LightHearts UK Mental Wellbeing Course - Week 10
by Liz Axham & Kat Jezzard-Puyraud
For our final week, we’re going to broach the subject of opening yourself up to new ideas and opportunities for your final week. The difficulty with suffering from depression or anxiety is that we can find ourselves closed off from new ideas. The thought of trying something new and unfamiliar can sometimes bring with it a feeling of either great reluctance or increased anxiety. Are you feeling a bit like that right now as we mention it? Don’t worry, we understand that it’s really hard to get excited about new things when all you want to do is crawl under your duvet and sleep for a thousand years.
So before we explore some ways of getting you out from under that smelly duvet and out of your scuzzy pyjamas (and don’t pretend they’re neatly pressed and smelling like roses. They’re not, we’ve been there…) we’re going to give you seven tips from Liz’s tip sheet called: “Untrue/ Unrealistic/Unhelpful Beliefs”. It helps us to realise that many of the things we tell ourselves when we are anxious or depressed are complete and utter horse poop.
Untrue/ Unrealistic/Unhelpful Beliefs
Untruth #1. It is absolutely necessary to be loved and approved of by virtually everybody all of the time. Really? Everyone? All the time? This is unobtainable. And some part of you knows this. We can't please everyone all the time. And if we did, you can bet we wouldn't be pleasing ourselves. It's tiring making yourself lovable and pleasant all the time. We are human beings who have individual personalities that sometimes clash, so we're never going to be everyone's cup of tea. Face that fact and just be the best person you can be. And when you screw up a little bit, forgive yourself. You're alright.
Untruth #2. In order to be worthwhile as a human being you have to be 100% perfect in everything you do. It’s good to aim high - but perfection? Whoever achieves that?! Good enough is a great mantra. You did the best you could. And that's good enough. YOU are good enough.
Untruth #3. If something goes wrong, it’s pretty much the end of the world. Catastrophic feelings are most common with people experiencing anxiety. You feel it to your core – “I’m an utter failure, I might as well give up, nothing matters now because it’s all gone to crap.” But at what point did things not go to plan? Can you go back a step and start from there? Is there someone you can delegate to or ask for help? Asking for help is okay. If someone can problem solve with you, the problem may not seem quite so big and sometimes the path through the problem can materialise when you are less anxious and stressed out.
Untruth #4. It’s easier to give up and avoid doing things rather than face up to them. Is it easier? Yes. Does it make the anxiety go away? For about 5 minutes. Then you get left with the guilt and the feeling of utter failure because you didn’t do it. Better to try to use some of the strategies for coping with anxiety and panic and see if you can then push on through. Next time you do it you will have this as evidence that it IS possible and that you DID do it before and this will reduce your anxiety. This does work – you will build up the evidence to prove it to yourself.
Untruth #5. You need to rely on someone stronger/better/more capable than you in order to do it. The people we share our lives with are an integral part of who we are and we do need them sometimes. But you need to think about ways in which you value, rely upon and respect yourself. YOU are your best resource. YOU will always be there for you. If you believe that you can do something yourself then you are ahead of the curve. If the significant people around you can support you in that, it’s just a bonus.
Untruth #6. You are only the product of your past behaviour and experiences, so change is therefore impossible. Our past experiences do influence our thoughts and feelings and therefore behaviours. But this is a good thing because this means change is possible. If you change the way you think, you can change the way you feel and then the way you behave. You control what you think – you can think you will fail or you can think you will succeed. You can think you did well or you can think you did badly. By shifting your thoughts to a more hopeful outlook, the rest will follow.
Untruth #7. There is a right, precise and perfect solution to all problems and it’s your fault you can’t find that solution. Again – really??? Spending time getting stressed and anxious because things are not perfect is like getting angry because you can't catch a unicorn. You will never catch a unicorn and things will never be perfect. There is no perfect way. There is no perfect solution for everyone. But there is a right path for you, and that's the one you're on right now. It might be circuitous, it might have led you off in unhelpful and tough directions, but it's YOUR path. And that, my friend, is good enough. Now it's up to you to make the choice about which way to go - towards hope.
Park Your Cynicism
When life takes a turn for the worse, it’s easy to get bitter and jaded. If someone suggests we try something new that is perhaps a bit left-field, there is a natural tendency to react to it with cynicism. We think “Well, nothing’s worked for me so far. Why should this?” or we come up with a barrage of excuses as to why we couldn’t possibly give something a go. Here’s some of the ones we’ve used ourselves:
- I don’t have time
- I’m too tired
- It’s not my bag
- I don’t get involved with that sort of thing
- I’d feel silly
- My friends/family would laugh at me
And if something is presented that is completely out of our comfort zone, we might even turn our back on it entirely.
We just wanted to say that it’s totally normal to feel like that, but if we go through life rejecting every suggestion and not at least giving it a go, then we might be rejecting the one thing that could change our lives for the better forever. Kat – who was the biggest cynic and a confirmed atheist with no new age leanings whatsoever - had this experience three years ago:
“I had spent many years suffering from anxiety and stress and my insomnia had got to a point where I was only getting about three hours of sleep a night. If anything deviated from my normal routine or didn’t quite go my way then I would spiral into a mess of anxiety and panic.
One day, when I’d come to the end of my tether, I received an email that suggested a Reiki course. I had no real idea what Reiki was (I'd somehow got it into my head it was something to do with hot stone massage!) but it mentioned it was a healing, relaxing therapy. Before I had time to research it or over-think it, I pressed the button to sign up. It was as if my subconscious just took over and pushed me into doing it. As the day approached for the course, I began to get nervous but I went along anyway. I was surprised to find that it was an energy healing technique and I was taught various hand positions to hold over my body to invoke a feeling of peace and calm. After the course, I was told to do this every day for at least three months. I wasn’t sure if it would work but I’d run out of options so I gave it a go.
Amazingly, within less than a month my anxiety had lessened, I slept so much better and I was able to cope with life with a new feeling of wonder and peace. I even held a huge family Christmas at my flat, which ordinarily would have sent me into a complete tizz (especially as it involved my in-laws). But because I’d done my Reiki before everyone arrived, I sailed through the day as if I was in a bubble of calm.
Since that day my life has completely turned around. I changed career, moved country and have never been happier than I am now. If I hadn’t signed up for that course on a whim, I think I would still be in the same bad place I was then. I’m so glad I parked my cynicism that day because it changed me and my family’s life for the better.”
Now we’re not suggesting you sign yourself up for everything going, but it’s just an example of how someone who was once closed, opened themselves up to something new which helped their mental health. Even the NHS has opened itself up to new therapies and Reiki is now being introduced in some NHS hospitals, especially in children’s wards and cancer wards as detailed here in this newspaper article:
Below are some photos of Kat demonstrating the Reiki hand positions and below that is a meditation that guides you in the practice. Don’t worry if you can’t do all the positions, you can just keep your hands wherever it feels most comfortable. Just keep yourself open to it and give it a go. What have you got to lose?
Liz – also a natural cynic and, as a psychiatric nurse, firmly on the side of science – has parked her old jaded opinions to try out new and unusual methods in the hope she can find more techniques to help those with mental health issues. Here are her experiences of being a mental health care professional and trying out alternative techniques:
“As a nurse, I have mainly worked within the framework of the medical model along with my colleagues to provide support within the NHS for people with mental health problems. But on a personal level, I have been lucky enough to experience a variety of different alternative approaches to maintaining good mental health and have come to value them as much as the more traditional therapeutic interventions. I have seen friends and family looking to more unconventional methods of self-help and making positive changes to their lives – both in undertaking therapies themselves and training to do this for others.
When you are trained within the traditional models of health care provision you can become quite narrow in your thinking – I think I suffered from this if I'm honest during the early part of my career. But I’ve now built up personal experience of these following treatments:
- Indian Head Massage
- Laughter Workshops
I can say without a doubt that although the medical model provides the basis for front-line treatment, these other approaches to maintaining and sustaining good mental health can be equally as valuable for some. Whilst it is important to recognise that a significant functional mental health problem will usually need assessment and input from a specialist mental health clinician, staying well can be something achieved in many different ways. There is no 'one size fits all' answer to keeping well and feeling good. As with everything, we all respond differently to different things.
Preventing mental health problems is something we should all take an interest in and learning a variety of ways to do this can only be a positive thing. So why not adopt some techniques to ensure you can relax your body and mind, sleep well and feel able to live your life to its optimum?
There are always new strategies that generate interest in the mental health field, some more contentious than others, but all worth exploring. I would be sure to look at trusted websites and journals before investing time (and money!) but at the end of the day – if you find something works for you then does it really matter why it works?
In this respect, there is a huge amount of research on the Placebo effect. Often, if something is thought to work due only to the placebo effect it has somewhat negative connotations and is therefore invalidated or devalued. I don't subscribe to this way of thinking at all! And it’s now been proved scientifically that even people that know they are being given a placebo, feel better. Believing in something – a medication, a talking therapy or an alternative therapy – goes a long way to ensuring maximum efficacy. I have found that being open minded and curious has helped me on my journey to my own mental wellbeing and helping others to achieve theirs.”
When your brain is bunged up with stress, worry and fear then it’s very hard to get it to calm down and listen to reason. One way of doing this is to repeat something over and over.
Some people call these ‘affirmations’ or if you’re from the Indian culture they’re called ‘mantras’. Now as we’ve mentioned before, these techniques aren’t for everyone but it’s worth having a bash at them anyway - trying them won’t turn you into a raving hippy with a headband. It doesn’t mean you are suddenly becoming religious or going against your own religion either. These are all techniques you can try whilst keeping your atheist, agnostic or religious views. You’re still the same person but you’re just keeping your options open.
If you’ve seen Kung Fu Panda, you might remember Master Shifu meditating and saying the words ‘inner peace’ to himself. You can use the words ‘inner peace’ if you like (although it just makes us think of Kung Fu Panda stuffing dumplings in his mouth so we can’t use that one without giggling) or you can use a word or a sentence that makes you feel good. We like: “I feel calm and peaceful”. Much like the Autogenic Phrases from Week 2, it’s a way of tricking your brain into believing everything is ok.
So in order to do this, just put on a relaxing piece of music, close your eyes and repeat your chosen affirmation. Keep it going for five minutes and see how you feel afterwards. You can change your affirmation depending on your mood, or even to help with upcoming situations. For example, when we need a bit of extra confidence with something, we say to ourselves “I can do this. I am confident.” And somehow just telling ourselves that over and over, actually instils some confidence in us.
The Indian culture uses mantras for all different types of situations. There’s ones for health, wealth, love, fertility – you name it, they’ve got one. One word which encapsulates all wonderful things is the word ‘Om’ which is a sacred sound. If you give it a try, it creates an amazing vibration in the throat, chest and on the lips. It’s a bit like a cat’s purr. (Note: a cat’s purr is scientifically proven to be healing, see this link http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-cats-purr/ for all you cat lover’s out there!)
Below we have a popular video that explores this ‘Om’ chant. Give it a go, don’t be shy.
Don’t care so much
Another symptom of anxiety and depression is caring too much what other people think. When you’re exploring some of these new techniques you might start freaking out and worrying about what your friends and family will think of you. (Especially if they can hear you saying ‘Om’ in your room).
The thing is – if these techniques work for you, then your friends and family should be happy for you. If anyone criticises or belittles you for trying these new techniques then these people are not worth bothering about. They are not worth your attention. You can explain to them calmly that you are trying something different because you need help in coping with your mental health issues and you would appreciate their support in the matter. If they can’t give their support then you’d appreciate if they kept their opinions to themselves because you’re keeping your mind and heart open to new things in order to create a better life for yourself. You can’t say fairer than that can you? (And if they want a bit of scientific data you can forward them this link about a survey of patients undertaking healing techniques http://www.thehealingtrust.org.uk/research/hospital-audit-of-75-patients)
Both of us have opened ourselves up to new experiences – some have worked and others haven’t but at least we’ve grabbed the opportunity so that at least we can have a proper opinion on it. You can’t really know until you try. We’ve allowed ourselves to be open to things and say ‘yes’ even if we’re scared or unsure. We didn’t care if we failed or looked stupid. Even by just putting this course together, we are potentially opening ourselves up to ridicule by friends, family or colleagues that might not share our enthusiasm. But you know what? We don’t give a flying crap, because if we succeed in helping just one person, then that will make us happy. And that happiness will counteract anyone’s criticisms of us. And plus it’s been a wonderful experience anyway. Nothing is a waste of time – everything you learn and experience is useful – maybe not right now but maybe one day along the path.
So in keeping with your open mind and heart we’re going to give you a good opportunity to try a meditation with a very special lady called Ryan Glassmoyer. She is an experienced meditation teacher and life coach who is based in San Francisco and has worked on a technique called ‘Chakra Cleansing’ which is based on another Indian technique. (It’s also a good one to follow on from our colour therapy that we explored in Week 8) It’s based on the idea that there are seven energy centres in the body and these centres all have their own colour.
As our little goodbye sign off to the course we would like to extend a massive thank you to all of you for coming this far. Thank you for sticking with it, thank you for giving it your best shot, thank you for paying attention to us banging on about this mental health stuff. (We're also very grateful to every one of you because in doing this project you've reminded us to look after our own mental health too!)
We really hope it’s helped you in some way. Take all the methods you’ve enjoyed, take all of our mental fixits and make your own set of mental fixits. Imagine you have a tool box and stock it full of those mental fixits and the techniques that work for you and build yourself a beautiful shining suit of armour to protect you from all your anxiety and all the bad times. Put it on when you’re feeling low or scared. And keep your heart open to all the good things that are out there. Because they are out there. They’re just a bit hidden sometimes. And whenever you feel yourself losing your way again, come back to us here. Do the course again. And again. And again. Looking after your mental health is a lifelong commitment so if you need some extra help, just come back to us.
We've also put together a special E-Book that you can download and take with you wherever you are. It's called Mental Fixits - Reduce Anxiety & Low Mood in 10 Weeks. It details everything in the course but also includes extra bonus chapters with some very personal stories from us about our own mental health issues - battles with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and addiction, including how Liz lost an incredible eight stone in weight only to realise that it wasn't her weight that was the root of her unhappiness. We've had to screw up a lot of courage to write these chapters but we've been very open and honest in the book about the difficulties we've been through so we hope that you'll be able to relate to some of our experiences and take some inspiration from how we've been able to overcome them. It's not obligatory, but if you want to download the book and help contribute to our project, feel free to click the link below.
We'd also like to extend a special thank you to all the lovely people who donated to the project. Please check out our Credits & Thank Yous Page to find out who and discover more about their wonderful work. We also list some useful books for further reading on that page, so you can continue to help yourself and work on your mental wellbeing in your own time.
And to thank YOU all for coming on this ride with us, we have a special meditation we wrote just for you. It’s called ‘Loving Kindness’ and it’s to remind you that when you’re struggling with mental health issues it’s really important not to beat yourself up about any of this. Just be good to yourself, and show yourself a bit of kindness. Look on yourself as a child learning to walk. You wouldn’t berate a child when it’s learning, or tell it off if it falls down. Just remind yourself of who you were as a child and treat yourself kindly. And have faith. You can do this.
So to thank you from the bottom of our hearts, this is just for you…..
The Week Ahead
1. Write down in your journal how you feel about doing these type of alternative methods. Has it open your eyes? Has it surprised you? Or did you feel they weren’t quite your bag? Whatever you felt, be honest about it.
2. Answer these questions:
a) How many times have you said no to an opportunity?
b) Why did you say no?
c) Did you regret not taking that opportunity?
d) What stopped you? Was it anxious thoughts or was it based on fact?
e) Did you gain anything from not taking that opportunity?
f) What could you have gained by taking that opportunity?
g) How many times have you said yes to an opportunity – even if made you anxious?
h) What was the outcome? Was it positive?
i) If it wasn’t positive, can you now see if you learnt anything from that experience that could be deemed positive?
3. Find out more about Loving Kindness practice here: http://www.wildmind.org/metta/introduction
4. Take a look at the Tara Brach website. She's a psychologist and meditation teacher and she has very kindly made available all of her meditation sessions for free. Use them as part of your daily mental health practice. Add them to your mental toolkit and be amazed at how calm you can become. You can find the downloads here: https://www.tarabrach.com/talks-audio-video/
5. We'll be making more videos in the future and keeping you up to date with all the latest research in mental health, so keep in touch using our social media pages or signing up to our newsletter below.
6. In your journal, answer the following questions: What progress do you feel you’ve made? Do you feel differently about your life now? Can see the positive side more easily? Do you control your thoughts by using mindful thinking and fact based thinking rather than imagining negative scenarios? Are you able to quieten negative chatter and turn it around into positive thoughts? Are you eating better? Are you exercising? Are you being kind to yourself?
7. If you want to, you can download our the course on our E-book Mental Fixits - Reduce Anxiety & Low Mood in 10 Weeks and read whatever chapter you feel speaks to you the most. Remind yourself of the techniques and keep practising them. If you feel you want to, you can go right back to the beginning of the course and start again. The course will always be here for you online so you can be assured of a bit of routine and stability while you become familiar with the methods and work out a daily mental care plan for yourself.
9. We'd love to get your feedback on the course. If you have a spare minute, please let us know what you thought. We have a feedback form for you below.
We hope you continue to get better, more confident, more calm and most of all, we wish you all so much happiness for your future.
Take good care of yourselves....
Kat and Liz x