Nigel Simpson has been appointed to the board of MCH Psychological Services (MCH), the charity behind the Isle Listen and Minds Matter initiatives that provide mental health and wellbeing support in schools, the workplace and community, and to people living with cancer and other life-changing conditions.
Nigel has worked for Zurich International for more than 25 years in several management and business development roles and is currently Head of International Markets.
In October last year, Isle Listen, the Z Zurich Foundation and Zurich International announced an unprecedented collaboration to provide mental wellbeing education, prevention and transformative early intervention in the Island’s schools, the workplace and community. Since the start of the September 2020 academic year[i], Isle Listen has already reached 2,619 students in schools, delivered 64 student group sessions and provided 333 one-to-one student listening sessions and, in the workplace, 28 courses reaching 645 people.
Commenting on his appointment, Nigel said: “Whilst there is a growing awareness of the importance of mental health and wellbeing, there is still a stigma attached to the issue. At Zurich, we’ve been hugely impressed by the work that MCH has done in firmly establishing the Isle Listen and Minds Matter initiatives in the field of psychological support and I am very pleased to have the opportunity to contribute towards the growth of the charity and its long-term success.”
Welcoming Nigel to the board, MCH Chairman Stuart McCudden said: “We’re delighted to have Nigel join our rapidly growing charity and at this crucial time in our evolution. He further strengthens our Board by bringing strong commercial experience and additional strategic and conceptual thinking which will be extremely valuable as we develop.”
Zurich has a long association with promoting good mental health, most recently launching an online Wellbeing Toolkit to provide support to the community during the Covid-19 pandemic. Locally, Zurich International was already working with Isle Listen to offer mental health awareness sessions.
MCH Psychological Services is a registered Isle of Man charity that can trace its roots back over 35 years to Manx Cancer Help and The Lisa Lowe Centre. It provides clinical guidance and oversight to the Isle Listen and Minds Matter initiatives.
[i] Up to 31 December 2020
Enabling children to express themselves has never been more important than right now during the uncertainty of a global pandemic. At a time when the pandemic is leading to disrupted schooling, reduced socialising, and increased family tensions. This article explores ways of supporting and helping young people to develop skills in self-expression.
What is Self-Expression?
We are born curious, eager to discover and explore our environment and we do this naturally through self-expression; the act of bringing something deep within us into observable form. Self-expression can take many forms from communicating verbally, art, dance, sport pursuits, how we dress or act. Consider that with every action and every choice you make, you are expressing some part of yourself.
As we get older, and with external influences and experiences, self-expression can become more difficult. The fear of judgement, rejection, ridicule, or shame means that we have trained ourselves to conform to what we believe others want us to be and in doing so, we have deprived ourselves the opportunity to show the world who we really are.
For a young person, self-expression is crucial for the development of their identity, self-confidence, and sense of belonging in the world. The ability to express themselves helps young people communicate their feelings in positive, meaningful ways. However, not all self-expression may be apparent and it is important that we look for non-verbal cues such as body language and other subtle ways in which a young person may try to communicate and express themselves.
Self-expression allows us to show others our personality and our authentic self. Whilst this vulnerability can be quite a daunting prospect for some, by contrast for others, it can be liberating and help us to grow as individuals.
Self-expression forms the building blocks of our physical, social, and emotional wellbeing, which we can harness and develop throughout our lives. What we have learned as young children helps to support us on our journey through adolescence and adulthood. It is crucial to know that it is never too late to develop and mould our own individual ways of self-expression.
So, what does this mean in action?
Some adolescents and adults may find it easier than others to express themselves. They may have had the opportunity as young children to find their individual ways of communicating themselves to the world in a safe, open, and supportive way. Self-expression can come in many forms and it’s important to find out what works for you as an individual.
For those people who may find expressing themselves more challenging, finding ‘safer’ ways of beginning self-expression may be helpful.
It could be that paper based activities such as ‘all about me’ or ‘self-expression’ worksheets, all of which give prompts on self-discovery or using structured journals. These are a good starting point as they offer space and time for private thinking. Sometimes, you start writing not knowing where your words or story will take you and that’s okay.
If being creative is something that interests you, you could think about adult colouring books or paint by numbers as a way of introducing self-expression. In fact, having a distraction can be helpful; doodle when on the phone or listen to some music whilst allowing a pencil to move freely on a blank page.
Inside/outside boxes are a useful way of developing self-awareness and help with self-expression. For this, decorate a box with images and words on the outside to represent the qualities you show to the world. Then decorate the inside of the box with images and words that represent the inner qualities that are hidden to most people. Once you are aware of what qualities you hide, you can focus on how you can begin to express them.
If music is important to you, if it relaxes you and inspires ideas, words, and images, use it as a trigger to create poetry or pictures. Find the perfect journal, a large book with plain or lined pages. This is your private space a bit like the inside/outside box. No one is there to judge you and it is not an exam.
You can also listen to some music specifically about self-expression such as Roar by Katie Perry, Born this Way by Lady Gaga or We Weren’t Born to Follow by Bon Jovi. There are also books about self-expression which you may find as a good starting point.
If you prefer physical pursuits but lack the confidence to take the next step, you can think about joining a virtual challenge. Here you meet like-minded people online but without having to meet in person as a starting point. This might prompt you to think about joining classes and clubs within your local area and taking your self-expression that one step further.
Finally, we can’t forget nurturing yourself while expressing yourself. So, if you enjoy cooking or baking, (think about starting small) use recipes as a means of self-expression, in a more contained way, until you feel more comfortable. Once you feel more at ease, the possibilities for self-expression are endless!
What have you been thinking as you’ve read these words?
Take some time to think about how you express yourself in the world:
- Do you know what you do?
- Do you do it through your work?
- Or more subtly?
We all have our own unique quirks and traits, and we all have our own preferences and style for sharing pieces of ourselves with those around us.
Initially, it may not be obvious how you express yourself, especially if this is something out of your comfort zone. For others, self-expression might be more apparent and come more easily.
It may be useful to write down some things that you are interested in; things that spark your passion or are important to you. Take time to really think about who you are and what makes you tick.
Set goals but make sure they are realistic and achievable. Make time and engage in activities that feel right for you and keep yourself open to new experiences, talents, interests, passions, and opportunities.
When you stop analysing how things may turn out, and learn to ‘go with the flow’, you will start to trust in the process and allow yourself to be you.
Remember, self-expression is a journey of discovery.
Some useful resources
99 Things That Bring Me Joy (a guided journal) by Abrams Noterie (2016) published by Abrams.
The Anti-Colouring Book by Susan Striker and Edward Kimmel (2001) published Henry Holt and Co Inc.
For lots of ideas for young people visit www.mind.org.uk/HowCanILookAfterMyWellbeing.
Virtual sports activities www.youthsporttrust.org/60-second-physical-activity-challenges some great and potty ideas to get moving. For example, Hopscotch in a Hurry Challenge, Socks in a Box, Burpees Challenge etc.
What does it mean to express yourself?
Self-expression is about finding ways to explore and express our individual personalities, our passions, the things that drive us and make us unique, whilst also connecting us to like-minded others. It is sharing our thoughts, feelings, ideas, and views of the world through our words, behaviours, and actions and engaging in activities that make us feel good.
This can be more difficult than it sounds as we are often given messages by our family and friends, our communities and through social media, about how we ‘should’ look, think, speak, and behave. This means it can be difficult to let go of expectations and express our true selves but being able to do this is very important for our wellbeing and mental health, especially when we face difficult times.
Given the experiences that we have all been through over this past year, which is likely to have brought about a multitude of feelings, it is more important than ever to find healthy and enjoyable ways to express ourselves that help to lift our mood and make us feel good.
So why is self-expression important?
In children, being able to express themselves freely and in a safe environment is very important for their development so that they may grow up trusting that they can open up to others; that their opinions, ideas, wishes and feelings are important and will be valued.
Throughout our lives, engaging in activities that we love and being heard and understood by others is very important for the development and growth of confidence and self-esteem:
- It provides enjoyable challenges and excitement, boosting feelings of achievement and self-worth, and giving us purpose and meaning.
- It helps us to connect to others and find a place of belonging by discovering that we are not alone in our thoughts and feelings and that we share interests and passions.
- It also allows us to ‘let off steam,’ to relax and de-stress and boosts ‘feel-good’ endorphins that lift our mood.
How do we express ourselves?
There are countless ways to express yourself, it’s about finding the right outlet for you that makes you feel good, allows you to get your point of view across and show your true self.
Maybe you love to be creative, to draw or paint, play music, write poetry, or have an interest in fashion, or digital media. Perhaps you feel happiest when being active, taking part in sport or outdoor activities. Perhaps cooking, baking, or gardening are more your style. Whatever your passions, making time for them in your daily life is an important part of expressing yourself.
It’s really important to remember that expressing yourself doesn’t mean that you have to be the best at something or that you have to put on a performance for others, it’s really about finding ways to show who you are, and that help you to feel good about yourself.
Tips for encouraging self-expression in children
Children express themselves all the time and not necessarily with words! It’s important to ‘listen’ to everything they’re telling you, paying attention to their behaviour, their play and creativity, even their silence, it’s all self-expression.
- Create a culture of regularly talking as a family and having conversations about feelings, good and bad.
- Be curious about your child’s emotions and help them to develop the language to describe them.
- Listening carefully helps children to feel confident in sharing their thoughts and expressing themselves. Try to minimise distractions and give your full attention when spending time together.
- Be aware of your own body language and eye contact, summarise what they’re sharing with you to show you understand and acknowledge their feelings.
- Show interest in their passions and interests and encourage them to share them with you.
- Build on existing interests, encouraging them to take part in activities that support these, and give praise for their efforts.
- Encourage trying new activities to find new and creative outlets and hobbies and to connect with others.
- Give your child the freedom to express their true self, not what is expected; allow them to make choices in their daily lives, let them go to the supermarket dressed as spiderman, or paint their bedroom that wacky colour!
With the end of this lockdown (hopefully) within sight, now is a good time to look back and reflect on anything we might have learned from it. Regardless of whether you had a good or bad time during the lockdown, whether you learnt a new way to help manage your wellbeing or managed to get yourself out of bed, just getting through it is an achievement – and that’s something to recognise.
Hopefully, there are one or two things that you can take forward with you, maybe a useful coping technique like Progressive Muscle Relaxation or possibly a different way of looking at things – a fresh perspective. Maybe you learnt to step back from things that are out of your control and focus on what you can control. These are not just things that are helpful during a challenging situation such as lockdown; they are techniques that can help us day-to-day to be more in touch with ourselves and to manage our stress levels more effectively, so why not see how you can apply these new skills in your daily life outside of restrictions?
But, if you don’t think you picked up a new hobby, learned a relaxation technique or became a master pastry chef (well done if you did), then that’s absolutely fine. Don’t compare yourself and your experience of lockdown to others (learning to do this is a wellbeing technique in itself). We’re all in very different environments and dealing with the situation differently. So, if you spent most of your time in bed watching Netflix, maybe that’s exactly what you needed at this present moment and there is no shame in that – it’s all about looking after yourself the best way you know how, well done on learning to do this!
I think it’s fair to say that the majority of people found the reintroduction of these measures a little tougher this time due to aspects such as the shorter days and cold, wet weather among other things. Although it looks like this one really will only last for a few weeks, let’s not forget what we have learnt – we do still need to proceed with a reasonable degree of caution as another lockdown is not off the table – use your hand sanitiser, check in on those around you and of course yourself.
Moving forward it’s important to remember that many individuals or businesses will probably feel more comfortable to continue wearing masks or social distancing. Wherever possible these decisions should be respected as we are by no means out of the woods – let’s remember what is and isn’t in direct control and move forward. It’s about pulling together as a community that will ultimately see us through this pandemic and we should all do what we can to help and support one another during these often very trying times.
It can be difficult to consider the positives during a second lockdown, but could your relationship with exercise be one of them?
For many, being in lockdown and being allowed outdoors for limited reasons, including exercise, has provided an opportunity (and the time) to discover new ways to get active or stay active. This could include anything from getting out to explore your local surroundings through walks, participating in online virtual classes or embarking on initiatives such as ‘RED (Run Every Day) January’ and the ‘Couch to 5k’ programme.
It is well known that physical activity can have a direct impact on your mental health, and during extraordinary times like we are in now, keeping physically active is more important than ever. Exercising, in any form, causes the body to release endorphins and serotonin, which are the body’s ultimate ‘feel good’ chemicals, boosting our mood and helping to lessen feelings of stress and worry.
As someone who has suffered with their mental health since their teens, I am only too aware of the impact exercise can have on mental health.
My love for running started when I was a young child, being part of Northern Athletic Club. I loved the competitiveness, the discipline, and the fun. This carried on throughout my school life, taking part in all school sports. Throughout adulthood, I have taken part in many different exercise classes but my love for running was reignited about 6 years ago when I started with a running group – as someone who hadn’t run consistently for many years, it was a steep learning curve!
After setbacks with injuries and a lot of perseverance, I took part in my first half marathon in 2017, something I never dreamed I would have been capable of doing. Since then, I have run several more half marathons, the Edinburgh Marathon, and various local races on the Isle of Man.
Personally, running provides me with ‘me’ time even if I am running with others. It gives me the chance to consciously and unconsciously process the trials and tribulations of day-to-day life. When I am going through a tough time or when my mental health isn’t too good, running is what I go back to. It doesn’t matter how fast or capable I am at running, for me, the benefits to my mental health far outweigh anything else.
This year, I am taking part in RED January to help kick off the New Year. Even though we are currently in a temporary lockdown, I am making sure I get out each day for a run or a walk with my dog Vera, visiting favourite places and exploring new ones, because now, more than ever, our mental health is key.
I’ve been very fortunate to grow up participating in a range of sporting activities, from Athletics to Netball, Judo to Hockey. However, it wasn’t until I took a few years away from sport to focus on A-Levels, that I was truly able to comprehend the benefits that exercise had towards my health and wellbeing.
At the age of 21, I was struggling significantly with my mental health and looked to exercise to see if it could help. I set up the NHS ‘Couch to 5k’ app on my phone, committing to the full course – it was a really great way to develop some self-confidence and ease back into an active lifestyle, re-joining my old Athletics Club and a local running group in the process. By chance, I turned up to what I thought was a running session one evening, which turned out to be a race-walking group. Whilst initially not keen, I kept at it, and things seemed to progress very quickly. After a year dabbling in the sport, I ended up representing England internationally, and it was then that I realised there could be some potential.
I had never been a very confident kid growing up but being part of a sport and feeling like I was bettering myself and achieving goals really helped. It enabled me to realise how much I could push myself out of comfort zones, learning that it was ok to hurt in training, for my lungs to feel on fire, and to have a heart racing at a ridiculous rate. I’d never pushed these sorts of boundaries before – essentially fearful of the efforts required and the pain I’d have to endure. It was eye-opening, insightful and incredibly empowering, and has been useful in applying to other areas of life – knowing that I can challenge myself when tasks at hand seem difficult, such as when studying or within the workplace.
It was never my intention to compete at a high level, but I was heavily motivated by the feel-good factors and pure enjoyment, seeing the progressions first-hand and endless determination to overcome an eating disorder. It’s provided some incredible opportunities to travel and explore the world, including racing in Europe for Great Britain and at the 2018 Commonwealth Games – achievements I have become so proud of.
It has encouraged a quiet confidence and a growth mindset to never give up and always try my best, no matter what the outcome.
How you can get active during lockdown
Whether you’re able to benefit from getting outside for a short period of exercise, or required to self-isolate in the confines of your own home, here are some ideas on how to get active during lockdown:
There are so many physical activities you can do outside including walking, running, or cycling. Maybe you could start a new activity you have been wanting to do for a while? Getting out for some fresh air, even if it’s only for a brief period, can be really beneficial in terms of promoting those feel-good factors.
Exercise with family
This is a great way to keep motivated and spend quality time with loved ones whilst getting creative, having fun and benefitting from physical activity. Maybe you could set up mini obstacle courses using household items, walk the dogs or go on bike rides together, explore your local surroundings, or teach a family member a new activity.
Do some online exercise videos
The internet is full of online exercise videos which you can access for free. Some examples include:
- The Body Coach: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheBodyCoachTV
- Zanna Van Dijk: https://www.youtube.com/c/ZannavanDijk/playlists
- Cat Meffan: https://www.youtube.com/c/CatMeffan/playlists
Do a virtual class
Lots of local gyms and fitness instructors provide online classes which you could access. This can help you to still feel connected with others from the safety of your own home. Check out:
- The NSC website: https://msr.gov.im/news/activ8-news/online-sessions-2021/
Set yourself realistic goals
Setting yourself short-term and long-term goals can be an encouraging way to stay motivated and provide a sense of achievement. Maybe you want to up your running speed or walk for a goal of 10,000 steps in a day. Whatever your goals, remember to keep them realistic and not beat yourself up if you don’t achieve them. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
It can also be useful to consider the benefits of a ’growth mindset’, especially if you’re considering participation in a new sport for the first time. This theory suggests that just because you don’t feel very good at something the first few times you try; it doesn’t mean that you will always feel this way. With practice and effort, learning new skills and developing your fitness does get easier. So instead of thinking “I can’t do this”, think “I can’t do this … YET!”
What is motivation?
It’s that little (or big) internal buzz that gives you the boost to get out of bed, go to work, accomplish goals and seek out specific emotions such as happiness and fulfilment. In the simplest form, it’s how much you want something.
Let’s be honest, it’s impossible to be highly motivated all the time. Life happens and consequently motivation fluctuates due to many aspects – global pandemics, daily stressors, illness, careers and education to name a few, and sometimes it relies heavily on sheer willpower. Simply put, some days you will want to achieve things more than others; this can be down to several factors – how you manage your time, changes in the weather, a lack of sleep and tiredness, procrastination and feeling like the task at hand is just too big.
So why is motivation important?
Motivation is a key part of achieving success. From mastering specific skills to attaining new knowledge, stepping out of your comfort zone, and achieving big goals. Going to bed on time and choosing the right foods to eat – these all require the desire to seek change and of course, vast amounts of motivation.
Sometimes, the drive to get up and go is motivated by nothing but enjoyment, and the opportunity to better yourself, or socialise with friends and family. Other times, it may be because we’re being told what to do with minimal flexibility or opinion. Either way, motivation is an important factor in our daily lives to aid us in getting on with the tasks we need to get done.
Motivation Tips for Students
Right now, with the closure of schools to all but the children of essential workers, students are bound to be struggling with a loss in motivation, but what does this mean?
A lack of teacher interactions and peers can mean falling out of a routine and not sticking to timetabled lessons, and with exams being postponed and/or cancelled, it can make it easy to fall into a trap of thinking “What’s the point?”
What can you do to help yourself?
Develop a routine that works for you! This could help you to enhance your motivation and stay upbeat about learning:
- Wake up on schooldays at the time you normally would and go through your normal routine (breakfast, showering, etc) whatever that may be.
- Create a workspace that is comfortable and free from distractions.
- Try to stick to your school timetable including taking regular breaks and time out to eat lunch.
It could also be helpful to do some of the following:
- Arrange video calls with friends so that you carry out your schoolwork together – this way you can all support one another when motivation might be dwindling.
- Catch up with tutors when required.
- Consider the ‘5 minutes rule’ – Work on a task for just five minutes, with the understanding that you can quit after five minutes if you wish. Often, you’ll be motivated to keep going.
- Celebrate the small ‘victories’ and reward yourself with something that really puts a smile on your face. This could include heading out for your once-a-day exercise, watching a film, your favourite snack, or challenging yourself to try learning a new skill.
Keep in mind what it is that you want to achieve from completing your schoolwork. Do you have a specific goal career in mind? Note it down and keep in sight during the school day – it can really light the fire in your belly to keep you driving on.
Motivation Tips for Working From Home
Working from home has become the new requirement for the majority of us and it comes with an array of obstacles that affect motivation. These can include juggling parental responsibilities with the demands of what your employer expects of you during this time or creating a routine that works for you; maintaining some structure can be useful.
Consider – what does the working day generally look like, and how can that be incorporated into your home environment?
- Create a work setup that is comfortable and works for you.
- To do lists – prioritise the most important tasks, whilst outlining exactly what it is that you wish to achieve from that working day. This can help you stay on-track and focused and ultimately impacting your motivation.
- Break the bigger tasks into smaller actions, taking each one step at a time. This can help with feeling potentially overwhelmed, which can often lead to procrastination.
- Stay in touch with colleagues be it through emails or phone and video calls. Talk to your line managers if you’re struggling to help them understand your situation. Benefitting from supportive networks around you can positively influence mood and motivation to fulfil targets.
- Divide your time effectively and don’t sit for hours mulling over tasks – take regular breaks.
When you find your motivation and positivity is waning, it can help to bring your mind back and focus upon what inspires and makes you feel good; reading, watching a movie, exercise or whatever it may be, it won’t benefit any of us to sit and engage in negative thinking; look after yourself, stay connected virtually and stay safe.
We are living in very challenging and uncertain times right now and none of us can predict exactly what is going to happen over the coming weeks and months, and so it is important that we accept that we are bound to experience a ‘rollercoaster’ of emotions and with that, a continuous wavering in our motivation. And when this happens, we need to remind ourselves that it is okay to experience lulls in motivation from time-to-time – they are perfectly natural; a fundamental part of life in fact, especially when faced with challenges and change that our outside of our control.
Lulls in motivation are completely normal and to be expected. It’s no secret that we can all struggle with our motivation that bit more in the winter months – it’s colder and darker, there’s more wind and rain and we likely want to ‘hibernate’ rather than being productive and getting outside. This might not be too bad under normal circumstances when we’re still able to go to the office or social with family and friends, but remove that freedom and things start to get tricky and our motivation might wain.
So how can you help yourself with your motivation in a winter lockdown?
This is perhaps even more important during the winter months because as we mentioned above, our motivation is likely to be less than in the summer months. Simple little things like grabbing a hot water bottle to keep you warm while you’re working from home, treating yourself to a hot chocolate at the end of the day or taking hot bubble bath can all help to maintain your motivation levels. This also means keeping ourselves healthy and making sure we’re eating a balanced and healthy diet. Staying hydrated and getting enough sleep are also really important factors at any time of the year, but very much so during lockdown. Listen to your body (it usually knows what it needs) and take regular breaks when you need too.
This might be as simple as tidying or cleaning a room, redecorating, going through your wardrobe or make-up collection and having a bit of a clear-out (decluttering can help us feel motivated), hanging that picture you’ve been meaning to hang for months, or sorting through some old photos . Spending just 10 minutes on these each day could mean that by the end of lockdown you’ll have accomplished so much and you can enjoy more free time.
Use Screens Wisely
Right now, it can be easy to spend all our time on one screen or another – we are all guilty of it to some extent, but it can make us feel tired and demotivated so know your limits. Try using one screen at a time, take a regular break and make sure you are using screen time for the right things – to inspire and make you feel good – because this will likely help you with your motivation. You can find out tips for this here.
Maintain your Sense of Routine
Try and create your own ‘wind-up’ and ‘wind-down’ routines; doing certain things to wake us up and help us relax can put us in the right mindset and give us increased feelings of motivation. Check out our tips for Maintaining a Routine in Lockdown here.
Get Outside & Get Moving
Getting yourself up and moving can be that bit harder in the winter months, add a lockdown into that and it’s really no surprise we might lack motivation that bit more. A 10-minute walk outside can really help with motivation, maybe walk for as bit longer, by doing so you are getting fresh air and vitamin D which will make feel much more prepared to tackle the rest of the day. If you can’t get outside, try a home workout – or perhaps do it via FaceTime to make it fun or have some extra encouragement.
Talk It Over
Talking about things that are worrying or stressing you is always a great tool when you are struggling, this includes motivation. You can ask for tips and try them out yourself, and sometimes just talking and hearing another opinion can help you to refocus and find that motivation again.
Change Your Perspective
When you’re lacking motivation try and focus on what you have accomplished or what you can do to help to feel more motivated. You could try writing it down, or plan something to look forward to. If you find you’re having a lot of negative thoughts, try telling yourself that the thoughts aren’t helpful so I’m going to focus on something that is.
Stop comparing yourself to other people! We shouldn’t do this anyway, but especially right now – we’re amid a global pandemic and there is no expectation to spend all your free time being productive. Do what feels right for you. This also means separating your free time from study time or work and setting boundaries around your relationships too. It will be easier find the motivation when your boundaries are right!
Do Thing Badly
This might sound a little odd, we know! It’s better to have tried to have done something and failed than to not do it at all! It could help you understand that what you were doing wasn’t quite right for you, or it might give you the motivation to try again and do more. So, whatever it is you’ve be wanting to give a go – knitting, a home workout or cooking a new meal, why not give it a whirl!
There are so many ways in which you can help yourself to feel motivated and some of the above are a great way to get you started right now. We’ve much more information and resources to help you during lockdown as well as in more normal times so take a look at our website, social media or YouTube channel.
Well, someone once did a calculation that suggested today is the one day of the year when a range of factors collide to make us feel pretty awful. Bad weather, post-Christmas debt, disappointment from failing at New Years’ resolutions, dreading going back to work, and generally feeling ‘blue’ and unmotivated – amongst other things.
Except there’s one thing – no scientific evidence has ever backed-up this theory. The guy whose name is associated with inventing the formula (Cliff Arnall) strongly campaigns against the idea, amongst numerous other scientists. As far as the actual formula goes, it doesn’t even make mathematical sense. So why do we still buy into it?
We as humans love an explanation for things. It helps us attribute meaning to our experiences. The aforementioned factors can all affect our wellbeing negatively. However, they are not the only things that affect us. Perhaps the most important factor is the very thing we try to make sense of – our experiences. These are completely individual to us, therefore it is pointless to try and identify the most ‘depressing’ day of the year, as it would be different for every single one of us. There is also a significant difference between feeling temporarily ‘blue’ and being depressed. We can all relate to feeling down from time-to-time but being depressed can be quite disabling in our everyday lives.
Clearly, there is evidence that these factors do affect our wellbeing and it is well known there can be seasonal fluctuations in our mental health. So, how can we help ourselves?
We can start by getting outside in the daylight hours.
This helps to combat the seasonal fluctuations in our mental health. If we combine that with a walk or some other exercise, it will further the benefits by releasing endorphins. Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous for it to make a difference. Even just a few times a week will help our wellbeing. We can also start noticing things around us. Writing down all the positives in your day can be a great step to change your perspective on your experiences. Setting small goals also allows us to accomplish things each day and rewarding ourselves can increase the benefits even further.
We could also try learning something new.
This can be something small, or you might want to set a bigger goal. Lockdown presents us with a good opportunity to begin learning all over again – even just reading a few pages of a book can teach us something. We can also give back – this might be as simple as checking in on a friend or asking a neighbour if they need something from the shop. The act of being kind helps boost our own mental health, as well as the other persons.
Finally, we can connect with those around us and start talking about mental health.
This is as simple as asking someone how they are and genuinely caring about the response. It’s being open and honest about how you’re feeling. If you are really struggling around this time, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. It is also about connecting with ourselves – allowing ourselves to feel what we feel, giving ourselves the space to process this and then doing something we love to help us improve our wellbeing.
January is commonly associated with new beginnings and change, and the goal of Blue Monday in Arnall’s view was, in the first instance, to spur us on to make that change. Poor mental health is perhaps the most significant public health challenge of our time. Blue Monday as an entity signifies how important evidence-based practice is and how significant, early intervention and prevention can be. Perhaps the change we make should be considering right now is putting the focus on our mental health all year round; contribute to stopping the stigma and starting that conversation within our communities.
When we’re managing stress, particularly for a longer period of time, there can be a range of different effects on our bodies, with one particular effect being that we can carry this stress as tension in our muscles.
So, what can we do to help with this?
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique that not only helps to relieve this tension in your body, but also helps you to recognise what that tension feels like so that you can recognise the signs.
What are the benefits?
- With regular practice, this technique may help you to better manage the effects of stress.
- Various studies have shown it can have therapeutic benefits for conditions such as high blood pressure, migraines and particularly for sleep issues.
So how do you give PMR a go?
PMR is easy to do at home and you don’t need any special equipment. All you need is focus and a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed.
The main thing with this technique is to breathe in and tense each muscle group for 5 seconds. Then, as you exhale, let your muscles fully relax for 10 to 20 seconds before you move on to the next muscle group.
- Start by lying or sitting down. Relax your entire body. Take five deep, slow breaths.
- Curl your toes upward. Hold, then let go. Curl your toes downward. Hold, then let go.
- Tense your calf muscles, then relax.
- Squeeze your knees toward each other. Hold, then relax.
- Tense your thigh muscles. Hold, then relax.
- Tense your buttocks. Pause, then relax.
- Clench your fists. Pause, then let go.
- Tense your arms. Hold, then let go.
- Contract your abdominal muscles. Pause, then relax.
- Take a deep breath in and tighten your chest. Hold, then exhale and relax.
- Raise your shoulders to your ears. Squeeze, then let go.
- Purse your lips together. Hold, then release.
- Open your mouth wide. Hold, then let go.
- Close your eyes tightly. Pause, then release.
- Lift your eyebrows. Hold, then release.
- If you’re new to PMR, it’s a good idea to give yourself a little more time as you get used to it. Allow up to 15 or 20 minutes uninterrupted as a beginner.
- Turn your phone off or pop it onto silent if possible, in order to avoid distractions.
- Move through the muscle groups in an order that works for you, you can start wherever you want.
When there are bigger aspects effecting our daily lives that are out of our control, such as the current COVID restrictions, it’s important for us to try and stay as close to our normal routine as possible.
Some of us may need to slightly amend our usual routine to make time for home-schooling or childcare, or needing to work more flexibly in order to take time away from your screen and it’s great that you recognise you need to do this. Once your new routine is in place, try and follow it as close as possible and most importantly, whether this is a new routine or your normal one, don’t be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t go to plan! There is always tomorrow to pick this back up. Here’s some tips to help you with sticking to your routine.
Follow your usual working day:
- Get up at the same time
- Have your shower, make your brew, go for your run, or walk your dog.
- If you go to the gym try doing a workout at home
- Do something to symbolise your commute; it might sound silly but just step outside or go to your car (if it’s close by) and then come back and settle into work like you would in the office
- If you use water bottles or flasks for your hot drinks at work, use these at home too – it’s another way to help set your boundaries
- Take your lunch at the same time
- Try and finish at the same time (this can be hard so don’t beat yourself up over it if you don’t!)
- Do something to symbolise the end of your working day; step outside again or get changed and put your home office space away
Follow your usual evening plans:
- If you usually go to the gym, as before, try doing a working at home.
- Again, have your shower, go for your run, or walk your dog (follow guidelines and only do this once a day though)
- If you usually have a bath to winddown, then have your bath
- Usually sit down for a family meal? Stick to it during lockdown too
- Normally have dinner with friends? Make the plans virtual
- If you have a set bedtime, try and stick to it
Write down your day:
- Writing down your day can help you feel more organised
- This can be as extensive or as simple as you need it to be – writing down the hours that you are working, cooking, relaxing, or going into specific details about what you are doing through each of those steps
Do that bit more at weekends – this is about making the time for the things that make you feel good:
- You might struggle to get out on your walk, do your home workout, read, or cook during the week and that’s ok – make more time at the weekend
- Go for a longer walk or run (Island restrictions allow exercise once a day with no time limit but do stay local!)
- Undertake a longer home workout over the weekend to help you feel balanced, instead of a quick 10 minutes why not try half an hour?
- If you plan your meals , try and stick to it. If you don’t why not give it a go? Or, just set some time aside at the weekend to make the meals that take a bit more time that you enjoy (plus, who doesn’t love leftovers?)
- Organise bigger or longer zoom calls
- Set the time aside to read your favourite books; it can be hard when you are already reading from a screen all day for work to then pick up a book to absorb more information
Tips for Yourself
Set time limits
- You can generally set specific time limits on some apps, or on your screen time generally; decide on an appropriate time limit and use the setting to help you stick to it.
One screen at a time
- If you are working on your computer, move your phone and/or tablet away (if you don’t need it for work) and turn your TV off.
- If you are on your phone, don’t watch TV at the same time, especially if it’s the news.
- Try and use each device for it’s purpose; work laptop or computer for work only – it can help reduce consumption and set your boundaries between work and home life.
Set a specific time to check news outlets
- Being in our homes all the time can make us think more about what’s going on outside – the likelihood is this can cause us stress.
- To keep up to date without the stress, set a time that you watch the news or check apps or new sources for the latest updates and leave it at that.
- Don’t be afraid to tell family and friends to stop giving you updates on news information.
Don’t feel guilty
- Let’s face it, we are bound to be watching more Netflix or Prime than usual right now and spending more time on our phones or computers or tablets browsing the web; and that is totally fine, don’t punish yourself for it.
- If you do come away from your screen feeling overwhelmed, uncomfortable, or exhausted, then it’s time to set some boundaries – limit the time you spend in front of the screen, limit the type of shows you watch or limit the apps you check.
Curate your news feed
- Follow accounts that make you feel good about yourself and your values.
- Unfollow or mute the accounts that don’t.
Use reputable news apps or sites to gain up to do information
- We don’t need to cause ourselves any unnecessary stress by taking on the wrong sort of information. To keep up to date, use trusted and reputable news sites, apps or channels.
Parent tips for Children
Set a time limit for children
- Try and keep to your usual social media/online rules as though children were still physically going to school.
Have open communication
- If your child is worried about anything they see or read, talk to them to find their concern.
- Allay their fears and share how you are feeling to help normalise theirs.
- Make sure children are aware that what they see doesn’t always reflect real life.
- Educate children about relying on credible news sources.
We’re currently running a series of free short webinars aimed at parents, students and teachers to help support children during the lockdown. LEARN MORE
Lead by example
- Don’t spend too much time online or on social media yourself. Children mimic our behaviours and it’s important to remember that.
Watch or engage together
- Talk about what you are seeing on the screen together; how it makes you feel, what it means for you and ask them the same.
Award a token
- Set rules around when your child earns a token: what they are for and time limits.
- This will help children to set boundaries between any possible essential screen time and free time.
Use screen time for human connection
- Highlight the importance of human connection and that screen time should be used wisely, such as for calls with family and friends.
You can learn much more about tips and techniques around supporting mental health and wellbeing during the lockdown period by taking a look at the blog section of our the website.
Learning how to cope with difficult emotions and being able to self-soothe are two very useful skills that can help us improve our own mental wellbeing. Never more than right now have these techniques been important as they allow us to take stock and ‘check-in’ with ourselves.
So how do you go about managing difficult emotions and self-soothing?
It starts by recognising when you are feeling a bit ‘out of sorts’ or ‘off-balance’, and then doing something that potentially helps you to feel better. Here we provide some ideas of techniques that can help you to manage any difficult emotions and self-soothe:
Inhale for 4 seconds through your nose. Hold for 4 seconds, and exhale through your mouth for 6 seconds. Try this for between 2 and 5 minutes, but you can repeat as often as you need too.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
This involves tensing each of our muscles and then releasing them (We will have a guide to PMR that we will be sharing soon).
This is about paying attention and noticing what is happening around us. You can try making up different rules like:
- Naming 3 things you can see
- Name 3 things you can hear
- Moving 3 parts of your body
This is trying to engage each one of our senses with something positive.
- Touch: Try wrapping yourself up in a soft blanket
- Hearing: Play your favourite music
- Seeing: Go for a walk and really take notice of what’s around you
- Smell: Spray your favourite perfume or aftershave
- Taste: Treat yourself and eat your favourite snack
Sometimes things happen that we don’t like. Recognise what has happened and accept the emotions that come with it – reflect on what you’ve learnt and what you could do differently next time.
Challenge Negative Thoughts
- What is the evidence for my thought?
- Is there evidence against it?
- Do I need more information?
- What would a friend think?
- Will this matter in 5 hours, weeks, or months from now?
- Can I do something about it now?
Set Goals and Boundaries
It’s okay to say no if you need too. Do you need to take a step back and focus on something else? It’s perfectly okay to do so! Know what makes you feel good and set a goal to engage in that more.
Focus on the Positives
Try writing down positive things that have happened to you or things that you have accomplished during the day before you go to bed.
Think About Your Basic Needs
Have you eaten something or had a drink? Are you sleeping well? Have you undertaken some exercise?
Use Social Support – Stay Connected Virtually
Who can you talk to, and how would you get in touch?
Plan Your Week
Make sure you make time for your hobbies, friends, and any other things you need to get done.
Don’t forget – it’s normal to feel difficult emotions from time-to-time, as well as different emotions day-to-day, especially right now! The next time you experience an emotion or feeling that you feel is difficult, try doing one thing from each of the categories above and see how you feel afterwards. Figure out what works to make you feel better and don’t compare yourself to others; we all have different ways of coping that are tailor fit by us to suit us and our individual needs.