Chloe posts

Coping with Winter

January can be a really difficult time of the year. The third week in January is said to be the saddest week of the year, with the Monday that has just passed being called ‘Blue Monday’, because it is typically when we feel the gloomiest. This change in mood has been attributed to the dismal weather in the northern hemisphere, the long nights, lots of failed New Year’s resolutions, post-Christmas debt and the end of all the festivities.

It can be tough for us to pick ourselves back up and carry on with things at this time of the year, so I thought I’d share some tips for coping with the winter months:

Exercise:

It can be impossible to find the motivation to exercise in the winter months because it is so miserable and gloomy outside and going out into the cold is often the last thing we want to do. Nonetheless, we should try not to let exercise fall by the wayside because physical activity is a brilliant way to keep ourselves feeling healthy and well. It doesn’t have to be something huge – doing a few stretches and opening your window can make a big difference. It is important to not push yourself too much.

Embrace Hygge:

In Denmark, winters are long, and it rains for roughly 170 days of the year. The Danish concept of ‘Hygge’ focusses on making the most of winter and taking steps to make it a safe and cosy time. This involves lighting candles, spending time with loved ones, cuddling up in blankets, comfort food, baked goods, playing board games, and forgetting our worries and the realities of real life for a little while. Hygge is also about seeking harmony with others, being grateful for what we have, and spending time in the moment. Though they experience their fair share of miserable weather, surveys have shown that Danish people are among the happiest in the world. This is largely owed to their generous welfare system, but their concept of Hygge and their focus on togetherness may also have a lot to do with it.

Spend time with others:

Positive relationships are key to our happiness. Spend time with people who know you well, who you can be yourself around, and who love you for who you are. Share memories and have a laugh with people who know you off by heart. Life is too short to waste time worrying about people who don’t like you. Try to connect with an old friend, join support groups, or find a way to connect with others in your community who share an interest with you. If this is an unrealistic option or it feels too impossible, internet forums and communities are a wonderful tool for meeting like-minded people and connecting with others who are experiencing something similar to what you are going through.

Talk to somebody:

The change in weather and the lack of sunlight at this time of the year can lead to irritability, hopelessness, difficulty concentrating and a loss of energy. These are all symptoms of SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. It can be useful to talk to somebody you trust or a GP if you feel particularly low at this time of the year. It may be a sign of an underlying problem that needs to be addressed with talking therapy or medication.

Here are some links for guidance about SAD and ideas for self-care during the winter months:

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/about-sad/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/two-takes-depression/201912/self-care-tips-during-winter

 

 

Chloe posts

Glitter Jars and Glass Painting

‘Glitter jars’, or ‘calm-down jars’ are a great example of how crafts can be used to promote good mental health. Glitter jars are essentially jars filled with water, glue and coloured glitter, that you can shake up and down when feeling stressed or anxious. They can also be used with children as a timer for time-out, or as a tool to help with regulating emotions and sensory needs. They are a wonderful tool for adults too! They are a brilliant stress reliever because watching the swirling glitter settle is very calming!

Glitter jars can also be used as an analogy for mindfulness. You can imagine that each colour of glitter represents something different e.g. silver might represent feelings, and purple might represent thoughts. At the start of the day, the glitter is settled at the bottom of the jar because nothing has happened yet to create bad thoughts and feelings. However, throughout the day, lots of events might take place to shake up the glitter in jar. We might be late getting ready, leave an important piece of work at home, or get into an argument with our sister in the car. It may now be more difficult to concentrate because the jar has been shaken up and the glitter, or negative thoughts and feelings, are in the way, blocking our view and making it difficult to see clearly. The moving glitter represents how thoughts can swirl around in our heads when we are angry or upset, and this can make it difficult to think coherently.

When this happens, we can’t push the glitter to the bottom, and no amount of effort will make it settle more quickly. Being still is the only thing that can be done to settle the glitter and make everything clear again. We must be still, acknowledge the thoughts and feelings, and let them be there. If we are still and acknowledge that the thoughts are present, they will then fall back to the bottom of the jar again and settle so that we can see clearly again. While we wait for things to settle, the glitter doesn’t go away. The thoughts, and feelings are still there and we don’t want to get rid of them, we just want them out of the way. We want to notice that they are there but not always act on them or get carried away with them.

To make a glitter jar you will need:

  • Any jar or bottle you can seal shut permanently once finished
  • Clear glue or glitter glue
  • Water
  • Coloured glitter
  • Food colouring or watercolour (optional)

How to make a glitter jar:

  1. Clean out your jar/bottle and remove the labels
  2. Put 2 tablespoons glitter glue in your jar or fill it until it takes up ¼ of the jar. It is up to you how much glue you add. The more glue you use, the longer the glitter will take to fall to the bottom. You can use coloured glitter glue or normal clear glue.
  3. Add the glitter! Add as much or little as you want but be aware that if you add a lot of glitter, it won’t move around as much. You can also add beads and sequins or anything you fancy.
  4. Add hot water (but not boiling as this may break the glass) and stir with a spoon to dissolve the glue. Fill the jar but leave a little bit of space at the top.
  5. It is optional to add watercolour or food colouring. You can make it as dark or light as you like. Use a stick to stir it in little by little until you get your desired colour.
  6. Seal the lid and shake. Watch the glitter swirl and fall to the bottom!

Here is a link to a YouTube tutorial which demonstrates the process:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJIYMl_XV00

Here is a link to a website that explains how glitter jars can be used to improve our mental health and help us to be more mindful:

https://www.mindful.org/how-to-create-a-glitter-jar-for-kids/

At the café this month, we did some glass painting and played games. Here are some photos of what we got up to:

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Happy New Year!

Chloe posts

Swimming in the Deep End

New opportunities are exciting but frightening. We’re all familiar with that uncomfortable feeling of over-fullness when you eat that extra cookie despite feeling completely stuffed, or when you opt for a greasy take away on a Friday night, overdo it a little, and then regret it the following morning. I’m learning that sometimes opportunities in life can be like that.

You jump in head first because the opportunity is all too exciting to let go, or the cookie looks too tasty to leave on the side, and then later you worry that your eyes were bigger than your belly, and you might’ve bitten off a little more than you could chew. I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve learned over the past couple of weeks, about how to manage your thoughts when you feel like you’re overstuffed and overflowing; like you’re swimming in the deep end and you’re a river about to break its banks. Here are some tips for the times when you’re drowning in to-do lists, and you’re struggling to keep your head above water:

1. Remember that you’re only a human, and not a superhuman-superhero-wizard.
Everybody makes mistakes!

2. Stop comparing yourself to others, try to stop worrying, and stop bullying yourself for not living up to impossibly high expectations. We all learn at different paces and in different ways, and that’s perfectly okay. Remember that nobody’s life is perfect, and you only ever know what people choose to tell you. Worrying about not being good enough will only make you feel more negative. It can be useful to ask yourself ‘is thinking about this problem and analyzing it helpful, or am I going around in circles? Is the problem within my control, or out of my control? Are there any practical things I could do to solve this or ease my anxiety? Is this problem/task as big as I am making it out to be?

3. Be in the present moment – be as observant as possible and keep your eyes and ears open. Try to bring yourself back to the task at hand if you find yourself falling into a spiral of anxiety and worry.

4. Set high standards but be compassionate with yourself if you don’t meet them. Remember that you can only do your best.

5. Practice gratitude, celebrate small achievements, and try to find the silver lining to every situation. It’s rarely the case that absolutely everything went badly. What went well in your day?

6. Remember that we all go through peaks and troughs. No flower blooms all year
round (or maybe some do but…who cares about those flowers anyway? Maybe
they’re hiding something…)

7. Remember that even if things don’t work out, you’ll be okay. Life is full of positive experiences to look back on fondly, and negative experiences that teach us things. Experiences, good and bad, are all part of life’s rich tapestry. Sometimes we take on new opportunities that make our life feel bright and cheery, and at other times, they leave us feeling bleak, despondent and dull. Sometimes it’s a mix of the two. It’s important to be proud of yourself for stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new, even if it doesn’t work out exactly how you’d first hoped. If something doesn’t go to plan, try and find the lesson from the situation and learn from it, instead of regretting it.

September can be a time of new opportunities and adventures for many of us. September sees the end of summer and the start of autumn, the start of a new academic year, and for some, it symbolizes hope and new beginnings.

At the cafe last month, we also did something a little bit different and new. We made the most of the heatwave and headed for a picnic in the sun. We had a brilliant time drawing and painting, and we enjoyed sitting in the woods and chatting. We then headed back indoors and had fun playing with FIMO (a type of modelling clay). Here are some of the wonderful pieces of art that were created by the cafe’s talented attendees last month.

 

Chloe posts

The Pressure to be Perfect

In 2019, I’m convinced that looking after our appearance could be a full-time job. We live in a world where the way we look is of increasing importance – we must have a toned hairless body, a full face of makeup, manicures, pedicures, balayage straightened-then-curled hair, tanned, blemish-free skin, white teeth, eyelash extensions, Instagram-ready eyebrows, and the perfect outfit, with shoes to match. Society’s beauty standards are excruciatingly high, for all genders, and they’re practically impossible to live up to.

Perfection (or our idea of what perfection is) may seem desirable, but the truth is that striving for perfection can be exhausting, and it is difficult to maintain in the long run. Often when we spend too long trying to make something perfect, it can stop us from enjoying the activity, or we can spend hours agonizing over it, and picking out flaw after flaw. Nothing is perfect, and the definition of ‘perfect’ is highly subjective, so pursuing perfection can be a waste of time.

This can be a hard pill to swallow, especially for the perfectionists amongst us, but constantly pursuing perfection can prevent us from enjoying life. It’s better to start living our lives now, rather than waiting until we feel that we are the perfect version of ourselves. In reality, the way we look is actually quite irrelevant, and it doesn’t matter half as much as we think it does. Our bodies are just bodies; they’re just things that kart us around the world, that allow us to jump, walk, talk and enjoy life. It’s important to appreciate our bodies for everything that they can do for us, rather than hating them because they don’t measure up to an impossibly high ideal.

The message that ugly is bad and pretty is good has been transmitted to us from a young age, so it’s a difficult myth to debunk in our heads. In Disney films, the villains are portrayed as evil and ugly, whereas the princesses are presented as kind-hearted, with an otherworldly type of beauty. Because of the messages we receive from society about the way we are expected to look, we can feel compelled to seek out treatments and enhancements to improve our appearance, so we can finally become ‘perfect’ and eradicate our insecurities. Perhaps society’s standards are so unobtainable for a reason. If society made people feel comfortable with themselves, we wouldn’t feel that we have spend money on improving ourselves, and it wouldn’t be good for business. Though we can use things like makeup and beauty treatments to express ourselves and increase our confidence, it can quickly become harmful if we begin to feel that we’re not good enough without it. Even if we don’t look like supermodels, actresses and popstars, we are good enough, and we are completely fine as we are. The way we look is only one tiny fragment of who we are, and though it can be difficult to remember this sometimes, it is not the only thing that matters.

 

Chloe posts

Coping with Stress

Few of us cope well when we are stressed. The most put-together, organised person may still be prone to crumbling under pressure. Stress occurs when the demands of the situation are greater than our perceived ability to cope with it, and none of us are immune to the effects of stress. It can weaken our immune system and cause stomach aches, colds, and headaches, yet we still persist with work and projects that trigger our stress responses. Though it is practically impossible to avoid stress completely, there are many strategies we can use to try and cope a little better with it. Here are a few tips and techniques to try:

Problem-focused coping vs avoidant coping

Distraction techniques such as having a bath, relaxing, and doing something you enjoy can be helpful, but they can often lead us to avoid the stressful situation, rather than face it. In the past I’ve found that when I cope with my stress by avoiding it, the stress reappears as soon as I’ve stopped distracting myself. For example, if I’m stressed about a difficult assignment, and I spend the day socialising to avoid thinking about it, the stress will come back once I’m on my own again. Problem-focused coping means thinking about the root cause of your stress and identifying steps you can take immediately to solve the problem. If I’m stressed about work, I’ve found it’s far better to be pro-active by writing a plan, e-mailing my tutor for help, or getting started on it, rather than distracting myself and pretending that the work doesn’t exist. However, when we are incredibly overwhelmed and stressed, thinking of solutions to the problem can seem an impossible, insurmountable task. Distraction techniques can be helpful when we feel this way, because they allow us to improve our mood so that we feel able to get started.

Avoid taking too much on

Having high standards of ourselves can be wonderful, because it means that we’re challenging ourselves. However, there is a fine line between pushing yourself, and taking on more than you can handle. If you find that you have more things to do than time to do it all in, it can be useful to remove a few activities from your to-do list so that you can quickly reduce the number of things you are worried about. If this is difficult, try thinking about your values and the things that matter to you most. It can be helpful to make a list with 3 sections: things that I must do, things that I like to do occasionally, and things that I do not like to do. You might find that your life is very cluttered, and you are wasting a lot of time doing something you do not enjoy (scrolling through social media, getting distracted by the television…). You may realise that you could swap the half hour you spend scrolling through social media in the morning, for something more enjoyable and productive. It’s important to remember that it’s completely okay to be assertive and say no to things that don’t appeal to you/activities you don’t have time for. It is your life and your time to spend how you please, and protecting your mental health will always be more important than pleasing other people!

Think about the situation from another person’s perspective

It’s easy to become our own worst enemies, and this can become even easier when we’re stressed. It’s easy to beat ourselves up about all the things we said we would do but didn’t do and ruminate about everything we are worried about. But this style of thinking isn’t productive for anybody, and it only serves to attract more negative thoughts. Thinking about what you would say to a friend if they were in your situation and practicing self-compassion can be useful to combat these thoughts, and it helps us to stop being so hard on ourselves.

Focus on what you can change

There are some stressful situations that we can change. We can cancel going to a social event that is worrying us or change jobs to one that won’t stress us out so much. We can control how we react in situations, where we work, what we say, and how we act. There are other stressful and worrying events that we are powerless to change. We cannot control the disturbing events on the news, what other people say about us or the way that they act, so it is pointless to spend lots of time worrying about these things.

 

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Chloe posts

Everyday self-care

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When we are busy or stressed, it can seem impossible to fit everything in. When we are constantly faced with work pressures, deadlines, commitments and social events to attend, it can seem like our to-do list is never-ending. Life can be chaotic, and it can often feel like there is barely time to breathe. During these times, it’s important to remember that self-care isn’t always something that we always need to set big chunks of time aside for, but something that we can build into our everyday lives.

Self-care is so important because it helps us to stay mentally well. It is crucial to take regular breaks because they allow us to calm down and re-charge so that we can go back to our work with a clearer head. Here are some self-care ideas:

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Lizzy posts

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.