Posted in compassion, lifestyle, meditation, mental health, Mindfulness, self care, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel Of Wellness – Spiritual

This week, in my series on The Wheel Of Wellness, I’ll be looking at the Spiritual segment. This section, which is the last to be covered, is all about finding life’s meaning and purpose whilst developing understanding of your personal values, beliefs and morals and using these to guide your actions and inform your way of living. Spiritual wellness does not necessarily involve being a deeply religious person or believing in the supernatural, rather, it is related to the human spirit or soul, as opposed to material or physical things.

A focus on spirituality involves learning to be more self-aware and recognising our existence in time and space. It’s also about becoming more familiar with our personal beliefs and values and how they affect the way we live and what we see as our purpose in life.

We all have a spirit within us which is constantly guiding us, looking after us and showing us the way to go. When we start to tune in to and listen to our inner voice, we’re using our spirit, and this is what can help us to lead a life in keeping with our wants, desires and passions. Connecting with our spiritual side can also help us to feel happier and healthier which I’m sure is something we all want.

Ways in which you can connect to your spiritual self

There are a number of ways in which you can really tune in to your spirit and think about what you really want for yourself and your life.

Quieten the mind – meditation is a great practice to develop but other mindful practices include writing in a daily journal, doing relaxing breathing exercises, taking a walk in nature, doing a meditative activity such as drawing, painting or colouring in, stretching exercises such as yoga, Pilates or mindful movements and praying.

Practise gratitude – identify a number of positives in your life each day, expressing and reflecting on them

Take a Mindful approach – focusing your awareness on the present moment, whilst calmly acknowledging and accepting your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations is at the core of mindfulness as is a great way of becoming more in tune with your spiritual side.

Consider your personal values – values identify what is important to you in your life and how you wish to interact with the world. When your actions align with your core values you will immediately start to feel more content, fulfilled and satisfied. To help you do this, I’ve created a Pinterest board full of links to core values lists and related activities – try scanning the pages to see what resonates with you. You’ll see so many different ideas and the ones which you choose to add to your personal list will influence your decisions and life choices in many ways including:

  • your job or career path
  • your hobbies and pastimes
  • where you live
  • how you manage your money
  • your friendships, romantic partners and relationships
  • where you shop
  • compromises we are willing to make
  • how we parent our children
  • the ways in which we treat ourselves (both good and bad)

Whilst I was researching this blog post, I came across lots of worksheets, workbooks and exercises to try which focused on your values. One of these invited you to split your values into ‘Valuing myself’, ‘Valuing my relationships’ and ‘Valuing my work’. I had a quick go at this below but added ‘my life’ to the first category:

Valuing myself and my life

compassion, creativity, enthusiasm, open-mindedness, acceptance (self and others), creativity, happiness, health (emotional, physical and mental), learning, intelligence resilience, fun, wellbeing, respect for animals

Valuing my relationships

loyalty, thoughtfulness, love, playfulness, understanding, usefulness and humour

Valuing my work

contribution, commitment, professionalism, achievement, work/life balance

Spend time reflecting on your beliefs – these may have a religious focus or might be related to your core values. Examples of non-religious beliefs could be:

  • family comes first
  • we must take care of our planet
  • honesty is the best policy
  • everything happens for a reason
  • work/life balance is a priority
  • I should always try my best
  • community service is a central part of life
  • the different phases of the moon have particular influences on my life
  • breaking a mirror gives you seven years bad luck

Think about your dreams – not the ones you had in bed over the past few weeks, but your deepest desires and wishes. As part of this, you could do some journalling or have a go at creating a vision board. Afterwards, you might spend time reflecting on small but positive life changes that you could make right now to help you work towards these dreams.

Final thoughts…

Cultivating spirituality has many benefits for your physical and mental health and wellbeing. Getting to know your true self can help you begin to live in alignment with your core values and beliefs which is fundamental for a long and happy life. Psychologically, spiritual practices can develop your understanding of your inner self, leading to a greater sense of purpose. They can help you to think positively and clearly, lower your risk of stress, anxiety and depression and generally give you a better outlook on life. Physically, being more connected to your spiritual side can improve your immune system, help you to fight off illnesses, lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. It can also help you to make better choices in terms of diet and find other ways of looking after your body and your mind, for example by exercising regularly and finding time to relax. The peace and calmness we invite into our lives can also help us to get a restful night’s sleep.

I hope you have found today’s post useful and have enjoyed learning about The Wheel Of Wellness over the last few months. I would love to hear about your hopes, dreams and ambitions for the future and the ways in which you think you can bring these into fruition. In keeping with having an open mind, I’m currently learning about the magic of using the phases of the moon as a tool to develop self-awareness, self-care, nourishment and empowerment to live with purpose and to manifest my deepest wants and desires for life. You’ll see in my next blog post, in which I share my October bullet journal spreads, that this has inspired my theme for next month and provided me with lots of ideas.

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Posted in Bipolar disorder, depression, depression management, lifestyle, mental health, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel Of Wellness – Occupational

For today’s blog post on The Wheel Of Wellness I’ll be focusing on the Occupational segment. This section is all about finding meaningful ways to occupy your time whether that be doing a job you enjoy and get personal satisfaction from, volunteering your time and services for a particular cause such as a charity, helping the community in some way (either in person or online), raising a family or simply being a good partner / friend / mum or dad / sibling / pet owner etc.

When we think of the term ‘occupation’, our thoughts tend to turn to our job or the way we earn a living. However, some of us, myself included, are currently classed as unemployed (for whatever reason), in education, or are retired, but we still occupy our time in a number of useful ways. So, throughout today’s article, I’ll be talking about occupation in the broadest sense i.e. as a way of spending time, particularly in a manner that is useful for ourselves, our family and friends or our wider community.

Occupational wellness

To maintain occupational wellness, it’s important to consider how what we do impacts on our general health – both physically and mentally. Does your work leave you feeling good about yourself and as though you’re really making a difference or do you dread each and every week, feel constantly exhausted, dissatisfied and undervalued? If you volunteer your time for a good cause, does your line manager thank you regularly and encourage you to recognise the impact you’re are having both on yourself and the organisation or do you feel unappreciated and as though it is a struggle to think of the benefits? If, like me, you’re a blogger, do you get a buzz when someone likes your post, follows you or leaves a nice comment or do you feel like you invest too much time on your writing and have lost your spark? For those of you who are retired, have you adjusted to your circumstances, and are you happy with how you structure your days, or do you feel like you would benefit from making changes which support both your physical and mental health? Whatever you current situation, do you feel well motivated, happy and purposeful or is there room for improvement in this area of your wellness?

My own experience of occupational wellbeing (and lack of)

(N.B. these paragraphs may be triggering for individuals who are currently struggling with their mood in some way or have a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder)

Before my diagnosis of Bipolar disorder, when I was teaching, there were periods of time in my work when I felt on top of the world, superior to most of my colleagues and as though I was making such a difference to the pupils and the school as a whole that I was a complete asset. At other times, I felt demotivated, dreaded each week, struggled to get out of bed and get things done and found my work-life completely unbalanced and unmanageable – drowning both at home and at work. For the rest of the time, I was satisfied with the way my career was going, felt I was becoming better and better at my job and was, along with most of my colleagues making a real difference. I also felt that I was able to manage my workload and had the ability to say ‘no’ when necessary. The swings in mood I was experiencing were exacerbated by occupational / work-related stress but were also heavily affected by a mental health condition that I was unaware I had.

At the time, during a period of severe depression, I was convinced the solution was to give up my job and career and that following handing in my notice, everything would be perfect. I was devastated that this was the answer as I’d wanted to be a primary school teacher from my early childhood but, I was making myself ill and it just couldn’t continue. However, I soon realised that although some aspects of my situation had improved (less stress, better work-life balance, more time for self care for example), my mood swings (although not as severe) continued and I had highs, extreme lows and periods of balance. When I was stable, I would set goals for myself and filled my time in productive ways. I would wake up feeling good and ready to get on with things. When I was depressed, I completely lost my confidence, had extreme anxiety and felt like I was a waste of space and no use to anyone. When I was high (shortly after a depressive episode), I slept very little, was brimming with ideas for what I wanted to do and achieve, flitted from project to project often leaving them half unfinished, spent money on all sorts of items as everything looked attractive and definitely on my want/need list and basically felt like I could take on the world. This eventually caused burn out and resulted in another bout of depression or physical unwellness.

Fast forward a good few years and, although I still have mental health difficulties, a correct diagnosis, medication for my illness, a range of therapies and help from my support worker have put me in a much better place and I’m currently able to manage my moods more easily and occupy my days in useful ways that leave me satisfied and feeling like I’m making a difference (however small). I’m also able to add in mindful and calming activities into my day and can recognise when I need to take breaks and when I might be doing too much.

As some of you who read my blog posts regularly will know, I’m continually working on my physical and mental health in a number of effective ways and I even have paid work lined up with my local university for next month which will make full use of my skillset whilst offering me the opportunity to take a break during any future periods of mental ill health. I also have the chance to work and socialise with other individuals who have physical and/or mental health difficulties so I will feel less alone. For the first time since I resigned from teaching, I feel like my occupational wellness is getting to where it should be.

Asking yourself questions to consider your occupational wellness

I think it’s really important to reflect on the different aspects of your life regularly and consider how things are going. Asking questions can be hugely beneficial. Of course, the assessment questions you ask yourself will differ depending on your current life situation but below I’ve shared some examples which you can pick and choose from depending which are most relevant. You might want to spend some time thinking and considering your answers but another good idea is to make notes or do some journalling so you can deep dive into how things are for you, and evaluate if your needs are being met. This kind of activity is great for self care and building self awareness.

Again, I’ve tried my best to include everyone here but I apologise in advance if you feel like most or all of the questions aren’t relevant to you. If this is the case, you are more than welcome to drop a comment explaining why and I’ll rack my brains and see if I can create a few tailor made question ideas.

  • How would you rate your current happiness and life satisfaction? Why?
  • What is it about your current role or the way you occupy your time that makes you want to get up in the morning?
  • What does an average week / work week look like to you? Does this support your physical and mental health? Why? Why not?
  • Do you feel like your current employment / routine offers opportunities to expand your skills and use your strengths? Why? Why not?
  • If you are a student, do your chosen subjects interest you and are you learning well? Does your degree choice suit you and are you getting the help and support you need to learn? Are you able to study independently? Have you found the right balance between studying and enjoying life?
  • What are your career / life aspirations?
  • What do you feel is important in your life right now? Does your occupation / lifestyle reflect this? If there are areas for improvement, what changes do you think you could make?
  • Do you feel that you’re currently achieving balance between your work and leisure time? Are there any ways you could tweak things?
  • What opportunities do you currently have to use your individual gifts, skills and talents (try making a list of them first if you’re unsure what they are) in order to gain purpose, happiness and enrichment in your life?
  • Does how you currently occupy your time support your physical health? Why? Why not?
  • Does how you currently occupy your time support your mental health? Why? Why not?
  • Can you identify one change you could make to your life right now that would have a positive impact on your physical or mental health? (this could be asking for help rather than taking on all of the responsibility yourself, or simple putting your foot down and saying no!)
  • Social connection is considered important for wellbeing (even during periods of low mood). Can you name the ways you connect with others on a regular basis? Do these connections help or hinder your mental health? Are there any changes you’d like to make in this area to improve your wellbeing? Do you shy away from social situations during periods of depression / anxiety or low mood? Can you think of ways to remain socially connected that seem management during difficult times?
  • How do you manage your work related / family stress and responsibilities? If you struggle in this area, can you think of ways to improve?
  • What’s your current attitude towards life / work? Does this support your health or not? Why?

What about if I’m struggling with depression right now and feel pretty useless?

As someone with bipolar disorder, I have plenty of experience of depressive episodes and recognise the daily struggles. However, what I’ve learnt is that, if you feel like you’ve achieved nothing with your day, it tends to make you feel much worse. For this reason, creating a structure or plan for your time can really help. This might include going to your local recovery college to learn something new, identifying small and achievable tasks to do on each day of the week or planning activities which you know (either now or in the past) have given you a little mood boost such as going for a walk in nature, meeting a friend for coffee or doing something mindful such as colouring in, working on a jigsaw or doing some word puzzles. Then, by bedtime, you can celebrate all of your achievements no matter how tiny they are. And don’t forget, even something like getting out of bed and getting dressed shouldn’t be dismissed! Check out my post on Behavioural Activation if you want more help with making a daily plan.

Final words…

I hope you’ve found today’s blog post interesting or helpful in some way and it has made you think about your occupational wellbeing. I’ve tried to include something for everyone no matter what your current situation as I know my readers are all individual and at different stages of their lives. Let me know in the comments if a question or idea has particularly resonated with you as I love to hear the opinions and thoughts of others.

Until next time, take care.

Posted in depression management, mental health, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: The Wheel Of Wellness – Environmental

Today as part of my Wheel Of Wellness series, I’ll be looking at the environmental segment. Environmental wellness encompasses your immediate physical environments, such as your home, your workspace and social spaces, and the wider environment including nature and how well we look after The World around us.

Dictionary definitions

The online Oxford dictionary defines ‘environment’ in several ways:

  1. the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates.
  2. the natural world, as a whole or in a particular geographical area, especially as affected by human activity.

Today, I’ll be focusing on both of these including creating an atmosphere conducive to a particular activity, such as working, studying, playing or winding down, or a particular mood e.g. productive, restful, cosy, energising, calming etc and enjoying and looking after our natural world.

Built environments

Built environments are spaces created by humans where we live, work and socialise. This can include our home, our office or workspace, cafes, shops, restaurants, workout places such as the gym, fitness rooms and swimming baths, medical settings such as the doctors, hospital or therapy room, and spaces where we get pampered such as the hairdressers and beauty salons.

Our workspace

If like me, you work from home, you can set your workspace up in a way that makes you as efficient and productive as possible, so that everything you need is at hand and you know exactly where to find it. Some essentials for the perfect home working environment include:

  • somewhere quiet where you can focus
  • a sturdy desk and a comfortable and supportive chair – the desk should feel solid and unmoving and your chair should encourage good posture
  • plenty of storage which is appropriate for your needs – e.g. filing cabinet, magazine files, drawers, labelled boxes, small storage containers etc
  • plenty of natural light and task lighting for dull days

I also like to have some art on the walls and a number of my cross stitch pieces framed in my craft room too. This makes the space visually appealing and celebrates my artistic achievements as well. Motivational bits and pieces adorn my personal vision board along with messages such as ‘make everyday count’, ‘you are someone’s reason to smile’ etc. I also have a business vision board on the wall above my Ikea unit which is full of pictures and text related to what matters to me and my goals.

Creating a tidy, well organised space is also something I’m working really hard on but I’m finding this quite difficult due to the volume of craft supplies and the fact that my craft room is very multipurpose (any tips in the comments will be gratefully received on this one!!!).

If you don’t work at home, your workspace is generally dictated by your employer but most places allow you to customise things, e.g. by adding photos of family or friends. You can also ask for resources which make your desk set up as comfortable as possible including an ergonomic keyboard, gel wrist supports, a foot rest or a more supportive chair if you have issues with back pain etc.

With regard to social spaces, you will know yourself which cafes you feel comfortable in and which are suitable for your needs whether you are studying, working, relaxing or catching up with friends or family. The same goes for other public spaces, you evaluate them and make decisions based on the environment and how suitable it is for you personally.

A welcoming and restful home environment

Most, if not all of us, want our home to be a haven where we feel safe, comfortable and able to relax and unwind. Beyond that, the place we live should ideally suit our individual needs and those of our family. Here’s some ideas for making your home personal to you:

  • minimise clutter to create a restful environment (more on this later)
  • choose your favourite colours and patterns you like for decor
  • think about your lighting needs – soft lighting for evenings, task lighting for day time use
  • add plants to cleanse the air and provide other health benefits
  • choose supportive cushions to make your sofa more comfortable (again you can select those which spark the most joy)
  • invest in a mattress for your bed which provides comfort and support and choose pillows which suit how you sleep
  • add cosy throws and/or blankets in your living room and bedroom for chillier times of year
  • depending on summer weather and temperatures, think about fans or air conditioning to make your space more comfortable
  • use curtains and blinds to control the light and the temperature and allow privacy
  • choose pictures and art work which makes you smile or fills you with joy
  • think about how you want your home to smell – add scented candles, incense sticks, diffusers etc in your favourite scents (be careful that these don’t set off any allergies you may have though – I found wax melts to be too potent and they were irritating my throat and my nose!)

Sources of stress in your home environment

It’s important to take steps to minimise the effects of the following stress inducing factors even if you can’t completely control them.

Messy home, messy mind A disorganised and cluttered home is a huge source of stress and can have a really bad impact on your mental health (see below)

Noise pollution e.g. traffic, noisy neighbours, dogs barking, noisy commercial premises etc. can have a dramatic effect on your health and wellbeing. Tips to deal with unavoidable noise pollution include placing a bookcase along a wall which is adjacent to a neighbour to reduce sound from next door, soundproofing windows to block out traffic noise, cover up unwelcome noises by putting on the radio or playing some peaceful sounds e.g. ocean waves, crackling fire, gentle rain etc. During the Summer hanging windchimes next to your window use ear plugs in bed. You should also make sure you are considerate towards your neighbours so they offer the same in return e.g. apologising in advance for disturbance caused by DIY, keeping the volume of the TV, radio and music as low as possible, if you’re having a party or some other form of get together, let your neighbours know in advance and keep the noise to a minimum, if you are a dog owner, talk to your neighbour to fins out how he/she behaves when you are out. Finally, check out your local council website if you want to make a complaint about nuisance noise.

Work stress If you work from home, it’s important to have a dedicated space for work which is not the same place you use for relaxation. This creates not only a physical separation, but also and mental separation too. You should also make sure you start and finish work at a reasonable time and schedule in breaks.

The negative impact of a cluttered home

The word clutter refers to items or collections of things which are strewn about the home in an untidy state. Clutter is generally made up of stuff we haven’t sorted out which has got in a mess, things which don’t have a home so are left lying about and anything you’re keeping which doesn’t bring value to your life. As well as not being great to look at, clutter can have a negative effect on your mental and physical health, and your relationships with others. Here’s some of the key problems:

  1. Clutter promotes confusion – in other words, you feel like you can’t think clearly, focus or make decisions
  2. Clutter causes stress – it diverts your attention away from what you want to be focusing on, it clouds your thought processes, makes you feel anxious and full of guilt about the situation/mess you find yourself in
  3. Clutter can cause accidents – if you have items all over your house there are lots of trip hazards, surfaces covered in stuff can also mean that things get knocked off and broken, you could also end up standing on things and breaking them too!
  4. Clutter makes you eat more – a study found that people who live in a cluttered environment tend to overeat or binge eat more than those who have a well organised home
  5. Clutter affects your mood – a house in chaos can make you feel drained and unhappy, it can even make you feel like a failure. A well ordered home, however, makes you feel full of pride and creates feelings of ease and happiness.
  6. Clutter steals your time – if your house in full of stuff which is left lying about you’ll spend time thinking about things every time you look at them. you’re also likely to lose things and spend time each day searching through the mess e.g. for lost car keys, important papers that need your attention and anything that wasn’t put away when you’d finished with it.
  7. Clutter affects your relationships – Clutter can make communication with family members more difficult as it constantly distracts you, leading to poor concentration and an inability to interpret facial expressions and emotions of those around you. It can also make you feel more isolated as feeling ashamed of the state of your home can stop you from invited friends and family round.

Keeping your home clean and tidy during periods of low mood or depression

During periods of low mood or depression, you may lack the energy or motivation to keep up with day-to-day chores. However, having a messy and unclean home will only make you feel worse. At these times, pushing yourself to do a few small tasks each day can really help to boost your mood and give you a sense of achievement. You might find my post on behavioural activation useful to help you set some very small goals each day. Here’s a few tips:

  • keep up with small tasks so they don’t become big ones e.g. wash the breakfast dishes and wipe out the sink rather than letting things pile up and feel unmanageable, wipe the bathroom sink and shower out after each use, vacuum a room each day rather than trying to do the whole house at once and not being able to face it
  • use the Behavioural Activation method to set small goals each day – you might want to do this with a family member or friend so they can offer you support and encouragement
  • when planning your behavioural activation tasks, think about the best time of day to do each one, evaluate how you feel after completing each chore and use this to set future goals e.g. if you became overwhelmed with dusting the furniture in your bedroom, just focus on cleaning one item
  • remember you are unwell right now so you should lower your standards a lot and celebrate every tiny achievement, if something doesn’t get done, it will keep for another day
  • ask for help – if you’re really struggling, don’t be ashamed if you need to ask for help from a family member or friends – two sets of hands are usually better than one

Time in nature

Time spent in green spaces interacting with natural elements such as air, water and sunlight as well as getting up close to plants and wildlife helps nurture our minds and bodies. Here’s some ideas for enjoying nature:

  • Use Google maps to locate nearby nature reserves or parks – enjoy a stroll and maybe do some bird spotting too
  • have a brisk woodland walk and watch the sun as it peeps through the trees
  • feel the sand between your toes at the beach and listen to the sound of the waves
  • spend some time in the sunshine to elevate your energy levels and boost your mood (wear sunscreen as appropriate)
  • go for a wildflower walk (we like using the Seek app to identify our finds)
  • feel the cool breeze on your face in the back garden as you relax and read your favourite magazine
  • spend an hour or two gardening – try creating a multisensory space using grasses, herbs and other scented plants
  • try foraging – check out The Woodland Trust’s guide

Not only does being out in nature allow for a slower pace, it also helps you to feel connected to something larger than yourself.

Caring for the environment (being green or eco friendly)

Green symbolises our natural environment and planet Earth and the terms ‘being green’ or ‘eco friendly’ mean living your life in a sustainable way, ensuring our activities recognise that nature needs to be looked after and that it is important to conserve our resources. Here’s some ideas:

  • reduce waste – e.g. avoid plastic single use bags, use a reuseable bottle or cup for beverages on the go, check out love food hate waste for some great tips
  • recycle – make good use of your recycling bin for glass, plastic, paper and cardboard and also, try to choose products which come in less packaging, avoiding none recyclable plastic if possible
  • conserve water – if possible shower rather than a bath and limit the time you spend in there, wait until your laundry bin is full before doing a wash, turn off the tap whilst brushing your teeth, water your plants early morning or late in the evening to give your garden a good drink and prevent evaporation, install a water butt to collect rainwater, run the dishwasher when full or wash small amounts of dishes by hand, only boil what you need for your hot drinks, saucepan or stock jug, try steaming your veggies (it retains more of the nutrients as well as saving water) check your plumbing regularly for leaks
  • save energy – turn off lights when not needed, draught proof windows and doors, wash at 30 degrees, take a 4 minute shower (not so easy if like me you have long hair and need to shave your legs but at least try to cut down), avoid using your tumble dryer, swap your bath for a shower, seek out advice about insulating your home and make some changes
  • repurpose things you no longer want or need – search ‘creative recycling’ on Pinterest (a few years ago my husband turned an old wooden CD storage crate into a really great bug hotel by filling the different sections with pine cones, dried leaves, chopped up bits of bamboo, collections of twigs from the garden and pieces of wood offcuts with holes drilled in)
  • upcycle – this is where you reuse objects or material in a way that adds value or makes something higher quality. Check out these tips for beginners
  • shop in charity shops – find one off pieces or nearly new things at a fraction of the price, give money to a good cause and help the environment all at the same time

Final thoughts…

I hope you have enjoyed reading today’s post and it’s helped you consider your environmental wellness. Personally, I would like to focus on dealing with clutter in my home as I know it is having a detrimental effect on my mental health. I’m also aware that I need to start small so that I don’t become overwhelmed and make myself feel worse. Let me know in the comments if anything has struck a cord with you and it has given you some ideas going forward.

Posted in Bipolar disorder, depression management, lifestyle, mental health, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel of Wellness – Financial

This week, in my series of posts on The Wheel of Wellness, I’ll be focusing on the financial segment. This aspect is all about living within your means and learning to manage your finances both in the short term and long term. I’ll be considering the impact that some mental health conditions may have on your money and will also be sharing some tips for managing your finances effectively, particularly if some of your issues are related to your mood.

What is finance?

Finance is concerned with the management of money and, on a personal level, includes activities such as spending, saving, investing, borrowing and budgeting. It’s about meeting your short and long term financial needs and living within your means, in other words, spending no more money than you have. To help you manage your finances, it’s important to become ‘financially literate’ which basically means having a good relationship with money and become well educated on the various aspects of finance.

Mood disorders and your finances

Most people dislike talking about money but it’s important that you develop your understanding of the different aspects of finance so you can keep yourself financially well. If, like me, you live with depression and/or bipolar disorder you will understand that managing your finances can be a source of distress, particularly during periods of mental illness. Although we all have different experiences, when depressed, you may find yourself struggling to make money decisions or deal with aspects of your finances. You might also try to make yourself feel better by spending money buying nice things. You could find yourself unable to work or have to take time off when you’re unwell and this can also make things hard. During times of mania or hypomania (very elevated or elevated mood) you may find yourself having frenzied spending sprees or making expensive purchases which you / your family can’t afford.

For example, during periods of hypomania, I tend to buy lots of things to fix problems e.g. neat or cute matching storage containers to create order and look good at the same time, the latest kitchen gadgets which I’ve spotted online, new blankets/cushions for our sofa to replace ones which are slightly past their best but we can manage with just fine etc. Also, everything in the shops seems to develop a rosy glow and is heightened in attractiveness and I have to stop myself buying it all. When I watch craft videos on YouTube, I need to have those exact pens in those colours shown, particular stickers or ephemera because it all looks so pretty or a certain gadget / crafty resource so that I can make similar things to those demonstrated. Then, when I get depressed, I get upset because my craft room is bursting at the seams with all of the things I’ve bought and I have no motivation to make anything or use any of my supplies.

Money management tips

If you think you would benefit from increasing your financial wellbeing, you might like to consider the tips I’ve put together below. Some are general tips related to learning more about your personal finances and budgeting, whilst others are specifically targeted at those of you who find that your mental health has a direct influence on your money management.

Know what your current financial status is

Spend some time getting to know your current money situation. Make a note of what is in your savings account, your current account and your ISA if you have one. Also, become familiar with your debts e.g. how much is left to pay on your mortgage?, what do you owe on any loans you may have? do you owe any friends or family some money? etc. Learn how much income you / your household have coming in each month and so on. You could create a spread in your bullet journal such as me and my money or create an e-record on your mobile phone.

Examine your cash flow

When you know how much you earn each month or how much you receive in benefits, find out how much you typically spend and on what. Try creating a tracker for income and expenditure for a month to get a better idea of your incomings and outgoings. You could also consider looking at your spending habits at different times e.g. when depressed, manic or hypomanic or when your mood is stable (neither high nor low).

You could do a paper version of this in your bullet journal or a notebook as shown below or you can use a free app which calculates your spending and deducts the money you from your monthly income. I found a couple of Android apps which were really easy to use by doing a quick search on Google Play.

Source: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

If recording your expenses seems a little overwhelming right now, you could start by look at your monthly bank statements to see where your money is going each month. Although it won’t identify exactly what you purchased, it will tell you the name of the shop or business for each transaction.

Create a monthly budget

This is definitely something to do when you’re feeling well as it can be quite time consuming and requires good concentration and forethought. Once you’ve examined your cash flow situation you’ll know what your income is like and the kinds of things you purchase each month or each quarter. You’ll also know if you’re spending more or less than you have coming in and how much you are able to save (or not).

A monthly budget is a plan for how you will spend your money each month. It’s a popular way to manage your finances as lots of recurring expenses such as mortgage, rent, mobile phone etc. occur on a monthly basis. If you know what your income is each month, you can make sure you spend less than you have coming in. That way you can try to save a small amount of money with a view to creating an emergency fund for any unplanned spends.

There’s lots of information and advice online from money experts about how to create and stick to a budget but the key steps are outlined below:

  1. Calculate your monthly income – only consider consistent sources, not one off things like selling unwanted stuff on Ebay or money you get for your birthday
  2. Track your spending (see above)
  3. Consider your financial goals – this could be something like saving up for a deposit on a house, your wedding or a new car but could also be something small like reining in the amount you spend on clothes each month so you can put money aside for a holiday.
  4. Create your budget – make a list of all of the things you spend money on each month and allocate an amount to each category. This could include spending more or less on your favourite hobbies, cutting down on eating out and takeaways etc. A popular rule for creating a budget is the 50/30/20 rule where you allocate 50% of your income to needs, 30% towards wants and 20% towards savings.
  5. Continue tracking your expenses and refine your budget as and when necessary – do your spending habits align with your budget? have your financial goals changed? etc.

Identify your triggers

If your spending varies depending on how you feel, you might want to track your spending and your mood at the same time. Then, you can identify your triggers. For example, you may self soothe by shopping for little (or larger) treats in attempt to make yourself feel better when you’re depressed. You might overspend when you’re feeling high because each purchase comes with a little thrill or you have boundless energy for a frenzied shopping spree. Once you know your triggers, you can create a plan for managing them or seek advice and support from a professional.

Take steps to manage your spending

If you know your spending tends to get a little out of control during periods of mental illness, try to create a plan when you’re feeling well and maybe share it with close family and friends. This could include:

  • leaving your debit / credit card at home and drawing out a limited amount of cash for your shopping
  • shop with a friend or family member who can rein in your spending. You may argue against their recommendations, but ask them to persevere!
  • get rid of your credit card altogether so you can’t spend money you haven’t got
  • ask you ‘shopping partner’ to encourage you to think it over before making a decision to purchase. Is the urge to buy still there is a few days time or after you’ve slept on it? Most overspending is caused by impulse purchasing which you are likely to regret later!
  • if you think you might be about to have an online shopping spree, try to distract yourself with something else which makes you feel good such as reading a book, doing some work in the garden or tending to your houseplants, having a relaxing bath or doing some yoga

Set up direct debits

During periods of difficulty you may have little energy or motivation to pay bills or manage your finances. Setting up direct debits (instructions for your bank to authorise payment when they’re due) for your monthly and quarterly bills such as your broadband, mobile phone, energy, council tax etc. makes things easier and safer and ensures you don’t forget to pay and become in arrears.

Seek medical help

If you feel your money issues are related to your mental health e.g. spending to cheer yourself up when depressed or going on manic spending sprees when you feel high, try talking to your GP, CPN or psychiatrist. Your GP should be able to refer you to the mental health team or your psychiatrist may tweak your medication or advise you upon therapy which may help to manage your symptoms.

Get free professional advice

If you live in the UK and are currently in debt you can get free advice from a number of places such as Step Change, Turn2Us, National Debtline and most people’s favourite money saving expert Martin Lewis. You can also seek our information of different benefits which may be available to you. Bipolar UK is a good source of advice and their website also has a selection of stories about money issues and a section dedicated to finances in their forum.

Ask for help from a loved one

Depending on the severity of your issues, you may just need to ask for help from your partner or a trusted friend. You can ask them to monitor your spending and intervene when necessary e.g. helping you to organise pay your bills when you’re depressed or look after your credit and debit cards during periods of mania or hypomania. You can also ask them to look out for changes in your behaviour related to spending during periods of mental illness.

Check out supportive webpages and sites

There’s a wealth of information available online relating to finances and there’s some particularly useful bits and pieces about money and mental health. Here’s some I found following a quick search:

Coping with financial worries and debt

If you have money worries right now you may struggle to control your emotions and have feelings of guilt, shame, stress, embarrassment and exhaustion. This can lead to low mood and worsening of your mental health. You may be tempted to bury your head in the sand and hope that things will get better at some point but, although it might be really difficult and overwhelming, you should try to take control and find a way forward (easier said than done I know). Many people are currently struggling with managing their finances but there’s lots of help out there in the community and online so you’re definitely not alone. Also, remember the saying a problem shared is a problem halved. If you thought a good friend was having money issues you would want him or her to reach out and not feel ashamed of their situation so try to be self compassionate and seek some help and support.

Final words…

Ultimately, managing your personal finances depends on all kinds of factors including your income streams and how steady they are, your employment status e.g. student, self employed, unemployed etc, your current non-negotiable monthly outgoings such as your mortgage or rent payments, your savings and how much you wish to increase them by if at all, any benefits you are entitled to, your dependents and your financial goals. However, if you dedicate some time to assessing your cash flow by examining your income and expenditure then you will become better educated with regard to your current situation and this will help you to manage your budget. By learning about the link between mental health and money you can identify your own issues and seek help with them, either from resources online, friends and family or professionals.

I hope you’ve found the information contained within today’s post helpful and it has encouraged you to think about getting on top of your finances if you feel it’s an area of your wellbeing that you might like to work on.

Posted in exercise, fitness, lifestyle, Uncategorized, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel Of Wellness – Physical – Part 1: Exercise

For the physical element of The Wheel Of Wellness, I’ve decided to split the topic into three separate posts as there’s lots I want to cover. Today’s Monday Matters is all about movement and exercise, how it affects your mental health and easy ways in which you can incorporate physical activity into your life.

Most of us are aware of at least some of the benefits of regular exercise for the body and its physical functioning but did you know that getting moving can have a dramatic impact on your mental health too?

What are the main benefits of physical activity on your mental wellbeing?

  • better self esteem – feeling good about yourself as your fitness levels improve and you meet your goals
  • reduces risk of depression or symptoms of the illness
  • enables you to connect with others – can help you meet new people and develop new friendships through doing team activities or seeing others engaged in the same activity such as going to the gym, walking in nature etc
  • happier moods – releases feel good hormones helping you to feel better in yourself and combatting lethargy by increasing energy levels
  • improved sleep – increased physical activity will make you feel tired by the end of the day and can get you ready for a restful night’s sleep
  • helps you manage stress, anxiety and intrusive thoughts – a positive coping strategy which gives your brain something else to focus on

How much physical activity should I be doing?

This depends very much on your life circumstances and your current level of fitness. You should think about what feels realistic to you right now and this might change quite dramatically if you are managing a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder.

The NHS has lots of advice on how much activity is recommended each week for different groups of people and also provides information about the different forms of exercise which are helpful for maintaining good physical health. Again, the guidelines provide something to work to when you are feeling physically and mentally fit and you should always consult your doctor for tailor made advice if you have any form of injury or limiting health condition.

What type of exercise should I choose?

The best advice I can offer here is to choose activities that you think you will enjoy and give them a go. If you choose exercises which make you feel uncomfortable or you have to force yourself to do, you’re unlikely to stick with them. So, for example, if the thought of working out at your local gym fills you with dread then setting up a membership probably isn’t a good idea. However, if you choose an activity which is fun and enjoyable, you’re more likely to engage in it regularly and make it part of your routine. You’re also much more likely to experience the aforementioned benefits to your mental health.

There are lots of different things you can try – some you might know straight away are not a good fit for you whereas with others you might need to give them a go in order to make your mind up. Highly aerobic exercises might be less suitable if you’re just starting out or have reduced mobility and you and your GP are best placed to decide what you can currently manage and what you might be able to aim towards in the future.

Being more active at home

If you have a really busy schedule, doing a short home based workout might be an easy and convenient way of fitting in some exercise. Some of the benefits of working out or being more active at home include:

  • Saves time – no travelling required and no waiting for machines or equipment (as often happens at my gym when it’s busy!)
  • Privacy – if you think you would feel self-conscious working out in public, exercising at home with the blinds shut or curtains drawn can be much more comfortable
  • Work out any time – you can decide when you want to exercise so working out at home is super convenient – you might prefer first thing before you start work or half an hour prior to cooking your dinner.
  • Flexibility – when you go to a gym class, the pressure is on to keep up with others or to push yourself to work harder. Also, there are individuals who have been doing the class for months, and some who are having a go for the first time so the instructor is trying to cater for the needs of everyone. At home, you set the pace and if you feel like a particular exercise is too difficult or needs modification then you can skip bits or find out how you can simplify things.
  • Low cost – no gym fees or expensive equipment needed. You can workout on your living room carpet or on a cheap mat. If you want to use weights, a couple of small water bottles or cans of beans are ideal when you first start out

Ideas for home workouts

  • Set an alarm to remind you to move each hour (or set up your fitness watch to vibrate). Spend 10 minutes doing exercises which are good for your current fitness levels e.g. jumping jacks, burpees, bicycle crunches, high knees etc.
  • Dancing – Put on some music with a fast beat and dance around your kitchen / living room / bedroom etc.
  • Chair based exercises – if you have mobility problems or a physical health condition which makes it difficult to be out of a chair, there are exercise routines you can try whilst sitting down. Check out this page on the NHS website or look for chair based workouts on YouTube.
  • Find some free beginners YouTube videos which have exercise regimes on – try looking for cardio workouts, yoga, balance training, Pilates, legs, bums and tums, core based etc.
  • Play an active computer game e.g. Zumba fitness, Wii Sports etc
  • Housework – doing household chores is a great way to get moving. Dusting, vacuuming, cleaning the windows, mopping floors or washing and polishing your car can all increase your pulse rate and burn calories. Also, you can make the activities as gentle or strenuous as you like and you can make each task as short or as long as you want.
  • Gardening – Gardening is a great physical activity and is wonderful for your emotional wellbeing too. Again, you could engage in more strenuous activities such as digging, hoeing, mowing the lawn and pruning. Or more gentle activities such as pulling up a few small weeds or setting a few seeds in some pots.

A few tips for getting active at home

  • do a mini risk assessment in the room you intend to use for working out – is there enough room to exercise safely? do you have a ceiling pendant light which might get in your way if you stretch your arms up? might you need to move some furniture or move your mat so you’re not in danger of hitting things? is anyone likely to enter the room and knock into you or open the door onto you? etc
  • put on your workout gear like you would if you were going to a gym – this could be shorts and a t-shirt and might include a sports bra
  • try to do different types of workout e.g. cardio, strength, stretching, core etc so you’re targeting all parts of your body each week.
  • schedule ‘active time’ in your weekly plan like you would if you were going to the gym – let others know of your intentions so they can cheer you on / ask you how things went / be out of your way at your chosen time etc.
  • try setting some SMART goals to work towards
  • remember, it’s okay to skip a workout session if you’re really busy or something unexpected comes up but try not to make a habit of it or you won’t feel all of those wonderful benefits I mentioned earlier!

Out and about activities

There are lots of activities which you can do out and about and some gyms have instructor led and virtual classes to try too. Here’s some ideas:

  • Nature walk – this could be in your local park, through woodland, on the beach, around a lakeside path, next to the river etc. You could also look online for nearby nature reserves to visit either with friends, family or alone for some quiet time.
  • Walking or running – this could be to a friend’s house, to work, to the local shops or even around the block. All you need is a comfortable pair or shoes or trainers and you’re good to go. If you want your walk or run to be a sociable activity you could join a group in your local community (try searching online for walking or running groups) or arrange to meet a friend in the park or somewhere convenient for you both.
  • Dance classes – there are lots of different types of dance which you could try – some are more active / fast paced than others. Suggestions include Zumba (high intensity), salsa, ballroom, clubbercise or line dancing.
  • Sports and games with family or friends – these can be indoor or outdoor and include ball games such as tennis, football, rounders and netball, informal games such as frisbee, throw and catch and tag and supervised or instructor led watersports such as canoeing or surfing.
  • Cycling – this could be a family bike ride or as a way of making a journey e.g. to the shops, visiting friends or family or to work. You can start off with a really short distance and then increase the length and opportunities for uphill climbs as your fitness levels improve.
  • Gym classes – some gyms have fitness classes which you can try too. These can be instructor led or virtual (on a screen). Examples include yoga, kettlebells, Pilates, spinning, zumba, body pump, circuits, step and forever fit aimed at the over 50s.
  • Swimming – swimming can be a great workout for the whole body. It gets the heart rate up but takes most of the impact stress off your joints. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to do your swimming in a heated pool with lifeguards at hand to keep you safe.
  • Outdoor gyms – lots of parks have these now and the equipment is totally free to use. Your local council / local area website should tell you where these are located so you can give them a go.
  • Mindful exercise – yoga, pilates and tai chi are great for combining moving the body with mindfulness. I also like do some mindful movement when I’m on the reclining bike at the gym – I close my eyes and think about the effects it’s having on my body (I wouldn’t recommend doing this on other pieces of equipment like the treadmill though!!!)
  • The gym – many people are put off from joining the gym as they think it will be full of muscly men and women who are obsessed with their appearance. From my experience, yes there are some people of the aforementioned type, but there are also many other individuals too who are there for a common reason such as toning, increasing their fitness levels or trying to be more active. In my gym there are people of all shapes and sizes and all ages. The ones I attend are owned by the local council and are managed by Everyone Active and I think these gyms are the best for inclusivity. Most of them will offer a free trial too so you can see if it is something you enjoy before paying for a membership.

What if I’m feeling unwell or physical activity doesn’t work for me?

There may be times when physical activity is super helpful and you can really feel the benefits. However, there may also be other times when exercise just isn’t working for you. Maybe you’re struggling with high levels of anxiety or are having difficulties with depression and you don’t have the motivation to stay active. Or, you’re feeling frustrated because everyone is trying to tell you the benefits of getting some exercise and even though they mean well, it’s actually causing you to feel guilty or to beat yourself up for not adding some physical activity to your day.

For some people, exercise can make their mental health worse, triggering anxiety or further contributing to their mental health problem(s). For example, someone I spoke with in the Bipolar forum group that I’m a member of said that her Community Mental Health Nurse completed an exercise referral for her and at first was enjoying being more active, but then she became obsessed with going and her support worker began to see signs of overtraining and a fixation on getting fit. This was causing rapid weight loss and together, they decided that the current exercise programme was having a negative effect and should be stopped or at least greatly modified. If you or your family feel that your chosen physical activities are having a negative impact, you many need to discuss any concerns with a health professional such as a mental health nurse, support worker, doctor or therapist.

Whatever it is that’s currently stopping you from being active, it’s important not to be too hard on yourself. You might just need to focus on other self care activities for a while such as relaxing in the bath, spending time in nature or curling up with a good book. When you’re feeling a little better or have got yourself on top of things, you can gradually build physical activity into your routine again. This might mean re-evaluating your exercise plans and making a few changes or trying a different type of activity.

Final words…

Although an increase in physical activity can have lots of benefits for our health, it’s important to start slowly. Doing too much too quickly is likely to make you feel overly tired or burnt out and this can mean you’re unable to keep up with the expectations you’ve placed on yourself. This can result in unhelpful or negative feelings, put you off somewhat or cause you to quit altogether.

Try to plan a realistic and achievable routine which fits with you and your lifestyle. Building up your physical activity and the intensity a little each week can make a real difference. Also, remember that rest days are important too as they give your body time to recover.

And another thing… it’s okay to slow down or take a break if your energy levels aren’t as good as they usually are or if you’re having a tough time mentally or emotionally. You can resume your routine when you start to feel better, remembering to build up again slowly if you’ve not exercised for quite a while.

I hope you’ve found today’s blog post really helpful and it’s encouraged you to think about how increasing your physical activity may help you personally. Let me know what your favourite ways to exercise are or if there’s something you’ve always wanted to try and might give a go. It could even be an activity you used to have fun doing as a kid and secretly would love to have a go at again. For example I used to love trampolining sessions at the beach when on holiday with my family. I also used to enjoy badminton in the back garden with my dad but haven’t played for over 20 years!