‘Mental illness feels to me like a loss of the self. If everything you care about, everything you love and value, no longer feels meaningful to you, what is life for?’
A few weeks ago I was walking through Euston train station and my attention was drawn to the bright yellow cover and the words ‘Sh*t Therapist’ displayed on this book. It engaged my inner curiosity immediately, as I’ve had bad experiences with therapists in the past (but thankfully I’ve also had some good ones). I had to purchase this book and it’s been sitting on my Kindle ever since but I finally got around to reading it last week. It was the book that I never knew I needed to read right now, but I’m so grateful that I did.
My Sh*t Therapist: & Other Mental Health Stories is the first book publication by Michelle Thomas. In 2015 she made headlines with her blog when she published a post describing an incident where she was being body-shamed after a first date (It’s a really great post, read it here). In this book, Michelle describes her own experiences with mental illness, dating back to her first depressive episode in 2013. She discusses multiple aspects of her life relating to her mental health in ten separate chapters, from her initial diagnosis to her current home life. I found this book strangely refreshing, she presents information in a light hearted way and tackles some pretty dark subjects using her humour beautifully. I found her voice throughout the book both engaging and reassuring. But alongside the laughs, there was some really good advice and guidance of where to get support which I think will be of a huge help to some readers.
I personally found this book so dearly relatable. I’ve read a couple of mental health books but have struggled to engage with what the author talks about. With this book, I had personally gone through so much of what Michelle describes, including her experiences of reconnecting with old friends and how this isn’t always the best thing to do for your mental health. The book discusses the struggle faced by many individuals in their twenties, where there is a pressure to do it all and to do it all now. Me being 29 myself, I connected with this section of the book so much and it made me feel a little more at ease that I didn’t have my life all sorted out yet.
As well as Michelle’s story, there are stories of experiences written by members of Michelles online community. At the end of each chapter, Michelle asks her community a question such as how their mental health has changed over the period of their lives. Reading the communities answers was so enlightening and really made this book feel like it was a part of something bigger, like we were all in this together. It was comforting and inspirational to read the experiences and advice of others.
Overall, I’m so glad that I read this book at this point in my life. It really helped me to rationalise my own thinking and to accept that the way I personally feel sometimes does not make me a weirdo. There’s nothing wrong with taking medication if thats what works for you, and everyone needs to indulge in self-care on a regular basis. Anyone can experience struggles with their mental health and this book helps combat the stigma around discussing these struggles with others. If only more people had the same mentality as Michelle, the world might be a little easier for those struggling with their mental health and wellbeing. I highly recommend this book for those who may be feeling a little alone with their own thoughts and would benefit from the support and reassurance that this book offers.
This post is a bit of a personal one. Throughout my mental health journey, I have made changes to my lifestyle in an attempt to improve my state of mind and generally make me a little bit happier. One of the changes I made was deciding to deactivate my Facebook. I last logged onto my Facebook page on March 20th 2018. Before I deactivated, I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like without my daily habitual hour of aimless scrolling. I initially set out to go without Facebook for a month. Then this month turned into six months, then a year. I thought for this post I could explain some of the personal benefits I’ve felt to my mental health from making this decision.
I have more time to conduct other activities
Since quitting Facebook, I have spent time doing other activities to fill my spare time. Instead of scrolling every night, I’ve taken a keen interest in reading novels. I’m finding this new hobby to be of great benefit to my mental health, as I find reading a great escape from the stresses of daily life. Having no social media also encourages me to spend more time away from the computer screen, which can only be a good thing in my opinion.
I can focus more on myself
Reading the statement above may make me appear a tad narcissistic, but I think everyone should spend more time on themselves. I used to spend most of my time on Facebook feeling sad, because my life didn’t appear as glamorous and exciting as the lives of my peers. In reality, it really doesn’t matter if you’re married, have kids or go on exotic holidays, as long as you are happy in yourself. By removing Facebook, I couldn’t make social comparisons, which lead me to focus more on my own life and how I could live it in a way which made me happiest. I think the biggest lesson I learnt was that It’s not selfish to show an interest in your own life instead of the lives of other people.
I could address my obsession with likes
When I was a regular user of Facebook, I would post a status or photo and then sit there waiting for people to like it. Reflecting back on this behaviour, I realise how unhealthy doing this was for my own mental health. If a photo didn’t get many likes, I would take this personally and it would create anxiety. But I’m now living my life to get ‘likes’ from myself. It’s so liberating to let go of the feeling that I need to live my life in a way that gets approval from others. This has allowed me to enjoy the process of actually doing things, instead of anticipating the number of likes I will get from announcing I’ve done it on Facebook.
It changed my views on birthday messages
Another thing I got obsessed with was the number of birthday wishes I received on my Facebook wall each year. I would actively compare year upon year and it would have an impact on my overall mental wellbeing. I would get worried if I was receiving less messages and it would make me feel like something was going wrong in my life. Reflecting upon this made me realise that my feelings were completely unreal, but they felt so reasonable to me at the time.
Since quitting Facebook, I have not missed receiving all those extra birthday wishes on my birthday. There’s something lovely about receiving a good old fashioned card or even a text, it just feels a bit more genuine to me. I was definitely a lot less anxious on my birthday last year, which allowed me to enjoy and live in the actual day.
The thought of disconnecting from social media can be enough to start a panic attack for some people. I’m not telling you all to quit your social media accounts right now, as for some this may not be feasible or beneficial, but I’m so glad that I did. I truly believe that setting limits on the amount of social media you expose yourself to can only lead to positive effects on your mental well being.
So how often do you spend on social media? and do you actively gain anything positive and beneficial by spending time scrolling through each day? If the answer to the latter question is no, then maybe a lifestyle change could be just what you needed.
This is the view as I write this post. I’m currently sitting outside enjoying a rare British summer bank holiday weekend where it isn’t raining. As I sit here I feel strangely peaceful, at one with nature (although I am aware of the fact that currently I’m typing on a laptop). The summer breeze, the sound of the birds, the whole sensation of just being outside in the open and just existing is so calming. This got me wondering why this is the case, why does nature appear to ease humans worries and make us feel so calm? I did a bit of research and found out the following (quite interesting) information regarding the links between nature and mental health.
It can decrease stress
Spending time outdoors can help to relieve tension and anxiety. One study  found that students that spent two days in the forest were less stressed when compared to students that had spent the same amount of time in a city environment . This study found being outside to lead to lower levels of cortisol, which is a hormone often associated with stress. Researchers suggest that spending as little as 20 minutes exposed to nature a day can significantly reduce cortisol levels in an individual .
It may help ease depression and anxiety
A previous study  has found that spending time outdoors can lead to decreased anxiety and depression for some individuals. Another study  suggests that individuals who spend time in nature show less neural activity in the part of the brain associated with depression when compared to those who spent time in a city environment. Because of this previous work, some researchers  even actively recommend spending time walking outdoors as a supplement to other treatments for major depressive disorder.
It can boost your mood
Some studies have found spending time outside to lead to positive effects on individuals moods, making them feel happier . This is attributed to the exposure to natural light that you get from being outside, which fills your mind with a feeling of well-being .
It can reduce mental fatigue
So much of our lives nowadays are spent looking at screens or interacting with technology which can lead to stress. Stress can be caused by a number of factors, for example you may receive a tough work email or you could be on social media observing how perfect everyone’s lives appear to be when compared to your own (definitely never done this whilst eating a tub of ice cream on a Friday night…)
Being outside allows you to step away from the screen, which can give your brain a rest, allowing your mind to rejuvenate. Previous studies  have found a positive link between spending time outdoors and reducing mental fatigue. They found that being outside in a natural environment required less directed attention. In contrast, urban environments are filled with stimulation that captures attention dramatically, often requiring directed attention, for example you are actively always avoiding walking into people or being hit by a car.
Further to the information above I also found out that some countries have incorporated the act of spending time outdoors into their culture. In Japan, spending time walking around forests is a very popular form of preventative health care, known as forest bathing or shinrin-yoku.
In Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Sweden, and Finland, the value of spending time outdoors is known as friluftsliv, which translates to “open air life.” Friluftsliv encourages a connection with nature and encourage children to play outdoors and explore the world around them. Finnish schools allow plenty of time for their students to play outdoors during the day. This system of blending work and outdoor play has resulted in students achieving more academically when compared to other countries on a global scale.
I’ve made this post a relatively short one, as I’m going to close my laptop down now and just sit outside for a while. If you can, I advise most of you to give yourself a break and to try and do the same, if only for a couple of minutes. Breathe deeply and open your senses to the environment around you. Make the most of the nice weather while it’s here as I’m sure we will all have our thermals and wooly coats on in a couple of days time if typical British weather is anything to go by.
So, in a technology driven world, be a rebel and put the phone down for a minute or two. Why not reintroduce yourself to mother nature, have a cup of tea (there are other great beverages available) and have a bit of a catch-up together.
Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 15(1), 9.
Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 15(1), 18.
Barton, J., & Pretty, J. (2010). What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental science & technology, 44(10), 3947-3955.
Last week, thousands of young people received their A-level results. For some, they may have chosen to further their studies by completing a university degree. For me, going to university as an undergraduate student was the most life changing period of my life (to date). In addition to the knowledge I gained from the course, I personally learnt a lot more about myself and how I tick. This sounds weird, but up to this point I had never took the time to think about me, I had been focused on the schooling system and spent most of my time with my head in a book. The freedom that occurred at this stage in my life was liberating but also suffocating. I was free to do what I wanted with my future, but the struggles I was having with my own mental health limited what I felt I could achieve.
As many say, hindsight is a beautiful thing. As a fresh-faced university student, I never gave two thoughts to my mental health. Recent research has shown that over 15,000 first-year university students struggle with their mental health every year (Source here). I didn’t even consider that mental health was something that a person could struggle with. It’s only when I reflect upon it now, with the mental health knowledge I’ve gained, that I realise how much I struggled at that time.
I thought in this post I thought I could offer some advice that I would’ve given to my eighteen year old self, in the hope that it may be useful to others. This is simply my own opinions and advice based upon my own experiences as a student. I have included a list of useful sources for students and their mental health provided by charities at the end of this post.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore it.
I am guilty of this, although in my case it was due to my own naivety. When I was an undergraduate I knew my mental health was taking a hit but I chose to ignore it in the hope that it would fix itself in time. This may work for some, but it definitely wasn’t the case for me. I always ponder what I may have done differently if I had addressed and cared for my mental health a little better than I did. Be proactive, try to learn about mental health and keep an eye on your own.
Look into what facilities there are at your university.
It’s no secret that facilities to help with mental health are few and far between within university environments. I could write a whole other post about this, but this article sums it up. But although facilities are stretched, they are available. In my undergraduate degree I wasn’t even aware what help was available and it wasn’t widely advertised.
Make sure to check out what help is available at your university because you may be surprised. A little further down the line whilst completing my PhD studies I found out that my university offered free counselling sessions for students. I am forever grateful for finding this resource and the sessions helped my mental health through a really tough point.
Don’t be so hard on yourself
The transition from school to university student is a tough one, so you should cut yourself some slack. For those struggling with their mental health it can be even more challenging, so be sure to focus on all the things you accomplish each day. It may sound like nothing, but you should feel proud of the things you achieve. Went to a lecture? Amazing. Washed all your washing without the colours running? Even better.
There will be challenges during your university journey and you may sometimes experience knock backs, both academically and non-academically. If knock backs happen, take time out to analyse the situation and be kind to yourself. Hate to include a clique but ‘Talk to yourself like you would someone you love’. For example telling yourself that you are a loser and you’re rubbish at getting up in time for those 9am lectures probably won’t have a benefit on your mental health.
It’s okay to take a break
Taking a breather is not failing. Recognising when you need to stop is a good and brave thing to do. In my undergraduate I never did this and eventually I burnt out. Whatever you do, don’t feel guilty for putting life on hold for a little while so you can work on yourself. Your own mental health needs to come first. If you have good mental health, the other parts of your life may also start to fall into place a little easier.
Also, you may meet people who don’t regard mental health issues as actual real life problems and may act towards you in a negative way. Ignore these people. In response to my own issues I’ve been told to ‘man up’ and ‘have a hot beverage to calm myself down’ before now. Surprisingly, neither of these words of wisdom helped me at all. But now I do wonder what would happen if I had a manly hot beverage?
It’s not you, it’s them
People act the way they do for their own reasons that you may never understand. Everyone has their own struggles in life and we all have bad days. If a person acts in a harsh or nasty manner to you, try not to take it personally. Don’t let the nasty manners and behaviours of others have a negative effect on your mental health. Try to develop methods of responding to these types of behaviour in a way that is best for you and your mental health.
Focus on being the best version of yourself
To me, this is probably the advice I most wish I’d taken. When I say the best version of yourself, I don’t mean pushing yourself to get washboard abs or studying day and night to get 100% on a test. I think what I mean is try to be the most ‘peaceful’ version of yourself. This can refer to many aspects of your life, such as relationships, health or academically. Reflecting upon when I was an undergrad, I didn’t surround myself with people that made me feel happy within myself and I believe this didn’t help me mentally. The university culture of drinking and partying can also take a toll on your mental health. I didn’t care for or look after my body, I wish I had been a little more active and had partied a little less (although you still need to have fun, but I was excessive in my approach).
My main advice is if you don’t feel okay, remember that you are not alone and there are people you can talk to. It is okay not to feel okay, nobody is okay one hundred percent of the time no matter how they may appear.
I hope this post hasn’t made university appear in a negative light to any of you. Going to university is such a life-changing period of an individual’s life and you should go out and enjoy every minute of it. Just remember to check in with your mental health every so often 🙂
Just to finish, here is a list of really good student mental health resources I found if anyone requires them:
https://www.studentminds.org.uk/resources.html – information regarding many aspects of student life from the charity ‘Student Mind’. There is also a wide range of useful information I wish I had access to when I was eighteen on their website.
When most people are trying to sleep, they keep themselves awake with things like worrying that they forgot to lock the backdoor or fantasising about the latest James Bond actor, not me apparently. This week my mind pondered about colours and their links with mental health and emotions. People may say they are feeling blue or they have been tickled pink, but what is the actual link between colours and emotions?
Apparently there is a thing called ‘colour psychology’, and for this post I thought I would share a bit that I’ve learned about this concept. Colour psychology refers to the psychological effects that certain colours can have on our bodies and minds. It explains how colour may be a powerful force in an individual’s life, with certain colours being able to evoke emotions and feelings. Previous research highlights how some colours have associations because the role it’s played in our evolution. In nature, red or yellow markings on an animal or insect are usually associated with danger, so our ancestors knew to be weary when faced with these. Likewise, our ancestors found colours such as green to be associated with rotting food or faeces which should be avoided, therefore this colour would induce a feeling of disgust.
This week I also researched all about ‘Chromotherapy’. According to this type of therapy, each human needs a sun’s light to function and live. Further to this, the sun’s light can be split up into a seven-colour spectrum. If an individual has an imbalance of these seven colours it may result in them experiencing negative effects to their physical or mental well being. An example of a type of treatment offered currently is a chromotherapy bath, which is like taking a normal bath but the bath lights up certain colours to address particular health needs. For example red is used to support an individual’s circulatory functions as it is believed to increase the pulse, raise blood pressure and increase the rate of breathing. Whereas yellow is utilised to purify the skin and aid with indigestion. For those of you who would like to know more about chromotherapy in depth, there are some good sources of information here and here .
Having read about chromotherapy I was still a little on the cautious side when considering the power of colour on an individual’s emotional health. I did a little bit more delving and found a number of empirical studies that appear to support the links between colours and emotions. An overview of the links found between colours and emotions is outlined below (Full references can be found at the bottom of this post).
Overall, previous research has produced many mixed results regarding the emotions that colours evoke. This is especially the case for red, where there appears to be a wide range of emotions, both positive and negative, linked to it. There have been a couple of reasons suggested in the past for these variations. Firstly, an individual’s culture or upbringing may play a role. People are more likely to make associations between colours and emotions according to what they were brought up with. For example, in India red is associated with purity, sensuality, and spirituality. On the other hand, some countries in Africa associate red with death, and in Nigeria it represents aggression and vitality. It’s considered a lucky charm in Egypt and symbolises good fortune and courage in Iran. Other researchers have also suggested that the specific shade can make a difference. With regards to red, dark red was found to be associated with anger and rage, whereas lighter shades of red were associated with love (6).
I thought I would do a little research of my own and decided to run a short online survey. In the survey, participants were presented with six colours in turn (red, yellow, blue, orange, purple and green) and for each one they were asked what emotion or mental state the colour made them feel. Forty-seven people kindly took part and a round up of the main results are below in word clouds. For those of you who are not familiar with word clouds, the size and vibrancy of colour is positively correlated with how often it was mentioned. For example, a big vivid word was a more common answer than a small grey one.
The most common emotion that red made people feel was angry (5 people stated this). Feelings of caution were also felt when presented with this colour in particular. The word cloud shows a lot of emotions that appear to be warm in nature associated with this word (e.g. Love, Fierce).
Overall, the results of this word cloud present yellow as a colour that draws out positive feelings and emotions. Most people stated that seeing yellow made them feel happy (4 stated this), which I thought could possibly be because it is the same colour as the sun? Others found yellow to be positively energising, making them feel awake and excited.
A vast majority of participants found blue to make them feel calm (15 people stated this). Blue also made many participants feel happy and relaxed. But in contrast to this, some participants had negative emotions occur when shown this colour, such as feelings of sadness and claustrophobia.
This colour appeared to be quite a high energy colour, with most participants stating that it made them feel alert (5 said this). It also appeared to provoke high energy emotions that were negative in nature, as some stated that it made them feel annoyed. Others found orange to be a playful colour, which they associated with fun and happiness.
Purple appeared to make people feel a whole range of emotions, with the most popular being regal and calm (but only 3 people stated these). It also appeared to stimulate people’s curiosity, with some people stating it made them feel inspired and inquisitive.
Green appeared to make most people feel calm (8 people felt this). For many, they associate this colour with neutral, natural and peaceful feelings. A couple of participants found this colour to result in negative emotions such as sickness and nervousness.
So what’s my final opinion on the link between colour and emotions considering all the information presented? I believe something is there but the extent to which certain colours can provoke particular emotions needs more research in my opinion. I’m not sure that there is an instinctive link between colour and mental state (we don’t see red and feel alert by instinct). The link between colour and emotion appears to be something that is developed over an individual’s lifetime, with this link having the possibility of being influenced by an individual’s environment and cultural upbringing. Because of this, the meanings of colours and the effect they have on an individual’s mind feels ambiguous and uncertain at the current time.
I hope you have found this all as interesting as I did putting it together. As a bonus, I can now go back to staying awake worrying that I haven’t locked the backdoor at night.
1 – Wexner, L. B. (1954). The degree to which colors (hues) are associated with mood-tones. J. Appl. Psychol. 38, 432–435. doi: 10.1037/h0062181 2 – Hanada, M. (2017). Correspondence analysis of color–emotion associations. Color Res. Appl. 43, 224–237. doi: 10.1002/col.22171 3 – Cimbalo, R. S., Beck, K. L., and Sendziak, D. S. (1978). Emotionally toned pictures and color selection for children and college students. J. Genet. Psychol. 133, 303–304. doi: 10.1080/00221325.1978.10533389 4 – Kaya, N., and Epps, H. (2004). Relationship between color and emotion: a study of college students. Coll. Stud. J. 38, 396–404. 5 – Sutton, T. M., and Altarriba, J. (2016). Finding the positive in all of the negative: Facilitation for color-related emotion words in a negative priming paradigm. Acta Psychol. 170, 84–93. doi: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2016.06.012 6 – Fugate JMB and Franco CL (2019) What Color Is Your Anger? Assessing Color-Emotion Pairings in English Speakers. Front. Psychol. 10:206. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00206 7 – Madden, T. J., Hewett, K., and Roth, M. S. (2000). Managing images in different cultures: a cross-national study of color meanings and preferences. J. Int. Market. 8, 90–107. doi: 10.1509/jimk.220.127.116.1195
As some of you may know, I’m currently undergoing my PhD studies. As part of my research, I have to submit pieces of my work to journals in the hope that they will get published. As part of the journal submission process, there is a blind peer review. This involves a total stranger reading my work and judging whether it is worthy of publication. This is an aspect of research that has always terrified me, as I fear being judged harshly and rejected.
For as long as I can remember I have feared the judgement of others. I envy those people who can say that they ‘don’t care what others think’, but I also question the authenticity of their statement. We all want to feel loved and accepted, no matter what we say. For as long as there’s been people on this earth, they have judged each other. It happens all of the time, often subconsciously. We judge people by how they look, sound and even the type of music they listen to (I still get some strange looks when I admit I’m impartial to some Westlife from time to time).
I recently had my first journal accepted and published, it wasn’t easy and I had some negative reviewers the first time round (one of them took a particular disliking to me using the word ‘plethora’ and from then on I’ve made it my personal goal to use this word at least once a day). Despite this negativity I got there in the end and this has got me reflecting upon the feelings of judgement I felt. I thought I would share a little bit of information from studies that I’ve recently found on the fear of being judged by others that I found interesting .
Firstly I found that we are aware of how we are judged by others before we can even talk. A recent study (Link here) found that toddlers were very aware that other people may be evaluating them. Further to this, toddlers will alter their behaviour to get a positive response from others. This study highlights how judgement is a natural instinct, there’s no avoiding it.
Another interesting study I found regards the origins of the fear of judgement (known in some cases as social anxiety). The study suggest that social anxiety is contagious and parents or carers may even pass it onto their children. But it is not something that is passed on genetically, but rather through a child’s environment. Children who witness their parents acting anxiously are more liable to start to feel the same sense of anxiety in certain situations (Full study link here).
But why do we fear the judgement of others in the first place? I found a really useful article that I felt offered a reasonable explanation to this. This article explains how the fear of being judged is often a reflection of our own insecurities. The fear arrises because of the following two assumptions you make in your own mind:
You assume you’ve done something that is going to make others judge you harshly. This is usually just a reflection of your own fears.
You assume the other person feels the same way and will also judge you harshly. This is often a projection of your own thoughts onto someone else.
So in my case, I was so anxious because I thought the work I did was complete rubbish, which was just my own opinion and not a matter of fact. I also thought all reviewers were critical and harsh, another assumption I made based on others stories about the feedback they had received. In reality most of the feedback I received was positive and constructive in nature, so my assumption was proven to be wrong. I encourage you to think about a situation in which you have feared judgement and try to obtain whether your thoughts are rational. I did this and I’ve found it a useful exercise going forward in life.
Another thing to take away from this post is that some people are going to judge you no matter what (it’s natural instinct and as Taylor swift sings ‘haters gonna hate’), the only thing you can change is how you react to it. Take some time for yourself and try to take the focus off others, this is definitely something that I will try to do in the future. I’ve also always believed that judging someone does not define who they are; it defines who you are, so lets be a little kinder to each other.
So there you have it, a bit about judgement. I hope you have found reading this plethora of knowledge as interesting as I did researching it. Feel free to judge this piece and add your own judgmental experiences below.