Many of us are aware of the impact the pandemic has had on our mental health. Since January, we’ve been working with life coach Andreea Mona to produce a series of free, online sessions to aid mental resilience and wellbeing titled Your Toolkit for Resilience. Andreea curated each of the sessions in this series around a specific theme, delving into different approaches and practices.
As a way of sharing the wealth of knowledge provided in these sessions, we’ve collected together resources, activities and key points from each week and try out a few exercises for yourself.
Read on to learn about:
- Mindfulness Keys to Resilience – The Dragon Way
- Beat stress and low mood with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (NHS)
- Overcoming anxiety during uncertain times (NHS)
- Good food-good mood – Nutritional secrets to lift the spirits
- Build resilience through art and creativity
- The power of sound for wellbeing and resilience
- Mindful breathing and meditation for wellbeing (NHS)
- Coaching tools for resilience
- Building resilience through connection and community (NHS)
- Your Resilient Family
We were also fortunate enough to have illustrator Ellie Stanton participating in a number of sessions. Check out Ellie’s Instagram.
Ellie has created a collection of illustrations to respond and reflect on what she took away from the sessions, as well as some commentary on how the series resonated with her. We hope that Ellie’s images will remind you of methods to maintain resilience through these challenging times.
Session 1: Mindfulness Keys to Resilience – The Dragon Way
Took place on Sat 16 Jan
We opened our wellbeing series with a mindfulness session held by Dr Tamara Russell, who introduced us to her unique method of integrating mindfulness in our daily lives, via the dragon way… Yes, dragons, as we were to find out that we all have three type of dragons representing the three mind modes! (green for relaxed, blue for task–focused and red for triggered).
Being able to name and personalise these three states makes our mindfulness practice so much easier and profound as we can monitor and harmonise between the dragons as we go about our day. We’ve learned to embrace and accept our red dragon, the energy that emerges in the body and mind when we feel psychologically or physically threatened, we’ve learned to drive our blue dragon, so we can find test and explore ways to increase our productivity. Most importantly we learned to feed our green dragon, the one that activates our natural self–soothing and healing abilities.
TRY IT: Feeding our green dragon consciously every day is crucial for our mental health and so easy to practice! Whether it’s music, dance, hugging a friend or connecting with nature, it’s all about making a choice to give your body, mind and heart a break from stress or work tasks and get into the green state of relaxation, joy, and presence.
What gets you in the green? What feeds your green dragon?
FIND TIME TO: Watch Dr Russell’s video on the neuroscience behind mindfulness:
Session 2: Beat stress and low mood with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (NHS)
Took place on Sat 30 Jan
What a joy to have the second session of the wellbeing series held by a member of the NHS! Teresa Quaranta is a psychological wellbeing practitioner at Tower Hamlets Talking Therapies and her work is focused on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy so she has offered us a few useful techniques to manage stress, low mood and depression.
FIND TIME TO: We learned how to recognise the first signs of depression in ourselves and others; the importance of increasing activities to tackle low mood; the 5 minute rule, that helps boosting motivation when feeling low. The 5–minute rule is a cognitive behavioural therapy technique where you set a goal of doing whatever it is you would otherwise avoid, but just do it for five minutes. If after five minutes it’s so horrible that you have to stop, you are free to do so. But by just committing to 5 minutes of an activity we can slowly become more and more active.
Most importantly we learned to challenge the negative thinking habits that arise repeatedly in our conscious mind by asking these questions: is this thought really true? How does this thought make me feel? What would things be like if I didn’t hold this belief?
TRY IT: An important take away tip would be to “take your thought to court” with these above questions and not allow negativity dwell in our mind. The mind is our garden, and it’s up to us to plant and water the right flowers!
FIND TIME TO: Watch this YouTube video on the five-minute rule to help boost your mood, or overcome internal roadblocks:
Session 3: Overcoming anxiety during uncertain times (NHS)
Took place on Sat 6 Feb
The third session of our wellbeing series was held by the NHS Tower Hamlets Talking Therapies practitioner, Kate Dyer, whose work focuses on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. We learned a few efficient techniques to manage worry and anxiety.
Since March last year we’ve had to constantly cope with uncertainty: uncertainty about our health, the health of our loved ones and even their life, uncertainty about our jobs, finances and the economy, uncertainty about what the future may bring… No wonder statistics show that depression and in particular anxiety rates have almost doubled during the pandemic because living in uncertainty is very likely to generate worry and anxiety.
The biggest take-away from this session is that it’s not about aiming to be completely “anxiety free” but aiming to respond better when confronted with anxious states. Otherwise, it can take over our behaviour and sabotage our ability to take action.
Using CBT tools, we will be able to manage and overcome worry, fear and anxiety by: becoming fully present and aware when experiencing it; accepting rather than resisting it as it would only make it worse (remember the phrase: “what you resist, persists”?); breaking down our worries by acknowledging if they are “practical” so we can do something about the situation, or “hypothetical” so we acknowledge that the situation is out of our control and if there is nothing we can do, there is no point in worrying about it.
TRY IT: A few coping statements that can help: “anxiety is meant to protect not harm me”, “it won’t last forever, it will pass naturally”and “slowing my breathing down always helps”.
TRY IT: If you’re intrigued by CBT, explore the NHS’s App Library, for free resources you can turn to for help when you’re not feeling yourself – you can search for CBT-related ones, or for anything that’s on your mind.
FIND TIME TO: Why not try exploring Insight Timer’s collection of 80,000 free guided meditation, yoga or sounds for sleeping. Focusing the mind on a different task, even if only for five minutes, can help put anxious thoughts to one side.
Session 4: Good food-good mood – Nutritional secrets to lift the spirits
Took place on Sat 13 Feb
In the fourth session of our wellbeing series at Rich Mix, we discovered that food is an essential element in building resilience.
Our guest, the nutritionist Colette Bardell, an experienced practitioner in Ayurveda and health supporting cuisine, showed us the link between food and mood and how an effective diet has a direct impact on our mental health and wellbeing and can support us in navigating life’s challenges.
Colette shared powerful insights and valuable advice on how to take care of our gut (also called the second brain or the enteric brain), that plays an essential role in overcoming stress, anxiety and depression. We learned the importance of keeping our gut happy and especially resisting going for junk food when we have down moments. The sugary “guilty pleasures” only give a momentary high but it’s essential to keep in mind that multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet that is rich in refined sugars and impaired brain function.
Overall nutrition advice can be somewhat confusing and not all so called “healthy food” can work for everyone in the same way but Ayurveda can help us discover our unique roadmap to wellbeing by finding out our nutritional type.
TRY IT: Curious to find out your own Ayurveda Dosha type? Sign up to Colette’s newsletter and you’ll be sent a report for free.
Session 5: Build resilience through art and creativity
Took place on Sat 20 Feb
We’re all aware of the powerful effect of art: it can uplift us, motivate and inspire us, it can be thought provoking, or it can be an instrument for self–discovery and a deeper understanding of ourselves.
Making art and cultivating a creative state in our daily lives is extremely beneficial for our brain performance and sense of wellbeing. And you don’t need to have any artistic skills or previous art experience- we are all creative beings and it’s essential to hone our creativity through various activities.
Our guest for the session, Louise Sunderland, a psychotherapist whose work focuses on Integrative Arts Psychotherapy, showed us that art can be an additional resource in articulating and processing our feelings and experiences, a great form of self expression for times “when words are hard to find or are simply not enough”. But don’t just take our word for it: even if you couldn’t make it to the workshop, you are invited to grab a paper and few coloured pencils and experience the art therapy exercises offered by Louise...
TRY IT: Find an image that speaks to you in the moment (in a magazine or online) and draw your emotional response to it.
Play a piece of music and notice how it makes you feel and then express that through shapes, lines, colours.
Take time to connect with a deeper side of yourself and allow it to express through drawing different emotions: sadness, anger or happiness.
FIND SOME TIME TO: Draw your personal resilience toolkit: reflect on all the things, activities, people who have supported you to stay resilient during these tough times of the pandemic and draw them all on a piece of paper. Keep your resilience toolkit drawing in a place where you can see it and remind yourself every day of what makes you keep going.
Session 6: The power of sound for wellbeing and resilience
Took place on Sat 27 Feb
During the pandemic, music has most probably held a special place in each of our resilience toolkits. Especially during lockdowns, most of us may have sought refuge and comfort in listening to music and, to a certain extent, we all have benefited from its therapeutic effect and its impact on our mood and motivation levels. But there is something even deeper and very powerful when it comes to sound: its healing ability. Sound can be deeply relaxing, meditative and transformative promoting harmony, balance and alignment.
A famous quote by Tesla goes: “If you want to know the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, vibration.” In this session we dived into the world of sound, frequency and vibration, guided by our guest Alistair Smith, a musician for more than 25 years, a published composer, writer and also a tutor at the College of Sound Healing London.
We learned how sound can be a great anchor in the present moment and the effect of different sound frequencies on our brain and our emotional states. Sound healing can assist in chronic illness treatment and recovery, can help with stress, tension, anxiety, depression and can be a great aid in meditation.
TRY IT: Who would’ve thought that a simple humming can do wonders to our nervous system? During a busy and stressful day, taking a five minute break to just ‘hummm’ can induce a relaxed and focused state so we can go back to our daily tasks refreshed and centred.
FIND TIME TO: Make some music. Create music to capture your mood and express how you feel with the Cove app. Instead of words, create music to reflect emotions like joy, sadness, calm and anger. You can store your music in a personal journal, or send them to someone and let the music do the talking. Cove is for anyone who wants to express through music what they might struggle to say with words (available on iPhone only).
Session 7: Mindful breathing and meditation for wellbeing (NHS)
Took place on Tue 2 Mar
The seventh session focused on meditation and our guest Khudaija Ismail, an NHS Talking Therapies practitioner in Tower Hamlets, has offered us practical elements to support us getting in a meditative state the easy way.
There are so many benefits to a meditation practice: it’s calming and relaxing for the nervous system, it brings about a deeper connection with yourself; supports an enhanced brain performance and higher levels of creativity. Taking a break from thinking, or giving the mind a break means going back to ‘thinking mode’ refreshed, restored and inspired. When you meditate, what you’re actually doing is being present, in the moment, right here, right now, which is the only moment we have – the future and past exist only in the mind. If meditation is still a bit of a mystery to you or if you find it difficult to maintain a regular practice, try out these tools Khudaija shared with us, it all might get easier than it seems and most of all extremely enjoyable!
TRY IT: Practise the diaphragmatic breathing 4-2-6: inhaling for four beats, holding the air in for two beats and exhaling for six;
- Try progressive muscle relaxation: focus on one part of the body at a time and gradually allow every part to let go of tension and relax deeply.
- Try visual imagery, a very efficient and fun technique which is about imagining your favourite relaxing spot: it can be a sunny beach or a garden or forest? Pick any spot you like and make all the details of the sensory experience as vivid as possible. Refrain from thinking, just imagine and enjoy the meditative journey!
FIND SOME TIME TO: Explore the great work of Tower Hamlets Talking Therapies – they share amazing tips and advice for people living in the area and further afield.
Session 8: Coaching tools for resilience
Took place on Sat 13 Mar
In the eighth session we added some effective coaching techniques to our toolkit, provided by Andreea Mona from Expanse Coaching:
- Staying aware of where we place our attention and making sure we avoid sources of distraction is essential, not only when performing work tasks but in our personal life. Our attention has a direct correlation with our energy levels and our resilience.
- To be resilient is also to be flexible: the secret is staying committed to the vision but flexible in our approach and not attached to only one way of doing things.
- Positive thinking is not always helpful especially if it means undermining your true feelings. Instead, think about cultivating healthy positivity by processing how we really feel and taking action by seeking support.
- Another key element of resilience is cultivating creativity in our daily lives which increases our ability to find creative solutions when faced with challenges.
TRY IT: Stepping in the unknown can be scary but living the life we dream of will require us in some way to step outside of our comfort zone. Taking small steps to do this is a great start. How can you step out of your comfort zone today? Be it going to a new shop, exploring a new part of town or trying new food.
FIND SOME TIME TO: Review your values and what really matters to you. Having a sense of purpose is essential: What do you love doing? What do you care about? What are your skills and natural abilities and more importantly what does our world need right now? How could you help? Nothing will give you a deeper fulfilment in life than pursuing a purpose that makes your heart sing! And if you feel stuck in endless self–sabotaging patterns, if you find it hard but really want to make something happen, you could consider coaching as a way to evolve that thinking.
Session 9: Building resilience through connection and community (NHS)
Took place on Tue 16 Mar
In our ninth session we looked at the relational aspect of wellbeing, and what it means to build resilience through relationships and community with Khudaija Ismail from Tower Hamlets Talking Therapies.
When it comes to the increasing rates of depression and anxiety, the latest statistics show that loneliness can be profoundly damaging for mental and physical health. Social isolation and loneliness are not the same, but they are closely related. The current recommendations to stay at home, practice social distancing, and limit social interactions have caused us to feel the effects of isolation. BUT even if isolation is mandatory – loneliness is NOT. Although it can be more challenging, developing opportunities for social interaction is still possible. Rather than resisting the circumstances, it is healthier to work with the resources that are still available to us.
FIND SOME TIME TO: Making a conscious choice to maintain and nurture our relationships in spite of limitations is essential, whether it is about having dinner with friends on a video call, taking part in the numerous classes available online, organising regular Zoom catch ups, or maybe a book club or a watch party. The possibilities for connection are available to us at any time.
TRY IT: If you struggle with isolation and loneliness at times, try joining us for our various fun and engaging community-focused programmes. For our online sessions, you do not need to turn your camera on and you will not be pressurised into speaking if you do not feel comfortable to. Have a look at our What’s On section and see if anything takes your fancy.
Session 10: Your Resilient Family
Took place on Sun 28 Mar
The last session of Building Your Toolkit For Resilience was a special event, dedicated to families and designed to offer effective and enjoyable tools to improve a collective sense of wellbeing.
We’ve all been facing a lot of stress and uncertainty but the lockdowns have also been a great opportunity for families to spend more time together, deepen their connection, engage in activities and care for each other and for the little ones. With this in mind, we invited the parents to join the first part of the session, focused on how to improve our diet, which has a direct impact on our mental health.
Our guest was David Banks, Adviser from the Healthy Lives team of the Tower Hamlets Council, who has shared with us a few great insights: we learned how to be sugar smart and pick our fizzy drinks carefully by checking the sugar levels and making healthier choices by reducing our sugar intake and how to make sure one third of our diet consists of fruits and vegetables.
TRY IT: We learned about the importance of cutting down on saturated fats and finding a nutritional model, especially for children, while parents can find so many great free resources on Change 4 Life online platform and app or in the Eatwell Guide available for free by Public Health England.
In the second part we looked at how to integrate mindfulness in our lives in a fun, easy and efficient way that is accessible to both parents and children. Mary Lou and Delphine from “What Colour Is Your Dragon?” project, introduced us all in the dragon language which is such an efficient way to express and monitor our emotions throughout the day: the Red Dragon who is about stress, the Blue Dragon who is about task focused and driven states and the Green Dragon who is all about relaxation, joy and playfulness! We learned how important it is to embrace ALL our “dragons” and finding a healthy balance on a daily basis by making sure the Green Dragon will join in to counter balance the Blue and the Red.
FIND SOME TIME TO: Learn more about the Healthy Lives team at Tower Hamlets Council – their webpage also features great advice for people of all ages in the borough looking to build on healthy habits.
Hopefully these resources, just as the sessions, will help you cope with these challenging times, feel balanced, build resilience and thrive. Did any of these sessions resonate with you in particular? Or do you have a resource you think would be helpful to share? Drop us an email, we’d love to hear from you.
Supported by the National Lottery Community Fund.
Header illustration by Ellie Stanton of instruments used during The power of sound for wellbeing and resilience session.