Posted in CBT, depression, lifestyle, mental health, Planning and journaling, psychology, wellbeing

Monday Matters: Negative self-talk – its impact on you and 3 ways to challenge and reframe it

For today’s Monday Matters post I want to discuss something which I’m currently really struggling with, and that is negative self-talk. I’ve been taught various strategies in different therapy sessions throughout the years but applying them when you’re really struggling is easier said than done. Also, during periods of better mood, the techniques tend to be forgotten about as the amount of negativity is much less. So, here’s some examples of different types of negative self talk, an outline of how it damages us mentally and three key ways to challenge and reframe it.

What is negative self talk?

Before you can begin to challenge your negative self-talk you need to know exactly what it is so you can label it as such as soon as it pops into your head or out of your mouth. Basically, we have lots of thoughts running through our minds all of the time such as ‘I wonder if there’s anything good on TV tonight?’, ‘I haven’t done any watercolouring this week, perhaps I’ll have a go at some tomorrow’ or ‘I feel a bit rough today so I’m going to take it easy’. These kinds of self-talk and reflection are perfectly normal and help you to make decisions and get on with things in your life. However, when the self-talk becomes harsh and self critical, such as ‘I can’t believe I did that, I’m such as idiot’, this is when it becomes a problem and can be really damaging in all kinds of ways.

The main forms of negative self-talk (AKA cognitive distortions)

The following are some of the main forms of negative self-talk. In psychology, they’re known as cognitive distortions because they’re inaccurate, exaggerated, irrational and negatively biased.

Overgeneralisation – this is where we draw conclusions about things in life or the future based on things that have happened (often once) in the past e.g. all men are liars, we’re bound to get stuck in traffic, bad things always happen to me, I’ll never be able to do that, I always fail.

Catastrophising – very closely related to the above, this is where we imagine and believe the worst will happen and completely blow things out of all proportion, for example, during a period of depression, saying that you will never get better and will spend the rest of your life miserable, or following the end of a romantic relationship, stating that you’re unlovable and will never find anyone else.

Mental filter – this is when we experience positive and negative things but only focus on the bad stuff and filter out anything good. So, for example you might have had a day out at the park, enjoyed a picnic in the sunshine, strolled around the lake, feed the ducks and swans and admired the cute, fluffy little cygnets before getting an ice cream from the café. But, on return home, you might say that you had an awful time because you were stupid enough to drip ice cream on your t-shirt and that you got burnt because you failed to re-apply your sunscreen.

Predicting the future (AKA fortune telling) -this is where we predict what is going to happen based on little or no evidence, for example, we might say things like: ‘I just know I’m not going to get the job’, ‘I’m not going to the party because I’ll have an awful time’.

Mind reading – here, you assume what others are thinking, often in a negative way. So, for example, you might decide that your friend hates your clothes because she didn’t say how nice your new dress looked, or you might conclude that your husband is sick of you because you keep getting upset all the time.

Black and white thinking – this one involves thinking in extremes rather than anything in-between or in a ‘shade of grey’. It commonly involves the use of the words ‘always’ or ‘never’. Some examples that I’ve said recently are: ‘I always mess things up’, ‘I’ll never get better’ and ‘I’m a complete mess’.

Labelling – these are things that you say about yourself either in your head or out loud which are wholly negative and unhelpful e.g. ‘I’m a fat pig’, ‘I’m useless’, ‘I’m such a failure’ etc.

Shoulds and muststhis involves putting undue pressure on yourself and creating unreasonable expectations which become impossible to keep. For example, you might say ‘I should be a better wife’, ‘I must tidy up all of this mess’, ‘I should exercise more’, I must make sure I’m on time for my appointment’. Using ‘I need to…’ isn’t particularly helpful either e.g. ‘I need to lose weight’, ‘I need to be a better mum’, I need to get that work done’. I’ve written an in depth blog post on this previously as it’s something we covered in my compassion group classes.

The consequences of a tendency towards negative self-talk

As well as causing high levels of stress for both the individual and their close family and friends, negative self-talk has a number of negative consequences including:

  • lack of self belief
  • poor levels of resilience
  • diminished ability to make positive changes in your life
  • reduced self-confidence
  • decreased motivation
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • likelihood of depression and anxiety being exacerbated

Personally, I find that negative self-talk goes hand-in-hand with depression and feelings of anxiety which only serves to make things worse.

3 ways to tackle your negative self-talk

In order to remedy our tendency to negative self-talk we need to recognise when we’re involved in it and actively challenge our words. Here are three ideas on how to do this:

Recognise it, write it down and challenge it

There are a number of psychological studies that have looked into developing awareness of self-talk and the key findings suggest that those individuals who wrote down their own personal examples in some form of log book showed greater insight into the specific content of their self-talk and the consequences of its used. They were also able to start challenging their initial thoughts in order to create more balanced conclusions.

Recognising and challenging your self-talk takes time and commitment but is really worthwhile doing. The following example is my own and I hope, by sharing it, you can see how the process works (you may need to click and enlarge it to see properly). When challenging the evidence, I find it helpful to think about what a good friend or my lovely husband might say in response to what I said.

Take it to court

This is a great technique, which I used in my chart above and feel is really helpful for cross examining your self talk. It commonly used in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and involves metaphorically take the thought or belief to court and place it in the dock. You then find evidence for and against the thought or belief, considering the factual evidence and not opinions. Working for the defence, you try to prove that the accused (your thought or belief) is truthful and correct by providing evidence that shows that your thought or belief is 100% totally true. You can see examples in column 4 of my chart. Then, working for the prosecution, you look for evidence that this thought or belief is not true 100% of the time. For this, you need to select good quality evidence that would hold up in court. Finally, the judge summarises all of the evidence and composes a final statement which is realistic, rational and balanced. This should then help you to see alternative ways of thinking and enable you to undermine your extreme and unhelpful though. You can find worksheets to go with this technique at Getselfhelp.co.uk.

Find more positive alternatives

When you catch yourself saying negative things, try to come up with more positive alternatives or different ways of looking at the situation. Again, think about what a good friend or your partner would say to counteract your thought or belief. Here are some examples which might help:

Negative self-talkPositive self-talk
I hate feeling like thisIt’s okay to feel like this, my feelings are valid
I’m never going to get betterThis is temporary and I have the ability to get through it. I’m taking things one step at a time.
I hate my bodyI’m grateful for everything my body can do, I’m healthy and strong and my body is beautiful.
My life is awfulThere are so many good things in my life right now.
I’m getting everything wrongEveryone make mistakes and we all have days that are better than others.
I need to do some exerciseI would like to do a little more exercise so I can feel more toned.
I can’t do itIt’s going to be hard work but I can do it
I’m so stupidI made a mistake, so what, everyone makes them!

Final thoughts

You might not need to complete these exercises all of the time but when you find yourself dealing with feelings associated with anger, depression or anxiety, try to make time to stop and become more aware of your thoughts. Then you can start to reflect on them, challenge your views and find alternative ways of looking at things. Hopefully, after developing the skills associated with thought investigation and thought challenging, you’ll find it easier to put the ideas into practice and conquer your negative self-talk and start being nicer towards yourself.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Posted in Bipolar disorder, Bullet journaling, CBT, depression management, mental health, Planning and journaling, wellbeing

Monday Matters: Useful ways to track your mood

At the end of April, as part of my post on self-awareness and self-acceptance, I mentioned the usefulness of mood trackers as a way of learning more about how your mood changes and about different things which impact your mood. Although there are hundreds of examples of bullet journal spreads featuring decorative, pretty and colourful trackers (just type #moodtracker into Instagram or search Pinterest), I find that many are a little basic and are more about aesthetics than being an effective learning tool which helps you manage your mood. So, today, I’m going to explore why mood tracking is helpful and discuss some more useful ways of tracking your mood which go beyond colouring in shapes to show if you’re happy, sad or neutral.

Why track your mood?

You might simply track your mood to see if you spent more time feeling happy than sad during any given month but there are so many more benefits to be had such as:

  • It can help you to better understand your triggers and their impact – as well as genetic and physical factors affecting your mood, social and environmental factors play a big part too. By learning about your triggers, you can take steps to minimise the effect and work on developing healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Enables you to identify patterns – after you’ve tracked your mood for a while, you can start to look for patterns, so for example, you might notice that you always feel particularly stressed or down on a Monday after a weekly meeting at work, or anxious in the build up to going supermarket shopping on a Tuesday, or you might notice that a period of depression always kicks in at the end of Autumn and lifts when the weather starts to become brighter in the Springtime.
  • Helps you to develop strategies for managing your moods – when you’ve established patterns, you can then work on developing strategies to combat the effects of various triggers, such as working on positive self talk, doing relaxing breathing meditations, scheduling in something fun on a Monday evening, connecting with nature or getting a little Winter sunshine.
  • Helps you to track your progress – once you’ve put the various strategies in place, long term mood tracking can help you to see if what you’ve put in place actually works. And if you know specific things are really useful, you can do more of them!
  • Can help you to get an accurate diagnosis or appropriate self help strategies – you can take the information you’ve collected when you see a mental health practitioner such as a community psychiatric nurse (CPN) or your psychiatrist and then can use this to help you get an accurate diagnosis or to to make suggestions on how to manage your symptoms more effectively.

In fact, mood tracking is a key element of CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and related exercises are often given as homework due to the fact that they can really help you manage your mental health much more effectively.

Issues I’ve had with keeping a basic one page per month mood tracker in my bullet journal

One of the first issues I had with a basic mood tracker was that my mood changed so much throughout the day that I wanted to record it all and ended up splitting the shape or section for that day into about 4 different colours e.g. I was tired first thing, then I was annoyed about something someone had said, then a little later in the day, I received some great feedback and I was happy, then by the end of a busy day I was either exhausted or extremely stressed at the amount of work I had to do the next day. A more useful idea is to record each time your mood or emotional state changes and what has made it change (i.e. the trigger or circumstances). Then you can come up with some strategies to combat the moods which are causing difficulties e.g. developing relaxation techniques, reframing particular thoughts and feelings, talking about things that are causing you to feel stressed etc.

Also, I think that a lot of mood trackers become restrictive when they only have a set number of moods such as happy, sad, neutral, tired and stressed. What if you feel embarrassed and it had a huge impact on your mood? What if something someone said has made you feel completely inadequate and this leads to feelings of self doubt and lots of negative self talk? There are so many different moods and I think it’s important to recognise them all. I downloaded and laminated a mood wheel a while back now and have found it really useful to find the words to pinpoint exactly how I feel. There’s lots of these available online and this one is available here.

A wheel showing every mood and feeling you could possibly think of!

Finally, recording your mood is more useful if you also take the time to journal about what caused the mood / emotion and the impact it had in terms of thoughts and subsequent behaviour. Then, you can come up with ways of going forward.

My idea for a more useful mood chart for your bullet journal

It took me a while to come up with a set up which isn’t too onerous but is helpful in identifying moods and emotions and can also be used to record action techniques such as those I learnt in CBT, Compassion and Mindfulness sessions to manage the moods. The main focus, I guess, is on negative moods but it’s also important to recognise positive moods so that you can try to find ways to inject more positivity whilst making sure that you don’t get too high if you are inclined toward mania or hypomania.

Obviously, this is an idea that I think will probably work for me so bear in mind that it might not suit you, but I hope that it might give you an idea for a layout which you can modify to fit your own needs. You might also think that the chart is time consuming, and yes, it does take time, but, if it helps you deal with your moods effectively, I think it’s well worth doing.

The date and mood/emotion columns are pretty self explanatory and I’m using the above wheel to help me best describe how I feel. The ‘why’ column can be used to identify the circumstances which caused the mood such as lack of sleep, a particular situation that you faced, a comment made by someone or an event which has occurred or may be about to happen. You might also like to record your related thoughts as these can really impact on things too. The final column ‘actions’ could be used to identify ways of improving your mood or providing a remedy to high levels of stress or excitement. Some ideas include:

  • work on reframing the thought that made you feel bad in some way
  • take it to court to consider the evidence for your thoughts / beliefs – this is a great CBT technique and you can find related PDFs here.
  • plan in some relaxing activities to combat stress / help you relax
  • talk to someone about what has happened with a view to getting an alternative point of view
  • go for a walk in nature
  • find something else to focus on if you’re finding yourself ruminating

A useful way to track bipolar moods

For bipolar disorder symptoms, the free charts from Bipolar UK are great for tracking changing moods so you can recognise signs that you are slipping into a depressed mood or becoming hypomanic or manic. My personal preference would be more room to make notes about triggers, so I would use the first sheet as to record my mood and then create a weekly page for information about events, triggers, wellbeing activities or interactions with others.

Using an app on your phone

If you’re not a fan of pen and paper methods, you could always track your moods on your phone. I’ve found several options and some are more in depth than others. These are all available for both iOS and Android but there are some I’ve read about that are just available for iOS). As with all apps, if you want access to all of the features, you’ll need to pay a subscription for Premium access, but there are some which offer simple ways of recording basic information and tracking things over time.

Daylio This one is particularly popular and, due to it having lots of clickable icons, you can quickly record how you feel, state what your sleep has been like and mark off what you’ve been up to during the day (e.g. hobbies, health related, kindness and compassion related and chores). There’s also the option to add some notes to sum up your mood and your day. I found the mood labels annoying at first as the really happy face one said ‘rad’ but after some exploring, I discovered you could change them to something you would actually say, I chose ‘joyful’. After consistently entering your data over a period of time, you can create graphs to see how your mood has changed over the weeks and you can also see how doing different activities impacts on how you feel. Also, to help you get into the routine of filling in your data, you can set a reminder for a particular time, for example, I tried 8pm so I could reflect each evening.

Bearable This one has loads of bits and pieces that you can record alongside your mood. You can add if you had a headache and if you had an mental health symptoms such as stress, anxiety and depression. You can also identify factors which may have impacted on your day such as how busy you’ve been, if you’ve been to work and how much screen time you had. You can say where you’ve been, how much physical activity you’ve engaged in and if you’ve been socialising and what your sleep has been like. Again you can set reminders and edit what you want to track.

emoods Another app which looks like it might be really helpful for individuals with Bipolar disorder is emoods. Each daily log has a space to record how much sleep you got (in increments of 0.5 hours) and your mood, focusing on the four areas of depressed mood, elevated mood, irritability and anxiety, rating them from none, mild, moderate to severe. Over time, the data you enter can then be made into various graphs so you can see if there are any patterns. You can also record if you had any symptoms of psychosis, if you attended some form of talk therapy and your medications (type and dose). Finally, there’s a box to type in anything else which is relevant and may have had an impact on your mood.

Tracking your moods on your phone has several benefits – you can have lots of data in digital format and it doesn’t take up lots of space like a paper version would and you can get graphs of your data which would be difficult and time consuming to create in your notebook. Personally I found both records to be useful but I much prefer working in my bullet journal.

Making it a habit

If you’re going to go to the effort of making a decision to track your moods and learn from it, you also need to make filling in the diary or using an app. a habit and part of your daily routine. If you use a paper based method, you might choose set times during the day to sit down and do some journaling. It’s helpful if you reflect on things pretty much straightaway so you can complete some action steps but it might not be feasible to make notes there and then so you need to find what works for you. My previous blog post on habit creation might help you with making sure you stick to filling in your chart but a simple way of reminding yourself is to set an alarm on your phone or a reminder with a notification tone in your calendar.

As I said earlier, the apps which I tried include the option of notifications to remind you to fill in your information at various points in the day which can be really helpful as long as you choose useful times for the messages to pop up.

Final words…

I hope you have found today’s post useful and it’s given you the key points about why it’s helpful to track your moods and some ideas for how to go about it. If you are really struggling with your moods, however, I would recommend you consider trying CBT as a trained therapist can help you to you look at your emotions and also teach you key techniques for dealing with unhelpful and negative thoughts.

Posted in Blogging, bullet journal, Bullet journaling, Planning and journaling, watercolour painting

Setting up my Bullet Journal for June: Butterflies theme

June is here and the weather is finally starting to warm up and give us blue skies and sunshine. As our gardens start to fill with flowers, we get more and more bees and butterflies visiting and the latter is the focus of my bullet journal this month. Again, I wanted to get my watercolour paints out, this time for a single focal image. I hope you like the results and that they inspire you to give a butterfly theme a go some time. The pages took me quite a while to produce, hence me being a little behind schedule sharing them but better late than never eh?!!

Front cover

One of my favourite butterflies is the peacock butterfly with its bright colours and its spectacular eye spots. I found a photograph online and printed it for reference and also did a black and white copy which I traced so as to get the butterfly looking symmetrical (yes, I cheated but I wanted the focus to be on the watercolour, not drawing!). I spent a while creating the perfect bluey colour and I’m definitely getting much better at colour mixing. The other colours were relatively easy to get right but the painting took a long while as I used tiny brushes for the details. I also used a Pigma Micron to do the stripy detailing along the top and a while gel pen for the spots. I was pleased with the results and the use of pale yellow paper at the top and bottom of the page has nicely hidden a problem I had with water dripping on the page which caused some of the Tombow ink from the calendar page to seep through (I may have cried a little when I messed up though!).

Watercolour peacock butterfly
Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

Calendar page

After spending a full afternoon on my front cover, I decided to keep the decoration on the calendar page quite simple. The line drawn butterflies were lightly sketched first to get the wing shapes and symmetry looking okay and then I inked them with a 0.3 Pigma Micron. I was surprised by how long it took me to draw them but then. drawing isn’t a strength of mine.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative
Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative
Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

Gratitude pages

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that I’ve been doing these gratitude pages for a while now. At the moment, I’m struggling with negativity due to various medical complaints impacting on my mental health and this means that finding things to be grateful for becomes a little more difficult but all the more useful. Sitting down and coming up with two or three things each night, reminds me that there are some good things to be thankful for. I’ve filled in the first two days to give you an idea of the kinds of things I write.

The meadow washi tape with gold accents is a nice addition to the page and I also added lots of tiny punched paper butterflies around the title section. I used a multipurpose glue and a little pin head to apply it to the reverse – time consuming again but they look cute I think.

Photo Credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative
Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

Yoga Session Tracker

Another spread I’ve been doing for a while to record my daily yoga practice. I write down which YouTube yoga routine I’ve done so I can make sure I’m targeting different parts of the body and ensure that I’m not repeating sequences too often. I was keeping a yoga journal too but I seem to have got out of the habit of writing in there at the moment so this will do for now.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing my spreads for this month. I’m also planning on setting up a mood diary but I will hopefully be sharing this in my next Monday Matters post on the 7th. I’m now going to spend half an hour checking out everyone else’s spreads for this month as I love looking at a variety of themes and layout styles – I may have to set a timer though as it’s easy to lose hours on blog posts, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube as I’m sure you’ll all be well aware!

Just one more thing before I go…

I just want to share this little graphic which popped onto my phone screen yesterday. Thank you so much to all of you who take the time to read my blog – I appreciate every single view, like and comment.

Posted in lifestyle, meditation, mental health, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: A mini guide to walking mindfully

Photo credit: Stanislav Vlasov for Unsplash

Walking has to be my favourite form of exercise and it’s something I do each day. Sometimes my walk is for a particular purpose, for example, heading to the post office with shop orders or running another errand, but mostly, my trips out are simply for the pleasure of getting outdoors and appreciating what’s there. Both are good exercise, but the later is best for body and mind.

For me, there are two types of mindful walking – one, which I was introduced to in my mindfulness classes, is a kind of meditation where the primary focus is on observing the bodily sensations of walking, the other is where you connect with your environment, paying attention to what is going on around you, using all of your senses to fully immerse yourself. Both forms of mindful walking have their benefits and I will consider each of them here as you might like to try them both.

A mindful walking meditation

Many people think that meditation is all about sitting still and trying to empty the mind. This is not the case. Rather, meditation is a set of techniques that involve focusing the attention on a particular object, thought or activity with a view to achieving heightened awareness and a sense of clarity, peace and stability. Examples include seated practices such as breathing exercises, visualisations, body scans and sound baths where instruments are used to focus the mind. Others involve movement, for example yoga, tai chi and mindful walking.

A mindful walking meditation is typically done in a small space and is taken at a slow, careful pace. You might choose to walk up and down your back garden (or in square shapes depending on the layout of your plot) or back and forth along your hallway. Anywhere where you can fit in around 10-15 paces and which is relatively peaceful so you won’t be easily disturbed. You can walk barefoot or wearing light shoes. Once you’ve decided upon your walking space, you bring your complete attention and awareness to the process of walking:

  • Start by bringing your attention to your feet. Notice any sensations there before you begin.
  • Take slow, small and intentional steps.
  • Have your hands clasped behind your back, by your sides or swinging gently – do whatever feels most comfortable for you.
  • Focus on each and every part of your step – the lifting of your foot, moving the foot forward, the placing of the heel on the ground followed my the rest of the sole and then placing your weight on it ready to move your other foot.
  • At the end of your path, pause briefly before intentionally making a 90˚ or 180˚ turn.
  • As you walk, you can focus your attention on one particular aspect of your walking e.g. your breath as it comes in and out of your body, the movement of your feet or legs, the contact of your feet on the ground, the balance of your body as it moves.
  • If your mind starts to wander, notice what has happened and then kindly and gently bring you focus back to your walking.
  • You can also incorporate a mental mantra to help you maintain focus. I like this one: Breathing in: ‘In the here’. Breathing out: ‘In the now’.
  • There isn’t a set length of time you should do your walking meditation for but around 10 minutes should be enough time to reap the benefits.

If practised consistently, walking meditations are excellent for your wellbeing. They can help to reduce anxiety and depression, improve sleep, increase blood circulation, aid digestion, improve balance and even boost creativity.

Walking mindfully

If you’re off out for a longer walk somewhere, maybe around your local park, through woodland or forest, or even just for a wander around your local neighbourhood, you can still practise mindfulness techniques but in a slightly more relaxed way than the above meditation.

Defined as ‘a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations…’ (Oxford Dictionaries), the practice of mindfulness has so many benefits including:

  • improved awareness of the world around us
  • an ability to find joy in the present moment
  • better appreciation of what we have
  • feeling calmer and happier
  • more compassionate towards ourselves
  • developing a more positive mindset
  • better able to deal with difficult and unhelpful thoughts
  • a higher level of self awareness

The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Here are some wonderful ways of combining mindfulness and walking:

Checking in with your body As you embark on your walk, try spending some time exploring what’s going on for your body right now. Is it feeling stiff? Do you have any tightness or tense areas in your muscles? Are you standing upright with an open chest or are you a little slouched? Are your feet ready for a little exercise or are they already aching from a previous walk? Try to approach this in a non-judgemental way, for example if your back feels a little sore, just accept that this is the case rather than labelling it as bad and berating yourself for slouching whilst you were working at your desk.

Observing the act of walking Just like in the walking meditation, you might spend a few minutes getting curious about how you’re moving and what happens with your feet as you take those first steps. This could include thinking about which part of your foot makes contact with the ground first, how you distribute your body weight as you walk, what you do with your arms as you walk e.g. are they stuffed in your pockets or swinging gently by your sides. Do any tense areas of your body seem to ease as you walk? etc. Again, try to avoid judging your walking technique or labelling any sensations in your body as bad.

Adopting the beginner’s mind A key element of mindfulness is having what is known as a beginner’s mind. With this approach, you let go of any previously held ideas or preconceptions about what you might experience and become open to whatever happens, seeing things with a fresh pair of eyes. So, for example, on my walk in the park this morning, I could have thought about it being the same old park, with the same old water and the same old trees and bushes. Instead, I really engaged with the experience, noticing a cute baby rabbit munching on the grass, a squirrel leaping onto a tree with fright as I approached, the freshly painted benches, pairs of mallards hanging out together near the pond and a tree covered in pretty white blossom. In this way, the same walk can be very different each time and bring new joys and experiences.

Acceptance Another aspect of mindfulness is acceptance and seeing things as they really are, rather than trying to change things. This too can be applied to our walks. If, for example, you are out for a walk and the weather changes and it starts to rain, the temptation might be to grumble, hunch your shoulders, speed up your pace and try to get to somewhere warm and dry. Alternatively, you could accept the weather for what it is, observing the change of the light, the colours of the sky, the sounds of the rain on the ground or on your umbrella or coat, and maybe even enjoy the experience of the cool water on your skin or the droplets as they form of the end of your nose.

Use your senses As you walk, really tune in to the experience using your sense of touch, sound, sight, smell and even taste. So, for example, during a walk along the beach you might explore how the sand feels beneath your bare feet or what happens when your shoe takes a step. You might really listen to the sound of the waves crashing or watch the sun glinting on the water. You could savour the flavour of a cool ice cream or recognise how you can also taste the salty seaweed strewn all around. The alarming cries of gulls might take you by surprise but then fade into the background as you hear a couple of children giggling as they create a giant sandcastle. You might roll up your trousers ready for a dip in the freezing cold sea and let out a little squeal as the tide washes over your feet. Wherever you go on your walk, there are so many different experiences to be had and if you take the time to appreciate them all, I can almost guarantee that there’s lots of fun to be had as you explore. A great way to ensure you make the most of your time is to tap into a child-like sense of curiosity and wonder – explore and appreciate all of the little things no matter now many times you’ve seen or experienced them before – pick up a shell or a feather and look at all of the intricate patterns on it, watch the babbling brook, focusing in on how it travels over the pebbles and rocks and trying to spot any birds visiting the water.

Appreciating the different seasons It’s Spring at the moment in the UK and the perfect time to look out for signs of the season. From March, you might see snowdrops, catkins dangling from the trees, leaf buds forming, toads making their journey to the pond, pretty scented blossom and newborn lambs. You might hear pattering rain, the wind gusting through the trees, birds singing, sheep bleating, buzzing bees or the quiet tinkling of a stream. In Summer, you can look out for trees in full leaf creating a canopy over the woodland floor, the bright sunshine peeping through the gaps, meadow flowers such as buttercups, yarrow, cornflowers and poppies laced with pretty butterflies and ladybirds. Even on a walk around your local area, there’s so much to experience – the faint sound of a lawn mower or the smell of freshly cut grass, the cooing of wood pigeons, fledglings learning to fly a robin singing in a tree, the high pitched screech of swifts soaring in the sky or something rustling in a neighbourhood front garden. There are yet more experiences to be had in Autumn and Winter, and as long as you dress appropriately for the weather, any time is a good time for a nice, refreshing walk. At different times of year, consider the position of The Sun at different times of day, the effect the weather has on rivers and streams – sometimes almost flooding the banks, bursting and gushing with water, yet at other times almost dry and how the earth changes from being dried and cracked in the Summertime to soggy, leaf filled and musty smelling in the Autumn.

Reflection At the end of your walk, either pausing on a bench, in the car or when you get back home, try taking the time to reflect on the experience, bringing to mind everything that you noticed and all of the different experiences you had. You might also want to think about how you feel – perhaps more relaxed, energised or ready for a nice sit down to rest your weary feet.

Final words…

During the lockdown period, many of us have found ourselves going for walks more often, developing a love of the great outdoors and appreciating the benefits it brings to the mind, body and soul. We’re now seeing other leisure opportunities opening back up such as non-essential retail, cafes, bars and restaurants, and although it’s nice to have access to these, nothing beats some time out in the fresh air connecting with nature. Any brisk walk is good for your physical health but add mindfulness into the mix and your mental health can benefit in so many ways too.

Posted in compassion, mental health

Monday Matters: 7 ways you can offer support to someone with a mental illness

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

I’m really lucky to have a very supportive husband who does everything he can to help when I’m struggling with my mental health. He seems to know exactly what to do and what to say and, although he will admit that life is hard for him too when I’m going through a period of difficulty (albeit only saying this when I’m feeling well again) he works tirelessly to look after me and make things easier, whilst at the same time, maintaining a busy full time job. With this is mind and knowing that most of us will have a partner, friend, family member or colleague who has mental health issues at some point, here are 7 ways that you can offer much needed support.

Ask ‘How are you? Twice.

Most of us will be able to sense if someone we know is having difficulties. They may seem a little quiet, look washed out or just not quite their usual self. The ‘Ask twice’ campaign recognises that most of us, when asked ‘How are you?’ tend to offer up the standard response of ‘I’m fine’ or ‘I’m okay’, even when we’re really not. Asking a second time can make all the difference as it can let the person know that you’re really interested in their welfare. It’s up to them whether or not they choose to open up to you, but at least you’ve let them know that you are there if they need you.

Make time to listen

Before you make the effort to ask someone if they’re really okay, it’s a good idea to think carefully about when is a good time for a mental health and wellbeing conversation. If they do choose to open up, it’s important that you both have a lengthy window for a chat and an appropriate space to too. Picking a quiet place with no distractions shows that you are seriously interested in what they have to say and also helps the person know that they won’t be overheard by others.

Remember, some people may never have spoken about their mental health before so might be worried about opening up and sharing how they feel. Others, like me, may have shared their thoughts and feelings with a variety of people including therapists and doctors. They may also have already received a diagnosis from a health professional. In this case, they may just need a listening ear, some reassurance or even a hug (according to my reading, a cautious cuddle is possible from 17th May when this post goes live!). In making a judgement about what the individual needs good listening skills are essential. Some basics include:

  • be patient and listen really carefully – lots of eye contact, supportive gestures such as a nod or supportive words such as ‘take your time’.
  • avoid second guessing – try not to jump in too quickly or make assumptions about what the person is saying
  • offer phrases which validate what the person is saying e.g. ‘that must be really hard’ rather than offering advice or solutions – don’t try to fix them!
  • avoid phrases which dismiss the person’s feelings or suggest that they can easily change how they feel e.g. don’t say things like ‘you’ll be fine’, ‘I know how you feel’, ‘everyone feels this way’, ‘it could be worse’ or ‘cheer up’.
  • use open ended questions e.g. ‘is there something I can do to help?’ ‘are there any signs I can look out for which might tell me you’re struggling?’
  • paraphrase – repeat back what they’ve said in similar words so you can check you understand fully
  • offer them reassurance – remind them that they have the strength to get through this, they have a support network to help them and that thing are going to be okay.

Read up on the person’s particular health condition

Everyone’s experience of mental health difficulties are different but there are some common symptoms to look out for and read up on. There’s lots of information available online and good places to start include the NHS Website and Mind. For specific conditions, you can also check out dedicated websites such as Anxiety UK, Bipolar UK, PTSD UK and ADHD UK. You might want to find out for yourself or you might want to share these resources with the individual so they can learn more about their diagnosis or discover self help strategies. There are also online communities which enable both of you to ‘meet’ others to share experiences, stories and tips for managing particular conditions.

Offer practical help

With some mental health conditions, day-to-day living becomes really difficult. Offering support such as getting shopping, making a nutritious meal, giving them a lift to a medical appointment or doing a household chore for them can be a big help. Other support you could offer includes working with them to make a list of things to share with the doctor (or questions to ask), reading literature about mental health conditions either in booklets or online and helping them to make notes, developing a bank of self help strategies to try.

Regularly check in with them

After the initial chat with the person, make sure it doesn’t end there. Someone who is depressed, anxious or struggling in some other way is very likely to withdraw from social contact with friends and family, but this kind of isolation can make things worse. Checking in with them regularly and occasionally suggesting short, one-to-one get togethers such as a quick coffee or a brief walk around a local park reminds them that you care and are still thinking about them. They might turn down the face-to-face contact if they’re feeling really bad but at least they will know that you’re there.

Even if you don’t see the person regularly, you can still show them you’re thinking about them by sending regular texts asking them how they’re doing or inviting them for coffee, a walk in the park or something similar. You might only get a few lines back or sometimes no reply at all but remember that your words are being read and are helpful.

Support them in getting further help

Depending on where the person is in their mental health journey, this might be offering to go with them when they visit their GP, looking into different treatment options or going online to find out more about a particular condition and self help strategies which are recommended. You could even offer to do something together which might help, such as going for regular walks in the sunshine, attending yoga classes or going to a support group.

Don’t forget to look after yourself too

Listening to and supporting someone who has a mental health difficulty can be challenging and at times very draining. You may find yourself getting upset or struggle to cope with seeing someone you love having such a tough time. If you live with the person, you might also be taking on the majority of or all household activities and chores such as cooking, cleaning, tidying and child care. In order to look after someone else as much as you can, it’s really important to find some time to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally. If you are adopting the role of caregiver when the person is unwell, you’re likely to need to have regular breaks where you spend some time alone or with others. And remember to set some boundaries between yourself and the person you’re looking after so that as well as having some space, they’re reminded that you have personal needs and limits too.

Final words

I really hope you’ve found today’s post useful. Figures suggest that about 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems every year and the lockdown restrictions which have been in place during 2020 and 2021 have made things particularly difficult for a lot of us. Therefore, it’s likely that at least one of your immediate family, close friends or colleagues may be finding things hard right now and could benefit from your help and support.