The worst feeling in the world…

I have recently been involved in a research project about attitudes towards mental health and the results were both surprising and interesting. Although there generally appears to be more awareness of mental health and more understanding it would also appear that we still have a long way to go. Too many people still feel uncomfortable talking to friends or family about their mental health or seeking professional help and support.

A general feeling that I have is that the help and support available is a bit like a postcode lottery and some will be incredibly useful whilst others will be shocking. For many people, reaching out takes a lot of courage and so when help is sort, the least we can do is offer them the best support possible.

One of the worst feelings in the world is when you feel helpless, hopeless, and completely powerless. When you can’t see the light even if you so desperately want to, when no one else appears to truly get how you are feeling and they tell you it will be ok when you don’t feel that it will and all you desperately want is for the pain and suffering to end. Those are very scary feelings and ones I hope no one ever has to experience but if they do, I only hope that those feelings fade enough to be able to see the light in order to have the opportunity for life to get better.

I can’t sit here and judge those who have those feelings and make the painstaking decision to end their life. It isn’t cowardly, a cop out or an easy decision…far from it. It makes me feel truly heartbroken and angry with society that people reach this point and see no other way out. I feel that we have let those people down, but I would also never feel that any one individual has the power to stop someone from taking their own life.

Everyone’s experience is different but, in my opinion, I would say that often people don’t truly know what is going on for that person and if they do, they may not ‘get it.’ With the best will in the world we can try and put ourselves in their position or try and understand how they are feeling but no one can ever truly know or feel the pain of that individual. Sometimes, I’m not sure that there is anything anyone can say or do to help when someone feels so much pain and suffering. For some there is also a feeling of shame and a sense that their family would be better off without them which they genuinely believe.

Despite knowing this I still believe that as a society we have a long way to go when it comes to helping improve attitudes towards mental health so that people feel able to talk more freely about how they are feeling and to be able to access support.

I know that GPs are incredibly overworked and that they no doubt see numerous people who are feeling down or depressed, but I would always hope that rather than seeing patients as yet another person feeling down that they would take the time to see patients as individuals and genuinely listen to them. Whilst I can’t blame GPs for people’s actions, I am incredibly angry and disappointed that despite someone working up the courage to see their GP and talk to them about the state of their mental health for the first time in their life that they would be fobbed off and sent away. Heartbreakingly, last week, that person took their own life.

We never know what is going on for people and on the face of it people can look happy, and their lives can look wonderful which is why I always believe in the power of smiling at people or taking the time to be kind. Yes, it may not make any difference to someone who is feeling so hopeless but equally it could make all the difference…to feel noticed, to feel like someone cares, to feel hope.

I can still picture the last time I saw my best friend’s dad and he looked happy as he played with his young son and sat around the table singing happy birthday to his granddaughters and now, he is gone.

It only takes a second to smile at someone, a few seconds to check in on someone or to give someone a hug but for that person these things could mean so much to them and make the difference between feeling hopeless or having hope.

Nobody should ever feel alone, scared, hopeless or helpless.

R.I.P Ian

‘Ok’…

Along with the worst word to describe how we are feeling – Fine…a word that I think should be abolished for this purpose, is the word OK. What do we mean when we say we are ok? 99% of the time we mean a million other things but resort to saying ok because it has become the norm in the UK. It’s almost like an automatic response when people ask how you are. I believe this is mainly because in this country it’s almost just something we say but that has little or no meaning.

The majority of people who ask someone how they are, are doing it out of courtesy but aren’t genuinely interested and would probably be shocked if you gave them a genuine answer as the person wouldn’t know how to react. It feels as though on the whole people are not interested in other peoples lives beyond the surface level and this is reflected in most people’s automatic answer of ‘ok’ or ‘fine’.

I have to admit that it is my go-to response as well and I have only become aware of it in recent months. I can’t imagine that I would change this response when asked my most people, but I have started challenging myself to be honest with myself and others when asked by those that are close to me.

At the heart of the question, ‘how are you’ should be a genuine interest about wanting to know how someone is. By giving the generic answer of ‘ok’ or ‘fine,’ unless someone knows you well enough to be able to tell if you don’t actually feel ‘ok’ or ‘fine,’ how are people supposed to know how you actual feel?

There have been times when I have given one of those responses knowing full well that I was far from ‘ok’ or ‘fine’ and then afterwards I have felt worse for not sharing my feelings.

I have noticed that my eldest daughter more often than not tells people she is ‘ok’ and I suddenly thought how is that making her aware of her own thoughts and feelings? As a 5-year-old I feel she should still be of an age where she says it as it is and therefore could say she is tired, scared, happy, upset, excited etc rather than ‘ok’. I’m not sure if she has got it from me or from general society but I realised I don’t like it. I felt bad when I had to try and encourage her to open up to me about how she felt about something as she had said she was ‘ok’ when I knew she wasn’t.

As we know, people’s mental health is more affected than ever, and we are seeing the impact life is having on young people more and more. If we live in a society where it is acceptable and expected that we don’t speak openly and honestly about our feelings how is this going to help generations to come? Children are going to grow up feeling that we pretend everything is ok even if it isn’t and that we have to carry on regardless.

I believe that those of us who are able to recognise, acknowledge and talk about our feelings openly and honestly without fear or shame are actually far stronger than those who go around seemingly behaving as though they are strong and constantly ‘fine’ no matter what life throws at them.

Keeping feelings in and shutting them away will have an impact on those people even if they are not aware of it.

Aside from our society still having what feels like a taboo about mental health I believe we also live in a society that is still very judgemental, one where people cannot understand or get their head around people who do anything that they do not agree with and worst of all, feel the need to share their opinions rather than accepting other people’s decisions and choices in life.

As with all prejudices in life I believe the problem comes from people who are not willing to open their eyes to anything different. However as with everything in life there has always been those who have had the belief and strength to challenge other people’s ways of thinking and society’s expectations such as the amazing women who fought to get women the vote and those women who fought for a right to be educated and to work.

I am passionate about challenging and trying to change society’s views on mental health as whether you believe it or not, each and everyone of us at some point will have experienced something that will have affected our mental health.

With all the challenges that life throws at us individually and collectively I truly believe that there needs to be a shift in focus away from measuring success by how much someone earns or how many hours someone works and instead measuring success by someone’s overall wellbeing.

Who’s to say that someone can’t be successful if they have achieved their dream to have children or to be really good at their favourite hobby or if they have discovered who they are and what makes them truly happy?

Society has a lot to answer for and I certainly don’t want my children (or anyone for that matter) to reach the age of 99, look back on their life and realise that they spent their life denying their feelings, wants or desires and instead spent their life keeping up with societies expectations (to what end?!).

So, before you go to bed, maybe give yourself a minute to sit and reflect on how you truly feel so that next time someone asks you give a genuine answer instead of saying ‘ok’ or ‘fine’.

Dealing with emotions…

I have grown up in a society that generally speaking doesn’t deal well with emotions, instead we are taught to brush everything under the carpet and put on a front.

Now obviously there are situations when we may have to hide our feelings to a certain extent such as when we are at work, however, I cannot advocate ignoring our emotions completely.

What we underestimate is our bodies way of knowing when we are not dealing with our emotions but because we may not be aware of the link between certain physical symptoms and our emotions these symptoms may well be shrugged off as something else. (It’s worth having any physical symptoms checked out with your GP).

Everybody is different and so how our bodies may react in certain situations will be unique to us, however there are some common symptoms that may appear during times of stress, anxiety, upset etc. Symptoms that we may experience include sleep problems, muscle tension, indigestion, eating too much or too little, having little energy, unexplained aches and pains including stomach-aches or headaches, being generally run down etc.

All those symptoms particularly on there own are very easy to fob off as nothing and so we can ignore them and carry on but unless the source of the problem is dealt with then the symptom/s are unlikely to disappear.

This can make it tricky to know if indeed your symptoms are linked to what is going on in our life or not. Aside from seeking a professional opinion, it can be useful to write down the symptoms you are experiencing as well as everything that is going on for you and how you are feeling. It is possible that we are not necessarily aware of what is going on for us as often we are so busy.

Recently I have noticed that I am better able to deal with stressors in life and instead of falling apart I tend to allow myself to have a little wobble (which usually involves having a good cry) and then I form a plan of action. However, I have to admit that despite thinking that I had started to incorporate more self-care into my life I am aware that I haven’t been doing enough.

The reason I know that I haven’t been doing enough self-care is because my body started displaying physical symptoms which I know are linked with stress/anxiety. As well as not liking these symptoms (although fortunately they are fairly mild but still unpleasant) I am also feeling frustrated with myself for not being aware of how things have been affecting me.

Many people take their physical health seriously and so may have exercise routines in place yet when it comes to people’s mental health generally speaking most people don’t tend to put as much effort into looking after it until we realise, we have to.

I think for me, (& this could be the same for others) there has been an element of small things building up and certain things affecting me more than I thought they would. Most people will have things that will trigger certain emotions or feelings, but we aren’t necessarily aware of what those triggers are, which can then throw us when we aren’t expecting something to affect us or to affect us as much as it does.

So now I am on a mission to make time to recognise and find ways to deal with my emotions more regularly. I know some people take time every day to jot down positive and negative things about their day and to recognise and acknowledge how they are feeling both physically and mentally. Maybe this is something worth trying.

This can be anything…from reading, watching something funny, playing with a pet, playing your favourite song, singing, dancing, exercise, screaming, crying, punching a pillow, ripping up a piece of paper.

Do whatever it is that helps you let go of your emotions (in a healthy way) and makes you feel better.

It can be easy to think that we don’t have time to incorporate some self-care, but it can be as little as 5 minutes every day. I’ve had people come to me telling me they don’t have time but most of us spend time driving each day so this could be the time you blast that song or listen to something funny.

To talk or not to talk?

I’ve often wondered if it is only British people who appear to have been brought up with the attitude that we should sweep things under the carpet and not talk about things? Although many people do talk about issues in their lives be it with friends, family, or professionals, there are also many who don’t.

There are still those who choose not to talk for whatever reason, be it that they don’t want to, feel it won’t help, that it will be too painful or that there’s no point as we just have to carry on! Admittedly some people do appear to ‘cope’ with not talking about things, however, imagine that you have filed whatever issue it is in your imaginary filing cabinet, locked it and thrown away the key in the hope that it will stay in there forever.

However, throughout life, more things will get filed away and there is a strong chance that at some point something will happen which will cause the filing cabinet to explode, leaving everything that has ever been filed all over the floor, therefore exposing certain things that had possibly been forgotten about.

I imagine that some people cope better than others when this happens, however, I personally believe that unless we talk about these issues, at some point they will come to the forefront of your mind and could have a negative impact on your mental and physical well-being.

I appreciate that everyone is different, however, there have been times in my life when I have had to re-live incredibly painful and upsetting events and imagined that the pain would never ease, and I couldn’t see the light. I remember when I gave my statement to the police (which took more than 3 hours), the days and nights leading up to it were horrible, I couldn’t sleep, I had panic attacks, I couldn’t eat, I was scared, the thought of talking about these things hurt my heart and I was a mess afterwards.

However, I realised not long ago when I was talking about some of these upsetting events with a new friend that it felt as if I was talking about someone else, someone I didn’t recognise or that I was talking about something fictional.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not 100% over those events, however, the pain is hardly there at all and as I sat there talking to her, I even found myself saying that on some level, I am almost in a weird kind of way, grateful for having the opportunity to re-discover myself after all those years and to have found myself.

I have changed so much in the last couple of years and for the first time in my life I quite like myself!

I cannot pinpoint when or what took the pain away, in a way I wish I could because I am sure there are thousands of people who at times in their lives have been through something painful and not known how or when it will end. All I can think is that it was a combination of things, including the amazing love and support of my Mum and best friend, having the most incredibly counsellor ever (who I will always be so thankful for), completing my counselling course, time, having the opportunity to live again as well as having the most amazing daughters any mother could ask for.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic cure for when things happen in our lives and those who reach out to their GP will no doubt be referred to the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service, which generally offers someone 6 sessions of CBT and hey presto that’s supposed to solve everything!! Don’t get me wrong, I am not against CBT, I do feel it has its uses and I will no doubt use it at times once I am qualified. However, CBT in most instances will only be a short-term fix, like a plaster, unless it is offered in combination with other therapies such as counselling.

The reason the NHS like to use CBT is because it is short and easily measurable meaning that they can say that x amount of people have successfully completed therapy offered by the NHS and it is relatively cheap because it is limited to a small number of sessions. However, recent research has shown that more and more people are returning to their GP’s and being re-referred to IAPT, proving that it isn’t as effective as they claimed and that it will now end up costing the NHS even more money.

When it comes to counselling, (unless through the NHS or certain organisations), there isn’t a limit on the number of sessions you can have, because everybody is different and so you can’t know how many sessions individuals will need. I knew when I started having counselling that the limited number of sessions offered by the NHS wouldn’t cut it, and here I am 2 years later, still having counselling and I will no doubt be having counselling for quite some time to come.

There are some people who still judge those who have counselling and believe that it is a sign of weakness or that there is something ‘wrong’ with someone who has counselling. I would certainly have a few select words to say to those people. When it comes to physical health, people don’t question those who go to the gym regularly as we know it’s good for us so why should having counselling be any different? As we know more than ever, taking care of our mental health is as important as taking care of our physical health.

It is an honour to know that clients come and open up to me about very personal things in their lives, particularly as I am aware that there are some people who do not feel that they can talk to anyone.

I genuinely hope that people feel able to reach out to someone to talk to without feeling judged.

Universal Credit

Since the pandemic people getting universal credit have been receiving an extra £20 per week yet this is now coming to an end. The government have repeated spoken of how this extra payment was only ever temporary yet as is always, the cost of living is always going up, yet benefit payments are not increased to compensate for this. Therefore, taking away this extra payment will have a massive impact on the 5.8 million people in England, Scotland and Wales who receive universal credit.

As one woman said in an article, “Twenty pounds doesn’t sound much – but it’s been a lifeline, when you haven’t got much, taking away a little is a lot.”

And I couldn’t agree more. That £80 per month pays for more than three weeks’ worth of grocery shopping for me and my two daughters. When you sit down and work out what else you can possibly cut back on, if there’s nothing, then you really are left between the choice of heating the house or feeding your family.

So, from October many of us will have to try and make food stretch further and go without if necessary.

I have already heard of so many families that are struggling, food banks are having to turn people away because they’ve either run out of food to give them or they are having to limit how many times people use them in order to try and support as many people as possible.

Although I am grateful to live in a country where there are benefits available to support those who are not in work, I personally find the system seriously flawed. For example, the housing benefit element of universal credit is capped and how much you can get varies depending on where you live. Here, it only covers 55% of my rent every month and I am expected to magic the rest out of nowhere. The fact is that there is nowhere in this area where the housing benefit element would cover the rent which makes me question the governments knowledge of the cost of living. Saying that, part of me knows that they don’t care.

This is further proven by the fact that various charities, trade unions, religious groups, and MPs have asked for the extra payment to stay. One charity has estimated that without it, 500,000 more people will be driven into poverty.

Most people on universal credit don’t have anywhere to turn to, they can’t get credit cards or loans and so once the money is gone, it’s gone. I can’t even imagine how helpless people must feel especially those with children. As a mother, all you want is to give your children the best start in life. I know how lucky I am to have a roof over my head and to be able to provide for my children but I still feel bad that I can’t afford to provide them with all the opportunities I would like to, such as swimming lessons and for them to join dance classes, but all I can do is hope that once I am fully qualified next year, I will be able to look for work and hopefully I will eventually be in a better position.

I was very angry when I read that Therese Coffey said that the benefit cut is just two hours extra work for claimants. How dare she?! For one, it’s not that simple and for two, who the hell does she think she is? Has she ever had to make the choice between eating or not?! Somehow, I think not!

Quite rightly the Resolution Foundation disputed her figures because those who are in employment lose 63p for every £1 they earn. Therefore, the average person would need to work an additional nine hours a week to make up for the removal of the £20 uplift which is very different to the two hours Therese spoke of.

Aside from the financial strain this will cause so many people across the country, I am concerned about the impact it will have on people’s mental health and wellbeing. Especially as winter is coming up which means higher heating and electricity bills as well as the cost of Christmas. Waiting lists for accessing therapies through the NHS are already at an all time high from the pandemic so the likelihood of people getting the help they need anytime soon is incredibly slim. I wish there was a way that I could help others and hope that people can access the help and support they need to get through this. I know that once I am qualified, I hope to eventually be able to offer clients who do not have the funds available for counselling, a more affordable way of accessing the help they need.

I am saddened that in 2021 the gap between the rich and poor is seemingly bigger than ever and right now with the government we have, I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

The power of our thoughts…

The brain is an amazing organ and has a lot to answer for, I would love to be clever enough to be able to fully understand how our brains work and how our thoughts truly impact our physical and emotional health and well-being.

I guess on a day-to-day basis thinking about how powerful our thoughts are isn’t something we usually think about, but it occurred to me a few days ago when I had some physical sensations how our body reacts to situations and our body can be trying to tell us things that we aren’t always aware of.

For example, I will never know if my thoughts had any impact on conceiving my two daughters, however, I believe that my thoughts may well have helped. I’m not saying I believe everything to do with the power of thought, but I am open to the idea. I did a lot of research when going through fertility treatment and came across sights that talked about visualising each stage of the pregnancy right from not being pregnant, to trying to get pregnant, to being pregnant etc. I suppose because I didn’t know a lot about what happens during these stages (other than the basics) I watched a lot of YouTube videos which fascinated me.

This led me to thinking about and visualising every step of my journey. When I was injecting myself with hormones, I would imagine my eggs getting bigger and after insemination up until I found out I was pregnant I would imagine what was happening if it was successful. I watched videos of every stage as if it were happening to help me visualise it. Then because I got pregnant first-time round, when I wanted to try a second time, I knew that I had to do everything exactly the same in order to try and give myself the best chance of becoming pregnant again.

Whether it was coincidence or not, no one will ever be able to tell me, but I got pregnant again on the first try and I remember the clinic being almost shocked my this. They told me they hadn’t ever had a patient who had been successful on their first attempt two times in a row.

Now, just as our thoughts may be able to help with something, they can also be rather mean! This is when our ‘bad duck’ is at play and can give us horrible thoughts, or make us feel physically ill etc. I have learned over the past couple of years to take charge of my thoughts (this is not always easy and there are times when bad duck still wins) and I challenge my thoughts. When I first went for counselling a couple of years ago, I was suffering with bad health anxiety and my counsellor highlighted that when we become fixated on something it becomes exacerbated.

I was told that it I imagine that my toe is really hurting and keep thinking about it hurting, it will eventually hurt, and it is true! This is both quite a scary thought (at how clever and powerful the brain is) but it was also empowering in a way as it highlighted that just because we feel something such as pain, it doesn’t always mean that feeling is genuine.

This then led to me trying to learn different techniques of how to distract my thoughts or break the vicious cycle. Again, there isn’t a guaranteed fix when it comes to our thoughts which can be disheartening or frustrating at times. When we have a physical problem such as a broken leg it is put in a cast, and we know that it should be mended in a few weeks’ time but with mental health its not as simple as this.

Unfortunately, quite often when it comes to mental health people do not either realise how bad things have got or by the time, they do it can take longer to ‘fix’. This is partly due to the stigma attached to mental health, the lifestyle most people lead in Western society and the stiff upper lip attitude and the NHS whereby there are limited services and huge waiting lists.

I truly believe that we need to be taught about our mental health from an early age and how to look after it, just like we are taught to brush our teeth to prevent cavities etc.

There is nothing wrong with admitting that we need to take time for ourselves, and we shouldn’t have to justify this to ourselves or others. Looking after ourselves will look different for everybody, it could be having a bath, going for a drive, reading a book, going for a walk, breathing techniques, baking, archery, meeting up with friends.

The list is endless, but whatever it is that helps keep you ‘you’ is incredibly important.

…..In fact, probably more important than a lot of us realise.

Strength

This week has been challenging on many levels and I found myself having to reflect on how things impact me. I am someone who cares about others, and I am a softy. I do not want to change that about me, but I am trying to learn how to cope better especially with situations that do not directly impact me. I suppose that is where my bubble comes from, and when things get tough, I will go in my metaphorical bubble to protect myself.

I have allowed myself to feel emotions this week, but I have tried not to let them run away with themselves, instead trying my hardest to distract myself and keep busy.

I found out that someone’s mother had died and so despite feeling as if I couldn’t go and pay my respects in case I ended up crying, I busied myself making homemade lemon scones to take to her and my daughter helped pick some flowers.

Everyone on my college course appeared to be struggling with the presentations that we knew were coming up and I struggled to read all their messages with people saying they had lost all their confidence, that they were close to a break down etc, and I felt helpless. So, I decided to bake everyone some buns as a way of showing that I cared.

I really could have done with the amazing support of my counsellor this week, but she was having some much-needed time off …I know, how dare she?! She had said that I could get in touch if I needed her which means a lot, but I wasn’t going to do that as I didn’t want to disturb her. So, I dug deep and tried to support myself as best I could.

I found myself dealing with a mixture of internal anger, frustration, and sadness due to events of this week, but I did not let this stop me from celebrating my Mums birthday, having a kitchen full of homemade baked goodies, and standing in front of my peers to deliver my presentation.

I am proud of myself for doing my presentation, not only standing in front of everyone and speaking for 10 whole minutes (which as I said to my group, was probably as much as I had spoken up in the entire year – this made them laugh!) but also that I shared very personal information with them about myself. This is a big deal for me as I am normally very reserved, but I felt safe to share and wasn’t afraid of being judged. I was humbled by everyone’s support not only for myself but for everyone else in the group and we learned a lot about one another.

I wouldn’t say that I am now a fan of speaking in front of others, but I know I can do it which is a massive achievement for me.

One thing that I am still struggling with this week is a feeling of sadness due to something that I am not ready to talk about just yet. I think the sadness has also been exacerbated by a feeling of frustration. I learned about a young man who I have known since he was 2 who has been treated unjustly and has reminded me of how much the law is an ass. To top it off I did something I know is almost like a form of self-harm by googling his name and my goodness the tabloids (definitely NOT a fan of tabloids) ripped him to shreds and made him out to be horrendous. I was livid. How dare they?! The damage that those so-called journalists have done to him, his friends and family, is heinous! Reading their articles could have tipped him over the edge…who would be responsible then?! I am appalled that these ‘journalists’ are allowed to write such rubbish, without a care in the world. I do not know how they sleep at night. It makes my blood boil.

It has reaffirmed more than ever, my desire to work with young people and has highlighted again the need for more support when it comes to mental health particularly with young people especially boys/men.

As part of my Mum’s birthday celebrations, we went to the beach and enjoyed a paddle in the North Sea (now that is rare as it is normally rather cold!) and I allowed myself to close my eyes and feel the sun on my face and breathed in the sea air which always makes me feel calmer.

Hugs!

I have always been a massive fan of hugs and found them to be an integral part of my daily life throughout my life. I grew up with a very loving family where hugs where very much a part of everyday life which is probably why hugs are so important to me.

Throughout lockdown people have been advised to have very little physical contact with people which I imagine is incredibly hard particularly for those of us who value hugs so much. I cannot imagine ever seeing my Mum or my daughters and not being able to give them a hug, it would break my heart.

I have been very careful throughout lockdown and have only had hugs from those in my support bubble, but as I have mentioned before in a previous blog when it was the first lockdown and restrictions were very tight, I went weeks without seeing my best friend. Then one day she popped to drop some things off and we knew we shouldn’t hug, but we were both going through incredibly tough times (on top of lockdown) and so we both crumbled and had a much-needed hug/squeeze!

Taking care of our mental health is as important as taking care of our physical health and part of doing so for me is having physical contact. It feels alien to me to see someone you love or care about who is upset and not giving them a hug, to me it feels almost inhumane! I know my counselling course tutor believes that you can hug someone with your words, but I personally do not feel that a true hug can be replaced by anything.

There are lots of benefits of hugs!

Did you know that a 10-second hug helps the body fight infections, eases depression, and reduces tiredness and a 20-second hug reduces the harmful effects of stress, relieves blood pressure, and promotes a healthy heart. Hugs also relax muscles by releasing tension in the body, take aches and pains away by increasing circulation into the soft tissues.

I am definitely the kind of person that likes to give and receive proper deep hugs and scientists have discovered that these hugs build trust and a sense of safety, they instantly boost oxytocin levels (this hormone can help relax and lower anxiety, which in turn can effectively lower blood pressure), strengthen the immune system and boosts self-esteem.

All the hugs we receive make us more self-confident and happier and connect us to our ability to self-love.

A hug makes us more mindful and aware of the current situation. Being present in the moment brings us happiness. So, if you are not a fan of meditation (or even if you are), hugging is a good alternative!

Do not be afraid to ask for a hug from friends or family…. with all the physical and emotional benefits of hugs I am surprised they aren’t being prescribed by the NHS!!

I would love to have a job giving out hugs…maybe I could create hug therapy??

Ideas to soothe anxiety

With everything that has gone on in the last year and our lives mainly revolving around screens and social media, it is more important than ever to take care of our mental health.

I have found in the past that sometimes anxiety or low moods can creep up on us unexpectedly and it can be easier said than done to get out of these moods. A bit like everything, prevention is better than the cure (not that there is a magic cure for mental health), therefore there are things that we would benefit from doing on a daily basis to build up our resilience and fill our ‘toolbox’ so that if or when we have a wobble we are better equipped and hopefully these wobbles won’t be as intense or last as long.

Little things we can do to take care of our mental health include different breathing techniques and relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation. I have to admit that I don’t keep up with these techniques as when I feel ok, I forget the need or don’t necessarily feel it’s necessary, but it is.

Scientists have proven that breathing techniques reduce stress levels, lower your heart rate, lower blood pressure, reduce depression to name a few.

Breathing techniques can easily be done anytime, anywhere, and even just spending a few minutes a day will be beneficial.

Mindful breathing simply involves us becoming aware of our breathing and focusing on it which usually slows breathing down and makes you feel more relaxed.

One technique that I like to use when I am feeling anxious or at bedtime is the 4, 7, 8 method. It is very simple, all you have to do is breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds and then breathe out for 8 seconds and repeat as many times as you feel necessary. I find that concentrating on my breathing and counting stops my brain from wandering and I do find it relaxing.

Another thing we can incorporate into our daily lives is journaling which has also been proven to lower blood pressure and heart rate. It could be as simple as writing down anxious thoughts and feelings which means you are no longer carrying them solely in your head or writing down things that you are grateful for each day.

Positive affirmations have several benefits including the ability to program your mind into believing these repeated statements – just like when we tell ourselves negative things repeatedly which then become engrained into our belief system, we can change this by repeatedly telling ourselves positive things. One example of this could be if someone believes that they are too sensitive about what others say about them (therefore creating low self-esteem and social anxiety), this could be rephrased into the following positive affirmation…

‘I feel empowered and confident as I let go of external criticism.’

The more you can say positive affirmations to yourself out loud or in your head the quicker it will become part of our belief system. You could write down your positive affirmation and place it somewhere that you will regularly see such as on your phone, laptop, by the kettle, on a mirror etc.

Other things that can help ease anxiety include snuggling up with a blanket, stroking a pet or a cuddly toy (you’re never too old to have a cuddly toy!), having a massage or giving yourself a massage (this could be a simple hand massage or foot massage) and using a relaxing massage oil such as one with essential oils. Having something soothing to fidget with such as playing with a piece of blutack or some playdough. I’m a fan of Mohdoh aromatherapy playdough which comes in a variety of different scents, but you could quite easily make your own playdough and add a couple of drops of essential oil.

Although it may not sound very relaxing, if you are feeling particularly anxious and are feeling hot and bothered, splashing your face with cold water or ‘relaxing’ with a cold flannel over your eyes is said to be effective.

One thing that I do pretty much all the time, but I’ve never really thought about it until I read about it is wearing sunglasses. Apparently wearing sunglasses can help to keep us going when feeling anxious as anxiety is often heightened by the environment we are in such as a crowded area. By wearing a pair of sunglasses, it can create a barrier without actually affecting your ability to function in these situations.

Homemade Natural Play Dough - Don't Mess with Mama | Homemade playdough,  Diy for kids, Playdough recipe

Six Different Types of Grounding Exercises for Anxiety & Intense Emotions —  The Growlery

Lockdown part 3….Week 12

This week has seen a lot of anticipation for tomorrow which marks when we can meet people outside including in people’s gardens and the stay-at-home rule is ending (although the government are still urging people to stay local which is confusing) and outdoor sport facilities are reopening. I’ve noticed that a lot of tourist attractions with gardens and outdoor spaces are also reopening from tomorrow. I must admit that it will be lovely to be able to drive further than 5 miles and to go to the beach or to outdoor attractions.

This week marked the one-year anniversary of the first national lockdown, and it was funny how the weather really reminded me of how the first lockdown felt. It has been the first time this year when I have been able to leave the door open to the garden and we have spent a lot of time in the garden where upon my girls have been playing with the sand, singing, dancing, chalking, gardening etc. It makes such a change…seeing the blue sky, the sun shining, spring flowers starting to bloom and hearing the birds tweeting is definitely good for the soul!

It was the last session of my counselling course before we broke up for Easter and I found the session very interesting and have reflected a lot on the topics covered. We have been learning about and discussing mental health. So much was brought up by everybody and it really highlighted how many people are struggling with their mental wellbeing. Someone talked about their experience of CAMHS and how the children using their services are just being filtered through in a very robotic way which is making the statistics look good in terms of how many children are ‘accessing mental health support’ but in fact the majority of these children are not finding the support offered of any use. They come away saying that they have been given a worksheet to do but they don’t really understand it and the adults working with them within their school see how disheartened they are.

It made me wonder if some children are struggling or have certain barriers when it comes to talking about their mental health because they are seeing the ‘support’ available and unfortunately are not seeing any benefits for those who are being referred to CAMHS. Therefore, come children may already have the attitude of ‘what’s the point?’ or feel that they are not really being heard. I find this frustrating and makes me want to do something drastic to shake up the system within the UK. However, as usual one of the main hurdles is money and budgets – if me or anyone else was to offer a service to schools they are likely to say that they don’t have the budget available or that they can refer children to CAMHS therefore they wouldn’t be interested.

I feel strongly that mental wellbeing needs to become compulsory within all schools and having a ‘mental health week’ simply is not good enough. I appreciate how much pressure schools are being put under, however, ½ of all mental health problems manifest by the age of 14, 48.5% of 5–19-year-olds with a mental health disorder have more contact with teachers than any other professional service and 1 in 8 children have a diagnosable mental health disorder (these figures don’t take into account the impact of Covid-19). Children’s mental health problems can affect their attainment and behaviour which I picture as a car needing fuel to function – we harp on about needing food in order to function but actually there is so much more we need than just food. We all know that we need to sleep, exercise, keep hydrated etc but how much emphasis is put on the need for self-care or mental wellbeing, particularly with children and young people?

I believe that if children are given tools to support their mental wellbeing from a young age that this will have a massive positive impact on their life, now and in the future and that these tools could be used throughout their life. I believe by teaching children about mental wellbeing properly, (meaning not just a one-off session) that they will be in a better position to tackle whatever life throws at them. I feel that this could prevent mental health problems or at least the severity of how children are impacted by possible mental health problems rather than trying to treat or ‘cure’ them once they are diagnosed. The other problem with treating mental health problems is that most often particularly through the NHS and CAMHS, the waiting lists are long, and support can be very limited, therefore in some cases people may be worse before they access support or may not get the support they need.

Another reason I feel passionate about children being taught about mental wellbeing is that most people (no matter what age) that have committed suicide have not shown any signs that they were suicidal and quite often these people aren’t diagnosed with mental health problems. Therefore, if GP’s or schools are only trying to tackle the mental health of those who are ‘flagged up’ then children will devastating continue to slip through the net. Those who appear to be fine or do not have a diagnosis will continue to be offered very little or no support for their mental health which is feel is so wrong. As adults, each, and every one of us has been impacted by Covid-19 and a lot of people’s mental health has suffered, therefore who’s to say that children also haven’t been impacted?

I loved reading an article in The Guardian about a primary school that put catch-up on hold and instead spent a week focusing on children’s wellbeing. The headteacher was fully aware of the importance of this and felt that unless children are in the right place to learn mentally, that things just do not go in and I couldn’t agree more.