Written by Standard Issue

Health

Lightening hearts and minds

Ten weeks of ‘mental fixits’ are free and available online thanks to LightHearts UK. We asked the two top women responsible for a rundown.

Katya Jezzard-Puyraud: “We’re not two shiny perfect people who are telling you what to do.”

Having previously worked in a supermarket, video shop and call centre to limited effect, Liz Axham has been a community psychiatric nurse for the past 20 years, and loves every minute of it.

She has a specialist degree in community mental health nursing and is currently working as a senior mental health nurse with a community mental health team in East Anglia.

Her secondary school mate Katya Jezzard-Puyraud also had a varied career behind her – “from high pressure jobs in film studios to scraping burnt pasties off trays in Greggs Bakery” – before she discovered massage and mental wellbeing techniques.

“It completely turned my life around, personally and professionally,” she says. “And that’s one of the reasons I wanted to share these techniques because the bottom line is that it makes me really happy to make people feel good.”

The pair started working together as LightHearts UK when they realised their monthly mates’ catch-ups were turning into sessions discussing ways they could pool their skills to help sufferers of anxiety and depression – both to reduce the pressure on the NHS and offer an alternative for people who were on the waiting list for therapy.

Last week, they launched their free 10-week online course, designed to improve and maintain mental wellbeing.

What does LightHearts UK provide?

Katya Jezzard-Puyraud: In terms of mental wellbeing, Liz and I provide the free 10-week online course for people with anxiety, stress and low mood. I also provide tailor-made mental wellbeing workshops and have a treatment room in Tunbridge Wells where I provide my holistic massage therapies for people with bodily pain and mental stress.

massage therapies
Where did the idea for the 10-week course come from?

Liz Axham: Being a psychiatric nurse, I’m introduced to all the latest techniques and methods out there. But if you’re not a health professional, the resources for this information are dotted around all over the place. There’s almost too much stuff – self-help books, medical textbooks, websites, apps, scientific reports, magazines, classes – and there’s a lot of conflicting information out there too.

So we wanted to design a program of weekly support where we introduce tried and tested techniques and then signpost services if people want to take it further.

We’ve put together tip sheets, recorded audios, sourced videos, shared websites and got experts in to explain the methods. We’ve made a list of helplines and put together some further reading resources in case people want to explore some of the methods we introduce.

What’s the basic premise of the course?

KJP: It’s a one-stop shop for mental wellbeing. It provides an easy, free, online service that brings together a range of effective mental wellbeing techniques from the world of medicine but also in alternative therapies too, all in one place in weekly bitesize chunks.

We write from personal as well as professional experience and we do it with a sense of humour. We’ve been there and we understand. We’re not two shiny perfect people who are telling you what to do.

Can you give us a quick rundown of each week?

Week 1 – Breathing techniques, muscle relaxation methods and practical steps to make the most of the course
Week 2 – Getting rid of negative thoughts and quietening unhelpful brain chatter
Week 3 – Clearing emotional blockages, dealing with pain and an introduction to talking therapies
Week 4 – Getting rid of toxins – both physical and mental – how food affects our mental health and dealing with insomnia
Week 5 – Releasing past trauma
Week 6 – Dealing with fears
Week 7 – Mindfulness, gratitude and kindness
Week 8 – Bringing back energy and enthusiasm
Week 9 – The importance of physical exercise in mental health
Week 10 – Opening our minds to alternative self-help methods

What is a ‘Mental Fixit’?

LA: Quoting from our course: “When you’re going through bad times, it’s like parts of yourself are broken, lost, rusty or totally clapped out.” So the Mental Fixits are little skills – like breathing exercises or ways of thinking – that you can keep adding so that you end up with your own personal individual mental health toolkit to fix yourself and put yourself back together.

“I think everyone’s priorities are screwed. There’s so much pressure out there and our mental health just crumbles in the wake of all that. Everyone puts their mental health last.”

Why do you think this course and your therapies can make a real difference?

KJP: Because it’s free, it’s easily accessible, easy to understand, easy to do and it’s all in one place. And because we come at it from a personal angle – we have put our hearts into this project and laid bare a fair few of our own issues – we hope that people feel comfortable and part of a community of likeminded souls who all just want to feel better.

Do you follow your own advice?

LA: Our advice is all based on the stuff we do or stuff we’ve done with patients or clients. That’s why we felt confident to put it out there. Because these are all methods we use regularly ourselves.

KJP: There are times when I let myself slip and I don’t follow my own advice. But whenever I’ve done that, I end up feeling like complete crap. I have no excuses. I know the techniques that work for me and I know what makes me feel good. So I just have to keep an eye on myself sometimes.

What has the response been like to this course in particular, and also more generally to your wider services and therapies?

KJP: It’s still early days but the general feeling is that in today’s stressful society this is a service that’s needed. The word from the medical community has been very positive as so far as well.

My favourite response was from a little old lady who was grieving the deaths of both her husband and her dog. She’d been low and anxious for ages, but after three months of doing the techniques she said it was like a ball and chain had been lifted. Seeing the twinkle come back into her eyes was my happiest career moment ever.

LA: We always said that even if we only get one person saying it’s helped them then that will validate the whole project. Because when one person turns their life around and begins to feel more positive, it can ripple out to their circle of family and friends and that in turn ripples out into the community.

I know from the previous responses I’ve had from patients and relaxation groups who have been introduced to these methods that just a handful of people doing them could cause a mini mental-health revolution.

Do you think people neglect their mental wellbeing?

LA: Absolutely. I think it’s because people are too busy and overstretched. That’s the bottom line: they just don’t give enough time to themselves. They’re trying to fit in work, family, school, clubs, duties, and tick off those never-ending to-do lists. Lives are frantic and we’ve forgotten to just stand still and really evaluate how we’re feeling deep down.

To have a better life, we’ve had to carve out that time for ourselves and make it non-negotiable. We’ve both learned the incredible power of saying “no”.

“Mental Fixits are little skills – like breathing exercises or ways of thinking – that you can keep adding so that you end up with your own personal individual mental health toolkit to fix yourself and put yourself back together.”

KJP: I think everyone’s priorities are screwed. There’s so much pressure out there and our mental health just crumbles in the wake of all that. Everyone puts their mental health last. I find that people will always shift their own health further down the to-do list if they’ve got too much on when actually it should be the other way round. I’ve had to learn that the hard way.

I find my clients will always cancel me if something else comes up in their diary. But I always say to them: “Your mental health should be non-negotiable. You wouldn’t cancel a hospital appointment, would you? Well, your half-hour relaxing massage is just as important.”

You should try not to put someone or something else in place of your wellbeing.

Can you give us an idea of the range of types of people who use your services?

LA: Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. I have seen people of all ages, any generation, female or male, rich or poor, whatever social class, or racial background. It makes no difference. All of us can be susceptible to mental health problems and trauma, stress, anxiety and grief. We can all suffer at any time in our lives.

Do you have to complete the whole 10-week course to get the benefits or can one or two weeks make a difference?

KJP: We’re rolling it out week by week at the moment to try to get people used to the idea of just sticking to one set of techniques per week. The problem with our swipe-screen society is that we have very short attention spans and tend to flick through things and not read things properly.

That’s why we wanted people to do it week by week. But after the last week goes out, then the whole course will be available online so you can dip in and out in whatever way suits you.

We would recommend you do it weekly because it’s about building the foundations of a stable mental lifestyle week on week and then afterwards you can go back to the meditations and audios and refresh yourself with the methods whenever you need a bit of a boost.

Is the idea that once you’ve finished the course, you have the tools to continue to take better care of your mental wellbeing?

LA: Yes. Absolutely. In these days of austerity measures there isn’t the money around in the NHS to help everyone who has mental health issues all of the time. So it would be great if people can learn, use and pass on these tools and skills so that everyone can help themselves to keep on top of their mental wellbeing and reduce the need for treatment.

Liz Axham: “We can all suffer at any time in our lives.”

If you could give one piece of advice regarding keeping well mentally, what would it be?

LA: That’s the thing about mental health. There is no one quick fix. It’s a mixture of things, so I could never just give one technique. But if I had to narrow it down I would say be more selfish, prioritise yourself. Take time to take care of yourself as much as you take care of everyone else.

And then limit your negative thoughts – keep them in the moment, stick to the facts (don’t speculate or presume what anyone else is thinking of feeling.) Those two things have helped me the most.

KJP: I’m the same. It’s not just one thing, it’s several. For me, it’s taking a 15 minute walk in the fresh air every day, doing gentle relaxing yoga and breathing exercises every day, getting a massage once a month and – the biggest thing for me that actually stopped my binge eating disorder and affected my mood and hormones incredibly – was cutting out processed sugar. I’ve cut it out for two years now and more than anything it’s that one thing that has changed my life, hopefully forever.

To find out more about LightHearts UK and the 10-week mental wellbeing course, click here.

@LightHeartsUK

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Written by Standard Issue