Migraines aren’t fun.

Migraine
Migraine

Any sort of physical health issue isn’t good, but one that robs you of the pleasure of your favourite hobby? That will challenge in ways something else may not. Since the end of July, I have spent perhaps 10 hours gaming, not really out of choice, but due to frequent migraine attacks, far more persistent and severe than I have been used to before.

For those unfamiliar, according to Wiki “Migraine is a chronic neurological disease characterised by recurrent moderate to severe headaches often in association with a number of autonomic nervous system symptoms.”

The last few months of my life have been spent having severe headaches, losing my sense of balance, being unable to focus/concentrate on anything for longer than 30minutes, feeling nauseous, tired, dizzy, and sensitive to light and sound. I’ve also at times, been unable to finish sentences, and had difficulty finding the words I want to say, or said something, only to be advised that I’ve said something completely different to what I  thought that I had. It all sounds rather depressing and I really don’t like the vibe reading this may promote, but what I want to be clear is that migraine is so much more than the headache…in my case of late…the headache has been the symptom I have worried about the least.

When you’re 31, your face feels numb, and you can’t read the book you have in front of you, you may start to feel a little scared.

Thankfully after a lot of persistence, I have been referred to see a Neurologist, put on some preventative medication (jury is still out on this so far) and sent for a scan, which I’m waiting for. I’m doing OK, but it has limited me in some aspects of my life;

  • I can’t drive for longer than 30 minutes, and not really at all in the dark.
  • Gaming sessions are, for the most part, short and infrequent.
  • Too much noise, or a busy environment means I have to step away from a situation.
  • I’m spending a lot more time sleeping and resting.

 

However, more interestingly, my sense of smell has become heightened so much that I can tell you the leaves that make up the salad someone is eating on the other side of the room, I’m starting a trend of wearing sunglasses indoors, and I’m getting a lot of cross stitching done due to my inability to sit in front of screens gaming.

A couple of things that have been useful to me in this challenging time have been the Migraine Trust website – a wealth of information and fact-sheets, as well as summaries of research and various treatments. And for days when the migraines ease and I can bear to look at a screen f.lux software, which makes the colour of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day. Finally, a migraine diary for anyone who wants or needs to keep track of symptoms and possible triggers. Anyone with tips, experiences or resources, please do share via the comments box. Until I’m back to my healthy self, I’ve decided that my heightened sense of smell is simply a sign that I am becoming one of the X-Men, then things don’t seem so bad after all!



Healthy Mind #4: Anxiety.

Psychology

One of the biggest topics in emotional well-being …Anxiety and panic. This one is a tricky one for me, as I’ve always been the nervy worrier kind of person, so this is something I still struggle with myself, I like to think that I’m a work in progress when it comes to anxiety, and I’ve given much thought to how to write this piece, much as I would like to write a concise “How To” post like the one for depression, I feel it’s not as simple, as sometimes anxiety really does still get the better of me…When I’m driving, speaking in public or in front of a camera,at the dentist, in large social groups,when I spot a spider, and yes OK I admit it, sometimes even the dark makes me nervous.

So, I’m going to write what works for me at the moment, in a slightly wordier way…the things that help me still function despite me being slightly neurotic for a lot of the time. I’ll admit there’s times I worry that I haven’t actually made any progress in managing my anxiety, and that all I’ve done is become better at hiding it, from both other people, and from myself…but worrying about worrying is all part of being anxious!

The internet is full of narcissistic “woe is me” content, and I really don’t want you guys to think of this as adding to that, I’d just feel insincere if you didn’t know the background to the content. So here’s 5 steps that help me on a nearly daily basis…

1) Remember this if nothing else: The single most powerful question for me to ask myself in times of high anxiety is “Will what I’m worrying about matter or be relevant in a month/year/5 years?” people often rubbish this as they say it doesn’t help with the physical symptoms they are experiencing, but for me, taking some of the power out of the fear, means I gain some control back, sure, it may not spur me to act, but it helps me feel less overwhelmed, and that for me is a good place to start.

2) Face your fears slowly. Some people will always be anxious types, just like some people will always have a battle with depression. For me my anxiety is only really a problem when I feel it stops me from doing things, the rest of the time it just sits in the background occasionally giving me butterflies in my tummy or introducing thoughts into my head. I feel the only way to truly manage anxiety is to face it, try not to shy away from whatever you fear, seek situations where you can be exposed to that which provokes anxiety, but gradually, so you don’t feel overwhelmed,then slowly increase/escalate the experience.

Take my driving anxiety, I started just by going and sitting in the driver’s seat of the car, at first I felt like I couldn’t breathe, but after sitting for just a few minutes, I felt human again,I then began driving around car parks and on quiet roads,and only when I felt like I could manage my nerves a little better, did I venture on to longer drives on busier roads. Now I still dread driving new routes that I haven’t before, and if someone cuts me up on a dual carriage way I still have to open the window to cool my panicked self down, but for the most part it’s manageable. This took 6 months and many drives with my super Dad sat beside me for moral support!

3) Learn to relax. Easier said than done right? Like exercise as a treatment for depression! It’s worth committing and finding some simple relaxation techniques that work for you. For me it’s breathing techniques, for others, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, or mindfulness techniques work better. Google these and other terms and search iTunes if you have it, for free relaxation podcasts.

4) Stay healthy. It’s old advice, but it’s grounded in science, that fight or flight response will be working overtime if you’re wired on caffeine, haven’t eaten right and aren’t sleeping, so watch your diet, get some light exercise when you can and sleep as well as you can, even just resting will help here, but do try and get a decent nights sleep.

5) Finally and perhaps most powerfully, (and something that has only just fallen into place for me in recent months) is Acceptance. For some, accepting something they deem as a weakness as always being part of themselves can be seen as admitting defeat. For me, it removes the shame, the guilt and the constant striving to be someone I’m not. I’m Kez, and sometimes I’m anxious, and I’m honestly OK with that. If life was always easy and happy, how would we know? What would we compare it to? The fact I revel in the small miracle of driving to the shops in the fog means I’m grateful for the little things and get a sense of achievement from something simple. My anxiety acts as a warning, it makes me think things through perhaps more thoroughly than others may, it makes me perceptive, and a good listener. I’m never going to be the most fearless confident person in the world, and I’m finally at an age where I’m OK with that. It took me many years to reach this mindset, I hope to plant seeds and help others achieve this sooner, should it be something they would like to, of course.

So I throw this one out to you internet…What are you anxious about? How do you manage that anxiety? And am I the only adult who finds the dark a tiny bit scary? Comment and let me know 🙂



Healthy Mind #3: Depression – What you can do about it.

So the big one! Depression…it robs us all of motivation, sucks the joy out of the things we used to love doing, and although at first makes us feel sad, in the end, people often report feeling angry, or just nothing at all if it goes on for long enough. Alas, there is not yet a magic wand… but here’s some tips to start to hit back at the demon/black cloud, let me know if any strike a chord with you.

1) Activity. Acting against the way you feel may seem like the least appealing idea in the world, but it can often be one of the most effective. Those activities that you once found pleasure/joy/reward in? You may not get those feelings back for a while, but make a start and reintroduce them back into your life. A simple way to do this, and one I’ve used myself on a few occasions, when I find myself doing too little, too much, or just having my work/life balance wrong is to break things down.

Grab your note taking tools and list every activity that you currently do/have stopped doing as a result of how you feel/would like to do. Note them in these categories

  • Routine Activities – Things you do daily/weekly etc.
  • Pleasurable Activities – Things that make you feel better or used to do so.
  • Necessary Activities – Paying the bills, going to work etc.


Now list all those tasks in terms of how difficult you would find them to do, if I asked you to do them today. The difficulty can be because of a lack of motivation, money or other barriers. Categorise them into;

  • Most Difficult
  • Medium Difficulty
  • Easiest

Now, pick a few and schedule them into your week, yes I’m actually asking you to do this! It may seem stupid/overly simple/ineffective, but it’s one of the most powerful tools in beating depression that I’ve come across in 8 years. Try not to beat yourself up if you don’t get them all done, and if everything feels too much, tell yourself to do things just for 10 minutes. Make your goal 2 of the easiest tasks from your list, for 10 minutes this week. Here’s a table to get started, feel free to make your own though, it’s about what works for you.

BehaviouralActivation

2) Exercise: Some of you may not like this, but there’s a growing body of evidence stating that for mild to moderate depression, exercise is as effective as anti-depressants. This isn’t as mammoth a task as it first seems. If you want maximum benefits, do it outside, a 10 minute walk is all you need to start with, then you may get the added benefit of topping up your vitamin D levels which if low, can also leave us vunerable to low mood. If outside seems like a massive task, then just search YouTube for some exercise moves and start there, aim to get your pulse rate up a little, get those endorphins pumping, and you have yourself a natural anti-depressant.

3) Sleep: Easier said than done right? Here’s 3 quick tips to help with this one, as the right amount of sleep lets our brains recuperate and leaves us less emotionally vulnerable the next day.

  • Go to bed at the same time, and try to get up at the same time each day…yes try to keep as close to this routine as possible on weekends too.
  • Create a sanctuary to sleep in, try and keep the bedroom for intimacy and sleep, no TV watching, computer using, or anything else that fools our retinas into thinking it’s daytime. Treat yourself to some nice sheets if you can and keep the room slightly on the chilly side. A drop in body temperature is the last thing that happens to us, that turns our dozing into actual sleep.
  • Try to avoid caffeine a good few hours before bed and don’t eat too late at night. The exception is hot milk, try to create a ritual before bed, this may be reading for a while and a hot milky drink, or a relaxation exercise of some kind.


4) Diet: I’m assuming people are aware by now that the less fatty and refined your eating is the better you feel? So yes, wholemeal grains, eating breakfast and taking it easy on the white sugar are great places to start. But add some Tryptophan rich foods in there (it’s one of the ingredients of Serotonin, the popular happy brain chemical) Fish, Turkey, Chicken, Dark Chocolate and Bananas are good sources. And I know a lot of people don’t like fish, but Omega 3 and 6 oils are great for those who find their concentration and memory is affected when they feel low. I’ll do a whole post on this in more detail in the coming weeks, but this just gets things started.

5) Talk: Share how you’re feeling if you can, choose a close family member or friend, visit your GP or ask Google for a helpline in your area. 1 in 4 of us suffer from depression or anxiety in our lives, you may find it’s far more common that you think. If you’re in the UK, your GP can often give you access to a free and confidential therapy service within your local area. I’m here if you needing pointing in the right direction.

Finally, it’s important to remember that depression is transient, it won’t always be this bad, no one stays in exactly the same intensity of mood forever, it may get worse, but it will also eventually pass, it’s just a question of time. And of course, if we’re going to have the good times, there has to be the bad ones too. I hope these tips make your darker times slighter briefer  look out for more on the thinking around depression in another post. Please comment and share how you deal with your “down days,” you just may help others in their struggle.



Healthy Mind #2: Some thoughts on thinking, and other symptoms.

Psychology

 

So we have some goals to work towards in the future, (If you missed last weeks post then click here first) let’s switch focus and look at the now. It’s often useful for people to gain an awareness of the symptoms they are experiencing. This may help to manage the sensation of feeling overwhelmed by said symptoms, for example when experiencing anxiety. I’d encourage you to break the symptoms down to help when deciding on strategies to manage the emotions and sensations you experience.

Exercise 2: Symptoms

1) For the next few days try and note down the following anytime you feel a particularly strong emotion.  This can be a positive or negative emotion.

  • Emotions – These are usually one word answers; anger, anxious, excited etc.
  • Physical symptoms – Examples may be breathlessness or insomnia.
  • Thoughts – What is going through your mind when you are feeling this way? Try an be as specific as possible.
  • Behaviours – What did you do in response to the situation and how you were feeling about it?

 



Healthy Mind #1 : “I just want to feel better”

Psychology

Hello and welcome old friends and new to a brand new series of posts. I’ve titled them “Healthy Mind” as the words mental health often have strong connotations and stigma, and “happiness” is rather subjective.  Basically I wanted to share a few tips and techniques to a healthier mind, that I have learned in my job as a psychological practitioner for 8 years and counting.

I see the journey to a “better you” as 3 parts, the first is sharing…telling someone how you feel, secondly there’s gaining awareness, and as I can’t really advise on who would be best to “speak about those feelings that you are having” as i don’t know you personally, that’s where we shall start today. The third and final part is taking action…working to change unhelpful habits and create new and more helpful ways to think and take care of the inner you.

Firstly, a question I always ask of people presenting with anxiety, depression, low self esteem and/or anger issues is “What would you like to achieve from your therapy?”

I’d say roughly 80% of people answer with the same 6 words “I just want to feel better.” Understandable you might say, yes of course, but not helpful when choosing a focus and direction for our therapeutic journey.

So before changing your life. I’d like you to take a moment to figure out what “better” means to you, and set some goals about what you would like to achieve in the next few months of your life…in all aspects of it.

Exercise 1: Vision and Goals. (Fire up a notepad app or grab ye old fashioned pen and paper and jot down some notes/answers)

1) What does feeling better/being happier/calmer actually look like? What would you be doing more (or less) of if you felt the way you would like to be feeling?

2) What would you like to achieve in the next 3 months? Whether it be, work on your anxiety and learn to relax more, or learn a new skill, take some time to jot it down here. Try and keep your goals as realistic and specific as possible.

This journey will be a personal one, but feel free to share your thoughts/goals in the comments section. Questions/comments and ideas for further topics can be tweeted to me @kezla or emailed to kez@thoughtsontea.com