Category Archives: Mental 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.

How does the 2:2:2 technique help me put things in perspective?!

Standing in a wood with a bright sun light

Do you every find yourself worry about something and you’re so surrounded by the thing itself that you just can’t see beyond the end of your nose?! It’s when you get so bogged down in the detail you can’t see the wood for the trees, you can’t see the bigger picture…

The idea behind this exercise is to try and step back from the things you’re worrying about and consider them in the future—will it matter in 2 days time? Will it matter in 2 months time? Will it matter in 2 years times? This helps us put things in perspective because it helps us see the bigger picture.

Female in supermarket picking up an apple looking concerned

It’s important to use a measure of time that’s relevant to the problem. If, for example, you’re feeling highly anxious about being in a supermarket because people don’t seem to be adhering to the social distancing regulations, you can ask yourself, will this matter in 2 minutes? Yes—I will still be here in 2 minutes and I will still be struggling with this problem, however, in 2 hours, you will have returned home, washed your hands and lowered your risks. The idea being that in the moment, you can think to yourself, within a short space of time, things will feel better and this helps manage the anxiety.

If you’re struggling with the anxiety of buying a house, you’re worried about how you’ll cope with all the paperwork, you’re feeling stressed about understanding the legal aspects and you’re lying awake at night. The 2:2:2 technique can help by enabling you look further ahead. Will this still be on your mind in 2 weeks? Probably, how about 2 months? Yes…but how about 2 years? No, chances are, you’ll be in your new home, having unpacked all the those boxes you’re feeling stressed about and you’ll be worrying about something else! Of course buying a house is stressful, but this technique helps you realise that there is a bigger picture, you just don’t know what’s around the corner, life’s stresses come and go and if we spend life worrying, we’ll miss the good stuff!

Female blurred image

This technique can also help if you’re struggling to make a decision. Sometimes our mental health can affect us in surprising ways—indecisiveness being one. In the depths of depression, being asked what I wanted to drink or deciding what to wear could feel like I was being asked for the nuclear codes. Grasping for the right answer felt perilously out of reach… Once I realised, what choice I made wasn’t going to matter in 2 minutes time…. the decision was so much easier, just pick something, anything, whichever was closest to hand, what I drank/wore yesterday, it was fine!

I’m training to be a counsellor; although anyone can call themselves a counsellor, to become a fully accredited qualified counsellor takes a long time because a lot of self-development is needed and there’s no short cut. During the training process, it’s hard that the thing I want to be is within reach but also so far out of reach. I’m working in a job that’s not my ultimate aim and it causes high amount of stress and fatigue; each assignment and hurdle on my course feels like I’m being tested and I worry about “performing” badly when I know I can do better; I worry I’m never going to reach my goal but I have to step back every so often and think… I’ll still be on this path in 2 months but in 2 years, I’ll (probably/hopefully) be the qualified counsellor I’ve been aspiring to be for so, so long!

I’m not saying this technique will solve everything, nor am I saying it’s easy, it may not be for everyone but if you’re struggling, perhaps it’s something you could try? It’s just another tool to stick in your tool box for managing life’s stresses.