5 Ways to wellbeing during the age of Covid-19

It’s been a while since I have blogged, and given the unprecedented times that we live in, I thought I would blog to give some useful hints and tips on maintaining good mental health for those who are having to self-isolate during the COVID-19 aka Corona Virus pandemic.

Obviously, my first point that I want to make is that wherever you are in the world, avoid misinformation about the virus, and listen to advice from official health organisations in your country, or from organisations such as the World Health Organization (WHO). Assuming you have read up on COVID-19, and you are required to self-isolate, here are my suggestions for what to do at home over the coming weeks.

  1. Connect with people

Connecting with people when self-isolating might sound like an oxymoron, but it isn’t! Use social media, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp or whatever non-face-to-face format you need to speak to friends and family, or work colleagues. Make time to have some daily contact with the ones you love and care about. Sometimes it might be worth planning ahead, and setting a specific time of day to connect each day to those that are closest to you. Also think about the people that are most vulnerable, such as those that you know that are older, or have long-term health conditions, or have other vulnerabilities.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Also keep connected with the outside world, by keeping up to date with the news. Use respectable and trusted news outlets, either on-line or on the television. Remember that most supermarkets can do home deliveries if you need shopping, be it groceries, medications, or things to keep you entertained and to prevent bordom!

If you are self-isolating with others (e.g. family, or flatmates) and it is safe to do so, keep connected by switching off the television and enjoy games with each others.

2. Be physically active

Being physically active can be a challenge when stuck at home for several days at a time, but simple stretching exercises are one effective way to achieve this. Doing a minimum of 20 minutes per day would be advisable, but if you can do more, then go for it. Simple yoga could be a start, and if you are unsure how to go about this, there are a number of apps available or use Youtube. Depending on your fitness levels, there are other gentle exercises you might be able to do in the comfort of your own home, such as sit-ups, press-ups, etc. Other options could be to try the 30 day plank challenge (look on your usual App Store for details). If you can, give others who are self-isolating words of encouragement to keep active; it can be challenging to keep motivated when you are on your own, but giving each other encouragement, can help massively. Another option to keep active is to Spring Clean the house, now could be a good time to clean the nooks and crannies within your house that may get neglected normally. Choose one room each day to have a full clean, and bag up items that you no longer need or use ready to take to the recycling centres when the self-isolation period comes to an end. If you have a garden, can you mow the lawn, or weed a bed?

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

3. Learn new skills

This could be the perfect time to learn something new, or to further your knowledge on an existing topic. An obvious start if you are stuck at home, is to try a new recipe. This could be a particularly good activity if you have children in the house, as it can be a good time for everyone to learn, and to socialise together. It is also a good opportunity to use food items at the back of the food cupboard that seldom get a look in. If you are stuck what to cook, the BBC have a good selection of recipes to try, and you can search by ingredient, meal type, cusine type etc.

You could try some new activity such as yoga (see above), or a new hobby such as learning to play an instrument, or some type of art such as drawing or painting (and if you don’t have a flute, guitar, paints or pencils to hand, don’t forget that you order on-line for home delivery). There are plenty of free or cheap online websites that can teach you new hobbies, just use the internet search engines, or go to you App Store. If you have access to LinkedIn Learning, there are multiple online courses that you can try on there including guitar lessons!

Photo by Malidate Van on Pexels.com

4. Give to others

With your new hobby or extra skill, now is the chance to give to others. Could you write a poem for a loved one, make a cake for your housemates?

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

If you are not someone who is self-isolating, but know people that are, can you volunteer to get them some groceries, or take their dog for a walk? Can you volunteer at the local food back?

5. Pay attention

Mindfulness could be very helpful for you right now. Paying attention to how you are feeling, and learning to relax will be very helpful as we go through self-isolation. There are a multitude of mindfulness apps available, Headspace is probably the most well known, but there are others. The NHS has some useful information on mindfulness that can be found here.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Final thoughts

Remember, that this is a pandemic, but it will come to an end, and life will eventually get back to normal. Keep following the updates on nationally television to see if expert advice changes (and it may change as new information about the virus comes to light). Stay safe, stay well. Remember to keep a look out for vulnerable people in your neighbourhood and your community.

Blue Monday it’s a great 12″ house track, but the other “Blue Monday” is pseudoscience

The best sort of Blue Monday

It’s that time of year where once more the tabloid press, bloggers, online media etc. will be telling us all that next Monday (20th January 2020) is Blue Monday; the most depressing day of the year.

The concept of the 3rd Monday of the year, being the most depressing day, stems from an article for Sky Travel magazine in 2005 by Cliff Arnall who at the time of the publication going to print was a tutor of psychology at Cardiff University. The original publication went viral, and before long companies (including Specsavers, Northern Rail, Edinburgh Camber of Commerce, etc.) produced products and advertising campaigns to jump on the Blue Monday bandwagon. Even some mental health charities continue to keep the hashtag trending !

Interestingly enough, Cliff Arnall now has a campaign called #StopBlueMonday to try and turn the tide of literature against the misunderstanding of Blue Monday formula that he created. However, it is a bit of a Pandora’s box, as there are already social media hashtags trending for #BlueMonday one week ahead of the 3rd Monday of January 2020.

You could argue that it is “just a bit of fun” or that it “raises serious issues“. Yes to both, but there are better ways to highlight mental health and wellbeing, that are based on good quality science. It will eventually be good and robust science, that will help with improving people’s poor mental health and wellbeing, or prevent poor mental health from taking over people’s lives in the first place. Liking and sharing articles about Blue Monday on Facebook, or retweeting the hashtag on Twitter, or buying the Daily Mail to read up on it, helps to spread misinformation. Misinformation erodes our quest for knowledge as we develop cognitive biases, such as confirmation and selection bias, which can lead the masses seeing academics as part of the social elite, which can lead to all kinds of societal problems (you only need to look at the damage the “anti-vaxxer” movement or “pro-plaguers” have created in recent years).

Real depression isn’t simple. You can’t come up with a simple equation like the one used for Blue Monday (and that equation isn’t even mathematically correct according to Dr Ben Goldacre in his Bad Science column for the Guardian newspaper). Depression is an over used word “I’m so depressed” meaning, I am a little bit down; or “That’s so depressing” referring to my liking of a 1983 house classic by my teenage son. True clinical depression is disabling, it is a chronic condition that impacts on your relationships, your work, your daily functioning. It is a horrible condition that according to the World Health Organization effects around 264,000,000 people world wide. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and has a significant stigma attached to it. By trivializing depression through Blue Monday, we are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy for those who are genuinely struggling, as well as for those who aren’t struggling with their mood.

If you want to know what depression is like, watch this short animated clip below from Matthew Johnstone who is an illustrator, author and public speaker.

What depression is really like

If you want to help someone with depression, don’t promote Blue Monday, but instead promote everyday as a day to improve your mental wellbeing. Talk to your friends and family, read up on the 5 Ways to Wellbeing and take action.

If you are struggling with your mental health, you can find out where to get support here.

“But there’s no sense in telling me.

The wisdom of the fool won’t set you free

But that’s the way it goes

And it’s what nobody knows

Well ever day my confusion grows”

New Order (thanks to @peteqconsult )

Fundraising has begun…

Just a quick post today. The fundraising for the Cameron Grant Memorial Trust page is now live, and it can be found here. Any contributions will be welcomed – no matter how small or big, please do donate to this worthwhile cause.

Yes, I will do the obligatory dance before I set off

It is all feeling very real now. 135 miles (as long as I don’t get lost), starting at the Eric Morecambe statue, in Morecambe, and ending at the Harbour Bar in Scarborough for a well deserved knickerbocker glory!

The Harbour Bar, Scarborough
Mmmm…. ice cream

If you’ve been following my blog, you will know I am looking to cycle the route over 3 days, and I have now booked my cyclist friendly accommodation. First night stay is in Burnsall, and the second night stay is in Sheriff Hutton, before making my way to Scarborough via Thornton-le-Dale. I will rest my weary legs in Scarborough overnight, before returning on the train via Leeds.

Why I chose the Cameron Grant Memorial Trust for my charity ride

Just to give you a heads up, this post will talk about mental health and wellbeing, and suicide. If you are feeling vulnerable at this moment in time; maybe bookmark this post for a later date, when you are feeling a little stronger. Please do check this page on where to get support for your mental health, should you need some help right now.

I’ve worked in health and social care for 25+ years. Over that time, I have worked in acute learning disability services, substance misuse services, sexual health, HIV+ community drop-in, care leavers supported housing, and youth work project. In the last 15 years or so, I have worked in mental health services in acute child and adolescent, and also in acute adult services within the NHS in both metropolitan and rural areas. More recently, I have worked in university campus-based services within student support, initially as a mental health adviser, and currently, I am now a manager of a Mental Health and Wellbeing Team.

The Ambleside campus of the University of Cumbria

I love working with students, they are such a diverse bunch of people. There are stereotypes of students that still persist from the 1960s that they are all on the radical left, and protest lots, and smoke copious amounts of cannabis, and drinking Real Ale. This stereotype has remained in the public eye through the 1970s and ’80s and exacerbated with the BBC comedy “The Young Ones“. But the reality is that the stereotypes are just cliches and oversimplified beliefs that we have of others. The reality is much more complex. Students are by enlarge in the 18-21 age bracket, but many more adults are returning to education later in life. I myself didn’t go into Higher Education until my late 20’s, and I was very much the first person to do so from my immediate family. Like most other students, I enjoyed university life; the studying side, as well as the social side.

However, for many students, university can be a difficult period in one’s life. For traditional undergraduates, it can be the first time living away from home; it can be isolating, bullying in halls can occur, being away from family and friends and other support networks. For other types of students, it might be having to give up a good income, caring for children on top of studies can also be quite a challenge. For most students, it will be the first time that they have really had to think differently, to be more critical. There will be some students who have additional difficulties, such as coping with a disability, including a mental health condition.

Indeed, over the past few years, there has been a significant increase in the number of students declaring they have a mental health condition, and this has been well documented in various reports and good practice guides in recent years. In the 2017 IPPR report, “Not by Degrees“, Thornley identified a five-fold increase in the number of students declaring a mental health condition. There could be a whole range of reasons for this increase, partly linked to the stigma of mental illness slowly being eroded, partly because the awareness of the range of support for students with disabilities (including mental health conditions) is becoming more known, and other reasons will also exist (but that will be getting political, so I am going to leave it here for now).

There has also been an increase in student suicides in recent years, and there has been some Suicide-Safer Universities guidance from Universities UK and Papyrus on how university leaders can work towards preventing further suicides. This is something I was particularly interested when it was first published. Surprisingly, it isn’t as researched informed as one would hope, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. What we do know about student suicides is that they have increased in recent years, however, students are at no higher risk than other adults outside of the higher education sector.

We also know that around 80% of students who take their own lives are not known to specialist counselling or mental health support services. This isn’t unique to the UK but is known to be the case in the USA too. But those students who do die from suicide, are known to someone, a peer, a tutor, a residents life officer, a librarian, a receptionist, etc. Can training non-clinical staff help? Gatekeeper training (as it is collectively referred to), is often recommended by many good practice guidelines, including the suicide-safer universities guidance listed previously, and in other guides, such as the Universities UK #StepChange . However, very little is known about the benefits of rolling out such training, and equally, we don’t know what risks can happen with such training.

We know that some of the students who die because of suicide often faced barriers to accessing help. Examples of barriers include ambivalence regarding treatment outcomes from specialist services, and also the stigma associated with accessing counselling, psychotherapy, or mental health services have been documented by Czyz et al (2013), long waiting times have been identified as a barrier by Arria et al (2011), who also found that poor knowledge of where to get help, is also a barrier.

It is that last point that I want to pick up on, with regards to the Cameron Grant Memorial Trust, and the Cameron Coasters. Anyone who has ever worked in a campus-based counselling service will know that promoting the service can be quite a challenge. During Freshers Fairs, when young eager and bewildered students first arrive on campus, the vast majority are usually wanting to find out which bars in town have the best offers, where they can get a free pizza, and the what, where, when of their first lecture. Very few are interested in a talk from the counselling service on how to get support if they are struggling emotionally, and the leaflets often end up in the bin. The Cameron Coasters is a bit of a game changer. Not only are they informative, but they have another use! They can prevent a coffee/beer stain from forming on your desk whilst you work (or watch another box-set on Netflix/Amazon etc.). You might be excited to have started your undergraduate/postgrad/PhD studies, but if things take a turn for the worse later on, then the coaster might be there. It might breakdown one of those barriers to accessing support (namely, knowing where to get such support).

The Cameron Coaster for the University of Cumbria

For those of you who haven’t seen my previous posts about the Cameron Grant Memorial Trust, they are a small charity set up by Carol and Evan Grant. Their son, Cameron, died by suicide in 2014 whilst a student at University. Carol and Evan came to the University of Cumbria where I work, around 18 months ago to talk to staff and students about Cameron, and the work they now do for the charity. They also produced, and then printed thousands of Cameron Coasters for the University of Cumbria, for free. They have produced thousands of coasters for various organisations including schools, colleges, universities, and police forces across the UK. Anecdotal evidence has suggested that students and staff at the University have found them invaluable, to hand, they have the details of how to get support on and off campus.

Moved by Cameron’s story, and the charity’s generosity, I decided to fundraise for them. I raised a small amount on my birthday via Facebook, but now, I plan to ride the Coast 2 Coast this summer to raise more money for this worthwhile cause. If you would like to donate, please click here to get to my Total Giving webpage.

5 Ways to Wellbeing

take notice – one of the five ways to wellbeing

Believe it or not, there are 5 Ways to Wellbeing! “Pah!” I hear you say. Well of course there are more ways, if you’re a micro kind of a person, but from a macro perspective, there really is 5 ways. Back in 2008 the UK government commissioned research into Mental Capital and Wellbeing. The findings from the research can be found here, where you can also find the executive summary. From the research, guidance was created, that has become known as the 5 Ways to Wellbeing. I’ve used the 5 Ways as a framework for students I have worked with over the past 10 years. The 5 Ways are below:

  • Connect – connect with the people around you. It could be family, friends, colleagues, peers, neighbours. In your place of study, workplace, or local neighbourhood. Increasing your connectivity (in real, not necessarily through social media) has been shown to improve your mental health. Isolation is a significant risk factor for developing poor mental wellbeing.
  • Be active – much of the point of my blog is around increasing activity to become fitter. Even simple forms of exercise has been shown to improve mental health. A walk in the local park, going for a bicycle ride, doing some gardening can make you feel better about yourself. The University of Cumbria’s campuses are all close to local parks, go out and get to know them if you are studying there. The University also has Green Minds, a project to encourage staff and students to do some basic gardening, which is great for being active, but also for connecting with others. If you are reading this blog, and not a staff or student member of the University of Cumbria, may be see what is going on at your work or place of study.
  • Take notice – gardening is another great way to do this. Get in tune with the seasons. Savour the moment. Reflect on your experiences, and this will help you appreciate what really matters. I am a keen gardener, and I do enjoy watching the seasons come and go through what plants are blooming in the garden. I also over the years, have enjoyed growing fruit and veg, and strive to eat seasonally. In fact, this is one of my favourite times of year, as one of my favourite vegetables is just coming into season, and it will also be the first time that I will be able to harvest my own crop of Asparagus!
  • Keep learning – of course, if you are a student, then hopefully you will be learning all the time, but also try something new or rediscover an old interest. As part of my coast to coast ride, I have started to learn basic cycle maintenance, and how to improve my cycle ride techniques.
  • Give – do something nice for someone else, a friend, partner, or a stranger. I often encourage students to consider volunteering at the local animal shelter, helps with all 5 ways to wellbeing, taking a dog for a walk can be a new skill, it can increase activity, and help take notice. Of course, if you want to give, you could always sponsor me, as I try to raise money for the Cameron Grant Memorial Trust

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me! This is the very first post, it’s not much to look at or read, but I just wanted to get something posted, anything. For those of you interested, the picture below is looking towards the Trough of Bowland from the church just outside of Abbeystead. Having gone for a quick practice hill ride with my friend Nigel. The ride route for anyone interested, starting at Williamson’s Park in Lancaster, we cycled through the Lancaster campus of the University of Cumbria, down to Lancaster University, Galgate, Dolphinholme, Abbeystead, back via Jubilee Tower and Quernmore. According to Strava, the ride was 21.02 miles long, and elevation gain of 1704 feet. Practice for my C2C, Way of the Roses alternative route.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak WaltoBicycles in the Wyre Valley