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Being diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia or Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma can be a shock. You are bound to have lots of emotions which can sometimes be difficult to understand.

These are some of the ways that we can help:

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Looking after your mental health

Tips from a mental health counsellor

The current lockdown situation for CLL patients and the gradual easing of the lockdown has brought anxiety to many. This is an amazingly simple 7-stage set of suggestions that may help. They are undemanding but can show real results. STAND, Pop your bubble and Laugh!

  1. Shower and stretch your muscles
    Get showered and dress in comfortable clothes, brush your teeth. Put on bright colours if you have them, and a favourite perfume/after shave or item of clothing or jewellery. It’s amazing how dress affects our mood. Then stretch your muscles. This may be exercise, or something simpler and gentler – anything that releases the tension in your muscles will help your circulation, detoxify you and energise you. Google ‘progressive muscle relaxation’ and find an exercise that suits you – and do it daily.
  2. Take your medication
    Because of the lockdown, you may be experiencing small or big changes in your daily routine which makes it easier to forget your medications. If you are on medication of any sort, or even just daily vitamins, this should be an absolute priority at this time. Make a new rule so you don’t forget. It’s also crucial that you don’t take more than the dose recommended or prescribed by your doctor. It’s important especially right now not to use alcohol or other substances to try to cope.
  3. Accept yourself and others
    Lower your expectations of yourself and those around you. None of us are at our best right now. Accept yourself without question or blame during these hard times. You cannot fail at lockdown – there is no roadmap, we are doing the bet we can in incredibly challenging times. Focus on getting through one hour and one day at a time.
  4. Nestle
    A safe space from others and to ourselves is essential for our emotional wellbeing – especially when we may not be getting the physical and psychological space we normally have. This is just as important if you are living alone. Find somewhere in your home where you can retreat to. Make it cosy with cushions and blankets. If there are others in your household, ask not to be disturbed and spend at least 20 minutes a day here. Be mindfully present to sound, perhaps bird calls; a sensory feeling; something you see, perhaps a favourite object.
  5. Drink in water, daylight, and fresh air
    Even if it’s just two pints of water a day, 20 minutes outside in daylight or sitting by a bright window, this is a fast way to lift your mood and spirit.
  6. Pop your bubble
    Reach out to someone outside your home every day using any way of contacting – telephone, text, email, video call. And if you find yourself in crisis, there are many helplines out there with people to talk to. The CLL Support helpline is always available on 0800 977 4396.
  7. Laugh
    There may not seem much to laugh at right now but try to give yourself permission to have a laugh or a little fun each day. It may be playing online games with your friends and family, or watching funny clips on YouTube, or a favourite comedy series or film. Laughter is a powerful antidote to the seriousness of the world right now.

We know that these simple tips may not suit everyone, but they have been shown to work and to help people get through difficult times. Give them a try. You might be surprised by the results!


Mental therapist Pinky Jimenez offers techniques for helping CLL patients

These are especially relevant during these uncertain times. You may also wish to find out more by visiting our new website devoted to mental health here

A helpful video about managing anxiety by Kate Perry, BA, BSc (Psy), MSc, UKCP

Kate Perry is a systemic family therapist who has been in private practice for the past 10 years. She works with individuals, couples and families. Before that, she worked in the family therapy team in a CAMHS unit. She is a fully accredited member of the Association For Family Therapy and the UK Council for Psychotherapy.


Five ways to stay positive through lockdown

The last few months have been awful for so many people, with millions dealing with grief, stress, financial difficulties, job losses and isolation caused by the pandemic.

Now, a new lockdown in England and similar restrictions across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are adding to the gloom of winter – a season that can be tough for many people even in normal times. But the country’s leading mental health experts say there are things that many of us can do to give ourselves a lift. Here are some of their tips:

1. Get moving

Getting outdoors for exercise can be difficult in winter, but pretty much all experts agree that it’s a great way to boost your mood. “Our minds and bodies are completely inseparable”, says Dr Brendon Stubbs, of King’s College London.

Exercise triggers the release of endorphins into the bloodstream, relieving pain and producing a feeling of well-being. Research by Dr Stubbs has also shown that exercise also increases electrical activity in the emotional processing areas of the brain, particularly the hippocampus and the pre-frontal cortex.

“It’s vital to keep active to improve your mental health and stimulate your brain including those areas”, he says. “If you don’t exercise, the activity drops.” That’s one of the reasons why a lack of exercise increases your risk of anxiety and depression.

Exercise can also boost the production of a protein, BDNF, or brain derived neurotrophic factor, which is crucial for brain health.

“You can think of it as a kind of brain fertiliser – it helps parts of your brain regenerate,” says Dr Stubbs. Even short periods of exercise – just 10 minutes – can help. “Anything that leaves you slightly out of breath, like a brisk walk, or something like gardening, or a cycle ride, will do.”

2. Stop over-thinking

Adopting helpful habits to stop you over-thinking is one of the best things you can do, says psychologist Prof Jennifer Wild of Oxford University. She calls it “getting out of your head.”

People often dwell on problems, going over and over the same negative thoughts, and Prof Wild has some simple suggestions to stop that happening. “If you’ve been worrying about a problem for 30 minutes or more without coming up with a plan of action, or you’ve been going over questions with no answers, it’s time to stop”, she says. The main thing is to shift your focus from worries to practical problem-solving. So stop and ask yourself what steps you can take to address the problem. It’s not easy, of course, to stop yourself dwelling on problems. Some recommend physical activity to help you shift mental gears. In any case, it takes some training.
It’s perfectly normal to worry, but many of our worries never materialise. One study of patients with anxiety found only around one in 10 worries ever turn out to be real problems. One explanation is the way we have evolved. It has made us highly tuned to negativity and danger, as a defence against threats which led to death or serious injury.

Danger is “over-encoded in our brains”, says Prof Wild. “You can make yourself feel much calmer if you recognise that you’re over-thinking, stop and focus on facts.”

How can I overcome my anxiety?

3. Set a new target

“Setting a new goal or target, can really help pull you through,” says Cardiff neuroscientist, Dr Dean Burnett.

That could be a big project like learning a language or something as small as trying out a new recipe. If big ideas are too much, start small. The point is that if it’s outside your comfort zone, and it’s pushing you forward, it gives you a focus and a sense of control. For many people that’s hugely helpful for their mental state. “Novelty is fundamentally rewarding,” says Dr Burnett.
“Learning to do new things is frequently how we acquire self-worth”, he adds. “Goal-motivated behaviour is one of the most fundamental ways that we operate.”

4. Talk it over

Covid-19 has made it a lot harder to be with others in person, and winter can make it harder still. That’s a big issue for millions of people and the mental health consequences for some will be serious. So it’s a good idea to maximise the little social contact that is available.

“We’re not really designed to be on our own,” says Prof Emerita Elizabeth Kuipers, of King’s College London. “We’re socially-oriented. We feel better with social contact.” Talking problems over when you can is a good idea, but the key thing is how it’s done, she says.

“Going over problems again and again, just rehearsing how terrible you feel, may not help at all. Talking things through with someone who can help you reframe your problems, and help you move through them can be much more helpful.”

Isolated people are more likely to focus on themselves, says Prof Kuipers, and that can make things worse. So, reach out when you can, and if Covid-19 means you can’t do that in person, make that phone call to a friend, or arrange to talk online.

5. Do it badly

Optimists live longer, have better relationships and better immune systems, says Olivia Remes of Cambridge University. And the good news is you can cultivate optimism: an inner sense that you can make a difference to your life, and that it’s not all down to things outside your control. How? Her number one tip is the principle of “do it badly“.

In other words, don’t wait to do things perfectly at the right time on the right day. That’s even more important in winter when gloomy weather might make you think twice about doing something.

“Our inner voice of criticism continually stops us from doing worthwhile things”, she says. “Jump straight into action. Do things and accept that they might initially be done badly. When you do that, most of the time the results are actually not that bad – and they’re almost always better than doing nothing.”

Olivia’s other tips include writing down three things each day that you’re grateful about, to force yourself to focus on what’s gone well and why. It’ll fire up the left-hand side of your brain which is associated with positivity.

“Emotions are contagious”, she says, so “if you can, gently steer away from negative, miserable people who are constantly complaining”, because you’ll find yourself becoming one of those people too”.

By David Brown
Illustrations by Gerry Fletcher
All information provided by the BBC