Going Back To The Gym

Tomorrow I teach my first class since 18th March.

The last time I taught I kind of knew I probably wouldn’t teach again for a while, or that if I did then those classes would probably be the last for a few weeks. At the time though that was what I thought, I’ll not be able to teach for a few weeks then we’ll all be back. I thought I’d see students who still had a few more months in Manchester back in classes, people would be back in their offices within weeks and coming to morning classes and that realistically I’d still remember all the choreography as you do when you’ve just been on holiday for a couple of weeks.

Almost 6 months later obviously that wasn’t the case.

Lots changed and lots has stayed the same in those 6 months. My job is both the same and different and in the same way coming back to the gym is familiar yet equally alien, not least because some of the classes I’m now teaching are different to before as gyms adapt to the financial restraints of being closed for so long.

I feel a mixture of nerves and excitement about the coming week. How will I manage all my class? Do I actually remember how to teach? How is it going to feel teaching and working again- I’ve done it before but not for 6 months?

I’ve written previously about how we quickly get used to things we never thought we could so I know that even if the first week or so feels a bit tough I will get back into the swing of things. This is an important thing to remember, no matter how far you might feel of your pre- lockdown fitness right now you will be quickly able to get back to a place you feel comfortable in by easing yourself back in kindly to your exercise regime.

If you need an idea of how to sensibly ease back into your training you can download this two week ‘back to the gym’ plan for ideas.

Back to Gym Training Plan

Has Lockdown Changed Your Periods?

Are your periods normally regular, but then over the last few months during lockdown you have found them become less regular?  A few of my friends have mentioned this, perplexed as to why their cycle has suddenly changed.

Changes in your body’s level of the hormones (estrogen and  progesterone) can disrupt the normal pattern of your period (hence why young girls going through puberty and women approaching the menopause often have irregular periods).  There are also lots of other things that can affect your cycle however, and some of these relate to our environment / lifestyle, so for me, it’s not that shocking that the change to our lives and emotions that lockdown bought about might have affected how regular our periods are.

Some common causes of irregular periods include:

  • Having an IUD fitted
  • Changing birth control method or using certain medications
  • Too much exercise
  • PCOS
  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • Stress
  • Dramatic weight gain or weight loss
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Thickening of the uterine lining

Some of these reasons are medical and obviously require seeing a doctor to get the correct treatment.  Equally if you find your birth control has started to negatively affect your cycle it’s always worth speaking to the nurse or doctor about this as there might be a better alternative for you.  But some of these changes, specifically over exercising, dramatic weight changes and stress are lifestyle related.

For instance some women find they have changes in their periods because they exercise too much.  They may need to make workouts less intense, or exercise less often to combat this.

If stress is the problem, learning how to manage stress levels or remove the stressful situations from your life can help.

Extreme changes in your weight can affect your periods with weight gain making it harder for your body to ovulate whilst extreme, sudden weight loss can also lead to infrequent or irregular periods.  It’s important to stress here that losing weight sensibly or gaining a few pounds is not likely to have a dramatic effect to your periods (hence using the word extreme!).

Beyond these well accepted reasons that our cycles can change there are other factors that have been recognised as affecting our cycle, syncing with other women we spend a lot of time with, changes to our alcohol intake / patterns, changes to our diet, inconsistent work schedules (working late / changes in pattern) and changes to our sleep pattern (getting less sleep, going to bed later for example).

When you think about how our lives have changed in lockdown it isn’t overly surprising that some of us have found our cycles a little disrupted – our normal routines have gone out the window.  And with that you may have found your periods have change slightly as a result.

Because when you think about lockdown so many of the factors mentioned above will possibly have come into play for you.

Yes, gyms have been shut, but with many people either working from home or being on furlough / unable to go to work lots of people have had more time to exercise an so changes and potential dramatic increases to training will have been seen by many.  Conversely some people (me included) will have found their activity levels dramatically drop (even with training every day) and that change itself could also affect your period regularity.

I don’t know many people who haven’t reported feeling stress and anxiety about the pandemic at some point, whether your worries centered around Covid itself or the economy or both I think we’ve all felt a greater degree of stress.

Many people will have seen a dietary change- some for the better, some maybe not.  We are eating at home more but being indoors all day means we are more tempted by the fridge more often, therefore changes in diet and potential weight gain will not have been uncommon for many people in recent months.

Many people will also have increased their alcohol intake in lockdown, a mixture of it being cheaper to drink at home, having more time to drink etc. means that alcohol intake patterns will have changed (and increased) for some.

For the majority of people their working environment has changed, working from home, changes to hours and due to the challenges many businesses have faced many people are finding they are needing to work longer hours.  Suddenly not bein able to work is equally a sudden dramatic change to routine.

If you live with other females, you have possibly spent more time with them over lockdown so may have found your cycle sync with them.

And finally sleep.  We should theoretically have been able to sleep more – take away commuting, or work or social plans out of the house and early nights / lie ins should have been possible.  In reality, I found, and most people I’ve spoken to have said similar, sleep has been disrupted.  I’ve struggled to get to sleep until the early hours most nights and woken up frequently, which I put down to a mixture of worry and stress and also not being as active during the day meaning I find it harder to get ready to sleep.  This has meant I’ve probably had a lower quality of sleep in lockdown!

So when you think about it, given the amount of changes to our lifestyle that could potentially affect how regular our periods are that we have found ourselves facing in recent months, it’s not shocking at all that many women have found their once regular cycle has maybe become less regular.

Is this something to worry about?  Probably not, I track my cycle on the Fitbit app an have found that although I’ve had some changes, those changes appear to have settled me into a ‘new regular’ cycle.  I anticipate that as things continue to change as lockdown lifts I might see some more changes as my routine changes (and stress levels will probably continue to remain quite high) but again I will keep an eye on those via tracking and I expect they will settle.

But I’d always encourage you to speak to a doctor if you are concerned.  If the changes to your cycle are affecting your life, you continue to remain very irregular or anything seems out of the ordinary it’s always best to get yourself checked out.

If you have any of these symptoms it is generally advised you consult a doctor:

  • You miss three or more periods a year.
  • You get your period more often than every 21 days.
  • You get your period less often than every 35 days.
  • You are bleeding more heavily than usual during your period.
  • You bleed for more than 7 days (I know this is not unusual for many women but if you have a sudden change in period length it is worth getting it checked out)
  • You have more pain than usual during a period

All in all being aware of your cycle and changes to it is always a positive thing, as knowing your own body is the best way of being able to spot early on if something is wrong and understanding changes you might face can be helpful in that understanding of yourself.

Coming out of Lockdown? Do you have a Plan?

How weird is the world right now?

I spoke in a private Facebook coaching group yesterday about how I have genuinely found coming out of lockdown harder than going into it.

That surprised me because I was genuinely worried about my mental health prior to lockdown.  But in hindsight although the build up, uncertainty and speculation was anxiety inducing at the time it also meant I mentally prepared myself for the absolute worst, and because of that it was nowhere near as hard as I’d expected.  The rules weren’t as strict, I wasn’t arrested for buying non essentials with my shopping and I found a routine of sorts.  There were bad days of course but I coped.

What I didn’t think about was how to manage leaving lockdown.  I kind of assumed it would be easy- going back to normal.  That would be a positive not difficult.  Except it hasn’t been.  It’s been more stressful and emotional and overwhelming and anxiety inducing than I ever expected.

There’s two things I’ve since realised.

Firstly, we get used to things much quicker than we think we will.  So although I anticipated lockdown / work from home routine would be tough to adjust to, I had adjusted.  So going back into the office, things being more open has been another period of readjustment, and it’s continually changing.  Going into lockdown was very quick and a big change in one go, now things are evolving so every time I feel like I’ve got on an even footing things change a bit again.  Of course gyms are not open yet so I know that things will change again as they open and classes are integrated back into my week too.  The thing that threw me most about this is that I hadn’t really thought about how the change would impact me.  I thought as it was going back to normal it wouldn’t affect me at all and that lack of preparation on my part I think probably contributed to the feeling of overwhelm.  I’ve loved seeing real people again and getting back to a sense of reality but just because something is good in one sense doesn’t mean it isn’t also hard.

That brings me onto the second thing I’ve realised.

In March I expected a few weeks of lockdown then back to normal.  But we are not going back to normal.  Things are different, so you are going back to work and most things will be the same but some things won’t be.  That’s going to be the same for going back to the gym, going on a night out, to the pub, to the shops.  It isn’t bad or scary but it’s different and at first that is unsettling, because change is hard and takes adjustment.

So if I could give one piece of advice to people who are still essentially in lockdown and about to start easing that and going back out to work etc. be prepared.  The thought you put into how lockdown would affect you, put that same amount of thought into how you feel about this change.  being mentally prepared can help.  Give yourself time to adjust.  If you don’t train for the first week or so after you go back to work that’s ok, it’s likely to feel mentally and physically draining adjusting to the change so give yourself a break.  Finally know that it’s normal to feel unsettled by this, it’s the unknown and that sort of change makes most of us feel anxious, so you aren’t bad at coping if you are struggling a bit, you are normal so allow yourself time.

 

 

 

Be A Lady

International Women’s Day. A day that conjures up lots of ‘Strong Women’ quotes and equally lots of why should we be designated just one day or surely there’s equality now why is it even needed.

If anything sums up why even in 2020 women’s rights still need to be campaigned for this video does.

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.independent.co.uk/life-style/women/cynthia-nixon-be-a-lady-video-they-say-girls-magazine-feminism-a9359611.html%3famp

Whilst women in the majority of the western world have equality on paper, there’s still an awful lot of double standards we are exposed to.

So today is a day to celebrate female achievements but it’s also a day to campaign for continued change.

This years campaign theme is #EachforEqual

The website states

“An equal world is an enabled world.

Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day.

We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements.

Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world.

Let’s all be #EachforEqual.”

The crux of the campaign is that gender equality isn’t just a nice idea it’s an important issue in business and society as a whole and that our own individual actions can all add up together to create collective change.

So today, and in the spirit of this not just being one day. What can you do to promote gender equality (whether you are male or female), whether that idea be small or grand, work related or personal. To take today beyond the realm of ‘just another one of those special days’ requires taking some action.

Me?

One thing I want to continue to promote is the notion that not all women want to be skinny, some women want to be strong and enjoy lifting weights in the gym and the amazing feelings that come from finding your strength. The idea of strong and healthy and fit being more desirable as a goal than just being thin before all else has definitely grown in recent years and this is an area I think as a PT I can help develop and make a positive change in other females perception of themselves.

2020 Goals

It’s not unusual to review your life at the start of a new year and decide what you are happy with, what you want to change, what you would like to achieve within the coming year.

Often we want to lose weight, earn more money, travel more and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of those things being motivators.

It’s understood by most people who work in any kind of field where motivation is key (fitness is a great example) that people are more likely to meet those goals when they genuinely want them for a real reason that they feel some real passion or connection to.

So if you want to lose weight you’re more likely to achieve that when the reason is improved health or to be able to play with your children than because you think you probably should be a size 10.

Not only are you more likely to achieve a goal when there’s a purpose behind it, it’s also more likely to make you happy.

What about when one of your goals is to help other people?

As a society we are sceptical of anyone offering help, the saying you don’t get something for nothing springs to mind. When people offer things for free we tend to immediately assume there’s a catch.

But sometimes, some people’s purpose does involve, in part, just helping people.

Again fitness is a great example of this. It’s an area that many of us who work in it feel real passion about. We want to help people, bust misconceptions and encourage. Now of course we need to earn money too, so we have to charge for some things. But equally a lot of us want to help and will happily provide a lot more for free than you may get in other sectors. Hell, it’s a little selfish because the feeling you can get for knowing you made a difference is some people’s purpose in itself.

So today I wanted to highlight one fitness professional who does just that, and this year has (in my opinion) stepped it up even more.

Lauren McDowell is a Les Mills instructor, who has long been a Tribe Coach (a position where instructors volunteer time to mentor other instructors) and is well known on the instructor social media groups for providing technique videos and feedback.

This year she seems to have stepped it up a notch. After asking on Instagram what people wanted help with she has already produced videos on Body Combat kick technique which anyone can view (check it out here).

Lauren’s Video

But beyond that she has also started producing regular simple and practical tips aimed at people starting out or getting back into a fitness journey.

None of this makes Lauren any money, but she believes and is passionate about encouraging others to participate in fitness and doing it in a way that you enjoy and makes you feel good.

I have the pleasure of working with Lauren as part of Jump 4.2, which has a massive support network for instructors, all helping each other out, and she is also always available to support everyone in that group.

Lauren is of course one of many fit pros I know who provide so much help to others beyond the selling of their services, and they do this because part of their purpose is to help others. They can keep helping people even when they get nothing concrete out of it because it serves their purpose and they feel they get value from it regardless.

So back to my original point, there’s absolutely zero issue with your goals being money motivated or weight orientated but to achieve them you need to be motivated, and to stay motivated those goals need to mean something to you. Sometimes what you realise means something to you might not make sense to anyone else, sometimes the value you get out of a goal may not be physical but mental. Having a clear idea of your purpose will however help you make 2020 a year you get closer to your goals and those goals making you happier.

Equally, your goal really doesn’t have to be what you’d normally expect. Could it be to help more people or help specific people, rather than get a promotion or drop a dress size? Would that create a fire in your belly that pushed you to achieve your goal?

You can of course have a mixture of goals and I’m not suggesting becoming Mother Theresa here, but thinking beyond the norm of New Years Resolutions could help you find something your truly passionate about.

I’m pretty confident one of Lauren’s goals is helping more people this year (I’m sure she has others). You can help her teach more people by checking out her Instagram here, and if you do Combat do check out her technique videos!

Lauren’s Instagram

Stop. Take a Minute.Make it Simple.

Do you ever feel completely overwhelmed with everything that is going on?

I suspect a lot of people do because one of the most common reasons people give for not exercising or looking at what they eat is that they are too busy.

I’ve said here before that really this can be overcome with planning, working out what you need to prioritise and what you can realistically do, being realistic about your goals.  I stand by this, but I also get it.

I think it’s a natural feeling to have sometimes, to be completely overwhelmed.  Whether you already train regularly, eat pretty well,  juggle lots of jobs and tasks or whether these are things you aspire to do but don’t feel like you do right now, sometimes it just feels like there’s too much stuff.

Sometimes out of nowhere the balls your kept in the air for ages feel like too many balls or trying to change one small thing in your house of cards feels like it will bring the whole thing down.

This is when you need to stop and evaluate.

‘Hustle’ is great.  If you want things you do have to work, whether that be in your career or working towards your ideal physique, but when you attempt to do everything perfectly you can end up reaching the point you actually are doing nothing because it’s all just got too much.

Sometimes you need to sit and look at everything on your to do list.  Take off some of the pointless tasks that don’t really matter.  Look at your training, look at your diet and pin point exactly what is you need to focus on right now and forget about everything else you hear about and think maybe you should be doing too.

My plan for the 6 weeks or so before Christmas?  Well I noticed these last few days I’ve been putting off important shit because I’ve felt a little bit overwhelmed.  When I’m overwhelmed i comfort eat, when I comfort eat I feel sluggish and don’t really want to train.

I’ve stripped my work load back to a manageable amount of work, with the things that will earn me money taking priority.  I know I’ll get more results taking longer to do things I want to do but actually doing them rather than just saying I really must get on with that.

I’m going to track my food, not cut stuff out or eat differently (It’s Christmas, there’s going to be cake and I’m not saying no!) just make sure I’m staying within my TDEE.  That will make me feel better about training – Training I want to hit hard.  Not hard as in spend hours in the gym, but plan my sessions in and treat them like appointments and be 100% present in the session to be the best of my ability that day.

Essentially I’m planning to finish 2019 by focusing on doing the basics well.  That’s going to make life feel simpler and therefore reduce that feeling of juggling lots of balls.

If right now you feel like you can’t hit your fitness goals because you’ve too much on try taking a look, seeing what you can drop and what really simple things you can commit to right now to get you closer to your goals by the end of 2019.

How Much Is Enough?

Yesterday I set out to prep my meals for the week in 30 minutes.

It ended up taking an hour because I set all the fire alarms in my building off!

But still, 5 lunches, 4 dinners and a couple of snacks plus a fight with a smoke alarm in 60 minutes – that’s not bad going.

They aren’t the most impressive meals – I’m not being invited onto Masterchef anytime soon, but they will all taste good, are nutritious, are made up of real foods – carbs, proteins, fats – the lot.

My point?

It’s not that you don’t need to cut foods out of live off kale and air to be healthy (that wouldn’t be a bad point to be fair).

It’s not that if you’re busy through the week a bit of meal prep once a week is an amazing tool to keep you on track to your nutrition goals (again pretty good point).

It’s to manage your own expectations of yourself and your week.

Typically Sunday is my only day ‘off’. I know I need to prepare food for the week but if that took up my whole Sunday how often would I end up sacking it off?

So I accept that my food is a bit simple, nothing fancy, in exchange for only needing an hour to get it all done.

If cooking was a relaxing pleasure for me I’d possibly spend longer on it, but that’s not the case.

I try and apply this logic to my fitness as a whole – what would be ideal? How would the ideal affect my life? If it would make me stressed or resentful sod the ideal and find something more realistic to stick to.

Scoring an Own Goal?

I had a conversation with a friend over the weekend about goals.

Goals are great for keeping you motivated and on track with your training and nutrition, and people who are quite consistent with their eating and training are often very good at setting and then working towards goals.  This is a good thing obviously, but equally it can cause us to put unnecessary stress on ourselves.

See when we are very motivated to achieve XYZ it can become easy to start comparing yourself to others, to start picking holes in our own progress and under valuing our own results.  It can also become difficult to recognise that as your goals differ from other people’s what their success looks like and what your success looks like will also be different.  Even more so as your goals change what you measure results on might change at the same time at which point it can become even harder to accept the subsequent changes to our body or strength.

Added to this, most of us generally take on board what other people say and think about our bodies with minimal questioning.  So if those around us comment on say our weight when we have been training to increase our strength (as opposed to trying to lose weight) it can be difficult to remind ourselves that our weight isn’t important to us because that isn’t our goal.

What I’m trying to articulate here is that at a really basic level setting goals is a great start to a fitness journey but for people where fitness is already part of everyday life we can sometimes get confused about what our goals are and what they mean by paying too much attention to other people’s opinions and other people’s goals.

For me, previously my goals have been running orientated and next year I’d like to pick that up again, at which point my training and nutrition will need to reflect that.  Right now though, if I am totally honest I need a break from a specific goal.  I’ve spent the last few years chasing one goal and qualification after another and need a bit of a break.  I actually just want to train and eat to feel good.

I often say I’d like to be leaner, but if I’m honest right now I’m no willing to stop eating cake in the quantity I do or train more often or for longer that I currently do, so I’m not likely to get leaner than I currently am as I don’t want to change my current lifestyle.

That will change- probably next year I will reset everything and work towards a running based goal.  But until then if I see someone smashing out some PBs, running marathons or looking stage ready and feel that sense of failure that I’m not in that condition right now I need to remember I’m not in that condition because I haven’t trained to be in that condition and I haven’t trained to be in that condition because that is not my goal.

Set a goal by all means. Set one that means something to you. Then work to that goal and don’t be swayed by what other people think, say or are doing.  And if you change your mind and change your goal that’s fine, you can always readjust your own goal posts.

 

 

 

Easy ways to work on your own mental health

Following Mental Health Awareness Day Thursday I wanted to offer some ideas of simple things you can do relating to fitness and nutrition to help improve your mental health (whoever you are) and perhaps even help manage depression and anxiety:

1) Drink water

Most of us don’t drink enough water at the best of time and if you feel low the chances are you will drink even less. Fill a water bottle and sip throughout the day. Dehyration causes fatigue and has been linked to feelings of depression so drinking water is a cheap, low effort way of helping you feel a bit better.

2) Vitamin D

This can help make you feel better natutally. You can buy supplements, a light box, possibly use a sunbed or even better get outside and get some fresh air at the same time. Little effort required for a potential improvement in your mood.

3) Fish Oil

Omega 3 has been linked to improving symptons of mild depression. Make the effort to take a supplement each day – you can buy it in liquid form if you can’t swallow tablets (and are brave!). This was one simple habit that has worked well for me.

4) Eat regular meals

When you feel low eating proper meals at regular times can go out the window. Set an alarm for regular intervals and eat a small simple meal when it goes off. This will help stabilise your mood and create a feeling of routine and normality which can help when life feels like it’s crumblig around you.

5) Eat colourful food

Go to the shop and buy lots of different colourerd food. If you don’t feel like cooking buy prepared veg and fruit. Eating a variety of colours will mean your getting a variety of nutrients and will help improve your mood as well as your health.

6) Eat simple healthy meals

Eating healthy foods can have a dramatic affect on how well your mind feels. If I’ve had a bad week a simple healthy meal can help me feel more positive and in control of my own mind and body. It may sound stupid but when I eat well I feel like my body feels better and I’m looking after myself which in turn makes me feel brighter within myself. On days like this I won’t have the energy to cook a fancy meal so I go for a simple piece of salmon I can microwave or grill and a pack of microwave veg. 10 minutes to prepare a good quality meal.

7) Try some alternative meal prep

The holy grail of fitness freaks! Cooking is the last thing you want to do when you feel depressed. So if you find yourself having a good day make the most of it and prepare so batches of food that you can freeze. Then on days you just can’t face cooking you can defrost one of these meals and still eat something homemade.

8) Buy a slow cooker

Slow cookers allow you to make healthy tasty meals with little effort -and a casserole is brilliant comfort food. They are great for preparing a comforting meal without much effort and will make you feel better than turning to chocolate and other quick food sources that we often crave when we feel low.

9) Drink less coffee

Adrenal Fatigue and depression / anxiety are linked. Too much coffee puts you at risk of developing adrenal fatigue – drinking less will help reduce stress levels. You could try a herbal tea instead which many people find helps then relax.

10) Walk

Getting outside helps you move more -that will help your mental health. Fresh air will help lift your mood. Being outside will help increase vitamin D intake. Walking can help clear your head. Walking is free. In short one of the best and most simple things you can do to help yourself fell more positive.

11) Exercise

As I said moving has been shown to help manage many mental health issues. You may not feel much like it but it can be in any form and doesn’t need to be for long periods of time to help. Start small and build up as you start to feel like you can.

12) Dance

Stick music on and just move to the music. Music can improve mood as can moving which makes thos fun activity a win win mood boosting activity.

13) Try group exercise

Nerve wracking and requires motivation. Sounds awful if you aren’t having the best day. But if you can push yourself to walk into the room you can find exercise, motivation, good music and social interaction in one place. It’s hard to leave a class not feeling at least a little bit more positive than when you walked in.

14) Join a team or club

Another nervewracking idea. Another idea which will allow you to exercise which will help your mental health and get to meet new people, another great mood booster. It can also help boose confidence which will help your mental health dramatically.

15) Try yoga

A chance to challenge your body and stretch along with a focus on breathing and mental wellbeing. You could try a class or find a free video on You tube. You could do an hour or even 5 minutes. Whatever you feel like at the start there is an option you could try out and you may feel more relaxed by the end of it.

Do you have any other tips for improving your mental health?

World Mental Health Day 2019

 

World Mental Health Day this year is focusing on suicide prevention, there’s some useful downloads on their website about this topic for a variety of situations and it’s worth a read (website link below).

https://www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2019/10/10/default-calendar/world-mental-health-day-2019-focus-on-suicide-prevention

There are two school’s of thought with ‘days’- mental health, women’s day and so on.  Yes – in an ideal world we wouldn’t need specific days to remind people are inequalities and reduce stigma.  We don’t live in an ideal world though and what these days do is start conversations – some of those conversations may well be forgotten tomorrow sadly, but for some the onslaught of coverage on one day could set in motion the impetus to make a change- either for someone specifically affected or in making someone more mindful.

There’s so much that I could write about today- from personal experience but I’ll limit this blog to three brief things I think worthy of being mindful of if you know someone who is currently struggling with any mental health condition.

One

It can be frustrating for those around someone who is struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts.  Often you try and help and feel like you’re being met with resistance at every turn.  These illnesses are not logical though and as well meaning as your advice may be you might not get the reaction you hope for.  You can offer the most practical and solid advice in how someone might feel better but self care is hard when you are really ill and even though it’s the thing that will help it can feel practically impossible to do.  As frustrating as that may be for you believe me the person affected will be equally, probably more frustrated and knowing those around them are frustrated can just add to the difficulty of climbing out of a hole.

If you know someone who is struggling, be there for them, offer an ear, even offer advice, but accept you can’t fix it and you may feel like you repeat yourself a million times before anything lands.  Don’t take that personally – you being there is probably helping even if it feels like it isn’t.  If someone is suicidal, as much of an impact and stress that will place on you and others around them- remember the stress they feel to get to that point is far greater- frustration and anger are normal and understandable responses but when people get ill they aren’t doing it to piss people off or make life hard for others, get time off work or get attention.

Two

From my own experience when I went back to work after being off for a long time due to mental health issues I found it really hard and one reason for this was there was no understanding of mental illness in the way there would be for a physical illness.  The procedures in place just didn’t work for managing what was wrong with me.  I’m lucky I have a good manager who took time to listen to me and understand and that helped me settle back in, but at first it was really hard because I felt like I was having to fight against a system at a time when I really didn’t have the capacity to do so.  It took me to bite the bullet ask for a conversation and try and explain.

You can understand in situations like this how so many people fall between the gaps and end up unemployed, isolated and feeling like there’s no way out.  It’s easy to drop out the system (if you stop going to the doctors because you really just can’t face anything they don’t chase you up for instance), you can have to jump through hoops to get help but often have no motivation to do so.  You actually have to fight to get help (or have someone fight for you) and often you just can’t when your ill.  You may lose your job because your company doesn’t recognise mental illness as a genuine illness and not have the capacity to fight that.

These situations could be improved with education.  I don’t just mean companies educating their staff to understand mental illness, I mean in some cases companies themselves need to understand better how mental illness can affect staff and how best to handle it at a variety of stages- both preventative measures, catching signs of problems early on and dealing with the aftermath of serious issues.

Three

Today is about making people aware of the importance of mental health, of being open about discussing it- because more people than you would ever anticipate will be affected to varying degrees over their lifetime.  Being aware everyday is important though.  If you notice that a friend or a colleague doesn’t seem quite right you haven’t got to have a conversation with them if you don’t feel comfortable.  It might be mentioning your concern to someone closer to them who could check in on them.  But equally it could be dropping them a message or calling them for a chat, inviting them for a coffee or lunch, anything to connect with them.  You know that thing we call being nice, letting people know they have people around them.  On a day to day individual basis that can be the thing that makes the difference, and because you never really know how much people are struggling making not being a dick a general life rule is probably the best way to help others maintain good mental health, not least because you never know what sort of things could affect someones so something you say in passing which means nothing to you could affect that person for hours even days after.