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I’ve had the fortune of coming across and working with a range of interesting and intelligent individuals over the years – through blogging, work, family and living in various locations. Listening to their stories and what they do, I’ve learned even more so that we’re all making our contribution whether through work, our hobbies or by simply being ourselves. Meeting and staying in touch with psychotherapist Cathy Culloty was no exception.
Cathy is a psychotherapist in DCU, has a private practice and on the side works as a model while running a blog. She’s recently got married and is living her best life as a strong and influential young woman.
As it’s mental health awareness month in Dublin, I reached out to Cathy to ask her for her thoughts on a number of topics related to the stigma attached with mental health in Ireland alongside her general advice to anyone who might be suffering or needing some help. The benefits of psychotherapy, the future of mental health in Ireland and identifying the signs of someone suffering are some of the areas we discussed.
“Exercising regularly, good diet, getting adequate sleep, being mindful of alcohol consumption, talking about your feelings and not being afraid to ask for help” are some of the ways Cathy recommends that we maintain a positive mental health. Aside from these basics, she recommends taking some time out from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Whether that means a holiday abroad, trip to the countryside or a spa day – rest is what will allow the mind to recuperate and refresh.
Of course, we are all guilty of skipping some steps of what we know is good for us. A struggle with our mental health will hit any of us at some stage in our lives so, what then? There are so many possible options when it comes to getting help and support when we’re feeling unwell. With so many possible ways of treatment out there including medication, cognitive behavioural therapy and coaching, how does someone decide what’s best?
As a psychotherapist, I asked Cathy why someone might choose psychotherapy as an option of treatment. Describing it as something everyone should try at some stage in their lives, it allows one to understand themselves fully, rewrite stories from their past, heal old wounds and decide who they want to be and where they want to go. As a pathway of treatment, Cathy cites finding a therapist you can trust as the most important element of having a positive experience with psychotherapy. Of course, having the motivation to develop and work towards a more healthy mindset is the second element to consider.
Not everyone feels comfortable talking about their mental health and this is where the stigma comes in in Ireland and probably – externally. Feeling like you’re alone and being overwhelmed are some of the reasons someone might avoid getting help with their mental health while caring what other people think pops up as a reason why one wouldn’t reach out sooner than they need to. Cathy’s advice is to remember that “you’re not alone. No matter how bad things seem, there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Unfortunately, not everyone will say they’re in a tough place and even more people won’t have recognised it. As loved ones, it’s important that we are able to identify when someone is going through a mental health challenge. Social withdrawal, increased sadness and/or irritability and excessive sleep are some of the signs to look for when identifying a mental health problem. More intensely, significant change in mood, hallucinating and delusions can appear in more extreme cases. In any event, approaching the said person to support them will mean they don’t suffer for longer than they need to.
When we discussed the future of mental health in Ireland, Cathy expressed her hope for its acceptance and progression into a more positive light. “I have a friend in the UK who manages a team and gives them mental health days which I think is brilliant and should be implemented into all work contracts”. The lifting of the stigma, further education and increased awareness around mental health are hopefully a premonition for mental health in Ireland.
In the meantime, being aware of identifying the signs, super self-care and being as open as we can around the topic will mean we take massive strides in the right direction.
Sitting in the jacuzzi yesterday morning, I came across a couple of “me too” moments as I chatted to strangers about the annoyingness of getting injured and needing to take up a new form of exercise. You see, it’s more common than you think and can have an impact on your routine, entire body and not surprisingly, mental health.
The aches and pains are still there as I sit on the sofa writing this post. I slept funny quite a few weeks ago now and left myself in a bit of pain down my neck and upper back. As my physio said, it’s not really clear what happened – just that there was some damage done there. Not having exercised for several weeks when the injury hit, it surely had an effect on my reaction to the inconvenience, which was pure stress. That coupled with not being able to work for a few days but instead lying in bed during sunny weather while popping muscle relaxants, added to the overall pain.
Now, feeling in better health with the odd pain, boyfriend massage, daily swim and date with my physio, I know in hindsight what would’ve helped – and what did work once I finally copped on and did it. You see, whatever about physical pain, it’s how you deal with it that ultimately tells how you’ll feel overall. Finding alternatives to your usual habits will mean that you’re not throwing in the towel. Instead, you’re adapting and moving – avoiding that feeling of being stuck for longer than necessary.
If you find yourself in the position of having a physical injury, being unwell or any other inconvenience that means you’re out of your routine for longer than you’d like, consider the steps that worked for me. You’ll be back on your feet and feeling your best in no time.
*Allow some time to rest. Lying in bed or on your sofa for too long can be boring however it is needed to recover for a period of time at least. It can feel lonesome and difficult, certainly if you are used to being busy however even a couple of days can make all the difference to your body. I made the mistake of trying to get moving too quickly which ended up leaving me back where I started within a few days – take that chill that you need.
*Avoid the FOMO (fear of missing out). I remember feeling like everyone was off having an unreal time, living their dreams and enjoying the sunshine and that’s because they were. In fairness, I would’ve been doing the same if I were them so I quickly got over myself and thought, what will I plan once I’m back on my feet?
*Support is needed. Ensure there is at least some human contact. Whether it’s your friend calling in for a cup of tea, your partner telling you about their day or a call to the outside world for the latest news – don’t stay too isolated. I got into this habit for way longer than I needed to and learned it can take its toll on your mental health.
*Adapt to what can work. I had been lifting weights in the gym and doing some cardio which I enjoyed however couldn’t go back to straight after my injury. Stewing for a few days, the lack of exercise continued to have an impact on how I was feeling and so, I knew I needed to look at options. This meant joining a new gym with a pool and adapting to a new form of exercise. It costs a little extra however when I broke it down, the amount of money was what I’d spend on coffees in a week. Guess which I deemed as more important?
Our bodies can be unpredictable and are usually trying to tell us something. For me, I reckon I wasn’t looking after myself well enough and my body thought – “How can we make her rest?”. In any event, there are ways and means of minding ourselves even if they’re not the obvious options we would’ve liked.
There are always going to be days when feeling our best isn’t happening. We’re moving against the tide and are unsure as to why we don’t feel the way we’d like to. Staying in bed is the preferred option however as an adult, taking care of responsibilities can’t always happen from bed.
For me, it can seem at times like there are so many balls in the air to keep an eye on. Bills need to be paid, washing has to get washed and of course, those social events aren’t going to organise themselves. At times, screaming can seem like the only viable option. Please wait though, there are other ways.
Before you try to guess what I’m going to write, I must warn you that you’re going to read suggestions you’ve read before. That’s because they work! SO in order to feel our best, what do we need in our kits of amazingness? Or as I like to call it ‘Minding my mental health kit’.
*Some work-out gear.
Excuses can crop up in every part of our lives. This especially applies to the gym and doing physical activity in general. Keeping a stock of gym gear to hand is key. Know where your gym bag is, keep it nice and organised so you can get going as quickly as possible when negativity and excuses creep in.
It’s all about confidence in what we’re wearing and doing – this applies to our gym attire too. Treat yourself to some new tops, trousers or even socks before you head to your next session.
Gratitude is key. Feeling sorry for yourself? Think of things to be grateful for. Not sure what to do with that random half hour? Write down some of your blessings. It’s that easy! Fill those notebooks and then keep them on a shelf to look at regularly.
While you’re at it, start a gratitude jar! It can work in tandem with your notebook or on its own :).
*Some meditation know-how.
Ever meditate? Last year, I did an online course with Hilda of the Happiness Business. I learned how to meditate and became hooked! These days, I try to sit down for at least 10 minutes per day and practice the art of meditation. It has been proven that meditating every day for six weeks actually strengthens your pre-frontal cortex! Feeling mentally stronger is as easy as that.
If you have a smartphone, download the app ‘Headspace‘. It’s super simple and has a ten day guided programme.
*Words of some sort.
Fill your kit with books, sweet affirmations or simply, a little reminder on your phone of what you’re about. For me, I have a reminder on my phone a few times a day which reminds me of my mission. I also ALWAYS have a book of some sort and oftentimes, I’ll have some ‘Give it, get it cards’! Words really do matter so don’t underestimate the ones you have nearby.
What helps you when you’re not feeling yourself? Perhaps I need to add some bits and bobs to my kit? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments fields below!