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Lifting Depression

 

Depressed? Welcome to the club! It’s huge club – millions join every year – and it’s a rotten club!  Medication helps a lot of people feel better but there are also lots of things we can do to help ease depression. They also help to prevent us from sliding back into it.  Here are four simple things that have helped lots of people – they may help you as well.

1) Sleep when the clock says you should. Get a good night’s sleep but then get up and stay away from bed until bed time again.   When you have little energy and not much interest in activity, it is so tempting to snooze and nap throughout the day but research shows this makes depression worse.  Bed is not for snacking, not for gaming, not for watching TV, not for reading during the day. Farewell your bed in the morning and greet it again at bedtime.   It will take a while before this becomes a routine, but there is so much benefit from a fixed bed time and fixed waking time.  One final tip: put your radio alarm clock slightly off station, turn it up loud and put it out of reach!

2) Don’t have a depressed pantry.  Eat like a healthy person would! If you eat healthy, balanced meals, full of vitamins and light on sugars, it will not be long before your body starts to reward you by feeling more energetic and healthier. And even before the physical changes happen you will feel better just by taking control of what you put on the plate. Make it easier by filling your fridge and cupboards with quality, varied and healthy food… and maybe dumping the junk food in the bin.  

3) Treat yourself well. What makes you feel better? Then do it. (My apologies to those of you who immediately thought of ‘Having a nap’ and ‘Eating some junk food’. What else could you do?).  Especially do those things that calm you and make you feel good. It might be playing with the dog, putting on some music, doing some relaxation exercises, lighting scented candles, working in the garden, reading a book, doing some stretches, having a bath, taking a stroll or playing the guitar. Slumping in front of the TV has it’s place, but these treats I am talking about are a bit more intentional. You will be amazed how a couple of ‘fifteen-minute holidays’ each day can lift your whole mood.

 

4) Accept Yourself.  So you are not perfect… that is okay.  You have your faults and weaknesses  – everyone does – but don’t let those block you from seeing  that there is actually a lot of good in you, a stack of potential, a ton of talent and you are beautiful as well. Of course, if you are depressed, you might have difficulty believing any of that. But it is true because it is true of every single human on the planet.  You are a wonderful individual. Take that from me… but it will be lot more powerful when you can say it to yourself!  Everyone would like more friends. Add to your friend-count straight away by including yourself in the list of people you really like.

Friday, November 23, 2018
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“Really, how are you doing?” 

Mental Health Awareness

“How are you?” “How on earth would I know!?” Knowing how we really are and what we are actually feeling is a skill called self-awareness. Sadly, many of us actually work harder on developing the opposite skill of ignoring what we are feeling. We keep the cupboard door of our emotions firmly locked shut.  

Ever lived in a place for a while and then, ‘suddenly’, everything seems to need a lot of maintenance?  Ever been surprised that jeans that used to fit ‘suddenly’ have to be forced up and over a bulge? In the same way that we fail to notice small changes in our environment or body until they become quite marked, some people miss the signs that their mental well-being is taking a dip until they are really struggling.   Perhaps they ignore the fact that their sleep patterns have become more and more erratic, or that the occasional drink they used to have has become a nightly habit; maybe the little anxieties and once-infrequent glum patches are starting to blend into a constant state of uncomfortable tension or dragging depression. Some people never notice – or, take seriously – the little signs that their mental health is declining until they are overwhelmed by burnout or some other crisis.

Good mental and emotional health requires vigilance. A good way to sharpen our self-awareness is to compare ourselves now with some point in the past. Compared with, say, this time a year ago, are you…

… having as much fun?

… mixing with family and friends as often?

… sleeping as well?

… as fit and well nourished?

… being as helpful to others?

… enjoying life with your partner as much?

… keeping on top of your work load?

… feeling as appreciated and respected?

… able to relax as well?

… keeping alcohol use under control?

… finding time for hobbies, sport and creativity?

When you look at your own Facebook posts from a year ago, do you think your life then looked a lot better than it is now? Has a friend or family member expressed concerns about changes in your lifestyle or mood or appearance or health? We all have stress, but do you find that stressful events rock you more now than they used to, and do you get the idea that stress is piling up in your life?

All these questions are just a warm up… now the big one: how are you feeling?  What’s in your emotional cupboard? Is it mostly contentment and happiness? That’s really great. How about if you have a few anxieties, phobias, regrets and sadnesses? That can be little tough but it is also very normal most of us have a bit of ‘untidiness’ in our mental health from time to time and most of us cope pretty well. The good news is that there are proven ways to really make our mental health better and better. The really good news is that a lot of those ‘therapies’ are simple and actually very enjoyable: eating well, relaxing, time with friends, being active, music, hobbies, getting into nature etc etc.

But what if our emotional cupboard is bursting with anxiety, troubling thoughts, guilt, thinking that runs around and around in circles or energy-draining depression? It would be desperately unkind to ask you to pry open that cupboard if there were not some real solutions to those issues. That’s the first thing you really need to hear is: help helps!  You will feel better! It is often amazing the progress people make back towards health once they recognise there are issues that addressing.  Help comes in all sorts of forms,  and you will find out how to access it [on this page? In a box? ]  ( If you need help urgently then jump straight to [on this page? In a box? ]   )

For most of us, the takeaway from this is: know yourself. In the same way that good caring people will sometimes eyeball their friends and ask them how they are really doing, we can confront and check up on ourselves. Self-awareness and some simple ‘self-maintenance’  can help prevent a sag in mental health becoming a land-slide. 

Friday, November 23, 2018
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The Top Life Skill – Self-Discipline

There is a life skill that helps us to be successful in nearly every area of life – in our careers, in our relationships and, very importantly, in our mental health. Despite its huge value, it’s a skill that is never actually taught as a subject at school or university. It is self-discipline.

Self-discipline has been called the master life skill. You may have heard of the famous Marshmallow Experiment*. An experimenter put a marshmallow in front of young children and told them they could eat it straightaway but, if they could wait for a while, then they would be given two marshmallows.  The researcher then left the room for some minutes. Some children just gulped the marshmallow immediately, others battled with the temptation but eventually gave in, and some of the children didn’t touch the sweet at all and were rewarded with the extra marshmallow.  The dramatic part of this experiment is what they discovered when they followed up on those same children years later. The children with self-discipline – those who did not eat the marshmallow straight away were more successful in their studies, had lower levels of substance abuse, were less likely to be obese (despite the extra marshmallow!), handled stress better, were more likely to be student leaders and  were just generally better at ‘doing life’ than the kids who had not been able to hold out  for the extra sweet.

Obviously, self-discipline is hugely important, and it is also obvious that habits of self-control are learnt at a very young age, probably from our parents. That’s great… except I am sure that many of us would have been eating that first marshmallow even before the experimenter got to the door! Is there any hope for us? Yes!  Skills and habits can be learnt right through life. Setting goals, pumping up our motivation and getting people to ‘cheer us on’ are often the ways people build self-discipline. And here are two other strategies** that really work, especially when it comes to making the lifestyle changes that are so linked to good mental health:

‘How’ and ‘Why’.    The ‘Why’ is the desirable outcome we want; it is a vision of a ‘better self’ that self-discipline will give us. It might be a vision of a fitter self, or a sober self, or a self that will engage in therapy, or a self that saves money. That inspiring vision of our future self is our ‘Why’,  but self-discipline often breaks down on the ‘How’: the ‘devil is in the details’. E.g. we want to diet but we don’t plan what we will eat for lunch at work; we intend to study but we don’t factor in that our partner will want the sound up on the television; we want to go to the gym but the traffic after work robs us of all the available time. The ‘Why’ gave us the desire, but it is the ‘How’ that defeats us… except… you are clever! Most of us CAN actually think out a decent ‘How’. The trick is to have the ‘How’ ready when we need it. Whenever we have a good ‘Why’, straightaway work on the ‘How’.

Self Control Works on Patterns.  “I want to give up smoking, but just one more cigarette won’t hurt.” “I’ll go to that therapy course, but missing one session can’t be that important”. One cigarette, one session, one doughnut… of course, on there own, they are insignificant,  but self-control comes from choosing ‘patterns’ of behaviour rather than individual acts. That single little cigarette tonight is part of the pattern, and so it impacts how hard it will be to resist the cigarette tomorrow. Are we stopping that single cigarette, or are we stopping the pattern? Likewise,  that one little doughnut is connected to the kilos and kilos of other doughnuts that are lining up to be eaten in the weeks ahead. Self-discipline is not just one action after another, it’s grabbing hold of the whole pattern.

It would have been so much easier if we had had self-discipline drilled into us as little kids, or been gifted with ‘self-discipline gene’ (is there such a thing?) the but we can all practice and improve self-discipline. And the result? Change and progress!  It really makes us happy.  It gives us a sense of accomplishment. It banishes feeling powerless. It gives us hope that we can change and change and keep growing and improving. And what could be better for mental health than that?

* Mischel, Walter; (1972). "Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratificatio.". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 21 (2): 204–218
**Adapted from  Heshmat, Shahram (2017).  “10 Strategies for Developing Self-Control” . PsychologyToday.com

Friday, November 23, 2018
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