As a charity, PoetsIN have become so much more than the name would suggest. We’re not just about poetry. Yes, we use poetry alongside other writing techniques in our powerful creative writing workshops, but we also focus very much on wellbeing, self-care, happiness and handling worry.
Wellbeing and mindfulness are fundamental parts of managing mental health. We posted before about a recent workshop where we asked what happiness and self-care looked like to the participants. Nature was one, as well as being active, engaging in hobbies and getting outside.
This week we’re bringing you a slightly different feature. Writing is part of it, but so is an activity that someone close to PoetsIN has found to be hugely helpful in managing her mental health.
Meet a lady that is making waves (pun intended) in an increasingly popular activity that is all over social media and anywhere you see water deep enough. Her name is Vicky Phillips.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Vicky, partner of Paul – the Co-Founder of PoetsIN, I work full time as a Health and Safety Advisor for a UK conservation charity (my office is located in the middle of a nature reserve which makes me pretty lucky!) I am also very close to qualifying as a stand-up paddle board (SUP) instructor.
Tell us why mental health is important to you.
I live with anxiety on a daily basis, some days are better than others, but it doesn’t stop me from doing anything (which I know is not the case for many others), but it does affect me physically. I’m always soooo tired from being in the constant fight or flight mode and the constant worry of what has happened, might have happened or is going to happen. My fingers tingle and I wake up every morning with a nervous feeling buzzing in my chest.
With more than a little gentle and patient encouragement from Paul (co-founder) it is only recently that I have started talking openly about it, and guess what, it helps! But it has taken me a few years to get some professional help and develop ways of managing it so that it doesn’t control me. I have just finished talking therapy/CBT and that has had such a positive impact on my mental and physical symptoms of my anxiety
How are you doing with your mental health now?
Today I’m a bit meh, but that’s pretty normal for me after having a long bank holiday weekend away from work, catching up on sleep lost over the weekend will make me much more able to manage my anxious feelings.
What do you do for mental wellbeing and mindfulness?
SUP is my passion and I could bore you for ages about how great it is, but it really is! I live near a lovely stretch of river, so I paddle there whenever I can. Working in a nature reserve also gives me lots of chances to go for a walk at lunchtime, this time of year is magical as the birds are at the top of their game in their mission to find a mate, the birdsong is almost deafening!
How does that help you?
SUP covers all basis when it comes to soothing the anxious brain. First of all, you have to concentrate pretty hard so as not to fall off – this doesn’t allow any distracting thoughts in. It provides an escape from the busy lives we have left back on the river bank, out on the river you don’t come across many other people and you could be pretty much anywhere in the world. The connection with nature is amazing, herons and kingfishers are my favourite to spot, but you just never know what could be hiding in the reeds, a seal was my very best sighting whilst paddling on the river Thames, I couldn’t stop smiling, not sure what I would have done if it tried to climb on my board though!
Not only is it great for the mind, the physicality of it is also hugely beneficial. I’m becoming stronger and stronger physically, too. I’m developing biceps where I barely had them before, which is cool.
With SUP or any hobby or interest I think learning something new is so brilliant for our mental health, it’s such a confidence boost when you have nailed something you thought you would never be able to do, it gives you the desire to do it again and again and before you know it you have a whole new aspect to your life that you didn’t have before.
How did that come about?
I had the desire to give myself a kick up the backside and try something new. Life consisted of work during the week, then vegetating on the sofa all weekend watching box sets and eating naughty food. I signed up to a short SUP course close to where I live, and I had the best time, even after falling off. It felt so good to be doing something that was so different from what I was used to, and now I felt like I had something to say about myself.
I like to think things happen for a reason and the best bit about going on the course was that I met my paddle buddy Lesley, we hit it off straight away and have been paddling together ever since, it has been great to have someone to share the journey with and as we both go through our instructor certificate together, the long term plan would be to set up our own club, which I would really like to focus on the mental health benefits of the water and paddling, sharing our love for it with as many other people as possible.
What advice, if any, would you have for people struggling with their mental health?
Realise you are most definitely not on your own, and if you can, ask for help. I was able to access CBT through my employee assistance programme and it has been life changing for me (I wish I had done it sooner – sorry, Paul!). One of the best tools that they gave me was to ask me to keep a worry diary and to set aside worry time. Rather than letting your anxious brain run away with you throughout the day tell it that it has to wait until worry time. It’s funny how many of those worries aren’t really a worry when you get to that time in the day. The worry diary was also great at highlighting to me what it was I was actually worrying about, and that they more often than not had no actual fact or truth about them.
I know the worry diary is something PoetsIN utilise in their workshops and I can see why. It’s a powerful, yet really simple way of managing unhelpful thoughts.
If it’s your cup of tea give yoga a try, I go to a lesson once a week and it is really giving me the chance to have space and time for me, for that one hour I don’t need think about anything else other than being on that mat.
Get some exercise-preferably outside in nature as this is amazing for our mental health, it doesn’t have to be energetic or high intensity
Learn something new-this has really worked for me, and it could be absolutely anything; rock climbing, knitting, rowing, art classes, the world is your oyster!
Many mental health sufferers love to read. What is your favourite book and why?
Bryony Gordon’s book, Mad Girl. It’s such an honest and open account of her own mental health, told with humour. I also like listening to her podcasts, she is doing great things in helping to break down mental health stigma – just like PoetsIN!
What song or saying really speaks to you.
Sam Mendes It Isn’t in my Blood
If you could go back and tell the version of you in your darkest time anything, what would it be?
Breathe, and take notice of what is going on around you now – not what has happened in the past. Be proud, you have achieved so many great things
What does the future hold for you?
I am going to pass my instructor certificate very soon and I will set up my own SUP club with Lesley, perhaps even my own club in Spain one day!
Finish this sentence: “Life is the epitome of…”
“…your own destiny.”
Thanks so much to Vicky for sharing her wellbeing and mindfulness tips as well as being brave enough to open up about her mental health. PoetsIN Paul is very proud! We would welcome you to do the same. Just drop us a line on firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us your story.