The top danger signs we’re going downhill into depression

With life so different these days, it is really easy to go downhill into the blackness of depression. Signs to watch out for include

  1. Changes in sleeping pattern- for example lying awake for long periods during the night
  2. Feeling unmotivated to do anything
  3. Stopping the things we used to enjoy
  4. Taking longer to recover after something annoying happens
  5. Every little thing causing extra work becomes a heavy burden
  6. Food is no longer enjoyable
  7. Not having any patience, being irritable and snapping at people
  8. Feeling more anxious
  9. Feeling sleepy or tired a lot of the time
  10. Turning down invites from friends and family whose company you would usually enjoy
  11. Finding it difficult to concentrate
  12. Drinking more than usual

Drinking more than usual

Drinking more than usual can actually make depression worse as Southlady found. Initially it numbs our feelings but it then it comes back to bite us afterwards. So if the signs on checklist above, ring a bell with you, it might be worth considering not drinking at all for two weeks to see whether your mood improves.

What to do if this is you?

Well the good news is recognising these symptoms is a really good start, because it’s really easy to be depressed without knowing we’re depressed. This was me for years!

So being aware of the symptoms means we can do something to help ourselves.

Recognise what we can control

Understanding what we can and can’t control is vital. So we can’t control this COVID crisis or when things will get back to normal, but we can control how we respond to it.

We can take action, if we recognise any of the changes listed above.

Chatting to a trusted friend about how we’re feeling can help. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to friends, the Aware help line  can be contacted at 1800 80 48 48 from 10am to 10pm seven days a week.

Other supports

If you don’t like chatting, going for a walk every day can really help.  There are also more supports available here

One of the good things coming out of this COVID crisis, is better awareness of mental health. So you’re not alone, if you’re feeling down.

Photo credit

Take a friendly attitude towards yourself

Taking a friendly attitude towards yourself is really important according to Pádraig O’Morain.  As the wear and tear of COVID continues, it’s important to be kind to ourselves. The research is very clear, a friendly attitude towards ourselves really helps our mental health.

Easy to underestimate the strain of COVID

It’s very easy to underestimate the strain of COVID. Cooped up all day with people, or maybe being totally alone. Zoom calls replace face to face meetings and while great for keeping in touch, they are incredibly tiring. After an hour long meeting I feel drained. I have one friend who gets really bad migraines after long Zoom calls.

Critic in our head

So it’s important not to start berating ourselves when we don’t get as much done as we want. That little voice in our head, kicks off saying we’re not good enough, or we’re lazy or we never do anything right. So then it’s easier to hit the bottle to silence the critic in our head. Yet, we would n’t speak to our best friend so critically, so why do we speak to ourselves like that?

Notice your internal voice

So it’s really important to notice and be aware of that voice in your head. What is it saying? Every time that harsh little voice kicks off

You should have done this” or

you should have done that

imagine yourself putting tape across the mouth of that voice and, silencing it.

The voice is so strong, it’s hard to hear

For some people, this voice is so strong and such a part of them, it can be really hard to actually hear the negative messages. Imagine if you’ve always lived in darkness, you can’t understand what living in the sun is like, because you’ve never experienced it.

For people who have grown up with an internal critical voice or family  trauma, it can be really hard to see the sun. Science shows their brains have a different less effective way of dealing with life.

Listen to your body

So if this is you, start paying more attention to how your body is feeling. Are you feeling tension in a particular part of your body? Many people feel tension or fear in their stomach. Becoming aware of this tension and taking a couple of deep breaths as we described here can help release this tension

Relaxing like this, then allows the thinking part of your brain to hear the critical inner voice and challenge it.

It takes practise

Many people who are drinking too much become very self-critical.  Society does not help either as we’re sold misleading stories about wonderful alcohol but then blame people who drink too much. So it takes lots of practise to be aware of how our bodies are feeling and to silence that inner critical voice.

Take a friendly attitude

So if at first you don’t succeed or are finding it tough, take a friendly attitude towards yourself. Tell yourself you’re great for trying and keep practising. Eventually you’ll succeed.

Our Top Tips on COVID19 to protect your mental health

It’s all Covid19 this week which would nearly drive you to drink, particularly if anxiety is a problem. Listening to all the news would make anyone anxious. So here’s our top tips to maintain good mental health and avoid sliding into drinking too much to numb the fear.

1.Stick to reliable sources of information

There’s lot of misleading information around so stick to reliable sources only. Check out the HSE website or the World Health Organisation website  

2.Limit the time you spend listening or talking about Covid19

There’s wall to wall coverage and I find the more I listen to it, the more depressed I get. So I’m now restricting the amount of time, I spend on social media and feeling better all ready. Many mobile phones have a digital well-being feature where you can set a timer to limit how much time you spend on Facebook, Twitter etc. Don’t check social media before bedtime as you may find it harder to sleep.

3.Pay attention to your own needs and feelings

During times of stress, it’s really important to pay increased attention to our own needs and feelings. I’ve noticed I’m more anxious than normal. Given I’m in the high risk category and I help care for two elderly parents in poor health, I’ve had to accept this is okay. So I’ve started taking Bach’s Rescue Remedy.

For best results, take it within half an hour of a shock or bad news.

If you have an alcohol dependence, make sure to get the alcohol free version.

4. Take a walk in nature

There’s lot of research which shows walking in parks, forests or by the sea really improves our mental health. So going for a short walk in a green area every day will help. Just maintain a 6.5 ft distance (about the height of a tall man) from other people.

5. Stay Connected

Yes, we have to avoid crowded situations but staying in touch with people we like and love is very important. Phone calls are better than social media. Agree a rule that you will spend at least 50% of the time talking about happy stuff and not just about COVID19.

6. Reduce or stop drinking

There’s lots of evidence that alcohol increases the risk of chest infections. Professor Charles Parry states it can also increase the risk of damage from infections such as COVID-19. So yet another reason to manage your drinking. You can see the complete risks of drinking here.

You can find more tips on managing your mental health here.

We can’t avoid stress but can we reduce its impact on us?

We all know modern life is full of stress.  Long commutes, pressurised jobs, financial pressures, keeping children safe, looking after sick parents. The list goes on. Is it any wonder so many people have mental health problems and drink too much?

Is modern life toxic?

Modern life is toxic -especially for young people.  So many people can’t hope to own their own home. They rent homes at very high prices with little security about how long they can stay there. They have zero hour contracts or unpaid internships.

Stress is constant

For people brought up in high stress households, stress can be a lifelong problem. Studies have shown high stress levels in pregnant women can make their children more easily stressed after birth. It also takes these children longer to calm down. So it’s useful to accept that we may have an inbuilt tendency towards stress. (Click here for more details)

Stress can be managed

It’s easy to solve this constant stress by drinking too much. It provides temporary relief.  But it is also possible to reduce stress without the hangover.

Some studies suggest up to half our stress is caused by external factors outside our control, stuff like work demands, job insecurity, financial pressures etc. So that means up to half our stress can be controlled by us.

Too stressed to help yourself?

This gives us hope that the situation can change. Even though, it’s difficult to break the cycle of being stressed, drinking, and then being hungover. But some simple tips can help.

Recognise the stress

So the first step in changing this pattern, is to develop awareness of actually feeling stressed. Sometimes we’re not even aware of how stressed we are because we’re so busy trying to keep all the balls in the air.  So simply taking a moment to recognise

“Yes, I’m feeling stressed,

Can help us hit the pause button on stress.

The 5 minute trick

Using the 5 minute trick can also help.

This is a very useful tip given to me. Put your mobile phone on airplane mode, and set the timer to 5 minutes. Find somewhere you won’t be interrupted. Then sit down comfortably with your hands by your side. Put your tongue gently to the roof of your mouth and become aware of your breathing.

Now the next 5 minutes is all yours without interruptions. Imagine any thoughts coming in at the top of your head and travelling down through your body out your feet. You’re just observing these thoughts, not deciding, not taking action, not forcing, not rushing. Imagine the thoughts literally floating peacefully through you. You don’t have to do anything in this 5 minutes but sit and observe. You know the timer will go off, so you won’t fall asleep.

Sitting on the toilet

The great thing about this tip is you can do it anywhere and at any time. At home, in the office, travelling. Even in our busy life, time for going to the toilet is still allowed. All you have to do is find a toilet, pull the seat cover down, put some toilet paper sheets on the toilet cover and you have a clean seat to relax on for 5 minutes.

If you’re going through a really stressful time, doing this a few times a day, can really make a difference. If you’re feeling pressure to drink, simply relaxing in this way for 5 minutes can help reduce this pressure.

So if you’re constantly feeling very stressed, or in a very stressful environment where you’re likely to drink too much, why not try this trick?

For more tips on managing stress, click here.

Photo by energepic.com from Pexels

The missing link to a balanced lifestyle


Many of us really strive to achieve a balanced lifestyle , such as healthy diet, doing some exercise and seeking a good balance between working life, family and friends. Even having a few drinks, once in a while seems okay.

What if there is no reason?

But, what if the frequency and the amount of those drinks start to increase considerably for no apparent reason? When drinking starts to become something we look forward to more and more, maybe is a good idea to stay mindful and try to understand what is causing it.

Behind every excess there is something lacking

There is a saying:

Behind every excess there is something lacking’.

Sometimes we get into a spiralling drinking habit without even noticing it. It’s not by chance. We all know that alcohol alters chemicals in the brain which produce temporary and artificial relief. It also may feel like a de-stressor, and it can be tempting to turn to it. Perhaps, it would be a good start to ask ourselves if we are trying to compensate for something. Or what would be the missing link to our goal of a balanced lifestyle.

Drinking takes over self-reflection

When drinking takes over self-reflection, we miss a wonderful opportunity to get to know ourselves more and to get in touch with our needs. If we don’t address them, often a knock-on effect happens in other areas of our lives. Things can become so entangled in a pattern of behaviour that finding the root cause will require a real loving and committed effort. The good news is, it can be done.

Find the missing link

It’s worth working towards finding that missing link. It can be some pattern from childhood or something that happened recently, it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it is calling for your love and care. Why not try to look inside for the real answers? You might be surprised.

Editor’s Note

The Irish parenting culture from past generations did not encourage looking at or understanding our feelings. This can lead to real problems leading a balanced lifestyle as adults. The research shows behind every problem alcohol use there is a cause or reason. It can be trauma, grief, anxiety or adverse childhood experiences. For more information click here.

Are childhood experiences making you drink too much alcohol?

In our last post we wrote about  adverse childhood experiences   (ACE) and the  big role it plays when  people drink too much alcohol. It can get worse around Christmas when there ‘s so much pressure to play “happy families” . How the experts see ACE is shown below.

drink too much alcohol

In this post we’ll go through how to find out if this is a possible cause of an alcohol problem.

Was your childhood mostly ok or pretty difficult?

A good question to ask yourself was your childhood ok or was it pretty difficult?  Are your first childhood memories mainly happy or mainly sad? Do you even have many childhood memories? Many people block out difficult childhood memories.

Make sure you separate out how your parents treated you, from how you actually feel. As we talked about here, you may feel your parents provided all the basics. However if they did not allow you to talk about your feelings, this is now seen as childhood emotional neglect and counts as adverse childhood experience.

Take the quiz

To see whether ACE was a feature of your childhood try this quiz here. The top score is 10 so the nearer you are to 10  the more likely  ACE is a problem when you drink too much alcohol.

No one has ever mentioned ACE?

30 years ago we did not talk about ACE and we just described people with a drink problem as a heavy drunk or as an alcoholic. Society saw them as wicked people. Now we know people don’t drink too much from wickedness they do it out of woundness. (Link here)

Many  mental health services ask

“What’s wrong with you” 

rather then

“what happened you”

As we saw from high flyer Emma’s story, she blamed herself and none of the services she got asked  about the sexual abuse she had a s a child.

So knowing you have ACE, the key thing is to forgive yourself for the problems you may be causing in your life.

“You can’t give what you have not got.”

Dealing with ACE

Awareness is key. Accepting  it’s more difficult to make good decisions when ACE is involved. So treat yourself with more compassion. Living life with ACE is a bit like running a race when everyone else starts ahead of you. So even being in the race is an accomplishment.

The good news is once we become aware that our childhoods were difficult, and our drinking is a response to it, it becomes much easier to control our drinking.

Does ACE mean I will always drink too much alcohol?

The answer is a very definite NO. There are people with high ACE scores who do really well in life generally. Very often there was one single person in their life who loved them unconditionally or they developed awareness of the impact of ACE.

Don’t give up

So if you’re feeling low, or you drink too much alcohol don’t give up.  Be kind to yourself and recognise that even reading to the end of this email is progress.

If you’ve found this post  useful you might also find Lynn‘s Ruane book “People like me” which is raw and honest about her own adverse childhood experiences and how she overcome them. It recently won the An  Post Irish Book award for best non fiction book.

I’m just a bum, a heavy drunk

I’m just a bum, a heavy drunk.

Maybe that’s the way you’re feeling after Christmas? Despite your best intentions you drank too much. Too many hangovers. Too much making a fool of yourself.

Or maybe you got through Christmas without drinking too much but you found it lonely and depressing? Yep, you’ve got the home, the relationships, and the job. But something’s wrong. All that pressure to be happy, when you’re really not happy?

 

There‘s a common cause

Before Christmas, I was at two very inspiring events both of which focused on a problem that could explain both why we drink too much and why we’re not happy. In fact they could explain many of the problems in our lives.

 

Adverse childhood experiences 

How we were brought up can explain a lot about how we act now. We’ve written before how we may not even be aware that our childhood is still having an impact on how we behave. While it’s obvious if we were physically beaten as a child, it’s not so obvious if we suffered from childhood emotional neglect.

The experts call this issue adverse childhood experiences, or ACE. You can see how the experts look at these in the picture below.

heavy drunk

 

What does ACE do?

So the experts say the more ACE you had in your childhood the more likely your brain development has changed. This is because your brain has produced more cortisol which activates the fight/flight/freeze response.

The fight/flight/freeze response switches off the thinking part of the brain to ensure all our energies goes into dealing with a threat. So when we’re feeling a threat, we literally cannot think.

 

How ACE affects us

For example, an angry looking dog approaches me looking like it’s going to attack me. My brain quickly goes into fight/flight/freeze as I decide whether to fight the dog, run away or just freeze hoping the dog will ignore me.

My brain forgets about everything else. I don’t remember the childhood experience that has made me scared of dogs. I can’t even see the dog is actually looking at a 2nd dog behind me and is no threat to me at all.

 

Everything else gets forgotten about

So while the dog is there, I remain on high alert. I’m no longer thinking about getting home or collecting  my daughter as I promised. My whole focus is on survival. I don’t have time for anything else.

This lovely YouTube video spoken by kids explains how our brains freeze beautifully.

 

The long term impact

If you’ve experienced a lot of ACE then your brain’s  ability to deal with the normal up’s and downs of everyday life is less than other’s people. You’re either on high alert when you react to everything or you simply shut down anytime you feel overwhelmed or triggered. So making good decisions and following through on them is much harder for people with ACE.

People with ACE are much more likely to have problems with drinking. Their brains are more likely to be   in survival model which means they can’t think and make good decisions.

So if you’re labelling yourself as a heavy drunk, it worth’s looking at your childhood to see if this is causing you to drink too much.

 

Be kind to yourself, don’t label yourself a heavy drunk 

So if you’re feeling down after Christmas, don’t despair. Don’t label yourself with negative words such as heavy drunk.  If you’re read this far you’re making progress and  in a future post we’ll look at ways of dealing with the ACE that may be the cause of  drinking  too much.

Happy New Year!

Lessons for Life- part three

This is our final post on  lessons for life  from the book.

“Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us about the Mysteries of Life and Living”

These are the key messages I took from the book and provide  quick help when you’re pushed for time.

Lessons for life

 lessons for life

Anger

  1. Anger is natural except when it is suppressed
  2. Anger creates action
  3. Anger tells us when we have not dealt with our hurt
  4. Generally there is another emotion behind our anger
  5. Have a safe space to let out anger

 

Happiness

  1. Happiness is a natural state- it depends on our perception
  2. Happy people are the least self-absorbed and self-centred
  3. Don’t focus on “shoulds” if you want to be happy.  I “should” have done this, I “should“have done that
  4. Life is long, but time is short
  5. Change how you react to situations that make you feel bad about your life
  6. There is no good without the bad- e.g. There can be no mountains without the valleys
  7. In the ordinary, find the special

 

Play

  1. Playing keeps us young, passionate and helps relationships to thrive
  2. Playing is to live life to its fullest
  3. Playing improves our mental health in the same way that physical exercise does
  4. Strive to get the work out of fun- if it’s fun it’s not work.
  5. Watch out and don’t turn play into productivity – it must be enjoyed to be play
  6. Every experience is rich with the possibilities for magic.

 

Patience

  1. Accept you don’t always get what you want
  2. The ability to delay gratification is important
  3. Learn to live with a situation as it is- not as you would like it to be
  4. Each life experience comes when you are ready
  5. Need to exercise the patience muscle- think about being patient
  6. Develop a faith or belief that healing is always at work – even if you can’t feel it
  7. Don’t always try to fix things
  8. Have hope

 

Surrender

  1. Think of life as a roller coaster- ride don’t drive
  2. Use the Roller Coaster image when you’re exhausted from trying to control
  3. Don’t fight the unfightable – let go
  4. Turn into a situation not away
  5. Use the serenity prayer first written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr made famous by AA

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference”

 

Forgiveness

  1. Forgiveness heals our hurt and wounds
  2. Forgiveness restores us to a place of grace
  3. Non forgiveness keeps us stuck- a perpetual victim
  4. Forgive yourself
  5. We are here to make mistakes

From me, I’d add forgiveness is for yourself, for your own piece of mind. It does not mean you forget what happened or put yourself back in a position where the same hurt can happen  again.

So that’s it- our lessons for life summary of a really useful book. Hope you found it helpful. You can find the first post in  the series here and the second post here.

Quick Life lessons -part two

In our last post we talked about quick life lessons from  the book

“Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us about the Mysteries of Life and Living

So in this post we continue with some of the messages I found helpful.

This weeks life lessons

life lessons

Love

  1. Love needs to be unconditional
  2. Don’t count the details
  3. Loving yourself enables you to receive love
  4. Treat yourself with compassion
  5. Loving someone may mean just being there- you may not be able to make them happy

 

Relationships

  1. Be present in the moment- it may be the last
  2. Loving relationships may not be a “couple”
  3. Don’t try to change other people- because it’ s always about you
  4. Confrontation with expectation is manipulation
  5. Learn from every relationship

Loss

  1. Eventually we will lose everything we have. An old Jewish saying- dance at a lot of weddings you’ll cry at a lot of funerals
  2. Time does heal all (if you let it)
  3. Take time to mourn and experience your loss

 

Power

  1. Recognise the power to change in you
  2. What matters is what you think and feel- form your own opinion of yourself
  3. Live for to-day not for tomorrow
  4. Be grateful for what you are

 

Guilt

  1. Tragic events happen and can be no one’s fault
  2. Guilt is rooted in self-judgement
  3. To move past guilt align your beliefs and actions
  4. Shame comes from old guilt
  5. Bad people don’t feel bad about hurting others

 

Time

  1. Time is relative to the observer- your perception determines whether time passes fast or slow
  2. As one door closes another opens, but the hallways in between are a bitch
  3. It’s the life not lived that we regret
  4. Don’t be chained to the past
  5. Stay in the present moment- one at a time
  6. You don’t know how much time you have left

 

Fear

  1. Pain translates into growth- if you let it
  2. Fear does not stop death- it stops life
  3. Face your fears, take them to lunch!
  4. Kindness overcomes fear
  5. Fears are multi-layered, involving past and future, only love is in the present
  6. Practice doing the small things you’re afraid of
  7. Use compassion for yourself to overcome your fears

 

In the next post we’ll finish off all the remaining life lessons. You can see the first post in this series here.