Mental Health Awareness Week
Monday 18 May marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week. This week the theme is kindness. The Mental Health Foundation has chosen kindness for “its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity”.
Kindness is so important for all of us. Acts of kindness make us feel connected to others and that’s good for our mental health. It can be something simple like holding a door open to a parent struggling with a buggy or – particularly at the moment – ensuring our elderly neighbours are able to get the food and medication they need. The great thing about kindness is that it feels good for the person being kind and the person on the receiving end of the kindness.
It feels a bit weird to be talking about a week devoted to raising awareness of mental health issues at the moment – probably at a time in all our lives when we are more aware of the state of our mental health than ever before. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive effect on the mental health of everyone.
So perhaps we all need to show some kindness to ourselves. Acknowledge how tough things are. It’s ok to feel this way. It’s ok to be upset, to be scared, to be angry. Talk to someone. Share how you’re feeling. Be kind to yourself. Do something you really like to do – read, take a walk, watch a film, take a bath.
How will you be kind to yourself this week?
18 May 2020
Why I love going for a walk
Did you know that May is National Walking Month?
How often do you go out for a walk? I have friends who think nothing of a 9 mile hike on a Saturday afternoon. Others who find it difficult to get outside at all.
I like to think of myself as a walker. I’ve got a dog – Kinder the chocolate Labrador – and she needs walking a couple of times a day. She’s getting a bit old now so we don’t go out for long walks very often, but she enjoys a 30 minute tramp around the streets, with a quick visit in to our local park a few times a day.
Sometimes I find it really difficult to take her out.
Particularly first thing in the morning if I haven’t actually got much to do that day – it’s easier if I know I need to start work at 9am. And if I’m feeling a bit low, worrying about something or someone or if I’m stressed about work – I don’t want to go out.
But without fail, I feel better for a walk. It might only be 20 minutes and it might be pouring with rain, but it gets me energised and puts me in a more positive frame of mind.
Science tells us why: exercise releases endorphins which increase our sense of wellbeing. And being outside – especially if it’s sunny – releases serotonin which is a natural mood stabiliser.
But I’m not thinking about the science when I’m walking. In the last few weeks we’ve had lovely Spring weather and I’ve notice the blossom on the trees, the daffodils and bluebells, and the vibrant green of the trees.
And I’ve noticed something interesting during lockdown. There are more people out walking – taking advantage of the daily exercise. While that might mean having to do the “social distancing dance” – to avoid getting within 2 metres of each other – it has also meant that I’ve actually had more social interaction on my walk. It might just be a “thank you” – acknowledging when you’ve moved over - or sometimes a longer chat about the weather, the dog or how strange everything is at the moment.
So while at the moment I might not be able to meet up with friends and do a long walk ending up the pub (my favourite kind of walk), I’m still getting out because I know I’ll feel better for it.
Although as I write this it’s pouring with rain, so Kinder will have to wait a little while ….
Photo: my own
1 May 2020
Despite everything that’s going on at the moment I try to be grateful for the good things. That can be very hard right now.
But it has struck me how lucky I am to be spending time with my boys. At 20 and nearly 17, they are now young men with their own lives. Soon they’ll be off my hands and making their own way in the world.
But at the moment we’re all here together. They’ve made a badminton net for us to play in the garden. They’ve helped me wash the dog, jet wash the patio, start to sort out the shed, cut back the ivy. We’ve watched films together – especially old favourites. We’ve played board games – I’d forgotten how competitive Monopoly gets in our house. We’ve had dinner together every night, taking it in turns to cook. We’ve walked the dog – together and individually.
It’s not all been a bed of roses – we’ve all had up and down days. And we’ve done our own thing as well – university/college work for them, development training for me. They’ve played on the Playstation together while I’ve read a book.
It struck me the other day that I’ll never get time like this with them again.
In the midst of all the uncertainty and fear in the world right now, I believe I have lots to be grateful for. The amazing NHS and key workers who are looking after us. The technology that allows me to keep in touch with my partner, my family and my friends.
But on this Easter Sunday, a day when as a wider family we would normally get together, I am grateful that this pandemic has given me time with my children that I will cherish and remember for the rest of my life.
What are you grateful for today?
Photo by annac-1564471 from Pixabay
12 April 2020
How are you finding lockdown?
I’ve been trying to keep busy: with work and training for my counselling practice, catching up on stuff around the house, keeping in touch with friends/family by Zoom or FaceTime, spending time with my teenage boys watching films and cooking dinner together. Generally I get through each day.
But at the end of last week I had a proper meltdown day.
I felt miserable and I couldn’t shake that feeling. I felt really negative - like there was no point in doing anything. I kept thinking about the worst case scenario if me or a member of my family were to get the virus. I couldn’t motivate myself to do anything. I cried.
It was not a good day.
But then I talked to a friend on Facetime who was very supportive and listened. I spoke to my eldest son about how I was feeling and he gave me a hug. I cleaned the kitchen windows and took the dog out. I still felt a bit low. And crying makes me feel really tired!
So at the end of the day I left the boys in front of the PlayStation and went to bed.
When I woke up the next day I felt much better. The sun was out. I had more energy. I didn’t feel as sad.
I know that sometimes I just have to go with the sadness. Accept that it’s a bad day, cry if that’s what I need to do, and know that it won’t last forever.
It’s OK not to be OK.
How have you been coping with lockdown?
Photo by NancylynR (pixabay.com)
2 April 2020
Working from home during lockdown
We’re living through the toughest of times and it’s hard on all of us.
Human beings are sociable animals and while many of us may work from home from time to time, being forced to do so for an extended period will be challenging, alongside the other restrictions we are now living under for a few weeks.
We can’t change or control what is happening at the moment and that can be frightening, particularly if we are physically isolated from our families, friends and work colleagues.
Here’s a few tips to help you through the next few weeks.
Limit news exposure
It’s great to live in an age where we are all kept up to date in the moment. But it can also have a huge effect on our mental health – constantly seeing headlines about illness and death, reading the opinions of a myriad of people – these can contribute to negative thoughts and anxiety.
My advice is to limit how often you look at news sites. I found that for me, limiting it to a couple of times a day and only to a couple of trusted news sites and the official government websites (NHS, Public Health England, Gov.org) has helped stop me catastrophising about the situation.
It’s important to try and keep in a routine while you are working from home, starting at your usual start time and finishing at your normal finish time. Whilst it can be tempting to continue working into the evening because there is nothing else to do, unless it’s required to meet client needs or you have urgent work to finish, try and log off and turn off your laptop. If you are not the only person in your home who will be working, discuss how you will physically set up your workspace and how you will manage issues like confidentiality and privacy in line with your company guidelines.
Take a break
It’s important to build some breaks into your day. Walk away from your laptop. Go outside if you can and feel the sunshine on your face. FaceTime a family member, friend or colleague for 10 minutes. Eat your lunch away from your laptop.
Have a social conversation with colleagues
Technology is brilliant and allows us to have meetings with colleagues and clients alike with ease. But what you might be missing are the conversations you have with colleagues in the office kitchen while making a cup of tea, or when you pop out to get a sandwich. Try and make sure you connect with a colleague socially once a day. Arrange a FaceTime call for 10 minutes or so where you can catch up on how you both are, how your families are, what you’ve been watching on Netflix.
If you are able, ensure you can get outside once a day, in line with government guidelines, and get a bit of exercise. A run or cycle or even just a walk – don’t meet friends but download a podcast or put on some of your favourite music. The exercise and the Vitamin D will work wonders for you. If you have a garden or a balcony sit outside with a book or while you are calling family or friends.
Drink plenty of water
Keep healthy by ensuring you drink plenty of water throughout the day. It’s important to keep hydrated.
As well as an outside session once a day, there are loads of online exercise classes and apps that you can do indoors. From gentle yoga to HIIT workouts, there will be something that you can do. I particularly like Joe Wicks – and he’s doing daily PE for kids at the moment too!
When it all feels overwhelming, try this breathing technique. Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Breathe in slowly to the count of 4, hold it for a count of 4 and exhale slowly for a count of 8. Do this five times.
When you’ve finished work for the day
If you have a separate workspace, close the door. If you don’t have a separate space, close down your laptop and put it away along with your papers. Make contact with family or friends if you can to check in with how you all are. There’s lots of things you can do with your downtime. Try not to spend too much time on social media. There are loads of films and box sets on TV. Read that book you’ve been meaning to get to. Sort out that drawer that you can never quite close.
If you’re struggling
Talk to your manager. Whether you are struggling with managing work along with family needs at this difficult time, or just worried about whether you can meet targets or deadlines, you need to ensure your manager knows.
It’s going to be a tough few weeks but we can get through it. Take care and stay safe.
Photo by bongkarn thanyakij
24 March 2020
Turn a ban into a can
We’re living through some very uncertain times at the moment and that can be really hard to deal with.
Whether you have underlying health issues or someone close to you does, or if you are fit and healthy - it’s a worrying time for all of us.
It’s hard to escape the news and the situation that changes from day to day. Amid all the statistics and the panic buying, many of us are anxious about what we should do and what self-isolation will feel like.
I saw the picture above online and it reminded me that, even if we have to self-isolate, there is so much that we can do.
I don’t have to self-isolate but yesterday I got out into my garden. I’m not a great gardener to be honest, and last year I did very little to it.
But the sun was out and I felt I needed to feel the fresh air on my face.
I spent a couple of hours cutting back some overgrown ivy, while listening to music on my headphones and singing along.
The benefit I got was an escape from the news, some fresh air and exercise. It cleared my mind and I felt calmer.
There’s lots of work that needs to be done in my garden, from general weeding and tidying up to sowing seeds and putting in some new plants. So if I do have to self-isolate I know there is something I can do to take my mind off what else is going on.
16 March 2020
Tomorrow is 29 February – a bonus day that we only get every four years.
And while I appreciate that lots of people will have to work and realistically it’s just another day – how about for a moment we think about what we could do with an extra day.
Everyone is time poor – we spend time rushing from one place to another, trying to fit everything in. Pressurised jobs which often extend outside of our core hours; family – younger and older relatives - who need our time; managing our homes and our lives.
So what would you do for you if you had a bonus day?
Me? Tomorrow I will be walking along the north east coast with great friends.
I hope you manage to find, if not a bonus day, at least some bonus time – just for you.
Photo credit: Buenosia Carol
28 February 2020
So St Valentines’ Day rolls round again. I’ve never been much of a fan. All that forced romance and vast expense.
I tend to think that when you love someone you should say it and show it often, not just on 14th February.
We can show love in many different ways to those around us. Spending time with those we love, listening to them. Making sure they eat well and get enough sleep. Doing something they enjoy with them.
We do that because we love them for who they are.
And that applies to us too. You’re not perfect but do you love yourself for who you are? Do you show that by giving yourself space to relax? By thinking about what you eat? By getting enough rest? By allowing yourself the time to do something you really enjoy? By talking to someone about what really matters to you?
How about this year you start to show yourself some love?
In the words of the great George Benson (and Whitney, but I’ve always preferred George’s version) “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all”.
Photo credit: Pixabay
14 February 2020
What’s your story?
This week is National Storytelling Week. The aim is to encourage children not just to read but to write stories.
It got me thinking about our own stories. The story of us.
Where does your story come from? Do you like it? Would you like to change it?
We often can’t change what is happening to or around us, but we can change how we respond to it.
Some years ago I suffered a major bereavement whilst holding down a high pressure role in the City of London. This had a massive impact on my life. For a long time I didn’t feel that I was writing my own story – it felt like someone else was. And for quite a long period it actually felt like that story was an episode of EastEnders!
But after a while, I realised that I wanted to write my own story. I couldn’t change what had happened. It has had an enormous effect on me.
But I didn’t have to let it define me.
I decided to turn the page and start a new chapter, one that I wanted to write. It hasn’t always gone to plan – there have been a fair few plot twists and new characters – but it’s still my story.
Understanding my past enabled me to move forward into a wonderful new chapter. I own my own story.
Do you want to be in charge of your story? What do you need or want to change in your life? You don’t have to keep re-reading the same old chapter over and over again.
What can you do to start writing the next chapter?
3 February 2020
So here we are at the end of another year. A time of reflection perhaps, of the last 12 months. And a time to think ahead to the next 12 months and what we want to achieve. For many of us, that means making New Year’s Resolutions.
The trouble with New Year’s Resolutions is what we’re saying to ourselves is “you’re not good enough”. And while trying to improve ourselves is not a bad thing, starting from a position of not being good enough is a bad thing.
So instead of setting yourself up to fail this year, why don’t you resolve to continue being you.
“Be yourself – everyone else is already taken” (Oscar Wilde)
28 December 2019
Tips for surviving a different kind of Christmas
I’ve seen lots of advice for people who spend Christmas doing things they don’t want to, just because they feel they have to.
But what about people who enjoy their Christmas rituals – but something has changed this year and it won’t be the same?
Do any of these apply to you?
- Parents whose children have grown up and have their own partners so they won’t all be together this year
- New parents who are used to adult Christmases
- Someone who has lost someone this year – close family, distant family, friends.
- Separated or divorced parent who used to spend Christmas Day as a family unit and now have to navigate changes
If any of these sound familiar, what can you do?
- Accept that Christmas will be different this year and cut yourself some slack for that – it’s fine to mourn the passing of traditions that you enjoyed.
- Enjoy the memories of the types of Christmas you’ve had before. Share the memories with those around you. Laugh at the fun you had. Just because things are different this year doesn’t mean you can’t fondly remember previous Christmases.
- Make new traditions. Accept that your Christmas isn’t going to be the same as it was before and find something different that you can do for future Christmases, whether that’s having a special tree decoration, snuggling up for a film in the morning before lunch or going for a walk.
- Make some time for yourself. Just twenty minutes during the day when you can shut yourself away and relax will work wonders for you. Read, listen to some music, go for a walk, just breathe – do something for you rather than trying to please everyone around you.
- If you feel able to, embrace the new type of Christmas – it might feel strange to be part of a new Christmas tradition but immerse yourself in it – you might enjoy it!
Whatever your Christmas looks like this year, I hope you enjoy it.
13 December 2019