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 🙂

My Experiences

What exactly is meant by the term ‘mental wellbeing knowledge’ ?

This post a little bit different to my normal stuff, but there is something that has captured my curiosity recently. I’m currently in the job searching process, looking to be a researcher in mental wellbeing. In a lot of adverts I come across, I notice that one criteria provided in the person specification is a knowledge of mental wellbeing. This has got me thinking, what does it exactly mean to have knowledge in this area?

Traditionally, knowledge is associated with qualifications; someone who has knowledge in mental wellbeing may have gone to university and gained a degree in psychology or mental health. A lot of the time, employers see qualifications as knowledge, but I feel that in the world of mental health, having and gaining knowledge can take more forms than just formal qualifications.

Some individuals may have no formal education in mental health. But what they do have is life experience from their own journey. Their knowledge is gained in the form of lessons that they have learnt along the way. These people may have suffered from or may still be struggling with their mental wellbeing. Although they have never been to university, they have learnt techniques that aid them with their own mental wellbeing. I think that online mediums such as Youtube are so valuable in the acquisition of knowledge and allow individuals to learn about mental health and wellbeing regardless of their background or financial. Myself, I have learnt so much about mental health from watching others talk about their mental health online and reading books on the subject. In some cases, individuals may have a mixture of formally credited knowledge and knowledge acquired elsewhere.

After thinking about this, I’ve come to the conclusion that all of the people mentioned in this post have mental wellbeing knowledge, and in both cases this knowledge is credible and has the power to benefit others. Theory and studies are great sources of knowledge, but there’s also a lot of knowledge to gain from those that has been through experiences relating to mental health. In my case, it’s very unlikely that I will get a formal qualification, but I’m grateful for the knowledge that is provided by others through online mediums. Online blogs, Youtube and Instagram all have a credible part to play in the distribution of knowledge and shouldn’t be underrated.

I hope I have been able to express myself clearly in this post, as there is a bit of an emotional influence behind this post. But I feel it highlights a key issue; in a world where more mental health research is needed, I worry that those who want to help but don’t have the formal qualifications to do so are locked out (although I totally understand that in some cases qualifications are needed to ensure vulnerable people are kept safe).

What do you feel it means to have mental wellbeing knowledge? I’d love to have a discussion below.

research

Sun, Sea and Self-doubt – The effect of reality TV and social media on self-image

I thought in this post we could explore the concept of body image and influences upon this. The theory behind our own perceptions of our body image seems increasingly relevant right now for a couple of reasons. Firstly, many of us will have made new years goals in an attempt to change how we look and feel about ourselves. This may include exercising more or giving up something that we feel is bad for our health.

Secondly, this Sunday marks the start of the biggest reality TV show in the UK right now – Love island. For those who are not aware of the format of the show, Love island brings together a group of people in a sunny villa somewhere lovely and hot. Most of these people appear to be young and what popular culture deems to be ‘attractive’ at the time. They all enter the villa looking for love, and I believe couples are made and challenged with the arrival of more young ‘attractive’ people throughout the series. I’ve never personally watched the show (apart from the one time a woman was watching it on the train next to me) so I can’t pass judgement upon it. But I thought I would explore the effects of this type of reality TV and the social media that surrounds it has on individuals behaviours with reference to their perceived self-image.

Watching shows like Love island can have a detrimental effect on our mental health and how we feel about our own bodies. As humans, we have a natural desire to make social comparisons. This means if we are unsure about something, we will look to others to determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others.

Seeing the contestants on Love island and their apparent ‘success’ from being on the show, a lot of people may place them in high regard and look to them to show them how to behave. The problem here is that the type of people that are contestants on the show demonstrate a lack of body diversity, with most being muscly and super-slim. Some may look at the bodies of the contestants and feel insecure about themselves. The shows boss has recently defended their casting decisions, stating that  contestants were chosen by the producers to represent an “aspirational version” of the show’s audience (Link here).

But what thought is given to viewers when suggesting these types of aspirations? The Mental Health Foundation recently ran a survey on body image. In their survey they found that seeing images of ‘ideal’ bodies can contribute to people feeling more distress and shame about their own body, if it does not match up to the presented aspirational ideal (Link here). Further to this, they found that 23% of 18-24 year olds said they had experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings because of concerns in relation to their body image. Fifteen percent said they had self-harmed or deliberately hurt themselves because of concerns about their body image. As a result of higher levels of body dissatisfaction, an individual may experience a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and be at risk of starting unhealthy eating behaviours.

With contestants going on to have very successful careers in social media afterwards, their influence expands way further than just the programme itself. It’s not unusual for contestants to be paid by companies to promote diet programmes, makeup and skincare on their social media platforms. But this can lead to their followers feeling inadequate and less worthy because they feel their body doesn’t look a certain way. More than a third of 18-24 year olds (34%) said images used in advertising and promotion on social media made them worry about their body image (Link here). An article from the NHS last week states that there has been a 37% rise in hospital admissions for eating disorders in just two years (link here). Claire Murdoch, national mental health director for the NHS said that individuals mental health was being damaged by “massive pressures about body image, fuelled through social media”.

‘In a Society That Profits From Your Self-Doubt, Liking Yourself Is a Rebellious Act’

As programmes like Love island carry on getting ever more popular, it’s even more important to spread the word and promote positive body image. Everyone has the right to feel at home and comfortable in the body they were born in. Below I’ve linked some great instagram accounts that I follow that actively promote self-love and acceptance, so feel free to follow them if you would like to:

https://www.instagram.com/i_weigh/?hl=en – I Weigh is a campaign about radical inclusivity.
https://www.instagram.com/dontcallmepretty_/?hl=en – Big on promoting self-love.
https://www.instagram.com/theinsecuregirlsclub/?hl=en – A space which promotes empowerment through embracing vulnerabilities.
https://www.instagram.com/peterdevito/?hl=en – A inspirational and inclusive photographer