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Mending the Pessimist

Had you asked me if I were an optimist, up until a very short time ago I would have said “Yes, of course”. I always try to see the best in everyone and in every situation. I go to work each day hoping for a positive experience and I go to bed each night fully expecting to wake up the next day. That’s optimism, right?

But while I always believed my glass to be half full, there was a constant fear I’d knock it over. The more I thought about it the more examples I could find of times when I would be hoping for the best but fearing the worst.

My boss would ask to speak to me and my heart would pound as I wondered what I had done wrong. What shortcoming was about to be exposed? I felt like I wasn’t enough and it was only a matter of time before everybody else would see the truth.

A letter arriving in the post would send my head spinning and my skin would flush with fire. I would be sure it was going to be a bill I couldn’t afford to pay (despite the fact I’ve always been fortunate enough to have sufficient to pay them).

If I was invited out for an evening fear would set in. I’d know I wasn’t going to have fun and I would feel out of place.

Yes, it turns out I am a pessimist, or at least I was. I am now choosing to identify as a recovering pessimist.

I feel like I have been taking antidepressants for so long they have become a part of my identity. Am I predisposed to depression due to being a pessimist or am I a pessimist due to depression, and can I change?

I decided to rewire and retrain my brain. To switch to positive thinking and optimism and to move away from a negative mindset and I found an amazing place to start.

Let me tell you a little bit about REBT.

When I decided that a new way of thinking was in order I did a quick Google Search. This is one of the first things that came up when I typed in ‘can you change from being a pessimist to an optimist’.

So what is it? Well it stands for Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy and it’s part of the same family of therapies as CBT.

It is founded on the belief that our emotions are not disturbed by events themselves but our interpretations of those events.

According to the founder of REBT there are 10 cognitive distortions that act as lenses we experience things through.

1. Mental filtering – focusing on negative events rather than any positive outcome.

2. Jumping to conclusions – assuming the worst.

3. Personalisation – Disproportionately blaming yourself when things go wrong.

4. Black and white thinking – All or nothing, good or bad, right or wrong.

5. Catastrophising – believing things to be much worse than they are.

6. Overgeneralization – everything ALWAYS goes wrong.

7. Labeling – I’m useless, I’m a failure etc.

8. Should and Must – This should happen this way, this must not happen!

9. Emotional Reasoning – viewing a situation based on how we felt in that moment.

10. Magnification and minimisation – magnifying other people’s positive attributes while minimising your own.

There are 3 basic ‘Musts’ that cause the distortions.

1. I must do well and win the approval of others or else I am no good.

2. Other people must treat me fairly or else they are no good.

3. I must get what I want when I want it or else I can’t stand it.

REBT uses the ABCDE Method to look at our thoughts and reframe them into more healthy and helpful ones.

A – Activating event. An event that happens in our environment.

B – Belief you have about the event that has happened.

C – Consequence. The emotional response to your belief.

D – Disputing the unhelpful belief.

E – Effect of deactivating the unhelpful belief.

So in my case, one of my massive triggers and fears was making a mistake at work.

A – Going to work.
B – If I make a mistake it will be terrible. I will get in trouble with my boss and lose my job and end up destitute.
C – Panic attacks, crying, being off work sick.

With reflection and effort I’ve got to D & E.

D – People make mistakes all the time and they’re rarely serious enough to result in dismissal. I always work hard and try my best and as long as I do that, the odd mistake from time to time is okay.

E – I am calmer, more forgiving of myself and happier at work.

The ultimate goal in this is to shift your thinking from the three musts to the three types of acceptance, these are…

1. I am imperfect and that is ok. I have worth regardless of my shortcomings.

2. Other people will treat me unfairly at times and that is ok. It does not remove their worth or my own.

3. Life doesn’t always have to go to plan or be pleasant. It isn’t awful and it is usually at least bearable.

So there it is, a very brief summary of REBT. I’ve personally found it really helpful.

If you’d like more information on REBT there is a great course (which I found really helpful) on Udemy that is currently on offer.

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Forward Thinking Mental Health Real Life Stuff Self Care

A Gateway to Greatness

Do you want to know an easy way to increase your confidence and boost your mood? It requires very little effort and no money whatsoever. Interested? Of course you are!

In my quest, moving towards a more positive frame of mind, I have stumbled upon something marvelous. You can do it it in as little as five minutes a day, but within this time a new skill will become a part of you and shine from you with radiance and confidence.

So what is this awesome thing that’s going to change your mood, your energy and your life? Well it’s you, more specifically your body language.

You see, your body is a mirror of your emotions and while most people are aware of this, they don’t perhaps realised that the same can be true in reverse.

If you see someone hunched over, closed off, with the head down and their hands clasped, odds are they aren’t in a good place. Likewise someone that has their head Held High the body language is open and relax with a big broad smile, there probably doing much better right?

Well here’s the magic part. Our body and our brain are connected and create feedback loops.

Try this…adopt the body language of a person in a sad or withdrawn state. Lower your head, draw your body in a small as you can, cross your arms or ring your hands. How do you feel? I’m guessing you started to feel a bit sad, or anxious, or both.

Now try this… widen your stance, smile broadly, place your hands on your hips and hold your head high. Own your space and smile. Keep that smile going, get it to reach your eyes. This a power pose.

Do you feel better? Even just a tiny bit? I thought so.

This isn’t mystic hippie stuff. This is science, real actual science, and it works. If you need proof have a look at the pictures I’ve included in this blog. There was a time I would never want to share a full length picture of myself, but since looking at these new techniques I’ve really started to feel the confidence my body is portraying.

Body language confidence example

Practice power posing in the bathroom in private for a few minutes each morning and whenever you get the opportunity. Embrace the new confident you and in no time at all this will become natural and require little thought or effort.

There are loads of amazing free resources online where you can learn about body language, positivity, power posing, and lots more.

The bottom line here? You are amazing, you are worthy and you deserve your place in the world, so hold your head high and own your space!

Here’s a great starting place, check out this amazing video from Vanessa van Edwards all about the art of body language for confidence.

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Forward Thinking Mental Health Real Life Stuff Self Care Uncategorised

Stop!

Blue Sky over a path

It might seem strange to be starting with a post about stopping but bear with me…

I have been working on shifting my mindset in so many different ways and the plan was to see what worked what didn’t, and to write about the things that did. To write, not as an expert, but a veteran. To show tried and tested ways to feel better.

I have lots of things I’m going to write about in the coming weeks on my mission to change my thought process and shift my mindset to one that serves me, rather than enslaves me. I have decided however, that rather than writing as a veteran who’s been through it I’m going to write these pages and let them serve as a journal. I will chart my progress and put it out there for all to see. I hope it will be interesting and I hope it will be helpful. The reason I want to do it this way is because what works for me might not work for others and likewise, what works for others might not work for me so if I try something that I don’t find useful it may help someone else.

Before I get to any of the ‘how’ I want to say this… Changing the Habit of a lifetime it’s hard work! It can feel exhausting and it is ok to rest when you need it. Stamina builds over time. Nobody does a marathon in their first attempt at running, they train they build endurance and they keep going on their journey – but when they are tired they rest. The more they train the longer they are able to go between rests.

I’ve always been a very all or nothing sort of person. I would stop at the first set back because what’s the point? I wanted to go from zero to expert in one giant leap and obviously that isn’t the way of the world. What I’m learning now is slow and steady wins the race. You’re allowed an off day and it’s ok to stop, just as long as you remember to start again.

And this brings me to last night. Last night after a lot of good days I hit a wall. My mind was crammed with all the things I’ve been learning, body language, facial expressions, feedback loops, REBT, breathing, tone of voice, the list goes on. I was knackered and quite frankly I couldn’t be bothered. I wanted to put it all down and let my head just do what it wanted. I didn’t have the energy to be positive. Do you know I did? I had a glass of wine and I gave myself permission to exhale. I watched some telly with my husband and I cuddled my dog and just relaxed.

Today I feel ready to go again, ready to pick up the tools that I’ve been learning to use and keep going. Life is a marathon not a sprint, so let’s dust off our running shoes and get to it.

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Mental Health Real Life Stuff Self Care

Me Shaped

  • Yesterday was a strange one.  It started with a trip on the bus to the cinema, which is Peterborough means a trip on the bus to as close as possible and then a frogger style dash across a couple of very busy roads.  If you manage to survive the journey you get to enjoy a film while your blood pressure returns to a normal (and then do it all again on the way home).

I digress.  We got the bus and struck up a conversation with a man sitting opposite.  He was pleasant and we talked about the weather in a very British fashion, how lovely the sunshine was, how it’s supposed to be a very cold winter and how the snow can wreak havoc with your shoes. It was all going so well until we got up to leave and he smiled, made that finger gun thing, pointed at my stomach and made that clicking noise whilst wishing me his heartfelt congratulations.

For reasons unknown to me, I had once again been mistaken for having been pregnant.  This is not rare, uncommon, scarce, unique or out of the ordinary. Granted it hasn’t happened for a couple of months but it happens all the bloody time. So much so, I have stopped denying it.  I hate that awkward look on the faces of those people that thought they were being nice only to inadvertantly tell me I have a strange body shape. So instead of saying “I’m not pregnant” and crushing his spirit, I simply said “Thank you”, got off the bus and went to play frogger with the traffic.

Perhaps it was the top I was wearing or maybe I was slouching with my back which is currently misbehaving?  Whatever the cause, I mananged to smile about it and not let it get me down. I didn’t even burn the top

Today I’m still smiling, still not bothered and actually, quite glad it happened because last night I went out for the evening and got dressed up and had a bloody good night!  I did something I rarely do and put a full length picture on Facebook and was overwhelmed by the kind words of my friends.  So who cares if a few random strangers think I have a bun in the oven?

I’m me shaped and that’s a fine shape for me to be.

Picture of me wearing black jeans and top.

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Mental Health Real Life Stuff Self Care

The Power of Gratitude

Being grateful is one of the most practical things we can do in order to affect our mood and create a positive mindset. No matter what circumstances we find ourself in, there is something to give thanks for, to feel blessed for and to feel gratefful for.

The more we appreciate and acknowledge the good in our lives, the good things we notice. The more we notice, the more we have to feel gratitude for. The cycle grows outwards and by practicing gratitude, the bad days carry less weight because we can see and feel beyond them.

Each day make it a habit that when you wake up, before you get out of bed, or as you drink your moring coffee, you think of a few things you have to be grateful f0r.

Bluebell

If you’re struggling to think of anything make it really simple – a good night of sleep, the taste of your coffee, the feeling of air in your lungs.  It really doesn’t have to be a monumentous thing. Just the feeling of gratidude is the only starting place you need.

I promise that the more you feel the grateful, the more you will have to feel grateful for. I’m not sure how it works but it does.

We don’t need to wait for the big house, the new car, the amazing holiday, to feel grateful or happy.  Those aren’t the things we are striving for after all are they?  It is the feeling of contentment, happiness and peace we are actually wanting.  So if we are feeling those feelings for what we have, everything else is a bonus.

Life is about the feelings,  not the things.

I’m sitting outside in the beautiful heat of summer-come-early, pondering all the wonderful things I myself have to feel gratitude for.

I’ve been through turbulent times and weathered them all.  I have evolved into a more equipped person who is able to deal with the things life throws in my direction. I have found ways in all this chaos to try and help other people that are going through it now. This gives such value to what was a pretty horrendous time.

I’m so grateful for this.

bluebell

I’m able to feel the heat on my skin, to hear the wind as it plays with the leaves on the trees, to hear the birds singing to each other. I can see the beauty of the spring all around me, smell the earthy and floral scent of the season and feel the breeze in my hair.

I am fully able to immerse mysellf in today.

I am so grateful.

I have the most amazing family who bring joy into my life so often. A husband who understands me completely and who I couldn’t possibly love more. A doggy-chid who completes me and who I am able to snuggle whenever I want.

I am so grateful.

I am blessed enough to be able to eat nourishing food every day and have access to fresh water whenever I need it.

I am so fortunate.

I am so lucky.

I have surrounded myself in nature and bluebells and birdsong this afternoon and taken time out for myself.

bluebell with hoverfly

My life is such a blessing and I am so very, very grateful.

I invite you to share in the comments a few things in your life you have to feel gratitude for and notice how acknowleding that gratitude makes you feel.

Blessings you lovely lot.

Love always, Claire xx

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Forward Thinking Mental Health Self Care

How To Hack Your Brain By Smiling Like You Mean It

Firstly, to clarify, I’m not suggesting in any way that if you are suffering from a mental health condition that smiling is going to make it all go away. Nor am I suggesting you should just slap on a smile and struggle through your pain. That’s totally not what this post is about. I’m suggesting you try the exercises, much like physio, to try and give your brain a bit of “happy” each day.
Let’s continue…
I’m sure you’ve heard the song.
“Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by, If you just smile…”
It popped into my head just now while I was supposed to be sleeping and it got me thinking. At first glance it seems like an instruction to just slap on a mask and forget your troubles. Gloss over your problems until they go away is not the greatest idea). Actually though, smiling is pretty good advice.
Have you ever tried smiling and feeling sad at the same time?  It’s hard, and I mean really hard. I actually think it’s impossible.  I’m not talking a half hearted, doesn’t reach the eyes, token smile – they don’t count.  I mean a full on, eye-reaching, cheek-inflating, heart-swelling smile.
3smiles
Smiling
The reason? Science and stuff of course…when we smile properly, we trick our brain into believing we are feeling all kinds of joy, why else would we be smiling right?  All the happy hormones, chemicals and unicorns get released and start charging around us and oooh, would you look at that?  We are feeling happy! It’s amazing, but it does work.
Let’s do some physio for our brains, each day, in the morning and before bed (and any time you need a boost) grin like a maniac. You don’t need to think of a happy thought (though by all means do), you don’t need to actually feel happy (you soon will, I promise), you just need to smile.
Start it in your heart and let it spread upwards, turn up the corners of your mouth, feel your cheeks swelling and spreading up towards your scrunched up eyes, let your nose crinkle.  You’re smiling! Now notice how much happier you feel?
Trust me, it works.
It might not be a cure for anxiety, but it’s definitely a soothing balm and the more you practice, the more happy hormones you’re going to get and the more happy you will feel.
So, smile before you get out of bed in the morning, smile in the shower, smile when you’re on the toilet, smile before you go to sleep, smile like you mean it.
Much love,
Claire.
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Mental Health Real Life Stuff Self Care

Why You Can’t Afford Not to Indulge Yourself

Self Care:The practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.

Self care is all the rage these days, everywhere you look there’s another article about why it is important. The last thing we need is another one, right? But as a relatively recent subscriber to the practice I’m asking you to give it a try.

It’s not a cure all and it won’t cure depression or anxiety but it might just ease your symptoms or lay a foundation for healing. If you’re well, it’ll help you to stay well and know yourself better so you can see when you are slipping before you end up on your proverbial backside in a puddle of muddy gloom. There are so many resources out there for ideas and inspiration of self care.

Here’s my top 10 list of things to do to celebrate you!

  1. Check In With Yourself Often.
    The better we know ourself the easier it is to notice when things are out of sorts.  If you’re starting to go downhill, a couple of days rest could be all the difference between a bad patch and a full on crisis. Ask yourself daily, “how am I feeling?” Acknowledge it and give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling. If you’re not feeling the ticket, do someting kind for yourself.
  2. De-clutter
    Have a rummage through your cupboards for things you no longer want, need or use and take it along to a charity shop. Preferably of a cause close to your heart. Bask in the warm glow of a good deed. (Or you could stick it all on eBay and treat yourself with the proceeds).
  3. Dear Me
    Write a letter to yourself. Tell yourself about all the wonderful things you’ve done that you are proud of, all of the positive attributes that make you who you are. You’ll be surprised when you sit and think about it, how much you actually like yourself.  If you’re strugging to do it, write to your inner child or childhood self.
    Only an arse wouldn’t be able to find something positive to say to a child!
  4. Be Unsociable.
    Believe it or not you are not obliged to go out or socialise with people you’d rather not be sociable with. You don’t owe anyone an explanation or an apology.  If you don’t want to do something, put YOU first. It’s OKAY!
    We have so many constraints on our time, people pulling us every which way. You matter most, it’s okay to be selective.
  5. Digitally Detox
    As I mentioned in my previous post, shutting myself away from the constant bombardment of the digital age did me the world of good. You don’t have to completely hide yourself away, but do give yourself some genuine “me time” when nobody can contact you, make demands of you or take from you.
  6. The Obligatory Bubble Bath
    No self-respecting Self Care list would be complete without mentioning the all powerful bubble bath.
    Like a baptismal font to cleanse our troubled soul. the bubble bath promises to make us whole again! Personally I’m no fan of the bubbles but I’m all about the bath. A few drops of essential oils, candles and a bit of relaxing music and I’m set – assuming I can get in there long enough without JJ banging on the door for a wee (but that’s another story entirely).
  7. Treat Yourself
    Drink the wine, eat the chocolate, order the pizza! Pick your favourite treat and let yourself wholeheartedly enjoy it. No explanation, no justification, just do it. You deserve it.
  8. Just Be You
    Stop comparing yourself to other people. You aren’t them.  This includes your former self, you aren’t that person anymore. Let go of any guilt about who you were then or who you are now. You’re fine just as you are. Just keep going! This is actually the hardest one for me. I tend to judge myself harshly, especially the way I look.  Yes I know that is the least important part of who a person is, but I am so often angry with myself for not being enough.  (I’m lucky enough to be working with a body confidence coach in the near future to help me address this – watch this space).
  9.  Get Out
    Go outside and breathe. Take in your surroundings, enjoy the fresh air and the sounds of nature. Get away from everything for 15 minute and just be in the moment. Put some space between yourself and the world and just be still. Listen to your breathing and try and forget everything else, just for a while…just be.
  10. Belt Out Some Music
    Find your favourite, most uplifting music and listen loud! Feel the music, don’t just hear it. Find the most inspiring, energising songs you can and give yourself a daily dose. Your soul will thank you.

So there you have it. My top 10 mood boosting, kind to me, self care techniques to try and stay on track and healthy.

If you have any of your own, share them in the comments…I’d love to hear them.

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Mental Health Real Life Stuff Uncategorised

Time Out

I was fortunate enough recently to go on a holiday to Wales with JJ, supporting our friend Jimmy, who is Deafblind. I never expected the holiday to be much other than work. It was so much more.

We had a wonderful time and made new friends who I hope will be in our lives forever. The views were breathtaking, the air clean and rich with smells of the country (yes – all of them).  I fell head over heels in love with every hill and valley and with the family that welcomed us into their home. I can’t wait to go back.

The most surprising thing we discovered when we arrived in this little patch of paradise was that there was no phone signal in the house. I didn’t know such places still existed! Our hosts generously offered to hook us up to the wifi but in what can only be described as a temporary lapse in sanity, a fleeting moment of wreckless abandon, I said “No thank you” and went off grid.

What happened next was magic.  I was present, truely present in the moments, in the room and in my head. I was no longer half listening with one eye on my social media. I was learning interesting things about the interesting people around me, I was spending time outdoors and playing wholeheartedly with the children…

I WAS BOTTLE FEEDING BABY GOATS!

BABY GOAT

All of the crap that life seems to constantly bombard us with dispersed and as the week went by the urge to check on what I was missing out on ebbed away too.

According to an offcom study, the average British Adult checks their phone every 12 minutes and is online for 24 hours a week! I’m one of them.  Phones are fab for keeping in touch but when I think about everything else I’ve been letting in with it…Brexit, War , Crime, Global Warming, Donald Trump, plus the constant media portrayal of perfect bodies, perfect lives, perfect lies… it’s no wonder I’m so overwhelmed half the time.

I realised during that week that my fear of missing out on what the world is doing can be the cause of me missing out on my own life. So I’m putting down the phone, even if it’s only for an hour a day.  I’m getting out there, for a walk, or taking time to sit and write or read a book. I’ll spend more time catching up with loved ones.  I will do something to bring myself more into the world and enjoy these moments while I can.

Thank you so much Mark, Sarah, Joe, Erin and Elliott (and a special mention to my best goat Wicket) for bringing me a bit of peace and a bit of perspective.  I can’t wait to see you all again soon.

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Mental Health Real Life Stuff

Hold On

Hold on and have faith in whatever you believe in, be it god, yourself, the healing power of time, modern medicine or a combination of any or all of them. Hold on, because it’s all just temporary an none of it is real. It might feel real – unbearably so, but it isn’t. It is valid and it is legitimate and it should be acknowledged, but it isn’t real.

These moments of crushing despair, impending doom and a fear so thick you can feel it trying to strangle you, are all the figments of an unwell mind and you WILL come through it and you WILL get better…just hold on.

You won’t always feel this tired and life won’t always ache. You will move beyond this yearning for a quiet relief and a release from this malaise that makes your soul itch unrelentingly. Just hold on.

It’s okay if you don’t feel ready to race forward and embrace recovery. These things take time and you’re only ready when you’re ready. It’s as important to feel these feelings as it is to let them go.

You can’t just think yourself well again. If it were that simple we’d all be happy all of the time, because nobody would choose this. Life has its lessons and we all learn them in our own time. Don’t be hard on yourself if you aren’t getting better as quickly as you think you should be.  It takes as long as it takes and it can’t be rushed and that’s okay.

The most useful lesson I’ve learned is to be in the moment and have faith in the future. Once I stopped worrying that I’d never be okay again and trusted that I’d come out the other side. I relaxed into the moment and felt what I needed to feel. I cried my tears and had patience that if I held on, I would one day be okay again.

I’m certain there will be relapses, times in my life when the walls start closing in and it all feels like too much. It won’t always be sunshine and rainbows. But in those moments of chaos, to the best of my ability I will continue to hold on and trust that I will weather the storm as I have time and time again.

Hold on, because better days are coming and you deserve to be happy.

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Poetry

Awakening

 

Ready to wake from this long sleep of winter,
The sun melts the shards that cut, stab and splinter.
Awoken by spring, my soul starts to thaw,
Recalling the person behind the closed door.
Beneath all the fear,
Beneath all the dread,
Here I am waiting, not yet dead.
I can be brave and step outside,
Declare to the world “I haven’t died”.
I am still here. I am still me.
There’s so much beauty left to see.

Claire Lucia-Wright

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