Tag Archives: Mind

The racing doesn’t stop, even when you do! …

Most of us in society nowadays, live pretty ‘busy’ lives. Even when we are sedentary for hours at a time, we are still ‘wired up’, connected to our tech, and our minds are solving problems, figuring things out, and absorbing information. Busyness isn’t therefore simply in the form of rushing about, doing things, making appointments, getting to places by a certain time, meeting people, attending functions, and the endless list goes on and on. Busyness, nowadays also represents our state of mind.

The racing doesn’t stop, even when you do. Maybe you spend a significant amount of work time at a computer. By the time you get home, your mind most likely needs some time to process your thoughts, experiences and to assimilate these and make sense of the day. However, how many of us give ourselves the chance to do just that? I wonder if we overwork our minds by the amount of stimulus we allow into our experiences, in an unhealthy way similar to that of an overworked muscle that eventually loses some of its agility and function and ultimately its health?

I think because of the society we live in, we need to really be intentional about this aspect of our wellbeing. In years gone by, before instant photography, people used to have to develop their pictures from negatives, in a dark room….and it took time for the picture to form and appear. Now that we are so used to things being ‘at the touch of a button’, or at the sound of a voice, we have grown less patient, and have come to expect things to happen instantly. We no longer make much time to sit in stillness, and to replenish ourselves, to process and develop, and allow the pictures and the meanings to form; and this isn’t healthy, and I know I’m guilty of such bad habits too.

When we come home from work, what do we do? Do we really connect with ourselves and the people around us, or do we continue to absorb ourselves in an online world? Don’t get me wrong, as a blogger and a writer and a creative person, I think it is a wonderful outlet, but I also realise that there is a fine balance to be had between the digital and analogue worlds. How many of us, having been at the computer for several hours, continue to go online, or to sit in front of the TV, and take in more mental stimulus than our brains can handle? Is our relaxation, really relaxing? Do we actually give our minds a break?

I tend to feel it when things get out of balance for me. I need a lot of time on my own, and solitude, time to think and to be creative, but sometimes I do just get absorbed in the next drama or box set or article online, and I am almost compelled to keep watching, listening, reading. When what would be really good for me would actually be to sit in silence for a while, to observe nature, to read a book, to think, to process, to write and journal, and to create, draw, play my violin, pray, colour, paint, cook, experience. Yes, really experience. Our minds can’t be in a continuous state of rush, absorbing information, and never having a break or a chance to process these experiences and the multitude of data we feed ourselves with. Like ‘junk food’ we are drawn to the instant gratification of what is quick, easy, with a short term ‘feel good’ factor, but is in the long term detrimental to our health.

I find blogging a healthy way to engage with life online – it gives the chance to step away from the constant streams of information to actually begin to process my own thoughts and make sense of life as it happens to be. Yet, it is not enough. I know I for one need to be more intentional in stepping away from technology and spending real quiet time being present, being creative in an analogue way, and just allowing my mind the chance to slow down, take in one thing at a time, consider it, dwell upon it, and process.

The racing of our minds doesn’t stop just because we do, especially when we don’t give our minds the chance to be still, constantly bombarding ourselves with information until we are full, overloaded, and at the brink of malfunctioning. However, we can give ourselves the chance, to ‘hibernate’, sleep, reboot, restart. Surely if our computers need to, we do too!

Can you relate?

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Worried about what people think?

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

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Retreat Reflections – Day 3 (Part 3) ~ Moving Forwards…

If you read part two of day three’s retreat reflections, you’ll know that after spending several hours over two +  days sitting on my couch and working on writing my book, I was creating space and time to get out of that creative (and mostly immobile) state of being, to doing some of my usual light exercise. However, I just wasn’t ‘feeling it’ for some reason, and the easy exercises I usually do seemed like something I was just not going to (or too lazy to) manage at that moment. So I did some light stretching, and then found this on YouTube… it is a virtual treadmill walk in Palm Cove, North Queensland, Australia.

This for me personally was amazing! I don’t have a treadmill at home, but you can still do this while walking on the spot (yes, you’re not allowed to just watch it while still sitting on the couch! 🙂 ) and I have just walked the half hour, also using hand-weights and jogging a bit on the beach. It has given my body and mind a boost. Of course, actually going outside for a walk would be great, but if you have been indoors, being a recluse for a couple of days, and are perhaps still in your pyjamas 😉 or if you don’t have somewhere to walk outside, or the weather isn’t great, or you just. don’t. want. to. engage with actual human beings, and traffic and noise and outside stuff right now, then this is really great, or at least I found  it to be so. So thank you to whoever made the video, you have made the internet a little brighter. 

Also, it terms of creative head space if you have been intensely working on something, this is a good way of still getting moving and having the chance to mentally engage, explore, be curious about what’s around the next corner, and enjoy some beautiful and relaxing views somewhere you may never have been before. I feel refreshed and relaxed at the end of this and ready to do 5 or 10 minutes of cardio before a bit of a cleaning / tidying up session to get organised for a more relaxing evening. Another thing is with this particular walk, is it is so relaxed, and there are people passing by, but you are still in your own personal retreat space. If like me you experience anxiety and panic attacks in crowds or public spaces, this can be really helpful for your mind to prepare from going from relative (or total) solitude on your personal retreat, to actually beginning to prepare for re-joining community, and reminding yourself that you will have to engage with people shortly while still being relaxed and calm right now. Preparation is key if you have anxiety – and maybe also if you just happen to be a bit of a recluse. 

Psychologically I found it fascinating. Sometimes when we exercise, we struggle mentally to persevere and have to push ourselves. This of course is very light exercise and not really challenging for most reasonably healthy people I would assume, while recognising for others it is an accomplishment which is great. However, my mind was so engaged in the ‘story’ of where I / we / go-pro? was going next, of looking around, listening to the birds, the waves, seeing people of different walks of life, reading signs, enjoying the view and wondering about other people, that I wasn’t really thinking about the fact that I was walking, jogging and using hand-weights, because mentally I was engaged and it was an enjoyable experience. Also, probably quite helpfully, while ‘passing’ people during the virtual walk, my mind started making connections about the people I would have to engage with whether at work, or during my commute, and kind of preparing for that while still enjoying my ‘me time’ and without the stress of the contrast of a social situation after having my creative head buried in a personal writing project. If you don’t have these issues, then this may seem a bit strange, and that’s great if you don’t struggle, but it also might help provide a little bit of an insight into people you know who may have anxiety. 

Anyway, all in all I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it really has helped me to shift gears into the next part of day three of this three day writing / personal retreat. Daydreaming…maybe someday I will go there for real 😉 

If you could go for a (virtual or real) walk in any part of the world, where would it be? 🙂

How exercise has helped me press through trauma and experience ‘mental gains’…

woman girl silhouette jogger
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I’d like to add a disclaimer that this isn’t advice for sufferers of eating disorders or others who have negative relationships with exercise and / or body image. These are simply my own thoughts for things that have helped me. 

There have been times in recent years, and even months where I have felt like my brain, my mind was exploding, deconstructing, self-destructing, and taking my nervous system with it. There was a point in my childhood at school where I was on a daily basis experiencing emotional, psychological, verbal abuse and on a few occasions physical attacks from my peers. This was mainly in the first two years of high school, and so the friends that I made after that either did not really know what was going on for me, and I didn’t know how to articulate it, so people assumed I was just quiet, shy and studious, which I was but a lot of the lack of speaking and problems socialising was because I was walking around severely traumatised. But something in me broke. The damage in those two years had been done, I was in such pain I didn’t want to live, I hated myself and had a distorted self image, and didn’t care anymore whether I lived, but this remained unexpressed so no one really knew, and I just quietly kept my head down, got good grades, got on with things, and tried to keep it together but the pain never went away and I never felt even moderately ‘ok’ inside even though appearances on the surface might have told a more positive story. The trauma had no where to go, I can only say that it felt, including physically with chronic pain that I couldn’t really explain to people, like my brain had ‘broken’, and was malfunctioning and this as an adult manifested as complex PTSD. Because I am a smart young woman, people didn’t really consider that this was the case, until several medical health professionals and consultants provided a diagnosis to this silent daily suffering. Eventually I just wasn’t coping and had to reach out for help and the help I have had over the past few years has enabled me to see a way forwards although some of it was gruelling work at the time. Your brain is not ‘broken beyond repair’ – it just sometimes takes a lot of incredibly hard work and support to get to a point of breakthrough.

I was never much of a person for being into exercise, and still I am not a fitness fanatic, but I do try to do something a few times a week, even if for a short amount of time. I have learned that exercise isn’t just about keeping the body fit, or boosting those ‘feel good’ chemicals. It also, importantly, helps to retrain the mind, in a positive direction, and helps keep mind and body ‘in step’ if you’ll pardon the pun, and I think helps to rewire new neural connections. I have noticed that people, even your ‘average’ person, who engage in some kind of fitness often become focussed, determined and press through their personal limitations even if this is on a modest and moderate level. When people reach a personal best there tends to have been a psychological barrier that was broken that enabled them to persevere, well before crossing  a ‘finish line’. I don’t exercise as an escape or as a ‘fix’, but I do know that it is something that over time is improving my mental agility and speeding up my recovery from severe childhood trauma. This needs to be a balanced for some people though, who might take exercising to an extreme – I can safely say that I’m a bit too ‘lazy’ for that ever to be a problem for me.

There are times when I can sense aspects of the trauma ‘getting to me’ again. And I am reminded that what ‘broke’ within my mind as a child doesn’t need to stay in that irreparable state of heightened fear, pain, helplessness and distress. I no longer have to be in a psychological ‘free fall’ unable to stay grounded or to cope with the explosions in my brain that make no sense logically in my adult life where things aren’t an actual threat to me. There is a verse in Scripture that admonishes one to ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12:2). Scripture also elsewhere talks about the importance of physical exercise (but in the context of training ourselves in godliness and righteousness as even more important). There are also several passages that use analogies of spiritual discipline being like running a race, preparing for battle, being ready, focused and alert.  I believe that although renewing our minds with Truth is the most important thing for us mentally, exercise also has an active role to play in moving towards psychological breakthrough. You are proving to your body and mind that you can do it, even when you feel you are otherwise malfunctioning. You are training your mind to persevere, to push through barriers, and to succeed. Even when I feel that sense of things resurfacing, like this evening, I don’t necessarily have to engage in exercise to know that it is there for me and it has already been of benefit – I can remember the times I have persevered physically and mentally, I have pressed through I did overcome, and what seems insurmountable psychologically in relation to trauma is put in its place as I take my thoughts captive (as the Bible says taking thoughts captive ‘ in obedience to Christ’) and exercise my mental agility to push through and take control and work towards recovery, mental strengthening and over time, a better quality of life.

 

 

 

Do you keep (mentally) fit?

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

colorful color play concentration
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Mental Health Blog Posts

Hi everyone, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK, and I have written quite a few posts on the topic of mental health since starting my blog a couple of years ago (which covers a whole variety of things, not just mental health).

If you think it will be of interest or might help you or someone you know, I’d be delighted if someone could benefit: https://livingfully2017.wordpress.com/tag/mental-health/

man s hand in shallow focus and grayscale photography
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Daily Prompt ~ ‘Restart’.

Daily Prompt: Restart

You think it is not possible, because your mind has crowded out the possibilities.

How familiar have you grown to the familiar, the known?

Deeply etched tracks threaten to derail you.

Your engines are failing as the station ahead signals ‘Burnout’ and ‘Breakdown’.

As you hurtle past, a helpless commuter of your own life, weary, older than your frown, you catch the glimpse of an enthusiastic wave from the little hand of one transfixed, mesmerised, inspired, standing at the station platform.

Sunlight flashes in your eyes, a spark, a memory, of the familiar, the seen before

The scene before.

Who was that curious soul, young, knowing, familiar, unknown.

Was it, Is it YOU?

A sudden halt,

The threatening shudder

Of breakdown

Engine failure

Failure

You think.

Yet, in the blink of an eye,

The train rewinds,

The child at the station, inspired,

Redirects the tracks,

Points you in the direction of new thoughts,

New horizons

Destinations with

New names

Like

‘Adventure’

‘Possibilities’

‘Dreams’

‘Opportunities’

‘Positive Thoughts’

‘Enchantment’

‘Wonder’

‘Timeless’

‘Beauty’

‘Inspiration’

‘Fun’.

Effortlessly,

The train slips onto new tracks,

You are the driver and not the passenger

Of your life.

A sharp inhale, anticipation of the adventure,

You put your hand to the control,

Look up into the bright cloudless sky,

Put your Trust and Hope in that which is Greater,

Far Greater than those old, lost forgotten thoughts,

You envisage your destination,

Restart,

And begin life!