Tag Archives: depression

Positive Mental Health- The Weather

6 Jun

sunny dayDon’t know what the weather is like where you are but here funnily enough it’s brilliant. The Sun is shinning it’s about 23˚and everyones mood seems to have lifted.Plenty of people are out and about and the cold miserable January weather seems a million miles away. Actually this Easter the temperature barely rose above freezing at night and 6˚during the day. This morning I did an interview for radio on the impact of good weather on our mood. Last year funnily enough the weather was the opposite to what it is now and I was interviewed by the same radio station on the impact of the poor weather on our mood.

Does Sunny weather improve our mood?

Well here are a couple of different things that happen when the sun shines

  • Ice cream sales go up!
  • We want to do more activities.
  • We feel like spending more time outdoors.
  • We feel happier.
  • We create more Vitamin D from direct sunlight.
  • We produce serotonin from sunlight.
  • We have more energy.
  • We feel worse if we stay indoors.

Vitamin D is great for building strong bones. We get it from  exposure to direct sunlight . Remember I told you before that we get a lot of help from our bodies to naturally help us feel good like the production of Endorphins when we exercise. Vitamin D not only helps us build strong bones it can also enhance our mood and help us to produce Serotonin.

Some countries have struggled with this. In 2011 Scotland had a problem they wanted to remedy. It was discovered that The people of Scotland suffered from low levels of Vitamin D. A couple of things might play into this. As beautiful as Scotland is it’s not likely that you have booked a holiday there in the hope of getting a tan. Actually some of the Northern reaches of Scotland of Scotland like the Shetland and Orkney Islands might only experience between 1,000 and 1,400 of sunlight a year. It also must be hard to watch the BBC weather forecast and see the South East of Britain basking in 28˚heat and above at certain times of the Summer when you are lucky to hit the high teens in parts of Scotland.

Scotland actually has one of the highest of not the highest rate of Multiple Sclerosis sufferers in the World with 10,000 people diagnosed at present,. The lack of Vitamin D seems to be contributing to this. Scotland has also high levels of asthma and allergy sufferers.Direct sunlight levels are poor and I presume that most fair skinned Scots wear high sun protection once the sun comes out.  This prevents the benefits of Vitamin D from reaching our bodies.

Why then do countries like Iceland and Denmark not experience low levels of Vitamin D like the Scottish. It seems that oily fish which plays a big part in both countries diet  supplies Iceland ,Denmark and other Nordic or Scandinavian countries with essential Vitamin D.

Funnily enough there are now reports that Countries like Australia and Kuwait are reporting lower levels of Vitamin D in their populace. Two sun filled countries that you would think are brimming with sun filled citizens overloaded on Vitamin D. It seems that lust like the Scots certain aspects of Australian/Kuwaiti life are preventing the benefits of the sun from getting through.

  • Sun cream prevents the benefits of sunlight from getting through to where it is beneficial.
  • Australians and particularly Kuwaitis are spending more time indoors. Most of the Middle East is so hot that spending time outside is oppressive. People jump from air con building to air con building.
  • Sun lights UV rays don’t make it through glass as we spend more time in buildings cars and offices.
  • Traditional dress in countries like Kuwait covers up most of the body especially in women which blocks the benefit of sunlight.
  • Oily fish may not play a big part in Kuwaiti diets.

Vitamin D aside there are other contributors to our mood and the weather.

Light also stimulates a part of our brain called the Hypothalamus which controls our mood,sleep and appetite. When the first bit of sunlight hits our retinas in the morning we begin to produce Serotonin which acts like our ON button. We are ready to greet the day and get active.

Lack of light or darkness the pineal gland produces Melatonin and we begin to feel sleepy. So at night time we wind down and in Winter we do so too by putting on a few extra pounds to fend off the cold and generally sleeping longer hours than in Summer. Farmers are busiest in Summer months and activity wise so are we.

So when we jokingly say “we are solar powered” we actually mean it. We need the sun to energize us and to contribute to our mental health.

But remember that

Here are a few tips for Summer sun

  • Get out and enjoy at least 30 minutes of unprotected sun. If you live in the Sahara or Kalahari desert maybe this is not a great plan.
  • Don’t excessively cover up. Let some sunlight in.
  • Think of all the things you spent your winter wishing you could do. Surfing ,picnicking,running,swimming, playing games or just walking with nature-go do it now.
  • Don’t spend your day looking out at the good weather but not coming out actually decreases your mood.
  • Soak it up while you can it wont last forever.

Think of it like this. All those people who live in eternally sunny climates look forward to visiting countries with seasons. Sometimes the heat in these countries becomes so oppressive that the ability to do any outdoors activities is sapped.

Think of that song by WizardI wish it could be Christmas every day” chances are you wouldn’t. The same applies to the sun.The happiest countries in the world are not Saudi Arabia, Turkey or South Korea but surprisingly un-sunny Denmark,Norway and Sweden. Go to Iceland any Summer and you will see people running naked around all kinds of festivals and enjoying the short summer.

Enjoy it while you have it.

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Positive Mental health- Action matters

30 May

to-do-list-nothing[1]Life it seems is a series of choices that we make. These choices are generally made up of actions or behaviour. We either decide to do nothing… and nothing changes or we decide to put an action in place that will make a difference.

It is the action that makes the difference. Are all actions good? Not necessarily!. Some actions like overeating, hitting out at others, drinking excessively or spending money we don’t have are actions that will contribute to how we feel about ourselves or the world in a negative way.

We know that our thoughts can affect our feelings and our physical feelings. Our Behaviour(actions) can also contribute to negative responses in our thoughts and feelings.

Remember I said that if you do nothing, nothing changes. That’s a given. If there is something in your life that is impacting negatively on your life put an action in place that will help you.

Here is an example: If you wanted to lose 12lbs in weight what actions could you do.

  1. Order an Ice cream and tell yourself you didn’t want to change anyway.
  2. Talk lots about how you used to be a stick insect years ago.
  3. Buy lots of books on weightloss
  4. Watch Tv programmes on weightloss
  5. Talk a lot about wanting to lose weight- Tommorrow-Maybe!
  6. Go shopping on an empty stomach
  7. Get excited about special offers on Your favourite Ice cream tubs while shopping.
  8. Clear out your kitchen and fridge of foods that are not helping you lose weight.
  9. Eat everything that you were just about to clear out of your Kitchen and fridge and then revert to numbers 3, 4 and 5 above.
  10. Do nothing!
  11. Change your diet for the better
  12. Start to exercise 3 times a week.
  13. Find a form of exercise you like and start slowly at it.
  14. Cut down on portion size.
  15. Avoid High calorific foods.
  16. Set small goals of losing 2lb a week over a 6-8 week period.
  17. Put a plan in place to do this.
  18. Treat yourself a little on milestones or weekends.

So listed above are a series of actions that we could do if we thought about losing 12lbs of weight. I have made it quite obvious that Actions 1-10 might not get us very far or revert us back up the weight scale a little. Nevertheless they are still behaviour that might seem very familiar that we are quite capable of resorting to.

What I have listed on 11-18 are actions that are much closer in getting us to the goal we had in mind.

So now we are aware that Actions make the difference. It is important that we know which ones will help to change patterns in our lives that are impacting negatively.

Get out there and put more positive action into your life. As I have said before

Do nothing and nothing changes. Pick the right action and your life will never be the same again”

As Aesop once said. “After all that has been said and done there is a lot more said than done”

Positive mental health-Let it out.

8 May

Wailing walle Jerusalem_i-G-21-2166-HLICD00ZOf all the contributors to positive mental health talking/communicating seems the most obvious. Talking through problems expressing how you feel especially when you are down sounds like the best and most obvious option. The funny thing is that it is something that we do not do enough of when we are feeling low.

Every class I do on mental health I ask the participants when was the last time that you talked about your feelings to someone else. Considering there is usually a 50/50 split between male and female participants I find the answers starkly different. The male participants in the group especially at a young age will say they can’t remember the last time that they talked about their feelings to anyone. It is not something that is  a part of their world. On the other hand the Female participants freely admit they talk openly between themselves. They talk about how they feel regularly. They talk about how they feel about the relationship they are in and whats going on. Guys never talk about this. Girls are also great support when the relationship falls apart and her friends are there to support her when she is going through this.

Men are quite different they end up holding all there feelings in . Rarely will men have a similar conversation to women around a breakup. Hi Guys Sarah has just split with me . Dave we are on the way over I’ve got the Ben and Jerry’s, Chris is bringing “Marley and me” we are there for you Bro.

But I began to seem some glimmers of light when I discovered that certain male students began to admit that they openly talk about their feelings with their friends or their parents. Building coping mechanisms like this builds a stronger you. Some began to mention the importance of crying when they feel down. Something their Fathers  and Grandfathers generation may have never admitted to.What a great breakthrough.

Sometimes we struggle with communicating with other humans we choose to talk communicate in other forms. Many participants said that they regularly talked to their Pets or animals. One guy had great conversations with his horse. The horse may not be able to provide the advice you want but it allows you to express what is going on for you. Horses are good listeners too.

It reminded me of a facility that the local church near me used to provide. Situated at the left hand side of the altar was a large noticeboard. Underneath it was a table with post-its,pens and drawing pins. People would come to the church and write their troubles or worries on the post it. Like ” Please say a prayer for my Dad he is really ill at the moment and I am worried about him” or “My husband has lost his job and is really down at present could look after him God” or “I am really struggling at school because I am being bullied please help Lord”. People could add comments to the post its(it was all anonymous) giving support to those in trouble. ” My Thoughts are with you”  or “you are not alone”.

I thought it was wonderfully cathartic. The noticeboard was packed full every time I visited. It was like the wailing wall in Jerusalem. Sadly it was taken down a few years ago and never replaced.

Some people let it out by writing down their worries on a piece of paper and either binning them or setting them alight and letting them go. Either way both techniques are very effective.

Whatever we do. It is important to understand that keeping our thoughts and emotions wrapped up inside of us is not healthy. Expressing what we are experiencing through writing, talking or through music and art are far better options than allowing it to fester inside and create negative thoughts, feelings and ultimately behaviour.

As Robert Heinlein quoted ” worrying is like trying to teach a pig to sing….it wastes your time and annoys the pig”. Share what you feel and see the changes in you.

Positive Mental health- Exercising your Endorphins

4 Apr

endorphinsAs I said in my last blog I am going to share what contributes to great mental health. We talked about actions making the difference. Well here is an action that makes a real difference and contributes greatly to our mental health. as far as I am concerned this is probably the greatest game changer with concern to positive mental health….. It’s exercise.

We live in quite a sedentary world. It has been engineered so that we no longer have to move to be entertained. We can happily sit in front of our game consoles, laptops and ipads and engage with YouTube, Facebook and video games which will all entertain us without ever having to leave the comfort of our couches. We use technology to babysit our children without looking at the consequences of what they are processing subconsciously. How difficult as a parent must it be to compete with the excitement of technology especially video games were they are designed to set of neural firecrackers of pleasure and reward in your child’s brain at just the right intervals. Beat that Pops.

We travel on lifts without ever thinking of taking the stairs and we love travellators in airports we can access our smartphones and still make it to our destination while still discovering who has liked our last photo on Facebook, it beats walking between terminals. We sit in cars or trains for long periods and pacify our children with consoles and DVD films on the back of headrests.

We purchase products in supermarkets that confuse us about their health benefits. we secretly pile on the pounds when we think that we are improving our health because of this purpose led confusion. In one class I asked a participant to tell me the calorific value of the soft drink he had in his hand. He read the label and said just 105 kcal per bottle. The bottle was a 500ml bottle of Coke as we looked closer at the nutritional(really!) facts we discovered that it was 105cal per 250ml of the bottle but who only drinks only half a bottle of lemonade.It’s 210 cal per bottle of soft drink which will take roughly a 3km run to burn off. Confusion reigns. But enough about the troubles with food confusion. Lets look at the actions we can do to benefit our mood and mental state.

I can not emphasize the importance of exercise to our wellbeing. I am presently looking our my office window at a sports field where my office is it’s a sunny spring morning and I would be first out the door and changed ready to play if I had a group of friends and a ball free for the next hour for a kick about. I understand the importance of exercise. Firstly I feel great when I play in team games.I enjoy meeting other people(social connections) and I enjoy working with others to a common purpose(try to win). I also love to get out and have a run around because I know what exercise is doing for me. When I am involved in regular  vigorous physical activity not only am I maintaining some level of fitness, flexibility and building resilience in times when it is needed, I am also contributing to my mental wellbeing.

My body is also reacting positively to this physical activity and is providing a chemical response in the form of Endorphins which are produced when I do anaerobic exercise which may involve sprinting or heavy weight lifting.This will cause the production of neurotransmitters called endorphins that lock into special receptor cells that block the transmission of pain signals and also produce a euphoric feeling just like opiates.

I have tested this regularly. I will gauge my mood on a scale of 1-10 before starting exercise. I might find for whatever reason my mood score might be a 4 out of 10. After 25-30 minutes of vigorous exercise running or cycling I will gauge my mood gain and discover I am a 7 or 8 out of 10 what a difference a half hour of exercise has done for my wellbeing.

Exercise also reduces stress. People who exercise more produce lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol(which produces extra sugars into our system in times of stress) and ultimately have lower levels of anxiety.

So get out there get moving. Get out of the house and pick something that you love to do. This is the key to enjoying exercise. I enjoy team games so I play team games. I only run short distances because the will to stop and boredom are increased for me without a team around me. That is just me. If you don’t like cycling don’t cycle. Find out what you enjoy and follow it. It reminds me of the time the comedian Eddie Izzard ran 43 marathons in 51 days for comic relief in the UK. In an interview afterwards British chat show host Jonathan Ross asked him ” Running 43 marathons over 51 days is some achievement what was your favourite bit” Eddie without pausing says “Stopping… stopping was my favourite bit”.

Here is another interesting fact when it comes to those mood changing endorphins.Endorphins are also released when we eat chillies. Not as a reward because the body loves chillies but your body releases endorphins to help ease the pain. Funny that.

Next time your mood is low remember that vigorous exercise will up your mood levels add a chilli half way through and you just might have discovered why Usain bolt is always smiling

Actions make the difference.

3 Apr

IMG_7116I like it when people come up with their own solutions. We nearly always have the answer but it is the failure to act on that realisation that prevents change. Actions always make the difference If you want something in your life to improve for the better a positive action is required from you. As Aesop once wrote “After all that has been said and done, there is a lot more said than done”. So true.

Over the next series of articles I am going to talk about what can we do that will help when we are feeling down for a period of time and need our mood lifted. Life can throw up some difficulties, that is simply life, we do not get to escape this. Nobody gets to sail through life without feeling the strains of a difficult period in a relationship,the loss of someone we care about or the stress of accidents and injuries that our Children or us encounter. It is the actions that follow that matter.

If you do nothing, nothing changes

So I have put together some examples of solutions that my course participants have provided that when put into action will help move you on to a brighter place. I will talk about them over the next series of blogs.

Some of them will seem very obvious but as obvious as they seem,you need to ask yourself when was the last time you did this and what are the benefits this action will bring to your life.

Years ago I had a huge fear of heights. I decided I could live with this fear of heights simply through avoidance of situations that caused this panic…. or I could do an action that might change this. I decided to jump out of a plane…. by myself.

I always remember that morning when I turned up for training at the airfield. The camaraderie and laughs with the other potential jumpers that morning was a great distraction from what really was ahead. We laughed as we changed into our silly orange jump suits and jumped off  7ft platforms learning how to roll as we hit the ground and “kick out” if our parachute became tangled mid-air. We happily rolled up parachutes that morning, cracked nervous jokes and chatted over lunch.

It was after lunch that the mood began to change. It was explained that the jumps would be taking place in groups of threes as the plane was a small Cessna. “Who wants to go first?” said the instructor I thought that sight of someone else heading towards the earth without their chute opening might put me off. So I volunteered for the first group.

With my parachute on my back and the plane bobbing towards us on the grass airfield all the fun and games of the morning seemed a distant thought as the colour drained from my face and the nearest toilet seemed like a good option. The pilot asked me my name and details… I could not even speak… complete fear had taken over I had never felt as scared in my life as I did at that point… and we where still on the ground! As we climbed into the plane and knelt facing forward I thought I was going to get  ill as the plane began to taxi down the grass runway and hover into the air. All the jokes in the world from the Instructor  and Pilot could not alleviate the fear that I was feeling right then.

As we approached 2000ft and the door off the plane opened I was never more awake or aware than at that moment. The instructor indicated to me to move slowly towards the door… place one foot on the wing strut and one foot at the door…. I could see all the fields and cows below me. Just like Father Ted explaining to Father Dougal the difference between “Near and far away” these definitely where far away.  My heart was ready to explode…. I could hear the instructors voice behind me shouting three words Go! Go! Go!. …..What did I do?

I looked down at the fields below me and felt the wind gush against me as I stood at the plane exit and I thought this is it, pause and I will never do it. I jumped…. one thousand, two thousand, three thousand…. aaaaaaaaaaaahhhh( I am being kind with my phrasing here).

I looked up at my parachute to check It had opened properly. It had not … it was slightly tangled…this would cause it to drop like a burst balloon… if I did not kick out as I did…. and suddenly begin to float slowly towards those beautiful green fields. What a feeling, oh what a feeling. The adrenaline and excitement were pumping through my veins as I celebrated with some of the coarsest words in the English language as I floated downwards. Thinking there are world leaders,politicians and some of the greatest minds  of our time who would never attempt to do what I have just done!!

Had I changed my fear off heights? It certainly helped. My next jump at 12000ft feet felt less nerve-wracking . My next one in a few weeks time will be just as much fun.

Actions always make the difference. Do nothing and nothing changes. Just be mindful of what ones you choose.

Lessons for living-Worry wastes your life

22 Aug

Think about this how often have we spent time worrying about some event in the future not turning out how we expected. The answer is probably a lot. We worry when travelling to foreign countries, that an unsuspecting ice cube in our drink or a salad leaf will cause mild dysentery, and we end up in a hospital surrounded by people who can’t speak our language shaking their heads as they analyze your chart. We might even get bitten by some insect we have never seen before and produce a boil the size of Belgium on some inconvenient part of our body. Or end up in the hotel from hell with brown water in the shower and ants living happily under your bed or in your mattress. That is if we make it past the Ryanair desk without emptying the contents of our wallet for forgetting to spell your name correctly on your luggage tags.

These are all incidents that might happen but most likely won’t. Yet we spend an inordinate amount of our time contemplating situations or events that will never happen. All that time sent worrying has done nothing productive bar produce(depending on the worry involved) the stress hormone cortisol into our system which provides us with glucose that helps us when we were hunter gatherers in fight or flight mode  to stay and defend ourselves or run like the clappers if in trouble but unnecessary if you are panicking about the possibility of your holiday being turned into a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary.

Put it this way. I once worked as a plant supervisor for a large food manufacturing company. Our plants were in production from Monday through Friday. Saturday was for cleaning and maintenance. The plant was closed on Sunday and production started up once again at 8am on Monday morning.  Monday morning was sometimes a difficult day. People were just getting back into work mode others were wishing they were still at home and sometimes the  machines might need a few tweaks to get them running as efficiently as they did on Friday. Gremlins seemed to creep in on Sunday.

During that period of my life every Sunday after Breakfast a sense of dread would fill me as I contemplated everything that could go wrong on Monday morning. Consequently every Sunday was a day ruined with worry about what might happen on Monday. Was every Monday a bad day in work with machines breaking down or staff not turning up…No it wasn’t on the contrary we had a lot of very productive fun filled Mondays, but was every single Sunday ruined thinking of what might happen on Monday… the answer is Yes. All those Sundays ruined by contemplating the worst …and the worst never happened.

As humans we do this all the time as Dr Karl Pillimer points out in his study the legacy project ” Yes bad things happen,but you will find the resources in yourself to handle them. Why poison the present moment with continual pointless worry. Worrying is like praying for what you don’t want in life and on a subconscious level that is not good…stop praying for what you don’t want in life.

Some of the elders who participated in the programme had wonderful insights to impart. Remember these are people who had lived large parts of their life and come to the realization that worrying is pointless

Manuel 72: ” You have to be flexible; don’t get locked into one frame of mind over anything, the most important thing is 95% of all things worried about never happen”.

We live in a world filled with advertisements that tell us how we should feel and remedies to sort it out. We are bombarded with the need to secure our homes in the case of fire,burglary,floods. Health insurance works on the premise that someday soon illness is on the way to you don’t be left out on a limb when it happens.Have you insured against losing your job… that’s on the way. Have you got Mortgage protection… Travel insurance for that weekend in Paris… Did you get your pet insured!! because here is the sad news that some day like all living creatures your dog/cat will die. Be prepared!!! It is no wonder we are in a constant state of worry.

Frank 88: ” Don’t give into every ache and pain be thankful for every day that you have on earth and enjoy your family. You can’t change anything by thinking about it. Worrying and concerning yourself is not going to change it one little bit”

Worry does us no good. It is like teaching a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig. Stop worrying…give it up… and just let your life happen.

SuperBetter

24 Jul

ImageI came across Jane McGonigal yesterday. Jane is a world renowned designer of alternate reality games. Which are games designed to improve our lives and solve problems. Jane suffered a head injury that spiralled her into depression and ultimately suicidal ideation. During this period she started to design a game that would help her to recover and fight back against the depression she had been experiencing. You can see her talk here at TED Edinburgh.

Jane has created that game also created a website SuperBetter that is designed to help us achieve goals and build resilience.

This is what SuperBetter provides you with

* A way to build up your core strengths — physical, mental, emotional and social
* Totally customizable — figure out what matters most to you, and how to get more of it
* Designed to help you through a tough time, or with a difficult change
* About claiming your power — the power you have to impact how you feel everyday, and to decide for yourself how your life will unfold
* Backed by science — neuroscience, positive psychology, and medicine. You’ll learn the science as you play.
* Social — SuperBetter can give your friends and family an “aha moment” about what you’re tackling, and help them find ways to really support you.
* A collective investigation. Everyone who is playing is helping to figure out new ways to get SuperBetter — for themselves, and for the entire community.
* A powerful boost when you need it most. You don’t have to play SuperBetter forever. You play when you need it.

It outlines a lot of tips that I use on my course in a fun and engaging manner. If you need a little boost and build your resilience at any time in your life then we really recommend SuperBetter.

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