Letting it out

I’ve been reading ‘Let it out – a journey through journaling‘ by Katie Dalebout and wanted to share some of the exercises that I’m finding useful.

Get going

  • This is the best advice I’ve read for ages – make mornings something to look forward to – rather than wanting to press snooze. Get up even 10 minutes earlier to read, drink tea, listen to music, a podcast or TED talk. Journal – do anything that doesn’t feel like work and write plans down if it helps me to commit. Remember that I don’t have to do it all, or even the same thing everyday. Mix it up depending on how I feel and what is needed at that time.
  • I’ve also found this advice really useful and have been able to put it into practice a few times – get back on the wagon no matter what the time of day. Ask ‘what are three things I can accomplish before the end of the day?’ For me usually there are small things like washing up, changing my sheets, doing some admin etc but I go to bed with a sense of achievement and don’t feel like the whole day was a write-off.

Get organised

  • Pencil self-care into my diary, especially to compensate for non-negotiable commitments that I’m not looking forward to.
  • I’ve started writing a to-do list for the next day so I don’t go to bed thinking about things.

Find presence

  • Katie writes about a ‘joy jar’ however I kind of already do that with my gratitude journal. I did remind me though of my memory box that if filled with lots of lovely cards, photos, trinkets etc from loved ones, and also an album my mum gave me of photos from when I  was born until a couple of years ago. I need to remember to get it out when I’m feeling low and need cheering up, or to feel a sense of connection.

There are so many suggestions in the book and I’m not even half-way through, but these are the things that feel like they have the most potential to make the difference to me at the moment.

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Dealing with cravings

I’ve been struggling with eating too many of the wrong things and feeling bad about gaining weight. I found this list of advice that my therapist give me for dealing with cravings:

  1. Read mantas or quotes
  2. Think about how good it feels not to binge.
  3. Get outside and get some fresh air.
  4. Talk about it.
  5. Move around, change the scene.
  6. Read articles as a distraction.
  7. Do some art, make a collage.

I really need to practice distracting myself. I haven’t even remembered to try, let alone giving any of the things above a chance this week. So that’s my challenge for the next week or so.

I’d love to hear about anything that help anyone reading this post.

Advice for staying well

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written and I need to get back in the habit. I need some encouragement right now as the last month has been a bit up and down with a lot of worrying about everything and anything. It’s exhausting. I’m struggling to eat well and have put a little weight back on – I know I can lose it again if I put my mind to it, I just seem to fail everyday and then beat myself up for being heavier, how it makes me feel and how I look in clothes.

So here are some of the things I need reminding of sometimes to stay well:

  • Keeping planning treats and rewards to look forward to.
  • Plan a holiday for a few months ahead – especially in the winter when it’s dark.
  • Remind myself to practice being psychologically flexible – not indulging in black and white or all-or-nothing thinking.
  • Practice gratitude – I’ve been keeping up my gratitude diary each day before bed but it feels harder at the moment.
  • Ask myself ‘is there anything constructive I can do?’
  • Challenge my thoughts – recognize them and disengage.
  • Practice the opposite of how I feel e.g. if I feel rejected then give.
  • Believe I will be ok – I can and am doing this.
  • If things get difficult, go back to basics – healthy food, exercise, sleep, shower and work.
  • Get back on it asap if I slip with my eating habits.
  • Make myself do things even when I don’t feel like it e.g. exercising and socialising as eventually I will enjoy it and feel like doing it again.
  • Ask ‘What does worrying give me? Is it helpful or is it more likely to lead to what I’m avoiding?’. Can I address my worry by doing something useful? If yes, then do it! If not park the worry
  • Everyone’s moods fluctuate daily/weekly. It’s because my lows are lower than most that I get scared. Be in the moment, don’t engage with the fear and I might find things are ok.
  • ACT – take action that’s consistent with my values and goals.

Advice for difficult days

One of my friends has been struggling with depression returning this week, and as well as listening,  I’ve found myself giving him advice I’m sure I’ll need it myself in the future so I thought I’d write about it here.

Sleep

Get back to a good sleep routine. Mine consists of no technology after 9pm, a bath or shower, a cup of hot cocoa and getting into bed to read. It’s also helpful to get up at the same time each day rather than laying around in bed and feeling groggy for the rest of the day. I’m fortunate that for me it’s 8am. If I really can’t sleep I listen to a dharma talk, and if I can’t bring myself to get out of bed in the morning, try to do something useful with the time like watching a documentary, listening to a TED talk, reading, writing or colouring.

Eat and drink

Don’t forget to drink lots of water and have food that’s easy to prepare on hand. For me that’s soup, eggs, pre-prepared salads, fruit and yogurt. If I really can’t be bothered to cook then I’ll make a smoothie with almond milk, almond butter, spinach, banana and blueberries.

Take a shower

It’s amazing what a difference taking a shower and washing my hair can make to how I feel, even if I don’t have the patience to dry my hair. If I’m going out, putting on a little bit of make-up also makes it feel slightly easier to face the day. Sometimes it’s easier to have a bath instead of a shower as it takes less energy just to lay there in the hot water! Or I often shower before bed so it’s one less thing to do in the morning.

Get dressed

Even if it’s just lounge wear -comfy clothes that I can wear if I need to go out. Or put on some clean PJs and change the sheets so I have a clean bed to get into as well.

Get out

Get some fresh air – even if it’s just in the garden or looking up at the stars in the night sky. Driving in traffic is the last thing I want to do when I’m feeling rubbish so try to walk the dog around the block or walk to the shops for some food.

Schedule

When things are really hard, I write a to-do list for the day and it includes the basics like have a shower, clean my teeth and make some porridge. I also include things like open the post, read, watch a film so I don’t have to make decisions or feel overwhelmed by all things I could be doing.

Reach-out

Ask for help with cooking, cleaning or walking the dog. Also pull back when I need to. I don’t have to accept every social invitation – one or two things a week is enough sometimes.

Exercise

Even if it’s a 30 minute swim – it kills two bird with one stone as I get to shower and wash my hair at the same time! Commit to doing something whether I feel like it or not.

Be productive

Write a to-do list for around the house. Or a ‘done’ list of the things I have done so I don’t forget the small achievements. Break things down – I don’t have to clean the whole flat in one day – start with doing the washing up or dusting one room.

Be grateful

Keep up my daily gratitude practice. But don’t forget to express other emotions to – physical exercise, art and writing also really help when I have some anger bubbling away below the surface.

Dealing with overwhelm

I’m feeling a bit calmer after my mini-meltdown on Wednesday evening. I was able to take Friday off work and spend the day being a tourist in London with two of my best friends. It’s amazing what a difference time with the girls can make sometimes, although it’s not always easy to coordinate as we live in different towns and countries! I was also able appreciate London and what a beautiful city it is to explore, rather than rushing in and out for work once a week like I usually do.

I saw my therapist on Thursday which helped too. I’d spent the night before trying to work out if I could cope financially working less hours, even though I don’t think for one minute that work would let me do that anyway. I was just feeling like I couldn’t cope, and that I’ll never be able to cope, that I’m too sensitive and not cut out for this life.

I wanted to write this post to remind me of some of the strategies we talked about to implement when I start feeling overwhelmed.  Start by asking myself this question:

Is there anything constructive I can do?

Can I ask for support at work?  Can I ask my mum for help staying on top of things at home like cleaning and washing? Can I start with small steps towards healthier eating again like buying some ready made salads rather than feeling like I need to cook lots of healthy veggie food? Look at recipe books and the inspiration to cook again might come.

Can I accept the food and home situation as being good enough rather than having to be perfect? The same applies to work.

Know that the  cravings for sweet things will pass after a few days of eating healthier foods and it will become more habitual. Can I leave my cards at home so stopping to buy unhealthy food isn’t an option?

Remind myself of the sense of achievement I feel after exercising. I was so good at going to the gym five days a week whether I felt like it or not. I packed my bag and it became part of my routine. It made me feel better about myself and I was loosing weight so I need to get back into that mindset.

What is this thinking give me?

I like to ask myself this question too. Is this train of thought or worrying going to lead anywhere useful? If not then it serves no purpose.

Plan things to look forward to

I know that working more than three months without taking some holiday isn’t good for me. I’ve done it before and end up feeling like this. I’ve been working on a project with a tight deadline though so my boss won’t let me take time off until after it. Last week I was feeling quite angry and resentful that everyone else I work with is on holidays at the moment and I’m not. However I do have some time-off in August to go camping and spend a few days with friends.

Having things to look forward to is really important – I feel like I live from one holiday to the next! I spoke to a friend who was open to the idea of going on holiday together in September so that’s really cheered me up. I also want to spend some time with my Lonely Planet India book. It’s my absolute favourite place on earth and there are so many more places there that I want to explore.

If I can’t take time off I also need to make the most of the weekends. It’s been difficult recently because I’ve had to work some of them which definitely contributed to how I’m feeling at the moment. Plan day trips for the weekends so I get a change of scene and sense of adventure.

Slow down

Make time to meditate and read. Switch off the phone and TV. Look back over things I’ve written and notes from therapy sessions. Don’t over commit – if I need to decline some social invitations and do a bit less for a while, that’s fine.

Be creative

Make time to write, paint, dance.

Look ahead

Look at other ways of making income in the long-term. Research possibilities.

Remember that I can cope and that I am doing this

This is just a normal response to stress. It’s not depression. Lots of people feel like this when pressure builds up and need to find ways to release it. Because of my past experiences I fear that I’ll go back to being like that again and it petrifies me.

“I need the sea because it teaches me”

I love this quote by Pablo Neruda and I’m posting it as reminder to myself to go to the beach this weekend. I’ve been running around the lake and harbour recently, but it’s not the same as walking along the sand and listening the waves lap against the shore. I’ve always found it a very comforting thought that however turbulent things feel within me, the sea is always there and the tide continues to come in and out. I guess it reminds me of my connection to something larger than whatever is going on in my heart, mind and body.

Sea 2

Habits of happiness

I was telling my therapist a couple of weeks ago how some of my healthy habits are slipping. I’ve been watching too much TV, spending too much time on my phone, eating badly and not exercising enough. It’s worth reminding myself though that I’ve been sleeping really badly which makes everything feel harder and taking prescription sleeping tablets which slow me down.

We had a really interesting conversation about habits, and why they are so important for people who struggle with their mental health.

Three reasons why habits are important to me:

1. SO I DON’T FEEL LIKE A FAILURE BEFORE I’VE EVEN GOT OUT OF BED

First of all, getting up at the same time every morning.  I’ve adjusting my work hours which means I get up at 8am and leave for work at 9am. However when I don’t get up at 8am and keep pressing snooze until 8.30am my day starts off on the wrong foot. It’s only 8.30am and I already feel like I have failed. Things I’ve found help with this are putting my alarm clock on the other side of the room so I have to get out of bed to turn it off, preparing as much as I can the night before e.g. breakfast and lunch, having a shower before bed and giving myself permission to have a nap later in the day if I’m tired.

2. SO I DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS WHEN HABITS SLIP

Having a routine and sticking to it, because if my routine starts to slip I start to worry about that means – am I getting ill again, is this the beginning of a downward spiral? However, I also need to allow myself some flexibility as I have a tendency towards all or nothing thinking, and some days some days things will feel harder than others or I’ll lack motivation. That’s not necessarily a symptom of depression – it’s like that for everyone sometimes.

3. BECAUSE THE MEMORIES OF REALLY DIFFICULT TIMES WILL FADE

The memory of how difficult things were a few months ago will fade over time and won’t be such a strong motivator. Therefore I need to establish healthy habits to fall back on, so things don’t require any decision making or deliberation – they are just part of my day. This quote sums that up perfectly:

There is no more miserable human being  but one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every piece of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation. Full half the time of such a man goes to the deciding, or the regretting, of matter which ought to be so ingrained in him as practically not to exist for his consciousness at all.

William James, Psychology: Briefer Course