Today I want to talk about the topic of mental health. Yours, mine, ours…the whole wide world’s! I initially wanted to title this post “Tips to Stay Sane in an Insane World”, but my heart’s desire is not to sensationalize a title, but honestly share a few thoughts on how best I fight the good fight, despite trials, tribulations and the daily dripping from the faucet of ordinary life.
What I am about to share is not qualified by any Ph.D., certification, workshop or worldly acknowledged credential- truth be known, I didn’t graduate high school. My credentials for sharing here today, are straight from the battlefield called life. You might even say, I graduated magna cum laude from the school of hard knocks. But that’s a story for another day.
If you haven’t been living on Planet Earth or if you have no knowledge of social media, or access to news sources, let me bring you up to speed. Things are really $%#@* up here. Things are not getting better, nor are there any guarantees they will. Sorry. That may be a Truth Bomb for your day, but the truth is better known, and not withheld. I pull no punches.
Despite this reality, there are a lot of people who want to present life as a rose garden (cue music here) and though it’s true that perception is important, reality poses a variety of circumstances that surely no decent human being would respond to with heartless, insensitive, pious platitudes.
On the flip-side there are some who believe that everything today is about conspiracy or injustice, or…well, you can add your own stone to the soup. But this soup is not tasty, and at the rate, people are throwing stones in (or at) the pot is just making for a messy, angry, violent brawl.
What’s a truly sensitive soul to do? There are options. I’d like to share a few. Because no one wants to go through life feeling like a hockey puck. Or a pot of cold Stone Soup.
I struggle to keep myself from falling apart at the seams, in my humanity. Remember the story of The Velveteen Bunny? Living and loving and being real in this world, come at great cost. Our stuffing comes out, we spill, our buttons get lost. We hurt. We suffer, and love those who are suffering. We might be in a rose garden, we might be in a sidewalk park. We might find ourselves part of a tasteless soup without a recipe. I’ve learned how to survive and I’ve learned how to thrive. But mostly I’ve learned how to keep myself and my love alive (cue to Heart music here). From where I’m standing, I think that is no small victory.
I offer you my personal top ten mental health and self -care choices here. I hope you find them useful or affirming in some way. I hope they might come in handy for someone who is struggling along their own path feeling discouraged or isolated.
Mental Health and Self- Care Strategies
- Journal Daily– I know what you are saying. “Dawn, I don’t have time for journaling.” Well, do you have five minutes? Do you have ten minutes? You don’t have to write a novel. Or even a paragraph. But, I promise you, if you can journal daily in some capacity, it will gain you clarity and keep you connected. If you feel unfocused and disconnected, it’s a place to find focus, connection, and clarity. Writing through difficult moments may be uncomfortable but it will bring wholeness and healing in time. The simplest way to start is, Today, I am… and write whatever comes whether one word or a flood of words. Set the timer for five minutes and tune into you.
- Practice Gratitude- if you think you are always thankful, record everything you say today. While you are driving. Practicing gratitude is an all-consuming task, for your mind, heart, spirit, and soul. It will take all of your attention not to grumble and complain. I am not talking about when you put your best face forward, I am talking about the unseen places that only God knows and hears. Gratitude is an attainable lifestyle. Start in your car. Someone cuts you off- Bam! How’s your attitude of gratitude now? I find my car to alternate as a confessional booth. It’s as though you get in, start driving and all the hidden ugliness comes out…but then, it becomes a great vehicle for honesty and conversation with God, and prayer for the other jerks my fellow drivers on the road.
- Get Outside- Our days lead us through a plethora of activities. I find I need to be very intentional about getting fresh air and getting outside under open sky. There’s something in my soul that longs to see the trees, smell the air, feel the temperature, touch the snow. I long to experience the earth beneath my feet. There is something about the day in, day out busyness of life that can move us away from taking the time to get outside especially as we get caught up with providing meals, rides and care for others as well as work. No matter the season, I need a certain amount of exposure to nature’s offerings. Observing creation and its varied states is incredibly recreational for me. So, walk the dog a little longer, take a short hike, fly a kite. Or simply go for a walk. Breathe the air, look at the sky. See, hear, feel. Exposure to fresh air, seasons, the elements, sun, moon, stars…these renew and nourish my soul, refresh my mind. Beauty speaks its own language through creation. We do well to listen.
- Parent/Coach Yourself- As one who has spent a good many years coaching- more than parenting, I recognize the value of self-coaching. It’s the voice within that says, shut the TV off. Go read. Drink the water. Give yourself grace. It might be a voice we hear ourselves saying to a child we love or a best friend. It’s the voice we need to develop and not rebel against. It’s the voice we need to respect and honor. It will take practice, and work to say helpful things to yourself- especially if you have had a critical or negative authoritative influence or voice in your life. It can be done though. It will take effort. But it will be worth it. You can be your own cheerleader, parent, coach. You can give yourself what you need and don’t get (or didn’t get in the past) in a healthy and positive way by learning to become the parent, coach or cheerleader you need today. This is the one that also tells you to get the pedicure, buy the book, eat the chocolate, treat yourself kindly without guilt. This is the voice that loves and celebrates you. This is a voice we all can develop.
- Encourage Others- This is actually one of my very favorite things to do. Encouraging others- literally giving others the courage they need to do what they think they cannot is like having a superpower. Find ways to encourage another person today. Empower them for what it is they are needing to face. I find people who need encouraging daily. I make it my business to be an encourager. I think we all can make efforts toward this aim and benefit greatly from it. If you commit to encouraging others (I actually write it in my planner or journal daily) I believe God will lead you to those who need to be encouraged. We all need encouragement. I will also say, God has given me encouraging words for another at a time when I needed them myself- even when I have been feeling depressed or sad. Now that is truly reflective of an amazing and all-knowing God who leads us into courage we don’t even know we have!
- Nix the News– I know I will catch flack for this, but as a highly sensitive person, I cannot allow my mind, heart, and soul to be exposed, or bombarded, as the case may be, with all of the news of the universe. I deal with news on a “need to know” basis. And most news, I don’t need to know. I limit my news intake. I don’t keep up with the President’s latest tweets, the accusations of political parties, rumors of wars, and the newsbleeds that pour forth continuously with an onslaught of information that could overwhelm the mightiest of men. Listen, I don’t want to live with my head buried, but I know what kills and what keeps my mind, heart, and soul from overwhelm. The news is nasty for my mental health. I bet it’s nastier than most realize. Garbage in- garbage out they say- well…no garbage in, and you keep your head from being a dumping place for a lot of unnecessary garbage you don’t need to know anyway.
- Do Secret Good Deeds- We live in a world of over-sharing. We live in a culture where sharing what we do is so common we forget that there is a beautiful freedom in doing some things – especially good things, without anyone, but the One who sees all, knowing. I challenge you to give, money, time, talent and whatever you want to do for another…in secret. Don’t tell, don’t share it on social media. Make it anonymous. God sees. God knows. I’m not saying you should never share or tell or that you should always do good deeds anonymously. Sometimes it is important to share! I am just suggesting another way to discover something beautifully liberating and satisfying. Let your secret good deeds pile up high to heaven over a lifetime.
- Commune with God- Obviously, I am coming at this as one who has a faith in God. I believe this God, my God, can be known and communed with regularly. I believe He is intimately and intricately involved in the details of every moment of my life. I don’t know everything about this God. I don’t have all the answers, all the whys, and why nots…I just know Him, and want to know Him more each day I am alive. I believe He can be known, and I believe He does reveal Himself to common, everyday folks like me. And you. This faith is like a glue that keeps me from coming completely unstuck in those places where I find myself coming apart at the seams. This faith keeps me in dark places and eventually draws me back to the light. I seek to commune with God daily. It is why I am here. Prayer, scripture reading, and meditation on scripture passages are some of the ways I do. Being present in God’s presence in my mind all the time is another. Talking with Him in a continuous conversation throughout the day is another way I commune with God.
- Commune with Others- I confess I have a lot of community wounds- I am sure I am not alone in this. This being said, I have a strong conviction that even though this might challenge me at times, I need to strive for a place in community. I believe the healing and wholeness we all need and desire needs to come personally to an individual, and simultaneously with and within community. Again, this is a faith-based conclusion. Years ago, I did not believe this, but only in seeking the Lord’s vision and pattern through His teaching and Scripture was I able to understand at all. Let’s just say this…God’s will is that we receive His grace so that we can be gracious to one another. It’s really hard to give grace to someone that isn’t around. We must all find our way to a place of community- and we must all strive to give that place to one another- despite our differences.
Phew! If you made it to the end of this lengthy post, what are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with my strategies?