Both my studies and work are based on mental health. I work in mental health because I love the potential of people, I love how people can realise their full abilities to get out of some of the most difficult situations life can throw at them, as much as I enjoy seeing people realise their potential to reach new heights.
However, there is plenty about our understanding of mental health, both individually and at a governmental level, that frustrates me and skews our perception about what mental health is all about.
One of the biggest issues I have is we focus on reacting to challenges with our mental health rather than consistently developing positive mental health.
As I said, this is not just an individual level, it happens at governmental reform level too.
It’s important that we talk about ways to help when we or someone we know has a mental illness.
At least one in four of us will at some point develop a mental illness, and pretty much all of us will experience challenges with our mental health at some point in our lives.
It’s also just as important to know how to develop positive mental health, yet we do this much less often.
You can actually check out a video I did on this very topic on the GetPsyched YouTube channel here.
Mental Illness & Mental Health
Another thing that we should discuss regarding this is the difference between good and bad mental health, or rather between mental illness and mental health.
Not all of us will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in our lives, however, we will all challenges and issues with our mental health at some point.
Look at it this way. A sports athlete will throughout their careers have challenges with their physical health and abilities that need aaddressing but not all will have a debilitating injury that sidelines them for months.
Not everyone likes the physical health metaphor to illustrate mental health but I think in this instance it’s appropriate and makes sense.
Good Mental Health
So, what does it really mean to have good mental health?
Well, it basically means that we have overall psychological and mental well-being.
It is more than just not having issues with your mental health or not having a mental illness.
Rather than an absence of mental illness, positive mental health is about having positive characteristics and attributes.
Another key point here is that having positive mental health doesn’t mean never experiencing challenges or having to go through bad times.
Rather, it means how you view the challenges and what characteristics you can hold onto.
How do we build positive mental health?
Face to face social interaction:
The first thing I would say here is that we need to develop a consistent level of face to face social interaction.
Maintaining a social circle is vital!
What’s more is that studies have shown that meeting face to face with loved ones and friends can have positive implications for our mental health.
Make sure to make time during your week to catch up with family members and friends.
Phone calls and texts will only get you so far. What’s key about this tip is the face to face element
There are a number of different ways that you can increase your face to face social interaction with new and/or existing friendship circles that will have positive implications in your mental health.
Contact a friend and go catch up for a drink.
Join a local networking group or sports team or walking club to gain more social face to face interaction.
Whatever you do, find new ways to increase the time to spend with other people you like and that care about you!
Be active as much as you can:
Now what I don’t mean is that you need to be working out 6 days a week in order to obtain positive mental health.
Walk instead of driving for example (short distances only of course).
Get outside in the air and do some physical activity.
Simple basic exercise can go a long way, when done on a regular basis, to help with developing positive mental health.
Manage your stress levels:
Stress, for me, is one of the main contributes for people that have difficulties with their mental health.
Left unattended, it can get worse and develop into more complex issues.
So, learning how to manage your stress, which we will all feel at numerous points, is vital to develop a sense of positive mental health.
The two points we covered previous will help with reducing stress, but there is more you can do too.
One of the keys here is to value your own sensory input when it comes to stress.
Perhaps you enjoy listening to calm music.
Squeezing a stress ball.
Or making a cup of coffee.
Managing stress is subjective, so know your own processing and create a process of recognising and then tackling stress.
Value your leisure time:
Life is packed, and at times it can be hard to know when or how to stop.
A tip that I have found beneficial here is plan leisure time. Plan it as part of your week and stick to it.
Also, by leisure time, I mean doing something you enjoy just because you enjoy it.
Listen to music, go to the gym, read a book, paint something. Again, its subjective, but make sure to make it part of your routine to manage stress.
Watch your nutrition:
I’m a great believer in developing positivity, creating new habits, and staying consistent having a lot to do with diet and what we eat.
Now, this is going to be a tough step to fully commit to, so my advice here is to start small. Simply start off with a smart change of one meal.
Perhaps you have an unhealthy breakfast or eat junk food mid-way through the day. Try and change this to something more nutritious.
Diets that are low in caffeine, alcohol, sugar and trans-fat have shown to have positive implications for someone’s mental health.
Finding a purpose:
My final point is another subjective on but one I think holds real value.
Having a purpose can have profound impacts on mental health.
What’s more is that research has shown that having a purpose impacts other physiological things too.
It improves brain neuro-connections.
Improves our immune system.
And relieves stress.
So how can you do this then?
Be creative – Things that at first might seem strange can give us purpose when we are creative in doing them.
Relationships – Much like our first point, being in relationships with loved ones and spending time with them can give us a real sense of purpose.
Volunteering – this can be time-consuming but can be really great for finding a purpose in life.
Volunteer with children with additional support needs or at a nursing home.
Volunteer to do something where you are valued and needed.
Let’s start to change our understanding of what mental health is all about. Let’s find ways of developing our positive mental health. I really feel that by following these steps we can experience hugely powerful and positive implications for our own mental wellbeing!
We know that getting a good night’s sleep can make all the difference in how we feel and function the next day. Links between our sleeping habits and physical health have been established for years, but now, with mental health becoming more and more talked about, it follows that there has been an interest in the connection between sleep and mental health.
It is understood that common mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, can have a detrimental impact on sleep.
Often people who experience these issues also encounter sleep-related problems such as insomnia or extreme fatigue.
Research into this area, however, is consistently showing that it is much more of a two-way street, and that lack of quality sleep can also have a significant detrimental effect on mental health problems.
Prof. Russell Foster, a circadian neuroscientist, bases his work in the study of sleep and its importance. In his 2013 Ted Talk “Why do we sleep?”, Professor Foster claims that his work has found a biological connection between mental health and sleep.
He explains that there is an overlap between the genes understood to give rise to normal sleep, and those that predispose for mental illness. Not only that but when looking at bipolar disorder, it was shown that abnormal sleep patterns were seen in individuals who were at high risk of developing bipolar disorder before they were clinically diagnosed.
It seems now more than ever, it is important that we treat our sleeping patterns with the respect it deserves, making sure we listen to our bodies and get the rest we need. If you have trouble with sleep or are just looking to tune up your nighttime routine, there are a few recommendations below that are advised to help you get a good night’s sleep.
Top tips for better sleep
Cut out stimulants
Stimulants do exactly what it says on the tin; they stimulate your brain, which of course is not ideal when you are trying to wind down and switch off.
If you are finding it hard to get off to sleep, reducing or cutting out caffeine/nicotine might be a good place to start.
Consistent bed/wake times
This kind of routine is normally something put in place for young children and babies, but that we lose as adults. Sticking to roughly the same bedtime each night and wake time each morning helps signal to your body when it’s time to wind down for the day and when it’s time to get up and about, making it that bit easier to fall asleep and feel well rested.
Exercise has obvious and proven benefits for physical and mental health, so incorporating a form of exercise that works for you into your day is always advisable.
In terms of sleep, it can help reduce stress levels and clear your mind as well as being physically tiring. Bedtime/evening yoga can be a helpful practice if you struggle to sleep as it combines the physical movement with calming and anxiety reducing breathing exercises, so can help get your body and mind ready for bed.
Write out a To-do list
This can be a useful exercise before bed if you struggle with letting go of the day. Writing out your to do list for the next day before you go to bed might help you let go of any racing or intrusive thoughts you have or worries that you might forget something. This kind of thing can also be helpful if you are generally feeling stressed or anxious before bed- writing out how you feel can sometimes act as a release, enabling you to get the rest you need.
This one can be a struggle since we rely so heavily on technology for the normal day to day stuff. Taking half an hour before you plan on going to bed to switch off devices and bright lights is another way to get our brains to slow down, step off the treadmill of daily tasks and just relax before bedtime.
This links to the previous point in that it can be helpful to remove distractions from your bedroom. Using an alarm clock instead of your phone to get up in the morning means your phone can stay out of your bedroom and the temptation to scroll through social media or catch up on emails is no longer there.
It can also help to make sure your room is in darkness, and reasonably tidy. All of these things can help create a calm, relaxing environment that prepared you for sleep.
These are just a few things to try that can help with some of the common sleep problems people encounter. There are some great resources online for getting better sleep, and tips for more specific problems. If you have persistent problems staying asleep or getting to sleep or are concerned about your sleep in any way, make sure to contact your GP.
Some helpful resources:
I’m an assistant psychologist and just finished my position in Cumbria for the NHS. I studied for my BSc in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge and I am now pursuing an MSc in the Foundations of Clinical Psychology. I will soon be working at another NHS Trust as an assistant psychologist once my DBS has cleared. My background has mostly been as a support worker in an autism domiciliary care agency, to the working as a researcher in COPD research, to my most recent position. On a voluntary basis, I peer review papers for Oxford University. In my spare time, I like to Cuban Salsa and like to cycle at the weekends.
- What does depression mean to you?
I have experienced depression for nearly 10 years now since my teenage years.
Depression for me, I have now accepted that it is part of my personality. For years, I kept on trying to challenge my low mood but after a while, I felt that with the help of ‘fight or flight’ my mind felt like it just gave up in questioning and accepted the symptoms of depression.
In my opinion, I feel that we need to modify our views both from a clinician’s perspective and societies in the word ‘depression’ and the many different ‘faces’ that it appears in people. For example, I feel that there is types of depression called ‘high functioning’, I guess in brief just like the autism spectrum. On one side of the spectrum you have classic symptoms of the original list of autistic symptoms and then on the other end of the spectrum, you used to have Asperger’s (which is now Autism Spectrum Conditions), with the added bonuses such as the ability to be fluent in verbal communication and to be able to ‘fulfil’ a ‘neurotypical’ life with minimal support in some cases (generally speaking). So in the context of depression, I feel that yes there are many people with depression around the world, despite whichever society or culture they are living, however not every person suffering people can actually notice until it is often too late.
For example in my own life I have managed to have a large group of friends from all over the world, I am now studying for my Masters at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, I peer review papers for Oxford University and work as an assistant psychologist in the NHS and also provide talks and lectures to local universities in regards to depression or the autism spectrum through The British Psychological Society and the list goes on.
When socialising with people I have just met and the topic of mental health comes up or I am questioned in a talk that I have provided I can sometimes get asked ‘Sam how do you understand the perspectives of someone with a mood disorder so thoroughly, as no disrespect but you are still young and you have yet to study for your doctorate’ and that is when I reply with, that’s because I live and experience the condition every single day and people are left shocked and inspired at the same time.
I had one student that I could overhear and was talking to his peers that I was only admitting this because I wanted attention, I am consciously choosing to think negatively and it is a form of narcissism and I’m not depressed at all, if he was, he should be in an inpatient or psychiatric ward somewhere’. I have to admit that it has stayed with me, as I felt that is was an out of order comment but at the same time felt that times need to change and people need to be educated, hence why I lecture and try and express through research and blogs such as Fraser’s to express what it is like to raise awareness.
Depression is like ivy growing over the front of somebody’s house. Without realising, the owners have no idea that the roots have formed underneath their house, because of a leaking water pipe allowing for drops of water to fall on the ground to feed the ivy, helping it to grow further and therefore allows it to start to creep up to the front window. People then realise and before they know it, it has grown up to the top of the roof. It looks nice in the summer with bright green leaves and in the autumn the leaves turn a reddish brown and the leaves finally drop off in winter. Even though the leaves have fallen off, the roots are still underneath the house and also stuck on the exterior of the house like a leach. I feel that depression is like that, in that no matter what season, the depression may get to the point that the symptoms of low mood have disappeared, and then all of a sudden it comes back and it feels as hard as the first time you experienced it years and years ago the struggle continues.
The winter months with a significant decrease in the sunshine and therefore vitamin D, even though I am unsupportive of pharmacology for mild to moderate depression, I genuinely think that Vitamin D supplements are a great help, as well as an accredited lamp for Seasonal Affective Disorder. I use both and it takes time over a course of around 4 weeks but I really recommend, as the winter months not only affect those experiencing depression but also people who do not suffer from any mood disorders.
- How has depression affected your life?
I appear confident, happy and well-liked, with an incredible family and upbringing but underneath the mask, I feel sadness and guilt from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep, even my dreams create the same feelings of worthlessness. It is tough. Really tough. However, I am not as bad as some people who live in a hospital ward, so I have full empathy and compassion for people who have not received the help and support they need.
To put this mask on requires and consumes mental energy that is limited and it is about preplanning on a daily basis on what to do. Some days my calendar could be full from 8 am to 11.30pm, other days I may struggle to get out of bed before 10 am, and I am unable to do anything. On a good day, which means that the clouds have gone and the sun has been able to appear through the greyness, I am able to plan ahead and decide what to do. For example if I have been invited to a party in the evening, the limited mental energy I know that it is best to be by myself in a library or in the office and then when I socialise at the party I will have enough energy to smile, join in conversations, appear positive and appear to fit in.
If I had meetings throughout the day at work and then invited to go to a party in the evening, I just would not have the energy to be able to put the mask on and be what everyone wants me to be, which is to be the entertaining and joker of the group. Instead, I sit in the group, daydreaming, questioning about my existence in the world, thinking about when the party will finish, getting short tempered when someone talks to me about something I am not interested in and therefore drains me even further. When going back home I would just sit on the edge of my bed or in the bath and think how negative I must appear to my friends who think the world of me and then it triggers my low mood further; insomnia and under eating for the next couple of days, as it adds fuel to the fire in my opinion on myself, which is using other people’s energy in me moaning, criticising and being negative. Again I must stress, in my heart and core I am happy, optimistic and outgoing but it just feels that there is a fault from my core to how I think, to how I then express and communicate.
What annoys and frustrates me the most is when somebody would tell me how negative I was and that I just think about myself, and it is so far from the truth. If only people realise that to even get out of bed in the mornings takes so much mental energy and to then try to fight back every millisecond in each day negative thinking, achy muscles and joints, as all I want is to make people happy, for them not to feel pain and to not feel distress that I feel and so many out there on a large scale and that is why I am so adamant to become a psychologist, as to be understood is such a powerful behaviour, regardless of having a diagnosis or not.
However, depression has not all been negative. I feel that the nature of depression, by reliving the memory or the experience that triggered the depression and the ability to keep thinking about it repeatedly in a visual way the memory has helped me to think creatively. When studying, it is second nature when studying to use mind maps, hand-drawn diagrams and the ability to remember these mind maps and diagrams when in exams or when in lectures for debates. I feel that before the depression I was ok for remembering things but thanks for the depression, for reliving memories visually, has strengthened long-term memory, especially for facial recognition! On the other hand, with the nature of depression, I score poorly on facial emotion recognition and think that the person is thinking in a negative way, which they are not. Therefore, there are advantages and disadvantages of living with the mood disorder.
As well as this, being able to see through someone’s ‘mask’ that many people are oblivious by but because you are experienced in acting, you can see what that person is doing and straight away can feel their pain, again an example of high functioning depression. I now have the confidence when I am socialising to go up and ask the person how they are (when the time is right) and when they say ‘Yes perfect thanks’, you know straight away to probe further. It has been useful in my line of work in clinical services as an assistant psychologist. A few patients who were going to be discharged, when just not ready but ‘appeared’ to be ready because of the reliance on verbal reassurance, rather than observing the person’s pattern of behaviour and their non-verbal cues.
- How do you think societies appreciation of depression has change, if atoll, in recent years?
I think yes society’s appreciation of depression has increased in awareness, thanks to advertising campaigns through MIND, the Samaritan’s and celebrities such as Rio Ferdinand and the boxer Ricky Hatton.
I believe that even though there is now awareness of depression and anxiety, I feel that it has raised a simplified and generalised image of what depression is like. In images, it is portrayed to be someone rocking on the side of the road, overdosed on drugs or drink and ending up in hospital. Of course, that does happen but in regards to my idea that there is a type called ‘high functioning’, we need to continue to raise awareness. Like in my case, I have everything ticked to appear as if I am successful, strong and ambitious, with the rare case that anyone would question my mental health. If I were unemployed for 5 years, taking drugs or abusing alcohol, someone would then question my mental health. So I guess that even though we have raised awareness that it is ok to have depression, the early stages and those that can hide their struggles, as most of the time you are at work or university, it can be covered not only the severity but the poison of the depression, slowly being injected each day, when you least expect it.
Perhaps if society could perhaps genuinely ask people ‘Are you ok, how are things at home?’, we could maybe prevent mood disorders becoming a problem. Most of the time if you answer someone who asks ‘How are you’, it is often because they want to talk about themselves for the next 40 minutes and feel bad that if they don’t ask how you are, they would appear selfish and arrogant. Instead, if we asked and were able to genuinely answer, yes it may take more time but could save so many people from carrying out something extreme such as suicide.
What really helps is that I am able to go home after work, university or a social event and I can literally stay quiet, which is when I am most comfortable, to be able to think and to concentrate on the near future. My family and close friends are fully aware that I am quiet and if I am loud and outgoing, it is normally because I am compensating my social anxiety or low mood, so I can see people smile and feel welcome, so I do feel so lucky and fortunate, as to be able to hibernate by isolating myself is key for me to be able to function and to regain the mental energy to balance the depression, general life duties and other life administration, including thinking of other people’s emotions and not just focusing on my own. As you can understand when in a depressive episode, as you are trying so hard to live and to function, it can be hard to then think about someone else’s mental state and can come across as cold or rude, so again it is about being aware and to prevent that in my personal life and at work with patients.
- What are your coping mechanisms when you experience depressive episodes?
My coping mechanisms have come from trial and error, to be honest.
Before my depression kicked in, I had bad anxiety that was blinding my ability to succeed and was making me doubt myself in everything that I did. Therefore, my first experience of a coping mechanism was cognitive behavioural therapy. This was a mixture of online exercises, by challenging my anxious thoughts and to try to find evidence that the thought that was irrational, whether it was actually true or not. Unfortunately cognitive behavioural therapy made my anxiety worse, leading to anxiety attacks, as I was adding even more limited mental energy to the thought that was disabling me, so instead of thinking about it every 3 or 4 minutes, when challenging my thought, it was then adding components to the thought, that I had previously forgotten about, so I was then thinking about the thought 1-2 minutes. By the evening, I was exhausted. However cognitive behavioural therapy has been effective for my depressive thoughts and when in depressive episodes. I use CBT less because my mind did not need to challenge the thoughts anymore, as I have remembered each challenging point and certainly helped me to focus on life and to put the thoughts that were triggering my depressive episodes into context.
Exercise helps; you hear it in the media so often now. When I say exercise, it can sometimes be to aim to walk to the shop and others could be a 20-mile bike ride. Again, it depends on how I am feeling and taking in to account what is going on in my mind and in life at that point in time. Just walking to the shop, getting out of your bedroom or study for just 5 minutes, what a relief it can sometimes be. Sometimes exercise is the last thing I need, if for example, I am tired/fatigued, it can be very uncomfortable, so I then decide to sleep and try again the next day, but not being critical of myself.
What I seem to do now is to use coping strategies from Compassion Focused Therapy.
My passion for both of these came from my lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University Dr Fiona Ashworth, who has been able to apply Compassion Focused Therapy to people with brain injury, to increase their self-compassion, decrease their feelings of guilt and worthlessness and to try and increase their behaviours that can help self-sooth and make them put irrational thoughts in to context, e.g. the brain injury has happened, it wasn’t their fault, give yourself compassion for wanting to get back on track and not dwell on the past but the near future instead (Wilson, Winegardner & Ashworth, 2013). So in this context, when I have been really unproductive because of a depressive episode, I think to myself that today just isn’t the day, I’m feeling low, I allow and accept depressive and irrational thoughts to come in to my mind and because I don’t challenge the thought, they seem to go for a couple of hours, which in time is a great relief and I can then focus. To help me feel soothed, I can sometimes just go to the pub with friends and have a pint or sometimes it can mean to go to the local spa and go in to the sauna to try and sooth the pain in my shoulders, where most of my pain is when in a depressive episode. Through the compassion focused therapy system (drive, soothing and threat), it is very effective and I feel that it is a well-recommended read or Youtube clip (Professor Gilbert in Derby).
Wilson, B. A., Winegardner, J., & Ashworth, F. (2013). Life After Brain Injury: Survivors’ Stories. Psychology Press.
- How has your line of work changed your appreciation of your depression?
I would say that my line of work has increased my appreciation for depression, even more so than before. Seeing how it can appear by itself and the patient does not experience any other psychological condition, in other patients, the depression can be secondary, as the primary problem is a chronic condition such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It really has opened my eyes that depression is so varied and to simplify such a large condition should not be permitted. Depression is a mind disability if left unmanaged. When I say unmanaged I feel that if you get into a routine, you normalise it and when it comes to therapy, it can be conflicting when you are informed by the clinician that what you are thinking is ‘faulty’ and irrational. Preventing the depression from getting to moderate and severe is paramount.
- What advice would you give to someone who feels they are experiencing depression for the first time?
Someone who is experiencing depression for the first time I strongly feel for and reach out too. The pain and shock and how quick it operates into your mind and body is tough. Straight away, the feeling of shame, embarrassment and weakness kicks in and within 12 hours, feel like you are the only one, you feel lonely and have no idea what to do. Going to A&E, you think I do not have a physical problem; I cannot talk to my partner or family as they will laugh and then months and years can go by with such a negative effect on life by covering it up and in some cases trying to find the trigger by blaming everyone around you.
Therefore, what I strongly advise is to talk to your closest friend first, as sometimes it is nice to speak to them, as it is less pressurising then your partner or family. If not of course speak to anyone you are close to and express how you are feeling. Depending on the severity, self-refer by going online and finding your local Improving Access to Psychological Therapy service, as that would be the quickest form of action. In the meantime, go to your GP to inform them of what is going on and contact your local MIND, as they are funded to also provide assistance with a wide range of mental health conditions, with many very helpful brochures and leaflets that are written in a non-clinical sense and are so helpful. If it is too soon, there are helpful online resources through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapy service and can make you self-aware of the symptoms and behaviours of depression and hopefully in that way can educate you on what is going on.
- Would this advice be different to those who have been experiencing depression for a number of years?
I guess it depends if the person has followed all of the processes already through the NHS and MIND or if they have experienced depression for years and never has had any support, then the above does apply yes.
For those that have not received support for their depression that have experienced the condition for years, are a credit to themselves and I have lots of respect for them. I have had a couple of patients who had experienced depression from a childhood experience and self-referred years later because an unexpected bereavement had increased the behaviours that they have got used to, all of a sudden have increased in severity – i.e. the varied rate of eating, sleeping, irrational thinking and therefore started to increase anxiety and was too much and came in. Perhaps this is an example when the high functioning depression symptoms, change on the spectrum and become more centralised, so the symptoms become moderate, half classic symptoms and half high functioning i.e. the person is no longer able to cover up their symptoms and the symptoms are strong enough to disable their ability to function. I feel that with the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies are doing a great job, despite a small pot of money and again it is not perfect but we should be grateful that such a model exists because we do not currently have enough psychologists to see every patient that has a mental health issue.
The quote that I use on a daily basis is ‘Comparison is the death of happiness’.
Anorexia, for me, was a bubble in which I hid. It kept me safe from the outside world. All the things I used to worry about before no longer felt important. It was just me and the destructive illness that is anorexia. I didn’t plan to become ill; it crept up on me and caught me unawares and before I knew it I was its helpless puppet on strings, bowing to it’s every rule. I saw the number on the scale decrease but could not see that weight loss when I looked in the mirror and the thought of eating filled me with extreme anxiety.
In the midst of a chaotic and stressful time of my life, food was the one thing that I felt I could control. Restricting my food intake, exercise and weight loss gave me a sense of great power and achievement. It was something I was good at. I became addicted to the euphoria of starvation and the miraculous energy I found to exercise, even though my brain and body were malnourished, was intoxicating.
I became a master of manipulation; lying, deceiving and playing my parent’s off one another in order to skip meals or to exercise more. Of course, that wasn’t me but was the monster that is anorexia. It took over my mind and body to the point that I (Liv) barely existed anymore. I wonder how those aspects of anorexia are any different to other addictions such as drugs and alcohol?
Anorexia as an addiction:
A person who abuses substances will most likely do so to deal with psychological underlying factors such as depression, anxiety, trauma, low self-esteem etc. Drugs and alcohol block all the pain out. They create a distraction and you will do anything to get that next hit of your chosen substance in order to keep that pain numbed. Anorexia was just another distraction for me. Whilst my mind was focused and consumed with thoughts of food and weight, I wasn’t worrying about my family, school, exams, friendships or my future.
There is an increasing amount of evidence suggesting a link between eating disorders and addiction. Primarily how they can co-occur, but also how an eating disorder can be likened to an addiction in itself. As a Psychology graduate and aspiring Psychologist with personal experience in this, I am interested in the neurobiology of both addiction and eating disorders and the similarities of behaviour patterns.
Both addictions and eating disorders manipulate the limbic system; from a reward perspective animal studies have already found that food restriction increases the reinforcing effects of various drugs. Also, although more research is needed to confirm this, it is suggested that weight loss produces changes in the reward system resembling the effects produced by drugs of abuse, making weight loss and/or starvation rewarding.
I recently took a course on Intuitive Thinking Skills; a relatively new approach to addiction. It is an educational programme promoting achievable abstinence from drugs and alcohol. Intuitive Recovery defines addiction as ambivalence; two clearly opposing opinions on something causing uncertainty and indecision for example: “I really want to use. But I really don’t want to use.” The part that wants to use is termed ‘addictive desire’ and has no real control over us. A person ultimately chooses whether to use or not. If this is how they define addiction then surely eating disorders fall under that definition too. I was in a constant state of ambivalence when I was ill. I desperately wanted to eat and get better but I also had a voice in my head telling me not to. As to the degree of choice I had in that is somewhat controversial. Yes, I did have a choice, I could choose not to listen to the anorexic voice but it would berate me for hours and days after I had rebelled against its demands causing anxiety and distress. Anorexia is much more complex than general addictions, specifically because of the strain you put on your body and brain during starvation.
What is evident though is that eating disorders and addictions are manifestations of psychological distress and it’s this distress that needs to be the focus of treatment. There is little point in a person with anorexia regaining weight or an alcoholic abstaining from alcohol if those psychological factors are not being addressed. Psychological support is just as important if not more so, to avoid relapse or swapping one destructive behaviour for another. In my own recovery, I needed to learn how to feel again. For so long I pushed my feelings down and once I recovered I felt exposed and vulnerable. I had to build myself up and find who I am. Mental illness strips you of your identity and in recovery, you find yourself again. It can be painful and difficult but with the right support, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Recovery gives you your life back and it’s beautiful; it’s time to start living.
Liv Goodwill Bio:
- Liv is a child and family support worker, supporting young people leaving care. She has a degree in Psychology and starting her MSc in Investigative Psychology next year. Afterwards, she plans to do her doctorate. She is passionate about all things mental health; she represents BEAT (the UK’s leading eating disorder charity) in the media. She uses her own past experience of anorexia and self-harm to raise awareness and promote recovery.
As a newly wed part time doctoral student working three jobs, I feel I’m equipped to talk briefly on this topic. Your study life will take up a massive amount of your time with essays, exams, class time and reading. As will your working life, high expectations met with high demands may be common place in your working environment, requiring a lot of focus and dedication.
So where does your real life fit in? It can be so hard to juggle all three parts of your life, but it’s a juggling act you need to perfect if you are to get the most out of all three.
I hope these points in how to better manage your study, work life balance will make things easier and clearer for you.
- Having a weekly schedule of time slots each day that you designate for your studies, and stick to, is vital!
- If you have a free 3 hours on Monday morning then make a note in your diary or on your phone that this is your study time! Perhaps you have a day or two a week where you are not in classes or working, ensure you designate this time to study and get the most done you possibly can.
- Having a set of weekly goals is something I have found keeps me motivated to push myself during my study slots. With a goal in mind for the end of the week, I feel my risk of distraction dramatically reduces and my sense of accomplishment increases when I meet those goals.
- Get up early and study. This might have been hard for you to hear, but it works. If you can get an hour or two in before you start work then you are on to a winner.
- Be as productive as you can be.
- The very last thing you want is to be stressed out during your week that you haven’t met deadlines, or done the best job possible when you are studying.
- Don’t forget! Your studies are very important, and may even be more important to you than the job you are doing. For many of us though, you need your job in order to keep studying. Don’t forget this!
- One night a week, my wife and I designate time for either pizza night (if we’re broke and want to stay in), or date night where we go out with a few friends or have a few drinks.
- If I feel I can manage it and am ahead with my studies then we might take the night off and watch a movie, or go for a walk. If you have the free time and you feel on top of your work then the best way you can use that time if with those closest to you.
- You’ll come to realise that designating time is vital to managing this juggling act of study and work. The same goes for your personal life. Set time aside with your partner of friends and try and forget about both work and study for that time.
- Self-care is vital and without it, your study life and work life could be negatively affected.
All three parts of your life, your studies, your work and your personal life are all connected, they all also need each other in order for you to keep the juggling act alive. Designating time, planning in advance and appreciating that in that moment what ever you are focussing on needs your undivided attention, will help with the process.