17th May 2020: Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 and Maintaining Self-Care in Lockdown (in Life)

I realise that I’m writing this the week beginning Mental Health Awareness Week 2020. A week which for many is going to be tough. Tougher than tough. So the theme for this year, and rightly so is KINDNESS. So I wish to discuss how we can be kind to ourselves, not just to others. It is important to be kind to yourself, and practice self-care, so I’ll be discussing the reality of mental health and physical illness as it stands during lockdown, and the importance of building a self-care box which may be able to alleviate some of your stress and anxiety.

Mental Health Foundation – Cover designed for Facebook
(Check out their website for more free downloads to raise awareness!)

We’re still stuck in this pandemic, and although there seems to be a glimpse of an ending, there’s panic and worry about an influx of new cases and more deaths occurring as the lockdown begins to ease and we return to a ‘new’ normal. There has been great importance throughout the past 8 weeks around self-care. As we found ourselves locked in our homes with strict rules to follow on social distancing, isolation and outside daily exercise, it was likely that we’d soon be crawling the walls.

This, unfortunately meant for some people whose only safe place was outside the home, were now trapped in further danger from the “virus” already in their home…

… Of which I mean abusers. The lockdown has seen a massive rise in domestic abuse (both emotionally and physically) by at least 25% if not more as this is based on one domestic violence charity “Solace”, (Cassin, Jackson, and Maynard, ‘Protecting Domestic Violence Victims in Lockdown’). It goes without saying that lockdown would also see an increase in mental illness, as people struggled to maintain their mental health as they tried to adapt to new routines.

It was reported that 24% of adults and 44% of 18-24 year olds were battling with loneliness in a study by the Mental Health Foundation. The data continues to grow with more people reaching out for help and support.

I recently took part in the Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre, Coping Study (Covid-19 Psychiatry and Neurological Genetics Study) which covered before the pandemic and during the pandemic, with how I am coping with my mental health. I would urge people to sign up – But only if you feel well enough to do so, because some of the questions can be sensitive, but there are links of support at the beginning and at the end of the survey – But I also found they were located during the survey as well depending on the answers I gave (‘COPE Study: Investigating the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Mental Health and Well-Being’.)

Coping Study Logo (2020)
Click on the image to go to the study.

Of course, the lockdown hasn’t just been having an impact on everyone who has a life outside of the home – It is also affecting those who are housebound due to chronic illness. For people who are housebound due to ill-health and by no fault of their own, their norm catastrophised, and where they may rely on carers or friends and family popping by, this regime of their normality has been altered.

I watched an amazing Instagram video by Miranda Hart with some of her thoughts on people with chronic illness, which I was delighted to see being highlighted by a celebrity because of my own situation with chronic illness – I’ll embed it here for you:

The lockdown has affected us all, but many people have been seen sharing their stories of how they are getting by, surviving and thriving as we work together (mostly) to beat Covid-19. However, what happens when the lockdown is over? There are still going to be anxieties and worries. There will be an abundance of grief and loss felt within families, particularly of those who have sadly lost a close relative to the virus, or for those who have fought the front line as key workers, completely and utterly exhausted, unable to catch a moment to rest before the next shift begins. Life as it is now is going to be wearing people down, and trying to maintain good mental health is the next challenge.

Everyone has mental health – It’s either good or bad, or maybe somewhere in-between. If it’s good -That’s fantastic! Keep doing what you’re doing, but just keep an eye out on your stress bucket, because they can soon fill up and if that tap isn’t working properly the mind can begin to skew.

For those who are struggling, you may be seeking help, be attending some kind of talking therapy or on medication (of which there is NO SHAME in taking medication), we all have different biochemistry with different amounts of neurotransmitters and therefore some things work better for some than others, and that’s okay! But what can we do to maintain good mental health or give ourselves a boost when we’re struggling due to poor mental health and mental illness?

You may or may not have heard of the ‘Self-Care Toolbox’, ‘Survival Kit’ or ‘Wellbeing Box’… These are well, what they literally say on the box – They’re boxes for self-care and wellbeing!

There are many different companies out there which charge an arm and a leg (not literally, but for many, it can be unaffordable), where they send out a box, maybe monthly, quarterly or yearly. Some people have great success with these boxes, but others not so much. There’s always that one item you’re not too keen on, whether it’s because of the smell, or who or what it reminds you of. There is so much information out there on self-care boxes, so what’s so special about them?

When it comes to self-care it is about being in the moment and acknowledging you. Taking some time out of your day and checking in with yourself. It doesn’t have to be something which takes up too much time, even something as simple as listening to one of your favourite songs, just sitting there with nothing but the music and hearing every word or every beat. A moment where you can reflect or find calm. There’s lots of hashtags to find what people do for #selfcare and you’ll see how varied it can be. But self-care is something that is personal. That is why I believe that making your own self-care box is the best thing you could do.

Building the contents of your self-care box, is just a part of the practice towards being kind to yourself. These boxes don’t have to be luxurious and pricey, they can be small and simple. Think treats and activities which can help you in a moment of crisis, or when you’re wanting your own time and space. What could you add in to help you relax and unwind or comfort and smile?

I’ve been working on my self-care box for some time now, trying to find things I know often work in the moment of crisis. Beforehand, my wife would drop (NOT LITERALLY) my rabbit onto me, and I would cuddle up and cry for a while whilst telling him everything that was going on in my life and in my head. Of course, I realise the impracticality of this – I can’t carry around a real bunny around all the time. Can I? No, is the simplest and most ethical answer. So, instead over the years, I have been finding things which work well for me. I’ll admit they don’t always work and it does depend on the situation you’re going through, but it can help temporarily to distract against those negative thoughts and even impulses.

So I have a few things I’ll carry around with me. I say a few, but often you may confuse me with Mary Poppins, as the bag appears bottomless, and I’m carrying everything I may need during the day. Who knows when a crystal might come in handy?!

Think
MIND – BODY – SOUL

Let’s start small, with something you can carry around with you – A pencil case, with some examples of self care items –

  • iPod/earphones for music or audio books
  • A couple packets of your favourite tea
  • An oil rollerball for de-stress/anxiety/energy/clear mind (Tisserand have a lot of essential oil blends!)
  • A small notebook and pen to jot down some thoughts
  • A print out of a photo
  • A print out of a favourite quote or affirmation
  • A print out of a recipe, so you can remind yourself of something you love to cook or bake
  • A print out of a mindfulness technique or two
  • A £5 note, so you can treat yourself to something from the nearest cafe or what treats you love to get under a fiver (Mine is new stationary, books, hair dye or Barry M nail varnish! Needless to say, I’m inundated with stationary, I have a home library, my hair needs a hairdresser and I ought to set up a nail salon with the amount of nail varnish I own!)
  • Nail file/Nail Varnish
  • Fortune Cookie slips – There’s always one you get which rings true… Right?
  • A piece of jewellery
  • Fidget spinners

Okay, so that looks like a long list for the contents of a pencil case! Just remember, you don’t need to throw it all in, and you will find what works for you and sometimes you can swap things out for others by having a second case at home.

The contents of my bag usually consist of:

Contents of my bag…!

From top to bottom – Left to right…

  • Drawing pens, ALGEE MHFA Action Plan, sketchbook, notebook, tiger balm, manicure set
  • Tea, ‘Do Not Disturb’ reversible wristband, iPod, lip balm, roller oil, Bach Rescue Remedy
  • Tangle, two crystals rough and smooth, fidget spinner, fiddle necklace and two spinning meditation rings

So as you can see, I either have a very big pencil case or I have a bottomless bag! (This isn’t all of it either, as I have to carry with my medication, so I’m surprised I’m not rattling more than I am stuck on the spot because of the weight of it all!!)

Moving onto the “bigger” picture, and creating your box…

You can use a shoebox, buy a box ready made, or create a box of any size! Then you can choose how you are going to use it – Will it be for self-care for mind, body or soul or a bit of everything?

I googled Self-Care box ideas, and the possibilities are endless!

If you are a fan of Pinterest, this can also be a great way of building a ‘board’ of ideas. You see, I could list some suggestions, but I’d be here for a while. I guess a few wouldn’t hurt…

  • Journal
  • Pens
  • Crisis Card – With contact numbers for local charities or friends and family
  • Rollerball Oil
  • Scented or Un-scented candle
  • Cuddly toy
  • DVD/Blu-Ray
  • Affirmation Cards or positive notes you’ve written or that people have written for you
  • Photographs
  • Tea or Hot chocolate sachets, a bottle of water or can of pop
  • A favourite snack
  • Fidget Toys and Sensory Items – Fidget spinners, Tangles, Glitter Balls, Slime/Putty, Rustle paper, Calming Jar (Jar filled with dry rice or pulses you won’t want to eat, but can use as a calming regulation tool), Orbs, Bubbles….
  • Comforters (A weighted blanket is always my go to, and helps me sleep!)
  • Poetry/colouring books
  • Face masks, shower or bath bombs, Eye mask – Ultimate pampering …
  • Headphones, ipod, CD player, cassette player, vinyl! – How retro can you go?
  • Craft activities
  • Beauty items – A new palette for a much needed self-care moment or an unopened nail varnish you’ve been waiting for the right time to try
  • Tissues

So as you can see, there’s a heck of a lot of suggestions which I’ve run off of the top of my head, along with some of the items I keep in or nearby my box.

It is your self-care kit, so it needs to be personal. It is something which you can adapt as you grow, and as you find new items which help you in those moments of crisis or relief! Everyone is unique, so support can vary from person to person, and what may be helpful for one, may not be for another. So if you know someone who is building a self-care box, talk to them about it, but do not judge their reasons for putting something you choose would be unhelpful – because to you it may be, but to them it may be the perfect tool.

Just like sharing my hoard in my bag for self-care and comfort, I’ll share with your my self-care box, which I’ve chosen to call ‘Erica’s Self-Soothing Sensory Box’. I used a £4 wooden box available from The Works (Wooden boxes are available at other stores too…!) with the intention of doing some decoupage, but after months of it sitting there blank, I thought with lockdown being the time to crack on with all those “I’ll-get-round-to-it-later projects”, I might as well dig out my pyrography kit and burn it!

Of course, you don’t have to do this. You could paint a wooden box, cover it in glue and glitter (which I was pretty tempted to do, to be honest!), or leave it blank so it’s discreet. It’s your box!

Sharing the contents of what I’ve got in mine so far – and I am one of these people who takes things out, carries them with me, and continues to add things as I continue to seek out new things which help me when I’m needing some comfort for when things are overwhelming or I’m completely stressed and overly-anxious (which seems to be the norm for me anyway, so it’s really more of a LIFE-BOX!)

My self-soothing sensory box!

So, as you can see there’s rather a lot here and also fairly random. It currently contains (I say currently, because I am waiting on a few deliveries….!):

  • A handmade purse by the very lovely Sheila of Polka Dot Handmade Gifts, which I’m currently using to store my crystals (and I know that this not the best thing for them, but it’s temporary!)
  • My small crystal collection; Rough rose quartz chunk and rose quartz double point – Lepidolite flat and a lepidolite pebble (very good for depression and stress as it contains a natural ingredient they use in antidepressants) – Quartz point – Amethyst rough chunk and an amethyst tumblestone! These are really great sensory objects for me, perhaps that’s the spiritualist in me!
  • Sensory toys – Some really shiny sparkly wrapping paper which makes lots of colours, Tangles, various fidget spinners (my new dragon ones are AWESOME!), “thinking putty”, Crystal “soft putty”, glitter ball, stress ball (with Gradforce logo – woohoo!), fidget cubes, and a small glass bottle containing “memory” charms.
  • The Wellbeing Journal (in aid of Mind)
  • Cats postcard colouring book
  • Cat notebook
  • Letter paper and envelopes
  • Coloured biro pens
  • Be Happy (quote book, given to me by my Mum many moons ago…)
  • Keep Calm and Stress Less mindfulness cards
  • 31 Day Mindfulness Day cards
  • Embroidery thread for making bracelets
  • Ceramic bunny ornament waiting to be painted
  • Tisserand Rollerball Oil blends
  • Fold out leaflet from NHS on simple steps to look after your mental health
  • Post-It notes for things which won’t fit in the box!

Yet again, you can see there’s a lot there! It’s always changing but that’s okay. Sometimes I switch it up with what’s in my bag…

Before I finish, I just wanted to show you the post-it notes as well, because I think this is a great way for you to do if you haven’t got the space to store a box, or you want it to be discreet to members of your household. This type of option could also be done as a note on your phone – Write a list of activities you enjoy, so you can scroll through and pick one you’d like to do (Perhaps you could number each one, and then use a random number generator so it’s completely random!)

These are just some suggestions and there are still so many I could have written! I’m currently cringing at the colours and the format I’ve laid them out. I’m not happy with it – the colours, the writing, the layout of colours, the doodles… But I’m sharing because it’s sometimes good to do things which make us feel uncomfortable, because it allows us to challenge ourselves. It also allows us to be kind to ourselves by saying “Well done for getting through it. I know it’s not how or what you wanted, but I’m really proud of you for sharing this…”, and then giving yourself a good pat on the back and hug yourself with a nice cup of tea!

Post-It Note: Self-Care Tips

I hope this post has been somewhat insightful and useful to you, and that you will consider building your own self-care box or list. A little bit of kindness goes a long way, even if it’s to yourself. Especially if it’s to yourself!

Thank you for reading, and I wish you all a wonderful week of raising awareness for Mental Health – spreading kindness, hope and support. We are all in this together, and by reaching out to one another, we can try to reduce our stress levels and improve our overall mental wellbeing.

Guess what – For the first time I referenced stuff in a blog post!
So along with the references are hopefully all the added URLs within this blog post. It’s all internet based, so happy surfing (and maybe shopping!)

References

31 Day Mindfulness Challenge Cards – Take One a Day for a Month of Mindfulness, Accessed 17th May 2020. https://www.amazon.co.uk/31-Day-Mindfulness-Challenge-Cards/.

Cassin, Presented by Rachel Humphreys with Helen Pidd; produced by Elizabeth, Axe Axel Kacoutié; executive producers Nicole Jackson, and Phil Maynard. ‘Protecting Domestic Violence Victims in Lockdown’. The Guardian, 6 May 2020, sec. Society. https://www.theguardian.com/society/audio/2020/may/06/protecting-domestic-violence-victims-in-lockdown.

‘COPE | Coronavirus Outbreak Psychological Experiences Study – NIHR Maudsley BRC’. Accessed 15 May 2020. https://kclbs.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_5hHYPH37qvK0Cyh.

‘COPE Study: Investigating the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Mental Health and Well-Being’. Accessed 15 May 2020. https://www.maudsleybrc.nihr.ac.uk/posts/2020/april/cope-study-investigating-the-impact-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-on-mental-health-and-well-being/.

Embracing Mindfulness Keep Calm and Stress Less Cards – 55 Exercises to Help Relief Stress, Anxiety, Aid Sleep in a Natural Way., Accessed 17th May 2020.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Embracing-Mindfulness-Keep-Stress-Cards.

‘Every Mind Matters | One You’. Accessed 17 May 2020. https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/.

‘Gradforce’. Accessed 17 May 2020. https://www.canterbury.ac.uk/students/current-students/careers-and-volunteering/careers-and-jobs/GradForce.aspx.

‘Large Wooden Box – 25 x 20 x 10cm | Craft Storage at The Works’. Accessed 17 May 2020. https://www.theworks.co.uk/p/craft-storage/large-wooden-box—25-x-20-x-10cm/5052089159365.

Evening Standard. ‘Lockdown Is Making Existing Mental Health Issues Worse’, 15 May 2020. https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/healthy-at-home/mental-health/lockdown-affecting-mental-health-issues-a4441626.html.

Mental Health Foundation. ‘Mental Health Awareness Week 2020’. Accessed 17 May 2020. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week.

Mind. The Wellbeing Journal: Creative Activities to Inspire. Place of publication not identified: Michael O’Mara, 2017. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wellbeing-Journal-Creative-Activities-Inspire/

Pinterest. ‘Pinterest’. Accessed 17 May 2020. https://www.pinterest.co.uk/.

‘Polka Dot Handmade Gifts | Facebook’. Accessed 17 May 2020. https://www.facebook.com/polkadotbysheila.

‘Tisserand Aromatherapy – Roll-On Wellbeing Collection: Amazon.Co.Uk: Health & Personal Care’. Accessed 17 May 2020. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tisserand-Aromatherapy-Wellbeing-Roller-Collection/

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