Tag Archives: mental health

Improving your mental health one good memory at a time

2016 could have been better in so many ways. 

You’ll have your own personal, emotional, musical, political and environmental low points. 

Which reminds me of the Tim Vine pun: ‘Crime in multi-storey car parks is wrong on so many different levels.’

Anyway, there’s little point bitching now the year’s nearly over and the lunatics really are taking over the asylum. 

We’ve all made mistakes this year. My major howlers included having seconds of rhubarb crumble one dinner time in March when I was already pretty full. To make matters worse, all the custard had gone, so it ended up being a bit on the dry side despite the rhubarb juice and – to me at least – rhubarb without custard is like a fart without the smell: weird and slightly creepy. 

Bad simile. Second major mistake of the year. 

But no matter how angry, despairing and sad 2016 has made you, it’s good to remember things could get worse in 2017. They really could! 

But let’s park that, as chauffeurs often say. 

And instead of thinking about how shit 2016 has been or how much shitter 2017 could be, we could try a psychological trick that encourages you to concentrate on the good stuff that has happened to you. 

There is some evidence that by directing your thoughts to the happy, uplifting, bright part of the spectrum of your experience and away from the dark, dispiriting, draining part, you can make a positive impact on your mood. 

Get into the habit of doing this and you could make a permanent change to your default level of mental health. 

To start with, it’s harder than you think – especially if you have a tendency to think the world is populated by morons, that we’re all doomed and what’s the fucking point anyway. But it is possible to improve your default.

One technique is to imagine you’re the absolute opposite of the Daily Mail’s editor. Hopefully, this doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination. If it does, you may need professional help for anger issues, paranoia and cuntishness.

Now the next thing to do is to think of some good things that have happened to you or that you saw or heard or read about. 

Write them down if you can be arsed or just think about each memory for as long as you can. What were the colours like, the smells, how did you feel during the experience?

Do this lots and see if your mood improves – surely it can’t do any harm. Unless you start daydreaming while you’re chopping a turnip or flying a light aircraft.

To get you started, here are some things I liked this year and which I think about to make me happier than I otherwise would be. 

Growing a moustache – and people’s kindness, sponsoring the poor little ginger bastard. Also killing the little ginger bastard at the end of Movember was like taking off a pair of shoes that are a size too small after wearing them for 31 days. 

Giving blood – each time I felt a bit more connected to my fellow humans. A really good part of giving blood (as well as the salty and sweet snack selection after you’ve donated) is the text you receive a few days later telling you the hospital where your blood has been used.

Discovering Belgian chocolate options drink – at only 40 calories a cup it is a true taste sensation. I received no remuneration for this blatant plug. However if anyone from Options is reading this, I am open to receiving free samples in return for apparently natural mentions of the product in my writing. 

Voting – I absolutely love voting. I feel like crying my eyes out whenever I go to a polling station,  thinking about the sacrifices people have made on the long march to universal suffrage. And recently I’ve felt like crying my eyes out when the results have come in. But that’s going off-subject. 

Seeing three deer in a frosty field this very morning – totally unexpectedly. You can’t go wrong with deer in my view. 

Seeing any videos of any baby pandas. 

A squirrel starting to climb my leg presumably thinking it was a tree (I was wearing brown geography teacher cords) before realising its mistake and jumping off just after it had reached my knee. 

Throwing a scrumpled-up piece of paper at a bin that was quite far away – and getting it in first time. 

Eating a particularly good fried egg when I was particularly hungry. 

I could go on. They all bring a smile to my face. 

Write your own positive 2016, think about things that have gone right, then remember some more. 

Let’s see if we can look back on this year as not being that shite after all! 

Advertisements

Seven tips to improve your mental health that don’t involve mindfulness 

Here are some of the things I do to improve my mental health. My mentalness waxes and wanes – but not in time to the moon. So it’s not predictable and can take a dive at any point – a bit like … [fill in the name of a centre forward who plays for a football team you don’t like.]

If you’re living with things like depression, anxiety or post traumatic stress, I hope my experience may help you or someone you know. 
Having said that, if you’re feeling utterly crap right now, you possibly can’t even be arsed reading this. 

But if a part of you can be bothered, maybe there’s something in here that may help a bit. And if it helps you, it’ll help me (see ‘Giving is better than receiving’ below).

Of course, you have to take some of this with a pinch or even cellar full of salt – it would really help to have a ‘control’ me so we could test these things in a more scientific way. But I’m told having one me is quite enough. 

So here’s the advice. 

Take a walk on the wild side – or at least to the end of the cul-de-sac and back

I’m fairly sure there’s a direct relationship between the number of miles I walk and my mental health. This means I have a massive incentive to get off my arse and walk. 

Granted, I take this to extremes by regularly walking 26 miles in the Yorkshire Dales. But I take everything to extremes. 

Including making generalisations. 

But even a half-hour walk round the block or a park can have big benefits for the mind. Change of scene. Fresh air. Seeing some nature. Stretching your legs. Releasing some positive hormones. 

Only watch out for dog shit – walking in dog shit is guaranteed to adversely affect your mood. 

Make yourself smile or laugh 

I can guarantee that five minutes of Les Dawson videos will improve my mood – often from utterly shite to fairly shite. But I’ll take fairly shite any day if the alternative is utterly shite. 

I asked the doctor if he had something for persistent wind. 

He gave me a kite. 

I’m pretty sure you have things that make you laugh. Even if it’s just a pair of wind-up chattering false teeth or Michael Macintyre – whatever your secret comedy shame, have it ready in reserve and make sure you use it when you need it most – when you’re in the mental gutter. 

When I was a child, I had wax in my ears. 

Dad didn’t take me to the doctor, he used me as a night light.

Lol. 

Accept how you’re feeling

There are good reasons for the way you’re feeling. And it doesn’t help if you think it’s something to be ashamed of, or that it’s somehow not acceptable to feel this way. 

Realising this and not blaming, or getting cross with, yourself can reduce the suffering.

If this sounds a bit like mindfulness, it’s not meant to. All I’m saying is you don’t have to be horrible to yourself. There are plenty of bastards out there without you joining them. Just try to be nice to yourself – even if that only means treating yourself to a KitKat. 

Reduce the amount of news you consume 

People who work in ‘the news’ will tell you they always try to create an emotional reaction with every story. Otherwise they risk losing their audience. The news is designed to create emotional responses like horror, shock and disgust to keep you glued – and anxiety, depression and anger can easily result. 

The next American president and the Brexit bastards produce all these reactions in me. They also produce feelings of powerlessness against their post-truth bollocks and smug white power bigotry. 

So – despite an academic background in history and politics and a professional background in journalism – I’m having a sabbatical from the news. 

And it’s such a relief. Reading and listening to brilliant books and music instead of dystopian drivel is a massive bonus. 

Giving is better than receiving 

There’s a book called 59 Seconds by a psychologist – Professor Richard Wiseman (a nice bit of nominative determinism) – which provides quick techniques to improve your life. 

One of these shows that being nice to other people makes you feel better – and if you do a lot of nice things in a short space of time, you feel better than just doing the odd nice thing. 

During one lunchtime as I walked through town, I opened a door for someone going into M&S, feigned fear at a little lad in a scary costume, gave a beggar a couple of pounds, smiled at an old lady and bought someone a Christmas present. 

As I said before, there’s no control me to test this sort of thing. But I felt pretty good after this amazing run of niceness. 

Note to self: Carry on trying to be nice even when other people are being annoying scrota. 

The professionals 

I’ve had mixed experience when it comes to professional help. 

A shrink once fell asleep while I was baring my soul to him. 

A self-obsessed psychoanalyst re-trained as a clown almost immediately after he’d ‘treated’ me. At least 75% of our sessions were about his issues – mainly about wanting to be a clown, not having a sex life and how much it would cost to retrain as a clown. 

Meanwhile, a psychotherapist repeated the phrase: ‘So … how’ve you been?’ at the start of all 14 of our sessions together. It started grating at session three. 

Strangely, though, I think the EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) this last professional did on me had a positive effect. 

Of course, the placebo effect is really powerful. So just by doing something kind for yourself may have a significantly positive effect. (See KitKat technique above.)

I don’t know if the acupuncture (during which the man said I had two hearts), the emotional freedom technique (tapping ‘end points of the energy meridians’ while reciting mantras) or the many weird self help books I’ve read have been a waste of time and money. 

I suspect I would have been better advised going out for a posh meal or getting a nice pair of shoes. In fact, the amount I’ve spent on this shite would have paid for several meals and pairs of shoes and trousers. And possibly a couple of nights in a decent hotel. And a coat and a car. And a horse. 

Medication 

This can help in some cases. I’ve found it’s best to get the NHS to look after this side of things rather than the off licence or the pub. 

I also think their customers’ mental health is probably not the chief concern of drug dealers.

So if you’re feeling like shit and nothing is shifting the turds swimming round your brain, I suggest getting to your GP asap – and start being nice to yourself. You don’t have to suffer on your tod. 

And remember there are loads of things you can do to help improve your mental health. 

I’m off for a walk now. Ta ta.
More of my stuff about happiness

Mindfulness and depression: Can meditation really help when it strikes?

by Simon Henry @simlington

Depressing subject, I know.

But even if you don’t suffer from depression right now, you may in the future.

And I bet you know someone – or probably several people – who are affected.

If so, this blog may give you an idea of what can happen when depression strikes.

And – who knows – you may even want to share it.

Ride it out

Sometimes depression hits you like a thump in the stomach.

Sometimes it’s sneakier and slower, strangling you degree by tiny degree.

Whichever method of attack it uses, sickening despair, hopelessness and bleakness are the results of its victory.

And I’ve found you just have to ride it out the best way you can.

Because it does subside – in its own time, even if that’s a depressingly long time sometimes.

Mindfulness and depression

I’ve been wondering if anything has changed in the way I deal with depression since I started trying to be more mindful.

I have certainly become more aware of the things that make it worse!

– People saying ‘Cheer up’ or ‘Just think about disabled people or starving people’ is pretty unhelpful.

– So is the offer of alcohol or cigarettes, both of which I used to think were useful in the battle but which I now see as pointless addictions.

– Being with other people is tortuous, especially if they’re loud or jolly.

– My favourite music sounds like fingernails down a blackboard, reading makes me want to set fire to the book. TV is worse than either.

– And being expected to ‘snap out of it’ sounds as ridiculous to my ears as telling a Manchester City supporter to suddenly support Manchester United.

So a solitary spell away from humanity is an extremely attractive option when a bout of depression hits.

Here’s a quick reminder about what mindfulness actually is before I give you a sneak inside my brain.

Mindfulness: A reminder

Mindfulness practice is simply about choosing one thing to concentrate on – like you breath (very popular) or your bum hole (less popular, I imagine) – and trying to be conscious of that one thing for a certain amount of time.

Very quickly you realise your mind shoots off all over the place. Often these places are pretty unhelpful ones from the past or the future (regrets, worries, etc).

The practice is about recognising that your mind has wandered from what you were trying to concentrate on.

Then you don’t criticise yourself for letting your mind wander but rather you gently guide your mind back to where you intended it to be.

So, what about being mindful of your depression when it strikes?

Here’s how being mindful felt when my latest bout hit.

Instead of fighting against my feelings of hopelessness, bleakness and misery I just tried to accept them.

Instead of being angry or upset that I wasn’t feeling happy and sociable, I just tried to accept that the depression was my reality for now and that I was tearful and wanted to be alone.

Instead of denying my feelings, I just accepted them as real at that moment, knowing they would not remain the same forever – nothing ever stays the same. (That’s a good thing to keep in mind, even if you don’t really feel it in the midst of a depressive episode.)

And basically I repeated to myself: “I am utterly miserable and thoroughly unhappy at this moment.”

As always, when I try to meditate, my mind went off at tangents all the time.

I think some people who write about mindfulness make it appear quite easy to keep your mind on the object of your meditation.

It isn’t easy at all.

Maybe it is for people who’ve meditated for tens of thousands of hours.

But if you’re new to it like I am, if you can concentrate on something for a few seconds you’re doing well.

I mean it.

And all you do when you realise your mind has gone off somewhere else is not to get angry with yourself or call yourself useless or even worse give up and pour yourself a whiskey.

The trick is to keep going.

It is hard. Our brains are unruly beasts and it takes time, I’m told, to tame and train them. Worth it, I think.

And in any case, the meditation itself is good – and interesting.

And despite the mind wandering off you do realise it’s wandered and you can bring it back to the thing you want to meditate on.

And in the case of depression, I found it was actually a relief just to accept my situation.

It’s exhausting, fighting all the time, denying how you feel, pretending to be fine, doing things that make you feel worse.

Just giving in to how you actually feel, accepting your situation, letting the tears flow and the horrible thoughts go through your mind – with full awareness that they are thoughts and no more – is actually a relief.

And meditating on the depression felt like I was allowing myself a huge space to be mindful of it rather than squeezing it away inside and denying it any room to breathe.

Sometimes when I allow myself the room to actually feel the depression big fat tears drop from my eyes. Sometimes they don’t.

I notice tension in my back, neck and shoulders – and simply by becoming aware of this can actually help reduce the tightness and physical pain.

And I notice the difference between the actual depression and the wishing I wasn’t depressed.

Almost perversely, once you truly accept your situation and your inability to do much about it, you do feel a bit better.

You’re no longer wishing things were different – and feeling angry, resentful, helpless, jealous and all the other stuff you feel when life’s not going according to what you think of as ‘fair’.

And it does wax and wane – even though in the middle of a depressive episode it can feel like it’s forever, being aware of how you’re feeling and actually turning towards your feelings does have a positive effect.

(Incidentally, I never got on with anti- depressants. And I’m only writing about my personal experience.)

But I hope this is useful if you’re wondering about taking up mindfulness or think it could help someone you know.

I know there is some evidence that mindfulness is as effective as anti- depressants for recurrent depression.

And I can see why mindfulness in general is becoming increasingly recognised as a potentially useful treatment for many conditions – both ‘mental’ and ‘physical’.

I’m no expert – I’m just trying to use mindfulness to make my life better, then writing about some of my experience in the hope that it may help other people who may be suffering.

The best experts I’ve come across are:

Jon Kabat-Zinn
Danny Penman
Mark Williams
Pema Chodron

They are all brilliant.

Sorry this post had no laughs and giggles in it – but that’s what depression does.

And I’m pretty mindful my brand of ‘humour’ will be back next time.

If you enjoyed this, you may like a recent post, How Mindfulness can make us all a bit happier

Or have a squiz round the rest of the site – there’s quite a bit in here about how to be a bit happier.

You can get an email alert whenever I publish a new post. If you’re on a mobile you can sign up below. If you’re on a computer, sign up at the top right-hand of the page.

And you can follow me @simlington on Twitter

Copyright Simon Henry @simlington 2014

 

Why mindfulness can help your battles with depression, anxiety and pain

When you’re in the present moment – and by that I mean concentrating your mind on what’s going on right now – you simply cannot ruminate on the past or worry about the future.
Try it – concentrate on your breath going in and out of your body, concentrate on your feet as you walk along, concentrate on how your eyes feel.
Just concentrate on anything that is happening right now in this present moment.
Pick a sense, an area of your body. Anything. And see how it feels right now.
If you can worry or think at the same time, you’re a genius. Because no-one else can do both at the same time.
I guarantee during this experiment you will get distracted and start thinking – but then you won’t be experiencing the present moment any more. You’ll be planning, worrying or thinking.
And once you realise you’ve moved from the present moment, just go back to what you were concentrating on before you got hijacked by your thoughts.
This is mindfulness practice – and I’ll now tell you why it’s fabulous respite if you suffer from depression, anxiety, physical pain or other debilitating conditions that make your life a misery.
Being 100% aware of your physical pain or how utterly depressed you are makes you realise these things are always changing.
It just gets you to realise that saying ‘I’m depressed’ or ‘My back is killing’ is actually inaccurate.
This description may be true in some moments (obviously more moments than you would like).
But it’s not accurate for other moments when you’re not actually depressed or in awful pain.
During these other moments you could be angry, happy, riveted, bored, resentful, furious, delighted, in pain elsewhere in your body.
But you’re not actually depressed, anxious or in pain in those moments. You’re not depressed all the time. The same goes for anxiety. The same goes for acute pain in a particular part of your body.
So mindfulness is really just a method of revealing to your brain that labels are often unhelpful because they freeze things in time – when actually our feelings, emotions and physical sensations are always changing.
Even the way we feel about our loved ones is always changing if you take a bit of time to reflect on this.
Mindfulness is nothing more and nothing less than training your mind to see the world as it is in this present moment – without overlaying your present reality with assumptions about who you are and what you’re suffering from.
Nothing is permanent.
And thankfully this goes for the bad stuff as well as the good stuff.
That’s why mindfulness can unstick depression, anxiety and physical pain. It makes you realise that none of these things are true all the time – and that we have lots of other things going on.
The more you’re aware of what’s going on in the present moment, the more you realise the range of moods and bodily sensations you actually experience. And the less likely you are to label yourself as permanently and always 100% 24/7 having a specific pain in a specific area or thinking a particular thought that makes you a particular kind of angry, worried or resentful.
Things are changing all the time, and to label yourself as x, y or z ignores a huge amount of your experience.
Why not give it a go?
Training your mind takes a few minutes a day – and it’s an amazing experience to realise you’re not as one-dimensional as you thought.
How mindfulness can make us all a bit happier