If like me you’ve suffered from health struggles over the years, then you know how valuable good health is. Thankfully I have persevered through these challenges and am now in a much better and healthier place, yet I know it’s not something to take for granted. Being healthy physically necessarily affects almost all aspects of our lives from our mental and emotional health to our mood, energy and activity levels, as well as our general outlook on life.
Wherever you are in terms of your health, you can improve your wellbeing. Perhaps you face major health challenges, which require specialist support, and I hope and pray you find all the help that you need. Yet we all on a daily basis need to think about two aspects of our health and wellbeing: nutrition and activity.
Good health isn’t maintained by accident. It takes thought, time and planning. And it starts with a single step, so don’t be discouraged if this feels ‘too much’ for you for where you are now. Make a start and keep going.
What we put into our bodies impacts our quality of life. Isn’t that a sobering thought? Often we get so busy we just do what is convenient and this has often been the case for me. However, yesterday I took a small step, that has set me up for a week of healthy eating, stress free: I meal-prepped! This is something that I used to do more regularly but fell out of the habit of. Although it takes possibly half a day of time, effort and preparation, it takes the stress off you for the rest of the week. You’ll be far less likely to make unhealthy choices because you’ve made healthy choices ahead of time. You’ll have less decisions to make and you’ll have more free time to use for other things because you won’t have to think about preparing a meal each day.
I won’t offer particular advice on what to eat, as that can be very personal. However, I can only recommend eating as many healthy, non-processed, natural foods such as fruit and vegetables, nuts, grains, seeds and plant based food.
Wherever you are, if you dream of a ‘healthier you’ this year, try taking this small step of preparing your meals ahead of time and even if you can’t do this every week to start off with, at least it will improve your intake of healthy food somewhat. Make some small and healthy changes, and keep going with them until they become part and parcel of your routine. I’ve started but need to continue, so let’s keep each other going!
Have a happy, healthy and blessed day and look after your health, it is of more worth than you know. x
It’s 2020, and this sounds like it should be the year of perfect vision, it has a sense of wholeness when we say it, and seems even a bit ‘futuristic’.
That aside, any New Year brings with it a sense of new expectations and this can be both exciting and challenging.
In this blog post, I’m going to explore some of the expectations we place upon ourselves, and walk you through some of the ways we could approach a new year in a more gentle way that helps us adjust to life with the changing of the seasons and in a way that is better for our mental and emotional wellbeing.
Different cultures may celebrate new year at different points, however, in a globalised world we generally note the 1st of January as the start of the new calendar.
And yet, at least in my part of the world, we are still in that period of winter well before spring has begun to show, and so our bodies and minds may continue to be more inclined to the state of hibernation than to that of springing up with new ideas, plans and activities. However, there remains the external and internal ‘pressures’ that now is the time to make a change, to be new, to start afresh, to be better, to get those goals, dreams and plans in motion and to live our best lives.
Some people say that January is a month where a couple of weeks in, people begin to feel low, depressed and to experience the ‘January blues’, when the festive celebrations of Christmas and New Year have passed, the new year resolutions have dwindled away after 2 weeks of trying to make a sudden change and when the weather is still gloomy and spring and summer are just a little too far out of reach to be excited about. We’re mostly all back at work or back in a routine of some sort, and the big and exciting changes haven’t really happened and so we are left with an anti-climax and perhaps even the seasonal low moods of wintertime.
January 2nd for me:
As I write, I have returned back to my own flat after time away during December. I finished work on the evening of Friday 6th December (see that post for ideas of ‘wrapping up’ at work before a holiday), spent the next few days tidying, organising and decorating my flat to make it lovely and cosy for Christmas, after which I packed for a trip to Germany’s Black Forest and to France to see the Strasbourg Christmas markets. On return, I unpacked, washed my clothes, reorganised, tidied etc, had a bit of cosy time at home, went to church to celebrate the Birth of Christ with my church ‘family’, and then packed all over again to spend the next week and a half at my parents’ house with my family for Christmas and New Year.
The next ten days were spent with my family, cosied up inside, enjoying celebrations of Christmas, birthdays, New Year and an anniversary. This involved being looked after by my lovely mum, eating good food, playing music on my violin, family time playing games, quizzes, and even having fun with balloons, napping in the afternoons, reading my Bible, decorating my room, chilling out, laughing, relaxing, a couple of walks in the garden, a short and chilly new year’s eve walk at the beach, board games, films, Christmas and birthday cake, and only one day venturing out to see a friend.
The usual routine of work was completely forgotten about, and all in all it was a good time to be indoors and forget about the cold and chilly weather outside and enjoy some family togetherness and the blessings of having a roof over our heads, warm food, a place to sleep, and all the cosy things of the winter season and being at home with loved ones.
Having returned to my flat last night, I have returned, not quite with the energy and enthusiasm to start a new year, but instead with a bad cold, sneezes, a cough and sore throat. This has meant having to get a lot of rest, sleep and to try to look after myself so that I am as fit and healthy as I can be in time for starting back at work tomorrow! It is a good thing that it is a Friday and that I won’t have an entire week as a shock to the system.
Out of hibernation?
At my parents’ home, they have quite a big back garden, and most evenings a little (although much chubbier this winter 🙂 ) fox visits to receive its ‘daily bread’ 🙂 .
Often times there are also squirrels that scamper around the garden. However, while I was there I didn’t see a single squirrel until yesterday or the day before. It seems that they were hibernating for winter, and then all of a sudden two arrived at the same time, bright and breezy, and in a terrible hurry, before disappearing as quick as a flash.
It was an uncommon sight from the past two weeks as it seems that the squirrels had hidden themselves away with the cold and wintery weather.
Can you imagine a little squirrel popping its head tentatively out from behind a tree, wondering whether or not it is time to venture further into the light of day?
I think sometimes we can have that feeling in January, when we know it is time to get back into the routine of things, back to work, back to going out and about, but we’re not quite sure we are ready for it after so much time spent cosying up indoors, and knowing that spring won’t fully spring for at least another month or two.
A gentler pace:
The first month of a new year can be a difficult one to get into our stride. It seems that everyone around us feels the need to hurry up and put the old away and bring in the new. Christmas trees come down, decorations are put away, lists of goals and new year’s resolutions are made, diets and exercise routines are planned, habits are expected to change and we expect that we should be able to charge full steam ahead.
Yet the reality may be that our bodies and minds are still adjusting to the seasonal changes, the circumstantial changes of our lives, and we may be still trying to shake off the wintery coughs and colds that we have picked up.
So, what can we do to ease the transitions? To find a healthier and gentler pace with which to approach change?
One more step along the world I go:
Goals and Resolutions:
Personally, I find that ‘goal setting’ throughout the year (for me, on a monthly basis) to be much more helpful than new year’s resolutions in January, although I love the chance that a new year brings to reflect, to be thankful and to focus on valuable priorities in my life.
Rather than everything having to be a sudden change, I find that I am building upon goals that I have been steadily working upon and refreshing these and maybe incorporating new ones from the lessons I have learned over the past year.
‘Tis (still) the season to be cosy:
Perhaps you live in a sunnier part of the world, but here in Scotland, it is still cold and wintery in January. While many people may be taking their Christmas decorations down and packing them away, I feel no hurry to do so – for me, it’s one of the things that makes the season cosy while the weather is bleak outside. Living in a flat on the 10th floor means that I don’t really need to worry about what other people think, and so I plan to keep my tree and decorations and cosy lighting up for as long into January as my heart desires, to allow me to gradually move from one ‘season’ to the next.
Health and fitness is often at the top of people’s lists at the start of a new calendar year. However, try to be reasonable in your expectations of yourself so that you are not setting yourself up for disappointment. After possibly being indoors for an extended period of time, with potentially lessened activity levels, is it really helpful for your body to go full steam ahead into a brand new exercise routine, or would steady, gradual and committed changes be more beneficial in the long run?
Another thing we have to think about, as I am having to right now, is our bodies’ natural recovery time from seasonal illnesses such as coughs, colds and flu. We need to get back into a rhythm of healthier sleep, eating and activity, of drinking plenty of healthy fluids, and giving us time to rest and recover from any sicknesses. So, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t seem to be able to move full steam ahead into your new year goals. Change can be more effective if it is gradual and consistent – slow and steady can win the race.
Something to look forward to:
Having something to look forward to can be a great incentive and motivation for us to get going. Maybe you have a summer holiday booked in that you can start thinking about, planning for and day dreaming of.
If like me, you don’t have anything planned yet, you could maybe have some things in January that you can schedule in to look forward to. Have things to look forward to but don’t over commit, and allow yourself the room to change your mind.
I have had to decline two separate invitations for tomorrow and the weekend, from friends, as I have only just come down with this cough, cold, and sore throat and know I will need time to rest and recover especially with starting back at work tomorrow.
However, there are things that ‘traditionally’ I know I have to look forward to in January each year – one of which is various music events in my city, and the other is going out for dinner with a couple of good friends, and these plans can be flexible.
Other things to look forward to could be setting time aside, or spontaneously making time to do things we enjoy such as self care, a ‘pamper evening’, watching a film at the weekend, playing an instrument, or getting back into hobbies, reading, or other things that can be done without venturing out into the cold weather.
A time of reflection:
I personally like to take time to reflect on my life, to be thankful, and to prayerfully consider what I have learned, and what I should be focusing on and putting my time into. Just because January the 1st has passed it doesn’t mean that we can’t spend an extended period of time, if so inclined, in personal reflection and preparing our minds and hearts for what is ahead – that way any changes we do set about making or resolving to make will be more personal and meaningful and likelier to last the changing of times and seasons as we progress through life.
Back to work:
Unless you have taken time off in January, it is likely that as with most of us, you will be getting back into some kind of a work routine, whether that involves leaving the comfort of your own home and going outside to your place of work, or working at home, for yourself in some capacity, or flexible working. In any case, it will involve a shift of gears, some changes to your routine, and a different mindset to your holiday mode.
How can we ease this transition? We might not have a lot of time to prepare. Personally, I start work tomorrow, and I hope that with it being a Friday, this in itself will ease the transition back into the routine.
If you have thought ahead, you will have done some preparation before the holidays to ease this transition. I wrote a ‘welcome back’ email to myself before I finished up for the Christmas break, so now although I have forgotten what exactly I was doing, I have a list of specific instructions to get me going and keep me up to speed.
Even if you haven’t been organised before the holidays, you can find ways of making your start back to work more bearable.
Try to get a good night’s sleep.
Know where your staff ID badge for getting into work is, if you use one.
Keep essential things in easy to get to places so that the first morning back at work isn’t chaotic, or one in which you have unnecessary panic. For example, think about things you will definitely need such as money / credit card, house keys, car keys, train or bus pass, etc.
If you are very prepared you might even give yourself a head start by planning your work outfit – I am always impressed with people who manage to do this on a regular basis!
Eat a healthy breakfast, or at least keep money with you so that you can buy something to eat during the day.
Remind yourself of when you need to leave, where you need to be (e.g. if you have any meetings – hopefully not for the first day back), and set an alarm to allow you plenty of time to get ready and be on time (this is something I definitely want and need to work on in the coming year 🙂 ).
If you take medication, put it somewhere easy to access so that you don’t forget in a morning rush.
Keep some positive and uplifting music at hand for you to listen to if you are commuting on public transport so that you can be in a good frame of mind to start your day.
Try to keep a supply of cough and cold remedies handy, because chances are you’re not the only one who has been sick, and at new year people tend to want to wish you a happy new year with a handshake or a hug, so don’t forget to do what you can to avoid falling sick again or passing on your own illnesses.
Remember that if you are starting back at work around the same time as everyone else, then you all will be in a similar situation, so try not to worry about the transition into your daily routine.
First days back are generally more gentle days, reacclimatising yourself, remembering your passwords, checking through emails, and preparing for what you will be working on.
Try not to schedule in too many meetings, if any on your first few days back at work, and as people always say, before you know it, it will feel like you’ve never been away.
Change with the seasons:
Nature has a way of telling us when to slow down, to rest, to sleep, to wake, to spring into action, to adventure. The seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter, have a way of nudging us into action and into rest. So while society may be telling you to do this, that or the other, pay attention to the natural rhythms of life, listen to what your body is telling you, and take action at a pace that is comfortable for you to make long lasting, life affirming changes that will stand the test of time, and not just the first few weeks of January.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, blessed, and spiritually enlightened new year, and a 2020 filled with love, joy, peace, self discovery, Truth and meaning.
Take care, and take the time to live life at a pace that keeps you well and healthy. x
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