One of my favourite life coaches Tony Robbins says, “Things grow or they die.”Why not make sure you grow.
I have talked about my pillars for a healthy mind before and I thought I would reflect a little more on what I believe keeps me at the peak of my mental health (at least most of the time).
My foundations are built in Health, Connection, and Self Awareness.
Health encompasses both physical and mental health. Imagine your body and brain is much like a super computer. A super computer wont run well if you don’t maintain the hardware, defragment the hard drive, keep the software up to date, remove bugs and build fire walls. These are all areas we can consider in maintaining our health.
Maintaining the hardware – I found it interesting that so many of us try to detach our physical health from our mental health. There are increasing studies that show either the benefits of exercise – https://www.thebodycoach.com/blog/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise-143.html or other physical insights such as how serotonin (the happy hormone) produced in the gut can potentially reduce anxiety https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/09/gut-feeling.
So often when people are struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges they look to solutions in addressing their mind, rather than considering and addressing a lack of exercise or unhealthy diet.
For me you cant get optimum mental health without at least a good physical health. That is not to suggest I am some elite athlete far from it. But I do try to work out a few times a week and often try to find ways to find a healthy balance in my diet.
Defrag the hard drive – You don’t have to do this for computers as much these days but in days gone by defragging the hard drive was a regular task if you wanted to improve the performance of your computer. It involved the computer ‘tidying up the memory’ or at least that is my non technical understanding. This for me is another element that contributes towards self awareness. Repressed, or miss recollected memories can be a huge contributor to our health. Understanding, and at times in a controlled way recalling the past has been very beneficial to me in becoming comfortable with the journey I have taken and understanding why at times my mind and body react the way that do. It can be a dangerous activity if not done carefully, so for me I have found it most beneficial to reflect in times when I am feeling strong, in a safe space and when needed with the support of professionals. That isn’t to say I have been able to avoid going there when I have been struggling, as part of my therapy for PTSD I very much had to explore some old wounds before I could properly heal them and at the time I was far from my normal level of positivity. I also know there is still a lot of old memories I am yet to work through. My doctor had a lovely way of describing it. That our memories are like clothes in a wardrobe, sometimes they get messy and start falling out. I would love to think one day my wardrobe will be well organised it will just take my time getting there.
So many of us get stuck in our pasts, perspective and learning to just sit with the old stuff good and bad is such an important skill.
Connection is another foundation that without it I believe you will struggle to find true happiness. I believe you can have all the joy in the world but If you don’t have some way to connect and share the joy it somewhat losses it shine. Connection can be about connecting directly specifically with one person, a friend, family member, colleague. It can also be about something bigger, about finding a sense of connection with the world. For some people that could be taking a walk in nature or under the stars at night, for others it could include supporting a charitable cause or completing a good deed, it could even be blogging. Connection for me is all about that sense of being part of something bigger, of there being more important things outside of your immediate day to day. Connection lends itself to providing perspective and increasing your self awareness.
My biggest self awareness tool is the simple question “Why?”. Why I am nervous about doing this? Why do I feel angry or annoyed? Why, Why, Why. Sometimes I cant find an answer, sometimes I find a logical reason which often helps to soften its effects, sometimes I find a deep seated history which I tend to just note and agree to return to later to address. Understanding ourselves, what drives us, what makes us happy, how we can grow is essential to having a happy mind. Next time you are feeling a strong emotion why not pause for a moment and gently ask yourself why.
Building a fire wall is another important skill, one which I have recently started to appreciate. The world is a chaotic, challenging place and this especially applies to relationships. In the same that a good fire wall allows the majority of traffic in and out, it will prevent the traffic that could possibly do serious damage.
What could do serious damage is different for each one of us and different at varying times in our lives. I have learnt it is important to acknowledge that protecting your own mental health is essential, you can not support or care for others if the toxicity of that relationship damages you. A little damage is inevitable as we all bump up against each other, bundling around our complex lives, but if something is regularly or severely harming your health build that firewall and put a stop to the traffic.
So you got all the essentials in place what’s next to reaching happiness. Next you need to ensure you are regularly elevating yourself. My Ingredients for this are two things, Joy and Challenge.
Joy is something I once believed you couldn’t work on or create, that it just found you in those unexpected moments. I know now you absolutely can and should create for yourself. I find joy in so many places, in writing, in an old movie, in a long cuddle, in the faces of my kids when they smile or laugh. Joy still finds me in those unexpected moments, I also now take the time to look for her and the revel in her pleasure and if she appears to be avoiding me I will fashion ways to encourage her in. For a long time I thought all I needed to do was to bring Joy to those around me to be happy. Now I also take the time to find Joy for myself. After all the better I know her the more equipped I am to share her with those I love.
Challenge is a space that I think we often avoid a little more than Joy. Challenge brings with it a whole host of uncomfortable feelings. I am a firm believer though that without it you cant grow and without growth we don’t reach the greatest levels of happiness in a sustained way. You can find challenge in so many ways. Learn a new hobby, develop a skill, bake a soufflé or my favourite do something that scares you. If you have thought of doing something before, perhaps singing in front of an audience, giving a presentation, telling your story but have never made it the doing, ask yourself is it only fear that has held you back. Fear of being judged, fear of failing, fear of not being as good as you think you should be. If the answer is yes, do it, don’t let fear stand in your way of happiness.
If we achieve all these things we can find growth and as Tony says things grow or they die. Will you always be happy every minute of every day no. But will you be happier than you were last week, last month last year, yes.