Stress Free App Review

The other week, a lovely person contacted me on LinkedIn, offering me the chance to try out the ‘Stress Free App‘ for free.

1I was admittedly somewhat sceptical at first. To start with, I’m scared of technology. For someone who blogs, and spends too much of their life on Twitter, I’m not all that good when it comes to apps. I only got a phone that doesn’t freeze about a month ago, my brothers frequently despair at my complete inabilty to understand Snapchat, and I have been known to reply to a text two weeks later – you get the picture. So you could say I’m a bit of an app novice!

I am also someone who has had depression/anxiety/whatever else for years, who has tried many interventions and many medications, who has spoken to a fair number of people, had tonnes of appointments, and is generally pretty jaded by ‘the system’. In summary, if someone tells me to ‘just breathe’, it makes me want to hit them.

So you could say, I approached this app with a bit of a ‘this probably won’t do anything’ attitude.

Given all that, I have been pleasently surprised!

When you first open the app, it takes you through a series of questions which assess your mood. These are pretty standard – anyone that’s ever been under services will have filled in something similar. If you score at a certain level, it recommends you speak to your GP, go to NHS online, or go to the Mind Helpline Page (not only does it recommend it then, but it also repeats that recommendation on a daily basis depending on where you rate your mood, which is really good).

It then asks you to rate your mood on a scale, then to put in where you are, what you’re 16325376_1117023151743686_294081394_odoing, what you’re thinking, and whether there’s another way you can think about it. After that it makes certain recommendations on activities you can do within the app. It repeats this exercise every day, and eventually builds up data which can help you identify how your mood has changed, what might have contributed to your mood being that way, and how else you could think about things

16325536_1117023578410310_2014548681_oWith regards to the activities themselves, there are a few different ones you can try. A lot of them centre around breathing and relaxing. I am a hater of mindfulness in the typical sense – I always focus on my breathing, forget to breathe, and get more stressed (not ideal!), but I must admit, the tasks were pretty relaxing, and focusing on the little guy on the screen really helped because it meant I didn’t forget how to breathe. I did it before bed one night and it was really good because it relaxed me enough to begin heading off to sleep (and I’m someone who has a lot of problems sleeping).

There are also a few other things in the app. One is the message in a bottle – that’s really 16326276_1117023648410303_1004923591_ocute. It just pops up with a nice little message or quote every now and again. There is also a ‘zen garden’ which is a little app-based sandpit – you can fill it yourself with water, shells, a sandcastle, a starfish, and you can rake the sand. I found myself spending a fair bit of time listening to the music, raking the sand, and completely chilling out.

16326075_1117023458410322_1432358713_oI don’t know how much this app has helped me on a large scale – I think that would be difficult to quantify over a few weeks. I also have a lot going on in my life at the moment and a long history of illness which does make things a bit more tricky. However, I would say that it’s really good for helping you to manage your breathing, to slow down a little, and to de-stress. I think that the daily mood-and-activity check in could be really useful – you could even share it with a counsellor or mental health team. I like that it refers you to your GP if it feels as though that is necessary, particularly because it doesn’t just flash up once (it’s very easy to press ‘x’!), but a number of times.

Additionally, I’m a fan of the chilled out music, and I think I’ve fallen a little bit in love with the little alien dude who takes you through each task.

Overall, if you’re looking for an app to help you log your mood, reframe some of your thinking, and generally chill out, this app could be the one for you.

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Making a Distress Tolerance Box

Anyone that’s been under a mental health team for a while, is likely to have heard of the term ‘distress tolerance’. The basic idea is that you build up your tolerance to distress, in a healthy way. Often it’s used if you’ve been using maladaptive coping mechanisms (in other words, not coping with things very well). You’re often encouraged to ‘sit with’ crappy feelings, whether it be feeling low, feeling anxious, stressing about food, needing to self harm, feeling at war with your family, or something else.

It can be super helpful to have a distress tolerence box to help with this ‘sitting’ business. I’ve been building mine up a while, so I thought I’d share it in case anyone else feels like setting up their own box.

Often you’re encouraged to try and work on the five senses: something to see, smell, taste, feel, and hear. In my case, when I’m struggling, I can’t deal with taste or strong smells, so I haven’t included those in my box. I also can struggle with noise, so I don’t have that in their either (though I’ll often leave the TV on quietly). Personally, the things that help me most are things to feel, and things to do, so those are the things my box mainly focuses on.

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To begin with, you’re going to need a box. Make sure it’s pretty enough that you’ll want to use it, sturdy enough to not fall apart when you fill it, and big enough to fit stuff in. I got mine from HomeSense and it definitely didn’t break the bank.

Then you can start to fill it and that’s when the fun begins!

Everybody’s box will be individual, because what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another, but here are some ideas of things you could include, and where I got them from.

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To start with, I have things from my friends. Things that remind me that I’m loved. Things that remind me that I’m not the worst person in the world, and that I’m lucky to have some wonderful people in my life. Some of these things are cards, some are letters, some are quotes that people have sent me. I have a seperate box of letters and cards, as well as the ones in my box (plus a few more on my wall – I pen pal with a fair few people!), but the ones that I’ve put in this box are ones that have particular meaning to me. Some include photos, too, which is always lovely. If you don’t have letters and cards from people, you can always ask your friends to send you things to include. It’s a really hard thing to ask, but from experience, people normally love to do it!

As well as letters, cards and things, I have some envelopes which are a little more specific which one of my friends sent me. They are envelopes with ‘open when…’ on the front – they’re a really lovely idea and if you don’t feel able to ask a friend to help you with it, you could always write your own, there are loads of ideas for topics online.

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Next, I have some important reminders. Personally, one of the things I struggle to deal with is scales, so I have a scale disclaimer in my box. I also have a box of ‘press pause’ cards which can be bought from Blurt, because often when I’m struggling everything can feel overwhelming and too fast, and that can help me to break out of that zone, and take a deep breath.

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I also have some other nice little things I can read. A little book of hope which Mum bought me, a little box of happiness, some worry dolls which a friend bought me, a bookmark and pen with some quotes on, and a little bag of happiness which is from the World Mental Health Day that I ran at uni a few times. You can buy them from not on the high street, or you could make one yourself!

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Moving on from the sentimental bits and bobs, I have a lot of different things to touch. I have a handwarmer, because I find temperature can be really grounding. I also have some stretchy toys which I got really cheaply from Hawkins Bazaar’s party bag section, and some balloons with different textures in and a bag of jelly balls which were sent to me by  friend (check her out on instagram at the.recovery.shoebox.project). I also have a couple of puzzles which I can fiddle with – a wooden one and a metal one.

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I find things to do really helpful, so I have quite a few things to do in my box, so that I can pick and choose depending on what mood I’m in. I have some little cross stitches, some colouring books and an origami book (with colouring pencils – the last thing you want to do, when feeling distressed, is to hunt around for some pencils). I also have some ‘make your own bunting’, a ‘paint your own suncatcher’, and some mazes and other paper puzzles, which were all from the.recovery.shoebox.project.

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Finally, I have some things to remind me of my inner child (because if you can’t look after you, sometimes it can be helpful to think about treating yourself the way you would treat your child). Bubbles, glow sticks, play doh, a little googly eyes monster, and a glitter jar (which was also from the.recovery.shoebox.project, but they’re pretty easy to make).

So, that concludes the little tour of my box. Pinterest has loads of ideas for other things you can include. If you don’t feel able to put your own box together, I highly recommed subscribing to Blurt’s Buddy Box – they send little self care packages every month and quite a few of the items in here are from those boxes, and I have other things from them on my noticeboard and walls. Other ideas for things you could include are: nail varnish, face mask, oils/sprays of your favourite scents, photos of loved ones, a list of songs you could listen to, or a USB stick with a playlist on, a teddy or other soft toy, tea bags, chocolate your favourite book… it contain literally anything that you feel could help you deal with feeling crap.

I hope this has been helpful to some people, of course once you’ve made your box, the hardest part is remembering to use it rather than resorting to doing not-so-helpful things! Please feel free to comment with other ideas for things you might include – I’m always up for adding more things to my box, and it might help others, too. If this kind of thing is helpful, please let me know and I’ll have a think about other posts I could do in a similar vein.

Sending warm hugs to everyone struggling at the moment Xxx

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise. -Victor Hugo

Is it getting easier, or am I just numb?

There have been a few things that have happened in the past few weeks which would normally trigger off ‘missing Mum’ alarm bells. They range in size, from those that would have knocked me for a few days, to ones which are just a bit tricky.

Things like:

  • Christmas (without Mum)
  • New Year (oh look, you have to survive another year without your Mum)
  • Getting a new phone (my old one was inherited from Mum, but there’s only so many times you can apologise to the person on the other end of the phone for the fact that your alarm is going off (while on the phone) and you can’t switch it off because your phone has frozen… before a new one becomes a bit necessary. I have mitigated it slightly by putting my favourite picture of us as my background, so I’ve still got Mum in my pocket)
  • Feeling ill (my flatmate and I had a discussion last night over which of my meds it might be a good idea to take, whether NHS 111 might be a good plan (nah, they’ll either tell me to go to bed or to A&E, and I don’t feel like going to A&E) and eventually concluded that heat packs, gaviscon and sleeping tablets with a ‘maybe it will be better tomorrow?’ would be a good plan)
  • An exam (who knows how that went as I’m currently a person of no brain and not really well enough to do much at all never mind take an exam, but I couldn’t postpone it again, and the invigilator said that I’ve aged well, so I feel like I won a little bit)
  • Upcoming appointments that I’m not feeling too fab about (Mum’s are good people to text ‘arghhhhhhhhhh’ to).
  • Feeling like generally, with my health, I don’t know whether I’m coming or going, and what to believe (Mum was always fairly blunt, if I walked in looking like I was dying she would tell me)
  • My mental health being a knob (seriously, as a twenty-something year old it’s hard enough to navigate life and try to keep yourself alive without your head attempting to kill you)
  • New year new diet crap (which she would have healthily laughed at and torn apart whereas every time ‘veganuary’ and ‘a researcher has decided that breakfast is bad for you’, I wish I was well enough to join in)

However, despite all these things, the ‘missing Mum’ part of my brain appears to have disappeared (along with the rest of my brain, arguably).

It’s not that Mum doesn’t ever enter my head, but when she does, at the moment, it’s in a much more clinical sense, with all of the emotion removed. It’s not that she never enters conversation, either, because she does (most recently this evening, with the exam invigilator), but when she does, and people say they’re sorry, I normally meet it with a bit of a shrug and an ‘it’s life’, where it might previously have set off cartwheels in my head.

I’m not sure if it is actually getting any easier, or if I’m just numb.

A lot of things, or perhaps everything, is pretty numb right now. It’s not as bad as it might sound – I’d rather be numb than distressed. I often end up in a weird depression-anxiety battle, with depression pulling at me to do nothing, and anxiety screaming at me to do everything; at least when I’m this low the battle pauses because anxiety gives in. So with everything being a bit numbed, it’s hard to know whether grief is lessening, whether it’s becoming the ‘new normal’, or whether depression is just smothering it.

For now I’m just going to keep plodding along, because I’m not really sure what else I can do.

Have ‘a year’

2016 is ending, which many will be delighted about. There’s a weird thing that we all do where on one day out of 365, we look back at the previous 365 days and judge ourselves. Lots of people are posting achievements, happy moments, sad moments, words of wisdom, and hopes, dreams, and goals for the next 365 days.

I read somewhere that:

‘it’s okay if the only thing you did today was breathe’.

I would like to extend that to this year.

It’s okay if this year you ‘just survived’. It’s okay if you didn’t achieve your goals or complete all of your plans. It’s okay if you didn’t graduate, if you didn’t change the world, if you didn’t get the promotion you wanted or finish a race you wanted to run. You have still achieved something this year – you have smiled, laughed, and loved. You have brightened someone’s day, made someone smile, and made a difference in the lives of those around you.

If this year you have been in hospital, had a family member in hospital, received a new diagnosis, lived with an old diagnosis, taken medication, had an operation, had tests done, or put up with a mind or body which seem less than impressed with being alive, then I’m proud of you.

If you have had a baby, got a new job, graduated, moved house, passed an exam, received a promotion, got married, got engaged, learned to drive or raised money for charity, then I’m proud of you.

If you have taken a picture of a sunset, felt the wind in your hair, cuddled a puppy, taken the bins out, watched TV, read a book, hugged, text a friend… done anything at all that involves being alive, then I’m proud of you because at the times it can feel like there is hatred stirring all over the world and things can feel very bleak, and if you can continue to enjoy and appreciate the little things, and remain kind in the face of all of that, then you’re doing well.

I hope that 2017 is kind to you all. I hope that it brings you the things that you want. I hope that it provides you with family times and time with friends. I hope that you receive love and laughter and that you treat yourself with all of the kindness and compassion you deserve. I’m not going to tell people to have ‘a good year’, because I think that can feel out of reach a lot of the time. Instead I’m going to say have ‘a year’.

Let’s Talk About Grief

Death is part of life, but it’s also difficult, and on the whole, crap.

It might not be that bad for the person dying – they might have been ill for a long time or might be ready to die. But for those left behind it’s usually rubbish and leaves them living with grief in some form. (If there isn’t anyone left behind then that is also crap, because nobody should be alone at the end of their life, so whichever way you look at it, death is rubbish).

Despite this, grief is something rarely discussed. It’s a bit odd, because while some subjects are becoming less taboo and more talked about, which is brilliant, grief appears to be lagging behind.

I’m not entirely sure why this is. It might be because those working to break down stigma – being more open, sharing their stories, talking about difficult subjects – tend to be slightly younger and maybe haven’t yet reached an age where grief is a feature in their lives. (I appreciate this is a huge generalisation and stereotype and there are older people also doing some brilliant work).

Whatever the reason, grief isn’t hugely talked about

This year seems to have contained more celebrity deaths than any other in my memory. A lot of people are blaming 2016 but it’s more likely to be that they were all a similar age and life happens. The fact that so many people are blaming 2016, instead of seeing death as part of life, further illustrates how afraid people seem to be to see death as something unavoidable that happens to everyone. It can be far easier to blame the concept of an evil year, than to face up to our own mortality.

Mum had excellent end of life care. She worked in palliative medicine all her life, so she knew what she was doing, but she died where she wanted (at home), pain-free, next to Dad, and I can’t think of a better death than that. Mum knew what she wanted, Mum and Dad discussed it, and her wishes were made known to all of the people looking after her. I’m absolutely convinced that Mum wouldn’t have had a ‘good death’, without having these conversations frankly, honestly, and in enough time for her wishes to be carried out.

Since Mum died, I’ve blogged about grief a little, and heard from people all over the world, of all ages, who are going through a similar thing. The fact that I have heard from the variety of people I have, shows that there is a lack of conversation surrounding grief, because if my blog attracts these people (and I’m just one little person typing from my bedroom, onto a blog that I put no money into advertising), then people are clearly hunting out the ‘I get it’ of another grieving person.

I’ve found that when it comes to grief, so many people don’t know what to say or do with me. As many of my friends know – I’m as blunt as they come at times – I certainly don’t expect anyone to do and say, or not do and not say, anything at all, but I still feel like there can be a wall between me and other people sometimes. Weirdly, the people I’ve found most at loss of what to say have probably been services, some people in services are brilliant, but others blame things on grief that aren’t grief-related, ignore grief at times when it’s probably worth bearing in mind, and trot out generic lines which aren’t at all helpful. I know I’m not alone in this because I’ve spoken to other one-parent people my age who have found the same thing.

If there’s anything that comes from all of these celebrity deaths, I hope it’s that we can open up conversations around death, dying and grief. It’s something that I never really thought about until Mum became ill, but since her illness and death, it’s something I’ve realised is massively important. It’s important to have conversations with your loved ones about what you’d all want at the end of your life, it’s important to keep talking to your grieving friends, and it’s important to keep talking to others if you find that you are grieving yourself.

Happy Christmas

xmasHappy Christmas to you all with so much love from me and my blog.

I hope that you all have a lovely day wherever you are – whether it be alone or with family and friends, and whether you celebrate Christmas or not. I hope that you can be as happy as little me in this picture, and that if you’re not feeling that way , then your day is peaceful at the very least.

Christmas can be a tricky time when coping with loss, it can highlight the fact that someone is missing, I know I miss Mum a lot, so be kind to yourselves if you can.

I’ve donated to our Martin House fund in Mum’s memory this year because I can’t exactly get her a present. You’re more than welcome to do the same which you can do here.

If you’re feeling lonely, Sarah Millican is running her #joinin hashtag on Twitter again this year. The Samaritans line is always open, Blurt’s peer support group is there, and Beat have kept their helpline open again this year if you need someone to talk to.

This is to those of you for whom Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas.

This is to those of you for whom Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas.

I’m sorry that you are hurting.

I know that the ‘merry’ in ‘merry Christmas’ can feel as though it is mocking you.

When the whole world feels as though it is laughing, smiling, and celebrating, but those are the last things you feel like doing.

Crowded rooms can feel the emptiest.

Hugs can feel like they’re not quite tight enough, not quite long enough; never quite reaching you.

You smile but it doesn’t reach your eyes, and your own laugh seems distant and far away.

The pressure to be perfect can press down on your chest until you can no longer breathe and the number of people around can make your head spin. Occasionally you feel your mask slipping and you have to run to a bathroom and fix it before anybody sees.

Everybody wants to know what you’ve been doing all year and what your future plans are. That can be hard to answer when you’ve spent so much of the year in doctors appointments, hospital visits, and counselling sessions. It’s hard when your test results are medical rather than academic, when so many of your peers are patients or services users not students or colleagues.

It’s okay if your biggest achievement this year is survival. Fighting against the crap in your head, the illness that is determined to infiltrate your body, or the general difficulties that life insists on constantly throwing your way, is huge. It’s hard, brave, and courageous to continue to get up and dressed every day (or most days), when circumstances seem determined to destroy you.

Maybe you’ve lost someone this year. They might have died, or might have just exited your life. Maybe you lost someone last year, or the year before. Time doesn’t heal it, it just gives you longer to attempt to get used to it. Sometimes it makes it harder because the longer they’re gone, the more they’ve missed. Christmas can feel like it’s shining a light on the space that they’ve left behind.

It’s okay to miss them. It’s okay to grieve for them. The fact that they have exited your life doesn’t mean that you have to erase their existence entirely.

Be kind to yourself this Christmas. Let yourself have some time off. It’s absolutely okay to cry if you need to. If you want to laugh, then laugh – nothing in your life cancels out your right to feel happy. Let people in; if you can, and if you want to. Let them hug you. Let them be at the end of the phone. Let them text you. Let them listen. Let them be there.

Maybe you’re feeling just fine. If so, then please: try to be considerate this Christmas. Please understand that not everyone will be happy, not everyone will want to share copious amounts of food, not everyone will be able to manage being around large groups of people.

Christmas is only one day, but it can be incredibly stressful for those of us who don’t feel able to tackle it. Mental illness, physical illness, or other things, can all affect people’s ability to ‘Christmas’, and more often than not, we’re not trying to be difficult, we just can’t do it.

I hope that you all have a peaceful Christmas this year. I hope that it’s as stress-free as possible. I hope that you get a little time with your family or friends and that it’s as enjoyable as it can be.

I’ll leave you with some Winnie the Pooh wisdom:

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.
“So it is.”
“And freezing.”
“Is it?”
“Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”
― A.A. Milne