The Power in the way we Think

Posts tagged ‘anxiety’

Stress and Movement

Movement.

Moving your body.

Do you do it? How often and what kind do you do? What kinds of movement are there?

In no particular order, let’s list just a few things as they come into my head …

Walking, running, sex, yoga, tai chi, weight lifting, boxing, self-defense, dancing, gardening, swimming, ball games, playing chasey, creating a snow angel.

Do you do any of these activities? Any different ones? Do you have a favourite?

Let’s talk about hormones again for a moment. You might remember some information about cortisol, one of the major hormones the body creates in response to stress. It’s the job of cortisol to calm the inflammation caused by stress. So in effect, to calm the stress response and help bring us out of it.

Many people find it helpful to go for a run when they feel antsy. Physical exercise helps burn off the energy caused by adrenalin. It reduces the urge to run away or fight, and helps us to relax. It can also help us to feel centred and to improve our mental wellbeing. It can lift our mood and reduce depression and anxiety.

However, we need to be careful. Exercise causes inflammation. The main job of cortisol is to reduce inflammation. So as you do more exercise, you produce more cortisol, which ultimately impacts your body’s ability to heal and reduce stress.

This cortisol production also leads to weight gain, particularly around the belly, face and neck. Now most of us, when we gain weight, tend to lean toward more exercise to reduce it, right? Can you see a pattern?

When you are already highly stressed, this will lead to a vicious cycle:

Intense exercise = cortisol production = weight gain = more exercise.

See the cycle?

For those of you who already struggle with your weight and believe the best thing you can do to drop it is to push your body to its limits, check out this video blog from a very well respected personal trainer who has experience with neuroscience and several other areas. Let me introduce you to Emma. I’ve been working with her for a couple of years and I trust her implicitly. She gets it. She knows what she is talking about.

So, when you are super stressed the best thing you can do is to go easy on the exercise. At least the exercise that is intense and of long duration. Let me be clear here. I’m not suggesting that you ditch your training. Nor am I suggesting that you become a couch potato. As someone who has been there, I can attest to the fact that the couch potato status can be just as stressful as the intense training.

There are types of movement that will support your body reaching the state of balance/homeostasis that Emma refers to.

Gentle movements such as tai chi, yoga or simple stretching will help. As will combining your movement with play. Have fun running around the yard with the kids. Throw a Frisbee together. Play hide and seek. Laugh together.

Relax.

I’ve already talked about engaging the relaxation response to reduce stress. When Emma talks about taking her clients through a meditation activity at the end of her training sessions, she elicits this response, while at the same time, helping the brain to lock in new neural networks that reinforce the learning you’ve just done in training.

Ok. So now we’ve covered all that, let’s talk about how you can tell which type of movement you need to be doing.

Your body will tell you. So listen to the signals it gives you. Do you know what it’s saying?

Go with the urges that you get. If you have a feeling of deep down fatigue and the thought of getting out to exercise hard fills you with dread, it’s likely that your body is telling you it needs something different. If you feel the urge to get up and go hard, then by all means listen to that and take action to give your body what it needs. If you feel like dancing around your lounge with music at full volume, go for it!

Bottom line is this. Nobody can make up the rules for you. In any given moment your body will need different things to create and maintain that balance. Sometimes that means going full out and other times it means pulling back and resting. If you can learn the signals your body gives out, you will know what to do. How do you learn those signs? By listening to and connecting with your body.

Keep an eye out for a post on this soon.

As always, I’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to share your thoughts or questions below!

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Stress and Children

Kids experience stress just as much as the rest of us.

And sometimes more intensely than the rest of us.

I hope you’re all wondering why this is, because I’m about to share it with you.

It all originates in the field of child development. Or more specifically, brain development. When I began this series on stress we talked about the Triune Brain. We discussed how the brain processes stress and a little bit about the ages at which the different parts of the brain develop.

I’d like to discuss these age differences in a little more detail.

When we are born the only part of the brain to be fully developed is the brain stem, which is responsible for our physiological responses such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. If this part of the brain is damaged in some way, your survival may be threatened and it is possible that you would be looking at support from machines to stay alive. The brain stem is also responsible for the physiological aspects of the stress response – elevating the heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure.

The limbic region is the next part of the brain to develop, usually completed at around 3-5 years of age. This controls our emotions. The amygdala lives in the limbic region and if you remember back to my previous post on this, its job is to make an assessment about whether your life is at threat. So when we perceive our life to be in danger, our emotions, such as fear and anxiety, are activated.

The final part of the brain to develop is the neocortex, which is responsible for our ability to think, reason and solve problems. This begins to develop properly in our teens but isn’t completely developed until we reach our mid 20’s. When our stress response is activated, the blood flow to the neocortex is reduced, and therefore our ability to think is impaired.

Here is a simple diagram that shows this relationship.

triune brain 4

Let’s think about these facts in relation to children. As adults, when we become stressed we can sometimes use our reasoning ability to calm this response and get back to our balanced state (homeostasis). Remember though, by the time we reach our mid 20’s, all 3 areas of the brain are fully developed. This means that the sizes of the limbic region and the neocortex are somewhat even, thereby making it easier to reason things out when we’re stressed.

Children, however, do not have this. Because of their brain development, their limbic region and neocortex are different sizes, which means that their emotions have much more control than their thinking and reasoning ability. So when their stress response is activated, they are unable to down-regulate, or calm the response. This is not only due to the size difference, but also because the blood flow to the neocortex is diminished. So they have all these emotions running through their mind and body, but are unable to use logic to bring themselves back to a place of balance.

I hope this makes sense, because it is an integral part of why children’s behaviour can become volatile at the smallest things.

Sometimes their parents or another adult is able to “talk them down”, particularly if they combine some simple breathing techniques with ‘loaning’ out some logic or reasoning power. But sometimes the stress response is engaged to such an extent that the only way to calm it is to allow it to burn itself out. In this way kids are able to burn off any adrenalin with physical activity. Most of the time you’ll probably find this happen with the use of some pretty intense tantrums, complete with throwing things, yelling, hitting and so on.

The key to helping your kids to manage their response comes by making them more aware of their body and the signals it gives out to indicate stress. Look for a post on this in the next few days. In the meantime, try reviewing an article I wrote back in August about some secret kids business. In it I discuss how kids can learn to manage their own self-care by creating a box in which to keep some special things to help them calm down.

A special note for children who have experienced trauma or abuse, particularly at an early age. Neurobiological research has found that these kids often have an amygdala that is enlarged. This means that it is much more easily activated. And this in turn means that there is a larger difference in size between the limbic region and the neocortex, making it even more difficult to regulate their emotions. For these kids (well, for all kids, but especially for these ones), the key is safety and security. More than anything else, they need to understand that they are safe. So the best thing you can do is to remain calm, firm and completely sure in your attempts to support them. As you work at calming their response, regulate your own breathing using the belly breathing techniques we have already discussed. We all know that children pick up on our energy and moods, so the calmer you become, the easier it will be to help regulate them. And please consider seeking psychological support for these kids. Not only can a professional teach them how to regulate their emotions, they can work with you on specific strategies to use with them.

mirror neurons

Stress and Mental Wellness

stress cartoon

I’ve had thoughts running through my head about what I wanted to talk about for this post. I think the message I want to get across to you all is about how you can either support your mental wellness, or allow stress to overwhelm you and ultimately reduce your sense of wellness.

I think the first thing we need to do though, is to understand what we’re aiming for when we use the word “wellness”.

What does “mental wellness” mean to you? Is it the same as what it means for other people in your life?

As much as I’d like it to be as simple as referring to the dictionary, as we have for other definitions in this series, I’m not convinced it’s that easy. I think the definition of mental wellness is different for everyone.

For me, I think it overlaps and is impacted by our physical wellness. I certainly feel better if I don’t have any physical illnesses or injuries! And I know that my mental and emotional states are linked, for better or worse! I actually describe my mental wellness using my emotions. How can they not be linked, right?!

The first words that come into my mind to describe mental wellness are centred, calm & peace.

When my mind is chaotic, when I have a lot of stuff to get through, when I don’t know how I’ll manage it, and when I feel pressured, isolated and alone, it is much harder for me to call myself mentally well.

When my mind is well, I function well. I’m able to get up in the morning and I’ll want to face the day. I’ll be excited to go into work and do the job I love. I’ll look forward to interacting with clients, colleagues, friends and family. I’ll be motivated to do the things I need to do, even if they aren’t things I’m particularly excited about. I mean, who really gets excited about doing the dishes or doing paperwork? Not me!

And I’ll have the energy to do them. Energy is important, and if you don’t have it, it’s a sure sign that you’re probably stressed. I mean, there’s being tired at the end of a busy day, but when it’s that deep, bone weary fatigue that persists day after day and doesn’t lift, you may need to look deeper. And one of the first places to look is at your stress.

Back to wellness … My mind will be clear. I’ll be able to access my creativity. I’ll be able to solve problems. And I won’t feel particularly anxious or stressed. I’ll feel cheerful, will be able to appreciate and laugh at jokes and I’ll feel grateful and blessed to have my life, even if it’s not always smooth sailing.

So how do I get this feeling? Even though I’m not always good at it, and I’m a work in progress (aren’t we all), I get it by looking after myself. By recognising and acknowledging the signs of stress my body gives me (check back next week for a post on that).

These are some of the things I use:

  • Eating healthily
  • Regular movement (I don’t always go hard – look out for a post on this too)
  • Regular time out (me time) doing things I love away from work
  • Mindfulness
  • Time with friends
  • Journaling
  • Plenty of rest
  • “switch-off” time
  • Pampering time (getting my hair done etc)
  • Regular therapy appointments (while debriefing with someone objective is awesome for clearing my head and getting really clear on what’s important to me, I’m also including medical therapies here. For me these are with my General Practitioner, kinesiologist, acupuncturist, massage therapist etc.

I find that when I do these practices regularly and make my wellness a priority above everyone else in my life (including family and clients), I maintain my mental wellness. Which results in so much more to give to the important people in my life.

Do you make regular time to take care of yourself? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

worth taking care of

Stress and mental illness

mental illness

I think most people believe that stress and mental illness are separate entities. The truth is, they are inextricably linked.

Stress can impact on an already diagnosed condition, or it can also be the ultimate cause of specific mental health conditions.

For example, research on Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) states they often result from trauma. DID is the newest name for what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder, which is where the brain separates, or dissociates, from yourself to protect your brain and body from the pain of trauma (usually severe abuse in this case). Research has found that many people diagnosed with BPD also often have a history of abuse in their childhood. There are some things we just don’t need to remember. And PTSD is obviously labelled PTSD for a reason.

If you’re interested in reading a little more on some of these conditions, check out the articles we published in January when we did a focus on mental health. You’ll find factual articles explaining specific conditions as well as some of our readers sharing their experiences with us. readers, Tegan and Kaye, shared their experiences with BPD. You’ll find them all if you search in the archives for January 2014.

On the other side of the coin, when you already have a diagnosis, such as with depression and anxiety, stress can make the condition harder to treat. It’s much more difficult to manage anxiety when your amygdala is being activated repeatedly. In fact, anxiety comes from this repeated switching on of the stress response. When you worry about stuff there is an element of fear that something will go wrong, which triggers our inbuilt survival mechanism. One of my colleagues also wrote a guest post for us back in January. In it she discussed how anxiety works. Note how Sam talks about the stress response and those pesky saber-toothed tigers.

One of the most important things to note for stress and mental illness is that with the help from your professional support team, it may be possible to manage your condition more effectively by using some simple techniques to down-regulate the response. Check out our previous posts over the last few days on Stress and the Triune Brain, Stress and the Amygdala, Stress and Trauma, and the down-regulation of stress. They will give you a good idea of how this response works and how you can help manage it.

stress-92313-828

On Saturday we’ll talk about stress and breathing, where a colleague and friend of mine will take you through simple breathing practices that can help.

Please remember that while these exercises can be of benefit, always use the guidance of your professional mental health support team. I’d encourage you to show them this post to give them an idea of what we’ve discussed.

Real life experience of stress

For today’s post I thought I’d break things up a little. We’ve been pretty focused on the more technical aspects of stress and it’s probably a good idea to give you a general picture of how all this looks in the real world. So I’m sharing a personal story of one woman’s experience of stress. Julia is a wife and a mother of two boys, one of whom has special needs. She shares one of the biggest stressors she faces in providing the extra care her son’s needs demand, and some of the strategies she has discovered that work for her. Julia is about to launch her own brand new blog at the end of this week and would love to connect with some new readers. Below her article you’ll find a short bio and the link to her blog, which you can access this Saturday, November 15!

As you read, see if you can apply some of the theory we have been discussing over the past 11 days by identifying how Julia’s limbic system reacts to the stressful experience. If you can identify some of Julia’s stress responses, we’d love to hear your comments!

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What better time to write about stress than when I’m right in the middle of a stressful situation.

Every Saturday night it happens. My husband goes to work at 4.30pm and comes home around 1am… This means I have to get my son to bed and asleep on my own. Let me just say IT IS NOT A FUN EXPERIENCE. Remy who is 8 in 2 weeks has Autism, ADHD and a moderate global developmental delay and he is a classic Autism/ADHD kid when it comes to sleep time. His brother, Xavier is 10 in a month and is quite good with the whole bed time thing although does like to try it on when I have to deal with it all by myself.

I myself have issues with stress and anxiety anyway and this situation really doesn’t help the matter. I’m not very good at handling stress although I am trying to learn some ways to cope better. If I don’t I think my head will explode.

So anyway, back to bed time. Remy is a night owl at the best of times but he can play quietly most nights until he falls asleep on his own or we just switch everything off and he has no choice but to close his eyes. Then there are other nights, and it always happens on a Saturday night, where he is absolutely beside himself with hyperactivity. He’s non-stop talking, walking around the house, kicking, moving things, you name it, if it’s annoying and keeping people awake he’ll be doing it. I try everything to get him to listen and get to bed or to be calm and try to get him to understand that its quiet time now but he carries on regardless.

It’s partly bad behaviour and partly having no control over his body once he’s gone past a certain point, and partly not fully understanding how to or why he needs to calm down and sleep. No matter what it is, by the end of the night I’m usually in tears, heart beating rapidly, yelling, and calling my husband begging him to come home early from work.

What do I do to cope? Well, not much at the moment. When I’m in the heat of a stress attack I can’t even think of anything else. However, here are some things I’ve tried to implement into my life to help me be a calmer person in general

  1. Stretch and core exercises each morning for about 10 minutes. It’s like my version of meditation. I’m not good at sitting still for long but stretching relaxes me and I love doing it. I feel energised afterwards as well which helps.
  2. Box breathing, the problem with this one is that my concentration span is quite short so I get over it pretty quickly. I am trying to train myself to be relaxed and just be still for about five minutes at a time.
  3. When I’m in the heat of a stressful situation I try to take deep breaths and really think about whether or not this is something to get so worked up about. If he’s sitting at the computer at 10pm is it really a bother if he’s occupied and quiet. I am learning to pick my battles. It helps.
  4. I am learning that if I am calm then he responds differently. It’s very hard to do but I’m practicing.
  5. I have been reading a little bit about being ‘present’, in the moment. It’s difficult in this very busy life we all have and my ADHD brain but it’s definitely worth practicing.

Things we’ve tried in the past to get him to go to sleep

  1. Melatonin, a natural medication that mimics the natural hormone the body produces to signal that it’s tired and needs rest. This worked but only sometimes. It wasn’t consistent enough.
  2. Bedtime routine: This has been hard because Remy is set in his ways and if we try to introduce something he doesn’t like then he gets very worked up and makes things worse anyway.
  3. Classical music. Remy loves music but when I tried to introduce classical music for bed time he would sob uncontrollably. I found out pretty quickly that he has a very emotional response to music. He said to me one day “no music bed time, so sad song mummy”
  4. Magnesium and herbal tea in juice. This one is still in experiment mode. I have to make sure the tea is cold then mix it into the juice with the magnesium powder. He has to drink it out of a drink bottle because he won’t drink it if he can smell it. It does relax him a little bit but we haven’t been using it long enough to know if it will be consistent or not.
  5. Tranquiliser gun…. Just kidding, put down the phone, but don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind once or twice.

It is very hard to stay angry and upset when, once he starts to calm down, he looks up at me with his big brown eyes and says “mum, I sowwy I be naughty for you” awwww, melts my heart! NOT GOOD, have to stay strong and not cave in.  Sometimes calmness doesn’t kick in until 2 in the morning.

Bed time isn’t our only stressful situation when it comes to caring for Remy but it has to be the one that affects me the most.

Julia and Remy detour ahead

Those big brown eyes I can’t say no to. “I sowwy I be naughty for you”

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Julia detour ahead I am a Mum of 2 boys. Remy who is 8 has ADHD, Autism and a moderate global developmental delay (thats what they call it when they don’t know what else to call it). He’s amazing and sees the world in a different way, we learn from him all the time. My oldest is 10, Xavier, my little sports star and all round good kid. My husband of 8 years and myself are doing life together trying to figure this whole thing out.

One day I was sitting with a group of Mums from Remy’s support class and we laughed and cried and told stories for hours. We needed it, needed someone else to say, yes I feel like that too, yes my kid does that too, and then it hit me… other families need to hear this stuff too. Not everyone has other people around them to talk to or make them feel like their thoughts and feelings are valid and valued.

So that’s why I’ve decided to start this blog and put together a book for families just like ours. So check out my site and if you would like to share your story then let me know via the site and send me your email address. You can find me at http://www.detourahead.info/ 

Focusing on Stress

I’m excited! Today is November 1st.

The first day of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). While I’m not up for writing an insane 50 thousand word novel in one month, I thought I’d give NaBloPoMo a go, the National Blog Posting Month, which runs alongside. The challenge is to write a blog post each day for the entire month. The rules state that they cannot be written and scheduled in advance, so this will be a real challenge for me given my weekly schedule!

So, as of today, our focus will change as I embark on this endeavor.

stress

Stress

We all experience it, but few of us really understand what it means and how it impacts on us, our lives and our families.

Have you ever wondered how stress affects your mind, body and spirit? How our emotions become a rollercoaster and we often feel like the smallest things will tip us over the edge. And then there’s the urge we feel to hide away from the world, and the desire to yell at everyone who gets within reach. Or maybe you’re more like me and you end up zoning out in front of the television or computer for hours at a time.

I’ll cover the neurobiological aspects (what happens inside your brain), the neurochemical aspects (hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol), the symptoms, and heaps of strategies to tackle it. And I’ll also include some personal stories from real life people with real life issues. We’ll tackle short term stress and long term stress. We’ll tackle stress and mental health, including its connection to illnesses such as depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Are you interested?

Great! Then stay tuned, as I’ll be talking about it all. If you have any burning questions or anything you’ve wondered about for a while, please comment below or send me a message on Facebook, Twitter or by email.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Ali

Boosting self-esteem through physical activity

As the next in our series of guest posts on self-esteem I’d like to introduce you to Glenda. As a clinical nutritionist, neuroscientist, Personal Trainer and Positive Wellbeing Coach, she knows a little something about healthy living. She has joined us today to talk about how you can boost your self-esteem by moving your body. And I think most of you will be pleased to know that you don’t have to smash yourself at the gym to get the benefits! Most of the time it’s the simplest things that make the biggest differences. So check out what Glenda has to say and visit her site. 

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Self-esteem is quite an interesting concept that many people misunderstand. You see, most people think of self-esteem as an all or none thing, where you either have it or you don’t. But really, it works on a sliding scale that can be nudged one way or the other depending firstly on what life throws at you, but also on how you perceive and react to those events.

 Sometimes it’s something massive that either boosts or decimates your self-esteem, for instance receiving an award or commendation for doing an excellent job, or on the negative side it could be caused by a failure or loss. Yet your self-esteem can also be affected by many little things over and over that push you a bit one way and then another, so that it’s the overall balance of these little pushes that decides where it finally settles.

 Another thing that’s often misunderstood about self-esteem is that it’s possible to have a lot in some parts of your life while having very little in other areas. As an example, you could be very confident in what you do for a living and have no issues in your professional life, yet you may have low self-esteem on a personal level because you haven’t yet had a ‘successful’ relationship and are being constantly hounded by your family on when you’re going to settle down.

 Regardless of how much self-esteem you have, or in which parts of your life that it exists, there are ways to boost it. But before we talk about how you can do this, let’s make sure we’re on the same page as to what self-esteem is. There are a number of definitions, but here we’ll consider self-esteem in terms of the Oxford Dictionary definition: “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities”.

 If you’re able to directly pinpoint where your issues exist, it may be possible to work on boosting your self-esteem directly by improving your abilities, or your confidence in those abilities, that relate to that particular issue. For instance, if you had low self-esteem about your cooking abilities and your confidence to cook meals that your family would enjoy, you could directly work on this by taking cooking classes, reading cookbooks, and practicing tried and true recipes until you could cook a number of meals with confidence. In this example, boosting self-esteem for a particular activity is relatively easy because you can readily define the activity that’s of concern.

 But what if your self-esteem issue is a bit harder to pin down? What can you do then to improve it?

 It may seem a little bit counterintuitive at first, but you can boost your self-esteem by practicing and mastering activities that create an overall sense of confidence, strength and powerfulness within you. While there are many types of activities that can do this, I’ve personally found that exercise, fitness and other physical activities are excellent ways to create these feelings within you and to boost your self-esteem.

physical activity boosts self-esteem glenda bishop

 Alright, so how does physical activity help self-esteem?

 Firstly it teaches you to listen to your body, creating a mind-body connection that keeps you centred during the activity. This helps to strengthen your understanding of what you’re achieving at that time, bolstering your knowledge of your abilities and thus your confidence in performing them. It also helps to stop your mind from wandering away and getting stuck in any negative thoughts that might otherwise have you questioning your abilities – and when you don’t question your capabilities, you more naturally learn to respect and acknowledge them for what they really are.

 The next really important part about physical activity and exercise is that it strengthens your body. This physical strength creates a feeling of power and capability that lets you move through the world with more ease and grace. Knowing that you can trust your body to do what’s needed is incredibly powerful. It helps you to stand tall and move with purpose. There’s also something special that comes with the confidence of physical capability that can’t be taken away from you. It helps to create an “I don’t care” attitude within you – not so much in the sense that nothing is important to you, but more in the sense that the little things just don’t bother you as much as they used to.

 A huge bonus that comes from physical activity is that it decreases the amount of stress hormones in your body, i.e. adrenaline and cortisol. When you exercise and get your body moving, your stress hormones get chewed up during the activity, so that when you’ve finished moving, your overall stress levels are considerably less than when you started. If you do physical activity on a regular basis (daily or every second day), this can go a long way to modulating stress. This is also one of the reasons why regular physical activity also helps to manage depression and anxiety. When you’re less stressed, you’re more resilient to the unexpected things that life throws at you. Not getting stressed out every time something little goes wrong means that there’s less of that constant battering to your self-esteem.

 If the physical activity that you choose to do is something new, then this allows you to learn new skills. Even if the skills seem unrelated to anything else you do in your life, there’s an incredible amount of confidence boosting that comes from simply being able to say “I did that!”. It could be finally being able to run 5km, hiking up to the top of a mountain, being able to shoot a basketball from the 3-point line, being able to hit a baseball for a home run, learning how to punch or kick correctly in a martial art, learning how to stand up on a surf board, or even learning a new dance routine. It really doesn’t matter what it is (or whether it matters to anyone else), it’s knowing that you did it and that you were able to master a new skill that counts. Reminding yourself that you can learn new things can give you the confidence you need to try out something else in another part of your life.

 There’s an important caveat though about learning new skills to boost self-esteem. It’s really critical that when you set out on a new activity that you keep your goals very manageable and that you restrain them to a beginner level for that activity. So this means that it’s best not to attach time limits or standards to the goal. For instance, if your goal was to run 5km, then make that the goal – simply to be able to run a distance of 5km. Don’t put any additional criteria as to how fast you have to be able to run that distance. Only after you’ve achieved the distance should you consider trying to improve your time – but even then, you should only do that if you want to. It’s perfectly okay to be able to say “I did that” and then switch onto another activity to gain a new skill. Maybe running is something that you will choose to enjoy occasionally but never want to run a race, and that is perfectly fine!

 So as you can see, there are many reasons why physical activity is so valuable for boosting self-esteem. It’s also one of the reasons why I recommend that everyone tries out a new type of physical activity that pushes their body just a bit further than they normally would push it. It strengthens the body, but also strengthens the mind at the same time, creating a mental resilience and confidence that boosts self-esteem which can transfer across other areas of your life. The trick is to find an activity that you will enjoy and then to set yourself a small and achievable goal. Not only will you boost your self-esteem, you’ll boost your physical and mental health too.

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Glenda Bishop healthy stories 2Author Bio:

Glenda Bishop is a neuroscientist, Registered Nutritionist, personal trainer and positive wellbeing coach. She helps women to reconnect their mind and body by creating a strong foundation of physical health that supports and strengthens their mental health. Glenda’s Mind & Body Reconnect Program creates a gentle strength and confidence from the inside out, leading to positive mental wellbeing that promotes joy and happiness. Click here to find out her 7 Little Secrets for a Healthy Mind and Body.

Quieting the Mind

Have you ever experienced the sensation where your mind races so fast that you cannot capture your thoughts and it feels really chaotic and messy inside your head? I know I have. It happens almost every day, often as I am getting ready for work or when I am trying to get some sleep. Sometimes adequate rest is elusive and I end up laying awake until early in the morning. Which means I feel (and probably look) like a zombie the following day! Can you relate?

However, I have discovered something that generally helps me to quiet my mind so that I can get some shut-eye. And I find that when I am able to quiet my mind I end up getting the best, most creative ideas.

I thought I’d share a simple activity that you can all try to quiet your own minds. If you’re not used to practicing mindfulness you may find it challenging. Your mind may wonder away from what you’re trying to do. Over and over. This is perfectly normal. Our brains are designed to do this (the why’s and how’s of this is for another post!).

The following photos are taken from a set of cards I have at work. Each of them includes a simple meditation that you can practice at your convenience. If you already practice similar activities feel free to do it to your heart’s content. But if you’re not, try starting small. Aim for just a few minutes at a time. Be prepared for your mind to take your attention away from the card but remember that this is supposed to happen. Be kind with yourself and gently bring your attention back to what you are focusing on.

Once you feel like you can concentrate and pay attention for a few minutes, add a few more minutes and build it up slowly until you reach about 30 minutes a day.

I’d love to hear how you get on with them, so please feel free to leave a reply below!

focus flame meditation card

 

happy memories meditation card

 

abundance meditation card

 

Meditation card 1

 

Who cares for the carers?

People with mental illness usually have a support team around them. Psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health nurses, social workers, general practitioners. People in mental health organisations such as the Richmond Fellowship (this link is QLD but you can google other states). People handing out medications and people providing emotional support. For the most part, these people do fabulous work in paving the way to wellness.

mental health stigma

But there is a whole other population that often gets overlooked. The family and friends. Husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers. The carers. They are often excluded from treatment due to “confidentiality”. How do carers help monitor medications if they don’t have accurate information about which prescriptions to fill or how many tablets are needed? How do they help regulate moods if they aren’t up to speed on which strategies have been used in therapy? And that also means they are unable to provide feedback to give the professional team a full picture of what is happening for their loved one. While I can’t speak for all carers, I know that the ones I have spoken to genuinely want to help support the road to wellness. And they want to respect personal space and privacy.

During periods of illness, carers are often confronted with some pretty tough stuff. Major mood swings. Irrational demands. Thought processes that aren’t based in reality. An inability to reason. Violence; to self and others. Hospital visits. Self-harm. Suicide attempts. Manipulation. Sometimes even homicidal tendencies. And they are often in the middle of the fray, caught up in the maelstrom of chaos.

carer head chaos

Chaos

Watching the people they love most in the world go through these experiences is heartbreaking. You watch your spouse with depression stay in bed day after day, week after week. You know that they are in pain and you try everything you know to help them. Encouragement, tough love, praise, cajoling, bringing friends in. You try talking to the doctors but you don’t get anywhere because they can’t talk back. You take over the running of the household, managing the children, cooking, cleaning. And you listen to your husband or wife talk about their inner pain and how much better off you and the children would be without him or her in it. You feel helpless and scared. What if they kill themselves? You wonder what else you can do to help. You don’t always understand why they can’t get themselves out of bed and rejoin the family. You feel lonely because the partner you knew isn’t there anymore. You feel alone because you don’t have your best friend to bounce things off. And you feel hopeless and helpless because the professional team won’t talk to you and tell you what you can do to help. Not to mention feeling guilty, fearful, resentful (of the illness), and a whole host of other emotions.

If you are a carer and can relate to this, please understand. You are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands, or even millions of people with mental illness, and each of them very likely has a group of family and friends around them, feeling exactly the same way you do. That is a lot of people feeling like you.

Exhausted. Stressed. Alone. Afraid. Confused. Helpless. Guilty. Isolated.

That is a lot of stress to deal with. And when you feel it for long periods of time, it is really important that you take care of yourself. Some very simple strategies can make a big difference in how you well you bounce back from the stresses and ultimately in the quality of your life.

When you’re looking at specific strategies there is one thing to keep in mind. Given the amount of stress most carers experience, sometimes thinking about doing extra can be overwhelming. So keep things really simple and you’ll be able to incorporate some of them into your normal routine. Try these:thought training

  • Take 3-5 long, slow deep breaths. Try to focus on slowing your breaths down and smoothing them out. This will get some oxygen into your brain and help you think more clearly.
  • Pamper yourself. Take a bath, paint your nails, get a massage. This helps you relax your muscles and allows those stress hormones to dissipate.
  • Surround yourself with nature. Visit a garden, sit under a tree, get your hands dirty with soil. This will help ground you and release the stress.
  • Slow your brain down. Meditate, do yoga, or simply sit on your own for a while and breathe.
  • Do something you absolutely love.
  • Laugh.
  • Connect with other people. Often speaking with other carers can help you realise you aren’t in this on your own and give you a chance to pick some brains about strategies that others have used successfully.
  • Talk to someone. Sometimes seeing a professional can help you sort out the jumble in your head and give you some direction.

carer serenity scene

Australia has a network of carers organisations in each state that provide support for carers. They offer a variety of services, including access to support groups, workshops and counselling. They can also link you in with other services you may need. You can find details on each state’s organisation here, or call 1800 242 636 from anywhere in Australia. Some other countries also have carers organisations, including the UK and USA. Other support organisations in Australia include ARAFMI and COPMI (for the kids).

 

Leonie’s journey with Bipolar

It’s been several days since the last post was published on Kate’s life with Bipolar Disorder. Leonie has the same diagnosis and the other day she spent some time telling me of her experiences. Leonie’s story is one of suffering and sadness. And it is also one of strength, perseverance and triumph. She has taken her illness and the darkness it produced, and has found a way to use a variety of strategies and to create the light of her life. As always, if reading Leonie’s story triggers your own illness, please speak with your mental health professional or call Lifeline on 13 1114.

Leonie was first diagnosed with depression in 2003 and was prescribed an antidepressant. This led to a psychotic manic episode, which was followed by a period in hospital a month or two later. Even though she was heavily sedated and experiencing delusions, she clearly remembers the moment she left the doctor’s office after hearing him say the phrase “it seems likely you have bipolar”.

When she shared the diagnosis with a close friend from her early university daLeonie bipolar think in my headys, she was told, “hindsight is 20/20”. Other friends and family agreed. Leonie had been living with bipolar since she was a teenager. Fast forward to 2003 and much of her life had masked the illness.

Leonie gave birth to a son in 1998 and a daughter in 2001. In September 2001, when planes hit the World Trade Centre in New York on 9/11, her daughter was two months old. Leonie remembers her prevailing and repetitive thought was, “how could I have brought my baby into such a brutal world?” Her general practitioner realises now that she was living with post natal depression at the time. In fact, she lived with it following the birth of both children.

With friends living in the state next to the World Trade Centre, and a 2 month old baby, 9/11 hit Leonie hard. Her existing depression led to her spiraling further into the illness.

Leonie bipolar saying

Not quite that simple, Leonie’s transformation has taken many years

She returned to work part-time at the beginning of 2002 and found it very stressful. She ended up on indefinite long service leave. She felt unsupported, confused and lost.

Then, in January 2003, when her daughter was 18 months old, she looked up to the air conditioning duct in her house to see flames. She got herself and the children out and by the time the fire brigade arrived smoke was billowing from every orifice of the house. While most of the damage was confined to the roof cavity, the rug where the children were sitting when the flames were first seen was burnt by a molten air conditioning vent that had fallen. Leonie became fearful of staying in the house, and also fearful of leaving it at the same time. How much turmoil and confusion she must have been feeling at that time!

While Leonie was taking a shower one day in June 2003 she distinctly remembers not being able to work out why she was in there or knowing what to do next. She couldn’t work out how to turn off the water or grab a towel. She managed to call a friend, who gave her instructions to “hang up, don’t move and pick up the phone when it rings”, after promising to help. Together they dressed and breakfasted the children and took them to day care. They made a doctor’s appointment to see her General Practitioner and went with her friend’s support a couple of days later. Leonie was diagnosed with depression and prescribed Zoloft, an antidepressant. Within a month Leonie experienced psychosis, which is apparently a common result when that type of antidepressant is prescribed to someone with bipolar.

The 5 years between 2003 and 2008 were very bleak for Leonie. She spent most of the time severely depressed, with a few severe manic episodes. Christmas 2008 was very bleak. A few months earlier Leonie experienced a manic episode involving some friends, which affected their friendship in a negative way. Whilst attending the Christmas assembly at her children’s school she experienced a full-blown panic attack. She felt like the worst mother in the world and completely demoralised.

Leonie began thinking about suicide as an option so her family would no longer have to feel the shame she felt she brought on them. She felt they would be better off without her. Even though her husband and mother knew she was low, she hid the extent of it from them.

By this time her file at her mental health centre was an inch thick. Between 2003 and January 2009 she felt like the mental health professionals came through a revolving door.

Leonie bipolar difference 08 v 13

Bottom: 2008, Top: 2013

The day that produced the turning point came when she saw one specific psychiatrist in that very long line of professionals. She walked in the door at her lowest ever point and was asked to tell her story yet again. The thought of rehashing all the pain and suffering was unbearable. Two minutes in, the psych was on the phone asking for a bed in the closest inpatient unit.

Leonie was in hospital for a month so that her new doctor could observe her closely as he fine tuned her medication. She felt lucky that she had finally found the right fit with a mental health professional. He was intuitive and understood her well.

Leonie bipolar stand up 8

She was out of hospital another month before another manic episode hit as a result of coming out of such a low. Bordering on psychotic again, she ended up in the emergency room with police hovering for most of the day while waiting on a bed in the inpatient unit. For another month, her doctor once again monitored her closely as he readjusted her medications. Leonie remains on these same medications to this day.

Career wise, traveling back in time briefly, in about 2005/6, Leonie was working 2 days a week as a teacher. She struggled because she was so depressed. Despite her then psychologist strongly suggesting that she submit a medical retirement, she resisted. The thought broke her heart. In a job that she had previously loved, she felt that she was unfit to do that work forever. But she couldn’t bring herself to submit the paperwork.

Leonie bipolar plans

Leonie’s doctor discharged her from hospital at the end of May 2008. She experienced one minor depressive episode which lasted approximately a week. At that point she participated in her second, 10-week mindfulness course. By October of that same year she was once again doing 2-3 days of casual teaching each week. She chose her schools carefully as she made these tentative steps, but felt like she had her life back.

The entire year of 2009 saw her regularly working 3-5 days per week (at various schools). In the final term one school invited her to work 3 days a week for the rest of the year. In consultation with her team of professionals and close family, by October she decided to go back to full-time work.

At the beginning of 2010 she began her new job, a position she retains today. At first she didn’t tell anyone at her work about her illness due to feelings of shame and fear of judgement. But after she felt she had proven her wellness, she received incredible support from her boss.

Other than one minor and short-live depressive episode in 2012, which included anxiety attacks, she has been free of mood swings. While she doesn’t consider herself “cured”, and she will be on medications for the rest of her life, her condition is now successfully being managed. She utilises a team of professionals.

Leonie Bipolar

The joy after conquering a long-held fear of going down a huge water slide

Psychiatrist, Psychologist, General Practitioner. She combines medications with regular mindfulness training and sessions with her psychologist. She has made significant changes to her lifestyle by exercising and eating healthily. She now gets adequate sleep after discovering that the lack of it contributed to her manic episodes.

Leonie also calls on the support of close family, colleagues and friends. She feels blessed to be a part of a wonderful circle of social support. She now knows, thanks to this amazing support, that she no longer needs to keep the secret and shame.

Leonie feels that the key to beginning her path to wellness was to find that one professional that she could really connect with.

Leonie bipolar xmas 2013

Christmas 2013 and Leonie’s new way of being

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