Has anyone else been having vivid dreams lately?
I’ve heard so many people talk about how since the start of lockdown, they have been having more dreams than usual. Google Trends (2020) reported that in the US, the number of Google searches for ‘weird dreams’ has doubled since this time last year, suggesting that not only are people dreaming more often, but they can remember them when they wake up.
Not only are vivid dreams increasing, but so are mental health struggles. The United Nations have said that due to the poverty, anxiousness, isolation, bereavement, and illness that COVID-19 is bringing, a mental health crisis could happen (Routers News Agency, 2020). This is already being made apparent in the referrals to mental health services – Harmless and the Tomorrow Project have received a 200% increase in referrals.
Here’s how these two things could relate to each other.
Researchers have found that dreaming could function as a way to regulate emotions (Scarpelli et al., 2019). Struggling with our mental health often results in excessive negative emotions, such as sadness, anger, confusion, anxiety, or grief. Large numbers of us are currently experiencing these emotions in response to the pandemic. So in theory, an increase of these emotions could be the cause of an increase in dreaming. The reason why we’re all having so many “weird dreams” could be due to our brain trying to cope with the many intense emotions we’re feeling at the moment.
But, why do we still feel so tired?
When we enter REM sleep (the stage of sleep in which we dream), our brain waves are almost as active as when we are awake (Purves et al., 2001). Our heart rates also increase, as does our breathing. This means that we may not feel rested when we wake up after having a lot of REM sleep and vivid dreams.
Hopefully that answers some questions that you might have been having lately about weird dreams! If all the emotions you’re feeling right now are getting to be too much, resulting in feeling suicidal, then please be reassured that the Tomorrow Project are here for you. We aren’t going anywhere.
Suicide Crisis Support Officer
Google Trends. (2020). https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?q=weird%20dreams&geo=US
Purves, D., Augustine, G. J., Fitzpatrick, D., Katz, L. C., LaMantia, A. S., McNamara, J. O., & Williams, S. M. (2001). Sleep and Wakefulness. Neuroscience. 2nd Edition. Sunderland, MA: Sinnauer Associates Inc, 26.
Reuters News Agency (2020). Health Experts Warn of COVID-19 mental health crisis. The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/05/14/health-experts-warn-covid-19-mentalhealth-crisis/
Scarpelli, S., Bartolacci, C., D’Atri, A., Gorgoni, M., & De Gennaro, L. (2019). The functional role of dreaming in emotional processes. Frontiers in psychology, 10.
The Children’s Commissioner for England conducted a survey, exploring the stressors that children and young people experience. They asked just under 2,000 8-17-year-olds about stress, and here is how they responded:
- 66% said that they felt most stress towards homework and exams. Coincidentally, this research was conducted at the same time as the coronavirus outbreak, and schools were beginning to close. This therefore, could have heightened the stress that children felt towards these things, due to the uncertainty surrounding their education and exams.
- 39% said that they felt most stress towards worrying about what other people think of them.
- 25% said that they felt most stress about bullying.
- 21% said that they feel stressed about money and their parents’ jobs. With many jobs being affected by COVID-19, these issues may now be even more prominent for children. Additionally, as many people are now working from home, these jobs are being brought into children’s homes, potentially increasing their exposure to job-related stress.
- Many children also mentioned that not being listened to, is a main cause of stress. Since this research has been conducted, there are many discussions about schools re-opening as part of the lift of lockdown, so it is important for children’s thoughts and opinions about this to be heard, as well as those of teachers, parents, and politicians.
This research has highlighted just a few issues that children and young people are dealing with at the moment. If you would like to read the whole article, it can be found via this link: https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/2020/05/20/children-and-stress-whats-worrying-them-most/
And finally, here are some services which may help with some of the stressors mentioned:
- Samaritans: 24/7 listening support for anyone of all ages. Call 116 123, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Childline: Childline counsellors can be spoken to about anything on the phone or online, between 9am-midnight. This service is for anyone under the age of 19. https://www.childline.org.uk
- Exam Stress information from Young Minds:
And if stress levels are getting to be too much, resulting in feeling suicidal, please know that the Tomorrow Project is here for you. 0115 880 0282 / email@example.com
When you think of ‘creativity’ what do you think about? This was the question that was asked to me when I attended a course called ‘Creativity for Recovery’ at Nottingham Recovery College some years ago. I made a list of all the things I thought were creative: drawing/painting/visual arts, dance, writing, baking, fashion, origami, music and gardening. It was helpful for me to answer this question because I had never really considered myself ‘creative’, that was something other people were and I could only aspire to. But by doing this course I realised I was actually more creative than I had given myself credit for.
Since I was a child I have danced, drawn, written, knitted, played musical instruments and as I grew older became more interested in gardening. I was already a creative being, even though I didn’t recognise it in myself. And I believe that as human beings we are all born with a creative potential inside us – you only have to see young children play to realise how naturally creative we are! But for some reason, this creativity can leave us the older we get, as society starts judging us on what we ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be producing creatively, whether it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The lessons people learn in school, for example, can sometimes be particularly damaging as we are graded on the piece of work that is produced, which is not evaluated on its own merit but is held up for comparison with others. I have heard many people speak of how music teachers told them to stand at the back of the class because they ‘couldn’t sing’… This can lead to people switching off their creative selves.
This certainly was the case for me. The things I loved as a child slowly became less appealing to me as I got older and was assessed and graded for my efforts. I started to feel ‘not good enough’, and lost a love for the creative process in itself. This remained the case for many years, until I experienced a serious mental health crisis and found myself referred to the Recovery College. It was here that I began to throw out all those old messages about not being good enough. Here the focus was on self-expression and creating for the pleasure and benefits of doing so.
And there are many benefits to our mental health from creative activities, such as for the enjoyment or as a distraction, to express our feelings, offer satisfaction and to give us something positive to focus on. It can help with reducing anxiety and bring us into more social situations where we might make new friends and feel less isolated. It can be great for reducing tension and helping us to relax. It is known to boost self esteem and confidence, increase self awareness and offer a meaning and purpose to life. Creativity can help us simply ‘be’ in the moment, which is a key aspect of mindfulness practice. I particularly believe, as a person-centred therapist, that creative expression is a natural part of a healthy life, which can help reveal the infinite potential of us all to grow and become more fully ourselves. And above all else it can offer us hope – with a little bit of imagination anything can seem possible.
The paradox I’ve found with my own mental health and creativity is that when I am struggling the most, I don’t have the energy or motivation to do the things that I know will be helpful for me. Picking up my pen to write, or sitting down at my piano to play are usually the last things I want to do. This is when it is so important to be kind to myself and recognise the limitations I have at that moment. Maybe the step I am trying to take is too big and I need to break it down into smaller, more manageable bite-size pieces. These are the times when it is enough to just put on some music that I love and get out my colouring book. Just half an hour spent doing some creative activity can be just the tonic to help lift my mood on the most difficult days. When even this isn’t possible then just sitting outside in nature and admiring the beauty around me is a creative act that can help me feel more connected to and positive about my life.
So even if you don’t think you have it in you, give it a go anyway and maybe you will awake your very own creative self!
This week’s blog theme is Creativity and Mental Health, and with us all being in lockdown, there is opportunity to try out some new activities and potentially start some new hobbies. I took to Twitter, and asked people for the creative things they use to nurture their mental health, and here is a list of their responses. If any of them catch your eye, give them a go!
- Reading (escaping into a new world, interpreting characters and scenes in your imagination)
- Video Games (The Sims, Animal Crossing, Minecraft, LittleBigPlanet, Scribblenauts, Terraria)
- Sewing, knitting, embroidery
- Colouring (adult colouring books, colouring in mandalas or calming pictures, or colouring in angry words could function as a stress outlet. There are also colouring apps, which you can use if you don’t have access to pens or paper)
- Scrapbooking (arranging photos and memories in a pretty layout, also is a great way to focus on happier times. The final product can also be something that you treasure for a long time.)
- Bullet Journalling
- Planning out your day (getting creative with coloured pens, making it look aesthetically pleasing)
- Cooking (experimenting with different foods, writing out recipes colourfully)
- Baking (getting creative with decorations and icing, experimenting with flavours and ingredients)
- Making bracelets or necklaces
- Painting (this could be a ‘paint by numbers’, or freehand painting!)
- Rearranging/redecorating your house or bedroom
- Playing a musical instrument (composing own pieces, learning new pieces, experimenting with dynamics and interpreting the music in your own way)
- Writing short stories or poetry
- Dancing (not only is exercise great for your mental health, but getting creative with dance can be great for expressing emotions and feelings)
- Going for a walk, taking photographs and editing them (see my previous blog post!)
- Writing or drawing our your thoughts (writing doesn’t have to be in a structured way, it can be great to just let the words flow. Someone also suggested drawing what you think your thoughts resemble, to ‘bring them to life’, acknowledge them, or make sense of them)
- Making bird feeders with peanut butter and pinecones, and learning about the new birds that use it!
- Writing a quiz and hosting it online with your friends or family
- Creating playlists on Spotify
I hope that there’s something in there which interests you! Remember not to pressure yourself whilst doing any of these – you don’t have to be particularly good at something to enjoy it! Enjoy having some down time with yourself, getting creative, and nurturing your mental health.
Hope you’re all staying safe, remember that we are here if you need any support.
When I first became a mother over twenty years ago I had never heard of perinatal mental health. Though my pregnancy was very much wanted and I had longed to become a mother for many years, I was unprepared for the maelstrom of feelings that would engulf me both during the pregnancy and following the birth of my first child. I had heard of the ‘baby blues’, but did not fully grasp that the physiological and emotional changes of pregnancy, labour and caring for a newborn baby can make this a particularly vulnerable time for new mothers.
Having already experienced depression and anxiety, I realise now that pregnancy was a catalyst for a surge in emotions that further affected my mental health. I was consumed by fears about not only having my baby, but by how others would perceive me and how I would be judged as an inadequate mother. And after the safe delivery of my first child my anxieties became magnified. Despite no evidence to suggest this was or would become the case, I became overly concerned that people would see me as an ‘unfit mother’ and they would take my baby away.
These fears were ‘irrational’, but they felt very real and they affected my ability to enjoy my time as a first time mother. Above everything else, I felt alone and isolated. I had few friends or family nearby that I could share my anxieties with. Although I felt depressed and anxious I didn’t see it as related to becoming a mother and wasn’t sure that I could get support for these feelings. I also felt guilty and ashamed for not being able to cope as well as I thought I should. I did however find support through a local breastfeeding group. Here I found a community of mothers who met weekly to give mutual support to each other. This really helped me and my self esteem around my baby and my abilities to parent her.
Thankfully I was fortunate, and my anxieties did not completely overwhelm me, becoming a more serious mental health crisis. Over time I felt less anxious about motherhood and began to enjoy my time with my baby a lot more. Sadly, this isn’t the case for some new or expectant mothers, whose experiences can lead to serious conditions such as ‘postpartum psychosis’, that often affects women soon after birth.
By the time I had my second baby two years later I realised that I needed more professional support so saw my GP who referred me for counselling. This greatly helped address underlying issues I had with my mental health and ultimately helped me navigate motherhood more successfully.
If you (or somebody you know) have any concerns about your mental health during the perinatal period, help and support are available to ensure you find a healthier and more rewarding journey through parenthood.
For more information or support you can visit the NHS website on https://www.england.nhs.uk/mental-health/perinatal/ or visit the mental health charity MIND at https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/postnatal-depression-and-perinatal-mental-health/about-maternal-mental-health-problems/
To gain peer support from other mothers who have experience of perinatal mental health problems visit The National Childbirth Trust at https://www.nct.org.uk/about-us/commissioned-services/parents-mind-perinatal-mental-health-peer-support
And remember that here at Harmless we aim to support anyone experiencing difficulties with self harm or suicidal thoughts, whether these occur during the perinatal period or not.
It has now become widely accepted, through research and many people’s own lived experience, that gardening and being outdoors are hugely beneficial for our mental wellbeing. Gardening is recognised as having healing properties, in that it can help restore us to a sense of wholeness and offer connection to the cycle of life. This is certainly something that I have experienced throughout my own life.
Living with depression and anxiety since my teens, I felt alienated from nature and consumed by my own worries and fears about life. It was only after I left home that my relationship with gardening began to blossom, when I first started growing vegetables whilst living as a student in a shared house with a very small garden. It was with great pride that I sowed my first tomato seeds and nurtured them on my windowsill until they were mature enough to be planted outside. This process saw me connecting with nature and myself in a way that I never had before and brought about a shift in the way I viewed life. Seeing those little seedlings appear was like watching magic happen before my eyes, and with them, a sense of accomplishment and confidence in my own abilities also began to grow. My seedlings continued to develop into sturdy plants in the grow bags that became their new home and within a couple of months I was rewarded for my efforts with my first delicious home-grown tomatoes!
Many years later, after starting a family, it was with great excitement that I introduced my children to the world of gardening and they delighted in growing their own little plants. Cress seeds were particularly fun to try first, as they could be sprinkled on the earth to form letters as they grew. Potatoes and carrots were always a big hit, because harvesting them was like digging for treasure, with instant rewards being unearthed by little hands. Peas were also popular because they tasted so fresh when eaten straight from their pods. And we found that there is no supermarket competition for freshly picked corn on the cob, which was particularly sweet when cooked straight after harvesting.
In time I took on an allotment, where we grew more and bigger crops. And not only was it a productive place for growing fruit and vegetables, it became my sanctuary, a safe place I could escape to when life got too busy and chaotic. I often took with me a book to read, or wrote in my journal as I sat under the apple tree on my plot, feeling a sense of renewed peace as my batteries were recharged by nature. But as my life has continued to grow busier I have had less time to spend on there and it was with some sadness that after fifteen happy years I recently gave up my plot.
All is not lost though, and here’s another great thing about nature – it is all around us and we don’t need to travel far to feel its benefit. I am fortunate to have a back garden at home and this is where I am now turning my attention again. But even without a garden you can still experience the joy of gardening, growing flowers and vegetables in pots that can fit on small balconies and windowsills. Or you can enjoy one of the larger community gardens that have sprung up and been cultivated in many of our towns and cities.
At the moment, the world seems like a really ugly place. The news is full of illness, death rates, stress, and chaos, and seeing that on a daily basis can make us forget that the world is full of beautiful things too.
I have recently started enjoying going out for a walk, and actively looking for beautiful things. When I find them, I stop and take a photo, so at the end of my walk I have a soothing photo collection of nice things that I’ve seen that day. Not only does this temporarily take my mind off the stress of going through a global pandemic, but it also reminds me of how simply lovely the world is. You don’t have to have a fancy camera to do this, I just use my phone!
Here are some of the photos that I took on one of my walks last week!
Hope you’re all well and are staying safe,
As we find ourselves going another week into the lockdown guidelines, I have an ever growing feeling of isolation and claustrophobia.
I never realised how important being outside was for my mental health until it became so restricted.
I appreciate how important it is to stay home and stay safe but it is now more important than ever to make sure we’re looking after our mental well-being, whilst sticking to the government guidelines.
I find the hour a day “exercise” I get out walking my dog is often my favourite hour of the day.
No matter the weather just the feeling of fresh air against my skin brings an aura of peace and safety that I struggle to find in the four walls of my home.
Be it through your choice of exercise, a walk, run, yoga in your garden or just relaxing in the sun I think being outside even if for just half an hour a day makes an unmeasurable change to your mindset.
This is an incredibly challenging and scary time for us all, but please remember everyone here at Harmless and The Tomorrow Project are here for you and our crisis line IS open for new referrals.
☎️ 0115 880 0282