A group of injured and ill serving personnel and veterans spent three days on the beautiful Mersea Island in Essex and learnt the benefits of combining physical activities with the practice of mindfulness, to support them as they rebuild their lives.
The residential trip to East Mersea, which was organised in partnership between Help for Heroes and MoD staff at the Help for Heroes Colchester Recovery Centre, Chavasse VC House, challenged the men to a wide range of adrenaline style activities and introduced some practical examples of mindfulness as a way of managing both physical and psychological pain, mindfulness practices were adapted to meet the specific needs of the ‘blokes’ so as to assist them in their daily lives.
Led by Julian Hayes, H4H Psychological Wellbeing Advisor, and MoD staff, the six heroes scaled climbing towers and high ropes, as well as bonded together in team problem solving challenges. The activities strengthened the camaraderie which is often cited as one of the major losses that wounded men and women experience after leaving their regiment.
The participants, whose issues ranged from the physical to the psychological including Multiple Sclerosis and depression, discovered during a walk along the stunning coastline how mindfulness can help when dealing with any difficulties.
Mindfulness, as Julian, explains “…is about being aware of how you are in that moment. Being aware of your breath, thoughts and feelings. It’s a powerful activity that can help ground you, which is important for anyone living with common mental health difficulties, such as anxiety.”
He added: “Mindfulness can be just as powerful and rewarding as climbing the summit of a mountain. So by combining these two practices, the physical and mental, we have been able to show our heroes that even in the quiet times they can still work on their recovery.”
For first Gulf War and Bosnian veteran, Paul Barnsley, being around fellow servicemen was the highlight of the three days. Paul, who is diagnosed with PTSD and has chronic back pain, did not leave his home for many months as he battled with his mental illness. Paul said: “I was aware of the Recovery Centre, because I remembered it being built. It was suggested I give them a call and I have not looked back since."
Paul continues: “I really have turned a corner in my recovery since engaging with Chavasse VC House. Help for Heroes has done so much to help me be regain my independence and enjoy life again. On a more regular basis, H4H have again combined both the physical and psychological elements to my recovery, they have facilitated regular hydrotherapy sessions to help deal with my back injury, while challenging my negative thinking. The combination of these two approaches has provided me with the support I could not have imagined. The three days I spent in Mersea where difficult for me but worthwhile, my experiences of being with fellow injured servicemen and highly skilled therapists are more invaluable than I can put into words.”
The residential trips take place at Essex Outdoors Centres in Mersea or Danbury, Essex and offer opportunities such as archery, climbing, high ropes, caving and team working skills. It is also an opportunity to find out more about careers in the outdoor activities industry. The next trip is scheduled for 4th – 6th April and is open to wounded, injured or sick serving personnel and veterans. To find out more about this or other activities at the Centre please contact 01206 814890 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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