Tackling anxiety through healthy coping mechanisms

Mental Health Awareness Week is an annual event aimed at raising awareness and promoting understanding of mental health issues. This year, the theme is Anxiety. Anxiety is a normal emotion in us all, but sometimes we lose our grasp on it, and it becomes problematic.  

Lots of things can lead to feelings of anxiety, including relationships, moving home, starting a new job (or losing one), or other big life events. Focusing on anxiety for this year's Mental Health Awareness Week will increase people's awareness and understanding of anxiety by providing information on the things that can help prevent it from becoming a problem.  

In this blog, Abbeyfield’s Environmental Sustainability Coordinator, Gabrielle Turner, tells us her story of ongoing mental health and talks about how she chooses to tackle these conditions when they become problematic.  

Gabrielle's Story

“There are many external factors that can bring declines in our mental wellbeing, and this can sometimes in part relate to the ever-changing world around us. The elephant which has always been in my ‘room,’ or should I say thoughts, is personally living with a non-visible disability. It has been a hidden world that has affected my emotions. Be it questioning people’s perceptions when I was younger, or feeling that nobody could relate, and thus not speaking about the resulting mental effect at pinnacle times of my life.  

“I was diagnosed with epilepsy at 18 years-old, and looking back now, this life transition caused me to suffer from depression and increased anxiety. A shock from one day to the next, the initial unknown and understanding. Oh, and the worst idea, googling things left, right, and center! 

“Epilepsy, something I could not imagine starting at 18. There are over 40 types of Epilepsy, of which I come under one of the different categories. But, the taboo, the judgements, the changing in how people initially act around you and having to explain further doesn’t feel the best to put it short.

"What I just shared is something monumental for myself. I can only name about 25 people who I have shared my condition with in total, but 13 years later at age 31… I’m working on it. I’m passionate about seeing inclusivity being a bigger topic in society today and I speak to all those with non-visible disabilities encouraging you to share with others. Non-visible disabilities can include as examples Dyslexia, Autism, Crohn’s Disease, chronic pain, and cognitive impairment, which can include Dementia too. The impact of living with a non-visible disability could be minor, or have a huge effect on someone’s life.  

“Parents, Carers, children, or siblings of those that suffer from a mental health condition or a separate medical condition, can be greatly affected from the unrivalled need of wanting to support loved ones. Thankfully, there are many support charities, help lines and community meet up groups that allow people to open up, in addition to speaking with a GP.  

“I take this moment to share that from 23-29 May, it is National Epilepsy Week and as part of this, it would be beneficial to millions if five minutes were taken to learn a little more. This year’s theme is the role that families, friends, colleagues, and healthcare professionals play in supporting people with epilepsy, and how the condition can impact them.  

“On a more positive note, my condition is now controlled medically, and I promote good mental wellbeing for myself aside from this. This is all equally why working for Abbeyfield is particularly important to me, due to the feeling of supporting others, interacting with residents when visiting and being part of a community that brings a smile to the faces of people far and wide.  

“With my story shared, I’d like to also share some of my own ‘coping mechanisms,’ or more so highlights, of what makes me feel better during my low times.”

Outdoor recreation and engaging with nature

The great outdoors has always been something I enjoy, especially on a sunny day or visualising the seasons change. I may be biased due to having a key interest in the environment, but there is nothing simpler and satisfying than taking in the natural elements of the world we live in. 

“It is scientifically proven that being outdoors promotes calmness, reduces stress, lifts your mood and reducing the feeling of being isolated. Overall, being within the fresh air and getting exercise is great for everyone when it comes to both physical and mental wellbeing. It also brings a sense of ‘connectedness’ to our natural surroundings, bringing out our emotions, senses and sounds towards what we relate to as nature. The charity, Mind, has shared some great tips, links and stories to support this. 

“Immersing yourself in nature can fit around any region you live in, such as trees in an urban area, small streams, parks, flower boxes and even the appreciation of indoor plants. I personally love the countryside and therefore whenever I do get a chance, I will take my camera and go walking or climbing. Experiencing a landscape, I’ve never seen before is truly beautiful when taking it in. In light of this, this month is in the UK National Walking Month. The #try20 challenge is an aim to promote everyone to try walk 20 minutes each day for health. This I know is equally exceptionally good for the chemicals in your brain by being outdoors. 

“Often I’ve heard from those I know around me that they don’t like walking as there isn’t an end purpose. We also all have very busy lives and may not have easy access to greenery.  

So here is my own advice: 

  • If it’s sunny then take a book and know a spot where it’s calm that would be nice to sit, taking in the sounds of wildlife around you 
  • Find an interesting podcast that you could listen to whilst walking around the neighbourhood or through a local green space 
  • Walk with others, you could even come up with a theme for each meet up on a topic to talk about between yourselves 
  • Research into what your native species and wildlife are in your area, set out to go for a wonder and check if you spot any (even butterflies) 
  • Know of a local allotment nearby? Perhaps contact them and see if you could help get involved for short spaces of time 
  • The power of music is one of my favourites, whilst walking play some music from your phone that makes you cheery 
  • Mindful music, podcasts or audio books are equally great ideas to keep you company and reduce anxiety if alone 
  • Landscape photography is my passion; however, it could easily be something you could use as something to do on your phone of the countryside or even just of flowers 

“In settings such as Abbeyfield, residents love to be within our gardens and try to become interactive with nature where appropriate. As our staff think about activities to bring residents together, it is areas such as this that we think about incorporating. Even bringing in the sounds of birdsong by opening up areas when warmer weather is upon us. Immersing yourself in nature can fit around any region you live in, such as trees in an urban area, small streams, parks, window flower boxes and even the appreciation of indoor plants.  

Eating well and mental health

"I personally take better care as I’ve aged of what I eat as much as possible, due to in the past sometimes comfort eating in excess or the opposite from lacking appetite when taking medication. Needless to say, we all still deserve and need those treats!"

Charlotte Turner, Registered Nutritionist RNutr and founder of The Health Nutritionist explains to me: 
“Nutrition and what we eat, and our mental health are intrinsically linked for a variety of reasons.

When we are stressed or unhappy, we tend to seek comfort food which is the high fat high sugar convenience foods which may give us immediate comfort but in the long run can have effect on our nutritional intake and overall well-being due to a lack of variety and potential to miss consumption of required vitamins and minerals we need.

If our diet starts to deteriorate, this will affect our gut health. When our gut health is affected, it directly affected our brain. Our gut is known as our second brain as it produces serotonin- the happy hormone - so when our gut is unhappy, we can also feel unhappy and vice versa.

Anxiety, depression, and stress can be improved by good nutrition such as by focusing on adding as many vegetables as we can to our meals - this gives us lots of benefits and will improve our gut micro biome. Healthy fats such as omega 3 rich foods like avocados, almonds and oily fish have also been linked to improved mood. 

When we grow our own produce, we not only can reap the rewards by adding veggies to our plate. This has also received research of helping the elderly in care homes whom may lack appetite compared to if they are witnesses’ food to fork from their own work or that of helpers.” 

“Aside from my personal experiences, this runs true to the work we do at Abbeyfield. We make a conscious effort to get residents engaged with our meals, recipe sharing and menu planning.  

“Abbeyfield also has initiatives taking place such as a seed-to-feed project where residents can plant vegetable or fruit seeds and use friendly tools to help cultivate or water. There are tremendous staff at Abbeyfield who truly care about such initiatives, which bring people together for our community ethos. 

“Other areas in which I’m able to switch off and enjoy my time is by taking up crafts such as cross-stitch, knitting and gardening. There is something really special in seeing something you have either created or nurtured come together that brings satisfaction. Although this is personal to me, our residents at Abbeyfield are very talented in all these tasks and therefore I should be getting some tips. 

“Finally, in relation to mental health, let’s all try speaking to others and opening up. Let's embrace our disabilities and life experiences. It is very hard and sometimes it takes that small message to someone that reminds you that people do care, will listen, and provide that shoulder of support.” 

Find more information and guides on mental health and wellbeing

Mental Health Action Day Image

Mental Health Action Day

Our mental health and wellbeing is as important as our physical health for leading a fulfilling and balanced life, regardless of age. In a world of ever increasing information, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, distracted by newsfeeds and social media, it’s more important than ever that we nurture our mental health. Mental Health Action Day acts as a reminder for us to think about our mental well-being and take steps towards improving it.

Looking after your mental wellbeing Image

Looking after your mental wellbeing

Living a healthy lifestyle in old age is not just about looking after your physical health and fitness, but about making sure that you look after your mental wellbeing too.

World Mental Health Day: Tips for improving your mental health Image

World Mental Health Day: Tips for improving your mental health

Our mental health changes how we think and feel. We have put together some tips and guides of ways that can help you improve the way that your mental health makes you feel.