Given it is Mental Health Week 2015, I’d like to share this blog below that I wrote for Mental Health Week 2014 as it was one of those ones that received a lot of positive feedback from readers and struck a chord with many. I like to think in this case it was popular not due to earth shattering new insights , but simply because as a psychologist I dared to be open, honest and authentic about my promises to support my own mental health and wellbeing. What promises will you make for yourself in Mental Health week? You can also read my follow up blog on my reflections regarding my fulfillment of these promises and the answers to a common question posed by clients to a psychologist “How do you cope?”
As part of Mental Health Week, I want to join in the national initiative and “make a promise to myself” regarding my mental health.
And firstly, I want to applaud the 2014 theme: “Mental Health begins with you”.
This catchy and pertinent message for World Mental Health Day certainly forced me to stop and think about the commitment we all need to make to the maintenance of our mental health and wellbeing.
I often say to my clients when discussing mental health concerns, that it is helpful to break down the myths regarding our perception of mental illness.
Every one of us is prone to mental health challenges, even psychologists
I like to remember that we are all human and we are all capable of feeling vulnerable, fragile, worthless, anxious, rejected and abandoned even in the face of evidence of success, connectedness and strength.
Even as psychologists, with all the knowledge and experience in working in this field, it is easy to forget how quickly things can deteriorate if we don’t keep on top of our mental health and reach out for support when needed.
The reality is that if you imagine your mental health as being represented on a continuum measuring your degree of wellbeing, mental health and success with daily functioning, each and every one of you, like me, will move up and down that continuum at different times in life based on a whole range of internal and external factors.
So even if you are one of those 4 in 5 people who has not been diagnosed with a mental illness, it is quite possible that at some point in your life you may run the risk of developing signs and symptoms that test all of your usual coping mechanisms and impact on daily functioning.
Why do so many of us suffer in silence?
Due to the stigma associated with discussing mental health and identifying problems, there are many people that suffer alone with anxiety, depression and other forms of mental illness only to be diagnosed in their 40’s or 50’s after a consistent repetitive cycle has been identified by a family member, partner or health professional.
Why is this?
We get taught to discuss physical concerns, to look after ourselves physically, to attend to physical injuries, to take time off when our body is giving us signs of being unwell, but all too often we fail to identify the telltale signs that our mental health is deteriorating until we are in crisis.
As a psychologist, I often notice that people most come to me when the wheels fall off and they are in desperate need for help.
Unlocking the power of preventative mental health
So what do you need to do to keep yourself on an even keel, to keep functioning well in your work and personal life and bounce back when things get challenging?
What are the practices, habits or actions needed to live a happier, fulfilling life of contentment and purpose?
How may we prevent reaching a place of burnout, sinking into a depressive or suicidal state or becoming highly anxious?
Today as part of Mental Health Week, I would like to join the challenge of publicly sharing my mental health promise to myself.
In fact, here are 10 promises to myself that I am committing to as a means of improving self care, maintaining mental health and wellbeing and giving me the best opportunity to live a meaningful and purposeful life right now.
My 10 Promises for maintaining mental health and wellbeing
1. Healthy sleep hygiene.
I want to sleep well for between 7 to 8 hours each night. I want to make it a priority to follow a healthy sleep hygiene routine, including some mindfulness meditation prior to sleep to assist with letting go of the day’s events and being present.
2. Nurturing my body.
I commit to maintaining healthy eating, drinking lots of water and consistently moving my body. I will aim to be mindful of the nutrition that goes into my body, minimizing sugar intake and processed foods, drinking more water than my mind tells me I need and moving my body in some form each day (between 30 mins – 1 hour minimum).
I want to enjoy good food mindfully, notice the benefits of hydration and feel the difference in my physical state, energy levels and mood when I walk, go the gym, swim or dance.
3. Honouring my values daily.
I commit to living my life by my values, prioritising what is important and committing to actions that honour each of these values on a daily basis. I want to ensure that the balance gets addressed quickly if certain areas are neglected.
I want to be proud of and own the fact that I am a driven psychologist and business woman passionate about working with people and bringing forth change, a singer who loves to perform and appreciates creativity in multiple forms and a woman who is grateful for being alive and healthy and places a great importance and value on all of the relationships in her world .
I want to ensure that I am doing my best to live the way I wish to be remembered by those left behind when I die. I want to ensure that I prioritise having fun and pleasurable activities as well as productivity.
4. Fronting up to challenges.
I want to do my best to face challenging situations rather than avoid them, no matter how uncomfortable, tedious, boring, painful or difficult.
This means breaking through the desire to procrastinate sometimes, facing conflict, taking calculated risks even when nervous about the consequences, not shying away from being vulnerable with others, prioritizing tasks and committing to them, admitting the limits of my knowledge and skills and being prepared to ask for help.
5. Embracing change.
I want to always be open to embracing change and believe in my ability to adapt, be flexible and grow through it. I want to be able to let go of past disappointments, failures and hurts and keep moving forward in the direction of my values with persistence and determination.
I want to always see the learning, be willing to accept feelings of uncertainty and let go of the struggle to hold on to the familiar when it keeps me stuck.
6. Cultivating greater mindfulness.
I want to live in the moment as much as possible, incorporating mindfulness into daily practice through meditation and everyday tasks such as eating, showering, having a conversation, walking, performing and in my work. I want to learn to accept and let go of unhelpful thoughts, accept discomfort and improve my ability to focus attention on one task at a time.
I want to experience life as more enriching as a result of getting as much out of every moment as possible. I want to let go of distractions quickly and get better at coming back to the moment.
7. Giving voice to my creativity.
I want to continue to make music and creativity an important part of my life. I want to keep singing, keep performing, keep appreciating music and other artistic forms. I want to keep the commitment to developing as a performer, being willing to step up to opportunities that come my way or that I create and be open to new challenges.
I want to allow music to be one of my key forms of expression and something to share with like minded people, a place where I may express what I feel authentically and communicate in a way that crosses barriers, touches others or provokes thought.
8. Setting healthy boundaries.
I want to switch off and set healthy boundaries within my work and personal life to protect relationships, provide high quality care to my clients, maintain self care and encourage healthy patterns of communication. I want to be attuned to my own needs and others through being assertive, prioritise my self care routine and turn off from work on a daily basis so that relaxation and balance is possible.
9. Fostering meaningful relationships.
I want to keep fostering a good healthy social network and community around me. I want to limit contact with people that have the capacity to affect mental health and wellbeing and influence behaviour negatively (what Kelly Wilson, psychologist and renowned academic, recently described in a workshop as “social toxins”).
I want to foster equal friendships and relationships with people who are like minded, healthy, demonstrate respect, who are loyal and trustworthy, fun, thought provoking, positive, have integrity and the willingness to be honest, vulnerable and authentic. I want to be able to demonstrate appreciation for those I love and give to them in ways that are meaningful, facilitating a life with purpose and meaning.
10. Seeking support as needed
I commit to seeking advice and support when struggling with things before it affects my mental health significantly so as to prevent situations getting worse. I want to be comfortable to seek help from health professionals, colleagues, friends or family as needed. I want to also be able to show myself self compassion, treating myself with kindness, love and appreciation as much as I do for others on a daily basis and particularly during challenging times.
Over to you. What will your mental health promises be?
They are my 10 promises. What are yours?
Do yourself a favour and make at least one promise to yourself.
If you feel like it, make a commitment to sharing your promise publicly. Take a moment to share it on social media here https://1010.org.au/promise/add of if you prefer just make the commitment to yourself privately .
Each and everyone of us has the capacity to connect as a community and share in this initiative, breaking down barriers and educating each other in the process.
Join me on this journey toward improved self care and mental health awareness
I look forward to sharing more about each of these areas including my personal reflections on my practice over time.
I encourage you to translate what is relevant to you and develop your own best practices for maintaining wellbeing.
Like anyone, I am not perfect and some of these practices I continue to keep working at and practicising with old habits of thinking and behaviour sometimes getting in the way … I think it is what we call work in progress…..
If you or any loved ones are experiencing any concerns with your mental health and could benefit from assistance, at Attuned Psychology our psychologists are here to help you with the tools necessary to keep the promises that you want to make and provide a safe environment to discuss your concerns and achieve the life you want. Feel free to contact us with any further questions about how our psychologists may assist you in maintaining your mental health.
Author: Alexandra Frost, Clinical Psychologist
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