How gardening can grow a healthy mind
There are many different ways to support our mental health, so it’s important to explore what works for ourselves. To mark Mind’s Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, Sarah Manton-Roseblade, GreenCare manager at Suffolk Mind, explains why having green fingers could help grow a healthy mind.
All gardeners will agree there are many benefits to getting your hands dirty in the garden or an allotment. It could be the accomplishment of seeing something flourish because of your hard work. Or it could be as simple as being outside and enjoying the fresh air. Gardening as part of community is a brilliant way to reduce feelings of loneliness too.
Many of us have become somewhat amateur gardeners during the pandemic as we spent more time at home – and subsequently noticed more weeds! It undoubtedly would have made us feel good, like we had achieved something, during difficult lockdowns. So, it’s something we should consider continuing for the physical and mental benefits.
To ensure we remain mentally healthy, we should try to meet our 12 physical and emotional needs. In fact, gardening can be an incredibly useful activity to meet some of them:
- Achievement – gardening is a great way to experience a sense of achievement. Whether it’s our own property or as part of a community allotment, being part of its growth is a brilliant accomplishment.
- Community – gardening doesn’t have to be done by ourselves. There are many gardening groups across the county, including our GreenCare project. They will help you connect with others and help reduce feelings of loneliness.
- Movement – from digging to planting seeds, gardening involves plenty of movement. But the great thing is, it can be done at our own pace. So, we can enjoy the benefits of physical activity in a relaxed way.
- Control – there are some things in life we cannot control, so it’s important to recognise what we can. While some things may not grow as we would hope, we can control what we do and don’t plant.
- Privacy – for those of us living in a busy household or with a full-on job, we may be missing out on valuable alone time. Gardening provides the perfect opportunity for periods of privacy, even if it’s a simple as watering the plants.
- Meaning and purpose – looking after a garden or allotment helps us meet our needs for meaning and purpose. Especially when part of a community allotment, working together to support growth helps meet this need.
Now is a great time to begin gardening, whether you’re new to the hobby or are returning to it. May is the beginning of sunflower season, so you can plant seeds directly in the ground. However, if you don’t have a garden or access to an allotment, you can make use of your windowsills. Things like salad leaves, pea shoots and herbs grow well by the window – and better yet, you can enhance your dinners with them once they’ve grown! So, you can use gardening to support your physical need for food, while enjoying the achievement of growing your own food.
Gardening is great way to improve your wellbeing and we recognise that at Suffolk Mind. Our GreenCare project includes allotments in Haverhill, Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich. They offer people the opportunity to learn about gardening and contribute to a thriving growing space as part of a group.
Our GreenCare service is ideal for people with mild to moderate depression, anxiety and other common mental health problems. It can also support people in recovery, those who want to build emotional resilience and those who want to prevent the onset of mental ill-health. To find out more, please visit our GreenCare page.
Author: Ellie Winch
Goodnight, sweet dreams!
Are your children getting the right kinds of sleep for wellbeing?
Suffolk Mind are making 2022 the year for better sleep, and this includes our children and young people. Lots of children and young people find going to sleep or staying asleep challenging. We all need the right kinds of sleep to make sure we are able to meet our emotional needs to stay mentally well. There are two main kinds of sleep that are needed: Deep sleep, for rest and repair, and REM sleep, to discharge emotional arousal. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement and is when most of our dreaming happens. We need both types of sleep in the right amounts to be well.
Here are some top tips to encourage good sleep:
Making sure our bodies are well looked after means that we are also looking after our brains and mental health. Choosing balanced foods and drinks throughout the day can manage the way our brains respond to challenges, but also in the latter part of the day, ensure that we are ready for sleep. Can a small bedtime drink, either a warm drink or water, be part of your bedtime routine? What signals the end of day’s food for your child? Is it fruit after dinner?
Movement throughout the day is vital for good rest. It allows us to burn off cortisol that comes when we feel stressed, and gives us endorphins, which come with feeling good, as well as making sure that the blood is pumping round our bodies, making our heart and lungs work a bit harder so that we are ready for sleep. What other movement could you include in your day? You could try movement that allows for increase in heart rate earlier in the day as well as stretchy calm movement closer to bedtime that will lead the way to a restful sleep.
Making your bedtime routine include elements that set your child up for good sleep are vital for everyone’s restful evenings! Making sure the bedroom is calm and quiet, introducing a predictable and consistent ‘wind down’ routine such as wash, teeth, book, bed can signal to your child that sleep time is coming. Making sleep a happy and safe state to enter into is also important, so whilst it can sometimes be frustrating that children always want to drag out bedtime just that little bit longer, finding the right balance between having firm boundaries and making sure the child feels safe and loved and ready to sleep is worth it for long-term mental health.
Feeling CALM and in CONTROL
After exciting after-school activities or screen time, make time to process thoughts before bedtime. Drawing or Lego can work well. Have choices within your usual routine- would you like to read to me, or shall I read to you tonight? Have boundaries for bedtime routines so children know what to expect- time for being clean, winding down and feeling ready for sleep. Set up predictable patterns that have an element of choice- would you like music or audiobooks to listen to? Would you like calming spray on your pillow or bed cover?
Bedtime is often the time which children decided to process their day, and you may find that this is the time that they ask lots of questions or have lots to say, just as you are about to turn off the light. If your child is in need of this talk time, schedule it in for earlier in the routine. Can you have a chat whilst getting clothes ready for the next day or in the bath? Take time to talk about your day, read or tell stories together, nurture the secure relationship so that sleep feels safe and happy. Your child will also meet their need for emotional connection and attention through this exchange and be more ready to fall asleep when it is time.
Feeling that I CAN
Involve your child in making their bedtime routine. What is it that makes them feel safe and secure? What things can they do independently, and which do they need or want some help with to feel settled? Do they understand why going to sleep at the right time is important? Can they draw or make a ticklist of their bedtime routine that can be used every day so that they have a predictable and consistent way of being independent?
Written by Louise Harris, Children and Young People’s Lead
Author: Ellie Winch
Stress, sleep and current affairs
Distressing news can be a source of worry and concern. Our emotional needs for security and control can be impacted by these situations.
The more we worry and over-use our imagination to catastrophise about the future, the more likely it is that our sleep will be affected. Our brains use dream sleep (REM) to clear out the emotional charges of the day, so the more that worries, angers or stresses us, the more dreaming needs to be done. This can leave us feeling more tired the next day because as we dream more, we get less deep regenerative sleep.
Our staff have been supporting more people recently who are worried by events in the news. To them, and the general population, we are suggesting the following steps:
· If you can, donate items to an organised collection and engage with local Suffolk refugee organisations supporting Ukrainians. These kinds of practical actions can connect us with meaningful efforts to bring about change for the better, giving us meaning and purpose.
· Accept that there are things we cannot control by making a list of things you can control, like where you’re going to go for a walk today, what time you’ll make yourself something to eat, what colour socks you’re going to wear, and so on. Then, throughout the day, focus attention on the list of those things you can control.
· Avoid doom-scrolling, which is the term psychologists use when we look for updates and find ourselves in a cycle of negative news stories, impacting our need for security. This keeps the ‘fight-or-flight’ response switched on and our brain looking out for more signs of danger. This can keep us in a constant state of worry, which can then tip us into anxiety and depression.
· Protect yourself by limiting the time spent on the news to ten minutes a day. This can enable you to gain some control over the situation.
· After reading or watching a negative news story, take the time to do something relaxing, like breathing exercises or going for a walk in the park, or reading some fiction. Movement burns off the stress hormone, cortisol, which can in turn help us achieve better quality sleep.
· Practice kind-scrolling by searching for positive news stories which give us a more optimistic view of the world.
Author: Ellie Winch
Give yourself time in January…
At a time when we are all feeling weary and exhausted from a challenging 2020 and 2021, January is a good time to reset, meet needs and take care of ourselves. Emotional Needs and Resources trainer Penny Tyndale-Hardy explores how we can come out in spring feeling healthy, rested and well.
New Year, New You – this is the pressure that we often feel as the old year comes to an end. January brings an expectation that we will all charge out and set New Year’s resolutions, declutter, get fit and grab hold of our lives by the scruff of the neck.
Stop. Breathe. It is not necessary to leap into setting over-ambitious goals. For true wellbeing we want our lives to work in balance, at a manageable pace – where we are reflective and tuned into meeting our needs. Swinging wildly from excessive indulgence to excessive activity is not sustainable for wellbeing.
Instead, let January be a time of reflection. We want to meet our needs in balance and the Christmas period can be a bit unbalancing even without a pandemic to swing the scales further. What we need now is to recentre ourselves and come at things with consideration and a clear head.
So how do we start? January is a really great time to reflect and check in with yourselves with an Emotional Needs Audit – what needs are being met well right now and what might you want to look at doing differently? Spending time considering this can give great insight into where the balance is at the moment and where your priorities for wellbeing are.
With the holiday expectations behind us we have more autonomy and control over what we choose to do – but many of us are returning to work which can feel a bit dismal. January is still a dark, cold month and our energy levels will be lower at this time of year. Take control by looking at ways of building in enrichment and nurturing time and getting back into healthy routines that meet your needs.
Reflect on how you are using your attention capacity. As we move away from what can be a very sociable time, we may have been giving and receiving more attention than usual. Think now about how to direct our attention in ways that balance and ground us.
The unusual activities over Christmas can often reveal imbalances in our everyday lives – some of us have thrived on all the extra activity and are feeling its loss – or maybe Christmas has been a lonely time that has made you feel more cut off. If so, are there ways to engage in a community by picking up a new hobby or revisiting old ones? Or perhaps it’s a relief to have a bit of space and time back – in this case, notice the space you now have and find time to build in privacy and reflection into your everyday life.
Now is a really useful time to bring our thoughts back to basics and how we meet our physical needs. Overindulgence is better countered by building balance back into our habits. Taking regular movement – whatever it is – will help us relax more easily and lift our mood. Noticing and prioritising our sleep as we move back into a routine can help us feel more refreshed and able to face each day.
In a time of reflection, it is appropriate to consider the year ahead and think about things you may want to achieve. Meeting our need for achievement helps us feel stretched and challenged and definitely keeps us feeling mentally strong. But setting over-ambitious targets usually ends in disappointment and feeling a lack of achievement. If you want to set goals – and these can be very helpful – make sure they are positive, achievable and consider how they will create balance and purpose in your life.
In short, January is a time to give yourself breathing space, especially after the challenges of 2021 and not being certain of what 2022 will bring. There is a whole year ahead of you and if you stay focused on meeting your needs in balance and giving yourself time and space to achieve your goals you will emerge into the spring feeling energised, positive and ready for anything.
Author: Ellie Winch
Supporting you through the festive period
For some, Christmas may be filled with much excitement, but for others, Christmas can be a stressful time, prompting them to seek help with stress, anxiety, depression and other difficult feelings. Our Head of Education at Suffolk Mind, Ezra Hewing provides you with this advice to help you better cope with the festive period.
Christmas is a time of year when you can get key emotional needs met – spending time with people we care about is great for our needs for emotional connection and attention. However, not everyone feels the same way and may be lacking in needs like privacy, time for yourself and control over the festive period.
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed, so here are five tips to help you during Christmas.
- We may feel as though we must go out to every Christmas event that people invite us to which can sometimes be overwhelming. So instead have a think about the relationships that are the healthiest and which mean the most to you (don’t ever share that list with anyone by the way) and choose which events you really feel able to go to.
- It can be very busy if you’re hosting guests, getting caught up in the rush of things, cooking, wrapping presents…. the list goes on. Why not book some time in for just you, to meet your need for privacy? Be free from distractions too – people, your mobile phone and dare I say it, Christmas songs. This will help you to calm down and relax during the festive season.
- Surviving the new year sales – advertisers are very skilled at getting us to spend money that we don’t have on things that we don’t need. Before you spend money that will leave you without during January and possibly February too – ask yourself do you really need this? This will help with your need for control once the Christmas period is over.
- It’s easy to find ourselves slumped in front of the screen, stuffed with food, finding it difficult to move and beginning to feel a little lethargic and low in mood. Book a time with yourself every day, and perhaps with other people too, to wrap up warm and go out for a walk, to lift your mood and get moving again. Moving is so important for good mental wellbeing.
- Meaning and purpose is an incredibly important emotional need. One way of getting meaning and purpose is for doing things for other people. Perhaps you could give away things you don’t need after Christmas to charities and those who are less advantaged or maybe you’ll get involved in volunteering. Suffolk Mind has a number of volunteering opportunities you can get involved in, click here for more details.
Author: Ellie Winch
Spring into action – things to look out for whilst covering your 100 miles for Suffolk Mind challenge
Spring into action as the weather gets better and join our 100 Miles for Suffolk Mind challenge. Why not look out for all the budding flowers and changes in trees whilst you’re out in your trainers, on your bikes or skates? Our gardening expert and GreenCare Manager, Sarah has written a blog detailing what you should look out for during this time of year.
Spring walks are a pleasure in so many ways, the anticipation in the air of what is to come and the changes that are noticeable almost daily are what makes them special.
Joining the aconites and snowdrops that we’ve seen open in recent weeks are the daffodils – the length of time they are around always amazes me, with some varieties flowering towards the end of February and others coming out in April.
If you are lucky you might see crocuses coming up in front gardens or on the edges of parks, and the green growth of tulips starting to push upwards. Their bright colours are something to look forward to as spring takes hold and the weather warms up.
Alongside the flowers the most noticeable changes are in the trees, as their flower buds open and they start to come in to leaf. Although the bare branches of winter trees have their own beauty it is the signs of spring on the trees that I enjoy most. There are already catkins visible on Hazel trees and the honeysuckle leaves have started to grow again. It is the leaves on willow trees that come out first, followed by alder, field maple and silver birch. While the buds burst on Ash, Rowan, Beech and Oak.
Later in the spring look for grape hyacinths, bluebells, violets and primroses coming up in gardens and watch the blossoms of blackthorn and crab apple come out while the leaves grow and fully form on all the trees around.
Going for a walk gives me the opportunity to connect to nature and look for daily changes in the gardens and trees that I pass. I can also get the privacy I need at the moment and a great sense of achievement when I get home, however long or short it has been.
Author: Ellie Winch
Balancing lockdown life whilst distanced learning
We have been hearing from many families that they are finding it hard to maintain a calm and settled household whilst balancing distanced learning, work, furlough, the needs of siblings or other family members and their own wellbeing. To regain balance, we can make small adjustments to help us to feel more resilient. If we are able to meet more of our emotional needs, it is easier to feel calm and be able to cope with difficulties. Our Children and Young People’s Facilitator, Louise Harris has some tips to help you to meet your emotional needs:
Meet your own needs as a parent/caregiver
If you are trying to do everything all at once, it may leave you feeling stressed, drained, unable to think clearly and running out of patience. Taking some time to focus on your own wellbeing can help you to feel well and more able to cope with pressures. Studies have found that even just ten minutes’ walk can help to regulate emotions and settle your thoughts, which can leave you better prepared to deal with challenges.
Including children in a daily walk can help them to feel more settled, or if you are able to walk alone or with a friend in the evening, it can allow time for privacy or connection, both of which can help you to feel more mentally well and able to feel ready for the next day. Movement helps to burn off cortisol caused by stress and releases endorphins which can help you to feel better. Movement can also be dancing round the kitchen, vigorous housework or hide and seek if you are staying at home.
Take small steps to meet the need for achievement
Schools are working hard to provide plenty of learning opportunities both on and off-line to support children. In addition, many extra-curricular facilities are providing online sessions and challenges. If you are feeling the pressure to keep up, remember that sometimes to get the best out of learning opportunities, it is better to lessen the amount of tasks you are trying to accomplish at a one time. Sometimes children feel this pressure, and their own emotional state, rather than their capability, can be a barrier to them being engaged in learning.
Instead of ticking every task off the list in one day, try taking small steps to complete one task well, to help children to meet their need for achievement and feel proud of their work. Writing about something they are interested in or learning about, drawing a picture or creating it from craft materials and sending back to their teachers can show that children are engaging with learning whilst helping children to meet their need for achievement and remaining in wellbeing.
Encourage better sleep for all
For children to have time to settle their thoughts and feel calm, they need some time away from screens which is difficult when most learning as well as entertainment is online. You may be finding that your children are finding it harder to settle to sleep or that they are getting out of bed many times during the night. Sometimes, if children haven’t had time for quiet reflection, or privacy, they can go to bed with thoughts, questions and worries that keep them feeling restless and awake. Try and balance this in your home by including some time each evening away from screens to do something that keeps hands busy but allows time to let thoughts settle such as drawing, building or creating something from crafts.
Maintaining the balance within your home at this time can be challenging, but by thinking about the emotional needs of both yourself and your children, you may be able to take small steps to help everybody to feel more towards wellbeing.
Author: Ellie Winch
Caring for others during the COVID-19 pandemic
Our Workplace Wellbeing Trainer, Jo Flack talks about the difficulties of caring for others during lockdown
In 2019, my mum was diagnosed with Dementia. From the start, I found it both a challenge and a steep learning curve caring for someone with an illness I previously knew little about. Then along came Covid 19 and that challenge has hugely increased in complexity.
I do not share a household with my mum and her primary carer is my dad, but he has a history of mental illness so needs to be well supported himself.
Trying to remotely look after both their needs during lockdown is proving to be very emotionally demanding. Practical support, such as trying to gain a slot for on-line food delivery, making sure mum remembers she can’t go out and ensuring they both take their prescription medication is hard enough. But supporting them to meet their emotional needs without being able to see them face to face, take them out and about, or give them a big hug, is seriously tough.
Whether you are caring for someone in your own household or outside it, and whether that loved one has a physical difficulty, mental health difficulty or substance misuse, the current situation may well be leaving you feeling overwhelmed.
And when we are overwhelmed it becomes harder to offer the care and support to those we look after. So it is really important to take some time for self-care, to be kind to ourselves and to look after our own needs as well as the needs of others.
To stay physically and mentally well, there are emotional needs we must all meet, needs that may be more challenging to tend to in this time of social distancing. Below are some coping tips to help you meet needs, stay well in the current climate and continue to offer support to the people you care for:
- Maintain emotional connection as much as you can with people in your life who are important to you: this includes people who can support you as well as those you support. My brother spent an arduous 2 hours on the phone to my dad setting up Skype for them, but is was well worth it. I can now have regular video chats with mum and dad, with my brother there for additional support, and they get to see the faces of their grandchildren.
- Join a support group to help meet your own need for community; hearing the experiences of other carers and being able to share your own will also help meet the need for status – the need to be recognised for the role you do.
- Pay attention to the good things, notice what has gone well each day and recognise your achievements.
- Look after your physical needs. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep, get your need for movement met to encourage your body’s natural release of endorphins and consume food/drink in a healthy, balanced way.
- Those you care for, particularly if they have cognitive difficulties, may become more distressed/agitated etc during this time, so sharing simple facts about what’s going on and finding ways to help them relax may ease stressful situations.
- We could all find ourselves experiencing higher levels of worry and anxiety during these uncertain times, so we need to find ways to keep calm and to feel in control of our daily lives. Making a plan for each day or keeping to a routine can be really helpful.
- Find ways that you can unwind and do what you can to you meet your own need for privacy; self-care is not selfish, it is needed.
- Being there for someone who needs you gives your life meaning and purpose; therefore allow yourself to recognise what a good job you are doing.
Author: Ellie Winch
Meeting Our Children’s Need for Sleep During Lockdown
Our Children and Young People’s Facilitator, Louise Harris talks about the importance of sleep and how she has helped her five-year-old to get better sleep during the current pandemic.
Lockdown life and the ‘Corona Coaster’ of the ups and downs of the past few months has affected us all. Our children have also been finding it tricky, but as they don’t always have the words or ability to express this, it has been displaying in other ways.
My daughter has struggled to sleep
Since the schools have been closed, I have noticed a huge increase in the amount of support my five year old needs to be ready for sleep and her ability to stay asleep through the night. I have questioned how much exercise she was having throughout the day compared to pre-lockdown times, but even taking her on bike rides and inventing high-energy trampoline obstacle courses in the garden did not seem to have any effect on her waking up in the night or being able to get to sleep.
Why is sleep so important?
Periods of REM and deep sleep throughout the night allow us to wake feeling motivated, refreshed, fit and rested, feeling happy and healthy and ready to start the day. Different periods of sleep are needed: 20% REM sleep to calm strong emotions and 20% deep sleep to allow the brain to switch off and the body to restore itself. To achieve this level of deep sleep, good sleep routines need to start earlier in the day, not just at bedtime.
Exploring the root cause of the issue
When a child goes to bed with unmet emotional needs, they can struggle to fall asleep. When they do fall asleep, their dreams can be intense and vivid, which means that they are unable to self-soothe back to sleep if they wake. The needs of emotional connection and privacy are particularly key to feeling settled at the moment, as children need to have quality connections with families as well as quiet time to discharge their own thoughts and emotions.
How to meet children’s need for privacy
Encouraging ‘action to relax’ types of activities often throughout the day that can be done independently gives children time to have quiet space to settle their thoughts before bedtime. Activities that allow this to happen include:
- Colouring and drawing
- Building blocks and jigsaw puzzles
- Sewing, loom bands bracelets to weave
- Books set up to look at in a cosy space- We call this a ‘story snuggle’ in our house!
Our sleep experiment – What did we change?
As well as thinking about my daughter’s activities throughout the day, I considered her bedtime routine during lockdown. Not only had she had more screen-time than usual, but our day was more fluid, meaning that we were not sticking to a predictable routine as we usually would.
Making positive associations for bedtime is very important, so I decided to create an environment that she would want to spend time and be relaxed in:
- Making sure her bedroom is relatively clear and uncluttered
- Ensuring her favourite cuddly toys were within reach
- Ensuring screens were left off after dinner time
- Spending time reading , telling stories or doing yoga together and talking about the happy things we can do together in the following days.
- Spraying child-safe pillow mist with soft music to fall asleep to.
But what if my child worries before bed?
If your child has worries at bedtime, try talking about putting their worries down, so they know you are not brushing them aside but you will address them when it is the right time. Telling them that you will talk about them after breakfast the next day gives them time to relax knowing that you have not forgotten, but they also do not need to wake up worrying about them.
Did it work?
We have noticed a huge improvement in the quality of our five year old’s sleep, her ability to stay asleep and her happiness in going to sleep since we started thinking about meeting her emotional needs and improving her sleep hygiene habits. Little changes have made a big difference, and although she still sometimes wakes and needs my reassurance, we are having many more restful bedtimes and happier, more settled days.
Author: Ellie Winch
Lockdown 3: Helping your children to meet emotional needs over the next six weeks
With the announcement of school closures, our Children and Young People’s Facilitator, Louise Harris has this advice to help you to maintain mental wellbeing in your home.
With the challenges and changes of schools being closed to most pupils for this term, parents are looking for ways to balance home learning again with work, making sure everyone stays well physically and mentally and maintain some sense of normal family life. Our research has given us valuable information on the emotional needs that are not being met and what we can do as a family to meet them. Here are four key ones:
Find time to connect
Connection within your home is important to allow children to feel they have your attention, even for a short while. Find time to give them your attention doing something they enjoy together so that they feel happier to do independent tasks after your time together.
Whilst it may be difficult to stay connected to others outside the home in person, focus attention away from the ways it is difficult to connect by allowing connections in other ways. Send thank you notes, letters, cards connect over video calls, play online games with friends or just phone someone for a chat. We need relationships in our lives to help us to feel well.
Make time to move
Movement affects how we feel and can change our mood. This is especially true if you can get outside. Join in with Suffolk Mind’s 100 miles challenge with your family. Take a mile walk a day around your local area, or extend the challenge to 100 skips, 100 karate katas, 100 dance routines or 100 yoga sequences!
Let go and being in control
Our research shows that one of our key emotional needs is to have control over our lives. This can be difficult to meet when living under restrictions. Think about what you can control and focus on that. Make a list as a family of things you can not control, and let it go. Then make a list of things that you can control. Include silly things as well as sensible ones: Which odd socks will I choose today? How will I arrange the fruit on my breakfast? Can I choose my clothes to look like a character from a book or a film?
A routine to feel secure
Setting a basic daily routine as a family that allows you to feel secure and have a predictable start, middle and end to your day helps everyone to settle. Allow time for learning, time for exercise and time for connection. Also allow time for privacy; time alone doing a calming activity such as drawing, listening to music or keeping up with non-screen hobbies allows thoughts to settle and aids a restful sleep. This may help us to feel more well and able to cope with the challenges of this time.
Author: Ellie Winch