Posted in lifestyle, mental health, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel of Wellness – Emotional

This week, as part of my series on the Wheel of Wellness, I’ll be covering the emotional segment. This section of the wheel is all about your feelings and includes how well you are able to identify, manage and engage with your emotions and how successfully you can deal with any emotional challenges which arise from time to time.

In the Oxford Dictionary online, emotion is defined in two ways:

  1. a strong feeling derived from one’s circumstances, mood or relationships with others.
  2. instinctive or intuitive feeling as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge.

Assessing your emotional wellness

The following are some signs of good emotional wellbeing that you can use to assess your current health in the area.

  • you feel good about yourself and who you are
  • you have feelings of contentment most of the time
  • you treat others well, showing them compassion and understanding (if you do this, you are most likely to treat yourself well, if you are critical of others, you will likely have a tendency to be harsh and critical towards yourself)
  • you feel you have a good support network e.g. you have friends / family or colleagues that you are able to open up to and a sense that there are people in your life who care about you
  • you are able to rest and relax (including being able to wind down for good sleep)
  • you are able to assert yourself, recognising that your opinions are valid and being able to say no when you need to without feeling guilty
  • you consider yourself to be someone who manage stress well
  • awareness of the main signs of poor emotional health – anger (which presents itself in various ways, including irritability, short temper, being argumentative), feeling hopeless (feeling low / depressed, helpless, worthless, seeing small things as ‘the end of the World’, not being able to see things are capable of change etc), losing interest in activities you used to enjoy, becoming socially distant, poor levels of productivity, blaming others for your mistakes and failings and repeatedly having trouble in relationships (friends, family and romantic partners)
  • flexibility – you are able to change and adapt well to different circumstances
  • you are able to name and embrace all of your emotions (such as sadness, anger, joy, fear, excitement etc) as a natural part of who you are (rather than suppressing or ignoring them
  • you lead a purposeful life (do you feel that you use your strengths to your advantage to make a difference?) (see my post on Occupational wellness for more on this)
  • you are grateful for many things in your life (particularly for people and situations in your life rather than just your possessions)
  • you value your experiences more than you value your possessions
  • you regularly engage in self-care activities such as doing activities which make you happy, using breathing techniques to help you stay calm or calm yourself when anxious, practising mindfulness, journalling about how you are feeling, showing yourself plenty of compassion, developing a regular meditation practice, scheduling ‘me time’ into your day, do something altruistic and explore how you feel as a result.

Some ideas for improving your emotional health

  1. Make sure you’ve got the basics right – eat healthily with occasional treats, get enough quality sleep, move your body on a daily basis and use vices in moderation (e.g. alcohol, social media, junk food etc). If you think you need to make changes in one or more of these areas, try setting yourself small, achievable targets and celebrate all of your achievements.
  2. Try CBT. If you think you need to learn more about your emotions and how they affect you, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) is really beneficial for many people. There are plenty of books on the subject but it’s best if you work through your particular issues with a trained therapist.
  3. Make use of self help resources. A book that I’m currently reading which I’m finding super useful is ‘Why has Nobody Told Me This Before’ by Dr Julie Smith. I spend around half an hour reading each morning after breakfast and I always have a Mildliner highlighter pen at hand to mark up anything which especially resonates with me. The website https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/ has lots of resources which might prove to be useful too.
  4. Develop a daily reflective journalling habit – spending 5 or 10 minutes each evening recording how you feel your day went is a great way to record events and interactions with others and explore how they affected you emotionally. When you’ve finished writing, spend a few minutes considering what you wrote thinking about the decisions you made, whether the experience was positive or negative, what you can learn from what happened and what you might do differently next time.
  5. Become familiar with ‘Unhelpful thinking styles’ and use them to identify and rationalise particular thoughts you have. Type the above phrase into Google or YouTube to learn about them and consider which particularly resonate with you. Once you know about them, you’ll start to recognise them cropping up in your day-to-day life. You can then begin to challenge them and create more helpful alternatives (a trusted friend or therapist can help with this too).
  6. Be realistic when you’re not feeling 100% – There will be certain times of the year when you’re not feeling quite yourself, maybe you’re feeling under the weather, perhaps you’re stressed out at work or you’re planning an event or holiday which is taking up lots of your time and making you feel super busy. Or, like me, you might have a mood disorder which causes you periods of difficulty. Whatever the cause, it’s important to look after yourself during these times (ramp up the self care and self compassion) and definitely lower the expectations you place on yourself. Also, don’t be afraid to say no if you feel like something will be too much for you right now.
  7. Start a self-care routine for your emotions – this could include meditation, mindful movements or stillness, yoga, Pilates, stretches or different breathing exercises to calm your body and your mind. If you keep a bullet journal like me, a great idea is to create a page of self-care ideas (with pictures/doodles if you want) as a reminder of all of the things you can try.
  8. Remember some things are outside of your control – there are many things in life that happen to you which you can’t change e.g. the loss of a loved one, a global pandemic, a health diagnosis etc, but we can choose how we respond to those circumstances, e.g. by being kind, self-compassionate, hopeful and accepting.
  9. Reach out – if you’re feeling lonely, down or isolated, seek out supportive family members, friends, colleagues, online or in person support groups to let people know that you are struggling. Also, try to find out what is going on in your local community so you can seek out social connections. If the thought of social interactions makes you feel anxious right now, try to choose one of the options that feels easiest such as inviting a friend over for coffee or chatting to someone via text message or on the phone.
  10. Set clear boundaries and learn to say no. If you say yes to things that you really don’t feel like doing or you don’t have time for, it can lead to feelings of anger, resentment or overwhelm. In her book which I mentioned above, she explains about ‘people pleasing’ “We say yes when actually what we want and need is to say no. We feel resentful of being taken advantage of but unable to change it by asking for anything different. On the other hand, having clear boundaries makes you feel in control and is a way of showing yourself respect. Being assertive can be difficult for some of us, especially during periods of mental illness, so it’s a good idea to develop your skills when your mood is stable. Only say yes to what matters to you the most such as a get together with close family and friends, learning opportunities or new challenges at work which will further develop your skills or increase your knowledge (but not too far from your comfort zone!). There’s a wealth of information online about assertiveness (some better than others) so if you need help in this area or want to know more about what it means to be assertive, try checking out NHS resources such as this one which includes a very useful download, worksheets and information on www.getselfhelp.co.uk and this article from lifehack.org. Again, qualified CBT therapists can help with assertiveness too.
  11. Read up on emotional resilience – emotional resilience is the ability to adapt to stressful situations and cope with life’s ups and downs. You can learn about it and develop the associated skills in books, online, with a therapist or through doing a course at a local recovery college like I did.
  12. Go outside – studies have shown that being in nature has powerful effects on our mind, body and soul. There’s lots of ways to fit in some time outdoors including taking a walk in your lunchbreak, enjoying your morning coffee in the garden or wandering through your local park or woodland at the end of a busy day.

Final words…

Thank you for taking the time to read today’s blog post. I hope you have found it useful and are thinking about trying some of the ideas I mentioned. Let me know in the comments if you think your emotional health is quite strong or if you feel it’s an area you need to work on. As always, if you have any questions or anything to add, please do get in touch.

Posted in depression management, Health and Nutrition, mental health, self care, wellbeing

Monday Matters: Why Exercise is Good for your Mental Health

We all know exercise is important for maintaining physical health but working out is also extremely beneficial for your mental health. As someone who regularly struggles with depression, I have a really good understanding of how important exercise is to help me manage my symptoms. In today’s Monday Matters, I thought I would discuss some of the reasons why regular exercise is so great for your mental wellbeing.

Boosts your mood

An energetic workout such as a brisk walk, a dance class or cardio at the gym releases endorphins AKA the feel good hormones into the body. These chemicals help to boost your happiness levels and can be great for alleviating anxiety and depression and any physical aches and pains you might have. Exercise also gives us something positive to focus on and can be a useful distraction from negative and anxious thoughts during periods of difficulty.

Increases energy levels

You might think that exercise will wear you out and make you feel tired, but the reverse is actually true. According to my research, moderate exercise helps to increase the level of mitochondria cells, which are directly responsible for producing energy. Also, a good workout boosts the circulation of oxygen in your body which makes you feel energised. Although you may feel worn out at the end of your exercise session, a few hours later, your energy levels should have picked back up, leaving you refreshed and invigorated for the rest of the day.

Fatigue is a common symptom of depression so by getting some exercise each day, even if it’s just a short walk or ten minutes of housework, you can combat the constant feeling of tiredness.

Promotes better quality sleep

As well as increasing your energy levels, exercise also helps to improve the quality of your sleep. You should find that you fall asleep more quickly and get more minutes of deep sleep, leaving you feeling refresh in the morning. It should be noted, however that you should avoid exercising for at least a couple of hours before bed as the production of those endorphins I mentioned earlier will leave you feeling buzzing, unable to switch off and struggling to sleep.

Improves self esteem

Self esteem is all about our perception of ourselves and how much value we place on our personal characteristics and qualities. Low self esteem can have a negative impact on our emotional wellbeing causing feelings of worthlessness and lack of self love. Exercise has been shown to have a really positive impact on our self esteem. As well as helping to put us in a more positive frame of mind which can make us feel better about ourselves, regular exercise can also boost our self esteem by:

  • improving our body image
  • helping us to feel more physically competent as we become stronger and more flexible
  • giving us a huge sense of achievement as we create new habits and stick to them
  • encouraging you to build friendships with others who are on a similar fitness journey or enjoy the same kinds of exercise
  • helping us to feel more healthy as we observe the effects on our body and mind

Can combat social withdrawal and isolation

Mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression and schizophrenia can make us feel very lonely and cause us to withdraw from social situations such as talking and meeting with friends, going shopping, family get togethers etc. Even if you are struggling a little at the moment and don’t particularly feel like socialising, pushing yourself to take a walk in your local park where others are exercising or going to the gym when it is relatively quiet can help you feel a part of the community. Joining a class with other likeminded individuals can help combat feelings of isolation. I’ve attended a few yoga classes recently and although I felt really nervous about going, I met some really lovely people and felt super proud of myself for making conversation both with class attendees and the instructors.

Improves cognitive function

Cardio workouts i.e. those which raise our heart rate and get us sweating help to improve the function of the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain which processes and retrieves different kinds of memories. Moderate-intensity exercise can also boost other aspects of cognitive processing including thinking, problem solving, attention, language and learning. This can help us feel better about ourselves and increase our self confidence. Studies have also shown that regular exercise can also help to combat the cognitive decline associated with ageing.

Stress busting

Regular aerobic exercise has been found to be really effective at reducing stress levels. The production of endorphins in the brain can decrease tension, elevate your mood and generally make you feel good. Also, exercise that involves deep breathing, such as yoga and Pilates, can help you to relax by producing calming energy.

Feeling the benefits of being fully present

Certain types of exercise encourage you to be mindful by paying attention to the quality of your movements or holding poses. Yoga and Pilates may not get your pulse racing and endorphins flowing, but, as well as being great for improving strength, muscle tone and flexibility, the level of concentration required takes the focus away from your low mood, stresses or worries about your current circumstances and negative self talk associated with anxiety or depression. As one of my yoga teachers once said, you’re enjoying the benefits of a mini mind break or a mental holiday.

Ways to get active every day

There are so many great ways to increase the amount of physical activity you do each week. In order to stay motivated, it’s best if you choose things you enjoy and which easily fit into your daily life. Here’s some suggestions:

  • Be active around the house and in the garden by doing moderate exercise such as washing the car, cleaning the windows, doing some digging, mowing the lawn or vacuuming every room.
  • Arrange a fun weekly class to attend with a family member or friend. Popular choices include clubbercise, spinning (indoor cycling, often done to loud dance music), bums and tums and body pump.
  • Enjoy a weekend woodland walk, immersing yourself in the environment and forgetting about life’s stresses and strains.
  • Dust off your bike and head to a country park for a spot of cycling. Safer than riding on the roads or pavements and the paths often include some inclines to really work your legs!
  • If you’ve just got 10 or 20 minutes, try an online workout. There are plenty of short fitness videos on YouTube and you can choose which part of your body you want to work on such as legs, glutes, arms or tummy.
  • Try Nordic walking which involves using a pair of walking poles. Not only do your legs get a good workout, you will also be using your arms and engaging your core.
  • Join your local gym and ask a personal trainer to help you create a workout to suit your current fitness levels and target specific parts of your body you’d like to tone.
  • Put some fast tempo music on whilst you do a spot of dusting and dance your way around the furniture and various rooms.
  • Get off the train or bus a stop early and walk the rest of the way.
  • Search for local walks and hikes online and and pick one out each weekend to go on with your partner or a friend.
  • If you have kids or grandkids, encourage them to be active and spend time as a family doing something sporty such as having a kick about, taking some netball or basketball shots, riding a bike, playing frisbee or having a game of tennis in a nearby park. You could even pack a nutritious picnic for when you’re done!
  • Walk or cycle instead of taking the car.
  • Go for a swim – it’s a great full body workout, low impact and easy on your joints. Or, if you like being in the pool, but, like me, you’re not so good at swimming, try an aqua aerobics class.

N.B. Please bear in mind that the above are examples of ways in which you might get yourself moving and begin to enjoy the many benefits of exercise. I am in no way an expert on exercise and it’s best to consult with your doctor prior to beginning any exercise programme or upping your physical activity levels, especially if you have not exercised for some time or if you have a particular medical condition or concerns.

Final words…

Regular exercise can be quite costly if you join a gym and attend classes regularly. However, there are many inexpensive or free exercise options if you are on a tight budget. I’m currently signed up to a programme which gives me free access to my local gym and wellness centre for 12 weeks and I’m making the most of it by regularly working out at the gym and also trying out some of the classes which are available.

It might be a good idea to do some research online to see if there are any special deals or programmes on offer in your local community, Or, you could find out if there’s a recovery college nearby which might have some physical activity based courses to become involved in to help you manage mental health difficulties such as depression and anxiety. Walking is also a free or inexpensive way of getting moving and if you are hoping to socialise with others, many towns and cities have local walking groups available to people of all levels of fitness.