Words on Wednesday – Spreading Positivity

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You may have read yesterday’s blog post where I shared with you my mental health struggles that have been compounded by the coronavirus outbreak and though I am still struggling I have been finding ways to cope with the anxieties I have at the moment.

I spent a lot of the day doing housework, or more specifically, deep cleaning my bathroom.  I know that cleaning is not that high up on a lot of peoples “fun ways to spend time” lists but I find that it helps me a great deal, I can focus on what needs doing, how to clean and do the best job that I can.  I put some music on (if you are interested I listened to Greenday’s Greatest Hits and Gomez’s Bring It On albums), sang and bleached and scrubbed and mopped for a good few hours.

I also, after sending a few pics to a friend and having a conversation with them, I was inspired to use the virus isolation in a positive way.  So many of us are self-isolating and social distancing which can be hard for people, like me, who have mental health problems, but we are all doing incredible things at home to alleviate the boredom and finding ways to adapt to this new way of life. So, I created a new Instagram account (you can find it by searching @the_stay_home_club or by clicking here) which I want to use to share my own, and others, photos of fun things that they are doing while in isolation and staying at home.  I want the space to be a place of positivity, fun and full of inspiration, hints, tips and recommendations that can be shared with others who are in the stay home club.

I would love to see photos of things that you are doing while at home, whether it is the space you now occupy while working, what you are cooking, creating, how you are spending your time, what you are wearing (I’ve been wearing pjs and a hoodie much of the day), are you trying out something new (whether it is some kind of fashion, hairstyle, recipe or DIY), what sort of projects you are doing with your kids or even projects that you are doing, things you are watching, reading, listening to or playing, or something that is making you smile.  Anything that you are doing could inspire or help someone else and I want to help spread a little bit of positivity and inspiration to others using the powers of social media.  But, I can’t do this alone so I am asking for you to do a few things for me

  1. Come and follow me on Instagram, tag your photos using the #the_stay_home_club and @the_stay_home_club so I can find and share your photos*.
  2. Share the account on your social media sites and ask your friends to get involved.
  3. If you don’t have Instagram and want to share any photos please email them to me (colourful.life@outlook.com) and I will share them to Instagram for you**.

The more people that get involved the more positivity, inspiration and smiles will be shared.  Together we can make these scary and uncertain times a little bit brighter.

Will you help to spread a few smiles with me?

  • *credit will be given and your account tagged in any images that I re-post.
  • **I will add your blog handle or blog address to any images that you would like shared.  Alternatively, should you wish to remain anonymous let me know and I will just share them for you.

 

Coronavirus, Anxiety and Me

I have been in self-isolation for the past week and I am on the verge of returning to work after this 7 day period at home.  I have been ok physically but, as the coronavirus outbreak is worsening I am really starting to struggle with my mental health.

Last year I was absent from work with stress, anxiety and depression for nearly 6 months and up until a few days ago I felt pretty stable but now I am starting to struggle, especially with the anxiety side of my mental health.

I went shopping, as I usually do on payday and I normally buy much that I need for the month ahead.  In the days leading up to going shopping, I was hearing stories of the shops selling out of essentials that I normally buy monthly which started my anxiety levels to rise.

I get paid monthly, I live on my own, I have bills to pay and my monthly salary just about covers that along with food and other things I might need.  I have very little room monthly to save any money and budgeting for food is one way that I can keep in some kind of control of my finances.  When I went shopping (and I visited 3 different supermarkets), not one had items that I rely on for my monthly food shop.  I eat a lot of pasta, at least 3 times a week as I know that what I cook will do me for 3 meals (one that evening, then lunch with the leftovers for tea), there were no tins of baked beans that I eat on toast at least 2 times a week, there was no veg, the freezers were empty save for a few tubs of ice-cream.  There were no toilet rolls or dog food, laundry products, hand wash, bath products or bin bags.  This has caused me a lot of worry and expense.  I need to eat, my dog needs to eat and I have a budget that I really can’t go too far away from.

In the end, I was forced to buy dog food and pasta on-line (Amazon had some stocks available) but I paid over the odds.  Roxy usually has one type of food and I couldn’t get that so instead of spending the usual £9 on a bag I had to buy something that was similar in nutritional value and ingredients that cost twice as much.  And I have had to bulk buy pasta online spending a lot more than I usually do.

In addition to that, I am getting really anxious about how this virus will affect those around me, both my Mum and Dad are in the at-risk group and are retired and I am worried about their health and how they will manage in having to isolate themselves with things like food shopping and just remaining safe.  My brother is also in self-isolation for the foreseeable future as he is asthmatic.

I have been watching the news, not constantly but the important parts of it as the advice the government are giving seems to change on a daily, if not hourly, basis.  I don’t know whether watching it is making my anxiety worse or not but I do know that I would rather be armed with the facts and be up to date with advice that is being given.

I’m worried about going back to work, and I can’t help panicking about what would happen if I picked up the virus and carried it to my parents or transferred it to someone else and I am worried about how the virus could affect me.

I’m worried about what will happen with work and if the office will remain open and about working from home.  I was planning on getting broadband put into my home this month but can no longer afford to do so as my food bill was more than I had planned.  Not having broadband and having to rely on mobile internet might be ok for blogging and other general browsing but I don’t have enough data to work from home for 7.5 hours a day for 5 days let alone afford to do this indefinitely.  I don’t even know if working from home would be an option when the work I do means that I have access to personal data.

And I am worried about having an extended period of time away from work, whether I will still get paid, whether I will still have a job to go back to should I take leave and whether, if I have to have time off again due to my mental health (which was stable before this virus pandemic) whether it will go down as sick leave and how that will affect my sickness record and pay.

I am just really anxious and worried about everything at the moment and I’m struggling to see anything in a positive light with so few answers to any questions, the advice we are being given changing constantly and all these stupid people who are panic buying and making the situation even worse in the grand scheme of things.

Top 10 Thursday – 10 Ways to Relieve Stress and Anxiety

Everyone, at some time or other has experienced a bout of stress or anxiety of some kind, and in today’s culture of being constantly busy, switched on and contactable the number of cases of stress and anxiety are rising. I have stress and anxiety related mental health issues and have started to learn some of the triggers but even knowing what can start anxiety and stress doesn’t help to stop the feelings from coming. Today I am sharing my top 10 ways to relieve stress and anxiety when they do happen.

  1. Listen to a podcast
  2. Read a book
  3. Practice mindfulness (Calm is a fab app that I use regularly)
  4. Have a bath with essential oils (I find lavender and basil to both help relax me)
  5. Sleep
  6. Switch off all electronic devices even for half an hour
  7. Do a jigsaw
  8. Get out a colouring book or sketch pad and doodle
  9. Go for a walk
  10. Clean (I like to hoover the floors or even do some ironing)

What are some of your favourite ways to relieve stress and anxiety? I’d be really interested to hear so leave me a comment!

Supporting Friends Througn Mental Illness

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With 1 in 4 people in the UK being diagnosed with a mental illness it is very likely that a friend or family member could be one of these people.  It can be hard to know how to help when you hear of someone getting diagnosed with depression which affects around 300 million people, or anxiety, two of the biggest mental illnesses in the Uk, or any other mental health illness, a lot of what is written on the internet is about how the person affected can help themselves, the types of medical help that are available or guidance notes for employers to follow.

I have been through a diagnosis of mental illness and had 6 months away from work with anxiety and depression coupled with stress, and I am still recovering so the following post is about how you can support friends through mental illness based on the things that helped me.

  • Let them know you are there for them. Just hearing the words “I’m always here for you” and knowing that it is meant was a big support for me.
  • Don’t ask “How are you?” as many people will answer with a generic “I’m fine.” Instead, ask how they are feeling. I have a friend who always sends me a text to ask how I am feeling and it has always given me the opportunity to really talk about my feelings, sometimes being able to share those things is easier with a direct question.
  • Ask what you can do to help. Sometimes the answer may be nothing but other times it could be to run some errands or even just sit and chat.
  • Ask what they would like to do, and have some suggestions for things if they say they don’t want to do anything. My friend would ask me this and I would say nothing a lot of the time as I didn’t want to waste their time, but they would always suggest things like watching a film, cooking some food or playing games on the computer which made me feel good that they wanted to spend time with me.
  • Always remember them in group plans. My friend was brilliant at this, even when I’m sure they knew I would say no.  There really is no worse feeling than friends making plans and not being included.
  • There were times that I didn’t want to talk and there were times when I really needed to let everything out and having someone to just sit and listen was so valuable.
  • Don’t judge. There were times, at the beginning of my mental health illness where I hadn’t done any housework for weeks, I was still in the same pyjamas 3 days down the line, my hair wasn’t brushed or even washed and I felt embarrassed but my friends never judged me or made me feel bad about it.  If you can, do a small task for them, like washing the dishes, sometimes that little gesture helps more than you can imagine.  On one of my bad days where I hadn’t taken a shower for a week or even gotten dressed properly one of my friends came round and sat with me while I took a shower, they picked out some clothes for me to wear then blow-dried my hair for me because everything had felt too huge and overwhelming for me to do myself and those little things made such a difference to my week.

I hope that this guide is useful if you can think of any other ways to help support a friend through mental health illness then let me know in the comments.

Words On Wednesday

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Is enough being done to support employees who have mental health problems?  This is one question that has arisen since attending the HPMA Awards Ceremony last week.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how well people with mental health problems are supported in their employment.  When I was signed off by the doctor back in September last year with stress, anxiety and depression I had to phone my place of employment on a weekly basis to update my manager on how I was feeling and how my treatment plan was going.  I was already experiencing stress and anxiety and this seemed to cause me further distress as part of my illness meant that I was getting over-anxious and finding it difficult to talk to anyone.  Couple that with my Aspergers which makes it difficult for me to vocalise my thoughts and feelings and get nervous about phone conversations and I was in a really difficult space.  I understand that my employer needed to know how I was recovering but when I was seeing the doctor on a fortnightly basis and being signed off for a fortnight at a time I did feel that the level of contact expected of me was a bit much at times.

When I returned to work I was introduced back to the working environment on a phased return which was a really good thing to get me used to being back in a working routine in the office and to test the waters with how I was feeling.

Now though, I feel like I am on my own where it comes to my mental health.  Unlike a lot of illnesses and other medical problems (like a broken leg for example), I will not fully heal and suddenly be better.  I have days where I am feeling brilliant, weeks when I am good or ok and then there are times that I really do struggle.  I have days where I have to drag myself to work and fight to stay for the day rather than run home and sleep.

Those bad days are the worst.  People often think that because you have managed to get to work that you must be fine and expect you to continue with your work as you had been on your good days.

The alternative to going to work on a bad day is to phone up and take a day off as a sick day.  I have not done this as I have no idea how to explain to someone that my mental health is such that I really can not face work.  I am also aware that the sickness policy is such that 3 sets of absence act as a trigger for a sickness review where a meeting with my line manager would take place and my “illnesses” discussed.  Any additional absences trigger further warnings until eventually you are dismissed from your job.  The policy for sickness may differ from place to place but for my last 4 jobs the same policy has been in place.

The big question is, should mental health be treated as a sickness under the sickness policy?  I’m not sure that it should be as it is something that has varying degrees of being ok or not.  I think that there should be an understanding between employer and employee with regards to mental health, and taking a day off because of mental health should be allowed, not be taken as a sick day, annual leave or as unpaid leave.  I think that employees who are either on medication or under their doctor or mental health worker should have some kind of special leave granted for when things become too overwhelming.

I can see that special leave for mental health could be abused by an employee but I feel that if it was monitored correctly then people would not need to take days off here and there.

More could be done by the employer too, whether it is having regular “check-ins” with their employee just to see if all is ok when the employee is in work, or just noticing if the employee has changed, for example – becoming more withdrawn when they used to be chatty, getting less work done than before, if they appear to be getting more stressed out…

What are your thoughts on this?  I’d love to have conversations with you in the comments about this.

The Hidden Effects of Mental Health

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There are now so many prompts to talk about mental health from Time to Talk Day to Mental health Awareness Week where opportunities are given to learn about mental health or talk about mental health from a first-person perspective.  Things that get talked about, often, during these periods are the causes of mental health problems, symptoms, medications that can help, looking after our mental health, spotting signs in friends and family and how to help others.  The stigma attached to mental health is often talked about in great depth but one thing I have found that gets overlooked is the hidden effects of mental health.

So, what are the hidden effects of mental health?

People who have had mental health problems experience the hidden effects, which often go unnoticed.  Some of these things can be

  • Social circle shrinks

When you have mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, it can be hard to stay in contact with friends, from calling, texting or attending evenings out, and before you know it, friends have drifted away.

  • Being overwhelmed

When my mental health starts to disintegrate, I stop doing things like cleaning my house or doing the washing up or laundry and as I get better, I can feel overwhelmed by all of the tasks that need to be done.  I also experience a sense of overwhelm when I go outside – to the shops, after a period of locking myself away in the house.

  • People treat you differently

Without wanting to, I have found that people’s attitude can change and they start treating you as if you are fragile and will break.  I have experienced this in work, where, even now, I still get concerned looks from my colleagues or do not seem to get to do the same types of work as others in case I cannot cope.

  • Lack of trust

I think that this lack of trust can be linked to people treating you differently, shrinking of social circles and the stigma that is still attached to mental health.  It can be hard to open yourself up to people and to talk about feelings, especially people you may not know very well.

  • Feeling trapped in a cycle

I often wonder if I will ever be well enough to be medication free or if I will have to rely on my tablets to keep me functioning at a level forever.  Sometimes it feels like I am stuck in a cycle of requesting my prescription, collecting tablets, taking tablets and doctor’s appointments to monitor my medications.

  • Slowing down

If people have to take medication for mental health there are side effects, which can affect memory and the speed at which we process things or our ability to understand things as easily.  This can be frustrating as we know we should be able to understand, remember or process things easily.

I can only write from my own experiences, though I do know, from conversations that I have had, that there are other effects that having mental health problems which all have a different impact on us.

Have you had any effects caused by having mental health problems?  I’d love to chat about your experiences in the comments.

Words on Wednesday

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I’ve been thinking a lot, recently, about targeted advertising and its effects on mental health.

Targeted advertising campaigns are usually run by online services, typically social media such as Facebook and Instagram.  This type of advertising uses different methods of selecting the types of adverts we see, from items we have searched for online, products we have bought, our location, age, gender, race, and even relationship status.  Some of these adverts are specifically targeted, for example, you may have searched for a certain type of tea and start seeing more adverts for different types or brands of tea, others could be more generally targeted, such as posting your relationship as being single, you may get targeted with dating site adverts, others may use your demographic, mine being female, 30’s, single, in full or part and match your stats to what others in that group have been searching for, or things that advertisers may think your age group are interested in.

My thoughts on the types of targeted advertising.

  • Specifically Targeted.

I don’t mind specifically targeted adverts as I find that I can discover other brands that I may never have heard of before or items I may never have considered.  This type of advertising is a bit like browsing the supermarket shelves and can expose us to more brands and deals.

  • Generally Targeted.

Generally targeted adverts can be a good or bad thing, I’m neither for or against this type of advert.  Back in my Facebook days, I found lots of things I was interested in through generally targeted adverts, equally were the adverts that I saw making the assumption that I was lonely and needed to find a date what with being single and everything…(eyeroll)

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  • Demographically Targeted.

This type of advertising is one that I have seen a huge rise in and the one that I find affects me most mentally.  I see adverts for weight loss products, fertility treatments, baby and toddler things, wedding dresses, the list is endless.  This type of advertising makes assumptions based on what it knows about you and where you fit in society, what your age group and gender are searching for, not you specifically, and this is the advertising I think that is most damaging to our mental health.

Why do I think this demographically targeted advertising is most damaging to our mental health?

This advertising makes assumptions about us regarding our age, gender, location and shows adverts that others in that group have been looking at.  Now, the adverts that I have seen assume that because I am in my 30’s I am thinking about or having children, that I am looking to lose weight quickly, planning a wedding, buying my dream home, and I’m not doing any of those things.  On a good day, this kind of advertising doesn’t bother me, and in all honesty, I don’t pay it that much attention, however, on a bad day, this sort of advertising can add to my negative mood.  I find myself comparing me to others, feeling sad, lost and insecure, unaccomplished and wondering if I am good enough.

Instagram introduced a mute button for us to still follow an account but not see their feed anymore, partly to stop us feeling so overwhelmed by others seemingly perfect lives (well, that is what I have used it for in the past) and it has been a suggested technique by several articles to help people to start loving their own lives again.  I have gotten used to seeing perfectly styled Instagram images and am aware that the images we see are highly curated, well lit and edited, and I view them as I do magazine images –  they are only that way for a second and no one sees how bad things may be behind the camera lens, or know in truth what is really happening behind the scenes.  What I am unable to block or mute are these demographically targeted adverts that I seem to be bombarded with each and every time I step foot onto social media.  And if I am being affected by them, how many others are as well?

What do you think of demographically targeted adverts?  Let me know in the comments!  I’d love to hear your opinion.

Stress Less Cards – Review

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I’ve added another item to my Mental Health Toolkit in the form of these Stress Less Cards.  I stumbled on these cards when perusing Amazon one evening around a month ago and decided to add them to my basket before checking out.  I was drawn to the idea of having a set of cards that I could carry around and use when I felt my stress and anxiety start to kick in as, even though I have had mindfulness classes and have other things I can use to bring my stress and anxiety back down, I was finding that I would forget them if I got too stressed out.  Having something written down that I could follow had a really big appeal.

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As these cards are roughly the size and shape of a deck of playing cards they fit into my pocket or into my bag without taking up much space at all.  There are 50 cards in the pack and have various mindfulness exercises printed on one side of the card and the Stress Less Cards name and mandala print on the reverse.  The cards are numbered at the bottom of the exercise side so you can work your way through the exercises from 1 to 50, or, like I prefer, take one out of the pack at random when you want to use them.

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The exercises only take a few moments out of your day and are designed to help lessen the anxiety and stress you are feeling.  The cards can be used anywhere, the size makes them perfect to use in work as they are small and not very noticeable.  I have used them in work and at home and feel that they really do help me to stress less, I have also found that they can really help with my concentration levels, which, at times can be sketchy at best.

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I’m not sure how well the cards will survive in the card box that they come in or the cards themselves with repeated use.  I would love the box to have been made of something sturdier (a metal tin would have been perfect) and perhaps having the cards laminated would help them to be a bit longer wearing, but for the moment I am happy with them, though I may transfer them to another container soon.

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Overall, I am really happy that I found and purchased these Stress Less Cards.

What things do you have to help you when your stress and anxiety starts to rise?

Mental Health and Me – An Update

img_4183I’ve been thinking about writing this post since my last mental health update which was back in February.  In that post, I had been to see the Occupational Therapist and was returning to work.  I had been advised to do a phased return into work, starting with shorter hours and increasing them over a period of weeks until I was back working full time.  It was also agreed that I would have regular meetings with my line manager just to make sure everything was ok.

I’m now back in work full time and have been working 37.5 hours a week since 8th April.  My phased return went well and it was surprising how quickly I adapted to being back in work which had been one of my main worries.  My work colleagues have been ok, though I am finding that some of them seem to be acting a bit differently to me.  Whether this is just how I am perceiving things or not, I’m not sure.  I also have not had any meetings with my line manager about how I am getting on which is a bit disappointing.  I know that I could always approach my manager but in all honesty, it makes me feel a bit awkward.  Not only am I doing ok but I also feel like, as it was something that was suggested by my manager then really they should be checking up with me.

I’m still on my medication, it was agreed with the Dr to increase my Sertraline from 100mg to 150mg and that dosage seems to be the one that is working best for me.  I am sleeping a lot better in the night’s now, though I am still not getting a proper full night of rest.  I am still feeling anxiety and stress but it is a lot easier to cope with now.  I have been making sure to utilise some of the things I have learned in mindfulness courses on a day to day basis.

I am also eating a lot better and generally taking better care of myself.  I have times when I need to be alone just to recharge my energy but those times seem to be moments when I take time out to do things I love to do, blogging, reading, thinking…

I have started to expand my hobbies and have started to work in my garden.  I have ideas to turn it into a really lovely space over the next few months.  I don’t really know where this love of gardening has come from but I do know that it is never something I even imagined that I would like let alone enjoy.

I have learned to listen to my body more, and have realised that it is ok to have off days where plans remain unchecked, that it is ok to take a nap in the afternoon and that it is ok to say no when I need to.  I know that these are small steps but they are all helping me on my journey to wellness.

Whether I will be able to reduce my medication or to ever not have anxiety, stress or depression is something that only time will be able to reveal, but for the moment I feel like I am doing ok, and doing ok is fine by me.