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Healthy Life to Healthy Mind

It is over 10 years since the government and the NHS started circulating leaflets and information about ‘5 ways to well being’. In recognising, from evidence that a small improvement in well being can help to decrease some mental health problems and also can help people to flourish. Five actions were therefore set out to improve personal well being, and these formed the origins of this group. These are below:

We started out this discussion with what group members considered important for mental well being, and this is what they said:

Although we can know the healthy things to do, they can be difficult to implement when struggling and feeling overwhelmed, so we asked people what had helped them to do what was good for them even when they felt bad. People had appreciated in these times the kindness of others, receiving counselling, remembering to dismount! (i.e to not go charging into things when stressed out), to take time to make a responsible decision, and perhaps to remember to be kind to self. The to-do list need not be full of impossible sounding tasks, but maybe to get up, stand outside and make contact with someone is enough for one day.

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Free Speech

Freedom of speech came to be a topic for this session as people are affected by the political climate as we experience it in certain parts of the world. So for us, in our part of the world, the debates which have raged for the last few years around the referendum for independence for Scotland, and the referendum for Brexit for the U.K can have a significant impact on how people feel about where they live, how secure they feel, perhaps how welcome they feel. Because big media issues can have an impact on the mental and emotional well being of individuals we thought it would be important to discuss it.

It feels very very difficult when somebody disagrees with us! We acknowledged this; none of us like it when someone disagrees with us. Some of us are better at asserting their point of view, others may keep quiet to keep the peace, either way it is uncomfortable. But our beliefs and values sit deeply in us and facing someone who believes opposite to us feels very unsettling. So maybe it would be nicer if we just all agreed about everything, right? No!!

So, what is free speech? Amnesty International define it as:
‘Freedom of speech is the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, by any means.’ Freedom of speech and the right to freedom of expression applies to ideas of all kinds including those that may be deeply offensive. But it comes with responsibilities. We also spoke about the social consequences of freely expressing offensive ideas, you may lose friends, your career and respect.

There can be a real power balance in expressing free speech because society accepts some views more readily than others; there are acceptable stigmas, such as stereotypes of people on benefits, or perhaps stereotypes about the profile of someone who went to Eton. Some people are seen as fair game to be discredited, is this right? Who is allowed to have free speech and who isn’t? We discussed the current debate about universities curbing controversial voices, the group discussed how this could push views underground and intensify their virility. How do you treat a person who has an opposing view to you? It is important to not lose the humanity of the person opposite you, disagreeing however powerfully with someone’s views is not a license to dehumanise or demonise them-as discussed earlier they may face consequences, social or even criminal for their views, but people remain human whatever their beliefs. Free speech moves to hate when it encompasses:
“abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.”

We considered how people can end up with what we perceive as horrendous views; in a documentary about white supremacists, a black lady interviewed members of a group in America. She discovered that many members were in the group because it was a place where they had a feeling of being connected and of belonging to a group. Through meeting her, and building relationship and receiving education, some members left the white supremacists group as they no longer saw the beliefs and values as valid.

It is helpful then for use to be aware where we generalise, stereotype, stigmatise and discriminate; some would argue that in doing so we are coming from an evolutionary protective system in looking out for ‘our tribe’. However, we are all human and maybe sometimes we need to understand the human in front of us and the reason for their very distasteful point of view, maybe they will even change it if we manage to treat them well at the same time as disagreeing. Or, as someone in the group brought, maybe we are the ones to have it all wrong, and by being open we could learn something from the other.

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Dealing with intrusive thoughts

Obtrusive Thoughts, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Mental Health

The life worth living group met today where the discussion surrounded around intrusive thoughts, OCD and mental health concerns more widely. As always it was a lively, constructive and considered sharing of our own lived experiences and/or those of others.

The first question posed was:

What is the definition of Intrusive thoughts and how might they impact on someone?

It was agreed that whilst intrusive thoughts are almost hard wired into all of us, they are mostly dismissed or filtered out so we don’t even notice them. However when someone is affected by a Mental Health condition these can become a major problem, and are chiefly experienced by people with OCD, Depression, Anxiety, Post Natal  Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Some examples given on intrusive thoughts were:

  • Over analysing our responsibilities and exaggerating the impact were we to fail.
  • Catastrophizing: always imagining the worst possible outcome.
  • Unwanted inappropriate sudden thoughts such as kissing or punching someone when that is entirely against our actual wishes, but driven by a false anxiety alarm.
  • Where we recognise how vital our care is such for a child, we might imagine harmful thoughts when all we are really focused on is care and protection for them.

Sometimes such thoughts lead to compulsive behaviours which may initially seem to offer comfort, but end up making things much worse. These can include excessive checking of locks and appliances to avoid danger or harm to others, and ideas of magical thinking, where the use or avoidance of certain numbers or tasks can either prevent or cause damage to loved ones. People who experience such thoughts know deep down that they are irrational and untrue, but shame and stigma can make these feel very real.

 Recovery

Depending on the extent of the problems there are a variety of treatments available such as:

  • CBT: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Individually tailored help.
  • Exposure Therapy: Gradual exposure to acclimatise to and overcome particular fears, e.g. contamination or social anxiety in busy public places.
  • Personal Insight to learn how to diffuse delusional thoughts.
  • Shared experiences and humour: There can be much stigma to any mental health condition but possibly more so with less understood and frightening conditions like OCD. Whilst sharing these experiences can be daunting, if able to do so, using humour and openness, it can serve to diffuse the power of negative thoughts and help affirm how we’re all affected by mental health and there’s no place for shame or blame.
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Trying Yoga

So with yoga seeming to be very much on trend with yoga centres springing up everywhere and the group already enjoying breathing exercises where we connect with the breath to our bodies, we thought we would explore this a little more and even experiment. It is not clear as to whether yoga is ancient or modern, some say it is a practise which is thousands or years old originating in India, and others say it is a form of Scandinavian gymnastics originating last century which became very popular in India. Either way many people are benefiting in a number of ways from this form of exercise. Physically, yoga can increase flexibility, muscle strength and tone, it can help to improve respiration, energy and vitality. It may help with metabolism and weight reduction. It can help cardio and circulatory health improving athletic performance and strengthening which can help to protect from injury.

Yoga is reported to benefit mental health by bringing bodily awareness, enabling people to notice stress, anxiety and tension. Therefore the exercises can provide stress relief, relief of muscle tension, reduce strain and inflammation, calm and centre the nervous system and a sharpening of attention and concentration.

So with so many benefits what’s not to like?

There are a number of apps to take you through yoga poses. We downloaded a free trial and as a group experimented with quite a gentle 5 minute work out which was partially seated, and used a chair.

All in all this was quite a relaxed session for the group in beginning to introduce people to yoga should they wish to attend a class somewhere for any number of the listed benefits, not least having a social activity.

Below is a video demonstrating some more yoga poses.

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Health and Nutrition

In this group we revisited a topic we have looked at in previous sessions.  We began by chatting about what people noticed about what happened to their relationship with food depending on their mood.  In general people agreed that when they felt well they ate better, and when they ate better they felt better.  Healthy eating seemed to increase with self-esteem and again vice-versa.  When we are tired we notice that we may use caffeine or sugar as a pick me up, and when bored eating can become habitual, ‘eating for the sake of it’.  We also spoke about how food may be a helpful structure in a day.

We explored the concept of comfort eating and again, many noticed that in periods of depression or anxiety they would comfort eat, though conversely for others the opposite occurred and they would eat less, or even stop eating altogether.

This did put us then more in the direction of talking a little about eating disorders when eating becomes a mechanism for control ‘because I can’, whether that is overeating or under eating.  Eating disorder may also be a way of managing emotional pain, a form of self-harm, or as a punishment of self-by not eating well if one feels like they don’t deserve to care for self.

We looked at the list of essential nutrients again given to us by Steve Turnbull on his visit to us in 2017.  What we learned was that it seems that a healthy microbiome for a gut is fostered by much variety in our diet, less starch and sugar, more fiber and less processed food.

Group members did talk about all the confusing messages from the media, for example, eggs are reported to be good for you one day and not the next etc. What does seem to be a consistent message though is the less processed the better, so the closer we keep it to natural and made by us personally may be a guide to healthier eating and cooking. As with most things, balance is helpful, and those little dudes in our gut really seem to enjoy variety.

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Dating and Sense of Self

Why are we attracted to the people we are attracted to? The group discussed how this was due to multiple factors, an initial physical attraction endorsed by shared interests and core values-not too similar, as this is not stimulating or too opposite as this might be too uncomfortable. Shared experiences also created attraction, along with many subconscious factors and feeling that we are a match with a particular individual. Some stated that they always chose the wrong person and others sensed attraction when there was a ‘click’ or made a connection.

We began talking about how is it that we give out messages which attract sometimes before we have even spoken to someone. There is a theory that 93% of communication is non-verbal, from Professor Albert Mehrabian. He theorised that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken. Some group members observed that there are ‘types’; Passive, Assertive or Aggressive and due to past experiences we are drawn to, and draw towards us those of a certain type. This perhaps fits with attachment theory whereby we are drawn to patterns with which we are familiar. The following article by ‘The School of Life’ suggest three components for why we have particular types and the guiding direction of our attractions which you can read about here: ‘How to find love’.

We then turned our attention to maintaining a sense of self in dating. We discussed that relationships sometimes just happen to us rather than it being something we seriously think about and what we would like in a partner or from a relationship like we might do when considering buying a house or applying for a job. Group members discussed that they wanted was equality and a mutual appreciation and respect for one another, to feel important to someone, to share humour and to both bring and contribute to the relationship overall, whilst acknowledging that different individuals need more support than the other with various things at different times. We lose a sense of self when we change to become what the other person wants us to be.

At the beginning of a relationship it can feel stressful and confusing to know the balance between ‘being myself’ and perhaps curtailing some over-eager behaviours, and therein is a minefield of rules…how often should I text? How soon should I reply? When should I say ‘I love you’?

Returning to our earlier discussion of why we are attracted to the people we are, we discussed the theory of attachment leading us to pick partners where patterns of attachment are familiar to us as they are reminiscent of early childhood experiences. We had watched the following video by
Alain de Botton which first inspired the topic on dating and sense of self as a group topic.

On a more lighthearted note, you may enjoy the outcomes of some of these chat up lines overheard by bartenders.

What is most important to remember above all is that we all deserve to be treated well, even if you have experienced bad relationships in the past. Remembering this can reinforce the importance of valuing yourself in meeting the right partner.

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Emotional Dilemmas

The group had requested a session on emotional dilemmas, so we looked at a few ethical dilemma scenarios in small groups. Situations that required thinking about breaking medical confidentiality, or discovering your friend’s wife is having an affair and such like. It was interesting to see that many group members had different ideas from each other about what they would do in the given scenarios. This started to show us that we all form our values and morals differently; maybe from culture, or how our family taught us, our own experience of consequences, a particular philosophy or faith that we follow, or by a case by case basis. It also showed us that there is often not a right or a wrong…however because ethical situations can evoke a lot of powerful emotions we can feel intensely that there is a right or wrong. We also noticed that actually we make a lot of assumptions when presented with a dilemma, so in dilemmas we may well sometimes need to gather a bit more information before deciding what we should do.