Understanding & Looking After Your Mental Health

Presented by Gem Hill at IT Matters Conference ONLINE

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Transcript

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This talk is going to be about self care and the how what it is and the importance of it and all that good stuff. So, first things first, I'm going to do some definitions. If I can get thing to work, there we go. So, yes, first things first, some definitions. I want to talk about mental health, and mental illness and mental ill health. And I'm going to use them in specific ways, I'm going to find them first. So when I talk about mental health, I talk about the brain equivalent of physical health. Essentially, we all have mental health, regardless of how we interact with it. Just like we all have physical health, regardless of how we interact with our physical health. And mental illness is a diagnosable chronic condition. So when I talk about mental illness, I talk about things disorder, schidisorder, schilike long term generalised anxiety, long term depression. And things like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, the longer term kind of chronic diagnosable conditions. When I talk about mental ill health, I talk about more temporary periods of not feeling great, and you can have depression, anxiety, and those kind of things that are periods of mental ill health, if you're going through a stressful time, like we all are right now, probably. But it's not necessarily chronic enough, or rises to the level of being diagnosable. And therefore, that's the difference. I say this, because I think a lot of people think that I find a lot of people don't think about their mental health until they really have to. And a lot of people don't think, like, I think the phrase mental illness is still quite a heavy thing. And a lot of people don't think about their mental health in terms of temporary issues that you could have. And so I'm kind of getting all these definitions out of the way so people know what I talk about. But we all have mental health is the thing that I want you to take away from this, we all need to keep an eye on our mental health, we all need to look after it just that we'll keep an eye on look after our physical health.

I'm going to talk about stress as well, I want to talk about stress, I don't necessarily mean bad things happening. Because stress can come from good things as well, [you can go] you can be doing something amazing, but it still be really stressful on your mind and body, right. Getting a new job, that's a period of time that can be quite stressful. Having a new addition to the family, whatever that may be, can be stressful, but can be really good and really enjoyable. And the thing is that I want to make sure that, I said a lot of people tend not to think about their mental health until they're not going through mental ill health, and they're suffering and then they go on to engage their mental health. And it's important to engage with your mental health, regardless of whether you're feeling good or feeling bad. Just like it's important to look after your physical health. Whether you've got a cold or the flu or an illness, that means you need to look after a bit more, or you are fitting fine, but you still need to like exercise and eat whatever's right for you, and all that kind of stuff. So it's exactly the same thing across the board. So final definition, self care, what is self care. So self care, as a concept can be attributed to Audrey Lorde, who said that caring for myself is not self indulgence. It's self preservation. And that is an act of political warfare. And that kind of thing. self care has fairly radical roots. And it is about looking after yourself in the face of oppression or in the face of a world that makes you very anxious or very depressed. And that kind of thing is about looking after yourself fundamentally. So you can live well and thrive rather than survive. So for me, it still is quite important to make sure I kind of keep coming back to self care as this kind of act of self preservation, especially now as it's been co opted a little bit by people who want to sell those things, which is fine, I'm not going to crap on that too much. You're just more of a, this is its roots, right? self care is a fundamental act of looking after yourself in a world that maybe doesn't want you to look after yourself.

So I'm going to talk about what self care is for me and how I engage with self-care. And then hopefully you can take something useful or helpful from that. And I would also love to hear your what self care means to you. Because I find that people engage with it very differently, depending on their needs and what helps them. And so I always really enjoy hearing what other people think, and what other people find useful. But for me, self care fundamentally is about listening and boundaries, listening to myself, listening to my body, listen to my feelings, understanding how they affect me and what they might mean. And then acting on them if I need to. So a lot of self care is kind of around. Things like meditation, and yoga and mindfulness and things that get you out of your brain into your body. Husky said, opening the day, and it is, that is great. Like, I love getting out of my brain, I do a lot. Or I did, I've got out of practice, that's a whole different thing. I used to do a lot of yoga, because it's really hard for me to overthink things when my brain when I'm trying not to fall on the floor, doing the yoga pose, you know, like, my brain can't handle all those things at once. So yeah, that's kind of what I did that it kind of gets me into my body, it stops me from just constantly overthinking things, it's all very good. But for me, self care goes a step beyond that, as well. It's about using that quiet, to listen and hear what my body's trying to tell me what my brain is trying to tell me as well, and how the two interact. So it's about making sure that I'm listening to my anxieties, or my mood swings, or whatever it is, that's happening at the time, I'm just acknowledging that those things are happening, I am experiencing these things, they may be incongruous to the situation that I'm in, I may not be I may not be able to control what's causing them, but I am experiencing them. This is what is happening. This is how it's making me feel physically. This is where I'm at. And it's about accepting that as the situation that you're in not necessarily fighting against it, not trying to change it, but just sitting there and going, Okay, this is where I am. And the reason I find this useful or important to me, is because of this.

So broadly speaking, empathy is the ability to understand what others are feeling. And self compassion is about extending compassion to yourself in instances of perceived inadequacy or failure, and being kind to yourself. To me, there is a connection between those two things, there is broadly an undercurrent of accepting feelings, accepting how you or someone else is feeling, regardless of the situation, how congruent is to how they are doing, how much sense it makes, we are not rational beings. And to me doing both of those things, flex the same mental muscles, it is about acceptance of feelings. And that is really hard because as humans, we want to solve problems. And the minute feelings come across, we want to help people, we want to help ourselves, or we want to brace ourselves for feeling weird, and we shouldn't feel this way and all that kind of stuff. But we're not very good at sitting and listening and accepting without judgement, and without wanting to fix. And for me, this is really important. This is such an important part of figuring out my mental health, and figuring out how to look after my mental health.

So for me, when you bring the two parts of what I class is self care together, listening to yourself and being compassionate for yourself. First of all, it gets this really nice cycle I find the more compassion I have for myself, the easier is to be empathetic for other people, the more empathetic I am to other people, the easier is to be compassionate to myself, because that's the habit I get into. I start reacting to feelings with kindness and with acceptance. And with, okay, this is happening, this is how we feel. That's okay. [You're] you can feel this way, if you need to feel this way we can deal with it if we want to deal with it. But if at some point, we just need to sit and be because everything is too much, then we can do that as well. And there's nothing wrong with that, that is absolutely fine. We don't have to be doing stuff all the time. We don't have to be getting rid of all the feelings all the time. It's all about acknowledging that and acknowledging the good times as well. Making sure that we make sure we really feel that joy and gratitude that comes from having good things in our lives as well. You know, and making sure that we feel those things. I feel when we're moving quickly or when especially [if we're in], when im in a good period of life and I'm feeling great and things are going well I find that sometimes I've not quite keeping up like feeling as deeply as I could because I'm just I mean I'm enjoying it but I'm not enjoying going deeper level because I think i'm deep down, I'm scared that if I enjoy it too much, it'll get taken away, there's some irrational fear about being like fully feeling happiness, you know. And I think this helps with that as well. I often find that if I'm having an empathy fail, or a self compassion fail, they kind of affect each other. I know most of the time, if I'm finding it hard to be empathetic to someone at work, and they're just really irritating me. Sometimes it's because we just don't get on and we don't, we just rub each other the wrong way. And sometimes it's because they're reflecting something in myself that I'm not happy with, and that I'm not being compassionate about. And I need to bring that up going to deal with it inside myself. So I can then help and approach them with the empathy that we need to deal with the situation. Because most of time, the other people don't realise that they're irritate, you know, they're just getting on with their lives, they're not doing things to you or at you, if your reaction and listening to that reaction can illuminate what has caused that reaction. And then once you know what you're doing, once you know the shape of something, you're more likely to be able to deal with it, or at least respond to it in a more productive way than just reacting instantly to it.

And so, yeah, for me, self care is about knowing the shape of my feelings, knowing what things are happening and knowing what I know what those I can kind of react to it. How I started doing this and so with that I still do is tracking my mood, I do it once a day, I have an app on my phone, that reminds me at eight o'clock every night, I need to track my mood and some other things. Because I find that having something in black and white having something in front of me that I can see and having a trend means I'm more likely to pay attention to it, and more likerly to take it in. So I sit there at eight o'clock every night and I think about how I feel on a scale of one to, I think it is 1 to 10 my app does. One being awful. 10 being amazing. And there's other things in between. So I start off kind of high level. Have smiley, am I today? And then from there I dive in a little bit more. Am I anxious? Am I just whatever? Am I feeling great. I'm feeling optimistic. What am I feeling? And then it's like, what does that actually physically feel like I know that emotionally feels like now what's that physically feel? Like? Am I have I been juggling my leg all day? Because I'm anxious? Am I doing scrolling? Because I don't want to engage in my feelings so I'm just going through social media going from Twitter, to Instagram, to Twitter to Instagram and not engaging with anything in any meaningful way. How is this affecting my my life physically. And then first of all, you have a history, you can see what things affect other things, how you react to certain feelings, even if these things aren't connected in your brain. When you write them down, looking back on them, you can see "Oh, if I'm feeling anxious, chances are I'm going to spend the evening just being on Twitter making myself more anxious." When I know what would actually help me is watching something, watching a good film or a TV show or doing some crafting or going for a walk or literally anything else other than spending time on Twitter, for example. And that's super important. You know, that's the kind of stuff that actually matters and helps and this is kind of where self care comes from it is about doing stuff and looking after yourself in ways like having a bath and doing yoga and wearing comfortable, fluffy dressing gowns. But it's about doing that in reaction to something. It's about doing that in so you can listen to your feelings and sit with those feelings. So you're not constantly distracting yourself with with life and the internet and everything else, you know. Because, for me, fundamentally, self-care is about sitting with my feelings, dealing with them, and then being able to go and do other things with my life. Because I know I've got my figured out my feelings a little bit. I've not figured out my feelings entirely. I'm still paying my therapist to help me with that. But you know what I mean, I'm starting I've got some techniques that really work for me.

Another thing that I want to bring up because this is something that has been affecting me quite recently, and I know it's affecting other people because every time I've mentioned it, people have told me that it's resonate, resonated with them. And that is the difference between coping with something and dealing with something. So back in July, I had a call with my boss had a one to one, which we held weekly. And he asked me how working from home was going and he said because kind of this is it now until the end of the year we're going to be working like this, at least until the end of the year. And that kind of hit me that I kind of been coping with locked up and not really dealing with it. So coping for me is just pushing through just doing whatever you need to do to get through a temporary bit of time that you know is going to end. And then you can move on get back and recover afterwards, right? We've all done it. There's nothing wrong with it ,very short term, you know, crunch time at work. A period of intense business or illness, that kind of thing, get white knuckle your way through, then it is fine. But long term that leads to burnout. Right? And we need and dealing is about going okay, this is the situation I am in. How can I make this good? Or better than it is? How can I engage with this? And it's kind of scary to do that. Because you've got to sit down and go, Okay, my life as it is now? is the foundation of how I'm going to be for another three months, say till the end of 2020? How do I make sure that this is survivable, without burning myself out without just collapsing under the weight of existential anxiety about everything, how you deal with maybe not an ideal working space, I live in a flat that isn't ideal to work in to be honest with you, it's got like one room or two, if you count the bedroom, you know, kitchen living room, it's all one space, one table, and there's two of us in here working, but we can deal with it. We've got the furniture and the tools and things to deal with it and making sure that we're actually moving through. And it's little things like that it's making its reevaluating what you need, now that maybe you're locked down, working from home has gone from a short term thing to a long term thing. How do you make this work?. And part of that is again, sitting and listening again, figuring out what is working, what isn't working and tracking that and tracking those niggly things and seeing if there's a pattern to the things that are bothering you. Both again, physically and mentally, practically, and emotionally. These things are all linked. One feeds into the other feeds into the other. And without listening to one, you're not able to hear the other one fully. So you've got to take it as a whole and sit and listen. And it's difficult. But it can be worth it.

So I am someone who will quite happily let perfect get in the way of good enough. I will be like, Oh, I can't start doing this this week because I didn't start on Monday. So what's the point this week is a write off. Or? Well, I missed a day. So what's the point in continuing this for the rest of the week, I'll start again on Monday, I am very good at doing things like that. But if something is worth doing, it is worth doing as good as you can. Even if it's not perfect. I saw something on Reddit the other day, which was if something's worth doing, it is worth doing poorly. Awand it kind of resonated with me because the example they had was if you didn't have the energy to brush your teeth, and floss and use mouthwash or interdental brushes, or Waterpik, if you didn't have the energy to do all that routine. But you had the energy to just brush your teeth, you'd still just brush your teeth, right? You wouldn't be like what if I can't do it properly, I'm not going to do it at all, when it came to something like that, right? You do what you could. And then you'd leave the rest and you try again tomorrow. And it's exactly the same thing with self care. It doesn't matter if it's not perfect. What matters is the habit. Because it's going to change. The more you do it, the differences in your life and your circumstances, your mental health, it's going to keep changing, you're going to have to keep making changes. So just do it. Do it if you fail, that's great. You've learned something, keep doing it, keep doing it, keep doing it. Because it's worth doing. Right.

I use this stuff as a barometer as well, for my overall mental health. If I'm having issues in, because I mean I talk the game, folks, but I'm not perfect. If I'm having real troubles engaging with my with my feelings, chances are that means my feelings are a bit too big and a bit too scary. And I might need to do a bit of work on that. Or I'm trying to in my feelings and they're still not great. So I'm going to go get some disruption for my feelings because you know what I've tried, and I'm not it's not working for me today, and that's fine. Then they sort of figure out where your mood is where your energy is, and you can figure out what you need. And what you're good for you today, which is sometimes giving in to Doom scrolling on Twitter, because you know what, you haven't got the energy to engage and that's fine. That's fine as long as you know what you're doing. And I make a thing where it's like I at this point in time, I basically know my own bullcrap. And as long as I know bullcrap I'm okay, getting into it now. And then. So no, you're on bullcrap. And then you can deal with it.

I'm coming to the end of my talk, because I undershot this a little bit. But I do want to do a little bit of self promotion. But that potential time for questions, and you can ask me anything can we can chat, I could probably find some more stuff to chat about, at some point, and I'm gonna do a self promotion, I have a company that does work around self care. It has resources for building self care routines. And I do talks like this. And workshops, if you want to check out this free stuff as well. They don't pay me. You can Google self care backpack. And you can find a whole bunch of resources around building these routines up. It's very pretty. If you know Bruce, Bruce, the legend she made, she made my logo for it. So you know, it's gonna be pretty because it's got Bruces art on it. So you know. I hope that was helpful or useful, or both. Hopefully I am. If there's any questions, if there's anything you'd like me to go into more depth on, if I missed explaining something, if I spoke too quickly, please ask. And I'll go over again. I'm aware I talk very, very quickly. But thank you for listening.

Thank you so much. That was really cool. And I think like Elena, I want those cards as well, that was really interesting. And I saw the part where you talked about coping and dealing and honestly, yes, I'm more of a coping person. And try to make the distinction between coping and dealing sometimes can be very, very hard. I definitely see this.Yeah.

So it's one of those things that and it wasn't until my boss sat down and went, so Okay, this is it. Now, this working situation, is it that I went? Oh, God, okay.

Yes, exactly.

I had to make some changes. It was an external thing. Good. Like, off. Okay. Right.

And I love what you said in the beginning, when you talked about self care being listening, being about listening to your body and your mind as well. And because when I was younger, I just thought self care was really about meditation and yoga. And that was the those are the only two ways I could take care of myself. But actually, I found out that no, it's actually just you listening to your body and your mind and trying to find out what is necessary for you in this moment.

Mm hmm. Yeah, definitely. I said, yoga meditation is an absolutely wonderful way to do it. I said, I love doing yoga, but it feels like, when I first started, your so correct I did exactly the same. And I'd like got to the first thing I was like, well, I've done yoga. So I've looked after myself. I'm done. No, it's not that easy, unfortunately.

Okay, yeah, we have a lovely comment from Antonella says, You've changed my life. The first time I heard you, and you just have a way with words to get through me and say the things I need to hear that was just amazing.

Thank you Antonella, I love you. And everything I've said are the things I've needed to hear. So I've got other people also need to hear them.

Okay, so if you have any questions for Gem, please feel free to pop them in the chat. We still have a few minutes.

I'll also be around afterwards as well. If you want to talk to me privately, obviously, talk about mental health in public can be quite difficult. So I'm around.

That is definitely true. Yes. Okay, so we'll just wait a few minutes to see if there any questions that pop up. And if not, it's going to be time for our break. So we can head up together town and then you can also ask your questions privately if you prefer. Or if not, you can go and grab a cup of coffee or a tea that would be perfect as well. Anything for your self care. Okay. All right. Okay. So it seems like we don't have any questions. All right.

So Brad's just asking. Yes, Brads just asked about the barometer. I have, so the app that I spoke about that has that I track my mood on you can make graphs, we can show you the graphs so I can look back and be like over the past month. I've not been doing great. I clearly need to check in with myself in a bit more of an active way. Rather than just push some buttons. The app is called Bearable. I'm gonna put it in the chat Bearable app. It's very good. It's highly customizable is why I love it because I can track like my migraines. And my other pain issues and as well as my mood and it can track taking medication, it gives you medication reminders, it's like a one stop shop. For me, it's beautiful. So I highly recommend that I'm not affiliated, I just love it, it's very pretty as well. So that is what I use, and then monthly, you can, or however you want. I just do it monthly, because that's kind of how the rhythm goes, does a nice little chart, there's also one called Daylio, which again, I'll put the spelling in the chat that does exactly the same thing. It's much more simple. And so a lot of the mood tracking apps will give you lovely little graphs and charts and stuff. So you can engage with it a bit more and make sure that you're doing okay, and if you need to do a bit more, you've got that lovely, visible graph that tells you Okay, fine. So how do you recommend doing that? Because it's hard to ignore it once you've got a chart telling you that you need to look into his mental health a bit more.

Yes, it can be difficult when an app is telling you that but at least it's a really good wayto do it. Thank you so much. Thank you for this. Yeah.All right. Um, oh, there's another question. How did you realise you need to take care of your mental health?

Oh, so I have sort of from a couple of mental illnesses, I have generalised anxiety, and I have complex PTSD. So I got to a point where my anxiety was really quite bad. And I was like, I, I can't actually continue keeping like holding down a job. Oh, and holding down a relationship. It was one things where I started looking around going, how is everyone else doing like a job and a relationship and tidying the house and not? How is everyone surviving doing this? That's a lot of things. I'm not doing all those things. And it did get to a point, that point where I was like, Is this normal? And then I started kind of generally just asking friends, and they were like, have you considered? Maybe you need to get some help? And I was like, Yeah, okay, that seems fair. And then two years later, I decided to start getting some, okay, some, because it was still quite scary, I'm not going to again, I, I'm not going to tell you that it worked perfectly. And I'm this perfect person who knows what they're doing. And it took a long time for me to engage with it. But you do get to a point I think a lot of people do where it's like, Alright, I either change the link or I continue on, it's the same as coping and dealing again, right? I had to change something fundamental, or this is my life for the rest of my life. Can I deal with this not changing? If the answer is yes, fine. If the answer's no, then you've got to engage and make some changes. It's as simple and difficult as that.

"As simple and difficult as that." I love that. And also, culture comes into play as well. So when I was young, I grew up in a culture where I'm going to see a therapist or asking for help was meant you were weak. So any sign of weakness was not really appreciated. So you had to just power through and not have any self care and just sure that everything is always fine all the time. So now hopefully coaches are changing, things are changing. People are talking more openly about mental health and about self care. So I'm really, really happy that we can be part of this as well. Okay, so thank you everyone for your questions. Thank you so much Gem for this presentation as well.

About the talk

This talk was originally titled "Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself"

“I know how to look after my physical health, but I don’t know how to look after my mental health.”

This question is one that sparked the start of my talking about mental health and self care. During my time living with anxiety and C-PTSD, I’ve learned a lot about self care and looking after my mental health, and I knew I could share my strategies with people. This talk is about what self care is, why it’s important regardless of your mental health status, and how to use self care as a mood barometer. I’ll be sharing tricks and tips I use to keep my own mental health stable, and how to adapt them to find your own self care routine.

About Gem Hill

Gem Hill is passionate about self care and mental health, and is developing resources and exercises to help people come up with self care strategies at SelfCare Backpack/@carebackpack . She can be found on twitter @Gem_hill. She drinks a lot of tea, reads a lot of comics, and loves to bake.

Photo of Gem Hill

Gem Hill

@Gem_hill

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