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July 2018 - Freedom of Mind

In this three part series, we wanted to examine Coping Strategies and how you can use them to become a more resilient and mentally healthy person.

Read the first part here, and the second part here.

Anna, Bex and Emily have spent 30 days creating Gratitude Journals to see the effect on their mental health. Find out what they learnt!

We are often asked what job we have, what we like to do, or what we did at the weekend, but we’re rarely asked if we’re happy. It can throw us off and make us really have to think. We are told throughout our lives that happiness can be found through achievement, material wealth, and finding true love, but in reality there is no magic key to happiness that will work for everyone. We need to get to know ourselves as an individual, understand what makes us get out of bed in the morning and what truly matters in our lives.

A good place to start is by writing in a gratitude journal. A gratitude journal is a diary in which you write the things that you are grateful for in your life, often on a daily on weekly basis. Your ‘gratitudes’ can be anything you want, from having a cosy bed to sleep in or a supportive partner to running a marathon! They can help us to notice the positives in our life, learn more about ourselves and help us to understand what truly matters to us.

Research has suggested that gratitude may help improve various aspects of happiness and wellbeing such as self esteem, optimism, general life satisfaction and lower stress levels. It may even help to fight depression.  

 

We decided to investigate the effects of daily gratitude journaling for 30 days, using the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire once a week to see if our happiness improved. We wrote about our experiences and any changes that gratitude had made in our lives.

 

Anna:

I started by writing short gratitudes, but soon discovered that elaborating and writing WHY I was grateful for each item made it more meaningful and helped me to explore my emotions around it, which was much more fulfilling. I began by writing about the most interesting or successful parts of my day, but it started to feel like I was just trying to impress myself. I realised that the things that made the most difference to my happiness were the relationships I share with loved ones, personal growth and my understanding of myself and the little unexpected moments, like watching a bird couple preen each other or a stimulating conversation with someone I don’t know too well.

Many of these small moments would have otherwise been forgotten, so I think the most important difference that the journaling made for me was to preserve them, so that I could look back and relive them. In difficult times I think a gratitude journal could help me to be resilient.  

My happiness score went from 3.41 at the beginning of the challenge, up to 3.75 and by the end of the challenge was back down to 3.55.  Although my score increased overall, I stayed firmly in the ‘neutral’ happiness zone the whole experiment, which surprised me, because although my mood can fluctuate, I think of myself as a reasonably happy person.  In that respect the experience helped me learn more about myself, and I will now try to work on strategies to increase my overall happiness.

I admit it was slightly tiring writing three items every day- I’ve read that writing once a week can actually be more beneficial!  But the journal did help me to notice and truly appreciate things I may otherwise have missed or taken for granted, and it enriched each day and made my memories more colourful.

 

Bex:

I wanted to make sure I could stick to my gratitude challenge, so I used an app called HappyFeed and set a reminder on my phone. This meant I could journal digitally throughout the 30 days, and I could do it on the move.  

I really enjoyed the gratitude challenge and for me, it felt like a small meditation at the end of the day, which really helped during those times I could not get in the headspace to actually meditate, or roll out my yoga mat.  

Interestingly, I found that I couldn’t just write three things that were great that day and ended up thinking of more things to be grateful for, the more I wrote about them because I was better able to notice the nice little things had happened. I also noticed themes. I was most grateful for the people around me, and the things they had said to me. I would often talk about a change in perspective, for example a realisation I had had during the day – and how I was grateful for life’s ebbs and flows. I also found that I was extremely grateful for my current opportunities, and my desire to accept, learn and grow.

I chose to reflect at night, before bed. Each week my happiness score increased very slightly, as I began to engage with these happy and thankful thoughts. One morning I even woke to thoughts of how lucky I am to be able to sleep in a warm and comfy bed, and to have shelter. I could feel the positive effects.  

 

Emily:

I found recording what I am thankful for every day was very beneficial. For me, it highlighted the good I have in my life and made me more aware of what I can do to encourage these feelings of happiness. It has taught me to be more thankful for what I do have and to make sure I invest time in those that make me happy, no matter how busy life gets.

Even on the days where things weren’t so great, when I looked back at my day I was still able to find three things that made me laugh or smile every day for thirty days. I found those ‘not so great’ days, which were the hardest to recognise the good, the most beneficial to use the gratitude journal as it stopped me focusing on the negative and made me reflect.

Looking at my results from the initial happiness test to the last snapshot captured after thirty days of the gratitude journal, there is an increase in my happiness levels. I began the investigation ‘not particularly happy or unhappy’ ending on ‘rather happy, pretty happy.’  

My weekly review of happiness saw its ups and downs across the month, but I was really pleased to see no score was as low as the first time I took the happiness test once starting the journal. This has led me to the conclusion that recording things to be thankful for is beneficial. It is no cure, but it is a lovely way to source the good in every day and be thankful for the things that make us happy. It has highlighted what I can do to pick myself up when I’m feeling not so great and that no matter how rubbish my day may be, I am pretty lucky.

Going forward I plan to continue recognising the things I am thankful for in my life but not daily. I hope using this method on a less frequent scale or when I haven’t had the best day will still have a positive effect on my overall happiness without the feeling of it becoming a chore.

 

Conclusion

Each of us had a unique experience completing thirty days of a gratitude journal but there were positive effects common across us all. Recording what we are thankful for made us all recognise what we are lucky to experience during our days and a big part of that is who we surround ourselves with. The gratitude journal allowed us the time and headspace to reflect on our day and be thankful for what we often take for granted.

We all had a slightly different approach in terms of recording our results, and all found doing this task daily a little tedious. But whether it be via an app, alarms and reminders or good old fashioned pen and paper, we all experienced an increase in our levels of happiness by recording a gratitude journal. Going forward I think it’s safe to say we would all recommend keeping track of what you are thankful for in your life to recognise what you do have and to familiarise yourself with your own triggers for what makes you happy.

Tips on how to write one:

  • Your gratitudes don’t need to be big or impressive. Often the smallest moments like a long hug or seeing a beautiful flower can lift our day.
  • Don’t view it as a chore. Remember that you are journaling to help you learn more about yourself and to enrich your experience of life.  
  • Close your eyes and think about your day; when you woke up, what you did over the morning, into lunch, the afternoon and evening. Think about the people you interacted with that made you feel better or the thing you ate to nourish your body. Did you have a shower, and did it make you feel good? Or did you use your phone to contact someone you love? We often forget that these very simple things make us feel happier.  
  • Use an app as a reminder to write your gratitudes, or write by hand. Use a book that you enjoy writing in, and try decorating it. Anything to make using it an enjoyable and personalised experience that you look forward to.
  • Be as specific as possible – Try to find particular events, people etc that made a difference in your day. Eg ‘I’m grateful for seeing my best friend and having a good catch up’ rather than just ‘I’m grateful for my friends’.
  • Write your journal at night – there is evidence that proves it helps you sleep!

Do you have any tips you’d like to share? If so, we’d love to hear from you…

This is the final instalment in our series on Coping Strategies. Do check out our other pieces on coping strategies.

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.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/#35c092a1183c

 

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/tips_for_keeping_a_gratitude_journal


https://personalpages.manchester.ac.uk/staff/alex.wood/gratitude%20longitudinal.pdf

 

http://happierhuman.com/the-science-of-gratitude/.  

 

http://www.meaningandhappiness.com/oxford-happiness-questionnaire/214/

 

In this three part series, we wanted to examine Coping Strategies and how you can use them to become a more resilient and mentally healthy person.

Read the first part here.

In the second part, Liam looks at some of the more obscure coping strategies, and how you can implement them into your everyday life.

 

There are many ways to help you cope with mental illness. No matter what you struggle with there are ways you can put yourself in control, rather than be controlled.

In our last post, Introducing Coping Strategies, we mentioned a few of the standard strategies you could put in place such as sleep, meditation, medication and exercise. But these are all well known. As we are all programmed differently we may need to look and experiment with more obscure methods in order to find the right balance. So let’s check out a few…

1. Fill A Page

Mental illness can create many thoughts in that brain of yours. Sometimes this may become overwhelming. Why not try a quick way to get some of those thoughts out. The concept is simple, and will take a very little amount of your time. Grab a pen, grab a piece of paper and just write until the page is full. The important thing is to not stop and think. Just write what comes immediately to you. You might start with writing the same word repeatedly, it might not even make sense, but who cares. We aren’t looking for a novel, its just filling a page with ink!

This is not journaling, it’s nothing you need to share and punctuation can be thrown out the window.

 

2. I’m Grateful For…

It’s easy to forget gratitude in life. The ability to breathe unaided might be expected from most of us but it’s still a gift of life. It’s easy to take things for granted. So how about writing a daily list of what you are grateful for? This can be anything big or small, might be one thing or might be 10. You may write the same things each day, you may write more one day than others. It’s about thinking differently and encouraging your positive side to break through.

Give it a try, the list may grow and grow!

 

3. Your First Words

Getting up in the morning isn’t a very positive experience. You’re groggy, probably want that extra snooze time and it takes a little time for you to fully engage with the world.

It’s time to mix things up.

The start of your day normally has an impact on how the rest of your day goes. Don’t let your first words be “I’m Tired”. Instead, get up, go to the nearest mirror and tell yourself and the world “I’m going to have a great day”. Maybe add a smile in there too!

 

4. Buy A Plant, Or a Wilson

There’s often a lot of pressure to talk to others when your mental health deteriorates. But maybe you’re not ready to talk. Maybe you’re not ready to hear opinions. Sometimes letting something out without receiving anything back can help. Now you could get a pet, but that that’s a bit drastic. Instead, buy a plant, give it a name and be kind with water. Talk to it, it might feel a bit odd the first time but stick with it.  

Ever watched the film Castaway with Tom Hanks? His best friend was a football called Wilson. If you haven’t watched it, watch it! Warning though, it gets slightly emotional so remember to keep a tissue nearby.

 

5. Obscurity

The number of strategies out there in this world is huge, and you’d be here for a while if we listed them all. What’s important is too experiment and explore. Take yourself out of your comfort zone a little and test waters you wouldn’t normally test. Try different things and create something which works for you. Try to keep track of what you are trying. Keep a journal and note down how each makes you feel. Maybe rate them out of 10. Whatever works for you.

 

Coping Strategies won’t find you, you need to find them!

 

Look out for our next instalment in this series on Coping Strategies…

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.

 

In this three part series, we wanted to examine Coping Strategies and how you can use them to become a more resilient and mentally healthy person.

In the first part, Liam examines what coping strategies are, and why they can help you.

 

Mental Health can affect us in many different ways. It’s not just the number of different mental illnesses out there, but the fact we are all programmed differently means the same illness may affect different people in entirely different ways.

Those affected may deny, may accept, may embrace and they may experience different symptoms for the same mental illness. You could make a list, but it would go on and on. No matter what bracket you fall under there are a number of ‘things’ that we do to help us cope with whatever life throws at us. Take a minute to reflect on the following and see if you can think of any more:

If you are hot, you’ll seek the shade

If you are thirsty, you’ll seek water

If you are tired, you go to sleep

 

These are all strategies we use to overcome daily challenges or requirements driven by what our body is telling us.

Coping with mental illness is no different. It’s your brain requiring something, and there will be ‘things’ you can do to help. These ‘things’ can be referred to as ‘coping strategies’. These could be sleep, meditation, medication or exercise to name just a few. Some won’t work, some may work only on occasions, and some may work all the time. It’s important not to ignore the feelings you have, or the warning signs. It’s important you do something to help yourself.

It’s easy to confuse coping strategies with safety behaviours or ‘emotional avoidance behaviours’. For example, if you are anxious about going to a social event your safety behaviour might be to not attend. A coping strategy could be used to overcome that safety behaviour to give you the courage to attend and there are a number of well known strategies.

The great thing about coping strategies? They can be tried and tested anywhere, at any time. They put you in control and you can experiment with different ones as you please. Even if they don’t work, at least you’re stimulating the mind trying. No experience is a waste.

Don’t be static, be dynamic!

 

Look out for our next instalment in this series on Coping Strategies…

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.

Alcohol can be complicated for many people, and KB wants to explore some alternatives to sitting in the sun with an alcoholic drink.

There is something that happens, I have never really been able to pin it down; but when the sun creeps out and the sky isn’t overpowered by the daunting clouds we know too well, a lot of us get the urge to day drink. Lately, my sunny days have been filled with the frustrating feeling of suppressing this urge because I have found it too easy – to drink at the park at a pub at a barbecue etc. There’s nothing wrong with having a drink but as the sun comes out more and my drinking becomes more consistent, it is an understatement to say you can find yourself in a rut that isn’t as temporary as the woozy pleasurable feeling you initially get from 2 for 1 cocktails.

Consistently drinking can put a dent on your mental health and this can manifest itself in a range of ways. You might have realised that drinking results in a narrowed perception and intensifies underlying feelings which may result in anxiety especially if what is being fixated on is negative in any way such as a past trauma. Alcohol also depresses serotonin transmission in the body and this neurotransmitter has the role of mood regulation, therefore its inhibition may open an array of outcome; aggression, anxiety attacks and even depression. The hangovers a lot of drinkers suffer from, including myself, may seem like a temporary hell but if consistent; the lack of rest and disrupted sleep causes mental burnout and also affects other body systems.

Therefore, I have decided to make a little list of fun things to do with the pals that don’t include drinking just to try and sustain my mental health. Here goes!

1. Playing badminton:

The other day I took my speakers, some orange and mango juice, an old wall tapestry and journeyed to my favourite park with my closest friends. Full disclosure: that was the first time I ever played badminton. Although I was exhausted at even the thought of letting go of the comfort of my bed and laptop, it was actually very rewarding. Badminton demands a lot patience as a beginner but the constant silly mistakes are a source of laughter. You also have to run – a lot – therefore, it’s also a source of unintentional exercise that keeps those serotonin levels on a high. Also, being in an open space in nature is not only visually pleasing but does a lot psychologically because you embrace your surroundings and focus on that instead of the soul sucking stresses of life.

Life hack: badminton sets go for as little as £5!

2. Flower pressing:

While at the park why not pick out the flowers that have fallen down, take them home and indulge in some flower pressing? My housemate, Martha, is a fan of this activity. I think it’s a form of preserving good energy because what you create by preserving those flowers is a reminder of a lovely memory.

Also the process itself; picking out the right flowers and colours and visualising it before you create is a stimulating experience and I’d highly recommend it for anyone who is mentally exhausted, having a creative burnout and is need of some calm vibes.

3. Salsa classes:

dancing is an art-form that even today is sometimes not perceived as exercise by some (although it is) because it is simply more fun than other conventional methods of exercise. Salsa classes with a friend can enliven you; imagine laughing with your friends as you accidentally step on each other’s toes whilst envisioning yourselves as Dancing with the Stars contestants. The classes can go for really cheap and also boost your self-esteem, so I’ve heard.

(NB – I haven’t tried it yet but I am trying to go to places alone as part of my self-love journey so I might just brave this one out and laugh at myself.)

4. MasterChef it out:

Last week my friends and I made a Setswana meal and each of us had allocated ourselves a dish to make. Music was blasting and we were singing to our favourite jams and – we were just happy. All our senses were being stimulated and the night provided some friendly competition and banter between friends who have become family. Baking too can be an alternative option because it can be perceived as a form of meditation. The two activities demand one to be precise and attentive.

Additionally, you usually have to be resourceful with the ingredients which results in added pride when tasting the final product. Honestly, it is such an outlet and also a bonding experience; there are just so many ways to say ‘I am here for you’.

5. Movie Marathons:

I am a fan. I love watching things with my friends because of all the commentaries that we give throughout the movie; there is just so much laughter and so many critical and thought provoking reviews – it can get a bit noisy but a couch, a safe space and your friends screaming to a horror scene that you find funny is sometimes just what you need.

 

So there it is, my list of small joys that cost less, financially and mentally. There are so many more substitute activities out there either than drinking and I hope you all discover even more. Sending you all those positive serotonin-filled healthy vibes!

What are your alcohol-free activities that you enjoy during the summer? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

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.


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