If there’s one thing I’ve learned, as a counsellor with over 12 years experience of working in mental health and social care, it is that mental health is a very difficult subject. The stigma in society is still very noticeable and people who suffer with mental health conditions don’t always receive the same understanding and recognition as people who suffer from physical ailments. Old values and misconceptions still underpin individual’s as well as the media’s understanding, which casts an even greater shadow on those who are struggling with their mental health every day.
The truth is that mental health is a spectrum. We all have mental health and like our physical health, it ranges from great to not so great. It can also be fluctuating and confusing. While there definitely are some hereditary and circumstantial factors involved, mental health conditions can affect anyone. 1 in 4 people in Britain experience some kind of mental health condition in any one year.
Many people are reluctant to seek help, as they are afraid of ending up in “the system”, being diagnosed and given an unhelpful label or end up on medication, which can be addictive and difficult to come off.
However, there are other ways to manage mental health. There is no one size fits all and usually people find a combination of things can help support them in their recovery:
Mindfulness is the collective term used to describe those moments where we slow down enough to notice what is going on. It is switching from autopilot to awareness, from stress to calm, from passively being swept along to actively creating our lives.
As a society we are increasingly busy and more and more health professionals are recognising the negative effects of this stress on our bodies. When we are busy, stressed and on the go, we are constantly flooding our systems with stress hormones. These hormones change the way our bodies operate long-term and can cause many health conditions, such as IBS, chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety. The increase of many of these conditions are putting a strain on the national health service. The evidence is stacking up and there is a clear message here: we were not meant to live like this.
If stress and “busy-ness” are the ailments of our time – mindfulness is the cure. There are many myths and misconceptions about mindfulness that might put people off, but the truth is that it can be practised by anyone, anywhere. It doesn’t require any kind of equipment, beliefs or skills. All you need to learn is how to slow down your thoughts and pay attention to the present moment.
There are two kinds of practice: active and passive. Active practice is when you deliberately sit down, switch your phone off and decide to do nothing for a number of minutes. It could be for as little as 5 minutes, or maybe 20 minutes or an hour if you have more time. You could focus on your breath, watch the steam rising from your cup of tea or listen to a guided mediation, whatever you like.
Passive practice is when you become mindful in everyday life. Everyone has had moments like this, when you suddenly feel alive, aware of your surroundings and inner feelings. This can often be triggered by being in a beautiful place in nature, or in a heightened emotional state, for example when falling in love or even during extreme distress. These moments can be accidental at first, but the more we practice mindfulness actively, the more we have the ability to choose to be mindful in our every day lives.
If you have tried mindfulness and feel like it’s just too difficult, you’re probably doing it right! When you start to become aware of your mind and its activity it can be discouraging, as it seems impossible to switch off even for a moment. This is mindfulness. It is not about switching off, it is about noticing. Noticing the (often pointless) activity of the mind, as well as our attitudes towards it. That’s all there is to it.
For something so simple, it can be very difficult to do. If you are keen to try mindfulness, here are some tips to support you as you get you started:
Please contact me for further information about classes and booking
When they say it’s the hardest job in the world they aren’t joking! Raising children is the equivalent of having 2.5 jobs. It is physically demanding, mentally draining, emotionally exhausting and if you’re doing it right, it comes with unbelievable amounts of worry and guilt.
With maternal mental health awareness week coming up I wanted to share some of the strategies for coping that I teach in my workshops:
If you want to know more about my Nourish Day Workshops for mums or individual counselling sessions, please get in touch.
This afternoon, after a very long week and a particularly difficult day, I got home totally exhausted. Feeling sorry for myself and utterly drained all I wanted to do was slump on the sofa.
But instead I grabbed my trainers, some Swedish hip hop and went for a run (by run I mean slow 5k jog – just to be clear). After only 2 songs my phone died and then it was just me, alone with my own thoughts, listening to sound of my breath and the songs of the birds, feeling my steps on the path. Mindfulness in action!
Needless to say, now I feel epic!
So, why am I sharing this? It’s not to be smug (even though I obviously am a little bit). It’s to motivate my future self. If you are someone who exercises regularly, you probably know the magic, mood-boosting qualities of those endorphins. But if, like me, you sometimes struggle to make that life affirming choice and end up giving in to old habits, this is a brilliant motivational tool for you:
Write a note from your post-workout self to your pre-workout self, detailing just how great you feel after your session. Be clear, be specific, make it vivid. Write about how alive you feel with all those endorphins flooding your system, how proud you are of your achievement, how much you’ve enjoyed yourself, or whatever you feel. Take a picture if you like, to capture that feeling. Then place it somewhere where you can see it the next time you are trying to make yourself stick to your fitness goals. Take it from yourself – you are going to feel so much better when you make that effort.
Try it – it works!
If you could do with some more support and motivation to create a healthier lifestyle, contact me to book some private counselling sessions.
With wedding season upon us I thought I’d take the time to address this very common issue. When you ask someone how they are feeling in the run up to their wedding, “stressed” is probably one of the most common answers.
Popular culture often belittles the feelings of brides with unhelpful stereotypes but the truth is that getting married is on the top ten list of stressful life events, along with losing a loved one, moving house and changing jobs.
So why is it that brides (and grooms) get so stressed about their big day?
First of all, have you ever planned a dinner party, a weekend away or a holiday for more than one person? Then you know the pressure of trying to get it right for everyone. So, imagine planning a dinner party for around 100+ people! Some or all of them might need to travel and stay overnight at the venue or nearby. Some of them might have dietary requirements, mobility issues, children who need entertained and with the complexities of modern families, some guests may need to be seated at separate tables.
Then add to this the fact that you, as the person who is getting married, are entering in to a legal agreement with your partner. This is a huge step and life decision, not to be taken lightly. However much you love your partner and no matter how sure you are that marriage is the right thing for you, it is normal to have some thoughts like “what if…”
Also, (and this is a big one!) there is a very public element to the wedding ceremony itself, which most people are not used to. I mean, how often do you stand up in front of all your family and friends and speak about your innermost feelings for all to hear? How often do you walk into a room where everyone stops, stands up and watches you as you enter? Add to that the expectation for brides to glow and be the most stunningly beautiful they have ever been in their life… No pressure then!
As a wedding celebrant I often work with people who are overcome with stress about their big day. This makes me sad, as it is supposed to be one of the happiest days in your life. And of course it will be, if you let it.
So what can you do to reduce the stress and calm those wedding nerves? Here are some ideas that I use to help couples:
Please contact me for further information and bookings