Mental Health:
A Case of Debits & Credits

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Like most of us these past seven months, my life has been pretty up and down mentally and emotionally. From the initial nervous feelings accompanying, ‘what does that mean?’ when lockdown measures were introduced to the simple pleasure of walking on empty streets watching Spring blossom.

As someone who practices and helps others practice wellbeing, I also felt the pressure of needing to be a role model and to identify ways I could support others. (I’m a qualified yoga teacher and have taught and practiced a peaceful martial art for the past 20 years)

 

I started baking and distributing biscuits to my neighbours and checking in with them and provided my yoga classes free (virtually) for six months. These small actions opened some wonderful opportunities to connect with new people and feel I was contributing in some little way.

In recognition of #worldmentalhealthday on Saturday, I’ve spent time reflecting on wellbeing and the lessons I’ve learnt that have helped me to navigate uncertainty, cultivate resilience and stay well.

First lesson: Make YOU your #1 priority

Just like the briefing you get before a flight, putting your own mask on first is critical as you’ll be unable to support others if you don’t prioritise your wellbeing. From eating the right food, getting enough sleep, bringing movement into your day and finding time to rest and recharge, all these practices will help you face the inevitable challenges with more resilience and equanimity.

I found making a daily routine of exercise before starting work gives me more energy and helps me feel good too! After the first month of lockdown I also got much more disciplined with my eating and avoiding snacking between meals. More recently I’ve identified meetings that I can do whilst walking and make sure I get some time outdoors whenever possible.

 

Second Lesson: It’s OK to not be OK

No one is immune to bad days/hours/moments (even if they tell you they are). Accepting that we will rollercoaster between emotional states and sometimes the smallest things will unsettle us is healthier than trying to present a stoic ‘I’m fine’ façade whilst underneath we are paddling like crazy just to stay afloat.

When I started workshops by asking people to rate how they were feeling, we had some great conversation with people talking more openly about challenges and feelings. Bringing feelings into conversations is a great way to check in with and support others.

A colleague shared recently that she found asking ‘how are you feeling’ far preferable to ‘how are you’ as it led to more open conversations. In the UK, we often ask ‘how are you’ but almost don’t wait for a reply before moving on, so it’s worth taking time to pause and show we care about their response.

I love this quote by American poet J M Storm -

“She is a beautiful piece of broken pottery, put back together by her own hands. And a critical world judges her cracks while missing the beauty of how she made herself whole again.”

 

 

It reminds me of Kintsuai, the Japanese art of mending broken objects using gold or silver epoxy. They believe that when something has suffered damage, the flaw is seen as a unique piece of the object's history and it becomes more beautiful.

Consider this when you feel a bit broken. Celebrate your scars- they're a unique and special part of who you are!

 

Third Lesson: Move into the Space

During a body movement workshop last year, the instructor had us moving around a crowded room noticing the challenge and stress of finding a space to move. He shared his experience of trying to move through a crowded airport and the impact of simply looking for and moving into a space. I have since used this strategy and it’s changed completely the way I navigate crowds!

Similarly, with a crowded mind or crowded diary, are we looking for the space or simply being overwhelmed by stuck thinking or task overload? Seeking the chinks of ‘space’ in our thinking or schedule can help us reframe the way we think and feel about situations and move us towards possibility. This shift in perspective, where you avoid obsessing about problems and look instead for the space around them, can help you move more easily towards a potential solution.

Fourth Lesson: Find or Build a Tribe

Whilst I have spent lockdown with my partner and youngest son, others have had to manage in a solo bubble and social contact has been limited. It’s certainly shown me the importance of having a tribe- a group of like-minded people you can reach out to.

 

Just having some female company for me was important and I appreciated a girls Friday evening zoom call set up early in lockdown with colleagues. I also started a weekly family call, as many others have done. What amazes me about that is, our family are quite dispersed, my parents over 2 hours away and my younger brother and family living in Connecticut US, and none of us had ever thought of doing that before!

Fifth Lesson: Actively Manage your Resilience Bank Account

So many blogs have been written about finding or creating balance, and sometimes that itself becomes a stress when it doesn’t seem possible! Perhaps a healthier way to think is to acknowledge that balance isn’t always possible day to day. There will be times when the balance is off, when you have a big project or deadline to deliver for example. Looking for the bigger picture can help, and I like to think about that in terms of a bank account. I may need to explain that one a bit…

If you are in credit in your ‘resilience bank account’, when a 'big bill' (say a setback or problem) arrives, you are in a better position to manage than if you were already overdrawn (low energy/resilience). Thinking about how you 'pay in' (make credits) to keep your bank account topped up is a useful way to take the necessary steps to keep your resilience account in credit, or to acknowledge when you’re nearing the ‘red’ and it’s time to take defensive action.

If you could get those stats on your smartphone every day, just like your bank balance, it might help you manage staying ‘in the black’. Imagine a reminder from your friendly bank manager- ‘Karen I notice you are close to your limit, have you thought about topping up today?’ Well, that might be a thought too far, but I hope you get my drift.

 

Finally, listening for what you say to yourself, which is commonly a much more critical script than one you’d ever say to someone else, ask yourself ‘is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?’ This can help you shift your inner voice to a healthier, kinder place. Always be kind to yourself first.

What are your top tips that help you thrive?

Karen Stone

Published on October 8, 2020