I love talking about mental wellness!
By definition Mental Wellness is the awareness of one’s own ability to cope with stressors of day-to-day life while maintaining the ability to function effectively while socializing, working, learning and taking care of your personal health and hygiene.
Simply stated, how do you cope with daily stress? Everyone experiences stress at some point in one’s life, it’s part of life. Things go wrong sometimes badly wrong – how do you cope when your finances are tight, your mother is in the hospital, you need to help your son with his grade 8 math and you’ve never seen numbers being used in that way? What happens when you are the main provider and caregiver in your family and people expect you to rise to the challenge but you have nothing more to give, not-to-mention taking care of your own needs! Wait What!? I have needs?!
As a mental health therapist/ecotherapist, I work with people everyday in supporting them in maintaining a healthy balance. It’s hard to change! Yet change is so much of an inside job. . . where does one even begin? For some, the idea of
change is so overwhelming... I think I might just go back to bed for now.
Admittingly, there has been a lot written about mental wellness, about coping with stress, about making changes in one’s life but I thought I would put my own spin on things and share with our readers helpful points to be mindful of when exploring healthy lifestyle changes and improving one’s mental wellness.
I also want to say to people reading this, I get it! I have worked very hard to get to where I am in my life, it was only 8 years ago when I found myself bankrupt and homeless in 3 different Canadian cities and rough sleeping in my car (before I lost that too) in the dead of winter in the coldness of Saskatoon SK. It was my darkest hour (one year) but I found a way... the road has been long with many many ups and downs but I am here to share with you all that you can find your way too!
So, where do you begin?
1. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
Sometimes when things go wrong, we will blame others, get angry with god, criticize ourselves for not knowing better, we have this internal dialogue that serves no purpose – except to keep is feeling ‘stuck in the muck’. The truth be known, to suffer is a human experience... everyone suffers at some point in time and multiple times throughout our lives. Suffering is really the mirror image of happiness. How can we know what happiness is if we haven’t experienced suffering? So, get comfortable with it. Do so with intention and presence of mind. Instead of running from it or sticking your head in the sand acknowledge it, sit with the feelings of discomfort (just don’t unpack your bags). Take the lesson being given to you and learn and grow from it. If there is a huge hole in the sidewalk you don’t keep walking on that part of the sidewalk – you find another way to get to where you are going, so find another way.
2. Be kind to yourself
Being kind to yourself doesn’t always come easily, especially if you’ve had people in your life that call you down and have left you feeling ‘less than’ in some way. Self Compassion is an activity, something you do. As the pioneer in the field of Mindfulness and Self-Compassion Dr. Kristen Neff states “Through self-compassion we become an inner ally instead of an inner enemy.” Instead of attacking ourselves next time something goes wrong acknowledge how much pain you are in and treat yourself with care and kindness. Forgive yourself for not knowing different, and learn from it!
3. Nurture the Positive in Difficult Times
Connecting to good feelings keeps our hearts afloat and gives us hope. Sometimes when we are in the midst of darkness it’s hard to find the light. Getting into the practice of expressing gratitude for every little thing in your life somehow resets the balance. It could be something as simple and mindful as having a bed to rest your head on at night. . . not everyone has that privilege or clean clothes to wear the next day... I’ll tell you as someone who has experienced absolute homelessness, clean clothes are a blessing!
Pay attention to quiet comforts, like a cup of your favorite tea first thing in the morning or songbird singing its song outside your window. Slow down and savor good moments.
Smile, this might sound silly in these times of mask wearing but it feels good to smile at a loved one before leaving the house for work, what a difference it could make instead of growling or cursing, smile at the people you come across in the grocery store line up – we also smile with our eyes so don’t let mask wearing prevent you from sharing your beautiful smile.
4. Cultivate Joy
Similar to feelings of sadness or irritation during the day, we also have moments of joy, we might have to look hard for them but they are there. For many people Joy is reserved for big celebrations – weddings, birthdays or graduations but if you slow down and really pay attention joy can be found in tiny little spaces in your life at any given time. STOP, LOOK – maybe a moment of joy can be found with your dog or cat, maybe listening to your children laugh at a show on tv, or a co-worker stopping by your door to say ‘good morning’... joy is everywhere and can be found in the most mundane part of the day, you just have to be aware.
5. Get out into Nature
This is my final point; I can not write about mental wellness without talking about the value of being outdoors in nature. There is a boat load of evidence that points to the health and wellness benefits of spending time outdoors whether sitting by a lake or river and noticing the water flow along the rocks and banks or hiking through a wooded area paying attention to the smells and sights of the more-than-human world around you. Also, walking your dog in one of the cities dog parks, your dog will love you and you can clear your head from the days mental chatter – where ever you go, what ever you do – get outside and breath you will not regret it!
These are just a few examples of practical things you can do to make healthful changes in your life, truly the list is endless. I acknowledge that we are all individual and what works for one group may not work for another but at least give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.
To book an appointment with Laurie Vance, MSW, RSW, Psychotherapist, Cert. Nature & Forest Therapist, call us today or click this link for more information.
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