Using Technology to Aid Mental Recovery

mental health, writing

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As someone who places a lot of importance on spirituality in the healing process, I was reluctant to utilise the support of technology in my own recovery. However, after discovering an incredibly refreshing app, I was enlightened in understanding how technological thinking doesn’t always have to have an ulterior motive.

I first began to sense that things were not going so well for me, when I became familiar with the dooming sensation associated with anxiety attacks. The crushing feeling progressively surfaced during work meetings, when I was commuting, whilst in places I couldn’t leave without other people noticing, social situations or simply before I fell asleep at night. The drive for my job promptly depleted and I couldn’t seem to see through the vague cloud of fog encompassing my thoughts and whole existence. Everything that made up my judgements, appeared to be empty, soulless and meaningless.

The utterance of burnout seemed ridiculous at first. From what I’d experienced around me, burnouts were serious and considerably more debilitating then what I was going through. However, when I made the decision to inform my employer that I wasn’t doing too well and I was going to take some time off as a result, it solidified the fact that I needed proper support. What surprised me, was the fact that I wasn’t even able to worry about the shame that I had preempted myself to feel, when asking for this help – frankly put: I could not feel. One thing that was clear: my brain begged for a mental check out. My own capability of understanding mental illness was frozen and I needed help.

During this time, I came across an article that shared ‘the best apps to aid mental illness’. The article suggested an app known as Stigmato gently aid users throughout their mental health struggles.

Stigma, allows you to record your mood every day via a simple, clean cut app. The user-friendly, basic interface allows you to rate your feelings using a list of descriptive words i.e. anxious, sad, ok, calm, happy (which is then colour coded in your monthly overview). If the ratings are too simplistic, you can add your diary entry below. Stigma, also offers a community of peers who may be suffering from mental illness and silently searching for someone to share with. This peer group helps to empahsise that you are never alone in the struggle. As mental health sufferers will know, at times, encouragement and discussion from others who have suffered or are suffering, can be significantly more relatable then talking to friends or family.

The wonderful thing about stigma is the fact that it essentially provides you with an illuminating overview of your moods from the previous days, weeks and months. The app encouraged me to take a step back from my naturally negative or destructive thinking patterns. I became motivated when I saw the green boxes increasing (signifying ‘good mood’ days) and when I noticed the red boxes returning (‘bad mood’ days), I would rationally asses that day at another date, trying to avoid disappointment or placing judgment on myself.

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An example of the Stigma interface

Often, when you are having a dip and your mood only allows for heaviness and darkness, it becomes increasingly more challenging to remember the enjoyable times –  and if you are succeptible, this can effect your entire outlook on life. It becomes almost impossible to remind yourself of the great Friday night you had with your friends where you laughed once – making you feel alive, or the Sunday morning when you awoke feeling less heavy – giving you a moment to catch your breath or the lovely book which took you out of this world for a short while. It is important to remind yourself of the little accomplishments, especially when you are going through something testing and unknown. Stigma enables you to do that – it brings you back to the present and this feels incredibly rewarding.

Tracking and reflecting on your moods and behaviors can be highly productive on your own path towards mental healing. I highly encourage it if you desire a more present and meaningful life – especially one in which you wish to take charge of your own moods.

The greatest reward: seeing your first month filled with only green blocks and clicking through each day, gently reminding yourself of some mentally strong and fulfilling days that did occur – eventually, allowing you to gradually turn your back on the darkness, inviting the light into your life.

 

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Escaping vs Embracing

life lessons, mental health, spirituality

 

Most of us are familiar with that feeling of living for the weekend in order to turn our back on the demanding days that have passed or craving an impending festival in order to truly let loose and shake off the stress of modern living. This idea has lead me to question the relationship that we have with escaping our daily routine. Could it be that we are damaging our attempts at conscious living, in order to simply blow off steam? Is there such thing as conscious escapism?

It can be argued that escapism is to seek relief from unpleasant realities, often through entertainment or fantasy. According to Longeway, escapism becomes damaging once the individual avoids awareness of the ‘issues’ or beliefs at hand. Escapism through entertainment has an intention to draw us away from our everyday predicaments. There is a danger that we can get caught up in the fantasy of our life being better than it really is (which could be a paradox considering it is a concept based on our own interpretation and understanding). As human beings, we often escape in different ways dependent on our personal interests. For example: reading, listening to music, completing a crossword or puzzle, going on vacation, doing daily yoga, all the way to becoming comatose in front of the television, playing computer games and taking drugs. Who is to say, that one is more damaging than the other if the same purpose is being fulfilled?

Escapism is not inherently negative. The perception however, is negative. This is ironic considering most of us indulge in escapist behavior on a regular basis. Longeway argues that if we are of course to deny that something is true (health issues for example), escapism can be damaging and deceiving. Thus, a little scale becomes visible. If we don’t fool ourselves into avoiding confronting issues and we do not deny something is there, then we can move towards acknowledgement of what lies within us – becoming more conscious. There are logical reasons why one may want to escape, but it is important to remind oneself not to use escape as a coping mechanism. Here an unhealthy habit can develop. But, it does seem logical and healthy to drop out every now and then – like a system re-boot.

Let’s place yoga into the spotlight – my favourite hobby when I need to float to a happy cloud, soaring above my anxious thoughts. The sensation that I experience after yoga is very tranquil and calm, to the point where most things don’t really matter in the moments that follow. Each time I plan a class, I feel a little tingle in my belly and this continues on until I step on the mat – I am immediately transported into another zone. I crave this feeling and I follow it around. For me, yoga and meditation is certainly a form of escape. However, when practicing, we are continuously encouraged to be as present and conscious as possible. Furthermore, if we have pain, issues or problems, rather than labeling them, we are encouraged to acknowledge them and continue on – calming confronting what is occurring. When practicing, we are taught not to deny emotions but to embrace them whatever they may be and however they may arise. Thus, the whole time that we are escaping during yoga, we are holding the hand of our demons and essentially confronting them.

If we then analyse escapism through taking drugs, the process can alternate and present varying benefits compared to taking a yoga class, but the underlying importance is still on balance. Perhaps escapism through taking drugs could lead you further away from confronting what it is that you are indeed temporality running from – but who is to say that this is detrimental or wrong?

 Whilst too much of this fleeing behavior can lead you away from significant personal goals or even hinder your productivity, not enough can result in excessive levels of stress and even burn out. Ultimately, escapism provides your brain with the coping skills for understanding heavy emotions and pressured situations – without it, we would likely crumble. Thus, it is crucial to think of escapism as an activity that is neither positive or negative but as an activity that requires monitoring and careful practice. Perhaps the use of the word is also outdated and if we simply re-label it to ‘re-fueling’, ‘re-charging’ or ‘de-compressing’, our whole outlook could be transported to an alternative space.

 

Meditation: A very continuous journey on the road to somewhere

life lessons, mental health, spirituality

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It’s been around 5/6 weeks since I set myself the task of meditating every single day. My key goal was to commit myself to actively participating in something that was only beneficial for me, for at least 5 minutes a day. This seems painfully straight forward, but you’ll be surprised at how difficult it is to withdraw from your surroundings for 5 simple minutes. In these moments when I momentarily stepped away from my daily doings, I temporarily experienced an increase in my anxiety – I had to step back from ‘keeping life in check’ for those moments when I was meditating. I was convinced that I would lose control of my reality if I wasn’t constantly monitoring what was occurring around me. Eventually, I made it a forceful priority to take that step back, to see what happened if I did indeed lose control. After returning to my life following the short 5 minute break, I was of course pleasantly surprised to see everything still in its place around me.

Prior to mediation, my mind was awash with too many stimuli, to the point where I felt very disconnected with myself and my soul purpose on this planet. My anxiety was at an all time high and to say that I felt like a stranger to myself would be considerably apt. The thing that concerned me now that I reflect on it, was how well I managed to hide my true self from those with whom I interacted with on a daily basis – I had become a pro at having two personas. To me, it even felt like a strength if I was able to hide how chaotic my thoughts really were.

Once I started becoming familiar with the habit of meditating, I scouted the help of an app – Insight Timer. At first, I was resilient in allowing technology to help with something that I considered to be so delicate and pure. I felt I would be insulting the practice if I couldn’t do it from the authenticity of my heart alone. However, I shortly realised that there is no point in pretending to be a master of a trade when you have just started gathering the tools. Especially with meditation, there is no one to fool but yourself, you may as well start getting brutally honest – otherwise you will never grow.  Not surprisingly, the app enabled me to stay on track, as well as pinpoint the topic of stress for that day – which is very helpful when you are already feeling so ungrounded. Plus, a guiding voice can feel ever so supporting and slightly more elevating than when you are doing it alone.

So, what have I gained?

The beautiful thing about about mediation is that it can provide you with a realistic feeling of optimism, one you can trust. The feeling of peace that we often experience after meditating, comes from our inner selves – from us and nothing else – that is especially powerful.  It is up to us and only us, to maintain that snippet of an uplifting sensation and we must do this by continuing to practice. For sufferers of mental illness, the feeling of powerlessness is an all too familiar one. Thus, meditation is unique because it provides you with the instruments to create your own strength and contribute to the start of your own healing.

Meditation has not healed me and I believe that due to the mechanics of my brain, I never shall be completely ‘healed’ – but it is certainly playing an increasingly important role in my life – releasing internal pressure when I am unable to recognise how to do so myself.

If I was to summarise one thing that mediation has provided me with, it would be an outlet. An outlet for a very continuous journey, on the road to somewhere.  The effects are subtle and gentle, but they are noticeable. That is enough for me to keep going, to keep taking those moments, to ground myself and come home to myself – even if only for a split second.

 

Meditation: You only miss a good thing when it’s gone

mental health, spirituality, writing
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Credit: Pintrest

I sometimes feel that when the word ‘meditation’ is dropped into conversation, it can fall victim to many stereotypical associations: hippy, floater, dreamer, wanderer – or any word that can be coupled with the opposite sensation to being grounded or in control. With a fear of bystanders being misled by these prejudices, I can often become irritated by these conversations.

Simply meditating doesn’t imply that you are ready to descend to another spiritual realm, in preparation for a significant awakening. It can mean many things, but for most it’s simply a method to gain more inner calm and understanding of oneself. The ironic thing is, if I was to analyse my mind before I started meditation, it was more out of control and less grounded than ever before. The stresses, expectations and pressures of modern life, had really started to take a toll upon my mental health. I realised, I’d been forcefully swallowing my worries like they were sick-burps – each time, pushing harder to keep them down. When the stress eventually bubbled up to the surface, I would freak out, suffer momentarily and then dust it off feeling like I’d achieved something. This was naïve.

Around 3weeks ago, I began meditating every single day. I made this commitment to myself in order to see if I could transform my ‘naturally’ negative and anxious head space. It had gotten to a point where I felt vulnerable as a result of my own emotional outbursts. I would wake in the night gasping for air, my hair was falling out and I felt eternally restless in my headspace, victim to eternal mind chatter – it was and sometimes still is, pretty torturous.

In the first 2.5 weeks, I think I missed around 3 or 4 sessions and I felt it – in fact, ‘missed’ being the imperative word here, I missed them. And you do start to notice the reassuring ‘buzz’ fades away after you’ve neglected the practice a couple of times.

The greatest indicator that the meditation had helped me, was how I often fell asleep. I began to notice that I could fall asleep without even thinking about the day that had passed or the night that was ahead – there was nothing on my mind. That was until, I hit week 3. The stresses of work became embedded, deep in my stomach and I lay awake until 4am. I tried multiple mediation sessions one evening, until I eventually fell asleep. However, this burst my bubble – meditation wasn’t able to rescue me or melt me into sleep as I had hoped, grazing over my mind chatter. It had seemingly ‘failed’.

Initially, I felt that this hiccup had diminished all of my meditation progress that I had built up – wiping my slate with a dirty cloth. That was until I realized that it was one hiccup. After I’d been used to having so many hiccups, especially during the night time, one hiccup had to be a victory. Surely.

Meditation: Confronting Caged Emotions with a Weary Heart

mental health, spirituality

I’m 5 days into my awareness challenge. I have already faced some difficulties and distractions as a reaction to the ‘real’ world, but my response has only been increased dedication. On the 4th day, a storm hit and my morning commute plans robbed me of some extra time in the morning. I dove deep into meditation cliches and told myself ‘it’s ok, you can just meditate on the bus’. Perched at the front of the jerky bus crammed with commuters, I managed to close my eyes for a whole of 30 seconds before I realised, I did not have the confidence to do so without humiliation. I gave up. I noticed that when I missed my morning slot, I immediately slipped into a guilty, unproductive headspace so I tried to make a deal with myself that I would take this seriously. The next day, I planned to allocate my 5 minute slot into a morning yoga class. Naturally, my plans foiled as I missed the class. Stood by the side of the road at 8am, I decided that the best way to adapt to the situation, would be to meditate at work before anyone else came in. Tick.

Across the 5 days, I didn’t feel that I needed meditation at all, nor did I feel obliged to do it. That was until, Saturday arrived. As soon as my life blesses me with the beauty of free time, my mind sees it as a golden opportunity to self-sabotage. So, I sat down, began to meditate, inhaled…exhaled…and burst into tears. I felt that for once, I was choosing to let that emotion go, there and then – rather than carry it around in my chest all day. In that moment, I felt strangely in control which offered a slight relievement. I guess that was the first benefit I felt from the meditation itself. Although my mood remained a bit despondent throughout the day, the moment of ‘being present’ certainly softened some of the sadness that I’d been subconsciously lugging around.

Up until now, method wise, I’ve been listening to calming music and closing my eyes for 5 minutes – naively inviting enlightenment to show its face. However, a friend recommended an app that may compliment my process. So as of next week, I’ll do some guided meditation.

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Photo Credit: Pintrest

Meditation: From Deflation to Elation

life lessons, mental health, Uncategorized

Thankfully, nowadays my generation seem to have an increasing amount of confidence and curiosity when it comes to openly discussing the importance of a sane & satisfied mind. This ease in discussing mental health, has been hugely helped along by a magnificent platform  – the World Wide Web. I am not ignorant to its harmful potential, but at the same time, the internet has allowed for the opening of a new dimension, providing a platform where young people feel more inclined to discuss their mental health with individuals who are simply, more able to empathise with them. I think that’s bloody brilliant. Gradually, this discussion has allowed for the stigma of mental health to be softened and weakened.

I would label myself as a bit of a holistic individual who enjoys dabbling in the natural, more gentle medical wonders. After doping up on prescription medication and spending a 12 month period wondering why I hadn’t cried once, I soon discovered that the authentic emotions were more valuable to my personal growth and overall enjoyment of life – even if they seem to be more confronting and cutting. If we don’t learn to deal with these emotions, then how are we dealing? We are not. Sometimes, it’s simply more beneficial, if we remove the guys wearing white coats, momentarily replacing them for a better, more relatable support network – online and offline.

I recently read an article written by a young woman who wanted to test the power of meditation on her skin (she often broke out in stress induced moments). After a month, her skin had slightly increased in colouring and its clearness, but her remarks on her mental behaviours, where what intrigued me. I am someone who is constantly plagued by worry – professionals label it as generalised anxiety disorder (but I am challenging this uninventive stamp), so I thought this mediation ‘challenge’ would be perfect for me and my ever wandering, self sabotaging mind.

I’ll begin by meditating once a day for 5 minutes, increasing the duration, weekly. Meditation in the morning is my preferred choice due to the fact that you are naturally in a more calm headspace at this point of the day, plus it is easier to find 5 minutes at the beginning of your day without distraction and it starts your day off on a great foot! I’ve read and heard so much about this wonder method, that I am curious to explore the benefits – if any.

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Photo credit: Pintrest

 

If you look to others for fulfilment, you will never be fulfilled

mental health, spirituality, writing

If your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy.
Be content with what you have and take joy in the way things are.
When you realise you have all you need, the world belongs to you.

Mastering other people is strength, mastering yourself is power.
If you realise that what you have is enough, you are truly rich.
Stay in the centre and embrace peace, simplicity, patience and compassion.

It is not complicated unless I make it so.
It is not difficult unless I allow it to be.
A second is no more than a second, a minute no more than a minute, a day no more than a day.
They pass.
All things and all time will pass.
Don’t force or fear, don’t control or lose control.
Don’t fight and don’t stop fighting.
Embrace and endure.
If you embrace you will endure.

– A Million Little Pieces – James Frey