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Excersise isn’t just for your body: Escapism and literature

The first post on healthy escapism is on reading, and this is purely because it is without a doubt my favourite way to distract myself from any of my own worries, as well as calm myself down and ground myself.

Often, the most common suggestion made to people suffering from mental health issues is exercise, fresh air, “get out and about!” or “you just need to get your blood pumping!” are things that can often be heard over and over again.

The problem is that when people are in the midst of a mental health crisis, getting out of bed can be an Everest size climb in itself.

Literature is a beautiful way to escape intrusive thoughts from the comfort of your own home. Research has found that one of the main psychological benefits of reading is the ability it gives one to be able to relate to others, and different ways of looking at the world.

In the midst of a mental health crisis, changing our outlook can be incredibly helpful and can often move us a step closer to lifting the fog and realising that the way we are thinking right this minute is temporary and will pass.

Personally, I find it easiest and most enjoyable to escape into non-fiction books, specifically autobiographies. Reading the autobiography of a person who interests you, for whatever reason, can be a form of comfort and can, in a strange way, make one feel slightly less alone.

Getting lost in somebody else’s story, whether fictional or non-fictional for a while can allow us to get out of our own, even if just for a short while. Even better is when we are able to relate so closely to a character that in some way we are able to find answers to our own problems in their stories.

Besides from reading a book, for somebody in the go podcasts are a fantastic way to fit a bit of escapism into a busy routine. My favourite at the moment is Maya Jama’s ‘When life gives you melons’ but there is a huge variety of E-books, documentaries and interviews available on the internet.

Podcasts can be integrated into walks, waits in queues, public transport or even a lunch break in a way that sometimes books cannot, but their distracting and comforting effect is very similar.

On a more practical note, integrating reading into your daily routine can improve sleeping patterns. Specifically reading a couple of chapters of a book before bed (not from an e reader as bright screens) can help us to wind down, and as we all know, a healthy and long sleep can do absolute wonders for our mental health.

At the moment, there is a wealth of mental health literature emerging that can be really directly helpful, but aside from that there is a whole world of escapism waiting for you. My next post will discuss how music can be a healthy form of escapism in much the same way as reading can.

 

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Lizzy posts

Mental health nature week 1: Green is a happy colour

Often when we are feeling down, a walk in the park, or a relax in the garden can help to brighten our mood, so much so that there is actually a field of science dedicated to exploring why.

The field of ecotherapy is attempting to develop scientific evidence to back up the long standing assumption that nature is physically good for us. Since the 1980s, there have been theories that our love for nature is rooted deep in our biology and genetics.

In 2016, professors at Harvard University confirmed the link between more green space and lower mortality rates. To relate back to some of my earlier posts, being in greenspaces can help to ground us, and bring us out of our anxious or depressive thought patterns and into the real, rational world.

Korea is developing a healing forests initiative, and Sweden virtual nature spaces are becoming widely prescribed. In the UK and more specifically in Sheffield there is the IWUN project (improving wellbeing through urban nature).

Academics and nature organisations are working together do develop an app, connecting city-dwellers and offering the chance to have a say in how their urban spaces are green-ified, and explore the connection between socioeconomic status and interaction with green space. The final aim of this is to develop a way to feed this knowledge into policy and avoid the continued destruction of green space in favour of urban developments.

The Landscape institute has recently released a position statement on the importance of ‘healthy places’ to public health. The document talks through the physical and mental healing powers of green (and blue!) space, as well as the opportunities it provides for social development. Urban areas with more green space have been shown to experience lower levels of antisocial behaviour, and more social interaction.

Through the month of April (in the couple of days of sun that are staring to squeeze through the cold) try to make it your goal to get outside at least once each day, spend some time outside and see if you can feel the benefits!

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Relationships Week 2: Romance and Mental Health

When they’re right and healthy, a romantic relationship can work wonders for our mental health. A recent study by Mind has revealed that one in five people believe that sharing their mental health issues has had a positive impact on their mental health.

But this relationship goes both ways as the same number of people believed that talking about their mental health actually made the relationship easier to manage.

47% of people said that dating someone who had openly discussed their mental health problem was not as daunting as they thought as someone’s mental health struggles do not define them.

The same study also revealed, however that mental health can put a strain on relationships due to financial and unemployment issues. These strains make it all the more important that we are open and honest with our partners about the state of our mental health as it can prepare for problems that may be around the corner.

Paying close attention to how we are communicating within a relationship can avoid the build up of anger, resentment or frustration within a relationship. For more detailed and professional guidance on the intricacies of navigating the mental health and relationships take a look at the charity Relate (link below). Their whole campaign is based around promoting health relationships as well as providing points of contact for a wide array of needs.

Issues with mental health can also impact the sexual aspect of relationships, again Relate covers this, with specific reference to LGBTQ+ relationships. Specific advice is important as the sexual side to relationships can differ widely across the relationship spectrum.

Lizzy posts

Relationships week 1: The importance of healthy relationships and knowing what they are.

Often subconsciously, we view ourselves through the eyes of the people we are closest to, whether that be through romance, friendship or a more professional connection. Our relationships make up a huge part of who we are and how we create our identities, we are the people that we surround ourselves with.

As humans we are made for connections, and to be part of a community but in today’s world we are more disconnected than ever before. A study has shown Britain to be the loneliest place in Europe, with more and more virtual friendships, and families living further and further apart from each other.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, relationships are the forgotten ingredient to a healthy mind, and can reduce risk of blood pressure as well as an array of mental health problems.

An important part of mental health maintenance is focusing in on our bodies and minds, but just as important is focusing on our external relationships. Making connections with the people around us also means that the people we are close to are better equipped to see a change in our behaviours where we may not be able to.

Working together as a community can make sure that nobody will have to suffer in silence, or feel isolated or lonely, and will in turn make us better prepared, and equipped with a support system, to focus on the other aspects of staying healthy.

Over the month of March we will be discussing an array of different relationships and their importance to our mental health. From professional, romantic, medial and friendship based. The power of a positive, empowering relationship cannot be underestimated.

Jack posts

Zine making at Rainbow Heron Cafe

January’s Night Café took place on Sunday 28th at the Wellbeing Centre, with people gathering to make zines or chat and play games. Visiting artist/ workshop leader Chella Quint talked us through zine-making- folding up a piece of paper into eighths and cutting a hole in it, then folding the edges through the middle to make a book or magazine shape. It takes a couple of attempts, but looks impressive once it’s done, with six internal pages between the front and back covers.

The idea of the zines is to write down things to remember or tips to help yourself through day to day life; it can be something serious, like six things to be proud of, or ways to look after yourself, or something as light-hearted as six favourite bands, or most satisfying household chores. Pictures are optional.

Although it’s not necessary for anyone apart from the makers to see these handbooks, DIY self-publication is a medium long associated with political resistance and artistic movements; after printing was invented, political and religious figures of the day would use printed pamphlets to spread their ideas. From the 1930s to 1960s, science fiction enthusiasts began to produce fan magazines, later abbreviated to zines, featuring their own original work and later, the riot grrrl movement of the 1990s used them as a means to write about feminist themes. In this context, they are meant as a means to remember good moments, and cope with difficult ones.

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Reaching out week 2: Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

As humans, we are not meant to go through life alone, but unfortunately it is within our nature to avoid admitting defeat as much as we can. Most of us, including me, condition ourselves to bottle up our feelings and hide them from others which usually pushes us to breaking point.

Something that we all need to internalise and appreciate is that it is not weak, or a failure, to ask for help. Reaching out to others is a sign that we are strong enough to accept and acknowledge the problem, which is a huge step for people suffering with mental health problems.

Sharing your problems with someone else doesn’t necessarily mean that person will be able to fix them, or that they will be fixed at all, but getting them off your chest takes away all the power that they had over you while they were in your head. Knowing that you are no longer alone in whatever you are going through can give you some much needed breathing room and a break from the constant stress, anxiety, depression or whatever it is that you are struggling with.

Today’s society tell us so much how important it is to be strong and independent, and while this is of course true, it is also important that we don’t value our independence so much that we feel weak when reaching out. To me, valuing it so highly is not independence, it is having too much pride, which is unhealthy and unproductive.

Reaching out isn’t just about telling someone else your problems, it’s also about having access to the necessary information and resources that can help you in ways you may not have even thought of yourself. Always, though, the first and most relieving step is talking through it.

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.