Tag Archives: Anxiety

Exercise addiction – managing the tangle of anxiety, eating and exercise.

Last Sunday I spent all day exercising

ImageIt started when I pressed snooze at 6am and cancelled my spinning class. I’d been in the gym at 6.30 all the previous week and had just returned from a busy couple of days running and walking in Cornwall. I was exhausted. But I didn’t get back to sleep. Anxiety levels rose. Getting dressed I was acutely aware of all my clothes, how they pressed against my skin. I couldn’t find anything I felt comfortable in. My hands felt swollen and my chest tight. My mind was whirring with calculations and lists.

It wasn’t until after a session on the cross trainer, a long swim and walk with the dog that I felt like myself again. A combination of relief from thoughts about overeating and, much more importantly, relief from the anxiety that made it matter so much in the first place.photo (1)

Yesterday evening I ran a very long way* because I ate some cake and chocolate buttons at work. The morning spin class stopped being enough.

It’s not so much the calories – although that doesn’t help at the moment. It’s a craving for that feeling after exercise where your thoughts are calm and still, your body feels tired but deserving of care and nourishment and your mind doesn’t have to calculate or judge because it knows you’ve done enough to rest.

“a craving for that feeling after exercise where your thoughts are calm and still, your body feels tired but deserving of care and nourishment and your mind doesn’t have to calculate or judge because it knows you’ve done enough to rest. “

Immediate relief vs long term recovery

legs and knee supports

Knee supports – NOT the answer to EVERYTHING

My knees and hips ache and sometimes even crunch. They need a break.  I am finally cutting down the running in favour of spinning, swimming and cycling.

But the daily doublethink is still absurd. Cold baths and a knee support is not going to allow me to run miles and miles however much I wish it would. Immediate relief still trumps long-term sensible decisions too much of the time. Even if that relief is tinged with guilt and frustration.

I’m planning my next exercise session whilst I’m in the middle of the previous one. I try to be more sensible but those persistent thoughts keep popping up.

‘You could run tonight. You could just do an extra session on the cross trainer after spinning. You could fit in a swim tomorrow morning if you get up really early. Remember how good it feels when you’re done, how much more you enjoy your food when you feel you deserve it, how much easier it is to rest and to concentrate when that anxious energy is stilled’.

Once I imagine that feeling, it’s hard to turn away from it.

But that feeling is lasting a shorter and shorter time. When I’m exercising twice a day and feeling anxious and panicky when I can’t get moving it’s time to get some help.
Continue reading

Running for Sane – Christie’s story

Exercise for mental health

I’ve been thinking a lot about sport, and running for mental health recently. This is partly due toChristies just giving page work – I’m involved in the development of Mind’s Get Set To Go programme through the Elefriends community. I’ve also written a number of posts for New Level on the benefits of exercise for mental health and wellbeing.

There’s a strong personal connection too. Exercise is a vital tool for managing my own depression and anxiety. Recently I’ve been struggling to balance my mental health needs against the need to rest and recover after physical injury (darn knees!).

It feels as if more and more people are running. There’s definitely more people out and about in the parks and along the canals. This spring and summer has seen thousands of running events across the UK. One of the best things about these events is that each one is full of people pushing themselves for charities that mean a lot to them.

Christie’s story

One of these runners is Christie Plumb. She’s running the British 10k for Sane after losing her Sane logoMum when she was 11. Christie told me she felt that the stigma surrounding mental health problems and a lack of support contributed to her mother’s death. The work of charities like Sane and Mind are helping to reduce that stigma and provide support to those who need it.

Fundraising has helped her to open up about her mum’s death, to talk about it and give people ways to support her.

But Christie has found that running has helped her too. She said that before her boyfriend suggested the NHS Couch to 5k she was convinced that running was “impossible, physically impossible for me”. But she stuck at it and found it was helping with her own anxiety, clearing her mind and improving her confidence.

I really identified with the way she described running her way out of very strong feelings of anxiety and panic.

“Within the first mile, my chest loosens up and I’m not shaking any more. It’s incredible…before the Couch to 5k I had never got past that first barrier. Now I always carry on and push through. In a way it’s an analogy for pushing through anxiety and depression. You just have to keep going, even if it feels like you can’t. You’ll get there in the end.”

In running she has found a way to honour the memory of her Mum, to talk openly about her loss to people around her, to support a charity that means a lot to her and to look after her own mental health. To sponsor her, take a look at her JustGiving page here. To have a go at Couch to 5k yourself, take a look at this page. Who knows where it might lead.

Take 5 to blog for Time to Change

Time to Talk for Time to Change

Today is Time to Talk day. Once again the Time to Change campaign is encouraging people to take some time to break the silence that so often surrounds mental health problems and have a conversation with friends, family or colleagues. Or, in this case, the internet.

#Take5toBlog

So here’s my 5 (ish) sentence blog.take 5

My name is Clare and I have experienced depression and anxiety. It’s made worse by my errant hormones. I’ve been on Citalopram since I was 17. I’m trying to come off them now but it’s HARD! I have stalled at the 10mg mark but will be reducing in tiny tiny instalments again soon (when I’m feeling strong and the spring sun starts to shine).

My mental illness has affected my education – I had to repeat a year of university – and my relationships. Before Alex, pretty much all of my serious relationships ended because of my mental health.

My greatest source of support has been my boy Alex. He also manages anxiety and that shared understanding helps us care for each other. I’m also lucky enough to have supportive friends and family, many of whom also experience mental health problems of their own and to whom I can talk openly. There were times when I couldn’t make sense of my experiences in my head or out loud and then my journals and writing kept me going. I wrote to them like a friend.

I’m deeply aware of how fortunate I am to have the people around me I do. I’m thankful for them every day. My hope for the future is that everyone is able to find that network of support. A lot of the peer support work I do online is motivated by the desire to help people build that.

I’m taking 5 on Time to Talk day because I’ve found that being open and sometimes vulnerable in the world helps others be the same to me. And if I can help someone take that very first step to seeking help, to feel the relief of sharing and normalising their experiences, I will. Every time.

How Headspace helps (or why Giles Coren is wrong)

Techno smegma?

Giles Coren just called mindfulness ‘cynical, capitalist, techno smegma’ in Time Out. Now while headspaceI know it’s not only Katie Hopkins who is paid to spout controversial and potentially damaging opinions and these things are usually best ignored, I still wanted to write something in reply.

Since my Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy course in 2012, I have been an advocate for all things mindful. I read the book, ran a Mindfulness expert chat for TheSIte.org and explored how mindfulness influenced my life in all kinds of ways.  And, when I could, I did the meditations.

But I have to admit I fell off the wagon. I tried to cut down on my Citalopram throughout last year (I’ve stalled at 10mg). When I needed it most I stopped. I was coping with mood swings and anxiety. I found it hard to sit still. I was impatient and restless and irritable. I worried about everything I needed to fit into my day, going over and over my schedule in my head.

I ran and ran. There were weeks where I only felt myself when running. Running is still the most no nonsense, immediate, endorphin loaded head-reset technique in my toolkit. I still couldn’t manage without it. But I realised I needed to revisit some of my other tools when I got to the point I felt I needed to run more than once a day to control the anxiety.

Bitesized Mindfulness

And so I turned to Headspace. I needed a controlled reintroduction to mindfulness. And so far it’s been perfect. It starts with 10 minutes a day, moving up to 15 and then 20 minutes. Cartoons and explanations give you new ideas to think about every few days. It’s a reminder of the detailed theory I used to know. It’s reminded me to recognise thoughts for what they are, weather in the sky of my mind. Mental events that will pass and don’t always need attention.

But it’s the actual meditative practice that has helped most. My depression and anxiety always get the better of me slowly. When my thoughts and attention are elsewhere, clouds gather above and sands shift beneath me. By the time I realise that things feel dark and cold, I’m no longer on solid ground. When it gets to this point it’s much harder to find my way back.

Spending a short time meditating (almost) every day enables me to check in on my mood and make sure I can still find the clear sky of my mind behind whatever thoughts are gathering, storming or scudding that day. I’ve only been doing it 20 days or so and already it feels strange when I miss a day.

Easy to disregard but well worth it

And, Giles, having an app to help me do that has been great. The thing with mindfulness is that is is easy to disregard, especially for those people who are feeling negative anyway. It doesn’t always make sense immediately. You can’t see the benefit straight away. You need to give it time and keep practicing. An app helps people do that. It’s provided structure and helped me rediscover how mindfulness works bit by bit.

When I press play and sit down, I can feel my breath slowing. That space is just mine until the time is up. So for those people who have given up on mindfulness because of Giles, give it another chance. It takes time but it is worth it.

 

Overcoming barriers to accessing therapy – a post for the RSCPP

RSCPP connects people with local registered therapists. It also contains articles and resources RSCPP logoabout issues you might face and the types of therapy available.

Of course, these are private therapists. And therapy isn’t cheap (although if you get the right help, it can be immensely valuable). Much of the work I have done in the past is with people who could not afford to pay for a therapist or who do not want to risk spending their precious spare cash on something they consider unpredictable and unknown. It can be a huge step to speak to an NHS therapist, let alone one for whom you have to pay.

RSCPP recently asked me to write a blog based on an interview with two of their therapists. With this in mind, I thought it would be helpful to focus on the barriers people face when accessing therapy and how RSCPP therapists suggest they may be overcome.

 “I’m not the sort of person who gets therapy, I should be able to cope on my own!”

I spoke to Dawn Davies and Sarah Lack, both registered therapists on the RSCPP site. Both of them felt that one of the biggest barriers to accessing therapy is the way we judge ourselves. Dawn suggested that there is still some stigma attached to having counselling and sometimes people feel that they are not the ‘type of person’ who would need counselling or that they ‘should’ be able to cope without help. Depression and low self esteem can make us judge ourselves harshly or lead us to feel hopeless about the possibility of anything helping.

Sarah says that often a recommendation from a GP can help people feel more justified in seeking help. In my experience, many people find it helpful to talk to others about their experiences first – perhaps in an online community such as Elefriends or TheSite.org. This can help normalise the need for support and see how it has helped others. Opening up in a supportive online community can often be the first step towards seeking further help.

Talking to your therapist about your concerns can help too. Dawn says:

“It is completely normal to feel a wide range of emotions before embarking on counselling and most people will feel a certain level of anxiety before seeing a counsellor for the first time. Counsellors will understand how difficult it may be for you to make that first step and will not pressure you to talk about anything before you feel ready”.

“I can’t attend face to face sessions”

Sarah says that “finding a workable regular, weekly appointment time amidst already busy work and home schedules” can often be a barrier to accessing therapy. School, college, work, disability, weather and family can all get in the way and take priority. If face to face sessions are impossible, you could consider accessing therapy through online or over the phone. A number of therapists on RSCPP offer online or telephone sessions – they call it ‘telephone therapy’ so search for that. To get the most out of these Dawn says that it important you find a private place away from family and external distractions if possible.

“I don’t know what to expect and I’m scared”

Fear of the unknown can exacerbate anxiety. Everything may seem much more manageable after the first session when you have found the room and met and talked with the therapist. But both Dawn and Sarah say that the first session doesn’t have to be scary. Your therapist will do everything they can to help you feel comfortable, especially if you tell them your concerns about the session. You’ll usually talk about confidentiality and how you could work together if you choose to continue. You’ll probably also be asked to talk a bit about what brings you to counselling and what you would like to get out of it. You might find it helpful to think about that beforehand.

“I tried therapy, but I didn’t like my therapist”

If you have built yourself up to attend a session and it doesn’t feel right, it can be a huge disappointment. You might feel that it was pointless or that this has proven that therapy definitely isn’t for you. But both Sarah and Dawn emphasised the importance of finding the right person. As well as the right professional qualifications, you need to find someone who you feel comfortable with. Every therapist knows the importance of getting this relationship right and all would respect your decision not to continue with them. Dawn suggests meeting more than one therapist before making your decision. This is easier with private therapy, as you do not have to wait for another NHS therapist to become available. Of course, it is also more expensive. It is worth asking therapists if they do a free or reduced fee introductory session to help you decide.

“There are many different counsellors out there and just like in our everyday lives we will get on better with some people more than others. If you have had a bad experience it maybe because you haven’t found the right counsellor for you.”

You might feel that it is hard enough to open up to one stranger, let alone finding the time, money and emotional energy to ‘shop around’. Dawn says that choosing a counsellor who uses more than one therapeutical approach can help, as they can offer different ways of working depending on your needs. You might also find it helpful to read up on a counsellor and ask them questions by email to help you decide whether they are right for you. Making a shortlist of your favourite options and only visiting the second and third if the first one doesn’t work out could be a good approach.

The main thing to remember is that there are as many different experiences of therapy as there are combinations of therapist and client. One or even two or three bad experiences does not mean that therapy cannot help you.

Five good things a day for World Mental Health Day and beyond..

Happy World Mental Health Day everyone!

Looking after your mental health

If you don’t have a diagnosed mental health issue then you’d be forgiven for thinking that dancinngWorld Mental Health day isn’t for you.

But we all have mental health in the same way we all have physical health – and that mental health needs to be understood and looked after to help us stay happier. And the better we do that, the more resilient we become. This means that when things do get difficult we’re more able to cope with them.

It’s pretty similar to physical health really – if we don’t look after ourselves we’re more vulnerable to colds, flu etc. And when we do get ill our overall health will help determine the speed of our recovery. Continue reading

Social media, mental health and mindfulness

Exploring the potential damage that social media can cause; promoting unrealistic representations of daily life and encouraging us all to make unhealthy comparisons with our internal experience.

It was only a few years ago that the idea that Facebook and other social networking sites could diminish happiness or affect wellbeing was still a relatively new one. Now there seems to be an article or news story claiming something similar every other week.

Is social networking good for your mental health?

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 21.26.55

How big is your discrepancy?

Mind recently published a blog from one of their Elefriends community members – ‘Is social networking good for your mental health’. It inspired an interesting debate on twitter which they collected together on Storify. As expected, there were tweets from people who found social media a lifeline, the only contact with the outside world, a supportive community of people who understood. Fabio Zuchelli writes a great post about the how Twitter can help when you’re depressed.

On the negative side of the debate were others who found trolls and haters bullied or upset them. And finally, most interesting for me, were the people who found social media difficult because of the comparisons it (almost) forces them to make. Continue reading

What dogs can teach us about wellbeing and mindfulness

How my dog helps me remember to be mindful through acceptance, curiosity, living in the moment and pure joy.

Be more dog?

O2’s recently launched  ‘Be more dog‘ campaign got me thinking. Their emphasis is on findingwatson blog excitement and joie de vivre in a world too bored and their aim is to sell their services. But since getting our collie Dr Watson seven months ago, I’ve realised that there is a lot that dogs can teach us.

Spending time with Watson reminds me of some of the core teachings of the Mindfulness Based Therapy for Depression course I completed last year.

Acceptance

Dogs are incredibly accepting. Watson takes his experiences as they come. He doesn’t make judgements about what is going on in his head or feel that he ‘should’ be feeling differently. He just feels.

Sometimes he feels rubbish for a bit – like when he naughtily eats old food he finds in the park and then throws up. Or when he gets told off for eating fluff out of his bed. But as soon as he feels better, he embraces it. He doesn’t dwell on the time he felt bad and let it seep into his better mood.

We can learn something from this. Humans have a tendency to judge our experiences all the time – often on auto pilot. We usually judge them as not being quite right in some way – thinking that this is not quite what should be happening, or not what we should be feeling. These can then lead into thoughts about blame and what could or should be different – “I shouldn’t be feeling like this, I’m always getting things wrong, things are always going to be like this”. We get sucked into ruminating and end up in those well worn grooves of negative thoughts. Continue reading

Managing depression and anxiety in relationships; early days and long term.

Tips and suggestions for managing depression and anxiety within relationships.

A version of this article was published in the Summer 2013 edition of ONEinFOUR magazine.

Managing mental health when meeting someone new; the early days of uncertainty and strong emotions.

Four years ago I was pretty happy. I felt I was finally managing to keep all life’s balls in the air. depression and anxietyIn meeting someone new, another ball was introduced. This ball brought strong emotions with it: uncertainty, interdependence and allowing someone else to influence my feelings. Fitting this ball into the show without dropping the rest proved difficult.

In the early weeks the obsessive, over thinking part of my mind – the part that makes me ill – stirred and breathed its negative fog over everything. It was poked awake by the healthy but strong emotions associated with falling in love. And then it distorted them horribly.

Liking someone brings vulnerability, uncertainty and risk of rejection. Could I keep this experience separate from the part of my mind that worries over things until it’s wrung out every negative conclusion? Could I stop myself seeing every uncertain incident as an example of my inability to conduct relationships?

Recognising and distinguishing between the emotions that come with the territory of falling in love and those made worse by my depression helped me to focus on the former and disregard the latter. I’m very glad I did. I wrote a little more about how I worked through some of these emotions in my post ‘Writing my mind – writing in the immediacy of the moment’.

Managing depression and anxiety in a committed relationship

That was the early days. And despite the uncertainties being countered by excitement and the rushes of dopamine and norepinephrine, I’m glad they’re over. But how do you manage when depression or anxiety are part of a committed relationship? It isn’t easy. Depression and anxiety can magnify and distort emotions. You need to be on your guard. When looking through their unnatural or distorting lens you can start to feel that there is a problem with the relationship itself – or with one person within it.

When you have to manage mental health in a relationship you need to ensure that that your safety net is strong and maintained by you both to avoid regularly hitting crisis point. So what can work? Continue reading

Understanding mental trickery – notes from depression island…

The three tricks that a depressed mind can play on you – and how to overcome them.

An ongoing balancing act

I would describe managing depression as an ongoing balancing act. A lot of that is knowing and understanding how my thought processes work and what influences my mood.adore endure

Alas, the mind is a tricksey thing and knowing it is a complicated process. I’ve been thinking about some of those nasty mental tricks a mind prone to depression can play. In the course of trying to make sense of them I have been thinking about depression through the metaphor of inhabiting islands. But I’ll get onto that…

Tricky thing 1: The reverse motivation caused by depression

My Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course spoke about the reverse motivation often present during depression. You can read a bit more about that session in my Mindfulness diary for Mind here – ‘How can I best take care of myself‘.

So what is reverse motivation?

Usually we want to do something and then we do it. When depressed, sometimes we have to do something in order to want to do it. The motivation comes second.  I know that sometimes I end up feeling better by making myself put one foot in front of the other and doing something I initially really do not want to do – often exercise (which I write more about here in ‘Running stops my thoughts running wild‘), visiting friends or getting to work.  However, it can be hard to persuade myself when in a very low mood.

Why? Well partly I think this is down to another sometimes quite devastating trick that a depressed mind can play. Continue reading