mental health aspects of the coronavirus situation (although do feel free to correct me on this if I’m wrong). Mental wellbeing is something that needs to be talked about more, especially at this current time. It’s totally understandable to feel like you’re struggling with your wellbeing given the current situation.

Something that I have personally found difficult in the past is understanding when to seek help with your mental wellbeing. And sadly I can’t provide you with any concrete guidelines of when to do so in this post. Everybody is different; different environments, different minds and different characteristics. Your mental wellbeing is personal to you and knowing when you should seek help is something that is also a personal decision you have to make, based on your own views and beliefs. When I was younger and struggling with my own mental well-being, I thought I wasn’t suffering enough to warrant seeking help and support. I thought only those people who were acting strange or being manic should get help, how naïve was I.

I thought for those who need it, I would provide a list of factors I feel could be indicators that you may need a bit of support for your mental wellbeing. I am be no means a professional; the indicators below are purely based on my own previous experiences.

  1. You notice changes in your own behaviour – these changes may not always be ones you find good or healthy. You may be more snappy towards others or lethargic and finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. You may also become dependant on something such as alcohol to get through the day.
  2. A person you trust has expressed concern – An example may be a friend or family member asking you if you’re okay because you seem a bit down. Notice I use the word ‘trust’ here. A lot of people can fling around insults like ‘you’re crazy’ without thinking about the consequences.
  3. You avoid doing things you normally would do – for me, I started to avoid going out to see friends or going to busy places because I knew this would trigger my anxiety. Although avoidance feels good in the short term, it may not be the best solution long term.
  4. Basic functioning becomes difficult – For example, you may find eating a meal or going to sleep challenging.
  5. You can’t see a way out – When you are struggling, it can be difficult or impossible to see that light at the end of the tunnel.

I think that ultimately, I just got ‘a feeling’ in my gut that I was struggling and that prompted me to seek support for my own mental wellbeing. If you find yourself struggling I would always recommend seeking help from a professional as a first port of call. But counselling may not be feasible for everyone for a variety of reasons so here’s a few other techniques I’ve used to help support my own mental wellbeing over the past few years:

  1. If you feel comfortable in doing so, try talking with a person you trust (maybe a friend or family member). Sometimes talking can help ease your worries and you will have an extra person to help you tackle the issues and discuss your options with.
  2. Try Mindfullness. I know this may not be for everyone, even I was a bit skeptical at first. But I have practised guided meditations on a free mobile app called Headspace and I have found them to be beneficial for me.
  3. Be active and try to exercise every day, no matter how little (just do what you feel up to). If you don’t feel able to leave your home there are loads of workouts on youtube that you can take part in without going outside. There is also an app I’ve used previously called down dog which is offering free home yoga classes for beginners until the beginning of June.
  4. Listen to a podcasts, there are some great mental health ones out there. I find it can help to hear others talking about their struggles and discussing how they have overcome them.
  5. Check out cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This therapy can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave about certain situations. Although it’s typically done in a talking environment with a counsellor, I have recently started working through this book and I have found it interesting challenging myself and my own beliefs. Hopefully it will be beneficial to me in the longterm!

I hope that some of the things I’ve discussed in this post are helpful to you or someone you know. I regard mental wellbeing as something that needs continuous support and work, like working your muscles at the gym. I was surprised by just how beneficial indulging in a little ‘mind-time’ each day was for my mental wellbeing.

What techniques do you use to support your mental wellbeing? I’d love to know below 🙂

Stay safe x

Advice and tips, My Experiences, The PhD process

Dear PhD Student – Why the doctoral research process may be hurting your mental well-being

This post is aimed at any PhD students; perspective, current or graduated. I was reading an article the other day which states that 1 in 2 students will experience some kind of psychological distress during the PhD process (although from my own observations I’m surprised this isn’t higher).

But feeling mentally drained and unwell isn’t your own fault. In my opinion, the current PhD process is full of different factors that can contribute towards poor mental well-being. Below I outline the reasons I believe the PhD process to have such a negative impact on mental well-being, based upon my own experiences and observations.

Under pressure

First of all there’s pressure, lots of pressure. Throughout the PhD journey you are expected to cope with pressures that would be overwhelming for anyone. When you aren’t working on that conference paper, you are running yourself into the ground to meet the internal stage deadlines set by your supervisor. The pressure of having to deliver results can dominate your life, leading to a loss of sleep and self care time. When I was completing my research it was just accepted that PhD students are put under significant pressure and this is simply the way it is. The current ‘accepted norm’ of a constant three years of pressure can definitely contribute to bad mental well-being, especially when paired with any of the other factors mentioned below. 

Imposter syndrome and social comparison

I spent most of my PhD journey feeling like an imposter. I felt like I didn’t fit in and I just wasn’t good enough to get a PhD (spoiler: I was good enough and I did get one in the end). Feelings of imposter syndrome seem to be common and I talked to many other students who felt the same way that I did. Talking to others actually made me start to question if anyone ever truly ‘fits in’. Whilst struggling at times during my PhD, I would look around at others who appear to be breezing through the process. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, comparison is the thief of happiness. Social comparison is a completely natural and sometimes unavoidable thing to do but it can lead to negative effects on your mental well-being. 

Looking back after completing my PhD, there are a couple of reasons why comparing myself to others was never going to be beneficial. Firstly, I was comparing myself to my own perceptions of my fellow research students. To me they appeared to be doing fine, but I would find out later on that they weren’t doing as well as I thought they were. They struggled too at times the same way I did. From my own observations, I feel that there’s a stigma around admitting you are struggling as a PhD student. Some feel that to talk about struggling is like admitting weakness and this stops research students sharing these worries with each other. Secondly, each PhD journey is a deeply personal thing to each student and it can vary depending on their research area, supervisor and environment. Because of this, it was never useful to compare myself to others. It would be like comparing the process of training to be a teacher and training to be a vet; similar in some aspects, but so very different in others. 

Loneliness

Getting a PhD can feel like a lonely process, and for me it did most of the time. These feelings of loneliness can definitely affect your mental well-being. Although I worked in an office some days with about eight other people, at times I couldn’t have felt more lonely. Alongside this loneliness, some students may feel a lack of support available to them, which can have a further negative impact on their mental well-being. Some may feel that talking to their supervisor about mental well-being is a no go area; I myself only talked to my supervisor when I absolutely had to. I think this circles back around to feelings of not wanting to appear weak. Your supervisors are amazing at conducting research and analysing results, but they may not be trained in how to support you with the mental aspects of the process. Because of this it may appear tough to find support within the academic environment when you are struggling.

Fear of failure

Finally, during a PhD you are highly likely to experience some type of failure and rejection (unless you are super super lucky). For some it can happen on a daily basis, maybe you had a conference paper rejected or you didn’t get the study results you were expecting. This failure and rejection can definitely have a negative effect on your mental well-being, especially in the cases where multiple rejections happen at the same time (believe me, I had a few days of this throughout my PhD journey).

I hope that this post isn’t disheartening, there’s no doubt that the PhD process is a tough one. I guess in a way I’m writing what I wish I had heard a few years ago. I just wanted to highlight some of the issues I found with the process to ensure any PhD researchers out there that you are doing a great job, and if your mental well-being is struggling at times then it is totally understandable given the circumstances.

If you are struggling, I would suggest talking to someone you can trust about how you are feeling and working through things together; whether this be a personal friend or a trained professional. As a follow up to this post I will be sharing some tips and advice based on my own PhD experience which I hope may help some of you out there.

Are there any other elements of the PhD process which you feel can impact mental well-being? Feel free to share below

My Experiences

Supporting my mental wellbeing – What I did for 30 minutes each day this week instead of watching the news

Hi everyone, I hope that you are all doing as well as you can given the circumstances. These are strange times, nobody really knows what to do with themselves. For those of you that are unaware, here in the UK we have been on lockdown since Monday. The prime minister made an address to the nation where he outlined that we should stay at home, only leaving to shop for food or to conduct daily exercise once a day. From Monday I have vowed not to watch the news each evening as I normally did pre-coronavirus. Instead, I planned to spend this time on myself, conducting activities that I felt would benefit my own mental health.

On Monday I spent 30 minutes colouring a picture of a unicorn. I realised that I actually haven’t actively coloured anything for about four years and it was strange to pick up a pencil and ‘get back on that horse’, so to speak. I really appreciated this time because when I was colouring, my mind wasn’t thinking of anything else and it was a much needed form of release for me. More recently I have discovered this colouring book and honestly, I need it in my life right now.

On Tuesday I played with my dog. My dog has been constantly confused this week (even more than usual). She has no idea why everyone is at home all the time but she’s definitely not complaining. I spend time each night actively playing with her. Her favourite game is catch the rolling donut toy and she could literally play it for hours (I sometimes wish I could apply the same level of commitment to something in my life).

On Wednesday I listened to some truly terrible music. I’m sure we have all done this at some point in our lives? Think Backstreet boys, Britney spears or One direction. I may have even taken this further and had a little sing and a boogie (although my leg muscles definitely regretted that the day after). It was very liberating and once again it helped to keep my mind busy on something other than worrying about the state of the world at the moment.

On Thursday I taught myself to knit. Some people have the desire to learn a new language or to dance like a pro. Myself, at the humble age of 30 all I wanted to learn was how to knit. It’s just something I’ve always wished I could do as I always thought it looks really cool when people just do it naturally without thought (like completing a Rubix cube, maybe I can learn that next week?). A couple of youtube videos later, I had created something that could be considered a scarf for a mouse and I felt great in doing so. I always find it refreshing to learn new skills and it’s something I definitely want to continue doing.

On Friday I cleaned out my bedroom cabinets and drawers. Never underestimate the power of clean drawers! It was strangely therapeutic to clear out old junk I’d found stuck at the back of cabinets including chewing gum with a disgustingly old best before date (I know, I’m a terrible person).

So thats basically my first week on lockdown. What have you been up to this week? have you done anything to support your mental wellbeing. I’m looking for ideas of more things I can do next week so any suggestions would be great 🙂

Stay safe x

Advice and tips, My Experiences

Coping with the coronavirus when you have an anxiety disorder

I’m sure you are all aware of the current news surrounding the coronavirus. There has been a lot of information about the physical effects of the virus and how to tackle these but I’ve found little about the mental health aspects associated with the pandemic. For those who already suffer from mental health issues like anxiety, the current climate makes for unsettling viewing. As some of you know, I have been diagnosed with GAD in the past and I admit that I find it difficult not to get overly worried with the current given situation. There have been studies to show a relationship between our mental health and our immune system; when we are feeling stressed and anxious, this can have a bad impact and even weaken our immune system.

In times like these we need to look after our minds and our bodies so I thought I would make a list of the things I aim to do over the next few weeks. I hope that maybe they will be of help to others:

Accepting how I feel – Something I’ve learnt from previous experience is that fighting how you feel is an endless battle. Feeling anxious is a totally normal reaction and it’s easier to accept and feel these emotions then try and block them out. I’ve blocked them in the past and they build up and usually result in a panic attack. I aim to accept and even embrace my feelings of anxiety, allow it to come and pass as smoothly as possible.

Taking all media with a pinch of salt – When I talk about media here, I’m referring to both traditional and social. I’ve seen so much news about the coronavirus over the past few weeks. I’ve got no idea what is the truth and what is exaggerated anymore. I’ve decided to stop watching the news and only get my information about the coronavirus from credible sources. I’ve realised that in some cases it’s impossible to avoid all media but I’m going to definitely limit what I am exposed to. Social media is just a no-go for me at the moment, I won’t benefit from seeing pictures of empty shelves and people speculating about every aspect of their lives with no information to back themselves up.

Staying healthy – It’s difficult when I start to worry but I’m aiming to stick to my health routines that I know help ease my anxiety. These include exercise and my diet, restricting my caffeine intake and things like that. Ditching these is only the start of a slippery slope for my personal mental wellbeing.

Keeping myself distracted – I’m one of these people that if I’m left to my own devices, my mind will start to go into overdrive. I plan to try and ease this by taking more time to do the things I enjoy to stop my mind taking a detour. I really enjoy reading and this is a great form of escapism for me. I think it’s important to carry on doing the things that you love where possible and keep your mind focussed on things that make you feel happy.

Taking reasonable precautions – I find that having a plan can help ease some of my own anxiety. I’ve already took reasonable steps to try and stay safe, following the guidelines provided by the government. It can be easy to feel the need to panic and take action but it’s important to ensure that these actions are proportionate to the proposed threat, which can be tough for people with anxiety. For example, I know that shutting myself away for weeks in fear of catching the virus will do my mental health no favours, I just need to ensure I stay safe when I’m in public spaces. If I catch it, I’ve made a plan in my mind so I know how I would cope with it and ensure I don’t pass it onto my loved ones. Making these plans has really helped.

If you are finding yourself resinating with some of the feelings I describe above, I hope some of the steps above are able to help you also. If you are finding it particularly difficult to cope with the current situation then please do talk to somebody. This could be a friend, family member or professional. If venturing outside is an issue then Skype can be a great tool and many councillors offer sessions over it these days. I think the main take away from this post is that we will all feel overwhelmed and worried at points in our lives, it’s totally fine and natural to feel this way. But given time, these feelings will pass, you just need to ride out the waves.

Take care x

research

The psychology behind stock piling – why do we do it?

I’ve been hearing a lot of people recently commenting how there seems to be a lack of items like hand wash, sanitiser and even toilet roll in the supermarkets. Hand sanitiser is currently being administered somewhat like tobacco; it’s being stored behind counters and you have to ask for it and even then you can only purchase a maximum of two at a time. The current lack of hygiene products is very much in response to the current coronavirus situation. But this got me thinking about the psychology behind stockpiling behaviours and why certain individuals do this.

Stockpiling, also referred to as panic buying is defined in the Cambridge English dictionary as ‘a situation in which many people suddenly buy as much food, fuel, etc. as they can because they are worried about something bad that may happen’. As the name suggests, this type of buying is fuelled mainly through anxiety. Research suggests that there are three factors that lead to an increase in anxiety in these situations: scarcity, maintaining a sense of control, and social proof.

Scarcity

Firstly, us humans psychologically respond to scarcity, we don’t like to feel like we have missed out on something important. If something appears rare, we are more likely to chase it (especially if it’s something we wanted in the first place). A good example of this is the Black Friday sales, which we see footage of on the news every year. We see how some people are prepared to queue for hours and fight with each other to get a cheap TV set, all emotionally fuelled of course. 

During the coronavirus outbreak, social media has used the hashtags #toiletpapercrisis and #toiletpapergate to display pictures of empty supermarket shelves, making toilet paper appear scarce and something that is running out. After seeing such images and information online, an individual can be motivated to stock up on toilet paper by ‘anticipatory regret’, we are protecting ourselves from a feeling of regret later down the line. I’m sure that we’ve all experienced that feeling of  remorse and regret of missing out on something and would understand others wanting to avoid these feelings.

Maintaining a sense of control

Secondly, some panic buying can be an effort to try and keep a sense of control in uncertain situations. A loss of control is not the same as feeling out of control; It addresses the everyday experience of being unable to take action to help produce a desired outcome in a given environment, which in this case might be to be able to personally cope if the coronavirus becomes a big issue for the country.

None of us are entirely sure of what is happening with the coronavirus at the moment, or what will happen in the near future. Stockpiling helps individuals to feel in control; it’s an aspect of their lives that they can actively control. In this case, panic buying toilet paper can help to ease the anxieties that an individual is feeling.

Social Proof

As human beings we are always subconsciously keeping an eye on what those around us are doing (even if you think otherwise!). Social proof is a phrase made popular by psychologist Robert Cialdini. In times where we are unsure of how to behave we will look to see how others are behaving, so social proof could be considered as a type of conformity. We believe at the time that others around us possess more information about the situation than us and that they have made their choices based upon this information they possess (spoiler: they usually don’t know much more than you do). Here’s a quick experiment for you: stand in the middle of town just looking up at nothing in particular. Keep an eye on the people around you and you might realise some of them looking up as well, us humans hate to think we are missing out on something!

I can think of a specific time in my life where I was majorly influenced by social proof. So it’s summer of 2017, I’m with a friend at a summer fair and we fancy a bite to eat. We head over to the food carts and there’s two options: a hamburger bar or a burrito stand. There were a couple of people waiting for hamburgers but the queue to the burritos was a lot longer. We went for burritos figuring that if the queue was longer, it must mean they are the best choice. In this case our decision to follow the herd paid off and after waiting 45 minutes in a queue I enjoyed eating the best burrito that I have ever had in my life. But the results of social proof aren’t always so tasty. In this case, an individual seeing another person bulk buying toilet roll may increase their chances of doing the same thing as they may fear that they are missing something due to their lack of knowledge about the current situation.

I find the psychology behind human behaviour like this all so interesting. On a slight side note, I also just found out that stockpiling is referred to as ‘Hamsterkauf’ in Germany. This great word translates to ‘hamster buying’ and literally refers to the way hamsters stuff their cheeks with food:

So have you been feeling more inclined to buy more of certain items because of the coronavirus? Or do the factors above have little effect on your behaviours? Let me know below.

My Experiences

More than a label? – Reflecting on diagnosis in mental health

At first I was a little reserved about writing this post, but I think by sharing my own experiences it may help others who may be struggling with their mental health at the moment. I have recently being reading a book entitled ‘This book will change your mind on mental health‘ by Nathan Filer. The author is a mental health nurse and in this book they discuss some of the greatest assumptions and myths with regards to psychiatry. It’s a great read and it definitely got my brain thinking about the current diagnosis process when it comes to mental illness.

Nathan talks about the labels that individuals are given to explain their current mental wellbeing, for example depression or schizophrenia. When being diagnosed, an individual will be given one or more of these labels, which are obtained by clinicians from books such as ‘The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)’. Now in its fifth edition, this book serves as a manual, providing a resource for the diagnosis and classification of mental disorders. The manual includes concise and specific criteria used to facilitate an objective assessment of symptom presentations. If an individual presents a number of the listed criteria, they are classified and labelled as having the associated mental health condition.

But this method of diagnosis has been criticised, with researchers suggesting that the manual’s rules are inconsistent and subjective, leaving a huge amount of overlap in symptoms between diagnoses. A recent study found that through using the DSM,  two people could receive the same diagnosis without sharing any common symptoms in the majority of cases (link to this study can be found here). There is also discussion around the scientific basis for the criteria and just how accurate a diagnosis they can obtain. An interesting and more in depth post outlining all the issues with the current methods of mental illness diagnosis can be found here.

I have tried thinking back to the time where I was labelled with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). It was a few years back now. I remember the feeling of constant worry and panic, not knowing why I felt the way I did or what I could do about it. I felt that what I was thinking wasn’t normal, so I approached a therapist who suggested I talked to my doctor. After completing an online test, the doctor informed me that I had GAD. At the time this label gave me some relief; it made me feel better to know that there was actually something ‘wrong’ with me because then I thought that I could be cured (I was a bit naive back then). But this initial relief only lasted for a short period. After a few weeks, the label I had been given started to wear me down. I stopped seeing myself as a person and allowed the label to become me; I was GAD. I felt that when I talked to people, all they would see was the GAD. These thoughts made me so self-conscious, to the point where I would avoid any situation in which I felt vulnerable; where I thought my GAD would radiate out of my pores like rays of the sun, leading to people judging me solely upon it.

But I have come to realise that I am more than the GAD label I was given. It has taken me a lot of time and a lot of reading and learning to distance myself from GAD. Overall, would I say I’m grateful for the label? Definitely, because it allowed me to get access to the resources I needed to help myself and improve my mental wellbeing. But do I think I have GAD? I’m not so sure. I have times when my anxiety can go into overdrive but I’ve come to realise that anxiety is a totally normal human feeling and personally I don’t class an abundance of it as a disorder. I think it can be dangerous in some cases to quickly label individuals with certain mental conditions based on a 10 question internet survey conducted in a doctors office. Each individual’s mental wellbeing is unique and we each need to be assessed and treated on an individual basis, avoiding labels and being put into different boxes.

I’m really interested to hear your opinions on labels and how you think they effect individuals, whether for better or for worse. I end this post with a quote that I feel is quite fitting:

Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people

– Martina Navratilova
Advice and tips

Rethinking Valentines Day – Showing appreciation to your own mind and wellbeing

So today is Valentines day, a day where you are meant to celebrate your nearest and dearest and just how much you love them. In the past some have been quick to describe this day as ‘made up consumerist rubbish’, and I guess to a point I would agree with them. I’ve never believed that spending money on someone is a good way to show your love to your significant other, but I do think it’s nice to have a day dedicated to love. For many, they will be treating their partners, friends and family today; showering them with gifts or taking them out somewhere gorgeous. But I think today is just as much about showing yourself some love, regardless of whether you are in a relationship or not.

I thought for this post I could provide some ways of appreciating your self and your mind today. You and your mind have come a long way together and it’s a relationship that should be celebrated. Here’s some ways to appreciate your mind today:

1) Feed it

Our minds love learning new stuff. Studies have found learning new skills to increase the density the white matter in your brain and stimulate neurons, allowing electrical impulses to travel faster around your mind. As a result, regularly feeding your mind can help you learn better and improve your performance in tasks. So why not have a go at reading a book about something that has always fascinated you? or maybe you could take up french lessons or teach yourself an instrument. Whatever you decide to do, just remember as the saying goes – Knowledge is power.

2) Stop making comparisons

Take a day off watching others. So Brenda is flaunting her new flashy sports car on instagram while you can barely afford your Road Tax, good for her. As the saying goes, ‘Comparison is the thief of happiness’. Give your mind a break and take today to make some self-comparisons instead. Think about and even make a list of all of the amazing things you’ve achieved in the last year, no matter how small they may seem to you. You’ve done a great job! (No sports car needed).

3) Make time to do something you love

Life can be tough, so everybody deserves to take part in something that they enjoy on a daily basis. Whether that be having a game of tennis with a friend, or just indulging in some ice-cream in front of some really rubbish TV show, you should take some time out to treat yourself for getting through this week still in one piece.

4) Practise positive thinking

When I say positive thinking I don’t mean you have to be optimistic 100% of the time, because thats just not realistic. But it may be helpful to try and reframe some of your unpleasant thoughts in a more positive light. For example if you fail at something like a test, it can be common to feel that you are not ever going to get better at it. Try and see each failure as a learning experience, reflect on what you have learnt and how you can improve for next time. More information on positive thinking and further examples can be found here. I do this with each and every job interview I do and it makes me feel less stressed and encourages me to continue on with my job search.

5) Take the time to fully relax

Many of us say we are relaxing, but when are we truly relaxing? Just because you are sitting down doesn’t mean you are relaxing as much as you could be. Why not try a bit of meditation today (the headspace app is great) or even just lay down in a quiet place, take in some fresh air and listen to the sound of nature around you. If you live in a more urban environment, you could relax and listen to some nature sounds through headphones. Whatever you find the most peaceful thing to do, try to take a few minutes out daily to truly relax.

6) Get an early night!

This one is pretty self-explanatory. There has been loads and loads of studies showing the positive effect that sleep can have on our mental wellbeing. How much sleep we need for our minds to function at their best varies from person-to-person, but 7 – 9 hours is generally recommended. The weekend is the perfect time to look after your mind and catch up on your 40 winks.

I will definitely be following my own advice and showing my mind a bit of appreciation today, it’s been through a bit of a rough time the past couple of weeks so it deserves it. I hope you all have a nice day, regardless of what you get up to, I’m going to have a power nap now I think 🙂