Growth: The Uncomfortable Comfortable

If I asked you to walk home in the rain, how would you respond? Would you tell me to open my eyes; it’s raining, duh? Or maybe you might feed us both an excuse that you don’t have your umbrella and it’ll ruin your hair? What if I told you that sometimes taking the uncomfortable option can help you grow? Now I know you’re not a thirsty plant, but hear me out! Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is essential for developing resilience, a “Fuck It” attitude and for finding out what you are really made of. Most of the time, these uncomfortable situations that we frantically avoid aren’t all that bad, such as walking home in the rain. Sometimes they may even be a source of joy, imagine that! Walking home in the piss wet rain could be a highlight of your day? Maybe you think I’m full of shit. Maybe I am, but let’s ignore that for a moment because there is one person who we owe it to to do the things that make us feel uncomfortable – and that is ourselves.

Every day I see people that inspire me to push myself, whether it’s that they have something that I want *ahem a Marathon Majors 6-Star Medal cough* or they’re holding the first copies of their newly published book – I’m jealous, so shoot me! I just want to smell crisp new pages covered in my words! What lies between where I am now, and where I want to be is very simple and very painful: a whole lotta growth.

Make yourself do unpleasant things so as to gain the upper hand of your soul – W.E.B. Du Bois

This is where owing it to yourself to get comfortable being uncomfortable comes into its own. Do you remember any of your teenaged growth spurts? Those HURT! Growth is uncomfortable, and of course, it takes effort to grow, relentlessly unforgiving and continuous effort. You owe it to yourself to challenge yourself and get comfortable being uncomfortable. By becoming comfortable with discomfort we learn how much we can push ourselves, we realize and learn our limits, and that our resilience reaches beyond our own imaginations.

The option to stay exactly where we are is always there. When we have had enough we can always stop and decide if we like it just as it is. Maybe you do, or maybe it’s just easier to stop, for a long time self-harming was more comfortable than facing the rawness of my psychology and mind, learning to eat was more uncomfortable than starving myself and there came a point when being unwell becomes more comfortable than undertaking the journey to becoming well because being unwell was all I knew- I soon learned that growth happens in the most treacherous and uncomfortable of waters, as the adage and many a meme go. It’s true. That shit is scary and itchy ants-in-your-pants uncomfortable. The best teacher and arena I have found in persevering through discomfort has been exercising, without it, I doubt I would have recovered as much as I have.

Sometimes when you’re covering a large distance in one go, hi there marathon, or hiking and climbing up a mountainside (Tryffan, we have unfinished business), it is uncomfortable. It is hard. In each task, by putting one foot in front of another, a very simple yet vastly symbolic act, the finish goal will eventually appear. In continuing to show up for yourself through the challenge and continuing to push on through the burning quads, aching knees, jarring concrete and absolute monotony that can be associated with covering distance, you get there and all of a sudden the intense and immense gratitude, pride, sense of accomplishment that you feel makes it all completely 100% worth it. You don’t forget the pain, this isn’t childbirth, it just all becomes worth it.

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So taking this ideology into a bigger playing field is the next step, and they don’t always have to be huge strides of progress that are acquired during an activity for it to be worth it, next time it’s raining, which if you’re in London is probably tomorrow lets be honest, walk for a bit in the rain even though you don’t want to go out in it. Go for that walk in the cold. Take your shoes off, feel the ground and the cold iciness of a wintery puddle submerge your toes. Practice different types of discomfort, physical, emotional, mental: turn the heating down to below comfortable for a day, have a cold shower, go for a run up a hill. This is the reality. Life isn’t always sweet, it’s mostly pretty grim. In practise, you empower yourself to manage situations when you lack control over a situation. Sit in the overwhelm and when exposing yourself to uncomfortable situations, go ahead and nurture yourself as well. Self-soothe yourself through the discomfort, learn how to do this for yourself. Figure out whether it’s a mantra that you repeat in your head, a texture that you feel, a particular way of fidgeting your fingers that is soothing. This is great practice for self-soothing in situations that are uncomfortable where you have no control over being able to escape them, i.e. depression, anxiety, that presentation in front of your colleagues, public speaking, a race, a challenge, commuting on an overpacked tube at rush hour. It doesn’t mean you always succeed, just that you will succeed more than when you couldn’t tolerate any discomfort.

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How Gratitude Can Help Improve Body Dissatisfaction

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The power of practicing gratitude has the potential to be something quite incredible. Culturally in the West we are conditioned almost to always want for more, or with our bodies ironically we want for less. Less waist, less weight, less is more when it comes to beauty and looking good, or so we are told. We are primed to be perpetually discontented, dissatisfied and looking to others who always seem to have more of whatever it is we want: friends, tech, clothing or, ticking more beauty standard ideals with their appearance.

Like any other skill in our tool box of tricks to get us through our days reasonably content and in one piece, it takes a bit of practice in order to change our thinking patterns. The good news is that it can be done and that it can be an effective tool to develop a healthier relationship with your body and body image.

In a study conducted by Armstrong State University, USA, gratitude and cognitive restructuring were compared for effectiveness in reducing body disatisfaction amongst college age females. The group studied had not sought clinical help for body disatisfaction and eating disordered related issues. The importance of body image and dissatisfaction is that the feelings we have towards ourselves often permeate other areas of our lives: body disatisfaction has been associated with depression (Jurasico, Perone & Timnko, 2011) and social anxiety (Cash, 2011) for example.

Cognitive restructuring is a CBT technique. CBT is an established treatment for many mental health and well-being complaints including: bulimia, anxiety, depression. SOURCE THIS. By comparing a gratitude based intervention to an established intervention such as cognitive restructuring, the effectiveness of each intervention on body dissatisfaction can be compared.

The strength of using gratitude based interventions for body dissatisfaction is that it increases appreciation for non-appearence based aspects of one’s self and life: gratitude interventions have been found to be causally related to improvements in intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects of well-being including: increased happiness, decreased depression, improved pro-social behaviour, decreased aggression, improved sleep and concentration (Watkins, 2014).

There does need to be more studies in order to confirm or dispute similar findings. However, with this in mind gratitude is a promising intervention for people experiencing body dissatisfaction without a clinical diagnosis of an eating disorder.

Gratitude works is by changing perspective on what is important in life and how and what we judge ourselves and ourl ives to be worthwile. This study illustrates the potential effectiveness that can be had from introducing and working on gratitude in order to improve well being and happiness.

With this. Line of thought fresh in my mind, and my own practicing of gratitude lately I will be exploring some personal experiences of gratitude and how practicing gratitude has helped me alter my automatic thought patterns over time. As a disclaimer I am not suggesting gratitude is a cure-all, but more of a handy tool to help contribute to a changing way of relating to the world around us.


References:

Cash, T. F. (2011). Cognitive behavioural perspectives on body image. In T. F. Cash, & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body Image, A Handbook of science, practice and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 39-47). New York, NY: Guilford Press

Juarasico, A. S., Perone, J., & Timko, C. A. (2011) Moderators of the relationship between body image dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Eating Disorders, 19, 346-354. doi: 10.1080/10640266.2011.584811

Watkins, P. C. (2014). Gratitude and the good life: Toward a psychology of appreciation. New York, NY: Springer Science

Wendy, L. Wolfe & Kaitlyn Patterson (2017) Cpmparison of a gratitude-based and cognitive restructuring intervention for body disatissfaction and dysfunctional eating behaviour in college women, Eating Disorders, 25:4, 330-334, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080.10640266.2017.1279908

The Importance of Talking About Mental Health

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Heavy with lead through every morsel of torso and limb she tries to carry herself tall. Heaving an impossible weight and pushing on she gets by, dragging what may fall behind along the way. A fog has descended and thickened, clouding her vision, judgement and perception. A thick rain cloud of anger hangs over her head, a relentless thrashing of her senses persists. Hearing anything clearly becomes impossible and coping with daily life is an overwhelming task. Her thoughts are foreign to her previous self, morbid, dark and terrifying. Through her diminishing abilities she becomes frustrated and deflated, hopeless and surrendering. She is vulnerable, but not weak. This is no personal flaw and through no personal fault of her own; she is experiencing an invisible illness, a mental illness.

“Mental health problems affect the way you think, feel and behave. They are problems that can be diagnosed by a doctor, not personal weaknesses” – The Mental Health Foundation.

Those around her, loved ones, colleagues and friends may notice a change. Maybe she’s withdrawn, quiet, short-tempered or tearful and they may not understand, or perhaps they fear the unknown. Frustrations can rise, “she’s just not making an effort”, “she’s no fun anymore” and “you just have to get on with it” are all too easy a response, but ask yourself, is it the right response?

As tempers turn into turmoil, frustrations grate and ties wear thin she may start erupting into sky-high emotions, hearing voices or facing difficulties with food. What do you say then? Is she a psycho? Does she need to go to the loony bin and get out of your hair? Or is it just all in her fucked up head and she just needs to sort it the fuck out and stop it, this instant, right now? Believe it or not, these are the nature of responses I have received throughout my own journey and experiences with mental health difficulties. Dare I ask it, would this have happened had my illness’ been physical? I doubt it.

It is an abhorrent suggestion of absurdity to march into a cancer ward and demand that this has to stop, they have to stop their tumours and bodies from being affected by the illness, they must stop making a fuss of it, and they must stop dying from it – and that if they really must continue with this being ill from cancer thing they’ve got going on, could they please do it quietly, out of sight and act as if nothing is happening?

It is a despicable suggestion; cancer and mental illness alike need care, support and treatment yet mental health remains subject to negative attitudes of stigma, discrimination and invalidation yet the remarkable fact is that we all have mental health just like we all have physical health. Every year 1 in 4 of us will be affected, that’s 25% of the population, a whole quarter. Yet the experience of a mental health illness is often one of isolation and shame. The effects of which can be worse than the illness itself.

The invisibility of the illness does not equate to a lack of debilitating effects such illnesses can have on a person’s life: mental illness costs lives, it can diminish lives to a mere state of existence and make every day functioning a seemingly impossible feat. It can be overcome for many, and many people do recover or learn to manage their conditions whilst living fulfilling lives that are worth living again. There is hope, but in order to achieve that people need support, to be listened to, and acceptance.

This is why it is important that we talk about mental health; it affects every aspect of our lives: in how we function, enjoy and cope from day-to-day, and that instead of meeting these conditions with hatred and hostility, they are met with the care, compassion and support that these individuals need.

 

The London Marathon Route Through Memory Lane

In 2013 it was advised to me that doing some exercise could help me with my mental health, the associated weight gain with my medications, and in general. Never did I imagine on that first run in 2013 did I think that 5 years later I would be walking up the same streets to the start line of The London Marathon. South East London has been my patch for almost a decade and in my lack of preparation for the marathon I didn’t know the route. I only saw it fully on some handouts at the expo, and my response was to think “oh wow, hmmm…” and proceed to not look at it again. I felt that having naivety on my side in regards to how long 26.2 miles really was was helpful. Sometimes, not knowing w hat you’re about to get yourself into can help diminish the pre-race anxieties of “shit, what have I just dove headfirst into”. This won’t work for everyone, but in this instance it worked well for me.

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Fully clueless to what I was about to do. Naivety was my friend at this point!

 

It was when I got off the bus with my Dad to walk up as it turned left onto Lee Terrace that the trip down memory lane began. Running up from the bottom towards Blackheath for the open space to run in was the initial plan when I started running. I got half way up before finding myself sitting, a flurried hot mess on the pathway up to blackheath and fervently googled “Why can I taste blood from running?” and “Why do my lungs burn so much from starting running?”. I sat there for a good while longer than I had been moving for and decided that I needed to take another route to exercise. I walked up to the grass on blackheath and decided to just move for 20 minutes with my music on. Cue, waving arms, and some jumping around, some dancing and just getting some movement into me. It was on the 3rd session of this that near marker 1. on the picture below that I tripped over a branch and found myself hobbling to A&E with a gash in my knee and needing stitches. When I say I NEVER thought 5 years ago in my clumsy attempts to get some exercise into my life that I would be walking those same routes and roads to The London Marathon start line. The moral of this story is, just move. Just get going in any way that feels right to you at the time. By starting, you never know where the journey will take you. Maybe it’ll take you to A&E in a wonder woman top needing stitches, or maybe it will take you to start lines, views and adventures you’ll never have guessed you would. Maybe, as in my case, it will lead to both. Don’t give up.

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For the first 8 miles, the absolute privilege of running The London Marathon and it being on my patch really served as a distraction from the momentous task that was ahead of me. It was very cathartic to be running quite literally through memory lane, acknowledging the good and the bad memories.

I spent the majority of my head space during the first 8 miles reminiscing on my journey over the last 9 years in London. How this journey has shaped me, open my eyes, taught me brutal lessons, and saved my life. To the people of Lewisham, thank you. To the places that have brought me a lot of joy, purpose and good life lessons, like that people aren’t always mean or operating with ulterior motives, Thank You. Even the memory of my first mental health crisis that landed me in hospital, and the first time I got sectioned, without these experiences I would not be who I am today. From the bad good can come. This trip down memory lane felt like closure on some of those experiences and chapters in my life.

Mental illness can be brutal. Without these memories though, I wouldn’t be studying something I am so passionate about from these experiences. I wouldn’t be volunteering in community projects to help others on their journeys. I wouldn’t have had my eyes open to the importance of practicing non-judgmentalness. Some of these memories are difficult ones but sometimes it is exactly those difficult memories that are the most important for growing as a person.

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The heat was brutal at this point. My most tired photo from the race -a mile just past half way.

The result? The first 8 miles were the most important for me. I really think this 8 miles of reflection time gave me the drive to bloody well enjoy the journey I was on to the finish line, be grateful for everything I have endured and survived and really just enjoy the pure act of being very alive that running is.

The rest of the markers and their associated milestones and memories are listed below: Continue reading The London Marathon Route Through Memory Lane

Staying Happy and Well Over Christmas

The festive season can be really fun but in that statement it can sometimes feel like we “should” be having SO MUCH FUN, OH MY GOD I CAN’T CONTAIN MYSELF I’VE NEVER HAD THIS MUCH FUN IN MY LIFE. Chances are you have. There’s a lot of pressures at this time of year: to eat certain foods, to buy presents, to see people you may not want to see and schmooze around people you don’t want to be schmoozing with. There’s plenty of stimulus to lose your shit over, the turkey, the roast potatoes or even irritating family members who you can’t eliminate from the annual socialising – and we all know a little tipple can sometimes be the fire starter to set things off.

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I’ve just made christmas sound particularly awful. I’m hoping very much that all of this doesn’t happen to anyone this year and that the inevitable stress happens to each person in a small dosage. Even though we can’t necessarily control the things around us there are things we can do to help maintain our mental health and wellbeing throughout the festive season.

Here I’m going to list the methods I try to use to reduce the stress of the festivities and increase the enjoyment, and it seems to work for me so far, so here goes:

  1. Fit in some form of physical activity to get some headspace, reduce stress and help ease the stodgy feeling that some festive foods can leave you with, even if that means just a walk around the park. It’s good to get outside from stuffy overcrowded rooms. A warm house or pub is great and so is some fresh air to make the warmth feel so much more appreciated.
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  2. Eat with some balance in mind. Indulging has become intrinsically linked with the festive season but just because of that cultural norm it doesn’t mean you need to eat until your stuffed all the time, on repeat and until you feel unwell from overdoing it.
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  3. You don’t need to restrict or diet throughout the festive season either. Diets aren’t cool anyway, and they’re especially not cool at christmas. Ignore diet culture. You do not need to gorge for a few weeks and starve for the following few months to “undo the damage”. Stop that. Stop that right now.
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  4. There isn’t a law insisting that festive foods are only eaten in the month of December – there is no urgency to eat them all until the brim because guess what, you can eat them at any time of year if you really want to. They don’t vanish from existence on the 1st of January.
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  5. Take some me time. It’s OK and quite normal to want to take a break from the relentless social calendar that exists at this time of year. Have a nap. Go for a walk. Watch a film on your own or sneak off to read your book. You’re not weird for wanting some down time. Especially if you’re more introverted than extroverted, like myself, this down time is super important so as not to become exhausted and overwhelmed.
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  6. Reduce the pressure and value of presents. I remember family members getting extremely stressed that I didn’t know which book exactly that I wanted to the point of a near melt down. There’s no point. It’s not THAT important. I would’ve like any book on the topic I asked for.
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  7. If you don’t know what to get for someone then guessing is fine. It’s OK if it’s not a perfect present. For as cliché as it is, it really is the thought that counts – so if you’re strapped for cash then baking some sugar cookies is definitely a win.Present giving is fun. I’m a fan of people pretending to like a present I got them even if I didn’t quite get it right – I think gratitude that they tried is important and not losing sight of that.
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  8. Take a step away from social media. Christmas is a time when a lot of people use social media as an opportunity to show off the ‘insane amount of presents under the tree’, and how much they got for their kids, and how they can barely move in the house for presents. It’s bullshit – don’t succumb to it; you’re better than social comparisons and competitions about stuff. You don’t need to worry about what Susan from school got because from Boxing Day you probably won’t care anyway. They got something very expensive and lust worthy, well good for them. It doesn’t mean you need to compete beyond  your means.
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  9. If you’ve had enough to eat it’s fine to leave some on your plate. There can be a pressure to eat more than you physically can because your mum cooked every trimming in Sainsbury’s. If you’re full and you can’t then it’s ok to be firm about that. It’s your body and you’ll be the one experiencing the discomfort of a distended stomach and acid reflux if you push it too far.
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  10. Time and attention are probably some of the best gifts you can give to your nearest and dearest. Put the phone down, shut the laptop off and spend some quality time together. Play a silly game. Help the kids with their lego. Dance around the house to Just Dance on the Wii. Chances are these will be the moments you remember fondly.giphy-1.gif

The most important thing is getting through the festive season in one piece, healthily and as happily as you can.

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Merry Christmas Y’all!

 

Festive Gratitude Moment

During the festive season there’s a lot of asking of what people want and sometimes that can feel pressured to want something more than what you have. I do it myself to other people. The main thing that I think could be rephrased at this time of year though would be to also to take a moment and be grateful for what we do have.

Often times we find ourselves so awed by advertisements and the sparkly marketing that makes you think you need that new great big shiny TV, or a new dress for each time you want to go out out, or that my life would be more fulfilling if I have this, then that then something else because the last thing didn’t live up to the promise of transforming my life into the perfect fulfilled smiley one that I had hoped for from buying that product.

Realistically I know this isn’t the case at all however, I think there is a lot of power and well-being to be had from taking a moment to be grateful and reframing how we think about what we have. So I thought that for day 2 of the Blogmas challenge I would focus on a list of festive themed gratitude.

1. I have a decent shelter over the cold months and beyond.

2. I can afford to buy enough food.

3. I can cook food in a real oven.

4. I have family to catch up with.

5. I have friends to share some festivities with.

6. I will get some down time from uni deadlines over the holidays.

7. I really enjoy a hot gingerbread latte in a warm coffee shop when it’s cold outside.

8. I’m not going to have to deal with the “it’s-too-hot-and-I-need-to-take-off-more-layers-and-I’m-already-naked” situation that comes with summer.

9. I really love all the festive puddings: bring me all the spiced raisin filled sweets!

10. Mulled wine on a long evening is delicious, and even more delicious shared with friends.

11. The festive seasons theme of good cheer always give me a kick in the right direction of catching up with old friends: and I always really enjoy that part of Christmas season.

12. I love a good sing and dance along to Christmas songs.

13. There’s nothing better than having a big nest of bedding, alone or with your closest, and hot water bottles and watching TV.

14. The sparkles of the Christmas lights really cheer up a dark and dreary night.

15. I have enough funds to give the odd donated present to charity organisations, and some food and blankets to homeless people.

16. Cheese boards and wine!

17. It’s far easier to stay inside and study when it’s cold and dark outside.

18. That I no longer have an eating disorder so I can take part and enjoy the festive foods I like.

19. I have had a good year this year and feel content with myself for the end of the year. This hasn’t happened for a long time.

20. The future is looking positive and bright for me, and I’m really excited for what is to come rather than dreading and fearing the future.

Om The Bus with Michael Townsend Williams for Lululemon, Regent Street

img_2034.jpgOne buzz word amongst health and wellness circles that I can really get on board with is “mindfulness” and “meditation”. I think there is a lot to be harboured from the power of breath, stillness and taking time to really observe how you feel. I often use apps, however sometimes it is nice to go somewhere and immerse yourself in an environment designed for calm – that is what happened on the Meditation Bus by Lululemon in Regent Street, London this evening.

Tonight the christmas lights got switched on along Regent street and Oxford street. Lululemon had their meditation bus set up outside their Regent street store with guided meditations from one of their ambassadors Michael Townsend Williams. Michael is the founder of Breathe Sync – an app for connecting you breath and heart beat together in a meditation.

When we went on the bus we sat down and received some headphones. Michael guided a meditation in belly breathing, nasal breathing and becoming aware of how we were feeling in that moment. I noticed a lot about my current state – and that I struggled to belly breathe. This is unusual for me as I have practiced and practiced over the years of practicing mindfulness that it is unusual for me to find myself struggling to not engage my chest in my breath. I also felt consistently short of breath which is also unusual for me, and I thin this was connected to my difficulty with breathing with my belly rather than my chest. I didn’t realise how tight I was until I settled into the meditation and noticed the discomfort that I felt in my body.

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If you can attend a class by Michael Townsend Williams at all I would recommend it. I have had yoga with him before at the Lululemon Regent street store before. Both times I have come across his classes he has been very good – he has mastered the calming and relaxing vocal tone. He has mastered the pace at which to speak and intonate. He has a very calming energy about him that is very inspiring and makes you want more peace in your life and realise the power you hold in achieving this for yourself.

Here is a video by Lululemon if you feel like finding a little bit of calm right now: