Mental Health bite-sized topics

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Mood & Motivation

We all have mental health and we all sit on this fluid spectrum of mental health which ranges from positive healthy mental health, down to really struggling with out mental health. We’re all up and down on this spectrum, and along with that, we may notice changes in our mood or motivation. Mood fluctuations and changes are normal, we all have times when our mood feels low or we’re feeling sad. Usually these feelings pass. If these feelings persist or return frequently it may be a sign that we’re experiencing depression and it may be that seeking some further support could be helpful.

It may be helpful to keep a mood diary, this can help increase our awareness of any changes in our mood and recognise anything that may make things feel worse, or makes things feel better.

If we’re experiencing low mood we may notice our day to day activities start to reduce alongside our reduction in motivation and what we find is the less we do the worse we feel. It’s a little bit like cogs in a wheel, once the cogs turn one way they can start to build momentum, but we can get those cogs turning back the other way. Sometimes we can do it on our own, sometimes we may need professional support. This can be really difficult but if we slowly and gradually start to do a little bit more, this will help to get those cogs turning back the other way. It’s important that we’re kind to ourselves, and set ourselves small goals that we can achieve before we gradually start to increase these goals.

It can be helpful to schedule our time. If we schedule our goals into a diary or planner, we’re far more likely to stick to what we have planned.

Part of these goals could be around practicing self-care. We often avoid self-care or attach feelings of guilt to self-care. It can be helpful to think about self-care a little bit like plugging ourselves into charge. None of us would allow our phones to go down to 0% battery and never plug them back in again. By practicing self-care, whether this is reading a book, having a bath, practicing a hobby, allows our batteries to re-charge a little. We can’t share our battery with others if there is no charge left in it.

There is evidence to show that mindfulness can also help with feelings of depression and low mood. Mindfulness is about being present and grounded in this very moment. There are some great apps and resources that can help us to be more mindful, for example headspace, or calm. There are also a number of free resources available on youtube. Part of scheduling our goals could be protecting some time to practice mindfulness.

Putting pressure on ourselves can also make things feel worse and different things work for different people, it’s about finding what works for us and being kind to ourselves. There are so many resources available to help lift our motivation and mood, the mental health charity Mind and the NHS every mind matters websites have so much information and self-help tips about looking after our mental health.
Remember you’re not alone in how you’re feeling, talking to others and sharing how we’re feeling is helpful. Whether this is family, friends or professional treatment and support. There are services there to help.

Why not start right now, write down a small, achievable goal that you would like to complete before the end of the day, whether this is 10 minutes to sit down with a book and have a coffee, try mindfulness for 2-3 minutes or go out for a short 5 minute walk.

Talking about our Mental Health

We should be talking about our mental health. Every single one of us has mental health, purely and simply because we’re human beings, we have a mind and can experience emotion. In the same way that we all have a physical body and can notice changes in our physical health. There is a relatively new term called ‘mental fitness’ which can help us to equate looking after our mental health in the same way we would our physical health.

Often the biggest barrier to reaching out for support when we’re not feeling ourselves is talking about how we feel. This often is down to the stigma that still unfortunately exists around mental health. Hopefully we’re moving in the right direction and this stigma is reducing, but it is still there. The only way we’re going to reduce the stigma is by having conversations. Talking about our mental health and how we feel. We are all human beings, with mental health, and the more we talk about it, the easier it becomes. By you talking about your mental health and how you feel, could allow the people around you, to feel comfortable enough to share how they feel, which could result in them reaching out for invaluable support. We want to create environments and cultures around us where it is okay if we’re not feeling okay. It is alright if we’re not feeling alright.

Talking about our feelings isn’t a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. It is a positive, proactive step, that we’re taking to look after the health of our mind. Just talking about how we feel can help us to feel like we’re supported and less alone. If we’ve been carrying a problem around with us in our mind, sharing this can help, or even hearing it out loud may help us to see solutions or options we hadn’t thought of previously.

It may feel a little awkward or uncomfortable the first time we start to open up, but it will become easier. It doesn’t have to feel formal, find a space, a time or a situation where you feel comfortable and tell someone what is going on for you right now, how you’re feeling at the moment. It doesn’t have to only be when we’re struggling with how we’re feeling either, if you’re having a good day, or your feeling happy at the moment. Talk about this too. This will create an environment where it is safe and okay to talk about how we feel, no matter what we’re experiencing.

It may be that talking to those closest to us, our colleagues, family or friends may not be something we want to do at this moment in time. It may be that talking to someone we don’t know, may provide the most comfort and support. That’s why there are so many free, helplines you can contact that provide the power of a listening ear. The Samaritans are a well known helpline that are available 24 hours a day on 116 123. If you find it difficult to verbally share how you are feeling some organisations offer webchat and text support too.
Talking therapies can be helpful, depending on your circumstance and situation to have a therapist or counsellor to listen, and help you find your own solutions without any judgement. You may be able to self-refer to your local NHS talking therapy service, known as IAPT. Your GP will also be able to support you in finding local services for support.

Why not start today, consciously make an effort to talk to someone about how you are feeling.

Worries

Worries are normal and natural, but sometimes worries can be debilitating and really impact on our ability to carry out our day to day. I like to think about worry, a little bit like a big heavy metal chain. The first link in the chain is the first worry, the next link in the chain is the next worry, and so forth. Before we know it we’ve got this big heavy metal chain that can make it really difficult to carry out our day to day.

We do need to worry, a little bit of worry is good for us. If we never worried about anything at all, we would never have the drive or motivation to get anything done. But too much worry isn’t good for us either.

One of the tricky things with worry is that sometimes we can be worrying about something for a long time before we even realise that we’re worrying. Especially if worrying is usual to us. If we’re so used to worrying, sometimes when we don’t have something to worry about can make us feel anxious and worried too.

Worrying is a behaviour and it is something that we can learn to change. Someone telling us to ‘just not worry’ about something is often the most unhelpful thing we can hear, because if we just had the power to ‘not worry’ then we wouldn’t.
The very first step when we’re thinking about controlling worry is to write your worry down. Get your worry out of your mind and down onto a piece of paper. When our worries are rattling around in our mind they have a lot of heat and a lot of power. Once these worries are down onto paper, it allows us to take an emotional step back from the worry and this alone may be enough to help us to dismiss the worry altogether. It could be helpful to keep a worry journal or a worry jar.
By writing them down can help us to see whether our worries are practical, worries that we can put a plan into place to solve or worries that we can’t solve at the moment, also know as hypothetical worries. A good way to distinguish between the two is to ask yourself, can I do anything about this worry right now?

For those that we can do something about, it can be helpful to work through a problem solving technique, to help us to see the options we have in front of us, and to help us to put a plan into place to solve them.

It can also be helpful to try to manage the amount of time we spend on our worries, this is often helpful for our hypothetical worries, these worries are often future focused that usually start with ‘what if’.. Setting aside a dedicated period of time each day, to focus on our worries is a technique known as worry time. This can help us to feel in control, as we will think about our worries, because these are important and they matter to us, but at a time that we’re in control over, rather than our worries being in control of us. There are some great tips on the nhs every mind matters website about managing worry and the use of worry time.

Keeping a diary can be helpful too, it can be helpful to recognise our triggers and what makes things feel worse. But also what makes things feel better. When we’re feeling anxious and worried we can often spend a lot of time focusing on our attention on the negatives, as we become hypervigilant to this in line with our protective fight or flight response. It can be helpful to recognise the positives and what is going well at the moment too. There is evidence to show that practicing gratitude can reduce our feelings of anxiety. Mindfulness is another powerful tool that can help us to come back into the here and now when we’re experiencing worry.

Talking our worries through with someone can also be beneficial. Even if someone isn’t able to fix what we’re worrying about, knowing that someone is there can provide a lot of support. If you’re not able to speak to someone close to you, there are many helplines available that are there to listen, such as the Samaritans. Remember you’re not alone in how you’re feeling, talking to others and sharing how we’re feeling is helpful. Whether this is family, friends or professional treatment and support. There are services there to help.

Try to become aware of your thoughts today, recognise if you’re worrying about anything and write it down. Take a second to reflect on how you feel after you’ve noted it down.


Thoughts

Our thoughts are so powerful and can have a huge impact on how we feel. When we’re not feeling ourselves, we can get stuck into vicious cycles, of how our thoughts (what is running through our mind), impacts on our physical symptoms (how we feel on the inside) which impacts on our behaviours (the things we’re either doing more or less of because we’re feeling a certain way), which impacts on our emotions and so forth. What can be helpful to do is to write this cycle out for ourselves and really start to understand our own vicious cycles.
One way to help to change how we feel is by concentrating on our thoughts and challenging the way we talk to ourselves.
Often we talk to ourselves in a way that we would never dream of talking to anyone else, so why do we deserve to speak to ourselves in that way?

We have thousands and thousands of thoughts pass through our minds every single day. Sometimes when things are feeling difficult some of our most critical thoughts, develop Velcro, and stay stuck in our mind a little longer than usual.

It can be helpful to think about these thoughts a little differently with thought challenging questions which can challenge our perceptions such as
– Will this matter in a year from now or in 5 years time
– Am I making myself feel better or feel worse
– What is the worst or the best thing that can happen
– What would I say to a friend

Writing our thoughts down onto paper can help us to take an emotional step back from the thoughts and start to see them differently. It can be helpful also to ask ourselves whether we are thinking about this situation or circumstance in a rational way and challenge the thought that we’re experiencing.

For example if I was walking down the street and I seen my friend walking down the other side of the pavement, I shout hello and my friend continues walking. What automatic thoughts am I likely to experience?

Probably thoughts such as ‘oh no, my friend must be upset with me’, ‘they ignored me, I must have done something wrong’, ‘I must be a rubbish friend’.

Do I have any evidence for these thoughts? No, the only evidence I have is that my friend didn’t return my greeting, and there are other possible explanations for that response.

They may have had headphones in that I couldn’t spot, They may have not heard or seen me, They may have been having a difficult day and have things on their mind.

We often jump to the thoughts that support how we’re feeling when we’re not feeling ourselves. It isn’t about being the worlds most positive person, because that isn’t realistic. It is about being more rational with our thoughts and being kinder to ourselves. Weigh up your evidence, what evidence and not opinion, do I have to support this thought, and what evidence not opinion do I have against this thought. And then come to a more balanced and rational thought. With this example it could be ‘my friend didn’t return my hello, but that doesn’t mean that they are upset with me, I hope everything is okay.’

Challenging these thoughts can sometimes be difficult to do in your mind, try writing down your evidence for and against the thought to help to come to a more balanced thought. If you’re experiencing several critical thoughts, start with the one that feels easiest to challenge.

Sometimes it can be difficult to do altogether which is okay too. Talking to others and sharing how we’re feeling is helpful. Whether this is family, friends or professional treatment and support. There are services there to help.
Try making a start at catching your thoughts today, notice when you speak to yourself in a critical way. Stop and ask yourself, would I speak to a friend that way?

Friends and family

Loneliness can have an impact on our mental health and has been widely seen as an impact of the pandemic. We can feel lonely, even if we physically have others around us. Remember that even if there aren’t people close to us that we feel we can talk to, there is always someone you can talk to via a helpline such as the Samaritans.

It may be that someone around us is struggling with how they’re feeling, or may not be feeling themselves and we can be an ear to listen for them. Sometimes it can be difficult for people to share how they’re feeling, so just being there is often the most powerful thing that we can do. Even if that involves sitting in silence, they know that we’re there.

It can be helpful to ask twice to see how someone is doing. We’re all quite guilty of using ‘hi how are you doing’ as a greeting, and then we move on. Within that there is no capacity for someone to say ‘actually I’m not okay and can we talk about it’. So if you have a feeling someone isn’t feeling themselves, ask twice, ‘no really, how are you at the minute’ ‘how are things’. This gives someone the green light, that we’re there, we’ve got time, and we care.

And when they answer, if they start to open up about how they feel, listen. Really listen to what they are saying. Sometimes our own agendas, thoughts and worries take over, which means we don’t actively listen in that moment to what someone is sharing with us.
As a society we’re all fantastic problem solvers, and sometimes we jump into ‘fixing it’ mode as we want to support and help that person. But often fixing it is out of our remit, and all we can do is be there and listen. You don’t have to have a solution, you don’t have to have a fix or a great idea, just be there, allow them the space to share. If you don’t know what to say a helpful phrase can be ‘I’m so sorry things are so difficult, thank you for telling me.’

We spoke about the barrier and stigma around reaching out for professional support earlier this week but speaking to someone about the professional support around them too may be helpful. They may not know this support is available. By speaking with you about it may make them feel more confident to reach out for this support, you could even make the phone call together.

If you are a carer for someone who is struggling with their mental health it is also important that you are looking after yourself too. There are some great resources on the carers hub of the Rethink Mental Illness website.

We all have mental health and can all benefit from an ear to listen from time to time. Try reaching out today to someone around you and ask how they are, not once, but twice.

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