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

60 seconds

60 seconds on… Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

In today’s post we are exploring a mental health condition called obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD for short). This condition appears to have become more known in recent years, with a number of celebrities (such as Leonardo Dicaprio and Justin Timberlake) talking openly about their own experiences of living with the condition. Also, there has been recent news suggesting the number of people in the UK seeking help for OCD has risen sharply since the outbreak of coronavirus, with 72% of those with OCD feeling like their symptoms have worsened (full article can be found here).

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a type of anxiety disorder, involving a vicious cycle of obsessive thoughts, anxiety, compulsive behaviours and temporary relief.

Obsessions are reoccurring thoughts or images. These are often distressing for the individual and make them feel uncomfortable or like they can’t control them. An example of this could be obsessive thoughts that a fire is going to start in the kitchen. These obsessive thoughts can cause levels of anxiety to rise in the individual, alongside feelings of intense fear or doubt. 

Other obsessive thoughts can include:

  • A fear of contamination from body fluids, germs, dirt or pollution in the environment.
  • A fear of losing control of themselves, which could lead them to carrying out behaviours such as harming themselves or others. 
  • A fear about lack of perfectionism. They may feel that things need to be an exact way.
  • A fear of forgetting or losing important things or information.

Compulsions are repetitive behaviours that individuals carry out in order to rid themselves of their obsessions and lower their anxieties. These compulsions often only offer a temporary relief from an individual’s obsessions, meaning they return and the cycle starts again. Relating to the example above, an individual may flick plug switches in the kitchen on and off multiple times in a specific way to try and reduce their fears of a fire starting.

Other compulsions can include:

  • Excessive washing of the body and hands.
  • Excessive cleaning of the environment around them (e.g. household objects)
  • Repetitive checking that their actions haven’t had a negative effect on or harmed anyone.
  • Checking that they haven’t harmed themselves – including checking the physical condition of their body.
  • Avoidance of situations which may trigger obsessive thoughts.

Individuals with OCD experience constant feelings of fear that something bad is going to happen. Although these fears can appear irrational to others, they can be intense or overpowering for people with OCD. Their thoughts replay over and over again in their minds and they can become stuck on these distressing thoughts. They may feel like they aren’t in control of their own mind, they feel like their thoughts are taking over them and putting constant pressure on them. The cycle of thoughts and behaviours that OCD creates can have a negative effect on an individual in a number of ways:

  • An individual may sustain damage to their physical health as a result of their compulsions – for example they may make the skin on their hands bleed from scrubbing too much. 
  • Some individuals may turn to self-medication in order to feel that they can cope with the condition. This can lead to them abusing substances such as alcohol and drugs which can cause further damage to their physical health.
  • Individuals may not feel in control of their own lives and may feel enslaved by their condition. Having OCD can make an individual feel ashamed of themselves and how they behave. They may worry that they are going to think like this forever and they can’t be treated. 
  • They may get anxious about being around others due to their condition which can cause them to become withdrawn from the world around them. This can lead to them feeling isolated and lonely.

OCD can also have an effect on an individuals daily life:

  • It get in the way of them carrying out tasks which could have an impact on their education, where they find themselves able to complete tasks in the set time due to their compulsive behaviours. 
  • Compulsive behaviours may also make it difficult to obtain, sustain and progress in a job. Individuals with OCD may avoid certain situations which can make it difficult to carry out their job properly.
  • An individual’s relationships with others can become strained. If they are with a partner who doesn’t understand the condition, this could cause disputes as they don’t understand the reasons for the individuals behaviours. 
  • Their friends and family may stay away from them when they find out about their condition due to the stigma around mental illness. This can reduce their quality of life due to lack of social interactions.
  • An individual’s obsessions and compulsions can make it difficult for them to look after others such as their children. This could lead to accidents occurring which could have a damaging effect on the parent-child relationship.

I hope that the information above is insightful. I certainly found out a lot more about the condition and just how much of an effect it can have on an individuals life.

My Experiences

Just a story about growing carrots

One day I decided to start growing some carrots. It was something I’d wanted to do for some time but it took me a while to gather the courage to put my plan into action. I made sure that I felt prepared; I spent hours reading all about sowing seeds, watched numerous youtube videos on plant care and gathered all of the things I required from the shops. I was excited that I was finally going to grow some carrots.

It was a gorgeous summers day. Alongside the daylight breeze, I sowed the seeds to the best of my ability. Each day after this I ensured that I watered them, keeping an eye on their progress. About two weeks later, my hard work appeared to be paying off – a few seedlings started to appear, followed by a few more until there were rows upon rows of them. I felt a huge sense of pride and I looked forward to seeing them each day, growing and ageing as the summer progressed.

One morning I walked to the top of my garden, smiling in anticipation of greeting my crops, but I was instead greeted by shock. Where there had once been seedlings, there was chaos. Rows upon rows of defeated and ruined seedlings. I stood there, processing what had happened, but also questioning how it had even happened at all. All of the hard work and preparation of the last month was destroyed before my eyes, ripped apart in a matter of minutes. I blamed myself, I felt like I could’ve done more and that the situation occurred as a result of my inability. I felt deflated and couldn’t bear to look at the vegetable patch, it was just a constant reminder of how I had failed. I found myself withdrawing from the garden, questioning the point of trying to grow anything in the first place as it obviously wasn’t working out.

The next Monday I woke up with a more positive energy and decided to give the carrots another go. I read a bit more information online and considered the advice of other gardeners from internet forums. It appears that my carrots may have been the victims of some cheeky little birds. I researched how to protect my carrots and better prepare myself for the next attempt. The next day I sowed more seeds and considering my new gained knowledge, added a fabric mesh over the top of them. Once again I would water and monitor the seeds each day and sure enough, the seedlings appeared again. But this time the seedlings surpassed their previous size, growing and developing each day until they were ready for picking.

Reflecting upon the past, I realised that what happened was out of my control at that time (cheeky birds), but the experience allowed me to learn and expand my knowledge so I was better prepared for the next time. Now each day I look at my lovely carrots not only smiling with joy because of their pure existence, but also appreciating the journey that it took to get them here. It didn’t work out the first time around, but I tried again and I’m so glad that I did.

For some, they may consider this story to be a metaphor. They may see it as an example of how an individual can grow, recover from setbacks and come back stronger. But really, this is just a story about growing carrots.

60 seconds

60 seconds on… Eating Disorders

In the UK at the moment the government is considering new legislation in a bid to reduce current levels of obesity in the country. One of these measures include food outlets stating the calories of each of their products on the menu. There’s been a lot of debate about this idea, with some suggesting that there’s more to tackling obesity than placing numbers on foods. Encouraging this method of calorie counting can also be very dangerous for individuals who suffer from an eating disorder. I thought for this weeks ‘60 seconds on’ I could provide an introduction to eating disorders and the effect that the condition can have on an individual’s life.

An eating disorder causes an individual’s life to revolve around food. They can become so obsessed with food that they are unable to live their normal lives from day-to-day. Eating disorders can result in an individual conducting unhealthy eating behaviours, leading to damaging results on their physical and mental health.

There are three types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.

  • Anorexia can cause an individual to become obsessed with controlling their own weight. This can cause these individuals to compulsively weigh themselves and obsess over their food portions, ensuring that they don’t eat too much. Individuals may carry out excessive dieting and exercising regimes or may purge themselves in order to lose weight.
  • Bulimia can cause an individual to fear gaining weight and carry out behaviours in a bid to lose weight, which include binge-eating and then purging. Often these behaviours are carried out in secret and individuals may appear to be a healthy weight.
  • Binge-eating disorder can cause an individual to lose control of their eating behaviours, leading to periods of binge-eating. But unlike those with anorexia and bulimia, individuals do not purge, fast or exercise in a bid to lose weight. This can leads to individuals becoming overweight or obese.

Having an eating disorder can have both physical and psychological effects on an individual which can have an impact on their daily life:

Physical effects include:

  • Thinning of bones
  • Weakening of body muscles
  • Dry skin 
  • Brittle hair and nails. 
  • In severe cases, eating disorders can lead to brain damage, infertility and multiple organ failure. 
  • Damage to an individual’s heart function, resulting in low blood pressure, a reduced pulse and a drop in body temperature. 
  • Feeling lethargic and tired all of the time, which can make an individuals daily life difficult. For example, they may not be able to leave the house and see their friends because they feel so weak, which could lead to a breakdown in their relationships.

Psychological effects can include:

  • A lack of self-worth and confidence in abilities. Individuals may experience low self-esteem and feel worthless some days, which could lead to them contemplating hurting themselves. A lack of self-esteem can cause individuals not to feel motivated at work or school, which can have a devastating impact on their future. 
  • Finding it difficult to separate their emotions from their eating behaviours, for example someone with anorexia may fast in order to regain a feeling of control after a bad break-up.
  • Feelings of guilt and shame surrounding their eating behaviours. This can cause them to hide things from others and become socially withdrawn. Because of this, they may have difficulty in forming and maintaining relationships with  family and friends. Others may try to help the individual and ask them about their behaviours which may develop into conflict.

I hope today’s post has been insightful, especially in light of the proposed government plans. I personally can see the damage that placing numbers on foods can have for those struggling with an eating disorder and would urge the government to consider other options.

60 seconds

60 seconds on… Schizophrenia

This weeks 60 seconds is on Schizophrenia. In the survey I conducted, this was one of the mental disorders participants felt that they knew the least about. In my opinion it’s also an illness that is stigmatised a great deal due to the way it is portrayed in the media. There is constant misinformation portrayed about the condition which can cause fear in those who view it. Schizophrenia is often portrayed as someone having a split ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ personality, when research has shown this not to be true.

Schizophrenia is a long-term mental illness that can severely impair the way an individual thinks. An individual with schizophrenia can experience a number of different psychological symptoms, creating both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ feelings.

They include:

  • Hallucinations – they may experience things that aren’t really there or aren’t real.
  • Delusions – they start to think irrationally and believe in thoughts that are unlikely to be true (for example they may believe they are being spied on).
  • Disordered thoughts – this can include talking quicker or slower than usual about things that don’t make logical sense to those around them.
  • Possessed thoughts – individuals may believe that they are not in control of their own thoughts and that someone else is putting them there. Others can believe that their thoughts are being extracted from their mind by a third party.
  • Thought blocking – where their mind goes blank in the middle of their train of thought.
  • Thought echoes – where they hear their thoughts being spoken out loud, which can lead to them engaging in a conversation with them.
  • Thought broadcasting – this is where an individual believes that their thoughts are being said out loud for everyone to hear.

Negative feelings refer to the loss of an individual’s enjoyment in life or ability.

They include:

  • A loss of motivation.
  • Struggling with concentration, making it difficult to learn new information.
  • Difficulty planning and sticking to goals.
  • A reduced range of emotions and facial expressions.
  • Engaging in obsessive-compulsive behaviours.
  • Emotions may be inappropriate, for example laughing at something that is sad.

Having schizophrenia can massively affect an individuals life in a number of ways:

  • It may lead to relationship problems. They may find it difficult to trust others and In some cases they may believe that the people close to them are out to get them.
  • Individuals can become withdrawn from life and stop taking part in the social activities that they used to enjoy. They can lose an interest in life and may find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning for example.
  • Some may use drugs and alcohol as a way to alleviate their symptoms. But in some cases, their drug use can mess with any medicine they are currently taking and could actually make their symptoms worse.
  • They may find it impossible to carry out normal activities such as food shopping or eating, especially if they are experiencing hallucinations or delusions at the time.
  • Difficulty concentrating can lead to an individual finding it difficult to plan their daily life.
  • They may feel that their thoughts are not their own and they may contemplate committing suicide. They need a support network who are able to seek help when this happens as those with schizophrenia are more likely to attempt to take their own life.

I hope that this post has been useful and informative. I found out an interesting fact the other day which I feel is really relevant to this post. A lot of individuals are fearful of those with schizophrenia; they believe that the individual is likely to be violent towards them or cause them harm. In actual fact, individuals with schizophrenia are much more likely to cause harm to themselves before anyone else. Also, research suggests that you are more likely to be attacked by a drug addict than someone with schizophrenia. Food for thought…

research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe x

Advice and tips, 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

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.