As well as impacting our physical health the Coronavirus Pandemic can impact on our mental health. However, there are many things we can do to support and manage our wellbeing during this unprecedented situation.
We wanted to share some help and advice to help you look after your mental health during this time.
Stress Awareness Month
Stress Awareness Month has been held every April, since 1992 to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for stress. According to the Mental Health Foundation 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. A recent study conducted by the Stress Management Society in collaboration with Huawei AppGallery, found that 65% of people in the UK have felt more stressed since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020. The three key causes for concern are feelings of disconnection, uncertainty, and a worrying loss of control.
Stress is a significant factor in mental health problems including anxiety and depression. It is also linked to physical health problems like heart disease, problems with our immune system, insomnia and digestive problems. Individually we need to understand what is causing us personal stress and learn what steps we can take to reduce it for ourselves and those around us.
The 30 Day Challenge encourages you to pick one action each for your Physical, Mental and Emotional Wellbeing to carry out every day. It takes 30 days to turn actions into habits, which is why this is a month-long programme. The 30-day challenge will maximise your chances of turning useful knowledge and techniques into positive behavioural change. As a first step, you can download and fill in the 30 Day Challenge Calendar and the ‘Coping at Home and Keeping Connected Action Plan’ to make your commitments a reality. 30 Day Challenge Hints, Links and Tips
Additional resources include:
- Test your stress: https://www.stress.org.uk/individual-stress-test/
- Digital Detox checklist: https://www.stress.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Digital-Detox-%C2%A9-International-Wellbeing-Insights-2020.pdf
- Free Stress Guide: https://www.stress.org.uk/home-2/stress-guides/
Self Injury Awareness Day
Self Injury Awareness Day (SIAD) occurs on 1st March every year. It is an international event that is recognised across the globe. Self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body. Some of the reasons that people may self-harm include:
- expressing or coping with emotional distress
- trying to feel in control
- a way of punishing themselves
- relieving unbearable tension
- a cry for help
- a response to intrusive thoughts
Self-harm may be linked to bad experiences that are happening now, or in the past. But sometimes the reason is unknown. Raising awareness about self-injury is incredibly important. Awareness leads to understanding and empathy, banishing judgement and fear, and reducing the number of people who feel alone and suffer in silence.
The Self-Harm Intervention Programme (SHIP) is a short-term counselling service for those who engage in self-harming behaviour. The programme offers a separate service for family or carers of individuals who self-harm.
SPRING Social Prescribing
SPRING is a network of 30 community-led health organisations who have come together to deliver Social Prescribing services in communities across Northern Ireland and Scotland. Social Prescribing is a way to link medical care to (typically) non-clinical, locally delivered support services. It enables medical professionals to refer people to a range of activities and services, recognising a social model of health in which wellbeing is determined by a variety of factors. SPRING empowers people and communities, supports greater independence, reduces reliance on primary healthcare, and ultimately delivers better outcomes for people and society.
SPRING Social Prescribing adapted its delivery service during the pandemic to ensure all clients feel supported and connected throughout the lock-down period. Their “Connect Well” service ensures all clients are supported remotely by a Social Prescriber who is in contact with each and every client by telephone, text, or video link.
To find out more about how SPRING works see: https://www.springsp.org/how-it-works
Samaritans Health and Wellbeing App
If you are approaching discharge from the military (within 2 years) or recently left service (5 years), you may benefit from the new Emotional Health and Wellbeing app created by Samaritans. The app is easy to use and will help individuals with the emotional side of transition, combining information, real life stories, self-help prompts and signposting to support organisations. Think of it as an emotional health MOT before you start the newest chapter of your life. If you would like to take part, you will be among the first users trying this app. You will be able to help Samaritans improve the app by taking part in an independent research study led by King’s College London. You will be helping KCL to learn what you like about the app, and what you think could be improved, so that they can ensure that it better supports those transitioning out of the military. You can participate in two ways:
- After using the app, you will find a short survey that will take around 5-10 mins to provide some information and your opinions of the app
- You can take part in a telephone conversation and will receive a £25 Amazon e-voucher as a thank you for your time.
Please contact the team at King’s for more information via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone: 07596 814492. See: https://kcmhr.org/call-for-participants-samaritans-veterans-health-wellbeing-app/
Samaritans online chat service
Samaritans have developed an online chat service where anyone can speak with a volunteer virtually. Samaritans’ volunteers receive Armed Forces awareness training and are familiar with military life. Their trained volunteers will read your messages and respond in real time, helping you work through what’s on your mind. A link to this service is here: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/chat-online/
You will be among the first users of this service. At the moment, it is not available to all as it is a pilot. Times are also restricted – you will be able to access the service between:
- Mondays 18:00 to 21:00
- Tuesday – Thursdays 18:00 to 23:00
If you have used the service, you can take part in a research study led independently by King’s College London. You will be helping them to learn what you like about the online chat service, and what you think could be improved, so that they can ensure it better supports those who are serving or have served in the military. You can participate in two ways:
- After using the service, you will find a short survey that will take around 5-10 mins to provide some information and your opinions of the online chat service
- You can take part in a telephone conversation and will receive a £25 Amazon e-voucher as a thank you for your time.
Please contact the team at King’s for more information via email: email@example.com or telephone: 07596 814492. See: https://kcmhr.org/call-for-participants-samaritans-online-chat-service/
The BBC has put together a Mental Health Toolkit called Headroom, which includes everyday tips to boost our mood, sounds to relax our mind, strategies to cope with parenting right now or films to get us talking about our mental health. It also includes an information and support page with organisations that can help us or someone we know.
Time to Talk Day 2021
Time to Talk Day 2021 took place on Thursday 4 February. Time to Talk Day is the day that we get the nation talking about mental health and, at times like this open conversations about mental health are more important than ever. This year’s focus is on the power of small, because however you have a conversation about mental health – whether it’s a quick text to a friend, a virtual coffee morning with colleagues, or a socially distanced walk and talk with your family – it has the power to make a big difference.
Here are some tips for talking about mental health: https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/time-talk-day/tips-talking-about-mental-health
National Grief Awareness Week
Loss is a part of life. On average, 600,000 people die each year in the UK and of course this year many of us are experiencing the death of a loved one because of COVID-19. National Grief Awareness Week from the 2nd to the 8th of December aims to normalise grief and get us talking about what many of us find to be an uncomfortable subject. This annual national event is driven by The Good Grief Trust, the UK’s leading umbrella charity, bringing all UK bereavement services, support organisations and helplines together under one central database.
People who have been bereaved often feel as though they are going mad, but it is natural in the days, weeks, and months after a loss to experience a wide a range of physical and emotional processes. Bereavement affects everyone in different ways, there is no right or wrong way to feel. Typical experiences can include:
- Increased irritability
- Preoccupation with the loss
- Inability to show or experience joy
- Digestive problems
- Chest pain
- Sore muscles
Grief can have both short-term and long-term effects including the inability to attend work or school, or a lack of desire to attend social gatherings. For most people, these effects and impacts fade over time. For a small number of people grief can become prolonged or complicated. This is when professional support may be required.
During National Grief Awareness Week please share this year’s hashtags #ShareYourStory and #NGAW20 on all your social media platforms.
This week aims to:
- Help the bereaved feel acknowledged and understood
- Help those grieving and the professionals working with them, to find the support they need NOW
- Help those supporting their grieving friends and family to know what to say and do
Further information and support on grief and bereavement can be found here:
- NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/coping-with-bereavement/
- MIND: https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/3361/bereavement-2019-for-pdf-download.pdf
- Cruse Bereavement Care: https://www.cruse.org.uk/
- The Good Grief Trust: https://www.thegoodgrieftrust.org/
- Public Health Agency: https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/sites/default/files/2020-10/Covid-19%20Grief%20and%20bereavement%20Support%20A5%20Booklet%20LR%2009_20.pdf
International Stress Awareness
International Stress Awareness Week, which runs from the 2nd to the 6th of November, was created in 2018 to raise awareness about stress prevention. Subjects this year’s event will address include:
- Experiences people have with mental health challenges and what can be done to help them
- Campaigning against the stigma associated with stress and mental health issues
- The role of stress management professionals in alleviating stress, with practical and proven techniques for building resilience
- What further actions need to be taken in the light of the pandemic and possible changes in future working practices
- Ensuring that those suffering from stress know where to go to seek advice
The highlight of International Stress Awareness Week will be the first-ever Online Global Stress and Wellbeing Summit. This will include the latest thinking and guidance on stress management, mental health, and employee wellbeing. For more information see: https://isma.org.uk/full-summit-event-programme.
World Mental Health Day
World Mental Health Day is observed on 10th October every year to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilise efforts in support of mental health. This year’s World Mental Health Day comes in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic. This has resulted in additional fears and worries for many people in terms of their own health and that of their families and friends. It has resulted is us having to change, not only the way we work, but the way we interact with people generally. Many people are also having to manage the grief of losing a loved one, sometimes without being able to say goodbye. It is expected that the need for mental health and psychosocial support will substantially increase in the coming months and years because of this. Therefore, the goal of this year’s World Mental Health Day campaign is increased investment in mental health. To encourage public action around the world, a World Mental Health Day campaign, Move for mental health: let’s invest kicked off in September, see the WHO video here: https://youtu.be/_VNCr1UJPO0 .
The 24-hour March for Mental Health: On 9 October, people from around the world will be encouraged to participate in a virtual march. A 24-hour livestream will feature people with lived experience, mental health leaders and influencers through the Speak Your Mind campaign. In addition, there will be hour-long sessions on specific themes, including mental health and young people, mental health and older people, and mental health and the LGBTQ+ community. Members of the public will be urged to “add their voice” and join the March. Watch this short video: https://youtu.be/yfR4_oJf2pw
The Big Event for Mental Health: On the 10th October, the World Health Organization will, for the first time ever, host a global online advocacy Event on mental health. WHO will showcase the work that its staff are doing around the world to reduce mental illness and the harmful use of alcohol and drugs. World leaders and mental health experts will join the WHO Director-General to talk about their commitment to mental health and what more must be done. World-renowned musicians who have spoken out about the importance of mental health will talk about their motivation and perform. Sportsmen and women whose lives have been affected by mental ill health will share their experiences and how they have dealt with conditions such as depression and anxiety. To watch the Big Event – Tune in from one of WHO’s social media channels at 15.00 UK time: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and TikTok channels.
In our part of the world the NI Executive, in June of this year, appointed Professor Siobhan O’Neill, Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University, to the role of interim Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland. The NI Department of Health Mental Health Action Plan includes a plan to implement the first phase of the Regional Trauma Network by April 2021 and to work to support the commitments to veterans in the New Decade, New Approach document.
Action Mental health are calling on schools, businesses, community groups, sports clubs, and individuals to get involved and Go Purple this October to help mark World Mental Health Day. https://www.amh.org.uk/news/go-purple-this-october/
The Mental Health Foundation is part of the national mental health response during the coronavirus outbreak. Government advice designed to keep us safe is under constant review and will be different depending on where you live. For mental health resources see: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/coronavirus
Some WHO, UK and NI resources on coronavirus and mental health can be found here:
Order your green ribbon to raise awareness and support good mental health for all. The green ribbon is the symbol of mental health awareness. All proceeds go towards the work of the Mental Health Foundation, a charity focused on mental health and prevention.
World Suicide Prevention Day
The 10th September is World Suicide Prevention Day. Suicide prevention is a global challenge. Nearly 3000 people on average commit suicide daily, according to the World Health Organisation. Every life lost represents someone’s partner, child, parent, friend, or colleague. But suicide is a major preventable cause of premature death.
Suicide is often the result of a coming together of several factors including psychological, social, cultural, sometimes combined with experiences of trauma and loss. We can all make a difference in preventing suicide by raising awareness about the issue, educating ourselves and others about the causes of suicide and warning signs for suicide, showing compassion and care for those who are in distress in our community, challenging the stigma associated with suicide and mental health problems, and sharing our own experiences. Everyone can contribute to preventing suicide. See ‘Step Closer’, a World Suicide Prevention Day short awareness film with a positive message encouraging connections and that we all have a role to play in working together to prevent suicide: https://youtu.be/ndjcJAaOVdg.
Samaritans have launched a self-help App to keep track of how you’re feeling, and get recommendations for things you can do to help yourself cope, feel better and stay safe in a crisis: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/self-help/
Action Mental Health are running a mental and emotional health and wellbeing awareness programme called Mindset, funded by the Public Health Agency. It will run continuously throughout the year and be delivered in all youth and community settings across Western, Northern, Belfast and South Eastern Trust areas for groups of 8 – 20 people. The programme is facilitated by AMH MensSana project workers, lasts for 3 hours, and can be delivered in person or online via Zoom. The programme aims to:
- Raise awareness and increase knowledge and understanding of mental and emotional health and wellbeing
- Raise awareness of signs and symptoms of mental ill health
- Promote self-help/resilience techniques and how to maintain a safe level of positive mental and emotional health and wellbeing
- Promote self-care
- Provide information and/or resources on mental health support organisations available (locally and regionally)
International Dogs Day
The 26th August was National Dog Day in the US, founded in 2004 to help galvanise the public to recognise the number of dogs that need to be rescued each year and to acknowledge family and service dogs. Research shows that dogs are good for our health and wellbeing. The physical benefits from living with and walking a dog regularly have been well documented and vary from improved cardiovascular health and increased physical activity to lower cholesterol and decreased blood pressure. It has even been estimated that they save the UK health sector £2.45bn a year as a result of fewer visits to the doctor and improved mental and physical wellbeing.
Dogs can also:
- Teach us mindfulness – interacting with a dog provides us with an opportunity to purposely focus our attention on the present moment.
- Relieve stress – having a chance to pet and cuddle a dog decreases our stress levels, increases feelings of happiness and raises our energy levels.
- Lead us to nature – having a dog motivates us to get into green spaces by walking in the park, along a beach, or into the woods. And research has shown that nature can itself relieve stress, boost our mood, increase social interaction, encourage physical activity, sooth pain, and enhance our creativity.
- Offer empathy and comfort – the spread of feelings between animals and people, known as emotional contagion, has been of growing interest to science. Dogs can sense emotions and even differentiate between good and bad ones. A trained assistance dog can perform specific tasks that will make life easier for someone suffering from PTSD such as waking them from nightmares which then improves sleep, getting someone back to the present when they suffer with dissociation, and offering behaviours to counter panic, flashbacks and anxiety attacks.
For more information on Service Dogs UK see: https://www.servicedogsuk.org/category/news/
- Provide a sense of purpose – people are at their happiest when they feel their lives have purpose. The need to care for another being offers a reason to get up and do what needs to be done – feed them, walk them, care for them – and get affection in return.
- Promote socialisation – walking a dog provides an opportunity to chat to neighbours and strangers – people are more likely to pass the time of day if you have a dog than if you don’t! Having social support brings us a sense of belonging and is essential to our well-being.
- Decrease loneliness and depression – research shows that among the benefits of dog ownership is a sense of companionship and social support that can lead to less loneliness. People report lowers levels of depression when they have a dog at home.
But if you are thinking of bringing a dog into your life consider the Animal Rescue Live acronym – D.A.V.E. This stands for:
- Donations – to your local rescue centre so that they can continue to support dogs in need.
- Adoption – although many rehoming centres are not open for public browsing you can still make an appointment to adopt or to bring a dog to them. Many are matching dogs with their new homes virtually and some allow meetings at rehoming centres by appointment.
- Volunteering – volunteers are crucial to many rescue centres by helping to raise money at events or in charity shops, giving a dog waiting for its new home some extra love and attention, or ensuring the centres are maintained and kept looking So, if you can’t have a dog living at home with you, this could be the next best thing!
- Education – many rescue centres have a key role in educating the public about dog ownership, behaviours, training etc. Some of these activities may have been suspended during the pandemic so best to check with your local centre.
“Sometimes the best medicine is a dog who thinks their love can cure you”
Veterans in NI can now benefit from free tuition in piping and drumming, thanks to an exciting new project called ‘Mind the Pipes and Drums’. Funded by the Armed Forces Covenant and led by Walking with the Wounded, the project is open to all veterans regardless of ability. There will be rehearsals in five locations across NI leading to performances in a number of venues. The project aims to improve veteran’s mental health, provide an opportunity to socialise, as well as gain skills and qualifications. If you are interested in finding out more call Ricky McGaffin on 07964 421665 or email him on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Research evidence compiled by the What Works for Centre for Wellbeing shows that structured music and singing activities have wellbeing benefits. Listening to music can reduce stress, negative mood and anxiety and may help to prevent or reduce depression. Actively making or engaging in music can enhance our sense of purpose in life, foster happiness, and provide musical and social benefits. Being a member of a music ensemble, such as the pipes and drums project, can also support the development of musical identity, providing an opportunity to learn, build relationships and engage in a meaningful exchange with the wider community. Finally, performing and sharing the music you create with others can be very meaningful. So, take the plunge and get involved, even if it’s just to carry the kit or make the tea!
Good friends are good for your health.
30th July is the International Day of Friendship which was proclaimed in 2011 by the UN General Assembly with the idea that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures, and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities. Friends can help us celebrate good times and support us during bad times. Evidence shows that having friends can reduce the risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and being overweight.
Support from friends can also:
- Prevent loneliness, improve happiness, and reduce stress
- Improve self-confidence and self-worth
- Help in coping with traumas (e.g. divorce, serious illness, job loss, the death of a loved one)
- Increase our sense of belonging and purpose, and give us an opportunity to give friendship back
- Encourage us to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise
So, contact your friends this week. Give them a call or connect online. Or better still meet up in a COVID secure way of course! Here in NI, since Friday 24 July, up to 10 people, four households can meet indoors in private homes. Because this carries a higher risk than meeting outdoors, we should follow public health advice by:
- limiting the duration of visits
- ensuring good ventilation
- maintaining good hand hygiene
- practicing social distancing where possible
- considering using a face covering
Experts recommend we wash hands before and after preparing food, eating and washing up; putting food straight on plates and not using large serving bowls; avoiding serving cold food which needs “handling” before and during meals, like cold meats or salads; and using detergent or soapy water to regularly wipe down tables and chairs where people put hands, fingers and elbows – then washing the cloth. Overnight stays are also now permitted. Those who are medically shielding are strongly advised to continue following the advice that remains in place for that group until the shielding period is paused on 31 July.
A World Health Organisation (WHO) video on how to break the chains of transmission can be found here: https://youtu.be/CmaA00M4kNI
Rest and relaxation
Planned rest and relaxation calms anxiety and helps our body and mind recover from everyday stress. It gives our body time to repair, strengthen itself and replenish energy stores recovering both physically and psychologically. The importance of rest and relaxation is well-recognised – even elite athletes build recovery periods of days or weeks into a seasonal training schedule! Psychological recovery involves feelings of relaxation and re-establishing a sense of well-being and positive mood. It is important for our most valuable organ – our brain! Psychological recovery strategies:
- Slow our heart rate and reduce our blood pressure
- Improve the flow of blood around our body giving us more energy
- Relieve tension
- Help us to have a calmer and clearer mind which aids positive thinking, concentration, memory, and decision making
- Improve digestion as we absorb essential nutrients more efficiently when we are relaxed, helping to fight off disease and infection
Relaxation techniques and good pre-sleep routines are some of the top strategies to promote psychological recovery. Relaxation techniques can include reading a book, listening to music, watching movies/television, or engaging in specialised relaxation techniques.
Sleep is considered the most vital recovery mechanism. Adequate sleep (7-9 hours) provides regeneration and restoration of the body’s systems. It helps us adjust to the physical, neurological, immunological, and emotional stressors that may be present in our lives.
Consistent bed and wake-up times promote good sleep hygiene and adherence to a routine. A pre-sleep routine can assist with falling asleep by slowing down and reducing exposure to external stimulation (e.g., iPhone). Your routine should start with gradually winding down your body (e.g., eat, watch movie/surf internet, stretch, shower, bed) rather than winding up.
“Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together”
The Sleep Council have loads of tips and resources to help us get a good nights sleep: https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/advice-support/sleep-advice/sleep-hygiene/
Sleep Matters training programme – If you’re a military veteran, have previously worked in the emergency services, are a member of St John Ambulance, work for Randox or Ulster University, you may be eligible to take part in a Sleep Matters training programme led by the University of Ulster. Contact Maguireemail@example.com on 028 70123915 for more information.
For many of us coming out of lockdown may be associated with mixed feelings. We may feel excited about being able to do things we have wished for like meeting friends and family, getting together physically with work colleagues, getting kids back into school, going shopping and so on. At the same time, we may also be worried about using public transport, maintaining social distancing, and having all the necessary precautionary measures in place to protect ourselves and our families. We may even feel angry or frustrated if we think that other people’s choices or behaviours might increase our risk of catching the virus. It’s possible that, as lockdown eases, we may realise how hard and stressful it has been. As with any period of intense and unrelieved stress, when the stress is lifted, there is sometimes an impact on physical or mental health. But some people have even been enjoying lockdown because it has reduced some of the pressures of modern life, given us more quality time with our families and allowed us to rediscover old hobbies/interests or indeed develop new ones. And all of this is ok! It’s OK to feel uncertain, to have mixed feelings, to feel a little bit of distress. Check the ITV News and Anxiety UK video here.
But humans are social animals and we cope better in a crisis by coming together. Our mental health is better when we are at school, work and socially connected. It’s important to remember to be gentle and kind to ourselves and to show ourselves some self-compassion. It’s going to take time to readjust to life following lockdown just as it took time to adjust to lockdown. The Mental Health Foundation and MIND have both put together some tips to help: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/coronavirus/coming-out-of-lockdown, https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus/managing-feelings-about-lockdown-easing/. And here’s a short video on managing difficult thoughts and feelings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmvNCdpHUYM.
World Wellbeing Week 22nd to 26th June 2020
World Wellbeing Week promotes awareness of the wide-ranging aspects of wellbeing. It originated in Jersey and has evolved into a worldwide event with thousands of messages, call, posts, and tweets. https://www.wellbeingworld.je/about/news/world-wellbeing-week-2020-be-celebrated-next-week/
Wellbeing has come into even sharper focus during the coronavirus pandemic and in NI a partnership of 15 leading mental health and wellbeing charities and the Healthy Living Centre Alliance (representing 28 Healthy Living Centres) alongside the Public Health Agency, Department of Health and the Department for Communities, has come together to create a COVID19 Wellbeing Hub (https://covidwellbeingni.info/ ) Here you will find a comprehensive range of information, self-help guides and ways to access help to support our mental health and wellbeing. The focus is on promoting positive mental health and wellbeing during and after the Covid19 pandemic.
Here at Brooke House we have adopted a holistic, evidence-based model of wellbeing and we focus on 4 key interlinked areas when we assess the needs of our clients – Health (both physical and mental), Home (financial and housing security); Community (being connected with others and our wider community), and Purpose (having goals and things that occupy us).
We then agree with our clients what interventions may help to improve whatever needs have been identified. We have continued to offer telephone screening appointments during lockdown with our Health and Wellbeing Coordinators but of course we are limited in the range of services we can provide due to social distancing. We can still provide either telephone or online talking therapies and are actively looking at how we can expand now that lockdown is easing. In the meantime you may find Big White Wall (https://www.bigwhitewall.com/) helpful. This is an online community for people who are stressed, anxious or feeling low. The service has an active forum with round-the-clock support from trained professionals. You can talk anonymously to other members and take part in group or one-to-one therapy with therapists.
Acceptance does not just include accepting the things we cannot change but it also includes self-acceptance. Self-acceptance encourages us to embrace our thoughts and feelings rather than fighting them or feeling guilty about them. Poor self-acceptance may disrupt the areas of our brain involved in emotional control reducing overall psychological well-being, increasing levels of stress, and minimising the benefit we might get from a range of psychological and physical health interventions. Good self-acceptance helps us to deal with any barriers in our lives that makes it difficult to achieve the things we would like to achieve.
One way to think about barriers is to think about them as ‘passengers’ on your bus of life. Life is like a journey, and you’re the driver of your bus. You want to move forward and do what’s important for you. Over the course of your life’s journey, various ‘passengers’ board your bus. They are your thoughts, feelings, and inner states. Some of these ‘passengers’ you like, such as happy memories or positive thoughts, and some you feel neutral about. And then there are the ones that you wish had not boarded the bus; they can be ugly, scary, and nasty. They might represent feelings of anxiety, fear, depression, or they can be upsetting or traumatic memories. As you drive your life’s bus these unpleasant ‘passengers’ can threaten you and want to be up front where you see them. You might stop the bus to struggle and fight with them. You might try to avoid them, distract yourself, or try to throw them off the bus, but they are your inner states, so you can’t get rid of them completely. But while your life’s journey is stopped, you’re not moving in the direction that’s important to you. You may also try to make deals with the ‘passengers’; you’ll give in and do what they tell you to do if they agree to keep quiet in the back of the bus. This may feel a little easier than fighting with them, but it means you are still distracted by them and not fully in control of the direction your bus is heading. But what if, even though these ‘passengers’ look scary, nasty, and threatening, they can’t take control unless you allow them to? What if you accept that they are part of you and that you can still travel on your life journey despite their presence?
To build up your self-acceptance, focus on the positive aspects of yourself, and reframe negative situations so that you see the opportunities in them. Have more compassion towards yourself and try some loving kindness mindfulness techniques. Like all skills, practice makes these more effective. Try this for starters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yoa_1y0KwU. If you have significant intrusive symptoms of PTSD you may wish to discuss with your therapist and/or GP before you try these techniques.
Drinking alcohol alters our thoughts, judgement, decision-making and behaviour. It is known to increase the symptoms of panic and anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental health problems. Heavy alcohol use weakens our immune system and reduces our ability to cope with infectious diseases. Over three-quarters of adults in NI drink alcohol so the PHA and Northern Ireland’s five Drug and Alcohol Coordination Teams (DACTs) are asking people, in the absence of pub measures, to check how much they have been drinking at home with the Alcohol MOT on www.drugsandalcoholni.info/mot. Further top tips to help manage our drinking include:
- learn how many units are in your chosen drink – visit drugsandalcoholni.info and download the ‘Know Your Units’ app
- when drinking at home try to use a measure if you can and don’t over-pour – if you have any kitchen measuring tools, these might help you
- have several alcohol-free days each week
- have something to eat before you start drinking to slow down the absorption of alcohol
- alternate each alcoholic drink with a non-alcoholic drink, for example, water or a soft drink
- never add drugs into the mix.
Psychologists report that most of the population is largely optimistic. Research has shown that higher levels of optimism are associated with better mental health, more effective pain management, improved immune and cardiovascular function, and greater physical functioning overall. It is also associated with better health outcomes after physical illness as well as increased life expectancy. It has even been shown to be connected to increased success in sports and work. Optimism is designed to give us the energy, enthusiasm, determination, and positive attitude to move forward in our lives. It helps us to appreciate the glass as half-full. Optimists tend to apply better coping strategies when faced with adversity and look for meaning in that adversity, which can make them more resilient. The good news is that, while optimism may be part of our character, it can also be learned.
A simple visualisation exercise can boost our optimism – it’s called the “best possible self” visualisation. See this YouTube video for more information: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNbaR54Gpj4
Take 10 minutes or more out of your day and imagine yourself in a future, say 5 years from now, that has turned out to be the rosiest that is possible (but also realistic). In this future, you have achieved all the things that you wanted to, whether that’s being at the height of your dream career, living with the love of your life, being in peak physical shape, having a small circle of close and supportive friends, etc. You get the picture. Visualise what such a future will be like and feel like to you in as much detail as possible (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_jEsnDEIa0). The more vividly your imagination can conjure up your best possible self, the more successful this exercise is. Even if you perform the best possible self exercise just once, your optimism will get a temporary boost. And if you perform it repeatedly, say every night, or a few times a week, there will be a persistent spike in your optimism. What is more, your mood will also improve, and you will feel happier.
Whole Wellbeing and Resilience
The 5 ways to wellbeing (Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/improve-mental-wellbeing/) are the foundations for resilience. The walls and the roof of our resilience ‘house’ are constructed from additional skills/behaviours. In briefing number 11 we covered ‘building and maintaining high quality connections’ – this week we’re talking about having meaning and purpose.
As humans we need to find purpose in what we do. Imagine being on holiday (one day soon!), relaxing with your favourite food and drink to hand, feeling the warmth of the sun on your face, listening to the waves breaking gently on the beach – you’re feeling pretty good right? How good would it feel after being sat there all day? Maybe still good. What about after a week, a month, or a year? As much as we might hate to admit it, this same pleasurable situation will gradually become less enjoyable over time and not have nearly the same effect on us as it did at the beginning. So, what’s missing? Purpose – beyond feeling good, we need to find purpose in what we do.
Resilient people have a strong sense of purpose – they know what they are doing and why. And here’s the science bit – having a sense of purpose in life has been shown to improve overall wellbeing and life satisfaction, to be good for our health and even to reduce the risk of death. What’s not to like?
Studies have found that people who carry out acts of kindness experience greater wellbeing, increased feelings of happiness, and improved life satisfaction. It does not seem to matter whether we show kindness to our friends and family, our communities or even ourselves – the effect is the same. Not only that but, just reflecting on and remembering kind things we have done in the past may also increase our wellbeing. ‘Give’ is one of the 5 ways to wellbeing that we have covered before in our previous briefings.
“Kindness is a gift everyone can afford to give”
The 5 ways to wellbeing are the foundations for resilience.
“Resilience enables us to function effectively, deal with the ups and downs of everyday life, adapt to change, bounce back from adversity and even grow as a result”.
Some researchers have termed resilience ‘ordinary magic’ because we all have it to varying degrees and we can all learn to strengthen it over time. Have a look at this video – the power of resilience with Dr Sam Goldstein, Neuropsychologist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isfw8JJ-eWM
One of the other important building blocks of resilience is developing and maintaining high quality connections (‘Connect’). Now that in NI we are permitted to be outside at a social distance with up to 6 people, we have an increased opportunity to enhance those connections. Resilient people are resourceful, and friends and family are among their most important resources. Resilient people have strong social networks, close connections to family and friends, can self-disclose about their troubles to people close to them, and ask for help when they need it
We all need to actively build and maintain our own resilience; act early on any warning signs that our resilience is under strain; and, mobilise support when our resilience is threatened. The Action for Happiness ‘10 days of Happiness’ online coaching programme will help: https://10daysofhappiness.org/
As human beings, we seek security. We all want to feel safe and have a sense of control over our lives and well-being. Research shows that fear and uncertainty can leave us feeling stressed and anxious. It can drain us emotionally and trap us in a downward spiral of negativity. But it doesn’t have to be like that – there are steps we can all take to better deal with the impact of uncontrollable circumstances and manage our anxiety.
Uncertainty is often centred on worries about the future and all the bad things we anticipate happening. It can make things feel worse than they are and even paralyse us from taking action to overcome a problem.
Worrying won’t give us more control over uncontrollable events – it just takes away our enjoyment in the present, drains our energy, and keeps us awake at night! But there are healthier ways to cope with uncertainty, for example creating a ‘safe space’ in your imagination.
A ‘safe space’ is somewhere we can go to regardless of what is happening around us. Imagine a place that has a lot of positive associations, where you feel safe, comfortable, peaceful, or calm. Give it a name such as ‘home’, ‘woods’, ‘beach’ etc. Really focus on the image and describe the positive emotions it creates and notice where in your body you feel any pleasant physical sensations. Notice the sounds, smells, textures associated with the image. Make the image as vivid in your mind as you can. Identify a single word or phrase that fits the picture, e.g. “relax”, “safe”, “in control”, “at peace”. When your mind wanders back to worrying or the feelings of uncertainty return, refocus your mind on the image and your own slow, steady, deep breathing. The more practice you put into this, the more effective it will be at helping you to manage anxiety and worry.
And, without some uncertainty and unpredictability, we would never have any surprises. As we have seen during this pandemic, good things do sometimes happen unexpectedly – the rise of volunteering and acts of kindness for instance. Facing uncertainty in life can also help us learn to adapt, overcome challenges, and increase our resiliency. It can help us to grow.
“Tomorrow will be a good day” – Captain Tom Moore
This week our focus is on Hope. The Rainbow of Hope has become a national symbol for supporting the NHS and getting through the coronavirus pandemic together.
Hope has been shown to be connected to mental health, happiness, satisfaction with life, and psychological well-being across all age groups. There is an association between high hope and lower levels of depression, while low hope is associated with a reduction in well-being. Research has also shown that hope acts as a protective factor during life crises. People who have high levels of hope view barriers as challenges to overcome and can more easily find another way to achieve their goals.
If we can value the positive things in life and be thankful for all the good, instead of worrying about what we don’t have or can’t change, our hope will grow. Like a virus, hope can also be transmitted to others but, unlike a virus, providing hope to others makes us feel happier and makes our lives feel more meaningful.
Here’s an example of someone who did just that: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-52355122
Action for Happiness have produced a ‘Coping Calendar’ with 30 suggested actions to look after ourselves and each other as we face this global crisis together. You can download it as a PDF for printing, or pass it on to others and help spread the word.
To sum up, hope can protect us against negativity and despair. It helps us keep in sight a better future in times of adversity, uncertainty, and crises.
Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence
These are simple things that you can do wherever you are that can bring calm to your mind and body. The most effective techniques involve one or more of our five senses – touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. Here are some examples:
- Touch – soak in a warm bath, sit (with sunscreen!) in the warmth of the sun, stretch your muscles, stroke your cat or dog.
- Taste – sip a cup of soothing herbal tea, suck a mint, treat yourself to an ice lolly from the freezer.
- Smell – take a sniff of the flowers in your garden, take a deep breath of fresh air, light a scented candle.
- Sight – read a good book, watch the clouds pass by, watch an entertaining TV programme/film, picture your loved ones.
- Sound – listen to relaxing music, sing to yourself (or your neighbours!), try some positive statements out loud like I choose hope over fear, Positivity is a choice that I choose to make, I am grateful for the things I have, I can go with the flow.
When trying these techniques focus completely on the task. If you get distracted simply bring your focus back. The more you practice the more effective they will be.
In these unusual times many of us are rediscovering the joy of the written word. Not only is reading pleasurable, but research has shown that it can help to reduce stress. Reading as little as six minutes a day can reduce stress levels by 60% by slowing your heart rate, easing muscle tension and altering your state of mind. It often provides an ‘escape’ from the worries of the day, has been shown to slow memory loss and is good for our mental health.
In case you are not aware, thousands of eBooks and Audiobooks are available to download for free from Libraries NI. You can borrow up to eighteen at a time for three weeks. To make use of this great free service you need to have a Libraries NI membership number. If you have a smartphone or tablet device download the Libby App or Overdrive App and create an account (Choose Libraries NI as your library). For PCs and laptops you need to install Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) software. So, get reading!
This week we’re focussing on gratitude – a thankful appreciation for what we receive and an acknowledgement of the goodness in our lives. Gratitude helps us connect to something larger than ourselves, be that other people, nature, or a higher power. In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness and higher overall wellbeing. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. We can all cultivate gratitude on a regular basis and, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice. You could write a thank-you note, thank someone mentally, or keep a gratitude journal, reflecting on what you are grateful for. See Action for Happiness’ 3 good things exercise: https://www.actionforhappiness.org/take-action/find-three-good-things-each-day
Health and Social Care in NI have produced a leaflet based on the Take 5 steps to wellbeing. This leaflet offers tips on supporting your mental and emotional wellbeing while staying at home during the current coronavirus outbreak. You can find it here: Take 5 Steps
Another good resource from NHS Scotland ‘Tips on how to cope if you are worried about Coronavirus and in isolation’ can be accessed from here.
For more information about the current pandemic and how to look after you health and wellbeing please check out the links below:
Specialist helplines providing a variety of vital support services including information, advice, counselling, a listening ear, and befriending are available through the Helplines Network NI.
Helplines are confidential, non-judgemental, and accessible sources of information, advice, and support. The Helplines Network NI website provides a single point of access to NI Helplines telephone numbers and websites. For further information visit www.helplinesnetworkni.com.
Lifeline is a free, confidential telephone helpline available anytime every day on 0808 808 8000. Counsellors answer all telephone calls. They listen, help, and support you in confidence. They do not judge you. They can deal with different concerns including depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide, trauma, sexual violence, and abuse. Lifeline can arrange an appointment for face-to-face counselling or other therapies in your area within seven days. They can put you in touch with follow-up services, so you get the best possible response.
If you have any queries or need additional advice/support you can call us on 028 8953 1223 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
If you or a family member needs immediate support please contact your local GP, your GP out of hours service, or the accident and emergency department at your local hospital.