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

What happens once Mental Health Awareness week is over? #mhaw19

I’d hoped to have published this blog a few days ago, to coincide with the end of #mentalhealthawarenessweek. However, I’ve also been working on a short autobiographical story, which I’ve now submitted, which I needed to complete first.

I just wanted to share some helpful resources and activities that have improved my own mental health recently:

1. Running or Exercise

This is particularly helpful for overcoming anxiety. Check out the NHS Couch 2 5K app, over 9 weeks, it takes you from mainly walking, inter-dispersed with short periods of jogging, gradually building up to running solidly for 30 minutes, 3 times per week. By the end, you are running 5 kms. I started in January, and this was my 3rd attempt to complete it, so I was overjoyed when I finished Week 9, Run 3! The aim is to keep going with the running and I’m pleased to say I am, and do my best to do it 3 times per week. I am kind to myself if I don’t manage this!

2. Doing more of what you love

A few months back, I’d stopped doing a lot of what I usually enjoy, as I was depressed and lacking motivation. For me, going for a walk in the park, practising my drumming and writing are fun things which give me enjoyment. I had to go through a phase of pushing myself do 1 enjoyable thing a day, even if I didn’t feel like it! By doing these activities, my mood definitely improved.

3. Challenging unhelpful thoughts

I know I’ve blogged quite a bit on this activity but I find it works! Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) identifies your self-critical thoughts, acknowledges the emotions and body sensations you feel at the time, and then looks at the evidence for and against that critical thought. A new, more realistic truth is written down, and your emotions rated again, which helps reduce the negative emotions, thoughts and associated behaviours. This helps to lift your mood, as you think more realistic thoughts about yourself. You can ask your GP to refer you to your local Talking Therapies, or you can self -refer using the Single Point of Access (SPA) in some areas. There are also online computerised CBT courses available, such as Silver Cloud, which you can fit into your weekly schedule. Again your GP can refer you via your local Talking Therapies. As a Christian, I have also found memorising relevant Bible verses, to counteract the unhelpful thought too. Psalm 57: 3 reminds me that “My God will send forth his unfailing love and faithfulness.

4. Reaching out to others you trust for help and support

This takes courage, I know, if you’re feeling anxious or depressed. It may mean having to get over self critical thoughts of “I should be able to handle this myself” or worry about what others may think of you. I find those friends who aren’t judgemental, are kind and understanding are the ones I feel safe to talk with about how I feel. Sometimes our friends give us a fresh perspective and help us to see things more positively. Give someone a call, and have an honest chat or go out for a cuppa together.

5. Find out more about the mental health condition you are experiencing

Mind’s national website has an A-Z list of all things mental health, and recently I’ve found simple, informative pages on various conditions I’ve been researching. They also have a variety of guides on different conditions, including an Understanding Anxiety Guide and the different types of depression. They also have an online membership you can join with some good benefits, such as an online community.

Also, if you are a mental health service user or a carer, many mental health trusts have Recovery Colleges, which provide free courses on many topics relevant to mental health recovery, e.g. Understanding mental health conditions, personal recovery, managing stress, self-compassion and getting back into employment. Look up your local mental health trust website and search for “Recovery College” to find out about your local courses. In Central & North West London Foundation Health Trust, Recovery College courses and timetable can be found here.