World Mental Health day

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Today is World Mental Health Day so here are some ideas on how to mark the day and make it meaningful:

1.  Sit down and discuss your diagnosis with somebody who may not understand mental health issues.  You don’t need to tell them about your problems or what happened to you but just share some information on what it is like to have anxiety, depression, bipolar etc.

2.  Do something nice for somebody who you know is going through a difficult time.  Buy them a cup of tea, share your chocolate, give them a flower, give a compliment.

3.  Do something to nurture yourself today – treat yourself to a manicure, lie down quietly with a book, doodle on a scrap of paper, start a journal, meditate, light a candle next to your bath.

4. Eat or drink something healthy and nourishing.

5. Offer to help somebody in need.

6. Greet every person that you meet with a smile (don’t worry if they don’t smile back – that’s their problem).

7.  Take a moment to count your blessings.  Write them down or share them with somebody.

8.  Spend a few minutes just breathing deeply (preferably outside in the fresh air)

9.  Send an sms or whatsapp to somebody that you haven’t spoken to in a while – tell them that you are thinking of them and that you care.

10.  Tell your manager (or your partner or kids) that it is World Mental Health day and for the sake of your mental health, you will be leaving work/responsibilities early today (okay if not today, make sure you schedule a day off or a few hours off for quality ‘me time’).

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Too blessed?

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There’s a saying that I hear people using all the time – “too blessed to be stressed”
It’s a lovely saying but I think that sometimes it’s a challenge to feel that way.  It is implying that if you have blessings (which, let’s face it, we all do) that you can’t get stressed.  Everybody feels stress and sometimes your stress can become overwhelming.
What helps is to accept that you are going through a stressful time but also to be mindful enough to recognise what you have right now (other than stress) – notice the good around you.  Even if all you can think about is that you are still breathing.

After a week of experiencing losses and deprivations – from the loss of my dear friend, to my son going overseas and going through the insomnia that comes with those worries and then going through the fast of Yom Kippur with no food or water for 25 hours, I was really aware of what I was missing.  But I was also very aware of what I have.  To be starving but knowing that a great meal is waiting for me at the end of the fast is far more than most people have.  Some people feel that way on a daily basis and they have no end in sight.

No matter how much you are going through, when your mind starts racing ahead to worry about what you haven’t got, learn to focus on what you have.
You may not be too blessed but you definitely are blessed.

You’ve got this! You can go through this stress and this worry and you will come through this on the other side.
Just keep reminding yourself that you can do it, keep focusing on right now.
“I have this, I am in control”

A last message for us

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Last week my dear friend and mentor, David Patient passed away. I’ve mentioned him a few times before because he did so much inspiring work in HIV as well as in teaching everyone to be survivors.
In true David style, he left a message to be posted on Facebook after he died and I really hope that he doesn’t mind if I share part of it with you.
 
“My final wishes?
Be kind. Kindness costs nothing. It need not be a grand gesture. A simple smile while looking someone in the eyes as you pass in the hall. Saying please and thank you. Acknowledging that the person in front of you exists. If they have a name tag, call them by their name. Be present with that person. The Zulu greeting is Sawubona and directly translated that means ‘I SEE YOU!’
Don’t squander time… you’re only a breath away from being a corpse yourself. It’s only when time is running out that you really get its value. Don’t wait to tell those you love that you love them. Stop assuming ‘oh well, they know’…tell them and do so often.
Cry until it’s funny and laugh yourself to tears… take off the mask and be vulnerable. Vulnerability is a strength not a weakness.
And don’t wait too long to find the funny side of any situation, no matter how dark.”
 
May David rest in peace and may we all benefit from the life he lead and the legacy that he leaves for all of us.

Take a compliment

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I work with people daily who have extreme work stress and almost across the board they have the same complaint. They never get recognised for the good that they are doing but if they do something wrong, then they get a lot of attention.
It really upsets me that this happens. Why don’t people get credit and recognition that they deserve?
One of the reasons is that it is expected that you will always perform brilliantly- you should never make mistakes, you shouldn’t put a foot out of line and you certainly shouldn’t challenge management.
The problem is that when you work harder you are expected to keep up that standard. So you push yourself harder and work more and become more stressed and burn out and make a mistake. And then you are punished – for being stressed. For being human!

So how do we change this? Well the difficult part is that we are not going to change other people’s perceptions but you can change your own:
1. Accept that you can’t always work at 100% and be gentle on yourself
2. Don’t expect compliments (sad, I know) – work hard because you enjoy doing it not because it is expected of you
3. Compliment yourself when you know that you’ve done well (and that might even include a little gift for yourself)
4. Take the fact that people notice everything that you do (good or bad) as a compliment
5. Insist on occasionally taking a ‘mental health’ day – time out for doing something that nourishes your mind, body and soul

Advice for Monday morning

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How to do Monday:

1. Get out of bed!
2. Eat something nourishing for breakfast
3. If you can, wear something that makes you feel wonderful (if you have to wear a uniform, wear your best undies)
4. Wear red lipstick (guys.. maybe not but I’m not here to judge you)
5. Pack a treat for lunch
6. Don’t overdo the coffee – you may be feeling tired but it makes anxiety feel worse
7. Put a smile on your face and a spring in your step even if you don’t feel like it
8. Remember that Monday is one step in the count down to next weekend
9. Compliment someone
10. Think of how blessed you are today

Use Kintsugi in your life

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In the 15th Century in Japan, a technique of repairing broken pottery was invented which came to be known as Kintsugi.
If a bowl was broken, instead of throwing it away or trying to repair it to its original state, pure gold was used to repair the broken pieces.  The bowl became a more beautiful, and highly sought after, piece of pottery.

When I learned about this exquisite technique, it made me think about how often we are broken into pieces through tragedy, trauma and loss.
Our instinct when we go through something really difficult is to try to repair ourselves so that we eventually go back to being the same person that we were before it happened.
We know well enough that this rarely happens because we are scarred.  But what if instead of trying to repair ourselves to our original state we create a new self?  We repair ourselves with gold.
Breaking down gives us the most incredible gift in allowing us to redesign our lives and ourselves.
Every time you long to go back to ‘the good old days’ remember kintsugi.

Tell yourself “I am not going back, I am creating a new me and I am going to be more beautiful, more brave and more interesting than I ever was before”

Rise up through music

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I know that life is sometimes so difficult and so overwhelming but let me tell you this:
You have got this! You can do this!
You may not be able to imagine overcoming these problems, you may not see the light at the end of the tunnel yet but you have got this!
This will pass and you will look back on this time eventually and be amazed that you survived this.
Just start with getting up and taking one step.  Then take another.
There are some days that I find it difficult to get going and I want to hide away and avoid everyone and everything. When that happens, there is consistently one song that plays in my head that inspires me to keep going and to rise up – Rise Up by Andra Day.

It is my anthem that keeps me motivated that I can do this.  Listen to it and use it as your anthem too if you would like to.
Or find a song or music that speaks to you.
Musicians have the ability to really touch our lives, music has the ability to heal and to help.
If you can’t play an instrument, you can play music on your phone, or drum a beat out on your lounge table.  Sing out loud in the shower, share your song with your friends or family, use music to help you to meditate into a space of calm.
Whatever you do, find a way that music can help you to break through the first barrier in order to take the steps that you need to for a happier, calmer and more fulfilled life.
“My promise to myself:  to be so busy improving my own life that I have no time to be angry, frustrated, worried, anxious and stressed”

Undoing of stress

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For months I’ve been battling an ongoing stressful situation. I’ve been shouting and complaining, emailing and phoning and still the problem wasn’t resolved.
Everyone said that it would be fixed and things would get better.
But I just couldn’t imagine the light at the end of the tunnel.
And every time some somebody told me that it would be okay I would get angry and frustrated at them because it’s easy for someone who is not going through the the same thing to tell you something like it’s going to be okay without actually having a clue about what they are talking about.
And then yesterday, just like that, the problem was solved.
It was solved despite my stress and despite my complaining and even without me being arrested (kidding)!

It has been a huge lesson in the concept that I am always preaching: being graceful in dealing with life’s ups and downs.
Sometimes you need to be graceful in accepting things for what they are, for knowing that some things are going to be out of your control and for letting time take care of things.
We don’t know why things happen but we can deal with them in a way that is as stress free as possible.

Stress is horrible, unsettling and pushes you way out of your comfort zone but in the end you are going to deal with this and things will change (for better or worse).
I know that you can deal with this!

Be here for me on my cloudy days

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A lot of people are fascinated by the job that I do – for many people it makes for great dinner conversations: “tell us about your crazy patients!” or “tell us about how you got threatened your bipolar patient…”
It is like I have some kind of brilliant and exciting job like a performer who gets shot out of a cannon every night at a circus (now that is a job that I wouldn’t mind having).
It just shows how so many people are ignorant about what mental illness really is.
What makes it worse is that most of you are constantly dealing with family, friends and colleagues who think that you are:
– crazy
– difficult
– attention seeking
– overly dramatic
(pick one or all)

I swing between the idea of standing up for yourself and educating others or just being quiet and ignoring their ignorance.  You need to be honest with the people that you trust though and make it clear that you need their support more than you need their advice, their criticism or their need to be able to “fix” you.
I found this beautiful piece by one of my favourite poets, Tyler Knott Gregson:

I cannot promise
I will never become restless,
that I won’t ache
in ways you don’t know
how to help.
There are clouds in me
and they roll in
from time to time,
I hope you learn to love
the dark mornings,
instead of always
fumbling around
for your umbrella.

In an ideal world, you would be surrounded by people who will love or respect you even on your cloudy days.  Unfortunately it will not always be that way but if you can find one or two people who really respect you for being you, who will see beyond the depression and the stress, then those are the people who you should be with.
It may even be worth sharing this poem with the people in your life.

Be proudly you!  Demand respect by starting with being respectful to yourself.
You know that you are worth it!

Coping with feeling overwhelmed

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Stress can make you feel so overwhelmed that you feel like you are going to blow up or that you want to hibernate or run away forever.
There isn’t an easy answer to dealing with such huge problems but there are some manageable steps that you can take:

1. Remove yourself from the situation.  If you can get away from the room or the building that you are sitting in or stay away from your computer or phone for a few minutes then do it.  Take a short walk (slam the door on the way out if you really have to), regroup, breathe deeply and return.

2.  Stay away from social media for a while.  It really doesn’t help for you to see people whose lives seem to be awesome when yours feels like it is falling apart.  You also don’t need to be part of anyone else’s drama.

3.  Declutter! Clear your desk, delete emails and messages (not the important ones), get rid of the things around you that are unnecessary.  When your mind feels cluttered with your problems, you don’t need physical objects cluttering your space too.

4. Talk to somebody.  It doesn’t mean that you have to offload all of your problems on them but just tell someone that you are not coping and that you are stressed. They might be feeling the same way too. If there is absolutely nobody to talk to then write it down or illustrate it so that you can still express yourself.

5.  Make time (no matter what) just to do something for yourself.  It might just be a few minutes but it is essential that you do something nice for yourself (I’m not talking about buying another pair of shoes! Though who am I to judge you?)

6.  Find a project that will keep you motivated.  Do you have a room that needs painting?  Sort out your photos.  Create something quirky.  Learn a new skill.  Play a game.  Take up a new sport…

I know that you feel so tired and stressed and overwhelmed right now but it will pass.  Just do the best that you can to cope in this moment.
I know that you can do it!