As we come to the end of 2017 I wanted to share some of the journey I’ve been on this year and what has helped me through a very challenging period. I hope that in doing so there may be some new or different things to try that you might be drawn to or you may be reminded of something you know to be good for you, but for whatever reason, haven’t been doing.
The reason it’s been a while since my last blog post is that I’ve simply had a lot to process having lost two people very close to me earlier this year. In March, ten days after I lost my friend, Francesca, to suicide, my loving grandmother was suddenly taken into hospital. She then passed away on the day of Francesca’s funeral.
I wouldn’t be lying if I said it’s been one of the most difficult times of my life. Although I thought I was doing ok in the summer, I simply didn’t give myself the time and space needed to process all that happened and didn’t realise the ways in which it would affect me. As a result, it is unsurprising that the underlying emotional stress and suffering started to take its toll and I found myself tiptoeing on the edge of depression.
I work a part time job alongside running QuietSphere and realised that outside of this, I needed to make self-care a priority. I decided to focus my efforts on looking after my mental health and to try some new resources and behaviours that I thought would help to centre my mind again and help me to build my resilience. I was determined to find the gift in, what was at the time, a very low place to be in and am pleased to say that making a very conscious and determined effort to rebalance my mind, body and spirit has made a huge difference and I am in a much better place than I have been.
Outside of eating well, drinking very little alcohol and caffeine, being open to support from close friends and keeping as active as possible, here are some of the things I tried. Some of them may seem a bit ‘out there’ and may even raise some scepticism, but what I am sharing continues to help people all over the world and certainly worked for me. 🙂
Repeating affirmations either out loud or in the mind helps us focus on the positive things in life and to believe in the potential of something we wish to achieve or attract into our lives. Reaffirming positive intentions and thoughts can help to retrain the brain away from negative thoughts to create new neural pathways which then leads to new beliefs and behaviours. I have been using affirmations on YouTube, but you can write your own that are more personal to you. There are many different affirmation videos out there and it’s worth clicking play on a few to see if the words and music are appropriate for you and if you like the speaker’s voice. It’s easy to be put off by a lot of them! I try to repeat affirmations in the morning as I am getting ready and before I go to bed at night.
Listening to spiritual leaders
Although I wouldn’t classify myself as religious, I do value the guidance and wisdom that spiritual teachings give and how the words help to put things into perspective and make life’s challenges easier to cope with. I am big fan of Eckhart Tolle and the Power of Now, his first book which teaches us the importance and simplicity of being present to each moment rather than focusing on the past or the future. Through this practice we can learn to ease our suffering and emotional pain. When feelings of weepiness and intense emotions have arisen I have learnt not to give them energy, but simply to acknowledge them and be present with them until they subside. I realised I had been focusing on them and giving them energy which only made the feelings more intense and harder to manage. I always turn to Eckhart in difficult times and his teachings always help. You can find a number of his talks on YouTube along with those of spiritual teachers such as the Dalai Lama and Mooji.
Emotional Freedom Technique
EFT, otherwise known as ‘tapping’ or ‘psychological acupressure’, and aomething I’ve been meaning to try for several years, but hadn’t until this autumn. EFT works by using a tapping technique at key points along the body’s meridian lines (the energy channels along which vital life energy flows, well known in healing traditions in China, India, Japan and Tibet). In doing so, this releases blockages in our energy system that may be holding us back or causing some sort of emotional suffering. There are practitioners who specialise in this form of therapy, however, I recommend Brad Yates’ YouTube channel ‘Tap with Brad’. His free videos cover a wide range of issues that may be causing emotional blockages and I found them to be quite powerful. As you look through them you will be likely to drawn to the ones that are relevant to you.
Cutting out processed sugar
As far as nutrition goes I have become a lot more conscious in the past few years of the brain-gut connection and how sugar consumption has been linked to increased levels of anxiety and depression and reduced cognitive function. I understand the importance of good nutrition for positive mental wellbeing; I generally avoid processed foods and sugary drinks, eat a mainly plant based diet, and take high quality vitamins and probiotics. I’ve always had a sweet tooth though, so not wanting to make life more difficult for myself than it already was, I decided to cut out all cakes, biscuits, sweets and desserts in November. Not that I ate a lot anyway, but these were all ‘comfort foods’ which I knew I was better off without.
It took a lot of determination, but it was worth it. At the end of the month my body felt great and my energy levels had increased. I want to hold on to that good feeling, but don’t want to cut sweet treats out of my diet entirely as I really enjoy the occasional slice of home-made cake or good quality chocolate! So, I am now only having them in moderation on the weekend and thoroughly enjoying them when I do!
A daily practice
What I have come to realise through all that has happened this year is that looking after our mental health really is a daily practice made up of positive habits, conscious effort and self-awareness. We have to be so careful with what we put into our minds and our bodies, and more aware of our thoughts, behaviours and environment. I have a come long way with the help of these and other practices and resources, but know the journey isn’t over yet. I am optimistic about putting self-care first for a positive and brighter 2018 and to continuing my quest to empower students with practical information and guidance for positive mental and physical wellbeing.