C is for Christmas

– This post was taken from the blog from The Pandora Box Gift Company’s A-Z on Mental Health series –

Christmas, other holidays or special events can be great. They bring people together, they’re full of fun and activities and they give us something to look forward to. However there is another side to it all. Special events and holidays can prove to be tough on your mental health in multiple ways. We’ve listed how holidays and special events can effect your mood and how to help yourself.

Added pressure

There can be a lot of extra pressure placed on someone around a special event which can lead to extra stress and anxiety or increase different aspects of poor mental health. This can come from organising and bringing people together or trying to make sure that nothing goes wrong on the day.

Tips to help:

  1. Organise everything into lists: Make sure that you put only attainable goals on daily lists and place them in order of importance. Sometimes the best thing to do is to put lots of little tasks that you know you will definitely get done amongst other larger tasks. This way you’re guaranteed to complete some tasks and make you feel like you’re getting somewhere.

  2. Take some time for yourself: Make sure that you set time aside for yourself within your schedule. Take a bath and relax, read a book somewhere quiet or just take some time to chill out in front of the TV.

  3. Get enough sleep! Make sure that you get as much sleep as you need. Not getting enough sleep will leave you more susceptible to poor mental health.

Guilt

When your mental health is poor in the holidays it can lead to feelings of guilt and frustration. You may start to ask yourself why you can’t just be as happy as everyone else around you and why you can’t enjoy an event that is meant to be fun. You may also find that you get constant questions from those around you if everything is OK or your self confidence drops because you don’t feel like you’re ready to socialise.

Tips to help: Just remember that it is not your fault that you’re feeling this way. Unfortunately poor mental health doesn’t go away just because it’s Christmas or someone’s birthday. Relax, and tell yourself that you don’t have to force yourself to be as happy and cheery as everyone around you. As long as you try and make yourself feel the best you can feel at the time, it is fine. If that means taking some breaks away from the celebrations, writing feelings down or excusing yourself early, so be it.

Loneliness

Sometimes your situation means that you won’t have people to meet with when it seems like everyone else does. Or you have people to meet with but you feel disconnected and lonely even though you’re in a crowd of people.

Tips to help: If you find yourself alone during the holidays read this great guide by Stand Alone, a charity that help those estranged from their families and communities.

http://standalone.org.uk/guides/festive-guide/

If you’re feeling lonely when you find yourself amongst a crowd try writing these thoughts and feelings down. It’s a great way to try and establish why you’re feeling lonely, whether it’s the company around you or whether it’s your mental health. If you feel comfortable and confident, reach out to someone around you. Let them know how you’re feeling.

Alcohol

When it comes to celebrating, alcohol sometimes plays a major role and we can get caught up in the celebrations and overindulge. Alcohol is a depressant and can effect your mood, causing swings or susceptibility to a decline in mental health.

Tips to help: If you find yourself in a position where the alcohol is constantly flowing, make sure that you limit yourself and consider how much you can handle. Consider drinking only one or two drinks a day with meals and make sure that you have plenty of water and other soft drinks throughout the day as well.

***This advice is not for anyone whose medication states that they shouldn’t drink alcohol. If this is the case we suggest indulging in some of the many tasty non-alcoholic versions or drinks or making some lovely juices, smoothies or virgin cocktails. ***

Lack of exercise

When you’re busy getting together with people or resting for the holidays, exercise can be the last thing on your mind. Whether you have a usual exercise routine or never consider it, the holidays can be a great time to do some casual exercise.

Tips to help: Make sure you get a little walk in every couple of days. If you have people round or are meeting in a group, it may be a great time to suggest group sports or exercise. You’ll be surprised how many people may miss being active over the holidays or would love to do a bit of group sports!

We believe that if we all look out for how the holidays can effect our mental health, we can help each other and ourselves and reduce the effect that they have on us. Look out for our Christmas campaign that launches November 25th! It’s all about making sure we take extra special care of ourselves and others over Christmas.

Want to read more blog posts like this one? Go to http://www.thepandoraboxgiftcompany.com/#!blog/czwt. Don’t forget to also check out the range of Gift Boxes, Postcards and Greeting Cards that have all been designed for people with poor mental health. http://www.thepandoraboxgiftcompany.com/#!gift-boxes/c3yu

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B is for Bad thoughts

– This post was taken from the blog from The Pandora Box Gift Company’s A-Z on Mental Health series –

Sometimes our thoughts can turn against us and make us feel worthless, guilty, anxious or depressed. If this is happening to you, I advise you to look below. Whether you choose them all or only one, read the words, repeat them to yourself and don’t stop until you believe them. Sometimes all you have to do to get rid of the bad thoughts is to shout over them some good ones.

I am awesome.

I can do it.

I will get better.

I deserve to be happy.

I will not give up.

I am not my bad thoughts.

I am kind.

I am smart.

I am important.

I matter.

A is for Anxiety

—– This post is from The Pandora Box Gift Company Blog A-Z on mental health series —–

Welcome to the first of our A-Z blog posts on mental health. Each week our founder Lisa will cover a different topic on mental health and her personal experiences, while trying to cover every letter of the alphabet.

A is for Anxiety

For me, anxiety is one of those things that has always been there. Over the years it has twisted and morphed itself into different forms but has always bred the same underlying emotions and feelings. I felt it was quite an apt topic to start this blog series off with because, ever since launching this website, my anxiety has hit me with full force.

Anxiety can be debilitating. It can stop you in your tracks and shut you down. It can prevent you from doing every day things that you take for granted. It can get into the very deepest part of you and make you question yourself and everything around you.

So, how can you reduce your anxiety? Like everything in mental health, there’s no simple answer but lots of little steps that, when put together, can help you immensely. If you are suffering from anxiety and feel like you can’t do many of the steps listed below, don’t worry! Do not, I repeat do not!, take that as a way to consider yourself a failure or feel like the anxiety will never go away. You just have to attempt these steps over and over again. One day you might be able to do it, the other you might not. But eventually you will get into a pattern or routine that will become automatic when you need to help yourself.

10 ways to help reduce anxiety

  1. Go for a walk. Getting outside and going for a walk can help exercise your body and distract your mind. I find that when I’m outside there are so many things to look at and distract myself with, after a while my anxiety will have reduced. Too anxious to go outside? Walk around your house. Yep. Just keep walking in circles. I do this sometimes and the repetitive nature of just walking and walking seems to help sooth me.

  1. Talk to someone. Whether it’s online, over the phone or in person, talking to someone can help reduce the anxiety. You may get a different view to a situation that’s making you anxious or you may end up figuring out what is actually making you anxious in the first place. Even having a simple conversation about something completely random can help make you feel more at ease.

  1. Watch a film that you know you like. For me this is usually an animated film of some kind. Make sure you’re comfortable, have snacks and enjoy the film. A guaranteed distraction for at least an hour and a half.

  1. Get creative. Draw something, doodle, write something, do a puzzle, anything! Being creative not only means you get to have a bit of fun but you end up distracting yourself from your anxiety.

  2. Play a game. Console, computer, cards*, all help distract your mind for a little while. You can also add a social element by playing with friends or people online.

  3. Breathe! Purposefully slowing your breathing down and taking longer to inhale and exhale can help slow your heart rate and reduce the feelings of anxiety. This technique is best done in a space where you feel comfortable and by yourself with little distractions. If anxiety strikes whilst you’re away from home, try to find a public toilet or a quiet space outside where you can quietly sit and focus on your breathing.

  4. Squeeze a pillow. If you have a 6ft teddy bear or human that is willing to get squeezed then by all means go ahead. Failing these two items, a pillow is perfect. Just grab it, hug it and squeeze it until you can’t squeeze any more. Remember to then relax and, if you need to, start over again. This process helps to relieve the tension that usually builds when you’re feeling anxious.

  5. Have a bath. People underestimate the power of a warm bath. The warmth of the water relaxes you and your body and gives you time to just float for a bit and daydream. Make sure to add some scented bath salts** or bubble bath for that extra relaxing touch! I recommend lavender.

  6. Make sure you get some sleep. Anxiety can have you up into the early hours of the morning. It’s important to try and get an early night as this will help keep you from feeling run down and prone to anxiety attacks. Having trouble sleeping? Having a warm bath and then putting a few drops of lavender oil** on your pillow before you sleep can help you get a good nights sleep. If this doesn’t work, there are plenty of over the counter sleep remedies you can get from a pharmacist.

  1. Go to the doctor. Talking through your anxiety with your doctor can open the channels of communication with professionals who will be able to provide more focussed advice for your situation. Whether it is talking therapy or medication, there are lots of different options out there.

* You can find this item in our Puzzle Set Gift Box.

**You can find these items in our Bath Set Gift Box.

The day I started a company.

Earlier this year, I was sitting in my room, staring at my laptop fixating on things that might help me get out of this horrible depressive episode I had once again found myself in. I was constantly refreshing websites every few seconds, trying to find anything new that might distract myself as much as possible. When that got boring I’d move on to emails, the odd funny cat picture and then back to refreshing. It was one of those endless loops I’d usually find myself in. Trying to break this cycle, I tried searching for something I could buy myself that might make me feel better. A gift that was focused on me and my mental health. One that said “I know Lisa, it sucks right now, but here, have this. And see if it makes you feel any better.” The only problem was, when I typed in “mental health” and “gift boxes” in the same search, there weren’t very many results.

It was at that point that I decided to start my own company. I don’t know whether it was a brief stint of hypomania after the depression, or whether I was just annoyed that I didn’t have chocolate in the house, but I came up with the idea of packaging and selling gift boxes for people with poor mental health. Gift boxes that would try and provide some comfort when you’re not feeling great.

I spent the next six months putting together items that I thought people would like to receive and trying to build what would hopefully be a business that would help people. Then on the 25th of September I launched The Pandora Box Gift Company, the gift giving service with a focus on mental wellbeing.

www.thepandoraboxgiftcompany.com

The website has a range of items that have been put together with the simple idea that they will hopefully lift the mood of whoever receives them. Each of the gift boxes has been designed with a range of different products to help someone’s mood, all based on how I try and help myself when I’m feeling low.

The first is the Bath Set Gift Box. This box focuses on taking some time for yourself, relaxing and helping yourself to calm down, leading to a calmer, more settled mind. I can definitely vouch for the amazing effect a simple scented bath can have on your mood.

bath set full

The second is the Treat Set Gift Box. Packed full of chocolate, biscuits, bars and tea bags, these are all items that I find comforting when I need a little pick me up. Not only does it act as a treat, but it ensures that whoever receives it has access to some food. I usually find my willingness to get food for myself or cook goes right out the window when my mood drops.

food full set

The third is the Puzzle Set Gift Box. I find that when I do a simple task such as reading, drawing or completing a puzzle, I can distract my mind for a little bit and help calm myself down or distract myself from the thoughts that are effecting my mood. I’ve added a colouring book, a crosswords puzzle, a 3D wooden puzzle and a pack of playing cards to cover a multitude of activities that someone may want to do.

puzzle set full

The last gift box is the Combo Set Gift Box. This has all the contents of both the Bath Set and Treat set in one, giving someone the option to rest and relax and then treat themselves afterwards.

combo full set

All gift boxes come with a small information card that has important numbers and contacts for mental health services and information of what to do in a non-urgent and urgent mental health situation.

If anyone is actually out there, and still reads this blog, I hope you like the website and the idea. I really want this to be something that will help people around the country and give them a little mood boost when they need it.

To follow what we’re doing, please Like the official facebook page www.facebook.com/thepandoraboxgiftcompany

Bad Dreams

When I was in my last big bout of depression I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed before. I found that when I slept, all my dreams would be horrible. Not nightmares per se, but scenarios that would induce feelings of anger and sadness and they’d make me tense, agitated and very very emotional.

If I couldn’t remember what happened in the dream I’d know it was bad because I’d have this horrible, slightly heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach when I woke. When I could remember them, the dreams would stay with me the whole day as I relived everything that happened. Most dreams involved me arguing with people, getting into fights both physically and verbally, making stupid mistakes or decisions that were easily avoidable or, the worst ones, finding out that someone I love had died.

I’m not saying that having a bad dream definitely leads to a worse mood mentally, but when it’s multiple bad dreams one after the other, night after night, it does have an effect on you. It’s tiring, emotionally draining and feels like you don’t get the “emotional rest” that you need and should get when you sleep.

I haven’t yet worked out whether my mood starts to get low first and then the dreams begin or the dreams trigger the mood, but they do seem to be linked. The problem I find is, unlike other triggers, dreams are out of my control and there’s not much I can do about them.

So what am I to do when I start to notice that my dreams are turning bad and my mood is getting effected by them? That bit I haven’t figured out yet. Maybe recognising that they are only dreams might help, but when your mood gets low things tend to effect you more. Saying to yourself “it’s just a dream” provides very little comfort.

Should a diagnosed mental health problem qualify you for free prescriptions?

One thing I hadn’t realised until recently was that if you lived in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, you get free prescriptions on the NHS. This got me thinking, which turned into researching, which turned into annoyance, which turned into blogging. Although I was jealous of the fact that, if I lived in another country directly linked under the same government I’d get free medication, I knew that that was another topic for another time. What got me was what I found when I searched for who, if anybody, was applicable for free prescriptions within England, this was the list:

  • Treatment for cancer; note this includes treatment for the effects of cancer, or treatment for the effects of a current or previous cancer treatment.
  • A permanent fistula requiring dressing.
  • Forms of hypoadrenalism such as Addison’s disease.
  • Diabetes insipidus and other forms of hypopituitarism.
  • Diabetes mellitus, except where treatment is by diet alone.
  • Hypoparathyroidism.
  • Myxoedema (underactive thyroid) where thyroid hormone replacement is necessary.
  • Myasthenia gravis.
  • Epilepsy requiring continuous anticonvulsive medication.
  • A continuing physical disability which means you cannot go out without help from another person (1)

Surely they can’t be serious? They have ten different categories and yet mental health doesn’t even get a look in. The last point could have been stretched to cover it seeing as mental illness can be debilitating, but then they whacked the “P” word in there.

I can hear the critics already saying that the people on the list above would most likely die without the medication provided but I feel this is a very narrow minded and misguided view that comes with a hint of stigma attached to it. There is still a very noticeable gap between the age at which someone with severe mental health problems die and those without. One study by Rethink mental illness found that those with serious mental health issues can die as much as 20 years earlier than the general population. The study then goes on to show that it’s not just death that we should focus on. Mental health can lead to a number of other physical problems. They stated that people with mental
illness are three times more likely to develop diabetes and twice as likely to die from heart disease (2) as well as developing side effects from the medication and addictions such as cigarettes, all of which decrease your life expectancy. We can already see the irony in the fact that mental health doesn’t qualify for the freebies even though they are three times more likely to develop an illness that does. Then there’s the other ironic side to the coin where people with poor physical health are at higher risk of experiencing common mental health problems (3). So you may have a physical problem that is covered by the categories above BUT if you then experience mental health problems linked to this, you have to pay.

To get out of the never ending cycle of mental health leading into physical and vice versa, I started looking into when mental illness was considered a disability. Luckily the lovely people at Mind had already done the research for me. I was looking at the definition and terms of disability in conjunction with the Equality Act, 2010. This act is essentially “116 separate pieces of legislation into one single Act. Combined, they make up a new Act that provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all.” (4). 

Under the Act the term disability covers a much broader area. It states that if you have an impairment that is either physical OR mental and this has a substantial, adverse and long term effect on you normal day-to-day activities, you are considered to have a disability (5). This is a good start. It’s included mental health. To define, substantial effect means your mental health problem has more than a small effect on your everyday life. This means thinking about:

  • how long it takes you to do something, compared a person who does not have your mental health problem
  • the way you do things compared with someone who does not have your mental health problem
  • the total effect that your mental health problem has on your ability to do daily activities (such as doing cooking, cleaning, doing the shopping, using a computer, using public transport).

Adverse effect means your mental health problem makes things more difficult for you and long term effect means you have a mental health problem that has lasted at least 12 months, likely to last 12 months or is likely to happen repeatedly.

  It also states that even though you may be currently stable or taking medication, the Act looks at what your behavior would be like WITHOUT the medication. Therefore, the law is looking at how your condition affects you when you’re not getting treatment or medication (5) and covers you even if you are.

  So, if this Act can state that everyone with ongoing mental health problems can be classified as disabled, whether they have ongoing bad mental health or just sporadic episodes, then why can’t they then be considered for free prescriptions?  Why can’t that last bullet point have the very restrictive word physical taken out of it to include those with underlying mental illness that requires medication every day. If those with a mental illness can be considered disabled in one area of the law then I’m sure it can be transferred to another. Even if this is a bit of a flimsy argument, combine this with the fact that those with poor mental health have a high chance of also developing poor physical health should be argument enough. I’m constantly hearing how the NHS should be looking into prevention of illness instead of the cure as it saves money in the long run. The medication doesn’t prevent the mental illness itself, and there is no cure, but it will help prevent a torrent of other things.

 Should a diagnosed mental health problem qualify you for free prescriptions? The short answer is yes.

 

 

(1) http://www.nhs.uk/nhsengland/Healthcosts/pages/Prescriptioncosts.aspx

(2) http://www.rethink.org/media/810988/Rethink%20Mental%20Illness%20-%20Lethal%20Discrimination.pdf

(3) http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/content/assets/PDF/publications/fundamental_facts_2007.pdf?view=Standard

(4) http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/legal-and-policy/key-legislatures/equality-act-2010/what-is-the-equality-act

(5) http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/new-legal-publications/disability-discrimination-the-mind-guide/what-is-a-disability/