Sunday, 21 January 2018

Reading for your mental health | Book prescriptions

Reading has always been a source of education, entertainment, enjoyment and escapism.

And it's something health services are catching on to. Book prescriptions are starting to play a huge role in mental health care, with services recommending mental health-related novels, psychology books and memoirs for patients. See some lists below for reading suggestions.

But reading to help improve your mental health doesn't mean you should only read books about mental health issues.

In fact, often I find books about mental health issues more difficult to read. The content is too relatable. It can end up putting you back in that place of despair, or anxiety rather than helping you break out of it. While psychology and psychiatry books are helpful, it's difficult to learn from them and put their tips into practice while in a depressive state.

For me, reading has always been a form of escapism. I read to escape my mental illness, and I will only read mental health-related books when my own mental health is good.

Last year I found myself turning to books for solace more than I have ever done before. I read every morning on my way to work, on my way home, on every bus, train or plane. I read on days off, on quiet days childminding. I read every spare second I had.

It all started when I joined Goodreads and set a reading challenge of 45 books for the year. I had no idea how many books I read a year before this, but it seemed like something to aspire to; close to, but less than, one a week. By July I had surpassed by goal, reading 72 books by the end of 2017.

And the mental health benefits were extraordinary.
  • Cut down on screen time. I spent less time on my phone, in front of my laptop, and generally being aware of my online presence. I forgot to Snapchat what I was doing because my focus was on reading. 
  • Sleep better. Because I was reading before I went to sleep, I fell asleep faster and had a better sleep. Limiting your screen time before you go to bed has been proven to lead to better sleep, and the nights where I did this, I definitely felt more rested in the morning. 
  • Relieve stress. One of the best things about books, is escaping from the real world and your problems for a little while. After a stressful day at work I used to go home, make a cup of tea and go straight to bed watching Netflix, going over and over my problems in my head until I eventually fall asleep. But reading lets you leave the stress behind. If it's a good story, you get drawn in and forget about your troubles. And after a break from analysing my problems, I usually realise their not that bad after all. Thank goodness I'm not in the Hunger Games. 
  • Always had something to talk about. One thing I find really hard about social anxiety, is trying to come up with possible conversation topics in preparation for a conversation occurring. But when you read, you have a endless supply of topics. Whether it's authors, new books, or book recommendations for other people, I have conversation on the tip of my tongue.
  • Remind you that you're not alone. When I did read mental health related books, I learned more about myself than therapy could ever teach me. You discover that there are others who feel the exact same way as you do, the way that you thought only you had ever felt in the whole world, and they can describe it so perfectly that you finally realise you are not alone. 
Any book can be your prescription to better mental health, but if you want some suggestions, see the lists below.

Do you find reading helps improve your mental health? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time,















Discover some mental health book prescriptions:

Children’s Books Ireland and First Fortnight Children’s Reading List

Bibliotherapy- created by the HSE, Dublin City Council Libraries

Read Your Mind- created by Jigsaw Tallaght and South Dublin County Council

Reading Well- Created by Reading Well

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Life Lessons for workplace anxiety from Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

One of my January reads this year was the inspiring and motivational Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg draws on her own life experiences from her successful career, juggling motherhood, and the women she has observed in workplaces over the years to give us a detailed account of how women can should and need to lean in to their careers.

The book details 'the leadership gap' where men still hold the higher-level, better-paid positions in workplaces around the world. Sandberg acknowledges the barriers that continue to hold women back and force them out of workplaces, such as motherhood. It's been five years since Lean In was published and nothing has changed. Gender inequality still exists in the workplace.
"...women are hindered by barriers that exist within ourselves. We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self- confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in." 
And having anxiety is just another one of these barriers - where your self-doubt, inabilities and insecurities can play over and over - that often holds people back from reaching their goals whether in the workplace or in their personal life.

Lean In is the perfect New Year read. If there's a better book to set a woman up career-wise for the year ahead, I want to know.

I found myself nodding along and marking up sentences and paragraphs to come back to. There was so much I could relate to in my own workplace. But there was also so much I felt I could learn from and put into practice too. I want to share some of these bits with you today.

To help me build my own confidence in work, and reduce work-related anxiety.

Here are my key life lessons to tackle workplace anxiety from from Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.


Allow yourself to be upset; but then move on.
I love this advice. Sandberg emphasises the importance of acknowledging your sadness, of feeling left out or let down, but also how it's paramount to your mental health to move on.
Okay, okay so this one is not only the first but by far the hardest lesson for me. Moving on is not something I am particularly good at, but I reckon I can start to learn this skill in the workplace. While I love my job, I also find it easier to emotionally detach from work than from most things in my personal life. So where better to learn to move on from being upset? It's okay to be upset, but it's also important to remember that everyone is human, and humans have flaws and make mistakes. Do not hold grudges.

Find the middle ground. 
I feel like I talk too much in team meetings. It's something I've started to become aware of, and anxious about, over the past months. And it's making me self-conscious. Thankfully, this is something Sandberg covered really well in her book having had a similar problem. She suggests that instead you find the middle ground. Instead of butting in when another colleague is asked a question; bite your tongue and feel like you're not speaking enough. Don't butt in and give your opinion unless it's asked for in these circumstances. She also says that the people who feel like they do the opposite in meetings and never speak up should feel like they speak too much. Don't take over, but don't be walked over either.

Seize all opportunities.
"...opportunities are rarely offered; they're seized." Anxiety in the workplace can make you doubt yourself and hold your back. This is particular evident when new opportunities come along. Whether it's a taking on a new role or a promotion, self-doubt can stop you moving forward in your career.  Not only that, but sometimes you have to create a new role for yourself and make your own opportunities to progress. It's not an easy thing to do, but I can make a start. I can put my name forward when a new work comes in, I can actively seek training and courses. I can try to learn new skills that will not only benefit me, but my workplace.

Sharing emotions builds deeper relationships.
It's only week three of the New Year, but I'm already getting practice with this one. I've always been the type of person who went to work to work, not to make friends. I'd get on with my work, what I'm good at, rather than socialising, that which I'm not good at. At the same time, I would worry about what all my colleagues thought of me and distress over how much better they seem to get along with each other than with me. But New Year, New Me. I decided to make more of an effort, and not only that, but to tell my colleagues more about my life. Sandberg says we are more motivated to work with people we care about. So be human with your colleagues. It's okay to talk about your personal life and to be personable.

Be authentic not perfect.
I am, always have been and always will be, a perfectionist. But deep down I also know this is not realistic. Perfection does not exist. It's not easy to change your mindset and stop aiming for perfection. But it is healthy to focus on your authenticity rather than how you failed to be perfect. Being yourself, not putting up a front, and admitting your mistakes and faults is more endearing and human to your colleagues and will get you much further than pretending to be perfect.

Have you read Lean In? What did you think? Do you think these tips could help you tackle workplace anxiety?

Until next time,



Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Discrediting Trump as mentally ill sets a dangerous precedent

There is only one topic anyone wants to talk about these days. What is wrong with Donald Trump?
You know the one, President of the United States. Boasts about having a nuclear button on his desk and how smart and stable he is.

There's nothing wrong with questioning a powerful world leader. But what is wrong, is discrediting and excusing everything he does on the basis of a supposed mental illness.

Speculation has reached fever pitch with the publication of a new book Fire and Fury which has turned all attention to Trump's mental state.

I have had conversations which quickly turned to arguments with workplace colleagues on this topic. I can't contain my passion. You see, I wholly disagree with labeling Trump as 'mentally ill' for a number of reasons:


If Trump has a mental illness, why does that mean he should no longer be President? Trump was elected for the view that he continues to espouse. He threw many tantrums and displayed similar Twitter rants and raves during the election. He was still elected. But the reason he should no longer be President is not that he holds dangerous views; but that he may be mentally ill.

This sets a dangerous precedent and poses the following questions:

Can people with mental illness not hold positions of power?
Can we be managers? CEOs? Politicians? President?

And if we do have a mental illness, do we now have to declare a deeply private and personal matter publicly?
Are we allowed to serve the public without revealing our medical record?

Is every person who makes decisions we don't agree with mentally unstable?
Is every 'bad' person, however you define 'bad', mentally ill?
Or what about world leaders from the past?
Maybe all dictators are mentally ill? Was Hitler mentally ill? Maybe Genghis Khan?

Here's the big thing though. We don't know if Trump has a mental illness or not. This is all pure speculation which causes significant harm

Speculating is excusing people who make bad decisions and poor judgments.
Speculating makes people like me, who are mentally ill, feel degraded, judged and inferior for an illness I cannot change. It makes me question my sanity. Am I also a 'bad' person because of my illness?

Mental illness is not an excuse for throwing a tantrum. It's not an excuse for racism, or other bigoted views.
Playing the 'mental illness' card diverts blame from a grown man onto a real, serious and life-threatening illness that affects millions of people. Using it in this way is only serving to restigmatise mental illness as something only the 'crazy' other has, rather than something 1 in 4 of us live with on a daily basis.
Mental illness is being used as a weapon against Trump. How can he be a fit President if he's mentally ill? But I refuse to accept the label of mental illness as an insult.

Worse still, we cannot possibly judge someone's mental health from the image they project. While some psychologists have come out to state Trump is mentally ill, an almost equal number have come out to say that it is unethical to assume this when they have never met Trump.

And as for former colleagues who are questioning Trump's mental state?
Imagine telling a work colleague that having watched how they perform in work over the past few weeks or months, you've decided that they are mentally ill. If we can publicly question Trump's mental health and use it to belittle him, what's to stop us from doing to everyone else?
The stigma around mental health in workplaces remains high. And those of us with mental health problems who are working are left feeling under threat. Will my capability be questioned or belittled if rumour of my mental illness gets out? Will my decisions be scrutinized for signs of instability? Will it be used against me?

Those of us with a mental illness are being silenced by media and political speculation.

This has to stop. Every positive step that has been made towards defeating the stigma around mental health is on the verge of being set back or reversed. The legitimacy of surveys showing stigma-reduction and positive change hang in the balance.
Mental health awareness and advocacy groups need to take a public and vocal stance on this issue. And they need to do it now.

Monday, 8 January 2018

If we don't call out stigma, how can we challenge it?

Most of you probably noticed that there's been a lot of outcry over Youtubers and 'mental health awareness' lately.

From Logan Paul to Jack Jones, US and UK Youtube stars were among the latest batch of Youtubers to make offensive mental health comments over the last week.

Logan Paul hit international headlines after showing a suicide victim in one of his videos watched by millions of kids.  Thankfully, because we're a society that is trying to increase awareness of mental health issues and defeat the stigma around them, there was outcry. Paul was immediately criticised on Twitter and forced to issue an apology. He did not however take the video down, instead amassing millions more hits than he was likely to gain without any outcry.

A man who died by suicide was belittled to nothing more than a form of entertainment and gossip.

https://twitter.com/ZoeAlicia101/status/949337266341675008 
Similarly Jack Jones' advice to people with depression is to 'be happy'. Tell your depression 'to jog on'. Thanks mate, I'll try that next.

Imagine those teenagers who haven't yet told their friends about their depression. Imagine those young people being told that they can easily get over it. That it's not a real battle. Imagine their friends sharing this. Trusted figures have a responsibility to their followers, and this oversimplification of an illness showed the lack of respect he has towards educating or starting a real discussion on mental health.

This is not just a Youtube phenomenon. Celebrities and politicians put their foot in it every day. This is nothing new. But the backlash is. Social media allows us to instantly hit back at those in trusted positions and vent our disgust or anger. And who is in a more trusted position than the Youtuber parents allow their children to watch every day?

Following the Logan Paul controversy, Chrissy Teigen hit back at the outcry and tweeted "should we really be trying (to) ruin their lives and end their careers or accept the apology, personally make a choice to stop watching, and move on."

But doesn't that miss the point entirely?
If we don't call out stigma, how can we challenge it?

Paul posted the video and didn't think he did anything wrong until it was pointed out. Until his followers, and thousands that never would have heard of him until this issue, told him that he was insensitive and potentially dangerous, he didn't care. His non-apology about 'raising awareness' shows his lack of knowledge or basic research into a very sensitive subject. You cannot raise awareness by showing a lifeless body. Paul was called out to show not only him, but all his followers that what he did was wrong, and to explain why, highlighting the need for sensitivity around a very delicate and dangerous subject.

There is a line of course. And in that respect Chrissy Teigen has a point. Threats and hate messages cross that line. There is a difference between calling something out and resorting to bullying.

But Logan Paul and Jack Jones needed to be called out. And that's not a bad thing. Despite their complaints, you should never feel guilty for having stood up against the stigma, because in doing so you're standing up for all people with a mental illness.

Sending them hate messages though? Yeah, you should feel very bad for that.

Until next time,

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Lonely | Why I find friendships hard

You may have noticed that one of my New Year's resolutions is to make more of an effort with friends.

I also have a daily tracker to keep a record of how many days I am doing this and accomplishing my goal. It's basically my way of forcing myself to message, talk to or visit a friend. If I learned anything from 2017 it's that I need to make more of an effort with the people in, and who I want to be in, my life.

There were too many times last year where I felt truly, deeply lonely. I felt left out, like I had no social life, like I was failing at this one huge aspect of my life.

During one particularly hard and lonely point of the year, I felt that there was a gap inside of me preventing me from being anyone's friend. I felt like it had always been there, and that I was socially inadequate.

Why I find friendships hard

I'm the person who doesn't reply to your WhatsApp message. I'm the person who doesn't have Facebook Messenger because I found group chats and messages there overwhelming. I uninstalled it and I have zero regrets. I'm the person who stops replying to Twitter DMs when you ask 'how are you?'. I'm the person who only sees their best friend once a month. I'm the person who drops off the face of the planet for four months, only to pop up in your notifications again.

My ability to make and keep friends, or rather how I feel about my ability to make and keep friends, is dictated by my mental health. If I'm enjoying good mental health, I am replying to friends, arranging coffee dates, getting the bus out to see you. However, when I feel overwhelmed, down and depressed (THE VERY TIMES I NEED SOCIAL CONTACT) I cut people out.

When my depression hits, I isolate myself. I push people away. I don't want to talk or make an effort.

I tell myself that people don't like me. I tell myself that there's no point messaging someone; I find a multitude of reasons not to. I tell myself that they'll only reply out of pity.

Sometimes the habit sticks, and even when my mental health is good I lose contact. Sometimes I find it hard to make and keep friends. Other times, it's the keeping in touch that I neglect, letting amazing friends drift away. And with working two jobs, I can always turn to 'time' as an excuse to not make an effort with friends. And I do. A lot.

The reasons I feel lonely are me

Yes, the reasons I feel lonely are because I find friendships and contact and communicating hard. But all these reasons are something I am responsible for. I can't blame anyone else. And I also can't expect it to ever change or improve if I don't take action.

So it's time to tackle it.

My daily tracker has already been encouraging me to reach out to friends I haven't spoken to in a while and to keep in regular contact with others. I'm even replying to Snapchats and Instragram stories like I never have before. I know that this is only one tool to help me be a better friend. And I expect that when my mental health takes a knock, I'll still struggle. But that's okay. Because change starts with the small steps. And change starts here.

Until next time,


Tuesday, 2 January 2018

New Year, New You?

I try not to buy into the New Year and sense of imminent change and endless possibility that comes with it, but like a lot of you, I succumb to resolutions and goal setting.

I love a good goal, task, resolution, basically anything I can tick off a list. It gives me a sense of achievement and accomplishment. And to be honest I've been very excited to start using my new 2018 journal which I've tailor made to help me make small, everyday improvements to my mental health. So Happy New Year, here's to my new planner.

But on New Year's Eve as I sat down to write my 2018 resolutions, I realised they were the same as the goals I had set last year.
  • Improve body confidence i.e. for the love of God exercise and stop biting your nails.
  • Make more of an effort with friends i.e. please stop dropping off the face of the planet and start messaging people back.
  • Save money i.e. stop buying yourself gifts when you're sad, stop spending all your money on books, and no ordering subscription boxes (not a single one!).
  • Question negative thoughts i.e. it's not possible for everyone to hate me, because I don't know everyone in the world now, do I? 
I hadn't achieved what I'd set out to in 2017. Change didn't last, it came in spurts before petering out. I quit the gym, I bit all of my nails down to the skin, I did not reach my savings goal. I felt like a failure. What's the point of making the same resolutions every year if I don't get anywhere?

New Year, New Me

I always harp on about how there's no quick-fix to mental health problems. There's no magic cure, no pill, no meditation that will resolve everything forever. It doesn't work like that. And as all of my resolutions relate to and impact on my mental health, they should be the same.  

Similarly life, like resolutions to improve my life, is constant, it's ongoing. So why shouldn't my resolutions continue? 

Sure, I wish I did more last year to work on my goals, but everyday, not just every year, is a fresh chance to do this. As disheartening as it was to reflect on how I hadn't reached my goals or kept my promises, making improvements and changes to your life shouldn't be a once-off event. You have to keep a change going forever, otherwise it never changed. 

So I'm adding a new resolution to the list this year. The new and improved 2018 model Zoe will try to be less hard on herself. Yes, it's healthy to set goals and inspire yourself to make positive changes, but so what if they take time? 

Real change doesn't happen overnight. 

This, like all my resolutions, is a process.