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Michelle Overton

Webinar: Mental Health and Wellbeing

Join Michelle Overton, who will be discussing what can impact your mental health, ways to cope and manage with stress and how to look after your mental health and wellbeing.

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Webinar summary

Join Michelle Overton, who will be discussing what can impact your mental health, ways to cope and manage with stress and how to look after your mental health and wellbeing.

Key highlights:

03:32 Mental health and its impact on daily life.

09:51 Stress management and unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

16:50 Self-care practices for mental health. 

21:07 Mental health and wellbeing strategies for people living with MS.

Speaker bios:

Michelle Overton

Michelle Overton has two decades of experience of successfully delivering mental health and wellbeing training and is passionate about supporting people to maintain a healthy mental health through education. She is the Director of Mental Wellbeing Services UK, as well as being an accredited Counsellor, Clinical Supervisor and Mental Health First Aid Instructor Trainer.

Read the episode transcript here.

Michelle Overton  01:03

So first of all, I want to give you a little bit of background about myself. So I’m the director of Mental Wellbeing Services UK. And my career journey in mental health began about two decades ago. I worked for an organization called Women’s Aid. So I was supporting women who had experienced sexual and domestic violence. From then I went on to become a Children and Families Program Manager and I was supporting young people who had been born with HIV, so from parent to child transmission, and it was from then that I decided to retrain. So I retrained to become a clinical supervisor and a counselor. So for about the last 10 years, I’ve been working in universities, I have had my own journey with mental health. So I have two sons. And when my youngest son was nine years old, he was diagnosed with liver disease. So actually, both of my sons have developed an autoimmune problem there for my youngest son, his autoimmune problem was with his liver. And so it was a really stressful time to see how his health would go. And by the time he was 16, he did have cirrhosis of his liver. And we were looking at having a liver transplant, I can tell you he is doing really well now, and he has had a liver transplant. But I think what happened for me was the adrenaline got me through. And I couldn’t understand that when he was doing well, after the transplant, I felt like I had been hit by a train. And I was a senior counselor at this point, I was working at the University of Leicester. And so I was meant to be supporting staff and students. I thought one day I thought I’m going to call my boss. And I’m going to tell him that I’ve eaten something funny. And I’ve got a stomach bug. Oh goodness, I’m a mental health professional. And this is only five years ago. But I’m a mental health professional yet I don’t feel able to talk about my mental ill health. And that really fueled my passion to become a mental health instructor trainer. So I now go into organizations to support staff health and well being. So that’s a little bit of background about myself. And I want to say thank you for inviting me actually to come and talk about mental health and well being with you this evening. I’m very passionate about it. Okay, I think it’s really important that when we’re talking about mental health and well being, you know, we could be talking about things that might be activating for you. So it’s about keeping yourself safe. And I want you to think about who would be a safe person, perhaps for you to be able to talk to if you have somebody or who could you access, you know, if things do come up. So, you know, we know that it might bring up difficult feelings or things that you need to manage.


Michelle Overton  04:07

And let’s have a look at a definition from the World Health Organization. They talk about that mental health is defined as a state of well being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. With mental health. What happens is the word gets hijacked by mental ill health. So let’s have a little bit more of a look at actually what our mental health governs for us. So we’ve got this definition from the World Health Organization, which is overall this is how they’ve defined what mental health is, is quite positive statements, isn’t it? Now I’m yet to see a list of what the normal stresses of life would look like. I’m not too sure what it would look like also talks about working productively and fruitfully I did wonder if that was in an orchard. But on the whole it is, you know, positive definition, I think the World Health Organization is very much around working. And actually, that’s not the reality for everybody. You know, there could be reasons as to why we’re not able to work. And also people are retiring. And there’s other ways that our life can be purposeful, and meaningful. I have another definition here. This is from the Health Educational Authority. Now it’s quite an old one, it’s in 1997. But they define mental health as being the emotional and spiritual resilience, which allows us to enjoy life, and survive pain, disappointment, and sadness. It is a positive sense of well being, and an underlying belief in our own, and others dignity and worth. And that statement really resonated for me.


Michelle Overton  06:01

 I’d like to ask us all here as well, and we can’t all put it in the q&a. But, you know, actually, we all have mental health. Now, just as we have physical health, we do all have mental health. And it’s not necessarily that it’s, you know, always mental ill health. And I think the pandemic acted as a real catalyst for us all, you know, to say, of course, we have got mental health. So let’s have a look at what it governs. Also our self esteem and our confidence. And forgive me if I’m telling you things that you already know. But confidence and self esteem are two very different things, you know, they can impact on each other. But I can remember being about 17 years old, and somebody saying to me, you need to be more confident, I thought now that I don’t feel that really fits, because I feel I am confident. So self esteem is how you value yourself on the inside, it’s a worthwhileness. And confidence can be more gauged where it’s perhaps been in new situations, learning new skills, you know, it could be in a workplace, that’s how we can look at confidence. But self esteem is how you value yourself on the inside. So our mental health will also govern how we feel, how we think how we behave, how we manage change, and it would be safe to say that we’ve had lots of change over these last new nearly three years too also our mental health will govern how we make, how we sustain and how we end relationships. Also, how we see ourselves in the future now hopes for the future, how we interpret events that happen, also how stress impacts on us, and how we cope with the ups and downs of everyday life.


Michelle Overton  07:51

Now, we mentioned that word resilience in the last slide. And if we think about how we cope with the ups and downs of everyday life, because sadly, we will all face adversity, and the word resilience, I think it got quite overused some years ago. But it comes from a Latin word, which is resilio. And it means how we bounce back. And that’s how we can cope with the ups and downs of everyday life, how we bounced back, and also how we deal with the negative things that happen in our life. So that’s how important it is. And that’s what it’s governing for us. So let’s have a look at what can impact on our mental health. So this is not an exhaustive list by any means. It could be that, you know, we face isolation, or we have done at times, we’re feeling isolated. I know lots of people felt like that throughout the pandemic as well. And we’ve also got the aftermath of the pandemic now too. It could be a diagnosis of a chronic health condition, you know, that we have got to learn how to manage and to come to terms with as well, you know, we might be grieving the loss of our health. Money, you know, the cost of living at the moment, it’s frightening for people, isn’t it? You know, some people don’t want to turn the heating on, I don’t think there’s any hot water bottles or blankets left anywhere. And also how the world feels, it feels quite a scary place to be, doesn’t it? You know, with war and with climate change, and with the things that are happening in relationships, you know, have we got relationships? Are they healthy ones? And also, sometimes the good things yeah, having a baby or getting married, you know, they can be exciting, they’re good things that happening, but they can also really impact on our mental health too.


Michelle Overton  09:41

Could be expectations. You know, for lots of us, we can feel we’ve gotten to a certain time in our life, and we feel that we should have achieved certain things or have certain things. Sometimes life is just not like that. Or it could be that we experience abuse or neglect and also stress. Called a stress container. And it’s actually evidence based, it’s a cognitive behavioral therapy tool. So, first of all, what I want to talk about is the difference between pressure and stress. Okay? So how I liken it is, I feel that we all need to have a little bit of pressure, pressure can be good for us, definitely helps me to get up out of bed in the morning, it will help me to look left and right in the road to stay alive. And I definitely need a deadline. Or else I’ll waffle away for ages, there’s some pressure can be good for us. However, too much pressure that can start to lead into stress content. And what we know is is that stress is bad for us. So even after you’ve been experiencing stress, for more than two weeks, I had to do a secret smile. When I first learned about this, I thought, goodness, I’ve been stressed for a lot longer than two weeks in my life. But your body will start to kick out hormones. But hopefully you’ve all seen your double helix is your DNA. And at the bottom of it, it’s like you’ve got the bottom of your shoe lace strings that keeps it together at the bottom, when the hormones are being kicked out from the stress, what happens is the shoe lay strings get corroded, and it comes undone. And this is when we start to get rogue DNA is going around. And that’s why it’s been linked to being carcinogenic. So actually, stress is bad for us. You know, and I think at points definitely in my life, it can be that I’ve been running around and studying and working and, you know, trying to cope with all of these things that are going on within family too, there’s a lot of stress going on. So actually learning how to cope with it is a really good thing, because we can’t put a lid on the container can we? So let’s have a look at this container. So you might know that person in a stressful situation that they go like this, and they’re sorting everything out. And it feels like stress is their paradise. And yet you can have somebody else with perhaps a similar amount of stress, and it will impact on them in a very different way. There’s a reason for that. So the size of your container will depend on three things. That’s your personality, it’s your life experiences, and also on genes, genes can impact it as well. If we think about some stressors that we could have going in at the moment, if we think about can be our health, could be our mental health actually as well. Things that are happening within family could be finances, work. So we’ve got all of these different stresses that are going in. Now we can’t put a lid on it because life is happening. But what we can do is put some taps on the side of our container to try and relieve some of that pressure. And that stress. So as I’m talking, I want you to have a reflect on what your own stress signature is and knowledge is power, because if you’re not aware of what it is, then you’re not able to do anything about it. So mine when I started to get really stressed, I noticed that I’ll wake up at two o’clock in the morning. And I’ll be laying there thinking I really need to be productive today. And I’m still there at 5am with the most random thoughts that I could possibly even have thought about. I’ve never got my sleeve caught so much on the door, you know, just couldn’t even do it if I tried when I’m stressed and about rip my shoulder off. And also, I noticed that I might become a bit more irritable. And I feel that there’s some emotional snapping going on there. Like I said that knowledge is power when we’re aware of it, we can do something about it.


Michelle Overton  13:53

Now, when we get stressed lots of people can go to some unhealthy ways of coping. So, you know, we might think that it’s going to help but actually what it does is it blocks the tap up, you know, it can add more pressure and stress in so it could be that some people go to smoking. They could be using substances, so that could be alcohol, it could be drugs, and it can be prescription drugs as well. You know, I’ve heard of people well, I’ve got quite addicted to codeine. Somebody was saying to me, Look, I don’t want to have a headache. So now I take it even before. It could also be that we’re controlling what we eat. We’re not eating enough. Or perhaps we’re overeating to try and fill up pain. Could be that we’re over exercising. You know if you see somebody that’s training, perhaps they’ve got an injuries that their legs strapped up and they’re still exercising, and actually that’s really not good for them. Yeah, self harming could be taking risks with their health or even criticizing yourself. You might be withdrawing from everybody. You know, some people can also have gambling problems, could be working too much. So I know definitely for me, I can definitely go into workaholic mode. And actually, that’s not really sustainable for anybody, we might be that we’re turning that stress outwards, and we’re becoming angry with other people because that stress container is just too full. So these are some of the unhealthy ways of coping. Let’s have a look at what are some more healthier ways of coping with that stress. Now I have to make a mental note to put some of these in, I can quite easily go to the unhealthier ways of coping. So talking, I find, actually, I feel that is one of the best things for me being able to talk to somebody, I mean, I’m a therapist. So I would promote actually therapy as well. But having somebody to talk to, a problem shared is a problem halved. And I’ve been made aware as well that you have an opportunity to join a peer support group with our Circles. And I think it’s actually when you’re with other people and hearing other people’s stories, it can help you to feel that you’re not alone, as well. Could be nourishing ourselves with healthy food. You know, and again, when we’re feeling really tired, it can be become more difficult to think about eating in a healthy way. But it is part of, you know, a cycle of looking after ourselves. Do you feel able to say no, that can be really important, having boundaries, and being able to take a rest and have a break. Now, hobbies are another really good way of dealing with stress. And I can remember working with somebody, and he’d been painting these little models. And he said, Yeah, but I’ve just wasted an hour and a half painting a model. And actually, we underestimate the power of creativity and hobbies, on healing our minds. You know, and that’s never a waste of time, because our physical health, and our mental health is so important. So I’ll give you an example as well, what I found for me was, I found because of the life experiences that I’d had, I found that my container seemed to become quite large that I felt I could deal with quite a lot of things.


Michelle Overton  17:22

But it’s just being aware of think of your own stress signature, you know, and perhaps even externalizing it writing it down for yourself to see what you’ve got going into that, though thinking of some healthy ways of coping. Now, it could be alternative therapies as well, you know, massage, you know, we look at the evidence for massage as well, where it’s releasing all of the knots, and how that is really good for us. I’m quite a yoga pusher. I had a friend who was a clinical psychologist. And when my son was waiting for his liver transplant, she kept trying to encourage me to go to a yoga class. And I was really pleased I didn’t sneer actually, because at the time, I thought, goodness, I’m addicted to Netflix. And just about making it into work. Really, I thought I don’t I don’t think that will help. But I found a really good class, I tried a yin yoga class. Some of you might have tried yin yoga here, but it’s actually all floor based with cushions. So it doesn’t matter about your level of ability with it. And I sat there for three minutes, you hold a position, just one position for three minutes, and all on the floor. And I thought to myself, Oh, my back’s really hurting my neck. And I thought I can’t sit here for 40 minutes. And by the end of the session, I had no aches or pains whatsoever. So if you get an opportunity to try yin yoga I would. Again, it’s not an exhaustive list. The last one that I have on here is being in nature. And also that the evidence shows is that the ions in the ground will balance our energy. So if you’re feeling out of sorts, having a walk with your bare feet on natural ground or grass can really help to rebalance your energy. But again, we have to try to put these things into practice and into place.


Michelle Overton  19:14

And let’s have a little bit more of a look at some more self care. So I watched a beautiful little video on Instagram. And it was about a little girl when she was in the bath. So you could only see from her shoulders open. She was laying there and she’d got a nice little flannel across her eyes. And a mom would come into the bathroom and said what are you doing? She said, I’m self caring. I thought I imagined you know that we’re teaching children from that young to take care of themselves. And I know a bath can be a lovely way of doing that and very healing. But we’re talking about putting enduring self care practices into place because self care can really preserve our health. And that is the importance of it. And I know again, you have access to an Overcoming MS program, where it will support you to look at diet. And looking at a plant based diet, perhaps with fish, also the power of meditation. I don’t know if you if some of you are like me, I can find it very difficult to meditate. Sometimes I need to use a guided meditation or an app. And there’s lots of apps out there on YouTube things that you can find for free, it might be taking medication where appropriate as well and an exercise at whatever level we’re able to do that at. And lastly, on here, we’ve got vitamin D, the amount of students that I saw in the university, that would have low levels of vitamin D, and actually having a high influx of that from the doctor to having a test. And you could see that their mood would really improve. We also know for our minds, Omega three is really good. So I think it would be helpful to be able to tap into that Overcoming MS program to look at enduring self care practices. And some of you might have heard of the five ways to well being so you hear a lot about mental health and about well being. And actually we all have mental health and how we look after our mental health is how we look after our well being. So this is an evidence based model from the New Economics Foundation. And they studied to say that if we practice these five ways to wellbeing, it will be good for our mental health. And the five ways were around connecting. So talking and listening and being there feeling connected with others, being active, so do what you can enjoy what you do, and move your mood. And, you know, for some people, they’re out there doing marathons, some people are doing the couch to 5k, or for others, it’s it’s choosing to, you know, do whatever level of exercise that you can for you that suits you. Taking notice: you know, our mind can be very much on automatic pilot. And what I find is that if you see your mind is very much in the past, it could be that you’re experiencing some depression, if you find that your mind is very much in the future and around worry, then it could be you’re experiencing some anxiety. But both of those states of mind stop you from being able to be in this present moment. And this present moment is all we have. And this is around taking notice of that and taking notice of your state of mind as well. Now, if I think about how many years I’ve probably lost, because I’ve lost today, because I was so you know busy thinking about the past, or the future. Keep learning: I found this a really interesting one. So if in later years, or if in life, we were to experience where our cognitive reserve is depleting. Now if we keep learning, and that’s in all the many ways that we can keep learning whether that’s cooking a new recipe, learning a new language, could be reading a book, could be a dance class, whatever it is all the ways that we can keep learning to fill up our cognitive reserve, then it is good for our minds, because if that started to deplete, it will take a longer time for it to go through. And then lastly, we’ve got giving, you know, this could be your time. It could be your words, your presence, whatever it is, it can be something little, you know, giving somebody a smile or a compliment. But the evidence shows us that actually those that give back our contribution will report that they are happier. And so it’s really powerful. And there’s lots more information about the five ways to wellbeing on the mind website or no, it is a UK website. But it’s called Mind and it’s really good.


Michelle Overton  24:02

So I want to give you a last top tip here. And it’s around the power of listening. Dr. Brene Brown, you might have heard of her. She’s an American clinical research doctor, she’s absolutely brilliant to follow on Instagram or on LinkedIn, and a very inspiring woman. And she talks about the difference between sympathy and empathy, and the power of listening. You know, as a therapist, I don’t say to people, you know, at least you’ve got a marriage. But I do find with friends, sometimes they’re going to say, well, at least I think oh, you know, that’s not an empathic response. Because the truth is, things can be pretty dire for people and we might not have all of the answers sometimes but having somebody to, you know, listen to us and to feel really heard and understood. And it can be so powerful for somebody. I think it takes the pressure off you know, some We worry, we’re going to say the wrong things. We think we won’t say anything at all. But actually, it’s not about always finding the answers, you know, might be actually where can we push people up to get the professional support that they need or to access. But the power of listening has definitely helped me many times. There was a time for me where I’d really built myself up to tell somebody something. And, and what they did was it came from a really good place. But they said, I know how you feel, because I’ve gone through this, this and this. And they started telling me what happened for them. And actually, what happened was it shook me down, because I ended up listening to their story, which was a little bit similar to mine just shows just to be able to just sit there just to listen, is helpful.


Michelle Overton  25:46

I think sleeping is so important. I mean, the size of my stress container, if I’ve had four hours sleep, the size of my containers, the size of an egg cup, actually the next day. So sleeping, I definitely use guided meditations to help me to get back to sleep I put my earphones in. But I think it’s finding what’s right for you. Because I find actually talking has been a really helpful space for me, whether that’s in therapy, or whether it’s, you know, support services, whatever it is actually, making sure that you’re hydrated as well. Water that can be just very simple things that can really help instantly, but finding what works for you. So I found a local art class. I’m currently based in the Midlands and so I went to a local art center and had a go at sculpturing. So with the clay, and when my mind wasn’t feeling very well, I could literally feel the destruction and the creativity that became a mastering was rarely healing people really underestimate the power of these creativities and hobbies of how healing it is.

This webinar was recorded on 18 October 2022 as part of our Finding Hope with Overcoming MS – 10th-anniversary edition webinar series.