Monday, 2 March 2015

Water - the neglected Element?

As I recall - and I could be mistaken because it has been some decades - at school I was taught that the human body is 70% water. Whatever the accurate proportion, water and how I use it has to be an essential part of how I care for myself physically. I cannot survive without it. What about the part water has to play in my mental health? For me it is one thing that is easy to overlook, but in terms of managing my moods it is one of the most basic, and the most important things to get right.

Am I thirsty, or losing control of my mood? We readily recognise the impact food, or lack of it, or too much of it, or the wrong quality has on our moods. We are quick to notice when hunger is bringing our mood down, or the impact sugar has on quickly giving us a 'high'. Too often in the past, I didn't notice that being thirsty has a major impact on my low moods. I have found that I need to drink a minimum of 3 litres of non caffeinated fluids a day so that I remain relatively stable in my moods. I don't know why, except to understand that the description of emotionally sensitive indicates that those things in my environment or physical being which affect my moods and emotions are likely to have a bigger impact on me than the average 'bear'. I start my day with a pint glass full of squash - I marry this with my medications prior to breakfast and is one of my essential routines. When out for a coffee or having lunch I will buy a bottle of water or ask for tap water along with my hot drinks. I am able to notice when I haven't had enough to drink during the day and make use of a wide range of sugar free squashes to keep my water intake steady.

So far, so internal. What about how we use water to soothe and manage difficult moods. I learned to swim when I was three. Was a competitive swimmer from the age of six, I am supremely confident and comfortable in and around water. Here are some ways that I've used water to manage difficult emotions.

1. Mindful Showering and Washing. Noticing the feel, temperature and effects of the water on my skin. This is a self soothing activity for me, particularly when coupled with aromatherapy shower gels and bath cremes/bubbles.

2. Changing Temperature to Manage Distress Tolerance. In a similar way in which some use ice cubes, I have used changes in my bath temperature to help me overcome self harm impulses. The process of running the bath mindfully allows me time to notice the intensity of the impulses and to give myself 'time out' to allow them to subside. I will run the bath as hot as I can stand it - the shock to the system, 'wakens' me away from the internal pain. When I am fully immersed I let a certain amount of the hot water out of the bath before running cold water in. This allows me to notice the waves of cold water mixing in with the hot. Again, doing so mindfully focuses me in the here and now and creates a distraction from the emotional pain. For those for whom baths can be triggering the basic principle of switching between hot and cold can be used in a shower, or by running tap water over the inside of your wrists. This is something I learned to do when working in Africa - it is a quick way to cool yourself down! If you have the time and access, as a luxurious self care treat visit a Turkish Baths (there is an excellent council owned one in Harrogate), you don't have to book in for expensive massages, but can enjoy the simple process of hot steam rooms followed by freezing cold showers, or plunge pools. It is amazingly relaxing. The fact that the steam is infused with eucaplyptus and other aromatherapy oils, means you leave with skin that feels around 10 years younger!

3. Swimming. As I have said I am supremely comfortable in water, I can happily plough up and down the pool, as much as runners can enjoy running for miles. I can also relax by simply floating - something I learned so early I don't remember never being able to just lie on top of the water. On sunny holidays I more likely to be found floating in the water than lying by the side of the pool or on the beach. I also enjoy immersing myself completely so that all sound is drowned out. It's peaceful at the bottom of the pool. The rhythms of swimming are excellent ways to practice mindful breathing. I find that swimming allows me to both exercise and release tension - so much so that it's hard to stay awake after. I am certainly more relaxed that after other forms of exercise.

4. Get used to it. Not everyone is at home in water as much as me. If this is you, try to enjoy the same sensations by observing drops of water on the back of your hand. Watch the different directions it may run each time and try to do so using the principles of mindfulness.