For a more relaxed session today and informal conversation we held an ‘arts and crafts’ session-well loosely anyway. Having started with a mindful breathing exercise we had a couple of sheets to focus on something in particular if that is what people wished. One was ‘the healing flame’ helping individuals track a recovery process. This could be from past abuse of any kind. As a group we have witnessed members grow, grieve, become stronger and back to themselves having had abusive situations in their past. The other was a mandala prompting thoughts of things to be grateful for. Individuals chose different exercises for personal reasons. For some, tracking the linear process of recovery was helpful and for others a more circular idea of coping made more sense as life cannot always be tracked in linear process as anyone living with recurring anxiety or depression may well know. Whichever way we view our own recovery, our emphasis here is that movement is always possible; from the despair to hope and from broken dreams, hopes and crushed spirits to new growth, strength and contentment. Conversation was shared among the group as we worked on these exercises about how people managed, coped with and perceived life’s difficulties, leaving people feeling heard and understood.
This session’s topic was in line with Mental Health Awareness Week’s topic of body image. How we view our bodies can positively or negatively affect our mental health and contribute to eating disorders. It is a rising issue in a social media dominated generation where definition by selfie has become very important.
We had a think about what our bodies say about us, whether we connect what is happening in our body to what is happening in our mind, feelings and choices. We also thought about what is our relationship like with our mirror?
What some people noticed is that they didn’t really connect body to other things, however some were aware of eating habits, or clothes choices being affected by mood. Mood can be affected by how we feel about what we look like and we can accordingly dress or eat in ways which communicate that, either looking like we aren’t caring about ourselves much or we do dress to feel good.
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.
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.
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
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.
Depending on the extent of the problems there are a variety
of treatments available such as:
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
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.
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.
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.