research

A Puppy a Day Keeps the Doctor Away? – The Influence of Cute Animals on our Overall Well-being

This week I read some research which was just too delightful not to share. I have often found myself scrolling endlessly through videos on instagram of cute baby animals until the early hours of the morning, I’m sure many of you can relate right? Cute animal videos evoke those ‘warm fuzzies’ we get where we feel happy, positive and all joyous inside. But alongside the instant feelings we get by looking at cute animals, they are beneficial to our general mental wellbeing in the long haul… who knew? 

A study published last year by the University of Leeds examined how watching images and videos of cute animals affected individuals blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety. During the study, participants watched a 30 minute slideshow containing a variety of different cute animals (puppies, kittens, baby gorillas ect.). Participants’ blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety levels were compared before and 30 minutes after watching the slide show. Significant reductions in the participant groups blood pressure and heart rate were found. There was also on average a 35% reduction in the levels of anxiety that the group felt overall (for some, their anxiety was reduced as much as 50%).

Another recent study has supported further the benefit of looking at cute animals (specifically dogs) on individuals overall well-being. In this between-groups study there were three groups of participants who spent five minutes either looking at (a) popular funny posts on Twitter, (b) cute pictures of dogs or (c) Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. Overall well-being was measured on an established scale both before and after the five minutes. The changes in well-being were then compared between the three groups. The biggest and most significant benefit to overall well-being was found in Group B who had looked at pictures of dogs for five minutes*. 

But what is it about baby animals that we are so drawn to? Apparently it’s all down to a phenomenon called ‘baby schema’. As human beings we are automatically drawn to creatures with big heads, chubby cheeks or large eyes near the centre of the face. The warm fuzzies I described earlier come about as a result of wanting to nurture the cute creature and keep it safe from harm (I guess that would explain my sudden need to internally combust whenever I see a puppy in the street).

If you are having a tough day/ week so far, take five minutes to ingest some of my favourite cute animal pictures below:

Hope that helped some of you, it certainly made me feel a bit calmer 🙂

Stay Safe!

*Just for those who wonder, participants in Group C actually experienced reductions in their perceived levels of well-being pre and post viewing Trumps twitter.

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… Bipolar Disorder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope that this post has been informative and useful!

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

Rethink Mental illness

NHS

Youngminds

Mind

research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe x

Advice and tips, Understanding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice and tips, My Experiences

Your mental wellbeing – When should you seek help?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe x

Advice and tips, My Experiences, The PhD process

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

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

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

Under pressure

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

Imposter syndrome and social comparison

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

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

Loneliness

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

Fear of failure

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

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

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

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

My Experiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe x

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