Can Alcohol raise stress levels and affect our mental health?: Guest post by Tomas Sanchez

This guest post was written by Tomas Sanchez and talks about Drinkaware, the UKs top alcohol education charity. For more and help and support, view their website at : https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/

Highly demanding jobs, family duties, money worries, relationships issues, they can all add up to make our stress levels go through the roof. The truth is, it can sometimes feel like we’re sat on a roller coaster, led by a high-pressure lifestyle that is ruining our health and happiness.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 16 million people experience a mental health problem each year, and stress is a key factor in this. Which is why this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is focused on understanding the impact stress has on our lives and how to tackle it effectively. The week took place last week between 14th and 20th May.

When it comes to coping with stress, reaching for booze might seem like a good idea to help you lift your spirits and relax. However, in the long run, alcohol can have the opposite effect and contribute towards raising your stress, affecting your mental health and wellbeing.

Wine, beer, cider or spirits, whatever your tipple of choice, the alcohol in your drink is a depressant, which means it can disrupt the delicate balance of chemicals your brain relies on for good mental health – especially when you drink above the alcohol unit guidelines.

In fact, while a pint or two may cheer you up, this is only a short-lived effect that will quickly wear off. But, in the long run, drinking too much too often can exacerbate your stress and contribute towards the development of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Alcohol can also impact your sleep. You might think that drinking can help you nod off a stressful day at work, but in reality, alcohol can alter your sleep cycle and make it harder for you to get the rest you need to tackle the stress in your life.

If you’re struggling to deal with stress, there are more effective ways to cope with it than reaching for alcohol, such as:

Exercise, a great way to de-stress. Go for a run, swim or to a yoga class – or even a brisk walk can help clear your head of the day’s worries.

Talk to a friend about what’s worrying you. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your friends or family, look for professional help – talk to your GP or an accredited counsellor. They will be able to help you manage your feelings and point you to the right resources to help you restore your wellbeing.

Take a hot bath or do some gentle stretches to relieve tension from your body.

If you do decide to have a drink, follow the UK Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) advice – it’s safest not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week and spread your drinking evenly over three or more days.

If you’re drinking too much too often, cut back on it by:

 

  • Keeping track of what you’re drinking – use Drinkaware’s App to help you monitor your alcohol intake and change the way you drink.

 

  • Choosing low-alcohol drinks or mocktails.

 

  • Giving alcohol-free days a go. If you drink regularly, your body starts to build up a tolerance to alcohol. This is why many medical experts recommend taking regular days off from drinking to ensure you don’t become dependent on alcohol.
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Guest Post: Interview with Dr Janina Scarlet, author of new book ‘Therapy Quest’

I have got to know Dr Janina Scarlet, psychologist as I have written more across the media. Janina writes about therapy and mental health in an approachable and meaningful way. She also loves superheroes and fantasy and incorporates them into her work!

This week for Mental Health Awareness Week, I spoke to her as she launches her  new book ‘Therapy Quest’.

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(image: The Book Publicist/ Dr Janina Scarlet)

 

What is your new book Therapy Quest about?

Therapy Quest is an interactive fantasy book in which YOU (the reader) are the main character. You are transported to a magical world of Here and are the Chosen One to stop an evil sorceress, Mallena, from destroying the world. Only you don’t feel like a hero. Not at all. Your anxieties and insecurities nearly lead you to abandon your quest altogether. However, if you decide to partner up with some new friends, such as a vampire with an eating disorder, and an Ogre who struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder, you just might be able to become a hero after all.

The book is written in a game-like format, which allows you to make choices along the way. Each choice you make will change the rest of your journey and can either allow you to earn or lose points. Some choices can kill your friends or your character, so you have to be careful.

Each time you make a choice, you will also learn a mental health skill, and you will need all the skills you can learn along the way to help you in your final battle.

What was your inspiration for writing it?

I knew I wanted to write a fantasy book with self-help elements in it, in which the reader could learn these skills through the characters they were reading about. My editor, Andrew McAleer, had the brilliant idea of having a similar format to “Choose Your Own Adventure” fighting fantasy books. This sounded like a very interesting challenge to me, and I am extremely honoured to have been able to work on it.

Could you explain a bit about what Superhero Therapy is and how it works in the book?

Superhero Therapy refers to incorporating elements of popular culture, such as fantasy and science fiction books, movies, TV shows, as well as video games, comic books (Superhero or otherwise) into evidence-based (research-supported) therapy to help clients to become their own version of a superhero in real life (IRL).

In Therapy Quest, the reader is the Chosen One, the Hero of their own journey even if they question their ability to do so. Through learning skills such as mindfulness, self-compassion, acceptance, and following their own core values, the readers are invited to take their own superhero journey and develop their own superhero skills, which can be utilized in their every day life as well.

Who could you recommend the book to?

I would recommend this book to anyone age 12 and up who might enjoy fantasy books and would like to learn skills to manage depression, anxiety, trauma, or other mental health struggles.

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Dr Janina Scarlet is a clinical psychologist and the author of Therapy Quest, a revolutionary self-help book which combines therapy with an interactive fantasy quest.

Fitness and how it can help Depression: Guest Post by Paul Matthews

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(image: Fortaleza Fitness Center)

Dark times can come. When you reach your darkest days, the ones in which your thoughts are controlling you and you can barely do anything, you should try and keep yourself busy, if this is possible. Its not always possible for people who are unwell- but distractions and exercise are always helpful, especially if they benefit your overall health.

These are the top 3 reasons why taking exercise could help you if you’re suffering from depression:

1: Engage your mind and keep it busy

Last year was one of the worst periods of my life: I broke up with my girlfriend, changed my job and lost one of my best friends. I was that sad and my mind was not properly functioning, all my thoughts were invading me all day and I was barely able to do anything.

One day, I went for a 5 mile run, because it was sunny, right after work. During this time, no negative thought hit me. That was when I opened my eyes: if you don’t dwell on depressive thoughts, then you will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I decided to get a gym membership and I started working out for an hour after work. It has really helped me manage my depression. I am happy right now: my life is busy, but I have plenty of energy every day and less dark clouds.

Keep active and you should hopefully see the benefit!

 

2: Your lifestyle can affect your mental health

One of my friends who had depression loved junk food. He was constantly sad and depressed. He also did hardly any exercise. I encouraged him to exercise more and go to the gym if possible. The exercise helped him feel more positive and like he was taking good steps back to wellness. 
3. Help Your Self Esteem and Do it for you 

Many people told me that they were embarrassed to do exercise and particularly going to the gym as they felt “ugly, insecure, overweight and not fit” and so on. The best advice I can give is: get yourself some good fitness clothing you feel comfortable in. This might sound a bit weird, but properly fitting exercise wear can boost confidence and promote positive mental health.

Its also important to note that you aren’t the only one feeling this way and most people feel the same about themselves. Take that leap today.

When you are approaching fitness, whether if it’s in the gym or outside, or even at home, you must not forget about why you are doing it, why it’s important for you and how this could help you with your mindset.

Gentle exercise includes swimming, walking and yoga. There is something for everyone.

Try and see over the wall and remember: after the storm, the sun will rise again. Keep it up!

 

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Paul Matthews is a freelance business writer in Manchester, who has headed up several campaigns. His aim is to better inform business owners and professionals on the hidden dangers of the workplace. You can often find him mountain biking or at the local library.

You can contact him at : https://twitter.com/paulwritesalot

Guest Post: On Sexual Abuse by Anonymous Woman

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(image: JPMS Medical blogs)


The writer of this article is an anonymous woman who wanted to speak out to share her story of being sexually abused as a child and teen. She also has mental health issues as a result.

Trigger warning: please read with care 

 

I have been abused twice, both times were at the hands of people I knew and respected, once when I was 8 and once at around age 17/18.

A lot of the memories were lost due to the extent of the trauma, but having EMDR has opened up the box, broken the chain that was firmly fixed around it and let all the memories out.

It has been horrendous, reliving the abuse, the detail of my memory, almost physically feeling I am back, as a child in that bed, remembering the details .  The family friend was a women, who was so trusted by all of us, growing up I adored her, admired her, almost wanted to be her, and now, all of those feelings have vanished replaced by to many emotions to specify one.

When I was a teenager I was abused by a well known Rabbi, thankfully the abuse this man carried out has come out in to the community.

I have written this letter in the hope that more people in the community may feel more able to step forward to talk about this.

If someone would like my e mail address please ask the blog owner for it.  

Dear my abuser (s) 

This letter will never get sent , but I want you to know what impact you had on my life, how those actions which may have only lasted 15 -30 minutes , actions which you probably have forgotten about, shaped the person I have become. 

In a strange way I am grateful for the memories of what you did, as not having the memory, yet knowing that something happened was worse. When the memories savaged my brain, invading my mind with your face, your hands and your body I believed that the shock and horror would never pass, everything I had ever thought of you, all my memories of you changed from seeing you as a positive, supportive influence to a monster who had harmed me in the worst way possible.

Your actions, made me aware from such a young age of my body .For years I knew, that from the age of around 9 my body was an immensely complicated thing in my mind, at such a young age being so aware of my body affected my confidence, self esteem and self love . 

At age 8 you took away the most precious thing, you helped yourself to my innocence, you took away from the person I could have become and began my journey to becoming the person I have been.

That knowledge made me in to a pretty messed up person.

My child is around that age . I look at my child  and see a happy future, a future filled with love and self confidence. The thought of something similar happening to my child  is to painful to contemplate.

By the time I was in my teens, my journey of self destruction was well on its way. I had learned by that time how to hide things, how to keep secrets, how to come across as confident and well adjusted and to this day my public persona and the person I am inside are two very different people. My life, for so many years was about seeking physical pleasure in order to reassure myself that I was a loveable, attractive person, that having sex was the self affirmation I needed to survive, lowering myself, giving my body freely, whilst hating myself for doing it, gave me the tools to breath, to live. Even today, if I do not feel my husband desires me it destroys me for days.

There were so many questions, mostly WHY, and HOW, how could I have let this happen to me twice, and why did it happen twice ( I know now that is was BECAUSE it happened once it happened again ) , how could I have stood as an older teen -when I let the pictures overtake my mind I am screaming silently why, why, why.

It is like being at a movie, a never ending movie, you can not leave the screening, you are on the screen, you try to yell, you try to reach out to the girl in the movie, but she can not hear you, you see her at 8, you see her at 17 you see her life unravelling, and you can not do anything to stop it, you want to beg her to tell, you want to beg her to be strong.

You see the girl grow, you see the way she lived her life, and you understand how the girls journey began, it makes sense to you that the girl ends up with severe mental health issues , you see how mental health issues are worsened by no self esteem, how other tragic events  could tip her over the edge and compel her to seek comfort in the arms of any man who would take her, and you understand her.  

 I understand now that cause and effect would dictate that the reason I ended up in your office, was a direct result of what she did to me at age 8, that she was the one who started the chain of events.

You taught me, you guided me to the mind-set that “the way to get love and care is to do what a man wants”.

My whole self worth was wrapped up in a package labelled, please sleep with me.

I feel so much sadness, sadness for the girl you both violated, sadness that the girl whose body you choose to fulfil your sick desires was mine, sadness that I am constantly questioning everything, why was I there, how could I have let you, why didn’t I tell anyone, when will I be able to go a day, an hour, 10 minutes without one of you pushing your way in to my thoughts.

There is nothing I can do to turn back time, there is no way I can ask you why, or sit with you and show you the movie of my life, the one which you started, I pray that there will come a time I can accept what you both did, I hope with all my heart a day will come when you will not mean anything to me.

All I can do is wait, sit with these constant overwhelming thoughts, trying to untangle them like a necklace with those annoying knots in the chain that are impossible to open, yet I will persevere.

I will continue to pick at the chain until all those knots have gone and you both become dust that is blown away from my mind


If you need support with sexual abuse and you live in the UK please contact:

The Survivors Trust

https://migdalemunah.org.uk/

Safe Line

Guest Post: 5 Tips for Boosting Your Immune System by Michelle Hannan, Nutritionist

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Do you get sick and cough and sneeze a lot? You could have a weakened immune system. In this article, Michelle Hannan, Nutritionist shares her tips to improve your overall health, including within the mind. 

A weak immune system allows viruses and bacteria in your body to make you unwell. A strong immune system ensures that the body has the power to fight it all as best it can. Your physical health can also affect your mental health and make you feel low, despondent and not at your best.  

Here are some factors that weaken the immune system.

  • Harmful radiation
  • Smoking
  • Unhygienic lifestyle
  • Stress
  • Too much alcohol
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor diet
  • No or little exercise
  • Obesity
  • Excessive medication

These are my tips for boosting the immune system:

 

  • EATING HEALTHILY

 

Most immune problems are due to unhealthy lifestyle or illness. Make yourself your priority and you will see the changes that occur in your life.

Unhealthy eating (high fat foods) can damage your immune system and affects your mental health  People consider healthy food as dull and complicated, but in fact, it is not. Check out some recipes for healthy yet delicious and easy food and stick to it to see the results.

 

  • EXERCISING

 

I understand that people have a hard time exercising due to many reasons. I was one of those people who hated exercising and opted for dieting whenever in need but a friend made me exercise for a month, and now I can’t think of a day without it.

When you exercise in adequate amounts, your immune system improves. Exercising also helps in making your memory stronger.

According to a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Canberra Research Institute for Sport and Exercise in Australia.

There is now a wide body of research showing that the benefits to the body with exercise also exist for the brain, when older adults undertake aerobically, we see changes to the structure and function of areas of the brain responsible for complex mental tasks and memory function.

-Joe Northey

He further said.

Each type of exercise seems to have different effects on the growth factors responsible for the growth of new neurons and blood vessels in the brain that may indicate why doing aerobic is of benefit to cognitive function.

-Joe Northey

http://time.com/4752846/exercise-brain-health/

 

  • RELAX MORE

When we worry more and relax less, our body`s immune system gets beaten up, and our mental health suffers.

Try to concentrate on the present rather than the future. This quote of Meredith grey from grey`s anatomy inspired me a lot.

We spend our whole lives worrying about the future, planning for the future, trying to predict the future, as if figuring it out will cushion the blow. But the future is always changing. The future is the home of our deepest fears and wildest hopes. But one thing is certain when it finally reveals itself. The future is never the way we imagined it.

 

  • VITAMIN D

 Sunshine is important for your immune system, promoting uptake of Vitamin D. Be careful to wear sun protection but get out a little every day into the light. This will help your mood too.

 

  • HOME REMEDIES

Home remedies are often misunderstood. People tend to think that home remedies do no good but in reality, the remedies below can give you long-lasting results. 

  • Avoid tobacco and alcohol
  • Drink as much water as possible to flush toxins
  • Eat garlic
  • Eat nuts and seeds as they contain healthy fats
  • Include more and more vegetables and fruits in your diet

 

Author bio: Michelle Hannan is a nutritionist, and she’s on a mission to give you all the information you need to lose weight successfully. She also blogs regularly at https://www.hcgdietinfo.net/

 

How Holistic Medicine can help Mental Health by Amy Boyington

 

 

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Holistic medicine, as an approach to health, has been gaining ground rapidly over the last ten years. It focuses on how the mind affects the body. That means creating an integrative plan that supports a patient’s mental health throughout the entire treatment process- including follow-up care.

Holistic Medicine – A New “Whole Person” Medical Approach

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The Holistic medical approach, now most frequently referred to as “Integrative Medicine,” has evolved from a variety of alternative medical approaches. Its standout feature is the fact that the medical practitioners, or team of practitioners, treat each patient in a comprehensive capacity. They look for “imbalances” in a person’s day-to-day activities, mental health, and physical health. They may even take spirituality and strong personal beliefs into account on a case-to-case basis.

This “whole person” approach can lead to differences in things as simple as scheduling. For example, in a Western medical setting, it’s usual for patients to be assigned a time slot of about 15-minutes per visit. On the other hand, holistic medical practitioners may spend an hour or more with each patient. This approach allows them to develop a lasting, therapeutic relationship and develop a comprehensive treatment plan. While shorter visits may make sense to some patients and can be ideal for check-ins and updating prescriptions, some patients feel that they need more attention, or that their condition can’t be addressed in short bursts.

Borrowing from Eastern, Western, and “Conventional” Medical Traditions

Holistic, integrative medicine takes a little bit of everything from every possible health tradition. This approach has a firm scientific basis, considering all of the physical signs and symptoms and researching all known diagnosis and treatments to match.

Holistic medicine then diverges sharply and involves the patient, along with their value and opinions, in the entire process.

By doing so, holistic medicine shows that it has respect for the sanctity of every person’s health- something that’s more often seen in Eastern medicine. 

 

How Holistic Medicine Supports Mental Health

  • Looking at the Big Picture – Each person is more than just the product of their DNA. With advances in epigenetic research, doctors are learning how profoundly a person’s physical appearance and health status are influenced by their thought patterns and life experiences.
  • Treatment and Medication Balance – Holistic medicine tends to favour procedures that don’t involve medications but their use is never ruled out. For some, the right prescription can work miracles. If that is the case, then a holistic approach would be to continue using that medication but also bolster it with additional therapies. So, if you are likely to have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) a doctor taking a holistic approach might ask you to make changes to your home or lighting in addition to taking a look at any current supplements and medication.
  • Accepting Alternative Therapies as Valid – In a similar vein as the above, if you aren’t responding to a given treatment, a holistic medical practitioner will listen to your reasons why and help you develop an alternative solution. If you feel strongly about a particular therapy, that, too, will be taken into account. In the long run, a more holistic approach may lead to more resources given to therapies that people feel have the most substantial impact, like talk therapy.
  • Seeing  Spiritual and Mental Needs as Relevant – Chronic stress, from work, home, unfulfilled needs, or a significant life event can lead a person to develop a physical illness.  By seeing a patient and considering their mental health needs, a doctor has a higher chance of identifying the cause of a given symptom, although it is hard to know.
  • Treating You, the Patient, Like a Person – Patients should be listened to and educated about their treatment options. A holistic medical practice will allow patients to have more time with their doctors and specialists.

 

 

We are 2 Years Old! Blog Anniversary of Be Ur Own Light!

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(image: Michelle Leigh writes)

Wow! I can’t believe that Be Ur Own Light has turned 2 years old! We celebrated our second blogiversary on 1st March so I am a few days late but it doesn’t matter.

This blog has provided me with so many amazing opportunities so far. I have met more and more people who are like minded and want to speak about their own mental health to battle stigma. I have met some incredible people online too and such wonderful contributors. I love also finding and telling untold stories.

The blog  has really grown this year into a good mental health resource. We have had lots of contributors which has been fab. I (Eleanor, founder of blog) have also started a new career as a mental health writer and journalist. That is largely down to the success of the blog and I have truly found a niche. Be Ur Own Light is also a shortlisted finalist in the Health and Social care individual category of the UK Blog Awards 2018! Thank you for all your support of the blog and what we do.

I have written this year for Metro.co.uk, Glamour Magazine (online), No Panic, Happiful Magazine and Happiful.com, Counselling Directory, Mind, SANE, Time to Change, STOP Suicide,  Jewish News, Equilibrium Magazine, World Union of Jewish Students,
and been featured in Cosmopolitan UK, Elle UK and Prima.

Thank you to all these amazing people who have provided guest blogs this year. I have been humbled to work with experts and people with lived experience, to provide information and tell others stories to help end the stigma and provide a resource on mental health.

So thank you to these guest bloggers who gave me such wonderful content. There is more to come. This year March 2017-18 thanks to:

Hannah Brown- Recovery from Anorexia
Time With-  Therapy queries
Charlotte Underwood- Recovery from depression/ suicide
Trysh Sutton- Pure Path Essential Oils

Ariel Taylor- Trichotillomania guide
Jon Manning- Mental health in schools
Channel 4 and Lloyds Bank- Get the Inside Out campaign
Stephen Galloway- Inspirational lyrics
Eugene Farell AXA PPP- Loneliness tips
Peter Lang- PTSD and recovery
Kaitlyn W- Light beyond self harm
Jess Harris- Organ donation
Sam- Recovery from bipolar disorder
Ryan Jackson- Reasons for drug and alcohol addiction stigma
Redfin.com- Seasonal Affective disorder
United Mind Laughter Yoga- Job and wellbeing
Christina Hendricks- on PTSD
Reviews Bee- Child Mental Health
Consumer Money Worries- Mental Health and money
Stephen Smith- OCD and nOCD app
Arslan Butt- University students and mental illness
Tony Weekes- Unity MHS
Ellie Miles- Fighting Health Anxiety
Hope Virgo- Anorexia and recovery
Ann Heathcote- Government and mental health
Jasmine Burns- Strategies to help Binge eating
Bill Weiss- Surviving Opiate withdrawal
Jessica Flores- Bipolar 2 – depression
Jay Pigmintiello- Mindfulness and Meditation
David Baum- 365 Challenge for PTSD awareness
Karen- Mental health professional with anxiety
Dr Stacey Leibowitz Levy- CBT
Lucy Boyle- Burnout Syndrome
Diamond G Health Informer- Technology and mental health
Juno Medical- Anxiety Disorders

Thank you to everyone! This year we aim to cover even more mental health issues and disorders in our quest to provide information and be a home for all.

This year I have also written personal posts about my fight with my anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, mental health and dating, mental health and weight gain, NHS waiting lists and therapy,  book reviews for Trigger Press for Hope Virgo and Karen Mantons books, Workplace and mental health stigma, Reading as therapy and more! Time to Talk Day and Eating Disorder Awareness Week marked and many conversations had eg stigma about psychiatric medication.

We have won various awards from other bloggers- Liebster, Sunshine, Mystery and Top 30 social anxiety blog and Top 100 bipolar blog from Feedspot.com.

I am so excited that we have over 4,000 followers on Twitter, almost 600 on WordPress, over 2000 on Instagram and of course my loyal Facebook followers too.

Thank you friends and supporters! Heres to a great year talking about all things mental health and normalising it to all.

Eleanor x

Extract from Cosmopolitan UK Article by Olivia Blair on Anti Depressants- featuring our founder Eleanor

I was so excited to be featured in Olivia Blair’s article for Cosmopolitan UK on anti depressants- 6 women share what its really like to be on Anti depressants.

I am so thrilled to be in this article with 4 other brave women. My first time in Cosmo! Thank you Olivia.

Below is my part of the article but please click here to read the others experiences too:  https://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/body/health/a18720313/women-on-antidepressants-working/

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(image: Getty Images/ Cosmopolitan)

I become suicidal when depressed, it’s vital I take medication for my health”

Eleanor Segall, 29, mental health blogger

“I started taking antidepressants when I was 15 after an acute depressive episode where I had to take time off school. A year later I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was hospitalised so I was prescribed a mood stabiliser as well to keep me on an even keel.

I was concerned about some of the side effects but the positives for my mind and brain chemistry outweighed the negatives. Over the years, I have been on different antidepressants including fluoxetine, duloxetine and now sertraline. I also continue to have psychodynamic therapy and have tried CBT, art therapy and meditation.

There is a big stigma around anti depressants, particularly against bipolar and other chronic conditions. But I think this new study offers proof that, for some of us, they are vital.”

Extract from my latest Metro.co.uk article: 6 people share their experiences of friendship during Mental Illness

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(image: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

I have bipolar disorder and four years ago I was hospitalised for a severe manic episode.

Without the love, kindness and support of my friends, I definitely would not have recovered as well.

Their support reminds me I am not alone and helps me to feel loved and safe. But mental ill health can be frightening for those who do not understand it, and sometimes friendships can be lost when one person experiences a mental health condition.

Some people may find it hard to cope with symptoms of a friend’s illness and, as such, cut ties or back away.

Jessica Valentine, psychologist at the Brighton Wellness Centre spoke to Metro.co.uk. She says: ‘Sometimes having a friend with a mental health illness can be draining. ‘On the other hand, it’s good to experience the journey of mental health; the ups and the downs, from a personal level. ‘You really get to ‘feel’ your friend come out of the depression. And, it somewhat makes you feel that you are living it too, side by side, helping them.’

The Mental Health Foundation explains that friendship can ‘play a key role in helping someone live with or recover from a mental health problem and overcome the isolation that often comes with it.

It advises that many people who manage to hold onto friendships while experiencing a mental health condition can see those friendships become stronger as a result.

I wanted to see the role of friendships in other peoples’ lives, either when they were coping with a mental health condition, or when they had witnessed a friend in crisis.

Here six people explain their experiences:

Read their experiences and rest of article: http://metro.co.uk/2018/03/01/6-people-share-their-experiences-of-friendship-during-mental-illness-7343290/?ito=cbshare

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MetroUK | Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MetroUK/

Blog for No Panic on Living with Social Anxiety: by our founder Eleanor

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(image: No Panic)

I am delighted to collaborate and write a blog with No Panic, an amazing mental health charity for people with anxiety disorders. You can read it here on their website:   https://www.nopanic.org.uk/living-social-anxiety-story/  and also below:

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(image: No Panic)

I have lived with my anxiety disorder for most of my life, but it really started at aged 15, when I was so acutely anxious I had to take six weeks off school during my GCSE year. I was suffering from an agitated depression, an episode that left me reeling. I was so young and so unwell. It was partly triggered by stressful life events but what I didn’t know at that time was that my anxiety and depression was part of a wider illness- bipolar disorder.

After several episodes of depression and mania, I was hospitalised at aged 16 at the Priory North London and diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. Bipolar is a mood disorder where you fluctuate between episodes of depression, hypomania (a lesser manic state) or mania. It can run in families and can be triggered by life events. I am now 29, so have lived with this for almost 14 years.

I was hospitalised due to a severe depression that featured psychosis, where your mind loses touch with reality and can cause bad anxiety. I had delusions- false beliefs about the world and a lot of fear. Luckily, I recovered after four months of treatment, left and started taking regular medication which began to help, however, the anxiety seemed to be ever present.

As I had been so ill as a teenager with a whole host of symptoms due to my bipolar, I developed social anxiety and panic attacks. I was desperate to fit in and appear ‘normal’ as most teenagers are. I felt different, I was facing life with a chronic illness. There was so much uncertainty, they couldn’t just scan my brain to see what was going on. Taking medication was trial and error for me, some worked and some didn’t. The same with therapies.

The social anxiety was about feeling judged by other people, because I was judging myself wrongly for what had happened during my episodes. It impacted my self esteem- I felt low about myself and didn’t know why I had been given this illness and why it caused me so much embarrassment and shame at the time. There was a stigma back in 2004, that has lessened today

My social anxiety manifested a few years after I had left hospital. I began to fear attending parties, dates and social events with friends, in case I was judged negatively. As a teenager, there was a lot of stigma from other teenagers about my illness. This made me feel depleted, sad and angry. I didn’t choose my brain chemistry- so why were they spreading false rumours about me and making me feel worthless? It was a difficult time for me. I did also have a lot of love and support.

However, my heart would race and the event eg a birthday party in a club or bar, would trigger an absolute state of panic. What if I looked awful/ wore the wrong clothes? What if everyone was judging me when I got there and thinking badly of me? I often would cancel on friends and not attend, for fear of having to show up, however I felt. I felt so vulnerable and I didn’t want anyone to see it.

Part of the anxiety was because when you have bipolar episodes of mania and depression (particularly mania) it leaves you feeling ashamed of your behaviour. For me there was a certain sense of shame, especially with the manic episodes. However, I knew it wasn’t my true personality and I could not control my brain chemistry at the time it happened. Yet, my subconscious mind continued to trigger panic in social situations.

I was lucky and am still lucky to have a group of very supportive friends (and family) who helped me to get out more, through exposure therapy. My Mum or Dad would take me out in the car, or friends would come to the house and coax me slowly out into the world again. Exposure therapy, moving slowly to expose myself to the feared situations is so helpful to me, even today.

Aged 20, I began my first course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for the anxiety. I worked out with my therapist what the limiting beliefs holding me back were- fear of judgement, fear of being exposed negatively (as my illness made me feel so out of control) and I was asked to keep thought records of my negative thoughts at the time of a panic attack.

For me, panic attacks manifested themselves as feeling clammy, sick, tight chest, overwhelming negative thoughts about a situation and the fight or flight desire to run away and cancel the arrangement, removing myself from the feared trigger. Although the CBT did not stop the anxiety and panic, it gave me some tools at the time to understand it.

Over the years, I have completed three courses of CBT with a psychologist and another therapist, until I gave up on it, because my anxiety was so emotionally rooted and based in the subconscious that the cognitive approach was not working. For me a combination of the following helps.

Firstly, talking therapy about any past traumas (psychodynamic) with my current therapist is so helpful and makes me feel so grounded and safe. Secondly, when very stressed, I find meditation, particularly the Yoga Nidra meditation or apps like Headspace so helpful for breathing. Taking deep breaths can help relieve stress. Thirdly, exposure therapy is key to recovery. I find the more I go out accompanied, the more I feel able to do- it’s a slow process but helpful.

In 2014, after ten years out of hospital, I was hospitalised for a severe manic episode with psychosis. This hospitalisation caused a lot of trauma and anxiety and in hospital, I found art therapy incredibly helpful. Making a picture, collage or painting focused and calmed my mind. Even colouring in a book helped me to filter out the stress of being in hospital and kept my mind calm. I suppose this is a form of mindfulness too and I still love art today.

I very much support the work of No Panic and am so thrilled to write here. Since 2016, I have made a really good recovery from my bipolar and am now stable on medication. My anxiety is still there but I now have a career writing freelance for Metro Online, Happiful Magazine, Glamour and mental health charities such as Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and Time to Change. I have also written my mental health blog www.beurownlight.com, which is about my journey with bipolar and anxiety and those of others. It is currently nominated for a UK Blog Award.

Just know that if you currently experience anxiety and panic attacks, whatever triggers it- there will be something out there to help you- whether its therapy, medication, mindfulness, exercise, meditation, art or exposure to the feared situation in small doses. You are not alone.

For more on No Panic please see: https://www.nopanic.org.uk/