Are you the kind of person who uses their mobile phone to organise, keep notes, sync calendars and even check step count? You might find using a mobile phone app to support your mental health journey could also be beneficial.
Mental Health Apps
There are lots of different types of apps that you could try. At Insight Counselling, the mental health app Pacifica has been trialled over the last six months with some really good results. Clients find it easy to use, helpful to record moods and feelings and to carry out CBT thought experiments. There are also audio mindfulness meditations and self-help CBT advice.
It’s free unless you wish to delve deeper, so worth taking a look.
Anxiety is a word that gets thrown around a lot and can mean different things to different people. Essentially, it’s used to describe feeling uneasy, worried and afraid and the mental and physical effects this can cause. For example, before sitting an exam it’s natural to feel scared, worried, sick, have stomach cramps, etc.
So when does anxiety stop being a natural response to a stressful event and turn into something more significant?
Anxiety is caused by the ‘fight or flight response’. A normal biological reaction to when we feel threatened, and something that has been with us since the dawn of man. When your body feels under threat it automatically releases hormones that physically prepare you to fight the danger, or run away from it.
Although we don’t have much use for the fight or flight response anymore – we’re unlikely to be charged at by a woolly mammoth any time soon, our biological reactions to it remains.
Anxiety becomes a problem when the fight or flight response stays switched on and the physical and mental symptoms have an impact on your quality of life.
Long term anxiety can be extremely difficult, and is often experienced alongside other illnesses such as depression and chronic pain. One of the key difficulties is that anxiety can lead to you feeling trapped within a ‘vicious circle’. When you’re feeling low and run down you tend to avoid activity because you don’t have the energy for it, or just can’t muster the motivation. This can lead to you feeling guilty and that you haven’t achieved as much as the ‘healthy’ you would have – you don’t feel like the person you used to be anymore. This makes you feel worse and you avoid more activity and you seem stuck in this never ending circle.
As anxiety can affect your health and wellbeing in numerous ways it is important to figure out the causes and find a way of resolving the anxiety whilst managing the symptoms. Although self-help and medication are useful in reducing symptoms, research has shown that therapy is usually the most effective option when it comes to treating anxiety.
Therapy looks at the causes of triggers and any underlying issues that might aggravate it rather than just treating the symptoms.
One starting point to be used in combination with other therapeutic approaches is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT uses the basis that it’s the way you think and react to a situation that’s causing the anxiety, rather than the situation itself. CBT challenges the way you think in a process called ‘cognitive restructuring’.
It’s a three step process that involves:
Identifying the negative thought processes
Challenging the negative thoughts
Replacing the negative thoughts with realistic thoughts
CBT may also include learning to recognise when you’re anxious and what that feels like for you – often there are some signs that anxiety is going to kick in that when you learn to recognise what they feel like, can help you prevent the anxiety from kicking in.
Therapy gives you the tools to be able to manage the symptoms of anxiety and employ coping mechanisms and relaxation techniques to lessen its impact on you and your life.
Whilst self-help alone may not be effective in treating your anxiety, it is useful when combined with therapy. From writing a journal or diary to help figure out patterns of thinking, or even identifying triggers; through to mindfulness and breathing exercises that can help you through a panic attack. For some great tips and ideas for self-help visit the Mind website
CBT is best used as a ‘holding approach’– it’s useful for managing the anxiety and lessen its impact with a supportive counsellor guiding you through and challenging the negative thinking, but often there are deep rooted issues causing or aggravating your anxiety. So in the long term, it’s important that these issues are resolved through exploration and discussion with an experienced counsellor.
There are various kinds of therapeutic approaches that can be used to discover these causes which are tailored to your needs, problems and requirements ensuring that you get what you really need out of therapy.
Having an open mind is important when starting therapy as the process can be a difficult one with long-term thoughts that have to be challenged and adjusted. However, it is effective in treating anxiety and can mean the difference between coping with your anxiety and living your life how you want to.
How do you feel about the holiday period coming up?
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, this time of year is often difficult for many people. Many people suffer with depression over a prolonged holiday period. Some people find themselves alone for much longer, businesses are often closed, leaving people without regular places to be. Preparing for the time on one’s own can be anxiety making and difficult for those who may already be lonely at times.
Why do some people find themselves depressed during the holiday time?
For some, there is simply so much to do, relatives arriving, gifts to purchase, house to clean and not enough time. Stress can make the preparations harder. For others, it might be the opposite and anticipating the empty days over the holidays can be distressing.
It is sometimes difficult to not compare our lives with others. It might look like people are having happy, amazing times, when we are not so full of joy. Television and social media bombard us with images showing families celebrating together with happy smiling faces. This can severely affect self-esteem and confidence – are we good enough?
We might look back on previous years when times were different, grieve and mull over difficult times in our lives. Having extra time on our hands provides opportunities for rumination and thinking about what is not going right in our lives.
Loneliness can be terribly hard at Christmas. Spending time alone over the few days when other people are apparently with family and friends, can feel very isolating. Even when surrounded by people, this feeling of loneliness can be much worse than normal if the connection with the people with you isn’t strong.
How can you help look after yourself?
Be aware of how you are feeling. Try to consider ways you can help yourself – exercise, eating well, drinking alcohol wisely rather than to excess. Don’t let go of your normal routine, continue to exercise or do extra if you don’t regularly exercise. Self-care is important. Try to avoid slumping in front of the television and get outside – even just for a walk.
If you do have people around you and can talk about how you are feeling, give it a go – people can sometimes surprise us by being supportive, empathising or just listening. Sometimes people push our buttons over the holiday -we might be spending much more time with people we wouldn’t normally or old family feuds resurface. Taking a step back might be the best option, rather than responding with anger.
Find a good book to get engrossed in instead of getting involved in the disagreements.
Whether you have tried mindfulness or meditation before or not, it might be a good time to start. Is there five or ten minutes where you could find some quiet time just for yourself? Focus on your breath and sit quietly for a few minutes. Don’t worry if you can hear noise or can’t concentrate for very long. A few minutes time out may help you manage your stress levels.
However you spend your time, look after yourself as best you can.