5 Ways that Spending More Time Outdoors Can Improve Your Mental Health: Guest post by Katherine Myers

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(image: Shutterstock)

Self-care is a topic that often comes up when discussing mental health. Whilst taking a bath or reading a good book might provide a short term boost to your mood, a bit of self-care will rarely provide long-lasting improvements to your state of mind. 

Spending time in nature is one of the most effective ways of boosting your mental health. In fact, the benefits of the outdoors for your mental wellbeing have been scientifically proven in a range of different studies. Something to consider if you’ve been suffering from consistent low mood recently is whether you’ve been spending enough time outdoors. 

Especially during the winter months, it’s easy to miss the few hours of daylight whilst in the office or at school. It may not seem like a big deal, however, not getting enough sunlight exposure can be very detrimental to your mental health and over time, you will start to feel the effects. Some common symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include fatigue, sore bones and muscles and low mood.

Simply getting outdoors for a bit of time every day can have a profound effect on your wellbeing. Here are just some of the ways you’ll see your mental health improve by spending more time outside.

You’ll Feel More Creative

Creativity is often sparked by putting yourself in unfamiliar environments, which is the perfect excuse to get outside the next time you find yourself in a creative rut! Being in the outdoors is a great way to get away from other distractions to your creative process such as TV or social media, so you can properly focus on coming up with those brilliant ideas! In fact, one scientific study showed that being immersed in nature can boost your creative problem-solving abilities by 50%. 

Better Concentration

If you are someone who tends to have your head in the clouds, getting outdoors is a brilliant way to improve your concentration. Science has shown that the effects of a natural environment are huge for concentration. In fact, being in a park for as little as 20 minutes has been proven to help ADHD children focus. 

If you’re ever struggling to concentration on studying or work, maybe consider taking your work outside and see whether it’s easier to get your head down. Not only will there be fewer distractions, but the calming effect of your environment will put you in a more positive state of mind.

Better Memory

Our brains are very receptive to the natural environment, making it easier for us to memorise information. One scientific study showed that participants in a memory assessment who had been in nature prior to taking the test performed 20% better than those who hadn’t. The next time you have a big test coming up or need to memorise something important, spending some time outdoors could be a great way to focus your mind. You’ll be surprised by how much it helps!

Reduces Stress Levels

Being in a stressful environment will increase your blood pressure, anxiety and stress whilst being in a peaceful environment ha the reverse effect. For this reason, a natural setting such as a forest, the beach or park is one of the best places to relax because it completely removes you from the distractions of modern society. Being in nature lowers your blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension. Studies have shown that even just a view of nature is often linked to lower stress levels and higher job satisfaction. 

Regular Sleeping Pattern

We need natural light and darkness to regulate our circadian rhythm (natural waking and sleeping patterns). Using our phones and computers exposes us to artificial light components that interfere with our ability to sleep. Getting a good night of sleep is critical for your mental health and factors such as stress can quickly make it difficult to maintain a good sleeping pattern. Spending time in nature is the best way to reset your natural circadian rhythm and get a better night of sleep.

If you’ve been feeling down or anxious, it can be even more difficult than normal to find the motivation to get outside. However, here are a few ways that you can fit some time in nature into your schedule without making too much effort. We promise it will make a huge difference!

  • Take a walk on your lunch break
  • Get out for a run in the morning
  • Go hiking with friends
  • Take a book to your local park
  • Try and walk to work or school if you can
  • Try and spend your day in a room with lots of natural light or large windows 
  • Try and incorporate more plants into your living space

 

This guest post was written by freelance writer Katherine Myers. 

How Floatation Tanks can help those with Anxiety: Sponsored by I-Sopod

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(image: I-Sopod)

What is Floatation?

Floatation, also known as Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) and sensory deprivation, is the act of relaxing in a floatation tank – a lightless, soundless tank filled with highly concentrated Epsom saltwater heated to skin temperature.

In a floatation tank, you are deprived of all external environmental stimuli – you are completely isolated from sound, sight, smell and touch. You lie in a large soundless, lightless egg-shaped pod filled with around 10 inches of water and 850lbs of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate), which causes you to float without effort or discomfort, creating a sense of weightlessness as your body feels free from gravity. The water is heated to the same temperature as your skin, so you lose where the body ends and the water begins.

 

History of Floatation Tanks

The floatation tank was originally invented in the 1950s by John C Lilly, a neuroscientist who liked to experiment with states of consciousness. However, he did not conduct any scientific research and mainly wrote about his experiences of taking hallucinogens whilst in the tank.

In the 1970s, commercial float tanks were created and were starting to be studied for health benefits.

Today, commercial floatation tanks are gaining in popularity and many float centres and spas offering float therapy are popping up across the country. This is in part due to an increase in scientific evidence to the psychological and physiological benefits of floating.

 

What to Expect During a Float Session

During your floatation session, you will remove all clothing or change into your swim gear then shower to ensure you are clean before entering the pod. You will then enter the pod, close the lid, and press a button to turn off the light. Some pods allow you to adjust the height of the roof if you feel claustrophobic. Once in the pod, try to find a way to lie comfortably – this can take some getting used to. Music may play for the first couple of minutes to help you relax and then will fade out to complete silence. You will then float for an hour before getting out and getting dressed.

Whilst in the floatation tank, all external stimuli is eliminated. You can’t see anything or feel anything. You feel weightless and free from the strains of gravity. Everything is silent, still, and peaceful in the darkness. You have shut off the world. You’ve lost all sense of time. You feel calm as you start to enter a liminal, half-sleep state. Your heart rate slows and your conscious mind switches off. Your brain reaches its Alpha State – you are lucid, not thinking. You then reach the Theta State, a deep state of relaxation reached just before drifting to sleep or waking up. Your overactive mind slows down and your racing, stressful, anxious thoughts dissipate.

Floatation eases anxiety by activating the parasympathetic nervous system and decreasing the sympathetic nervous system, which slows heart rate, lowers blood pressure and cortisol, and lets you enter relaxation mode.

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(image: I-Sopod)

How Floatation Can Help Ease Anxiety

There are many studies that demonstrate how floatation can help with anxiety.

Feinstein is a clinical neuropsychologist studying the impact of floatation on anxiety with the Float Clinic and Research Center at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In Feinstein’s study, he scanned the brains of healthy people using an MRI. He then split the subjects into two groups – half spent 90 minutes floating and half spent 90 minutes relaxing in a reclining chair in a dark room. After the third session, he scanned all the subject’s brains again and compared the images. He found that floaters had lower anxiety and greater serenity as opposed to those in the chair.

He also found that the amygdala was shutting of post-float – the amygdala is the part of the brain that controls emotion and fight or flight survival instincts. He then compared the brain imaging of those who had floated with those who had taken an anti-anxiety drug, Ativan, and found the same dampening of the amygdala. Hence, floating has the same impact on the brain as anti-anxiety drugs. Feinstein is gathering more data but wants floatation to become a treatment for anxiety.

In 2018, Feinstein conducted a study on the impact of floating for patients suffering from anxiety and depression. 50 patients with anxiety-related disorders underwent a 1-hour session in a float tank. He found that floating can significantly provide short-term relief from stress and anxiety symptoms across a range of conditions including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Floating also enhanced mental wellness and serenity.

A 2006 study published in the International Journal of Stress Management aimed to investigate the long-term effects of the flotation-REST 4 months after treatment. Patients with stress-related pain underwent 12 float sessions and found that floating reduced pain, stress, anxiety, and depression and improved sleep and optimism. These positive effects were maintained 4 months after treatment.

A 2016 study by Kjellgren and Jonsson from the Department of Psychology at Karlstad University in Sweden assessed floatation as a treatment for generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). 46 people took part, with 24 in treatment and 22 as control. Undergoing 12 sessions over a 4 month period, the study found that floatation reduced symptoms of GAD including depression, insomnia, and fatigue and 37% reached full remission from GAD symptoms post-treatment.

A 2014 study by Kjellgren investigated the beneficial effects of sensory isolation and floatation tank treatment as a preventive healthcare intervention. Healthy volunteers took part in 12 float sessions over 7 weeks. The study found that stress, depression, anxiety, and pain decreased and optimism and sleep quality increased.

These studies demonstrate the positive impact floatation can have on treating anxiety and how REST helps reduce the body’s stress response. More research is needed, particularly into long-term effects, but floatation could play a major role in helping soothe anxiety in the future. Try out a floatation tank today to see if it helps calm your anxiety – many feel more stress-free from just one session.

 

This sponsored post was written by i-sopod, a revolutionary float pod manufacturer and market-leading supplier to float centres in the UK, USA, Europe and Australia .

 

Anxiety, Low mood,Winter and Me. By Eleanor

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(image: Istock)

I have sat down many times in the past few weeks to try and compose this blog and I havn’t felt able, the weight of it felt too much to put down on ‘paper’. The past month has been a lot more challenging for me, I have had an increase in my anxiety, particularly the social anxiety, fear of judgement and the world in general.

This has meant I have had to cancel media appearances and my book launch for friends and family and I sadly missed an old friend’s beautiful wedding and another old friend’s hen weekend 😦  (as well as missing going to the theatre to see Waitress with a wonderful friend). I have been having panic attacks again about socialising when feeling so vulnerable. This has been really, really hard because I hate letting anyone down, I have just been feeling ill at times and having to cope with the heightened anxiety and its ‘fun’  accompaniment (insomnia, racing thoughts, negative thoughts and chest pain).

My book got published and while that was amazing and a lifelong dream, it also felt exposing as I revealed a lot about my life that many wouldn’t know. So I felt like hiding away because it felt scary (social anxiety again).

Additionally, I started therapy 7 weeks ago to give me tools to a) understand but b) deal with the underlying anxiety about life and while it is helping (I am doing a type of trauma therapy called EMDR), I think it might be bringing issues I have buried to the surface from past trauma. This could be why I am getting triggered in social situations at present. I have a fear of negative judgement and also of crowds. I am working on this in therapy as I have been through a lot so far in my 31 years on this planet!

This time of year is also not helping me at all- the nights drawing in and the gloomy mornings. I struggle with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and I start feeling lower this time of year. I am well medicated so my depression is mild in comparison to what it gets like when my medication doesn’t work but it is the anxiety I need to work on and expose myself to feared situations slowly.

To my friends, thank you for your kindness and for trying to support me (and coax me out) through this difficult patch again- you know who you are. If anyone wants to come round for a Disney night with chocolate- please do! 

Despite the negatives, there have been some successes in the past few weeks- seeing family, going to the cinema with Rob to see Last Christmas, going to the garden centre with my sister and bro in law, attending my therapy sessions, promoting the book online, job applying (exhausting but I’ve been doing it), speaking to friends regularly and trying to socialise even if I don’t always make it. I am working on that.

Oh and I have been volunteering for Christmas4CAMHS charity- that provide presents for ill children on mental health wards. I have been helping them gain awareness and raise funds via social media. This has been one of the most rewarding things I have managed to do in the past 2 weeks. Thank you Ro for letting me be involved and giving me some purpose to help others.

Social anxiety and depression are hard things to live with, but I know it will pass again in time and to reach for support if I need it. I am already on anti depressants and anti anxiety meds (as well as the therapy), so will have to wait and see what helps. I have an SAD lamp so need to use it when I wake in the mornings. Perhaps I should push myself to go for walks, although I am currently enjoying being a doormouse. If anyone else is struggling, please reach out- we are stronger together.

 

Christmas for CAMHS Campaign to brighten up Children’s Christmas in Mental health wards: Guest post

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(image: Christmas for CAMHS charity)

Christmas for CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) are a registered charity providing gifts each year for children and young people who are in mental health units in the UK over the Christmas holiday. They say,

Our aim is to make as many children and young people who are inpatients over the Christmas holidays feel thought-about, special and included.

We have been hugely supported over the past few years by generous donations from the public and have received much gratitude as a result from inpatient units. However, we are only able to provide gifts with your charitable donations. ‘

Christmas For CAMHS was originally set up because volunteers saw a huge disparity in the way CAMHS units were treated over the festive period compared to other NHS services for children and young people. They wanted to do something to change that and say,

‘Children are admitted to CAMHS units to receive support and treatment for mental health issues. There are no official figures for how many children will spend the festive season in CAMHS units across the UK. While many members of the public and corporate donors give Christmas gifts to Children’s hospitals or children’s wards in general hospitals, CAMHS units, which are usually based away from other services, are often forgotten, or not known about.’

Ro Bevan, doctor and founder says,

‘Five years ago I worked in a children’s hospital at Christmas time and there were many presents donated, mostly from corporate donors. There were so many presents that there was enough leftover for patients’ birthdays until June of the following year. A year later, I was working in child and adolescent mental health. We had no presents donated. Our patients had one present each, chosen by the therapy team, paid for out of the ward’s budget – saved from the NHS budget that is meant to cover therapeutic activities, and other expenses. I posted about the inequality on Facebook and before I knew it, my post had goneviral with 1,032 shares and so many supportive comments. It inspired me to start a group the following year and together we have raised over £1,000 to help children who would otherwise be forgotten by the generous public.

‘We don’t know whether this disparity is because people just don’t know that there
are children in mental health hospitals, or whether it’s indicative of the stigma that
society attaches to mental health issues. Regardless, we’re hoping to raise
awareness and address the balance. Although this project started with a simple
Facebook post, it has already gone further than I ever could’ve imagined possible
and reaching units across the UK which is a dream come true.’

This year, a special advent calendar has been designed by Sam Barakat, featuring  positive quotes every day, rather than chocolate. As well as this, there will be 32 windows, one for every day from December 1st to January 1st. 50 will also be donated to mental health units via Christmas for CAMHS. Sam says, ‘For many, Christmas is a joyful time that is spent with friends and family. For others, it can be the hardest time of year. This could be due to past events, trauma,  loneliness  or mental illness. ‘

I (Eleanor) feel this is such an incredible campaign that will touch the hearts of many. I was in a CAMHS unit aged 16 over Christmas and think this will help many people.  

You can donate and buy a calendar here for someone struggling : https://www.gofundme.com/f/a-mental-wellbeing-advent-calendar?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cf+share-flow-1

To donate to Christmas for CAMHS and give presents to ill children click here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/
CAMHS2019

Website and more information: www.christmasforcamhs.org.uk

 

The difference between Psychotherapy and Counselling: Guest post by Aaron James

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(image: Weheartit)

In our age of information, choice and variety, there are hundreds of different types of therapy and counselling available. As a starting point, one of the most common questions asked is, what is the difference between counselling and psychotherapy?

The answer is much debated as the boundaries are not always clear, especially in the UK.  However, it is generally stated that counselling is typically a shorter undertaking that focuses on the present and on current behaviours. On the other hand, psychotherapy addresses deeper, longer-term issues by exploring all experiences including those from childhood and with clients undergoing therapy for longer periods of time. 

To get a fuller understanding, it helps to look at both the similarities and differences.

 

Blurred lines

The terms counselling and psychotherapy are frequently used with overlap and flexibility. Certain therapists offer both. Some psychotherapists choose to use the term ‘counsellor’ simply as a softer, more approachable title, some use counselling as part of a psychotherapy process. There are also counsellors who adopt psychotherapeutic approaches. You can see where the confusion arises.

There are many individuals and practices offering counselling, but less that offer a full range of therapies including in-depth psychotherapies (for example, Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy who also happen to discuss this topic on their site).  Reputable practices share the interests, approaches and qualifications of their therapists and will be happy to discuss their compatibility with clients.

The similarities – what you get from both

Counselling and psychotherapy are both focused on creating an open, non-judgmental, safe space to help people improve their mental wellbeing and to remove distress from their lives. The majority of therapies across the board are talking or communicative therapies where participants aim for a better understanding of themselves, and often their relationships with other people, through guided discussions with a therapist. 

In talking therapies people explore their feelings and thoughts and often look at their choices. Both counselling and psychotherapy have different branches and specialisms and  both can work with individuals, families, groups or particular focus areas. But there are some general distinctions that can help people decide which is most appropriate for them.

Counselling

Counselling addresses present problems and current personal issues such as a relationship breakdown, anxiety or confidence or behavioural issues. Often with some kind of structured process, the counsellor helps alleviate symptoms and current behaviour patterns that are causing distress. It may offer practical tools to break down negative feelings and habits, and it can often be goal or action based.

As it generally deals with more surface level ‘life’ issues, clients are usually involved in therapy for shorter timeframes. The Counsellor’s Guide is a good source of information for those wanting to know more.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is a deeper and longer term approach. It looks not only at the present situation, but how someone’s childhood and past may be affecting and shaping emotions they have now. The therapist may help someone delve into their past to reveal hidden experiences that have affected them. Psychotherapy looks to identify the roots of an issue as part of the process. 

As such it can address more complex mental health problems. It is a much more in-depth exploration of a person’s emotions aiming to bring buried issues to the surface to deliver a more profound understanding of who they are and their relationships.

Training

The training a therapist undergoes is often stated as another key difference. A counsellor or psychotherapeutic counsellor requires a diploma or degree, along with a number of hours of work placement experience. Psychotherapists are required to undergo postgraduate level specialist training of around 4 years. It is often noted too, that most psychotherapists are required to undergo therapy themselves as part of their training and so that they have experience from both sides.

However, counsellor and psychotherapist are not legally protected titles and further specialisms may often entail more training for both. A good therapist will openly share their training details and should be a registered member of one of the appropriate industry bodies such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Which therapy is right for me?

The distinctions made here are broad ones to give a general guide. There are counselling and psychotherapy options to suit different types of problem, different types of people and different levels of previous experience. The therapies on offer will vary and some people undergo counselling for a long time, and some find a psychotherapy that offers a shorter solution. 

It depends massively on the person seeking therapy and their needs, and the important thing is for a client is to find a therapist that they feel comfortable with. Many experts say that much of the healing comes from the positive experience of the therapist to client relationship and this can be down to a personal match. 

 

This guest blog was written by freelance writer Aaron James, based in the UK. 

Two Book Reviews: ‘Bring me to Light: Embracing my Bipolar and Social Anxiety’ is out tomorrow!

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This week is publication week for my book ‘Bring me to Light’!

I can’t quite believe that it hits the shelves tomorrow! I started writing the manuscript in early 2018 and now here we are! I am lucky to have had my book reviewed by two great bloggers this week.

The first is by Rachael Stray, a UK based blogger. Rachael received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review and she said:

” Eleanor is extremely honest as she tells her very personal story of being diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder and her journey from adolescence to adulthood. In this book we are taken through Eleanor’s struggles with her mental health and what a profound impact it has had on her life.

She really opens up about her struggles with her mental health and the inner turmoil she was facing. Eleanor clearly has a great support network of family and friends who have been such a support for her which she acknowledges.

I found her honest account of struggling with medication, institutionalisation following hospital stays and feeling lost in her own life extremely difficult to read but so educational and inspirational.

Eleanor hasn’t let her mental health stop her from being successful, finding a career she loves, she’s got such a strong faith, a great network of family and friends and now a loving husband.A lot of what she talks about within this book really deeply personally resonated with me.” (Rachael Stray https://rachaelstray.com/bring-me-to-light-review-ad/)

 

Thank you Rachael for your kind review. The second was by Nyxie who is based in Northern Ireland and is also a book blogger (at Nyxie’s nook). She also received a free copy in exchange for an honest review:

 

Eleanor began blogging while in outpatient treatment as both an outlet for her thoughts and to provide education to others. Like many of those with mental and physical illness, Eleanor’s writing became like therapy. When the words are placed on page or screen, they’re less likely to be bouncing off the walls of our brains. It’s a perfect example of how art, of any kind, can release built-up tension.

She has also successfully worked with mental health organisations such as Time to Change, Mind and SANE, and has even written for publications such as The Telegraph, Glamour and Happiful Magazine.

Bring Me To Light is a wonderful and brutally honest account of living with Bipolar Disorder. For anyone who lives with any illness, chronic or mental, should read this book. Like me, you’ll find yourself identifying with parts of Eleanor’s past.

I found it quite difficult to read some chapters as I empathised quite a bit with her emotions and thought patterns. With that being said I do love a book that makes me feel strong emotions, as many memoirs usually do.”  (Nyxie at Nyxies Nook: https://www.nyxiesnook.com/bring-me-to-light/)

 

Thank you both for your kind reviews.

Want to order a copy of my book? Click here for Amazon (but also in other book shops):

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https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bring-Me-Light-Embracing-Bipolar/dp/1789560365/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=eleanor+segall&qid=1558346142&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmrnull

Love,

Eleanor x

Why I wrote my book, ‘Bring me to Light: Embracing my Bipolar and Social Anxiety’ by Eleanor

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(image: Trigger Publishing)

This blog has been a long time coming. I have been so busy promoting my book on social media and in the press that I havn’t actually sat here and told you WHY I decided to write this book. So, here goes.

Firstly, can I just express so much gratitude to this here WordPress blog because without it, I would not have got commissioned at Metro.co.uk (thank you Yvette) or for other places online. This blog gave me the confidence to write and to expand my writing’s reach and for that I will be forever grateful.

In 2013/ early 2014, I sat on the couch, crying and living with a suicidal depression. My bipolar was unstable and all over the place- I felt so low and like there was no way out. However, as I sat and cried- a friend of mine’s face peered up from the newspaper. He was looking for the man that saved him from suicide and was launching a campaign called Find Mike to find him. That man was Jonny Benjamin (who now has an MBE). I had known Jonny for many years as a teenager through friends, but he became my inspiration and my hope that I too could do good things despite having mental illness. He very kindly has provided an endorsement too for my book- thank you Jonny!

With the help of my psychiatrist, I recovered temporarily from the depression but then spun very fast into mania and psychosis (possible due to a large dose of anti depressant). I was sectioned and in hospital for 4 months as an inpatient and a further 4 as an outpatient.

Throughout this time, I could not think about writing because my mind wasn’t stable enough. But as I pieced my life back together, started taking a new mood stabiliser to help control the bipolar episodes and started to recover slowly, I found the power of blogging about my social anxiety due to trauma of the bipolar, to be so helpful. I found that others would share their stories and would reach out to me about their mental health too.

Although life is not perfect and I am still living with an anxiety disorder, I have found a way to write and speak about mental illness. I was diagnosed with bipolar at 16 and there was a lot of shame for me about it back then in 2004. These days, I tell my story for other scared 16 year olds newly diagnosed but also to break down barriers and stigma against mental illness. To explain you can have bipolar or be sectioned or have psychosis but you can recover and you don’t need to spend life in hospital forever. To explain that while this cruel illness runs in families, that with the right healthcare, staying more stable is possible.

I started writing my book with Trigger Publishing because they believed in my story when I sent them my proposal. They are part of the mental health charity the Shaw Mind Foundation and royalties go towards the charity as well as some to me.

I hope that when you read my story, you won’t see it as a despairing ramble- but rather a story of hope, of life, of light triumphing over the darkness- but the darkness making the good times shine brighter. I also bring my bipolar to light, I share it with the world- as scary as this is, so that others can also tell theirs.

I wrote this book too provide a place to talk, start conversation and help heal myself through writing it but sharing that feeling of hope with others too. The book cannot change things that are so needed like urgent mental health funding of the NHS so we have parity of esteem. Yet, i hope it is a starting point about how important mental health treatment is for people to move forward in their lives.

Bring me to Light is out on 5th November 2019 in the UK and is available worldwide. It will be out in the USA in 2020. It can be purchased on Amazon, in book shops and at triggerpublishing.com

I will be sharing press articles and more about the book as it happens, but I hope this blog explains why I wrote my book. Thank you all for your ongoing love and see some of you at the book launch!

Love,

Eleanor x

 

Guest Interview with Mark Simmonds: Author of ‘Breakdown and Repair’ mental health book.

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(image: Mark Simmonds and Lucy Streule)

 

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What inspired you to write a book about yours and your daughter’s journey with mental health?

It was July 2017 and I was attending a summer party, hosted by the Marketing Society, the organisation that brings together business people working together in the areas of marketing and advertising. Gemma Greaves, the CEO, was delivering a speech, during which she announced that the Society was going to join the mental health crusade. This seemed odd, slightly incongruous. But then it dawned on me that times had changed. Mental health was no longer the taboo topic it was when I suffered my mental breakdown back in 2001.

Everyone was talking about it now. I also had another 16 years’ experience under my belt, including caring for Emily, my daughter, who suffered from anorexia from 2012 until 2018. So, I had no excuse but to come out of the mental health closet and leave a legacy of sorts to the world. And even if that book helped just one person, then it would have been worth the effort.

 

How did you manage to recover from your stress, anxiety and break down, what helped you?

It was the 19th July 2001. Extreme stress at work had brought on the panic attacks, which were soon followed by a mental breakdown and the onset of severe agitated depression. I was no longer communicating with my wife or my three young children, even though we were all living under the same roof. That morning, I went cycling down a country road. My brain felt like a jumble of spaghetti when I collided with a 10-ton truck. It appears I tried to take my own life.

That’s how I recovered from the breakdown, because when I woke up in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford a few hours later, the dense fog seems to have lifted. From that point onwards, I began to behave like a normal human being. No idea why. The physical impact caused by the accident to my brain? The awful realisation that I had come within a whisper of losing my life, my wife and my kids. There are far more conventional ways of recovering from breakdowns, but that was mine.

How did I recover from stress and anxiety? To be honest, I haven’t! I have simply learned to manage it over the years. I have put banisters in place that help keep me on the straight and narrow: I pick the right working environments, I manage my own expectations and set realistic goals. I satisfy my needs as an introvert. I take medication. I sleep well, eat well, exercise enough. But like all mental illnesses, be aware that it’s always lurking in the bushes, ready to pounce at moments you don’t expect.

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(image: Mark Simmonds and Lucy Streule)

Did you find that Emily received good care and how did you help support her?

Yes, Emily received excellent help and support both from the NHS (Buckinghamshire Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, the Highfield Unit and Cotswold House, Oxford) and from the Cardinal Clinic near Windsor. The dedication and professionalism of all the staff was outstanding and they did their absolute best to help Emily through the illness. But here is the thing. The quality of the support and the hours spent coaxing a patient back to health have little effect or impact until that patient wants to recover.

It took Emily 6 years to decide that she had had enough of anorexia. and it was only then she finally got better. Anorexia (or Ana as we ‘affectionately’ called her) was a brutal enemy, unforgiving and merciless. More than a match for even the most qualified, most experienced doctors, psychiatrists and counsellors.

 

As a father, what was it like to see Emily struggle with anorexia and to try and save her at the time?

I have suffered from depression at various stages in my life and have experienced living at the bottom of the dark pit where Emily found herself. So, it was painful to watch her suffer because I knew exactly what she was feeling. The upside was that I was able to empathise and sympathise with her. I got it. And the way in which I talked to my daughter and tried to support her was more in line with what she needed. People who are suffering from mental ill health don’t respond very well to rational or logical arguments because their brains are temporarily ‘broken’. The neurotransmitters are not connecting with one another. They need lots of hugging, hand holding, being listened to and loved. An irrational and emotional approach is more effective than a rational one.

Where are you both now in terms of recovery?

As far as my daughter was concerned, it was just 12 months ago when the full-blown Anorexia Wars came to an end. We are all fully aware that war could break out again sometime in the future. As a good friend described it, all we could hope was “that Ana will get incarcerated and gagged in small section deep in Emily’s brain, a high security area from which she can never escape.”

Thankfully, at the moment, our daughter is flying high. She is living and working in London for ITV, eating well, drinking alcohol in moderation (trust me that is a positive thing!), firmly back on track.

As far as I am concerned, life is great. As I mentioned earlier in this piece, I don’t think that you ever escape fully from either stress or anxiety, but I am determined not to let it get in the way of doing great things, trying new stuff, taking risks, saying things that you might regret, taking on people with whom you don’t agree. I want to make sure I end up under the right tombstone.

 

How has reaction to the book been and how was the writing process?

The writing process was a joy! I loved more or less every minute of it. Working closely with Kasim, my editor at Trigger to agree the overall shape and structure of the book, researching stories and expert perspectives/points of view to add colour, collaborating with the wonderfully talented graphic designer, Lucy Streule, around the illustrations. And spending hour after hour with my wife and family editing, tweaking, improving the book. A wonderful experience.

The reaction has been great, both from friends and from people I have never met.

Alastair Campbell comes into the latter category and he kindly agreed to endorse my book. This is what he said: “I loved this book and devoured it in a single day. Whether on his own illness, his mother’s or his daughter’s struggles, Mark writes clearly and without sentimentality. He is brutally honest about the reality of mental illness across the generations with important insights about how to survive it. Though it is filled with sadness and heartbreak, ultimately his story is a testimony to the power of love and of the human spirit.”

 

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Mark Simmonds published his first book, Breakdown and Repair, with Trigger Publishing, in March 2019 (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Breakdown-Repair-Fathers-Success-Inspirational/dp/1912478994). It provides a full account of his daughter’s struggle against anorexia and is illustrated by Lucy Streule. It also talks candidly about his own experiences with mental ill health.

You can also follow Mark on Instagram (mentalhealthmark).

 

Looking to the future: Life and Positivity by Eleanor

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(image: Pinterest)

‘The only thing constant in the world is change‘- India Arie

In the past few weeks, it hasn’t been the easiest of times. My anxiety has come back on some days, leaving me feeling pretty low and unable to do certain tasks. However, as each day passes it is slowly improving and I am looking towards the future, both in my life and career.

I am making the transition again to being self employed. For me, this is difficult to blog about- but as we look towards the Jewish New Year, I am holding on to hope.

Hope that all will improve.

Hope that good things are on their way.

Hope that the light is coming back again.

My book will be published in just over a month’s time and I am so excited to hold the paperback in my hands! Thank you everyone who pre ordered the book and made it into a best seller.

I am grateful for every blessing that has come my way. I also have more writing projects planned, stay tuned for further details :). I know it all will lead to good in the end.

I’m currently looking into therapy and further support- EMDR therapy if possible, which helps to process trauma through rapid eye movements and images.

Everything will work out for the good, just some days it is hard to see. A note to self: keep positive and keep going. Good, happiness and dreams are on it’s way even if temporarily hidden.

 

Coping with the Anxiety and Stress of Becoming a Single Parent : Guest blog by Emerson Blake

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(Image: Jordan Whitt at Unsplash)

About one-in-five children in the United States live with an unmarried parent; a percentage that has more than doubled since the late 1960’s and one that is slowly on the rise. While many people have children with the idea, and hope, that they will raise their kids alongside their partner, there are some situations in which parenting becomes a party of one. Whether the reason be due to the death of a spouse/partner, divorce, or in some cases, abandonment, the transition to taking over the job alone can be challenging. 

There are many stressors that can be faced by single parents, including: 

  • Visitation and custody problems 
  • Continuing conflict between the parents 
  • The grief of losing a spouse or partner 
  • Effects of the breakup or loss on the child’s peer relations
  • Less opportunity for the parents and children to spend time together
  • Potential problems when entering new relationships 

The increase in daily stressors can not only negatively impact the family relationships, but it can also cause an increased level of stress and anxiety on the parent that is now learning to navigate the new territory of single parenting. 

The fear of the unknown, the stress of trial and error and the anxiety about what the future holds can make the transition into single parenting emotionally stressful. While you may feel as if you are entering into a world full of the unknown, there are some ways you can aid in coping with the stress and anxiety that this major change can bring. 

 

Find Sources of Support 

Maintaining positive support systems will be a crucial part in transitioning to a single parent household. While many parents may feel as if they have something to prove by showing that they can handle the change on their own, they are likely to feel deeper effects of the stress if they choose to not accept the help of others. Welcome the help of your family and friends with open arms and don’t be afraid to vocalize when you feel like you need assistance. Whether that be asking a family member to help out while you run a few errands or taking the time to talk about your feelings with a close friend on your drive home from work; realizing you have the support of other people and utilizing that will help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety. 

There are also other forms of support available should you be interested in seeking them out. Finding a support group for single parents will allow you to find others who are in your same situation and understand the struggles, allowing you to build a friendship based on commonalities. Not only will this support group be good for you, but it will also assist in bringing other children into your child’s life that they can play with and learn from! 

 

Take Time for Yourself 

While becoming a single parent may give you the illusion that you no longer have time for yourself, it is important that you do make personal time a priority. Time spent away from your children is actually good for you and them. As parents, we constantly feel the need to put our children’s needs above ours; however, taking a little bit of time for ourselves occasionally is a healthy desire and can have a positive impact on our overall mental health. These don’t have to be costly, extravagant gestures. Here are a few simple ideas of things that you can do for yourself as a single parent: 

  • Indulge in a good book – set aside some time for yourself each night to escape into a completely different world by indulging in a book that interests you, inspires you and teaches you. 
  • Take a hot bath – there’s nothing nearly as relaxing as a long, hot bath at the end of a stressful day. Consider adding essential oils to your bath or using a bath bomb to really get yourself feeling calm and relaxed. Both of which are commonly used to alleviate stress and anxiety. 
  • Plan a dinner with friends – part of maintaining yourself is keeping a social life. Adult interaction is well-deserved after a day spent at home with the kids. Feeling like you have someone you can talk to who understands and relates to you is helpful in opening up about any stressors or anxiety you are currently feeling and need to get some advice on. 

 

Stay Consistent 

Sticking to a daily routine will keep the structure and will help you and your children feel more secure. While things don’t always go according to plan, maintaining a schedule is a healthy way to set expectations for your family. Focus on scheduling meals, chores and bedtimes at regular times – especially during the week days with school and work. Keeping discipline consistent across families that have divorced or separated parents is also a suggested way to remain consistent. Children that rotate between each of their parent’s houses likely experience a lot of inconsistency between schedules and routine; so, agreeing to discipline the children the same way will bring about some level of familiarity across each home. 

Much like many other times in life, learning to take on a new role and live a new kind of lifestyle can be anxiety and stress-inducing. The major change of becoming a single-parent can impact everyone in the family, so it is important to ensure efforts are made to make the transition a little bit smoother for everyone. As the parent, we will likely be affected in many different areas i.e. financial status, relationships, routine, schedule and workload, which is likely to make the stress and anxiety almost overpowering.

Welcoming the support of friends and family, making time for yourself and sticking to a routine are all natural and healthy ways to cope with the adjustment. The stress and anxiety that come along with change are common, but ensuring you take steps to aid them will benefit you, your family and your mental health in the long run. 

Guest blog written by Emerson Blake, Freelance writer from USA