It’s difficult to find someone who is not struggling with their mental health in some way or another at the moment. Psychologist DR KRISTIN VIKJORD writes seven prescriptions to make every day a little easier …
When we have emotional difficulties to deal with, we experience restlessness, an uneasy feeling which takes hold of us deeply and very uncomfortably. Inner restlessness can make you very impatient and creates resistance towards what is happening in your inner landscapes. This resistance in turn makes you feel even more unease, more restlessness, and more impatience.
Through the practice of patience, we build tolerance and help ourselves overcome difficulty instead of becoming overwhelmed by whatever situation we are facing. We learn to rest in the knowledge that difficulty comes and goes, and that whatever the intensity of our unease may be, it will not last forever. You can believe and hold hope that your symptoms are not going to last forever.
Remind yourself every day to be patient. You may feel you are ready for change and it’s taking too long: remind yourself that this process takes time. Remind yourself how many years it took you to integrate your regular ‘unhealthy’ pattern of thinking or behaving into your life, then allow yourself time to unravel that and learn new, more skilful ways of being and relating to yourself. Be patient with becoming patient!
Start by making a written agreement with yourself. Put this somewhere visible so that it reminds you of your intentions frequently and easily. You could even create a schedule for yourself, and plan check-in moments to evaluate your progress. Feelings of inner restlessness and impatience can be intense. Take it step by step, hour by hour, day by day. You don’t need to focus on everything that you want to change. Focus on the micro-steps and allow yourself to master these, one by one. Commit to the process, not the outcome. And most of all commit to yourself in the long term.
Practising kindness can be challenging, especially if your sense of self-worth is low or if you feel very negatively towards yourself. When unease is high, the inner critic and self-judgement are high. Make an agreement with yourself that you can practise this now, even if you cannot feel it or quite believe in it, and then take in the message at some point in the future when you fell more receptive to it. Practising kindness involves strengthening your goodwill muscles and positive feelings. The practice won’t necessarily make you feel good immediately, but it will help you build a nurturing relationship with yourself so that, in turn, you can have a better relationship with others.
Our culture is infused with values of pious hardship, and kindness towards ourselves is far from the social norm we have grown up with and are used to. In most contemporary yoga classes, you’ll hear about ahimsa, a Sanskrit word which translates as “non-violence”. In yoga practice this means not pushing yourself in challenging postures, accepting yourself, your body, and your thoughts and emotions as they are in the moment. In mindfulness practices you’ll hear about metta, a Pali word which translates as lovingkindness. In the same vein as ahimsa, metta also encourages us to wish for health, peace, and joy, not only for loved ones and others but also for ourselves. Wishing this for ourselves is often the most difficult part of a metta practice.
The schools of thinking these practices come from are infused with the idea that being good to others is the essence of being. Heartfulness, compassion, and love to all beings are fundamental to the Eastern belief systems, and these balance the perfectionistic ways of our Western society beautifully. These practices allow for a different inner voice on the strict, ambitious, results-oriented one we are used to. This gentler tone legitimises a more generous, kind attitude.
Start being your own best friend, meeting yourself with kindness. This kindness is health-promoting and it will create more understanding for and acceptance of your current state. Over time it might increase your feelings of appreciation and gratitude as you deliberately invite yourself to take stock and notice what resources you have accessible to yourself, instead of drowning yourself in what you don’t have or what is scarce. Formal practices you could do are meditations of metta or loving-kindness, self-compassion, or visualisations of opening the heart. Informal practices such as using your skills and efforts to help others is a way to remind yourself of your strengths and abilities. Start with ten minutes twice a week. Gradually increase to daily practice over the next month.
Human beings are group-oriented. We thrive in herds. Finding your squad, your crew, or your gang is therefore more important than you might think. Who we feel connected to and where we belong can change throughout our lives, but there are always a few people who mean more to us than others. Even for those of us who enjoy our alone time and can be alone without feeling lonely, our relationships are important. Togetherness is about understanding that investing in relationships is a matter of emotional wellbeing and is worth putting effort into. If you feel left out or like you don’t belong, then ask yourself what you do to nurture the relationships you have. How do you engage with others? How do you nourish the relationships in your life? Feeling like you belong, and feeling togetherness, requires reciprocity. Despite the business of our day-to-day lives, it is of utmost importance that we invest in togetherness. Think about the relationships you have. How are they meaningful? Spend time with people. Be social. Care about someone; engage in their lives. Invite someone for a cup of tea and a chat. Show interest in them, they will show interest in you.
Nature is good for us. The sensory input that we receive in natural environments is less intense than in cities, and being near natural elements – water, earth, plants, air – affects our state of mind positively. Biophilic theory and attention-restoration theory both show that we thrive, function best, and are generally happier when we are connected to and interacting with nature. Sensing the weather, taking in the views, and being close to other living beings has been proven to have a positive impact on our mental health. Research shows nature has positive effects on mental fatigue, stress-related conditions, and focus and attention issues, as it increases a sense of ease and inner peace and helps with concentration. In addition to the advantages of simply getting some fresh air and moving the body when we are in nature, there are other benefits to heading outdoors, and exposure to nature can be seen as a restorative and health-promoting activity. It’s also free and sustainable.
Take a walk on the beach or in fields. Go to the park. Hike in the mountains or swim outdoors, take care of your own garden. Look at the trees and the leaves blowing in the wind. Gaze at the sky. Engage with nature for a minimum of 15–30 minutes daily, more when you feel overwhelmed.
A potent pause is when you intentionally take time out from your daily routine. You do something to give yourself a sense of ease, and in doing so you stimulate parasympathetic activation of the nervous system. You literally press the body’s “pause” button. This is especially valuable in these modern times when we are constantly on the go, rushing from one thing to the next, and feeling stressed-out about most things in our lives. Stimulating the relaxation response is beneficial and it promotes mental health and emotional wellbeing. Pausing is when you let your mind consolidate, take in and digest impressions, considerations, experiences.
Pauses can be anything that invite you to step out of the reactive mind or autopilot mode. You can focus on taking a walk, listening to music, dancing, or cooking – any activity that you can enjoy with some mindfulness and attentiveness. Then include one formal practice here: choose any structural breathwork practice, as these are very efficient in hitting the body’s pause button. Look for breathing with prolonged exhales.
This prescription recommends 30 minutes daily in which you take time for a potent pause. The aim is to invite some restful mental space into yourself by allowing contemplation without becoming caught up in ruminating thoughts. Allow yourself some midday rest or do some end-of-the-day journaling (spontaneous writing). Or go for a short walk in the morning and evening. For breath-work, commit to 10–15 minutes in the morning and in the evening.
Any movement that invites you into gentle flows and increases body awareness through strengthening the felt sense of the body can have a positive impact on your emotional wellbeing. Slow-flowing movement activities such as dancing or tai chi work well. Alternatively, you could try gentle yoga practices such as mindful yoga or yoga therapy – just practise any movement of your choice daily for 15–30 minutes a day. At times, you’ll probably want to shy away from it. Go to a class anyway, book an individual online session, seek out a yoga therapist or another type of movement therapy.
Despite the many health benefits, it is not always helpful to practise yoga. It’s important to find which practices can be beneficial in what circumstances or for what conditions. Make sure you find a teacher with a sound knowledge of the practice as well as its therapeutic implications for mental and emotional health.
Studies show that playfulness supports multiple aspects of wellbeing and that it impacts overall satisfaction in life. Playfulness as a trait is closely related to extroversion and emotional stability, and it’s been shown to be positively related to the ability to cope with difficult circumstances. Playfulness also gives us perspective. Engaging in a creative activity with playfulness daily will strengthen your emotional wellbeing.
Choose an activity you enjoy or love, like listening to music, dancing, climbing, cooking with friends, or anything creative that lights your spark. Children have a way of being playful through their physical bodies, actively exploring and interacting with their surroundings while simultaneously enjoying themselves fully. This is definitely health-promoting and you could let it inspire you. This is embodied mindfulness. In the beginning, make time for playfulness at least once or twice a week. Gradually work towards bringing playfulness into your everyday life. Ten minutes might be enough. The most important part is the consistency and frequency, so learn to keep inviting moments of playfulness into your daily activities?
Inner Spark, Finding Calm in a Stressful World, by Kristin Vikjord, €14.99, is published by Bluebird.
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