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

The very unglamorous and expensive side of eating disorders…

It’s not easy having an eating disorder.

For many of us sufferers we lack certain nutrients that we don’t get from food so supplements are the best way to keep as healthy as possible.

I’ve lost count of the different types I’ve tried over the years and this photo is just a snapshot of what I’ve got on the go at the moment.

There are vitamin drinks, calcium and magnesium tablets and probiotics to help keep levels high.

Digestion can commonly be all over the place too so having high fibre supplements and colon cleansers is essential. Oh the joy!

If that’s not fun enough, there are tablets and soothers for tummy cramps and bloating and some hormone regulation meds too. Not to mention the classic Fortijuices which are pretty unpleasant tasting high calorie drinks to help with meal replacement.

I dread to think how much I’ve spent on stuff like this over the years. I know it’s for the best to get in the key nutrients I don’t always get from food but not ideal or particularly sustainable.

Great motivation to get better though!

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

My first Eating Disorders lecture

If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that I want to spend my time doing things that help people and make a difference. Things that are more worthwhile.

This week I got the opportunity to present to a group of Child and Youth Studies students at the University of Derby about eating disorders in young people.

It was brilliant!

I used all of my own experience and resources from the charity I work with and put a presentation together to help the group understand these complex conditions better. I learnt a lot of new facts along the way too.

We covered the visible and less common signs that someone might be struggling as well as misconceptions and created a toolkit of skills to support a young person.

The class was so engaged, asking thoughtful and insightful questions. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

It was such a rewarding experience and the feedback was really positive. Everyone learnt something from my time with them and I really felt like I had made an impact.

I love days like this!

G x

Why we should all #DumpTheScales!

Imagine being told that your leg wasn’t broken enough to warrant treatment, despite you being unable to walk.

Or that you weren’t yet deaf enough to require hearing aids even though you could no longer make out what people were saying to you.

Eating disorders are not just about weight loss and low BMI yet people across the UK are being refused treatment for not meeting the criteria, forcing them to get worse to access much needed help.

It’s not right and action is needed!

When my problems with food started, I distinctly remember my GP saying that usually you have to join long waiting lists for therapy but given that my weight was low they might be able to see me faster.

I wasn’t yet at crisis point but I was underweight, and I had a six month gap between my initial assessment and my first appointment.

Fast forward to the present day when I sadly relapsed and went down that all too familiar path of food restriction and over-exercise, my friends were telling me to get some help quick.

“There’s no such thing.” I said, “it’s all based on your BMI and mine won’t be low enough to qualify.”

Well sadly I was both wrong and right – patients do have to meet an incredibly low BMI criteria and unfortunately I now had, allowing me to access some much needed support in a very short space of time.

Whilst there’s no doubt that the help I am now getting has been invaluable in stopping my difficulties worsening and slowly turning my thoughts and behaviours around, no-one should have to be that thin and unwell before they are taken seriously.

I know people that have long battled their eating disorders in secret and finally plucked up the courage to speak out only to be told their BMI is too high to be eligible for therapy.

Such news often leaves them with no alternative but to lose even more weight, putting their health at further risk and causing potentially irreversible damage.

Thankfully there are third sector organisations that don’t discriminate and help anyone facing difficulties with their ability to eat, body image and exercise levels. They do invaluable work and bridge the gap that NHS services commonly leave.

It goes without saying that physical health is hugely important, and when patients are either at, or fast approaching, a very low weight they clearly need urgent care. But the treatment of eating disorders should not be solely based on someone’s BMI as it so often is at the moment.

Anorexia sufferer and campaigner Hope Virgo has long fought for fairer treatment for those experiencing eating disorders and commenced her ‘dump the scales’ petition three years ago in support of this.

She needs 150,000 signatures to encourage further debates in parliament, asking the government to ensure that nobody is turned away purely on the basis of their weight.

I fully support Hope’s endeavours and encourage others to do the same here.

Please consider signing her petition to make a difference to those suffering eating disorders.

G x

This week I was on the radio!

It’s not often you find yourself being interviewed on the radio – but not every week is dedicated to eating disorders awareness either!

Last Tuesday, I was privileged and honoured to be invited onto Derby Sounds radio station to talk about Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW) and how the charity I work for is marking the occasion.

I’ll let you listen for yourselves, but I was asked all about the wonderful First Steps ED and the many services they offer as well as our campaign to highlight this year’s EDAW topic of binge eating disorder and how the community can get involved.

I really enjoyed the experience and was surprised by how quickly I forgot it was actually an interview not a general chit-chat! The presenter Jayne was lovely and so easy to talk to – she made it a pleasure of an experience.

If you’d like to hear the interview and find out more about First Steps ED then please click here to listen .

Positive affirmations for recovery

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week so I thought I’d share something positive and uplifting to inspire hope for the future.

My eating disorder support group has really kept me going through the many lockdowns of this pandemic. I’m so grateful it adapted to online delivery and continues to be a huge source of help and guidance at this very tricky time.

One of the recent group topics I attended was on Positive Affirmations and it really gave me a boost.

We explored the value of positive statements and how to incorporate them in our everyday lives to truly believe and reinforce them.

I usually write such things in notebooks or journals and others in the group said they put them on post-its around their mirror or in frames in their bedrooms. Fab ideas!

Towards the end of the session, we each had to write two or three of our own affirmations in relation to eating disorder recovery and share them in turn.

I thought it might be helpful to print them here, so you can hopefully feel as inspired as I did following the group…

My happiness does not depend on my weight or size, but on who I am and what I do

Today I will abandon my destructive behaviours and start using behaviours that are good for me

I am a survivor and I am a warrior. I don’t need my eating disorder to be good enough

I am courageous and from today I will stand up for myself

My life is just beginning, not ending

I will not define myself by my past

How I feel about myself has nothing to do with what I eat or don’t eat

The process of recovery may be challenging, but it’s worth it and I know it

I deserve to be happy and I deserve to fulfil my dreams

I deserve to treat my body with respect

I will love and appreciate myself

I don’t need to do excessive exercising to deserve food

Everyday I become stronger and healthier

I forgive myself for not being perfect because I know I’m human

The past does not equal the future unless you live there

I am more than what people think of me

Be gentle with yourself

Love yourself as you would your loved ones

I’m doing the best I can with the knowledge and experience I have so far

I’m not a victim of my past experiences

I have survived this before I can do it again

I will not be hard on myself today

I am worthy of self-love and the love of other

I am strong

Just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s true

My worth is not dependant on my weight

I cannot see the outcome of the journey, but I can take the next step

I do not need to exercise excessively to deserve to eat, it’s a basic human need. I deserve to treat my body with respect.

Did anything in particular resonate with you? Can you think of any others?

Do let me know in the comments below.

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

2020: the worst year ever?

“I thought 2020 would be the year I got everything I wanted. Now I know 2020 is the year I appreciate everything I have.”

A friend sent me this quote last week and it really resonated with me.

I knew it wouldn’t be the year I got everything I wanted (who ever does?), but it’s certainly given me a slap around the face and made me see how blessed I truly am.

I’ve been far too guilty of ‘why me’ syndrome this year. Why did I get made redundant in a pandemic? Why do I have to stay at home every day when it makes me anxious? Why are my parents having to shield? Doesn’t Covid know I have an eating disorder and all of these changes to my routine are making it worse?!

It certainly hasn’t been easy, rationalising all of my worries with so many terrifying headlines around. The pandemic has impacted so many elements of life I struggle to recognise our former ‘normality’. Going to shops, drinking coffee in café’s, working in a busy office and enjoying my hobby of ballroom dance. When will it ever be deemed safe to get within two meters of my partner to learn the Cha Cha together again?!

It’s so hard to deal with grand-scale change like this. Not being able to solve everything makes me incredibly anxious…but is it completely terrible? Has this year been a total write-off?

Well, no. I don’t think so, and here’s why…

Food

Managing eating disorder recovery in a pandemic is like pushing water up a steep hill. It’s not going to go well! My safe foods weren’t available in shops (cheers panic-buyers!), I had big changes in routine, there was reduced access to support services and a big dollop of inability to control any of it for good measure. It did not a happy mind make!

I managed though. I reparented myself around mealtimes at home, endeavouring to eat at least something three times a day and progress to introduce snacks. I developed a heightened appreciation for my appointments with the ED service and gained much more from them as a result. I learned that when the world around me changes, I must still prioritise food and nourishment to deal with it effectively and noticed my body function better as a result. It was quite a turning point.  

Relationships

I spent the majority of 2020 at home with family and even though we drove each other crazy at times I would not have had it any other way. I felt supported, comforted and like no matter what horrifying things were happening in the world, I was always safe and protected. My Dad has spent much of the year shielding making homelife tense but we’ve certainly come out much stronger as a result.

There was nothing sadder than not being able to meet with friends and relatives as much as I would have liked. Thankfully technology connected us when face-to-face gatherings were too risky and for that I’m super grateful. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I now value those friendships even more than I did before. I can’t wait to see people properly again!

Change

‘I don’t like change, I’m rubbish at it’ I would often say. I’m a creature of habit and live a very routined life to keep my anxiety at bay.

If you’d have told me a year ago that 2020 will see a killer virus sweep the world, forcing us all into our homes, meaning I wouldn’t be able to go out anywhere for fear of catching it – I’d have had a meltdown there and then. Nevertheless I’ve survived it. I’m still here and still (mostly) smiling. Everything has changed and it’s been completely terrifying but I’m proof that it’s possible to get through it. I’m so proud of my resilience. I didn’t know I had it in me.  

Lack of direction

I believed that losing my job to a Covid restructure was a one-way ticket to hopelessness and ‘what-the-heck-now’ land. I’ve worked since I was 14 (before it was even legal to be paid!) so how on earth would I cope with being unemployed?

Well, pretty wonderfully as it turns out.

I realised my job had become a noose around my neck and kept me rooted in ED behaviours. Without it I felt free, like I had a chance to really explore my options and work out what I’d truly like to do in life. I turned the empty days into opportunities to write, become a freelance blogger and communications project manager from home which gave me more fulfilment than I’d had in years. I also got onboard the online course hype by enrolling on a counselling skills programme which taught me so much about myself and helping others. I’m absolutely loving it!

I don’t know what’s going to happen long-term, but instead of being terrified I’m surprisingly excited!

2020 has taught me that I can deal with change, don’t need a job to feel valid and have so much good in my life that I needed six months of sitting at home to fully appreciate it.

I couldn’t see my friends, so I realised how much they meant to me and valued our precious meet-ups even more. I feared for my family’s health and wellbeing and grasped the huge importance of their presence in my life. My therapy became less frequent so I truly understood the positive impact it has on my well-being. I didn’t need to buy clothes, gadgets or beauty treatments because life’s about so much more than that. I swapped shopping trips for walks in the countryside and gained a fresh appreciation for nature and all of it’s wonder.

It wasn’t easy, far too many tears were shed and frustrations acted upon. I felt whole new levels of hopelessness and like giving up on various occasions. But I have honestly never learned so much about myself, the true meaning of happiness and being grateful for the little things that mean a lot.

And for that, 2020, I thank you.  

G x