How to improve your mental health with five a day

How to improve your mental health with five a day

What do you to improve your mental health? Like we are encouraged to have five types of vegetables and fruit every day, what are your five go to activities to maintain or improve your mental health?

Like we are encouraged to have 5 fruit and veg a day, what are your five go-to activities to maintain or improve your #mentalhealth? Read more here #5aday #FiveADayForMentalHealth Click To Tweet

Our mental health is being tested right now

What with everything going on in the world – all the change you’ve had to deal with, the unknowns, the uncertainty, the loss of your normal life which I wrote about here – your mental health is being tested and you may be feeling the strain. That is a normal response.

So focusing on improving your mental health is important

Like we have a fridge, freezer and cupboards for our food, do you have a mental health cupboard for all the activities that can improve your mental health? Is that cupboard well stocked or is it a bit bare?

A woman is in her kitchen. She has opened her mental health cupboard and there are only a few items in it. A book on cooking, some yarn for knitting and crochet and a bottle of something to drink. She is saying, "My mental health cupboard is looking rather bare." The caption reads: How well stocked is your mental health cupboard? Are you giving yourself five-a-day to improve your mental health?

Time to do a stock take of your mental health cupboard

If your cupboard is well stocked, a stock take will remind you of what is there that you can use.

If you haven’t tended to this cupboard recently, now’s the time to open it, see what’s there and add to it.

And if you don’t have a mental health cupboard, now’s the time to create one. A shelf will also do.

What five-a-day can be in your mental health cupboard?

Here’s a not exhaustive list of activities that can be in your mental health cupboard. You can choose your five-a-day to nourish and improve your mental health from here.

  • Letting yourself feel sad/upset/confused etc when you feel that rather than suppressing it (remember, you don’t have to unpack and live here)
  • Noticing and acknowledging how you feel – the good, the not-so-good and the downright ugly
  • Reaching out for support – coaching, therapy, peer support, good friend, cuddle your pet
  • 5 minutes practicing mindfulness – paying attention to what you’re doing, feeling, thinking and/or your breath without judgement
  • Setting an intention for your day – What you will give to your day to make it good enough for you
  • Reminding yourself that you are enough as you are right now
  • Patting yourself on the back when you feel you’ve done well at something
  • Showing yourself compassion when you notice you’re beating yourself up or something doesn’t go to plan
  • Noting three things that went well or ok enough in your day
  • Noting what you’re thankful for
  • Listening to birdsong
  • Gardening
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Walking/rolling in nature
  • Exercise
  • Running/ Sport
  • Colouring
  • Painting
  • Knitting, crochet, embroidery, needlepoint
  • Drawing
  • Singing
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Listening to music
  • Photography
  • Journaling
  • Reading
  • Writing stories, poetry, articles, blogging
  • Cooking a nice meal
  • Baking
  • Sewing
  • Carpentry
  • Developing ways to help, nurture and reassure yourself
  • Spending time going after something you really want for yourself whatever this may be – new job/career, writing a book, spending more time with your children, a qualification, developing a new hobby, returning to an old hobby, developing a mindfulness practice, whatever
  • Doing something kind for someone/ helping others
  • Spending time with pets
  • Having your favourite tea/coffee

There's a woman in her kitchen stocking her mental health cupboard. It is looking much more full. The woman is saying, "My mental health cupboard is looking more full. I've got choices!" There are three bags on the counter she has been unpacking: mental health, soul health and heart health. Nearby is a bowl of fruit and above it a sign hangs on the wall which says 'Remember your 5-a-day'. This is alluding to the fact that just as we eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day for our physical health, we also need to remember to take five-a-day for our heart, mind and soul. The caption of the picture reads: Make sure your mental health cupboard is stocked full.

Your five-a-day can contain the mundane tasks too

Doing the everyday mundane tasks in life like making your bed, tidying, paying bills, grocery shopping, etc. Many people think this isn’t part of self-care but actually they are. They help to keep your life going.

I start my day with making my bed. It’s a nice and easy win and looking at a tidy bed makes me smile.

The everyday mundane tasks relating to you are also important like brushing your teeth, getting dressed even if it’s slobby lounge wear, etc. These small tasks are an easy way to show yourself that you matter.

Just make sure that your five-a-day isn’t consumed by the mundane tasks. There is a case for making room for other activities which nourish you on a heart and soul level and help you stay resilient.

Sometimes though this can be hard

If you have children who need to be home schooled, fed, played with, washed, cuddled, etc. Or you’re caring for someone who has many needs. Sometimes the mundane tasks occupy your entire day. And at the end you don’t have much energy left over for yourself.

That’s a tough place to be day after day. Then it’s about only focusing on the most essential mundane tasks. And catching any (and all) short periods of quiet and calm time to do something for yourself.

The everyday mundane tasks relating to you are important like brushing your teeth, getting dressed even if it’s just slobby lounge wear, etc. These small tasks are an easy way to show yourself that you matter. #5aday… Click To Tweet

And that is what this is all about – demonstrating to yourself that you matter

Taking conscious action to nourish and improve your mental health is just as important as the action you take to nourish your physical body. It is you demonstrating to yourself that all of you matters.

So what will your five-a-day today be?

An original inspirational quote by Return to Wellness: "What will your five-a-day be today to nourish your health, mind and soul?" The point is just as we ensure we eat five portions of fruit and vegetables for our physical health, what five things can you do everyday to improve your mental health?

What’s it like for you?

What are your go-to five-a-day to nourish and improve your mental health? What’s in your mental health cupboard that isn’t in the list above? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (contact form in sidebar).  

If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support on any of the issues discussed here, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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Has this blog made you think? Helped you in some way? Share it so it can do the same for someone else.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2020

How to make time for exercise to improve your health

How to make time for exercise to improve your health

We all read about how important it is to exercise to improve your health. Not just for our physical health but also our mental health.

And yet, you may find it hard to make time for exercise for all sorts of reasons. Some of those reasons may run more deep than you know or expect. This can be the case when you are finding it particularly hard to make time for exercise to improve your health AND you realise you most likely have the time.

I have that issue. I say ‘have’ rather than ‘had’ as I am not sure I wholly cracked it yet. But I am definitely working on making the time to exercise. So I want to share with your how this issue of mine runs more deeply than you might expect. To raise awareness that this can be the case with a change you are finding particularly hard to make. And what you can do about it.

In writing this, I am using the word ‘exercise’ to cover all kinds of physical movement. So if the word ‘exercise’ bothers you, substitute it with physical movement. Also, I am assuming you can do some amount of physical movement within the constraints of the illness or injury you live with.

Last week I wrote about how my issue with my achievement cycle, time and prioritising were some of the key obstacles for me to exercise. But my issue with time goes even deeper and this wasn’t helping me make time to exercise to improve my health.

It has to do with my work ethic and my family.

Read about how patterns of behaviour in your family can hold you back from making a #change you want for yourself #seriousillness #chronicillness #seriousinjury tell a friend

My family has a strong work ethic. I mean, really strong. And this runs through both my mother’s and father’s families. In fact, I read in a book about my fifth great grandfather where it refers to the fact that he and his sons were known for their work ethic. That was a bit freaky to read. Five generations back the work ethic was hard at work!

In my family, our job is to work and work hard. It leaves little time for much else, even if the ‘else’ is something we really want to do. My family wears its work ethic like a badge of pride. And for some of us it’s coupled with the perfectionism badge. A double whammy.

Picture of a woman wearing a work ethic badge and a perfectionism badge. She wants to take off the perfectionism badge so she can wear the exercise badge. This woman wants to make time to exercise as it is important. Exercise to improve your health.

The serious illness I had challenged my work ethic

I could not work to the extent I did before. Fatigue and pain would not let me and I needed a lot more rest than I ever used to. When I returned to work, I noticed I did as much work as I could in the three days I was working though!

Over the years the fatigue lessened and wasn’t nearly as bad as it used to be. I noticed the number of hours I work in a day crept upwards. I wondered about lessening my work ethic, taking my foot off that gas pedal. But that felt odd.

I felt like I wouldn’t be me in a sense. And I would certainly be setting myself apart from my family. I fully appreciate that may sound odd to you. Let me explain.

Sometimes things happen, and they may happen more than once to you but you cannot explain it. Or you repeat a behaviour again and again but you don’t know why. You might even see the same thing happening to family members. The issue may have been around for a good part of your life.

 

Chances are it can be a systemic issue

A systemic issue is bigger than you. It’s part of the system(s) of which are a member. A system can be a family system, a work system, your network of friends are a system, there’s the benefits system, the NHS, you get the idea. You are part of a several systems and actions other members of a system take will impact you in some way and your actions will impact them. We are all inter-connected.

A systemic issue isn’t a bad thing. It just points to where to look to start resolving the issue.

The work ethic in my family is a systemic issue

And it feels like the work ethic has been taking up all my available time and energy. That was not helping me to make time to exercise. The time exercise would take was conflicting with the needs of the long-entrenched issue of work ethic.

The work ethic in my family provides a function, which ties in with my issues of my achievement cycle and prioritising.

I haven’t fully unpacked the function(s) work ethic plays in my family, but what I have learned is to care for my intention to do something that really matters to me, like exercising to enhance my health. And giving myself permission to care for that intention and act on it. To do that, I had to let go of ‘being perfect’ as that was giving way too much fuel to the work ethic.

Caring for your intention to do something that really matters to you is important

Giving yourself permission to care for that intention and to act on it is also important

A question to ask yourself is:

What are the relationships like between me, the change I wish to make and my intention to make that change?

They are three distinct elements when it comes to the change you wish to make.

Picture of a woman sitting down considering the relationships between you the change you want to make and your intention to make that change when you want to make time to exercise to improve your health

After reading my story there you probably think I’m a basket case and there’s no hope regarding my ability to make time to exercise. That’s ok if you do.

I’m sharing my story to demonstrate why change can sometimes be difficult to make no matter how much you want to make the change. There can be some pretty deep-seated stuff happening that is getting in the way.

Many people shy away from issues that feel deep. They are afraid that they will open Pandora’s box. Uncovering and working through that deep-seated stuff can be emotional at times. But actually, rather than scary, it can be very empowering. You make that discovery of the reasons that have been causing you disbelief, pain, disappointment or something else. It’s a relief to because you then know what you need to change.

You have greater self-awareness, which gives you more choices

And the solution to these kind of issues can be simple

Even for all that deep-seated stuff, the solution can be surprisingly simple. You’ve done the hard work already by working through everything to get to the solution. Implementing the solution can feel easier.

There can be some pretty deep-seated stuff that gets in the way of you making the change you want for yourself. But when you work through it all, you can find the solution is simple. Read more about it here #wellness Click To Tweet

I say to clients who can exercise that ‘exercise to improve your health is important’

I was conscious that I was wanting to do more exercise to improve my health as I was saying that. I have started to exercise. Yay me!

I came across this do it at home boot camp via Twitter. The boot camp lasts 6 weeks and I am two-thirds of the way through it. I’ve exercised nearly every day and if I missed a day, it was usually because I had a long meeting that day requiring travel or was on a course. Then I would do two exercise routines the following day to keep pace with the programme.

I typically do the exercise routine first thing in the morning before I start work. It has the highest priority. That way, I know I’ve done it.

There are a group of people taking part and we all started and will finish the boot camp on the same day. I belong to this group and being part of a group that is working towards the same goal works for me.

There is a closed Facebook group for everyone taking part in the boot camp where we can share what we’ve done or not done, what we are succeeding at and what we are finding difficult. It’s very supportive. This caters to my extraversion preference.

I am noticing results. My jeans are a little looser. My knee pain from osteoarthritis is less. My walking is a little less laboured. I am loving the endorphin rush I get every morning from the exercise.

I am proud I am maintaining the discipline to get up early and do the day’s exercise routine first thing. Maintaining the discipline is important to me.

Discipline enables you to make exercise to improve your health a habit

My other half tells me he notices how disciplined I am and that there is less of me, and it’s good to have that external validation.

It’s becoming a virtuous cycle where my progress feeds my motivation to continue.

And you know what. It doesn’t take loads of time. About 45 minutes every morning. I always had the time. By figuring out what was getting in the way, working through that and taking the step by signing up for the boot camp, I was able to get started.

So when making a change in your life like making time to exercise to improve your health, consider these points

If making the change feels hard on some level and there is no rational explanation for that, it could be a systemic issue that has been shaped by habits, norms of behaving and events which have happened over the years and generations even in your family.

Sometimes it can be several inter-related issues which hold you back from making a change. Figuring these out can make implementing the change easier and make it more sustainable over the longer term.

Like I said last week, ensure the change you are making fits with your motivations.

Set up a routine to make the change happen. A routine can help you maintain discipline. Discipline makes the change into a long-term habit.

Feedback from others is great. It can feed your motivation. Just don’t rely on external feedback and validation 100%. Have your own measures for progress too.

It’s ok to start small. Small is achievable. You can build up over time.

Work within the symptoms your body experiences whether that is pain, fatigue, etc. You don’t want to exacerbate them to the point you can no longer do what you wish to be doing.

And connect to that part of your soul which gives you permission to make the change you really want for yourself.

Quote by Return To Wellness - Connect to the part of your soul which gives you permission to make the change you want for yourself, to make the time to exercise to improve your health

What’s it like for you?

What have you done to make the time to exercise to improve your health? Or to make another change in your life? What obstacles did you have to overcome? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (contact form in sidebar).

If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to return to a sense of wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

Pass it forward

Has this blog made you think? Helped you in some way? Share it so it can do the same for someone else.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2018

How to cope with a setback in recovery from illness

How to cope with a setback in recovery from illness

Last week I shared five things you can do to cope with a setback in recovery from illness or injury and this week I continue on that theme by sharing five more.

A setback can be really disappointing. It’s typically not expected. And given everything you’ve been through, it can feel like an exasperated, ‘Now I’ve got to deal with this too?!’ feeling.

So to help you cope with a setback in recovery from illness or injury, let’s move on to this week’s 5 tips. And if you didn’t read last week’s blog be sure to as it contains other helpful ideas on how to cope.

A setback in your recovery can be disappointing. Especially when it's not expected. Given everything you’ve been through, it can feel unfair. Read 5 things you can do to help you cope. Tell a friend

1. Your recovery may be more like a transition to a new place

Last week I referred to our expectation that the recovery process means we go back to the way we were before the illness, injury or latest relapse.

How to cope with a setback in recovery from illness or injury - This is a pic of a graph where the Y axis represents the degree of recovery and the X axis represents time. There's a person thinking their recovery will be an upwards and straight trajectory back to normality, i.e. their pre-illness or injury self. But often in the case of serious health issues, this is a myth because the body is changed forever.

Sometimes I wonder whether that expectation helps us to cope with a setback in recovery from illness or injury. Because sometimes we don’t go back to the way we were. We enter a new place because our body has changed.

This can be full of uncertainty because you don’t know what the new place is like and what you will be able to do there. Take it gently, move slowly. Allow yourself to get used to being in this new place.

It’s like moving into a new home. You have to get to know the new home, what works, what doesn’t and its quirks. You have to decide how you want to put your stamp on your new home, and what you need to do, and can do, to do that.

This takes time so give yourself that time to adjust.

How to cope with a setback in recovery from illness. One way is rethinking how we think about recovery. This pic is of a quote, "We often assume that recovery means we go back to the way we were pre-illness or injury. But sometimes that isn't possible because our bodies are changed forever. When that happens, recovery is more like a transition to a new place."

2. Find an activity you enjoy and can do within the constraints of the illness or injury

The purpose of this is to have a healthy distraction. The activity can be anything you enjoy: reading, catching up on a tv series, watching movies, knitting, drawing, painting, making jewellery, genealogical research, doing puzzles, teaching yourself a new language, gaming, listening to the radio, whatever.

This kind of healthy distractions are also good for your mental health, which, if it’s in a good enough place, can help you cope with the setback in your recovery.

3. Continue to do the daily activities you do when not ill (if you can)

For example, it’s very easy when we are ill to just let everything go and we lie in bed or on the sofa for days and not wash or change our clothes. Because there is nothing we can do, right? This feeling can double when you have to cope with a setback in recovery.

Picture of a girl lying on a sofa with one leg covered in a blanket. She is coping with a setback in recovery from illness. She is asking herself the question, 'When did I last wash?' There's a brownish-grey cloud around her to reflect that she hasn't washed in some time.

Whilst I was in hospital with Transverse Myelitis gradually getting weaker, losing the ability to walk, and not knowing why this was happening, I promised myself that regardless of what would happen, I would somehow manage to keep myself clean. Looking back, this was a really good thing for me to do.

I washed my face in the morning, brushed my teeth twice a day and showered every other day. I would drag myself to the shower (or be wheeled in) and endure the pain of showering. I had a high degree of neuropathic pain at this point so water hitting my skin felt like I was being pelted with nails. Raising my arms to wash my hair was painful too. Keeping clean was a challenging physical and mental effort.

I would also change my from my pyjamas to my ‘hospital day wear’, sweats and a sweatshirt. Feeling clean and fresh after washing and changing my clothes, I felt ready for what that day would bring and more able somehow.

Why keeping myself clean was a good thing to do

These are several reasons why I think keeping myself clean was a positive thing to do.

Note: The daily activity you choose doesn’t have to be keeping yourself clean. It could be reading. Or making a cup of tea or something else. A thing to keep in mind is selecting a gentle activity you can still do, even if it’s to a much lesser degree.

It was part of my daily routine prior to becoming ill and when we continue to do such activities when we are ill, it’s a reminder of a normality we are familiar with. That can be comforting.

Daily activities can give our days some structure in what otherwise can feel like an endless episode of illness or injury.

Daily activities can also have a positive psychological impact. They give us that important sense of control when we’re in a situation where we can feel powerless at times. They also give us a sense of personal agency, i.e. that we have the ability to influence things and change something for the better. It’s about doing what you can to help yourself and your situation.

This is another pic of the same girl lying on a sofa whilst coping with a setback in recovery from illness. She looks brighter. She is listening to radio which is giving the positive reasons of doing light and gentle daily activities when coping with a setback during recovery.  She is saying, 'Good points. Glad I moved the radio closer to me.' So in effect, she has been practicing what the radio show is talking about. She moved the radio close to her so she could listen to programmes whilst recovering, which is a light and gentle daily activity.

4. Treat your body like the temple it is

Your body may not feel like a temple at the moment. It may feel more like it’s in need of a whole scale refurbishment. And when you feel really bad, it can feel easier to reach for comfort food which isn’t as healthy for you.

But your body needs a lot of nourishment during a setback. Eat and drink healthily. Get as good a rest as you can. If you can take some exercise or do your physiotherapy, do that. Even if that is walking around the room or light exercises in your bed or chair. This is all stuff that is in your control to do as mentioned last week.

When you are dealing with a setback in your recovery, make sure to treat your body like the temple it is. Eat and drink healthily. Your body needs the nourishment. Tell a friend

5. Use your support network

For conversation, companionship and to help you with what you need help with. Let them know specifically what you need help with because that is helping them to help you. But also let them know what you may not need help with and explain why.

Many times people in our support network are very keen to help us so you are not being a burden. However, there are times when we want to do something by ourselves to test ourselves, to see what we are now capable of doing, to check if there has been some recovery.

But we can also get a sense of accomplishment when we do something on our own. When you’re ill or injured and more reliant on others, there is less opportunity to gain that sense of accomplishment. So if you don’t want someone’s help for those reasons, let them know that and that they are actually helping you by not helping you.

This pic shows the girl on the couch again. But now she is sitting up and going through some papers and old magazines and newsletters. A friend is asking her, 'Do you need help with that.' The girl on the sofa respond, 'No, that's ok. I want to see how kong I can go before fatigue sets in. To see if that has changed at all.' The point of this is that it's good to explain to others the reasons we don't need their help. Because those reasons could be about us checking in with ourselves and our bodies to see what we are capable now.

What’s it like for you?

What has helped you to cope with a setback in recovery from illness or injury? Is there anything which did which is not listed here? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (contact form in sidebar).  

If you are living with a serious health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to cope with a setback in recovery from illness or injury or another aspect of the health issue you are dealing with, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

Pass it forward

Has this blog made you think? Helped you in some way? Share it so it can do the same for someone else.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2019

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