Today is World Mental Health Day. I’ve been reflecting on how much my general mental health has improved over the last year. There are lots of reasons for this. I have more time, I feel less judged, I have spent a lot of time working through the demons that had crept in and started to take hold. There are a couple of things, though, that I think have made the biggest difference.
1) Challenging my habits. I spent last year setting myself monthly challenges – giving up and adding in all sorts of different things: booze, sugar and meat went out; meditation, painting and writing came in. Just for a month each time. And I was more successful with some challenges than others.
I set these challenges to test myself a bit and see what I might learn along the way. What I found was that breaking habits is possible and illuminating. I learnt about how I was using alcohol and sugary foods; I learnt that if I really want to make time for something I can. It has made me more mindful and conscious of decisions I make and what triggers me to make unhealthy or unhelpful choices.
It was only by really confronting these habits that I could see how my subconscious was driving some of my less helpful behaviours. It has had a significant impact on my physical health which has had a direct impact on my mental health.
2) Understanding my basic needs. This is something that I was introduced to through my training with One of Many. I was encouraged to think about what it is I need in my life to be OK. Not to be singing from the rooftops but to be able to do what needs to get done. Because if those things aren’t looked after how can I possibly deliver on everything else in my life? How can I give where I need and want to give if I am running at a deficit myself? Understanding what those needs are has taken me a while to figure out. I’ve been looking out for when I snap, feel low or get ill. What have I neglected? What needs attention?
And I’ve figured out that these six things are my foundation stones for staying well:
· Sleep – 7 hours a night
There was a time when I thought I would never get back to this. When I believed I would only ever sleep in three-hour chunks because of the kids; or when the swirl of demands on me would never stop breaking through every night. But it has happened. The children are older and now do actually sleep (miracle); I have worked hard to create calm and space before bed; and I have introduced strategies to get the crap out of my head – a kick-ass to do list system and writing writing writing! I know when I need to go to bed to cope with the early starts my firecracker daughter insists on greeting the day with. I know when to stop the caffeine. Project sleep is paying off!
· Nutritious food, including enough water, every day
I love chocolate. I love cake. I love crisps. I love chips. I still eat all of these. But I don’t rely on them. When my girls were little I genuinely felt like cake was a need. If I didn’t get my daily fix I would feel so hard done by. Cutting out sugar was a huge revelation. I felt better without it. I had MORE energy. I literally could not believe this! Eating well makes me feel better. I love cooking and trying new things and I just operate better on a good diet.
· Exercise at least three times a week (and getting outside everyday)
This is often the first thing to go out of the window when I’m busy but I am working super hard to change that because I know it is the one thing that has the biggest impact on keeping me well. Exercise clears my head, it fires me up, it helps me to keep perspective and it makes me feel strong.
· Alone time every day (minimum 30 minutes)
This one took me a long time to realise. I’m pretty extroverted and I love company but if I don’t have time by myself, quiet time in a quiet setting, I get antsy and impatient and snappy. It’s why working from home works so well for me. I savour my alone time. It allows me to be fully present when I’m back in the thick of it.
· Time to reflect through writing or meditating every day
I started doing morning pages (see The Artists Way) earlier this year. Three pages of stream of consciousness writing as close to waking up as you can. I don’t manage it every day but that is my goal. It clears my head, allows me to focus on what is important and allows flashes of insight and inspiration to be captured. I am a huge convert and would highly recommend giving it a go. I resisted it for a while – no way do I have time for that – but I do. Because I want to.
· A clean and tidy house (30 mins attention each day)
This one will be particularly hilarious for anyone who has known me for a long time. I am not a tidy person. Except I am. I am organised in every other element of my life and it is only very recently that I’ve realised I had a whole load of limiting beliefs around housework. I have taken control of the chaos and taken a conscious decision to lead in this area of my life. And it has been transformative. I feel a renewed sense of calm in my home and more able to cope when life is hectic. Little and often works for me. And if you need a kick start, check out the_organised_mum on Instagram or Facebook. Her method has helped me make a change that I sorely needed.
These things seem so simple don’t they. How could this possibly be a breakthrough? But it truly has been. Firstly, paying attention and noticing that when it is these specific things that go out of the window I will start to suffer, and if they are neglected consistently I will become unwell (when I say well and unwell here I am always talking about my physical AND mental health). By identifying them and writing them down and taking note of how I’m doing against them I give myself and those around me a clear message that these things are important. They are fundamental. They are not nice to haves. They are not luxuries. They are necessities. It is all too easy to forget them or lose sight of them when life is busy and hectic but that is exactly when they need to be heeded the most.
For me, this is self-care. This is me looking after me. And realising that this is important, knowing what I can do to keep myself well and committing to it every day has made a real difference to how I cope on a daily basis.
What would your fundamental needs be? Are you paying attention to them? If life is feeling overwhelming it may be time to pay attention to what you need each and every day to keep yourself ok. It is worth it. It will help. It’s not a luxury. It is a basic need.