Jack posts

Boxing Day Birdwatching – how a day in the fresh air offered a change in the busy festive period.

by Jack Nuttgens

I spent most of Boxing Day on a birdwatching trip at RSPB Fairburn Ings with my dad. It was the perfect follow-up to the house being full of people and excess of food on Christmas Day; it was sunny, we were in the fresh air (though it was quite windy) and we enjoyed a brisk walk among the trees, around the edge of the lake. And, of course, we were lucky enough to see a wide variety of birds.


I won’t spend ages talking about birds, but I enjoy birdwatching (and seeing any kind of animal in the wild) because, amongst other things, they seem to have different personalities; the Northern Shoveller, a duck with a very long bill, looks comically serious; slim, white Little Egrets strut through the mud as though they don’t want to get their feet dirty, and a bright pink male bullfinch eating seeds from a feeder looks flamboyant until it’s chased away by a territorial robin.


The rewarding (and frustrating) thing about birdwatching is that it requires patience. Sitting down in a hide and scanning the surroundings, it can appear at first that there isn’t much to see. But after a while- focusing binoculars or a telescope in on a distant group of birds, or identifying something on an island or post, the diversity of life in the scene becomes clear. Small birds in particular, such as finches and sparrows, will fly away at the slightest noise or movement, but waiting a couple of minutes can show you an impressive range of species. And because many birds migrate, revisiting the same place at different times of year will enable you to see different species. What’s more, birdwatchers are usually friendly and enjoy sharing their knowledge with newcomers, especially if there’s something rare around.


Apart from seeing plenty of wildlife, the day at Fairburn Ings was a chance to get out of the city. Nature reserves are usually planned to attract threatened species by creating habitats, so most of the best ones for spotting creatures are outside of towns and cities, but some are conveniently close. The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust site Potteric Carr, on the outskirts of Doncaster, has an overgrown, industrial feel, with abandoned train tracks running through it. I haven’t found evidence that going to the countryside and being around plants and wildlife is beneficial to mental health in itself, but Mind’s website has articles about the therapeutic effects of gardening (ecotherapy), and I find that being able to go outside, take a walk and reflect is usually a good idea.


Of course, designated nature reserves aren’t the only places that are worth visiting. The benefits of exercising every day, from walking to more challenging sports, are well-documented. So although some of them can be a bit of a trek, nature reserves can be a fun and relaxing place to visit.

Lizzy posts, Uncategorized

Gratitude – What is it?


Gratitude week 1: …But what do I have to be thankful for?

When you’re feeling mentally unwell, often the last thing you want to hear is ‘stop feeling sorry for yourself’, this often comes across as ignorant and patronising, and there are some cases where it is. However, there is a way that we can put this concept to productive use…

So what exactly is the meaning of gratitude when it comes to mental health? According to the Harvard Medical Dictionary, gratitude is:

“a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives … As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power”

Introducing gratitude into our lives means trying to replace feelings of self-doubt, and self-pity (both of which are part and parcel of a mental illness) with a sense of appreciation for the positive things in our lives.

Research has shown that feelings of gratitude can do well to replace negative feelings of anger and envy that we may hold within us, especially when we are unwell. Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher has carried out tests to confirm that gratitude effectively increases happiness and decreases depression.

This is not to say that anybody reading this is ungrateful in the rude sense of the word. Simply that becoming aware of the feeling and actively working to apply it to our everyday lives can have a beneficial effect.

Realising what we have to be thankful for, and being able to realise this even in the worst times in our life can foster resilience. As well as this, it can help us to put our feelings into perspective. We are not our feelings, and encompassing gratitude can make us realise how much else there is to us and our lives than simply the way we feel at one moment in time.

To link back to my earlier posts, mindfulness is a great way to introduce gratitude into our lives. While we are meditating, or grounding ourselves, it can be useful to focus on things in our life we are grateful for and appreciative of.

Gratitude seems like an abstract topic on the surface, and I must admit that at first I was sceptical over it’s practical uses when it comes to our mental well-being. Over the next month we will be looking at practical ways of introducing gratitude into our everyday lives, as well as the science behind it.

Jack posts

Rainbow Heron’s Self Care Cafe


Rainbow Heron Night Café- 26th November

The Rainbow Heron Night Café is a safe space for young people to meet on a Sunday evening. Based at the Wellbeing Centre (formerly/ run by Mind?) on 110 Sharrow Lane, it provides activities designed to promote mental wellbeing and self-care, but the people who attend can use the time as they like. When I arrived, one table was beginning to paint plant pots, while another was making mood and task calendars.

The rainbow theme is prominent throughout the room; on one wall is a long mural/ painting celebrating difference, and even the snacks laid out contain almost every colour of the rainbow.


Around the table, conversations flow pleasantly as people exchange paint colours, brushes and jugs of water. I haven’t picked up a paintbrush since Year Eight or Nine, but found something relaxing about the painting. On our table, some people use masking tape to keep broad strips of the pot free from paint, and make triangular or swirly patterns. Others draw festively themed pots, with penguins in Santa hats, or cartoonish owls and foxes. I draw a tree and some birds, thinking of the Rainbow Heron motif.

At the other table, some people are making Mood Calendars, ruling tiny squares onto bit sheets of card and colour-coding different moods down the side to fill in the days with their feelings. I start on a task calendar, matching the days to tasks that I want to accomplish.

This craft activity, like some others on offer, involves thinking about and recording coping mechanisms. As I see it, Rainbow Heron is a space where everyone can talk about mental health, but nobody has to. The atmosphere is positive; around the table, some people talk frankly about services available, but the conversation also touches on YouTube vloggers and cats. After working on a task calendar for a while, I go back to my pot (now dry), and fill it partway with soil to plant a sprig of lavender in it.

The sessions run from 7 p.m. till 11, but people are welcome to drop in and leave at whatever point they prefer.  The success, as far as I can tell, comes from the relaxed nature; nobody has to take part, and people chat freely, coming and going as they please. I leave at around ten, with my pot, looking forward to the next one.


The Rainbow Heron Night Café is a safe space for young people that aims to promote mental wellbeing. The project takes place once a month at the Wellbeing Centre at 110 Sharrow Lane from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. For further details, contact us


Self-Care week 4: Where’s the proof? The science behind self-care.

BY Elizabeth O’Connor

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve talked a lot about self-care, mindfulness, and how to implement it. I’d like to end self-care month by showing everyone the physical impacts that self care can have on our bodies. It’s hard to follow a healthcare routine without scientific proof that it works, so here are some self-care routines and the physical benefits that can come with them. According to most of my research, the scientific side of mental health seems to have a lot to do with taking care of the nervous system. So that seems to be where a lot of the research is based. This article isn’t claiming to have a medical backing, but I’m just sharing with you a bit of research on different studies that have been done.


Using your senses

We’ve talked a lot about grounding yourself within your environment and making sure you are always present and aware of your surroundings, but we haven’t yet discovered the importance of this. Making ourselves fully aware of your surroundings forces forces us to utilise our senses. It is said that senses, in particular smell, can help to promote and maintain a healthy nervous system, as well as often being able to elicit certain emotions. The nervous system also has a hefty level of control over our mental wellbeing, in particular our propensity to become anxious.


Essential Oils

According to the NHS, lavender, ylang-ylang, and clary sage are all effective for relaxation. If you’re starting to feel unstable or overwhelmed, try and take some time out to indulge in a bit of aromatherapy. Aside from mental health, essential oils are also said to be have physical pain relieving properties. I also remember being told by a beauty therapist that rubbing a bit of it into your stomach can be really effective as it reaches your bloodstream slightly faster (although that may have been a very effective marketing ploy!).


Although it isn’t a scientific review, I bought the Lavender flavoured ‘Sleepy’ body cream from Lush for a friend of mine and have had brilliant feedback. The cream has also received a lot of press attention. It is said to be brilliant for insomnia, which can often arise as a side effect of an unstable mental state.


Lavender is said to have a slowing impact on the nervous system, making it effective at treating nervous disorders (aka neurological disorders). It has also been shown to chemically influence serotonin transporters in the brain of rats. Although the study is not fully conclusive, it is definitely a vote of confidence for essential oils!



Studies have shown that practicing yoga – usually consisting of poses made to stretch your muscles – can reduce the brain’s production of the stress hormone cortisol. Yoga can also be shown to lower blood pressure. Most mental health symptoms do not pose a physical threat to us, however high blood pressure is one of the few that does. Continual spikes in blood pressure can cause damage to blood vessels, heart, and kidneys. There has also been research claiming that high blood pressure is actually the cause of cognitive decline that has previously been attributed to ageing.  


These are just a couple of examples of the many things we can do to make a conscious effort to take care of our bodies and – in turn – our minds. Part of Self-Care is making sure we are informed on the best ways of doing it. I hope these last four posts have given you all as much of an insight into self-care as they have given me.


The key thing I have taken away from my research is that making time to take care of yourself must be listed as high up on our list of priorities as everything, that includes work, exams, paying taxes and every other commitment under the sun. It seems to me that if we don’t take time out to do this then it is not a matter of if we will burn out and become unable to follow through on our other commitments, but when.


If nothing else, I hope this month has planted the seed in your minds that it is not selfish, or self-indulgent to look after yourself, it’s an act of rebellion! Rebellions rely on numbers if they are to succeed, so let’s all join the self-care revolution. To end self-care month I’d like to stress the importance of open discussion.


We need to talk about how we are feeling, what self-care techniques we have tried and how effective they were. The aim of this revolution must be to destroy the stigma around self-care, and make the future one where we all take care of ourselves, so we can all take care of eachother.


Next month we will be looking into the idea of gratitude, different ways of looking at it and approaching it, and how to integrate it into our daily lives.

Lizzy posts

Self Care & Nothing by Elizabeth O’Connor

Self care week 3: Training your brain to think about nothing.
When we talk about self-care, the word mindfulness gets thrown around a lot. This week I decided to look into what mindfulness is and how we can harness it in our everyday lives. There are a few different ways to practice mindfulness and preferences are very personal. The one thing that I think we all have to accept on our journey of self-care, and mindfulness in particular, is that it doesn’t happen over night. Being mindful is a skill, just like playing a sport is.

We need to exercise our brains daily in much the same way as we would exercise our bodies in the lead up to a big competition. I can almost guarantee that you won’t be successful on your first try, but the important thing is that you do it time and time again, and before you know it, all that exercise will have paid off and your mind will be doing one handed push ups with zero effort!

In its most basic form, mindful is the art of being in the present. Being in touch with all your senses and becoming completely aware of your surroundings. When our minds are unwell, we are often very far removed from the present. We enter our own little world of unwellness and this creates a cycle which only ends in instability. Often what makes us unwell is worrying about the past or about the future, we need to train our brains that at this moment, neither are important. At this exact point in time, all that matters for you in the world is that you are reading this article, sat in your room/at work/on the moon, and that is where your attention should be focused. Despite my deadlines and other pressures making me anxious, all that should matter to me is that it is 5:09pm on Tuesday the 7th of November and I am writing this article about mindfulness. Worrying about what happened yesterday or what will happen tomorrow, or even in an hour will do nothing to help remedy what has been, or what is to come. Now I say this as though I have mastered the art of mindfulness, I have not, as I sit here I do worry about my deadlines next Monday and my applications due next Friday, and if you’re like me, then we need to get practicing.

I touched on depersonalisation/detachment disorders in week one, and this is a topic I’d like to keep touching upon as detachment is not just a stand alone disorder, it can also come about as a symptom of other mental health issues. The phenomenon is under researched in mental health, which can sometimes be a scary thing for people who are going through it. Feeling like we are not in our own body is almost the direct opposite of feeling mindful. While mindfulness cannot cure these problems, concentrating on practicing it every day can go a ways to keeping these scary and debilitating feelings from taking over.

Think of how much more productive, and happy we would be if we were able to focus only on what we were doing in the moment we are doing it. There are many ways to practice this, and a lot of them might seem monotonous or silly when we are trying to address quite a large concept, but bringing it back to basics can sometimes be the most healing thing of all.


What often first come to mind when you hear the word mindfulness is meditation. Meditation doesn’t only have to happen when you are sat on the floor of a beautiful forest, listening to calming music cross legged and resting your hands delicately on your knees. You can practice meditation while you are sat at the breakfast bar sipping your coffee, or at your desk while working, or even sat on the toilet!

All meditation is is focusing on your breaths, and almost nothing else. According to yoga instructor Ben Wolff, the art of yoga is focused as much around our breathing as it is around posture. While it may seem unnecessary to ‘relearn’ how to breathe, it is important, as our sedentary lifestyles have actually changed the way that adults breath, compared to breathing in babies. Babies breathe directly from their stomach, while adults breathe from their throats. This can have a direct impact on the spreading of oxygen throughout the body, and therefore also our brain, and mental health. When we sense fear, the evolutionary part of our bodies begins to tense up, and breathing is restricted, relearning to breathe is part of bypassing this stress-inducing reaction.

When direct all our attention to the way our body moves as we breath; the up and down motion of our chests, and the in and out motion of our bellies it is hard to think about it has a grounding effect, bringing us into the present and away from the distant world of stress or instability that we have created inside our heads. Learning the art of meditation involves acknowledging your feelings, whether they be stress, sadness, fear or anything else, and letting them wash over you. Instead of struggling against them we need to learn to sit back and watch them pass us by.

The hard part is…thinking about nothing is hard! It’s so easy to let your mind wander off without even realising you’re doing it, so there are some really great resources you can use to help you focus…on not focusing.


I personally use headspace, the app comes with ten free sessions, and from then on you need to pay. It’s a little steep at £74 for the year, however it comes with very specific meditation packs including sleep, anxiety, depression, eating problems and many more.


Another app is Calm, I don’t personally use it so couldn’t comment on what it contains, but it comes highly recommended and is considerably cheaper at just £29.99 for the year


If you don’t feel like paying, or even if you don’t have a smartphone, you can simply search for mediation guides on youtube! There are many channels that will take you through a session. Beneath is a link I found to a blog containing the ten best guided meditation channels for those struggling with mental health issues.


Adult colouring books

For some, meditation can be tough because it is hard to clear the mind with little else to focus on other than your breathing. This is where adult colouring books can be a real life saver. I used adult colouring books to help keep my anxiety at bay throughout my whole final year at university. Unlike meditation, when you are colouring in an intricate design you become totally focused on what you are doing without even realising it. It is a great way to unwind and take your mind off the struggles of the day. I personally enjoyed using them the night before an exam. You can buy the books almost anywhere, mine were from WHSmith.


Lizzy posts

Self Care Week 2

BY Elizabeth O’Connor

The politics of Self Care: How putting your feet up can make the world a better place for everyone.

Last week we went through some of the best ways to access self-help advice, and how to integrate it into our lives. This week I want us to focus on WHY we should, and how it can have a far wider impact that we might have first thought. I’ve been reading up on what’s going on with self-care in the politics of today and I’m going to take you through the most interesting things that I’ve found, hopefully these can help us better understand that self-care is about more than just ourselves, but about making the world a better place! I know self-care seems unrelated to caring for the outside world, but just humour me…

There is a large part of self-care that many of us young people see on social media that can distract us from its true meaning. When we see sponsored posts on instagram, trying to promote the newest face creams, or avocado drinks as methods of #selfcare, it’s true meaning can become lost.

Although the term self care has re-emerged in the last year or so within popular culture, it’s importance has been acknowledged for centuries. To look at the true meaning we need to go all the way back to ancient Greek politics. Socrates is quoted as saying that he was here to tell the people to “concern themselves not with their riches, not with their honor, but with themselves and with their souls.” I know this seems a bit irrelevant and old school to be bringing up today, but the Greeks weren’t one of the most successful civilisations for nothing!

The act of self care has been linked with politics since the beginning of politics itself. To bring us a little more into the present, I did some research on Audre Lourde, a famous activist, who in 1988 famously said “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”. What she is saying is that in our busy lives we are taught to internalise the idea that it is important to live up to everyone else’s expectations, and keep everyone happy, whatever the cost. Lourde considers self-care to be an act of political warfare because putting ourselves first can sometimes feel like we are going against what we are conditioned to believe.

Interestingly, political change has massively impacted the self-care movements With the recent Brexit and US elections causing many to lose faith in the system, there is a growing movement prompting people to embrace activism through self-care. We can use the practice of Self-Care to communicate the type of world we would like to live in, whether through art, literature, or even being open and honest about how we are feeling with someone we trust. One piece that I read really struck me when it said “pleasure is necessary as it helps guide us onto the path of what’s right”.

After the 1980s, the next re-emergence of the Self-Care concept has been in the last couple of years. In fact there has been such a re-emergence that there is even an online guide to online self care guides! The #selfcare-as-politics movement of 2016 has arguably been the most important one yet. Thanks to social media, movements can spread much faster and reach so many more people. The challenge however is to be able to filter through the #spon or #ad that we see so much of. The self-care movement has also, as most things do these days, become a moneymaking opportunity for many. Although indeed it is lovely to buy the best new facemask, or protein shake and I don’t doubt that they feel great and are good for you, at the heart of self-care is not the need to buy material things. This is where I think the issues lies in the modern campaign, as compared with the 1980s or even ancient Greece.

At its heart, what the self-care movement is trying to promote, and extend, is the importance of a Work-Life balance, whatever this may mean to you personally. Although we might feel that it is selfish, or counterproductive to tune it all out for a bit each day, in reality it’s one of the most important things we can do if we are to become activists for a better world.


Self care by Elizabeth O’Connor

Self Care Week 1: Where can I learn how to self care?

The most important part of what self care is that it is deliberate, and self-initiated, this is also the part that makes it the most challenging. It is hard to make time in our busy days to look after ourselves when we aren’t feeling unwell, but as the old saying goes, you don’t fix the roof when it’s raining!

It’s important that we take some time out each day (as little as ten minutes!) for self reflection and grounding, making sure you are present in the here and now and aware of what your own mind might be trying to tell you. If we make sure this becomes a daily practice, then if we ever to begin to feel unwell, or like we need to give ourselves a little bit of support, we won’t struggle to stay on top of it as we will simply do the same things that we do every day anyway!

The most important thing if we are to be successful on our journey of learning self-care, is information. Knowing ourselves, as well as having all the facts when it comes to what is happening to us, what it means, and what has caused it is key if we are to take care of ourselves in the best way.

The focus this week will be introducing ourselves to the resources we can gather to teach ourselves the art of self-care.

Self Care Forum’s Self Care Week 2017

The week of 13-19 November 2017 is Self Care Week. This year’s theme is ‘Embracing Self Care for Life’. This involves teaching ourselves the art of self-care and integrating it into our everyday lives, until practicing it becomes the norm. During the month of November it is important for everybody to try to focus in on what we can do to help ourselves in the best way. Below is a link with a short summary of the aims of self-care week, as well as links where further resources can be found.


Sheffield Mental Health Guide

This is a website dedicated to resources and events dedicated to people struggling with mental health, and is specific to Sheffield. There is a section of the website under ‘Your Wellbeing’ which although not mentioning self care specifically, is a great resource for tips and tricks that you can do each day to make sure you’re giving yourself the attention you deserve.


Expert Self Care (ESC) Student App

This is an app designed by the Expert Self Care Group, it is aimed at students but is applicable to all young people. The app covers all bases from physical to mental health and provides information and advice about all aspects of healthcare. The app also teaches users the line between caring for yourself and when a doctor should be consulted.  The app has been developed by doctors, it’s free, and it doesn’t need a connection to the internet, allowing access to help any time, anywhere.



DistrACT is another app aimed specifically around self-harm and at teaching its users self care techniques around this topic. As well as this, what sets this app apart from the one above is its provision of an arts section; the ‘chill zone’ which provides users with new resources in the form of music, art and film, but also online videos, quotes, and stories to help through times of struggle or distress.



Mental health survivor and occupational therapist Hannah Daisy has started an instagram blog promoting her initiative ‘boring self care’ where she uses illustrations to show her followers little, seemingly irrelevant and monotonous things you can do each day to care for yourself. Examples include emptying the bin, changing your bedsheets, or even being honest about your feelings with someone you trust. This is definitely worth a follow, or even a scroll through if you aren’t on instagram.


‘You feel like sh*t’ – an interactive self care guide

Below is a link to a flowchart style self care guide/checklist. The guide will question you on how you are feeling both physically and emotionally and set you 15 minute simple tasks to do to try and ground you. The guide goes through feelings of anxiety and depression, but also feelings of depersonalisation and derealisation that are sometimes under-researched/addressed by some mental health resources. Feelings of depersonalisation are sometimes are body’s way of telling us that it’s time to address what’s going on, a sort of warning sign that you need to begin to self-care. Our bodies are entering the fight-or-flight mode, this can be an extremely scary feeling, but there are lots of ways to manage it and keep it under control.