Archive October 2020
Helping your mental health through the winter months
Our CEO, Jon Neal talks about the clocks going back and how to help your mental health through the winter months.
The clocks have gone back, the days are getting shorter and the nights are drawing in. And while we’re still a long way from the signs of spring, the longer days and warmer evenings, there are some things we can do to look after our mental health. And, of course, being active is a really good one.
Many people have heard of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but even if you haven’t, you might be aware that you become a little less energetic or enthusiastic about things in the Autumn and Winter months.
There is some science behind this very common and normal experience.
When we’re experiencing depression, we spend more time in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the phase of sleep when we dream. In a healthy sleep cycle, dreaming helps to calm the brain down, switching off the worries and anxieties from the day.
But worrying lots about unmet emotional needs increases the amount we need to dream when we sleep.
This extra dreaming burns up lots of the brain’s energy, so we wake up feeling exhausted and lacking the motivation to address our concerns.
When it gets dark, our bodies release the hormone melatonin. This helps us go to sleep, but also increases the amount of dreaming we do.
As it starts to get darker earlier, more melatonin is released, which makes us dream more and causes some of us to wake up feeling low in mood, tired and lacking motivation.
So that’s the science. What can we do to keep our mood up and stave off the feelings of depression? Here are some tips…
- Get active outside – At Suffolk Mind we’ve launched a campaign called 100 Miles for Suffolk Mind. It’s where you can walk, cycle, hop, skip, run or do whatever you like to cover the distance of 100 miles. Click here for more information.
- Make the most of what light available – a daily walk or run is perfect, but even creating a routine whereby you pop outside in the garden for ten minutes or so to have a break in the morning, midday and mid-afternoon can be helpful.
- Some people find that sitting by lightboxes, which give out artificial sunlight, can help reduce the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder
- Another factor associated with depression is a lack of vitamin D, which is produced in our bodies when sunlight reaches our skin. Research shows that increasing the vitamin D in our diet with supplements, oily fish or mushrooms can help to lift the symptoms of depression
- And finally, it’s important to try and reduce the worrying which results in too much dreaming. The key to achieving this is to find healthy ways to meet emotional needs. You can find out more at www.suffolkmind.org.uk
Author: Kristina Brinkley
10 ways to enable you look after your mental health on World Mental Health Day…and every day
On World Mental Health Day (Saturday 10th October) and to mark our 10-year anniversary, our Head of Mental Health Education, Ezra Hewing, has released these 10 tips to enable you to look after your own mental health.
1. 7/11 Breathing
What strategies do you have for reducing stress, or calming strong emotions like anxiety and anger? You may benefit from learning 7/11 breathing. This means breathing in to a count of 7 and out to a count of 11, which stimulates the body’s relaxation response.
2. Circles of Influence
If you feel that you have little control over events and feel as if life is something which “happens” without you being able to decide for yourself, it can be useful to do an exercise called circles of influence.
– Firstly, draw two circles
– Then in one circle add all of the things we have no control over, such as the weather, world events, other people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour, and accidents and injuries
– In the second circle, leaving plenty of space, add all of the things you do have control over, such as which socks to wear, which book to start reading, what to eat for lunch or what route to take on a daily walk. You don’t have to do it all at once either – just add something each day to notice what you can control
Are you getting enough privacy and downtime to process the day? If not, you may find that your first opportunity to think about the day is when you get into bed, which then prevents us from going off to sleep easily.
Try putting ten minutes aside to go for a walk, or sit down quietly somewhere, which allows you to process the day and forget about it before bedtime. If you’re living in a busy environment, seek an agreement that gives everyone a space and time of day to relax and enjoy uninterrupted downtime.
4. Brain food
To keep our brains healthy, our diet needs to include Omega 3 fatty acids. We get Omega 3 from oily fish, such as tuna and salmon, and also eggs, flaxseeds and walnuts. Research shows that increasing the amount of Omega 3 in our diet can help to reduce symptoms of depression.
Doing something we already know how to do well is a quick way to give us a sense of achievement, which helps to lift mood and boost motivation to do more. It could be colouring in, cooking a favourite meal, taking photos of trees and plants or making paper aeroplanes.
Then, when you’ve had a go, you could choose something more challenging.
6. Memories of mirth
When did you last laugh so hard that tears rolled down your cheeks? Spend a few moments dwelling on that feeling until the memories come back. Now make a note of that memory and any others you may have.
All too often, strong emotions – like anxiety, anger and the feeling of hopelessness which accompanies depression – keep us stuck. When you need to change the way that you feel, spend some time dwelling on the memories of times when you found yourself laughing uncontrollably.
Notice how humour, jokes, comedy and funny experiences help us to break free from stuck patterns and emotions.
7. Get help with trauma
If you think you are experiencing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including intrusive thoughts and memories, nightmares, panic attacks and feelings of anxiety, seek help from a counsellor or therapist skilled at treating trauma with the Rewind technique.
8. Helping others helps us
If you feel that you could benefit from having greater meaning & purpose in your life, consider taking up volunteering for a couple of hours a week, or just offer to help out a neighbour or relative. Serving others is, paradoxically, the best way of looking after ourselves.
9. Reframing rigid thinking
Anxious feelings can often lock our attention on a problem, causing us to believe that it will never change or go away. This is sometimes called permanent thinking.
A technique which can help us to get beyond permanent thinking is to write about the problem, or record yourself talking about it, reframing it using words and phrases like ‘yet’, ‘at the moment’ or ‘some of the time’, which open up the possibility for change.
So for example, if we felt that we were never going to find a job again, we might write down the feeling as follows: “I don’t have a job at the moment,” or “I haven’t found a job yet.”
Notice any permanent thoughts which pop up, write them down and see if you can reframe them using ‘yet’, ‘at the moment’ or ‘some of the time’.
10. Getting into your Observing Self
Strong emotions, like anxiety, depression and anger, can trick us into thinking that we are the emotion or mental ill health issue itself. This can then get in the way of appreciating the positive things in our lives which support recovery.
We can see this happening when we hear ourselves and other people say things like, “I’m depressed,” or “I have anxiety.”
Of course, all of us are much more than just depression or anxiety. We all have knowledge, skills, hobbies, interests and life experiences which make up who we are, and which we can draw upon to aid recovery.
Our observing self is that part of us which can become more aware that we are not just our emotions, feelings and thoughts.
To get into your observing self, practice using the word the when naming your emotions and feelings.
So for example, instead of saying, “I’ve been depressed for six months,” you might say, “the depression has been an issue for six months”. Or, instead of saying “I have anxiety,” we might say, “the anxiety occurs when I feel uncertain about the future.”
When you get into the habit of stepping back from difficult emotions and feelings – using the word the to describe them – you may notice when the depression or the anxiety feel less noticeable too.
Author: Kristina Brinkley