LightHearts UK Mental Wellbeing - Week 3
by Liz Axham & Kat Jezzard-Puyraud
Following on from last week, our theme is clearing negative energy. Hopefully you’ve managed to try and quieten some of that negative inner dialogue and brain chatter. This week it’s about actually dispelling the stuff that really brings us down.
As we go through life we accumulate a lot of emotional baggage. Experiences, situations, words, people – some of it good, some of it not so good. The not-so-good stuff can sometimes hang around and get in the way of any good stuff that is trying to happen in your life and can make you feel like you’re blocked. And when you’re blocked it creates stress and tension.
Here’s a more real-life example: When your drains get blocked, you call in a bloke who uses a rod and some chemicals to shift all the crap out. When we get emotionally blocked we have to become our own DinoRod person and shift some of that negativity elsewhere so that you're finally able to see some light at the end of the tunnel. So here are various techniques below to help you with this. (Rubber gloves, masks and splash-back overalls are optional).
Shifting the Block
First of all – try and talk to someone impartial. It could be someone you know - a member of your family, a friend, someone you trust. Make sure you pick the person wisely, don’t pick someone who is too judgemental or who is already embroiled in the situation. And don’t – whatever you do - talk directly to the person who is causing you the grief or stress. Just pick someone who is neutral. And when you talk to them, say something like: “Look, I don’t want any advice. I don’t want any solutions. I just need to say what’s on my mind and for you to listen. That’s all.” Then say what you need to say. Sometimes you’ll talk around the situation, sometimes suggestions might be offered. But always try and bring it back to how it makes you “feel”. Then leave it and talk about something else.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone you know, or you have an issue that requires specialist help, then you might want to speak to a professional – a doctor, a counsellor, a therapist, someone from the Samaritans or another helpline. (We have a list of useful phone numbers here on our HELPLINE page.)
Another technique is to try and release any emotional blockages by using physical force. Now we don’t mean go to your local pub and start a fight. The technique we're going to outline is actually a simple method that Kat learnt from a therapist. First you need something like a tennis racket or a bat or a big stick and a large cushion. (We're not going to ask you to commit criminal damage so go with us on this one). Then all you have to do is start hitting that cushion with your stick-like object. Don’t give it a little tap. Beat the living daylights out of it. Take out all your rage and frustration on it. All the pain you’ve felt locked up inside you – whether it be because of a situation or a person – take all of it out on the cushion. Shout while you do it. Maybe forget the stick and just use your fists. Pummel that cushion. Do it until you feel absolutely exhausted. And then stop. Sometimes people feel like having a bit of a cry afterwards. Some people need a sleep. Others just feel a whole lot better. And if you don’t, just go back to beating that cushion again until you have nothing left inside to fight about. (A word of warning, make sure you have enough room to do this and there are no precious objects or people standing nearby. We don’t want any law suits.)
Another more sedate technique is to write a letter. This is a good method if you’re angry or upset towards a certain person or group of people. Even if the person is no longer in your life or if you have lost touch or you know you’ll never see them again, just write out all your feelings in a letter. Sometimes it’s a situation that has upset you, in which case you might want to address the letter to “the world” or a higher power if you believe in that sort of thing. Then when you’ve written everything down – all your thoughts and feelings - put it in an envelope, address the envelope and then destroy it. Some people like to have a ceremonial burning (be careful not to set fire to your hair or burn your house down), others like to rip it up and flush it down the toilet (be careful not to block your drains or else you’ll have to get the DinoRod people in for real.) However you decide to destroy it, think of it as a symbolic way of shifting that weight off your shoulders and releasing it. Say a little wish when you do it, something like: “This no longer hurts me; I release it all.”
After trying out some of those techniques you might find a little shift going on, perhaps you’re beginning to feel like things are moving. It’s a bit like having emotional constipation. So in order to help things move a bit quicker, there are various meditation exercises that act like a sort of emotional laxative so you can have a good clear out, if you pardon the phrase.
Below is an exercise called Negative Energy Clearing using the idea of a magnet to pull out all the bad stuff that’s stuck in your mind and body. The music that accompanies the track are Tibetan singing bowls that are played by a very special group called Echos de Soi with sound practitioners and musicians David Baconnet and Aurélie Baconnet Bonetti. You can find out more about them and hear their music on the CREDITS page.
Another effective technique to get rid of bad thoughts and feelings is to bring on the tears. It may sound like the opposite should be true but it's a tried and tested method that works. So choose a sad movie, or a sad song. Maybe even make an emotional playlist. Re-read old letters, look at old photographs. Think about the things that you have tried to avoid and just allow yourself the freedom to collapse. Go to a room on your own and allow yourself to feel that sadness. This can be hard for some of us who have spent most of our lives bottling up our feelings or trying to deny the importance of our pain. But it’s important to let it out. Really feel the pain and then release it. Cry, wail, bawl, sob, weep. Whatever you do, just let it out. These type of emotional tears actually contain hormones such as prolactin, adrenocorticotropic and leu-enkephalin which is a natural painkiller. So by crying you are doing your body a big favour – you’re releasing hormones and toxins and also giving yourself a dose of natural pain-killers to boot. After a session like this you may feel drained and raw, but you’ll also hopefully feel a sense of relief too.
Kat’s Mental Fixit for Emotional Release
“Whenever I need a good cry I listen to Cyndi Lauper’s ‘True Colours’. There's something about that song - about someone seeing the real person underneath - that whenever it comes on the radio I end up bawling like a baby and looking like a total nut-bag with mascara running down my face. I always feel a huge sense of relief and release after I've had a good cry - like a weight is lifted. And I don't care about the mascara because I’d rather look nuts and feel good inside, than look good and feel like total pants.”
Practical Techniques To Help You Cope
There are many different techniques to help you cope with life’s difficult situations. The biggest problem is trying to find one that is best for you and finding one that has good research and results to back it up.
In the National Health Service, there are various methods that have been tried and tested and found to be successful with the majority of people who suffer from anxiety, stress and depression. Below, Liz will talk you through some of the techniques and talking therapies used by the NHS.
If you've managed to make it this far in the course we just want to say a few words of congratulations on committing to the program and putting in the effort to help yourself in this way. But let's be honest here - you may also be feeling like slacking off a bit. If you are, that's ok. Just admit it. Perhaps the novelty of the course may have worn off, you might be struggling with fitting in the work around your life or you simply might find that as yet none of the techniques have really been working for you. (Or you might be getting really annoyed with Kat's voice on the meditations. But give her a break. She has allergies. It makes her sound bunged up sometimes). But if you are getting that feeling that you really can't be arsed to do the work, we just want to say....DON'T YOU GIVE UP ON US.
We're going to level with you. Neither of us have one ounce of willpower between us. We don't like doing work on ourselves either. We'd rather sit in front of Netflix eating pizza. But over the years, we've realised that when we don't do the stuff that makes us feel calm, relaxed and better about ourselves then we start going downhill very quickly. And if we start feeling bad we have no one to blame but ourselves. Because we have no excuses. We KNOW all these great techniques and if we don't use them then we're just being plain self-destructive.
But there's a reason why many people with mental health issues struggle with this kind of work. And we're going to be totally honest with you here because it's something we both had to go through when we started to recover from our mental health issues: there is something really scary about getting better and conquering your issues. That's because mental health problems sometimes create a cocoon from the big wide world out there. It seems crazy but you get comfortable with your suffering simply because it's familiar. It's a case of "better the devil you know". The cocoon is limiting, but when you are limited you don't have to take risks. You don't have to try or make any effort. You don't have to take responsibility for anything because you can blame it on your symptoms and you've always got a get-out clause. We both used to feel relieved whenever someone asked us to do something we felt scared about doing and we were able to turn it down by saying: "I'm feeling a bit panicky/low/stressed at the moment. I'm just not up to it." Then we could crawl back into our world where we thought we felt comfortable. Unfortunately the minute we rejected that offer and stayed stuck in our supposedly safe world, all we actually felt was lonely and worthless. By turning our back on anything that made us worried or uncomfortable or by turning down something with which we thought we couldn't cope, just meant that we were fulfilling our own negative prophesies and spiralling down until we would hardly ever go out or do anything.
So when you decide you no longer want to live like that - that you don't want to hate yourself anymore and you want to start changing your life - what happens is that our subconscious starts to brew up fears to stop that. For some of us, this is because we became defined by our problems. We think: "Well, who would I be if I didn't have this problem? What would I talk about? Who am I underneath all this?" That's a bloody scary thing to think about because it's the unknown. It's like jumping off that diving board and not knowing if they drained the pool.
But we're asking you - no, we're BEGGING you - please just take that jump. Do not do the self-sabotage thing and give up on us and our course now. Because if you give up now you are giving up on your chance of a future free from stress and worry. You are giving up on your future happiness. But most of all you are giving up on yourself. And we don't want that to happen because - call us crazy - we believe that everyone should have a chance of happiness. But it's up to you to take it. And we're offering it to you on a plate here so please don't give in to your fears. You are better than that. All we ask of you is that you keep going until Week 10. Then see how you feel.
Ok. We'll shut up now. Lecture over.
Bad News = Bad Vibes
Our lives are full of bad news. Switch on the radio and every half hour you get a blast of bad news, open your Facebook account and someone would have shared something unpleasant, walk past the newsagent and see the paper headlines screaming of world disasters, turn on the TV and fill your boots with 24 hours of hideous happenings. The world is heading for hell in a handcart and knowing that can make us anxious and depressed. We're going to be controversial here and ask you to do something while you take this course. Stop reading, listening to and watching the news. The thing is - unless you're someone who is political and regularly whips up petitions and organises marches and gets properly involved in politics - there's not a whole lot of point you engaging in world news at this stage of your mental health recovery. Most people just read the news and then regurgitate that bad news onto someone else. And that will either spread those bad feelings, or if it's a political situation - in the case of Brexit for example - discussing it might cause arguments and even ruin family relationships.
Some people find comfort in bad news because it makes them look outwards and makes them grateful it's not happening to them. But we're asking you to stop that and try this little experiment. We want you to have a go a switching off the radio when the news bulletins are broadcast, try not ploughing through the online news or your daily newspaper and try not tuning into your favourite news programme. It may seem a bit weird at first and you may feel out of touch, but it's interesting to see how much of our low moods and anxiety come from reading news reports that are mainly just using scare tactics to sell newspapers or to get the most clicks or the most ratings. Bad news sells. And that's why there's so much of it about. But it can really bring us down, just when we're trying to think more hopefully about life. So give it a go. It's not forever. But see how you feel after a week and see if your mood is lightened at all. If someone wants to talk to you about something bad they’ve heard in the news, just cut them short by saying “Oh I’m not following the news this week. I’m having a bit of a break from all the bad stuff.” We dare you to try!
A Pain in the…
Pain is a tricky monkey. It has a way of creeping in and hitting us when we least need it. So for example when you feel pain physically, you may start to feel stressed and anxious and before you know it – ta-daaaa – you start feeling mental pain. And it can happen in reverse too. Have you ever noticed that when you feel mental anguish, your body starts to respond in a negative way? Your neck may get a crick, or your shoulders start to get knotted and sore. Your joints may begin to ache or you develop bad headaches. Maybe your blood pressure rises and you can’t sleep so you feel physically tired all the time.
There’s medical research which has correlated the link between physical pain and mental pain. People who suffer from hypochondria are a case in point – if you believe you are ill or in pain, you send signals to your brain which then responds accordingly. That imaginary pain then ends up feeling all too real. After all, pain is simply a signal being sent from the nervous system to the brain. The amount of pain you feel is down to how your brain interprets those signals.
We spend a lot of time trying to ignore or cover up those pain signals, both mentally and physically. But what would really benefit us is if we could fully acknowledge our pain, identify it and then learn how to cope with it and manage it properly so it doesn’t govern our lives.
It's easy to pop painkillers as soon as we feel pain. Paracetamol, ibuprofen - they can be quite effective for a time - but if used long-term they can also cause side effects such as stomach ulcers and liver failure. Click on the links below from the National Health Service to see exactly what effects these types of drugs can have on your body:
When you have stress, anxiety and low mood issues, and especially if you are already taking medication, putting painkillers into your body can put even more strain on your body. If your pain isn't unbearable, see if you can try and deal with the pain in another way.
Below is a pain awareness meditation that may help you to identify where your pain is really coming from so you can then try and let that go. Sometimes you’ll be surprised that the root of your pain is actually somewhere completely different than you first thought. Give it a go and see what happens.
Breathe & Stretch
When your body and mind are in pain, one of the best methods to release that tension are breathing exercises and stretching. One ancient technique which incorporates both these things in a very gentle and calm manner is Tai Chi. Below we have a video of some simple breathing and stretching Tai Chi exercises which are great to try when your muscles are feeling stiff or if you need a way to calm your mind.
The Week Ahead
1. Once you’ve gone through all the techniques and cleared out some of that difficult emotion (beating the hell out of a cushion, writing a letter, bringing on the tears etc), we’re going to set you the task of spending the whole week trying not to speak of anything negative. It’s a bit of a toughy this one. It means trying not to complain to anyone about anything, including not complaining about people, situations, health, work, family etc. It means no bitching about anyone, no gossiping, no bad-mouthing. If someone tries to start off some bad gossip with you, just deflect it and come back with something positive or just laugh it off or change the subject. The reason for this is that when you spread bad energy, it tends to come right back out you with double force. But when you refuse to be part of it, it has nowhere to go and ends up fizzling out. And when you spread good energy instead, perhaps by showing some compassion, sympathy or humour, then that has the advantage of getting reflected back at you. This creates a sort of ripple effect – by touching someone with good energy, that person then goes and passes that onto someone else. See if you can be the start of something good in your small circle and try and bless whoever you meet with some of the good energy you’re beginning to experience in your life.
2. Have a look at this clip involving another Chinese stretching and breathing technique. It's a method of building good energy called Qi Gong. After you do the exercises, have a think about how they compare to Tai Chi. Which do you prefer? Whichever method you prefer, give the exercises a go every day this week and see how you feel.
3. Continue to write in your journal. If you’re finding it hard to fulfil the “good energy challenge” above then allow yourself time in your journal to write about anything negative instead of talking about it. If you like you can use some of the questions below:
- What does negative energy mean to you? If you could visualise negative energy in your body what would it look like – shape, form, smell, taste, feel etc.
- Is there something or someone who tends to trigger off negative feelings in you? If you start feeling negative during the day, try and pinpoint why that’s happened. What happened just before that? Are you able to avoid that person or situation in the future? Could you think of ways that would minimise time spent in that situation or with that person?
- If someone else told you about their negative energy what would you tell them to do about it?
4. Take a look at this youtube clip demonstrating hand reflexology as a way to combat pain and also to de-stress. Try and give it a go everyday this week.
5. Have a go at avoiding the news and media this week. How does it feel? Are you feeling more hopeful and less anxious? Write about how it feels in your journal.
7. If you haven't already done so, you can sign up for our monthly newsletter below. Remember that this is not obligatory and is not used for business or sales purposes. It's purely so we can share new research or ideas into mental wellbeing. We won't bombard you with emails or share your details with any third parties. Just remember to add firstname.lastname@example.org to your contact list:
Otherwise, just check in to the website next week and Week 4 is there ready for you. So until next week, we wish you all the best with your week. Keep on trucking mateys...
Kat & Liz x