World Mental Health Day – Why Social Stigma Still Exists

Like a lot of people, mental illness is something I’ve been well-acquainted with my whole life. Close family members have suffered daily since before my birth and the stigma of societal shame is rooted so deeply that I feel uneasy speaking about it, even now. Some stories aren’t mine to tell; I may be experiencing a climate of mental health awareness but generations before me weren’t as lucky. They have been mistreated by ignorance, mishandled by health services and misunderstood for so long that the damage seems irreparable. I grew up with impossible fantasies of ‘saving’ those around me: if only I did this or said that, or X, Y, Z happened, things would be different. Normal. It took me years to realise I needed to look after myself first. Messages like “You can’t pour from an empty cup” are not easy to internalise. I still get the urge to control the uncontrollable, to ‘save’ people, and I’m still far away from accepting that self-care is not selfish.

My mind has been a sea of fog for too long so I made a choice. I can stay frustrated at injustice or I can use the knowledge I’ve attained over the years to shed some enlightenment. There are only so many times you can lie on your bed listening to The Smiths, after all. (That’s a lie, The Smiths are timeless, and self-compassion is important!).

Until very recently, secrecy around battling with your mental health was advised for fear of prejudice. 1 in 4 people struggle with a mental illness at any time and yet the mental health spectrum is yet to be common knowledge. There’s an unconscious separation between mentally ‘well’ and mentally ‘ill’ as if it were black and white. Several factors play into this:

The Sociopathic Model of Society

From a young age we are taught our worth is defined by material things and that success is a result of being ruthless. Ideas such as “It’s dog eat dog out there” and “every man for himself” are presented to us as ‘facts of life’ so we internalise the script. It becomes our inner reality. We are taught to honour our ego and battle with our emotions: we don’t learn to have empathy for ourselves, let alone anybody else. The illusion that you are solely responsible for every fact of your life corresponds to individuals seeing their mental health as entirely within their control, and therefore suffering seems like a personal weakness. Of course, this is untrue. When we live in a culture that labels unorthodox behaviour as ‘insane/nutty’ etc, we force people to repress their feelings out of self-preservation. The notion that normality equates to a constantly ‘happy’ or well-balanced mind is unrealistic and ignorant. You are not an anomaly if some days are harder than others. That is normal. That is human.

Masculinity and Misogyny

The bogus ‘battle of the sexes’ is indoctrinated into us as children. Gender roles limit us in numerous nuanced ways, from men being told to ‘man up’ when upset to women being routinely objectified. Our society is patriarchal so the fact of gender as a performance is more obviously superfluous and thus ridiculed in women, who are labelled ‘crazy’ as a consequence of ‘othering’. Allegedly, feelings are ‘feminine’. Realistically, all of us are emotional beings. Male suicide rates are high, in part, because the pressures of toxic masculinity – where people are forced to live through their ego and stuff their feelings as though they aren’t there, place an unfair burden on a person. It’s only in the 21st century that we are beginning to change the conversation: to allow people to let their guard down. Again, we have suffered at the hands of separatism. The age of information is allowing us to bridge the gaps and offer support to healthy self-expression but subconscious beliefs are hard to shift, especially when they have media support. The work continues.

A Lack of Understanding

There’s still an unspoken idea that all brains are created equal. We have to seek out information that gives our greater opportunities for self-awareness, such as the fact some people are genetically predisposed to depression or psychopathy, or that a toxic environment in youth can alter the way your brain develops. Likewise, traumatic events can trigger chemical imbalances at any stage in life and it’s necessary to acknowledge how your mind works. The way a person’s brain operates is not their fault and I hope you never fall into the trap of judging yourself for it. It is what it is, and more importantly, it can change. Our brains are incredibly powerful.

These are a few reasons as to why I think mental health has been misunderstood for so long. In a future post I’m going to dispense some ideas of how you can look after your mental health, no matter who you are. Or, at least, I’m going to share what’s worked for me.

May the force be with you.

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Handy Hangover Guide

“I feel great! I never get hangovers” your friend says, disgustingly.

“I’m never drinking again, lol” you reply, a pokey tongue emoji disguising your contempt

As you reach for another piece of day-old pizza, your arms become limp and you slump back into the fetal position, dropping the stale bread back onto the dominoes box it barely left. Instead of getting up, you just give up, much like your body seems to be doing on this day…

But there is another way! If you take precautions you can avoid this fate altogether, no matter how immune to suffering you believe your body to be.

Sometimes we know what’s best for us but let it slide to the subconscious mind where it stays dormant. If you’re not used to drinking the bar dry, haven’t had many hangovers before or can’t afford to write off the day after then brush up on your survival skills.

The best piece of advice I can give you to avoid hangovers is to drink singles all night. In our youth we learn to go hard and double up; we want to get wasted ASAP and proceed to lose our ability to function; we wake up with holes in our memory of the night and alcohol still swimming around our system. BUT THEN, a magical moment comes when we decide to take it easy and sip on single measures. Now the transition ambles along from merry to drunken without the pain of confusion or dulled senses. As long as you drink a glass of water before bed you will not suffer on a sofa all day.

Other morsels of wisdom include the idea of drinking water between drinks – it’s the 21st century so you shouldn’t feel your ego takes a bruise from self-care, – it’s actually the in thing now, which is pretty handy for your all-important liver. Win!

Walk it off. Nothing makes us happier or healthier than leaving the house and inhaling fresh air. Even forcing yourself to visit the shops for something inane like milk will put your hangover into perspective and help your head. Sure, you know this already, but you’re sat at a laptop right now aren’t you? There’s a difference between knowing and doing; now is the time to do the doing.

Treat yourself to a large meal to soak up leftover poison and imbibe fluids to ward off the dehydration lying at the root of your problems.

Mind over matter applies here too. Run on rest, water and adrenaline until the early night you deserve rolls around again. Since you’re reminding yourself of how to do some damage control on your vitality, you’ll feel less pain next time because your brain is powerful beyond all measure(s).

 

 

 

 

5 Steps To Selfie – How to Pose for a Photo

Some people love to point their phone’s camera right at their face for some radical selfie loving while others dread the lens in self-conscious trepidation. No matter which side of the spectrum you fall upon, the impromptu photo is an unavoidable way of life and it pays to be prepared!

Love or loathe to pose, you have the chance to turn a chore into an art form – measure your selfie know-how against this short checklist so you can put your best face forward at any given moment.

  1. Face down, eyes up; instantly more flattering than a straight-on shot.

  2. Smile with your eyes; Tyra made ‘smize’ happen for a reason. 

  3. Decide what you’re doing with your mouth; pout, pursed smile or toothy smile.

  4. Tilt your head from left to right to see if you have a ‘side’; Most people have a preference.

  5. Three popular go-to poses; peace sign, hand on hips, tongue out.

Memorise a particularly hard-hitting one of these vanity morsels so you’re armed with ammo the next time someone slings a camera in your face without much warning, or for when you find yourself in the midst of a self-portraiture crisis but still want to look bangin’.

Selfie ready? You woke up like this (*WINK*)

How To Snap Out Of A Bad Mood

I’m an emotional person and I assume, like all human beings, you are too. It isn’t something people control: feelings manifest by themselves and then our noggin processes them with its thinkin’. Most of us aim to eliminate the negatives/ accentuate the positives  but like everything else this requires hard work and practice. Sometimes we feel unsure about how to acknowledge or dismiss the unwanted thoughts that accompany our moods when we’re not feeling 100, or even 50%. Just know it is possible to get out of your funk.

 

Here are some light bulb moments for when your mood is low:

Keep busy – being active engages our brains in activities other than overthinking, the leading cause of misery. We base our self-worth on what we do rather than who we are overall thus productivity helps to stabilise your mood.

Talk to a friend ASAP – an acquaintance won’t do as you can’t guarantee their personality will chime with your grumpy self and you’ll want to avoid letting self-hate populate your brain landscape. Communicate with a friend so their response can provide comfort and distraction.

Do something that isn’t just on the laptop – you’re scowling because your mind refuses to be stimulated by a stagnant newsfeed and you need fresh air, not social anxiety-inducing media.

Give somebody else a compliment – you’ll admire yourself for validating another person while they get a self-esteem boost, everybody wins!

Remind yourself of at least 3 reasons you have to feel more optimistic – concentrate your thoughts on what you have as opposed to what you lack as our minds are powerfully attuned to attract more of the energy we put out there. Smile & get a smile back, etc.

Deliberately put on the cheeriest song you know – bonus points if it happens to have a fun video with it. Music is a mood-booster of epic proportions.

Spend time with a habitually happy person – some people smile all the time and exude contentment in conversation – hanging out with these folks will encourage you to adopt a similarly cheery disposition. 

Feelings are tricky yet manageable, even if you don’t follow the handy help-outs in this post. Moods are ever-changing so choose optimism as your default. Why? Because you can.

Why I Write Gratitude Lists (And You Should Too)

Nowadays we’re more inclined to digest personal growth advice in blog format or by a 140 character quote on social media, although classics like Normal Vincent Peale‘s Positive Thinking Everyday and the social anxiety-busting How To Win Friends and Influence People may still reside on your bookshelf. Successful bloggers of the 21st century take inspiration from these texts, add slathers of personal wisdom and perfect the mix with a wordy dressing to encourage self-acceptance among readers; it’s a karma-inducing formula we love to indulge in.

My first experience with self-love advisory first occurred when a teenage me googled “I don’t know what I want to do with my life” and the power of SEO directed me towards Gala Darling‘s website. This moment marked a turning point for my self awareness, I was soon hooked on ‘international playgirl’ Gala’s optimistic worldview and full-time commitment to radical self-love. Like me, Gala Darling had been surrounded by negativity – some of it self-inflicted, yet crucially wanted more for herself. Clarity of thought appealed to her, as it does to myself, and the many people who bought The Secret in 2006. She transformed her inner world by adopting various universal betterment techniques such as changing her perspective on a situation, visualising goals and writing gratitude lists…

Her ‘Things I Love Thursday‘ posts were largely responsible for my new-found understanding of the power of gratitude. Prior to this, my relationship with giving thanks was casual, saying ‘thank you’ was a facet of polite behaviour and I thought nothing more of it. From Gala, I learnt the concept of ‘limiting beliefs’ – how the imaginary force you feel working against you is 100% illusory. Changing your viewpoint helps you make the most of where you are right now and being grateful for everything you’re experiencing in the present will inspire you to create more positive experiences for yourself.

An example of a gratitude list!
An example of a gratitude list!

What exactly is a gratitude list? It’s your mind intentionally focusing on all of the good things happening around you, what you appreciate about the present, and recognising everything you love! It can be written, said aloud or created as a moodboard. It’s saying ‘thank you’ to the universe to keep your heart happy and a request for positive experiences to come your way. It’s only cheesy if you judge yourself, and you don’t need to do that! You can do what you want – optimise your mental health in quirky ways.

Once you’ve written the things you love down, why not make it visually appealing? That way you’ll enjoy reading it back even more and I guarantee your spirits will be lifted slightly when you read it back to yourself. There’s no cap on the number of blessings you can list either! If you’re experiencing strife and wondering how the dickens you’d be able to compile a list of even 10 blessings, I double-dare you to try. It’s easier than it looks and even more necessary for those who haven’t had much to be feel grateful for prior to now. Gratitude lists are particularly effective during the latter part of the week as you can confidently answer “how has your week been?” with an overflowing memory bank of good times. I encourage you to incorporate these lists into your procrastination time too because there’s nothing like mindfulness to motivate you into action.

Above all, have fun with it. Meanwhile I’m off to watch the next episode of Orange is the New Black. Thank you, universe.

Sleep Better: 6 Ways To Get More Sleep!

I’m lucky when it comes to sleeping. I fall into a deep sleep from the moment my eyelids close and boast the ability to fall asleep in nearly any location. I know not everybody is blessed in the realm of much needed shut-eye, so I’ll quit bragging and start sharing accumulated wisdom on how to get more high quality sleep.

1. A warm bath or shower near bedtime will help to prepare your mind for a calming snooze due to its therapeutic nature. Simplified science bit: your body temperature drops once you’ve finished, causing you to feel appropriately sleepy.

2. You already know that we function best on 8 hours of sleep a night (- 8 for adults, 9-10 for growing teens and children), but did you know that 4 hours is also doable? Very important people on supremely busy schedules have sworn by attaining 4 hours of sleep per night – from Madonna to Thatcher, with their high productivity validating their unorthodox habit. Snoozing for 4 hours is the minimum goal as you awaken just before the R.E.M stage, although you shouldn’t make 4 hours a nightly habit!

3. The jury is still out when it comes to naps, but some strands of research suggest napping can boost brain performance. The catch is that you’re only allowed to nap for 10-30 minutes, otherwise known as a power-nap. If you nap for longer it causes sleep inertia, which is when your body feels heavy and your head is befuddled from oversleeping.

4. You need to feel comfortable before you’re able to nod off for the night. We don’t just choose comfort in the pursuit of luxury, it’s actually an integral component to the art of sleeping soundly. Consciously relax your muscles, starting from your shoulders down to your ankles, and you will feel primed for sleep in no time. Do this whenever you feel restless in your bed.

5. The logically named Sleep Cycle App (available in the Apple store) tracks your sleep cycle in order to wake you up naturally. It’s a more effective alarm clock because it prevents you from feeling groggy by slowly waking you from your slumber 30 minutes early. It also lets you rate how you feel at the moment of waking before providing you with data as to how well you slept. Highly recommended!

6. Avoid caffiene. I know you know this, but I had to say it: don’t drink caffiene within an hour of going to bed as it will only make you feel more awake. Stocking up on decaffeinated drinks is a solution here!

I hope you rest up well and keep these tricks in mind! Relaxation and planning ahead is key. Goodnight, sweet Prince(s).

Why Are Periods Considered Taboo?

A 14 year-old girl has created an entire website dedicated to periods. The site, ‘Nothingbutperiods’ seeks to encourage open discussion, provide insight and normalise a completely natural part of most people’s lives.

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A photograph from ‘Beauty in Blood’ by Jen & Rob Lewis

Periods are presented to us as a taboo topic, leaving most of us unenlightened as to why we experience periods and how we should deal with them. Women are charged for using necessary hygiene measures like pads/tampons, and these essential items are taxed as a ‘luxury‘ product under UK legislation. Our current societal approach to menstruation is nonsensical and frankly unhelpful to everybody, so we have to start demanding changes via visibility.

Women are the group of people who endure periods and therefore we have to be unashamedly vocal in validating our experiences. Maybe you could share the link with a young person whom you feel could benefit from it? The steady release of fluids is a messy and undesirable process but dealing with it properly – on a pragmatic and psychological level, is integral to our self-care. The existence of websites like this engenders progress, with themed artwork, graphs, user polls and forums to keep it entertaining simultaneously. It’s also fun to learn new things and share experiences, making ‘Nothingbutperiods’ a cool corner of the internet.