Mental Health, Wellbeing

How to say No: establishing healthy boundaries in an age of perfectionism..

Do you find it difficult to say no when asked to do something you don’t have time for? Or something that doesn’t quite sit with your own values?

My recent Wellbeing goals. Note #2: Learn to say No to tasks I don’t have time for or don’t fit my values.

This is something that all of us have to face and some of us seem stronger in being able to say no than others. It can be especially hard if you’re a people pleaser by nature, I know how this feels from personal experience.

For example, this morning, I found myself starting to clear surfaces around our old sink, ready for the new one to be fitted. I’d already promised myself to not do anything more, that it was my husband’s responsibility. But tiredness, a need to do things perfectly and keeping some sense of control temporarily took over. Particularly when the workman turned up & there was still gunk in the old sink! However rational brain took back control and I was able to walk away, just about!

If there’s anything this Covid season has taught me, it’s that I need to do less and keep things simple. But as our economy starts to open up and social expectations rise, I’ve found myself exhausted and alarm bells have been ringing at the back of my head. “Hang on, what happened to taking things slow and steady? How did I get back to this headless chicken state?”

It’s at this point I had to do a reality check. What am I trying to achieve here? What are my priorities and what are other people’s? A friend of mine has recently found herself diagnosed with a condition that means her energy levels change from one day to the next. We’ve been meeting to support each other’s creativity and she has taught me a lot about slowing down and taking things at my own pace, even in my business.

Brene Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, talks a lot about the quest for perfectionism in our society and how it’s linked to shame, particularly in women. Her research shows that shame can be a result of not meeting society’s expectations around body image and women being kept in their place. I found these revelations a breath of fresh air, in the sense of realising the impact these pressures were having on me. She talks about naming perfectionism when she sees it in her own life to overcome the shame barrier. To say that it’s ok to do things to a good enough standard and let go of control when it’s not perfect.

So where do boundaries come into it all? It’s all about putting healthy limits on what we do. In a relationship, this may mean only being available at certain times or contacted in a certain way e.g. email if we supporting someone in need. See Dr Kate Middleton’s book, Refuel, for further info on this.

In a work scenario (this is particularly pertinent if you are still working from home WFH) – putting boundaries on your time. For me this means I only look at my email during my work hours and keep my workload to said scheduled work days. I know it’s not easy especially when we might still be home-based, but it’s important that work and home life don’t become too blurred.

A big help I’ve found is being able to step back from the situation when asked to do something and first say “I’ll think about it,” rather than an immediate “yes.”

Then I ask myself:

1. Do I realistically have time to do this activity? If that means looking at my schedule for the next week/month, so be it, to help me to decide.

2. Does this fit my values? Especially in business, I may find myself offered something which doesn’t sit right with me, in which case it’s also a ‘no.’ This is something that Nisha Vyas, life coach, taught me in a SEIDs seminar.

These questions can be life changing, because it gives us a framework from which to set up boundaries from.

If you want to read more about Boundaries, check out Townsend & Cloud’s book on the subject (see image above).

Boundaries take time to establish and be prepared for some kickback with those you set them with. They won’t like the status quo being changed. As you stick to your boundaries, things will get easier and the new limits will become accepted.

Is there an area of your life where you need to establish a new boundary? How can you put that into place? Will you need anyone or anything to help you reinforce it?

I wish you well in embracing this new boundary. It may feel hard at first but it will pay dividends in the long run.

Mental Health, Social Media, Wellbeing, writing

Developing a Greater self-awareness of the impacts of social media

Recently I’ve been contemplating the impact of my time spent on screens , particularly my social media use.

A few weeks ago, it felt like I was drowning in all of my screen time. Having to think of new content to write for Instagram was especially weighing down on me and I know I was becoming mentally exhausted from all the impacts of lockdown on and off screen. A poignant aspect to note is that lockdown forced us to use video calls more, for work and socially. As well as being a way of staying in touch with others and continuing to get our work done, there is a draining aspect to it all, physically and mentally.

I felt particularly for our younger son, who had online lessons for the 2 months of the 3rd lockdown, all via video call lessons, for roughly 5 and a half hours per day. I noticed that it made him more mentally tired. However I believe that as most of us continue to be online or using our electronic devices more, it mentally and physically tires us out more too.

After realising that I was swamped in the demands of posting and keeping up with Instagram, I decided I needed to take a break from all social media for a while. So along with Facebook, I took a social media fast for a week as part of Lent, where Christians either give up something or take something up to help them focus more on God in that period. The hope was that it would give my eyes and brain a break from the overwhelm that often comes from being on social media and would give me space to pray or do other activities away from screens.

Worldwide the daily average amount of time spent on social media is 145 minutes (2 hours 25 minutes).

[Source: Statistica, 2021]

The first day was difficult, and I admit to giving in to the temptation of scrolling on both Insta and Facebook . It did get easier from there on and I was able to step back from looking at either one. I noticed I felt calmer and less mentally tired. I got to the end of the week without having done any sneaky peeking at either app.

Revelation came to me, though, when I jumped back onto Insta. The first post I saw, I found myself comparing myself to the person concerned and almost immediately that muddle-headed mental tiredness caught me again. I almost completely decided to stop then and there but because I was composing a post for work, I kept going. In fact, 30 minutes later, I was still umming and erring about a photo to use and almost gave up on it! I hated what this app was doing to me mentally and how it was slowing down my mental performance. In that moment, I just wished I could stop using social media altogether but I knew that wasn’t going to be completely possible as I use it for work. I chatted with my elder son about how going back on social media had made me feel and he also suggested coming off it completely!

Since then my motivation to use Insta or Facebook has been much lower, particularly after having a lot of online meetings the following week. I could see the detrimental impact this had on my already dwindling concentration and the mental exhaustion grew!

Now, I have reduced my number of social media posts per week and am looking for ways to stay off my screens as much as practically possible!

Don’t get me wrong, social media does have some positives though. At a time when it’s not easy to see loved ones, work colleagues nor friends face-to-face, social media does offer that opportunity to connect online. Sharing some thoughts or reading others’ comments can help us feel and stay socially connected. We may read someone’s positive words and be encouraged or enjoy a beautiful photograph that some has shared on Instagram. I’m thankful that writing this blog enables me to engage with you, the reader, wherever you may be in the world.

How do you feel whilst on social media? What are the benefits it brings you? What are the pitfalls to be aware of? Do you need some boundaries and limits to help manage your screen time better? I’d love to hear your thought and comments below.

Mental Health, New Year, Wellbeing

3 Things that are helping me survive Lockdown 3.0

Happy February, well, that sounds more timely than Happy New Year, as this is my 1st blog post of 2021! I’ve been a bit torn as to what the topic would be, but I think that as we are drawn into a new month of lockdown, it’s important to share what may help you get through.

Last week, Jo Robinson & I led our workshop on Winter Wellness, and part of the session included discussing what our mental health challenges are in this season, as well as what helps us to overcome them.

1. A small, but powerful, action for me has been getting out for a daily walk. Yes, some days they have been quite short when I’ve felt tired or it’s raining, but getting out into daylight exposes us to natural light, which in turn can generate Vitamin D in our bodies. I also supplement this with 30 minutes sitting in front of my light box, that simulates daylight to compensate for the shorter days, and hopefully tops up my Vitamin D.

2. Staying social connected is another essential for me, and part of our social wellness. I realised when I left my previous education role that I really missed working as part of a team and how important social stimulation is for me. This was really brought home to me in the first lockdown when I couldn’t just meet up with a friend for coffee or a walk. So I have made a commitment to myself to reach out to someone daily, whatever that looks like: phone call, zoom call or a socially distanced walk (although this is happening less as we’re on such a high alert level for Covid). Research has shown that by looking outward towards others helps promote happiness and takes us away from unhelpful inner ruminating or self-centredness. With #TimetoTalk Day last Thursday, it’s more important than ever that we look out for each other and be prepared to be more honest about our mental health.

3. Being creative at least a few times a week, ideally daily. Back in lockdown 2, doing some kind of Christmas craft kept me sane and focused me on something constructive aside from work and managing the home. I made Christmas decorations for friends’ Christmas presents, worked on a wooden tree Christmas sign and designed a nativity stained glass window for our front window as part of our church’s advent light festival. Ok, I’ll admit that post- Christmas we mightn’t have the motivation to do so much, but just trying out even a simple card making activity or writing some thoughts down can help our minds to switch off and stay concentrated in the moment. I’ve started bullet journalling and am currently doing a doodle art course with Mind in Harrow which is helping me to manage my stress and anxiety better.

I could talk about other areas that I’ve found helpful but keeping things simple is important at the moment too, especially if we’re struggling with motivation. See my previous blog on Managing your mental health for more ideas.

So what things are helping you to survive lockdown? What not have a go at writing them down, so that when you’re bored or at a loss as to what to do, you can look at your list to remind you of what helps and to inspire you?

Christmas, freedom, Mental Health, Wellbeing, writing

Merry Christmas from Flourish!

Peace like a river.

Exhaustion like a smothering blanket

Yet there is escape,

There is freedom.

No longer weighed down

By the chains that bound me.

TRULY FREE.

Inexplicable relief & joy,

Stepping out of the shadows

Of the person that I used to be.

God, You are good.

Thank you for your healing work,

Unimaginable before

Yet here in the moment.

Though the doubt tried to divert me

From Your Truth, it hasn’t succeeded.

Even when it tries again to tie me down

I say, “No! Enough is enough!

Unafraid now to stand up to the lies.

They fall like tin soldiers,

Rat-tat-tatting to the ground.

There is space,

A place again to breathe.

No more critical inner voice to pull me down.

Freedom. Peace. Time to be ME.

No more put downs

Just a stronger inner voice

That speaks in a calm, clear voice :

“No more, no more punishment.

Peace on Earth, mercy mild.”

The Good News brought to us by the Jesus Child.

So many years trying to fathom it all out

Yet there it is before me,

Within my reach,

Mysterious yet profound.

Copyright © AT Kelly 2020

I just wanted to end the year by sending you my new poem , partly on a Christmas theme. It’s been such an odd year, no one could have predicted what was to come.

But I’d like to wish you all a wonderful Christmas, whatever that looks like for you. I pray you’ll be able to take the day as it comes and remember the good things, no matter how small and simple they are.

I look forward to greeting you again in the New Year, and just wanted to make you aware that I’ll be running an online Winter Wellness workshop on Thursday 21 January in the evening. Please email info@flourishwell.org to register your interest. More details to follow…

Book review, Family relationships, Wellbeing

Jesus Sits With Us In Our Pain

Recently I’ve been reading Liz Carter’s new book, Treasures in the Dark, a mixture of poetry and prose, written whilst she was shielding during the national lockdown earlier this year. Her poetry is so expressive and the sections of the book are divided into the seasons of the year, each piece pointing to the hope we have in Jesus.

Liz lives with a chronic lung condition, thus why she was shielding. Her 1st book, Catching Contentment, was written out of living with this condition as a Christian who hasn’t yet fully experienced God’s healing but has found ways to know God’s presence and some contentment through it all.

Reading her Easter poems from her Treasures in Dark Places book, I was drawn to Friday, expressing the pain of Christ’s crucifixion seen through the eyes of a disciple:

FRIDAY

We weep for you

our tears are our food

day and night

our souls wrenched apart

shards of desolation pierce our hearts

Yet you capture our tears

gather the great oceans of them blend them with your own

you shoulder our agonies

and you sit inside them with us you are torn for us

but ‘do not weep,’ you say, ‘take courage,’ you whisper.

We join in the groaning of all creation dive into echoes of exultation

ache for the song of restoration

and wait with fragments of tear-washed hope.

The second line of the first verse is based on Psalm 42 : 3 where an upset King David is thirsting after God , crying out to the one who saves for help. How often do I come to God in the difficult times? Cry out to Him for all that I feel, lament and mourn? It’s so easy to look to other people or things first for comfort, yet God knows what we need, before we even ask.

The second verse starts with:

“Yet you capture our tears

gather the great oceans of them

blend them with your own

you shoulder our agonies

and you sit inside them with us.”

These words leapt out at me when I first read them and were a great comfort in a difficult time, coming to terms with some bad news for a loved one. That Jesus is with us in our sorrow and pain, sitting with us and catching our teardrops is a strong reminder that he understands even our negative emotions and sits with us through them. We are not alone, no matter how we might feel or what we are enduring.

The news I had received had pulled out all kinds of emotions after initial numbness: positive and sad memories, guilt and a rawness and vulnerability that came from deep within. I had to bring all I was feeling and thinking to God and surrender the pain into His hands to relieve the burden and ask for His wisdom for how to act moving forward.

There is hope that there will be a time when God will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21) and there will be an end to our suffering when we leave this life behind. This brings comfort in the here and now, despite what is being thrown at me. Jesus in his death knows the pain and hurt that the world has endured for all of time. He knows the full and unfathomable weight of that burden and remained faithful to it, even to a death He didn’t deserve on the cross – fully man, yet fully God. It’s mind blowing, a mystery but also brings liberation and peace to a hurting a wounded world.

Is there any pain you need to bring to God today? Remember that He ‘catches our tears and sits with us, no matter how great that hurt may be.

Liz’s new book, Treasure in Dark Places, is available from Christian bookshops, Waterstones and online at Amazon. For more information about her book and where to buy it, click here.

Christmas, Family relationships, Mental Health, Wellbeing

How to reduce Christmas stress this year and find some joy…

As we draw closer to Christmas, how are you feeling? Do you feel prepared and have a plan ? Or are you filled with anxiety or worry or even dreading it?

A few weeks back I attended my local Recovery College ‘s “Coping with Christmas” online course. This has helped me to think about how practically I want us as a family to do Christmas this year & in a way that brings some joy rather than mainly stress.

Some tips to manage stress :

  1. Breaking tasks down into small steps, e.g. cooking Christmas dinner.
  2. Make a Christmas budget so that you don’t overspend. Include presents, food, travel, trips, donations, etc. & any extra costs you may have over the Christmas period.
  3. Think about the things you find most difficult over the Christmas period., e.g. finances, relationship, emotions, health wise). Write them down. For each one, come up with how you can overcome this difficulty.
  4. What are the good things you enjoy about Christmas? List them. Look at them when you feel stressed, overwhelmed or anxious to remember the positives.
  5. Boundaries : Think about what is manageable & what’s not. Be clear with family/ friends and stick to these.
  6. Self care: What activities will relax & recharge you ? Diarise time to do them, e.g. exercise, quiet time, have a hot chocolate or chat to a friend.
  7. When you start to feel stressed, what helps you to destress? For me, doing some deep breathing or mindfulness really helps in the moment.
  8. Be kind to yourself. How is your self-talk in your head? Is it negative or self-critical? Stop yourself if you notice unhelpful thinking and write it down. Would you speak to a friend like this? What’s a more kind way to speak to yourself? Say this to yourself instead. If you notice these negative thoughts are constant or your mood has been low for more than 2 weeks, this is the time to get help. Make an appointment with your doctor. Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) may help.

As a Christian, I also find reminding myself that what we’re really celebrating here is the birth of Jesus. He came down to earth, fully God, yet fully human, to restore our relationship with Him. Putting my focus back on God can put all the other tasks into perspective.

Reflecting on what you’d like Christmas to be like this year, after such a different 2020 to what we expected, how are you going to prepare for Christmas? How can you put your focus back on God?

Mental Health, Wellbeing

What I Learned From Being on Retreat – a Spiritual Reflection

Whilst reading Dr Kate Middleton’s Refuel book about managing stress and avoiding burnout, one piece of advice really stood out. She talked about taking some time out, even a few days, to rest and recover.


Fortunately, I’d been watching an online retreat from the Royal Foundation of St. Katharine’s and discovered that they were open for overnight stays. Swiftly I decided to book a two-day retreat for the following week. I couldn’t wait! After several months of being unable to find any respite, (I am a carer to one of my sons with special needs), I had become quite desperate for some space to myself. It gave me something to look forward to, kept me motivated for the wait I had to endure.

I was quite busy beforehand and didn’t really have time to plan ahead as to what I’d do whilst there. I started packing the day before but kept it to a minimum so that I could practise some simplicity whilst there. However, I include some items to pamper myself with, such as nail varnish, a face pack and an uplifting shower gel (to name but a few items!)

Statue of St. Katharine
The garden at the Royal Foundation

On the spiritual front, I also packed some Christian books to help me to destress and focus more on God. I was able to finish ‘If Not Now, When?’ by Fernando de Paula: a really helpful book, showing me how to better live in the moment and value each day that God has given me. I started reading this during lockdown but wasn’t in the best place to receive it. Over time my improved mood has meant that I have been more motivated and hence more open to completing the activities at the end of each chapter. On some level I’ve been able to let go of the past, feeling more positive and looking forward to what God has in store for me.

I have continued with Refuel and the chapter on staying calm that discussed practising mindfulness and introduced an exercise to try out really stood out. Previous chapters had looked at 1 Kings 19: where Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Baal and was experiencing a low period after the adrenaline rush of this event. I reread this passage and contemplated how God refuelled him – Kate made the point before there was any healing for Elijah God made him rest, eat and drink. I was thankful to be in the tranquillity of St Katharine’s that was already providing these things. The food there was amazing, not having to cook, having healthy, gourmet dishes, really helped my mood and physical body. I felt challenged to be more mindful of making healthier and appetising meals on arriving home, increasing my fruit and vegetable intake that I’m sure my family will appreciate the more appetising bit!

Slowing down my daily pace also helped and I’m aiming to maintain this in even small ways, now too. I was kind to myself about relaxing my quiet time in the mornings so that it didn’t feel so rushed or a tick box exercise. The first morning I attended Morning Prayer in the Chapel and focussed on the liturgy and just being present in the moment. It felt so good to just breathe and ‘be’ a bit. No agenda, no plans apart from breakfast, lunch and dinner! I decided to do some writing for my mental health memoir around the theme of retreats!

The weather was beautiful, so I could sit out in their garden in the afternoon to eat lunch or read a book. I loved just enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face. I found journaling my thoughts really helpful, sometimes turning these into prayers for the issues I was grappling with.

I’d planned to meet up with an old friend living nearby and we met over a coffee at the Yurt Café, also run by the Foundation. It was a glorious sunny day to be sitting outside. It was wonderful to catch up on the past 2 years or so and how our kids were doing. In fact, it was a Spirit-filled time where we were able to share and pray for each other, picking up our friendship where we’d left off.

From the library I’d borrowed a few books: a meditation with art book by Sr Wendy and Surprised by Joy by CS Lewis, the first part of his autobiography. It was interesting to read about his childhood and where his Christian beliefs had started from. It was useful to see his writing style to feed into my own memoir writing too.

Canary Wharf

There was also plenty of time for solitude too: I woke early each day and took a walk down to the River Thames, a short walk from the Royal Foundation. One day I walked via Shadwell Basin to Wapping, whilst the next day I walked in the opposite direction to Canary Wharf , giving me the space to enjoy God’s natural and manmade creations which were awesome and quite overwhelming with the towering buildings! I saw the sunrise on Day 2 and caught some great light for my photos, including views into the City, across the River and of Canary Wharf. Sometimes I listened to worship music on my way but at other times enjoyed the silence and beauty around me.

I found the liturgy comforting in the Chapel services. Isaiah 43:18-20 leapt out at me:

“I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert

To give drink to my chosen people.”

God often speaks to me through water imagery and these verses gave me hope, a sense of being refilled and refreshed, ready to return to the real world.

My time away may have been different to previous retreats but one that blessed and uplifted me, restored and renewed me. As I assimilate back to family life, I intend to keep some of these practises alive to remind me of how God spoke to me and how to daily live this out.

Is there some way or some place you can get some quiet time to be with God? What does that look like for you? Perhaps diarise some time to make this happen in the next week or so.

Mental Health, Wellbeing, writing

How Writing helped me to survive lockdown and better manage my mental health

With World Mental Health Day just around the corner, I want to reflect on how all things writing that have helped me get through the past 6 months. Part of that has been practising what I preach on writing for wellbeing and recovery.

Credit: pixabay.com

Now, don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t always been easy. There was a point in lockdown where I was struggling with depression, in part due to running away from how I was feeling. It was at that point that someone challenged me to start writing down how I felt again and face my fears. It took a while and initially took the form of single sentences acknowledging the negative thought, eg. “I’m not good enough at this.” Then it evolved more into journalling, a mixture of feelings and reflections on why I felt like that. Over time it has become a daily practice, sometimes a paragraph, sometimes a page or two, depending on my mood. In my more creative moments it has been a poem or blog. The result has been a lifting of my mood, fresh perspective on my situation, and a greater ability to problem solve. And so I’m coming to terms with being a poet and often this is how I express my deepest thoughts or process a situation I’m going through.

Tomorrow (9 October) to celebrate World Mental Health Day, I will be running a session using poetry to express how we feel, alongside Amanda Epe and Jo Robinson. I’m excited and looking forward to sharing some of my own poetry. If you’d like to find out more or book your space, click here.

Writing can take many forms, and it’s about finding out what works for you. Self-expression is important. It can help us better understand ourselves and take those thoughts buzzing round our heads and get them out into the open or onto the page.

What can you do today to acknowledge your thoughts and get them down on paper?

Wellbeing

Exhaustion

Burnt out, weary, gasping for breath,

feeling oblivious yet spurring myself on because that’s what I do.

When I feel like this,

automatic responses against my inner

voice to stop,

calm down, take a deep breath

STOP.

Why is it so hard to stop?

To give myself permission to let go of

the relentless ‘to do’ list.

It’s so important to take care of myself

and break the childhood habits of caring for others at the expense of myself.

Memories, fears, past anxieties triggered. Can I get past them, break the cycle?

Only by giving them to God.

Letting Him take the burden.

Copyright © 2020 AT Kelly

Family relationships, Mental Health, Social Media, Wellbeing

How to intentionally rest whilst being present with my family

Posted with permission @mindinharrow from Instagram

I am thankful for a week’s rest from work and other admin but it’s been a challenge to switch off and stay off social media. However I now see the mental tiredness that being on a screen so much brings and the greater sense of peace that resting from it brings.

Taking more time for self-care and resetting boundaries with my family have also been of benefit over the week. Although I didn’t intentionally plan it, there’s been breakthrough as I’ve had a mini retreat and more time for God, soaking up the healing environment of the hills and mountains . More to follow on Instagram this coming week….