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, 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, 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?

Mental Health

How journalling helps you to recognise and manage your emotions

I know it’s been a bit quiet from me recently on the blog front. The beginning of lockdown was quite easy to manage but the past two months or so my mood dipped. I’ve been trying to focus on improving my wellbeing, including facing how I’m really feeling by journalling. For a while I found myself not really wanting to address how I felt and so stopped writing my ‘morning pages.’ These are the equivalent of writing a journal, although somewhat longer (prescribed as 3 pages per day.) See Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, for more details.

Instead, I’m now writing a few lines (sometimes more) when I wake up to summarise how I’m feeling. I might add in what’s really helped ( a high point) or emotions I’ve really been wrestling with. It helps me to make sense of where I am emotionally but also may help me to gain some fresh perspective or problem solve about how to move forward. James Pennebaker is a social psychologist who’s done extensive research into the power of expressing emotions, either verbally or in writing and how this can enable emotional, as well as, physical recovery from illness. More about his research and its health benefits are discussed further in the Writing for Recovery training workshops I lead. Click here to contact me to find out more about the workshop or to make a booking.

Gratitude is another kind of journalling that focuses on what you are thankful for each day. When I first heard about this, the advice was to think of 3 things that you’re thankful for just before going to bed. That way you go to sleep in a contented frame of mind. Current advice during lockdown is to write 5 or 10 things to say thank you for, and as a Christian I tend to frame it as “Thank you God for….” but you can also put it as “I am thankful for…”. To be honest, appreciating 5 things from my day is usually enough for me. A friend of mine had said that keeping a gratitude journal has really helped her to keep her mood on an even keel throughout lockdown.

How about having a go at journalling for yourself? All you need is a notepad/ Pc/ mobile and pen to get started: try writing one word to describe how you currently feel. What’s contributed to you feeling that way?

As you start to write, the words may just start to flow and you find yourself getting a few paragraphs down without thinking too much about it. Even if you recognise the emotion you’re currently feeling, that’s encouraging self-awareness and can lead to further reflection about why later on.

I’d love to hear how you get on, so please add a comment below or email me.

Mental Health, Social Media, Wellbeing

Your Social Media Connections Come at an Emotional Cost

Here is the blog I wrote for the Kings College London Alumni website last year but is still relevant, particularly whilst we’ve been on screens more during lockdown:

https://www.kcl.ac.uk/anita-kelly-your-social-media-connections-come-at-an-emotional-cost

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Family relationships, Mental Health, Wellbeing

Perspective (Five Minute Friday writing prompt)

Depending on your perspective of this Lockdown situation, you can see things in a positive or negative light, or oscillate between the two.

I know I started off very calmly and positively. My elder son’s school closed first and I took it in my stride. Then my younger son’s school also closed but there was a plan for being given and handing in work from home so things were ok. Gratitude was emphasised by my friends and I used this to remember what God has given us: a home, food to eat, each other and beautiful sunny weather to do things in the garden as a family. For someone who is often quite anxious I was surprisingly calm!

With all 4 of us at home, we started to work out a plan to share study space in the lounge and dining room, especially for our son studying for exams. At times, this positive attitude has given way to low mood, fighting the uncertainty of when lockdown might end and some sort of new normality appear. The challenge has been to keep reminding myself that this time will pass and we will be given our freedom to roam wherever we want to outdoors at some point. Lockdown isn’t forever!

This blog is taking part in this week’s Five Minute Friday, check out https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/04/23/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-perspective/ for more information.