Geraldine O’Neill, Head of Marketing & Communications for global mental health and wellbeing program I Am Here, consultant and yoga teacher, outlines four mental wellness strategies that can support us year round:
In the last few weeks, I’ve read that the best thing to get me through Covid-19 is to take up a new skill, start a new venture, make banana bread or transform myself. I don’t know about you, but I’ve given all of these a miss. Isn’t it funny, how in a world where ‘busy’ is a badge of honour, the idea of pausing, slowing down and taking a breath never seems to ‘trend’? Yet one of the prerequisite skills during lockdown and self-isolation, has been the capacity to accept our ‘global pause’.
What’s so wrong with slowing down for a bit and using this time to reflect, so that when we return to the everyday, or try to pick up the pieces (because ‘the everyday’ doesn’t exist anymore), we do so with renewed energy and desire?
Here are four mental wellness strategies you may find helpful:
1. Say no to noise and do what really matters.
We are all eternally grateful to Zoom; I certainly am. It’s allowed me to teach yoga classes, keep up some of my fitness routines and importantly created community when we needed it most. However, there’s a lot going on out there, and it’s not always necessary to say yes to every activity wafting past our nose.
Choose what you want to be part of intentionally. The same applies to when we reenter the ‘non-virtual’ world, to avoid finding ourselves feeling overwhelmed once again.
Living intentionally takes discipline. Greg McKeown’s book ‘Essentialism’—a worthwhile read—suggests that the disciplined pursuit of less helps you regain control of your health, wellbeing and happiness. There are way more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources for. Many are vital to our wellbeing; many are completely trivial. Essentialism involves learning to tell the difference between the two, and choosing the ones that matter.
It’s okay to say no sometimes, and do what really matters.
2. Harness the power of your breath.
A quiet mind can be very helpful in a time of challenge. Our minds have a tendency to run off, either into the future or into the past. Try this simple exercise: For two to three minutes, play the role of passive observer to your thoughts, and jot down every thought that shows up. Try not to judge them; simply notice how many thoughts occur in two to three minutes and their diversity. I find it helpful to compare my thoughts to luggage arriving on a carousel at the airport—each bag representing a thought, each bag unique, just like our thoughts. As each bag passes by, so too do our thoughts.
‘The Chimp Paradox’, written by Consultant Psychiatrist, Professor Steve Peters, who specialises in optimizing the functioning of the mind, explains the struggles that take place within our minds and helps us understand how we sabotage our happiness with our thoughts.
One really useful tool to help tame our mind is our breath. When we focus on our breath, we become present. This practice is free, simple and powerful and can be done anywhere.
Close your eyes and place one hand on your belly and one hand in the centre of your chest. Take a breath and notice as you do so, the belly and chest expand on the inhale and deflate on the exhale. Then try and breathe in for the same count as you breathe out. For example, breathe in for three or four and out for three or four. Notice after a few rounds, your mind becomes less busy. Our breath is intimately linked with our mental function.
3. Find skills that help navigate the ups and downs.
Arming ourselves with some tools and skills that can support us in challenging times has never been more necessary. Compassion for ourselves fully blossoms when we actively offer care to ourselves. The acronym RAIN, first coined by Michele McDonald, is an easy-to-remember tool to support our lives.
RAIN prescribes four steps to stop us being hard on ourselves:
- Recognise what is going on
- Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
- Investigate with kindness
- Natural awareness, try not to identify with it
Victor Frankel writes, ‘between the stimulus and the response, there is a space, and in that space lies our power and our freedom.’ Allowing for something creates a space that enables us to see it more clearly, awakens our caring nature and helps us make wiser choices in our life.
4. Practice Acceptance
Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our lives as they are. That can be tricky because it requires us to move away from self-deception to reality. The thing about acceptance is, it really changes everything but it’s not easy and is a life-long training.
Acceptance is less a cognitive (brain-led process). It is about experiencing our feelings, like sadness, loneliness or anxiety. We often seek refuge in trying to replace feelings with other feelings, or get busy with something else. We all have catalogues of unattended-to emotional experiences because of this tendency. Practicing acceptance should not be confused with resignation. Acceptance enables us to find clarity, release tension from mind and body and restore calm. Most of us easily accept positive emotions;validation, excitement, intellectual stimulation, but the feelings of heartache, sadness, disappointment and grief, we tend to avoid, and understandably. All are valid, and of course sometimes it’s simply not the right time to address them. However, when we practice acceptance, we are deliberately choosing to slow right down to welcome all experiences and explore them with curiosity.
I Am Here is an evidence-based program that is changing beliefs and behaviours about mental health. As we adapt to a changing world, I Am Here is available to businesses and communities for free until October 1. Join our Tribe today at: demo.iamheretribe.com/join
It’s ok not to feel ok; and it’s absolutely ok to ask for help.