The positive impact of employment on my mental health

It’s a well-known fact that being in work is important for everyone’s general health and well-being and is used by the government as a way of measuring an individual’s quality of life.

It promotes independence, gives us purpose, provides an income, enhances our social skills, and is a key factor in preventing both physical and mental health problems.

In contrast, unemployment can heighten the risk of developing a mental illness and has been linked to increased rates of depression and suicide as well as a greater reliance on health services.

It’s clear that employment is vital for maintaining good mental wellbeing, reducing psychological difficulty and forms a very important step to recovery. I know it’s really helped me feel better lately, after six months of unemployment last year.

Here are some of the ways returning to work has improved my mental health and become an important part of my recovery journey…

Having a sense of purpose

Since returning to paid employment, my days are much more structured which has been massively beneficial to my mental wellbeing.

I feel like I have purpose and routine to my daily life again which I had not experienced for quite some time. I am once more contributing my skills and experience in a meaningful manner daily, which provides an enormous sense of self-worth and helped to build my confidence massively.

Financially rewarding

I have always believed that money isn’t everything, however having more of a disposable income has also been a massive benefit to my mental health. It means I can spend more time socialising, pursuing my hobbies and living a comfortable life, reducing financial concerns and treating myself once in a while.

Achieving  

When I was unable to work, I had nothing that gave me a sense of achievement. Yes, I’d do house jobs and go out for a walk or coffee sometimes, but that didn’t give me a boost in confidence like working does. Now when I do something well and my boss or colleagues recognise it, it’s such a great feeling and really makes me feel like I have made a difference and done something well.  It’s really motivating.

Forming relationships

Working in a great team as I do now, means I have daily interaction with people from various backgrounds and no longer feel as lonely and isolated as I did before. It has also given me the opportunity to discuss my health background with people who understand are totally supportive of my journey to date. It’s been remarkable to be accepted and appreciated for my lived experience, and has done wonders for my self confidence too.

A positive distraction

When you experience mental illness it can unfortunately start to form part of your identity and overtake your character and personality. Working again has shown me I am far more than just my diagnosis; I have skills, I can contribute to society and use my life experiences for good. This is a great distraction from my difficulties and allows me to see a world outside of therapy, medical appointments and medication. It’s like I’m a new person and have lots more to offer the world than just my problems.

G x

Keeping motivated in recovery

They say patience is a virtue and you certainly need it in spades during eating disorder recovery. 

I recently attended a workshop where the facilitator announced that the average recovery time for an individual with an eating disorder is seven years, making them one of the longest lasting mental health conditions. 

It’s common for us to suffer both physical and mental hardship, with the challenging symptoms and effects needing a great deal of time and commitment to improve. 

When someone experiences a restrictive disorder, there’s a high chance they will need to spend months weight restoring before they are healthy enough to engage in a structured recovery programme. Lapses and relapses can also sometimes occur, meaning the sufferer goes through a setback and must spend time rebuilding to get back to where they were before. 

It can be a cyclical process that demands endurance, resilience and bucketsful of love and support from those around us. 

Of course, each set of circumstances is unique and not everybody will spend that amount of time in treatment, but how can we keep positive through the ups and downs? How can we stay on the right track if our brains are screaming at us to revert? What are the most effective ways to remain motivated during recovery?

Remember the reasons you started 

It can be really helpful to make a list of reasons to recover and use it as a reference point when you feel like pulling back.

You can include the negative impact your eating disorder has on your physical health, the space it commandeers in your head and everything that it prevents you from doing. It might also help you to write down what you would like to do once you have progressed on your recovery journey and the things you can enjoy more if you weren’t being restrained by your condition.

Surround yourself with positivity

It can be hard to stay motivated when there are negative people and influences around you. These can be friends and family members, colleagues and online channels.

Whilst it’s very difficult to distance yourself from people, you can choose which profiles to follow on social media and who you engage with digitally more easily and ensure your down-time is not spent being drained by unnecessary comparisons and feelings of inadequacy. If your networks aren’t uplifting and inspiring you, it might time to seek some healthier ones.

Incentivise yourself

It can really help to have an incentive or something to reward your progress with if you start to feel directionless. Whether it’s material like a new item of clothing or gadget, or an experience such as a holiday it can really boost your morale and keep you on the right track. 

You may also benefit from planning to undertake a new qualification or make a lifestyle change like a different career path once your health improves. Whatever feels exciting and motivating, try and factor it into your recovery goals. 

Keep talking 

If you’re finding it all too much or dipping in motivation then it’s key that you confide in someone you trust.

Whether it’s a friend or family member, colleague or medical professional, they can support you to stay on track and remind you of the benefits of recovery. Talking can take the power away from the temptation to revert and this could in turn help to prevent a relapse. 

Self-care 

It’s a massive change that you’re undertaking, trying to improve difficult thoughts and behaviours that have become engrained over the years, so it’s important to look after yourself.

Try to factor 20 minutes into each day to do something for yourself that you will enjoy. It could be a gentle walk outdoors, colouring or crafts, reading, listening to music or a podcast, or taking a warm bath. If it resets your mind and makes you feel calm then that’s going to really help you when it all gets too much. 

Hopefully you can take something away from this blog and use it on your recovery journey.

Remember – resilience is key, setbacks are temporary, and a better life awaits you on the other side.

G x

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