Can HICT improve my body image and mental health? Jesse tried the 7 minute workout to find out.

The pandemic has taken a toll on my body image.  Since March 2020, I’ve probably done the least cardio and the fewest workouts of my adult life. I’ve also been more likely to binge eat and have generally struggled to regulate my eating habits. I’m not alone either. A study published earlier this year found that, in the UK, lockdowns had led to a wide range of changes to people’s eating and exercise-related thoughts and behaviours. As well as their body image. This was especially true for women, young people, and people with pre-diagnosed mental health conditions (including eating disorders).  Whilst I’m neither a young person nor a woman, I am someone with a history of mental health issues and disordered eating. If you read this blog, you’ll know that I have Depression, Anxiety, Body Dysmorphia, Insomnia, and was anorexic in my early 20’s. So, for these reasons, I guess I’m more than likely to have been affected by the pandemic. 

What are the recommended treatments for negative body image?

Well, there are a few recommendations:
    1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy A form of talking therapy that can help to recognise and adjust faulty patterns of thought
    2. Psychotherapy or Counseling To help resolve childhood traumas that may be linked to negative body image
    3. Medication Typically those prescribed for anxiety and especially when in combination with CBT
    4. Exercise Specifically focusing on what your body can do rather than looks like
I do use a form of CBT to help manage my anxiety. Especially when I’m experiencing particularly severe symptoms – and it helps. BUT as someone that has had a negative experience with medical professionals, is wary of being medicated, and has limited access to therapy. Exercise seemed like the most accessible option. *Disclaimer. I’m not advocating for the idea that people should only like their bodies when they’re meeting (or attempting to meet) unrealistic body standards. I personally think it’s much healthier to try to find ways to like your body rather than change it. 

The reason exercise has worked for me in the past is because:

    1. I feel like I’m making an effort to do something about my body image and can be more forgiving of myself as a result.
    2. The endorphins released from a good workout make me feel better even if they don’t resolve the problem.
However, as mentioned in my blog about walking 10,000 steps a day, I’ve been more fatigued since my vaccines. I’ve also struggled to get back into the pre-pandemic habit of hour-long gym sessions five days a week.  So I wanted to look for something new to try. Something that would be easier to stick to. Something that wouldn’t require me to work out in a gym (the pandemic is still here). Something that would be accessible to someone whose fitness is at an all-time low.  That something turned out to be 7-minute workouts.

What is a seven-minute workout?

The seven-minute workout (I promise this isn’t a paid promotion) is a form of High-Intensity Circuit training (HICT). It’s essentially body-weight exercises like squats, pushups, crunches, and wall-sits. You do each exercise for 30 seconds with a 10-second rest between each one.  The initial workout lasts for 7 minutes. But you can level up the difficulty and length of the workouts as your fitness improves. It was specifically designed by a performance coach and exercise physiologist from the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, FL to help busy clients get efficient but effective workouts. The idea being that if you couldn’t spare an hour or even thirty minutes, you could probably spare seven minutes at some point during your day. Basically, it seemed like it ticked all of the boxes. It was free, scientifically proven, I could do it from home, it was made for people with limited time, and it was less daunting than going back to hour-long gym sessions.

Seven Days Of Seven Minute Workouts

To help me with these workouts I downloaded a seven-minute workout app. This made it easier to adjust the routines and keep track of my progress. I tracked each workout as a factor in Bearable and logged my health outcomes (mood, energy, sleep, and symptoms) after each session. Day one. I started with the basic 7-minute workout. I was surprised at how quick it was without feeling totally ineffective. It felt positive to workout, even if it was only for a few minutes. Day two. Day one had been so simple that I looked forward to working out again. I doubled up the workout to make it a bit more difficult. Day three. I was a bit sore and that made me feel like the workouts were actually doing something other than just raising my heart rate. If nothing else, I felt like I was making an effort and wasn’t daunted by the prospect of working out again the next day. Day four. I switched up the routine to try some different exercises and ended up increasing the difficulty after the first 7-minute cycle. I also started noticing that my binge-eating was getting worse / more likely to flair up. Day five. I went a bit harder and committed to a 21-minute workout. Possibly from the guilt of having eaten too much the previous day. I enjoyed pushing myself but still ended up feeling self-conscious about my body despite making the effort to work out every day. Day six. I changed the routine again and did a 15min workout. I was really enjoying how easy it was to fit these workouts into the day. I also learned how much I hate wall-sits and planking. Day seven. For once I didn’t slack off or look forward to the end of an experiment. I really enjoyed the format of these workouts, they ticked all the right boxes for me and I didn’t want to stop. They were accessible and made my body feel less useless.

What did Bearable say about the impact of 7-minute workouts on my health?

Avg. Mood worsened by 1% Avg. Energy improved by 10% Avg. Symptom Score worsened by 15% Avg. Sleep Quality worsened by 6% Avg. Sleep Quantity worsened by 6%

How did HICT positively affect my symptoms? Binge eating improved by 13% Trouble falling asleep improved by 9% Avoiding appearance improved by 7% Worry about weight improved by 6% How did HICT negatively affect my symptoms? Worrying about communicating worsened by 143% Self-criticism worsened by 94% Avoiding interests worsened by 46% Worry about my body shape worsened by 14% Worrying about my face worsened by 12% Worry about appearance worsened by 4%

What did I learn about my health by doing HICT every day for a week?

Did it improve my body image in a week? No. But did it feel like it could? Yes!  These workouts were flexible, enjoyable, and something I could see myself sticking to. They didn’t force me to repeat old bad habits and they gave me back some of the energy I had lost after getting vaccinated.  HICT felt like the start of a positive body-image journey. Going into this experiment, the thing I feared most was that my binge eating would get dramatically worse. Whilst there were certainly days where it felt worse, I was amazed to see that my binge eating had actually improved.  In the past, I’ve used more strenuous, longer workouts as an excuse to overeat. Which can then turn into a negative cycle of binge eating that I’m unable to stop or escape from. Because these workouts were shorter – though still difficult enough – I found myself less likely to repeat those habits. Ultimately, I think this is because it’s easier to lie to myself about what I “deserve” to eat after a 3-hour hike or an hour of squats and deadlifts. Whereas, a 7-minute workout doesn’t feel like a genuine way to justify or offset the extra calories. What got worse? Judging by the symptoms above, I became far more self-conscious. To be honest, this was something I kind of anticipated. I often become more self-critical and tend to compare myself to others more when I’m working out. Especially in the early days of a new routine. Whilst these symptoms flaring up isn’t great, I’d likely see the same outcome for any workout. I also knew they’d eventually subside with time. The longer I workout and the more I see the results, the less these symptoms are an issue.  Overall, I view this as a positive experience. My mood didn’t really change. In fact, it stayed at a fairly consistent 7 or 8 out of 10 the whole time. My sleep got a bit worse, maybe due to the couple of days where I did eat more calories than normal. Though I was more self-critical about my appearance I also had more energy and found a style of workout that didn’t make me constantly binge eat. 

Would I recommend HICT to other people with body image issues?

Yes. I think they’re a great way to get back into a fitness routine after a year of being locked indoors. If like me, you’ve been struggling with fatigue then this is one way to ease yourself back into working out. It’s flexible, scientifically proven, and most importantly; enjoyable! Will it help with your body image? Maybe not immediately but honestly, what workout will? One thing I’ve learned from this experience is that some of my health issues may not be possible to manage with self-care alone.  So whilst finding a workout routine I find enjoyable and want to stick to might help me to “look better” and feel healthier in the long run. It’s maybe unwise for me to expect a shortcut to resolving the issues that underpin my body dysmorphia and body image. Instead, view HITC – and specifically the 7-minute workout – as a way to get back onto a path towards better health, energy, and well-being. But, if like me, you’re struggling with body image issues, the best solution might be to speak with a medical professional. As always, it’s probably wise to speak to a medical professional before committing to anything new that might impact your health anyway. Especially if you decide to skip 7-minute workouts and throw yourself into some more extreme forms of HICT.  If you give the 7-minute workout or HICT a try, good luck.

Running your own experiments with Bearable?

If you enjoyed this experiment or have run any of your own we’d love to hear about it. You can reach out to us on Instagram at @BearableApp or post your own experiments using bearable using #BearableApp (on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter). — Note: The advice given in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a medical professional before undertaking activities intended to impact your health and/or existing medical conditions. Photo credit: freepik

Can a SAD Lamp help with Mood & Depression? Jesse used one for a week to find out!

You’re probably wondering why I decided to write about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in the middle of Summer.  Well, as of June 25th, I decided to temporarily leave behind my home at the southern tip of the UK to take advantage of a house-sitting gig in Edinburgh. That’s right, I gave up living by the beach all summer to spend time living in a basement apartment in Scotland. So whilst everyone else is enjoying extra sunlight and warm weather around the UK, I’m getting less light and heat than I’m used to. via GIPHY All of this aside, I’m a person that lives with symptoms of anxiety and depression which are also affected by seasonal change. As many people with depression will be familiar with; I’ll literally try anything that might encourage my brain to increase the production of serotonin. 

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and how is a lamp meant to help?

It turns out that SAD is an outdated term for major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns (MDD). These seasonal patterns aren’t limited to Wintertime either. The main factor leading to the symptoms of SAD is the amount of light a person is exposed to. Specifically, the way that the chemicals in the brain that help to regulate a person’s body clock (or circadian rhythm) are impacted by changes in exposure to natural light. Thinking of SAD in terms of circadian rhythm might be helpful. For example, a person moving from Iceland to the Mediterranean might be just as affected by the increase in exposure to sunlight as someone moving in the opposite direction. Simply because they would both experience disruptions in the way their brain typically creates the chemicals that regulate their natural rhythm. Symptoms of Wintertime SAD can include:
    • daytime fatigue
    • difficulty concentrating
    • feelings of hopelessness
    • increased irritability
    • lack of interest in social activities
    • lethargy
    • reduced sexual interest
    • unhappiness
    • weight gain
Symptoms of Summertime SAD can include:
    • agitation
    • difficulty sleeping
    • increased restlessness
    • lack of appetite
    • weight loss
Interestingly, the side-effects of over-exposure to SAD lamps are similar to the symptoms of Summertime SAD. This is because they’re both caused by an increase in serotonin, the chemical in the brain that helps to control sleep and mood (amongst other things).

How is a SAD lamp meant to help Mood & Depression?

“Some people with SAD find that light therapy can help improve their mood considerably. This involves sitting by a special lamp called a lightbox, usually for around 30 minutes to an hour each morning. The light produced by the lightbox simulates the sunlight that’s missing during the darker winter months. It’s thought the light may improve SAD by encouraging your brain to reduce the production of melatonin (a hormone that makes you sleepy) and increase the production of serotonin (a hormone that affects your mood).” – NHS Website Ultimately, I wanted to track the impact of using a SAD lamp on my mood and symptoms of depression to see if I was able to balance out the potential impact of changes to my exposure to natural light.

Using a SAD Lamp for a week(ish)

It’s recommended that you consult a doctor before using a SAD lamp as well as limiting your exposure to just 30 minutes each morning. I also tried to get more natural light by walking for 30 mins each morning. Usually, I would write a day-by-day account of my experience and how I felt it impacted my health. However, as this was essentially a passive activity – sitting in front of a lamp whilst I check emails – I feel like it’s not that useful. Instead, I’ve written a list of my main observations:
    1. Sitting in front of the lamp felt like it was helping my mood, even on day one. This may have been a placebo effect but either way, I felt better for using it.
    2. After getting distracted and sitting in front of the SAD lamp for longer than the recommended time. Like, much longer. I noticed my concentration dipping in the afternoons.
    3. The SAD lamp kind of acts like a ring-lamp for video calls which inadvertently helped me to feel less self-conscious during team meetings.
    4. After a week, I noticed my sleep pattern fluctuating more than normal. I needed to get up later and felt my sleep quality was possibly being impacted. This could have been the result of overexposure to the lightbox.
    5. Because I was so sure that the SAD Lamp was having a positive effect on my mood and energy I ended up using it for 12 days without checking the results rather than the usual seven days.

What did Bearable tell me about the SAD lamps impact on my health?

Avg. Mood improved by 0%* Avg. Energy improved by 0%* Avg. Symptom Score worsened by 13% Avg. Sleep Quality worsened by 8% Avg. Sleep Quantity worsened by 8% *Despite there being no significant change in mood and energy the average score for both became more consistent. For example, instead of mood scores varying between 6 and 8 on alternate days, I was more likely to be a consistent 7.  How did the SAD Lamp positively affect my symptoms? Lack of energy improved by 61% Binge eating improved by 18% Comparing looks to others improved by 16% Worrying about bodyweight improved by 12% Worrying about body shape improved by 4% Worrying about my face improved by 3% How did the SAD Lamp negatively affect my symptoms? Concentration worsened by 718% Lack of interest worsened by 377% Avoiding interests worsened by 275% Self-criticism worsened by 264% Worrying about communicating worsened by 105% Ability to sleep worsened by 104% Avoiding my appearance worsened by 15% Waking during the night worsened by 14% Worrying about my appearance worsened by 7% Other factors that may have contributed to these results include:
    • Increasing my intake of processed foods 
    • Switching to a less strict fasting routine
    • Changing the supplements that I take

What did I learn about my health by using a SAD Lamp?

Overall, I feel like it had some positive effects. Especially on the consistency of my mood and energy levels. It also made me feel like I had more energy – which is possibly a placebo effect – but still a positive outcome. Some of the symptoms of my Body Dysmorphia such as worrying about my body weight and shape improved too.  I think the negative effects on my symptoms can also be attributed to over-exposing myself to the SAD Lamp. I definitely had more than 30mins exposure almost every day. Mostly because I’d get wrapped up in work and forget to turn it off. My loss of concentration on days that I used the lamp is also concerning and way more extreme than I realised during the experiment. It possibly correlates with increased restlessness which is a side-effect of using the lamp for too long.  Being more self-critical and avoiding my interests more than usual were the other negative changes in my symptoms. These might also go hand-in-hand with having less concentration. Often my mind will race from one thought to another and the loss of focus can lead to me wasting time scrolling through social media or having negative thoughts about myself. The main lesson I learned from using the SAD lamp is not to abuse its power. It clearly improves the consistency of my moods but overuse can also lead to some pretty significant side effects.

Should you use a SAD Lamp to help with your Mood and Depression?

I think I didn’t see enough of a positive change in my symptoms or mood to be able to confidently recommend the SAD Lamp.  That said, SAD lamps can affect different people in different ways. If you’re someone that knows they suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and have a medical professional approve it, I’d 100% suggest that there’s nothing to lose by trying it.  I think what surprised me most about this test is how little I was able to perceive the negative effects in real-time. With this in mind, I’d recommend tracking your symptoms for a few days before using a SAD lamp so that you can stay on top of the effect it’s having.  As with other mental health issues that affect mood; Talking therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and other therapies are also recommended for helping with SAD. I certainly saw a generally more positive impact on my symptoms when trying CBT last month If you do try using a SAD Lamp make sure to consult a medical professional first and don’t be an idiot like me by over-using it and destroying what little concentration you had to begin with. Good luck.

Running your own experiments with Bearable?

If you enjoyed this experiment or have run any of your own we’d love to hear about it. You can reach out to us on Instagram at @BearableApp or post your own experiments using bearable using #BearableApp (on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter). — Note: The advice given in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a medical professional before undertaking activities intended to impact your health and/or existing medical conditions. Photo credit: freepik

Can getting more exercise help your insomnia? Jesse walked 10,000 steps a day to find out.

walking ten thousand steps
The pandemic has made me incredibly lazy. That’s partly because I’ve experienced an increase in fatigue-like symptoms since getting vaccinated. Having zero energy on top of symptoms of depression – like apathy and no motivation – is not a great combo. Especially when it comes to exercise. Whilst I do still walk the dog twice a day, these walks have also been getting shorter and shorter.  18 months ago I was cycling to work, working out, and walking the dog every day. That was an average of 14,000 steps a day. Now I’m down to about 5,000 steps a day.

So what does this have to do with insomnia?

I’ve had insomnia for as long as I can remember. As a child, I would lay awake for hours staring at the ceiling and this has never changed.  There have been short periods where it might get a bit better or worse. But whether I like it or not; I’m a full-blown insomniac.  To add insult to injury, the symptoms have become even worse during the pandemic.  I’ve more frequently found myself awake at 4 am for no reason at all. Fretting about having to get up in a few hours and attempt to be a productive human being. I’ve tried melatonin, sleep hygiene, no-screens, sleep apps. All the things. So what else is left to try? Last week I listened to an interview with the founder of a sleep app who admitted that the only thing that has ever helped him sleep has been physical exhaustion. This got me thinking that perhaps there was a link between the decline in my steps and the increase in the symptoms of insomnia. There was only one thing to do about it: see if walking more helped me to sleep a little better.
Effect of ten thousand steps on my mood and emotions
The effect of ten thousand steps on my mood and emotions

This sounds an awful lot like that walking 10,000 steps a day thing

Yeah, kind of. At this point, I’m sure that most people are aware of the fairly ubiquitous suggestion that walking 10,000 steps a day is good for your health.  10,000 steps has some shady roots. It began life as an advertising campaign for pedometers before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. However, it seems to have stuck around for good reason. While 10,000 steps is arbitrary in itself, it handily ensures that you meet the recommended weekly exercise requirements outlined by the CDC.  Interestingly, there are no large scale studies to show that 10,000 steps is more effective than 5,000 steps at keeping you healthy or alive. BUT there is evidence that shows that:
    1. The more exercise you do the better (within reason)
    2. That walking more than 5000 steps a day can factor into helping you to live longer
Everyone is different though. 10,000 steps might not be for you and it’s important to set your own goals. My goals are to sleep a little better and to try to do that by walking at least as much as I used to before the pandemic. 
The effect of ten thousand steps on my energy levels
The effect of ten thousand steps on my energy levels

Walking 10,000 steps a day for a week

10,000 steps is roughly 5 miles, so I planned a route around the cliff tops and bays near my home. The benefit of this walk was that it was through fields, along beaches, and up the side of rocky coastal paths. Which I hoped would make me (and the dog) a bit more exhausted. I made sure that I’d finish the walk at least 4 hours before going to bed so that it wouldn’t disrupt my sleep and made sure to stay as hydrated as possible along the way.

Day one: I walked 15,454 steps. About seven miles across the course of the day. This included a 4,500 step dog walk in the morning. It was a warm sunny Saturday and this made wanting to walk in the evening easy. 

Day two: I walked 12,522 steps. About 5.5 miles. Walking along the cliffs was a nice way to end the weekend and to begin thinking about the week ahead.

Day three: 14,137 steps. About 6 miles. I walked for an hour in the morning so took a shorter route in the afternoon. I also began bringing someone with me on the walk. This made the time pass a little faster. 

Day four: 13,806 steps. Between 5.5 and 6 miles. Walking on weekday evenings was a nice way to separate work life and real life. Colder, greyer days made it a bit more difficult to want to go but I still enjoyed the walk.

Day five. 11,158 steps. About 5 miles. I was starting to get lazier in the mornings because I knew I’d be walking in the evening.

Day six. 13,516 steps. Approx. 5.5 miles. I added a couple of short walks during the day because of the nice weather. 

Day seven. 10,701 steps. Approx. 5 miles. I was a bit lazy because it was the “last day” and I also had to run some errands in the evening. 

Overall, I felt the experience was helping with my anxiety more than my insomnia but what did the data in bearable tell me?

The impact of 10,000 steps a day on my health

Average Mood Score improved by 11% Average Symptom Score improved by 39% Average Energy Levels improved by 27% Average Sleep Quality improved by 3% Average Sleep Quantity improved by 1%

Some of my most improved symptoms were

Avoiding People improved by 83% Irritability improved by 79% Avoiding my interests improved by 59% Fear of criticism improved by 59% Lack of motivation improved by 48% Tiredness improved by 47%

The symptoms that became worse were

Avoiding my appearance increased by 119% Finding no enjoyment in things increased by 37% Comparing my looks to others increased by 25% Binge eating increased by 25% Worrying about my appearance increased by 14%
The negative effect of 10,000 steps on my symptoms
The negative effect of 10,000 steps on my symptoms

My thoughts on the experience of walking over 10,000 steps a day for a week

I set out on this journey with the aim of improving my sleep and that didn’t really happen. What’s not totally clear in this data is that whilst I slept roughly the same amount as normal, I was also sleeping a lot earlier than usual.  My bedtime changed from about 1 am to 10:30 pm, this meant I was able to wake up earlier in the mornings and generally start the day in a more relaxed way.  My mood and energy did improve and I found that I felt more balanced, calm, focused, and less tired during the day. I even began some new online drawing classes that I’d been putting off. The biggest problem I had with this new routine was that it didn’t initially pair well with intermittent fasting (something I’ve been doing for about 3 years). After my 90 minute walks, I’d get home and feel hungry but wasn’t meant to be eating.  This triggered episodes of binge eating during the days to try to avoid feeling hungry later on. In turn, binge eating (a symptom of my disordered eating) caused symptoms of my BDD to flare up. Things like avoiding my appearance, being self-critical, comparing my looks to others, being overly concerned about my weight, etc. Despite this, I’ve continued to walk over 10,000 steps a day and now – about 2.5 weeks after my first walk – my binge eating and BDD are more under control.  Overall, I’ve found that walking over 10,000 steps a day has been pretty great for my overall health, mood, and well being. Even if it hasn’t really done much to improve my sleep.
The effect of walking 10,000 steps on my sleep quality
The effect of walking 10,000 steps on my sleep quality

Would I recommend walking over 10,000 steps a day?

Yes… BUT, as mentioned earlier, I don’t think it’s the number of steps that count, or even the steps themselves.  What strikes me as being important here is:
    1. Spending more time outdoors
    2. Recognising when you’re getting lazy
    3. Setting achievable goals for yourself
    4. Getting some form of exercise every day
This really wasn’t so much about walking 10,000 steps as it was about recognising that the pandemic had caused me to spend all of my time in a single room in front of a laptop screen. Something I’d let happen over the course of the last year without really acknowledging it. I believe that a lot of the benefits of this experience also came from setting myself a challenge and achieving it and from spending more time in nature and getting more Vitamin D.  Being the height of summer, I think it’s a good time to reflect on the last year and look at the ways it might have impacted your routines and health. Then, to set small goals for yourself to tackle one at a time.  It’s easy to want to set bigger targets, but like the research says, even 5,000 steps a day is good for your health. So maybe focus on starting small. That could be adding a few thousand steps a day to your routine, getting outside more often, giving yourself a break from work at the end of each day. … Or just patting yourself on the back for not letting the pandemic eat away at your previously healthy lifestyle like I did.  Good luck.

Running your own experiments with Bearable?

If you enjoyed this experiment or have run any of your own we’d love to hear about it. You can reach out to us on Instagram at @BearableApp or post your own experiments using bearable using #BearableApp (on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter). — Note: The advice given in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a medical professional before undertaking activities intended to impact your health and/or existing medical conditions. Photo credit: Freepik

Can Writing A Journal Improve Your Health? Jesse Kept A Diary For A Week To Find Out.

Expressive Writing Self Care Diary and Bullet Journal
Journaling might seem like an odd – or perhaps even obvious – topic to write about considering that using Bearable is a form of journaling already.  You’re probably thinking “Of course they’re going to say journaling is great” but I wanted to take a look at the impact of journaling on my mood, sleep, and symptoms. Just like I have with other forms of self-care. To be clear, I’m not talking about simply tracking the impact of using Bearable on my health but the impact of spending 20 minutes a day writing expressively in a journal.   More than anything, I want to track the impact that consciously working through negative thoughts can have on my health. With the aim of answering the question: Is there an advantage to writing a journal as well as keeping track of my symptoms, factors, sleep, etc.? With good reason too.  Journaling has become a trend in the productivity, self-care, and self-improvement spaces. With more and more notebooks and apps pushing their users to set goals, read motivational quotes, and bullet their tasks for the day/week/month/year.  So it’s important to ask: Does journaling really work?

How is journaling supposed to impact your health?

Journaling is a form of expressive writing or writing therapy that enables “the writer to gain mental and emotional clarity, validate experiences and come to a deeper understanding of him/herself” through self-reflection. Essentially, it’s a way of expressing your thoughts and feelings without having to talk about them. As a result, it’s possible to obtain some of the benefits that people might often associate with something like therapy.  In fact, studies have found that journaling has helped to improve mental health, heal wounds faster, and lead to fewer visits to the doctor. However, it’s important to point out that some studies have shown that journaling doesn’t help everyone.  So who can it help?
    • People that struggle to talk about their feelings
    • Introverted people
    • People who struggle to concentrate or organise their thoughts
    • People with little social support
    • People with high levels of social constraints
    • People who have issues with their memory
Essentially, if you already reflect openly with a strong support network of friends and family. Then you’re less likely to reap the benefits of journaling. That shouldn’t stop you from trying though. As someone that’s introverted and struggles with concentration. I’m interested to see how journaling can support my day-to-day decision making, mood, and anxiety.
The overall effect of journaling on my mood
The effect of journaling on my mood.

Isn’t journaling just writing a diary?

It can be. But studies suggest that expressive writing can be more impactful than simply keeping a diary. Often, journaling is most useful when it’s practised daily and it’s recommended that you commit to 20 minutes every day for four days. At least during times when you need to work through specific challenges in your life. As a quick overview of how to practice an effective form of expressive writing or journaling:
    1. Find a quiet place
    2. Write continuously for 20 minutes
    3. Write about something that’s personal and important to you
    4. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar
    5. If something feels too difficult to write about, don’t write about it
Be aware that It’s common to feel a lower mood or even sad after writing but this is meant to go away after an hour or two.  Some people also recommend not restricting yourself to writing but to feel free to draw, diagram, and anything else that helps you to organise your thoughts.  Perhaps if you’re not trying to tackle a difficult issue, creating a bullet journal is a helpful way to maintain the practice and also organize your thoughts and tasks for the day.
The overall effect of journaling on my health
The overall effect of journaling on my symptoms.

How was my first week of writing a journal?

Instead of a pen and notepad, I decided to write my journal using the notes section in Bearable. This way I’d be able to see the impact of specific notes on my symptoms, mood, sleep, and energy.

Day One: I sat down with my pad and pen and didn’t really know what to write about. After about 5 minutes I began by writing a normal diary entry; things I did that day. It quickly became easy to allocate the thoughts that I needed to journal about.

Day Two: I was incredibly grumpy and stressed but I was struggling to figure out why. Journaling came a bit more easily when I had a specific problem that I wanted to think about and understand. 

Day Three: The symptoms of my depression had been getting worse and I was feeling a bit hopeless and lacked any energy or motivation. Writing the journal became an act of gratitude. I tried to write about all the things that I appreciated and felt good about. 

Day Four: I wrote about an ongoing issue in my personal life. It felt good to externalise some of my thoughts but it also left me feeling a bit sad.

Day Five: I was incredibly grumpy again and was struggling to understand why. Journaling helped me to gain some perspective and see a bigger picture. Whilst it didn’t resolve the issue, it at least helped me to understand my mood.

Day Six: I was in a very good mood. With no big problems to resolve today, I wrote about why I was happy as a reminder to myself, something to reflect on. I also spent some time planning some goals and tasks to work towards.

Day Seven: I was in another good mood and struggled to have anything to write about. I ended up exploring the ideas behind why I was happy, what was making me happy, why it was making me happy, and how I could try to ensure that I had more of these experiences in my life. 

What did the data in Bearable tell me about the impact of journaling on my health?

Average Mood Score improved by 10% Average Symptom Score improved by 25% Average Energy Score improved by 8% Average Sleep Quality worsened by 4% Average Sleep Quantity worsened by 2%

How were symptoms of Anxiety, Depression, Insomnia, and BDD impacted by journaling?

Binge eating improved by 86% Being self-critical improved by 69% Avoiding people improved by 69% Tiredness improved by 67% Difficulty sleeping improved by 39% Lack of interest improved by 21% Avoiding my appearance worsened by 40% Worrying about my body shape worsened by 16% Worrying about my weight worsened by 8% The negative effect of journaling on my symptoms

What impact did journaling have on my health?

This experiment coincided with a period when symptoms of my body dysmorphia and disordered eating were worse than they had been for some time. So it’s of interest to me to see how journaling impacted these symptoms as well as others. Overall, I think journaling helped me to:
    • Better understand problems
    • More quickly understand root causes of problems
    • Identify solutions to problems
    • Feel better about problems
    • Find ways to communicate my problems with others
    • Organise my thoughts, plans, and intentions
As a result of these benefits, I tended to feel less jaded, less exhausted, and more confident around other people. However, there were also some negatives that came from this experience:
    • I dwelled on, or over-thought some problems
    • Problems without solutions caused me frustration
    • I often felt down or sad after writing and this didn’t always go away
    • I dug up some problems that were better left buried
    • I tended to compare myself to others more often
Where I feel journaling really helped me was with smaller, everyday problems. Problems that could be resolved. Things that I was directly in control of. Anything bigger than that left me feeling worse.  On the flip-side of that, journaling when I had no problems helped me to feel grateful, positive, and also led to more constructive planning and goal setting. It has been especially helpful to look back on the notes I took on positive days and to remind myself of that mindset.  I can’t say that journaling had a huge impact on my health or symptoms but it’s 100% a useful tool for self-reflection that can help to give you some control over your thoughts and emotions. Where it helped me the most was on days when I didn’t know why I was in a low mood and needed to reflect. AND on days when I felt great and needed to channel that energy into something constructive by creating a plan. Overall, it did help to improve my mood and to reduce some of the symptoms of my anxiety. The positive effect of journaling on my symptoms

One Reason You Should Try Journaling.

Journaling was quite a mixed experience for me but you might be one of the people that it works wonders for. I certainly feel it was more of a positive than a negative experience and was able to see the benefits after just a day or two of writing. On the days when journaling helped me, it felt like I gained some much-needed clarity and focus. Writing expressively forced me to dig a bit deeper into the reasons behind my thoughts and actions. So If you’re someone that’s interested in getting to know themselves better, then I wholeheartedly recommend that you try journaling.  This is especially true if you’re someone that knows they struggle to share their thoughts or feelings with other people. Or if you’re someone that wants to experiment with new ways of organising, planning, and solving problems in their day-to-day life. Journaling is recommended as a complementary therapy alongside forms of talking therapy and I can see how it might help someone to reflect on and organise their thoughts around counselling sessions. Or just to find alternative ways to communicate with a therapist. I’ll continue to journal on days when I can’t figure out why I’m in a terrible mood and maybe this is a good place for you to start too. If you give it a try, good luck.

Running your own experiments with Bearable?

If you enjoyed this experiment or have run any of your own we’d love to hear about it. You can reach out to us on Instagram at @BearableApp or post your own experiments using bearable using #BearableApp (on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter). — Note: The advice given in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a medical professional before undertaking activities intended to impact your health and/or existing medical conditions. Photo credit: Freepik

Can CBT help with anxiety and depression? Jesse tried CBT for a week to find out!

The Effect Of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy On Health
Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is something that has been recommended to me over the course of the past 3 or 4 years. Often by people who know that I struggle with general anxiety disorder and depression.  It has become one of those go-to suggestions for well-meaning people, along with; mindfulness, meditation, breathing exercises, and exercise.  I’m guilty of turning my nose up at recommendations that come off as generic sound-bites. Phrases a person learned so they can say that they tried to help. 
“I know you’re depressed but have you tried getting out of bed and going for a nice long walk?”
The annoying thing that I’ve learned – since deciding to swallow my pride more often – is that sometimes these suggestions are useful.  The person suggesting that you get up and go for a walk is annoying because it dismisses how difficult that can be for a person in the midst of a crisis. Or who just has so little energy or motivation that they barely feed themselves.  But let’s be honest, getting up and going for a walk can help. We just don’t need to hear it from someone that has zero experience with depression.  So, having recently had a positive experience with many of these other generic recommendations. I had some hope that CBT might actually help too. An infographic of cognitive distortions from

So what is CBT?

“Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of talking treatment which focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour, and teaches you coping skills for dealing with different problems. It combines cognitive therapy (examining the things you think) and behaviour therapy (examining the things you do).” –
Essentially, CBT aims to help you recognise negative thought patterns, challenge them, and form more balanced and effective thought patterns or behaviours.  Negative thought patterns are typically referred to as Cognitive Distortions and they fall into one of fifteen categories. I won’t write about them all here, but the ones that felt most familiar to me are:
    1. Filtering. Ignoring all of the positive and good things in life and focusing on negatives
    2. Catastrophizing. Expecting that the worst will happen or has happened
    3. The fallacy of fairness. Expecting that things in life should be fair.
    4. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy. Expecting that any sacrifice or self-denial will pay off.
To be honest, if I was writing this 5 years ago that list would be one heck of a lot longer. To combat these cognitive distortions, therapists use a number of different tools, the most familiar of which are Journaling, Relaxed breathing, and Physical relaxation. But this also includes a number of techniques for breaking down thoughts, dreams, and fears so that they can be restructured.  I’m not going to pretend that I know a lot about the technical side of this and – whilst it’s fascinating – diving into the details might not be the best place to get started with CBT.  Instead, to see if CBT was for me, I did what most of us would do; I downloaded a free CBT app.  The way the app works is to guide you through the following steps:
    1. Write down the negative thought 
    2. Identify all the cognitive distortions relevant to the thought 
    3. Write down the reasons the thought might not be true 
    4. Write down a new version of the original thought without the distortions (sometimes referred to as an alternative thought)
Simple. In fact, so simple I was worried it might not do anything at all. Not to mention the fact that CBT is traditionally a talking therapy explored in person with a therapist. I wondered if using an app might be less effective than having someone guide me through the exercises.  A chart from Bearable showing how CBT correlated with more hours of sleep (most of the time).

7 days of daily CBT sessions

From day one, the limitation was that I had to recognise when cognitive distortions were taking place in order for me to try to combat them. As many people reading this will know; negative thoughts can be such normal occurrences that they’re hard to spot before they begin spiralling. By journaling my thoughts as part of the practice of CBT, I actually became better at this. However, I often caught my negative thoughts a little too late. Day one: I woke after an anxiety dream and it was the perfect way to immediately test the impact of CBT. Writing down my thoughts helped me to recognise the cognitive distortions I was experiencing. Creating an alternative thought helped to ground me and acknowledge that my dream had no bearing on reality Day two: A common occurrence for me; I began feeling anxious about the contribution I was making at work and how this might be perceived by my colleagues. CBT helped me to recognise that these feelings were unfounded and that I often received positive feedback from colleagues.  Day three: I was quick to assume that work undertaken by a colleague was a criticism of my own work. I spotted this early and recognised that I was focusing on negatives and jumping to conclusions based on past experiences. CBT helped me to spot that my colleague just wanted to collaborate on something he enjoyed being a part of. Day four: I woke up from another anxiety dream. This time about my dog. I felt that something terrible would happen that day as a result of the dream. CBT helped me to spot that my dream had no impact on reality and that I was thinking catastrophically. Not to mention blaming myself for something that hadn’t actually happened.  Day five: I get anxious ahead of team calls and worry that I’ll say something dumb or that people will think I haven’t contributed anything. Using CBT before the call helped me to feel calmer and more focused by taking away some of this anxiety.  Day six: Weekends are interesting because I often spiral – at least during the pandemic – because I feel I’m not contributing towards something productive. CBT helped me to recognise that I needed to find a better work-life balance. I ended up signing up for some online classes. Day seven: I usually spend Sunday morning’s reading the news and scrolling social media and it can lead to me feeling a bit hopeless or frustrated with the world. CBT helped me to recognise I was focusing on negatives and overgeneralizing. A chart showing how CBT correlated with a positive impact on my energy levels

What did the data in Bearable show me about the effect of CBT?

Average Mood improved by 1% Average Energy Levels improved by 10% Sleep Quality improved by 8% Sleep Quantity improved by 9% Total Symptom Score worsened by 7%

What impact did CBT have on my specific symptoms?

Feeling worried improved by 37% Binge eating improved by 33%  Insomnia improved by 31% Apathy improved by 9% Irritability improved by 8% Catastrophic thoughts improved by 2% Doubting value of contribution improved by 6% Tired during the day worsened by 114% Restlessness worsened by 82% Being Self Critical worsened by 36% Worry about appearance worsened by 18% Behaviours associated with nervous energy worsened by 10%

How did I feel CBT had impacted the symptoms of my anxiety and depression?

Overall, I don’t think it had a huge impact on the symptoms themselves. I still experienced all of the same symptoms that I would typically. Avoiding people, feeling self-conscious, feeling judged, fearing negative outcomes, feeling nervous, feeling apathetic, etc.  In fact, because of the reflective nature of CBT, I became a little more self-critical and self-conscious about some of my frequent symptoms and behaviours. CBT helped me to sleep better but also wake earlier, giving me more time in the mornings to dredge up negative thoughts at the start of the day. I think this may have led to an increase in nervous energy, restlessness, and negative thoughts about my appearance. However, CBT did help me to combat my symptoms once they arose.  I felt generally less worried, more focused, calmer, my sleep improved, my energy improved, I was less irritable, and I was more productive. Essentially, CBT gave me the means to begin combatting thoughts that would normally spiral out of control. The reflective nature of CBT also helped me to come up with more practical and constructive plans to tackle some of my common symptoms. Things like:
    • Structuring my work
    • Being more transparent about my work schedule
    • Scheduling breaks in the day
    • Preparing for meetings
    • Keeping a record of achievements and lessons learned
Whilst it didn’t directly improve my symptoms, CBT was a really useful tool for doing something about them once they appeared. I also felt like I got better at spotting cognitive distortions once they happened and made me think more seriously about the severity of my anxiety. A chart showing how CBT correlated with a positive impact on a range of my symptoms

Should you try CBT?

Yes. Dedicating some time each day for self-reflection and journaling truly helped me to feel more in control of my mental health. If CBT feels too big of a leap, these activities by themselves might be a more accessible starting point. If you struggle with mild symptoms of depression and anxiety and want to see if CBT can help you to manage them better; I think doing some research and downloading an app is a good place to start. If you have more severe symptoms of chronic mental health conditions; I’d recommend speaking to a medical professional to see if you can undertake CBT with a therapist. I imagine that it’s more effective this way and will provide a safer environment in which to explore some of your negative thoughts. Generally speaking, at Bearable, we recommend consulting with a medical professional anyway. As I’ve found with these experiments into self-care techniques, they often have unexpected results. Whilst they can help to ease symptoms they can also drag up negative thoughts and experiences. So proceed with caution and get some professional advice if you can. A chart showing how CBT correlated with more feelings of Calm and Focus. For me, CBT helped me to become more aware of my negative thoughts, helped me to make better sense of them, and helped me to challenge them. I came away from this experience with more practical solutions and a better understanding of my mental health.  I was able to recognise that a large percentage of my negative thoughts are related to how I’m perceived by others and especially my colleagues. I was also surprised by the fact that I often struggle with attaching significance to thoughts and feelings that are not based in reality. This helped to – no pun intended – give me a reality check about the nature of my negative thoughts and anxiety. Since starting this experiment I’ve continued to use CBT to help combat my negative thoughts almost every day. Whilst it’s often stigmatized as being a tool reserved for people with mental health issues, I think it could genuinely help anyone that wants to find take more control over their health and wellbeing.  Good luck.

Running your own experiments with Bearable?

If you enjoyed this experiment or have run any of your own we’d love to hear about it. You can reach out to us on Instagram at @BearableApp or post your own experiments using bearable using #BearableApp (on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter). — Note: the advice given in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a medical professional before undertaking activities intended to impact your health and/or existing medical conditions. Photo credit: Photo by Marcel Strauß on Unsplash

Can CBD help with Anxiety, Depression, and Insomnia? Jesse tried CBD for a week to find out!

CBD Helping With Anxiety & Insomnia
CBD is a bit of a mystery to me. It’s an industry that has exploded in the last few years and is estimated to be worth $2.8billion by 2028. The most profitable segment of which is pharmaceutical CBD products. Products that are largely still under-going clinical trials for myriad health conditions including pain, anxiety, insomnia, epilepsy, and cancer. Though there are some studies that show clinical evidence for the beneficial impact of CBD on specific health conditions such as seizures and insomnia. The medical community still reports that “there is insufficient high-quality evidence that cannabidiol is effective” for conditions including anxiety and pain. Despite this, CBD is often recommended as a way to:
    • reduce anxiety and depression
    • improve sleep
    • soothe pain and inflammation
    • improve heart health
    • reduce seizures in people with epilepsy
    • improve symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
To be fair, I can’t blame people for 1. wanting to find new and more effective ways to manage symptoms of chronic health conditions and 2. not entirely trusting research that’s often funded by American pharmaceutical companies. I 100% fall into both of these categories. I think my reluctance to try CBD products has been:
    1. How expensive CBD products can be.
    2. How unclear the recommended dosage is
An academic review of CBD research published in 2017 and written about by Healthline “didn’t show that there’s one universal dosage of CBD that everyone should take”. A similar study published in 2015 concluded that “evidence from human studies strongly supports the potential for CBD as a treatment for anxiety disorders: at oral doses ranging from 300 to 600 mg”. That’s a far cry from the 5mg to 20mg dose per serving size of most CBD products available at your local whole-food store. Whilst these doses are somewhat restricted by regulatory bodies for sensible reasons, it also means that an effective dose of CBD could cost a minimum of $20 per serving. Tangentially, research into the effect of THC (AKA cannabis – from which CBD is derived) found that anxiety-reducing effects could be achieved with just a 7.5mg dose. Which possibly underlines why the US cannabis market is already valued at more than twice as much as the CBD industry. So – for all of these reasons and more – I’ve been sceptical about the CBD trend for a while and I was sceptical going into this experiment too.

Taking CBD every day for seven days.

Because of the number of variables that impact what an effective dose of CBD is, it’s recommended that you consult a medical professional. However, in lieu of this, a common recommendation is to begin by taking between 20mg and 40mg each day for a week before increasing the dose. I decided to take 10mg of CBD oil under my tongue each morning and then topped this up with a 20mg CBD chocolate snack in the early afternoon. So the outcomes reported here are based upon a 30mg dose taken for 7 days. Day one: My social anxiety was already flaring up as a result of family coming to visit for the weekend. The dose of CBD made the first day easier to deal with. I felt less anxious and less concerned about what my family thought about me and I also felt drowsier than usual. Day two: Once the previous day’s dose of CBD wore off I still seemed to suffer the energy-suck that happens to me after socialising. The dose of CBD on day two didn’t combat this and I ended up spending the day alone instead. Day three: Much like day one, CBD took the edge off of symptoms of my social anxiety. I felt calmer and less self-conscious but still felt depressed, anxious, and couldn’t sleep. Day four: A regular work-day. I felt slightly less self-conscious about my work and interactions with colleagues. Day five: I realised that because of feeling slightly less anxious about my work that I was also possibly contributing less. Day six: CBD helped me to feel less triggered by conversations with people and less anxious about team calls with colleagues. I also wondered if it was impacting my appetite as I was eating less. Symptoms of my Insomnia and depression felt unchanged. Day seven: I’d spent the week feeling slightly calmer, less socially anxious, and a little bit drowsy. Not entirely unlike being a very tiny bit stoned for long stretches of the day. By the last day, I felt like CBD put an extra layer between me and reality but not necessarily in a good way.

What did the data say about the impact on my symptoms?

Average Mood decreased by 4% Average Energy Levels decreased by 10% Average Sleep Quality neither improved or declined. Average Sleep Quantity improved by 2% Average Symptom Score improved by 14%

How did CBD impact specific symptoms?

Trouble Sleeping declined by 100% Tiredness declined by 81% Catastrophic thoughts declined by 79% Annoyed by others declined by 64% Worrying about embarrassment declined by 60% Irritability declined by 57% Feeling judged declined by 47% Being Self Critical declined by 42% Worrying about group conversations declined by 36% Fear of criticism declined by 36% Worry about weight increased by 1%

How do I feel about the experience of taking CBD to help with Anxiety, Depression, & Insomnia?

Honestly, I enjoyed the experience of taking CBD every day. I’m not sure if that’s just because I got to eat more chocolate than I usually would. It also crossed my mind that the small amount of refined sugar might be having a positive impact on the symptoms of my anxiety. Something I wrote about recently in another blog post. Overall, I felt like CBD helped me to:
    • Feel more at ease around people and especially groups of people
    • Feel less anxious about my contribution at work
    • Feel calmer, more consistently okay, and less empty
    • Feel less irritable and irritated (especially by people)
    • Get more sleep
I think it’s fair to say that CBD worked to reduce some of the symptoms of my insomnia, and social and general anxiety. My moods didn’t improve but my emotions felt more balanced and I was a lot less self-critical and self-conscious. All great things for someone whose daily life is quite significantly impacted by how they think they’re perceived by other people. However, there were two main negatives to this experience. I didn’t always enjoy the sometimes depersonalising effect that CBD had. I often felt like things were passing me by or that I wasn’t as present as I would usually be. I often felt drowsy and lacked energy which had an impact on my ability to complete structured activities. This meant I was far less motivated to complete my daily workouts and struggled to stay on-task at work. Whilst I didn’t feel anxious about this at the time, it did have a tangible effect on how much I achieved during the workweek. I guess, ironically, CBD maybe made me feel too calm.

Should you try CBD to help with anxiety, depression, or insomnia?

Yes, if you can afford it. CBD didn’t noticeably have any impact on my depression but I do feel that it helped me with symptoms of my insomnia and especially my social anxiety. More than anything else it took the edge off of a lot of my negative thoughts, self-doubt, and self-criticism. CBD isn’t going to take away your anxiety or insomnia but it might make your symptoms more manageable. If you feel like you need better control over some of your symptoms CBD could help you. CBD is certainly more convenient than some of the other self-care practices that I’ve tried. It takes a lot less effort than meditation or cold showers but it’s by no means the best or only way to gain some control over your symptoms. Ultimately, I think it’s sensible to temper your expectations and to do enough research that you feel comfortable with taking CBD. I also recommend that you speak to a medical professional beforehand as they’ll be familiar with how CBD might impact your health. It’s also important for me to point out that people will respond to CBD differently. If you’ve had negative experiences with cannabis or depersonalization then CBD might not be the best option. If you want to check out some of the other things that have eased the symptoms of my chronic health issues, you can read about them on our blog. Good luck.

Running your own experiments with Bearable?

If you enjoyed this experiment or have run any of your own we’d love to hear about it. You can reach out to us on Instagram at @BearableApp or post your own experiments using bearable using #BearableApp (on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter).   — Note: the advice given in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a medical professional before undertaking activities intended to impact your health and/or existing medical conditions. Photo credit:  Freepik

Can A Sugar-Free Diet Improve Your Health? Jesse Quit Sugar To Find Out.

  Sugar is bad for you. At least, having too much-refined sugar is bad for you. I don’t think that’s a revelation to anyone reading this. In fact, it has been fairly well known and documented for at least the last 20 years. With the World Health Organisation even recommending that no more than 10% of your daily calories should be composed of “free sugars” since the late 80’s. Since 2015, an increasing number of countries around the world have even introduced a tax on sugary products including the UK, Mexico, Belgium, and even Thailand. With the aim of discouraging the consumption of sugar and reducing the impact that it has on public health.
A chart showing an index for global searches for the term sugar-free. Source: Google trends.

So why am I writing about a sugar-free diet in 2021?

Refined sugar is hard to escape. It’s sneakily used in so many different foods. Some of the worst offenders being Protein Powders, Protein Bars, and Cereal that all masquerade as “healthy” or “good for you”.  Not to mention that it’s also incredibly addictive which is undoubtedly why companies choose to sneak it into foods in the first place.  This is a problem for me because there’s a negative relationship between sugar and mental health and I live with the symptoms of Generalized Anxiety, Social Anxiety, and Depression.  There’s also some evidence that cutting your sugar intake – to reduce inflammation and improve gut health – could have a positive impact on Mental Health.

Some background on my relationship with sugar

From a fairly young age, I recognised that sugar – much like alcohol – made socialising easier. I didn’t know why it worked but it did. So I drank gallons of chocolate milk as a teenager. It wasn’t until I became anorexic at 19 that I experienced cutting sugar from my diet. Yet despite my long periods without food, I’d ultimately lapse into day-long binges on sugary foods. Why? Well, my body was starved of calories and sugar was a quick way to get them.  As I’ve learned to embrace and acknowledge my mental health over the last 5 years, I’ve since begun to cut foods from my diet. This includes; alcohol, meat, dairy, refined sugar, and more recently caffeine. With the hope that these restrictions will help to reduce my symptoms. However, I still lapse into phases of binge eating, especially in social situations. Recently, I binge ate processed foods for a week after seeing members of my family. This is what led to the decision to track a week without refined sugar to see how my health differed vs. the week with sugar.

Quitting Sugar for (at least) a week.

I’d usually break this down into a day-by-day account of roughly how each day of the week went. But, honestly, I barely noticed any change. To the extent that my notes from the week don’t really say much at all.  Typically there’s an insight or a reflection each day but with no sugar, things seemed to carry on as normal. Or at least they appeared to. So instead, I’m going to give a quick overview of my main observations:

1. I did experience some withdrawal symptoms including a light headache and some mild dizziness at a few points throughout the week.

2. To tackle my mid-afternoon sugar cravings I would drink sugar-free water-Kefir or eat an apple. I think this helped curb any major cravings.

3. I accidentally ate sugar on the evening of day 7, it had been snuck into some “sugar-free brownies” made by a well-meaning relative. This gave me a really intense headache.

4. I felt that maybe I was a little more focused than in the week of binge eating. Though my anxiety didn’t seem any better or worse. Perhaps it was too soon to see any real impact?

5. I was sleeping a little better and seemed to have a little more energy.

After a week without any refined sugar, I couldn’t say there had been a dramatic effect. If anything I was a little bit disappointed.

What Did Bearable Tell Me About The Effect of No-Sugar On My Health?

Average Mood Score improved by 7% Average Energy Levels improved by 19% Average Sleep Quality improved by 11% Average Sleep Quantity worsened by 8% Total Symptom Score improved by 5%

How Did My No-Sugar Diet Impact My Symptoms?

Talking fast became 33% worse Catastrophic Thoughts became 18% worse Doubting the value of my contribution became 17% worse Picking at skin became 11% worse Apathy became 8% worse Self Doubt became 4% worse Insomnia became 11% better Irritability became 20% better Avoiding People became 29% better

What do all these numbers really tell us about the impact of sugar on my health?

Firstly, a sugar-free diet had a much bigger impact on my health than I had assumed. Correlating with improvements in my Mood, Sleep, and Energy.  But, to be honest, the impact on my symptoms left me a bit confused at first.  No sugar made me less irritable and less likely to avoid interactions with people BUT also way more likely to doubt myself and to have signs of anxious behaviours (talking fast and picking at my skin)? It wasn’t until I did some reading about the impact of sugar on anxiety that this started to make sense to me. 
“A history of consuming high-sugar foods attenuates the psychological (anxiety and depressed mood) and physiological (HPA axis) effects of stress”
It turns out that sugar might just be great at relieving stress and anxiety.  Essentially, by cutting out sugar, I was forcing my brain to have to deal with anxiety head-on. The most common symptoms of which are, for me, doubt about my contribution at work and catastrophic thoughts about what this might mean for my career, life, etc.  A reaction to these symptoms is often that I’ll also show more anxious behaviours like talking faster (because I feel self-conscious about what I’m saying) and picking at my skin (as a form of control and focus). It might also explain why I’m prone to binge-eating sugary foods when I’m in social situations.

Should You Think About Going Sugar-Free?

Yes, but … For me, cutting sugar from my diet was a trade-off. Overall, I was happier, better rested, had more energy, and was probably less of an ogre to spend time with. Which is quite a compelling argument for trying this for yourself. However, removing a source of stress-and-anxiety-reducing chemicals from my diet obviously had some downsides. Downsides that could probably be better managed with a less addictive solution. For example, CBT, exercise, or anti-anxiety medication.  This experience also helped me to re-frame my understanding of the triggers for my binge eating. Making me feel less guilty about using sugar as a form of self-medication in the past. My main takeaway has been that you shouldn’t go into trying something like this and only expect benefits. Setting your expectations low and taking time to reflect on the experience is necessary to finding what works best for you. More than anything, it’s worth thinking about how much you might use sugar as a crutch for your mental health. Which was the main thing I’d failed to consider at the start of this journey. I’ll continue to eat as little sugar as possible but I’ll also be less hard on myself when I do.

Running your own experiments with Bearable?

If you enjoyed this experiment or have run any of your own we’d love to hear about it. You can reach out to us on Instagram at @BearableApp or post your own experiments using bearable using #BearableApp (on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter). Not using Bearable yet and want to track something? Get started by downloading the app for iPhone or Android. Note: the advice given in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a medical professional before undertaking activities intended to impact your health and/or existing medical conditions. Photo credit: Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez from Pexels

Can Quitting Social Media Improve Your Health? Jesse Left Social Media For A Week To Find Out.

I think most of us have thought about quitting social media, right?  I often end up blaming social media for losing whole evenings or weekends. Periods of time that I tell myself I could have been practising Spanish or taking an online course.  As a Reddit user, I’m also familiar with the r/NoSurf community. A collection of people that aspire to spend less time online to max out their productivity.  Admittedly, I sometimes wonder if maxing-out productivity is just another unhealthy way of treating anxiety. Maybe some of those people need the warm embrace of YouTube or the excitement and drama of their Uncle’s Facebook comments section? If you’re anything like me, then social media may also be an inescapable part of your career. Meaning you’re doomed to an eternity of scapegoating TikTok for all of your problems. I was interested to finally put this to the test and see if a week without social media would help transform me into a more productive, less anxious person.  

Is social media bad for our health?

This is a question that I think most people would answer with a resounding; YES!  Certainly, I think most people are aware that it can have a negative impact on their health. Not that this stops any of us from using social media an average of 28 times per day.

What are the potential negative effects?

  • It reduces your Self Esteem due to constantly comparing yourself to others.
  • It can trigger feelings of Loneliness due to seeing other people socialising (aka FOMO)
  • It impacts Sleep as a result of blue light and an inability to put down our phones
  • Attention Span and Productivity are impacted by the desire to constantly check our phones
  • It creates feelings of Stress, Anxiety, or Depression
It feels a bit unfair to mention social media without taking a balanced view. It would be easy to demonize it without mentioning that we all use it for a reason.

What are the positives of social media?

  • Connecting with communities of people we wouldn’t otherwise have access to
  • Access to an incredible amount of information, news, knowledge, etc.
  • Promotion tools for people and businesses
  • Social platforms have launched careers for millions of creators and influencers
  • Entertainment in every possible form

So why is it so hard to quit social media?

As with anything, doing something in moderation is probably the better route vs. forcing yourself to quit something that isn’t entirely bad for you. I think many of us just struggle with the moderation part and that’s possibly the issue behind the issue. Let’s take a quick look at why that’s so difficult in the first place. Social platforms are typically paid for by advertisers, not users. It, therefore, benefits companies like Facebook to make their platforms addictive, to create opportunities to reward you and to use psychological techniques to alter your behaviour. By wiring your brain so that social media use becomes an unconscious habit, social platforms create more opportunities for advertisers to reach you. That means more money in the pockets of the social media platform owners.  By quitting for a week I hoped I might be able to begin to train my brain out of some of these habits. As well as making Mark Zuckerberg a tiny bit poorer.  

Why I quit social media for a week

Social media mostly plays a positive role in helping to distract me from my anxiety. I live with symptoms of Generalised Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Depression, Body Dysmorphia, and Insomnia. I’m also very aware of the fact that I use social media as a way to distract myself from symptoms of these conditions.  For example, it’s easy for me to distract my mind from Anxious or Catastrophic thoughts by rewatching SNL compilations on YouTube. In fact, it’s pretty common for people with Anxiety to re-watch the same things over and over as a form of self-care. I also sometimes watch other people do things that I don’t have access to. For example, during lock-down, I followed a lot of influencers that live abroad because I missed travelling. Some people even take this to the extreme of watching other people clean their homes when they don’t have the motivation to clean their own.  However, using social media as a crutch for Anxiety never really felt that healthy or positive. A lot of my Anxiety is triggered by feelings of doubt about my work and how I’m perceived by colleagues. I often blame my Anxiety for not having achieved more or for distracting me from my goals.  This was an opportunity to try to change that.  

Quitting Social Media

Day One: I Struggled a bit to fight the urge to mindlessly open social apps. I ended up gaming instead – not a great start. The withdrawal was stronger than I anticipated. Whenever I used my phone I had to actively tell myself not to click on Reddit and YouTube. Day Two: I read more news and played more guitar than usual. I still tried to distract myself from my mind/thoughts only now it was with different methods. I struggled with binge eating, a symptom of my disordered eating and BDD.  Day Three: I felt exhausted and I overslept. Social media is usually part of my morning routine and helps me ease into the day. I probably just need to go to bed earlier instead of finding other late-night distractions. I meditated at lunchtime instead of scrolling through Reddit. I went to bed earlier and slept well that night. Day Four & Five: I was a bit angrier than usual and felt a bit more frustrated by things. I ended up binge-watching a series on Amazon to distract myself from any negative thoughts. This ended up disrupting my sleep for two nights. I struggled with binge eating on both of these days. Day Six: I woke up and tried to be productive. Wrote a list of things to do for the weekend. Things I’d been putting off. I meditated and went for a long walk. However, I also binge ate all day again. Day Seven: I continued to binge eat which was concerning to me. I also made an effort to focus on doing the things I said I would do when I quit social media. I read more, practised Spanish, made some music, edited some photographs, and had a generally productive day.  

What does the data tell us about the impact on my health?

My Average Mood Score dropped by 8%  My Average Energy Levels dropped by 22% My Average Sleep Quality improved by 1% My Average Sleep Quantity improved by 3% My Total Symptom Score increased by 36%

What does the data tell us about the impact on my symptoms?

  • Binge Eating increased by 400%
  • Biting my Nails increased by 173%
  • Feeling Joyless increased by 100%
  • Avoiding Communication and Activities increased by 60%
  • Nervous energy increased by 33%
  • Apathy increased by 24%
  • Tiredness increased by 23%
  • Catastrophic thoughts decreased by 14%
  • Questioning past conversations decreased by 81%

What are the Benefits of quitting social media?

For me, there were very few benefits.  The main thing I gained from the experience was a better perspective on my Anxiety. It revealed to me that I’m sometimes overly reliant on social media to help manage my symptoms. Far more than I had realised at the beginning of this experiment. Without the distraction of social media, I was faced with the prospect of having to deal with my anxious thoughts and symptoms head-on. Essentially, quitting social media made clear to me that I need to do more to address the root causes of my Anxiety. As someone that’s spent a lot of their life downplaying the severity of symptoms of their mental health. This experience was a little bit of a wake-up call to take things like CBT and Meditation more seriously as Anxiety management techniques. Admittedly, some of the results listed above were undoubtedly impacted by a flare-up in binge eating. This typically makes me more irritable, disrupts my sleep, and has a generally negative effect on my symptoms. Overall, quitting social media had a more significant impact on my health than I ever would have imagined.   A graph showing the positive impact that no social media had on the amount of reading I did.

Does Quitting Social Media Make You More Productive?

During the seven days that I quit social media, I:
  • Wrote and recorded more music than I would normally
  • Began reading more before bed
  • Started an online course that I had been putting off
  • Meditated more than usual
  • Read more news and felt generally better informed about current events
Overall, I was more mindful about the things that I chose to engage with rather than passively scrolling.  I think this was probably the takeaway I had most expected from quitting social media. I knew that I’d slipped into some lazy habits online and wasn’t really learning anything new or pursuing any goals.  It felt rewarding to accomplish some things that I had been putting off and – in their own way – this also helped to reduce some of the symptoms of my anxiety.   A graph that shows the positive impact that no social media had on the time I spent practising the guitar.

Would I recommend quitting Social Media?

Yes. Despite my own fairly negative experience, I do think there are some benefits to be had.  I guess if, like me, you know that you rely on social media as a source of self-care or a method for managing your mental health. Then I wouldn’t recommend going cold turkey. Instead, I think it comes back to moderation and mindfulness.  Maybe rather than quitting social media altogether, it’s better to be selective about how you use it. Can you find channels and communities that align with your goals? If you’re going to endlessly scroll, can you curate your feed to show you content that has more value than Buzzfeed quizzes? Or can you unfollow people you compare yourself negatively to? This is how I’m going to move forward from this experience. I’m trying to be more mindful of what I’m doing on social media. I’m now watching YouTube videos about learning Spanish and composing music. I’m also trying to unfollow communities that don’t inspire me or that make me feel self-conscious. I think it’s okay to embrace the positive aspects of social media as long as you’re also keeping your bad habits in check.  Like anything that’s designed to be addictive, it’s probably wise to try taking a break sometimes.  If you’re interested in quitting the internet altogether, there’s also some great advice and resources on r/NoSurf. Good Luck!  

Running your own experiments with Bearable?

If you enjoyed this experiment or have run any of your own we’d love to hear about it. You can reach out to us on Instagram at @BearableApp or post your own experiments using bearable using #BearableApp (on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter). Not using Bearable yet and want to track something? Get started by downloading the app for iPhone or Android. Note: the advice given in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a medical professional before undertaking activities intended to impact your health and/or existing medical conditions. Photo credit: Photo by Mikael Blomkvist from Pexels  

Can cold showers improve your health? Jesse took a cold shower every day to find out!

Taking a cold shower falls into the unique category of things that I recommend trying despite absolutely despising them. Other things in this category include public speaking, running for charity, and eating maatjesharing. Like these things, cold showers were – spoiler alert – definitely good for me. But why did I decide to torture myself in an attempt to improve my health and where did this practice even come from?  

Why do you keep hearing about cold showers?

Despite winter swimming and ice baths being traditions in Scandinavia and Russia. Interest in the health benefits of cold showers has been on the rise over the last 15 years in the rest of the world. In fact, you’ve almost certainly come across the name Wim Hof. Especially if you have an interest in personal development, growth hacking or self-care. The Dutch extreme athlete and Iceman markets a method that involves; cold therapy, breathing, and meditation. To “reduce stress”, “increase willpower”, and “boost alertness” amongst other things. Because of this, when I think of cold showers I think of the 5am club, Soylent and Tech Bros. People who will attempt to squeeze one last drop of efficiency out of every moment in life. Wim made waves in Silicon Valley in 2017, where Cryo-chambers and cold showers have since become a hot trend.

Are cold showers good for your health?

The benefits reported from a number of clinical trials and other research show that they can: In recent history, forms of cold water therapy have also been relied upon to toughen up Boxers in the UK, toughen up babies in Siberia, treat Anxiety in Russia, and according to some of the deepest darkest pages of the internet; even increase libido.  However, it’s important to note that the scientific community reports having a lack of evidence to show that there are consistently positive health outcomes.  

Why I decided to start taking cold showers.

Honestly, I’m a warm person. I wear sweaters in summer. I take showers at the hottest setting. I hate being cold. Ultimately this is why I hadn’t jumped on the cold shower train sooner.  I didn’t have high hopes that it would be something that I could easily endure… I also wondered if perhaps I wasn’t truly Dutch enough. However, as someone that lives with Anxiety, Depression, and Insomnia (amongst other things). It’s hard to ignore the amount of compelling – even if sometimes anecdotal – evidence that cold hydrotherapy might help with at least one of these chronic conditions.  Since cutting out caffeine, I also struggle with a mid-afternoon dip in energy and focus. I hoped cold showers might help with this too.  

How do you take a cold shower?

You just climb in a cold shower right? I mean, you can do that, and it probably works better than other methods because of the pure shock of the experience. At least according to the cold showers subreddit. It probably also helps if you live alone because you’ll almost certainly hyperventilate, swear, and shout a lot more than if you ease yourself into it. Having researched the best approach for newbies on Reddit and, I took the following approach:
  1. Start with the shower at normal temperature.
  2. Slowly, step-by-step, turn the temperature down 
  3. When the water is no longer bearable set a timer for three to five minutes
  4. Practice deep breathing to distract yourself from the cold/torture to help with hyperventilating
  5. Try to be mindful and focus on being present in the water
  6. Turn off the shower and feel a sense of accomplishment
I have to admit that I was hugely sceptical about cold showers and after running through these steps for the first time I mostly just felt ill and unhappy. Nonetheless, I carried this out for seven days straight hoping that Bearable might show me some benefits that were harder to spot in the moment.  Here’s how it went.

Taking cold showers for seven days straight.

Day One: I felt energised and alert, though I had also slept better than usual the night before. The cold shower made me oddly nostalgic but also cold. I felt a bit like I was going to get sick all day. Despite this, I had a productive and focused day with very few symptoms to report. Day Two: I woke up earlier than usual after a good night’s sleep. The cold shower was easier than day one. I felt I had some more energy than normal. I also felt I was more tired and less alert than on day one. Day Three: I slept really well and woke up feeling well-rested for once. After the shower, I mostly felt cold and a bit run down but also alert and in control. Day Four: I had a bad night of sleep but after a cold shower I felt awake and had no tiredness. My mood improved throughout the day and I felt clear and alert. I also fell asleep easily that night. Day Five: I had another good night of sleep. I woke up and dreaded the shower. I forced myself to do it and felt good for not giving up. I had a lot of energy and did a longer dog walk than normal. My mood was good. Stress and Anxiety from work piled up during the day but I was able to remain alert and objective. Day Six: Saturday. I was worried that I’d struggle to commit to the cold shower when it wasn’t part of my morning routine. I also wondered if it would be harder to notice the effects outside of a work environment (where my anxiety tends to be worse). I ended up enjoying it more as it was a warm day and the cold shower made me want to spend the day moving my body. I went for a long hike. Day Seven: I was reluctant to take the last shower. It was a cold, lazy Sunday. I didn’t need to feel alert, or awake. I took the shower anyway. I didn’t regret taking it but I also hated it more than any of the other days. I had a productive day of writing, editing, and photography.  

What did the data in Bearable show me?

My average Mood improved by just 2% and My average Symptom Score improved by 48% My average Sleep Quality declined by 5% and my average Sleep Quantity declined by 2% My Energy levels declined by 1%

The effects on specific symptoms were:

  • Irritability improved by 68%
  • Tiredness improved by 42%
  • Doubting value of contribution improved by 47%
  • Self Doubt improved by 29%
  • Avoiding social situations improved by 29%
  • Catastrophic thoughts improved by 55%
  • Nervous Energy improved by 72%
  • Apathy was unaffected with 0% change
  • Joylessness was unaffected with 0% change
I was also more likely to report feeling Good, Relaxed, and Focused and was less likely to report symptoms of Insomnia despite my sleep quality and quantity not improving. 

How did cold showers affect my health?

You can see from the results above that cold showers had very little impact on my Sleep, Mood, or Energy but had a fairly significant effect on my Symptoms.  Weirdly, some of these things are a bit contradictory. For example, why did my insomnia improve but not my sleep quality or quantity?  This data also seems at odds with how I felt during the week. I had felt like I had more energy, was in a better mood, and slept better!?  

So did cold showers have a positive impact or not?

Taking a step back from the data, I think the biggest impact that cold showers had was that they made me feel less tired and more focused and alert. Something I don’t very often feel as a result of Anxiety, Depression, and Insomnia.  Essentially, I was able to concentrate better on my work and this had a positive knock-on effect on everything else. More focus gave me a better sense of control over my work and being more alert during conversations made them less overwhelming.  Because the symptoms of my anxiety were reduced, I was less likely to have nervous energy or spiral into catastrophic thoughts. This also made me less irritable. Something else that’s harder to see in this data is that the average time I would go to bed was more likely to be 10pm than 12pm. Whilst I still woke through the night and tended to wake up earlier than my alarm, I didn’t struggle to fall asleep as much as usual. This is presumably why I reported less insomnia despite my sleep quality and quantity remaining the same.  

What are the Pros and Cons of cold showers?

For me, the pros of cold showers are that they led to me having more focus, being more alert, having fewer flare-ups related to Anxiety, and finding it easier to fall asleep at night. The cons are that it didn’t have a bigger impact on my health. My sleep didn’t improve. My mood didn’t improve. My energy didn’t improve.  It’s important to point out that this was just a short test. After 7 days I’m certain that I’ve not experienced the full benefits of cold showers. As a result, I’ll continue to take them, especially on days where I feel I lack concentration, focus and awareness. Or perhaps on days when the symptoms of my anxiety flare-up.
“Discipline is doing what you hate to do, but nonetheless doing it like you love it.”
During my week of cold showers, I came across this quote and it continues to help me to step into cold showers in the morning. When you decide to take the plunge, hopefully, it can help you too. Good luck!

Running your own experiments with Bearable?

If you enjoyed this experiment or have run any of your own we’d love to hear about it. You can reach out to us on Instagram at @BearableApp or post your own experiments using bearable using #BearableApp (on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter).   — Note: the advice given in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a medical professional before undertaking activities intended to impact your health and/or existing medical conditions. Photo credit: Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels  

Can meditation help with anxiety? Jesse tracked his meditation every day to find out.

Man meditating
For most of my adult life, I’ve been interested in personal development. Interested in trying new things that can accelerate my personal growth, improve my health, and optimize my daily routine.  In fact, the personal development market is forecast to be worth $56 Billion by 2027. So, chances are that if you’re reading this then you’ve watched School of Life videos on Youtube or read a book about Stoicism.  It’s important for me to point out that the major factor influencing my interest in personal development has been the desire to manage the symptoms of my General and Social Anxiety, Depression, Insomnia, and BDD (Body dysmorphic disorder) Or at least to make up for the impact that symptoms of these conditions have on my personal and professional life. For example, I once tried body-language techniques to make up for my low self-esteem at work. Which had mixed and sometimes hilarious results. Yet, despite this interest in personal development, and not to mention that I also grew up in a home where meditation was practised. I didn’t meditate for the first time until I was 30.  I don’t think I’m alone in having tried meditation for the first time in the last few years. A 2018 study by the CDC found that meditation was the fastest growing health trend and had tripled its popularity from 2012 to 2017. 

A chart showing how my Irritability symptom scores increased during the period I was meditating.

Why I waited until now to see if Meditation can help with Anxiety.

For the longest time, I viewed meditation as a spiritual practice and this initially made me push away from it. I imagine this might be a common issue and – though totally anecdotal – I have often found that my male friends are more reluctant to give meditation a try for similar reasons.  Whilst meditation is historically a spiritual practice, the aims of meditation have always been rooted in mindfulness. To aid with concentration, attention, and awareness. These are the same reasons why the National Health Service (NHS) and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) now recommend using meditation as a way to help mental wellbeing and depression. Free guided meditation apps like Medito and Headspace have also made meditation incredibly accessible to people that might not be ready to go to a meditation centre. So, considering my desire to continue to find ways to help tackle the symptoms of my anxiety. I no longer had any excuses to ignore the possibility that meditation might be able to help me.  Especially as Bearable takes the guesswork out of whether or not a new habit might be having an effect on my health.

A chart showing how my Tiredness symptom scores were lower during the period I was meditating.

What did I expect the benefits of Meditation to be?

Whilst I have meditated once or twice before, the habit never stuck. I found it to be calming but hadn’t really considered that it might help with my mental health in a more tangible way.  So something that had specifically caught my eye when reading about meditation was a quote on the NHS website.

“Mindfulness also allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience … This lets us stand back from our thoughts and start to see their patterns. Gradually, we can train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over…”

The prospect of helping me to recognise when my anxious thoughts take over gave me optimism that – if nothing else – meditation might give me some objectivity. The ability to recognise when I was catastrophizing or feeling a lot of self-doubt. Similarly, I read that some people have even suggested that meditation may have played a role in the most recent stages in human biological evolution, specifically in the development of attention and working memory. So I quietly hoped that meditation might also help me with my poor attention span.  This meant that going into day one, I felt that meditation had the potential to positively impact some of the symptoms of my anxiety and general mental health. Specifically, I hoped it might help me with:
    • A lack of focus and concentration
    • Negative thoughts related to self-doubt
    • Behaviours related to having nervous energy 
    • Catastrophic thoughts
It’s probably useful for me to highlight the fact that Meditation should be a long-term practice. I knew that seven days probably wasn’t long enough for me to perceive the full benefit that meditation can offer. But I felt optimistic that I might still see some impact on my symptoms.

A chart showing how my Sleep Quality scores improved slightly during the period I meditated.

Tracking 7 Days of Meditation

I began this test on Monday 12th April and meditated for 30 minutes each day. I’d log my symptoms in Bearable in the morning, meditate at lunchtime and then log my symptoms again later in the day. Day One: I initially struggled to relax into the first 30-minute meditation. My mind wandered all over the place. I felt calm afterwards but this didn’t last for long. Day Two: My mind still wandered a lot but I was able to relax and enjoy the experience more. It was a nice break from a lot of anxious thoughts I’d had that morning. I got frustrated that these thoughts came back almost immediately after finishing the meditation. Day Three: In the morning, I was able to recognise my negative thought patterns and looked forward to meditating. I enjoyed the meditation but felt like it had little benefit other than giving me a moment of calm. My mood also seemed to vary more – I was often more irritable – and I wondered if this was somehow because of the meditation. Day Four: I noticed that meditation was having a positive impact on reducing my heart rate. I also began using the time immediately after meditating to try to plan my afternoon so that I might feel less anxious about it. Day Five: I was feeling a higher amount of self-doubt ahead of some meetings. I wished I could meditate all day, as an escape from those feelings. After meditating I used the time to be objective about my day and re-organized my afternoon to give me more time to prepare. Day Six: Following a bad night’s sleep I’d had a lot of catastrophic thoughts. I meditated early in the morning and it helped to give me some perspective. I didn’t feel like meditation was having a long-lasting effect on my symptoms but also recognised that it was because I wasn’t solving the root cause of those problems: giving myself too much to do every day. Another common tactic used by people with Anxiety to try to prove themselves to others.  Day Seven: This was the day I felt least anxious and the only day I didn’t feel I needed to meditate. I reflected on how meditation had helped to give me perspective over the last 7 days. I ended up meditating to help me to fall asleep.  

A report showing how my Meditation affected my Symptoms.

What Did Bearable Tell Me About the Effect of Meditation on my Health?

My Average Mood score improved by 11% and I was more likely to report feeling Optimistic, relaxed, or Good. However, I was also more likely to report feeling Grumpy or Stressed on these days as well. My Average Symptom score – across all of my symptoms, not just anxiety – improved by 18% My Sleep Quality score improved by 8% though my average Sleep Quantity only improved by 1% How Meditation affected the Symptoms of my Anxiety:
    • 25% reduction in Tiredness
    • 31% reduction in Doubting the Value Of My Contribution
    • 39% reduction in Insomnia
    • 56% reduction in Self Doubt
    • 52% reduction in Catastrophic thoughts
    • 11% reduction in Nervous Energy
However, meditation also had a negative effect on some Symptoms including:
    • 40% increase in Picking my skin
    • 16% increase in Questioning past conversations
    • 12% increase in Irritability

A chart showing a decrease in my total symptom score that correlates with the days that I Meditated.

How Do I Think Meditation Has Helped With My Anxiety?

During the seven days, I initially found meditation a bit frustrating. It was useful to take a break from anxious thoughts in the moment, but it annoyed me that the positive effect wore off almost immediately. Beyond this – and until I had data to show me how wrong I was – I couldn’t really perceive any real impact on my symptoms. Though it took a few days, I eventually realised that my expectations had been wrong. The real issue was that I wasn’t resolving the underlying cause of the symptoms of my anxiety. Meditation couldn’t fix this by itself. However, by taking the time after meditating to plan my work schedule, I was able to have a more positive impact on my symptoms.  In fact, I think that much of the extreme shift in my symptom scores most likely comes as a result of these changes rather than the meditation itself. Though I couldn’t have achieved this without gaining some objectivity by meditating in the first place. Ultimately, the main benefit I was able to perceive was that because of the reflective nature of meditation I was able to be more objective about myself, my thoughts, and my actions. I could take a step back from my usual, anxious train of thought and make adjustments if I needed to. 

How Meditation Can Continue To Help With My Anxiety

I don’t think I’ll continue to meditate every day but I will continue to meditate when I feel it might help me. For example, when I feel overwhelmed by my day or am struggling to be objective about my thoughts.  As with many of the habits that I’ve tried in an attempt to better manage my mental health. I’ve found that there are different tools, tricks, and practices that can serve a specific purpose. 
    • Breathing techniques help me if I’m nervous about speaking to people
    • Positive affirmations help me if I wake up feeling hopeless
    • Intermittent fasting helps to tackle my insomnia
Meditation feels like another tool in the mental health toolbox. Something to rely on when I need to escape negative and doubtful thought patterns. 

Running your own experiments with Bearable?

If you enjoyed this experiment or have run any of your own we’d love to hear about it. You can reach out to us on Instagram at @BearableApp or post your own experiments using bearable using #BearableApp.Illustration by Freepik