Mental Health Awareness Week: MY TOP TIPS!

mental health, Uncategorized

To continue my posts for my Mental Health Awareness Week.

As I’ve spoken about in the past, I have had alot of therapies, counselling, support etcetc.. within my short life with regards to coping with stress and anxiety. I thought for mental health awareness week it was only right to share my favourite coping mechanisms.

Chewing Gum

Distraction from your thoughts is really importnt- whether you chew gum, click a pen or fiddle with something- detracting your thoughts elsewhere is a good idea.

Medicate if necessary

There seems to be a huge stigma around medicating for mental illness- I was put on medication for my mental health and have been on a variety of different ones ever since. It is a big decision to make and requires regular slow monitoring. Medication is not a cure for mental health issues, however, along side therapies it can be of great support.

Lavender

I just find lavender so calming! I have lavender oil in an air purifier/ diffuser. lavender pillow spray, a bag of lavender in the box I store my bedsheets in. For me I’m very sensory- smells really make me feel better. If you ever walk into my room you’ll be hit with a concoction of oils, melts, incense, candles, lush products, air fresheners- all sorts. I like everything to smell nice as it’s comforting.

Write your thoughts down-

Sometimes we react to situations before we think. Writing down frustrations can ease tension with others and help us rationalise our thoughts.

Brain Dump-

Feeling stressed:(???? Write every word that comes to mind on the paper- even if its the most totally random word ever, it helps to get everything out your brain! Categorise them into things that are in your control and things that are not. Rip up and throw away any worries which you cannot control- taking them out of you brain and into the bin. Organise a plan surrounding each small worry to eventually cross them off your worry list..

Have a plan so you don’t become overwhelmed-

Sadly in life there are things we have to do that we don’t want to. The quicker and more efficiently you can get these tasks done, the sooner you are able to do something you love. Planning what needs to be talked about in an important doctors appointment or what you need to buy in the shops on a Saturday when you’ve got three toddlers running riot with you can help maintain structure and allow tasks to be completed quicker. I’m awful at remembering things so I strongly recommend writing conversations or reminders/ to do’s down for later you. Feeling prepared for challenges helps ease anxiety.

Don’t worry about future you-

As Cringey as it sounds, no one knows what the future holds- we cannot fly ahead into the future or teleport to the past. Focus on the now. The present. Your happiness. Your life now. DO WHAT WORKS BEST FOR YOU RIGHT NOW AND FOCUS ON THE REST LATER.

Your Grades are not the most important thing in the world- exam anxiety-

Test or exam anxiety is one of the most common forms of anxiety- I used to faint, cry, hyperventilate, be sick in exams. WHY?! Has anyone ever asked me for my grades for XYZ? No! Whether it’s a small test at work or your A levels your grades do not define who you are as a person- it is likely you will be able to retake, ask for advice or ignore the results. Why we put so much pressure on kids from such a young age is beyond me!

Name 5 things you can see, hear, smell, touch- Grounding Technique

This is a great calming strategy- say them out loud.

Talk to people

Talking to friends and family about how you feel can be scary and you may feel you don’t want too burden them with your problems- therapists are a good second option if this is the case. They are qualified and paid to deal with other peoples issues. The act of hanging out with friends and talking often can raise moods as we become distracted and occupied with fun. Don’t feel you have to speak about issues as such- you can just generally have a chit chat! When my panic was at it’s worst, the act of someone asking ‘are you okay’ or me saying ‘ i feel really anxious/panicky’ would usually trigger a panic attack. My friends and family knowing how too behave to make me feel safe and conversations to distract me was beneficial. Communication is great.

Get out the house-

My Agoraphobia stemmed from not leaving the house in bouts of anxiety and depression. Very relevant to current times, it is important you leave the house when possible. Open the front door and sit on your drive if you don’t feel up to going miles from home or simply walk down your road. Your brain becomes conditioned to ‘liking’ being inside very quickly and it will only detriment your mental health. You do not need to go on 5 mile walks every day or sit in the garden 24 hours a day but simply getting out and about a little will maintain your social interaction with other humans even without speaking to anyone, the act of simply seeing another pair of arms and legs is useful to your brains coping strategy.

Don’t avoid your problems

LAUREN! This is one for myself. There is a cycle I tend to live my life by with relation to my physical health- boom and bust, all or nothing. Similarly I follow the same pattern with my mental health- I subconsciously ignore all my stresses until I hit breaking point- release all my feelings and then return back to neutral. This tends to repeat itself. Keeping your thoughts in only makes for emotional mood swings and subconscious changes in your behaviour.

Take a break and try again in a little while

Breathe in for 5 seconds and out for 8.

The idea with this is basically ‘breathe out more than you breathe in to maintain stable breathing’. As we become anxious we close up. We want to have bigger, deeper breaths. If you find yourself becoming tight chested or panicky focusing on maintaining your breathing is good. Weirdly for me if I didn’t have my sole focus on this it used to trigger panic (something to do with the OCD and counting breaths I’m sure!)

Know you aren’t alone

There is always someone who will speak to you, even if its a stranger online!

Understand others struggle too

Know the facts not your made up scenarios

Understand poor mental health can make fantasy feel like reality. We often make things worse than they are in our heads, assume people think certain things about us or read into behaviours strangely. Without knowing the facts we start to believe our own thoughts! Worried about something or someones opinion of you- ask them?

Drink lots of water

Water is amazing for everything. Skin, Brain. Bladder. I used to get very very light-headed, pins and needles or faint- I find water a great energy boost to ‘bring me back’ Again it’s another great distraction method- focusing on your gulps of water as opposed to things happening around you.

Have regular snacks or a mini squash bottle to maintain blood sugars-

Similarly carrying small snacks or a mini squash bottle is useful as we tend to feel low when we are hungry/ lacking in vitamins.

Communicate

Breathe out your nose- this will make you giggle!

Have a positive playlist

Have all your favourite music in one place. I have spotfiy playlists for every mood/ scenario!

Do something nice for someone

Doing something nice for someone else helps us feel better about ourselves.

Give yourself a gift-

We treat others to nice gifts or surprises- why not do the same to yourself.

Write a nice letter to yourself

Spa nights at home

This is one of my favourites- whenever my friends are feeling rubbish we have a spa night- I run the bath for them with epsom salts and candles, bubbles and bath bombs- spa sounds and fairy lights- colour changing lighting. Since doing beauty courses I’ll do facials or gel manicure/pedicures. These are my favourite types of evenings. So girly and my friends love it! My uni halls room was literally known as the detox room- everyone would go on their nights out be incredibly hungover and then come over to my ‘spa’ and eat pizza. AW I miss Uni! Corona go away.

Write your compliments

The most lovely lady on Facebook told me this! We are so quick to remember any negative comments about our appearance yet we don’t accept positive comments. I cannot think of one compliment in the last few weeks, yet I know I’ve received so many- since writing down my compliments, it enables me to see what other people think of me and maybe slowly I’ll start to believe it! (SIDE NOTE don’t comment on peoples appearance negatively- just let them be!) Give out compliments to others often!

Document your day went well today?

Write about one good thing from each day.

Find a fury friend-

Ahh… I wish I had a pet, they’re so good at comforting.

Get Creative/ paint or colour

Art is therapeutic!

Celebrate your small achievements

Haven’t brushed your hair for two weeks but you did today? WELL DONE!!

Cut out negativity from your life- it’s okay to prioritise your own mental health

I’ve always been a bit of a Negative Nancy, I’m trying my best to become more of a Positive Polly! Distance yourself from anyone that doesn’t fit to your new mindset until you feel strong enough.

Create a kindness kit (happy box)- see my blog post on these)

You are in control of your life- don’t let anyone else be.

I hope some or at least one of these tips will help you.

Love yourself, Look after yourself and be kind!

L xxx

Mental Health Awareness Week- Panic Disorder

mental health, Uncategorized

I thought I’d explain a little about my experience with Panic Disorder in my second post for mental health awareness week:)

“Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder where you regularly have sudden attacks of panic or fear.”

Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety and panic at certain times, this does not mean you have an anxiety disorder and is likely to be merely a natural response to stressful or dangerous situations. Welldone you. Your brain works properly. Our bodies are built to react to situations that make us feel uneasy. Those with Panic disorder have a chemical imbalance which leads their bodies to be in ‘fight or flight’ mode regularly with no triggers.

Fight or Flight, Freeze?


A tiger is about to attack- do you fight it, flight (run away) or freeze- don’t move? Your instincts will act quickly and respond therefore the decision is not in your hands.

A perfect example of ‘Fight, Flight Freeze’ is when you slam on the brakes when the car in front of you suddenly stops, you do not stop to think about your decision. Your body reacts to its own instincts quickly to protect you… In someone with Panic disorder the body doesn’t understand its potential dangers and therefore is over sensitive in its responses. As someone who has lived with anxiety disorders I always include freeze as I feel fight and flight aren’t always what actually happens!

I speak in past tense as I would say I am pretty much over the panic stage of my life * touch wood* & gosh am I pleased! So how did I do it? It was not easy! I did a previous post on accessing therapies. Exposure Technique & CBT along with medication ( I tried tonnes- this was definitely about finding what worked for me).

For someone with panic disorder, intense sudden feelings of anxiety, stress and panic occur very regularly often for no apparent reason. It can effect quality of life greatly & be exceptionally inconvenient.

Symptoms of Panic Disorder are apparent during an anxiety attack or panic attack which is where feelings are suddenly intensified.

Feelings of high anxiety whilst awful and very distracting are different to anxiety attacks. Anxiety attacks become uncontrollable. People with other anxiety disorders can have panic attacks but it is likely they have more of a trigger & do not come out of the blue like in Panic disorder.

Symptoms include:

  • A racing heartbeat
  • Feeling faint
  • Excessive sweating
  • Cold Sweats
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Short of breath
  • Hyperventilating
  • Trembling
  • Hot flushes
  • Shivering
  • Chills
  • Shaky limbs
  • Dizziness
  • Pins and needles
  • Numbness
  • A need to go to the toilet
  • Cramp
  • Ringing in your ears
  • A churning stomach
  • Tingling in your fingers
  • A need to escape a situation
  • Feeling like you’re not connected to your body
  • A lack of control

For me, I experienced anxiety most of the day- these symptoms would be toilet issues, nausea, stomach aches, feeling constantly on edge or dizzy.

When I had an anxiety attack, symptoms would exacerbate, I would run as far away from a situation as I could until I dropped my body to the floor- My reasoning? If I fainted, I couldn’t go anywhere as I’m already on the floor. I would feel a wave come over me- some days I could feel it coming on building for a few hours, other days in seconds.

My Panic

My main symptoms of an attack were: cold sweats, hyperventilating- couldn’t speak, dry mouth, dizziness, blurred vision, weak legs. After I experienced a panic attack I would feel a sense of relief. You know sometimes when you’ve been sick? You feel better for a short period of time after being sick as you’ve got it all out? Then your next round of nausea begins before you are sick again. This is the best way to explain how my panic cycle was.

Perseverance and Resilience are important in overcoming your mental health condition. Accepting your set backs but getting back up again is what will keep you going.

“The number of attacks you have will depend on how severe your condition is. Some people have attacks once or twice a month, while others have them several times a week.”

Why me & not them?

It is not totally known what causes someone to have panic disorder, but factors such as these may play a role:

  • Genetics
  • Major stresses or Traumas
  • Being more sensitive to anxiety/ stress or prone to negative emotions
  • Certain changes in the way parts of your brain function and it’s chemicals

Phobias:

Many people with panic disorder experience phobias. No this isn’t simply being ‘scared’ of spiders. It’s a fear. The thought of your trigger being within 100 miles of you & your body goes into meltdown.

There are hundreds of phobias some specific to things like spiders, lifts or snakes- for me I had Agoraphobia and Claustrophobia. This basically meant small spaces and big open spaces. Weirdly the spaces didn’t have to be that small. Cars without windows being open. Classrooms with the door shut.

AGORAPHOBIA: extreme or irrational fear of entering open or crowded places, of leaving one’s own home, or of being in places from which escape is difficult.

CLAUSTROPHOBIA: extreme or irrational fear of confined places

People are very quick to throw words round such as ‘claustrophobic’ ‘depressed’. School kids are famous for the ‘jheez don’t have a panic attack comments’ or the ‘omg I’m gunna kill myself’ comments. Not only are they misusing words. Incorrect. Unnecessary & careless. They can be exceptionally triggering for people with mental health issues. The boy who cried wolf? If you make jokes about things like this- if god forbid you ever found yourself in a situation where you needed support people may not be so understanding.

So I guess that’s Panic Disorder in a nutshell. Work on yourself as a whole and things should get better, get medical support + don’t expect it to be an easy ride:)

Mental Health Awareness Week- How I got better & Accessing help.

mental health, Uncategorized

This is a post in a series for mental health awareness week 🙂

I went from this… daily.

My Birthday 2017

To this…

Please remember things do get better & life will become easier to handle. It did for me and it will for you. There is so much support available to you it’s just about knowing how to access it and being in the right frame of mind to do so. Work on improving things when you’re having a relatively good day – if you try and tackle life on a bad day not much gets done and things can be overwhelming.

The best bit of advice I have to give with regards to mental health & supporting people with mental health conditions would be…

‘you have to want to get better and want to fix things otherwise things won’t get better’.

I of course still struggle with my mental health and it might comfort you to know this- I’ve just had a lot of practice in ‘feeling better’.

At 15 I was diagnosed with ‘Panic Disorder and Social Anxiety, with Agoraphobic and Claustrophobic symptoms.’ I later developed a diagnosis of depressive disorder (clinical depression). I guess the knock on effect of not leaving the house much due to panic contributed to this!!

I am not ashamed to say I have struggled and you should not be either. My mental health issues left me having 6/7 panic attacks a day everyday at it’s worse, not washing my hair, brushing my teeth, being too scared to leave my bedroom, staying in the house for months at a time, fainting left right and centre, not making it to school/ sixthform or spending the day in isolation as the thought of being near anyone or anything made me physically sick. I experienced pain, tears, suicidal thoughts and anxiety provoked feceal soiling regularly (that means pooing myself).

Getting help:

The idea of getting help for your mental health can be incredibly scary. Charities, Doctors and Nurses can help you to some extent, with getting better a lot resides on ‘homework’ completing self help tasks and activities suggested by professionals.

I was referred to a Psychiatrist who was a slightly odd, but wonderful man- in his late 80’s, incredibly intelligent, very quirky. He prescribed me a range of medication which we regularly reviewed & recommended books & blogs. My family were exceptionally supportive & my mum, dad & step mum alternated between taking me to appointments of which I am eternally grateful.

I also had regular appointments with the most lovely Psychologist once or twice a week. She would laugh at me to encourage me to understand silly thoughts and comfort me in moments of frustration. Therapy is a weird one. I spent years under her care and she knew absolutely everything about me, yet I know nothing about her at all. I couldn’t tell you if she was married or had kids or where she was from & I think this is really important in a good therapist. Finding someone completely separate from your family and friends. We focused on CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) & the exposure technique- I genuinely think this technique gave me my life back! It’s very easy to say ‘don’t cry,’ ‘just do it’, ‘just go you might have fun’ I don’t think I actually enjoyed any social events for years. It is only recently I find my self having fun.

What is exposure technique?

“Exposure therapy is a technique in behavior therapy to treat anxiety disorders. Exposure therapy involves exposing the target patient to the anxiety source or its context without the intention to cause any danger. Doing so is thought to help them overcome their anxiety or distress.”

You repeat this process of exposure until the anxiety is no longer severe. Eventually the aim is you access the trigger with no anxiety and start to enjoy yourself!

Exposure technique works on forcing yourself into a situation which makes you feel uncomfortable! So for me, I had to go to friends and families houses, restaurants (gosh this one was a nightmare) Nandos was the absolute worst! I had to walk half way down my road without panicking, go to the shop up the road but not go inside. Go inside the shop, buy something, sit with a group of people, go to a party etc… I was sent on weekly missions. I had tasks set. Funnily for me- As a people pleaser- I felt intense guilt if I didn’t complete the task set & this therefore encouraged me. On weeks I couldn’t complete my exposure task, I felt I was wasting my parents money and my therapists time therefore I’d do them.

Tasks would include stages which we would build upon. Stand at the bus stop. Watch a bus drive past. Get the bus with someone (funny story here- my dad attempted this ‘challenge’ with me something that seems so minor now but was definitely such a big deal to me- I cried, resisted spending hours building up to it… waited at the bus stop anxiously with my dad… waited some more…the bus didn’t come! Ever. This happened every-time we attempted it. I loved this! I didn’t want to get on the bus at all anyway!!! Sometimes life works in your favour) However! The longer I spent avoiding situations such as taking the bus, the harder it was to over come and the more I struggled. I eventually got to the final stage of getting the bus alone.

Some things in life are unavoidable, there are no other options, they’re hard but they have to be done- prime example- in Venice there were water buses to get around- this was the only option (I would’ve suggested we hired a car or got taxis otherwise). My opticians is in the shopping centre- I have no choice but to go to the opticians to get broken glasses fixed etc..

What is CBT?

“Cognitive behavioral therapy is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve mental health. CBT focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful cognitive distortions and behaviors, improving emotional regulation, and the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems.”

CBT FOR DUMMIES IS A GREAT SERIES OF BOOKS WHICH WORKS ON SELF HELP THROUGH CBT.
Really recommended
Really recommend
Useful books

What is mindfulness?

  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.”their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition”
  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

I hated mindfulness. It was not for me! That doesn’t mean it won’t work for you 😉

My Therapist worked with all three of these. She was incredibly patient & understanding- I must’ve been a very frustrating client to work with! Baby steps got me to where I am today. Things don’t get better over night and I definitely still have some issues, they’re just different now!

I had support through school & college of both educational mentoring/ pastoral support and counselling. If you’re in school and are anxious about accessing support these student support services can be a good first port of call and they also usually have email addresses which helps ease anxieties when communicating!

Three tips I took away from my school counsellors:

  • Headphones, wear them everywhere, t1ake them everywhre, have your own bubble, when you begin to feel the panic set in put them in your ears. I used to listen to hypnotherapy in my ears, my favourite music (weirdly some music triggered panic attacks) or just silence.
  • Chewing gum- This gives you something else to focus on other than the feelings of panic.
  • Tablet in my pocket: My small antipsychotic in my pocket- I can play with it, feel it and know it’s there if I need it. I managed to get weird special consideration for exams so although I could not take my phone in I took headphones, gum, one tablet in each pocket a pebble and a small soft toy- weird but I guess its a sensory thing- whatever works for you! No one knew that didn’t need to that I’d have these things on me!

I haven’t managed to shake some of my coping strategies yet and still use these behaviours however less obsessively. I always have the anti panic tablet on me but I haven’t taken one for over a year. Having it in my pocket is my support to know it’s there just incase but I also have the brain power to know I do not need to take it. I used to panic about panicking! I’d carry three pairs of headphones as one may not work, I might lose one. It was ridiculous I know now! But it worked. Having 3 pairs of headphones, 3 packs of chewing gum and a tablet in every room, pocket or bag stopped me panicking OBVIOUSLY?!?! If you checked any pocket of mine now- the tablet is almost always still there & so are the headphones (but just one of each!) If I don’t have them on me now I won’t panic, I use it as a sign of strength!

Appointments:

As my support was through private insurance, they only offer you 10 sessions. ( I think I might’ve done a short post about why I didn’t go with the local Camhs (child adolescence mental health service) before?- basically the receptionist petrified me on the phone as she was so rude and 15 year old Lauren refused to use the service. *eyerolls* )

My mental health was pretty abysmal so private insurance waived the 10 appointment rule and enabled me to see them every week right up until I went to University. So 3 nearly 4 years. Towards the end of my therapy sessions we ‘weaned me off seeing them’ this sounds silly but it was sort of to see if I could cope on my own. Gosh I sound like such a baby reading this back! This was tough. I cannot lie. I struggled. The only thing I would leave my house for was for these appointments. I was a massive planner & had lists of lists. I would insist on being driven to the door of everywhere I went alone and have someone wait with me before and after. If they weren’t outside the door waiting for me when I had finished I would panic. The thought of having to leave the house alone petrified me. As I reduced my sessions, I saw my therapist fortnightly, monthly, every five weeks- until I stopped asking for appointments- I felt I had nothing to talk to them about! Great.

Specialists believed my anxiety was brought on by a lack of control of social situations triggering OCD behaviours. Funnily Tourettes is often seen in people with OCD too! There are days I still feeling myself slipping back into negative mindsets feeling generally low, this is okay! I allow myself to have these days. Through years of therapy, I now have the tools to manage them.

I am not ashamed of the old me. I am sad I had to go through this & miss out a lot of my teenage years- it is part of what has shaped me and has given me so much resilience. I do not remember the last time I had a panic attack. If you knew ‘the old me,’ you’d be absolutely amazed with this information.

Let’s not glamourise mental health conditions & start to understand the raw truths of how they can make people behave. Mental health has a huge impact on our physical health, be it through stress behaviours, IBS or pain flares.

Understand mental health conditions can affect anyone and everyone has their own issues. Offer & accept help.

Nhs links

https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/find-a-psychological-therapies-service/

Through having therapy I now laugh & when I genuinely find things funny, explore, adventure and have the best friends ever.

Through being mentally unwell, I have become empathetic, calm, organised and understanding.

Be kind to each other, be supportive & understanding. Ask for help.

Lauren xxx