Friday, 22 May 2020

Releasing your inner child

What makes children so resilient? Why do they see the magic in everything? Why don’t they worry about what people think or the results of their actions?

As young children, we live in the moment. We have tantrums, we cry, we laugh, we say what we think and we express how we feel. We are selfish at a young age and we haven’t yet started to adhere to many of society’s restrictions.

As an adult, we have spent most of our lives being inculcated with ideals and told how we should behave or live our lives. We're constantly given expectations to live up to which can often make us feel inadequate, unsuccessful or insecure, so we become too afraid to be our true selves. We also have more and more responsibilities as we grow up which can create more worry and pressure, with less time to focus on the things that makes us truly happy.

To protect our mental wellbeing, it’s important to make time for ourselves and remember how it feels to be young, carefree and happy again. Just because we have responsibilities, it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun and make time for relaxation. Studies have shown that by being in touch with our inner child, we can heal issues in our adult life.

Think of all the time we spend watching television, scrolling through social media or cleaning the house – surely, we can take back some of that time and remember how good it feels to be young and carefree.

10 ways to release your inner child

  • Let your creative side run wild. Get out some paints and paper (or buy some if you don’t have any) and let loose with your imagination. Who cares what the end result looks like? It’s all about enjoying the process and how it makes us feel.
  • Don’t wait for the sun to come out to go for a walk. Put your wellies on and get out in the rain. Remember how it smells, sounds and feels.
  • Go to the park and take a few of your favourite childhood snacks to enjoy while you're there. You could even try making a daisy chain!
  • Play some music from your childhood and get lost in the memories and feelings of nostalgia.
  • Do something spontaneous. Don’t plan anything but when the mood takes you, just throw caution to the wind and do it.
  • Read your favourite childhood book and remember why it was so magical and why you felt a connection with the characters.
  • Build a den in your garden or home or revisit somewhere that used to make you feel safe in your own little world. Perhaps there was a certain tree that you used to climb, or you could visit the neighbourhood you grew up in. If you can't visit in person, why not visit it on Google maps?
  • Spend time with friends and have fun (you can do this online or in person depending on the restrictions in place). Make a rule not to talk about anything serious and just be silly and laugh.
  • Write a letter to your younger self. Tell them about all the wonderful experiences you’ve had and give them some insightful advice from the older you.
  • Play a game with your partner or friend. You can probably still buy most games that you had when you were younger either in a toy shop or online.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Letting go of things you can’t control

Throughout life, everyone experiences events and situations that are way out of their control. But it’s how we react to the hand that has been dealt to us that determines how it affects us.

Too often we don't recognise when we're swimming against the tide and spend too much of our precious time and energy battling against a situation that is out of our control. This can be extremely exhausting and also damaging to our mental and physical wellbeing. So, it’s important that we recognise the types of things that drain our energy.

If we continue to let uncontrollable situations control us, over time the ongoing stress and anxiety can cause more serious mental and physical health problems. Our bodies don’t react well to continuous stress and when we become run down, our immune system is weakened, and we are more susceptible to illnesses.

Things we can’t control and should let go of

You might be wondering how to distinguish between what you can and can’t control, so here are a few examples of what you should try not to focus on too much:

  • The past – the best way to deal with the past is by not regretting anything as it is too late to change it, so try and learn from it and put the knowledge from your experience to better use in the future.
  • Mean people – everyone is responsible for themselves and unfortunately, the majority of the time, we are unable to change other people’s behaviour. The best way to deal with mean, unkind people that drain your energy is to avoid them whenever possible. Devote your energy to people who are worthy of your time and energy.
  • Stop predicting the future – although we do have some control over the future, we can’t always predict it. So, worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet means that you might suffer twice.
  • Natural disasters – Again, we have absolutely no control over natural disasters. There may be certain measures that you can put in place to minimise the damage caused (if you feel there is a real chance of a natural disaster occurring), but generally, you should try not to worry about events that haven’t yet occurred. 

How do we let go?

If there is something in particular that is bothering you and making you anxious or stressed, make a list of the things that are causing you concern. Decide exactly which things you feel you have no control of and which you can control.

There are lots of meditation and mindfulness exercises that can help you with the process of letting go. Research studies have shown that practising mindfulness can have a positive effect on anxiety. Visualisation exercises can also be very useful. Ultimately, it’s how we respond to situations that’s really important. Think of specific times in your life when you were in control. Ask yourself why you were in control, how did you deal with the situation, and how did you feel at the time? By visualising the details, it will help you to understand how to feel in control again.

Worrying prevents us from experiencing the positives in the here and now so it’s important that we learn to switch off. Although life is ever changing and often out of our control, if we start to focus more on the present and recognise the difference between “I can’t” and “I won’t”, we will soon start to become better equipped to let go.

Ways to stop worrying about things we can’t control

  1. Try to stop second guessing people’s thoughts
  2. Practise mindfulness and learn to live in the present moment
  3. Restrict your use of social media
  4. Practise meditation
  5. Write down your worries 
  6. Change your focus

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Stop second guessing people and thinking the worst

How many times have you second guessed someone’s intentions only to find that you were way off the mark? This is something many of us do on a regular basis without considering the consequences beforehand.

Usually when we’re second guessing, it’s because we’re not aware of all the facts – and the negative chatter in our heads instantly assumes the worst. For example, a work colleague may have told you that she liked what you were wearing. To most people, this would be taken as a compliment, but you might think they were being sarcastic and making fun of you. Not only can this cause an unnecessary argument with the person if you were to verbalise your suspicion, but if you didn’t express your thoughts, negative feelings such as hurt or anger could start to affect your mental wellbeing over time.

One of the main problems with thinking negative thoughts is that we don’t question them. When these kinds of thoughts go unresolved, it can affect our mood and lead to issues such as anxiety and stress. Often when we choose not to confront our thoughts, it’s because we subconsciously know that we could be jumping to the wrong conclusions. We don’t want to appear paranoid or unreasonable, so we keep the thoughts to ourselves.

In order to stop second guessing people and making assumptions, we need to rewire how we think.

Imagine the following scenario… (not uncommon prior to social distancing)

You invite friends and family over for a dinner party. After the meal, who offers to help you clear everything away? You’ll likely find that each guest acts differently. Someone might offer to help you; someone might disappear to the bathroom; and someone else might remain seated and carry on chatting.

Everyone has a different response because everyone is different and has their own individual personalities. Just because people don’t act or react in the same way that you would, it doesn’t mean that they are intentionally wanting to hurt or upset you.

Perhaps your friend who rushed off to the bathroom had been wanting to go for some time, but didn’t want to appear rude so waited until everyone had finished their meal to leave the table. Perhaps your friend who continued chatting didn’t want to walk off during a conversation and felt uncomfortable because they wanted to help you.

What is catastrophising?

Remember that we aren’t mind readers and often when we assume the worst it’s down to unrealistic thinking. This is called catastrophising, often caused by anxiety, and it is a destructive way of thinking where we assume the worst. This Guardian article features a three-step plan by a psychologist on how to deal with anxiety and reduce catastrophising.

However, there are also several other ways you can stop second guessing.

How to stop second guessing people

  • Recognise your emotions and try to understand what has caused you to feel a certain way.
  • Practise mindfulness by observing your thoughts. Try to be aware of your thoughts as they enter your head and accept that they are not always speaking the truth. Question your thought process and ask yourself if they are based on fact, if not, let them go.
  • Reason with your initial thoughts and consider an alternative, more rational explanation. It’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt. 
  • Remember that most people have good intentions and aren’t out to upset you.
  • If you have questioned your emotions and thoughts and still feel that they are right, speak to the person involved in a calm and non-judgemental way. Ask what they meant by their comments without accusing them of something you’re not 100% sure about. Communication is key and by holding back on angry or emotional accusations, it will hopefully put your mind at rest.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Walk your way to good health

Because it’s something that we do on a daily basis without giving it much thought, and let's face it, we don’t always break into a sweat, many people often overlook walking as a form of aerobic exercise. But walking has many health benefits and is an excellent way to keep both our mind and body in shape.

For most of us, walking is a simple form of aerobic exercise that we can incorporate into our daily routine. Unlike more rigorous exercise such as running, gym sessions or competitive sports, walking rarely poses a risk of injury and it can be much more enjoyable than an intense workout.

Walking is in the news at the moment because it is one of the UK Government's suggested methods of taking some daily exercise and it's easy to do alone or in family groups, with little equipment, and direct from our front door.

Health benefits of walking

There are many health benefits of walking that not only improve our physical fitness, but also our mental wellbeing.
  • Walking reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Walking lowers cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • Walking reduces the risk of diabetes.
  • Walking helps protect us against dementia.
  • Walking helps fight obesity.
  • The release of endorphins during aerobic exercise can lift our mood (especially when we walk among nature), which helps to combat stress, anxiety and depression. These benefits are outlined in an article published in the Primary Care Companion Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
  • Walking improves our memory. In this article by The Guardian, Amy Fleming talks to neuroscientist, Shane O’Mara, about how walking benefits the cognitive functions of the brain.

Just 30 minutes of moderate walking every day can make a huge difference to our overall wellbeing and health. You might think that is a lot of time to squeeze into a normal busy day, but when everything is back to normal, the corona virus lockdown has ended, and your busy schedule resumes, you can break it down into small chunks, say ten minutes three times a day, you’ll be surprised at how easily you can keep walking and increase your step count. By making small changes in your routine, the time spent walking will soon increase, and it will become a habit that you won’t want to live without.

There are lots of ways you can introduce walking into your day-to-day life and, before you know it, it will have become second nature.

Ways to increase your step count

Please note that many of these options assume a normal level of freedom and we are not suggesting that anyone goes against the current lockdown situation, we are simply listing the options for when things return to normal.

  • Walk to work, or if it is too far, get off the bus a stop earlier or park the car further away and walk the rest of the way. 
  • Walk to the shops if you’re only buying a few items.
  • Choose the stairs instead of the lift.
  • Take a lunchtime stroll. The fresh air will make you feel great, too!
  • Go and explore local parks, nature trails, canal paths and woodlands. You’ll be surprised at what small adventures you can enjoy so close to home when you go on foot.
  • Visit new cities and towns and walk around the local area as well as the shops. 
  • Invest in a treadmill or use one at the local gym 
  • Join a walking group and climb hills or ramble through national parks. 

Walk4Life is a fantastic resource that encourages you to walk more. On the website you’ll find places to walk, maps, walking challenges and walking groups. Not only will you be improving your mental and physical health, you could make lots of new friends, too!

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Spring into action

There are many reasons why spring is one of the most-loved seasons. Not only can we start to enjoy longer days and lighter evenings, it’s a time when nature comes to life once again. 

During the current health situation, the outdoors is more important than ever to protect our mental wellbeing. Find out why getting outside should be high on your list of priorities.

The benefits of spring

  • More hours of daylight provide us with vitamin D which promotes mental wellbeing, decreases risk of heart disease and regulates our mood.
  • Seeing new-born animals gives us a feeling of joy and hope.
  • Regrowth of plants and trees brings colour to our surroundings and produces oxygen, which can improve our mood and make us feel more relaxed.
  • Better weather encourages a more active lifestyle outdoors, reducing stress and anxiety.
  • More time spent outdoors can reduce the risk of depression, improve concentration and assist our quality of sleep.

When we take all of the above factors into consideration, the benefits of spring really do have a wonderful effect on our mental and physical health. As well as boosting our mood, it can also boost our self-confidence and self-esteem.

To get the most out of this magical season, there are many ways to get up close and personal with all forms of nature so that you start reaping the rewards of spring.

Nature activities

Make a concerted effort to become more active. By going on wildlife walks among nature trails, you’ll be getting exercise, and it’s a great way to practise mindfulness and appreciation for the natural beauty around you.

Take time to stop and watch the wildlife. Observing creatures in the wild can help to clear and focus the mind. By seeing the bigger picture and appreciating how incredible the world around us is, it can give us strength and the ability to deal with stressful situations in a more positive way.

Spend time in your garden. By creating colourful outdoor spaces with bedding plants or pots, we can create a sense of calm and help fight off depression. You can also bring wildlife into the space with plants that attract bees and butterflies or even buy a bird feeder. Bringing wildlife to your garden will give you a great sense of achievement and hours of pleasure.

Try growing your own. You might like to try growing your own herbs and fruit and vegetables. As well as saving money on your groceries, it’s a great stress reliever and you’ll be eating healthy too.

Have a picnic. While social activities may be discouraged at the moment, that doesn't stop you having a picnic in your garden, on your balcony or in the park or a local beauty spot with a family member. Just remember to take your hand gel and observe government advised protocols.

Get sporty! There are a whole host of sporting activities you can enjoy outside, from cycling and canoeing to rock climbing or surfing. Outdoor sports can considerably improve both your physical and mental health. An article by Harvard Health Publishing highlights the benefits of exercising outdoors and looks at how it can reduce stress.

If you’d like more information about nature and its mental health benefits, the mental health charity Mind has put together some helpful tips and ideas for outdoor activities.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Tackling eating disorders

Everybody has different eating habits and our outlook on food and our bodies can vary greatly from person to person. If you find that your diet is taking over your daily life, it might be time to seek support.

What are eating disorders?

There are several types of eating disorder, including bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and binge eating. If you’re not sure whether you have an eating disorder, there are lots of symptoms to look out for:

  • Feelings of guilt after you’ve eaten.
  • Binge eating in secret.
  • Being obsessed with food and your weight.
  • Making yourself vomit after eating.
  • Over exercising.

There are many reasons why people adopt eating disorders, such as low self-esteem, being overweight or depression. Emotional and social issues can often be caused by the media and social media presenting unrealistic perceptions and images of what society expects us to look like.

When we become so obsessed with food and our weight, we might start to see our physical appearance in an unrealistic light, which is completely different to how others see us. This is called body dysmorphia and is very often linked to eating disorders.

Effects of eating disorders

Eating disorders are extremely damaging to our mental and physical health and can cause worrying problems such as: low blood pressure, irregular periods in women, low moods, anxiety, depression, tiredness, lack of energy, constipation and bloating. Over time, these symptoms can lead to more serious health concerns, including: heart failure, seizures, diabetes, hypothermia, kidney failure and, in some instances, even death.

The charity Beat Eating Disorders provides further information about eating disorders and offers advice and techniques to help make things better.

In order to tackle eating disorders, you must first recognise that you have an issue. Beat has a great page about the different eating disorders and their symptoms here as well as what you can do to get help.

However, in the meantime, there are ways in which you can help yourself if you're concerned you might have an eating disorder.

  • Talk to someone. Whether it’s a close friend or family member, don’t keep it to yourself. Eating disorders can bring about feelings of guilt and shame but remember, it is an illness and you have nothing to be ashamed of. Asking for help is a brave thing to do and there are lots of people who are willing to help without judging you.
  • Undertake a healthy amount of exercise as this releases endorphins and will help to make you feel good about yourself.
  • Try not to calorie count and avoid weighing yourself every day. Instead, plan a healthy balanced diet and try to stick to regular mealtimes to keep a healthy routine.
  • Avoid social media and any other forms of media that might encourage you to compare yourself to unnatural and digitally enhanced images of men and women.
  • Practise affirmation exercises that make you feel more positive about yourself. These types of exercises can quieten your inner critic and make you more appreciative of your good qualities.
  • Be kind and patient with yourself. Unfortunately, there isn’t an overnight cure for eating disorders and it can be a lengthy healing process where you might relapse from time to time. Remember, this is normal and try to focus on your positive achievements.
  • Recognise and make a list of any situations or emotions that might trigger thoughts and behaviours related to your eating disorder. Are there any ways you can avoid certain situations or are there coping mechanisms you can put into place that will help you overcome them?

By accepting you have a problem and by asking for help, you have already made a huge step forward and you should be proud of yourself. Make sure you have a strong support network around you and focus on your ongoing recovery.

For more about eating disorders and body image issues, visit our information page >

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Own less, be happier

In a society filled with expensive technology, designer clothing and flash cars, you can see how tempting it is to want the best of everything. But do we want these things to make us feel good or is it ultimately to impress the people around us and post about it on social media? Sadly, much of the time, people crave belongings to increase their social status rather than to make themselves happy. Although our possessions might impress some people, generally, most of us are more impressed by how a person behaves.

Imagine, if you were the only person to exist on the planet, would you really strive so hard to possess all the same unnecessary belongings? Would you still wear designer clothes, or would you opt for something more comfortable?

What many of us don’t realise is that we also buy unnecessary things to fill a void within ourselves or to cheer ourselves up when we’re feeling down. However, these are just temporary fixes and even though you might feel good initially, the feel-good factor soon starts to wear off and the after-effects of splashing the cash can make you feel worse than you did to begin with.

The realisation that the expensive Rolex you just bought, but you can’t actually afford and don’t really need, sets in. Similarly, with sugar cravings, once you’ve indulged, you’ll start to experience a slump.

If you feel down, insecure or depressed and your mental wellbeing is generally out of sorts, you need to work on yourself in other ways.

Ways to ditch the excess

  1. Look at what you own and what you actually need. Make a list of excess belongings that don’t bring you any kind of pleasure or serve any purpose. 
  2. Start to de-clutter. Perhaps you could sell some of the belongings you have listed online or at a car boot sale. The extra money could pay towards your bills or you could even book a holiday, which, in turn, will reduce the stress of financial burdens. 
  3. The extra money could also mean you don’t have to work as hard and you can start to feel more relaxed. With the spare time, do things that you enjoy and make memories from experiences. Maybe make a bucket list and when you’re tempted to buy something you don’t need, tick something off the list. Experiences can improve your mental and physical wellbeing by making you feel alive and appreciating precious moments. You’ll begin to see how your mood changes, your confidence builds and how carefree and happy you feel. By sharing experiences with the people you love, you’ll soon start to care less about possessions and you’ll wonder why you ever spent so much money on meaningless ‘things’.
  4. Reflect on what you need, what makes you happy and what reduces stress and anxiety. Maybe it’s a sport, going out for dinner, socialising with friends, long walks outdoors or days out with the family.

Try to forget about keeping up with the Jones’s and create a richer life that’s filled with happy experiences.

For further information, read the study by Springer Nature, which looks at materialism and how this can affect wellbeing and personality.