16 Oct World Mental Health Day
World Mental Health Day was on the 10thOctober. It was a day to reflect and do something for our mental health, particularly given the impact of COVID-19. The normal stresses of life have been amplified by the uncertainty created by COVID-19 and the impact on our mental health is often discussed in the press.
Looking after our mental health, is a bit like topic of safe sex. We all know we should practice safe sex but given the rising incidence of sexually transmitted infections, it would seem safe sex is more theorised than practiced.
So, with our mental health. We talk about it. We know when we are stressed, we should breath deeply and go for a walk. When we feel anxious, we know we should count our breaths and practice mindfulness. But the realty for most of us, myself included is so different. When I am stressed, breathing deeply is the last thing I think of when my mind is flooded with the more instantaneous desire to wallop the person or thing causing my stress out of my universe into a distant galaxy.
When we struggle with depression, it can be trite to talk about looking after our mental health when a successful day is getting out of bed in the morning and getting dressed never mind anything else.
While I do believe we need to be reminded about our mental health, I know from my own struggles that blogs that give well meaning but often trite advice about what we should do for our mental health only added to my sense of depression and being a failure.
I didn’t want this blog to be another list of what you should do for your mental health. Often looking after our mental health becomes another “to do” project amid a busy life. If you are a perfectionist, it is doubly worse. You are often convinced other people are managing their mental health much more perfectly than you are and so you feel you are even more of a failure and have to try doubly hard to manage your mental health.
Perhaps rather than beating ourselves up, we need to learn to be gentle to ourselves.
Now I am the first to admit, I am not good at this. As a man, I struggle with gentleness. I don’t want to be seen as weak and the echoes of the school yard taunts of pansy and poofter are still loud enough to occasionally jar me.
Yet, given my own journey and my professional background in mental health nursing journeying alongside people who have experienced mental health issues, I keep coming back to the importance of being gentle on ourselves.
I like to think of gentleness as a nudge towards growth, towards health. We are often so hard on ourselves. If you are like me, you know the commentary that goes on in our minds. “I should do this, or I should do that” or “I shouldn’t do this, but I will do it anyway” and then invariably we feel guilty because of what we did or didn’t do.
We need to learn to be gentle towards ourselves. We will fail, we will make mistakes, we will mess up at times. In these times, it is about being gentle towards ourselves. This doesn’t mean, we sit back and shrug our shoulders and say “oh well, poor me”
Being gentle on ourselves means we take responsibility for what we have done, but it also means we ask the question, “what can I learn about this situation that will help me become the best version of myself that I want to be?”
Being gentle on ourselves means we learn to take time for ourselves. Time that we spend in healthy ways nudging ourselves towards being mentally healthy. It can be difficult to take for ourselves sometimes without feeling guilty or that we should be doing something else. This is why on our Instagram posts for World Mental Health Day, we suggested 3 minutes. 3 for me
Three minutes is about the length of a song. When our favourite song comes on, we often stop or slow down what we are doing so we can listen, perhaps even sing along. This is one example of being gentle on ourselves.
World Mental Health Day has passed, and I still need to ask, how are you gently nudging yourself along the path of your own mental health? Are we taking “3 for me” throughout the day?