Mental Health? We all have it. How are you managing yours?

What do you think about when you hear or read the expression “mental health”?  Do you think about your own experiences of joy, happiness, sadness, jealousy, feeling down, low or depressed, longing, elation, satisfaction, desire, hope and any other emotional state you might experience? Or, do you only think of depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), bipolar, suicidal feelings or self-harm?

A new Understanding of Mental Health

Because, mental health is the daily experiences of feelings, sensations and emotions across a spectrum that ranges from mild to intense and positive to negative.  For so long, the new discipline of Psychology studied the human condition at its most dysfunctional.  It created models of mental health skewed towards a lack of function and normality.  Now, Psychologists are researching the functional mind as well, high achieving people, not just those paralysed by trauma and abuse, happiness not only depression, the neuroscience of joy as well as the factors that contribute to low self-esteem.

We all have Mental Health

This has opened our understanding that we all have mental health.  Yes, there are those that struggle with severe mental health conditions.  That can make it hard to function at a high level in day to day society- schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder for example.

But most of us feel mild experiences of being low, finding it hard to focus, indecision, seeing the negatives in situations rather than the positive, lacking creativity, productivity and resilience as well as battling with our inner critic.  These are daily battles that almost all of us face to a greater or lesser extent.  We lose sight of what is truly fulfilling and meaningful for us as individuals, and our sense of self and mental health suffer as a result.

Sometimes you don’t sleep enough, exercise sufficiently, eat healthily, drink too much alcohol or take more recreational drugs than is good for you and that all leaves you a little under par.  Chronic stress can erode your mental health too, leaving you low in energy, a little jaded and bruised, less responsive and tolerant as you’d like.  Even short-term stress, brought on from moving house, separation and divorce, grieving, illness and financial pressures for example, can negatively impact your mental health.

The Spectrum of Mental Health

So, mental health is not a condition.  There is only the condition of your mental health.  It lies on a spectrum and you are moving along that spectrum at every moment of every day.  Some mornings you’ll get up and you’re humming a tune to yourself.  Someone cuts you up on the commute and suddenly you’re fuming.  Or perhaps it doesn’t affect you?  Into work and e-mails, meetings, powwows by the water cooler may leave you a little low?  Or not?  Or perhaps you feel more vibrant, energised and alive as a result?

Does a late lunch leave you a bit grouchy, or missing your workout leave you less energised and alert for the afternoon stint?  What about the rush for school pick up and dropping off for after-school clubs, lessons and play dates?  An argument at home or a particularly delightful evening with your spouse and kids may lead to a totally different mental state by the end of the day.  Your mental health is zig zagging all over the place throughout the day.  That is part of the human condition.

Mental health is too fluid to be static, consistent and pigeon-holed by a few diagnoses.  Through these highs and lows throughout any day, you are met with opportunities to manage your mental health so that you can remain creative, productive and resilient.

Managing your Mental Health

A handful of tools and resources can help you manage your mental health.  Even if you are on medication for a diagnosed condition, these tools can help.  And if you are not diagnosed and recognise the ebb and flow of your mental health as you go through your day, these tools can help you manage your mental health as well:

  1. The most important thing is to have an awareness of your mental health, noticing the events and moments that positively and negatively impact your mood and feelings. Without that awareness, you cannot know that your mental health needs to be managed.  It takes a little introspection and reflection to recognise these patterns and preferences.  And if you are feeling really brave, ask someone who knows you well and that you can trust, to tell you what they notice about your mental health, honestly and kindly.
  2. Develop your emotional intelligence. Learn to express how you are feeling.  It starts with the body, noticing the feelings and sensations that are showing up as you go through your day.  Then, find the words to describe those feelings and sensations and accurately express the emotions that are connected to those feelings and sensations.  For example, when I have been sitting at the computer too long, my body feels sluggish and low in energy.  I used to worry it was because I was bored, or the work wasn’t exciting enough.  In time, I learned that the feeling comes with prolonged sitting.  If I want to buck that sluggishness from inactivity, I need to get up and move around for a while.  Maybe I’ll work out for example or go for an energetic walk.  Then I’ll return to the screen, refreshed, revitalised and alert.
  3. Talking to a trusted friend, colleague, manager, partner. Having someone to share your thoughts and feelings with is so important in managing mental health.  It solves nothing usually, but it does allow you to create some distance and get some perspective on the challenge so that you are able to work out the next step for yourself.  Creating this opportunity at work is becoming more acceptable with Mental Health First Aiders being trained to listen and signpost.  Also, managers are expected more frequently to give time and space for their team members to come to them with personal as well as work-related challenges.  It can create a lot of anxiety for managers, who can become fearful that they need to solve the problem, suffer embarrassment, will do more harm than good or may be triggered themselves.  What is often needed in the moment is a listening ear, free of judgement, prejudice, opinion or assumptions.  This is true whether at work or at home.  Work places are even bringing in coaches specifically to give their employees the opportunity to talk about personal and professional challenges.  It is recognised that this can help people manage their mental health more effectively.  Which reduces presenteeism and absenteeism and improves retention and productivity.
  4. Seeking professional assistance through a coach, counsellor or therapist.  In spite of having awareness, being emotionally articulate and having people to talk to (the first three on our list), sometimes a coach or therapist can support you in taking a deeper dive into your challenges and goals.  Therapists tend to take you to the past to explain your present behaviour.  Coaches tend to focus more on creating the future you would like to live.  And build a bridge from the present to manifest that future.  A good coach and therapist will be able to point you towards what will likely serve you best, coaching or therapy.  So, please, if you think you might want additional support, reach out to either a therapist or coach and they will be able to advise.
  5. Moving the body is great for your mental health.  It keeps you fit, mobile, active, flexible and releases endorphins that positively impact your brain and nervous system chemistry and make you feel good.  You’ll experience more vitality, energy and alertness when you work out and less if you don’t.
  6. You are not a machine.  Take breaks as you need to maintain your mental buoyancy, vitality, engagement, productivity, creativity and joie de vie.  Short breaks might include a walk to the water cooler, kitchen or photocopier or even a stretch at your desk.  Longer breaks may mean getting away from your desk for lunch and coffee breaks.  Like going for a walk, working out, getting a cycle in.
  7. If you use your phone or computer a lot for work during the day, take a break from them in the evenings and weekend. Do completely different things out of work compared to what you do at work.  Slow down. Relax and enjoy a read, a coffee, a chat with friends. Snooze. You don’t need to go on a holiday or weekend break.  Take time in your week to rest so that you can rejuvenate, revitalise and be more resilient.
  8. Diet and hydration. A balanced diet and good hydration do wonders for maintaining good mental health.  Good hydration means plenty of water and being careful about the amount of dehydrating fluids like caffeinated drinks and alcoholic beverages you consume.  In my experience, diet, sleep, breaks and rest are the least considered factors in contributing to strong mental health.  Yet they are at the foundation of good mental health management.  You do not have to rely on anyone else to achieve them.  They are easy to do, though life-style can make them challenging to achieve.  And life-style is the main stumbling block.  Find a practical way to achieve that and you have great resilience built into your life and mental health.
  9. In my opinion, sleep is the single most important factor that contributes to me eating a balanced diet, resting well, being creative and kind to myself and others.  I feel grounded and at peace when I have slept well.  This positive affect compounds over time as I continue to get good sleep.  And it erodes when I consistently get poor sleep.  Healing and processing take place while you sleep.  So getting in the hours is important if you want to face your day fully charged and frisky for life.

Over to You

How do you manage your mental health?  Are you aware of your feelings, sensations and emotions throughout the day and manage them well?  Who do you talk to when things are challenging for you?  From the list of nine, how many of them are you using to manage your mental health and well-being?  Of those you are not using, which would you choose to implement?  What are your thoughts about mental health now that you have read this blog?

Pass it on

If you found this article useful, please pass it on.  Would your place of work benefit from some training around managing mental health through coaching?  Why not give me a call.

Saboteurs- are you listening to those negative voices that stop you achieving your dreams?

Do you have an inner voice that tells you are not good enough?  Or declares you will not get a better job, or lose that weight you so desperately want to shift?  May be that voice says you’re not intelligent or talented enough?  Perhaps you have an inner voice that says you just need to go on one more course before you’re ready to get that promotion, write that book, or start that business?  These inner voices have many names- saboteurs, gremlins, the committee, inner critics, demons.

Whatever name you give them, you probably face these voices many times a day.  From getting out of bed on time to eating healthy meals and working out to getting your filing done, your saboteurs have a lot to say about what you do and think and what you don’t do and think.  So, if you are finding these saboteur voices are particularly loud, especially during this new year resolution period, here are some things to think about to help you manage your saboteurs more effectively:

Recognise the voice and the feeling of your saboteurs

When that negative voice starts talking, how does it make you feel?

When that negative voice starts talking, how does it make you feel?  Low? Lousy? Depressed?  Negative? Does it make you feel like giving up or not bothering?  Are you focused on the problem or the solution?  Do you feel particularly creative or inspired?

When the saboteurs have their grip, you feel heavy, low and uninspired.  It’s not a great place to be.  It also makes your body feel lethargic and you may experience tension in you stomach, chest, shoulders, neck or other places.  You might be confused, conflicted and find you are second-guessing yourself.  Worst of all, you don’t have clarity and you feel stuck.

The saboteurs use words like “can’t” such as “You can’t do that!”, “should” like “You really should do it this way!”, “shouldn’t” for example “I shouldn’t make that phone call………”, “would” such as “I would do it this way rather than that way”, “wouldn’t” for example “I wouldn’t do that”, “ought to” like “I ought to do what he wants”, “don’t” such as “Don’t do it like that!”

Saboteurs hold you back and stop you moving forward.  When there is any growth, your saboteurs are there to stop you taking risks.  The bigger the risk, the louder and sharper the voice, the heavier the feelings.  The voice and feelings are designed to get you to take notice, shrink back and stay well inside your comfort zone.

What are the embodied resources to counter your saboteurs?

Like any superhero movie, there is the hero and the villain.  In fact, you cannot have one without the other.  They are the yin and the yang, opposing forces that keep things dynamic and flowing.  If your saboteurs are the villains in your tale, who are your heroes?

The heroes to counter-balance and hold in check your saboteurs are the positive voices and feelings that make you feel empowered.  While the embodiment of the saboteurs is usually contracted, small and reduced, the embodiment of your inner heroes is expanded, large and takes up space.  When you were a kid and pretended to be Batman and Tarzan or Xena warrior princess and Electra, you felt invincible.  You could achieve anything………….. and often did.

Simply envisioning yourself as this character (putting your big boy/girl pants on) can be enough to feel more confident and do something you wouldn’t ordinarily feel willing to do.  If TV and movie characters don’t work for you, why not try a mentor, sports personality or a person in history you respect and emulate the qualities you admire in them.  You are not trying to be them.  You are embodying the qualities they possess that bring you confidence and an opposing voice to the saboteurs.

If that doesn’t work, stand and move like them. When I feel the grip of one of my saboteurs, one of my strategies is to go for a fast and determined walk, which breaks the lethargy and gives me more energy, focus and determination for the task ahead.  I call it my “fire walk” as it gets me all fired up and I stop listening to the limiting voice of my saboteur.

What is the 2% truth?

What is the truth behind what the saboteur is saying?  Saboteurs will take the smallest grain of truth and blow it out of all proportion.  When you can see the core of the truth, you can dismiss the rest and you can deal with the truth of the situation more effectively.  For example, I don’t like calling people.  My saboteur tells me that they are busy, or they do not want to talk to me and that I am wasting my time.  Then, when I call and they do not answer of brush me off, my saboteur then says “I told you so” and tells me not to bother and makes up stuff like “they don’t like me” or “they are not interested in the work I’m doing” or that my work is pointless and useless.  And even worse, that I am pointless and useless.

See how insidious these saboteurs can be?  Maybe you relate to this direction and momentum of thought?  When I can look at it clearly, I can see that being rejected or ignored are possibilities when I call, and that has nothing to do with me.  The rest is make-believe.  Sometimes it’s easier to stop that train of thought than others.  The key is to catch it early as your thoughts have less momentum.  With greater saboteur awareness, the sooner you can head it off and with greater ease.

What do your saboteurs look like?

Rather than a disembodied voice, it can be easier to work with your saboteur when it has a face, body, clothes, habits, character and personality.  Create a stereotype of your saboteurs.  Have fun creating a caricature that gives you a more manageable perspective on your saboteur.  One of mine is The Drill Sargent, like the one from Full Metal Jacket.  He shouts and rants and raves at me, saying that I’ll amount to nothing and give in.  Another is The Sex God.  I’m sure you can imagine what negative and undermining things he says to me!  But, when those voices have a comedy caricature, like a cartoon, it makes it easier to dismiss them and even send them somewhere so that I am apart from their negative influence.

Saboteurs are trying to help

As frustrating as they are, saboteurs are actually created to keep you safe.  Though you may want to change and do things differently, your saboteur is designed to stop you failing, being humiliated, getting hurt and taking risks.  The truth is, change involves risk and failure is possible.  So, learning to manage your saboteurs for the sake of change, growth and evolution is important.

It seems our habit is to fight our saboteurs.  We push against them, refuse to accept them, tense up and rant and rave in the face of them.  And all that does is make them come on stronger.  It’s human nature to push against what pushes against us.  So, rather than steam roller him, try thanking him.  That’s right.  It’s not a type-o! Thank your saboteurs for trying to help and explain that while you understand they are trying to keep you safe, you no longer want to act and live like this, so it’s time to change.  I was amazed how well this worked the first time I used it.  Faced with lots of negative talk about growing my business, I continually thank my saboteurs for their input and respectfully say that I choose a different way that I believe will get me the results I want.

Because of their helpful nature, I’m not sure we ever stop the saboteurs’ voices.  Perhaps they become easier to manage.  And remember, the bigger the risk you take, the louder the voice they have.  In a way, we don’t want them to stop- as they tell you that you are on the right track!!

Another useful tip given to me by my coach was the more saboteurs you have and the louder they speak, the bigger the dreams you have and the more capable you are of creating them.

Over to You

So, there are five strategies to manage your saboteurs.  Use one, use all, use them in different scenarios.  Work with what works best for you.  Do you recognise the voices of your saboteurs?  Are there more than one?  How do they sound different?  Have you noticed how you stand and move differently when you are lacking confidence and in the grip of a saboteur, compared to when you are feeling like a superhero?  Can you see the truth in what the saboteur is saying and separate it from the lies?  Will you face that 2% of truth and let it teach you what your next moves need to be?  Does it help to personify your saboteurs?  What becomes possible when your saboteurs are no longer holding you back?

Pass it on

Saboteurs are active all the time, not just when new years resolutions are at the fore front of your mind.  Whenever change is afoot, saboteurs are there to hold you back and keep you safe.  They are there to stop change.  So, if you know someone who is struggling with making changes, perhaps their saboteurs have got a hold of them.  Maybe this blog could give them some insight that could make all the difference.  Why not send it their way?

** inspired by personal life events, clients’ conversations and Taming your Gremlin by Rick Carson **