It is World Mental Health day today. Every year I hope that the mental health of those around me will have improved but with the cost of living, fears about war, fear mongering about new strains of Covid, and the general stresses of work life balance, many of my friends are unfortunately in a worse place.
As many people know who have followed my blogs for a while on FB, my mental health was in a terrible state in 2010 and I had a complete breakdown due to the bullying and back stabbing culture at work, going through a custody court case which drained any spare money I had (and meant that I had to take on more debt), and the normal stresses of being a single parent trying to juggle a career in a difficult new stressful job with lots of responsibilities. This is what started me on my journey for simplicity and enforced my frugality so that I could live on my small work pension.
Thankfully since then, although I will have the odd day or two when I am struggling, my mental health has been so much better. I believe that this is because unlike before, I now live in the present. Previously I had internalised all the bitterness, hurt and rejection from my childhood and relationships of the past, focussed on what had gone wrong with my life, and lived my life through that lens. Any happiness that I could envisage would be in the future when I would hopefully find a partner, change job, or retire.
Dwelling on the past, or living for the future, make it difficult to appreciate any joy that is happening at the moment. Learning to be mindful of the moment really helped me reduce depression, reduced my stress and anxiety, and freed me from all the things that had not been as I wanted in the past. Here are some of the ways that I remain in the present.
Focussing on one thing at a time
One of my skills is that I am brilliant at multi tasking and would constantly be juggling lots of tasks. The dinner would be cooking whilst I tidied, listened to my messages and got things ready for the children the next day. This helped me very productive but time went in a whirl and it was exhausting. I now focus on one thing at a time and absorb myself in that experience as research shows that this will help me remember details more clearly (I often had brain fog before) and be less stressed. I used to cook because I had to in order to feed my children. I now feel how much joy I find in cooking a meal from scratch.
Noticing what is around me
When I was busy rushing around I did not notice the beauty in my garden, the lady across the street that was struggling, the shop that had closed down in the village, or the decorating that needed doing. I now take quiet time to notice what is happening around me and this has made me more able to notice changes in people’s behaviour, and the seasons around me. I can then take actions before it is too late which causes less stress.
Having gratitude every day for the small things
Once upon a time I only focussed on what was bad in my life and not on the things that were really good. I was lucky in so many ways but did not realise it. When you only focus on the bad it is easy not to notice the things in your life that could make you feel happy. Every day I now think of 5 things that I am grateful for from the day before. When I am really starting to slip into a bad place I do a brain dump of everything that I am grateful for on a big piece of paper and this helps me see what is good in my life when my positive mindset is slipping.
I now accept my life for what it is and do not wish for something that it isn’t. That does not mean that I do not try to improve it, but I let go of things that I can not change. I think that this becomes easier with age.
Seeking positive support
I used to be really independent, hide my true feelings, and never ask for help. In fact I was proud that I did everything alone and would often refuse help when offered. That was a very lonely place to be. I am now more truthful about my feelings and will seek support from the positive people that I have intentionally surrounded myself with. This helps me be more present with my feelings and thoughts in that moment and makes me feel that I am not alone. I now also spend much more time with family, and their love, and them ‘checking in’ helps. I also love helping them without reward as this helps me feel good about myself. I know so many older people that are bitter as their family do not spend enough time with them. The fact that my family are happy and there if I really need them is enough. I accept that they have busy lives and I am not their priority now in this stressful world and relish the time I spend with them.
Practicing mindfulness through time alone and meditation
Every day I make sure that I have time on my own to be quiet. I don’t meditate in the way that most people do, but I do walking meditations when I am in the woods. This helps my concentration and makes it easier to notice what is happening in the moment. I also always slow myself down if possible to ensure that I am focussed on what I am doing.
Reflect on my day and be mindful of most things that I do
I no longer make big plans for the future but focus more on daily and weekly plans and intentions. By knowing that I will be reflecting on my day or week, I am more mindful of what I am doing so that I know where I want to improve or tweak things that are impacting on my mental health. An example of this is that when I reflected I realised that when ever I met a certain friend, although I had a good time, my mood would often plummet afterwards as she would undermine me in a jokey way. This helped me make changes in the amount of times I see her, and I usually only meet her when I am in a really happy place, or when other people are around.
Have breaks away from technology and from my normal routine
We have regular breaks away to the seaside and during those times I purposely look at my phone a lot less, and it is nice to walk and live in a different environment. We take minimal possessions with us so that life does not feel cluttered. We are then able to cope with life more easily when we get home as all the stress and cluttered thoughts have been eliminated from our heads.
Spend time in nature
Eco therapy is my saviour. When ever I feel the symptoms of depression starting to fill my mind I wander into the woods or sit by a waterfall and practice ecotherapy. I close my eyes and use my senses individually. I notice what I can smell, then what I can hear, what I can feel around me (like the breeze or the sun or stones etc), what I can taste when I breath deeply, and then what I can see when I open my eyes.
Take regular exercise.
I am now in my sixties and so the days of taking part in team and extreme sports are over for me as my body aches too much the next day, but I still walk most days and try to move as much as I can. I set myself challenges to move more or increase my steps and often, when alone, couple my walking with being mindful and really noticing what is around me. I do this through taking photos and looking for things to forage.
Are you living in the moment? Are you taking time for yourself? What do you find helps your mental health?