How nature helps my mental health

If ever there was a time to feel grateful for nature, it’s now.

If it wasn’t for being able to walk outdoors, breathe in the fresh air and feel the sunshine on my face I don’t know how I’d have dealt with lockdown. Embracing nature has been a saviour.

Being outside has long been championed to reduce anxiety and boost mood, and many mental health advocates recommend it to help people feel better. It’s been proven to lower stress, blood pressure and heart rate and encourages physical activity which, when done in moderation, is really good for us.

For me, it makes all the difference. It’s a brief escape from my daily stresses that forces me to appreciate the beauty all around and put things into perspective. I love it.

There are a great many reasons to get outdoors and become one with nature, and I’ve listed the following as just a few of my personal favourites:

Reset your outlook

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been worrying about something and going outside for a walk has lessened the problem. It’s acted as a pleasant distraction and readjusted my mind frame to allow me to view it differently and put it into perspective.

It could have been breathing in fresh air, appreciating the scenery or moving my body – perhaps a combination of all three, but I’ve returned to the original concern and found that it’s loosened its grip.

Boost serotonin and endorphins

Exposure to sunlight is said to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin which is associated with boosting mood and helping you feel calm and focused. Similarly breathing fresh air can raise the amount of oxygen in your brain, which in turn also increases the levels of serotonin and positively alters your mood.

Meanwhile engaging in outdoor exercise, such as hiking, running and cycling enhances the production of endorphins – a chemical produced by the body to relieve stress.  A completely free and accessible way to make yourself feel better.

Increase Vitamin D

When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes vitamin D – a vital nutrient to enhance bone and muscle health and boost your immune system.

It’s been well documented that patients with Covid-19 possessing high levels of vitamin D in their systems have fought the virus more successfully than those lacking it, so it’s important to keep up your intake!

Sun exposure is thought to be the best way to increase vitamin D levels because very few food and drink supplements contain significant amounts, making getting outside even more important.

Escape the daily grind

I’m working from home and it can get very monotonous sitting in my house most days and nights. Ensuring I get that lunchbreak outdoors and a post-work walk is essential to lift my mood and get me away from my screens.

It’s also important to move and avoid being static for too long and to me there’s nothing better than walking amongst the trees, flowers and birds to get me away from the mundane and reset my mind.

Appreciate nature’s beauty

When the technological world gets too intense and complex, I love nothing more than surrounding myself in natures simplistic beauty and escaping it all.

Sometimes my problems and anxieties feel overwhelming and far bigger than I am, but then I spend time in a beautiful place and I get the perspective I desperately need.

The intricacies of a flower’s petals, a pretty blossom tree, hills and peaks or rivers and reservoirs…I just love it! It takes me away to a special place where I see a world outside of my worries and feel much freer.

Nurture something to life

As well as appreciating what already exists, I love channelling my efforts into creating something new.

I spent much of lockdown growing sunflower seeds while my friend started her own vegetable patch and herb garden and we enjoyed it so much. It gave us an additional sense of purpose and felt like we’d nurtured something that either looked or tasted lovely. It was like such a positive and worthwhile use of time, I really recommend it.

Hopefully you can get outdoors this week to celebrate Mental Health Week 2021 and the topic of nature. Why not see if it improves your mood and how it helps you to change your outlook on the situations you find yourselves in.

G x

It’s OK not to be OK…

Today. Tomorrow. Any day.

This week may be mental health awareness week but that doesn’t mean we should stop speaking out when it ends.

The louder the conversations, the more likely we can incite positive change and make mental health services more accessible to the many not the few.

Keep talking and spreading the word.

G x

Why I love to journal

Going to therapy introduced the need to start a reflective diary and three years on I still love it.

Journaling is a complete blank canvas, there are no rules and you have the freedom to make it whatever you want. The only condition is…it has to benefit you.

I use mine for a range of things. Reflecting on thoughts or behaviours, noting my achievements, marking progress and struggles and jotting down things I need to improve on or reminders for appointments.

It helps me to place order on everything going on and is useful for tracking what is happening now and also learning from events gone by.

Here are a few ways I use my journal that might inspire you to do something similar…

Memories and achievements

I like to remind myself of happy times, positive memories and things I consider achievements when I’m feeling low, so I keep my books up-to-date with as many photos as possible.

Thoughts and emotion tracking

It’s good to track how you’re thinking and feeling and note any patterns that may be significant. If I feel especially upset, frustrated or anxious about something, it can help to write it all down and ‘get it out’ so that I can move on.

Worries

I’m a natural worrier so never short of things to stress about. Jotting them down can take away some of their power and how much room they take up in my head. It also makes them easier to reflect on and discuss if I need to.

Appointment reflections

Therapy sessions fill my head with lots of thoughts and I often feel like my head is full afterwards. Something that helps me with this is writing down any discussion points, progress checks and post-appointments thoughts so I can clearly see what we talked about and what I now have to do during the week ahead.

‘Inner Queen’ journal

I got this separate interactive book at Christmas and it’s fab!

It’s called ‘Inner Queen – No Ordinary Journal’ and it’s all about working towards your highest, most powerful self every day.

It lays it all out for you for to complete step-by-step, detailing your innermost desires, empowering beliefs and the barriers or negative thoughts holding you back. You can then keep a daily record of things like positive affirmations, inspired actions, reasons to be grateful and mood monitors.

I really helps me to learn about what holds me back the most in life, how to find gratitude in the everyday tasks and track any progress I make.

Positivity

Amongst all of the worry, I still like to take time out and reflect on what I’m grateful for. I write down three positive things that happen each day alongside achievements and gratitude lists so I can remind myself that it’s not all bad!

I also love wise words, affirmations and motivational quotes so print off any I see online that resonate with me.

Is this something you do? Or perhaps could start doing if helpful?

I hope so! Let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts or ideas.

G x

Go and love yourself this Valentines Day

I recently read a quote that really made me think…

“You cannot truly love another until you know how to love yourself.”

Seems straight forward doesn’t it? But how on earth do you love yourself?

Most people with eating disorders have huge difficulties with the idea of loving ourselves and that’s what has led us down this tricky path.

We often don’t deem ourselves worthy of love, care and nourishment because we don’t feel comfortable in our own skin.

We might punish ourselves for not being perfect, not looking a certain way or sticking to the strict rules that we set. We may also spend so much time fixating on what others think about us that we let their opinions define who we are.

I don’t know about you, but when I think about the notion of people loving themselves, it conjures up images of arrogance and self-importance and other undesirable traits I try to steer clear of.

So how can we strike the balance and learn to value ourselves and start the journey to self-love?

Here are some of my top tips to help boost our self-value and worth…

Write down each time someone pays you a compliment

Even if we struggle to accept them, we all get paid compliments by those around us at one time or another. They might be about our character, our appearance or something that we did which others noticed and wanted to acknowledge and appreciate.

When this happens I try to make a note of it so that I can remember them all when I’m feeling low. I have a book full of the nice comments I’ve received over the years and I also screenshot any complimentary messages I get on my phone to go back over and give me a boost.

It really helps me to realise my true worth to others and I very much recommend it – after all they can’t all be wrong!

Ask a friend or relative to name all of your qualities

That may sound like a slightly odd (and potentially risky) thing to do but I can almost guarantee you it will lead to some very positive outcomes.

The first step is identifying a friend you trust or a relative you’re close enough to that you feel able to ask. Give them time to think about it and preferably ask them to send it to you digitally or write it down so that you can keep it and refer to it whenever needed.  

I bet you’ll be surprised just how much people think of you and how many great traits they can come up with.

Allow yourself to indulge in treats or hobbies

We often deny ourselves the time and opportunity to engage in things we enjoy.

It might be because we have busy lives and demanding jobs or perhaps we spend so much time helping others we forget to look after ourselves.

It doesn’t matter if it’s twenty minutes a day or half a day per week but it’s so important to allow ourselves the time to enjoy something that makes us feel good.

Personally, I love colouring, writing and walking so I try and walk around the park every day, colour in the evenings and write blogs and articles at weekends. Nothing major – but a few pleasant activities to distract myself from the real world for a short while and boost my endorphins.

Think of all the ways you’ve benefitted others

Have you ever seen the film It’s a Wonderful Life?

I won’t spoil the plot but in short it’s about a man who is down on his luck in many aspects of his life and it’s not until he’s forced to realise how many people’s lives he’s benefitted that he realises his true self-worth.

Have you ever stopped to consider your own self-worth? Or how much you’ve enriched the lives of your family and friends by being you, and being there for them when they needed you?

Think of all the times you’ve been thanked for doing something or appreciated for your kindness. I bet you can think of examples that hopefully make you see how truly valued you are and the impact you have on others around you.  As I said before, they can’t all be wrong…

I hope some of these ideas strike a chord with you and make you realise just how valuable you are. It’s all about focusing on the positives and strengthening the belief that we are all great people in our unique, special ways.

Well done, congratulations on being so treasured and in the famous words of Justin Bieber, you should go and love yourself…

G x

Becoming body neutral

Try to imagine a world where you don’t think about your appearance.

You don’t spend your days looking in the mirror, honing in on those thighs you wish were smaller or torturing yourself about the size of your waist and curves. 

Nor do you waste your energy wishing you were thinner, more toned and defined, or pounding the gym to alter your shape.

You just wholeheartedly accept your body for what it is – no love or hate. 

Welcome to body neutrality!

Believed to have started in 2015 by a US fitness instructor, it is fast gaining traction around the world with more fans now than ever. Just look up #bodyneutrality on Instagram and you will find over 100,000 posts encouraging this incredible new way of being.

At its core, body neutrality aims to encourage you to fully accept your body for its achievements as opposed to its appearance. The overall goal is to reduce the enormous focus on physical attractiveness in our looks-obsessed society and remove the idea that beauty has a bearing on a person’s worth. 

So how is it different from body positivity?

Body neutrality challenges the constant ‘feel-good’, I-love-my-body movement that some people find too difficult to adopt.

Whilst it’s great that some sectors of society love the skin they’re in and flaunt their assets all over social media (I’m looking at you, Kardashians), sadly we’re not all in that extrovert headspace. That’s why this new mindset exists to counteract the hype of body positivity – the concept of loving your body no matter what it looks like.

The term ‘body positivity’ was originally coined by a group of self-confessed ‘fat-acceptance’ campaigners, who joined to promote the idea that all bodies, not just slim stereotypically attractive ones, are beautiful.

Body positive followers traditionally encourage conversations around unapologetic weight gain and celebrate plus-size individuals whilst opposing the unhealthy ‘thinspiration’ body image notion often championed by the media. 

Body neutrality, in contrast to all of this, values the facts of what your body does on a functional level for you over how it looks.

How do you do it?

It’s all about altering the way you think about yourself. 

Somebody who is body positive would say:

“I feel good about myself because I know that I look good.”

Whereas, a person who strives for body neutrality believes:

“My appearance has nothing to do with how I feel about myself.”

There are many ways you can try and adopt this approach, starting with self-talk and reflection.

Ask yourself some of the following questions to get a picture of your character and values, unrelated to appearance:

Am I a good friend?

Am I kind to others?

Am I driven and ambitious?

What are my strengths?

What do I enjoy most in life?

How would my nearest and dearest describe my personality?

Once you can build a narrative around your answers you will probably see that your appearance is one of the least interesting things about you and what’s on the inside is much more important.

Good luck!

G x

Being more mindful on social media

Scrolling through my Instagram feed one night I couldn’t help but feel sad at all of the happy, smiling faces looking back at me.

It felt like the world was out having the time of their lives whilst I was at home, battling my anxiety and isolating myself.

Yes, there are times when it’s me you’ll see on your screen, having fun with friends or taking silly photos with my family but they felt like a distant memory on this particularly difficult evening.

It wasn’t until I attended a recent mental health support group titled Social Media Influences that I started to see things differently and alter my perspective a little more.

We discussed the ‘business side’ of social networking and the ways in which many people manipulate what you see for personal, and in many cases, financial gain. 

We also touched on false portrayals, image enhancement and the freedom to pick and choose what we do and don’t want to see.

It was all very eye-opening and helped me to come up with five key things to consider when using social media sites…

Everyone’s lives look better online

‘Social media smugness’ is definitely a recognised thing now and we all know people who use their Facebook and Instagram profiles for nothing more than showing off.

When’s the last time you uploaded photos of yourself having an awful day where nothing’s going right, you feel stressed or unwell and you don’t like your hair/make-up/outfit choice?

I’m guessing probably never…and neither does anyone else! They only showcase the best of their lives to the world and it’s important to remember they also experience turmoil and hardship behind the scenes like the rest of us – we just don’t see it.

We all love a good filter

Image editing is becoming easier every day and very few people post photos without the odd tint and tweak somewhere along the line.

I don’t know about you, but my friends and I very rarely upload pictures without filters to either enhance our appearance or hide something we’re not so keen on – and I doubt we’re alone in that. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong but it’s important to remember when you’re perhaps feeling insecure and comparing yourself to others.

Follow the right people

Amongst a sea of people who use social media for all the wrong reasons, there are hundreds of great motivational channels out there, designed to spread positive messages to their followers.

I occasionally find myself searching for profiles and hashtags that I shouldn’t and resisting that temptation when it’s so readily available is hard. What helps me is following lots of inspirational users who promote wellbeing, encouragement and spread words of affirmation to lift my spirits instead.

Mute what you’d rather not see

If you have friends, family members or colleagues that trigger you or make you feel underconfident in some way, it’s probably time to mute their content and have a break from them.

That needn’t mean unfriending or blocking anybody and risking conflict, you can just opt to have their updates removed from your home feed either permanently or until you feel able to see it again.

Choose your time to go online

We all have times when we feel down or vulnerable and when this happens being suffocated by other people’s seemingly perfect lives will not help us at all.

There are much kinder ways of distracting our minds or escaping for a while that won’t leave us feeling rubbish in comparison. These may include doing creative hobbies like crafts and colouring, gentle exercise or spending quality time with supportive family and friends as opposed to viewing the world through a screen.

It’s OK if all you did in lockdown was survive!

We all know a social media show off, who uses their channels as a shop window of how perfect their lives are.

Whether it’s their amazing figure in their work-out gear, their latest glistening expensive purchase or their envy-inducing home and garden, it can feel like these people exist to make us feel completely inadequate in comparison.

Sadly, they didn’t take any time off from flaunting in lockdown and continued to spend their days showcasing their best lives for us all to see and crave.

With a reported 87% increase in social media usage over the last few months*, it’s been impossible to escape seeing others using the pandemic to upskill themselves, renovate their properties or embark on new healthy eating and exercise regimes. It’s exhausting to scroll through, let alone actually do!

The Covid-19 crisis has been the most extraordinary event most of us have ever experienced, altering the way we live our lives and creating new rules and protocols to abide by in order to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

We were each forced into our homes for an intense period of three months and left to make our own entertainment, distractions and coping strategies to endure what was, on reflection, a pretty terrifying period of time.

Even those without any pre-existing mental health difficulties have admitted to finding it tough – the uncertainty, concerns about unemployment and struggling to stay confined to our homes all the time. It wasn’t great for anyone!

Some chose to use the time to study online, broadening their skillsets and qualifying in new areas. Some made home improvements, brought pets and modernised their gardens. Others bought home gym equipment and bikes and vowed to eat healthily or quit drinking.

All that is great. Seriously, hats off to everyone who made the most of it and managed to be productive – but it’s OK if all you did was survive.

If you were able to calm a racing mind, if you made it through the days without crying or, heck, if you just got up and dressed most days, you did great too!

Thankfully, restrictions are easing now and the ‘new normal’ is upon us. As many emerge as ‘better’ people with new skills and outlooks on life, it’s important to remember that it’s OK to return to life as it was before. To not be a new person, or to not have changed in a big way.

Anxiety, depression and mental health conditions are on the rise as a result of lockdown and it can be difficult enough to get back to our former lives and routines, let alone trying to be brand, shiny new versions of ourselves.

So however you’re ending lockdown, remember it’s OK. This is a situation unlike any other and there’s no right or wrong way to be. Keep going – you’re doing great!

* – Business Today