4 steps for looking after our mental health during these unsettling times
May. 29, 2020
Finding the time and inclination to look after ourselves can be difficult at the moment. Self-care is important, however, and doesn't need to be onerous. Here are 4 simple things we can all do to help us re-centre ourselves.
It wouldn't be too far-fetched to say we all can do with some help with staying afloat in these unprecedented times - and there is plenty of help on offer.
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There are thousands of mental health and wellbeing apps out there, to start with, as well as innumerable articles offering valuable advice. It is acting on advice in times of need, and regularly, that often tends to be hard, however - as reflected in the world's grim mental health statistics . Could there be a simpler approach that is both easy to relate to, and which can get us moving again when we are stuck? An approach that might help us cope personally, while helping us support those who rely on us - our families, our colleagues, our communities – now and in the post-COVID world?
With the hope that it offers some new and practical value, I am sharing the following framework. It is simple yet comprehensive; a mental map to reorient you when you're feeling lost, or something to add to your routine to make life more productive. Its regular practice over the years has gotten me through some really challenging times – personally and professionally. It might resonate with you too.
Here are four practical actions you can take to restart or refocus yourself:
1. Be grateful: You have probably heard this a zillion times - but one can always find something worthwhile to be grateful for, whether that's our health, relationships, resources, support or faith. At the very least, one can be grateful for the positive experiences of the past and the possibilities ahead, however bleak they may seem in moments of distress. Writing down what you are grateful for will begin to energize you. However, practicing gratitude is clearly not enough in itself. Sometimes things are so awful, one may find it hard to feel grateful. During such moments, look to the other three actions.
2. Be mindful: This is not just the 'being present in the moment' kind of mindfulness; rather it means being a little more conscious, a little more aware of some of the fundamentals in life. Such as - who you are, where you want to go (or are going), why you want to go there, how you will get there, and how you will thrive once you reach your destination. Articulating even a sentence or two on each is helpful. It helps to sharpen your focus, even if you keep fine-tuning the answers as life progresses. As we are living in a fast-changing world, now is as good a time as any to start reflecting on, and ideally writing down, your answers to these questions. Often, the difference between experience and wisdom is a quiet moment of self-reflection.
3. Be useful: Worthwhile things seldom happen without commensurate effort. So get up, get ready and get out there. Sometimes, however, this is not possible. During such times, try reaching out to others. Connect. Listen or talk to others. Help. Support. Workout. Clean up. Meditate - perhaps using one of the numerous apps out there. Learn something new or brush up on something you already know. Even the act of seeking help is a way of being useful - to your own self. Especially when you are stuck or lost, reflecting on this can get you moving again. Perhaps you will start reviewing your personal vision and re-writing your priorities. You might add new dimensions of personal growth such as fitness, charity, impact, relationships, friendships, learning, or accumulating new and diverse experiences. There are indeed plentiful ways to be useful – to yourself and to others.
4. (Just) be: At times, this can be the most helpful ‘action’ when we are feeling just plain exhausted or are facing life-changing moments and circumstances, such as the bereavements many have suffered during this crisis. Sometimes you must just ‘be’. Give yourself the moment to accept certain outcomes that are beyond your control. Be empathetic with yourself. Not just let it be, also let yourself be. Have faith. Believe. Give yourself the permission to take some downtime, ideally every day. Pause, unwind and revitalise. And then move on to the other ‘Bs’ - perhaps starting by being useful again, in whatever little way you can.
No framework is perfect – and the simplicity of this one might seem to be one obvious flaw. But in the post-COVID times ahead, as we try navigating a new world, we will struggle – some more than the others. These simplified ‘4 Bs’ can be an additional practical tool with easy recall to help you keep moving. And to build your own applications and practices on top of it. It distils many moments of reflection over the years, has worked for me over time, and helped me restart and refocus when I have felt stuck. Hope it helps you too – now and in the times to come. Be safe and be well.
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