Mind Yourself: 3 Little Techniques To Help You Get A Handle On Your Mental Health
Deputy editor Victoria Stokes finds out how to thrive, not just survive, in the madness.
A few months ago I felt stuck in a rut. There were areas in my life that I just wasn’t happy with and try as I might, I just couldn’t find a way to improve them. The struggle and burden of it all was getting me down, so I made the decision to contact a life coach.
It was something I’d never done before, and I had that weird excited/nervous bubble of energy in my stomach that you often get when you push yourself beyond your comfort zone. How would my problems be perceived? How comfortable would I feel disclosing all my most personal thoughts, feelings and fears to a complete stranger?
It was tricky at first, allowing someone you don’t know a window into your soul, but over the course of four sessions, there were three topics of discussion that came up over and over again. These weren’t things that were directly related to the problems I had presented per se, but instead techniques that would improve my mindset, regardless of my circumstances. They were minor tweaks that would help me navigate life, and hopefully improve it.
I soon realised that these techniques were universal; they are things we should all be embracing in our everyday lives in order to not just survive, but thrive – and with a little know how, grit and willingness, they’re fairly easy to implement.
How to handle your negative self-talk
When I spoke to my life coach, Sarah Doyle, one thing became immediately clear: I have a very nasty inner critic; a voice that chides me when I don’t succeed, warns me that pride comes before a fall, and constantly tells me that I don’t measure up – and for most of us, that voice of ridicule, doubt and fear is all too familiar. Sarah taught me how to manage it.
In our discussions she told me of the importance of being your own best friend, and far from being just a worn-out, trite piece of advice, I actually discovered how to do exactly that. “How would you comfort a friend in crisis?” Sarah asked me during one of our early sessions, and I quickly realised what she was getting at. When a friend is upset most of us will normalise their problem, emphasise with them, and remind them how important they are to us, but how often do we do the same thing for ourselves? Speaking to yourself with kindness, instead of critique, is about following the exact same steps with yourself as you would a friend. I ask Sarah to clarify this.
How we respond to ourselves in our moments of pain, fear, doubt or perceived inadequacy will make us or break us. So, my rule is simple; if you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, than don’t say it to yourself. The chances are you wouldn’t criticise your best friend for not getting the job she recently applied for and I feel reasonably confident that you wouldn’t judge her for feeling heartbroken after a shock breakup.
Of course Sarah’s right, but sometimes quietening that voice can seem damn near impossible. What then? “The first step towards showing compassion to your inner mean girl voice is to recognise that she is there and the second step would be to treat your inner mean girl as you would your best friend, with love, kindness, compassion and a positive attitude,” Sarah explains. “I also find naming your inner mean girl helps in separating these negative thoughts from ourselves. Separating our thoughts means that we give ourselves power to observe the thoughts, instead of pursuing them and ultimately identifying with them.”
I can confirm it works. Following Sarah’s advice I named my inner mean girl ‘Ciara’, and now when she rears her head with some unwelcome comments, instead of telling her to ‘Fuck off’ I try to figure out where her doubts and fears are coming from, like I would a friend.
How to self-care
No doubt you’ve heard of self-care. It’s the buzzword of 2018, conjuring up images of extravagant shopping sprees, regular mani/pedis and ordering a cheeky takeaway every time you feel a bit blue. But real self-care isn’t about dropping cash on things that will temporarily make you feel better. It’s
really about doing things that recharge and nurture you, and during my time with Sarah I released that aside from the aforementioned list of indulgences, I really wasn’t caring for myself much at all. Everything was a means to an end. Nothing was for pure enjoyment purposes only.
“Self-care looks different on everyone,” Sarah clarifies.
I love getting a manicure and a blow dry as much as the next girl, but I rarely consider this self-care. It’s a luxury, an indulgence and absolutely fun but self-care, in my experience, requires introspection and sometimes a little discomfort. Self-care is care provided ‘for you, by you’. It’s about identifying your own unique needs and taking steps to meet them.
For Sarah, self-care is less ‘treat yo’self ‘ and more ‘look after yourself ‘. “My self-care requires setting strong personal boundaries, having regular alone time to gather my thoughts and decompress after a long day or week,” she explains.
“It involves writing in my journal and long (phone-less) walks in nature. I regularly check in with myself using meditation and find that writing provides endless opportunities to process my feelings. Self-care isn’t always fun, but it is always worth it. I like to see self-care as an opportunity to pull up a corner of the rug we’ve been brushing all our problems under.
For just five minutes a day, we can gently lean into what is causing us distress and learn to soothe our pain by talking to ourselves with the same love, kindness, compassion and positive attitude we do everyone else. What we resist persists, but with the right self-care we can process and manage our discomfort in a healthy and proactive way.
Since my chats with Sarah, I’ve made some changes. These days, I block out time every evening to read a really great book and jot some thoughts down in a journal, and I put my phone on flight-mode or in the other room so I’m distraction-free. I think about how much I’d make a fuss if I had a friend coming over for the evening and how I’d plan nice things for us to do, and now I make that fuss about myself. I make an occasion out of alone time and you know what? It feels pretty good.
How to handle toxic people
Sometimes other people get us down. Their constant whining, begrudgery and finding fault can suck the positivity right out of us and being around them leaves you drained. Unfortunately, not spending time around these people isn’t always an option. Maybe they’re family, maybe you work with them or maybe beneath the negativity you know there’s a good person there. Trouble is, when you work so hard at assuming a sunny disposition, these people can make life seem like even more of a struggle, and I know how draining it can be. So how can you learn to live with them, or maybe even learn to like them?
“My Nana used to always say ‘friends are like radiators or drains’ and in my opinion life is so much better when the people that are in it add warmth,” Sarah surmises. “However, it’s not always easy managing the negative or toxic people in our lives.” Sarah encourages her clients to implement a few of the following strategies.
First, “always visit your negative friend, that way you can leave whenever you want. Arrange to meet for a short lunch at work or definite period of time to protect your energy,” Sarah suggests. Next, “practice strengthening your personal boundaries,” she recommends.
Negative people get to us, and their skeptical nature can be exhausting so visualise that you are in a snow globe or surrounded in bubble wrap to protect yourself from their hurtful or insensitive comments. You’ll feel protected by your new and stronger impenetrable outer layer.
After that, “try explicitly asking for positive news by saying ‘I’ve had a long day. Can you tell me something positive that is happening in your life right now?’” Sarah says. “If the answer is nothing, you can always try being honest with them, because friendships are a two-way street after all.”
Crucially though, the trick is to remember to have empathy. Perhaps there’s something going on with this person that’s spurning their negativity. The old adage is true: you never know what someone else is going through, so be kind. Be the radiator to their drain. Or to quote Gandhi, “be the change you expect to see in the world.”
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