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

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

Comparison is the thief of joy

It’s quite sad that comparisons often play a huge part in eating disorders and recovery.

Many feel unworthy of support because they don’t consider themselves to be ‘sick’ or thin enough compared to others.

They may think they’re weak for eating more or less than someone else, exercising at different levels, weighing more or being smaller than other people. They might also worry that because they’re considered ‘better’ or ‘healthier’ than someone else, they won’t be taken seriously and get the help they need.

I’m completely guilty as charged, forever comparing myself to other people and what stage they’re at in life or their recovery journeys. I put off seeking help for months, citing ‘I’m not ill enough‘ and ‘weigh too much.’

I often worry I’m too slow, too fast, weigh too much, don’t weigh enough, bigger than that person or smaller than I was a few months ago…it’s non-stop!

I also struggle with body image issues so automatically assume I am bigger than others around me. I once tore myself up for weeks because I worried my thighs were too big and began comparing them to my friend’s whose seemed much slimmer. I drove myself crazy!

I brought it up in a therapy session once and it helped me to slowly see sense. As my view of myself is skewed, it was likely that our thighs weren’t that dissimilar.

Yet, even if mine were bigger, why would that matter? Does that make me a lesser person? Or undesirable in some way? Would my friend be a better person if hers were in fact smaller than mine?

All of these questions led me to really think about the situation I found myself in. I realised that in becoming obsessed with my friends thigh shape I overlooked other characteristics that I did not want to share. I failed to realise my worth, my popularity, my close relationships with family and friends, my skills, my ambitions and the other elements of my appearance that I do like.

It sounds completely backward now but I thought I was somehow less worthy of being supported through an eating disorder because my thighs were bigger than somebody else’s.

It shouldn’t be like this, everyone is individual and no two cases are the same and therefore don’t deserve to be treated as such.

Different people find what works for them and their own pace to be able to make improvements.

We cause ourselves so much anxiety and depression by engaging in comparisons and it’s so unnecessary.

The world will do that for us without us doing it to ourselves!

If your body shape is different, you still deserve help. If your pace is slow or fast that’s fine. If ripping the plaster off and taking the bull by the horns works for you, that’s great. Or if you’d rather go steady and adjust to the changes gradually then that’s OK too.

You do you! No one else is living in your body or head, every path is unique.

Be the focal point of your own journey and the best version of yourself instead of a second-rate version of someone else.

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

How to self-care in lockdown

Nobody is finding anything easy at the moment – the world feels very strange, unknown and uncertain.

Our routines have been thrown into disarray again, we’re once more having to stay at home and avoid social events or groups of people and all while vigilantly protecting the health of ourselves and our families. It all feels quite overwhelming.

Mental health issues can be very tricky to manage in isolation. We may rely on the support of friends, therapists and medical staff that we can’t meet for a while or have a strict routine around food and exercise that will now be compromised.

It’s certainly a distressing time for many of us but we’re not alone as thousands across the country can relate to our struggle.

It’s more important than ever to practice self-care in order to remain as calm and level-headed as possible at the moment, and here are a few practical tips on how to do it…

Maintain routines where possible

Even if your work or study pattern has changed, try and stick to your usual daily routine as best you can. By that, I mean waking up and going to bed at the same time, working, eating and drinking when you usually would and scheduling down time to relax or engage in safe distraction activities. You may be at home more than you’re used to, but it doesn’t mean you have to adapt to a completely new daily routine. If elements of your schedule change, adapt and build that into a new pattern that you can stick to whilst isolating.

Regulate media exposure

There are some scary stories out there again and the more time we spend reading them the more fearful we become. It’s key to remember that not everything you read is true, and media outlets are paid to shock and hook people in with dramatic headlines.

Whilst it’s important to be as informed as possible, exposing yourself to negative press is going to be detrimental to your mental health so set aside time to read news from a trusted source and then switch it off.

Meditate or be mindful

It’s not always easy to find the time, but whilst we’re cutting back on social activities and staying at home more – it can be really therapeutic to do a guided meditation or mindfulness session to calm your busy mind. Apps like Calm, Headspace and Insight Timer do some really good ones that range from two minutes to an hour so fit nicely into your day.

Go outdoors (if safe)

I don’t know about you, but staying indoors all day makes me feel claustrophobic so just going out in my garden or around the park for a short while helps me to get a change of scenery. Yesterday I was struggling with my anxiety so went out for a walk in the winter sunshine and it reset my mind wonderfully. Just feeling the fresh air on my face and counting the trees along the way helped distract me long enough to carry on with my day.

Engage with people

I’m feeling really cut off from people at the moment so I’m making lots of effort to contact them digitally instead. That might be via message, email, FaceTime or a good old-fashioned phone call. I should have been meeting a friend this weekend but now that it’s not safe we had a good long phone chat instead and it brightened us both up a great deal. Humans are social beings and communication helps our wellbeing so it’s important to maintain contact wherever possible.

Re-frame your thinking

How many times have you found yourself saying you’re ‘stuck’ in the house? Why not try rephrasing that to being ‘safe’ in the house. When you substitute one word for another, your whole outlook can alter too.

When lockdown started last year I couldn’t see anything very positive, I believed we were all living in a state of fear and panic and my thoughts became quite negative. However, I then tried to change that and see it as a period of self-improvement, reflection and recharge instead.

I don’t mean we should all be doing online yoga or re-decorating the house in order to improve, I see this time as an opportunity to evaluate what and who is important in our lives and work to ensure we take this with us when things get back to normal.

Self-care

This alters from person to person in line with how you like to unwind, relax and focus on whatever it is that makes you feel good. Now more than ever, it’s vital to set aside time each day to look after yourself and engage in something that boosts your mood and positivity.

For me this has included watching my favourite TV shows and films, listening to music, walking, writing, colouring, speaking with friends and painting my nails. It’s also good to do the little things that make you feel better – the other day I was just about to forgo washing my hair for the second time (after all, who’s going to see it?!) but I forced myself to do it and I’m so glad I did. Feeling as good about ourselves as possible is really important when you feel anxious or out of control.

Be grateful

I appreciate it’s really tough to still find positivity in such uncertainty but even in the trickiest times, there is still a great deal to be grateful for and focusing on the good is really key.

Whether it’s a small achievement that day, a caring message from a friend or even just relaxing your mind for a short time, it’s helpful to recognise the good in life.

If that feels too hard at the moment, why not make a list of things you will appreciate when you start to feel a little more back to normal, or something you look forward to doing again in the near future.

I hope this helps in some way – please take care of yourselves, and reach out if you need to.

G x