Saturday 16th / Sunday 17th November 2019 (00:35hrs) :
I hope you’ve all been enjoying and following my series of posts in my ‘Winter Survival Guide’, and have found some of my suggestions helpful.
I thought it would be a nice idea to actually share with you my own efforts to put some of my ideas into practice, and hopefully you will be inspired to join in.
This isn’t necessarily going to be in the order of my original posts, and for some of the ‘smaller’ and more lighter hearted suggestions (such as dancing along to Christmas music! 😉 ) you’ll have to browse through the comments sections of my Winter Survival Guide to see any updates I’ve put in there, but for the more eventful suggestions I’ll write longer posts.
I’ve actually been stuck inside all day today by myself, and truth be told I had a bit of a dip in my mood this evening as some things have been bothering me, but I’m working through them and have been enjoying some quiet reflective times listening to Scripture, cosying up on my couch and watching Grey’s Anatomy, as well as doing some tidying up around the house, talking to my parents on the phone, blogging – of course, and having a little ‘dance party’ of my own. So although the updates on my wintery walks aren’t from today, I have been putting into practice some of the other, cosier, indoor tips from my Winter Survival Guide. However, here are some pictures from some wintery walks in the park and observations in the city’s main train station from a little earlier on. I hope that it brings some joy and inspiration to you even if you can’t get outside yourself today. Be blessed, and happy beautiful wintery journey to you. x
Ah, that wonderful time of the year to huddle up indoors, stay warm and cosy, and indulge in some relaxation. Now, be honest here, what does that tend to look like for you? How much time will you spend curled up on your sofa watching your favourite shows or films and munching on chocolate and / or party food?
Maybe it’s not quite the time of year for that yet, but it does inevitably come around, and unless you’re already quite health conscious it can become all too easy to let things slip.
The result? Feeling sluggish, tired, lethargic, sleepy, a bit heavy and maybe bloated, and in full on hibernation mode. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you are stuck indoors during the winter, this can mean limited activity, but it doesn’t inevitably have to mean no activity.
Just think how much more wonderful your holiday season will be if you are feeling bright and alert and at your best, as far as is possible. You’ll be more ‘switched on’ to be able to enjoy the special moments you and your loved ones hopefully are creating, and you will be able to engage better with the people around you. Even if you are facing a particularly hard time this season, taking care of your body and mind will help you to deal better with your challenges and build your resilience through it.
You don’t need to go to the gym, or lift weights or go out for a jog in the cold weather. You can find a few simple activities that work for you that you can do in the comfort of your own home, doing a bit of strength training which you can do with your own body weight, and some cardio. Once again, you don’t need to spend hours at a time working out. Just keep active, little and often if that works best for you, and you’ll feel the difference within you as your heart gets moving and pumps more oxygen to your brain and muscles keeping you alert and feeling better than if you otherwise were just slumped on the sofa.
There is no shortage of inspiration out there. I personally like to follow a few fitness trainers on You Tube, which is absolutely free to do so, and comes with the added benefit of not having to feel self conscious if you’re not comfortable with going to the gym or outside to exercise.
A little at a time throughout the winter season will work wonders for your mind, your energy levels and your waistline!
p.s. Did the cat picture make you yawn? 😉 Time to get moving! 🙂
Sitting around a lot, or staying indoors more than usual during the colder seasons when life tends to become a bit more sedentary, can lead to achy muscles, and tension in our body. Take some time every day to do a few simple stretches, even if it’s just for five minutes a day. It will help you feel better, calmer, more relaxed and supple and will ease away some of that tension that we hold in our bodies throughout the day, especially when those days are spent curled up on the couch indoors!
At this time of the year, the days are growing shorter and darkness sets in a lot earlier. It can be oh so tempting to spend most of our days inside, however, our bodies still need whatever sunlight we can get and while the days are still light, and reasonably temperate, my encouragement is to make the most of that by stepping outside whenever we can. It’s early November, and here although we have rainy and windy days, they are also interspersed with days like today where it is calm, still, and reasonably bright, albeit a little cold.
The ‘Brits’ are probably well known for talking about the weather a lot, but it’s probably because things are so changeable over here. We can’t be guaranteed sun in the summer, and when it comes, we all get very excited about it. In Scotland, like Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’, these can often occur in one day!
At the moment, we are blessed with some crisp, cold, sometimes even bright autumnal days. I need to remind myself to make the most of these, to not spend an entire Saturday indoors, but to go for a walk while I still can, to wander down to the park and to enjoy the wildlife. It is beautiful, and so good for us to take in a bit of nature and breathe in some fresh air. Bearing in mind the winter seasons here often bring with them wilder weather, lashing rain and wind, and even snow, I really ought to enjoy as much ‘outside time’, even if that means a simple short walk, while I can.
It is good not only for the body, but also for those of us who have to work at our mental health, whether that may be depression, anxiety or some other condition, it is good also for the mind. So let’s make the most of the brighter and more temperate days while we can….for we know that they are very likely set to change very soon!
Do you ever have days or weeks when you feel like you’re doing pretty well in terms of fitness and healthy eating?
You’ve been eating well, exercising, getting fresh air and drinking water, and feeling pretty good with it. You’ve found a groove and are maintaining progress, even if that progress is gradual.
I hope you do.
However, we probably all also go through days, weeks or even longer periods when we lose focus, motivation or become overwhelmed with other things. We comfort eat, we get lazy, we notice the pounds creeping on, and feel a bit uncomfortable.
Some people swing back and forth in unhealthy ways from one extreme to another, and I don’t have too much experience of that myself. There have been times during periods of depression when things were more noticeably difficult for me, at one point I was too thin, and then some years later I noticed I was putting on weight after starting on medication. But apart from that, the pendulum hasn’t swung too far in one direction or another for me.
That being said, even for relatively healthy people we do notice the subtle changes in ourselves that leave us feeling ‘sluggish’, unhealthy and not so great physically. We know when we’re beginning to lose focus, motivation and when our health, wellbeing and weight isn’t quite what we know it should be, even if that isn’t particularly noticeable to other people.
So what happens if you find yourself in such a position? The key is consistency. Overnight transformation doesn’t happen. It takes regular, consistent and intentional changes in our lifestyles in order to maintain progress.
Maybe you’ve ‘fallen off the wagon’ a bit with your health and fitness. Maybe you’ve been inconsistent during seasons of celebration, holidays, festivities, or conversely low mood, depression and difficult circumstances. You’re not on your own.
Don’t beat yourself up about it. Remember you have to start somewhere, and once you’ve started just keep going. If you’re overwhelmed, make some small steps forward, start with 5 minutes of exercise if you’re struggling, and build up from there, keep consistent, keep moving, keep eating well, don’t be demanding or obsessive with yourself and your habits, but just try to maintain consistency and you’ll make progress.
There are no shortcuts, but try not to be overwhelmed by thinking about how far away you are from where you want to be with your health and fitness. Just do one small thing today and if that’s all you can manage for now, that’s ok. Start again tomorrow, and just keep going. Small steps in the right direction all add up, so stay positive, you can do it.
It’s very easy for me to think of several periods throughout my childhood, teenage and adult life when I have felt like I was living while being ‘crushed’ and burdened by inner pain.
Intense emotional and psychological pain, fear, crippling anxiety, depression, low self esteem, rejection, helplessness, and feeling oppressed from a large part being ‘bullied’ (it’s such tame word for abuse) in childhood, for instance.
The physical pain from a nervous system all but wrecked by the overproduction of stress hormones, causing fight, flight, a sensitivity to pain sensations triggered by the smallest of things, in my brain, painful skin conditions, panic attacks, hyperventilation, dizziness, difficulty breathing, dissociation, stomach pains and physical ailments, nightmares, a brain / mind that feels like it is ‘exploding’ and might even self destruct.
And the mental pain from verbal and emotional abuse at an early and formative stage. The kind of pain that doesn’t come and go, but remains a constant for years, even as you try to make it through each day. The intensity of pain that makes you wonder whether there is a ‘way out’.
Can you relate? Do you know in your own life how tough it is, even if ‘on the surface’ it looks like everything is going fine, and even if other people think you have an enviable and ‘easy’ life?
There have been several times like that for me, that I have just had to endure, to cling on as the Grace of God holds and buffets me through the storm, and as He gently heals me through tough seasons of life. Enduring has been a challenge and in my pain and distress I’d find myself fearing that I didn’t have what it takes to keep going, fearing what would happen to me, how could I make it through, and so many other things. My reactions would be to focus on that excruciating pain, to cry out to people for help in my distress, and it was all so very hard.
Sometimes, the pain surfaces again, but the years of endurance are beginning to bear fruit. I realise that the gruelling years of suffering in these ways, even if they have been ‘invisible’ to others, have built my resilience. When you’re in the eye of the storm, thinking of the gain that pain will bring later is just an unhelpful cliché in the moment that does nothing to soothe the suffering. But just as an athlete, or as someone who puts their body through challenging exercises of endurance in time pushes past the pain to gain strength, definition, character, so too do we when we persevere through pain.
We push past our pain and develop coping mechanisms. And we cope.
But then we push past our coping mechanisms and begin to create.
We create avenues of growth, of learning, of character, of opportunity, as pain pushes us to exercise muscles of faith, as our character grows through endurance, we find in ourselves the definition of tenacity, and as we recognise that we no longer have to be oppressed by or negatively defined by our pain, we find a new, truer, deeper Identity.
WE become Overcomers.
When pain surfaces, we understand its familiarity. We no longer fear defeat, because we have pushed through every time, whether with tears or tantrums, or gracefully, but we have pushed through nonetheless to arrive at this point.
What have we learned? Mental endurance. Acceptance that this is an inevitable part of the journey but that it can be utilised as a means of growth and positive change rather than an instrument of suffering and distress.
We fall but we rise again. And with every instance of this we get stronger. Until one day we find that we are no longer merely lifting ourselves up, but reaching out to lift someone else up from the mire. WE train, and we become trainers. WE endure and we become inspirers. WE suffer, and we become overcomers. WE persevere and we change our futures.
When we take time to redefine our mental roadmaps, what the pain in our life means to us, then we change how we ‘greet’ it when it appears, we change its significance from being something happening to us, to something we can use for good. We face forward and get up again, knowing that we have always got up and we will get stronger, push onwards and not be defeated. We will become more agile in processing, drawing meaning from, and overcoming the pain in our lives. And as we do so, we use the same strength that took us through seasons of endurance, to propel us into being people who grow, who build, who teach, who equip, who serve, who inspire, who hope, who persevere with hope, who see opportunities in challenges.
Anxiety can leave you feeling pretty small. If you battle against anxiety, you know that this ‘nemesis’ can leave you feeling overwhelmed, underprepared, backed up against a wall, cowering in a corner with your hands over your face, wishing it all would just go away. But guess what? You lived to fight another day. And if you stay in training, one day you will find that you have the courage to step away from that corner, lift your head high, tell anxiety who’s boss, and win the battle as you take the next step to accomplish your goal however big or small that goal might be. Don’t get me wrong, anxiety like most opponents doesn’t give up easily…winning one battle doesn’t mean that you won’t face others in the future, but as you stay in training, build resilience and learn how to use your ‘armoury’ then you will become increasingly stronger and better prepared so that it doesn’t continue to overwhelm your every day life in such a debilitating way as it might be doing just now.
You’ll probably realise, and if you’ve read my previous blog posts on related issues then you’ll know, that I speak from years of painful experience in this regard. However, I have learnt a fair bit in this difficult journey, it certainly has been a battle against a persistent foe, but as small as we might be feeling when experiencing anxiety, panic attacks and related conditions, we can become ‘superheroes’ in our own way as we overcome our own battles, and use our increasing skills and strength to help others.
You are not alone
I know how debilitating living with Generalised Anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, etc can be. My heart goes out to you if you are overwhelmed by these things just now. I’d love to share with you some of the things I’ve learned that help me make progress on this journey. It continues to be a daily challenge, however, it does get better the more you understand. Actually, the reason I started writing this was prompted by almost having a ‘meltdown’ this evening because I couldn’t find an address that I needed, but I was able to ‘talk myself out of that corner’ that I felt backed up against.
Quick tips for your training to become a ‘superhero’ in your fight against anxiety.
Arm yourself with knowledge – know your opponent.
You can’t really win this fight if you don’t know what you’re up against. I know the fear of feeling that your head and heart are about to explode, hyperventilating and feeling that you will be sick (or in my case, actually being sick a couple of times), collapsing physically in a heap, feeling dizzy, stressed, and worrying that you might be going crazy because of the relentless and unceasing bombardment of thoughts firing at you like arrows from all sides.
Knowing that these are ‘normal’ symptoms of a condition that many people share was one of the first steps for me for making sense of things and lessening the fear that something far worse was happening to me. So find some recommended resources – there are plenty out there such as MIND in the UK https://www.mind.org.uk/ but there will be plenty of others that can help explain to you what’s going on in your body, brain and nervous system. You’re not going crazy if you’re experiencing anxiety or panic attacks – you are in fact incredibly brave as each small thing that may seem easy or effortless to other people, is a monumental task for us.
2. Get support from a professional.
I am so blessed and thankful that living in the UK I have free access to health care, including support for mental health conditions such as anxiety. I had to face in myself the ‘stigma’ that I felt in reaching out for help but things had got to such a point that after years of stress my body was overloaded with stress hormones and I physically and mentally couldn’t cope any more. I needed support, and actually reaching out to get that, as scary as I felt it was at the time, and as reluctant as I was, is one of the best things I have done in my recovery.
Work at getting rid of and overcoming any stigmas you might have about getting help for mental health. Just as you wouldn’t feel ashamed about getting help for a broken arm, for diabetes or migraines or other physical conditions, you and I have no reason to feel ashamed if the chemicals in our brains, our hormones, nervous systems and consequently our thoughts are ‘not working properly’. Nor would you sit at home trying to repair your own broken arm, or at least I hope you wouldn’t, so learn from my mistakes of trying to get through things on my own for so many years, and losing out on quality of life and suffering more than necessary, by getting help from someone who knows and understands what is going on. If you live in a country where you have to fund your own health care, try to find out if there are charitable groups with a strong background in mental health that can offer you some support, phone a related helpline and ask if someone can help you understand what’s going on, access online resources, including YouTube videos such as those by licensed therapist Katie Morton – she is lovely and explains things very well. But don’t try to go it alone when you don’t need to. Even ‘Batman’ has backup, so why shouldn’t you? 🙂
3. Friends, family and a support network.
Related to this, share with trusted friends and family members and try to build up a support network. You might not like the sound of this at first, but you won’t always be what you might feel is ‘the needy one’. You are strong too and can reciprocate help. Having friends and family involved to supplement the support from professionals, rather than feeling like you are overburdening people who might not have the resources to help, can be a big part of your recovery, and your training on your ‘superhero’ journey 🙂 Just knowing that you have someone who is aware that you might need a bit of encouragement when you both are walking into a crowded room, or going out with friends, or that you might need a bit of extra time as ‘leeway’ when leaving the house to meet them because anxiety can strike when you’re not expecting it, can help build and preserve understanding within these relationships. You might find that they also struggle and that you can be sources of mutual support to each other.
4. Breathe, breathe, breathe!
You and I really need to practice this regularly and stay in training. This is one aspect of becoming resilient that we cannot afford to neglect. Breathing properly is essential for life. It is also essential for quality of life. When we panic, we hyperventilate, we breathe short, shallow breaths, sometimes ‘gulping’ in air, or holding our breath, and we can breathe erratically and too frequently. Everything speeds up! We send our bodies and brains into fight / flight / freeze mode, adrenaline and cortisol go up, we might start pacing up and down, looking for a ‘way out’, sweating, crying or facing a melt down. An inevitable response is that we then have to contend with racing thoughts, mostly negative and self-deprecating, or ‘catastrophising’ about the situation and imagining the worst which means our anxiety goes up rather than coming under control.
This is why breathing properly is so essential. I know, I know, ‘it’s easier said than done’, right? That’s true, but it’s also not as hard as you think. You’ve seen in films how someone panicking might be given a paper bag to breathe into, and gradually the pace and intensity of their breathing calms down. You don’t need a paper bag, but you do need to breathe in a more helpful way. Try this – breathe in through your nose for a count of 4, breathing so that your belly rises on the in breath, hold the breath for 4 seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for a count of 5. There are different variations on this for the amount of time, but the main thing to remember is breathe in through the nose, hold, and breathe out through your mouth, allowing your tummy to rise and fall with the in and out breaths, and making sure that you exhale for just a bit longer than you inhale. This helps to regulate the oxygen and carbon dioxide in your system, calms the nervous system and get you out of the ‘fight / flight / freeze’ state into being more in control of your body and mind.
We need to keep practicing this though, daily. Start small, for a few seconds at a time if that’s all you feel you can manage, and then just build from there and keep going – it works wonders! At first I felt frustrated when doctors kept on at me about the breathing when I felt I needed something more to help me, but simplicity is really the key sometimes, and just trust me they know what they’re talking about when they prescribe ‘breathing’ properly as the medicine you need! Sometimes, as the saying goes, the best things in life really are free!!! 🙂
This is a very personal journey, so ask for advice, information and guidance from healthcare professionals. Tell them what your concerns and symptoms are and consider whether taking medicine to help with anxiety, might be a helpful option for you, even if just in the short term to take the edge off things.
6. You are what you think?
Be transformed by renewing your mind. Challenge and intercept your negative thoughts, and grow in understanding of the connective cycle between thoughts, feelings, reactions and actions. You might need help with this at first, but it is essential, and as with breathing, it is a daily and lifelong training we need to maintain. Initially it feels impossible to rise up from the onslaught of negative thoughts incessantly bombarding our minds, and they seldom turn up alone. But if you can address and intercept your thoughts then you can gain mastery over your physical, mental and emotional reactions.
Stay in training even on good days, because if out of the blue anxiety strikes you will be better placed and practiced to talk yourself down into a calmer more rational state of body and mind, as I was this evening when facing a potential ‘meltdown’.
For example, if you have to walk into a room full of people, you might be indulging in negative self-talk such as “I’m so awkward, everyone’s looking at me, I can’t do this, I need to get out of here” etc. This leads to feelings of stress, anxiety, self-consciousness, fear, shame, awkwardness, distress, low self esteem, and so forth. You then might react with a racing heart, hypervigilance, wringing your hands, keeping your head down, avoiding eye contact, clenching your fists, while experiencing symptoms of dizziness, nausea, pain, etc. This leads you to take the actions of walking quickly to where you’re going, avoiding eye contact with others, or seeking an exit (don’t worry, I do this often but I’m working on it, and getting better gradually and you can too) or make excuses to leave. Alternatively, you might have a ‘fight’ reaction and snap at someone, become agitated in your movements, or you might ‘freeze’ like a rabbit startled by the headlights of an oncoming vehicle, which is often what anxiety can feel like.
See how powerful a thought is! So, instead, focus on your breathing, arm yourself with new, positive and affirming thoughts such as ‘I can do this’, and keep practicing these and see how much better you come to feel over time. Basically, you need to learn to ‘be your own best friend’ in all of your self-talk and thought processes – it takes a lot of hard work, but we all need to keep at it to see the benefits.
7. Five, four, three, two, one.
A simple and helpful ‘grounding’ technique has been so beneficial to me, so please do try it yourself and keep practicing even on good days to train your mind. Observe 5 things you can see, four things you can hear, three that you can touch, two that you can smell and one that you can taste. This really helps get us out of our own heads, grounds ourselves in reality and helps us feel safe.
8. Brain training
You’ll be amazed at how much your brain is capable of when you put in the work to take care of your mental health. Brain training is a good and enjoyable way to start, and this might take the form of puzzles, cross words, card games, mind challenges, riddles, touch typing, learning a new language or skill, etc.
9. Exercise and Nutrition
Just as we need to exercise our brains for health and well being, physical exercise, even starting small at first for 5 minutes a day if you are not used to it can boost our endorphins, our ‘happy hormones’, lift our mood, help our bodies, brains and nervous systems and regulate our emotions, while fuelling ourselves with healthy and nutritious foods and water can boost our mood and also help us feel calmer and more balanced.
10. Sleep – Zzzzzzzz!
Good sleep is something I struggle with and have to keep working on. Often I feel anxious before going to bed and can’t settle, or my sleep might be interrupted. I need to work on this, we all do, but little by little, step by step we can make improvements so that we can reap the healing benefits of sleep and rest. Even if we can’t sleep, we can practice stilling our minds, and disconnecting from the overload of online information and chatter, so that we are in a more restful and rejuvenating state.
So that’s my top 10 for now. No one said it is going to be easy, but you and I deserve a better quality of life than we have with anxiety, and it is possible…we are superheroes afterall! 🙂 x
Everyone needs compassion. And that includes you, and me. Sometimes we face the cruellest words and unkindest treatment from our own selves. Self compassion can be a hard practice to learn, but it is also worth the time, and can be transformative to your outlook on life, your perception and feelings towards yourself, your mental and emotional health, your physical wellbeing and your relationships with other people as well as your confidence to make a positive difference in the world.
It can be hard to know where to start with being kind to ourselves, so here is a simple exercise, that although simple in concept can be challenging to some of the more ingrained negative thoughts and attitudes we hold towards ourselves. Give it a go….it can’t do any harm, and may in fact do you a lot of good. Be blessed. x
Self-Compassion Exercise – fill in the blanks:
Today I am grateful for_______________________
I recognise that I struggle with __________________________ , yet it took me courage to __________________________, and I am proud of myself for this.
I often compliment other people, and I recognise that as human beings we all are unique yet equal in worth. So, just as I compliment and show kindness to others, I will do so to myself. This is something I’d like to compliment myself on today________________________.
I realise I can be negative towards myself, especially in my ‘self talk’, whereas I am more encouraging to other people. I might not have done brilliantly at _____________________
but as an encouragement to myself, I’d like to say that _____________________________.
Something I like about myself is ___________________________________.
Something nice that other people say about me is________________________.
I recognise that I have the positive quality of____________________________,
and I’d therefore like to make a positive contribution to the world I live in and the people around me by__________________________________________________.
I am worthy of love, and I appreciate myself. I will be kind to others and myself. One way I will do this today is__________________________________________________.
If most of your working day is spent sitting at a computer, then it is important to be intentional about being active, even if that activity is simply short and regular walks along the corridor, or gentle stretching, for example arm or leg stretches which you can do while sitting at your desk. If you think about your health in the long term, then a sedentary lifestyle can be very detrimental on a number of levels. Even if you are already fairly active, it’s beneficial to keep moving throughout the day and not just waiting until the end of the day or the week to go to a gym, or for a run or some other type of exercise.
Find ways in which you can ‘step it up’ in your office environment, and you can be subtle about it. Walk up and down the stairs if you are able to – this is good for the body, mind and heart as well. Take a short walk at lunchtime. If you are going to a meeting within your building, and have the option of using stairs or a lift, take the stairs where possible. Do some simple leg stretches under your desk, or whatever movement you are able to do with your physical abilities. Your body will thank you for it in years to come, and you will be fitter, more focused and healthier to also be more productive in your work tasks. And one last thing…ladies, if you wear heels, remember to keep a pair of flat shoes at the ready! 🙂