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Swimming Against the Tide: A refreshingly real blog about life, faith, and mental health.

I love to swim against the tide and ride waves full frontal. After a lifetime of Office Management in administration and finance, I find myself wanting to finally engage in my passion of writing and empowering others for the betterment of society. As a Christian, writer (new to blogging) trainer, gardener and photographer I want to use my faith and skills for the common good…

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Mental Health Week: 5 ways you can respond 

5 ways to respond to Mental Health WeekToday is the beginning of Mental Health Week, though how does it affect you? Does it cause you to stop and think? Or do you find you continue on your day-to-day routine, forgetting until you see that post on Facebook?

Just like mental illnesses, this week can often be unseen – either because we do not see, or because we do not wish to see (now I am quoting  Dreamworks – The Prince of Egypt!). It isn’t nice to be reminded of issues that we would prefer to avoid, that make us feel uncomfortable, that remind us we might need to do something about it.
Sometimes it just seem like there is nothing we can do about mental health issues – the whole situation can feel really out of control.

So how can we respond to this week?

Here are 5, simple, yet effective ways we could respond with:

1. Research: There is so much out there that we do not realise we don’t know about mental health! We hear the basics and think we have been given everything we need to know. As the internet is so advanced, and I am assuming you have the internet to read this, you could choose just one mental health issue to research. Preferably one that is close to you or you know someone who lives with that illness. Another way of researching, is talking with others. You will be amazed to hear the wealth of knowledge others have about the illness they are living with or have researched themselves. This can be really empowering and uplifting for both of you!

2. Self-care: This is a really powerful tool to help prevent mental health issues, and it is much easier to prevent than to treat. If you are living with high-stress each day, it will take its toll and affect you in ways you could not imagine. Taking an hour out of your busy schedule to spend on yourself, perhaps some gardening, or walk the dog, take the bus or ride a bike; can repay you ten-fold.

3. Examine: Examine yourself. We get caught up in the busyness of life that we can lose sight of our identity. If we feel that we need to chase after the next best thing, we can turn off the beaten track we are on and get entirely lost! Examining ourselves frequently is an easy, yet effective way of checking into where we are up to. If we start to feel agitated, instead of band-aiding it – look at why we are feeling like that in the first place. We need to continually examine our bodies for signs of skin cancer, likewise we need to examine our minds for signs of illness.

4. Sleep hygiene: This is a tough one for me! Having a good sleep hygiene routine is really important and yet so hard in this switched on world! – I have personally experienced both sides and having a healthy sleep pattern is definitely the way to go. Though I do admit I struggle with keeping to a good bedtime each night, it is also difficult to retreat from electronics before and during being in bed. It is best to have a routine and stick to it, avoiding using devices while in bed can be really helpful to allow your mind to begin switching off, otherwise you will find you are too wired up to actually sleep well! Stay tuned for my journey of healthy sleep hygiene, I will be keeping a journal on what I did and how helpful it was which I will share with you over the next few weeks.

5. Coffee (or tea!): (Such an important one!) This is great for relationships. In order to help others and yourself, have hot/cold beverage together! Many a word of wisdom, encouragement, affirmation can be shared over the dainty little tea cup and a sense of togetherness that we often leave last on the priority list. There is real safety in number, the more connected you feel, the more supported you will be – and vice-versa. Besides, it is a great way to push those fluids into our thirsty bodies!

So instead of letting this week pass you by, try implementing some of these things, just in small doses, and take note of any changes you experience.

Helping others: 5 questions to boost your helping productivity

Helping OthersGrowing up I dreamed of having 6 kids, going to Africa to help with missions, explored every opportunity to sponsor kids, I jumped at every opportunity to help others before considering what was involved.

I still do mind you, though I have improved a lot.

A lot of my desire to help others, was actually to feel good about myself; that I was contributing to the lives of others, to be seen as a hero.

It felt great when I did actually help others, though when there was a lull, when no one needed me, I felt really low. I couldn’t see my purpose.

The big question is: was I actually helping people?

It felt fake, it felt like I wasn’t helping people because they needed it, it felt like I was helping people because I needed it.

What was I doing wrong? I wanted to genuinely help people because I see everyone as valuable.
Through challenging myself, I came up with 5 questions to genuinely help people – and they all involved looking at myself:

• Do they actually need my help?
Usually we are in conversation when I hear of a need and my usual pattern involves me starting to think about what I could do to help. Though too often they are actually needing someone else to do something about it. They may need a social worker, counsellor or doctor? They may need their spouse, family member or friend to specifically help them. In that case, am I content to refer them on to someone more appropriate? Leading to my next point…

• Have I understood what they need help with?
Are they actually asking for practical help? Or are they just wanting the opportunity to explore things, get outside of their head and just vent to think clearly?

• Do I have the resources?
In times when they are actually asking for help, I need to consider if I have the resources. This does not necessarily mean can I carry out the task, it also includes how much is it going to cost me and those around me. Have I said yes to a number of different people recently? Do I have any looming deadlines that need priority? Have I had enough me time? Sleep, exercise and rest. If I don’t, I need to explore the next point…

• Is it urgent?
Can the request wait? I might have the resources available soon, can I say yes at a certain time? If the request can wait, I do not need to jump in with the help straight away and do a half job, I can wait and do my best job which would be more helpful in the long run.

• What does it mean for me if I say no?
Finally the biggest question of all. If I say no, what does that say about me? Does it mean I am a bad person? Or am I being genuine in wanting the best help for the other person and not promising myself when I am not able to?

After all, it is only when I say ‘no’ that my ‘yes’ truly has value.

As you can see, we can only help others when we invest in ourselves.

Anxiety: Is it really a bad thing?

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The first thing I do when I begin to get anxious is to try and distract myself from the anxious thought. Funny thing is that when I try to not think about it, I find I can’t think of anything else!
So why do we get anxious?
Everyone gets anxious – the year 12 student studying for the test of their life, an expectant mother, a father providing for his family, the two day old baby unsure of when the next meal is coming, and so on.

Getting anxious motivates the student to study hard, the expectant mother to learn everything there is to know about labor and how to care for her baby, the father to ensure he has  good health and employers, and the motivates the baby to scream down the house to ensure their message is sent to the food provider!
So in these cases anxiety is actually a good thing. I would go as far as calling it a tool for our personal tool boxes.

A hammer is a very helpful tool when you want to put a nail into the fence – however it is also a dangerous tool if not used correctly. The same with anxiety, there are healthy levels/uses of anxiety and unhealthy levels/uses.

Anxiety disorders can develop from a traumatic experience, learned behavior as a child or just from a normal anxious thought (for instance the year 12 student may have spent the whole year preparing for their final tests that they have a long period of anxiety and have trouble letting go, continuing the high stress levels into further education/employment only to burn out).

This kind of anxiety can be extremely debilitating, often made worse by society in their often genuine desire to take away the pain! So how do we control those initially rational anxious thoughts? After all the best lies have an element of truth in them, the same with anxious thought patterns.

Here are five helpful tools to start with:

♦ Exercise: I am no expert in the science of physical exercise, however i have heard that endorphins in the body helps us to cope with the physical and mental stresses in life.

♦ Meditation: Yoga is a common one, however meditation can be focusing on anything you prefer such as through prayer, reading the bible, music, nature walks, etc. Just ensure they are healthy to focus on.

♦ Breathing exercises:Similar to meditation, only you can do it anywhere you are when you start to begin to panic.

♦ Distraction/diffusion: This does not involve removing the anxiety, just lessening the impact of the symptoms. When anxious thoughts arise you can say “thanks mind for that thought” or imagining the thought as a physical being altering its appearance to look funny or change your perspective on it. It is important to come back to the thought addressing it in the new perspective, it is important to listen to yourself and not ignore your own needs.

♦ Counselling combined with medical assessment: Anxiety does not generally have a medical cause as it is a secondary emotion, however stresses in the body can mimic anxiety symptoms which may then cause anxiety that they may return. So it is best to ensure there is nothing physically wrong as well as receiving tools and techniques to help deal with the root cause of the anxiety. The key in all these techniques is to not dismiss your feelings – they are real and need to be addressed.

The following story explains the difference between healthy and unhealthy anxiety really well:

A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?” Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz. She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.” Remember to put the glass down.

Maria Ciancarelli.