How To Support Someone With A Mental Illness

Disclaimer – The advice in this post is for people helping friends/relatives/loved ones with mental health conditions that do not put them at serious risk to themselves or others. If you are concerned someone’s life is at risk please call the emergency services.

With so many people suffering mental ill health at some stage in their lives it is highly likely that someone you know is suffering. Someone suggested I write this post from the perspective of someone who has been ill on and off for a long time.

First and foremost it’s essential to talk to the person and ask how you can help them. Some people struggle to talk to people that they are close to but that doesn’t mean that you can’t help. For example there may be certain topics of conversation that they prefer to avoid. Setting up some ground rules can really help the person feel in control and also shows that you understand them. As a teenager, living with my parents, I found it very difficult to deal with them quizzing me on things so it was agreed that we would only discuss my mental health if I brought it up.

While talking with the person, NEVER ever ever try to convince them that how they’re feeling “isn’t that bad” or that they should “just stop worrying”. This is the most patronising and offensive thing you can say to someone who is depressed or anxious. Yes, take their mind off it or suggest something fun you can do together, but don’t try to discredit what they’ve had the courage to open to you about. It may stop them feeling able to talk about their problems in future.

Patience is a good quality to have when supporting someone who is unwell because it can be infuriating. I know that from being ill and also being on the other side of it. By its very nature mental ill health can make people very negative. Some days nothing you suggest will be helpful, everything will “just make things worse”, but you can’t trivialise these feelings because you risk alienating the person. Listening to the person’s concerns and letting them vent this negativity is sometimes all you can do. If you think that you did have a particular idea that would really help the person and it was dismissed due to a mood like this, you could re-visit it in future but be careful not to push it.

Always bear in mind that the person who is unwell, as far as possible, has to remain in control of their treatment. It’s very easy for someone on the outside to think that medication is the answer or that counselling will solve everything but it has to be the sufferer who makes this decision. (Refer to disclaimer, if you’re seriously worried about someone’s well-being this may not be possible)

If you live with the person, they may need space to be on their own more than usual. It’s important that you respect that. It can be very hard to deal with someone who is withdrawn but forcing them to spend time with you when they’re not feeling up to it will only lead to them resenting you. If you can, you could discuss with them how they can let you know that they need a time-out.

In the main the most important thing is to listen to the person you are supporting. It’s so easy to try to help and end up making the person uncomfortable or even cause an argument. If they ask you to move the conversation away from a topic, it doesn’t matter that you think you have the best piece of advice that will make them better, don’t push it. It’s possible that they will come back to it at some point but until they want to discuss it, it’s off limits.

I hope my ramblings are in some way helpful. If you have any other tips for people in this situation comment below.

V ❤

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Body Positive Journey

With so much upheaval going on in the world at the moment we all need a little bit of positivity in our lives. Unfortunately for many, they see body positivity as something unattainable or even more stressful and upsetting than their low self-esteem. This is unsurprising really when we are taught from day one that we will never be good enough. Body positivity is different for everyone and is definitely achievable. This post just outlines some of the stages and things I’ve done as part of my journey. It won’t be the same for everyone but I hope it’ll help those who don’t know where to start.

One of the key goals of body positivity is letting go of society’s beauty ideals. Often it’s easier to let go of these standards for other people than it is for yourself. This is something that we tend to struggle with across the board, whether it comes to appearance, grades in school or the tidiness of our home we tend to set “higher standards” for ourselves. Things that we wouldn’t judge another person for, we often internally berate ourselves for. Despite this, even letting go of beauty ideals for other people is still a massive, positive step forwards. From there it becomes easier.

The “easiest” ways to boost your self-esteem and body image is to stop comparing yourself to unattainable ideals and other people. Comparison is the thief of joy as they say.  If you walk in to any shop and look at women’s magazines, every cover will feature a headline advertising the latest diet craze and in some cases will even go as far as comparing celebrities’ beach bodies. It is little wonder that so many of us feel self-conscious! I stopped reading these magazines and feel so much better for it, not only has it freed up money to spend on better things it’s also freed me from the constant cycle of comparison and feeling bad about myself. If more of us would stop feeding the monster that is mainstream media then perhaps real change could happen.

Unfortunately one of the biggest problems you may stumble across on your body positive journey are “energy vampires”, friends, family members and colleagues who drain you of your positivity. They may be diet or appearance obsessed or simply overly negative. It can be very difficult to deal with these people but I do have some tips. If you can’t completely avoid them you can try to guide the conversation away from topics that are toxic to your journey. If you’re feeling particularly brave you could explain to the person why certain topics are off-limits. If you’re doing the latter, unfortunately you do have to pick your battles. Not everyone is understanding, and if you’re struggling it can be a very difficult conversation to have but in a lot of cases it can be really helpful. Many of my friends who I didn’t expect to be amenable have now come round to body positivity and that is very rewarding in itself.

On a physical level, in order to embrace your body, it’s important to give up on dieting. That’s not to say you have to live on junk food (obviously if that’s what makes you happy then you go right ahead), but giving up on fad diets, constantly striving to lose weight and “tone up” will only hold you back. By their very nature these diets and products are being sold to fuel low self-esteem and self-worth. It’s a vicious cycle to get trapped in. Your life won’t be better if you have visible abs, or you fit in to that size 10 dress in your wardrobe, you will still have bills to pay and your problems won’t instantly disappear. Letting go of the notion that if we lose 10lbs our lives will be better is one of the most cathartic steps of this journey.

The body positive journey is different for everyone who undertakes it. We all have different hang ups to start with but the key thing is to learn to love ourselves exactly how we are at this point in time, not when we lose weight or tone up – right now!

V ❤

P.S. Let me know about important stages in your journey in the comments.

 

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Tips To Deal With A Bad Body Image Day

Even those of us who are fully committed to the body positive lifestyle have days when we’re not feeling ourselves. It’s inevitable when body positivity is fighting against everything mass media is bombarding us with on a daily basis.

When I’m not feeling so great I find it helps a lot to concentrate on what my body can do rather than how it looks or what size it is. The human body is capable of some incredible things, just the fact that it keeps you alive 24/7 is worth celebrating. Here are the 10 things I suggest to boost your self esteem on a bad body image day.

1. Stretch – Not only does this release tension and stress that has built up in your body throughout the day, by its very name, it is pushing your body as far as it can go, allowing you appreciate your flexibility.

2. Move Around – Some people suggest “working out” when you’re feeling down, and if that’s what works for you then that’s great and you should do that. I’m reluctant to use those words, due not only to their connotations, but because it’s really not what I mean. I’m talking about movement on the most basic level – whether that’s dancing, waving you arms in the air or running around with your pet or child. Anything that gets your blood pumping and gets you smiling and laughing. Movement makes you appreciate your body and the moment.

3. Get Outside – Depending on your mood or ability you could sit, walk or run. Just taking a moment to feel the breeze on your skin and take in your surroundings can really lift your mood. If you also approach the situation mindfully, paying attention to the way the climate conditions feel, the sounds you can hear and the sights you see, the wonder of how the body works and allows you to experience can take over any negativity you’ve been harboring.

4. Listen To Music – Every time we mindfully engage any of our senses it can give us an immense appreciation for our body’s abilities. It allows us to enjoy so many things in life like listening to our favourite bands.

5. Eat Something You Love – When you’re feeling less than fantastic about yourself this one might feel a little like a challenge but enjoying a treat can be so helpful. Not only is it once again engaging your senses and making you appreciate what your body does for you, but this is sticking two fingers up at diet culture. Every time you fight back against those negative thoughts it gets easier to do.

6. Wear Your Favourite Outfit – Whether that’s a ball gown or your sweatpants you’ll feel great and look amazing.

7. Talk To Yourself – This can be out loud if you want, or an internal dialogue, but what’s important is that you talk as if you were having a conversation with a friend. Few of us, if any, pick our friends apart in the same way we do ourselves. If we did I doubt we’d have many friends, so take a moment to think/say what you would to a friend who was feeling how you are. I bet you’ll be a whole lot kinder.

8. Call A Friend – If thinking like a friend doesn’t help you could always call one. I’m lucky to have friends who are also body positive both online and IRL so I know I can talk to them openly and they’ll get it. If you don’t think your friends are already body positive you can help educate them. Explaining body positivity to someone is sometimes enough to make you realise that you’re perfect how you are.

9. Take A Bath – Relaxing in warm water and taking care of your body by washing it is a win-win in terms of feeling better about yourself. There are no greater feelings that lying in the bath and the fresh feeling when you get out of the water.

10. Take A Nap – Sometimes we just get cranky, pure and simple, sleeping it off may be the best option.

I have written previously about the importance of intersectionality within the body positive movement. With that in mind I appreciate that not everyone is going to be able to do all of the suggested activities but I have tried to include something for everyone as far as possible. If you have any other tips feel free to leave them in comments below.

V ❤

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What is Body Positivity & Why Does it Matter?

Ever since I began my body positive journey a few years ago I’ve had to answer this question so many times. My answer is always ever so slightly different because in many ways body positivity is different for everyone. In its most basic, generic sense it is accepting your own, and everyone else’s, body for how it is – not attaching shame or negativity to anyone due to their body type or appearance, or lifestyle. Sounds simple in principle, right?

Wrong! It should be fairly straightforward, however, we live in a society where body shaming and diet culture is shoved down our throats everywhere we turn. The diet and “self improvement” industry is one of the biggest industries in the world, convincing us all to hate our bodies in order to sell us products. From childhood we’re brainwashed to find “flaws” and “problem areas”, with our physical appearance and body. It has become so ingrained within society that the majority of people don’t even question – they have just accepted that “fat” is an insult and “skinny” is a compliment as opposed to two adjectives that have no negative or positive connotations. Even for those who are totally happy with themselves this can be difficult to navigate. Making a comment about being fat can often lead to the response “you’re not fat you’re beautiful/pretty/wonderful etc” forgetting that you can definitely be all of those things simultaneously.  This feeds the negativity and the more people who buy into these views, the bigger the problem gets.

As someone who struggled with body image and disordered eating from a fairly young age I soon realised how flawed the expectations set by society are. Firstly, we’re not all meant to look the same – we are all unique and that’s normal. We naturally have different body types and shapes, some of us naturally slim, athletic, muscular, chubby, curvy, fat, tall, short… The list of potential adjectives is endless and one is not better than another. If we all looked like Kate Moss, Kim K or whoever the “ideal” of the moment is, the world would be a pretty boring place. Secondly many of the ideals are quite frankly racist and sexist. Black women are routinely described negatively because they don’t conform to White, European standards. Newsflash – they’re not meant to. Women in general are judged more for being larger, aging and not being immaculately groomed at all times. Body positivity has to be totally intersectional as everyone in our society is affected by pressures to conform to an ideal.

Men don’t escape this. 1 in 10 of those suffering from a diagnosed eating disorder are men. Yes, as a percentage of sufferers it’s small but still very real. Many more will suffer in silence, over exercising because they don’t think they’re big enough or starving themselves because they’re worried they have “moobs” or a “beer belly”. Just like women, from a young age men are bombarded by images that represent an ideal. From playing with an “Action Man”, unintentional (or intentional) criticisms of their bodies from relatives and peers right up to competing with each other in school can lead to problems with body image and eating disorders. Men are slowly joining the body positive movement and it’s inspiring for all of us.

The body positive community is a place where no unrealistic expectations are present and we are working to spread the message to as many people as possible. The next generation shouldn’t have to grow up worrying about the size of their stomachs or whether their thighs touch. The community is not without its issues, for example many of the advocates who gain notoriety and spread the message on a huge scale through mainstream media tend to be those who still conform in most ways to ideals. It is still progress and will no doubt provide young people with varied role models but there is still a lot of work to be done and I’m proud to be part of this movement.

If you have any questions comment below.

V ❤

https://www.b-eat.co.uk/about-beat/media-centre/information-and-statistics-about-eating-disorders – Statistics on men with eating disorders from this source.

What to do when you’re anxious…

As some of you will probably know I suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) as well as having emetophobia (a fear of vomiting) so I’m prone to panic and anxiety attacks.

GAD, for those who don’t know, basically means that I’m a chronic worrier. Things that the average person would worry about for a couple of minutes, like “did I remember to thank the bus driver?” can lead a sufferer of GAD to worry incessantly for a long time, to the point it interferes with work, and other commitments. It also leads to what’s called “worst case scenario thinking” so in the above example your worry could go from “the bus driver will think I’m rude” to “I must be a terrible person because I didn’t say thank you.” It sounds ridiculous but it really can be trivial things like that. A lot of the time for me it is slightly bigger things than that but my worry is still blown out of all proportion.

My phobia of being sick causes a more intense response than GAD but it tends to be shorter lived. It can trigger very full on physical panic attacks that sometimes take a couple of days to fully recover from but in the main the anxiety symptoms pass as soon as the nausea, or before if I can put some of the things I’m going to suggest below in to action.

1.Distraction – This is probably the most important thing for me in an anxiety attack situation. My go to distraction tends to be watching something funny that I’ve seen before such as Outnumbered, Friday Night Dinner, The Inbetweeners or Two and a Half Men. This allows me to laugh along with it and distract myself without having to concentrate too much on what I’m doing.

2.Getting outside – Naturally when you are in a panic situation you can feel quite trapped and even just standing outside can help a lot. I recently had a panic attack in a hotel room in London in the middle of the night. Even though I was staying an area that was strange to me and it was dark, getting out made me feel so much better (aside from getting slightly disorientated and thinking I was lost for a few moments) and I was able to calm myself down enough to get some sleep.

3.Talking to someone – If you are lucky enough, like me, to be surrounded by people who are understanding and you feel you can be open with them, then talking through your anxiety can be useful. Equally talking about something completely unrelated can help too by providing a distraction. When you’re feeling worried one of our bodies natural responses is to want to be surrounded by people so being around close friends and/or family can help when you’re going through a rough patch.

4.Writing things down – Sometimes in the grip of an anxiety attack it’s hard to switch your brain off. If you’re worrying through the night about things you need to do, try making a list of them so you know you won’t forget them.

5.Try to slow down and question your thoughts – It’s so easy for your mind to run away from you. Rather than letting your brain control you, question it. Your anxiety is telling you that something terrible is going to happen, “what’s the likelihood of said event actually happening?”. I’m willing to bet in most cases it’s highly unlikely.

Do you have any other tips of things that work for you when you’re anxious? Let me know in the comments.

If you’re feeling anxious and need someone to talk to 7 Cups of Tea offer a 24hr free listening service no matter where you are in the world.

V ❤

 

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First blog post – Introduction

Welcome to my very first, scary blog post. As with all new projects this is terrifying but I’ve finally bitten the bullet and started up a blog. First of all I figured I should tell you all a little bit about me for those of you who are just joining me and haven’t come across from Instagram or Twitter.

My name is Vicky, I’m 25 and currently living in Aberdeen, Scotland. (The use of the word “currently” we will come back to in a future post.) I’m massively into body positivity and continually trying to help others to embrace it also in everyday life. A few years ago I had a platform through tumblr and it was only a matter of time before I wanted to do more within the online movement again.

I found body positivity by accident a few years ago but it really resonated with me and very quickly I began my own journey. It’s hard going on your own and the support received, at first online, and then latterly through close friends, is invaluable, when we live in a society that day and night is teaching us to hate ourselves. The more of us there are putting the positive message out there, the stronger it becomes, so here I am doing my bit.

I aim to feature body positivity, food, my outlook on fitness and health plus whatever else tickles my fancy – expect the odd book review, rant about something trivial and maybe even a fangirl moment over Serena Williams.

If any of that sounds at all interesting to you then stick around. 🙂
V ❤

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