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.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

How to maintain your identity in your relationship

Being in love is a wonderful thing but there are times when being in a relationship can make us feel as though we’ve lost a part of our identity. It’s important to recognise when this happens to prevent any feelings of resentment and to protect our mental wellbeing. When we neglect ourselves and sacrifice too much in a relationship, it can seriously harm our mental health and we might start to feel anxious, stressed or depressed.

Signs you might be losing your identity

  • You feel like you can’t be yourself all the time
  • You feel drained
  • You stop socialising with friends
  • You neglect your hobbies and interests
  • You feel insecure about your appearance
  • You dress for your partner not for yourself
  • You make too many sacrifices
  • You’re afraid to be open with your thoughts for the fear of causing an argument
  • You stop chasing your dreams

To make a relationship work, it’s vital that you stop neglecting your own desires and the things that make you happy. Remember, your opinion, feelings and wellbeing matter. It’s understandable that you want to make the person you love happy, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of losing your own self-identity and self-worth. It’s okay to compromise but it’s not okay to compromise your own happiness.

Ways to rediscover yourself and regain your identity

  1. Spend time doing things you enjoy whether that’s a hobby or a sport. In a healthy relationship, having your own time and interests can help you to respect each other’s individuality. 
  2. Agree on a time each month or week when you can spend time with friends, either alone or as a couple. Friends make up an important part of who we are, and they provide us with love and positivity that makes us feel more confident in ourselves.
  3. Take it in turns to choose holidays or nights and days out. This can prevent feelings of resentment in the long term and can also add excitement to a relationship.
  4. Share the housework. Decide between you, which chores you wish to take on as your responsibility as this can often be one of the biggest causes of arguments in a relationship. 
  5. Have a personal bank account as well as a joint one if you wish. Agree on how much money you both put into your account for household bills and make sure your partner doesn’t control your own personal money.
  6. Learn to express your feelings and emotions and communicate openly on a regular basis. Communication is key to any healthy relationship so if you find yourself bottling up your emotions, you should make time to be open with your partner about how you feel.
  7.  Be kind to yourself and show as much love to yourself as you would to your partner. Try not to always rely on your partner to make you feel good about yourself. 
  8. Make a list of what you need emotionally, mentally and physically and ways that you can achieve this. Make sure if there are things that you don’t want to compromise on, you convey this to your partner. 
  9. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. It’s not uncommon to seek approval from our partners from time to time, but if you find yourself dressing only for your partner or acting in a way that doesn’t reflect your true self, then this is something that needs to be addressed. 

Remember, you’ve spent your entire life learning about yourself and understanding who you are in order to love yourself, so don’t throw all that hard work away. Keep your identity alive as it is likely to make you happier in the long run.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

How to protect yourself and others from cyberbullying

With most of the world’s population now using the internet and social media on a daily basis, cyberbullying has become widespread in today’s society. Not only is this form of online bullying targeted at children, but adults can also find themselves becoming the victims of online abuse.

How to recognise cyberbullying

In order to tackle this serious issue, we must first learn to recognise the signs of cyberbullying so that we can take necessary steps to avoid and prevent it.

Cyberbullying is when someone uses digital technology such as the internet, social media, mobile phones and gaming platforms to upset, abuse, threaten, slander or harass an individual. For example:

  • Abusive, threatening or offensive messages
  • Posting inciting messages in online forums or communities
  • Spreading rumours online
  • Posting private and personal images of another person without their consent
  • Creating fake social media profiles to smear someone’s character or harass them

This kind of intentionally cruel, aggressive and abusive behaviour can have a severely damaging effect on the person that’s being targeted, and they might experience anxiety, stress or depression. A study undertaken by the universities of Oxford, Birmingham and Swansea showed that cyberbullying increases the risk of suicide, mental disorders and self-harm. This is a serious issue but there are ways to protect yourself from cyberbullying.

Ways to protect yourself

Tell someone – Although bullies often use threatening tactics so their victim will be too afraid to tell anyone, you must speak up about it. Talk to a schoolteacher, an adult that you can confide in or the police.

Save evidence – Make sure you keep any evidence of cyberbullying. Take screenshots of online messages or posts they have made and save any emails that you’ve received.

Don’t reply – It might be tempting to retaliate or respond to the bully, but try to resist and ignore anything they send to you. Bullies aim to get a reaction and if you don’t fall into their trap, they are less likely to continue harassing you.

Block them – Fortunately we are able to block specific people from most online platforms, including mobile phones, social media accounts and emails. Make sure you only accept people who you know on your accounts and only give out your phone number to those that you trust.

Keep your life private – It can be tempting to post personal information and photographs on social media but unless you are sure this won’t be shared by someone else without your consent, try to keep your life private.

Don’t take it personally – Even though you might be receiving messages that are aimed directly at you, remember that cyberbullies are usually unhappy with their own lives which is why they take pleasure in harassing others. It might be that they’re insecure or jealous, but their bullying tactics say more about them as a person than you.

Remove your profile – If the bully still finds a way of abusing you even though you’ve blocked them from online accounts (maybe they’ve set up a fake profile), you can always remove your own profile or account so that they have no way of contacting you.

Avoid the internet – It may seem difficult at first to totally abandon social media but take some time out from the online world. Instead, spend time doing a hobby that you enjoy, an outdoor activity or just being with close friends in a social situation. This will help take your mind off the cyberbully and once they realise you’re not responding or available online, they might decide to leave you alone.

More information

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.