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Maintaining Mental Illness

When managing serious mental illness (SMI), the recovery journey can be long and challenging. It often requires creative and prolonged efforts to build and maintain a full life, but many people do reach recovery. In fact, up to 65% of people living with SMI experience partial to full recovery over time.

The term “recovery” refers to the process of learning how to minimize the symptoms associated with SMI. Note that recovery does not mean symptoms stop entirely or that deficit disappear.

Ultimately, recovery is not synonymous with “cured.” Rather, it means reaching a place where you can pursue a safe, dignified and meaningful life.

The cornerstones of recovery are self-determination, treatment, engagement with family and friends, work and hope. Loved ones play a critical role in a person’s recovery, especially when well-intentioned caregivers listen to and respect their loved one’s goals. Additionally, the guidance of competent, experienced and compassionate mental health practitioners can also be invaluable.

While recovery may look different for different people, several basic strategies can serve anyone looking to manage their illness. These basics may help you reach recovery more quickly and easily.

Maintaining Hope
Recovery is rarely achieved in the absence of hope. Its power cannot be overestimated.

You must always try to maintain hope despite the challenges (including loss, stigma, discrimination) you face.

Hope doesn’t have to come solely from internal strength; it can come from caregivers, friends, peers, people outside of a mental health context, and even animals or faith. Feeling supported, accepted and loved as a person of value and worth can foster and nurture hope.

Practising Self-Determination
Recovery has to be pursued; it does not simply occur in response to medication or other treatments. That is why it is so important to make your own decisions and actively use treatment, services, supports or other resources.

For example, preparing a Psychiatric Advance Directive, which states your treatment preferences in the event of a mental health crisis, can allow you to retain control over care even if you become impaired.

As with any illness, you may have to self-advocate to ensure everyone in your care team respects your right to have a say in your care.

Do not give up on your dreams. Identifying your life pursuits, such as living, working, learning and participating fully in the community, is an important recovery goal. After establishing these objectives, you can work with your providers and caregivers to make those goals a part of your care plan.

Starting Now
You should not delay the pursuit of recovery in the hopes that your symptoms will go away on their own. Progress typically occurs through a series of small steps, which may involve considerable effort, patience and persistence over time.

These accomplishments become possible and noticeable if you set and achieve realistic and short-term, if not immediate, personal goals.

Small, incremental steps can build on each other, positioning you to address more ambitious goals further down the line. Celebrating achievements, no matter how seemingly mundane, is an important part of the recovery process.

Finding the Right Care
Finding caring, trusting, supportive relationships with a practitioner is critical for recovery.

Practitioners should encourage and support your hopes, interests, assets, talents, energies, efforts and goals.

To achieve these, you should discuss calculated risk-taking with your practitioner. A calculated risk is a carefully considered decision that could be beneficial but includes some degree of risk. For example, deciding to change your treatment plan or medication regimen.

Care should be person-centred and you should hold an active role in your care. Accordingly, practitioners should engage your participation using a strengths-based approach. This approach, known as shared decision-making, is evidence-based and has been shown to improve outcomes.

Care should also be grounded in your “life context,” which acknowledges, builds on and appreciates your unique history, experiences, situations, developmental trajectory and aspirations.

Care plans should be based on individualized, culturally sensitive, holistic and multidisciplinary considerations and developed in collaboration with you and your supporters each step of the way. Your care should focus on helping you live the life you want and choose.

Gathering Information on Community Factors
Practitioners should have adequate knowledge of community factors that may impact care, including opportunities, resources and potential barriers. These may relate to access to employment opportunities as well as employment disincentives that are built into programs for access to affordable housing and medical care.

If practitioners cannot offer you guidance on these subjects, they should at least be able to share resources and provide referrals to people who can.

Coping with Stigma
Stigma is widespread, even among friends and family and within the mental health care system, including from practitioners themselves. The detrimental impact of stigma can be greater than that of the illness itself. Thus, you may need to develop coping strategies to manage stigma, particularly if you are experiencing self-stigma.

You might consider discussing how you are impacted by insensitive statements with those who use them. You could also consider limiting interaction, if possible, with people who may continue to stigmatize you.

Talking to peers can also be helpful to process the way stigma affects you.

Engaging with Peer Support
Peer support can be invaluable. People living with a similar condition can help you normalize SMI, address loneliness and isolation, and offer acceptance and support.

They also can provide insights based on their own struggles and achievements, and they can help take away some of the uncertainty of living with SMI by helping you understand what to expect. They can offer hope as a mentor who is a living example of the reality of recovery.

The recovery journey is never easy, but it is always worth it. When a person with SMI reaches recovery, they often regain their self-love, self-worth and self-esteem.

Recovery can then free a person from stigma, shame and embarrassment. Perhaps most importantly, it can stop them from defining themselves merely by their illness.

Some people with SMI have to recognize that the greatest barrier to reaching recovery may be their own mindset. People who refuse to take back control of their lives (including their care) and refuse to take responsibility for their illness will find it more difficult to reach recovery.

It is a great tragedy that so many never reach recovery because it is possible for so many more.

Ultimately, we all need more visible and promoted examples of everyday people living in recovery.

The promise of eliminating stigma does offer hope, but recovery offers so much more.

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We are all Sugar Addicts

Did you know that one simple nutrient, one simple food you are almost surely consuming every day is hindering your well-being? And did you also know that you have all the chances in the world to be addicted to that substance without even realizing it? Yes, you are a junkie. A sugar junkie.

Let me get something straight here: I am a drug addict too. I sometimes have cravings that I feel like I cannot control. I rush to the fridge and binge on some milk chocolate or sweets.

 I like eating sugar when I am sad or alone. If you think you are not like me, that you are stronger, try to cut sugar from your diet for a few days, even just in its refined form – which would mean that your sugar intake could only come from fruits, honey or maple syrup.

Let me know if you do not experience a single withdrawal symptom.

You might have experienced the harmful effects of sugar on your body already. 

When you eat a lot of sugar your spirits are high, you feel very excited and energetic.

You might have already used the idiom ‘being high on sugar’. After a while though, your body crashes down and you can feel debilitated for some time.

When you quit refined sugar, those crashing moments happen more often.

You need to sleep more, sometimes even in the afternoon, just to make it through the day.

This is caused by the fact that sugar is numbing you to tiredness, it powers you through beyond what your body is capable of actually doing.

The sugar addiction we are all experiencing can be explained scientifically.

Once it is consumed, sugar sends messages of pleasure to the brain, which triggers a form of excitement.

This leads the body to function at a higher rate than usual, to accelerate from its natural rhythm to a faster one. Of course, the body has to work harder to maintain this new rhythm and needs more energy.

So, once the effects of the sugar you have previously taken wear off, you will feel tired and exhausted and will look for another hit of energy.

Guess what could give you instant satisfaction? Sugar, that goes without saying. Here, you can clearly see that the mechanism is very similar to drug addiction.

In addition, research has shown that when provided with a mouthful of a sugary drink, people’s brain activity had the same reaction as when it was exposed to a hit of cocaine or heroin.

When you are getting off sweets, the same neurological symptoms as withdrawing from nicotine, alcohol or morphine can be experienced.

Beyond physical effects, sugar addiction can also be experienced through the mind.

When your blood is filled with sugar, you will usually feel good, feel high and energetic.

However, when you are crashing down, your mood will instantly degenerate and you will more likely feel emotional and down than your usual natural average.

Sugar will also lead you to behave in ways that are not suited for you, that is too hard on your body.

Such behaviours include over-exercising, going to bed too late, over-eating, working longer hours without realizing you are exhausted, among other things. Just add a good splash of caffeine to the mix, and you are well set for a disaster.

On a worldwide scale, numerous medical studies have shown the negative impact of sugar on the population.

In early childhood especially, sugar has been linked to the development of depression, anxiety and behavioural troubles.

High blood glucose levels have also been linked to the development of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia in people that were not affected by diabetes.

Sugar can also impact the health of our heart and other vital organs which are put on a strain as they are being asked to work faster than their natural pace.

It is hard to be aware of all the effects of sugar on your body while you are still on it.

It is only once you have quit and made it past the withdrawal syndrome that you will start feeling better, more connected to your body and your mind. Nowadays, more and more people are trying to set themselves free from addiction, and succeed.

Even if it takes a strong commitment to making it, it is possible to stop being a refined sugar slave.

But where to start when facing such a vast challenge?

First of all, if you decide to stop eating refined sugars, do not replace them with artificial sugars.

Indeed, those can lead you to eat more calories during the day and gain weight, by creating confusion between the gut and the brain.

If the sweetness does not come with the right amount of calories, the system gets confused.

Also, if you are addicted to real sugar, still getting that sense of sweetness will not help you get off it at all.

You are still satisfying your craving. Then, it may be a good idea to start exercising regularly.

When you do that, your body will release higher levels of serotonin, making you feel happier, just like when you eat a cookie.

Another way to enhance serotonin levels is to add whey protein to your diet, for example by drinking more milk. Improving your sleep habits will also be beneficial.

 Indeed, if you have not slept enough at night, you are more likely to give in to a sugary treat during the day.

 And if you go to bed earlier, you will say goodbye to that late-night cookie you used to not be able to resist.

Now, are you ready or should I get you one more glass of soda?

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7 Surprising Ways Anxiety Benefits Your Life

Anxiety benefits aren’t exactly something most people talk about. With such a bad rap, it isn’t hard to view anxiety as a hindrance that at its best must be tolerated.

And yet anxiety can be a positive force in your life, sometimes a powerful one, especially when you choose to see it that way.  One of the most important things to keep in mind is that its discomfort doesn’t mean it’s bad for you, or that you can’t use it to your benefit.

Recognizing how anxiety can help can put you on the path to using it to your advantage.

Understand these 7 anxiety benefits and you are well on your way to harnessing this powerful force for good next time you experience it.

  1. Anxiety means we care.

Like a highlighter pen for our highest priorities, anxiety helps remind us of the things that matter most to us. We worry because we care, not because we are crazy. Thinking about anxiety as a reflection of our top priorities can help us embrace it as a resource.

  1.  Anxiety helps us focus.

Current science suggests anxiety may have more to do with harnessing attention than fear, and in this way can be a huge help when it comes to managing our increasingly distracted attention.  

We worry about the things we care about most, and anxiety can keep us focused on our top priorities even when we may not want to.

  1. Anxiety helps us maintains focus, especially when distractions beckon.

Distractions lurk seemingly around every corner these days. Increasing competition for our attention means it has never been easier to veer off track, and not surprisingly anxiety has become part of this picture.

A return to the beloved fable of the tortoise and the hare illustrates another anxiety benefit when it comes to maintaining focus and effort as well.

Hare ran down the road for a while and then and paused to rest. He looked back at Slow and Steady and cried out, “How do you expect to win this race when you are walking along at your slow, slow pace?”

Hare stretched himself out alongside the road and fell asleep, thinking, “There is plenty of time to relax.”

Slow and Steady walked and walked. He never, ever stopped until he came to the finish line. The animals who were watching cheered so loudly for Tortoise, they woke up Hare. Hare stretched and yawned and began to run again, but it was too late. The tortoise was over the line.  –Aesops Fable

As an executive coach, David Cottrell, notes in his article the real reason the tortoise beat the hare, distraction is deceptively dangerous.

“After all, if the hare had run straight to the finish line, it would have won. Perseverance would not have beaten speed in that case. But the hare was so consumed with its talent that it forgot to use that gift, diverted by the prospect of a soothing nap. The tortoise never got distracted: It focused on the finish line.”

  1. Anxiety fuels motivation and energy to find solutions.

Anxiety alerts us to potential threats to our priorities and motivates us to find solutions. It keeps grabbing our attention and stirring our motivation to act until we find solutions. Can’t stop worrying about those taxes that need attention? You probably won’t until you get them done. This is your anxiety helping you stay on top of important things, even if you might not want to.

  1. Anxiety is uncomfortable for a reason.

Like an alarm clock that will snooze, but only turn off once we wake up and deal with turning it off, anxiety keeps hassling us to pay attention and tend to the problem at hand until we do. If we ignore it temporarily or distract ourselves from it, it can suspend itself temporarily but will keep coming back until we face and use it to problem-solve.

  1. Harnessing anxiety can be good for your brain.

Research shows that acute bouts of stress can help boost neural growth and memory. Stress hormones help us perform optimally and also learn from our experiences such that can do it again and with less effort.

Like straining muscles and bones contribute to strength building, handling stress helps us get stronger and better at it.

  1. Seeing is believing. 

Finally, how we think about anxiety actually defines how we experience it. Perception is so hugely powerful, and how we choose to view our anxiety is completely within our control.

Naming our emotions is a well-documented, powerful tool in gaining control of them.

Simply defining that you are anxious and it is helping you stay on task can help keep your anxiety productive.

Moreover, research shows that how we think about stress and anxiety can have a powerful influence on its overall impact.  According to science, if you believe you can handle it, you can.

Anxiety keeps us awake and alert to the things that matter to us, protecting us from distraction and complacency.

We need the anxiety to help us pay attention, and protect ourselves against threats, be they modern or age-old temptations.

Anxiety benefits become real as we choose to see them.

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Women and the lack of confidence

For days now, I have been reading that scientific evidence shows that women are less self-assured than men, women lack confidence compared to men, and that hinders their performances on the way to success. In a word, women, because of their natural lack of confidence, would be less successful than men. Is this true? And if so, how can this be possible? Finally, maybe most importantly, what can we do about it?

Today, in the United States, women earn more college degrees than men do. The same trend can be observed in Europe. Several studies, conducted by organisms such as Goldman Sachs and Columbia University, have shown that companies employing large numbers of women out perform their competitors.

And women resources are not scarce, as they make half of the world’s workforce. Still, women remain largely absent from the higher positions, and most of the world’s influent companies are still men.

The world of politics is still largely dominated by men. Furthermore, women still earn less money than men on average. Why is that so? To some, confidence would be the key.

When you ask powerful women how they made it to where they are today, the answer is usually the same: “I got lucky”, “I was just at the right place at the right time”. Others, like Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, sometimes feel like they should not even be where they are: “There are still days I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am”. As bizarre as it may sound, it appears that there is a confidence gap separating the sexes.

Women tend to underestimate themselves more, and doubt more of their abilities to succeed than men. The main problem here being that success depends as much on competences than on confidence. In reality, women perform on average as well as men do. In that regard, women would just be partly refraining themselves from making it to the top.

When it comes to scientific facts, it appears that men and women do not display significant enough differences in the brain that could explain such a confidence gap.

However, studies have shown that women tend to activate their amygdalae quicker and more easily than men – amygdalae are sometimes described as the brain’s primitive fear centers. Furthermore, the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the rain helping recognize errors and weigh options, is larger in women.

As a consequence, women are more likely to recognize and respond to threat. In addition, it appears that higher levels of testosterone can be linked to a greater taste for risk taking – testosterone levels are 10 times higher in men than women. Winning yields even more testosterone and keeps the cycle going. Yet, these physical features are not enough to explain the confidence gap existing between men and women.

Our environments have a lot to do with our futures as well. As early as primary school, girls are rewarded for being ‘good girls’, to have good grades and behave properly, not to be energetic or pushy. Young girls usually have longer attention spans and more advanced verbal skills than boys, allowing them to earn better grades.

This tends to lead to situations where girls are being rewarded for being perfect, and that is what they will be looking for later in life. However, it also leads to situations where girls learn to avoid taking risks and making mistakes.

The problem being that many psychologists believe that risk taking and failure are an important part of confidence-building. Boys, on the contrary, by being scolded more, learn to fail and in the process, build up their levels of confidence.

When girls switch the playground for an office desk, they do not realize immediately that the rules haves changed. While they look forward to being rewarded for their perfect work and their flawless manners, the actual reward actually comes from something different. The realization of this often hits their confidence a little bit more.

The other consequence is that, let us be honest, women are not expected to behave assertively and might be badly considered for doing so. The problem is stuck on both sides.

Yet, the fact that the only thing holding women back is their level of confidence and self-esteem has been heavily criticized. Indeed, some argue that if women lack self-esteem it is only because the way society is built is making them so, and even when they are confident, women are all but helped to progress.

Take as an example the recent Paycheck Fairness Act, which was defeated by Republicans arguing that women actually prefer lower-paying jobs. In toy stores, engineering and electronics is only made for boys, while girls have to stick with Barbie’s dream house and horse. I have read that “women’s lack of confidence could actually just be a keen understanding of just how little American society values them”.

To make women feel more self-confident, the first thing to be changed would then be society and the value given to women and what they do. We need to truly start valuing self-assured women instead of calling them ‘bitchy’ or ‘bossy’. This is the way to success.

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How Social Media Is Changing the Way We Think About Mental Illness

As the 1 in 5 adults living with mental illness know all too well, accessing resources and receiving adequate care can be a challenging process. A study published in “Psychological Science in the Public Interest” found that 40% of the 60 million people living with mental illness go without treatment. The study identified two perception-related barriers to care: stigma surrounding mental health and people’s inability to recognize their symptoms.

The results of this study beg the question: How can we best eradicate stigma and help people identify when they are experiencing symptoms of mental health conditions? Perhaps we should turn to Gen Z when looking for answers, as young people are beginning to chip away at these barriers — largely with their openness on social media.

While social media can be a minefield of triggering content — whether it’s encouraging unhealthy comparisons or exposing users to destructive behaviors — online platforms like Instagram and TikTok also provide spaces to share personal experience with mental illness, find community support and work through trauma in creative ways.

Ultimately, the access to a wide array of personal stories and mental health journeys encourages an open dialogue and allows for more nuanced portrayals of mental health conditions than what we consume in sensationalized films and TV shows.

Thus, social media’s role in changing the dialogue could be considered a critical step in addressing barriers to treatment.

Opening The Dialogue And Tackling Stigma

When perusing your Instagram feed or the TikTok “For You Page,” you’re likely to discover mental health content, thanks to the sheer volume of related posts. The #MentalHealth hashtag has been used in millions of TikTok videos, racking up 11 billion views, and it has generated nearly 30 million public Instagram posts.

This flood of mental health-related posts undeniably normalizes the discussion of mental illness. Young celebrities, influencers and private individuals alike have opened up about their mental health conditions, sharing videos and posts addressing their experiences, panic attacks, depressive episodes, recovery, etc.

In May 2021, former “Bachelorette” lead and current “Bachelor” host Kaitlyn Bristowe shared a selfie with her 2 million followers in which she spoke candidly about her mental health journey.

“I have led a pretty blessed life, and I still suffer from depression and anxiety,” she captioned the photo. “I still need to work on my shadows, stop believing the lies I tell myself, overcoming my traumas (big or small), and learning to love myself. Therapy has helped me for the last eight years more than I can put into words.”

The ABC star and influencer’s post received nearly 85,000 likes and hundreds of comments from followers who shared the difference that therapy made in their lives.

“Thank you for this reminder,” one commenter wrote. “Getting help is normal!”

Making Mental Illness Relatable

Beyond creating an open dialogue, social media platforms also encourage a fresh approach to coping with and explaining mental illness — specifically, using humor.

In one viral TikTok video, a creator jokes about placing selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a common anti-depressant medication, in a colorful gumball dispenser. In another video, set to dramatic background music, a creator “keeps score” of her daily match against OCD. She wins a point when she allows items on her desk to remain out of place. OCD scores a point when she reverts to obsessive thinking. Both videos have received hundreds of comments from viewers who joked that they felt “personally attacked” by the accuracy of the clips.

Naturally, there are drawbacks to approaching mental illness with only humor and short captions. Mental health conditions are more complex than a two-sentence description and can result in serious complications if not treated appropriately.

However, tongue-in-cheek posts can make a mental health diagnosis seem less foreign or daunting. Perhaps beginning a medication regimen feels less intimidating knowing that another TikTok user has had a positive experience taking the same SSRI. Or maybe a day of “losing” to OCD doesn’t feel so isolating knowing someone else is facing a similar battle and finding ways to poke fun at the occasional setbacks.

As the robust comment sections on these posts suggest, social media platforms offer a place for healing and finding community — and, in the process, reducing stigma.

Showing Nuanced Depictions And Deepening Understanding

As individuals with mental illness frequently point out, Hollywood rarely offers an accurate depiction of their conditions. Reductive tropes in horror movies or brief, tragic character arcs on medical shows offer a limited understanding of what mental illness looks like day to day.

It’s no surprise, then, that a research study identified a failure to recognize symptoms as a barrier to treatment. If audiences understand dissociative identity disorder (DID) to be an affliction causing homicidal tendencies (as suggested in the 2016 thriller “Split”) or view borderline personality disorder (BPD) as a character flaw of chronically unstable and selfish women (as suggested in Grey’s Anatomy) they’re unlikely to identify their own behaviors as symptoms of mental illness.

Social media, while certainly not an immediate solution to this problem, does serve as a direct line from individuals to audiences. Simply put, users are free to share the real, mundane,

Hollywood-unfriendly version of mental health conditions — symptoms that audiences may be more likely to recognize in themselves.

Rather than seeing homicidal rage marketed by Hollywood, audiences are exposed to content creators experiencing fatigue, dissociation, obsessive thoughts or aversion to certain tasks and behaviors. They’re witnessing the day-to-day reality of BPD or OCD. They’re given implicit reminders that people living with mental illness are just people.

Hope For The Future

While social media is a complex tool that can exacerbate anxiety or promote unhealthy habits, it also contributes significantly to the ongoing dialogue surrounding mental health.

An estimated 4 billion people use some form of social media — and most of these users will see mental health-related content at some point while scrolling through their feeds. Much of the available content takes the form of personal stories, which both destigmatize mental health conditions and offer a fresh perspective of what mental illness really looks like.

As the next generation continues to share this perspective, we have reason to be optimistic that stigma-related barriers to care won’t last forever.

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An Introduction To Self-esteem

Self-esteem is today one of the main and most important topics discussed in psychology. In our ego centered societies, reaching a high level of self-esteem for yourself is seen as a form of success, or even of completion.

The importance of the concept of self-esteem sometimes shows through declarations made by the States themselves, as it was the case in California in 1990, with the California Task Force to promote self-esteem and responsibility: “the lack of self-esteem is central to most personal and social ills plaguing our state and nation”.

The words that are being used here can seem unusually strong compared to the perceived importance of the issue by the general public.

To assess the real, accurate weight of the notion of self-esteem in our society, let us first try to define the concept. Self-esteem is actually a fundamental concept of the personality, encompassing three major components of the Self: behavioral, cognitive and emotional. First, the behavioral aspect of self-esteem can be found in how the latter has a power of influence on our capacity to take action and how it feeds itself and grows along with our successes.

Then, the cognitive aspect is expressed through the fact that self-esteem is highly dependent on how we judge ourselves, and how this judgement can also influence our level of self-esteem.

Finally, self-esteem is linked to emotions as it relies on our basic mood while also greatly influencing it. In a nutshell, a good level of self-esteem can help you be emotionally stable, perform a reliable and accurate evaluation of yourself and engage in action more easily.

In most cases, self-esteem is adjusted depending on the people present in our immediate environment. In reality, the concept of self-esteem cannot be conceived outside of a social group, a social environment. How would you judge yourself if you had nothing to compare yourself with?

Many studies have shown that for most of us, it is very important to be “better than average effect”. In other words, our self-esteem is mainly based on how we perceive ourselves in comparison to the others, where we place ourselves in the ‘people living on this planet’ ranking table. It may be surprising, but the crushing majority of people actually do believe they are better than others. In that regards, 90% of businessmen think of themselves as superior to the average businessman, 70% of top university students think they are more intelligent than average and 90% of high-school teachers believe they are better than their colleagues.

When it comes to friends, people still believe they are better than them, but they nevertheless consider them as being much better than the average person. It can seem nice at first sight, but this is actually related to our own self-esteem: if my friends are great people, and I happen to be even greater than them, I must be a really exceptional person!

For some academics, self-esteem can even be regarded as a “sociometer”. This means that we base our own self-esteem on whether people like or reject us, on where we feel we belong in the social scale of our environment. The more approbation one receives from his peers, the higher his self-esteem is likely to be.

What is important here is to feel loved, but not so much to be dominant. Being appreciated is more important than being the best, and this is where self-esteem differs from the notion of leadership – leadership is more likely to trigger self-satisfaction. We can take the example of a school class to illustrate this example: the most popular kid in the class can have more self-esteem than the kid getting the best grades.

The roots of self-esteem go back to the childhood of a person, and more precisely to the relationship that person had with her parents. Indeed, to saw its seeds in the long term, self-esteem needs to be nurtured with the unconditional love of the parents, a form of love that is completely disconnected from performance – may it be good grades, sports performances or any other thing. If the child evolves in an environment suitable for him to identify that his value is not linked to his performance level, then he is more likely to have a high self-esteem later in his adult life because he will have no, or a very small, fear to fail.

If failure does occur, a person with a higher level of self-esteem will also be less affected by it; while the latter will put the blame on external factors for his failure, the one with low levels of self-esteem will automatically blame himself (‘I’m not worth it’, ‘I suck’), thus lowering his self-esteem even more. It is possible to measure self-esteem in one given individual, and several methods are available for that.

One of them has been developed in 1967 by Stanley Coppersmith and is still largely used today. Three main dimensions are present in his inventory: general self-esteem, family self-esteem and social self-esteem.

In our daily life, self-esteem has built a strong link with optimism. If you are optimistic about your chances to succeed in a project you need or would like to engage in, not only your final success will be more likely but it will also bring you a raise in your self-esteem level as you can be proud of yourself.

Optimism itself will grow bigger as well, triggering the start of a virtuous circle. Resources and optimism used can be behavioral (if your behavior can influence the way the situation will turn out eventually) or emotional (if you have no control at all over the situation). Adaptability is thus influenced by self-esteem.

This explains why people with a low self-esteem take less action than the others and, in the end, succeed less. If you think this is your case, you need to take action now!

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Self-Harm

What is self-harm?
‘Self-harm’ refers to various behaviors that are used to deliberately cause a form of pain to the self. People who self-harm cause themselves physical pain as an unhealthy coping response to emotional pain; when people experience intense emotions from their mental health issues and do not know a healthy way to cope or express themselves, people may begin to use self-harming behaviors as a short-term quick fix.

The more that people use their self-harming techniques, the more they will rely on them to gain relief; however, this can become addictive and like other addictions, tolerance can begin to increase which will lead those people to increase the intensity of the self-harm behaviors – this can become dangerous. People learn to use these negative behaviors to ease their emotional pain, however, it is important to remember that all learned behaviors can be unlearned and replaced by more healthy and beneficial behaviors.

How do people self-harm?
People often only associate self-harm with one behavior, cutting; however, there are many more things that people do to self-harm. There are other visible inflictions to the skin such as bruising, biting, scratching and burning, as well as pulling out hair and inserting objects into the body.

There are indirect ways of hurting the self, such as promiscuous behavior, displaying aggression towards other with the intention of getting hurt, diet (e.g. binge eating or starving the self), alcohol or drug consumption and excessive exercise. Although these are common behaviors, there will be other ones used for the same purpose that may be unique to the individual.

Myths about self-harming
The most common myth is that self-harm is exclusive to cutting, as discussed in the ‘How do people self-harm?’ section.

Additionally, people often assume that those who self-harm are attempting suicide. Because people often assume that self-harm refers to cutting, it is also assumed that the cuts are intended to cause death. However, self-harming is mostly used for the complete opposite, it is a coping technique used to survive, not die; suicide would require one occasion of self-harm, where as the majority of people who hurt themselves do it continuously to cope during day-to-day life.

Another myth is that only people who have been severely abused will self-harm; while it may be true that many people who have been abused will self-harm, it is not necessarily confined to those who have suffered in this way. Self-harm is used when the person does not know how else to cope with their emotions and therefore is used as a way of expressing themselves and coping.

Furthermore, self-harm is associated with ‘troubled teenagers’, the act of self-harm is a phrase that they will grow out of. Ongoing mental health issues may be intensified during early stages of adulthood, and for those who do not understand or have knowledge of what is happening to them, may resort to self-harming behaviors to cope with their symptoms. Unless the behavior is stopped early on, it will continue through adulthood. Self-harm can begin at any age and usually starts during times where mental health issues first begin to appear, which for many will be during the teenage years.

One of the biggest myths around self-harm is that people only do it for attention. Self-harm is often a personal and private behavior and those who engage in visible behaviors such as cutting, biting, burning, scratching etc. will often do it in private and on parts of the body that are not always visible, or if they are, will be covered up by clothing. Also, those who indirectly hurt themselves may disguise what they are doing, for example, those who manipulate their diet or over exercise may mask the self-harm as a health interest. 

However, there are those who do self-harm with the intention of gaining attention, but they should not be judged or criticized for it. As discussed, people who self-harm use these behaviors to cope or to express themselves; if people do not know how to ask for help for their mental health issues, they may hurt themselves in the hope that someone will notice that they are in pain and will offer to help.

Why do people self-harm?

It is often misunderstood why people self-harm, as previously mentioned the common assumption is that people do it as an attempt of suicide or for attention, however there are many other reasons why people may engage in self-harm. For example, people self-harm because:

  • They are punishing themselves for either something they have done, said or felt, or for reasons that are out of their control but still blame themselves for;
  • The behaviour can change emotional pain into physical pain, which may seem easier to cope with. It can seem easier to treat a wound that it is to work on coping with intense mental health issues;
  • It can feel like a release of emotions and pain;
  • It can reduce feelings of numbness (this is often associated with depression; it may be better to feel pain than to feel nothing);
  • It can start off as a nervous habit, particularly behaviours such as hair pulling and scratching, which may then escalate into a routine response to stress;
  • They can watch their scars fade; people may make physical representations of their issues on their skin, and to watch the scars fade can almost feel like their issues can fade as well;
  • They may use it to distract their focus; instead of thinking about what is bothering them, they can distract themselves by focussing on the process and outcome of the behaviour;
  • People may acquire a sense of control from the behaviour, they are in control of their own pain;
  • It is a feeling that can become familiar, and that familiarity can bring a sense of comfort;
  • Some people experience some symptoms of mental health as a physical pain due to the physical responses to stress, therefore people may create pain to tell the difference between real physical pain and emotional pain presenting as physical;
  • They may blame other people for the pain they feel and so they present their self-harming behaviours to the world to show people that they have made them do this.

These are common reasons for self-harming, however there will be other reasons as to why individuals self-harm that will be unique to them.

How can you change behavior?
It is important to recognize that all forms of self-harm are learned behaviors; people who self-harm have learned that when they carry out these behaviors they gain something from it that brings comfort or a release from the symptoms of their mental health issues. Behaviors that can be learned can also be unlearned; therefore negative behaviors can be unlearned and replaced with positive and beneficial behaviors.

In order to stop these negative behaviors people have to first, understand that the behavior do not reduce pain but just swaps one type of pain for another, this is a temporary fix than only adds to the suffering. Second, there are more beneficial and productive coping strategies that people can use to reduce negative emotions. For example, they can:

  • Alter their ritual of self-harming. This may include not taking out tools used or if they are walking towards a location where they typically self-harm, change direction;
  • Try finding an alternative way to occupy their mind, for example, doing something creative like drawing, painting or crafting. This allows them to occupy their hands and concentration as well as give them something physical that they have achieved and can be proud of;
  • Go for a walk and focus on what they can see, smell and feel. Sometimes when the mind is consumed with an issue, people can find comfort in reminding themselves what is real and what is not. It is easy to construct and inaccurately forecast negative outcomes of situations and misinterpret what has happened. By pointing out what is real it can serve as a contrast to what is not. Once people realize that the things worrying them may not be real, it can calm them down and help them make sense of the situation;
  • Seek an alternative and safe physical reaction. This can be done by doing things such as gripping ice or eating spicy foods such as chili; these will provide a non-damage effect on the body but will still achieve a physical reaction;
  • Use a journal to help process what they are feeling. Writing can be a valuable tool that can help slow down thought processes and help people reason with the issues that have caused them distress. By writing about the situation and how they felt and responded to it may help people come to terms with the situation in a healthy way. It is not necessary for people to show others what they have written and if they prefer, they can destroy or delete it once they are finished with it. Writing acts as another way for people to express themselves that avoids harm.

Coping techniques are very personal to eachindividual; therefore, it is important for people to find out what works for them. Unlike self-harm, this is not a quick and temporary fix, it will take time and work, but work that will be gratifying and essential to live life with more ease.

Take care of your injuries
Although it is much healthier to have alternative ways of coping, until the person can learn to use healthier behaviors, it is important that they understand how to take care of themselves in the process. For example, if someone’s way of self-harming is to damage the skin, then the wounds should be kept clean and routinely treated until they heal. If the person manipulates their diet so that they eat more, make sure they exercise, or if they starve themselves, it is best to try and make sure they eat at least one meal every day. Or if they engage in promiscuous behavior, make sure you are doing it in a safe environment and in a safe way. It is essential that if a person is going to engage in self-harming behaviors, they take care of themselves until they learn how to cope with their mental health issues in a positive way.

Finding alternative ways of coping can vary for each individual and may require some hard work on their part to be able to use new coping strategies effectively. However, the results from achieving learning positive coping strategies are much more beneficial than the act of self-harm. If someone is struggling to find something that works for them, they may benefit from attending a peer support group or other support groups in their area, where peer-support workers and counselors can help people through the process of recovering from self-harm.

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Social Anxiety Disorder

. Social anxiety is much more than shyness, it is an intense fear; and while many people will occasionally worry about social situations, someone with social anxiety disorder feels overly worried before, during and after them. This disorder is pervasive and causes distress most areas of a person’s life.

What are the symptoms?

Those with social anxiety disorder may experience many different symptoms and use many different behaviours to try and ease the symptoms.  For example, people may:

Safety behaviours are things that a person will do to either make themselves feel more comfortable, reduce symptoms or avoid situation that may trigger social anxiety. Examples of safety behaviours are:

In addition to the behaviours mentioned, there will be other ones used that are specific to the individual. Although safety behaviours can give the person relief from the anxiety, it is not a long-term solution and does not give the person a chance to prove to themselves that they can cope in social situations and get better to the point where that can live daily life with more ease. By planning and using these safety behaviours reinforces that idea that these situations are dangerous, which will make the anxiety worse and worse over time.

Common triggers

There are two main types of triggers, which are: performance situations and interpersonal interactions.

Performance situations are situations where people feel they are being observed and judged by others. Examples of performance situations are: public speaking, answering questions in meetings or classes, eating in front of others, using public toilets, performing in public, and entering a room where everyone is already seated.

Interpersonal interactions are situations where people are interacting with others and developing relationships. Examples of interpersonal interactions are: meeting new people, talking to co-workers, inviting others to do things, going to social events, dating, being assertive, talking on the phone, expressing an opposing opinion, ordering food at a restaurant and returning something to a shop.

Myths about social anxiety

Like many other common mental health issues, social anxiety is often misunderstood; for example:

One myth is that people who have social anxiety disorder are mute: it is often assumed that those with social anxiety disorder have selective mutism, which means that they are not capable of speech in specific situations or with specific people. However, this is rarely the case, and although selective mutism can co-exist with social anxiety disorder, it is a separate disorder and does not affect most people with social anxiety disorder.

Another myth is that social anxiety and shyness are the same thing. Although characteristics of being shy are also true for social anxiety disorder, social anxiety is an intense fear, like any other phobia, those who have it experience a severe fear reaction to their triggers. Unlike shyness, those with social anxiety may experience panic attacks, depression and can negatively affect the individual long before, during and after the social situation.

Additionally, people may assume that social anxiety only refers to public speaking. This may be an assumption due to anxiety or nervousness being experienced by many people, not just those who have social anxiety or are shy, while speaking in front of a group of people.

However, although people with social anxiety may experience symptoms of their disorder during this performance situation, they may also experience a similar level of anxiety by talking with someone on the phone.

The idea that alcohol and other substances can cure social anxiety is a common myth. Alcohol is often referred to as ‘liquid courage’, and although it may seem like it eases symptoms for a short time and increases confidence, people should not be fooled into thinking that drinking can cure social anxiety.

Drinking may be used as a safety behaviour but can be a dangerous one. Drinking, like other forms of self-harm, swaps one pain out for another and can worsen the mental health disorder rather than help people cope with it.

It is also common for people to disassociate mental health disorder with physical issues, in the sense that mental health issues cannot physically hurt or kill you (this is not just specific to social anxiety disorder).

However, this is not true; when people experience intense emotions as a result of their mental health it can have physiological effects such as: increased chances of heart disease, palpitations, sweating, dizziness, chest pain, skin irritation and rashes, fatigue and insomnia, nausea, weight loss, obesity, diarrhea, headaches, muscle aches, chills or hot flushes and for some, their mental health issues lead to suicide. There are many physical responses to mental health issues that are not mentioned here. 

It may be assumed that people will be able to get over their social anxiety on their own or that the fears are a phase that will fade over time. Although some people may be able to recover on their own, for the majority of people who experience mental health issues such as social anxiety, their disorders will not suddenly disappear, and if the disorder is ignored and untreated then it may worsen and become harder to cope with.

How to help

Accessing talking therapies is widely encouraged for any mental health issues; this can come in the form of one-to-one counselling, group counselling or peer support groups. Talking therapies gives people the opportunity to be able to discuss their problems, receive other view points on their situations, receive guidance through coping techniques, challenge negative thoughts in a safe environment, and it allows people to share their experiences. Mental health issues can be difficult to overcome on your own and so by receiving that extra support can make a difference in recovery.

However, due to the nature of social anxiety disorder, some people may find it too daunting to seek help. Therefore, there are some self-help strategies people can use before they seek help with their social anxiety disorder.

Learn about social anxiety – the more people know about their mental health issues, the more they will understand how to cope with them. There are many forms of information on the internet and in books that people can use to get more understanding of their disorder, if they feel too uncomfortable talking with someone about it.

Challenge negative thoughts – when a situation arises that causes the individual distress, it is important that they consider why they find it distressing. Negative thoughts can catastrophize and forecast negative outcomes of a situation that may not hold any truth but can still cause intense distress and anxiety.

These negative thoughts can cause people to avoid a situation or to experience it as negative because they had already decided in their head that that was going to happen. Challenging these thoughts can help the person have a rational and healthy outlook on the situation.

Be positive – thoughts can sometimes decide how a person will experience a situation. For example, if someone assumed that they would have a bad experience of a situation then they will have a bad experience of it.

Our thoughts influence our behaviours, so if we go assuming the worst, our behaviours will reflect that which will then reinforce the idea of the situation being a negative one. Whereas, if a person in the same situation went assuming they will have a positive experience, they will approach the situation feeling positive and their behaviours will follow.

Create a fear hierarchy – this is where someone writes a list of feared situations starting with least scary to most scary, then proceeding though each situation in their own time and as many times as needed until the familiarity with the situation helps to reduce the anxiety response.

Try to do more things that you would usually avoid – it is easy to get into a habit of avoiding challenging situations as it is the easier route. However, avoiding situations reinforces the idea that they are too much to cope with and does not allow you to prove to yourself that you can cope with situations. Additionally, much like the ‘list of fears’ technique, becoming familiar with situations can help ease the anxiety.

Breathe – breathing exercises can help with the physical responses to stress. Deep breaths can help control quick and rapid breaths, minimize shaking and by inhaling more oxygen can slow down heart rate.

Distraction techniques – when people experience intense emotions from their mental health that they cannot calm down from, it may be that taking their mind off their issues is what is best.

This is not to say that people should ignore their emotions, but distraction tasks can allow the individual to calm down which will put them in a better frame of mind to be able to confront the problem.

Distraction tasks can include: walking, exercising, drawing, painting, reading, doing house work, watching something on television, doing puzzles or any activity that occupies the mind and shifts focus to something else that is enjoyable.

There are many other possible coping techniques that people can use, it is important that people find what works best for them so that they have their coping strategies at the ready when they are faced with a possible trigger.

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Postpartum Depression?

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum Depression (also known as Postnatal Depression) is a type of depression that canaffect women after they have given birth;this type of depression is common and affects more than one in ten women within a year of giving birth.Mothers with Postpartum Depression may experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety and exhaustion that may make it difficult to live day-to-day life.

Pregnancy for many people is a wonderful and exciting experience, however for many parents it is a time of worry and exhaustion. Women who experience Postpartum Depression may find difficulties coming to terms with how they are feeling and can find it very difficult to discuss their feelings with others for many reasons.

For example,because people associate having a child with happiness and fulfillment, those suffering with Postpartum Depression may feel a pressure to be happy and may feel ashamed of their depression.

Many symptoms of Postpartum Depression can have a negative effect on the mother, baby and the family and therefore, it is important that those who experience Postpartum Depression seek help as soon as possible. If untreated, the depression can continue to grow and worsen with time.

What are the symptoms?

There are many symptoms that women with Postpartum depression may experience; common symptoms include:

  • Persistent and intense feelings of sadness
  • Feeling empty, hopeless and overwhelmed
  • Crying more than often for no apparent reason
  • Increased anxiety
  • Feeling moody, irritable or restless
  • Oversleeping or exhaustion
  • Fatigue
  • Having difficulty concentrating, making decisions or remembering details
  • Suffering from physical aches and pains, including headaches, stomach problems and muscle pain
  • Over eating (comfort eating) or under eating (loss of appetite)
  • Having trouble bonding or forming emotion attachment to the baby
  • Doubting ability to be a parent
  • Thinking about self-harm
  • Thinking about harming the baby
  • Lack of enjoyment and loss of interests
  • Withdrawing contact from other people
  • Feeling guilt and self-blame

Signs for others to look for

Because of the symptoms of Postpartum Depression, mothers may feel reluctance in sharing how they feel, this can include sharing with the father or other family members or friends. Here are some signs for partners, family and friends to look out for in new parents:

  • frequently crying for no obvious reason
  • having difficulty bonding with their baby, looking after them only as a duty and not wanting to play with them
  • withdrawing from contact with other people
  • speaking negatively all the time and claiming that they’re hopeless
  • neglecting themselves, such as not washing or changing their clothes
  • losing all sense of time, such as being unaware whether 10 minutes or two hours have passed
  • losing their sense of humour
  • constantly worrying that something is wrong with their baby, regardless of reassurance

Causes of Postpartum Depression

It is unclear as to what exactly causes the depression, however it is believed to result from a combination of physical and emotional factors. It is important to remember that Postpartum Depression does not occur because of something the mother did or did not do.

Physical factors refer to the levels of hormones, such as oestrogen and progesterone, in the women’s body. After childbirth, these hormones quickly drop which leads to chemical changes in the brain that may trigger mood swings. Another contributing factor is that new parents will suffer from sleep deprivation which can lead to exhaustion, discomfort, irritability and confusion, which may intensify their sadness from not having the energy to cope.

Postpartum Depression can also be influenced by pre-existing mental health issues. For example, if a mother already has issues with depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, then having a baby and having the hormonal changes can intensify negative feelings and make it harder to overcome them.

There are social and emotional factors than can also have an effect on Postpartum Depression such as not having a good support network or a relationship with the father; lack of support puts more pressure on the mother, increasing stress, anxiety and fatigue. Additionally, if the mother has experienced recent stressful life events, such as bereavement or illness, then it can add to any pressures they are experiencing regarding their child.

Even if the new mother does not have existing mental health issues or social and emotional issues in their life, having a baby is a life changing experience. Looking after a small child is a stressful job and will cause exhaustion regardless, it also changes how people live their lives and see the world around them.

It may be that the new mother is focussing on everything she must give up or change, it may be that they are concerned with their financial situation or it may be simply that they do not feel ready or prepared for looking after a baby.

Any of these reasons may have contributed to the depression, however there are other reasons that may have led to it that may be specific to the individual.

Myths about Postpartum Depression

PostpartumDepression is often misunderstood,and people often make incorrect assumptions about it, which may make the sufferer feel worse.

One myth is that Postpartum Depression is not as severe as other types of depression, this is incorrect asit is just as severe as any other type of depression. Like other forms, if untreated, can have long lasting and damaging effects on the mother, child and the family that will progressively get worse and more difficult to deal with.

Another is that Postpartum Depression is entirely caused by hormonal changes, however, as discussed in the ‘causes’ section, this is untrue, and it is usually influenced by many factors.

Further, Postpartum Depression is sometimes confused for the ‘baby blues’, which is a temporary mood change after giving birth. However, Postpartum Depression is or can be an ongoing mental health issue that may persist into a long-term problem if left untreated. 

Although this article has only discussed Postpartum Depression in women, it is not only women that are affected by it. Research has actually found that up to 1 in 25 new fathers become depressed after having a baby, and although this may not necessarily be caused from hormonal changes, social and emotional changes may prompt depression in new fathers as well.

How to help

It is important for those suffering with depression to talk to others about it, this can be done by accessing counselling services, which provides people with professional advice, education about the depression and can guide people through techniques on how to cope with the depression.

Peer support groups are another type of talking therapy that can be a valuable experience. Peer support groups allow people to share their experiences of what has and has not worked for them and make suggestions of things that other people can try. This may be particularly beneficial for those who may struggle talking about their feeling with people they are close to and can reduce feeling of isolation.

However, having a good support network of people that they are close to, such as family and friends, is also beneficial. By discussing fears and emotions with other people close to the sufferer can prompt them to offer help and support, which will reduce feelings of isolation.

It is important that new parents suffering with Postpartum Depression:

  • Make time for themselves to do things they enjoy and find relaxing
  • Rest while they can and try to follow good sleeping habits
  • Exercise, which has proven to increase moods in people with depression
  • Eat regularly and healthily
  • Limit alcohol consumption and do not take drugs, as they can worsen mood
  • Talk to partners, family and friends
  • Do not try to be a ‘supermother’ – accept help from others when it is offered
  • Seek help from counselling services and talking therapies
  • If unable to cope, enquire about medications such as antidepressants

Additional pregnancies

If someone who has previously experienced Postpartum Depression becomes pregnant again, they are at an increased risk of going through that again – but it does not mean that they definitely will.

When people who have had Postpartum Depression in the past find out they are pregnant again, it may be that their anxiety is increased straight away due to memories of a previous time, or it may be that they feel more confident about spotting symptoms and how to look after themselves.

It is important that people who are experiencing Postpartum Depression seek help, either from close relationships of from professionals, as soon as symptoms appear to minimise the risk of the disorder becoming chronic.

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Why Mindfulness is so Benficial to Mental Health

Why Mindfulness Is So Beneficial To Mental Health

For people with a loathing of anything that sounds like a wacky concept bear with us.  Mindfulness is proven to work and its N.I.C.E. accredited which means the experts endorse it as a tool against depression.

Oxford Dictionaries defines mindfulness as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.”

It may surprise you to know that huge companies like Google and Starbucks use mindfulness to maintain their staff welfare, particularly at leadership levels. Google actually created its own mindfulness programme.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that a high number of hospital visits are work stress related and in the U.K. work stress, anxiety and depression accumulated a loss of 11.4 million work days in just one year.

This vast number could be brought down by the use of mindfulness and meditation, scientific tests show that taking time to be in the moment and to focus on peace rather than on the past, present and future at the same time offers huge benefits.

  • Increased neuroplasticity, this is the neural connection changes in the brain through behaviour and environment changes.
  • You’ll enjoy a more efficient immune system.
  • You’ll have perspective to view situations as they truly are.
  • You’ll end conflicts more rationally and swiftly.
  • Mindfulness is your brain health tool, you’re in control.
  • Better decision making.
  • You’ll observe or listen without judgement, in the moment.
  • Happiness increases.
  • Enjoyment of work and life grows.
  • You are a better communicator.
  • Improved creativity.
  • More effective working with others.
  • Serenity and clarity of mind.
  • Greater focus and productivity.

Mindfulness is about being fully in the present and giving whatever you are doing at that moment 100% so if you’re meditating then thoughts about the laundry, shopping list or what might happen if you don’t pay the gas bill tomorrow cannot reside in your head.

You are in the process of meditation and in the here and now that is all you are concerned with, the rest will have to wait its turn, your brain health is vital. Remember that you can only do one thing at a time so pay it your full attention.

For instant serenity hits try to take a few moments to stop, sit back and focus entirely on your breathing. For each in breath think of your body being positively energised and for each out breath just let go of everything. Another method is to stop, check for points of tension and how you feel and then don’t restart an activity until you are calm and less tense.

There are courses, groups, programmes and online help available, some people need to have a structure to their mindfulness activity to kick it in to action, that’s where meetings help. 

We’re striving to make the community mentally healthier and mindfulness is key to achieving this.

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