Family relationships, Mental Health, Trainer, Blogger, Writer, Wellbeing

The Easy way to De-stress…by Singing!

“God inhabits the praises of His people.”

Psalm 22:3, The Bible.

Image Source: Oleg Magni via pexels.com

Have you read the research that says that singing is good for our wellbeing? There are now many choirs up and down the country for exactly that reason. In fact, in Harrow, More Than A Choir, Harrow Community Choir, was formed to benefit those of us with mental health issues, to boost wellbeing and self-confidence. When we try a new skill, this can build self-esteem and doing something pleasurable, rather than something necessary, can give us a dopamine hit, boosting our mood.

Over the past few months, my mood had been slowly going downhill, to the point where my husband brought up the issue whilst we were on retreat in Wales. I found myself bursting into tears and it enabled me to bring to the surface some of the problems that had been bothering me.

Since then, with my husband’s support, I’ve been seeking medical and spiritual help but started to focus again on singing worship songs to God in my daily quiet time. Initially, I would listen to “The Joy of the Lord is my Strength,” by Rend Collective whilst walking in the park or sing whilst in the shower. It was then I realised the power of singing out praises to God, despite my low mood. It encouraged and uplifted my spirit as I took my eyes off my personal situation and lifted my eyes to Him. So now, I’ve added singing some worship songs back into my prayer time, usually at the beginning to put the focus back onto God.

Whether it’s singing in the shower or verbally calling out praise to God during your prayers – how can you worship God and give Him praise today?

Mental Health

What happens once Mental Health Awareness week is over? #mhaw19

I’d hoped to have published this blog a few days ago, to coincide with the end of #mentalhealthawarenessweek. However, I’ve also been working on a short autobiographical story, which I’ve now submitted, which I needed to complete first.

I just wanted to share some helpful resources and activities that have improved my own mental health recently:

1. Running or Exercise

This is particularly helpful for overcoming anxiety. Check out the NHS Couch 2 5K app, over 9 weeks, it takes you from mainly walking, inter-dispersed with short periods of jogging, gradually building up to running solidly for 30 minutes, 3 times per week. By the end, you are running 5 kms. I started in January, and this was my 3rd attempt to complete it, so I was overjoyed when I finished Week 9, Run 3! The aim is to keep going with the running and I’m pleased to say I am, and do my best to do it 3 times per week. I am kind to myself if I don’t manage this!

2. Doing more of what you love

A few months back, I’d stopped doing a lot of what I usually enjoy, as I was depressed and lacking motivation. For me, going for a walk in the park, practising my drumming and writing are fun things which give me enjoyment. I had to go through a phase of pushing myself do 1 enjoyable thing a day, even if I didn’t feel like it! By doing these activities, my mood definitely improved.

3. Challenging unhelpful thoughts

I know I’ve blogged quite a bit on this activity but I find it works! Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) identifies your self-critical thoughts, acknowledges the emotions and body sensations you feel at the time, and then looks at the evidence for and against that critical thought. A new, more realistic truth is written down, and your emotions rated again, which helps reduce the negative emotions, thoughts and associated behaviours. This helps to lift your mood, as you think more realistic thoughts about yourself. You can ask your GP to refer you to your local Talking Therapies, or you can self -refer using the Single Point of Access (SPA) in some areas. There are also online computerised CBT courses available, such as Silver Cloud, which you can fit into your weekly schedule. Again your GP can refer you via your local Talking Therapies. As a Christian, I have also found memorising relevant Bible verses, to counteract the unhelpful thought too. Psalm 57: 3 reminds me that “My God will send forth his unfailing love and faithfulness.

4. Reaching out to others you trust for help and support

This takes courage, I know, if you’re feeling anxious or depressed. It may mean having to get over self critical thoughts of “I should be able to handle this myself” or worry about what others may think of you. I find those friends who aren’t judgemental, are kind and understanding are the ones I feel safe to talk with about how I feel. Sometimes our friends give us a fresh perspective and help us to see things more positively. Give someone a call, and have an honest chat or go out for a cuppa together.

5. Find out more about the mental health condition you are experiencing

Mind’s national website has an A-Z list of all things mental health, and recently I’ve found simple, informative pages on various conditions I’ve been researching. They also have a variety of guides on different conditions, including an Understanding Anxiety Guide and the different types of depression. They also have an online membership you can join with some good benefits, such as an online community.

Also, if you are a mental health service user or a carer, many mental health trusts have Recovery Colleges, which provide free courses on many topics relevant to mental health recovery, e.g. Understanding mental health conditions, personal recovery, managing stress, self-compassion and getting back into employment. Look up your local mental health trust website and search for “Recovery College” to find out about your local courses. In Central & North West London Foundation Health Trust, Recovery College courses and timetable can be found here.

Mental Health, Trainer, Blogger, Writer

Learning the simple truth that LESS IS MORE!

I’m aware that it’s been 3 months since I last posted, and it felt liberating to finally put pen to paper earlier this week in preparation for a new blog post and metaphorically blow away the cobwebs from my mind!

Life has been tough, resulting in me wrestling with unhelpful, self-critical thoughts and doubts about my future. I’ve chosen to hold onto my mustard-seed sized faith in God, even when I can’t see more than a few centimetres ahead of me. Psalm 57:5 (NLT) says “I cry out to God Most High, to God who will fulfill his purpose for me.”

Also, Ps 32:8 (NIV):

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Both these verses fill me with hope that God has a plan for me, even if I don’t see that crystal clearly right now.

CBT thought sheets have become the order of my day: my most recently tackled thought when reframed was “Although I’ve not written a blog post recently, I am writing regularly, e.g. journalling and at my writing group, and can express myself well. Remember I won 3rd Prize in an Association of Christian Writers’ Journalism competition!” The aim is to come up with a more realistic, rational truth that overcomes the unhelpful thought! That more realistic thought has led to an almost instant change in behaviour, and resulted in this blog post!

The other lesson I have learned is that I have overloading myself with daily tasks, and need to do less. This past week, I have experimented with how much I have planned into my day, purposely making my ‘To Do” list longer some days and seeing how this has affected my mood and how productive I was as a result. Then on other days, doing the opposite: putting in a fewer tasks (more realistic), again seeing how I felt on achieving these and how productive I was. Interestingly, it was on the latter days that I felt better, was more productive and had a greater sense of achievement. This is in contrast to putting too much into my day, falling behind, rushing and hence being less productive and feeling I’ve not achieved enough. On the days with less tasks, I had the choice to add in another activity if I had time and the inclination.

My daily plan for this coming week involves 1 activity in the morning (writing, housework or some admin that needs doing ), having lunch, possibly a rest, e.g. Ignatian meditation or progressive muscle relaxation. Then another activity (prayer group, meet a friend or something enjoyable for me) in the afternoon. It’s taken several months to acknowledge my limits and accept that I’ve been expecting too much of myself and falling into that worldly trap of perfectionism (a battle that I have fought with myself since childhood, I think!). I know I am not alone in thinking this way – Katharine Welby-Roberts writes about her own struggles with perfectionism in her Inner Conflict chapter in her book “I Thought There Would Be Cake” (SPCK, 2017). The other thing I’ve noticed is the automatic negative thoughts racing through my mind have subsided somewhat, as the pressure is taken off myself to be defined by how much I achieve each day. I am learning to be kinder and more accepting of myself, regardless of how much I do, and know that God loves me just as I am, with my imperfections and weaknesses!

Reflection:

Are there any unhelpful thoughts that are affecting your mood? If so, what might be a more realistic, rational thought to tell yourself instead?

Are there any areas of your life where you are overloading yourself? If so, bring it to God, and ask for His wisdom to prioritise what’s important and what can wait.

What can you do to find some rest/ do something relaxing or enjoyable this week?