5th October 2020

Today starts a week of activities we will be running leading up to World Mental Health Day this coming Saturday (October 10th). We’re going to use the 5 senses to explore different coping strategies this week, and we hope you will join us at 10am, 12pm, and 2pm every day this week for activities to find what works for you. 

Monday - Sight

Tuesday - Sound

Wednesday - Taste

Thursday - Smell

Friday - Touch

Saturday - World Mental Health Day 

(Please note all times listed above are British Summer Time).

Since March, we have all been living in a strange new reality. A reality that has required some of us to be completely socially isolated, and one that has brought uncertainty and anxiety to all of us, as we have had to worry about loved ones, accessing vital services, food deliveries, furloughs, and over 1 million deaths world-wide. There is not a single person who has not been affected by COVID-19 in some way, from service users who have had to endure inadequate housing and financial support on top of the already existing hardships of the asylum system, to those of us with suddenly unstable incomes or separation from at-risk family members.

As we enter a second period of new restrictions and continuing uncertainty, not just here in the UK, but globally, not many of us feel any more clarity about the future. This is bound to have a negative effect on everyone’s mental health, and there have been many reports of elevated numbers of people struggling with depression and anxiety.

In times of extreme stress, it’s natural for anyone to feel symptoms of anxiety or depression. These symptoms could present as a sense of impending doom, a continuous low mood, irritability, no interest in things that would normally bring us enjoyment, racing thoughts, heart palpitations, nausea, problems sleeping – to name a few of many.  

It’s also natural to feel completely overwhelmed by all the physical symptoms you may be experiencing and not know where to even begin in terms of managing these symptoms. Common questions like 'Who do I speak to about this? Will I ever feel like myself again? What if nothing helps? Is it even worth trying?' could present us with feeling even more overwhelmed. The more time we spend with these thoughts, the more powerful they become and they can begin to impact our daily lives.

Our thoughts directly impact how we feel, and how we feel directly impacts our behaviour. The positive news here is that if we can be aware of this cycle, and learn to be aware of our thoughts and how they impact our feelings and behaviour, we can work to balance our thoughts, which in turn can improve how we feel and encourage healthy behaviour, such as engaging with coping strategies and finding time to do things that bring us moments of calm or happiness – even in a pandemic.

The challenging (but still very possible) news is that this requires work. We have to take the time to engage with ourselves to find the things that help us manage our mental health, and this takes patience, and trial-and-error. Just because you have a friend who swears by yoga doesn’t mean yoga needs to work for you. For some of us, being around people brings moments of calm. For others, spending time alone, outside, is what brings us a sense of grounding. For some of us it might even be reality tv or taking a long bath – whatever it is that works for you, embrace it, and engage with it on a regular, if not daily, basis.

This week, we’re going to look at one technique used to ground us back into the present moment and bring us calm using a breakdown of an exercise called the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 technique. Our team use this a lot in our 1:1 mental health sessions, as it can help ground us when we’re feeling anxious or depressed, and can even help bring us back into the present moment when we’re experiencing flashbacks or other symptoms of trauma.

Normally, we would do this activity all in one go, but we will be doing this slowly over the next week, focusing on a different sense each day. Now, it’s important to acknowledge that not all the senses might be as helpful to you as others – that's ok! At the end of the week, we hope you’ll know which senses or coping strategies work for you, so you can add them to your own personal coping strategies ‘toolkit’, as our team likes to call it. Leave anything that doesn’t personally work for you. We really believe that mental health support should be completely personalised to each individual – what works for me may not work for a colleague, and what works for one service user may not work for another. Some of us may not have all 5 senses to experiment with this week, and that is also not a problem! Engage with what you have, and what you feel comfortable with. You know yourself and you have full agency this week as you join us in our activities.

Once we learn about each of the senses, we will put them all together on Saturday for World Mental Health Day – and send out a video of how to do this coping technique in one go (it’s super easy and can be done quietly in your head anywhere if you are having a moment of stress), along with a video of all our activities this week, with quotes and pictures, and of course – mental health resources.

We hope this week brings you some moments of calm, and if you are struggling with your mental health right now – know you are not alone. Your thoughts, feelings, and experiences are valid, and it is completely ok to not feel ok. There are coping strategies that can help, and there are many options in terms of support. You could speak to your GP (a great starting point to also discuss any physical symptoms and rule out any other potential health concerns), you could ask your GP to refer you into a counselling service (or make a self-referral), you could speak with a friend or someone else you trust, or you could call a mental health hotline for support.

Here are a few UK based hotlines:

  • Samaritans (“Available 24 hours a day to provide confidential emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts”):
  • MIND (Mind offers advice, support and information to people experiencing a mental health difficulty and their family and friends. Mind also has a network of local associations in England and Wales to which people can turn for help and assistance. Lines are open Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm (except bank holidays):
  • CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) (A helpline for men in the UK who are down or have hit a wall for any reason, who need to talk or find information and support. 5pm to midnight, every day of the year):

One last but very important note: sometimes you may experience a ‘crisis’ in your mental health and may need immediate assistance, for example, you may be struggling with suicidal ideation and are unsure if you’ll be able to keep yourself safe, or you may have self-harmed and may be in immediate danger. Any time your life is in immediate danger, always call 999 (UK) for emergency services.

We hope you have an enjoyable week participating in activities with us and we encourage everyone (ourselves included) to engage with coping strategies regularly and ask for mental health support when needed. There is great power in asking for help and talking about how we are feeling.


NHS Article on Clinical Depression: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/clinical-depression/symptoms/

MIND Article on Anxiety: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/anxiety-symptoms/

Thoughts, Feelings, Behaviour Model: https://breathe-uk.com/what-is-cognitive-behavioural-therapy-and-what-happens-in-cbt-sessions/

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Grounding Technique Infographic: https://www.mondaycampaigns.org/destress-monday/unwind-monday-5-4-3-2-1-coping-technique

Crisis contact information (UK): https://www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/helplines-and-crisis-contacts