Expressing Social Anxiety through Songwriting: Alive: Guest blog by Rachel Leycroft

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(image: Rachel Leycroft)

Rachel experienced severe social anxiety in many forms for the majority of her life. Like many others, she felt it was crucial to hide this at all costs, despite the paralysing pain it often caused. Her therapeutic form of expression was always through songwriting, & she wrote “Alive” at 19-years-old while in college.

It was a time when she went to extremes to uphold an image of fearless confidence, regardless of the toll it took on her well-being. Rachel didn’t realize how many others suffered from similar experiences until a number of years later. With this realisation, she started a project called #lovethroughlyrics where she shares her songs in hopes of reminding others that they are not alone in their struggles.

“Alive” is a metaphorical view of the wish to escape social anxiety. In the song, Rachel relates social anxiety to the feeling of being weighted down and asks to give up aspects of herself that are not being represented with authenticity. Ultimately, she asks to give enough away to free herself & escape the burdensome fear of others’ judgments. “Falling into the horizon” represents the weights of our insecurities being lifted; it’s a moment that lights our souls alive, reminding us that our authentic selves are timeless. They have always been within us, but are often masked by our fears and our desire to be accepted.

Rachel hopes to encourage others to reconnect with their true selves again, no matter how many years they have been hidden. Her greatest wish is to evoke compassion toward ourselves & one another by giving mental health a voice through music.

You can read the lyrics to “Alive” below & listen to the song (original & acoustic) on any music platform by going here: https://fanlink.to/rachelleycroft_alive-acoustic 

Rachel would be happy to connect with you via Instagram as well: https://www.instagram.com/rachelleycroft/

 

How to Deal With Social Anxiety, Social Phobia and Depression: Guest post by CBT Toronto

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(image: the Funny Beaver)

Millions of people around the world suffer from social anxiety, social phobia, and depression. Unfortunately, due to the stigma that is still associated with mental illness around the world, many people try to hide their problems and suffer in silence. Left untreated, social anxiety, social phobia, and depression can lead to isolation, physical health problems, and even suicide. 

Fortunately, there are many treatment modalities available,. This can help sufferers obtain the support and relief that they need and deserve. Here, we will focus on some simple yet effective ways that you, or someone that you love, can alleviate social anxiety, social phobia, and depressive symptoms with tact, integrity, and verve.

 

Risks of Having Social Anxiety Disorder and Depression

Certain individuals may be genetically predisposed to social anxiety disorders or clinical depression, as well as seasonal affective disorder, chronic stress, anger, and generalized anxiety disorder. However, other non-genetic factors may influence whether or not a person develops a social anxiety disorder or depression in their lifetime.

For instance, if you are currently dealing with substance abuse issues, such as excess consumption of alcohol or narcotics, then you may be at an increased risk of developing a social anxiety disorder or chronic depression. Unfortunately, many people will turn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to numb their pain. This puts their bodies at risk of developing a tolerance or resistance to such illicit substances; which can lead those individuals down a path of destruction.

If you are having trouble communicating with others, whether at home or work or are having trouble being productive in your day-to-day life, then you may be suffering from a cognitive impairment or mental health disorder. If you notice that you are not responding to the treatment that your doctor or mental health care professional has prescribed, whether it be cognitive behavioural therapy, psychotherapy, or medication. 

If so, please speak to your doctor, as they may need to adjust your treatment or try a new treatment method. Suicidal ideation is also a serious red flag, and if you have suddenly developed severe thoughts of harming yourself, please seek immediate medical attention.  

What Prevents Social Anxiety Disorder Patients From Accessing Mental Health Care?

Many people who suffer from social anxiety ,blame themselves for their issues. As such, they may refuse to seek outside help to address and rectify their health problems. Furthermore, many people who suffer from SAD are actually unaware that such a condition exists, or may not know who to turn to in order to receive the necessary treatment. 

In fact, it can be argued that many doctors, and most of the general public, are unaware of SAD or how to best tackle the matter. As such, there may be very little help available to those who suffer from the disorder; whether it be medical, moral, or emotional.

 

Does Social Phobia Run in Families?

There have been studies conducted indicating that a person’s risk of developing a social phobia disorder may be elevated if someone in their family has or had the same issue. Moreover, the correlation vs causation interplay between psychiatric and serotonin disorders is also something that many medical experts in the field are aware of. 

That is, while most agree that there is a marked connection between SAD, depression, and serotonin, medical experts are uncertain about which comes first in terms of driving said correlation between the disorders.

 

How to Deal With Social Anxiety Disorder

SAD can often be overcome by getting moral support from friends and family. The key is to interact with loved ones in a respectful and supportive environment so that the person can overcome their problem. Also, it should be noted that many people who suffer from chronic depression do not actually understand why they feel the way they do. 

In other words, many of the feelings or behaviours that they exhibit are automatic and deeply ingrained into their thought process and psyche. It is the responsibility of their loved ones to care and support them by sympathizing with their condition and helping them process their emotions in a safe and healthy manner.

In addition, many studies have found that patients with SAD who undergo cognitive behaviour therapy report a significant improvement in their anxious or depressive symptoms. In some cases, patients may be treated with a combination of cognitive behaviour therapy and medications. This could include Busperione, Remeron, Paxil, Celexa, Trintalex, or other medicines that are commonly used to help those who suffer from anxiety or depressive disorders.

Also, if your symptoms are relatively minor, then there are techniques that you can implement yourself to obtain near-immediate relief. For instance, if you find yourself in a situation that elevates your stress and anxiety levels, then you can practice deep-breathing exercises before the situation escalates.  

If you suffer from social anxiety, then you should try to slowly cultivate your social connections. Doing so can not only help you eventually overcome your social anxiety but may also help alleviate feelings of depression that often result from social isolation. This is known as exposure therapy and can be helpful.

There are other ways to help deal with anxiety and depression. For instance, studies have found that listening to music that you enjoy releases hormones that help promote relaxation. Exercise has many mental as well as physical health benefits. The release of oxytocin and endorphins can help counteract the release of cortisol and other harmful hormones that can exacerbate anxiety and depression.  A healthy and balanced diet can help rectify certain hormonal balances and nutritional deficiencies that can cause lethargy, depression, irritability, and anxiety in some people.

Most importantly get help from a GP doctor or therapist if things are getting too much. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.

This guest post is by CBT Toronto, based in Canada.

If you would like to learn more about social anxiety treatments in Toronto or would like to obtain social anxiety treatments in Toronto, then please visit our website or give us a call at 416-817-8925. We specialize in PTSD, OCD, BDD, depression, couples therapy, and anxiety disorders.

 

Taking care of your child’s mental health: Guest blog by Chloe Walker

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(image: Power of Positivity)

Mental health is extremely important and has a significant impact on a person’s overall health and wellbeing. According to a recent survey by the NHS, one in eight 5 to 19 year olds had at least one mental disorder when assessed. As a parent, you play a crucial role in your child’s mental health. Fortunately, you can help improve your child’s mental health by creating a supportive family environment at home and learning the early warning signs of common mental health disorders, for example. With this in mind, here are some top ways to care for your child’s mental health. 

Develop a good bedtime routine 

Sleep plays a vital role in a child’s mental health. Research shows that there is a strong link between sleep problems and an increased risk of developing certain mental illnesses. In fact, one study found that four-year olds with sleep disorders have a much higher risk of developing symptoms of mental health conditions as six-year olds, when compared with children without sleep problems. Experts at Little Lucy Willow add – “Sleep keeps you calm, your mind alert, and recharges your body to enable you to get up and face each day.” For that reason, you must try and get your child into a good bedtime routine from a young age. Here are some top tips to help your child sleep better:

  • Create an ideal sleeping space by providing a comfortable bed, installing blackout curtains, and minimising any outdoor noise. 
  • Encourage your child not to use electronics like smartphones before bed. 
  • Get your child into a consistent routine where they go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Try to keep this the same on school days and weekends. 
  • Make sure that your child avoids any caffeine in the afternoon or evenings. 
  • Visit your GP if your child has been experiencing sleep problems for more than two weeks, or if the symptoms are interfering with their daily life. 

Exercise as a family 

Exercise plays an important role in a child’s overall health. Along with the physical benefits, regular exercise can greatly improve mental wellbeing. This is because physical activity releases endorphins in the brain which creates feelings of happiness and alleviates stress and anxiety. According to advice on the NHS website, children should get at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day.

To give you an idea, examples of moderate intensity exercise include walking to school, riding a bicycle, and playground activities. Exercising as a family is an excellent way to encourage your child to be active. It also allows you to spend quality time together as a family and build closer bonds. Playing games in the garden, going for a walk in the park, or going on a bike ride, are all fun ways to exercise together as a family. You could also encourage your child to start playing a team sport they’re interested in, such as football, rugby, or hockey. 

Encourage open communication

You must create a welcoming family environment that is built around trust and understanding. This will help your child feel comfortable telling you about any issues surrounding their mental health. Encourage open communication in your family and make sure you check on your child if you notice any changes in their behaviour i.e. they become distant or their eating habits change.

Remember that children tell people how they are feeling in several ways, not always verbally. A sudden change in behaviour may signal that your child is struggling and needs support. Always listen to your child and empathise with their feelings. Let them know that it’s natural to feel down from time to time and offer support in any way you can.

If you’re still worried about your child’s mental health, then speak with your GP or contact a mental health specialist for further advice. 

Final thoughts 

Mental health illnesses in children are becoming increasingly common and can lead to several serious long-term effects. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for you to care for your child’s mental health. Encouraging healthy habits is a simple yet effective way to improve your child’s mental well-being. This should include exercising regularly, getting enough quality sleep, and following a nutritious diet. Along with this, you should also educate yourself on the symptoms of common mental health conditions in children and create a warm, trusting home environment that encourages open communication. Speak to a medical professional if you need to.

This guest blog was written by professional writer Chloe Walker.

 

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 .

 

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. 

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).

 

How to keep your loved one’s memory alive after their passing: Guest blog by Nat Juchems

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The passing of a loved one is one of the hardest things most of us will have to go through. A huge element of the grief you feel is attributed to the worry that your late friend or family member will no longer exist in your life. 

The fear of losing the connection you once shared is a devastating prospect. But in reality, you simply need to realize that the power to keep your loved one’s memory alive is in your hands.

Although they may no longer be here physically, their legacy and your connection with them can live on. To a certain extent, letting your loved one go and acknowledging their passing is healthy but so is allowing yourself to remember and maintain a connection with them.

Creating a special way for you and others to remember your loved one member can go a long way to helping cope with grief. While it may be too painful to think about being proactive about keeping their memory alive in the immediate days and weeks following their death, when you’re ready, these ideas will help.

 

  1.     Include them in special occasions

After the death of a loved one, special occasions sometimes just don’t feel the same. You often feel the sense that someone is missing. In reality, they are missing and you don’t need to pretend that they are not. Instead, acknowledge their absence by making an effort to include them in celebrations like Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Creating a new tradition in their honour is a great way to do this. For example, if your late loved one liked to jog, go for a family jog on Christmas morning. Alternatively, you can visit your loved ones’ memorial as part of your celebrations.

The key here is to remember that you are including them, rather than dwelling on missing them. The first time, it will likely be harder than any subsequent occasions, but in time you will be able to do this with positivity in your heart, rather than extreme sorrow.

 

  1.     Celebrate their birthday

One surefire way to help keep your loved one’s memory alive is to celebrate their birthday. Unlike certain other events, their birthday is the one day of the year that is a celebration of them, and only them. You don’t need to throw a party but doing something small, like having an intimate dinner or buying a birthday cake and singing happy birthday as a family can really create a wonderful sense of remembrance.

 

  1.     Continue doing the things you loved together

So many people simply stop doing things that they used to do with their loved one, but it’s so important that you continue. If your loved one was still here, they would likely still be doing it. By carrying on for them, you help them live on through you. Not only that, doing this acts as a way to soothe your soul and help with your own grief; many happy memories will come up, reminding you of times you did the activity together.

 

  1.     Set up a memorial

Realistically, the very foundation of keeping your loved one’s memory alive relies upon you actually remembering them. Now, that’s not to say that you would ever forget them, but as time passes, you may forget to remember them. As unlikely as that may seem now, the frequency of flashes of them in your mind decreases with the passing years. By creating a permanent memorial to them, you will always have somewhere to go, to celebrate them, to remember them.

Your memorial site doesn’t necessarily need to be in the place where they were laid to rest, you can set up a special area in your home or even plant a tree in your garden. If your loved one was cremated, you can give a cremation urn pride of place within your memorial, or you can simply include their picture and other personal items.

 

  1.     Embrace their passions

One of the best ways to immortalize your loved one is to continue their passions or projects for them. If they were a volunteer, you could start to volunteer. If they loved the theatre, you could take some theatre classes. If they wanted to visit a certain destination, you could take a family vacation to that location. These gestures don’t have to be grand, but by acknowledging their passions and taking action to continue them to some extent in their honor, you will be actively creating a powerful way to help them live on.

Losing a loved one is never easy but keeping their memory alive can give you some semblance of peace. While it may feel that simply remembering pales in comparison to actually having them with you, it is vital that you don’t remain in that negative mindset. Grief manifests in a number of different ways and the ‘stages’ vary in length and intensity for each of us. Just remember, when you’re ready, the best way to remember them is to do the things which honor their memory and keep them alive within your heart. 

 

Nat Juchems is the Marketing Director at Green Meadow Memorials, Nat helps those grieving the loss of a loved find the right memorial to cherish.

Before becoming the Marketing Director at Green Meadow Memorials, Nat worked for six years in the memorials ecommerce industry as a Marketing Director and Ecommerce Director, using his skill set to manage powerful paid search and organic search campaigns as well as implement merchandising strategies and manage the software development teams that made everything work.

How I recovered from depression and suicidal thoughts to form a fashion brand: Guest blog by Byron Donovan, CEO of Grey Matter

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(image: model at Grey Matter: http://www.greymatterstore.com)

Hello, I’m Byron, I’m twenty-three and I’m the Co-founder and CEO of Grey Matter. If I’m completely honest, I don’t write much … So why should you take two minutes out of your day to read this?

Sometimes two minutes is all it takes to change your life.. sounds cliché but it’s true. Four years ago I took two minutes out of my day to send an email that led to a meeting which changed my life.

At the time, I was in a depressed state, having suicidal thoughts every day, I felt lost in life and had lost all direction after coming out of a bad breakup. Up until this point in my life, I had failed my education, taken a dead-end job, I felt like “the stupid one” of my friends, I went down a dark path with bad habits. I had two older high achieving siblings, I just felt like I was never going to be successful because I was raised believing the definition of “success” and “happiness” was a University degree, a good job and a loving relationship. And I didn’t have any of those things.

If I’m honest, I felt like a complete failure. The relationship I had just come out of was the only part of my life where I was growing and now that was over, I felt stagnant and completely lost with a pain that was constantly there. The meeting was with a family friend, someone who I didn’t know that well at the time but I had admired and felt inspired by for quite some time, and that meeting helped change my outlook on life.

It changed my outlook because I opened up about where I was at in my life, and realised that the person I was speaking to had also been through a similar past, with the same grades, the same depression about work and the same suicidal thoughts. But was able to get out of that stage of his life, and was now running a successful business, and had a loving family.

This helped me see myself in a new light, it made me realise that maybe one day I too could have those things.

From this I became obsessed with self-development.. reading books, listening to podcasts, surrounding myself with positive and uplifting people. I started to realise that the future can be brighter than my past, and tomorrow can be better than yesterday.

A big turning point for me was believing that your current circumstances and struggles don’t define you and are instead trying to teach you something. And honestly, that state of thinking has got me out of the darkest thoughts and stages of my life.

Fast forward a few years, and my friends and I have now formed a fashion brand called Grey Matter that was created to have a positive impact on people’s mental health. We wanted to create a fashion brand that stands for the people that feel lost, the anxious, the kind, the weirdos, the dreamers, the creatives.

We strive to empower others by sharing stories and encouraging conversation through our apparel. And our goal is that through those stories people can find a similar hope as I did and spread support.

I always love hearing about others peoples stories and meeting like-minded people, so feel free to reach out to me if any of this resonated with you, and also check out Grey Matter if you’d like to see what we’re up to! (Instagram: @greymatter.ldn Facebook: @greymatterldn Website: www.greymatterstore.com ).

Since that meeting four years ago, I have since mentioned to that guy how he changed my life, and he replied with “You sent the first email, remember that”. I guess what I’m trying to say is, you can overcome your current struggles and limitations that may be holding you back with the help of others. So don’t be afraid to reach out to people, as more often than not they want to help, and you never know what might come of it.
Thank you for reading and I hope this helps.

All the best,

Byron
Email: info@greymatterstore.com

Instagram: @byrondonovann’

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