Thursday, 16 January 2020

Sexuality, gender and mental health

Understanding our sexuality is something that we all will have experienced at some time in our lives, but this can be particularly difficult to understand if we find that we don’t fit into society’s 'norms'. Although gender and sexuality are much more widely accepted in today’s society than they used to be, there are still many issues you might face when coming to terms with who you are.

Unfortunately, discrimination due to gender or sexuality is still prevalent and can lead to bullying and mental or physical abuse, which can be extremely damaging to your wellbeing. There are many issues that you may be concerned about:

  • Fear of how people will react, especially family members, close friends and work colleagues
  • Rejection or hostility
  • Fear of being bullied or abused

Not everyone is confident in themselves and it may be that you have low self esteem as a result of the issues you are facing. Feeling afraid and vulnerable can have a huge impact on mental health if you don’t have anyone to confide in and are keeping your thoughts and emotions bottled up.

Over time, if you aren’t able to express yourself truthfully and you suppress your thoughts and emotions for too long, you could experience the following:

  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of concentration

Worry and fear can have a damaging effect on your body as well as your mind and can cause an increase in stress, anxiety and depression, so it’s important to seek help and support and come to terms with your sexuality and gender in order to live a healthy life.

Ways to deal with your sexuality

There are lots of informative websites where you can learn about sexuality and gender identities. It's good to check these out and see which you identify with. It can also be comforting to know that there are other people who think or feel the same way as yourself and that you’re not alone.

When you recognise certain feelings, don’t deny them and push them aside, instead, try to accept them. It’s important to be honest with yourself rather than pretending to the world that you’re something you’re not.

Talking is a great way to explore your own emotions and find reassurance that whatever you’re feeling is okay. If at first you don’t feel comfortable enough to talk with someone you know, you can get lots of advice online and even join a forum where you don’t have to disclose your identity. This is a good way to get advice from others who have gone through something similar and it can make you feel less isolated.

Although it might seem like a difficult step to take, confiding in a close friend or family member might not be as scary as you think. Opening up will not only relieve some of your anxiety, it can also increase your self-confidence.

Mind has a helpful fact sheet that offers ways of coping with doubts about your sexual identity as well as providing details for organisations with a range of services related to sexuality.

You can also find out More about gender and sexual identity on our website.

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Put the past behind you and create a new you

Life is filled with ups and downs. Sometimes we have wonderful experiences that bring us joy and other times we will go through bad situations that cause us heartache, but it’s how we use the latter experiences to learn and move on that’s important.

If you’ve gone through something traumatic, such as a failed relationship, the death of someone close to you or losing your job, these kinds of experiences can have a negative impact and seriously harm your wellbeing. If we allow our past to take a grip, it can affect our future decisions so it’s vital that we learn from the past rather than live there.

Remember that every situation we face in life will have a different outcome so try not to let one bad experience define your future or who you are. If we don’t learn to put the past behind us, we will continue to endure sleepless nights, anger, resentment, anxiety, stress and depression.

Rather than pushing our thoughts to the back of our mind, we should try and confront negative issues, deal with them and move on.

Ways to put the past behind you

If there is a particular situation or experience that is still having a negative effect on your mental health, face it head on and explore what you’ve learnt from it. When we spend time reflecting on our past, it makes it easier to accept and move forwards.

  • Make a list of things you have learnt from the experience and the emotions it stirred up in you. This is a good way to release any pent-up frustrations and let them go.
  • Write down the things that you've gained from the experience. Perhaps you lost your job and you are now in a better paid job that makes you much happier. By seeing the positives that have arisen from past negative experiences, we become more appreciative and accept that we need them in order to grow as a person.
  • If there is another person involved, speak with them and express your thoughts and feelings to get clarity. This can be extremely therapeutic and more often than not, you’ll be surprised that the other person also wants to resolve the situation and put it behind them.
  • Learn to forgive. By understanding and being empathetic, we can gain a clearer insight into why a situation might have occurred. Forgiveness is a wonderful way to find inner peace, which is necessary for personal growth.


Focus on the present

Learn to practise mindfulness

By dwelling on the past, we continue to suffer negative emotions and feelings that cause constant distress, but by focusing on the present, we can start to feel happier. Practise mindfulness and meditation to keep your thoughts focused on the positives. Live in the moment and be grateful for all the things that bring you happiness.

Learn a new skill

Learning a new skill or enjoying new experiences will keep your mind occupied and make you appreciate the present day rather than looking back to the past. You could also take a short beak and give yourself some time to do the things you love so that you can completely switch off. 

Spend more time with those who empower you

Spend more time with people who empower you and bring out positive emotions in you. The happier your present reality becomes, the less likely you are to look back on your past with regret or anger.



In this Ted Talk, psychologist Daniel Kahneman talks about how our experiences and memories affect how we view our happiness and how we behave in the future. This gives us a great insight into how we can change our way of thinking to lay the foundations for a better future.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Exercise your way out of anxiety

You may have recently joined a gym or local exercise class as part of your new year's resolutions. However, life often gets in the way and you will probably not be surprised to hear that many people have given up on their goals before the end of February.

What might continue to spur you on, is that losing weight, shaping up or gaining strength are not the only reasons why we should incorporate regular exercise into our daily lives. Research suggests that exercise can improve mental health and wellbeing and further studies have shown that anxiety in particular can be effectively managed in many cases with exercise.

The 'anxiety study' by Aylett, Small and Bower (2018) included both high and low intensity exercises - walking, running, treadmill training and aerobic sessions. Low intensity exercise includes less strenuous exercise such as comfortable walking or stretching. High intensity exercise was things like running, aerobics etc. Both forms of exercise were found to be beneficial for managing the symptoms of anxiety, but high intensity exercise was found to be particularly helpful.

Anxiety is a common issue that people experience and exercise is a simple, accessible way to take action while on a waiting list or in combination with therapy or other treatments. So there is another reason to grab those trainers and to keep exercising past February!

However, if you have any underlying health issues, please consult your GP first and use the expertise of the instructors at your gym to ensure that your workout helps you meet your goals without any side effects.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

How to avoid seasonal stress and have some fun


It’s that time of year again when the festive season creeps up on us and we lose ourselves in a frenzy of buying last minute gifts and tying up every single loose end at work so that we can take some time off.
Why is it that this ‘wonderful time of the year’, which should be a time for celebrating and enjoying the festive atmosphere, turns into a stressful affair? Emotional and financial worries are usually to blame for the amount of stress we undergo, causing us headaches, nausea and insomnia, which can have a detrimental effect on the heart. Research published by medical journal, BMJ, has shown that there is a higher risk of heart attacks during the Christmas period, and it’s no surprise.
Christmas can be a very expensive time of year that many of us can’t afford but it doesn’t have to be that way and there are ways we can ease the stress and the financial burden.
Cut back on spending
Although it’s considered to be a season of giving, this doesn’t mean you have to break the bank and run up huge debts in the process. Set a budget that you can afford and stick to it. If you’re feeling the pinch, family and friends will understand that you can’t afford to overspend. Also, it can be fun finding gifts that are more thoughtful than lavish. Or you could set a rule. For example, some people like to say that they will only buy four gifts for their close family members and set a structure, such as - something to wear, something you need, something you want, something to read. This can really help reset expectations at this time of year. Try making your own Christmas cards or spend more time on the wrapping and presentation – you’ll be surprised how many people love something handmade and personal.
Avoid overindulging
OK, so it can be seriously tempting to gorge on Christmas pudding or pile our plates full of ‘roasties’, all washed down with a bottle of wine, but you won’t thank yourself in a week’s time when you have to return to the ‘real world’. 
Too much drinking and overeating can leave you feeling low and lethargic, which can further increase stress levels. If you can’t resist temptation, get back on track the next day by drinking plenty of water, eating a healthy amount and by getting some exercise. It’s also a good idea to stick to your usual sleeping patterns. 
Plan in advance
Try buying gifts throughout the year or in the sales as this not only means you won’t have to leave everything until the last minute, it can also feel a little easier on the purse strings when you spread the cost over the year.
Make time for fun
Picture the scene: everyone has overeaten on Christmas Day, you all sit down to watch the television and, one by one, each of you drifts into the land of nod! To keep the atmosphere uplifted, organise some fun games and share some laughter – a great way to release endorphins, lift your mood and reduce stress and anxiety.
Go for a walk
There’s nothing more revitalising than getting outside and taking a walk in the fresh, crisp air. As well as burning off some of those excess calories you’ve consumed, walking can improve your mood and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Remember, Christmas is the ‘season to be jolly’!

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Addressing money worries at Christmas

Although it should be a happy time of the year, the festive season can be a worrying time where finances are concerned.

In the run-up to Christmas, when we're expected to be preparing for a season of fun and festivity, many of us become more anxious and stressed as the Big Day approaches. Undoubtedly, it’s an expensive time of year when money worries become even more concerning.

Debtpression

We’ve all the heard the phrase ‘money is power’, and a study in the Journal of Consumer Research saw participants actually salivating at the concept of money when primed to feel they lacked power. So what then of debt? How does it effect how we feel about ourselves and what is debtpression?

Many people equate money with power and success, believing it to make them appear more attractive, popular and successful to others. Conversely, not feeling able to spend can create a strong sense of powerlessness and failure, which can be highly disturbing. Debt equates to emotional pain. Indeed, debt and mental health problems often go hand in hand.

When we feel low, we spend money to make ourselves feel better. We’re bombarded by adverts telling us certain products will lead to positive emotional experiences. Spending therefore becomes habitual as it meets our deep-rooted psychological needs.

When we're in debt we often feel stressed, anxious and depressed. To cope with these feelings, many people ignore the debt and continue to spend money to make themselves feel better. In the long term this leads to more debt and the feelings of guilt and anxiety return. This becomes a vicious circle, which harms mental wellbeing and has been dubbed ‘debtpression’.

It all sounds so gloomy, but debt can have positive outcomes too, driving people to be resourceful. Many small businesses have been started in recessions as individuals become more creative in their attempts to make money. Debt can also force our hand, making us face our fears and try new things. Whatever our approach, acknowledging debt and taking action are crucial steps to avoiding debtpression.

Tips for budgeting at Christmas

It can be difficult to get to grips with our finances, especially if we already struggle to pay the bills or have the burden of debt. Even though you might prefer to stick your head in the sand and not think about your financial issues, this can lead to further stress in the long run.

Scrutinise your money situation – This will enable you to set realistic budgets that can prevent you from becoming ill with worry. Firstly, make sure the most important aspects such as paying bills are your priority. Work out how much you can afford to spend and look for ways you can cut back on costs. Most of us have things that we waste money on, for example, an unused gym membership, too many takeaway coffees, buying lunch on work days, buying books when we can borrow them from the library, etc.

Shop around – If the thought of not buying presents leaves you feeling uneasy, shop around for offers. With online shopping so easily available, you’ll find plenty of bargains. Ok, so it might be more time consuming, but it will consume less of your budget. Scour comparison sites to get the best deals as they will do a lot of the legwork for you. Money Saving Expert is another great place to find money saving tips at Christmas.

Don’t rely on credit – Tempting as it may be, unless you know that you're able to pay off your credit in full, resist borrowing as it can be a disastrous trap that could send your debt spiralling out of control.

Make a pact – Most adults, particularly those with children, will understand if you’re unable to spend a fortune on gifts. So, suggest that you only buy presents for the children – they’ll likely feel relieved themselves!

Spread the cost – There are two ways of doing this; put a set amount of money away each month throughout the year so that come December, you have a nice little pot of cash to spend. Alternatively, buy a present each month so it’s less of a shock on your purse strings.

Finally, remember that the festive season isn’t as important as your mental and physical wellbeing. Make sure you put yourself first (no matter how much of a Scrooge you feel). If you're in a situation where you can’t afford to spend any money at all, so be it. How about writing out some time tokens instead - you could wash their car, take their dog for a walk, make them a cup of tea, do a session of babysitting, get them a bunch of wild flowers - these things are free or cost next to nothing and sometimes the smallest acts of kindness are the things that matter most to people. And don’t forget, Christmas is one day of the year and it will be round again soon enough.

If issues with debt are causing you serious cause for concern and are having an impact on your health, National Debtline has lots of useful information and offers free debt advice.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Ways to help your child cope with mental health issues

There are many different mental health disorders that young children might have to deal with in their lives and, although each might need addressing slightly differently, there are some common ways to help your child cope.

Communication

One of the best ways to help your child cope with mental health issues is by communicating openly with them at all times. By showing your child respect and by being able to communicate honestly, you are allowing them the opportunity to discuss their feelings in a safe environment where they feel loved and unjudged.

Even without facing a mental health issue, growing up can often be difficult for children as they are learning about themselves and discovering their identity in the world. When we share our experiences with our children and discuss how we have dealt with similar issues, it can make them feel less alone and more comfortable to speak about their own feelings.

Ask for help

Because there are many different mental health issues, including bi-polar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), ADHD, depression and autism to contend with, sometimes we need to ask the experts for help as we are not always equipped with the knowledge and resources to deal with it on our own.

Encouraging your child to talk to the experts can give them and yourself a greater insight into the issue and you’ll learn about different strategies that can be put in place. Also, you’ll find support groups for children with similar mental health issues, which can make your child feel less alone and more accepted.

Provide a supportive environment

Once you've spoken with your doctor or social worker, you’ll be able to recognise symptoms and adjust your child’s environment accordingly. If you notice certain mood changes or specific symptoms that relate to their disorder, you’ll be more equipped to provide the right environment.

Perhaps you need to give them some space, or maybe they’ll benefit from an activity that will stimulate their mind, but you will be in a much better position to understand what your child needs.

Take care of their physical wellbeing

It’s equally as important to look after your child’s physical wellbeing in order for them to cope with their mental health issue. Spend time with them outside, whether that’s taking a walk in the countryside or going on a bike ride. Plenty of exercise, a well-balanced diet and a good sleep regime will all contribute towards improving their mental wellbeing.

Take care of yourself

Most importantly, remember to look after yourself, both mentally and physically so that you are able to provide the best possible care for your child. We are all human and no matter what age we are, we also need self-love. If you feel yourself becoming stressed, anxious or tired, take some time out and do something you enjoy or simply rest and clear your mind. Mindfulness and meditation are great ways to recharge your batteries and gain a clearer perspective on life.

Further information

It can be helpful to know what are ‘normal’ issues for a child to experience at a given stage of their life. Our booklet ‘Flourishing children – help your child to thrive’ looks at the different issues a child may experience and the sorts of things that may help. Download our families booklet here >

The NHS also has a wonderful online hub of information that provides children with advice and help on dealing with mental health issues.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Tips for preserving your energy

Have you ever felt that you’re being pulled in so many different directions that you can’t keep up? Work demands, family commitments, peer pressure and even the pressures of social media can all have a huge influence on your life without you even realising how much they’re draining you of your life energy.

When you’re being deprived of your inner strength and natural spark, it’s time to re-evaluate your life and flick the off switch. We have some much-needed tips for preserving your energy and reclaiming your life.

What drains you?

First and foremost, it’s important to take some time out to sit down and assess your current situation. What gives you the most beneficial return for the energy you spend and what do you need to eliminate from your life?

You might find that the most common stressor in your life is the demands of other people, or perhaps you get too caught up in 'keeping up with the Joneses', but whatever it is that’s draining you, you need to reverse the effects.

Avoid negative people

Often, one of the greatest drains on our energy reserves is people. Maybe they expect too much of us or pass their negativity on to us.

However, it's not possible to avoid all people all the time, but there are ways that we can reduce the impact they have on our lives. If a chat with a friend or colleague turns into gossip, make an excuse to leave the conversation and don’t get drawn in. Not only can negative talk of others cause an unwelcome atmosphere, it can also cause a lot of upset to the person being talked about.

You’ll also probably meet the types of people who are all too quick to point out your flaws or are critical of your lifestyle choices. Remember that how you conduct your life isn’t the business of anyone else. Try to avoid sharing any personal information with this type of person and don’t get into an argument with them.

How to say no

It can be easy to fall into the trap of being a people-pleaser, especially at work or with close friends and family, but if you are making too many sacrifices that ultimately leave you feeling unhappy, you need to learn to say no.

This can be quite difficult and can make us feel uncomfortable but once you realise that self-care is important to your wellbeing, the easier it becomes to say no.

  • Don’t feel the need to give reasons behind your decision
  • Remain polite yet assertive at the same time
  • Don’t give into pressure

If the person who is asking something of you has a negative response, all the more reason to stay firm. Do you really want to sacrifice your happiness for someone who doesn’t respect your decision?

Stop competing with everyone else

With social media playing such a huge part in many people's lives these days, it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself and trying to live up to others’ ‘perfect lives’. Remember, what is portrayed on social media is often a false perception and people only let you see what they want you to see.

A study by the Royal Society for Public Health examining the effects of social media, shows that in the last 25 years, anxiety and depression in children has increased by 70%. There is so much pressure to look or live life a certain way, that we forget to appreciate our positive qualities and instead, focus on the negative.

Try replacing scrolling with something more meaningful, such as a country walk among nature. The less time you spend online and the more time you spend outside or doing something that makes you feel good, the less you will feel drained. These ongoing negative feelings can leave us stressed, anxious and depressed so it’s vital to step away and remind ourselves of what’s really important.