Why your mental health is important when living with chronic illness

Why your mental health is important when living with chronic illness

Your mental health can take a battering as you learn to adjust to with a chronic illness. You may experience anxiety, feel scared of what your future will be like, worrying about every twinge and odd feeling in your body, and feel unbalanced emotionally. You may often respond with tears, anger or both. The rollercoaster of emotions is never-ending. You want to feel a sense of calm and balance again, like your old self, but you’re not sure how you get there.

It is possible to return to a sense of wellness and normality

I have helped clients successfully do this after they experienced a serious illness or onset of a chronic illness. Just a heads up that it often looks and feels differently from what it was like before.

Feeling the way you do because of the changes in your health is actually normal

These periods of adjustment are about transitioning from one way of doing and being to another. It’s about change. And when we experience change, we can experience all sorts of unfamiliar and unpleasant emotions, particularly when the change is not expected nor welcomed.

So you are not going crazy

You are experiencing another side to your mental health. Read on to learn why looking after your mental health is as important as your physical health when living with a serious or chronic illness. But first, let’s review that definition of mental health because it can sometimes get in the way of people seeking out support.

handling emotions when living with chronic illness

The roller coaster of illness

Debunking the myth of mental health

In our society, we have come to associate the words ‘mental health’ almost exclusively with issues such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, phobias, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, bi-polar, suicide, schizophrenia, other personality disorders, etc.

It is also often assumed that help is only for these type of issues. And if you don’t have them, you don’t need help, and should not need help. But if you access help, then you must have something wrong with you, like a ‘psychological problem’ and be ‘screwed up’.

That societal definition of mental health doesn’t do much for empowering people, who are experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression (maybe for the first time), to seek help and support.

The definition also discounts the whole human experience and all the good things we experience and feel. It has resulted in lack of recognition that people with mental health issues can and do experience good feelings, good times and periods of happiness.

Just as our physical health can experience good and bad periods, so does our mental health. At times our mental health is ill, other times it is in good shape.

‘Mental health’ is a neutral term like physical health

Just as we have physical health, we have mental health.

mental health #ihavementalhealth

Mental health is a neutral term.

The #ihavementalhealth campaign

Last week the #ihavementalhealthcampaign on Twitter reminded me of this and its importance to people like you and me who live with chronic illness or the ongoing after effects of a serious illness.

Dr. Ilan Ben-Zion (@drilanbz), a clinical psychologist in the UK started this campaign last week when he was sharing his NHS stories via the @NHS Twitter account. The campaign’s aim is to show how neutral the term ‘mental health’ is and that we all have it. In turn, this can reduce the stigma mental health has developed and normalise people seeking support when they feel they are struggling.

If more people feel able to seek support when they are struggling, then this can prevent issues growing into even bigger ones.

Your mental health is just as important as physical health

parity of esteem #ihavementalhealth

A balanced focus on mental and physical health is needed.
#ihavementalhealth #weallhavementalhealth

When living with a chronic illness, your mental health is just as important as your physical health. The reasons for this are several.

In my own and my clients’ experiences, stress can exacerbate symptoms. Learning ways to effectively manage the impact of stress becomes very important to reduce its impact on symptoms. I’ve had clients report feeling a reduction in symptoms due to addressing issues which caused them to feel stressed and learning to manage the stress differently.

Also, stress and anxiety can become more prevalent due to the uncertainty which often accompanies a change in our health.

Having support to adjust to any unwelcome and unwanted change with your health or any other part of your life can help you to work through the stress, anxiety, depression and emotional struggles more quickly and effectively. So you can return to that sense of calm and balance you’ve been seeking, and experience quality of life and normality once again. Timely support can also prevent issues escalating, allow people to appreciate and feel their self-worth, and to continue being a part of society.

Sometimes the physical health issue can cause changes in the brain which impact emotions, cognitive abilities and executive functioning. Side-effects of medications can also cause mental health issues. This is when it is important to have a suitably qualified healthcare professional involved who can formally assess the issue and recommend strategies and treatments.

These reasons show that mental health is ever-present, there is a complex relationship between our physical and mental health, and it’s super important and ok to look after it and seek support to enable us to do that.

To show your support for these ideas, get on social media, introduce yourself and use the hashtag #ihavementalhealth

My name is Barbara and #ihavementalhealth

In fact, #weallhavementalhealth

What’s it like for you?

When you’ve been in a difficult period, what helped you to enhance your mental health? If you reached out and asked for help, what enabled you to do that? Share below as a comment and you may end up helping someone else.

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to enhance your sense of emotional wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

Why you need a fuck it list this year

Why you need a fuck it list this year

I’m going to make the case for why you need a fuck it list this year and how to create one. You probably have a bucket list for all the fun things you want to do in life before you die. The bucket and fuck it lists go hand-in-hand. One is what you want to do. The other the stuff you don’t want to do.

A fuck it list is liberating

It is you taking a stand and saying, ‘Right, I had enough of this. This is going to change!’

That is why I’ve chosen to use fruity language. It’s to emphasise a strong resolve to do something different. If you don’t like the word I’ve chosen, replace it with another one that is meaningful to you.

Life is short. If you’re dealing with a challenging health issue or are in a caring role, you know that more than most. This is about making the most of your precious life and using the energy you have in a way that is nourishing rather than draining. That’s why you need a fuck it list.

What goes on your fuck it list?

Here’s a sample of what this kind of list contains.

  • Don’t want to worry about anymore – For example, what other people may think of you
  • Something you really want to stop doing or do less of – Soften your inner critical voice, stop feeling so lost in relation to your illness or injury, eat less biscuits and sweets
  • An unhelpful habit you want to change – Turning to alcohol when you’re upset
  • A toxic relationship you want to let go of
  • Saying yes to please people when it would be an act of self-care to say no

It’s the negative, unhelpful and unhealthy things in your life which go on your fuck it list

If you set new year’s resolutions, does it ever take the form of a fuck it list? If not, consider it. Read more here. And learn why I use such strong language #wellness Click To Tweet

Whatever you want to change has to be in your control to change

You can learn more about what is in your control and what isn’t here in this 11 minute video This is key as you don’t want to be wasting your energy on trying to change things that are outside your control.

4 important considerations for your fuck it list

First, just as it’s important to know what you want to stop doing, it’s just as important to know what you will do instead.

For example, if you want to drink less alcohol, what will you do instead? Drink mocktails? Exercise? Draw? Clean? Or if you want to soften your inner critical voice, what will you say to yourself instead?

Second, be mindful regarding any expectations you have of yourself to make changes overnight.

Sometimes we can expect ourselves to get something 100% right the very first time we do it. But if the change you want to make has been difficult in the past (quitting smoking for example) or is something completely new, it may take time for it to become easy and quick to do well. And that’s ok. It’s key you manage your expectations of yourself when it comes to making change.

Third, treat doing something new as a learning process.

When you learn something new, you may not do it as you hoped to the first, second, or even third time you do it. That’s ok. Figure out what you learned and what you could do differently going forwards then try that. Being willing to try something new on an ongoing basis helps.

Remember this mnemonic: FAIL – First Attempt In Learning

Failure is a reason why people find it's so easy to give up. This picture shows a person looking at the word FAIL but it stands for First Attempt in Learning. The person is saying, 'This is a much better way to think of failure.'

Fourth, take a daily dose of self-compassion

A woman is holding an oversized glass containing a dose of self-compassion. On the glass is written, 'I am enough.' The woman is thinking, 'Gosh, this is a large dose. I heard it doesn't taste too bad. I hope it tastes ok.' This is important to consider when you implement your fuck it list. To know what I mean by that, be sure to read the blog.

Getting help can make your fuck it list a reality

The non-judgemental, objective, third party support of a coach can help you figure out

  • what to put on your fuck it list,
  • what you can do instead to get to where you want to be, and
  • your self-sabotage strategies and how to neutralise those.

Having the support of loved ones and friends helps enormously too. A coach and these sources of support help you get to where you want to be faster.

So what will you put on your fuck it list this year?

Share in the comments below.

If you are living with a challenging health issue or caring for someone who is, and would like support on any of the issues discussed here, you can

AND 

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2021

Why you don’t need to move on from your illness

Why you don’t need to move on from your illness

When others tell you to ‘move on from your illness’ or ‘shouldn’t you let it go now’ whenever you speak about it, you can feel guilty. Like you’ve done something wrong. It can also feel like your experience of the illness or injury, treatment and everything it means for you going forwards in your life, including all the difficulties, are completely disregarded. You can feel lonely.

Maybe you had cancer, the onset of a chronic neurological condition, heart attack or something else. Whatever you had, it has fundamentally changed your body. You have also changed as a result.

Two friends are standing and speaking to one another. A woman with short dark hair is saying, "I still feel the impact of the illness and treatment." Her blond hair friend is rolling her eyes and saying, "You need to let it go and move on once and for all." The point of this is the illness still impacts the woman physically and emotionally. So what do we mean by letting go and moving on from an illness or injury? Read the blog to find out why I don't think you need to move on from your illness.

How can you move on from your illness when the illness and all it represents is still with you?

It can be hard to move on because you may be living with a daily reminder of the illness or injury in terms of ongoing symptoms, medication and how you need to look after yourself.

But what do we mean by ‘move on from your illness or injury’?

Let’s unpick those phrases ‘move on’ and ‘let go’.

When someone says to you, ‘Shouldn’t you let go of it?’ or ‘Isn’t it time you moved on from your illness?’ several things could be going on.

They may be genuinely worried for you, concerned you’re not finding it easy to cope and maybe even wondering what they can do to help. They may even make suggestions of what you can do to let go and move on. This may come from a genuine place on their part.

When others say those phrases, they may be tired of hearing the same story. Even if they’re a friend or family member. This can be due for all sorts of reasons.

Some people do not have the capacity to hear the same thing again. People will have different levels of capacity for listening and responding.

Or they don’t want to be reminded of a difficult time even though the illness or injury happened to you not them. It could be what you say sparks anxiety in them whether consciously or unconsciously, and they don’t want to feel/experience that.

When someone says to you, ‘Isn’t it time you moved on from your illness?’ it could be they don’t have the capacity to hear something more than once or a few times. But it’s not nice to be on the receiving end of such a question.… Click To Tweet

Letting go and moving on from your illness can mean ‘stop talking about it’

Or even, ‘Forget that it happened.’

We can end up stigmatising difficult feelings and emotions in our society so talking about them get stigmatised too. We’ve just learned a different way to say it, i.e. let go and move on from your illness.

As for forgetting that it happened, of course some days you may feel like that. That’s normal. But trying to forget it in an unhealthy way can be a form of denial.

But talking about it is a way to make sense of your experience

Even if it is 5, 10, 15 years or more since you had the illness or injury. It takes people different lengths of time to make sense of a difficult experience. And that’s ok. There are no specific timescales for how long this could take. We are all different.

If you look at trauma literature, talking about your experience is a way to make sense of what is often a traumatic experience, which a serious illness or injury can be. McGrath (2001) states that people ‘work through their feelings’ by ‘telling their story a hundred times’ and this is the ‘means by which they begin to dispel the feelings of distress attached to their memories’.

You may talk about your experience 100 times, 50 times, 10 times, or once. There is no ‘right’ number.

Also, as time moves on, you change and so look at and review the experience of your illness or injury with new eyes. And you may need to make sense of that too in addition to the original experience of your illness or injury. You may also notice that how you talk about your illness or injury may change too.

As time moves on, you change and so look at and review the experience of your #illness or #injury with new eyes. And you may need to make sense of that too in addition to the original experience of your illness or injury. Click To Tweet

So can you say you move on from your illness?

The illness can stay with you in many forms. It’s part of you and your life.

As a result of the illness or injury, you may get involved in campaigning and advocacy work. Or you may go to a support group, run a support group, start a blog, build a website of resources and useful information, or even start a charity. You may do none of those things but get back to your life in a way that is meaningful for you.

In that way, no you don’t move on from your illness nor do you need to.

Instead, the key thing is integration of your illness or injury experience

It’s how you integrate the experience of the illness or injury, then and now, into you and your life. You want to integrate it in a way that feels healthy to you rather than it negatively dominating your life all of the time.

The woman is standing on the timeline of her life. You see that behind her is birth, schooling, first romantic relationship, university, first job, relationship breakup, redundancy, great job, promotion, marriage, first baby, serious illness, renewed purpose and return to work. The woman's life timeline is pointing towards the future. In front of her says Return to Wellness® with a plan. The woman is saying, "The illness impacts me to this day. Sometimes it's not easy. But now it's a part of my life rather than all of my life." It's about integrating your illness or injury experience into your life.

What’s it like for you?

What does ‘letting go’ and ‘moving on from your illness or injury’ mean to you? How have you integrated the experience of your illness or injury into your life? 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 caring for someone who is, and would like support on any of the issues discussed here, you can

AND

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2020

Reference

McGrath, E. (2001) Recovering from Trauma. Available http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200308/recovering-trauma, (Retrieved 2013, March 20).

How to breathe to calm yourself when you’re stressed

How to breathe to calm yourself when you’re stressed

Do you kind of forget how to breathe to calm yourself when you’re feeling stressed? You don’t really realise it until maybe someone points it out. Or you finally get to a place of calm and think, ‘Boy, I wasn’t feeling that great!’

It’s understandable. You can get so wrapped up in the issue your focus is entirely on that. I’ve done it.

When I started studying coaching and other psychological modalities, breathing was often mentioned. Eventually (not immediately), I realised I rarely focused on my breath!

I might have been aware I was breathing differently when stressed, yet I did nothing to change it. But I also wasn’t aware of how I was breathing in my day-to-day life during times when I wasn’t stressed.

Not only was I not using a valuable tool at my disposal to manage the impact of stress, I took my ability to breathe completely for granted. So in this post I want to share why knowing how we breathe is important and a simple technique you can use to restore calm when you feel stressed.

Picture of a person feeling stressed and forgetting to breathe. The person is thinking, "This issue is so hard! I'll never get it sorted!" It's important when you're feeling stressed and anxiety to remember how to breathe to calm yourself.

What about you?

Do you know how to breathe to calm yourself?

As a way to self-regulate how you’re feeling. Self-regulation is an important life skill. It’s about you recognising and using your personal power, which you can in many different ways. Breathing is one of them. And exercising your personal power helps to feed your confidence in yourself.

There is a picture of a virtuous cycle saying: Ability to self-regulate with an arrow pointing to Recognising and using your personal power then another arrow pointing to Feeds you confidence. When we self-regulate, we are using our personal power and that helps increase our confidence. A person is looking at this, smiling and saying, "I'll try deep breathing!" Being able to self-regulate how you feel is a key life skill. Learning how to breathe to calm yourself will help you do that.

And do you know where you breathe from when you’re not stressed?

Stop for a minute and notice. Do this a few times throughout the day.

Are you breathing from high up in your chest? Maybe near the throat? Or lower down around your diaphragm? Or maybe even lower?

What is your style of breathing like?

Short quick gasps for air? A slow, deep intake of breath? Something in between? Or do you find yourself holding your breath a lot?

Breathing is fundamental to living and your life

Yet many of us are not very intimate with how we breathe. Notice how you breathe and where you’re breathing from when you’re working, cooking, preparing for bed, exercising, reading, doing household chores, errands, looking after your kids or grandchildren, doing something you really enjoy doing, etc.

Being aware of how you breathe can help you identify when you’re feeling stressed

When you are feeling stressed and anxiety, your breath can be a go-to tool to help you restore a sense of calm.

So here’s an easy-to-use breathing technique to help you do that.

Being aware of how you breathe can help you identify when you’re feeling stressed. Are you aware of how you breathe? Click here to learn more #breathing #stress #wellness Click To Tweet

How to breathe to calm yourself using the 4-6 technique

You use this technique in the moment when you’re feeling stressed.

Breathe in for a count of 4.

Exhale for a count of 6.

Repeat until you feel calm. Then keep doing it AND smile to yourself.

This technique helps to regulate your nervous system.

And it’s a great technique as no one can really see you do it.

A person is standing looking calm and practicing a breathing technique. They are saying, "Inhale for 4 seconds. Exhale for 6 seconds." You can regulate your nervous system by using the 4-6 breathing technique.

What’s it like for you?

Are you aware of where you typically breathe from – high up in your chest, from your diaphragm, from your belly? Have a go at breathing using the 4-6 technique. How did you feel afterwards? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (contact form in sidebar).  

If you are struggling with a challenging health issue or caring for someone who is, and would like support to get unstuck and 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.

Pass it forward

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2020

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.

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 2020

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