Advice and tips

The winter blues… What do you know about Seasonal affective disorder?

So the nights are getting shorter, the temperature is dropping and we are all spending more time cosying up in front of the fire. For some the changing of the seasons is a welcome and refreshing experience, but for others it can have a detrimental effect on their mental well-being. As we are all currently going through transitional seasons, I thought I could use this post to talk about Seasonal affective disorder (shortened to SAD) and highlight its symptoms. Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that is linked to the seasonal patterns. Most people with SAD will experience negative symptoms stronger during the winter months, but this is not always the case. For some, their symptoms are more severe during summer and they feel a lot better during winter.

How do I know if I have SAD?

Those experiencing SAD may experience one or more of the following symptoms. These symptoms are similar to those experienced by people with depression but the difference is that these symptoms worsen with the changing of the seasons. The severity of these symptoms can differ from person-to-person:

  • You may feel down a lot of the time.
  • You may not feel like doing anything – SAD can cause an individual to lose interest in the things they used to enjoy.
  • You may feel highly stressed or anxious most of the time.
  • It may become difficult to concentrate on anything.
  • You may feel guilty, in despair and may become tearful.
  • You may develop a low self-esteem and start to feel worthless.
  • You may start to snap at others when you don’t mean to – SAD can cause individuals to become irratable.
  • You may lack in energy and find yourself sleeping a lot during the day.
  • Some may crave food which may lead to weight gain.

But what causes SAD?

I wish there was a solid answer to this, but the exact causes are not fully understood. But it’s most commonly believed that SAD is caused by a lack of sunlight, which impacts parts of the brain from functioning properly. Lack of sunlight can also affect and disrupt the body’s internal clock as the body uses sunlight to time various functions such as when to wake up and when to sleep. The body may start to produce higher levels of melatonin, which is a hormone that makes us feel sleepy. The body may also start to reduce the levels of serotonin (known as the happy hormone) it produces, which can affect an individual sleep, appetite and general mood.

I think it’s important to be aware of conditions like Seasonal affective disorder as it can be a life impacting condition for some. Be sure to check in with your own feelings and thoughts on a regular basis and look out for any of the symptoms above. If you feel you may be suffering from the condition, please do visit a professional as there are forms of treatment that may be able to help you such as changes to your lifestyle, light therapies, medication or talking therapies.

For those who may need it, places where you can find more information about SAD can be found below:

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/about-sad/

I hope this post has been helpful and informative, 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

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

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 🙂

Advice and tips, My Experiences

30 mental health lessons I learned during my twenties

So today marks my 30th full orbit around the sun. In the past 30 years I’ve learned a fair amount about myself and my mental health (some of it I wish I’d learnt a lot earlier). I thought in this post I would write about something a little more personal. Below are 30 lessons I’ve learned regarding my own mental health within the last ten years or so:

  1. There are some people in the world that will just never understand mental illness and the effect it can have on individuals that suffer from it.
  2. But some people do understand, you should hold onto these people for they are gold dust.
  3. Even though it’s hard, opening up to others can make the world of difference.
  4. Try not to be so hard yourself all of the time.
  5. Staying up at night stressing about that stupid thing you did when you were 24 won’t change the present and only causes unneeded anxiety.
  6. Finding a therapist isn’t easy. It’s like finding a relationship, some will work for you, others won’t. Keep looking until you find the one that’s right for you.
  7. There’s no shame in the way you feel.
  8. Don’t live your life to please others, this causes unnecessary stress.
  9. You’ll meet a variety of people throughout your life, some will be good for your mental health, others not so much, try to stay away from these people where possible.
  10. Treat yourself with the same respect you would have for others. 
  11. 99 percent of the bad things you spent hours worrying about happening never actually happened.
  12. If you don’t do anything to change your mental wellbeing, don’t expect anything to change.
  13. Hold onto the small things that make you smile (even if it is just dancing around and miming to the Spice Girls’ greatest hits)
  14. Stop worrying about what you’re meant to be doing to be considered ‘normal’. In this world there is no such thing as ‘normal’. ‘Normal’ is nothing more than a setting on a washing machine.
  15. Looking after your mental wellbeing is a lifelong process, there’s unlikely to be a quick fix.
  16. Don’t feel ashamed of taking medication for your mental health, you’d take a couple of painkillers if you needed to so what’s the difference?
  17. Your mental struggles do not define you – you are not your anxiety.
  18. Listen to what your mind is telling you. If you need a break, take one.
  19. You are not alone in your mental health struggles, even when you feel like the loneliest person on the planet. 1 in 4 people suffer with a mental illness at some point in their lives.
  20. Exercise provides effective relief for anxiety. 
  21. Anxiety is just a natural feeling, it won’t last forever so allow yourself to feel it and trust that it will eventually pass.
  22. Stop kicking yourself for the things you could’ve done differently.
  23. Strangers are not able to instantly see and judge you upon your mental health struggles.
  24. Take the time to look after yourself and your mind may follow.
  25. Your mental health struggles have no effect on your self-worth, you are as worthy as the next person and you deserve just as much happiness.
  26. It’s okay not to feel okay sometimes.
  27. Like my physical health, my mental health should be my main priority in life.
  28. Experiencing panic attacks and anxiety does not make you a failure.
  29. Coping with your mental struggles makes you a stronger person than you’ll ever give yourself credit for.
  30. Whatever happens, just keep moving forward at whatever pace you are able to (as Dory says, just keep swimming…)

My life so far has had its ups and downs with regards to my mental wellbeing, but overall I feel more prepared than ever for the future. Here’s to another 30 years of discovery and mental self care! 🙂

Have you learnt any lessons about your mental health over the past few years? Feel free to share below.

Advice and tips

The most wonderful time of the year? – Looking after your mental wellbeing at Christmas

The twinkling of Christmas lights, the sound of Bublé in the air and the sight of some truly terrible jumpers, Christmas can really be the most delightful time of the year. But despite this, it can still be a difficult time for those who suffer from anxiety disorders.

My anxiety wasn’t present during the first 15 or so years of my life. I guess Christmas was just exciting to me back then. Nowadays I find myself needing to look after my mental wellbeing more at this time of year. Things like gift buying, seeing people I haven’t seen in a long time and just other general stress at this time can have a knock on effect on my anxiety and mental well-being in general.

I thought in this post I could offer some tips on how to cope with the festive period if your mental wellbeing tends to suffer. These tips are by no means proven, they are based on my own previous experiences and having to learn to cope with my own anxieties at this time of year:

You are what you eat

For some this may not be the case, but I find that my anxiety tends to behave a little better the healthier I eat. This time of the year is associated with lots of delicious, but somewhat unhealthy food. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t eat all the exciting festive offerings (I’m not a total Scrooge), but I’ve found it to be beneficial to try and tame general indulgences. I’ve found this to be really helpful when it comes to things like caffeine and alcohol. It’s about getting that perfect balance between having fun but also considering the effects on consuming certain things on your mental well-being. Understanding your limits can really help, for example I’m happy to have a traditional glass of champagne, but I’ll always stop at one.

Have a break (Kit Kat is optional)

It’s totally normal for Christmas to be overwhelming at times, even for those that don’t struggle with their mental wellbeing. It’s important to take regular time out for yourself, this is definitely not a selfish thing to do. I will often take time out to do something I enjoy for a little while (for me it’s reading). Doing something that you personally enjoy can be a great way of eradicating or easing any negative feelings that you may be having at the time.

Be a lover not a fighter

Accept how you feel and stop working against yourself. No two people think and feel the same, what a boring place the world would be if that was the case. It’s okay to feel how you do. If you don’t feel festive, totally fine. Not in the mood to have in-depth conversations with relatives you see once a year? Then don’t. I fought against my own feelings for years and felt terrible because of the way I’ve behaved and felt in certain situations. Give yourself a break (it’s Christmas after all). Just accept that you feel how you do. If you become anxious, don’t fight it, I’ve found this to actually make the feelings worse. Instead, accept the anxiety and understand that the feelings will subside, like a storm in the ocean. Don’t let others tell you how you should be feeling, they aren’t in your body.

Keep active

It’s pretty common knowledge that exercise has positive effects on mental well-being. But as the nights draw in and the temperature drops, it can be difficult to keep active. Ensure that you do a little something each day, even if this is a short walk outside. Your mental well-being may thank you for it.

Keep your fire burning

I think this is my most important advice. It’s so easy to work your mental health into the ground these days, but this burnout can be detrimental and difficult to come back from. If you can sense that you are struggling the do something to help. This could be talking to someone, or delegating things in order to reduce stress. Don’t worry about being a burden by putting things on your friends and family, if they love you, they honestly won’t mind. It personally took me a while to realise this and be comfortable in asking others for help.

So remember, check in with yourself and your mental wellbeing on a regular basis and don’t be afraid to avoid anything which will have a negative impact on this. It’s not being selfish, it’s called self care.

To all my blog readers, I wish you all good health and a pleasant Christmas! 🙂

Advice and tips, My Experiences

Social anxiety and coping with job interviews

Earlier this week I had a job interview, the first one that I’d actually had in a little while. For me, interviews send my anxiety into complete overdrive. I become hyper aware of myself and the fact that in this situation I am actively being judged. Being this aware can lead me to being extra cautious of what I’m saying for fear of coming across badly. This was the exact case during this job interview, I found myself struggling to speak and at times my mind completely blanked out (another common behaviour I’ve experienced with my anxiety).

Safe to say, I didn’t get the job. One of the interviewers stated the reason being because I didn’t explain myself thoroughly when I was talking, and I actually agree with them. My anxiety was really prominent during the interview but I’m proud that I came through it in one piece and this is the positive I take away from the experience.

Reflecting on this experience, I thought I would benefit from looking up some advice about coping with job interviews when you suffer from anxiety. I thought I could share the advice I find in the hope it can help others who also struggle with similar issues to myself.

How you feel is completely normal

Being confronted by an interview panel, anyone is bound to be nervous. For me, my anxiety can make me feel so isolated and alone at times. But in this situation, accepting that anxiety is a completely natural feeling is the first step towards working with it. Some of the sources I read even suggest that you shouldn’t be afraid of anxiety and that it could even be harnessed to your advantage. The adrenaline caused by anxiety may actually be beneficial when you’re in a job interview situation. For me personally, I think adopting this viewpoint may be of benefit.

Seeing Success

There’s a technique suggested which draws upon theory surrounding positive thinking. It states that those who are prone to anxiety should take some time out in a quiet spot to visualise themselves being successful before the interview. It is claimed that if done properly, this visualising technique may actually be preparing your mind to behave in a certain way during the interview. I think this technique is quite interesting and it’s used by elite athletes before competitions to improve performance, so I might give it a try myself.

Slow and steady wins the race

During job interviews, my anxiety results in a tendency to want to answer questions as quickly as possible. But on reflection, one of the websites I found stressed that there’s no need to rush with responses. If you pause before giving your answer, it gives you a chance to collect your thoughts and this could stop your mind going completely blank while you’re talking. If your mind does go blank, ask for a moment to collect your thoughts. Or you could even ask the interviewer a question to buy yourself a little more time to think (like “as a matter of fact, I was thinking…”). I think with anxiety, the fear of blanking out can almost be enough to cause it to actually happen. I find this advice reassuring and will definitely try it in the future.

Get outside yourself

Anxiety can make an individual become very self-conscious, I myself am particularly susceptible to this. One way of getting around this is to move your focus onto others. Some sources have explained how you can do this by asking others questions (like asking the receptionist or interviewer how they are) and being empathic to their answer. Actively engaging with others, although this can be difficult, may actually help an individual with anxiety to feel calmer.

Another way of shifting the focus comes back to the practise of interviewing the interviewer. This mindset involves you realising that job interviews are also a chance for you to evaluate your employer. You are as much deciding if the job is suitable for you as the employer is deciding if you are suitable for the job. Asking them questions shows curiosity and shifts the focus from yourself.

Although I found lots of advice that I personally feel will be helpful, there was also a lot of advice on the internet which I felt to be quite patronising. Some advice was the standard ‘just be calmer and breathe’ (like that’s an easy thing to do when you’re on the edge of a panic attack). I even found advice that suggested you ensure to wash your hands before each interview to reduce anxiety (I have no idea either).

I think reflecting on my experience this week it just comes down to practise makes perfect. Sometimes I really hate anxiety, but I feel the only way for me to personally address mine is to expose myself to it as often as possible to give me a chance to accept it and work with it. I aim to learn from my job interview experience and keep challenging myself to do more. I hope this article is useful to some of you who may be struggling with similar issues to me.

Here’s a list of websites I found useful and drew upon:
https://www.verywellmind.com/tips-cope-with-job-interview-anxiety-3024324
http://overcomingsocialanxiety.com/why-you-can-still-face-job-interviews-even-with-social-anxiety/
https://introvertdear.com/news/interview-socially-anxiety-introvert/
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/career-transitions/201503/10-ways-calm-your-interview-anxiety

Advice and tips, My Experiences

Vitamin N – The benefit of nature on mental health

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 [1] 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 [2].

It may help ease depression and anxiety

A previous study [3] has found that spending time outdoors can lead to decreased anxiety and depression for some individuals. Another study [4] 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 [5] 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 [1][2]. 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 [6]. 

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 [7] 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. 

References

  1. Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 15(1), 9.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. University, S. (2019). Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature. Retrieved 27 August 2019, from https://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/
  5. Friedman, L., & Loria, K. (2019). 11 scientific reasons you should be spending more time outside. Retrieved 27 August 2019, from https://www.businessinsider.com/scientific-benefits-of-nature-outdoors-2016-4?r=US&IR=T
  6. Park, A. (2019) Why sunlight is so good for you Retrieved 27 August 2019, from https://time.com/4888327/why-sunlight-is-so-good-for-you/ 
  7. Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological science, 19(12), 1207-1212.