Stress is something we all live with and experience daily, some stress (eustress) is good for us, it’s the type of stress that gives us our ‘get up and go’ factor, it’s the stress that we need to take on new challenges and step out of our comfort zone. If we just had to contend with this type of stress we would be thriving and we would be able to look at life’s unpredictability with vigour and a positive mindset. You can learn more about eustress in our online guide to Supporting your Mental Health.
Unfortunately, there is also harmful stress (Distress). This is the type of stress when things start to get ‘on top of us’ or we feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with tasks, multiple events and challenging times.
The two types of stress go hand in hand. It’s sometimes difficult to identify what type of stress we’re encouraging as a result of the unpredictable challenges we are faced with in life from hour-to-hour and day to day. It’s important to be able to stand back and look at how we’re dealing with things. If we find we are struggling or encouraging the wrong type of stress, we need to look at ways of taking back control and encourage the use of some coping tools and techniques.
One such coping tool/technique that can help us during unprecedented times is embracing the ‘Blue spaces’ around us.
We are fortunate to live on a beautiful and relatively safe and secure Island with open green spaces and beautiful views of the sea. In a recently publish article by Elle Hunt of The Guardian newspaper, it was stated that “Coastal environments have been shown to improve our health, body and mind”, and concluded that doctors could maybe start issuing nature-based prescriptions to help cope with the harmful stress we experience (Distress).
We have long-known that getting outside into the fresh air for exercise has a positive effect on our mental health and wellbeing, and we certainly don’t need a prescription from a GP to do so. But we do need to be able to identify when we are not coping well and to be able to take back control and start making small changes.
I love being around water and swimming, beachcombing, the smell of the sea, the sound of the waves and the sense of freedom that comes with it. I enjoy the escape to a place where my ancestors may have had a similar experience.
Throughout my life I have always been drawn to the water. Wherever I have travelled and lived, one thing stands out, I always found myself close to the sea. Maybe it was a subconscious decision or maybe something else, but I have always found an inner calm whenever I’m near water or ‘blue space’ is found.
Here on our beautiful island it is a similar story – I love splashing in the water with my kids and seeing them smile and laugh which makes me happy; whether going for a walk through rivers on an adventure, or simply walking on the beach to find our favourite pebbles or shells; perhaps looking for something that doesn’t belong on a beach and creating memories that may last a lifetime.
We are lucky to live in a place where we have such incredible blue spaces on our doorstep. I will leave you to make up your own mind on whether it should be GP driven but I can say that the theory and studies do certainly indicate the benefits to our wellbeing and managing harmful stress. Living on an island, I suspect deep down, we all know that already, but we just need reminding occasionally.
Here’s some ideas for making the most of our very own ‘Blue Space’
- Visit an old favourite – going to a place that triggers fun memories will boost your mood.
- Bilateral stimulation – just getting out of the house and going for a walk gives your mind time to process and forget all the troubles you may be experiencing.
- Serotonin, dopamine, and endorphin boost – swimming, walking or jogging in a blue space will give you a huge boost of the “good chemicals” that help lift our mood.
- Beachcomb – look for something special on the beach and you are never let down, many treasures are found, valuable or not, which connect you to nature.
- 3 pieces of plastic – pick up three pieces of rubbish and take them back to a bin, this is rewarding and will boost your sense of wellbeing as well as being great for the environment. Find out more about our Fill a Fish joint initiative with Beach Buddies and Suntera.
- Sea swim – a dip in the sea stimulates the parasympathetic system which is responsible for rest and repair. Another boost for serotonin and dopamine.
- Fishing – apart from the health benefits of eating fish, research shows that fishing can help combat depression and anxiety along with increasing patience and concentration.
- Less air pollution – the area around the sea is healthier for us as negative ions speed up your ability to absorb oxygen and balance serotonin levels.
- Sunlight – being by the sea boosts vitamin D, changes the body temperature and as a result helps you sleep better.
- It’s fun – no matter if it’s blowing a hoolie, raining sideways or glorious sunshine, being outdoors and by the sea is fun! We should all be allowed a little bit of time where we can be kids again and just have a giggle.
In recent weeks, the Island’s Department of Education made the announcement that exams would no longer take place this year. This announcement came after almost a year of uncertainty due to the pandemic and has likely impacted many of our young people in different ways.
This news may have caused a lot of upset for some people who feel as though they’ve worked really hard for their exams and might have even missed out on social events because of them. It might even feel like all the energy and effort they put in is now worthless, and you might feel frustrated that you won’t ever know the grades you could have got. You might be worried about what comes next – whether that’s getting into sixth form or university, getting a job, or about having no idea what is next. You might also be one of those people who hadn’t started revising or working to get their grades just yet, and you’re worried how this will affect things.
For some people, this may have come as good news. If you’re the type of person who dreads the atmosphere of such pressure-heavy environments, you may be feeling optimistic right now. Maybe you’re feeling relieved that your grade for the year won’t be determined by one hour, where you’re more worried about being stuck in a room with 100 of your peers, or whether or not you have a clear pencil case. If you’re someone who favours coursework over exams you might also be feeling positive, or more in control of your performance right now. Where there will be people feeling this overall sense of relief, there will be just as many feeling the exact opposite. This is a good time to check in on friends when you can, as this outcome could affect everyone differently. Your friends will likely be in a similar position to you, so they will be able to relate to what’s going on, and helping others can also boost our own wellbeing.
However you feel right now, it’s completely understandable – if you are struggling, there are things we can do to help. Reframing our thoughts about it can help us cope if we’re feeling like our hard work is wasted or our results are somehow worth less – you’ve still learnt all the knowledge, and would have all the skills to sit the exams if you needed too, which will help you in your future. The exam was only one point on a journey – you’ve done so much to be proud of before it and will continue to do so without it. A grade is not our whole identity, and there is so much else to who you are as a person.
Set small goals that are unrelated to exams – these might be things like finishing a book, trying a new hobby, exercising or scheduling in some relaxation time. You might want to research future options available to you to. Making time to take care of ourselves and do things we enjoy is particularly important now. These can also help us with our motivation; by giving ourselves things to accomplish, it adds to our sense of achievement, boosts our self-esteem and improves our wellbeing. If it helps, you can also start doing some of the work and revision you might have done over this time, so keep up with your revision or homework timetable where possible. You can also celebrate when you would have finished your exams, as this can help with our feelings of closure.
It is likely some people will have concerns about how their grades will be determined, especially if this differs between schools. If you’re feeling uncomfortable with which pieces of your work are determining your grade, or who is making this decision, it is worth raising this with someone you trust. This could be a parent, family member, or member of staff from your school you feel comfortable discussing this with. If you’re struggling with motivation or your wellbeing over this time and you’re worried about it affecting your grade, try and make someone aware of how things are for you.
If you are supporting a young person, have the conversation with them about how they’re feeling. Be completely honest about what you do and don’t know – for example, if a young person doesn’t know how their grades will be awarded, be honest if you don’t know, but tell them you can help them by making a plan of who they can ask. Provide them with encouragement about school and about the future.
There is so much uncertainty around this time that it’s normal to feel a bit worried about what the future holds; if this is significantly impacting you and your life, speak to someone you trust who can help find you some support.
As part of Stress Awareness Month we wanted to help you to understand how we manage stress.
We can view the way we manage stress like a tap and bucket, with the tap being the things that create stress and the bucket being our ability to carry and cope with stress.
Stress is a normal part of life and it’s not always bad, we need a certain level of stress to encourage us to take action and get things done.
However, if there are too many stressors in our life and we don’t have effective coping strategies in place, our stress levels can become harmful, making us feel overwhelmed and like we’re about to ‘burst’.
Take some time to think about the good and bad sources of stress in your life – doing this helps us to identify and prioritise the stressors we can control, to manage how much stress we’re placing on ourselves. You can also think about what coping strategies you might use, are these effective in helping to relieve stress, or might they actually be creating more stress?
Stress Awareness Month has been held every April since 1992, with the aim of increasing knowledge around both the causes of and cures for stress.
We’re all very different, but stress is something that affects all of us at various points in our lives. For example, according to the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of adults in the UK felt so stressed at some point in the last year, that they would describe it as feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope.
There are a lot of generic causes of stress: work, relationships, commitments and bills amongst many other things. However, we must also take time to understand what affects us as individuals so that we can take some small steps to reduce stress for ourselves and those around us. Things like setting clear and healthy boundaries, communicating assertively and remembering to save time and energy for yourself can be very helpful when working to limit your stress levels.
The theme for Stress Awareness Month 2021 is “Regaining Connectivity, Certainty and Control” – this was based on a study conducted over the last year which showed that roughly 65% of people in the UK have felt more stressed since COVID restrictions were introduced in early 2020. The 3 biggest areas of concern for people were: feelings of disconnection, uncertainty and a loss of control.
So, what can we do every day, to help lower the stress on ourselves and those around us?
- Talk about stress and its effects to reduce the stigma of having open conversations around wellbeing.
- Share your coping techniques – not every technique works for everyone, but it might benefit someone that you care about.
- Be gentle to those who are stressed or anxious – we all experience these feelings in our lifetime, so think about how you would want to be treated in that situation.
- Look after yourself – try and take time each day to relax or do something that you enjoy. Leave some energy for yourself. Exercise and eat good foods, even when it feels difficult.
For the month of April, the Stress Management Society are encouraging people to pick out an activity or action which could help you improve your wellbeing, and to carry it out every day if you can. It takes around 30 days to begin forming a habit, so this challenge aims to maximise your chances of forming a lasting change.
Throughout this month, each week we will be discussing different areas of stress and some practical tips to help you manage it.
We often get asked the question “What can I do to help to remove the stigma surrounding mental health?”. For us, this is one of our main aims, as removing the stigma helps everyone on the Isle of Man to feel emotionally empowered and effectively supported with their mental health and wellbeing, so here’s 6 things you can do to help.
1. Talk About It
The biggest thing is to talk openly about your own mental health. Lead by example.
When you’re asked, tell your friends and family how you’re really feeling. You can be open if you’re not feeling great, or just let them know that you’re genuinely having a good day.
Be honest if you need a bit of extra support from your loved ones and be clear about what that support is.
2. Ask Others
Encourage others to talk about their mental health. By asking open questions about how someone is feeling, you can open up the door to a conversation.
Equally, it’s important to respect people’s boundaries – if they say they don’t want to talk about it, respect their choice and simply remind them you’re there if they want too, then move on.
Be prepared for what the response might be – this might be making sure you have options to signpost to, or some suggestions of the support you are prepared to offer. You can signpost to online services like Kooth and Qwell, to health services like their GP or other community initiatives.
Support might be a regular catch up, taking them some shopping, or exercising with them. People often appreciate just being asked because it really shows you respect and care about them.
Equally, it’s important to take care of ourselves – don’t offer anything that will put your own wellbeing at risk.
3. Have a Conversation
If you get a feeling that someone is struggling or has been distant with you, ask them how they’re doing and say what you’ve noticed. It gives them an opportunity to open up or clarify a different reason for their behaviour.
If you can, ask them to make time for a phone or video chat, as sometimes seeing someone’s face makes it much easier to talk than over a text. If they say they’re ok, they will most likely appreciate a good old chat with a friend anyway. Who doesn’t need one of those right now?
4. Talk to your Employer
Could your employer do more to support your mental health? Perhaps you feel that your colleague is struggling?
Around 1 in 6 employees experience a mental health or wellbeing issue each year. While the reasons behind it are not always work-related, it is important that employers and their workforce know how to address mental health and wellbeing and support one another.
During a time when we have much less interaction with our colleagues, it’s important to put in place virtual ‘coffee breaks’ to promote those chats that often help people. Your employer may be able to facilitate more flexible working hours, a reduction in duties, or more collaborative ways of working.
Perhaps your employer would like to contact us to discuss workplace mental health awareness sessions, or help staff build their resilience or even train a few employees to be wellbeing first aiders. There’s lots of information and resources on our website so take a look here at the Isle Listen in the Workplace pages of our website.
Your HR department is there to help with any concerns and can often signpost you to lots of good resources.
5. Help us to continue helping our community
Isle Listen is a charitable initiative, and we are funded by the generous support of our community.
We are working hard to bring about change and that starts at a young age by preparing our children and young people to cope with challenges of 21st century life, following this through with our workplace and community initiatives into adulthood.
With this approach we can gradually unpick the stigma surrounding mental health which has existed for many generations and resulted in so many people struggling unnecessarily.
You can help us to be able to continue our vital work by making a one off or regular donation – Donate
6. Fundraising and spreading the word
You might like to take on a fundraising challenge for us and help spread awareness of the importance of mental health at the same time.
The importance of setting and achieving goals for mental health is well documented, as is doing something for others, so this is a really great way to boost your own wellbeing and help others!
Maybe you’d like to undertake a sporting challenge, hold a quiz, sell some homemade items, do a sponsored silence, train to do a half marathon or whatever your passion is, but by becoming one of our fundraisers, you will be helping us to help our community.
Let us know if you have any fundraising ideas and we will be delighted to help you out – email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Choose to Challenge’. This centres around choosing to speak out when we see gender inequality or bias. Sadly, mental health is not a field that is immune from the impact of gender inequality and bias.
Over the last year, women and girls have experienced unique challenges as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Research has shown the negative impact on our mental health due to returning to school, social media, caring responsibilities and restrictions in place around maternity services and health services more generally. Depression and anxiety rates are higher in adolescent girls than in their male counterparts. Eating disorders are also significantly higher amongst females and the number of people seeking support has risen at alarming rates. Gender-based violence is also on the rise. The economic impacts are often more heavily felt by women who typically will earn less than their male counterparts because of existing gender inequality.
On the Island, we have just entered lockdown number 3 (which is not something I ever thought would happen) and because of the factors mentioned above, this is certainly going to be a difficult time for everyone, but especially women. So how can we take care of ourselves, or help support the women we care about?
- Getting outdoors and being active. As we enter Spring, the weather should start to improve which makes getting outside easier. It’s important, regardless of a lockdown, to try and get outside and exercise once a day, even if it’s just a quick walk. Organise online workouts with friends or set each other challenges.
- Learn something new. This might be as simple as reading a book, or even trying a new hobby.
- Stay present. This can be difficult when we’re worrying about what’s next – but sometimes we forget that now used to be next. Try things like journaling, mindfulness or grounding exercises to help.
- Give. It might be as simple as baking a cake for your mum, helping a neighbour with their shopping, or surprising a friend with a gift delivery. Even just doing chores around the house makes a huge difference.
- Connect. Check in with your friends and family, give them a call or schedule a (virtual) catch up with them. You can even get into writing letters!
This International Women’s Day, we can all help just by speaking up and challenging the inequalities that exist in society. This is also true for mental health and wellbeing – only by talking about our mental health and wellbeing can we remove the stigma that surrounds it. By acknowledging that we are human and we do make mistakes, it means we can build mental health services that ensure equitable access for all. Make sure you check in with yourself and the women that you love and speak out if you are struggling and need support.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please read with caution as this article contains details that could be triggering.
According to Beat – the UK’s eating disorder charity – there are approximately 1.25 million people in the UK living with an eating disorder and with this number on the rise, I wanted to speak out and share my own personal experiences of living with an eating disorder in order to raise awareness of this mental illness.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
To those who don’t know about my mental health issues, I may look like I have my life together – at 29 years old, I’m married and mum to a happy, healthy boy, I have a degree and a job that I love, I come from a loving family and I have wonderful friends – but I struggle with one thing that most people don’t even think about: eating.
I’ve had an eating disorder for more than a decade. I was first diagnosed with anorexia nervosa when I was just 12 years old and have spent most of my teenage and adult years in and out of treatment, consumed by this illness.
I’ve always found it hard to open up about my mental health issues, even to those closest to me, because eating disorders don’t make a whole lot of sense – like breathing or sleeping, eating is a basic human need that we all need to do in order to survive… so why does my mind try to convince me otherwise?
Eating disorders are complex.
I struggle to pin-point one thing that led to me developing an eating disorder but my issues with food began round the time I started high school. Like many others, I’m sure, I found the transition from primary school to high school to be quite overwhelming. I’ve always had a “Type A” personality – ambitious, competitive but insecure – so instantly, I felt the pressure to work hard in order to stand out and achieve what I thought was expected of me.
It’s a well-known fact that what we put into our bodies affects what we get out of them, so I thought that by improving diet and lifestyle, I could improve my performance at school. At first, I stopped eating junk food – chocolate, crisps, sweets – opting for healthier snacks instead. I also started exercising more and everyone praised my new, healthy lifestyle.
Then I decided to cut out snacks – I thought that I didn’t really need to snack in between meals if I was eating a good, nutritious breakfast, lunch and dinner. Somewhere around this time, my mindset shifted and my thoughts became distorted. I started eating less and exercising more. I became paranoid about eating in front of people because I was convinced everyone was watching what I ate, so I stopped eating at school. Not eating at home was difficult as we always sat down as a family at mealtimes, but I ate nothing where I could and ate less where I couldn’t.
I lost a lot of weight very quickly and people – family, friends, teachers – became worried, but despite their concern, nobody really knew what to do or how to help me. Knowledge/understanding of eating disorders was basically nonexistent and the resources available were limited. I was referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and that’s where my journey to recovery began.
I just want to clarify that eating disorders are not caused by dieting alone. The exact cause is often unknown, but it is generally believed to be a result of biological, psychological, and/or environmental influences. Through working with a therapist, I have discovered that there were other factors that contributed to the development of my eating disorder, but I’m not ready to share that part of my story just yet… not to mention that this piece would basically be a novel!
17 years later and I was recently discharged from my 4th (and hopefully, final!) treatment programme.
Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Research has found that 20% of anorexia sufferers will die prematurely from their illness. Bulimia is also associated with severe medical complications, and binge eating disorder sufferers often experience the medical complications associated with obesity. In every case, eating disorders severely affect the quality of life of the sufferer and those that care for them.
Recovering from an eating disorder is hard.
Food is a fundamental need, so unlike someone recovering from a drinking problem where the focus of treatment is working towards a life that doesn’t necessarily include alcohol, recovering from an eating disorder is complicated, because the focus of treatment is working towards a life that does include food.
Living with an eating disorder – or any mental illness for that matter – is exhausting. Every day is a fight between what you know is right (eating) and what your eating disorder tells you is right (not eating). There are good days and there are bad days, but there’s no such thing as a day off from mental illness.
Until recently, I’ve always avoided talking about my mental health. I’ve always felt embarrassed about having an eating disorder – I mean, what sort person doesn’t love food?! – but I’ve realised that opening up and talking about it and breaking down the barriers surrounding mental health can be a good thing.
Having an eating disorder has shaped who I am as a person and while there’s nothing I can do about that, I can and do want to help shape the future of mental health by raising awareness and encouraging others to speak out too.
When someone says the words ‘self-harm’ or ‘self-injury’, it feels like something that is big, scary and uncomfortable. The thing about self-harm is, it’s actually a whole range of behaviours on a spectrum that are usually done because we are hurting emotionally, we want to feel differently, but we’re not sure how to cope with the negative feelings.
It’s estimated that around 1 in 5 people will self-harm at some point in their lifetime with this often beginning in adolescence. Self-harm can either be self-neglect or self-injury; self-neglect is where we fail to meet our basic needs, and self-injury is where we hurt ourselves intentionally. The kinds of behaviours often associated with self-neglect are over or under sleeping, over or undereating, not maintaining personal hygiene, isolating ourselves or engaging in risk-taking behaviour. Self-injury is a term that is used in more clinical settings and involves things like cutting, burning, banging, hitting or scratching ourselves.
For those who haven’t ever felt the urge to engage in these behaviours, it can be difficult to comprehend why someone might engage in such behaviour as it goes against our basic evolutionary drives to protect ourselves from harm.
So why do people engage in it?
If we look at the behaviour in its most basic form, it’s a coping strategy – it’s something individuals do to help them manage how they’re feeling. Like all coping strategies, it provides us with an outlet, releases endorphins and provides some control over our feelings and thus makes the individual feel temporarily better.
What it’s not is an attention-seeking behaviour which is why it’s so difficult to stop. If we take away the self-harm behaviour and don’t replace it with anything, the individual is left without a coping strategy so when they subsequently feel difficult emotions, it’s easy to fall back into old habits.
Finding out that someone we love or care about is engaging in this behaviour can evoke many difficult feelings. . This can potentially mean that we respond the individual concerned in a way that isn’t helpful or could have a negative impact. It’s important to remember that as human beings, it’s understandable that we will feel worried, sad or uncomfortable because we care.
So how can we channel those feelings to support someone who is self-harming?
- Recognise that self-harm is a coping strategy. This helps to reduce the stigma of self-harm and of mental health more generally.
- Respond with care and compassion. This helps promote a sense of trust and respect between you and the individual which might help them to open up and seek help. It also reduces the stigma that surrounds the behaviour, which in turn can help the individual to change it.
- Thank them for telling you. If someone has told you they are self-harming or injuring, this won’t have been easy and demonstrates they have trusted you with this sensitive information and that is a privilege.
- Ask what you can do to help. This might be things like looking for alternative coping strategies that can help them. It might be regular check-ins. It might be by helping to keep them safe.
- Signpost them to other support services. The Calm Harm app is one that helps us ride out the urge to self-harm, and you can also recommend websites, telephone or messaging services or face-to-face options, like their GP or counselling.
Self-harm is often thought of as this big, scary secret – it’s only by talking about it that we can change that. This self-injury awareness day don’t be afraid to ask the question if you’re worried about someone. If you are struggling with self-harm, please reach out to someone you trust.
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!
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.