The Truth about Feeling Sad

This article first published in The Mead, June 2019

Samaritans Ollie

When it comes to sadness, there are two lies we often believe:

Lie 1: We should be happy all the time

Lie 2: We shouldn’t ask for help just for being sad

The reality is, we all get sad. Feeling down is a normal part of human life. When we lose someone or something we love then we feel sad. Whether it’s a person, a relationship, a job or a pet, sadness is a healthy and normal reaction to loss.

Feeling miserable can also be like the warning light on a car dashboard, letting us know there is a problem we need to do something about.  Our emotions are connected to our physical bodies, so when we don’t exercise, we eat badly, we are tired or have hormonal changes, we may feel low. We can also feel sad when we don’t have a good work /life balance, or face problems like debts. At these times, our mood is a sign that something in our life isn’t working for us, and we need to make a change.

So sadness comes for lots of reasons. Feeling sad is unpleasant, and we often try to ignore it, escape it, or push it away. Some of the ways we do this (like isolating ourselves, drinking too much or eating junk food) can end up making us feel worse.

In addition, we can also feel ashamed of being so miserable. We don’t tell people when we feel like this because we think ‘I ought to man up’ or ‘other people have enough problems of their own’ or we worry people will judge us.

But the truth is that asking for help is as normal as feeling sad. We all need support at different times and in different ways. When something is wrong with our life and we feel sad then it’s healthy and good to share this with other people. There are lots of people we can tell – for example:

friends,

family,

people we trust in our community like church leaders,

our GP,

local mental health services,

charities and help lines.

So instead of the normal lies, let’s start telling ourselves and others the truth about sadness. The fact is

It’s ok to not be ok, and it’s ok to talk about it.

 

 

If you want to talk to someone you can call the Samaritans free on 116 123.  

 

Image from http://www.samaritans.org/realpeoplerealstories

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Worried about Worrying

This article first appeared in The Mead BS10 Issue 62. 

Everybody worries. Money, the children, Brexit… worrying is something we all do when life feels uncertain. Our thoughts go round in circles, and we ask a stream of ‘what if’ questions that do not ever seem to have answers.

But what happens when we start to worry about how much we are worrying? When the worrying itself, starts to become part of the problem? We can get tired, and tense. Headaches, IBS, and other aches and pains become part of our life. It becomes hard to problem solve, as we cannot be sure we are working out the right answers, and the problems then pile up. Eventually, we end up exhausted and demoralised, and can even become depressed.

 

The good news is, whether we ‘have always been a worrier’ or whether we started worrying more recently, we do not have to stay stuck here.  Cognitive Behavioural Techniques such as worry time (where we learn to spend less time each day worrying) and problem solving (where we learn how to find good solutions to issues) can be helpful in changing our worrying habits. We can free up time and focus again on the things that are important to us.

 

Why not start with the technique below?

cbt-worry-tree

The Worry Tree

First, notice when you are worrying.

Ask yourself what you are worrying about – writing it down often helps.

Third, ask yourself if you can do anything about the worry.

If you can, then this is a practical problem, and it’s worth thinking about. Make an action plan and carry it out. This may mean putting aside a time later to solve your problem, if you can’t do it right now.

If you can’t do anything about the worry, this means it is a hypothetical worry. Thinking about hypothetical worries tends to lead us round in circles, wastes our time and increases our anxiety. These are the worries to put aside by focusing back on what we would rather be doing in that moment, whether that is our job, our family, a hobby, or even enjoying a cup of tea.

 

Of course, learning how to refocus from our hypothetical worries and how to problem solve can be a challenge in themselves! So if you would like more support, check out the Bristol Wellbeing College or Bristol Wellbeing Therapies for their courses on managing worry.

Tired of Feeling Tired?

This article first appeared in The Mead BS10 Issue 61.

 

bed bedroom cute dog
Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

Continuing our series focusing on mental health and wellbeing.

We all struggle occasionally with sleep– whether it’s a new-born baby, shift patterns at work, or stress-related, we can find ourselves struggling to fall asleep, or conversely waking up early in the morning and unable to get back to sleep again. Sleep deprivation impacts every area of our life – our relationships, our mood, our efficiency and even weight gain have all been connected to lack of sleep.

What goes wrong with our sleep?

Two hormones play an important role in our sleep – melatonin, which sets our body clock, and adrenalin which is part of our fight/flight system. Understanding how these hormones work can help us make effective changes in our sleep pattern.

Our body clock hormone, melatonin, responds to daylight and to our eating routine.  We see this with babies – new-borns eat and sleep around the clock, but as they get older their bodies shift into a pattern of feeding in the day and sleeping at night. Getting into habits such as eating late at night, or using screens such as TVs, tablets and phones disrupts our melatonin production, making our bodies stay awake instead of sleeping. During the day time, not getting exercise or sunlight or taking naps makes our bodies think it is night time, worsening our sleep.

Adrenalin is produced when we are anxious and will keep us awake. If we are worrying late at night we release adrenalin, making it hard to sleep. And how many of us have lain awake at night, watching the clock, worrying about how little time we have left to sleep in, and how tired we are going to be the following day? These thoughts increase our anxiety levels, releasing even more adrenalin, and making it even harder to fall back to sleep.

Caffeine and nicotine also mimic the effects of anxiety on our bodies by raising our heart rate, which can make it harder for us to sleep.

How can we improve our sleep?

Well, the experts suggest something called ‘Sleep Hygiene’ – another name for good sleep habits. These work by helping to regulate our levels of melatonin and adrenaline, getting our body clock back into order and lowering our adrenalin levels at night. Maybe you could take one of the suggestions below and see if it works for you.

  • Have your last cup of coffee or tea of the day by 4pm, and switch to decaf after that.
  • During the day, try and get outdoors for some sunlight or exercise.
  • Try to wake up at the same time each day.
  • Get a bedtime routine – have a bath, a milky drink, and time to wind down before sleep.
  • Put your phone on to charge downstairs and switch off all screens an hour before bed time.
  • Turn your clock away from your bed so you can’t see the time when you wake up in the night.

 

There are lots of other strategies to try too. If your sleep could still be improved after trying the ideas above, why not go on a Sleep Management or CBT for Insomnia course run by Bristol Wellbeing Therapies? You can sign up online at https://iapt-bristol.awp.nhs.uk/

sleep-well-be-well9A6C83B0F5E9

 

Stressed Out?

This article first appeared in The Mead BS10 Issue 60 Feb 2019

stress-bucket

Christmas feels like forever-ago, New Year’s resolutions have been made and broken, somehow it’s now February already and all the pressures of the year ahead are looming large. It’s time to talk about stress.

We all feel stressed, now and then, and a little bit of stress is healthy for us – it motivates us and gives us the energy to tackle those important tasks. But when we don’t feel able to meet all the demands on us, we can start to feel overwhelmed and stressed out.

In times like this, I find the image of a stress bucket helpful.

Our stress bucket is a picture of how much stress we can carry.

Every day, stressful things happen and fill our buckets up. These can be big things, like illness, or moving house They can be bad things, like divorce, and good things, like children and holidays. Small things like sitting in traffic and the milk being left out of the fridge top up our buckets too. And some of these things we can do something about, but many of them can’t, and it seems inevitable that our buckets will fill right up and overflow.

And when our buckets overflow, that’s the moment we feel ‘too stressed’ and we can become depressed or anxious.

The great thing about stress buckets, though, is they have a tap at the bottom. And the person in charge of turning on your tap, and relieving that stress, is you. You can do it a whole multitude of ways… Having a bath with relaxing candles. Going for a walk. Meeting up for coffee with a friend. Stopping to look at the spring bulbs appearing in the verges. Finding some clothes to give to the local charity shop.

When our stress buckets fill up, often our instinct is to stop doing all these things. “I’m so busy, and so stressed,” we think “I haven’t got time to look after myself”. But of course, when we do that, we turn off the tap at the bottom and our stress bucket fills up even faster.

So what can you do this week to turn on your tap to your stress bucket?

If you are stressed about your stress levels, why not book on to a ‘Getting the Balance Back’ course with Bristol Wellbeing Therapies at https://iapt-bristol.awp.nhs.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irritable or depressed?

How do you know when your bad mood, your down days, your irritable sniping narky thoughts which build into ugly explosions of rage over the people you love the most are not just normal ‘mother of three young children’ moments, but instead are the warning signs of past-natal depression and anxiety?
 
I read this blog post and thought ‘I don’t know either’. I would know what to do if it were… I have Sasha, my mental health nurse from the midwife team, who I could call. I have my GP, who was so helpful when I was pregnant. I could get an assessment from my local IAPT service. And I know which medications I can take whilst I’m breastfeeding.
 
I just don’t know if I need to. 
I did call Sasha, a month or so ago, when I noticed I was getting irritable. My husband was planning his return to work, and I had been on edge and worried and stressed to the point we had ended up arguing. That’s not like us and it felt like something was really wrong. And talking to Sasha helped me see the link between his impeding return to work and my mood. Apparently it’s normal to feel worried and stressed and irritable when your partner returns to work, whether at 2 weeks or like us at 4 months. It had been long enough that we’d found a new ‘normal’ with all 5 of us at home, and suddenly I was losing that.
 
So my stress and irritability wasn’t pleasant, but at least it wasn’t a sign that I was spiralling down into the depths of despair.  And now I think back, she was right. Ok, I’m still stressed, and I’m still irritable far more than I like, but if back then it had been the start of something worse, then I’d know by now, 6 weeks later on. 
In truth, I think the problem isn’t that I am at the start of a spiral into depression. It’s that every time I feel sad or angry I’m scared I am.
 
And that fear, if I don’t check it, can spiral me all by itself. 
I read the other day that we don’t fear in a vacuum…. Every fear we have is in relation to God. If I’m scared of going in to depression, what does that say about God? That he doesn’t love me? That he doesn’t care? That he wouldn’t be able to look after me, or my family, if I did? That me being depressed is such a huge problem that he wouldn’t be able to deal with it?
 
I know I don’t believe any of those things. I’ve been depressed before, and I know God has loved me, he’s cared, he’s brought me through it, and used it and changed me in it. So I will not fear depression. It’s probably not coming, and if it is, well, it will still be ok. 
And if I’m not scared of the depression then what does this bad day signify? This irritability or this worried thought?  
I think today it signifies nothing more than I could do with a nap and getting out for another run and a bit of time with my friends outside the house once in a while. Because, let’s be honest, I find life with little ones tough sometimes. And that’s ok. 
 

“All will be well….

“…All will be well, all manner of things shall be well.”

 
 Our United Kingdom was shaken on Thursday night, and it hasn’t yet stopped shaking. We don’t know yet the long term consequences: whether Scotland obtains her independence, whether we are seeing the end of the two party political system, whether we are entering a time of deep recession or great economic opportunity. 
 

After deep indecision I voted ‘remain’, hoped for ‘leave’ and trusted in God that whatever happened it would be fine.
 

And you know what? I think it will. For regardless of what happens politically, socially and economically here (and I will hope and trust and pray for the best) my security isn’t in this Kingdom, these politicians, this economy. 
 

Great Britain is where I live and I love it. I’m grateful for peace and for our justice system; for our democratic system which with all its flaws is better than most of the world’s. I’m grateful for its prosperity: the poorest person in this isle is better off than the majority of the world’s population. And I’m grateful that I can state my political position and criticisms without fear of reprisal.
 
But it’s not my home, and what happens here won’t ultimately affect my life.
 

I follow Jesus, the King of a different Kingdom. His economy is based on gladly giving and not being able to out-give a generous King. His leadership is based on humbly serving others. His borders are wide open to every person who seeks to enter, and he provides for every need of the ignored, the downtrodden and the oppressed. His people are not driven by Fear or Hate but stand secure in love and peace and joy.
 
So this week I will respect the decision the country made in the referendum. I will watch with interest as the political parties readjust and draw new battle lines. I will pray  (and vote where I can) that the party in power when it comes to disentangling and rewriting 40 years of laws will be one who will do it with concern for the poorest in our country and abroad.  I will go to work, spend my money, and carry on with my life in all hope and optimism. 
And I will remember that however shaken things seem, greater shakings than we’ve seen this week may happen, and indeed are happening across the world every day. Nations will fall, cities disappear into dust, great politicians and events will be reduced to names and stories floating across the distance of time. But of the increase of Jesus’ government, and His peace, there shall be no end. And that’s the Kingdom I’m trusting in.