LightHearts UK Mental Wellbeing - Week 8
by Liz Axham & Kat Jezzard-Puyraud
This week we’re going to think about how to bring back some of your energy and enthusiasm for life. One of the problems about suffering from depression and anxiety is that it becomes all encompassing. We can’t think about anything else. We start to obsess on it and when that happens it starts to suck out all the energy and joy in our lives. Things that once interested us suddenly hold no sway over us, hobbies that we used to love spending time doing suddenly fall by the wayside. Our lives become like a void, a black hole where all the good times have fallen in, leaving us with a sense of emptiness and bleakness. We find that our days are just a long stretch of hours that slowly drip by and at the end of the day we haven’t enjoyed any of it. We’ve just survived it.
That’s how you felt then, but hopefully the past seven weeks of this course has provided some sort of routine that has broken up that long stretch and given you a bit of pleasurable respite. If you’ve continued writing in your diary, completed the exercises and practised some of the meditations then you can at least say you’ve begun to achieve something. Each week you are stocking up tools in your armoury to stabilise yourself. You might feel like you’ve begun to climb out of that black hole. You might even find that you feel a bit less empty and that wonderful feeling - HOPE - has suddenly started to find its way back to you again.
It’s these small steps that make all the difference. But now we’re going to ask you to take a few more steps in the right direction and instead of thinking about just coping with our mental health issues, we’re going to start thinking about how to bring a bit more joy back in our lives. These types of techniques are really useful in helping us because we don’t just want to spend our lives ‘coping’ and ‘surviving’. We want to LIVE. In capital letters.
And that doesn’t mean living life like one of those annoying phone adverts where everyone’s bungee jumping off a cliff in Australia and surfing in California and snogging someone at a beach bonfire in Phuket. It’s not about the extraordinary. It’s about the little things.
Social Media is NOT social
One of the things we’re going to ask you to do is to come off any social media for the rest of the course, if you possibly can. Cue wails of protest here. Ok, hear us out…..
When we’re depressed and anxious we feel that social media is a way of connecting ourselves with people. It can be incredibly useful in terms of advice and giving us a feeling of not being isolated. But in fact, it’s a very isolating past time. It means we spend huge amounts of time sitting in front of a blue screen (not great for our melatonin levels, remember?) as well as interacting with strangers who may not have our best interests at heart. Sometimes we even get bad or conflicting advice from social media which could further confuse us or damage us in some way. (Just think about all those ‘clean eating’ websites we mentioned in the audio in Week 4 where non-qualified people dictate your diet without having any knowledge about your particular health issues.)
Social media is also quite dodgy in terms of the comments systems. When you can’t see someone’s face and read their expression, it becomes all too easy for a comment to be taken out of context. All it takes is for a person to make a comment about one of your posts or photographs or for someone to disagree with one of your comments for your whole life to come crashing down around you. When you’re an anxious or depressed person, a comment that you perceive to be unkind can send you into a spiral of self-doubt and worry. And I mention the word ‘perceive’ because, as we mentioned, when you don’t have the person in front of you to qualify their comment, then whatever they say could be taken wrongly depending on the mood you’re in.
Kat’s Mental Fixit for Social Media:
“I once belonged to a women’s health group on Facebook and I became embroiled in an argument on the comments section on one of the posts. One of the people commenting was so vehemently against what I said that it became a massive capital letters shouting match. During that day I felt consumed with anger at how rude this person was, so much so that I couldn’t think of anything else and all I did was check my phone about a million times an hour to see if the person had come back to me after one of my comments. In the end I was so glued to my phone that I forgot to check on the dinner and I burnt it to a crisp and set the fire alarms off. My kids were choking from the smoke. I felt like such a twat. I almost burnt my house down because of the ignorance of someone I had never met and would never likely meet. I unsubscribed from that group straight away and felt my anger subside immediately. I now only leave positive comments on posts. It saves on having to claim on insurance.”
Also social media sites are full of narcissistic people who love taking selfies of themselves doing fun things which, when you’re suffering from mental health issues, can bring you down even further. If you’re suffering from low self-esteem about your looks it can make you feel worse about yourself and if you’re feeling like your life is empty anyway it can make you feel that everyone is having way more fun than you. With social media everyone feels like they should be doing something extraordinary and if we aren’t doing that then somehow we’re failures. But this is not reality. Most people that post fun stuff up on Facebook aren’t having as much fun as you think they are. If they were truly having fun they would be so in the moment that they wouldn’t have their phone in their hand in the first place. Real fun is feeling so carried away that you forget to take a picture.
There is also a tendency amongst some people to use Facebook as a place to vent. This isn’t great if you’re a reader of these posts because instead of focusing on your own issues, you can end up ensconced in other people’s worries. Or if you’re a person who likes to use social media to vent their problems yourself, then this isn’t great either. You may end up getting attention and sympathy this way, but actually it just creates a continuous rolling negative conversation about your problems. It may shine a spotlight on you and your difficulties but it doesn’t solve anything. It's also quite a passive-aggressive way of expressing emotion. Just writing the words "feeling sad" on your status and waiting to see who comments, can come across as attention-seeking. (And what happens if you don't get the comments from the people you expect? It will just make you feel worse!)
If you have a problem, don’t put it out on Facebook. Talk face to face, or on the phone, with someone who will support you properly, not just comment with a sad face emoticon. Talk to a good friend, your GP, a sympathetic relative, the Samaritans. What you might not realise is that if you’re someone who regularly vents on Facebook, you’ll actually make people turn away from you. If you have nothing but negative things to say, then most people will be hitting the ‘hide posts from this person’ button. Don’t let that happen to you because then you will become even more isolated.
So our first piece of advice this week is instead of going on social media to catch up with friends or relatives, call one of them and arrange to meet up with them instead. Perhaps it’s someone you haven’t seen for a while. Think of a pleasant thing to do with them – make them lunch, go for a walk in a park with them, invite them round to watch a film. If you want to express some of the things you’ve been feeling, go ahead if you think it’s appropriate. Maybe tell them about this course and how you think it’s going for you. The main focus though is enjoyment. Make it a joyful meeting. Make it fun. But whatever you do, don’t take a selfie of you and your friend during this meeting and then put it on Facebook.
In fact, we’re going to ask you to cut down on your computer time altogether. Sure, you might need it for work or for doing this course. But if you can possibly help it, try not to read newspapers online or celebrity gossip sites. Don't be taken in by click bait. As we mentioned in a previous week, at this fragile stage of your recovery, you need to avoid any bad news which invariably fills the news pages and also avoid seeing tanned, fit and gorgeous celebrities who make you feel bad about yourself. These sites stop you from doing good things with your life. They can waste your time. Try not to get sucked in. (Both of us have to battle the urge to internet-binge every day. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose. Whenever we've spent half an hour on the Daily Mail showbiz pages we feel like we've reached epic fail status. So when you're withdrawing from time on the computer, we also feel your pain.)
So to fill that gap in our lives left by social media and unhelpful internet browsing, here’s some other things we can do.
Colours have a really big impact on our lives. Everyone has a favourite colour. Even from as young as three, children can identify what colour they like best. Some even end up insisting on only wearing that colour. We laugh at kids that do this but actually children are really emotionally intelligent. Because certain colours can make us feel different emotions. And when a kid wants to have their room painted in their favourite colour it’s not because they’re being faddy, it’s because they know it will make them feel happy. So we’re going to take a leaf out of their book and concentrate on colour.
Below is a meditation that involves colour. We all think we know our favourite colour – perhaps it’s something we’ve stuck with since childhood – but perhaps it isn’t the colour that actually makes you feel good. So just put aside your bias towards a certain colour and remain open to the fact that this might change. This meditation will help you experience the feeling of colour and after the meditation we’d like you to remember which colour gave you the best feeling.
So hopefully after that you’ve figured out what colour makes you feel good. Is it the same as before, or were you surprised by your choice? Whatever it was we’d like you to now go about filling your life with this colour. Here are some of the ways you can do this (and go with some of these suggestions - they sound a bit hippy-dippy but they actually work):
Buy clothes in this colour – you don’t have to spend loads. Just go to your local charity shops, they’ve got racks of different colours (which is especially helpful if your colour choice is not the in-season fashion statement that the magazines are raving about). Even if it’s just a scarf or some gloves or a bag. Seek out that colour and incorporate it into your wardrobe.
Choose a plant that has flowers in your colour of choice. Plant it in your garden or put it in a place in your house that is noticeable.
Make a cushion cover in your colour of choice or get a blanket in that colour and drape it on your sofa. Cuddle up on your cushion or wrap yourself in your blanket and envelope yourself in this way in the colour.
Take a piece of paper and outline a word in block capitals. Make it a nice word like CALM or HAPPY or PEACE or, if we’re keeping on-topic here, JOY or HOPE. Then colour in this word in your colour of choice. (It might seem childlike but actually many joyful pastimes are childlike. Kids have a lot to teach us about living in the present moment and feeling utter joy at small things.) After you’ve coloured it in, stick it up on your fridge as a reminder.
Paint a wall in your house in this colour. So what if Elle Decoration magazine is saying ‘mushroom’ is the on-trend colour for interior decoration. Does ‘mushroom’ make you feel good? No. We didn’t think so. It’s bland. It’s boring. It invokes no sense of emotion. So go for whatever bright and vibrant colour you want and forget what anyone says about it. (Liz once had a bedroom painted in orange. It was certainly bright. But whenever she went in there she felt like she was stepping into a warm cocoon. She felt protected and calm there. Now she always makes sure she has a bit of orange in her life and it always provokes the same warm calm emotions.)
You may remember that at one point in your life you had something that you really enjoyed doing. Something that gave you a lot of pleasure but you didn’t continue it for whatever reason. We’d like you to make a list right now of things that once brought you joy, or – if you’re lucky - still bring you joy. Even if it’s just three things. So for instance Kat would write: Dancing - Singing - Travelling.
Now as Kat is over 45 she doesn’t get to go out dancing in clubs anymore and if she did she’d feel really stupid because her dancing style has now morphed into the dreaded ‘mum dancing’. So there’s not much opportunity for her to dance. So instead of mourning the loss of her youth and cool dance moves, she now closes the curtains in her living room and dances very badly by herself. This sounds properly saddo. But she doesn’t give a crap. Because afterwards her endorphins are flowing through her body because of the cardiac exercise and she it’s brought back good memories of dancing in a dingy club in Bradford to the Happy Mondays. Amazingly she has recently plucked up the courage to join her local Salsa dancing class with a few of her mates. They all do bad mum-dancing too so she doesn't feel so bad.
Singing was also something she loved to do at school. But after leaving the school choir she hasn’t had much of a chance to continue that. So now she puts on Barbara Streisand CDs on in her car and belts out ‘On a Clear Day’ when she goes to pick up the kids from school.
Travelling was something she did a lot of when she was in her 20s. But now she has a family she doesn’t have the time or money to go scooting off around the world. So now she loves to read travel books and flick through travel magazines and make lists of all the places she’ll visit when the kids have buggered off and she’s won the lottery.
Another way of bringing travelling into your life without ever having to go anywhere is to do a meditation that incorporates a place that brought you joy – say a beach or a forest or the sea. Below is a beautiful hypnosis meditation kindly donated and read by Emma Triplett from Old Town Hypnotherapy. It’s called ‘Floating Away’. (You can find out more about Emma and her work on the CREDITS page). This is a calming and restful meditation that makes you feel like you’re on holiday.
So as you can see, there are ways of incorporating your once-loved hobbies into your life again even if they’re not on the scale you once enjoyed them. Try and make these things social, so that you are going out to do them, rather than staying in alone. Joining clubs and making an effort to get out can really help to make you feel your life is getting back on track. That sounds totally obvious and patronising but we’ve done it and it feels bloody good and we’ve made friends that way too.
Now here’s a little word of caution – some of us might have some activities that we used to really enjoy doing with someone who is no longer in our lives. So bringing up memories of this activity or hobby might not necessarily bring us joy. It might bring with it a bit of heartache too. Or a lot of heartache if you’re dealing with bereavement or grief. Or a lot of resentment if it involved an ex-partner or a relative who you’re not on good terms with now.
Try to find ways of doing the activity slightly differently, so that you make new happier memories. Change the location, change the club etc. If you’re dealing with bereavement, then you could return to some of these activities as a way or honouring and remembering your loved one. You might have to battle some painful times whilst doing this, but you might also find that it helps to overcome some of that grief by bringing it to the surface where you can deal with it better. If you need some extra help with this, take a read of this NHS link about bereavement counselling.
Kat’s Mental Fixit for Quick Mood Boosts:
“When my second child was born I suffered from post-natal depression. My son also had reflux that meant he spent every waking hour either screaming in pain or throwing up all over himself and all over me. In the end due to these factors and the lack of sleep, I became so depressed that I just spent all day and all night in the flat holding my baby while he slept, fed and then vomited it all back up. It was hell. I used to look out of the window at people living their lives but I just felt like a ghost. One day, I suddenly realised I’d spent six months pretty much sitting in the same chair with this same routine and I couldn’t bear it any longer. So I started trying to take myself and the baby out and go for a little walks around the neighbourhood. I used to love walking. It was hard at first because I was so out of sorts, so fragile and exhausted. But little by little I began to regain my enjoyment of walking, I began to notice little things around me which lifted my spirits. I would say hello and smile at people on my walks. And little by little I began to reclaim a little bit of joy in my life again. They weren’t the massive rambling walks I used to love but they were enjoyable just the same. And now I have some good memories of that time with my son too.”
Treating yourself is a big part of bringing back joy into your life. Now if you’re like us, your first thought might be that a nice treat is to eat two custard tarts in a row while watching a box set of Peaky Blinders. That’s ok once in a while but if we did that every day then we’d be proper porkers and end up speaking with Brummie accents. (Nothing wrong with that but the Birmingham accent is really hard to get right.)
So at the end of every week – when you’ve completed your course exercises and really tried hard with your meditations and other techniques – you can give yourself a treat. Maybe it’s something like a pedicure or a trip to the cinema or buying yourself a book or taking yourself out for lunch. Even if it’s just taking some time to lie down and listen to your favourite album from start to finish. Treat yourself. But try to steer clear of binge-eating or binge-boozing. Neither of those things are good for your mental health.
Being a massage therapist, Kat always has people booking in who want to ‘treat’ themselves to a massage. If you’re not able to afford one, or if you’re a bit shy about it, you can always treat yourself by giving yourself a massage. Massage is incredibly relaxing and therapeutic for both the mind and body. It's also scientifically proven to improve the measures of stress-reducing hormones and has positive effects on the immune system. (Take a look at the fascinating science on massage in our blog post How Massage Can Help Immunity by Increasing White Blood Cell Count.)
Massage is another way of distracting your mind from negative brain chatter by concentrating your mind away from your anxiety and onto your physical state instead. Many insomniacs have found a scalp and head massage just before bed can really help with sleeplessness. Neck and shoulder massages are also effective at working out any muscle knots from the stresses of the day. And if you’re feeling pain in any of your joints – elbows, wrists, knees or ankles - then self-massage will also ease this pain and help blood circulation.
You can do the massages with or without massage oils. If you’re using oils, you might want to use a natural base such as sweet almond oil which is wonderful for those with flaky scalp conditions and dry skin. Or if you’re allergic to nuts, go for one like grapeseed oil that also has great moisturising benefits and vitamin properties. You can also add a few drops of soothing essential oils such as lavender, lemon or sweet orange to really help your senses relax. (But please remember that essential oils are extremely strong and must be diluted with care, especially if using on the skin. If you’re worried about doing this, just find yourself a ready-diluted blended oil which you can find at pharmacies or health stores. And make sure you don’t get any essential oils near the eye area.)
Listen to the clip below as Kat takes you through a relaxing guided self-massage that you can listen to and follow with your eyes closed.
The Week Ahead
1. Start to try and explore the idea of what brings you joy. Write out your memories of happier times. Try and think when the last time you felt happy. Where were you, what were you doing? Go to that place in your mind. Or if you are able do it for real – go back to that place, and do what you were doing. Think of ways you can bring those joyful things back into your life again. And if you can’t bring it back just as it was, don’t shut yourself off, just think of new ways you can achieve that. Everything changes, happy times can turn to unhappier times. But we must also remember that unhappy times can turn themselves round to happier times too. It might not be exactly the same as it was before, but there’s every chance that it might be even better. Just hold yourself open to that possibility.
2. After doing the colour meditation, try bringing in your favourite colour into your life in all the ways we suggested above. Try doing a variation of the ‘candle gazing’ technique from Week 5 but instead of gazing at a candle, stare at your colour using the “thinking, planning, worrying, remembering” technique to help you concentrate on the present moment. Does the colour make you feel different? Explore these feelings in your journal.
3. If you feel brave enough to venture out to join some clubs in your area, get the local paper and take a look at the classifieds. Or look on the noticeboard at a community centre or at your local supermarket or newsagents. You can also take a look at the Meetup website https://www.meetup.com. You’ll be amazed at the sorts of activities out there. Go for something you’re familiar with or try something new. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work out. Just give it a bash. At least you can say you’ve experienced something new.
4. Try answering the ‘Miracle Question’ – if we had a magic wand to make your life perfect, what would your life look life? Write it down. Now instead of seeing perfection as unattainable, see what you can change in your life to achieve part of that. Even if it’s a small step. Don’t try and go the whole hog and say “Well, it’s got to be all of that or nothing.” If you start trying to make small steps towards your perfect life, things will start slotting together all by themselves. But you have to start making a little bit of an effort or that perfect life will always just remain some far-off dream.
5. Start filling your life with laughter. Revisit old comedy series that you liked, books that you found funny. Find new ones. Go on youtube and watch standup comedy shows. Keep playing your happy playlist to try and lift your mood. There is a particular therapy called Laughter Therapy which is really effective. Liz went on a session once. She thought it was going to be utterly excruciating and embarrassing because it involved a load of people sitting in a class forcing themselves to laugh at nothing. But something amazing happened. Even though Liz had to totally force out a laugh, that laugh suddenly became real. And suddenly everyone in the class was cracking up with laughter - about absolutely nothing. Just for the pure joy of laughing. And after the session everyone came out smiling and happy and feeling like they’d released a load of tension. Here’s an example below of an experiment which involves one man forcing out a laugh at a train station and the reactions of all the strangers around him.
6. If you haven't already done so, you can sign up for our newsletter here, remembering to add email@example.com to your contact list so we don't end up in your junk mail. The sign up is not obligatory and is not used for business or sales purposes. It's purely so we can share new research into mental wellbeing. We won't bombard you with emails or share your details with any third parties.
We hope you get to have a bit of fun this week and bring some colour back into your life. If you've made it this far on the course, you're doing incredibly well and you deserve to give yourself a treat - non-toxic of course! As ever we wish you all the luck in the world...
Kat & Liz x
© copyright 2017. ‘LightHearts UK Mental Wellbeing Course’ by Katya Jezzard-Puyraud & Liz Axham