Tag Archives: Mindfulness

Thoughts on mental health and parenting a newborn

Oaklan came on the 5th October. He’s almost eleven weeks now and things are slowly starting to feel a little easier. I’m still pretty tired – and I’m writing this with him feeding on my lap – so please excuse any typos, half-formed ideas or clumsy phrasing.

I wanted to get down some thoughts about early parenthood and mental health. It’s something I was pretty worried about. I was concerned about the lack of sleep and relentlessness of it, plus not being able to exercise enough and dealing with a very different shaped body.

I was on 50mg of Sertraline throughout my pregnancy (a decision that was definitely the right one for me) and I chose to increase this to 75mg in the first difficult weeks. I think that’s helped. But, despite everything, early parenthood has also highlighted some healthier thinking patterns and approaches.

The achievement of labour and birth

I’d hoped that pregnancy would change my muddled relationship with my body. I’ve heard women say that it helps them see their bodies in a new light and recover from long-term eating problems. This didn’t happen for me. The whole nine months was an uncomfortable struggle with my changing body. I felt trapped and out of control. By 41 weeks I was desperate not to be pregnant. But labour and birth were more empowering. After seven hours of contractions, he came so fast I delivered him myself at home. An hour ago the midwife on the phone had told us I was still in early labour. We were lucky but it’s still an experience I’m proud of. I finally managed to see my body as something special and cut it a bit of slack (at least for the first six weeks or so).
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The Regret Tape and the I’m Not Good Enough Mix – new metaphors and thinking tools for managing anxiety and depression

I’ve recently come off Sertraline after 15 years on various SSRIs. It’s been a long and tricky journey but I think I might be almost there. I’ve written a bit more about that here.

Using metaphors to identify, share and understand my mental health

Mix tapesDuring this period I’ve found two metaphors very helpful.

I love a metaphor when it comes to managing my day to day mental health. Metaphor helps me identify and pin down my experiences. This is a step towards understanding and managing them. It helps me regain perspective and use the language of shared experience to transfer and talk about some pretty intangible feelings.

Getting my nose away from the oil painting

I haven’t had much perspective recently. Feeling anxious seems to magnify individual moments. It’s as though I am living life too close up. I don’t have the capacity to see beyond the worry I’m experiencing right now.

van goghMy nose is right up against the canvas rubbing in all the tiny flaws and bumps. From here they look huge and distorted. But we all know an oil painting looks better from afar. The swirls of dark colour and the lumps of paint add texture and depth to the bigger picture.

I’m not saying that this kind of anxiety is necessary or important to make up the picture of a life – it really isn’t. BUT I have found that whispering ‘remember the oil painting’ to myself has reminded me to step back and question whether the worry that’s causing overpowering anxiety right now will matter at all in a year (or even a month or a week). It’s helped stop those tricky surges of panic become uncontrollable.

My anxiety and depression have a tape collection

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The mindfulness of dogs – a #mentalhealthselfie for Mind

Mind asked me to created a #mentalhealthselfie, a video blog about my mental health, for Mental Health Awareness Week 2015. The theme was mindfulness.

“He reminds me to be curious” – how Watson helps me practice mindfulness

As I blogged for Mind about my Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy course in 2012, I decided to do something a little different this time and talked about how my dog Watson helps me to remember some of the core teachings – acceptance, curiosity and overcoming reverse motivation.

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.


Festive comparisons and the Facebook effect

An article exploring how the media forces us to make damaging comparisons in the festive season – and how we often magnify the effect with our own social media activity.

festive snowman

A friend and old colleague Holly was recently published in the Vagenda. Her article was a spectacularly cynical but very funny piece called ‘How to be a Woman from Halloween to January 2nd’. It felt like it was making, in some ways, a similar point to my Christmas and comparisons article of last year. She was kind enough to say it was inspired by it – although they are very different styles. We’re definitely on a similar page as I recently reworked my christmas inspired tweetChristmas Comparisons article for ONE in FOUR to think about the whole of the wintery festive season we’re entering now.  I also wanted to bring in the discrepancy monitor I recently explored in my social, media mindfulness and mental health  piece. And here’s the new version;

Internal comparisons

Do you have an internal picture in your mind of how your life ‘should’ be?

When you are feeling low do you ever find yourself judging your experience as ‘not right’ and comparing it to how you feel you ‘should’ be feeling or what ‘should’ be happening?

I mean thoughts like:

“Things should be different to this”
“I shouldn’t be feeling this way”
“I should be able to cope”
“I’m on holiday, I should be happy”
“Everyone else is out enjoying themselves and I’m not. What’s wrong with me?”

In managing my depression I often have to fight against my tendency to make judgements about how I feel my experience ‘should’ be. This doesn’t often happen consciously but takes place in the flow of automatic thoughts that run like a tape through my mind when I’m not really paying attention.

The discrepancy monitor

Segal, Williams and Teasdale (the creators of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) have a name for the part of our mind that makes comparisons like these. They call it the discrepancy monitor.

When we’re trying to get practical things done the discrepancy monitor can be helpful. We look at what the situation is now (the kitchen is a mess) and how we’d like the situation to be (I’d like a tidy kitchen) and then we decide what should be done to get to the preferred outcome (tidy up).

The problem comes when the discrepancy monitor kicks in inappropriately and tries to get involved in solving the ‘problem’ of our feelings, moods and who we feel we are as a person. Trying to ‘solve’ emotions intellectually doesn’t often work.

Making comparisons between how we feel and how we’d think we ‘should’ feel is an unpleasant experience. It is made worse by the fact that these thoughts can (often without us really noticing) lead to further negative, judgemental thoughts about yourself, the world and the future. This leads to a downwards spiral into a low mood. And because the discrepancy monitor is working overtime monitoring the situation, it brings your attention to the ever-widening gap between how you feel and how you think you ‘should’ feel. You end up feeling terrible and you’re not even sure why.

“I feel tired this morning”
“This is a really rubbish thing to be feeling”
“I feel low about feeling tired”
“I shouldn’t be feeling low, everyone else is happy”
“What’s wrong with me that makes me feel this way?”
“Why can’t I ever just be happy?”
“Nothing is ever going to change”

What if you were able to catch yourself and stop yourself making those initial comparisons? Instead of this downwards spiral making your negative mood more deeply entrenched, what if you could be more accepting towards your initial tiredness or low mood? Instead you could try taking a different and positive action that you know you gain pleasure from – or just wait for the experience to pass. Segal, Williams and Teasdale call this changing mental gear into a ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ mode. Continue reading

What exactly IS Mindfulness? Chatting with young people on TheSite.org

Earlier this month I found myself back at YouthNet Towers, this time as an expert for one of their expert chats. The Engagement and Support team at YouthNet oversee the running of a number of types of online chat. These include support chat (I also moderate support chats as a volunteer), general chat, film and book club chat, positive thinking chat and expert chat. You can read more about the different types here. Chats take place in a safe chat room space with a trained moderator present at all times.

Expert chats

For expert chats, the team invite experts in to answer questions from the community. I answered questions on Mindfulness. There’s a taster of the transcript below but for the whole chat, have a look at the chat archives. It was an interesting experience working as an expert – especially as I have moderated many expert chats in the past. Mindfulness was a difficult topic to explain quickly in a chat environment but I hope that the young people who attended at least received a taster of what it involves as well as links to places where they can explore further.

Community members have since posted threads  about Mindfulness on TheSite discussion forum which I have answered in my role as volunteer moderator.

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 17.15.21


I’d like more mindfulness chats, I liked learning about it and want to learn more. It was the first one I’d ever been to and I loved it

– young person on TheSite.org

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.


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

Happify yourself?

Want to be happier every day? Well who doesn’t?

Personally I am interested in exploring ways of helping me manage my wellbeing as I try to cut happify front picdown on the anti depressants I have been on for the last 12 years (a process that seems to have stalled around the 20mg mark). I’ve also recently been exploring the concept of happiness and what we mean when we talk about it.

Professionally I led on the exploration and implementation of online learning within YouthNet. This means I am interested in how simple online activities can help our young users make the most of the information and expert knowledge we have available and really embed positive skills and actions in their lives. After being sent the link by a blogging friend (thanks Lauren) I decided to sign up to Happify and see what it had to offer. Continue reading

Christmas, comparisons, media and mental health – thoughts on having a more realistic Christmas this year.

Internal comparisons

Perfect Christmas? Only in Legoland..

Perfect Christmas? Only in Legoland..

Do you have an internal picture in your mind of how your life ‘should’ be?

When you are feeling low, do you ever find yourself judging your experience as ‘not right’ and comparing it to how you feel you ‘should’ be feeling or what ‘should’ be happening?

By this I mean thinking thoughts like;


“Things should be different to this”

“I should be doing this”

“I shouldn’t be feeling this way”

“I should be able to cope”

“ I should be better at managing this”

“I’m on holiday, I should be happy”.

As someone who manages depression, I often have to note and fight against my tendency to make comparisons and judgements about how I feel my experience ‘should’ be. This doesn’t often happen consciously, but takes place in the flow of automatic thoughts that run like a tape through my mind when I’m not really paying attention.

The comparison itself isn’t a very pleasant experience. It is made worse by the fact that thoughts like this can (often without us even really noticing) lead to further negative thoughts and judgements about yourself, the world and the future. This can lead to a downwards spiral into a low mood – one that you can’t work out where it came from or how to get rid of it.

“I feel low this morning”

“This is a really rubbish thing to be feeling”

“I shouldn’t be feeling low, everyone else is happy”

“What’s wrong with me that makes me feel this way?”

“Why can’t I ever just be happy?”

“Nothing is ever going to change”

What if you were able to catch yourself and stop making those initial automatic comparisons? Instead of this downwards spiral making your negative mood more deeply entrenched, what if you could be more accepting towards your initial low mood? Instead of making things much worse by judging, comparing and trying to intellectualise your emotions, you could just try taking a positive action to help yourself feel better – or just wait for the experience to pass. Continue reading