Today I am in my own flat again having had to come back here for work reasons. I am blessed to know that soon enough I’ll be back with my family, God-willing.
The sun is shining and I have a beautiful view. I’ve eaten breakfast and have had a shower and a bath and have got ready and am cosy on my couch watching the world go by from my 10th floor window.
I know that I’m not alone in being among others for whom enjoying the things around us isn’t as straightforward as it might outwardly seem. Sometimes our minds and our subconscious can be a difficult place to contend with. We might be feeling constant anxiety and unease and be battling with difficult thoughts as we try to make it through the day.
If that’s how you feel, know that you’re not alone. It can sometimes seem that the people around us are doing just fine but truth be told we all go through different phases of mental wellbeing or otherwise and some have a more challenging time than others.
I just want you to know that you’re not alone. Sometimes we just have to accept the process that we’re in and take the next steps to make progress. Being in a pandemic might be highlighting issues that are already there or it might be creating new issues in some of our brains and minds. It’s important for you to know that you’re not the only one facing mental health challenges if you are going through something.
You are not alone. Other people are experiencing things just like you are in your mind, only you can’t see it. That’s ok.
There is help out there so please look for it or ask someone.
Get sleep, eat well, keep in contact, distract yourself and have a routine.
Be aware of your waking thoughts and reframe them.
Look for the positives in today and be gentle with yourself. This too will pass.
I know that blogging about mental health and self care in a pandemic is good for other people, and it helps me too to write and explore my thoughts. Yet, you may have noticed that I haven’t blogged for a few days, or perhaps a week or so since my last post, I can’t quite recall. Sometimes, friends, it’s hard to keep going, even with the things that we know are good for ourselves and for other people. And that’s ok.
It’s ok to have peaks and troughs, ups and downs in life. For many of us, the pandemic and lockdown is just one aspect of what we are going through just now. Many of us are overcoming longstanding mental health issues in addition to some of the cares and concerns of present day, and that can be tough.
For the most part, I’ve found that the tools and techniques I had previously learned to help me to overcome complex post traumatic stress, anxiety and depression were helpful in sharing with others and sharing ideas of how we can progress through this pandemic. Yet lately, I’ve been struggling a bit with some of these recurring issues. Sometimes it is hard to keep going, and I’m sure there are many among you who know what I mean. Our minds can at times be scary places and can throw up all kinds of traumatic memories, sensations and even things of their own imaginings, and when we are in lockdown it can seem all the more intense.
So what do we do? Let me remind us of two truths:
We are not our thoughts and feelings.
This too shall pass.
When I was a child I thought I was my thoughts and feelings and I thought I was all of the horrible things that people called me. I had no concept that the rush of anxiety and the hormones my body was producing and the intense emotional, psychological and physical pain I felt made me feel awful together with the abusive words and treatment from other people against my very personhood. I thought I was awful and horrible and disgusting because people and my own body and brain made me feel that way, and I did not know how to de-escalate those feelings. The result was a very dark season of my life when as a child I thought there was something terrible about me and when everything felt so bad and the reality was that I was severely traumatised. I also for the first time no longer wanted to be alive. I’m using that language so as not to trigger anyone.
Well, by God’s saving grace, I survived. I’m overcoming things. Yet at times my brain and body throws up those awful experiences and it’s my job as an adult to know that those things are separate from my worth as a person and to learn ways to de-escalate those feelings.
Perhaps you are struggling with unwanted or uncomfortable or awful thoughts and feelings and you need someone to remind you that you are not your thoughts and feelings and you are not the bad things that you may have been told. That’s not how your worth is defined as a human being. You are worthy because you are human and the God Who Created you loves you and wants to restore you, forgive you, clean you up, heal you and give you a future and a hope. That’s not to say that there won’t be ups and downs but Jesus Is strong enough and loves you enough to get you through.
So, regardless of what you believe right now, know that your worth is simply in your humanity. You are not what you feel, you are so much more than that, you are valuable and important. That is a FACT.
Secondly, this too shall pass. There have been times when life has been hard as a child and then later in adulthood when traumas resurfaced that my brain started throwing up those horrible thoughts and feelings about not being able to cope and about giving up on life, etc. If I gave in to those thoughts and feelings, then I wouldn’t be here writing these words of encouragement to you. Those thoughts and feelings came and over time and with effort and God’s grace, they went, or lost intensity. I no longer feel that way. So if you are feeling overwhelmed, helpless or stuck in this pandemic or in some difficult circumstance or by your own mind, know that it is a temporary state and just as the seasons change so too will the way you feel, and you can take steps (read my many blog posts to find some suggestions) to feel better. The sun will shine again my friends.
In addition to this, I’d like to encourage you to do the following:
Engage your logical brain especially when your thoughts and emotions start to overwhelm you. It can be tough to do things that are good for us when we’re not feeling just quite right, but you can do it, I believe in you. Maybe you could do a crossword puzzle, or play a non-triggering computer game such as solitaire. Maybe you can go outside for a walk if that is available to you and start to notice things of a certain colour, or count how many birds you can see. Maybe you can set yourself some small tasks around the house, or if you are in a better place you can engage with some of your much loved hobbies from playing an instrument, listening to music, dancing, exercise, reading a book, cross stitch, gardening, cooking, or some kind of arts or crafts. When we engage with our senses this helps to activate certain healthy brain areas.
Connect with other people and let someone know how you’ve been feeling. It’s understandable that you may feel you don’t want to ‘offload’ onto others if you think they are going through their own things, but it is important to have human contact and to be able to bounce ideas off other people and to know that those connections are in their own way a form of ‘grounding’ in present reality. We don’t always have to talk about our ‘stuff’ but it is important to keep in contact with other human beings. If you don’t have someone to talk to then you can always call a helpline. And if you aren’t up for that, always know that you can read my blog for encouragement and advice and know that you’re not alone in whatever you are going through.
Try to maintain a routine outside of your head. It’s all too easy to get lost in our minds and trying to figure out or to solve our problems from the inside out. I’ve struggled with this a lot over the years and that’s ok. One thing that does help me get from one moment to the next is to have tasks to do outside of my own head and it gives my mind a focus knowing that I have to get up and do this or that rather than allowing myself to lie down under the weight of whatever it is I am thinking or feeling. Perhaps these could include eating something healthy, reading a book, doing a bit of exercise, getting fresh air, playing an instrument, writing a blog post, or watch something non-triggering and uplifting such as a nature documentary. Sometimes the things we do to help ourselves can also uplift those around us or those we are connected to online, such as in the blogging community.
So if you are finding it hard to keep going right now, remind yourself that you are not your thoughts and feelings, you are worthy as a living being, a human being and try to give yourself some positive affirmations. Also remind yourself that this too will pass and you will move forwards and feel better again just as you have in times past. Try to engage your logical brain, stay connected with other people who are good influences in your life, and set yourself some small self care tasks that will help take you out of your head. If like me you sometimes feel like you ‘shouldn’t’ be struggling, or you feel bad because of your mental health struggles, then know that it is completely normal, all human beings have faulty minds in some way or another and encourage yourself that you are looking for healthy ways forwards, even by reading this blog you are doing so, so give yourself a ‘well done’ and a pat on the back for that because small steps matter.
Remind yourself that you are not alone, and take a look through my blog archives for plenty of helpful material on managing your mental health and self care in the pandemic and otherwise just generally in life.
Even if all you feel able to do today is the smallest of steps then that’s ok, because small changes add up. We all have our ups and downs, and I had to take some time out of blogging over the past few days because I was finding things difficult again myself. That’s ok. I am proud of you for reading this blog post especially if you have been finding things difficult. That could be one of the tasks you have done to care for yourself and there are plenty of posts you can come back and read later on too to help keep you going and give you ideas for how to persevere.
Well done, my friend. Let’s keep taking those small steps forward to care for our bodies and our minds in what has been a challenging time and to remind ourselves of how far we have come and that we can keep going.
You are worthy, you are important, you are here for a reason and you have the strength to take that one next step and the next, and the next and on and on……
All you have to do is live a moment at a time and you CAN do that.
Be blessed. Stay safe and know you are important, worthy and loved. x
Have you ever watched the film ‘Castaway’ with Tom Hanks when his character is stranded on a desert island, after a plane crash and being washed up on shore?
It’s a psychologically intriguing film and I think on some level we can all find some sense of human connection with various themes in the film. Like all good plots, from my point of view, there is a transformation story within it and as viewers we can see the physical and psychological changes that take place, firstly in the shock of the situation to someone who is totally out of their element, then to their resourcefulness and resilience in survival and then after being rescued and coming back to ‘civilization’ the strange disconnect and having to relearn what it is to be part of a community and in a totally different environment from that desert island.
I’m not saying that we’re in a situation similar to that by any means, but many of us have had to go through things in our lives that have tested or continue to test our mental, emotional and psychological resilience and adaptability. Some among us, myself included have had to overcome and are still overcoming remnants of complex PTSD pre-pandemic time. I know that some of my readers also are overcoming different challenges that may involve mental health and recovery from something or other. The thing is, living in this world will at some point challenge our mental and emotional resilience, and where we find we haven’t established it yet (say for example if we go through something as a child or young person) then we are put to the test as to discover and build that resilience from perhaps a very low point. But we can do it.
In the pandemic we have a variety of psychological challenges, and I’ve explored some of these in previous posts. There is a lot going on and I don’t want to trigger anyone reading this by going into details repeating some of the many things that we’ve collectively been faced with the past year particularly because there are some among you for whom that might feel too close to home.
But what about the situation of being in an extended lockdown (as we are in the UK)? That in itself has mental challenges for us. I’ve explored the importance of some semblance of routines and habits to give ourselves structure to our days even if we like to break free from those structures at times. Perhaps we can relate to some of the emotions that Tom Hanks’s character faced such as shock, loneliness, isolation, even delusional or troubled thinking from lack of human connection (when his closest companion was a blood stained basketball named ‘Wilson’ with a bloodstained handprint that he connected to as being Wilson’s face).
Our brains need somewhere to go, and when we physically can’t go anywhere, we need to keep adapting and finding ways to become increasingly resilient so that we don’t sink under the pressure of mental health challenges.
Think of the ways you have so far adapted to and grown from your experiences of an extended lockdown if you have faced or are facing one. Are there things that were overwhelming to you at the start that you now take in your stride? One aspect of this, whether for good or bad I don’t know, may be a sense of not being so affected by the daily case numbers that we are presented with. Initially we were all, or most of us were, shocked and worried by these but now we can almost ‘tune out’. We focus on our own situations and adapt and some among us are able to reach out beyond our situations to help others and we can’t forget to be grateful for the many front line workers who continue to do this through all sorts of tests and trials and pressures.
Thank you frontline workers.
So, in an extended period of lockdown, your brain needs somewhere to go. We have the small steps that we can all be taking, but what about a bigger direction? Is there a project that you can get stuck into, something that you’ve wanted to do for a long time that you didn’t seem to have the time for? Maybe something you wanted to do when you finally retired if you’re not there already? I know a lot of people at work who would be of the mindset pre-pandemic that ‘if only they had the time’ to do such and such. Well folks, now we do have the time.
Give yourself a bigger challenge to steadily work away at bit by bit. Maybe you’re not into that and it’s fine, but do you have a novel you want to be working on, a model to build, a business to set up? Do you want to become a mentor to someone but need to learn the skills? Perhaps now is the time to set yourself a slightly bigger challenge and give your brain somewhere a bit more ambitious to go. Maybe you want to set up a charity to help those less fortunate, or to advocate for others with mental health issues, or to be a supportive voice and presence to others who are suffering even if that presence is online and via technology.
Maybe your blog has places to go and you need to put your mind to it. I started this blog when I was in a tough spot mentally myself and I both wanted to do something to help myself and to help others. I find some solace and strength in knowing that my words can be used to help and encourage other people who might need help with mental health issues generally and over and above that to reach out to more people through this pandemic.
It’s a small blog, I haven’t earned any money from it, although if you want to help me with getting more people viewing my blog and finding help from it and thereby encouraging and helping me, please do share it. It’s a small beginning but it gives my mind a purpose bigger than myself to focus on and is also an avenue for me to gently share my faith for those who will read even if we walk different paths.
If we are simply getting up one day at a time to try to manage that bit at a time well, that’s ok and it’s also good and commendable, but it is just one phase of this journey. We can’t stay in a state of shock or disbelief, and we haven’t. We’ve all collectively moved on from that in many resourceful ways. But sometimes our courage can wax and wane and we can lose momentum and feel like we don’t know how to keep on going. We can keep on going. We will.
I also still have mental health challenges. Things come and go in my mind and I need to remind myself of Who my God Is, and also that He has equipped me with a resilient brain and that I can handle many things and not get discouraged by them. But our minds do need somewhere to go so that they don’t simply ruminate, go inwards or become negative and so that we don’t get lost in ourselves. We need vision.
That’s a big statement because I believe the biggest vision for our lives should be our Creator. However, on a lesser scale we also need vision to help us get through our days and to do so purposefully and that’s why having a long term or bigger project can be helpful.
I understand and agree that this is not for everyone and that’s fine, but I do feel that we need to look beyond where we’re currently at if we want to move forwards, make progress and not get lost inside our heads.
What do you all think? How can we encourage each other? Do you have any goals that you are pursuing over and above the tasks you have been focusing on to help get you through each day? The small tasks are crucial so don’t ever think that they’re not enough or not important enough. But for some of us our minds need to go further so that they don’t go inwards and perhaps like me you are also one of those people.
Are you giving your brain some direction and purpose in this pandemic and if so would you be so gracious as to share some of your inspiration with us so that as a community we can help and encourage each other to keep going on stronger?
Take care friends, stay safe, be curious, be inspired and seek to inspire. x
Life can leave us with all kinds of internal wounds. You know what I’m talking about, right? A broken heart can be the result of all kinds of different things, not merely the lovelorn heart that we often read about in literature. Our hearts or spirits can be wounded or crushed because of not feeling loved, rejection, low self esteem, feeling like we don’t measure up, wounding words, verbal abuse, mental abuse, physical and psychological abuse, or just feeling ignored, hurt, used or left out in the world. Even when things seem to be going great, our hearts can get wounded because of friends taking us for granted or a harsh tone of voice. In this pandemic year, we are faced with many more challenges to normal. We see and hear of people dying from coronavirus and other things, we may feel isolated or alone or just disconnected even when around people. Empaths may be having a particularly hard time of it in feeling the pain of others. Then there are the circumstances related to ill health, mental health, financial worries, and so forth.
My heart was wounded and my spirit crushed pretty badly in childhood, over and over again and the effects still linger. I owe my life to my Saviour Who ‘heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds’, (psalm 147:3) and it is ‘by His wounds we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:5). There is no love so healing, so understanding, so compassionate and loving as the Love of Jesus. He knows and has felt every pain. He can make it right in His perfect way and time.
Over the past few years I have learned that I need to take better care of my heart because no other human being is going to do it for me – in fact, most people in our lives will hurt us in some way, even though there are people who love us deeply – it’s just the way things are in this broken world.
Ultimately, it is Jesus Who heals our wounds as we let Him in. Our Creator, Whose Heart was broken for us at the Cross and in His Life can more than Handle Healing and Renewing our broken hearts and making beauty come forth from them. There is nothing He cannot Redeem with His Sacrificial, Perfect Love poured out for us all.
God Is also a very practical God, and there are other ways we can strengthen our hearts too. The Source of Healing Is God Himself, by His Spirit and His Word, yet complementary to that we can all strengthen our hearts in different ways.
Healing and strengthening can come from friendships of mutual respect, love and care. There will be some people in the world that have said horrible things to or about you but isn’t it wonderful and healing and soothing to receive the kind words of a friend who will say you are valued, important, unique and wonderful (and if no one has ever told you that, then please receive them from me today). It strengthens our heart to give such true words to others too.
During times of depression, anxiety and mental distress, and chronic pain, I found that my brain found relief through creative activities such as arts, crafts, adult colouring in, music and such like. These kinds of activities engage areas of our brain related to healing, pain relief, pleasure and concentration or ‘flow states’. Over time, these have been like a medicine to me, and a source of joy and healing under God’s care.
Nature can strengthen our hearts, as can doing things that are helpful for our body and mind such as reading good books, looking after our health in what we eat, getting a healthy amount of exercise and positive self talk. Our hearts can also be strengthened through learning more about the lives and testimonies of others.
If you need some inspiration, know that the person writing to you was once so broken, crushed and defeated that I felt I could not and did not want to go on in life as a child, and then in adulthood have suffered from the recurring effects of that, but now I am finding a way forwards, and am moving through the stages of victim, rescued, survivor, overcomer to hopefully soon the next stage of ‘thriver’ by the Grace of God.
So if you are feeling defeated or down, know that there is hope for you. Take some time aside from the needs, demands and cruelty of others and give yourself time and space to strengthen your heart, daily. Please choose wisely as not everything we do is good for us -sometimes we want to numb out pain, but ultimately that leads to more problems or even destruction.
‘Guard your heart above all else for out of it spring forth the issues of life’.
Be blessed, be hopeful and take some time out to nurture yourself today. Perhaps like me you find that writing strengthens your heart too – if you haven’t written anything or blogged in a while, why not take a few minutes today to pick up a pen or type some words on your keyboard, whether or not you will share them with the world, with a friend, or keep them to yourself, it is a start and it might just give you a bit of ‘heart exercise’ that you need today.
With love and prayers, for your peace, salvation and wellbeing. x
We all have those days when we find it hard to get ourselves going. Perhaps you’ve been working from home or working on the front line (thank you!), and that has given you a sense of structure and purpose to your days. However, quite a few of us are on the approach to the Christmas holidays or a period over winter where we may not have the structure of work each day.
Whatever your situation is, this next self care ‘tip’ if you like, can come in handy in all walks of life. It is to have a hobby that you can turn to that will give you a sense of enjoyment, relaxation, creativity and rest. You don’t need to be particularly good at it, but let it be something that you enjoy and that helps you take your mind off things. This can be a particularly helpful ‘go to’ on those days that might otherwise feel a bit wasted if we can’t quite get ourselves going.
My personal favourite for the past few years has been ‘adult colouring in’ and while I know not everyone is keen, it has helped me through depression, complex PTSD, anxiety, and now is not only a source of self care but is an artistic and creative pursuit. I am able to link up with creative groups, and see and be inspired by artist quality works that spur me on to better my own technique. It is something that is relaxing, fun, but also something that can be calming, develop my motor skills, creativity and open up a whole world for me. It is easy to pick up and put down without any pressure, except from the self-imposed pressure to better myself, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
On those days when you are unable to find structure, especially when you are staying at home during the winter seasons if that is the case, then having a hobby can be a real source of comfort and strength and calm for your mental health. Instead of feeling depressed at not being able to do what you would otherwise want to do, whether because of restrictions, health or lack of motivation, having something that you can work away at over a period of time can be so beneficial to your mental, emotional health and sense of wellbeing. You can see progress, and you can continue to form those important positive neural connections that are so vital for brain health.
Another thing you may have noticed that I do is obviously blogging. I do it as a hobby and don’t get any income from it, but with the times we are living in, it may be worth seeing if I can develop it as a ‘side hustle’ once I develop the skills and know-how, if that is what I am being led to do. But as it is, blogging as a hobby can provide me with so many positive things in my life, and as a blogger you may also find the same. I am able to express my thoughts, share them with an audience, and hopefully help and encourage all of you who read them (thank you if you do read my blog! 🙂 ). It can provide new insights into my own thoughts as I express them. I have created a holiday booklet for myself to keep me accountable in how I use my time, and one of the pages is dedicated to ideas for my blog posts and as I progress in them I can see that I have been using my time and mind well and helping and encouraging other people.
Some of you are very outdoor focussed when it comes to hobbies, and perhaps you are able to continue these. Where I live, winters are generally cold, dark and rainy, and with increasing restrictions it is good to also be able to find indoor pursuits that can benefit our mental health.
What do you have that you can pick up every now and then especially on those less structured more ‘wobbly’ days when you may not be feeling your best? Do you have an instrument, or can you do some cooking, doodling, singing, dancing, or colouring and drawing? Do you enjoy blogging, designing art work, knitting, reading, writing, sewing or crafting? You don’t need to be any good at a hobby for it to be beneficial to you and remember we all have to start somewhere. The key thing is to have something relaxing that you enjoy that can help your mental health instead of allowing your mind to chase those negative trains of thought when you are unfocused and not putting your attention to something positive. Sometimes we don’t have the energy or wherewithal to use our skills and in those times maybe just watching a show can help.
But do have something in mind that can help you get through those days that you struggle with so that you keep your mind engaged and active, and move your thoughts away from those dark tunnels that you otherwise might let yourself delve into.
What works for you? Any other adult colouring in fans out there? If so what are your favourite books? Add your own special little sparkle to the world, even if it is just a ‘doodle’ on a post-it note, that in itself is special and it is a good place to start. x
How many sheep do you need to count before you can fall asleep? I’m not sure if an answer has been found to that conundrum, but I am sure that we have all heard time and time again about the benefits and importance of sleep.
Sometimes, however, we just need a gentle reminder. At the start of lockdown in March (in UK) I was in good company among many others who were having vivid and sometimes disruptive dreams. It wasn’t altogether out of the ordinary for me as I went through a time for a few years when almost every night was a battle to get through sleep-wise. Thank God for His Peace in my life now, and more ‘normal’ sleep than before. However, conversations opened up among friends that they were having vivid, unsettling dreams and were struggling with their sleep too. I started noticing articles online from psychologists and medical professionals regarding this phenomenon in the pandemic. Perhaps it has been an issue for you too?
It is hardly surprising with all the new and at times overwhelming information we were having to process at the start of the pandemic. Have we grown somewhat ‘used to’ hearing these things on the news and have they become part of that oh so unpopular ‘new normal’? Our vocabulary has changed in 2020, and we are using words and phrases in common parlance that would have seemed strange to us a mere twelve months earlier. Maybe we’ve found ways to adapt, cope and be positive as time goes on? Maybe for our own mental and emotional wellbeing we’ve distanced ourselves from the facts and figures and human toll of the pandemic for the most part in order to get from one day to the next.
However, things keep changing, and with winter approaching, people are facing new concerns and having to process a whole host of new information. For example, in the UK, we have varying restrictions due to the pandemic in different nations (Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales), and even within the 4 nations, there are differing regional rules and protocols. Some regions and cities have re-entered lockdown or a form of lockdown, there are different rules with regards to the closing times of certain premises and such like. On top of that, there have been restrictions on visiting other households and a ban on this in Scotland apart from a few notable exemptions. And with winter approaching, people have concerns regarding how they will survive on their own, whether they will be able to see friends and family, whether they will have enough money to make ends meet, whether their family members will be ok in care homes, or whether supermarkets will once more run low on certain essential items.
All this can make for restless nights and troubled sleep. We know that we need to take care of our sleep and I for one do tend to struggle with this, but it is worth reminding ourselves that it may well be time for a self care ‘check in’ in this regard.
When was the last time you got a full 7 or 8 hours sleep?
Are you giving your body the chance to process, restore and repair itself as is needful, with a good sleep routine, as far as is possible?
Are you regularly staying awake through the night or avoiding going to sleep?
Do you give yourself the chance to nap during the day if you need to?
Are you oversleeping, which in itself can be detrimental?
We really need to focus on this aspect of self care, especially if like myself you struggle in this area. Even if all you can do is make small changes for the time being, please seek to do so and keep taking positive steps forwards because in order to stay as fit and healthy as you can, maintain a healthy immune system, and look after your mental, emotional and physical health and be there for others if needful especially as winter approaches, then moving towards better sleep needs to be a priority for us all.
Check in with yourself today. Think about what your personal challenges are in this area and what you can do to overcome them. Is there anything by way of a calming evening routine that you can implement in your life? Do you need to stop watching, reading or listening to the news earlier in the day? Are you giving yourself enough time and opportunity to process what is going on in your mind, and to allow your body and brain to do this at a subconscious level through the restorative blessings of sleep?
I’m sure we are all in need of at least a little (if not a lot) of improvement in this area, and I wish you all the very best with it. Perhaps this can be the gentle nudge in the right direction that you need.
Do you find that at certain times you worry more about what people think of you? I’m sure it is a general human condition that from time to time we all experience this, as social beings, but if you suffer from any kind of anxiety disorder, then this can at times become debilitating. Believe me, I speak from experience, so I extend compassion to anyone else who may be suffering from something similar. There aren’t necessarily any ‘quick fixes’, but sometimes it just helps to know that you are not alone – and I can assure you that you are not. At times, our own thoughts and feelings can be so acute, so overwhelming and so difficult to ignore or get on top of, and this impacts upon our neurological responses, and on our behaviour in any given situation. Sometimes we even tell ourselves that we are being ‘ridiculous’, paranoid even, but it doesn’t make the struggle any less real. I find that I resort to self-protective behaviours such as avoidance, isolation, just keeping myself to myself as much as possible. Because there’s enough going on inside of an anxious person than to have to deal with the external world as well. Yet, it is often the case that individuals like myself, and perhaps like you if you can relate to any of this, have so much going on inside of them that they find difficult to regulate, precisely because at some point or another, and most likely during childhood and adolescence while our coping mechanisms were still forming, the external world caused some sort of damage. And so our adult lives have that stressful edge to them, and the smallest of things can send our nervous system into overdrive as our bodies try to determine whether the best response would be to fight, take to flight, or flee the situation. And that’s not our faults if our developing brains have been damaged or are over or underactive in certain ways. People don’t realise how incredibly tough it can be to live in such a way. But that’s not to say there is no hope – there is plenty of hope, so if you are struggling please don’t feel too disheartened. This comes with the proviso, however that it is going to take hard work and practice, and getting ‘back to basics’ on a daily basis – something that I need to work on as well. The basics are calming our nervous system, investing our time in ‘breath work’, in relaxation, calming techniques, observing the world around us using our senses in an intentional way so as to ground ourselves, and working on redressing the negative and fearful thought patterns that our brains have become stuck in. This can be done – simply look up neuroplasticity for inspiration that your brain can change as we create and strengthen new neural connections. It is not easy, my friend, I know…anxiety sometimes feels like a monster we have to fight, but we can and will win if we keep on going; panic attacks are exhausting, and PTSD / C-PTSD can be frightening, confusing, disorienting and painful on so many levels – but we will overcome. If you are struggling today, know that there is hope, for a better, brighter, calmer future….and even a calmer today – maybe not free from stress, anxiety or worry, but as you take time to work on things you may just find that you cope better than you did yesterday. Whatever your situation, and however trapped you might feel, find a place to get away from it all, even if that means going for a walk by yourself before going home from work for example, and begin or continue your training of ‘rewiring’ your body, brain and nervous system. It will take effort and commitment but don’t we owe it to ourselves, regardless of what other people might think? What other people think or might be thinking about us isn’t nearly as important as our health and wellbeing – so let’s get training – like any muscle in the body, we need to keep exercising our minds in order to be mentally healthy, even if that means we start training as if we were an athlete in recovery from a major injury – it might feel that way to you just now but it can get better if you put in the work and build up your support mechanisms. One step at a time, we will get stronger, so take care, walk slowly, breathe a little more deeply, and fill your mind with kind thoughts towards yourself and others. x
It’s easy enough to talk about physical fitness. Even if people have issues around their health, weight, diet, conditions or lifestyle, there is such an open platform to talk about bettering ourselves physically. There is no shortage of diet plans, exercise programmes and encouragement to keep fit, physically. For people who have never exercised, there are initiatives such as ‘Couch to 5k’, there is a lot of talk about nutrition, vegan diets, making sure you get your 5 portions of fruit and veg a day, keeping active and training physically to look and feel your best. So, even if one isn’t particularly fit, there are plenty of resources available to help them to make changes and talking about fitness is seen as a positive thing in most cases.
But what about mental fitness? We train our bodies, but do we train our minds? Do we make sure we get enough mental rest and exercise, and linked to physical health, do we supply ourselves with the correct nutrition, fresh air and exercise to help us to stay mentally well? Mental health is often viewed negatively, or as a ‘problem’, and even with things being more open nowadays, there are still societal taboos around talking about mental health. However, just as everyone has physical health that can be either good or poor, so too does everyone have mental health – which can be generally good, bad or variable.
Do you think of your mind in this way? Just as you would exercise your muscles to keep in good condition, do you also explore what are the best ways for you to exercise your mind, to stay mentally fit and healthy or to recover from ‘injury’?
Chances are that most of us know that we need to pay attention to our mental health, but aside from seeking professional help, we don’t really know how. Staying mentally fit and looking after your mental health does not only apply to people with conditions, such as myself, like depression, anxiety and C-PTSD. Even if you have no diagnosable mental health conditions, you still have a mind, and you need to keep it healthy. What the mind is, is a more nebulous topic for discussion, but the way we think affects almost every aspect of our lives, including our physical health.
Of course, seek professional help and support for mental health conditions or ‘mental illness’. But even if you consider yourself to be ‘fine’ mentally, you still need to stay in training on a daily basis. This doesn’t simply mean ‘brain training’ or doing things to improve your cognitive abilities, it also means giving your mind what it needs.
So what are some of the things your mind needs to stay healthy?
Rest – just as our physical bodies need rest, we also need to rest our minds in order to stay well and to help process the multitude of information that we encounter on a daily basis. As well as good sleep, nutrition, hydration and exercise, our minds also benefit when we take time just to be still, and if you like to ‘meditate’ and allow yourself to be quiet for a while, free from distraction, noise, busyness, technology and external input. You might like to meditate on a Truth, a verse from scripture, or simply try to rest and allow your thoughts to come and go and settle.
Journaling – our thoughts and emotions are intricately linked. Expressing ourselves through writing can be very helpful to externalise difficult emotions in a healthy and productive way, and can also help us to identify what we are thinking, how we ‘talk to ourselves’ in our minds, and to see whether we have any particular negative thought patterns that we need to address.
Talking – our minds process information received in a variety of ways, and this includes through narrative and through verbalising and sharing our thoughts with someone else. This is why Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and other ‘talk therapies’ can be so beneficial for addressing thoughts, and the consequent feelings, emotions, beliefs and behaviours that result. Talking helps us to process our thoughts, put them in some sort of order, as well as receiving input from someone else who might be able to provide a healthy perspective or to offer constructive advice.
Close some ‘tabs’ – we live in an age of information, and just as technology can suffer from information overload, so too can our minds. We seem to have lost, as a society, the ability to ‘switch off’ and to concentrate on just one thing at a time, and apply all of our focus, energy and attention to that thing. Some of the most satisfying times spent whether at work, playing sport, or doing something creative, occur during ‘flow states’, when we are so absorbed in what we are doing, that time seems to pass effortlessly, we are fully engaged in what we are doing, are present and cease to worry as much about the past, or the future. If our minds are constantly having to flit from one ‘tab’ to the next, and if we have to filter and process several pieces of information at once, then we really aren’t allowing our minds the chance to get fit, strong and healthy. When you workout in the gym, you don’t hop from one machine to another and back again every few seconds. If you did, you probably wouldn’t stick at it very long, and wouldn’t be in great shape as you wouldn’t have allowed your muscles to train. Just as with physical training you require focus and planning, similarly with mental agility you need to exercise particular thought processes in order to form and strengthen healthy patterns of thinking, and behaviour. ‘Closing tabs’ doesn’t just mean on your computer, but also on your ‘to do’ lists, and minimising noise, distraction, and sensory input. Let your mind have the chance to rest and grow strong.
Be grateful – our mental agility will increase as we intentionally practice looking at situations in a healthy way, and learning to problem solve and identify opportunities rather than just problems or barriers. Gratitude helps us emotionally, physically and mentally to stay well.
Create and play – engage your mind positively through creativity, and allow yourself to participate in an activity rather than passively absorbing information. You could colour, draw, paint, do a puzzle, word-search or crossword, play chess, play an instrument, design something from scratch, write a story, make a puppet, invent something, and so the list of endless possibilities goes on. Exercise your mind to not only take in information but to assimilate information, create new ideas and to engage actively in what you are doing in the present.
Read a book – reading stimulates the imagination, engages our thinking, provides a single point of focus for our ideas rather than the multitude of articles, clips, videos, images and posts that pop up on social media to vie for our attention.
There will be many more things you can do daily to strengthen your mental health and wellbeing, and if you have any ideas to share and inspire others please do comment. We cannot neglect the need to keep our minds fit and healthy. For without healthy minds, what good will healthy bodies do? xx
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, so please see this as a personal piece of writing, and follow up with your own research as required.
Living with chronic pain can be overwhelming. The sources of chronic pain are numerous, and can derive from neuropathic sources where there is nerve damage, from external injury, from psychosomatic pain and / or a combination of these as well as various other factors.
Psychosomatic pain can be wide ranging, but can include pain stemming from depression, post traumatic stress, complex (severe and repeated) trauma, grief, and so forth and can be just as intense and debilitating as pain from more physically identifiable sources. Neurological pathways in the brain can be triggered causing pain receptors to be stimulated with psychosomatic pain being as ‘real’ and intense as pain from nerve damage and / or external injury.
Living with ongoing pain can also have a massive impact upon a person’s mental health, outlook on life, general wellbeing, and relationships with others. However, just as pain can be triggered by non-physical factors, I believe, so too can it be alleviated similarly as well.
There is a light-hearted phrase that I find particularly helpful to bear in mind. That is: “neurons that fire together, wire together”. (Donald Hebb, 1949 – Canadian neuropsychologist). What this means is that our brain cells communicate with each other in a process that involves synaptic transmission where chemicals or neurotransmitters are released and absorbed by other brain cells, in a process that can be called ‘neuronal firing’. Whenever we have any experience, feeling, physical experience, or thought (yes, thought), this process occurs and over time ‘neural networks’ are formed, and such pathways can be strengthened, and can trigger the process of this ongoing ‘communication’ with other cells in the ‘network’.
Simply put, if pain sensations are triggered, then certain neural networks are activated, and pain is intensified.
As I italicised above, thoughts can trigger the firing of neurons and the wiring of neural connections. If you think about it, if you dwell on a negative thought or on a painful symptom, you are more likely to experience that pain with greater intensity, remember other times and experiences when you were in pain, and feel less resistant to overcoming it.
Similarly, if by thought you can activate the ‘pleasure sensors’ in the brain, you are more likely to remember other positive experiences, feel calmer and more able to manage your pain-related symptoms, and gain resistance and even the ability to withstand greater levels of pain.
I do believe that to some extent, what you focus on ‘expands’. From personal experience, focusing on pain tends to make it feel all the more overwhelming, whereas engaging in healthy distractions for the mind such as absorbing oneself in a creative pursuit, taking time to dwell on positive experiences, keeping a ‘gratitude journal’, practicing calming exercises such as controlled breathing and focusing on natural and beautiful things can overtime strengthen our ability to “activate” those neural pathways that trigger pleasurable sensations over painful ones, and overtime the exercise of this habit can greatly strengthen our fortitude to manage and overcome chronic pain, or at the least to alleviate it to some extent.
Please bear in mind that I am not advocating doing this to the exclusion of utilising medical help and prescribed pain relief. As mentioned previously the sources of chronic pain are numerous, therefore I would not venture to provide such foolhardy advice – there is a place for medical treatment of course. However, chronic pain can often leave people feeling overwhelmed, defeated and like victims of their conditions. Taking control of our thoughts and strengthening positive neural networks in our brain brings back an element of control into the process and can add to our feelings of fulfilment in life.
I wish you all well on your journeys and hope that you find relief and blessing, and look forward to hearing your thoughts.