I is for I’m fine

This post is originally from The Pandora Box Gift Company blog.  

  I was recently talking to a friend, and she told me that she had given up lying for lent. When asked how difficult it was, she mentioned that most of the time it was fine, the only time that caused an issue was when someone asked her how she was. When she deviated from the usual answer of “I’m fine”, people seemed to get quite uncomfortable. The longer and more descriptive her answers were, the more uncomfortable they seemed to get until eventually she was told that maybe, she should just keep it at home. 

  It got me thinking about the answer we give when someone asks us how we are. People are very content with “I’m fine” but seem to get annoyed when anyone starts to deviate. The thing is, when is anyone really feeling just fine? We all know that most of the time we can feel a mixed bag of emotions, yet we all too easily accept it.

   The problem with this blasé approach to “I’m fine” is that we end up in a situation where nobody shares how they really feel. It leads to everyone thinking that what they’re going through is unique to them and doesn’t seem to be happening to anyone else. It can increase the feeling of loneliness and isolation that poor mental health can bring. We forget how powerful sharing feelings and experiences can be. One of the biggest reasons we think is responsible for the high rates of suicide among men is that they don’t talk openly about how they’re feeling.

   “I’m fine” is the easy option. It’s the answer we give when we try and avoid what’s really going on. It can lead to suppression of thoughts and feelings which uses up an enormous amount of energy that could be used to keep yourself mentally healthy. Going with the old cliché, a problem shared really is a problem halved. Sure, every now and again you’re allowed an “I’m fine” response, but let’s just be more aware of the amount of times someone uses it as an answer. You yourself probably use it all the time without realising. It’s so engrained in us that most of the time we don’t stop and think about how this simple answer can cause issues for us all. Here’s to honest answers and the reduction of the “I’m fine” response.

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E is for Exercise

This blog is originally from The Pandora Box Gift Company, A-Z on mental health series

There are a few things we can try to do to keep our mind and body in shape and exercise is definitely one of them. Not only does it give you something to do, it gives your mind a rest, gives you targets that you set and achieve and after a workout you get a release of some lovely endorphins that can help boost your mood, even if it’s just for a little while. Do it regularly and exercise is a great way to keep you healthy and give your life a simple routine.

There’s so many different aspects and ways to exercise, it’s hard to not find something that you might enjoy. I’ve gone through different types of sports and activities that I’ve tried in the past or am currently attempting. There’s also links to websites that have great information about the different types of exercise and challenges that give you something to train and aim for. Having that challenge as an end goal gives you something to focus on and an excuse to keep going, even when you don’t feel like it.

Walking

Going for a walk is great if you need some space or time out to think things through. It doesn’t require much preparation to do it, just some comfortable shoes and appropriate clothing for the weather. You’d be surprised what you can find when you walk around your neighbourhood.

Thinking of going for longer walks? Walking for 6-7 hours is a great way to pass the day, especially when the weather is great. To do this you will need some walking boots and walking sticks to help you get further. I did some long walks in preparation for a 100km walking challenge and found that it was a great thing to do on a day off. It got me out of the house and made me feel like I was achieving something.

Challenges to train for:

100km London2Brighton challenge: http://www.london2brightonchallenge.com/

Thames Path Challenge (Anywhere from 25 to 100km): http://www.thamespathchallenge.com/

Running

I’m not much of a runner myself, but I have to admit after doing it for a couple of months it does get quite therapeutic. There’s always the point you reach a couple of minutes after starting where your mind and body just want to quit. Once you learn to get past that point you start to relate the same things to your mood. You learn that with the right thoughts and determination eventually you can get over something or push through it. Running takes a bit more preparation. You need trainers and clothes that you don’t mind sweating in and a good idea of the route you want to take (or a gym with a treadmill!). I find it’s a lot easier to run when you know where you want to go. It’s very easy to constantly stop and take unnecessary breaks when you don’t know where you’re going.

Websites to help:

Couch to 5k is a great way to get into running if you’ve not tried it before or have tried but failed (like me!): http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/c25k/Pages/couch-to-5k.aspx

Challenges to train for:

5 or 10km run: http://raceforlife.cancerresearchuk.org/index.html

Fancy running 26 miles? The London Marathon: https://www.virginmoneylondonmarathon.com/en-gb/

Weight training

I am loving doing a bit of weight training! I’ll be honest, the idea of doing it used to scare me and I was put off by going into “that” section of the gym because I found it quite intimidating. Lucky for me I have a gym buddy that makes me feel confident enough to go in there. Over the past three months I have been slowly increasing the amount I can lift, and with that I’m getting stronger and can do things that I couldn’t previously, (Press ups! Woop). Not only do you increase your strength but it’s also a great cardio workout as well. To get into it, I started doing bicep curls with quite a small weight that I found easy to handle and then branched out onto the different weight training machines at the gym and other exercises that use dumbbells.

Websites to help:

Bodybuilding.com has great tutorials on which exercises you need for what you want to achieve as well as introductions to weight training and how to do it. http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/training.html

This website provides great pictures on how to do different exercises: http://www.weight-training-exercises.com/

Challenges to train for:

5k Pretty Muddy: http://raceforlife.cancerresearchuk.org/types-of-event/pretty-muddy/index.html

Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest: http://www.mhsurvival.co.uk/

Tough Mudder: https://toughmudder.co.uk/

Kickboxing

Something that I definitely need to get back into and would recommend to everyone. Kickboxing is great if you need to release some stress or anger. It’s great fun and a great workout that helps with your co-ordination, strength and confidence. You may be surprised just how good you feel after hitting those pads!

Cycling

Good for those whose knees are a bit weak or want strong leg muscles! I’ve had to do a lot of cycling to make my legs stronger to help my knees out. You can choose to go on a nice long cycle on a low gear with minimal effort, or you can go on a quick cycle on a much higher gear for an intense workout. If you cycle outside, it’s a great way to find some excellent places that you may not have known about before. Inside the gym, I find it’s a great as a warm up for the session ahead or a nice place to read a book whilst you go on a slow long cycle.

Challenges to train for:

Coast to Coast: http://www.globaladventurechallenges.com/uk/uk-coast-to-coast-cycle/

London to Paris: http://london2paris.co.uk/

Obviously the list of exercises don’t end there and there are plenty of other challenges available. If you’re thinking of starting something new, look up information about the local area. You’d be surprised how many sports groups and activities take places. One great website that connects people with other like minded people is http://www.meetup.com/. Once you sign up you have access to a wide variety of activities and sporting agendas!

If you’re looking for a gym to go to, I recommend The Gym , http://www.thegymgroup.com/. You can either buy a day pass for around £6 or join for a monthly fee. For me they were the cheapest I could find, open 24 hour and you can freeze your monthly payments if you’re running low on cash.

If you’re feeling anxious about going to a new place, try taking someone you know along with you. If you can’t find someone, don’t worry. Lots of people go by themselves and feel anxious about it but after a while you will wonder why you ever had a problem as you start to fit into the routine of going. So, what are you waiting for 🙂

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.

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/