Many years ago I watched a movie called When We Were Kings, about the time that Mohammad Ali fought George Foreman. One of Ali's coaches was being asked about the best boxer in the world, and he said something that stuck with me ever since.
"We don’t pick up a script. We get up in the morning, sometimes we feel good, sometimes bad, but we go through it with feeling."
When we think of sports superstars or idols, we think of them at the top of their game, soaring towards victory or gracious in defeat, but always strong. What the coach from the movie was saying was that its not always like that. Sometimes we feel good. Sometimes we feel bad. We are all human. We are all the same. Even Bob Dylan penned a great line in his song 'Its Alright Ma':
When you strip back the money, fame, expectation, and ego, we are all the same. Vulnerable, sensitive, and emotional. There are times when it seems that everything is falling into place for us and we feel great, and other times that things just seem off for no apparent reason. Beating ourselves up about this is like shouting at a fish for not being able to walk. Its just who we are as animals.
The topic of mental health is an important one, and a topic to be treated with respect. A few years ago, I worked on a documentary about mental health and met with many people who had been affected by suicide. In Ireland today with have a mental health crises, and a lot of work to do to treat mental illness with the same respect and level of seriousness as any other health epidemic. Our mental health services in Ireland leave a lot to be desired. Here is a recent article that states that there are over 700 CHILDREN on a waiting list for mental health services in Cork and Kerry alone.
There is a difference between mental illness and feeling down in the dumps every now and again, so if you are suffering from a metal illness, you should seek help in a councillor, your doctor, or at the very least by sharing your struggle with a friend or family member so that you are not feeling completely alone.
So this is not a post about treating mental illness, but how to take small daily actions that I personally use to get myself out of the funk of negative thoughts, bad mood, and negative self-talk. I think looking after your mental health with daily positive actions is a good way to keep a positive outlook and stop yourself from falling into a dark place, and here are some of the things that I try to do regularly below. I notice that when I am not feeling myself, I can call on the things below to get myself back on track, and almost always notice that when I am feeling poor that there are generally a few of the items on the list that have been missing from my routine.
This is a cert for me. When I don’t drink 2 litres of water per day I start to feel sluggish and slow, and this has a negative affect on my mood. When I have my water bottle to hand for regular sips I feel sharper and more alert, and in much better form.
2. Phone/ Technology
When the social media sites suck my in and I keep checking for that little red notifications number I get a narrow focus and often end up blowing a pile of time away lying down or sitting down scrolling my life away. Not only does this give me the guilts about wasting precious time, but it also messes with my brain looking for social approval for whatever I have posted, and makes my eyes kind of hurt after a while.
Turning the phone off for a day, going somewhere without it, or reminding myself that my sense of self worth doesn't come from an electronic screen and that what is showing up on my social media feed is but a fake and enhanced version of peoples lives is generally how I get out of this funk. I also like to give myself a gentle reminder that the ads I see are weapons of consumerism created to sell sell sell.
3. Human Interaction
We are social animals, and I am not exception to this. When I don’t have any meaningful interactions with people it starts to affect me in a negative way. If I feel a bit low, connecting with a friend or family member is one of the things that helps just about every time. Sending a little personal message, writing a letter, phone call, or meet up helps me every time.
Motion is the lotion. No movement creates poor mood, fun movement creates good mood. Combined with enjoyable music, no phone or social media, water, and the company of a friend its even better! This is the basis for our approach to training and movement at ACLAÍ. It about the combination of a program that fits the individual, the interaction between coach and member, the member to member connection, and the enjoyment of seeing improvement from session to session.
I like making lists to see what's on the plate for the day in hand or the week ahead. My little hardback notebook is full of lists and there is a definite satisfaction in crossing things off the list as they get done. One of the best books on making lists that I have read recently is 'The One Thing'. The moral of the book is that every item on the list is not of equal importance. Make a list, identify the priority item, and work on that.
6. The Bare Minimum
Overwhelm is something that creeps up on me from time to time. Too many things and too little time generally results in me going a bit inside myself and not being as happy as usual. The key thing that I remind myself when this happens is that there is rarely too many things of equal importance to do, and there is always one small step to take with the most important thing on the list. When I decide to do the bare minimum of work on the most important item on my list, and put the rest of the pestering chores aside for a while, the wheels of momentum get going moving and the positivity levels start to climb.
When I wake up in the morning and I know what I want to get done that day, things seems to flow a lot better. When the opposite happens, waking up and not having any idea about what I want to do, the negativity creeps in. I think this is why Sunday is the day that I feel lowest most regularly. Nowadays, I make sure to have a wee plan for Sunday sorted before I go to sleep on Saturday so that I feel like I am doing something meaningful.
Poor sleep patterns definitely affect the mind. There are probably some complicated hormonal reasons why not getting a good nights sleep affects your mood, but all I know for sure is that when I don’t get a decent nights sleep the chances of feeling groggy in the morning, having less motivation, and messing up at work become greater, and this doesn't do much for the good mood. Doing things like reading before bed, not going on the computer in the hour leading up to going to bed, burning some relaxing incense and keeping the light levels low all help me get a good sleep, as well as having earplugs and eye mask to hand in case of having to sleep in a noisy or bright room.
The health benefits are food are massive. From the actual nutrition of the stuff we eat, the mindful process of chopping and cooking the ingredients, and to the social interaction that comes with sharing food with friends, it’s an essential part of mental and physical health. When I cook once a day and have a breakfast before leaving the house, days flow better for me. On the other hand, eating out too much or eating on the go too often gets me into a slump.
10. Take the Pressure Off
When I get the feeling of overwhelm, its nearly always because of pressure that I have put on myself as opposed to anything else. I get caught up in the feeling that the pressure is actually coming from external sources such as deadlines to get things finished, people who need to be contacted, or chores that need to be completed. When it gets to a point that I feel a lot of pressure, I try to just lift it all in one go, focus on one thing and go from there. Self imposed pressure works well for me when I am in the groove of getting things done, but there comes a time when I can only have one thing on the table at a time, and I need to push the rest of the deadlines out a bit. Much of the self imposed pressure that I put on is due to the perception that other people are depending on me to get the job done in a certain time. However, people rarely care that much if the job gets done a little bit later, as long as it gets done properly.
Its funny how music can change your mood. The other day I was struggling to get out of bed and I stuck on Queen's 'Killer Queen' and I was up doing a wee dance before heading merrily on my way. For real though, music is a great way to clear out the mind, and having some go-to tunes to help you along is a recommendation I can stand behind. I am listening to Beethoven right now.
12. Do Something Mindful
Consciously doing one thing is a great way to silent the jibber jabber of the mind. Listening fully to a piece of music, giving yourself over to listening to a podcast or reading a book without distractions, chopping vegetables for a meal, training and fully immersing yourself in the session, going for a walk, making a scrap book, writing a letter, focusing on your breathing for 20 breaths, or doing a bit of cleaning at home are all things that you can do mindfully. I realised that when I am at work in ACLAÍ, and if I am feeling a bit all over the place, my mood gets a lot more positive in the 15 minutes before I start to work with a client, especially when I am about to work with kids. By the end of the session I am back feeling positive and useful again. In this sense, I consider myself to be very lucky to work in an area that has human interaction at its core, and that gives me a very positive sense of purpose.
To Wrap Up…
Here are a few of my general thoughts on energy. It can be positive or negative, and can gather pace like a tornado twister the more you feed it. Imagine a small negative feeling, that can start to spiral and gather pace, and all of a sudden you feel like a damp table cloth sitting in the corner of the kitchen floor. On the positive side, imagine starting off with a sense of purpose to the day because you wrote it down the night before (really small twister starting to gather), a delicious breakfast that you set time aside for, the little kick of alertness from your morning coffee, the nice feeling of listening to your fav music track (twister picking up pace), and the satisfaction from knowing that you achieved something meaningful today, or the joy of spending time with a friend or family member (the kind of twister that lifted Dorothy and Toto out of Kansas). All of a sudden you have a tremendous twister of positive energy that picks up pace and takes very little effort to maintain once it gets going. Feed the positive twister! Ainle