Category Archives: Health

Cartoon representation of a person isolated inside 4 walls with others outside

Isolating During Mental Health Awareness Week

After the covid-19 swab “tickled” the back of my throat and went so far up my nose I’m sure they sampled my brain, I was given a piece of paper with my list of isolation rules.

I knew I was required to stay inside for the next 3 days but the reality of it set in as I read a list of dos and don’ts. I’m not allowed to touch my husband as I’m required to stay 2m away from him and we have to sleep apart.

As someone who’s not too keen on touch, perhaps this wouldn’t be too bad but when you’re told you’re not allowed to do something, what’s the one thing you want to do?!

This week I’ve finally been listed for steroid injections into the facet joint in my spine. I was due this painkilling procedure over a year ago but the NHS had other priorities…

A couple of difficult moments include after the first night in separate beds, my husband came down to breakfast and automatically went to kiss me good morning. When a cross word is said and we talk things through, we like to hug it out but when we can’t do that it feels like we can’t quite put the misunderstanding to bed.

2 hands reaching out

You don’t realise how much you touch other people until you’re not allowed to. My husband and I hold hands to pray (before each meal and before sleeping at night) and it feels really strange not to do this. We ended up holding the ends of a pillow! I didn’t realise the physical connection I make with my husband aids the spiritual connection I make with God.

Mental Health Awareness Week this year is themed Nature. I’m an introvert, a highly sensitive person and could quite easily go for a couple of days and not realise I’d not left the house but being told I’m not allowed out is different. I yearned just to breath the fresh air, I daydreamed of walking around the park and I longed to make that connection to plants and animals that I know is good for my mental health. Check out my latest blog post for details.

There are all sorts of risk reduction measures going on at the moment in order to look after our physical health. Whether it’s social distancing, masks, isolation or working from home where all meetings are ‘virtual’, we’ve never been more disconnected. As the vaccine is being rolled out and lateral flow tests are the next stage in managing the pandemic we’ll now start being able to properly connect ‘irl’ (in real life)—this will greatly benefit our mental health!

Although my isolation was only 3 days it’s helped me to gather the tiniest glimpse into the world that was lived by thousands of people with underlying health conditions who were advised (overnight) that they were at risk of serious complications from a unseen virus. Everyone’s story is different, some isolated with their families, others lived apart while others tried to remain isolated away form their families while living in the same house. For one such story, check out Kate and Holly’s Isolation Diaries from BBC Ouch Podcast.

We’ve had a couple of fun moments: I shared a song I was planning to arrange for saxophone ensemble with my husband and started dancing along. Usually we would have joined hands and started doing some silly dancing, since we couldn’t do this, we pretended we were holding hands and did a silly dance anyway! Our kitchen is pretty small, we weren’t sure if it was big enough for both of us to prepare food at the same time; realising Steve was about 2m tall (1.98m) he lay down on the floor, found it was just long enough and declared that he could prepare his sandwiches at one end while I prepared my smoothie at the other!

Look up isolation in a thesaurus and you see vastly varying words from protection through to segregation and loneliness. I felt all of these!

At times I could see myself become afraid of germs; each time my husband went out, I was fearful he would bring the virus back, despite having a year of evidence showing this hasn’t happened before. I had been advised to wash my hands regularly and had to be careful that this didn’t become an obsessive behaviour.

A feeling of disconnection is really hard—working from home when everyone else is in the office feels almost shaming. What had I done wrong to be in this position? I find asking for help difficult at the best of times but when it’s in person, intonation and body language help to read the situation. Sending and receiving messages asking for help and support required courage and resilience. I was just incredibly glad I could work from home, it’s not too long ago it simple wasn’t an option when it really should have been!

man and woman embracing

Hugging again when you’ve not been allowed to for a while is something else! You don’t realise what you’ve got until you’re without it! It reminds us not to take anything for granted!

The whole ordeal was really hard but I was fortunate that it was only just over 3 days and I had a plan for getting out of it! I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience it with the physical, mental and emotional difficulties. Putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, I feel, is something we should always strive to do, that’s where real connection begins.

Lady walking dog in forest

Mental Health Awareness Week—Nature As A Healer

This year 2021, mental health awareness week is 10th May—16th May and the theme is nature.

Across the world, a viral pandemic has lead to a us taking steps to protect our physical health by staying inside our houses for weeks on end. This has had a profound impact on our mental health and it’s imperative we address this! During the pandemic, 45% people stated visiting parks and green spaces helped them cope.

When you think about nature, do you think about a special holiday you went on or a particularly picturesque place that helps you feel at peace and relaxed? What we need to remember is that we can find something special close to home if we look for it.

Getting fresh air and exercise has long been recommended for for general health and wellbeing but connecting to nature itself is also important. This relates to feeling an emotional association to nature. Activities that enable you to feel compassion and find a meaning in nature have been found to particularly effective. Such activities could include: intentionally listening to birdsong, feeling the bark of a tree or listening to the babbling of a brook. But you don’t need to be in nature to benefit: writing a poem or song or visualising a walk through nature could have equal benefit.

Actively choosing to connect to nature has been shown to increase happiness, joy and compassion, increase concentration and increase creativity. A decrease in mental ill health has also been shown, particularly symptoms of depression and anxiety.

It is important that the green space is clean (e.g. free from litter) and biodiversity (variety) has also been shown to be of benefit.

Feeling connected to nature can also increase pro-environmental behaviours such as reducing plastic use or recycling so making an active choice is win-win!

People living in urban areas are less likely to find clean biodiverse green spaces. Also, people with disabilities find it harder to access green spaces equally. Some groups, e.g. women, ethnic minorities, young people and disabled people said they weren’t sure if green spaces were safe. These barriers are really important to think about considering some of these groups are people who would greatly benefit from nature as therapy.

It’s important to plan urban parks well with accessibility in mind. Planting trees and flowers along streets is call a “green corridor”, even these small initiatives help.

If you’re feeling low or anxious, going for a walk may be the last thing you feel like doing but it could be the absolute best thing for you.

The main message is that you don’t necessarily have to do anything spectacular to benefit from nature. Check out this article to see some simple ideas for what you can do, even if you live in a city.

See full research article here.

female holding seated yoga pose

How yoga has totally transformed my life

Having recently discovered yoga, I’ve found far more benefits than I could have imagined. My mind, body and overall health have improved in layers.

1. Physical health—strength , flexibility and balance

Depending on the type of yoga practiced, incredible strength is needed to obtain some of the poses and movements. During vinyasa flow yoga practice, you’re encouraged to breath in a particularly way with each movement. Regular yoga practice builds strength and flexibility across your whole body. While holding the poses, even simple ones, your balance is improving each time.

Healthier blood flow around the body, in turn helps with blood flow to the brain which can help with clearer thinking. On a personal note, yoga can help with chronic conditions such as chronic pain—most (if not all) of the movements and poses can be modified if disability prevents the full posture being achieved. To start with I found, even, upward and downward facing dog difficult but I soon mastered a full sun salutation.

2. Mind-body connection

2 women, 1 with Down syndrome, doing yoga together

For all sorts of reasons, I struggle to understand the experiences of my body; I’m not sure what signals it’s giving me. It’s taken me a long time to understand hunger (for example) and when I experience pain, I’m not sure how to respond. Proprioception is the awareness of the body and its movement in space, yoga has really helped me be more aware of my body and to be more connected with it. A good yoga teacher will help you be aware of how far to push your body, to listen to its cues and to this has the huge benefit of having a better overall awareness of what your mind and body need.

3. You time—self compassion

As soon as you make the decision to do something for yourself, you’re showing yourself compassion. How many of us think we don’t have time to do something for ourselves? Think we’re too busy, have other priorities or put other people first? Carving out some you-time isn’t a bad thing, it’s not indulgent to look after yourself, after all, you can’t look after others if you in poor health… Treating yourself well has all sorts of knock on benefits, including: eating better, a calmer mood, more motivation, better confidence and self esteem, overall better mental health!

4. It’s not limited

A woman and young boy doing upward facing dog together

There are so many different types of yoga you’ll be able to find something that can work for you. You can do it with a child, in groups, on your own, while you’re pregnant, you can find work outs that make you sweat or that help you meditate, harder poses if you need something to motivate you to work harder over a period of months/years and there are simple movements if you body needs a break.

Yoga can help with specific issues such as bloating and digestion or headaches but it’s also great for overall fitness and health. You can do a 5 minutes routine in the morning or evening (to help you wake up or wind down) or a full blown intense hour long workout.

I would highly recommend finding a teacher who has the ability to modify postures and poses to individuals. Even online teachers can do this quite easily. It’s also important that they don’t make you feel as though you’re a failure for needing to do the modified moves, our bodies are all different and that’s ok.

During lockdown I started following YouTube videos daily and have found this to be incredibly beneficial for keeping a routine. My recommendation would be Boho Beautiful, she has a huge range of videos and has the option to join a community to get longer workshop video (I’ve never felt the need for this as her YouTube videos are enough for me!).