We live in a psychological age with numerous public conversations. Some of it is useful stuff for living. Some of it can be quite narcissistic. Popular psychology via the medium of glossy magazines or newspapers or social media is invariably self orientated and based on the reader being the centre of their own universe. Other people or relationships are expendable in the pursuit of ones own self identity. Victimhood and attaching oneself to some category of the marginalised also has currency in this present age.
So many of those conversations in the public square, are about how we should feel or how we ought to be feeling and thinking. Popular psychology books abound along with a plethora of downloads in the digital space. I would go as far to say that the last 30 years have been decades of mental health awareness. That movement converges with another generational theme of economic affluence and time rich orientation towards self focussed exploration. Many disappear into their own dark rabbit holes of the mind, without hope of surfacing. At no time does there seem to have been such a widespread vocabulary around ways of looking after yourself as an individual.
This blog is in two parts. It is in preparation for a short seminar requested on the subject of good mental health in workplace settings.
My knowledge on this subject comes out of a lot of counselling over many years. It comes from clinical reflection and hearing thousands of cases in years past. It comes from clinical supervision where I’ve listened or had conversations with numerous peers around their cases. It comes from a lot of serious reading and working and writing training packages on behavioral therapy and the various genres of that subject. My reflections come from listening to clients and trying to understand from them what works and what doesn’t work. It comes from listening to people wiser than myself. This exercise is not meant to be exhaustive. But I intend adding to it as observations come to the fore front. Each of the collected themes will be an eventual blog in itself.
I find myself frustrated with a lot of the material in the Mental Health space,not because it is necessarily misleading, nor has wrong intent. My issue with it is that it cannot be translated into practical actions or real life without sounding rather plastic no matter how well intentioned. Some of it can also be about making the mental health professional the hero or heroine who delivers the hidden knowledge about how to do life well. When some of the material is really the screaming obvious.
This is a beginning.
If you go to a responsible and usually government or non government sponsored mental health site, they will give you some useful life hints about good mental health. Conversely they also step lightly around saying direct or strong things that might upset political sensitivities.
They are worth paying attention to. They inevitably include.
Sleeping well and getting enough rest. Getting 7-8 hours in a normal day makes good sense.
Eating well and sensibly by consuming lots of vegies fruit and protein. Avoiding carbs and sugars and processed food along with exercise will make a big impact on how you feel about yourself.
Being cautious about how much alcohol or non-prescribed medications or illegal drugs you consume.
Building strategies around life and coping with your inner life and with relationships with others. Consequently,the sites will talk about relaxation techniques -talking with friends-self talk –relaxation –breathing techniques-not personalizing issues –resolving conflicts.
Being socially involved and involved with groups or in your community and being kind to others.
Being assertive and learning to ask for things or to say NO.
I think that’s a reasonable and basic summary of some of the useful offerings made in the mental health space.
I want to reflect on some collected responses from people I have worked with. And observations I’ve made around the deliberate thoughts and actions and behaviours of those , who seem to have navigated this stormy sea of life wisely.
Life is going to be hard and even brutal and we have to accept that. Bad things happen to good people. Worse still, good things can happen to bad people. There is no such thing as karma. To have an expectation that life will be otherwise or that any of us are entitled to an easy ride will put us in a fragile place. Refuse to accept any invitation to be a guest at the offered smorgasbord of victimhood.
Paradoxically to see life as nothing but a series of crisis, surrendering to all that happens to us and capitulating to life events is just fatalism. The attitude that adopts a world view of “different day, same crap” is nihilistic and self centred and death seeking. Take responsibility. Choose to act as a grown up. Lift a load in your life.
As far as alcohol is concerned. If it depresses you or makes you angry or has ever compromised your safety or others around you, it might be worth making some personal rules about how much, and under what circumstances. and with who, you will drink.
You don’t have to try to be nice or agreeable to everyone you meet. Concentrate on listening and understanding what people are saying rather than being agreeable. Being civil and being polite are different from being nice and being agreeable. Being civil will keep the peace and keep you safe 90 % of the time. Manners and exercising civility is about respecting others and having integrity yourself. Others lack of manners or civility are other peoples issues, not yours.
We live in a fragmented postmodern world with pluralistic belief systems. The broad cultural consensus in Australia is believe everything as someone else’s truth. In the same breath, it is believed that nothing can be accepted as absolute truth. I like the saying “if you stand for nothing – you will fall for anything”. Holding a position and knowing why you hold it is important to your mental health. It means you won’t be tossed around by every new idea or thought bubble that comes your way with the intention of capturing your thinking and re-orientating your life.
Never make decisions or choices or part with cash or your income or relationships in a time of crisis. Never make big decisions or choices when your angry or ill or overly happy or sad. It is far better to reply with silence. Step away. Get safe. Settle your thoughts with people you can trust. Return to the matter with a clear plan and head.
Family and friendships really matter. Choosing to invest time and maintain friendships is important. Family keep us on track. Friends can tell us when we have acted foolishly or are about to act against our best interests.. In the mental health space they also keep us sane. Aristotle talked about friends of virtue. These friends he says, want our good and whats virtuous or truthful in our lives. He says they're the best type of friends. They are the friends who bat for us and want our best.
Don’t live life as if its an emergency. Its never a wise thing to rely or trust your emotions alone. Feelings are important. None of us are robots. They should not be discounted. However emotions are always the trailer attached to the vehicle. Emotions are secondary in making good decisions . The vehicle, drives the trailer. Its not the other way around.
Imagination and what you dwell on becomes part of your reality. Imaginary dialogues in our heads with imaginary audiences from the past or the future might be the stuff of avoidance and anger and time wasting. But it will paralyse action and create fears about the future and it will distort relationships in the present. Such exercises will consume time and will make you poor. Don’t waste head time plotting or scheming to have vengence on your enemies. If you must have retribution, your success is the best form of vindication. Wasting your time with revenge or phantasies does not serve you or those you care about.
Avoid the company of the perpetually angry and the violent and the shonky and the addicted. No matter how sophisticated or articulate or well presented they are, keep away from their social company. Your time matters along with your families and friends. The company you keep and the heroes you have in your life does affect your behaviour, what you will hold as values and also disregard, and how you orientate to the world.