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Here we post comments and articles of interest in all matters relating to resilience and general wellbeing. Fell free to comment and share!

By Rachel Munns, Jan 9 2019 05:31PM

If you are contemplating a new year's health kick, you could be forgiven for feeling a little overwhelmed.

Do yoga, run, lift weights, cut the carbs, or the fat (depending on the particular diet that's in vogue), ditch the booze, reduce your stress.

It is easy to feel like your life needs to be overhauled in order to be a healthy, happy human being.

But what if you were to make only one change?

We asked experts what single thing they would recommend people should do to improve their health, assuming they are an adult who is otherwise healthy and not a smoker.

Focus on the mind

It is easy to only think about our physical health.

But according to Dr Nadine Sammy, associate lecturer for sport and exercise sciences at the University of Exeter, we should also be focusing on improving our minds by building self-awareness.

You might think of this as something that prevents us from embarrassing ourselves, but, according to Dr Sammy, it is much more than this.

Self-awareness is the ability to recognise and understand your moods, emotions and drives, and building it can play a crucial role in improving mental and physical wellbeing over time.

"By understanding your feelings, motivations and behaviours in more depth, you can begin to act more consciously in order to make better choices for yourself," she says.

"For instance, what is your motivation to exercise? When are you most - and when are you least - likely to stick to your exercise routine and why?"

There are many ways to do this, she says, including journaling, meditating, practicing mindfulness or simply making time for self-reflection after certain activities or at the end of the day.

"Better understanding ourselves allows us to play to our strengths and build on our weaknesses, thereby spurring us on to be our best self," she adds.

Adopt a dog

There are particular health benefits in adopting a dog, says Dr Rhys Thatcher.

A gym membership, a pilates class, or a morning run - just some of the things that might come to mind when we think of becoming physically more active.

But though going to the gym works for some of us, many will quit after a month or two, says Dr Rhys Thatcher, a reader in exercise physiology at Aberystwyth University.

Instead, he recommends finding ways to routinely incorporate exercise into our daily lives.

There are plenty of ways to do this, from avoiding the lifts at work to parking on the far side of a supermarket car park when you are doing the shopping.

But there are particular benefits to adopting a dog, he says.

If you make sure to walk it for at least 30 minutes twice a day, you will be boosting your activity while also getting the emotional benefits of dog adoption.

"This way you get to spend time outside, you get to exercise, you get a loyal companion and at the same time you get to improve the life of another living thing, all of which have been shown to improve physical and mental health," says Dr Thatcher.

Get your 30 a week

Experts say diversity of plant-based foods is also important.

We have all heard about getting our five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

But according to Dr Megan Rossi, a research fellow at King's College London's department of nutritional sciences, it is not only quantity we should be striving for, but also diversity.

We should aim for at least 30 different plant-based foods per week, she says.

That is because plant-based diversity is thought to have a key role in good gut health.

The bacteria in our gut - collectively known as the microbiome - have a profound role in our health.

Allergies, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, Parkinson's, and even depression have all been linked to the bacteria in our gut.

One way we can get more plant-based diversity in our diets easily is by being a little savvier about some of the foods we purchase, says Dr Rossi.

"Instead of just buying chickpeas go for the four-bean mix. Instead of buying one type of seed buy the four-seed mix," she says.

Smile more often

Do not spend so much time focusing on arbitrary matters, do something that makes you smile instead

After the excesses of the holiday season, many of us will be planning to lose a couple of stone or setting a target for how many times we go to the gym each week.

But the problem with "arbitrary" goals like these is that they are often difficult to achieve and failing to reach them can be demoralising, says Dr James Gill.

Instead, he recommends focusing first on trying to be happier.

"There are lists of specific things that you can do to actively make your life healthier, but if you are not enjoying your life you probably won't stick to any difficult or challenging changes for the coming year," says Dr Gill, a locum GP and researcher at Warwick Medical School.

But how do you go about becoming happier?

Dr Gill recommends making one change in your life that will make you smile more often. At the same time, identify one thing that makes you unhappy and try to do something to improve it.

"Get those two in the bag, and you'll be ready to look to other things to really give your health a boost further into the year."

And finally, get enough sleep

It may seem obvious, but we should all aim to get enough sleep (seven to nine hours a night for most healthy adults).

Even being mildly deprived of it (five hours a night) can affect a range of cognitive functions, including decision making, says Dr Gavin Buckingham, senior lecturer in sport and health sciences at the University of Exeter.

There are lots of things we can do to get a better night's sleep, from avoiding caffeine too close to bed to having a consistent bedtime.

But Dr Buckingham's top tip is to stop using electronic devices like phones and laptops well before bedtime or at least put on a filter that blocks the blue light in them.

* Written by Alex Therrien, Health Reporter for the BBC.

By Rachel Munns, Dec 19 2018 12:33PM

Mental health doesn’t take time off at Christmas, and with all the added stresses that can come with the festive season it’s very important to care for your wellbeing.

1. Plan ahead

Avoid unnecessary stress over the festive season by planning as much as possible in the run up to Christmas and being careful not to take on too much. You’re not being selfish by saying “no” to some things or asking for some help. For example, if you’re hosting Christmas dinner, could you ask some of your guests to bring a starter or dessert?

2. Make time for you

At Christmas it can be all too easy to get swept up into other peoples’ ideas of fun. It’s important to make sure that you do something you want as well – this is your holiday too! If you know this will be hard, try booking something in advance or setting a free day or two aside just for you.

3. Avoid comparisons

If you do decide to use social media over the festive season, avoid comparing your experience to those of your friends. Remember that most people only share the best bits of their lives online and you don’t know what’s going on behind the smiling selfies and prezzie pics!

4. Pace yourself

Give yourself time to relax over the Christmas period – don’t be afraid to take time out to go for a walk, listen to music or have a nap if you need it. If you’re hosting, try to plan this in advance.

5. Get outside

Going for a wintery walk – even if it’s just around the block – can be the perfect way to get some fresh air and exercise along with a change of place. Being in the same house for too long can get a bit intense, especially if it’s crowded, so a change of scenery will do everyone good!

6. Try to eat healthily

Whilst it’s fine to have a bit of culinary indulgence over Christmas, try to keep your diet as balanced as possible with lots of fruit and vegetables. This will help you to avoid energy lows that can have an effect on your mood.

7. Alcohol in moderation

While a bit of alcohol can make you feel relaxed, don’t forget that drinking too much can leave you feeling irritable and low. Drinking within the recommended guidelines means you’ll get to enjoy a Christmas tipple, whilst reducing the negative effects on your mood. Alcohol can also play a big part in arguments and disagreements, so it’s sensible to drink in moderation.

8. Get enough sleep

Feeling sleepy can also leave you feeling low, so try to keep to regular sleep patterns as much as possible over the Christmas period. We have lots of tips on getting enough shut-eye in our welbeing essentials series.

9. Talk to someone

If you’re worried about Christmas or feel overwhelmed or under pressure, don’t be afraid to talk to someone about it. Have a chat to someone you trust.

10. Keep active

Exercise can be great for mental health and there are still ways to keep it up over Christmas! Have a boogie to some festive classics or head outside for a fresh wintery walk. If we’re lucky enough to have a white Christmas, you could even get some people together for a snowball fight or go sledging!

11. Christmas alone

If you’re spending Christmas alone, have a think about what you want to do beforehand. You may decide to curl up with a favourite movie, book yourself a getaway or arrange to go to a lunch. You could also consider volunteering (see point 12) which is a great way to meet new friends and give something back.

12. Volunteer

It’s no secret – giving something back can help you feel good about yourself and there’s no more perfect time to volunteer than around Christmas. Head to do-it.org to check out local opportunities!

Thanks to ben.org.uk for this brilliant article.

By Rachel Munns, Dec 5 2018 12:09PM

This is a wonderful article sourced from www.mentalhealth.org.uk

Christmas can be a challenging time for our stress levels and it's even harder for those of us with mental ill-health.

So many things that are part of our routines and we take for granted become disrupted by the change of pace in our lives.

Leaving all your preparations for Christmas until the last minute can cause unnecessary stress, but planning ahead can save you time and money. Making lists for jobs to do, presents to buy and groceries you'll need helps to organise your thoughts, prevents you forgetting something (or someone) and makes it easier to stick to a budget.

Shopping online can save you even more money, as well as avoiding the stress and crowds of the Christmas shopping season. Give as You Live provides a price comparison search and donates money to charity when you shop at no extra cost to you, so you can save money on your Christmas shopping and support a good cause at the same time! Some online stores will even deliver as late as Christmas Eve and many offer Click and Collect services. If the expense of Christmas is causing you anxiety, you may find this advice from Money Saving Expert useful.


The celebratory spirit of Christmas and New Year often involves social drinking and although the consumption of alcohol might make you feel more relaxed, it is important to remember that alcohol is a depressant and drinking excessive amounts can cause low mood, irritability or potentially aggressive behaviour.

By not exceeding the recommended number of safe units, you will be better able to sustain good mental and physical wellbeing.


The festive period has become synonymous with over-indulgence, which in turn prompts a pressing desire for many of us to lose weight in the New Year. Where possible, maintain a good balance of fruit, vegetables, carbohydrates, protein and omega 3 sources throughout the year in order to be in good physical condition and have sufficient energy.

Maintaining a healthy diet and weight can improve your mood and can work towards preventing symptoms of lethargy and irritability that many of us feel during the busy festive season and dark winter months.


Physical activity releases the feel-good chemicals, endorphins, which help you to relax, feel happy and boost your mood. By undertaking simple tasks such as cycling to work, walking in the park, or joining in with Christmas games, you can benefit from experiencing reduced anxiety, decreased depression and improved self-esteem.

In addition, recent research has indicated that regular exercise can help to boost our immune systems, enabling us to better fight off colds and flu viruses that are prolific in winter months.

Five ways to stay active over the Christmas period

Go ice-skating! At this time of year there are a number of outdoor ice-rinks around various locations to enjoy.

Go for a winter walk! It is a less strenuous form of exercise than going for a hard-core session in the gym.

Prefer to be indoors? Why not dance to some festive tunes. A fun way to burn off the Christmas turkey!

Take advantage of the Christmas weather. If it snows perhaps build a snowman or have a snowball fight.

Do activities as a family. Over indulgence is hard to avoid around Christmas so why not decide to go for a winter walk with all the family after dinner.

Get involved

The festive period provides us with an ideal opportunity to talk to, visit or engage with the people around us. Face-to-face communication has been shown to improve our mental and physical wellbeing as this interaction produces the hormone, oxytocin, which can benefit our immune system, heart health and cognitive function.

You could arrange a shared experience as a gift for a friend or loved one such as a cookery lesson or cinema outing.

If you're travelling to visit family or friends for Christmas booking travel in advance can often be much cheaper.

If you are apart from your family then volunteering for a charity or local community organisation can provide that same human contact, as well as help provide essential support and encouragement for others in need. These interactions can easily be sustained throughout the coming year and need not just be for Christmas.

Stay in touch

There's nothing better than catching up with someone face-to-face, but that's not always possible. Give them a call, drop them a note or chat to them online instead. Keep the lines of communication open - it's good for you!

If you're feeling out of touch with some people, Christmas can be a good opportunity to reconnect with a card, email or phone call. Talking can be a good way to cope with a problem you've been carrying around in your head.

If something is worrying you, whether it's work, family problems or other feelings, just being listened to can help you feel supported and less alone. It works both ways: if you open up, it might encourage others to do the same and get something off their mind.

Try to relax

Christmas can be a very busy and stressful time as we prepare to entertain family and friends, worry about cooking a delicious Christmas dinner, and fit in some last minute present shopping. These feelings of being under pressure can produce symptoms of anxiety, anger and difficulty sleeping which, if prolonged, could have a long-term detrimental impact on your mental health and wellbeing.

By exercising more regularly or practicing mindfulness – a combination of meditation, yoga and breathing techniques – you can help to both alleviate the symptoms of your stress and gain more control when coping with difficult situations. Christmas presents aside, implementing a new exercise regime or signing up for a course in mindfulness - such as our online course in mindfulness-based stress reduction - could be your best investment for a more relaxed Christmas and New Year. You may also find our relaxation podcasts useful.

Do good

Helping others is good for your own mental health and wellbeing. It can help reduce stress, improve your mood, increase self-esteem and happiness and even benefit your physical health.

Christmas is a good opportunity to volunteer for a charity or local community organisation and provide essential support and encouragement for others in need. You can find lots of suggestions of how to make doing good part of your life in our pocket guide.


Despite many of us having time off work during Christmas and the New Year, our sleep patterns can be disturbed between catching up with friends and family and partying late in to the night. There is mounting evidence on the link between sleep and mental wellbeing, meaning improvements in the quality of your sleep could result in improvements to your overall mental health.

There are several steps you can take towards achieving a better night’s sleep: attempting to get back in to your regular sleep routine as soon as possible after the party period, consuming less alcohol during the festivities, implementing regular exercise into your weekly routine, and taking measures to alleviate your stress. You might find our sleep and relaxation podcast useful and you can find lots more useful advice in our Sleep Well pocket guide.

By Rachel Munns, Nov 21 2018 04:51PM

I cannot take credit for this blog myself. It was written by Psychology Today but I think the content is excellent and I hope you find it beneficial.

1. They know their boundaries. Resilient people understand that there is a separation between who they are at their core and the cause of their temporary suffering. The stress/trauma might play a part in their story but it does not overtake their permanent identity.

2. They keep good company. Resilient people tend to seek out and surround themselves with other resilient people, whether just for fun or when there’s a need for support. Supportive people give us the space to grieve and work through our emotions. They know how to listen and when to offer just enough encouragement without trying to solve all of our problems with their advice. Good supporters know how to just be with adversity—calming us rather than frustrating us.

3. They cultivate self-awareness. Being ‘blissfully unaware’ can get us through a bad day but it's not a very wise long-term strategy. Self-awareness helps us get in touch with our psychological/physiological needs—knowing what we need, what we don’t need, and when it’s time to reach out for some extra help. The self-aware are good at listening to the subtle cues their body and their mood are sending.

On the other hand, a prideful stubbornness without emotional flexibility or self-awareness can make us emotional glaciers: Always trying to be strong in order to stay afloat, yet prone to massive stress fractures when we experience an unexpected change in our environment.

4. They practice acceptance. Pain is painful, stress is stressful, and healing takes time. When we're in it, we want the pain to go away. When we're outside it, we want to take away the pain of those who we see suffering. Yet resilient people understand that stress/pain is a part of living that ebbs and flows. As hard as it is in the moment, it’s better to come to terms with the truth of the pain than to ignore it, repress it, or deny it. Acceptance is not about giving up and letting the stress take over, it's about leaning in to experience the full range of emotions and trusting that we will bounce back.

5. They’re willing to sit in silence. We are masters of distraction: T.V., overeating, abusing drugs, risky behavior, gossip, etc. We all react differently to stress and trauma. Some of us shut down and some of us ramp up. Somewhere in the middle there is mindfulness-- being in the presence of the moment without judgment or avoidance. It takes practice, but it’s one of the purest and most ancient forms of healing and resilience-building.

6. They don’t have to have all the answers. The psyche has its own built-in protective mechanisms that help us regulate stress. When we try hard to find the answers to difficult questions in the face to traumatic events, that trying too hard can block the answers from arising naturally in their own due time. We can find strength in knowing that it's okay to not have it all figured out right now and trusting that we will gradually find peace and knowing when our mind-body-soul is ready.

7. They have a menu of self-care habits. They have a mental list (perhaps even a physical list) of good habits that support them when they need it most. We can all become self-care spotters in our life—noticing those things that recharge our batteries and fill our cup. In part two of this resilience blog series, my guest Karen Horneffer-Ginter, author of Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit: Nourishing the Soul When Life's Just Too Much, shares her 25 ideas for cultivating resilience. Her blog just might inspire you to create your own self-care menu. Karen has taken the menu idea a step further by designing a self-care poster that serves as visual inspiration to nourish the soul when life’s just too much.

8. They enlist their team. The most resilient among us know how to reach out for help. They know who will serve as a listening ear and, let’s be honest, who won’t! Our team of supporters helps us reflect back what they see when we’re too immersed in overwhelm to witness our own coping.

We can all learn how to be better supporters on other people's team. In this L.A. Times article, "How not to say the wrong thing", psychologist Susan Silk and co-author Barry Goldman help readers develop a strategy for effectively supporting others and proactively seeking the support we need for ourselves. Remember, it's okay to communicate to our supporters what is and isn't helpful feedback/support for our needs.

9. They consider the possibilities. We can train ourselves to ask which parts of our current story are permanent and which can possibly change. Can this situation be looked at in a different way that I haven't been considering?This helps us maintain a realistic understanding that the present situation is being colored by our current interpretation. Our interpretations of our stories will always change as we grow and mature. Knowing that today's interpretation can and will change, gives us the faith and hope that things can feel better tomorrow.

10. They get out of their head. When we're in the midst of stress and overwhelm, our thoughts can swirl with dizzying speed and disconnectedness. We can find reprieve by getting the thoughts out of our head and onto our paper. As Dr. James Pennebaker wrote in his book Writing to Heal, “People who engage in expressive writing report feeling happier and less negative than before writing. Similarly, reports of depressive symptoms, rumination, and general anxiety tend to drop in the weeks and months after writing about emotional upheavals.”

Psychology Today UK

By Rachel Munns, May 9 2018 04:07PM

A few weeks ago, I asked a broad range of people across different social media platforms a simple question:

Mental Health Issues are a choice – true or false?

Firstly, I would like to thank everybody who contributed their thoughts, opinions and experiences. I had a fantastic response and, in this blog, will do my very best to represent the cross section of opinions coupled with my own knowledge and experience….

Poor Mental Health – Is it a Choice?

At this moment in time, in the UK, one in four workers suffers from at least one psychiatric disorder (CIPD August 2016). Stress induced illness is the number one cost to business (at £26 billion per annum) and is also the number one cause of teenage illness.

This is a problem that now touches almost every family in the UK in one way or another and there are no signs of the situation improving – quite the opposite, in fact. It is my goal, through the workshops that I run, to eradicate the stigma and misunderstanding associated with poor mental health and to encourage open and honest communication. By improving our understanding, we could help many thousands of people to get the support they need, as soon as they need it, leading to lower costs for business, improved happiness for teenagers and a more productive society overall.

Firstly, let’s look at the results from my question. Out of all those who responded:

• 42% felt that poor mental health is sometimes a choice, and sometimes not

• 40% felt that poor mental health is NOT a choice

• 18% felt that poor mental health IS a choice

Without exception, everyone agreed that this is not a simple question and there is no simple answer.

Where there is no choice

In the same way as genetics (including disorders such as autism, ADHD etc.) can influence physical health, they can also influence mental health. In this case, there is no choice.

A sudden, traumatic event (or sustained abuse) can also trigger poor mental health in the same way that an accident could suddenly affect physical health. Again, in this case, there is no choice.

Nurture also has a major impact - good mental health starts with secure bonding, a loving environment and security of attachment especially during the pivotal first 1000 days after birth. The key neural pathways are laid down at this time especially around emotional control and response. Interventions later on in childhood can repair some of this but not all (Helen Turier). Similarly, if we do not receive the correct nourishment in early childhood we may go on to develop physical health issues. Once again, in this case, there is no choice.

So, placing genetics, trauma and early nurture to one side, is everyone else with a mental health issue choosing to feel this way?

In all the examples above, there is little to distinguish between physical and mental health and the reason for this is ridiculously simple; the brain is a part of our physical anatomy. It also controls our ‘mental’ functions though so it is impossible to separate the two. I might even go as far as to say that poor mental health is just another form of poor physical health.

Mind and body are so intimately, inseparably interwoven that even specialists in the fields are not always clear as to whether a disorder has roots in the body or in the mind. Physical illnesses often have mental symptoms and mental illnesses can have bodily symptoms. Even more telling of the closeness of the two, the physical illnesses can have mental causes, and mental illnesses can have physical causes (Robert Stannage).

Mis-used language adds to misunderstanding

Depression and Anxiety are the two most common mental health issues. But, does this mean that if you are feeling very low, for a prolonged period that you are depressed?

No. Depression is a diagnosable illness, a clinical state that may require medical intervention before recovery is possible.

Every office/family/friendship group has what Andy Cope (The Art of Being Brilliant) refers to as ‘mood hoovers’; those who delight in sucking all the good mood out of others. They regularly complain about everything and words like depression incorrectly litter their conversation.

It is also normal to refer to yourself as ‘anxious’ or to describe someone you know in the same way, but this does not mean that you, or they, have an anxiety disorder. Being a little anxious is our mind’s way of naturally protecting us from danger.

These days, doctors will sign you off with ‘stress’ but this is a misnomer too. Stress is not an illness, it is a chemical response in the body that can lead to either physical or mental health issues.

There is a significant difference between someone who becomes ‘stressy’ under pressure and runs around like a headless chicken and someone who is unknowingly but constantly triggering their natural stress response because of many daily triggers. It is often the ‘copers’ and the ‘do-ers’ who just get on with things who end up triggering the stress response too many times leading to physical and mental health issues.

Rarely is it the ‘weak’ person that many associate with mental health issues.

So, what is stress then?

As I said earlier, stress is a chemical response in our body that is triggered when we are in (or perceive that we are in) danger.

The brain comprises many parts but the one that is the most relevant to understanding stress is the Amygdala. This resides in the oldest part of our brain and it behaves as our body’s alarm system. When we are threatened the amygdala puts us into fight or flight mode.

Our brain and our body prepare for danger. You may notice things like a raised heartbeat, faster breathing, sweating or maybe more serious symptoms like chest pains or palpitations.

At the same time though, and invisible to us, is the release of chemicals into our body… adrenalin is released to give us strength and agility, glucose is released to give us energy, cortisol is released to suppress our immune system, our blood pressure rises and our digestion system all but shuts down.

This is a natural process, developed when we were cavemen and designed to protect us from danger.

The difference with today’s society is that, unlike in our cavemen days, most of the threats we face are not physical; there’s pressure at work, relationship/family issues, money worries, omnipresent technology and even social media which is rapidly becoming one of the biggest causes of stress.

The brain does not differentiate between physical and emotional threats and consequently our fight or flight response can be triggered many, many times in a single day – flooding our body with chemicals all the while.

The irony is, that because today’s threats are not physical, we do not burn off these chemicals and, eventually, they build up inside our body, become toxic and start to attack our organs. The brain is, of course, one of our most important – and most vulnerable – organs. A process that was designed to protect us can now cause untold damage.

This is what stress induced illness is and… this is what can ultimately lead to mental and/or physical illness.

Early warning signs of stress induced illness can include: dizzy spells, blackouts, panic attacks, loss of appetite, inability to concentrate and inability to sleep. However, when these perceived threats happen often enough we can get ‘stuck’ in fight or flight mode and the longer term physical impact can be quite severe including heart problems, gastro intestinal problems, weight gain, addictions, insomnia, anxiety, depression, premature ageing and infections. There is even some research now that suggests stress can lead to cancer.

Isn’t it strange that if someone has heart problems or cancer we don’t tell them to just ‘snap out of it’ but when they have anxiety, many people do and yet they are often caused by exactly the same chemical imbalances.

NB. In adults a real tell-tale sign of dangerous stress levels is that whenever we have a holiday, we get a cold or an infection or some other kind of virus. If this happens to you, you may want to look into it a bit further…

Back to the main question – is poor mental health a choice?

So, now we have established that genetics, trauma, nurture and the human fight/flight response can all cause mental (and physical) health issues does this make the answer to my question any clearer?

Sadly, not really.

Now we begin to get into the realms of environment, mindset, self-help and education.

For sure, there are a number of things that we can do to build up our resistance to the onset of poor mental health but, like any illness there can be a degree of injustice about it: a little bit like the fit teetotaller who gets cancer vs. the unfit smoker who doesn't. The real issue therefore is working out what is within our control and what is beyond it (Ian Morris).

Key to understanding mental health issues is the absolute knowledge that neither money, position, fame, material possessions, loving relationships nor any other lifestyle advantage will protect you from the development of mental health issues.

Perhaps the next step then to answering this question would be to look at what happens to the brain under stress.

Not only is it vulnerable to the build up of toxic chemicals in the body, the brain also has its own set of chemicals and neurotransmitters to deal with.

Understanding brain chemistry is in its infancy and there is a great deal of debate about whether poor mental health is caused by a chemical imbalance. However, at this point in time, this is the strongest theory and is borne out by the fact that most mental health conditions can be helped with medication that adjusts the chemical balance.

Two of the key chemicals in the brain are cortisol (our stress hormone) and serotonin. In a normal situation our brain produces cortisol when it is bored, scared, stressed, upset etc. The cortisol slows down communication between brain cells making it harder to think quickly and clearly. Conversely, when we are happy, engaged, excited our brain produces more serotonin which speeds up communication between brain cells.

Perhaps this is oversimplifying the situation but, it would be fair to say that someone with mental health issues will naturally produce higher levels of the stress hormone – cortisol – thus making it harder to think and to focus. Medication is often used to increase levels of serotonin allowing the brain processes to regain clarity of thought. In this state the sufferer is then more able to take control of their recovery – which may still need professional support.

So, do we choose to produce cortisol?

Absolutely not.

Many people feel that positive thinking can help you to avoid mental health issues. I agree and disagree with this.

If you are educated to spot the signs early enough then there are certainly some practises that will help you to build up natural defences. However, even with these practices in place many things can happen that will trigger our fight/flight response regardless of how positive our approach is.

Practising mindfulness or meditation can certainly help us to be calmer in difficult situations, but no-one can control everything that life throws at them and, if life is throwing many things at you all at once then the chances of your fight/flight response being triggered are high.

In summary

I firmly believe that mental health issues are not a choice.

I also believe that there are steps we can take to minimise our personal risk – including educating ourselves and putting some regular practices in place (see below).

I believe that early education for children and young people would help in the fight against poor mental health.

You categorically do not develop mental health issues because you are weak – often it is precisely the opposite.

Nowadays, staying late at work, or working from home in the evenings, seems to attract a theoretical badge of honour. I would suggest that this is a major contributor to today’s alarmingly high rates of mental health issues. Having a healthy work/life balance allows us time to rest and relax. This reduces our stress levels and allows us to spend more time doing the things that make us happy. Happier people are 12% more productive so employers will benefit anyway.

Giving children homework affects their own work/life balance. I believe that children should work at school and relax at home – making them happier, more relaxed and more productive.

Once you have a mental health issue it is likely to affect all aspects of your life and your personality, so it is vital that you speak out early to minimise the damage that could be done by this.

Not speaking out or fearing negative consequences at work will ultimately lead to significantly higher cost to businesses. I feel very strongly that employers should actively educate their staff and encourage an open and honest culture that supports mental health issues in exactly the same way as physical health issues would be supported. You will reduce costs and increase loyalty at the same time.

Someone with a mental health issue may still be more than capable of doing well at work. However, certain coping strategies may need to be adopted (Barbara Streisand suffers from an anxiety disorder that manifests as chronic stage fright. This was triggered by a single event where she forgot the lyrics of a song. She did not appear live on stage again for 30 years. She now manages this condition by using giant screens that show her the lyrics. Did this affect her ability to succeed? No. She is one of the world’s greatest female singers, a world renowned recording artist and a successful film star). It is perfectly possible to recover 100% from most mental health issues (even psychosis if it is caught early enough).

Once recovered, the individual is often a stronger, more confident, more reliable employee who knows how to look after themselves properly and can also be key to supporting others in the workplace.

The last bit

I hope you have enjoyed taking part in and reading this blog. If you have any comments I would love to hear them – good or bad.

For me, the number one priority is to get the conversation going.

Below are a few tips to help you keep physically fit with a healthy mindset:

• Regular exercise has been proven to reduce the risk of developing depression by 30%. Regular, in this case, means 20 minutes, 5 times a week. It doesn’t matter which type of exercise you do as long as it raises your heart rate enough to leave you slightly out of breath. Essentially, this works because it burns off the build up of chemicals reducing the chance that they will become toxic.

• Talk, talk, talk!!! If you’re feeling low or are worrying about something, then talk to your family/friends/colleagues/professionals (as appropriate). Don’t allow things to build up in your head. They will almost always grow out of proportion. This is an issue for many people but is a more prolific problem among men. As a consequence of this, suicide rates are much higher in the male population.

• Meditate – science has proven that regular meditation has a huge number of benefits – both mental and physical. I’m not talking about chanting in the lotus position! Meditation can be done sitting in a chair, lying on the floor – I do it lying on my bed and I’ve never chanted once. Meditation provides the space your brain needs to fully relax and repair. It also provides an opportunity for self-reflection and for assessing issues in a logical, detached manner leading to a calmer, more constructive approach to difficulties. Mindfulness, Yoga and Tai Chi all use forms of meditation and have very significant health benefits.

• Put yourself first – taking time out each day to look after yourself is vital. We often sacrifice our own needs for those of other people. If you are not physically and mentally fit and able to look after yourself then you are equally unable to properly look after those around you. Also, if you constantly put others first you are teaching them that they matter more than you do.

• Control your inner chatter. This may be what some people refer to as a positive mindset. It is easily possible to create mental health issues through negative internal chatter. Learning to recognise when your words or your thoughts are cutting you down – and learning how to reframe these thoughts is key to healthy feelings of self-worth, self-confidence and self-belief. Sadly, this is the area where most teenagers struggle leading to high levels of anxiety, self-harming, eating disorders etc.

• Be grateful. In today’s society it is normal to want more and to keep aiming higher. The downside of this is that we often feel as if we are not good enough or that we never have enough. By reflecting daily on the things in our life we are appreciative of, we reduce these feelings of inadequacy and build, instead, feelings of contentment.

Rachel Munns

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