July 2022 – In update mode!!

It’s been a year since I have spent time with this resources page, and I will gradually be updating over the coming month. Stay tuned 🙂

In challenging times talking can help, but there are lots of ways to support positive change beside just talking it out. Meditation, grounding skills, exercise and social connection are all evidence-based and powerful examples of useful, accessible and low cost (or free) supports that can scaffold better mental health for the long term.

Although either myself or my clients have found these resources useful, please always take them with a grain of salt! What works for one person is not right for everyone, and the best teachers and organisers do sometimes get things wrong. If in doubt, discuss, ask questions, take some time out to decide if the resource is right for you.

Also please forgive typos and… enthusiasm – this is an active page-in-progress and will be edited from time to time. 🙂

Books

Faith Harper’s sweary mini-guides on everything from how to make boundaries to evidence based strategies to support people with anxiety or depression.

These books are FULL of swearing – and the general language can be cringey – but these remain the hands-down most useful books I’ve found for everything from developing everyday coping skills to how to manage anger with skill. Packed with actual strategies (such as using the BIFF technique for dealing with high conflict personalities) and absolutely solid research-based information, these tiny and affordable titles work harder than you’d ever expect. Rather than recommend any single book, the above link goes directly to the Microcosm page (Dr Faith’s publisher) so anyone interested can have a browse. My most-used book? Unf*ck Your Boundaries.

Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself, by Nedra Glover Tawwab

Boundaries. What even are they?

This is a solid gold book – readable, not over long, specific and full of advice to help you understand your own boundaries, how to make and keep them, and what to do in the face of roadblocks. I recommend this a lot.

From the publisher: “Healthy boundaries. We all know we should have them–in order to achieve work/life balance, cope with toxic people, and enjoy rewarding relationships with partners, friends, and family. But what do “healthy boundaries” really mean–and how can we successfully express our needs, say “no,” and be assertive without offending others?

Licensed counselor, sought-after relationship expert, and one of the most influential therapists on Instagram Nedra Glover Tawwab demystifies this complex topic for today’s world. In a relatable and inclusive tone, Set Boundaries, Find Peace presents simple-yet-powerful ways to establish healthy boundaries in all aspects of life. Rooted in the latest research and best practices used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), these techniques help us identify and express our needs clearly and without apology–and unravel a root problem behind codependency, power struggles, anxiety, depression, burnout, and more.”

The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge

Definitive hope that change is not only possible, but achievable with some good resources, tools and some work.

From the publisher’s website: ‘Only a few decades ago, scientists considered the brain to be fixed or ‘hardwired’ and considered most forms of brain damage, therefore, to be incurable. Dr. Doidge, an eminent psychiatrist and researcher, was struck by how his patients’ own transformations belied this and set out to explore the new science of neuroplasticity by interviewing both scientific pioneers in neuroscience, and patients who have benefited from neuro-rehabilitation. Here he describes in fascinating personal narratives how the brain, far from being fixed, has remarkable powers of changing its own structure and compensating for even the most challenging neurological conditions. Doidge’s book is a remarkable and hopeful portrait of the endless adaptability of the human brain.’ – OLIVER SACKS

Living Sensationally by Winnie Dunn

From the publisher: “How do you feel when you bite into a pear, wear a feather boa, stand in a noisy auditorium, or look for a friend in a crowd? It’s likely that one of these situations would be pleasant for you, and perhaps one would be unpleasant. Some people will adore the grainy texture of a pear, while others will shudder at the idea of this texture in their mouths. Touching a feather boa will be fun and luxurious to some, and others will bristle at the idea of all those feathers brushing on the skin. Noisy, busy environments will energize some people, and will overwhelm others. These different reactions reflect people’s individual sensory patterns, which in turn affect the way we react to everything that happens to us throughout the day.

Living Sensationally identifies four major sensory types: Seekers, Bystanders, Avoiders and Sensors. The author helps readers to find their own patterns and the patterns of those around them, and then offers suggestions for harnessing this knowledge to make their lives more in synch with their sensations.Living Sensationally provides practical sensory ideas for individuals, families and businesses. Armed with the information in Living Sensationally, people will be able to pick just the right kind of clothing, job and home and know why they are making such choices.”

The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel Van Der Kolk.

The Body Keeps the Score changed the game for the public understanding of trauma, its impacts and effective treatment. Deeply researched, compassionate and extremely detailed, reading The Body Keeps the Score can be an important part of the psychoeducation so important for the trauma healing journey. A warning that some parts of Van Der Kolk’s book can be difficult if you’re going through an experience of healing from trauma, so do read with care.

Waking the Tiger: The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences by Peter A. Levine.

Waking the Tiger is the foundational text for Somatic Experiencing, a treatment modality for trauma and overwhelming experiences that the body holds on to when the mind can’t find a way to make sense of or ‘process’ them. Levine’s book offers examples, theories and exercises that can be very helpful for anyone struggling to understand how to help themselves move past traumatic experience. Empowering, intuitive, gentle and informative.

Podcasts

Dharma Punx NYC – Josh Korda’s Meditation podcast.

Josh Korda’s absolutely stellar mash-up of neuroscience, psychology and down-to-earth take on Buddhist meditation is hands down my most used “self help” resource. Browse the list pf episodes to listen to Josh expound on everything from how to ‘hack’ your neurotransmitters to using RAIN and acceptance meditations to process grief, loss and trauma. I fell in love with Josh’s teaching when I was searching for a meditation teacher that didn’t whisper or offer platitudes, and have kept listening for years because his take on mental health, meditation, AOD recovery and spiritual life is so grounded and smart. If there’s something in your life you’re wanting to take some time to explore, I really recommend having a browse and a listen. Accessible, entertaining and often profound, Josh also acknowledges the limits and dangers of traditional meditation when it comes to mental health and takes care to incorporate safe practices into his podcasts and guided meditation.

Terrible, Thanks for Asking

“You know how when someone asks “How are you?” you just say “Fine,” even if you’re totally dying inside, so everyone can go about their day? “Terrible, Thanks For Asking” is the opposite of that.”

Host Norah McInerny guides conversations with people who have navigated an enormous range of experiences of grief and loss. More than comfort listening when the world is too much, tuning in to TTFA has provided many an ‘aha!’ moment for many people I know. Clues from those “going through it” to what might help next.

This episode of The Blindboy Podcast

This radically kind and thought provoking podcast is a weekly, rambling, hot-take on anything from swingers and pampas grass to the postmodern/capitalist evolution of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In the episode I’ve linked to here, Blindboy (an Irish Satirist, musician, podcaster and authour) encapsulates how to care for yourself when you live with chronic anxiety and hypervigilance.

From the episode blurb: “It’s been more than six months since the lockdown ended. I explore and discuss feelings of hypervigilance and loss of self identity. Also, the plan and techniques I’m using to heal and strengthen .” I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard the mechanisms of chronic mental health issues, and pathways to healing expressed so well. An entertaining and extremely comforting hour with concrete advice. Give it a listen 🙂

Apps

Not a great place for social connections, but excellent tools for exploring and practicing whatever it is that can help get you through.

Insight Timer.

A free* meditation app with a HUGE (and I mean huge) range of guided meditations, courses and talks. The highlight of this app for me is the built-in timer with a range of options to build your own little timer with intervals and bell sounds that suit you, but Insight Timer is built on an absolutely massive user database and has all the adaptability and strength of that resource. The app can automatically track your hours and frequency, offers options to track your mood and what’s happening to influence your mood, and allows you to connect with other users, upload your own meditations, and save your favourite teachers and tracks for easy access. he desktop version works well also.

Top Insight tracks for me:

Sensing Safety: Teachers and therapists will often ask you to imagine a time when you were completely safe. For many reasons this is actually quite a rare thing to be able to bring to mind. Kristen Doessel’s less-than-five-minute meditation is a reverse-engineered somatic meditation designed to teach brains that don’t have a go-to safety memory just what safety feels like. I can’t recommend this highly enough, and recommend listening to it a LOT when people are beginning to do work around trauma.

*Insight Timer has a subscriber option that allows you to access some additional features, such as jumping forward or back in guided meditations, but I’ve used this app for years and never found any need to subscribe – but sometimes do send a favourite teacher a donation when I’ve found their track super useful (or realise I’ve recommended it to lots of clients).

Social Connection

Simultaneously the most and least helpful advice you can be given when life is rough, “talk to your friends” is both an evidence based strategy and… a really infuriating assumption to make about the social and emotional energy levels a person has, as well as the emotional-skill-levels of the people in someone’s life.

Social connection is absolutely the most important thing we can do for mental health challenges of many kinds, but it’s no good pretending it’s easy. A good alternative to hanging out with friends and family (or to help break the cycle of isolation if that’s where you’re at) is simply to turn up somewhere where you can chat or not, as desired, and then doing that over and over again. Much like turning up at school for 10+ years likely connected you with people you might not have got to know otherwise, turning up at a regular event (and no, not work) can take the pressure off when the social energy is low but you know you need to get out and do something.

The following groups are the tip of the iceberg, and I’ll add to them as I learn more. These are NOT mental health organisations or self help groups and aren’t equipped to offer mental health support, but that is kind of the point. They do what it says on the box.

Parkrun

Timed 5k runs and walks that are 100% free, happen all over the world and are volunteer led. There’s lots of opportunities in each Parkrun event, depending on your interest level. Once you register online, you can show up and walk, jog, or get competitive with yourself and try to improve your time. Parkrun also has opportunities to volunteer in many different roles in an extremely low-stress way. Most Parkruns will meet in a cafe following a run (Covid lockdowns permitting), so if you want to get social after a run you can start to chat to familiar faces. I’m a slow runner (more of a shuffle- jogger really) and one of the loveliest things about Parkruns for me is puffing along happily while old ladies and children scoot past me to the finish line.

Community Gardens

Joining a community garden is a frequent suggestion in articles on connection and mental health, and it always makes me mad: If you’ve ever tried to secure an allotment or start a garden of your own, you’ll know the waiting lists and red tape are no joke. The problem is that a community garden IS a great resource!

The best way around this is to find a community garden in your neighbourhood that has regular public working bees or doesn’t operate on an allotment basis. Call your local council for advice on where these are and how to contact them, or click that link above. Getting your hands in the dirt and watching something you planted grow are really helpful ways to start a social routine that has lots of opportunity just to show up, especially when you feel like you don’t have much to offer but your hands and time.

An alternative is simply to plant out your nature strip or a bit of unloved public land near your home. Called Guerilla Gardening by a press keen on catchy headlines, the trend for planting gardens on public land without formal permission has transformed neighbourhoods across the world, and is increasingly becoming council policy in many parts of Australia. Check out guerillagardening.org for ideas and connections.

Head out to your local gym, evening class, anything really that interests you (or you can find the courage to get up and go to). Do it on a regular basis. It’s that simple!

Just turning up somewhere where there are other people doing the same thing as you is helpful. If you’re experiencing isolation or trying to change habits around alcohol, weed or anything that you feel you have an unhealthy relationship with (tv, social media, shopping and food all count.. ) then scheduling a class or gym visit in the evenning is likely to be helpful and certainly won’t hurt. If you’re not a big night time exerciser hunt around for a stretch or meditation class, or even join a choir? Participation is 90% of inclusion, and it’s accessible. No need to chat if you’re not feeling it, but leaving the house itsself is a great step forward.

Run a Market Stall

Community markets are an amazing place to get outside and take some time to relax and connect in a stable, routine way without having to commit. A super great secret hack for those who are feeling a bit isolated or out of the loop is to run a semi-regular stall yourself. It doesn’t really matter what you sell – junk from the garage, books you hunt in roadside boxes and op shops, small furniture you refinish – You might make enough to pay a bill or you might lose the sign up fee (usually very cheap) – but the routine of setting up early in the morning, watching people come to browse, people watching, browsing and chatting as faces eventually become familiar or a friend comes to hang out for an hour is absolutely worth the effort. Nothing bonds people faster than cold mornings, rain squalls or asking someone to watch your stall while you go to get a couple of coffees. If you have a job and feel weird about doing this, try asking people to donate unwanted stuff for a once-a month sale with proceeds going to a charity, or make it a reason to get back into that DIY thing you used to like. This is a particularly effective way to make a pleasant and low-stress social routine for people who are retired or very isolated – and it’s common to find stallholders who have started a tiny ‘business’ to keep boredom away, fundraise for a charity they like, or shake off the unexpected impacts of retirement. The surprising thing about markets is the huge range of people who attend and run stalls – sheer curiosity and variety bring people from all ages and walks of life and you’ll often meet stallholders who find that market work offers unconventional benefits such as freedom to travel or small business ownership at a low cost.

And if setting up a stall on a chilly morning doesn’t appeal to you, just getting to your local market regularly can’t hurt either.

Websites

Kristen Neff and Chris Germer’s Self Compassion Website

Self compassion is a construct drawn from various traditions of “loving kindness” and “compassion” meditation, and the reality of universal human suffering that these traditions embrace. Self Compassion practice focuses on exploring our hurt places and failings with the same kindness or acceptance we might offer someone we love when they fail. Neff and Germer’s Self Compassion practices are strongly evidence based and can profoundly transform our relationships to ourselves and others, especially when there are parts of our experience we can’t bear to face up to: such as regret, guilt, grief or shame.

There’s nothing wishy washy or soft about these resources, in fact I would always advise using a slow and steady pace when starting out, and with an acknowledgement that Self COmpassion practices can unlock really deep and difficult feelings – In fact it can be helpful to have a counselling session booked to talk through what comes up if you’re interested in using these and find tham confronting. Alternately, take these practices slowly and do a ton of processing* when you first dive in. All the practices on the Self Compassion website are safe and publicly available, but (as they say these days) an “abundance of caution” is my advice.

Research on self compassion practices indicate that they can be effective supports (when used with professional guidance and support) in circumstances as varying as experiences of hearing voices to caregiver burnout.

Also I just love them 🙂

*Writing in a journal, talking to a mate, swimming, running, dancing, making art – whatever it is you use to work through big feelings.

Services and Organisations

The range of mental health challenges a person can face in their lifetime is very broad, and the stats indicate that:

  • One in five Australian adults experience a mental illness every year.
  • About 45 per cent of Australian adults will be affected by mental illness at some time in their life.

Demystifying mental illness helps make the experience better for everyone – and it’s important to note it’s perfectly possible to have a mental illness diagnosis AND be mentally healthy – strategies, connections, quality of life and your personal mental health toolbox are all important factors in what your lifelong mental health journey will look like.

So here are some useful organisations that provide great services, workshops and ways to connect if your looking for a way to up-skill in your relationship with your own mental health.

Carer Gateway – “Carer Gateway is an Australian Government program providing free services and support for carers.”

“If you care for a family member or friend with disability, a medical condition, mental illness, or who is frail due to age, then Carer Gateway can help you.

The Australian Government works with a range of health and carer organisations across Australia, known as Carer Gateway service providers, to deliver services to carers no matter where they live in Australia.

Carer Gateway provides many services to support carers in their caring role, including:

Voices Vic – The Australian provider of the Hearing Voices program.

My Counselling job doesn’t usually see me working with folks experiencing psychosis (a responsible counsellor will refer a person with active psychosis to a psychologist), but in my Recovery Worker role I often encounter people who hear voices or have visual hallucinations – in fact research indicates that between 4% and 10% of people will hear voices at some time, making the experience of auditory hallucinations much more common than we once believed!

The Hearing Voices movement began in the UK and is a brilliant resource for anyone who feels isolated or confused about how to manage their relationship with their voices. Voices Vic is the local chapter, it’s run by Uniting (but isn’t religious) and has options to join in with group sessions by Zoom, or to work one-on-one with a trained peer worker to figure out helpful and evidence-based strategies for living better and connecting more usefully with your voices and with other people.

ARC Vic – the Anxiety Resource Centre of Victoria

Absolutely bloody brilliant resources, groups, workshops, connections and information for a super wide range of anxiety experiences, from OCD to panic attacks, and everything in between. While ArcVic doesn’t take the place of a counsellor or other therapist as a primary support, it can be invaluable to connect with other people having similar experiences, as well as to access up-to-date workshops and strategies from the people with all the know how and connections!

Blue Knot Foundation.

Blue Knot is an education and advocacy organisation representing people who have experienced childhood trauma of any kind. Although they specialise in childhood sexual abuse (CSA), Blue Knot strongly supports all survivors of childhood trauma, and provides educational seminars for survivors and professionals, an anonymous telephone counselling and referral service, support for people navigating the redress schemes, and ongoing professional development opportunities. If you’re learning about trauma or need someone to talk through options with, absolutely give the counsellors at Blue Knot a call.

Wire: Women’s Information and Referral Exchange

“Free support, referrals and information on any issue for all Victorian women, nonbinary and gender diverse people.” If you’re not sure where to start on any issue from mental health to domestic violence or have a need for health care, WIRE is a good place to start. The workers are compassionate, knowledgeable and well trained, and they’re a great resource if you’re feeling stuck for a next step.

Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASA)

If you have experienced sexual assault, need information, referral or are in crisis following an assault, the trained, competent and compassionate folks at your local CASA will be able to help support your next moves, whatever YOU decide you would like them to be. The CASA crisis line number is 1800 806 292