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  • Vicky

Mindfulness and Mental Health

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

Our winter newsletter is full of handy hints and tips to help you manage your mental health over these long dark winter nights. Today our community is waking up this morning in #Tier4 restrictions. With many local businesses now closed and with Christmas just around the corner, BKRG is aware of the added stress and anxiety this may cause.

As well as being the Treasurer for BKRG I am also a qualified Cognitive Behavioral Therapist with a Masters Degree in Psychology. Throughout the pandemic I have helped many of my clients cope with anxiety and depression which has often felt worse due to the restrictions on our lives and the isolation we may often feel.

Many people will also be secretly worried about money and job security, how they will find the extra money for Christmas presents or how they might pay the heating bill. In truth, the next few months are not going to be easy, many will struggle. You might want to consider an alternative Christmas, rather than spending lots of money on many gifts, maybe everyone in the house does a Secret Santa, spend the day enjoying family movies, going for a long family walk, and simply enjoying a lovely meal?

The Resilience Group remain committed to supporting people through these difficult times and within this edition you will find contact numbers for the well-being helpline which was set up early in the response efforts to help people manage the uncertainties of COVID-19.

But there are other ways we can all help to manage our mental health and wellbeing over these wet and windy nights. In many high-stress working environments and large FTSE100 companies, meditation and mindfulness is being taught as a successful method to manage feelings and emotions.

The most common way to help manage our feelings, thoughts, worries and emotions is simply talking to a friend, however, many people prefer to actually speak to a stranger. If you can, pick the phone up to a dear old friend and grab a good catch up over the phone, you will be surprised how much better you feel after this.

When you’re feeling down it is very easy to reach for comfort foods, this is your body’s natural reaction in an attempt to release more serotonin – the happy chemical that is formed in our heads. However, that small spike in the feel-good chemical from eating that entire chocolate bar or drinking that second glass of wine or pint of beer is only temporary and can actually leave us feeling worse. The best way to establish longer term energy and positive feelings its to eat a balanced and varied diet; not only will this help regulate body weight, but the natural nutrients released in the food help repair and strengthen your mental health by fueling and re-energising the grey-matter.

Sunlight, something we are not so familiar with in Scotland is our biggest source of Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps the body by keeping bones, muscles and teeth healthy. It helps to balance blood pressure and reduce stress; it also helps the body to fight depression. This is why we feel better when the sun is shining and why we feel tired and down when the clouds are thick and grey with rain. If you can’t get out of the house, try adding more Vitamin D to your diet, or you could take a Vitamin D supplement.

For the ladies amongst us, a drop in vitamin D over the winter, followed by a natural drop in Iron levels during menstruation can leave you feel fatigued and depressed, its also good to add high sources of Iron to your diet to counteract the negative effects of iron depletions. Iron helps our body to function more efficiently, it boosts our energy, helps our concentration, improves our immune system, regulates our body temperature and helps to restore our sleep pattern.

Most importantly during this challenging time, be kind to yourself. It is normal to feel stress, anxiety, sadness or fear at a time like this. Many of us will never have experienced anything like coronavirus before and it can leave us feeling very uncertain about what might happen next and worried about our own health or that of our family or friends. The anxiety we might feel because of that uncertainty and worry can cause physical feelings of a racing heart, chest pain, sweatiness and shortness of breath. All of these can be unpleasant but are very normal symptoms of anxiety. We might also notice our mood feeling lower and that we no longer enjoy the things we used to and that we have little or no motivation. But remember, be kind to yourself, its ok not to be ok. It’s important to allow yourself to feel what you are feeling, we can’t switch off our feelings but we can learn to accept them and understand them.

If you aren’t working at the moment or all of your usual groups and activities are on hold it can be difficult to keep up a routine, but it is important to keep to a regular sleep routine and plan activities for each day to give you something to look forward to and a sense of achievement at the end of the day. Try to do something you enjoy each day, even if you can’t get outside for exercise you can read a book, listen to music, complete a jigsaw, watch a film, draw, paint, bake or write a letter to a friend. The Resilience Group can help if you are struggling to get craft supplies, books or jigsaws and we’re always looking for pen pals and articles for our newsletter so that may be something you would like to do as well.

Keeping in touch with people you know and trust is important, connecting with others can help to improve your mood and you never know, they might have a good suggestion for an activity to fill your day, something you can do with the children or grandchildren or a good recipe that you can try.

Meditation and mindfulness have been proven to improve our mood and help us to feel more in control of our emotions. How we breathe can have a big impact on how we feel; we can use a simple breathing technique to help us focus and feel calmer when we are worried or feeling low, it’s called the balloon technique:

Closing your eyes and sitting comfortably, begin to focus on your breathing, taking a few deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth; then as you breathe in deeply imagine a balloon inside your tummy is being inflated, then as you slowly breathe out imagine that balloon is slowly deflating. Repeat this 5 times, each time imagining that balloon inflating and deflating and as you breathe out you can imagine the stress and worry leaving your body and as you breathe in you can imagine positive energy entering your body.

Other mindfulness techniques include things like mindful eating, mindful walking and the body scan. These encourage you to take notice of what you are eating – not just the taste but the texture, heat, shape and colour of the food or drink. Mindful walking encourages you to notice the feeling of your body as you move, how the air feels on your skin, the different textures on the ground and surfaces around you and the various smells you may be aware of. The body scan encourages you to pay attention slowly to each part of your body from head to toe, slowly moving down your body and noticing any areas of pain or tension, feelings of warmth or tingling and relaxing each part of your body as you move from top to toe.

You can repeat any of these techniques several times a day so that they become familiar and easier to use when you find yourself anxious or down. They can help you to find a new awareness of yourself and an appreciation for your body and the world around you.

Remember, be kind to yourself and to others.

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