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May 2018 - Freedom of Mind

In this piece, Ola reflects on how much she has changed since her younger years, and how her mindset has changed to be more open, honest and to focus on what she can do to help herself.

A few weeks ago I was looking for some old documents at home. After a good rummaging through my plastic storage boxes, I came across some diaries and drawings from my teens a few years back.  I came across a letter that I instantly recognised, and it gave me a weird feeling. It was a letter to a higher power. I wanted my time to be up. I genuinely didn’t want to see another day.

As I stood there contemplating what I’d stumbled upon, I remembered moments of not wanting to look at the mirror, holding a pen shakily against my skin or sat crying against my bedroom door. I was fed up with myself. I just didn’t care about anything and everything.

But I overcame it –  almost completely.

At the time, I was religious and so my confidence that things would get better rested in a higher power and I guess praying gave me comfort to an extent. Looking back now, even though I do gets bouts of negativity from time to time, my mindset has changed.

It all starts with the mind.

Sometimes we just can’t predict the weather. There will be days of thunderstorm, days of gloom and days of sunshine, sometimes we might even have a smashing rainbow of day. There are many things that can affect our individual forecast, like a coworker saying something annoying or being unable to achieve something due to external circumstance. Ultimately, it’s our thoughts that provide the driving force to our decisions.

There are some aspects in life that I have come to realise are really important. I find myself referring back to them when speaking to friends and family about their woes and probably would have provided comfort to when I was at my lowest point.

Everyone will have their own ways of achieving peace, focus and happiness.

To be at peace for me means to be at ease, resolving bad thoughts and feelings, scrapbook, write how I feel, speaking to those closest to me. Anything that will help resolve lingering thoughts that aren’t good for me. I generally am not an outspoken person and find it hard on occasion to say what’s really bugging me. But I can tell you, when you make the plunge to do it, you can do it again and again if you need to. Recently, I opened up to my partner about how I’d been feeling. I’ve been living with him over 2 years and still found it hard to let off  steam. Bottling up distracting thoughts is not worth it, they can be damaging, link themselves like chains and emboss themselves in the head. Opening up about what had been bugging me deep down inside such as general global news and my personal life wasn’t easy, but it bonded my relationship with my partner that little bit more and brought about a lovely bit of solace.

Being at ease means to be content. To get to the root of what is disrupting my sleep and cherry pick things that were on my mind, to find a solution.  I have always been keen on fitness and have been avid in areas like netball. Since sustaining a long term injury, have learnt to be patient with myself and found yoga. Yoga is like a medication for both my body and mind. It helps declutter my mind,  brings me back to what is really important in life, just chill the hell out and have a few moments of peace with myself! Taking some time out away from some form of digital screen and embracing the moment helps me to recalibrate my focus.

You’ve got to do what you need to do to maintain your focus on what you want to achieve, no matter how small they are! I find myself quoting Tesco’s tagline from time to time “Every little helps”. If you need to, block out what you need to help you reach that little further to your goals. I would tell my younger self to stop wishing I was different and channelling energy into comparing myself to others and trying to be something I’m not. I’ve tried it and it’s really not worth it. It may provide a some form of satisfaction, but it’s only short term. Those kind of thoughts I found hindered my ability to move on, to really reach my potential in what I wanted to do.

As much as I want a sunny forever forecast of life, I always have it in mind to take each day as it comes and to have an open mind to possibilities. I find ticking tasks off daily not only helps my productivity, but gives me a happiness boost too and improves my mindset. It helps me feel more purposeful and the desire to continue, to look forward to doing more and achieving more. Happiness can come in so many forms and its important to be happy in a way that is true to oneself. During my more gloomy days, I resorted to drawing, painting, volunteering, finding a reason to laugh, find meaningful activities outside of home away from where I felt locked down and tense.

I would have told my younger self:

Hey you, you’re doing awesome. It may not seem like it, but I can assure you, you really are. Things may seem pretty crap now and there’s nothing more to do on earth but there’s only one of you.  You’re unique and you should embrace that! Don’t think you’re worthless, you are someone’s reason to smile. Remember that. You should try finding a moments of stillness. Trust me, it’s really good for finding that ounce of peace, that mental clarity. It will help you focus more. You can’t give up. It’s now that you need to be stronger than ever. You’re not doing it for anyone but yourself. Spare yourself the negative and limiting thoughts and put your focus on the good news and things that bring about positivity out there. Feel more inspired! Laugh more!

I know external things like the arguments and violence at home can be so rattling and distracting but you have to maintain focus. You need to change the way you think. Develop internally and you’ll permeate your external surrounding fruitfully.

It all starts with the mind. You can do it.

 

If you have something you want to say about mental health send us a pitch to cai.burton@freedomofmind.org.uk

Keep your pitches to less than 150 words and tell us what content you want to make and why you want to make it. It can be anything, from a poem, to an article, to a video, to a piece of artwork – we’re just after stories to tell. We can keep things anonymous if you’d like and we’ll help you to edit your piece then get it up on the blog.

Ruth is tired of the stigma around mental health. She wants to highlight how it’s an issue and what you can begin to do about it.

Imagine you have broken your foot. You know that something is definitely wrong; when you fell you literally heard your bone crack, your foot has swollen to 3 times its original size, and what’s more you can’t put weight on it or bend it past a certain point without excruciating pain. You tell your friends and family what has happened, insistent that you need to seek medical attention. Yet instead of supporting you and taking you to the doctor immediately, they stare at you as if you are the issue, and tell you to stop making a mountain out of a molehill.

Your pain is “all in your head”. You don’t need medical help, there’s not even anything properly wrong with you. Taking medication to help alleviate the pain is ridiculous and, quite frankly, shameful. You need to stop complaining and start seeing the “good things in life”, as that will make you better.

Sounds ridiculous, right?

But this is how you can be treated if you are struggling with your mental health.

Mental illness, and, in fact, the notion of talking about mental health, is highly stigmatised by society as a whole. You are seen as weak if you have depression, you are portrayed in mainstream media as a danger to society if you have schizophrenia, and books are even written about how unlovable and manipulative you are if you have a personality disorder. Self-care is viewed as wishy-washy and unnecessary, instead of as a vital way to look after your own wellbeing.

This stigma is dangerous.

It means that you are less likely to reach out for help, be that telling someone how you are feeling or going to the doctor to seek medical treatment, thus putting you at greater risk. It means that you struggle in silence, feeling weak and like you should be able to pick yourself up, which invariably leads to you feeling even worse in yourself. It means that more and more of us are waiting longer to reach out for help, and thus are having to deal with more complex problems and deep-rooted behaviours, which require a more intensive intervention. These are illnesses and conditions that are life-threatening and should not be swept under the carpet simply because they do not manifest themselves in the same way that physical health problems do.

This is why visibility about mental health is important. When you tell your story, when schools run PSHE lessons on how to look after your wellbeing, when popular figures reveal their own mental health difficulties, then the atmosphere of silence is broken, and those in the dark about mental health start to be educated and understand that it isn’t “all in your head”. Collectively, we  begin to understand that we all have mental health, much like we all have physical health, and that there is no shame in having poor mental health. Your voice begins to normalise having a mental illness, stripping away the taboo. Wellbeing becomes something to prioritise in the workplace and in schools, resulting in earlier intervention for those struggling, and a general atmosphere of openness and tolerance that can transform the education system and the working world.

Stories can challenge even the most deeply rooted shame in your own struggles with poor mental health. In the wealth of experiences shared, you can find some which resonate with you, breaking through the fog of lies telling you that you are alone and that life will never get better than this. You can find inspiration in someone else’s tale of recovery, motivating you to keep going despite the voice in your head telling you to give up.

This change can begin with something as everyday as a conversation.

If you have experienced poor mental health, telling your friends or colleagues about what you have gone through can begin to transform attitudes, and reflect that mental health is not alien, but something that we all have. Even sharing a blog post about someone else’s experience with their mental health widens the reach of their story and spreads the word.

Another way to break through the stigma is to become involved in mental health education. Come along to events such as the Freedom of Mind festival, campaigner conferences run by mental health charities, or a panel on mental health and wellbeing run by a local campaigning group. You could even host your own “Positivi-tea” in your workplace or community.

If you are at school, you could talk to your Head of Year about having an assembly on mental health and wellbeing, especially around exam time, or run a lunchtime crafternoon to de-stress and self-care. If you are at University, you could get involved in the Mental Health Society or Wellbeing Network, and if they don’t exist at your University you could think about setting them up!

On a more national level, there are charities such as Beat, Mind and Time to Change working to challenge stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health. Hosting a fundraiser would raise valuable funds for their work, and if you want to get more involved you could consider applying to be a mental health activist with these groups. If an important bill pertaining to mental health or healthcare is being debated in Parliament, you could email or write to your MP urging them to vote and support their constituents with mental illnesses.

These are just a few suggestions of what you can do; there is a wide range of ways to stand up against stigma and break the silence surrounding mental health. But through your actions, big or small, you can play a part in transforming society’s attitude towards mental health. So keep talking and starting those conversations about mental health and wellbeing. Share your stories and listen to those that others around you tell. Keep educating yourself about issues pertaining to mental health, including the experiences of different communities and liberation groups. Visibility and open discussion is how we challenge the stigma and silence surrounding mental health, and it starts with you.

 

If you have something you want to say about mental health send us a pitch to cai.burton@freedomofmind.org.uk

Keep your pitches to less than 150 words and tell us what content you want to make and why you want to make it. It can be anything, from a poem, to an article, to a video, to a piece of artwork – we’re just after stories to tell. We can keep things anonymous if you’d like and we’ll help you to edit your piece then get it up on the blog.

One of our newest Content Creators, Emily, has offered to run the Bristol Half Marathon for us to raise money and improve awareness around mental health. You can donate by clicking here. This is why she’s doing it…

Hi I’m Emily, I’m 25 and I will be running the Bristol Half Marathon in September 2018 for the Bristol based mental health and wellbeing festival Freedom of Mind.

I have taken on this challenge as I want to raise awareness and encourage conversation around our mental health, as well as raising much needed funding for an incredible project that does so much good in our community.  One of the most powerful things that captured me when I began working with Freedom of Mind, was recognising that ‘we all have a mental health.’ In the UK one in four of us struggle with our mental health at some point during our lifetimes and I’m working with Freedom of Mind to encourage discussion and bring mental health out of the dark.

This cause is very close to my heart.  Last year, I lost my uncle Andy to the darkest depths of his mental health.

Tragically he took his own life, leaving behind a devastated family who loved him unconditionally. One of my last conversations with him was around my new found love of running. Andy was such an outdoorsy man and loved nothing more than a bike ride, a run or a kick about in the park and so I will run 13.1 miles in his memory in the hope of making the topic of mental health and wellbeing a day-to-day conversation for us all.

Even though there has been lots of positive change towards removing the stigma attached to mental health, it still exists. Freedom of Mind are doing some amazing work in our community to bring about this change, and every year they host a festival across Bristol encouraging people to talk more and learn about wellbeing. However, they need support to continue.

Whilst I love running, 13.1 miles is a massive challenge for me so I really need your support!  

I started training on 3rd of February with a 10k run – my first run since losing Andy in August 2017!  This run went well but I’m under no illusions of how tough my training journey is going to be over the coming months as I look to extend my distance.

So please get sharing and donate what you can so I can keep motivated and my training plan on track, and I promise I’ll keep you posted on my progress throughout!

Together we can encourage conversations, educate each other and make a change to how mental health is perceived and supported in our community.

Thank you

Donate to support Emily and Freedom of Mind here

Freedom of Mind would like to thank Emily and her family for the support they are giving us through this. Every penny raised really makes a huge difference and helps us to run Freedom of Mind even better. 

 

Liam shares how heading home and taking the time to reflect in the hills of Pembrokeshire helped him to learn about his own mental health and make changes to improve himself because of it.

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In this piece, Anna shares the research she has done around the benefits of nature on your mental health.

One of the main reasons I chose the University that I attended was its magnificent grounds. It had lakes, ponds carpeted in lily pads, open fields that stretched for miles and gorgeous woodland. Towards the end of my second year various pressures started to overwhelm me and I began having intense panic attacks. My head would spin, my heart would scream in my chest and I was convinced that something awful was about to happen. All I wanted to do was run away from everyone and work through my feelings in peace. My favourite place to run was into the woods, where the gurgling streams and rustling trees would welcome and soothe me. It was completely instinctive; something in me knew that a natural environment would help me relieve some anxiety.

It’s not just me.  Almost everyone seeks out nature in some form or another. Whether it’s taking your children to the park, hiking, gardening or  just having a screensaver of a mountain range, we seem to have an innate need for nature in our lives and believe that it is somehow ‘good’ for us. Well, it appears that it is. There is evidence to suggest that contact with nature can have wide ranging mental and physical health benefits.  

The evidence is everywhere

In one study, parents of children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) reported that ‘green’ activities like playing football helped their children become more relaxed and more focused. This wasn’t simply the result of doing exercise, though. Children who just sat in a room with natural views were actually calmer than children who played outside in an environment without greenery! (1) Living in areas with more green space may also benefit mental health. A study in the U.S found that where people lived in neighbourhoods with more green space, there were significantly lower reported rates of symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. (2)

Feeling connected to nature

There appears to be a correlation between feeling connected to nature through ‘active nature behaviours’ such as feeding birds or planting flowers, and people’s perceptions of their own health and happiness. This is according to an evaluation by Derby University of the ’30 Days Wild’ campaign created by the Wildlife Trusts.(3) People rated their connection to nature and their health and happiness. The amount of people rating their health as ‘excellent’ increased by 30% during the study and the perceived improved health and happiness continued months after the study ended! Dr Miles Richardson, head of psychology at Derby University even said ‘There is a need to normalise everyday nature as part of a healthy lifestyle.” (4)

Forest bathing

In Japan enjoyment of nature has been turned into a therapy in the form of ‘Shinrin Yoku’, or ‘Forest Bathing’. The therapy is beautifully simple; all a person undergoing ‘forest bathing’ need do is go to a forest and sit or walk at a leisurely pace, and breathe in the woody scents. The physiological and psychological benefits of forest bathing are backed up by a good deal of scientific evidence. For example, research from Chiba University in Japan found that, compared to city environments, forest environments were associated with lower concentrations of cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’), lower blood pressure,  lower pulse rate and lower sympathetic nervous system activity (the system that controls fight or flight responses). (5) Research commissioned by the National Institutes of Health found significant increases in memory span and increases in mood after a nature walk versus an urban walk for subjects with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). The researchers even suggested that interaction with nature could be used to supplement current MDD treatments. (6) Frequent forest bathing may even reduce the risk of psychosocial stress related diseases. (7)

Simply breathing in forest air may help your immune system. Some trees and plants secrete Phytoncide; oils which protect them from insects and bacteria. A study in 2009 by Qing Li, of Nippon Medical School in Tokyo found that after spending time in the forest, participants showed a significant increase in Natural Killer Cell activity (cells linked to a well functioning immune system and to fighting cancer).  He suggested that this increase may be due to Phytoncide emitted from the trees and concludes that forest bathing may aid cancer prevention. (8) Pretty amazing effects from just taking a trip to the forest!

Artwork By Anna

Eco therapy

Eco therapy is a similar therapy, advocated by the charity Mind. As well as walking or cycling, eco therapy can include a range of outdoor activities such as meditation, gardening or working on conservation projects. It is something you can do in a group following a programme, or alone, and there are lots of tips on Mind’s website to get you started! (9) Gardening can help improve self esteem and reduce anxiety and depression symptoms according to some studies. (10) If you don’t or can’t do gardening, keeping indoor plants can help reduce stress and can even help to purify the air! (11)

It’s only natural

It’s hardly surprising that we benefit from spending time in nature. We have inhabited, or at least had close contact with natural environments for most of our time on earth. It’s only fairly recently that people started living in urban, manmade environments with little access to nature, and it may be that nature offers advantages that urban environments cannot. One theory that explains this ‘need’ for nature is Attention Restoration Theory (ART). According to ART the constant, attention grabbing information on computers, phones, signs, etc, plus the stress of traffic and frequent interactions in manmade environments can leave us feeling mentally fatigued.  Conversely, natural environments allow us to pay ‘effortless attention’, and require very little of us, while still being engaging and enjoyable. This allows us to replenish our mental resources and can lower our stress levels. (12) (13)

Natural images and scenes

If you don’t have access to forests or green spaces, don’t worry, you can still gain the benefits of Eco therapy. According to some studies, you can experience mental health benefits simply by looking at images of nature. Viewing these nature focused images can help reduce stress and improve mood. Interestingly, a 2015 study found that the more ‘awe inspiring’ the scene, the more mood was improved (possibly because these pictures are more effective at taking us away from our daily experiences). (14) Some studies have even found that patients recovered more quickly and needed less medication when plants were in their room or they had a ‘natural’ view from a hospital window. (15)

Eco psychology – a blossoming new field of science

The studies I have mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg. There is research that suggests a link between green spaces and social cohesion (16), better ability to cope with stress (17), increases in energy (18), reduction in aggression (19) – the list is endless. And the best part about this therapy is that it’s non invasive, it’s accessible to most, and it’s completely FREE! So now that summer is here and our green spaces are full of leafy trees and blooming flowers, it’s the perfect time to get out there and treat yourself to some nature!

Is there a particular green activity or place that makes you feel good? We’d love to hear about it. You can comment on our Facebook post, reach us on twitter (@FOMCIC) or write your own blog post!

 

If you have something you want to say about mental health send us a pitch to cai.burton@freedomofmind.org.uk

Keep your pitches to less than 150 words and tell us what content you want to make and why you want to make it. It can be anything, from a poem, to an article, to a video, to a piece of artwork – we’re just after stories to tell. We can keep things anonymous if you’d like and we’ll help you to edit your piece then get it up on the blog.

 

References

  1. Drunk Tank Pink (book by Adam Alter)
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3987044/
  3. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0149777
  4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20160420-how-nature-is-good-for-our-health-and-happiness
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793346/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3393816/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17055544
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793341/
  9. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/nature-and-mental-health/about-ecotherapy-programmes/#what
  10. https://academic.oup.com/jpubhealth/article/38/3/e336/2239844
  11. https://gardencollage.com/heal/mind-spirit/houseplants-improve-mental-health/
  12. Drunk Tank Pink (book by Adam Alter)
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attention_restoration_theory
  14. http://theoaksatsacredrocks.com/blog/2017/02/27/mental-health-benefits-nature-exposure/
  15. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/224/4647/420.long
  16. https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/nature-more-important-for-social-cohesion-than-age-gender-education-and-income-combined-a6748851.html
  17. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953610000675
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2924288/
  19. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/00139160121973124

 


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