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October 8, 2020

World Mental Health Day.

‘Am I crazy?’ I asked the therapist. 

‘No’, she said smilingly, ‘you’re super stressed’.

After an hour of describing my recent erratic behaviour and reactions I was reassured by this relatively straightforward answer.

Being stressed seemed to be more acceptable than crazy, but really it was the same thing, just made more palatable. 

Over the preceding 10 years my marriage had become increasingly unhappy. Despite wanting to get back on track I found in the latter part of that relationship I couldn’t find the way.

My parents had recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and when I asked my father what his secret was he replied without hesitating “TLC –  but not the TLC do you think it is. I’m talking about tolerance, laughter and communication.”

My mother nodded in agreement in the background.

I never witnessed or heard them argue or disagree. The relationship appeared to be harmonious, loving and compassionate – something I would have liked to have enjoyed myself and despite my best efforts I was never able to reclaim it.

Looking back I can see that there was a sustained period when I was out of balance, and I seemed to be in a state of continuous high of alert, sleeping badly and performing poorly. 

I instinctively knew that I had to take matters in hand by setting up a holistic program of self-care. This would entail a comprehensive overview of my physical, mental and emotional well-being, covering my diet, sleep, and relationships.

There were five areas which I specifically worked on:

where I placed my attention 

my values

my boundaries

how I spent my leisure time 

making space for solitude.

I also deliberately avoided an over abundance of comfort, convenience and stimulation. I wanted to be the navigator of my life not the co-driver.

Having always been interested in physical fitness I increased my weekly yoga and Pilates classes, looking out for attentive teachers at the top of their game.

My flexitarian approach to my diet was dropped and I became a vegetarian. Now that I was living on my own I enjoyed sourcing organic food in the local market and teaching myself to cook healthy, well balanced and appetising meals.

One of the conundrums stressed people find themselves in is that a full night of nourishing sleep is elusive.  

The more stressed we are the more likely it is that we will wake in the night and have an endless tumble dryer of thoughts whirling through our mind.  

Research shows that insomnia is the cause for some of the most severe forms of mental illness, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Sleep is a natural moment in the 24-hour cycle when we de-stress but many of us go to bed exhausted, not tired, and seldom wake refreshed. Having researched this extensively I know that if we all took our sleep more seriously we would quickly improve our mental and physical health.

An audit of unhealthy and unhelpful relationships was harder to put into practice. We have needy people in our lives but I have found that when we graciously and kindly disengage those people will always find others to latch onto. We want to spend time with the people that make us feel good not those who make us feel insecure or put us down. That may mean having to Break away, which is ultimately for our own good.

Our relationship with technology also needs to be examined and we need to understand that our values, needs and aspirations should be supported by our use of social media platforms, not determined by them. Our consumption needs to be purposeful not unconscious.

Around this time I kickstarted my meditation practice after a period in the doldrums and it was when I was practising the technique again, and doing my own research, that I realised when we are stressed our normal behaviour changes. Our ability to think straight, make rational decisions and react appropriately are all compromised. 

Every day judges see normal, regular people in court because they had had a ‘moment of madness’. For one brief moment they lost touch with their balanced and rational selves and behaved out of character.

This often happens when people are in a highly stressful situation.

Taking the time twice a day to disconnect from everything around me and reconnect with my inner self balances and grounds me. Allowing the 20 minutes of meditation to unfold under the direction of nature, not mine, it’s a brief moment in my day when I am not in control. I have learnt that control is opposed to evolution,  that the more we can let go of preconceptions and expectations the easier life becomes. When we suspend our ego and intellect and rely more on our intuition and innate wisdom we gain immense comfort, confidence and strength to help us go out into the day and make the best of it.

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