Guarding our Mental Health

How am I doing this?

Firstly, I’m not succeeding all of the time. I spent the last 48 hours making myself miserable reading the news and staring at a screen all day. I’ll maybe analyse that self sabotage at the end. For the most part though I’ve got my coping mechanisms in place and they work to the extent that they have become habits integrated into my daily life. They keep me feeling fairly buoyant, encouraged and safe most days. And in contrast to Sunday, Saturday was one of the most perfect days I can remember spent roaming and walking on the beautiful countryside (picture below). I see that learning how to be involves a lot of experiencing how not to be.

So a few of my mainstays are as follows.

1.Turning off the mainstream news and any other sort of so called news. I don’t know about you but I have had my internal threat detection system absolutely pummelled this last year and a half. And I’ve had enough. I’m now feeling very deflated by what is going on in the world and I’m not sure looking too much at the ‘big picture’ out there is healthy for me. Especially when it’s things I can’t change. The level of stress it induced over the last couple of years has forced me to take extra steps though which have turned out to be highly beneficial to me. The courage of desperation has a lot going for it! So I have turned my focus very much more towards my immediate ‘here and now’ experience.

2. Ask for help as required. I had the marvellous Marc Leavitt help me with Dzogchen practise and understanding for a couple of months and that really helped me switch channels. I’ve been listening to loads of videos by the likes of Eckhart Tolle, Adyashanti and others for support. Talking to friends about concerns and worries of course, and being around supportive people can help.

3. Do an educational or a vocational course. Even better a well-being based course – I found lots online and have done a few this year. One was career skills based but others are just for fun and learning. I started an 8 week Compassion Based mindfulness Living course 4 weeks ago and it has been lovely meeting up with others on this journey and I’m benefitting from having my knowledge topped up with many reminders about the benefits of compassion and mindfulness. It’s something I look forward to each week. I’m now looking at other courses for when this one ends and this time one that will teach me useful skills as well as passing those skills onto others.

4. Getting out into nature or even a local park and combining that with exercise. This is my personal mainstay and I’m dragged out whether I feel like it or not by the dog and always love it no matter what the weather is doing. I meet a few different friends every week in the park and I have also started doing ‘walk and talk’ therapy with counselling clients in the park too as of last week and that worked really well. Any chance to be around water, trees and fresh air is a benefit.

5. Dump activities or people that bring too much continual stress that is beyond a helpful level. (I hear a bit of stress is helpful). This is one I’m working on right now. There are other possibilities even if I know I can’t see them especially when I’m feeling anxious. Having the courage to imagine my best version of myself using my skills and talents, my best life and best job is encouraging. I watch the doors open and close for me in direct relation to the amount of fear I’m entertaining at any time.

6. Mindfulness. Being aware moment to moment how we are talking to ourselves. Are we being kind or critical and harsh? Once we are aware of how we talk to ourselves then we can adjust that rather than just letting it run in the background unconsciously. being there for every activity no matter how insignificant. Slowing down and enjoying making a cup of tea, or getting dressed or hanging out the washing.

7. Being honest about resistance and self sabotage. I’ve been behaving in an unhealthy way the last 48 hours as I mentioned. I notice that shortly after I have made nice leaps and big strides towards a happier base state, a kickback of resistance ambushes me often. So noticing when that happens and I have learning to forgive myself quickly. Sometimes I need to revisit unhappiness and stress to sicken myself of it further and help with motivation! Besides maybe I just needed a sofa day and that’s alright.

8. Reminding ourselves how far we have come and the progress we have made back to becoming ourselves. For me it’s the dropping of unhealthy coping mechanisms like comfort eating and alcohol. I can’t remember the last time I even felt like having any or drank any alcohol. Odd considering how much I loved it before. I started practising being there for myself and what I am going through with self compassion and kindness and I attribute the change to that. It’s surprising actually how self compassion can stop us abandoning ourselves and then grabbing out for illusory lifeboats that then sink us further. I do miss it a bit though sometimes but don’t think about it much.

9. Light therapy in winter. I’ve got a lovely bright ‘Lumie’ daylight lamp I got from Amazon, which gets turned on regularly once we hit November and gets used through to February as and when I want some cheerful sunshiny light. I have candles lit throughout the winter in the evenings for a warm homely glow.

10. Helping other people. This is such a massive win win activity. Helping others in whatever way I can does wonders for a sense of meaning and purpose, for feeling good/for self esteem and for reminding us that we are all in this together. It can be a kind word or compliment to a stranger or bringing shopping to an elderly person, being helpful in some way out there to help lift a little darkness out there and it can make someone’s day.

11. Play. Finding a way to bring a little playfulness into life. It can be having a fun silly dance on our own or with others or playing a game with the children or the dog.

12. Self compassion. Looking for ways to be extra kind towards ourselves. This can be a fun game actually. It can be anything from standing in front of the mirror and saying ‘I love you’ or making our house as beautiful as possible by keeping it clean/tidy or buying ourselves flowers and filling it with plants or painting a room a new colour. We can thank ourselves often for what we have come through and survived, and encourage ourselves by saying well done. We can remind ourselves of our strengths and embrace our weaknesses (or lesser strengths I like to call mine!).

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