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: Kristina Brinkley
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: Kristina Brinkley
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: Kristina Brinkley
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: Kristina Brinkley
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: Kristina Brinkley
How to make good decisions which help you follow the rules
One of the biggest challenges in the new post-Covid world is knowing what the rules are, and keeping up when they seem to change on a daily basis. How on earth are we supposed to stick to the rules when we can’t always work out what they are? Our Workplace Wellbeing Trainer Penny Tyndale-Hardy explains how we can make good decisions.
The rules seem to be written in such a way that it’s not always clear how they apply to a particular situation.
For example, ‘work from home if possible’ is easy enough if you can work from home. But if you can’t, does that mean you are allowed to go to work, whatever your job is? ‘Stay local’ seems pretty clear, but what is local? One mile from home? Five? Twenty? And what are ‘exceptional circumstances’?
This ambiguity means it’s easy to look for – and find – loopholes that justify what we want to do, even if it breaks the rules.
One reason people break the rules is because they infringe our control, our choices, our freedom. Having a sense of control is really important for our wellbeing and when that is taken away it can make us feel unsettled, anxious and stressed, and we may respond to that by rejecting those rules.
Our sense of community is important and our need to belong can make us go along with things that on our own we might not do. For example, if the group around us rejects the rules – maybe breaks social distance advice or doesn’t wear a mask – evidence shows that we are more likely to do this too.
However, there are equally strong drives that help us keep the rules. Our need for security will actively encourage us to follow rules that help us stay safe. When we understand and agree with the rules – if they seem to have meaning and purpose to us – then we are also more likely to obey them.
So when trying to decide what we do, maybe it’s more useful to start by looking at why there are rules. What are they there for?
The rules are there to stop the spread of coronavirus. The more human contact we have with others, the easier it is for the virus to spread. Science isn’t absolute, but all scientific advice will be based on data and evidence. This is then filtered through the politicians, who decide how to use the science, alongside other considerations, such as the economy and people’s wellbeing.
When we are anxious, it affects our ability to think clearly about things and can mean we make emotional decisions rather than rational decisions.
If our anxiety is about how the rules are negatively affecting us – anxiety about not seeing a loved one, for example – we may be more likely to break them; if that anxiety is more about the virus itself it might make us frustrated by others who break the rules. However, it’s important to remember that we cannot control other people’s decisions – we can only control what we do ourselves.
Good decisions come from our rational thinking rather than our emotional thinking. We need to come at it with a clear head, which doesn’t happen when we are emotionally aroused.
So if you are having anxiety around interpreting and sticking to the rules – whether because you find it difficult to keep to them, or are worried about staying safe – make sure you calm that anxiety before making a decision. Try some mindful breathing or read our other resources on coping.
When we are calm, we can clearly assess the rules and make good choices. Respecting each other and bringing compassion and understanding will help us make decisions that work for the whole community.
Author: Kristina Brinkley
Are you feeling alone right now? Here’s some helpful advice to tackle loneliness
Loneliness is the feeling we get when our need to connect with others is not met. The Covid-19 outbreak has made it a lot harder for many of us to meet our need for social contact; both with those we care about and the wider community. Our Workplace Wellbeing Trainer Jo Flack gives us some helpful tips to tackle loneliness.
If you are feeling lonely at this time, understand that it is natural to feel like this, because those everyday connections with friends, family and community are key to keeping us emotionally well. And take hope from the fact these changes will not last forever and there are things we can do to meet our need for emotional connection and community even at during these challenging times.
Here, we will explore some tips and ideas to help us tackle feelings of loneliness. Different things will work for different people at different times, so have a go at the suggestions that you feel will work best for you. And if some of them don’t feel possible for you right now, then try something else or come back to them at a time when it does feel right for you.
Tips to tackle loneliness
- Spend some time with friends or family members in accordance with current guidelines, such as going for a walk or arranging to have a catch up on a park bench.
- Even if you are staying at home, you can explore different ways to spend time with others: try a video call – perhaps over dinner to create a sense of shared enjoyment; invite people to join an online quiz; connect through online games such as Scrabble, Cluedo or video games; or if you are unable to access technology, then schedule in a weekly telephone call to someone you care about.
- Now may also be a good time to check in with people you have lost contact with, whether through social media, text chat, by picking up the phone or even writing a letter/sending a greetings card. Many of us love having contact with people we have lost touch with and this could be the perfect time to re-connect.
- You could also do things you enjoy that help create a sense of being in company, such as listening to the radio, tuning into podcasts or taking a walk in a public space (whilst still keeping to social distancing guidelines.) Or join in as an audience member at one of the many online broadcasts that allow you to indulge in a night at the ballet, take in a show or laugh along to a comedy act. And with Christmas just round the corner, you will find several charities and other organisations offering online carol services to attend.
- There is also a wide variety of online classes and courses available that can help you link in with others whilst also getting a sense of achievement and purpose. Maybe start by thinking about activities you have enjoyed in the past and research any local courses and classes you could give a go.
- Another way to stay connected is to try some volunteering, there are now a variety of volunteering opportunities out there that you can do from home.
- And remember that if you are struggling with a sense of loneliness, you are not alone. Maybe you have a neighbour who is also feeling isolated that you could chat to over the garden fence, or bake a cake for, or help out with shopping. And you can always reach out for support via an online community such as Mind’s Side by Side, or by calling a Coronavirus Support helpline.
Author: Kristina Brinkley
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
Moving helps us to stay physically healthy but mentally healthy too
Ezra Hewing, Head of Mental Health Education at Suffolk Mind, explains the benefits of moving for your mental health.
Getting the right amount of movement each week is important to good mental wellbeing. Whenever we do exercise, our bodies release endorphins to reward us. Endorphins are the body’s pleasure chemicals, making us feel good, encouraging us to keep exercising. However, each time we do some exercise, the amount of endorphins we receive is reduced, which motivates us to do more or try something different; so if you are a finely tuned athlete you will need to do more exercise to get more feel-good rewards. But for most people, just doing thirty minutes of exercise a few times a week is enough to significantly improve mood.
Research shows that regular exercise can be just as effective as medication at lifting depression and reducing anxiety. However, with exercise, you don’t have the potential unpleasant side effects and it can be effective at raising mood much more quickly than medication.
Movement also helps reduce high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In small amounts, cortisol is useful to gently alert the cells in our body and brain, and activate our defences against injuries and infections. However, if our emotional needs are poorly met, the increased levels of stress cause more cortisol to be released. High levels of cortisol can damage brain cells and cause physical inflammation. It can also inhibit the immune system, making us more vulnerable to bugs and viruses.
If stress goes unaddressed it can trigger a number of physical conditions too, such as high-blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, stomach ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, skin conditions including eczema, and alopecia, and heart conditions. Low intensity exercise, such as going for a brisk walk, reduces cortisol levels.
There may be another reason to be physically active too; brains only exist in animals which need to move. A plant doesn’t have a brain, because it doesn’t need to move; animals on the other hand have brains as we need to plan how we will move to get food, keep warm and stay safe. But if we don’t use the brain to move about, then connections in the brain start to wither away. Research shows, for example, that if we spend too much time at a desk, or on the sofa, without regular breaks to get up and move about, we are at increased risk of depression. If we don’t use the brain, we lose the brain.
So meeting the need to move, improves our mood by making us feel good, reduces the effects of stress, and protects the brain too.
Author: Kristina Brinkley