Mindful Monkey.

Two Amazing Free Wellbeing Events

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We live in stressful times. There is just so much in the news and social media to cause us to worry. And then there are the stresses and strains of everyday living as well!

Would you like to increase your coping skills? Is there a way to connect with yourself, others and nature to increase wellbeing and resilience? Here’s your chance to be kind to yourself and to create a nurturing space for yourself. We can’t ‘magic away’ the struggles of everyday life, but we can increase our ability to cope and our strength to stand up and face adversity.

We at Mindful-Monkey are facilitating these in association with the amazing Go-Getta team. There are two different projects, being delivered virtually over Zoom, open to those aged 18+ living and working in Leicester, Leicestershire & Rutland. And they are free to attend! 

  1. Virtual ‘Wellbeing’ Sessions:

These sessions aim to introduce you to practical, easy to use, skills that can help to increase wellbeing, reduce stress, and increase your ability to manage difficult emotions, anxiety and low mood.

Drawing on the NHS recommended ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ we will help you to use ‘life hacks’ and tips to live a more healthy and positive life. These include:

  • Breathing and focusing techniques to help calm and centre
  • Simple mindfulness meditation practices to focus and quiet the mind
  • Visualisation techniques to increase feelings of wellbeing
  • Movement and postures that can settle emotions, and help us to feel more grounded
  • Learn how self compassion and self acceptance can be a key to wellbeing
  • Health behaviours that enhance your physical and mental wellbeing
  • You will be offered resources to take away and practice to help strengthen these skills.

When:
Every Sunday 10:00 am – 12:00 pm and Thursday 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
From 2nd August – 11th October 2020  

2. ‘Mindfulness Plus’ course:

Over 16 weeks, participants will be taught Mindfulness techniques aimed at learning to focus and quiet the mind. Simple guided exercises show participants how to increase feelings of calm and wellbeing.

The course will progress to include various other mental health and wellbeing strategies such as Movement, Breathwork, EFT and DBT you can use in your own life and work. This course is particularly helpful for professionals looking to learn new skills and knowledge to share with others they may support.

When:
Every Monday 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm and Wednesday 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
From 10th August – 25th November 2020

To register your interest and sign up, please visit: https://go-getta.org.uk/virtual-mindful-mentoring-sign-up
Please feel free to share widely with your networks and colleagues, and do not hesitate to get in touch with any queries. 


Wellbeing tips from our students at Cumbria University

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Earlier this year as part of University Mental Health day we asked students to tell us their Mental Health and Wellbeing tips.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to share their thoughts. We had lots of really good ideas and wanted to share this wisdom with others (this is mostly in their own words, in a few places we’ve added a comment or a link). Here is what they told us:

Student tips on wellbeing included getting out for some exercise and fresh air

Self-care

  • Enjoy the little things
  • Take time for yourself, even when you “don’t have time”
  • Set aside some time in your day to do something for yourself that makes you happy… take the time to recharge your batteries and clear you mind for the next day
  • Make time for things you love
  • Look after yourself and give yourself time
  • Watch you fave Netflix show
  • Make sure you always speak out if needed
  • Take a nice relaxing bath, (or shower if no bath available)
  • Selfcare Sundays
  • You are the number one priority! Put yourself first and worry about others later, self-care before anyone else
  • Listen to music and relax (here’s a breathing exercise to do just that)

The company of friends, it’s good to talk

  • The most important thing is to talk to a family member or trusted friend about what’s worrying you. Let them hug you and give you a shoulder to cry on
  • Spend time with people you love! (You’d be surprised how much evidence there is that kindness is good for us!)
  • Talking to people always helps
  • Keep very social with your friends so you’re never lonely
  • I walk my dog, and talk to family and friends about my worries
  • Talk about it, have a cup of tea and a nice chat (with biscuits)
  • Do things that make you happy and spend time with people that are supportive
  • Make sure you always have a date with a friend booked in the diary!
  • Having a good balance between finding time for yourself, and socialising with peers and friends
  • No topic is taboo, even if it is hard, talk as much as you can about your mental health
  • Be around people who care and they will help bounce you out of any bad feelings/moods
  • Just talk about it, people will listen and it’s a weight of your chest
  • Do not keep toxic people in your life, even if they are on your course

Mind your thinking, and learn to meditate

  • Take every day as it comes. If you’ve got things on your mind, switch off at night, write them down and put them aside, come back to them when the time is right. Don’t overthink every little thing, it will seem worse and spiral out of control
  • Practice mindfulness as a normal thing (Excellent idea! As well as lots of other benefits, mindfulness has been shown to help develop skills in stepping back from rumination (negative-overthinking) here’s a practice to get you started)
  • Think of a positive thing you’ve done today, even something small counts
  • Download the ‘headspace’ app. Take advantage of the sleep music and exercises
  • Accept yourself, there is only one of you

Small steps and a good balance

  • Start writing, rather than facing assignments as whole, less stressful, less full on
  • Get organised, and reward yourself with each step (this fits very nicely with suggestions in our post on procrastination)
  • Make sure you plan time well, so that you make time to step back and take time for yourself
  • Social life and studying should be evenly split
  • Take deep breath, get a cup of tea and make a plan, and start again

Get out in in the fresh air

  • Get some activities that are not to do with the university, like walking through the park or going to a place that calms you
  • Go for a walk whatever the weather!
  • Go for a nice walk
  • Walking with headphones
  • If you can take a break and get outside, even just 5 or 10 minutes away from a screen, getting some fresh air can clear a foggy mind
  • Spend time outdoors in nature
  • Go to the hills

Sleep well

  • Make sure you get enough sleep. Have a good regular amount of sleep
  • Give yourself time to relax and do a self-care routine, e.g. bath, read a book, pamper yourself
  • Have 20 minutes off your phone before bed every evening to help sleep. Try reading, drawing, knitting, sewing, talking to friend or yoga instead (yes definitely better than too much screen time)
  • Use headspace stories to fall asleep

The Mystery of Post-Assignment Blues and How to Recover the Joy

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I wrote this post for our University of Cumbria Wellbeing Blog, please feel free to pass it on to anyone you know that might find it useful. Even if you are not a student, the ideas apply to any situation where you have been under a lot of pressure and have been in a state of heightened alert or nervous activation, working on something really important.

You’ve got to the end of the semester or the academic year, and you’ve submitted your assignments, survived your exams… it’s all done, phew!

Wait what! Where’s the elation, the euphoria? This is very confusing!

During the stress and struggle of the days leading up to deadlines, we imagine how wonderful life will be after the work is done! The relief, the joy, the freedom!

Yet strangely sometimes we don’t feel as ecstatic as we had imagined. We expected to feel just great. What happened to all those good feelings, what a disappointment!?

Time and time again I hear students describe this as an anti-climax, a feeling of emptiness; sometimes even feelings of anxiety, as if you’re standing on the edge of a precipice.  

But since submitting my dissertation last month I’ve been in a weird limbo. My executive dysfunction has got quite bad because I have no urgent deadlines, so I can’t even bring myself to do the things I really want to do and instead just daydream about them all day. So trying to get myself unstuck has been a bit of a struggle.

Anonymous student

Please don’t beat yourself up about not feeling as you expected to. Let’s consider what might be going on, and what you might do about it:

The crash in mood is a comedown from all that adrenalin. This is a very real phenomenon; it happens all the time. If you’ve been in a heightened state of excitement and alert for a while, you’ve been pushing out that adrenaline (and dopamine), you’ve been using up your resources, the batteries can get pretty flat. The higher you were and the longer you stayed there, the more intense the comedown.

Solution: That flat feeling is your system recharging, and the neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine, are restocking. Don’t fight the feeling, accept it, rest up, pamper yourself, sleep. It will pass, and you will soon feel much better. I call this ‘cognitive override’, you might say to yourself:  I’ve been working my socks off, and achieved so much, I’ve made it through. This feeling won’t last – it’s just my nervous system recovering, I will feel better once I’ve recharged.

You’ve got used to having all your time structured around the work you had to get done, you’ve had a purpose, now you’ve got all this empty space and that feels weird. Life feels empty – you don’t know what to do with all this time on your hands, the days ahead feel like a vacuum.

Solution: You’ve got so used a particular state of alert and focus. When the situation changes your nervous system doesn’t know how to come out of that, just yet. You need a bit of time to get used to the new situation and become convinced that there really is nothing to do but chill for a while. And then when you’re ready, to begin to discover what you want to do next.

There’s a feeling of anxiety, you’re on a cliff edge, about to step into the unknown. This fear of the future is understandable – suddenly there’s more uncertainty than you’re used. You’ve been in a place where you always had the next goal in front of you, the next task. Now it all seems more uncertain.

Solution: Accept the feelings, as natural, give yourself space, time to think about the future, accept that uncertainty is a part of this major transition in your life. So maybe the uncertainty of not knowing is the feeling you get just before you discover something new.

So, what next? Once you’ve had a chance to recharge those batteries, give yourself permission, a bit of space, to be uncertain. Take a bit of time, to reconnect with yourself, and your surroundings; rest, take a walk, talk to friends, meditate. In this space of not knowing exactly what will happen next, let yourself rediscover the sense of freedom, the excitement of new possibilities…


Kindness is the New Rock and Roll

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I wish I’d come up with this aphorism, because it nicely sums up an important piece of wisdom (credit goes to the band that used it as the title of their last album, and a song on that)

We recently had the Mental Health Awareness Week – hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. The theme is kindness. They rightly say that: in times like these when the world feels upside down, Kindness is the way to turn things the right way round.

“We all know that being kind is the right thing to do but did you know that kindness is good for you? A little act of kindness can boost your mental health, reduce stress and it can cheer you up to think of someone else – not forgetting, of course, to be kind to yourself. It is a path to a society that better protects our mental health”

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week

They point to research evidence for the positive impact of kindness on protecting and improving mental health. Their survey has shown that almost three quarters of UK adults say it’s important that we learn from the coronavirus pandemic to be more kind as a society. Also almost two-thirds of UK adults say that being kind to others has a positive impact on their mental health.

Psychologists have long shown that kindness to others (altruism) also has a positive effect on the giver (Fehr & Fischbacher, 2003; Kurzban, et al., 2015; Wang, et al., 2020).

There is evidence that accessing states of caring and compassion have a profound healing effect on us (Gilbert, 2010) and there appears to be a evolutionary neuro-biological basis for this (Porges, 2011).

Based on ancient wisdom, a growing body of research suggests that kindness & compassion meditations activate these healing systems within us. These meditative practices can be effective as part of the treatment of a wide range of mental health conditions and promote physical and emotional wellbeing (Graser & Stangier, 2018; Hofmann, et al., 2011; Shonin, et al., 2015).

Here is a short introductory guided meditation to help cultivate this state of self healing. Please read the guidance below before you try it.

Please read the important guidance below before you begin
  • This guided meditation requires active engagement and participation, so while it can be calming, it does ask for some mental effort
  • A bit of perseverance is likely to pay off, with a bit of practice the positive effects of meditation increase
  • If you find it difficult to settle and follow along with the guidance, then you might need a bit more brain-training with a breath practice
  • By using the meditation, you are taking responsibility for your wellbeing. It is not a substitute for counselling or treatment. It is an educational and self-development resource
  • Meditative practices have been shown to offer powerful tools for mental health and wellbeing by helping to develop enhanced emotional and thinking skills. They are not a quick fix and require effort and practice
  • Meditation is not usually suggested as mental health first aid. It can be very helpful in managing difficult emotions, yet this skill takes time to build. I think when you’re feeling anxious or unsettled, there are lots of other helpful things you can to do first, for example here is a calming exercise which I have used with many people (link opens in dropbox where you can directly play the file or download it for offline use)
  • Of course if you are acutely unwell then please get appropriate support, make yourself safe, and come back to this practice when you are feeling stable enough to engage with it
  • I hope you find this meditation helpful, feel free to get in touch with any feedback

References

Fehr, E. & Fischbacher, U., 2003. The nature of human altruism. Nature, Volume 425, pp. 785-791.

Gilbert, P., 2010. Compassion Focused Therapy. Hove: Routledge.

Graser, J. & Stangier, U., 2018. Compassion and Loving-Kindness Meditation: An Overview and Prospects for the Application in Clinical Samples. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 26(4), pp. 201-215.

Hofmann, S. G., Grossman, P. & Hinton, D. E., 2011. Loving-kindness and compassion meditation: Potential for psychological interventions. Clinical Psychology Review, Volume 31, pp. 1126-1132.

Kurzban, R., Burton-Chellew, M. N. & West, S. A., 2015. The Evolution of Altruism in Humans. Annual Review of Psychology, Volume 66, pp. 575-599.

Porges, S. W., 2011. The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, Self-Regulation. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Shonin, E. et al., 2015. Buddhist-Derived Loving-Kindness and Compassion Meditation for the Treatment of Psychopathology: A Systematic Review. Mindfulness, Volume 6, pp. 1161-1180.

Wang, Y. et al., 2020. Altruistic behaviours relieve physical pain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 117(2), pp. 950-958.


Breathe

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During the current lockdown there is a lot of good advice out there. Our contribution here is just a small practical thing that you can do to help reduce stress and increase wellbeing. There is strong evidence that stress levels can have a significant impact on our immune functioning.

This is a short guided meditation. The visual element is just to add flavour, it is OK to close your eyes during the practice, if you like. At just under 8 minutes you can pop this on anytime you have a bit of time to spare.

Mindfulness isn’t the same as relaxation, but is a very good way of building wellbeing if practiced for a time. A very common misunderstanding is to expect to have an ‘empty mind’ or feel more relaxed (which may or may not happen). So if there is agitation or lots going through the mind, then there is no need to suppress anything, just observe what’s there.

Meditation is not first aid for anxiety. It can be very helpful in managing anxiety (and other difficult emotions) yet this skill takes time to build. I think when you’re feeling anxious or unsettled, there are lots of other helpful things you can to do, for example here is a calming exercise which I have used with many people (link opens in dropbox where you can directly play the file or download it for offline use).


Procrastination!!

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procrastination

Part 1

Procrastination is a delay in doing an intended and important task, despite being aware of the negative consequences of not getting it done.

We all procrastinate. Mostly we think of this tendency as an annoyance and just live with it. At other times it can become a hindrance to success, and can cause considerable distress, especially if it becomes chronic.

Remember, you are not alone, and there are things you can do to help yourself. This is the first in a series of blogs on the topic.

The good people at BBC Radio 4 have produced an excellent episode of ‘All in the Mind’ which looks at this issue and makes some interesting points: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0005t4x

Here are some of the key things I thought were useful:

Don’t rely on negative emotions to to motivate you: feelings like fear, shame, guilt can sometimes provide a kick. We’ve all heard ourselves say something like ‘Oh I work well under pressure’. However, we are not at our most productive when we are in a negative emotional state. Cognitive functioning: our ability to think, focus, reason, remember things is diminished when there is anxiety, or we feel low. Even if this strategy works, there are emotional costs, it doesn’t feel good, is stressful and impacts on wellbeing.

It is better to engage with positive emotions. Here are some ways of doing that.

Make it fun: One way to engage motivation is to find a way for the task to become more enjoyable. Is it possible to make some element of the task more fun? To find something positive in the process of the task itself?

Engage your identity: using language like: I am a runner, I am a learner, a teacher, nurse, geographer, conservationist…

Remind yourself of the bigger picture: why is this important? how does it fit with what’s important to me?

Be kind to yourself: The worst thing you can do is be hard on yourself. Have you noticed that beating yourself up doesn’t really work. Rather than getting the job done, it just makes you feel worse. Better to have compassion and forgiveness for yourself when procrastinating. Ask yourself what would you say to a friend or loved one who was struggling to get going with something. Would you berate them, wag your finger at them? Or would you say something kind, supportive, tell them it’s OK to struggle sometimes, and is there anything you can do to help?

The myth of a different future you: We say things like “next week I’ll be less tired… have more energy… be more focused… clearer headed… I’ll be a better person… the writer’s block will be gone”. As if next week you’ll become this cape wearing superhero. The reality is: I won’t, I’ll still be little old me, pretty much as I am now, with pretty much the same resources and limitations, and this is what I’ve got to work with.

So I will take one small step that fits with the resources I have I’ve got right now, and do something (however small) right now. I can do just one part of the task that I can manage right now, and see how I get on.

I recently came across this quote (from Zig Ziglar) which sums up this last point:
You don’t have to be great to start, but you do have to start to be great.




How millions of trees brought a broken landscape back to life…

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Trees

So often the news is about people being horrid to each other and the planet. While stories of people doing the right thing goes unreported. Perhaps that’s just the way the news system filters things. So it was great to read this uplifting account in the Guardian. The whole piece well worth a read; here is a summary:

Twenty-five years ago, the Midlands villages of Moira, Donisthorpe and Overseal overlooked a gruesome landscape. The communities were surrounded by opencast mines, old clay quarries, spoil heaps, derelict coal workings, polluted waterways and all the other ecological wreckage of heavy industry.

The air smelt and tasted unpleasant and the land was poisoned. There were next to no trees, not many jobs and little wildlife. Following the closure of the pits, people were deserting the area for Midlands cities such as Birmingham, Derby and Leicester. The future looked bleak.

Today, a pastoral renaissance is taking place. Around dozens of former mining and industrial communities, in what was the broken heart of the old Midlands coalfield, a vast, splendid forest of native oak, ash and birch trees is emerging, attracting cyclists, walkers, birdwatchers, canoeists, campers and horse-riders.

Britain’s trees have come under increasing attack from exotic diseases, and the grants for planting woodland are drying up, so the 200 sq miles of the National Forest come as a welcome good news story. The new woodland in the Midlands is proving that large-scale tree planting is not just good value for money, but can also have immense social, economic and ecological benefits.

In this one corner of the Midlands, more than 8.5m trees have been planted in 25 years, hundreds of miles of footpath have been created and 500 abandoned industrial sites have been transformed. The landscape and ecology of semi-derelict Britain has been revived and rewilded with trees”. Read the rest of the article

Source: How millions of trees brought a broken landscape back to life | Environment | The Guardian


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