Tag Archives: mental health

female holding seated yoga pose

How yoga has totally transformed my life

Having recently discovered yoga, I’ve found far more benefits than I could have imagined. My mind, body and overall health have improved in layers.

1. Physical health—strength , flexibility and balance

Depending on the type of yoga practiced, incredible strength is needed to obtain some of the poses and movements. During vinyasa flow yoga practice, you’re encouraged to breath in a particularly way with each movement. Regular yoga practice builds strength and flexibility across your whole body. While holding the poses, even simple ones, your balance is improving each time.

Healthier blood flow around the body, in turn helps with blood flow to the brain which can help with clearer thinking. On a personal note, yoga can help with chronic conditions such as chronic pain—most (if not all) of the movements and poses can be modified if disability prevents the full posture being achieved. To start with I found, even, upward and downward facing dog difficult but I soon mastered a full sun salutation.

2. Mind-body connection

2 women, 1 with Down syndrome, doing yoga together

For all sorts of reasons, I struggle to understand the experiences of my body; I’m not sure what signals it’s giving me. It’s taken me a long time to understand hunger (for example) and when I experience pain, I’m not sure how to respond. Proprioception is the awareness of the body and its movement in space, yoga has really helped me be more aware of my body and to be more connected with it. A good yoga teacher will help you be aware of how far to push your body, to listen to its cues and to this has the huge benefit of having a better overall awareness of what your mind and body need.

3. You time—self compassion

As soon as you make the decision to do something for yourself, you’re showing yourself compassion. How many of us think we don’t have time to do something for ourselves? Think we’re too busy, have other priorities or put other people first? Carving out some you-time isn’t a bad thing, it’s not indulgent to look after yourself, after all, you can’t look after others if you in poor health… Treating yourself well has all sorts of knock on benefits, including: eating better, a calmer mood, more motivation, better confidence and self esteem, overall better mental health!

4. It’s not limited

A woman and young boy doing upward facing dog together

There are so many different types of yoga you’ll be able to find something that can work for you. You can do it with a child, in groups, on your own, while you’re pregnant, you can find work outs that make you sweat or that help you meditate, harder poses if you need something to motivate you to work harder over a period of months/years and there are simple movements if you body needs a break.

Yoga can help with specific issues such as bloating and digestion or headaches but it’s also great for overall fitness and health. You can do a 5 minutes routine in the morning or evening (to help you wake up or wind down) or a full blown intense hour long workout.

I would highly recommend finding a teacher who has the ability to modify postures and poses to individuals. Even online teachers can do this quite easily. It’s also important that they don’t make you feel as though you’re a failure for needing to do the modified moves, our bodies are all different and that’s ok.

During lockdown I started following YouTube videos daily and have found this to be incredibly beneficial for keeping a routine. My recommendation would be Boho Beautiful, she has a huge range of videos and has the option to join a community to get longer workshop video (I’ve never felt the need for this as her YouTube videos are enough for me!).

How does the 2:2:2 technique help me put things in perspective?!

Standing in a wood with a bright sun light

Do you every find yourself worry about something and you’re so surrounded by the thing itself that you just can’t see beyond the end of your nose?! It’s when you get so bogged down in the detail you can’t see the wood for the trees, you can’t see the bigger picture…

The idea behind this exercise is to try and step back from the things you’re worrying about and consider them in the future—will it matter in 2 days time? Will it matter in 2 months time? Will it matter in 2 years times? This helps us put things in perspective because it helps us see the bigger picture.

Female in supermarket picking up an apple looking concerned

It’s important to use a measure of time that’s relevant to the problem. If, for example, you’re feeling highly anxious about being in a supermarket because people don’t seem to be adhering to the social distancing regulations, you can ask yourself, will this matter in 2 minutes? Yes—I will still be here in 2 minutes and I will still be struggling with this problem, however, in 2 hours, you will have returned home, washed your hands and lowered your risks. The idea being that in the moment, you can think to yourself, within a short space of time, things will feel better and this helps manage the anxiety.

If you’re struggling with the anxiety of buying a house, you’re worried about how you’ll cope with all the paperwork, you’re feeling stressed about understanding the legal aspects and you’re lying awake at night. The 2:2:2 technique can help by enabling you look further ahead. Will this still be on your mind in 2 weeks? Probably, how about 2 months? Yes…but how about 2 years? No, chances are, you’ll be in your new home, having unpacked all the those boxes you’re feeling stressed about and you’ll be worrying about something else! Of course buying a house is stressful, but this technique helps you realise that there is a bigger picture, you just don’t know what’s around the corner, life’s stresses come and go and if we spend life worrying, we’ll miss the good stuff!

Female blurred image

This technique can also help if you’re struggling to make a decision. Sometimes our mental health can affect us in surprising ways—indecisiveness being one. In the depths of depression, being asked what I wanted to drink or deciding what to wear could feel like I was being asked for the nuclear codes. Grasping for the right answer felt perilously out of reach… Once I realised, what choice I made wasn’t going to matter in 2 minutes time…. the decision was so much easier, just pick something, anything, whichever was closest to hand, what I drank/wore yesterday, it was fine!

I’m training to be a counsellor; although anyone can call themselves a counsellor, to become a fully accredited qualified counsellor takes a long time because a lot of self-development is needed and there’s no short cut. During the training process, it’s hard that the thing I want to be is within reach but also so far out of reach. I’m working in a job that’s not my ultimate aim and it causes high amount of stress and fatigue; each assignment and hurdle on my course feels like I’m being tested and I worry about “performing” badly when I know I can do better; I worry I’m never going to reach my goal but I have to step back every so often and think… I’ll still be on this path in 2 months but in 2 years, I’ll (probably/hopefully) be the qualified counsellor I’ve been aspiring to be for so, so long!

I’m not saying this technique will solve everything, nor am I saying it’s easy, it may not be for everyone but if you’re struggling, perhaps it’s something you could try? It’s just another tool to stick in your tool box for managing life’s stresses.

Therapist with client

How can counselling help physical health problems?

Sick female on sofa with paramedics and concerned friend

There are countless people suffering everyday with symptoms that are medically unexplained. They may have a label/diagnosis but insufficient explanation as to what is actually going on to fully manage it. These are often managed with medication such as painkillers or anti-inflammatories, or patients simply have to try and put up with them having received a half-hearted explanation from their primary care physician. Examples include non-cardiac chest pain, tension-type headaches, globus-syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, non-epileptic seizures, candidiasis hypersensitivity, chronic pain syndromes, irritable bowel syndrome.

When a patient goes to their primary care physician for a physical symptom they should, of course by investigated to see if the symptom is caused by a physical health problem. For example, if you have difficulty swallowing, the physician will first take a full history, then your throat will be examined and further tests/scans etc will be done to discover any pathophysiology . Differential diagnoses could be gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), stroke, multiple sclerosis and various cancers. But if all of these are ruled out by the time the various tests are finished the most important thing is not to dismiss the patient’s symptom! How many of us with chronic symptoms have had various tests come back as “all clear” and thought—so what next?! I’m still suffering…how do I manage my symptom(s)?!

Female on floor with blanket blowing her nose

Research has shown that 52% of adult referrals to rheumatology, cardiology, gastroenterology, neurology and gynaecology have no known pathology linked to that speciality and are therefore discharged from that speciality without a management plan. This happened to me when I was referred to rheumatology—I received a half-hearted diagnosis of fibromyalgia, was told there might be a leaflet in the waiting room I could pick up on my way out and that was that. No treatment options, no plan, no hope.

It can be very difficult to see how a very physical symptoms can have any psychological component but the mind is an incredibly powerful organ. It controls everything that happens in your body. Day-in-day-out, unconsciously, your mind controls digestion, metabolism, your heart rate and respiration. You don’t consciously think “breath-in…breath-out…” but your body just does it. However, you can choose to slow down or speed up your breathing, take a deep breath or hold your breath if you want to. It’s also been shown that being aware of your heart beat can be effective during times of anxiety when you need to calm yourself down, you can consciously slow it down.

If you want to manage physical symptoms, a helpful exercise can be to think about where you feel emotions. For example, most people feel, at least a little workplace stress—where do you feel this? Do your shoulders feel tense? Does your chest feel heavy? Do you feel a knot in your abdomen? Noticing how your emotions impact your body is an important start on the road to getting your mind and body re-connected.

Another helpful processes is to think about when you first started noticing your physical symptoms. For example, did you experience a bereavement, a period of work stress, bullying, car accident or other trauma? Once identified, considering how you managed this event is key—do you think you’ve fully processed it? Don’t compare yourself to others, everyone deals with life’s events differently. Do you think there’s a pattern to how you deal with things? Are you a stiff-upper-lip type? Or do you busy yourself with helping others? Perhaps some things feel too painful to process? Noticing these patterns and considering what impact this could be having is important. If we don’t process stressful events, the stress needs to go somewhere; the tissues in your body will hold onto it until your consciously choose to release it.

Male on side of bed with head in hand

Not processing events fully can lead to shame and guilt. Holding onto these feelings becomes a negative cycle that can impact every area of life.

You may feel that your physical symptoms come and go randomly with no connection to anything and despite trying to find triggers. The body is amazing at holding onto stress and releasing it at a later date. For other people the body provides an early warning signal that your under stress. Counselling can help you become more aware of your emotions and how you process them. It can also help you becomes more in tune with your body, which, in turn, will improve your physical health.

If you’re not yet convinced that the brain-body connection is important, take a look at this study (Suzanne C. Segerstrom, Ph.D., et al.), it shows that law students who were confident had more and better functioning immune cells than worried students. This systemic review and meta-analysis (Alan Rozanski, MD, et al.) also showed that optimism was associated with lower risk of cardiovascular events.

During these difficult times, people are struggling with all sorts of unusual experiences and are dealing with untold pressures, don’t downplay how hard you’re finding it! It’s been shown that talking is one of the most important things we can do, whether this is to a trusted friend or to a professional counsellor, making the first step will be the hardest but it will benefit every aspect of your life.