To recognise Mental Health Awareness Week we hosted a Cake & Chat drop-in this Tuesday. We focused the event on Time to Change. Time to Change works to change the way we all think and act about mental health problems and look to improve attitudes and behaviour. We are proud to be part of the new Time to Change Islington Hub.
The event was very well attended - and we even had a visit from the Mayor of Islington, who posted this wonderful picture on Twitter.
A big thank you goes out to all the volunteers who made this event happen - especially Wendy, who put in a lot of time energy to make the event so relevant.
Continuing the de-stigmatise mental health is incredibly important to us and you can be part of it too. To sign-up to be a Time to Change Champion please visit; https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/get-involved And please remember to ask your friends twice if they're ok - to really find out. Daniel
Did you know… that happiness can be measured? ...that we can learn skills to increase our happiness, even in difficult circumstances? ...that kindness is contagious? ...that human connection is key and that societies with the most social support are the happiest? … and that we can all take small steps to make big leaps in happiness levels for ourselves and our communities?
From 21st May, The Stress Project will be hosting an 8 week course on what happiness means and how we can increase it for ourselves while spreading it to others.
The course is designed by Action for Happiness, a charity set up to research what makes people, communities and societies happy and to spread the results.
Each session opens with a short mindfulness exercise and a reflection on good things that have happened to us in the last week.
This is followed by the week’s main topic, beginning with, “what really matters in life?” and “what actually makes us happy?” through explorations of our connections with others in our relationships, work and communities. A talk by an expert in the field is shown, summarising the findings of their research and explaining how individuals and societies can use this knowledge to improve wellbeing.
When I first signed up for a course (run at London’s first Happiness Cafe, the Canvas Cafe in Hackney) I was sceptical. I thought it might only be about self-help, without looking at wider, social contexts. I’m a believer in compassion, cooperation and connection as essential for wellbeing. I feel there can be too much focus on individual fulfilment at the expense of consideration for others’ needs; too much belief in inner resilience, ignoring difficult circumstances and lack of social support that can make it harder to find happiness.
I was very happy to find my worries were groundless! The course does show how skills for wellbeing can be learned and how we can build on our resilience to help us get through the inevitable sadnesses we all face in our lives. It also provides evidence that human beings are social animals who need supportive communities to flourish.
As participants, we were encouraged to learn from each other’s experiences and views. We discussed our responses to the videos, sharing ideas about how we could use what we’d learned. Each week we planned actions to spread kindness and happiness in our everyday lives.
I have fond memories from the course, where I met kind and interesting people and was invited to join exciting projects they were involved in, from poetry groups, community orchestras and cancer-support choirs to city nature walks. One week we planned small acts of kindness in the community and I suddenly found myself busy baking for the school fete, feeding a neighbour’s cats and babysitting, while filling bags of clothes and toys for the charity shop…
The exercise I liked most and still keep up is noting three good things that have happened each day. Each night at bedtime my 6 year old and I now ask one another to list three things we’re glad about from our day. Tonight my son’s were, “a happy day at school, learning about moths, and us reading a story together.” A nightly reminder of simple, good things.
I’ve volunteered to help run the Exploring What Matters course because I found its enthusiasm for putting its research into practice infectious. I feel it can inspire us to seek and spread happiness by creating caring connections and building compassionate communities. Getting together to explore and come up with creative ways to spread wellbeing is a great start to making a happier society.
We're delighted to announce that we will be hosting an 8-week Action for Happiness course.
The 8-week course starts on 21st May and will be from 11am to 1pm every Tuesday and is run by Action for Happiness. The course is titled ‘Exploring What Matters' and it’sa secular, science-based course for people who want to learn how to live happily and spread happiness to those around them.
It was created by the Action for Happiness charity to help people tune in to what really matters in life, connect with people around them and find small ways to start taking action. Action for Happiness is looking for donations of £90 to do the course.
Each week is based around a big question. For example week 1 will looking at ‘What really matters in life?’. The group will explore whether a greater focus on happiness and wellbeing might be better for all of us.
This course is for anyone interested in exploring how to create happiness for themselves or others.
In late May 2016 I suffered a breakdown and after being judged by my GP to be suffering from high achiever anxiety & depression with a side of perfectionism I was referred to iCope – who gave me psycho therapy sessions.
After those sessions came to an end my therapist mentioned the Stress Project and its mindfulness drop-in classes. I attended and in a word, I found them "invaluable". My husband and friends noticed after just a few weeks a different, calmer, less self critical and more open woman emerge from the shell of worry, self disgust and fear that I had been cloaking myself in. A person who's smile reached her eyes, eyes that cried less and now held hope.
The casual drop-in nature of the classes, their free availability and ethos - both literally and theoretically, not only encouraged me to give them a try but to delve further into the subject of mindfulness, and take the 8 week course offered by the Stress Project. I am delighted I did. It has opened up new ways of thinking, of approaching life, of responding rather than reacting, and of self-resilience and happiness.
I now find it easy to remind myself that all things change, in the same way every breath is similar but different. Acknowledging that it´s ok to feel sad about something and then move on. Just the same as it´s ok to feel happy about and delight in something, and move on, which is something I find very freeing. For example, the ability to concentrate on the delight of water and toothpaste cleaning my teeth to quieten those nagging voices of preoccupation that sometimes come into my head is ace.
I’ve learnt that self-acceptance and compassion, linked to an openness to experience the undoubted challenges that living in a world in which not even one life giving breath stays the same, is just one of the big pluses I have gained from practicing mindfulness - both in group sessions and individually as a routine daily exercise.
I continue to attend the weekly Drop-in sessions each Thursday afternoon, when I can both as a participant and now a facilitator. After training, I have also given several taster mindfulness sessions at events. This has boosted my confidence and has helped me in my mindfulness practice.
I’m not only keen to share the peace which mindfulness has helped bring me but to ‘give something back’. I’d encourage anyone to give the practice of mindfulness and learning of self-compassion a go, whatever their current state of mind. For me it has been a positive, if at times, challenging experience.
Today is Time to Talk Day – a very important day in our calendar, as it’s about having conversations about mental health. Mental health problems affect one in four of us, yet people are still afraid to talk about it.
In recognition of this important topic, Holloway Neighbourhood Group, representing both the Old Fire Station & Stress Project, is today attending the Winter Wellbeing Festival @ Islington Town Hall.
At the event we are hosting a participative creative activity, which is a taster of our Art for Wellbeing classes.
It will be a creative icebreaker and will involve people choosing from a selection of photos and words and combining them in any way they want on paper. They can then add colour and we will photograph them holding the result (only the hands will be in the photo). We’ll then put a series of these photos together after the event to make a larger piece of work.
This will run alongside information for our other wellbeing activities such as exercise classes, counselling & mindfulness.
The event is open from 12noon to 3pm and it would be great to see you there.
Here we are, into a brand new year and it's Blue Monday. Traditionally this is the week when we begin to despair of achieving our new year resolutions. All across the country gyms fall silent and empty.
Bank accounts slip into the red as the first, hefty, payments for unused membership fees are debited. Chocolate and gin comfort sales soar in the supermarkets. Why are so many new year resolutions given up? Perhaps because we often base our resolutions on negative self images or on shoulds: I’m overweight - I should go on a diet; I’m lazy - I should exercise more; I’m not achieving enough - I should work harder. If we set our goals according to negative self beliefs or with an ideal image of what “should” be in mind, we might be setting ourselves up for disappointment. Our “inner critic” can undermine our efforts, that little voice lurking in most of our heads, telling us we’re overweight, lazy, unsuccessful…(fill in your own blanks…). With a shining image of how we “should” be before it, our inner critic tells us how imperfect we are by comparison, how difficult it is to attain that goal, how we’re not good enough, that we’ll never make it. A mindful approach can help diminish the influence of the inner critic and put the demands of perfectionism into a more manageable perspective. MIndfulness is about awareness of the present moment, without judgment. One simple exercise for when we’re beset by negative thoughts is to take a moment simply to let those thoughts flow through the mind. Our tendency is to try to argue with them by contradicting them with positives or to defend ourselves with justifications (“I’m not overweight - I’m curvaceous;” “I’m not lazy - I walk to work every day;” “I’ve achieved quite a lot and I work long hours already.”) This positive thinking might be quite right, too. The problem is that countering the negative thoughts with positives, however correctly, can give them weight. By engaging with our inner critic we’re encouraging it to keep returning to argue with us. Instead, let the criticisms or worries flow. Acknowledge thoughts as they pass. Taking a moment to step back and notice them allows us to recognise the inner critic for what it is: a mere mental habit formed unconsciously over the years. Simply standing back can give us a sense of perspective; accepting negative thoughts for what they are can shrink their power and prevent them from overwhelming us. When we make new year resolutions, the perfectionism of past “failures” and future ideal goals or “shoulds” can sneak in. Mindfulness’ emphasis on the present moment can help ground us when we’re anxious about achieving future aims or distressed by past regrets. A simple exercise is to pause and focus on present sensations, going through five senses in turn. First, notice five things you can see around you; next tune in to four sounds; then three things you can feel; two things you can smell; finally, one thing you can taste. This mindfulness exercise can calm us when we’re anxious and can help us to accept and enjoy the present when thoughts of what should be or what might have been threaten to overwhelm us. Mindfulness is above all about being non-judgmental. Although setting perfectionist goals might seem ideal to spur us on, they can erode our confidence and ability to achieve by focusing on our flaws, setting up comparisons with how we “should” be. Perfectionism can paralyse us with fear of failure rather than encourage us with positive hopes. My favourite quotation from Carl Rogers, the founder of person-centred therapy, captures the power of self-acceptance to transform us: “paradoxically, when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change…” If we learn to accept our weaknesses, our fear of failing lessens: we can be a bit overweight, veg out on the sofa sometimes and do less overtime at work. Ironically, this can enable us to achieve more: it releases us from the pressure that can paralyse us, instead giving us room to improve in manageable steps. So...let’s not let new year resolutions drag us into despair by Blue Monday! If we miss a few days of exercise, indulge in chocolate and gin for a while or spend too much money, we don’t have to criticise ourselves for our “failure” or what we “should” have achieved. Instead we can accept that we’re all human, do some exercise we enjoy, indulge occasionally and budget a bit better next month. If this year’s resolutions seem too difficult, perhaps we can try out some small, manageable steps to improve something we already enjoy. My own new year’s resolution is to try to make different types of trifles, like the trifles my mother used to make me for my birthdays when I was young. Trifles are gloriously messy, made step by step, slowly with pauses for rest while the juice settles in the sponges, then the jelly sets, then the custard cools. Plenty of scope for mindful practice in making them (and eating them provides enjoyment of all five senses!)
For details of our evening Mindfulness course - starting on Wednesday 20th February - please visit www.stressproject.org.uk/minfulness for more information. Rowan St Clair Blogger and practices Mindfulness
Anisha, one of our volunteers, follows up her chat with Mindfulness teacher Philip, by interviewing our Chief Executive - Lucy. The conversation covers a range of topics including why we run mindfulness services in Islington & the difficulties of fundraising for community organisations.
Anisha: ‘How did you get into The Stress project?’ Lucy: ‘I’ve worked in the charity sector for 25 years, typically with small local charities in community development and mental health. I already knew about Holloway Neighbourhood Group as I lived fairly locally so when I saw the job opening, I thought I’d give it a go! I started in 2012 and it’s the longest I’ve stayed in any job. Normally I would move on quicker, but I love working with the team here. I really enjoy the mix of activities you get to do at a small organisation and I get to meet a lot of people that the project supports. For example, one day I will be covering reception or cleaning out the gutter and the next I will be doing wider business planning. Working at a big organisation can often make you forget who and what you’re doing it for. It’s nice to meet people who remind you why you’re there.’
Anisha: ‘What do you see as the long-term ambitions of The Stress Project?’ Lucy: ‘Most charities struggle because of funding. The government doesn’t have enough money, charitable trusts are heavily over-subscribed and individuals don’t have spare money to pay for services. For the last 3 years, Islington council has been funding 30-40 charitable organisations and this includes The Stress Project and that’s been great. Yet we wanted to go even further because mental health is such an important issue for Islington. In our borough, 30,000 adults experience depression or anxiety disorder in any one week. We wanted to test a model that incorporates Islington’s unique characteristic where the very rich and the very poor live side by side. People who have a social conscious, mental health issues and money can subsidise for other people who can’t afford the courses normally. This is the model we are applying to our mindfulness based cognitive therapy course. We started with mindfulness as we know this has a broad appeal, but our ambition is to bring this model to other therapies as well. Loneliness is very important for us. A study by Holt-Lunstad showed that loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day – it can even be worse than obesity.’
Anisha: ‘What challenges have you had to overcome since you’ve joined?’ Lucy: ‘The main issue was funding. We made the controversial decision a while back to sell the building and lease it back to pay off debts. Now, we are trying to earn money through fundraising and renting out our buildings. The Old Fire Station has become a vibrant and diverse community centre. We are not just earning income from it, it’s become a hub where everyone can drop in, find out what’s going on and make friends. Every borough has its own take on community centres (which interestingly used to be called community anchors) and the diversity of Islington is what makes it so special. We are aiming to grow user-led services where people have a say in how activities are run and how skills are shared.’
Anisha: ‘How can we see the impact of The Stress Project on the community?’ Lucy: ‘We have different measures for our low-cost counselling and therapy sessions which have revealed that 6 months after completing a mindfulness course, 85% of participants said that they are now less likely to worry or feel anxious, and 100% said they are better able to cope with stress. 71% of people undertaking a programme of counselling or complementary therapies report significant improvements in their mental health. We like to see The Stress Project as the backbone to the community. Some people will come in every week for years while others will only come in when they are feeling unwell. Quite a lot of people who use our services end up volunteering with us and one-on-one interviews reveal that people have felt listened to and felt a sense of belonging. We have such amazing volunteers here.’
You can sign up for the latest mindfulness course here.
Part Two of Anisha and Philips recent chat about Mindfulness...
Anisha: 'Why are people low during the winter period? Philip: 'The third week of January is when people’s mood is often at its lowest compared to the rest of the year. There are multiple reasons for this: Christmas has just happened; more people are in debt and feeling lonely; the days are still short and it’s the month with the coldest weather.' Anisha: 'Do you have any tips on how to combat this?
Philip: 'Emotional problems can often lead us to engage in a range of behaviors and strategies that make things worse not better. Instead of spending money, give your time instead. Whether it’s volunteering or spending quality time with friends and family, this will prove to be much more fulfilling.'
'In January, if it’s practical try to get outside and get some physical exercise. You don’t have to go to the gym obsessively but try small things like taking the stairs instead of the lift. Alter your daily journey to work by getting off a stop earlier on the tube or bus and walking past some nice gardens or finding a quieter route to work. If you’re feeling down, do a little bit of something that nourishes you and makes you feel happy - whether it’s reading a book, listening to music or taking a bath with some relaxing candles. But careful not to overdo it and exhaust yourself.'
Anisha: 'What else would you like to add about Mindfulness?'
Philip: 'Remember that mindfulness is a slow burner, it’s not a quick fix. You can be an expert on it in an academic sense but this won’t change anything until you actually put it into practice. You don’t have to know all the ins and outs. The benefits come from simply giving mindfulness a go as best you can.
It’s also important to practice being kind to yourself – often the person beating you up most of the time is yourself. It’s difficult to get out of this mindset, which is why it often requires an 8-week course like the one we offer. If a course isn’t practical, there are many things that you can do at home to help yourself. Our stress levels are unfortunately rising, often due to an addiction to technology. As a result, people are sleeping a lot less. Changes in sleep patterns can affect the body’s natural cycle which leads to an increase in mental health problems. We need to turn off at a certain time in the evening rather than constantly checking in to emails and social media.