Mental Health and Slow Living

Geoffrey and Grace: mental health and slow living

For some time now I have wanted to share my thoughts and experiences around mental health. There are many aspects that feed into our mental well-being and it’s important to have an open discussion around these, including; anxiety, depression, how slow living can help mental well-being, what we do to hinder ourselves, and what we can do to help. Finally, why it’s so important that we talk about mental health in the first place? 

Collectively, our awareness about mental well-being is much greater than it was even five years ago. People are beginning to understand that talking about things, is one of the first positive steps towards starting to feel better. However, there still needs to be more conversations about what impacts our mental health, and what it looks like to not be okay.

If we can all become more comfortable talking about our mental health it will encourage everyone to be more open and honest about what’s really happening in their lives. It’s easy to be good friends with someone and still not know what’s going on below the surface. If we can find the courage to admit when we are not feeling our best, it will also allow us to reach out for help when we need it most. Admitting you need help and speaking up about your problems can feel really hard when you’re in the middle of something. That’s why initiating discussions around mental health is so beneficial, as it begins to change our perceptions of what it looks like to have a mental health problem, and what we can do to support our mental well-being.

A big part of my desire for slow living has been driven by my mental well-being. I became aware that there was disparity from what I felt like life demanded of me, versus what I was happy to give and sacrifice in order to meet those requirements. It’s not surprising that our minds feel busy and full, and that we crave some quiet, we expect a lot from ourselves and our lives. For our mental well-being and health we must allow our minds to have space to rest, daydream and even get bored. Of course, technology makes creating this space more of a challenge since we always have our phones within reaching distance to turn to for a distraction. However, by setting ourselves healthy boundaries and making sure we are consciously creating time when we unplug, not just from technology, but from the demands of life in general, we will begin to slow down our lives, which in turn will help us to slow down our minds and thoughts.

Personal experiences has shown me that if I don’t allow my mind space to rest and daydream that my mental well-being suffers and my anxiety levels increase dramatically. Anxiety, and anxiety disorders are are some of the most common mental health disorders in the world, with many of us being effect by anxiety in one form or another at some point in our lives. At certain times my anxiety just lurks beneath the surface not really affecting my ability to do things, and at other times it has had a much bigger impact on my ability to enjoy life and has even stopped me joining in with things.

Before having Bailey, my anxiety was impacting my life so much that I started to read a lot about the physiological reaction that our bodies have to anxiety. I realised that a lot of the physical symptoms I had been experiencing were actually as a result of anxiety. Over the last few years, my anxiety has been at its worst, and early this year I finally had some CBT Therapy (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). The CBT has been really valuable in helping me understand my anxiety and why it is triggered. Practically, we explored any unhelpful thought habits and patterns I have formed over the years that feed that anxiety. Most importantly, it helped me begin to form new more positive thought patterns and habits. 

Living with anxiety can be really tiring as it takes up a lot of mental, emotional and physical energy to worry and be anxious about something. This automatically means simple things can seem exhausting, and that there isn’t much room to enjoy life. It has taken me until now to appreciate that I will always have to view myself through this lens of anxiety and to work within my boundaries of comfort and courage. There is no point in forcing myself into situations that I am not ready for, but equally that does not mean I will disengage from life and not challenge myself to live to my full potential.

Since finishing my CBT I decided I would look at having some private counselling to help me with certain aspects of my life. We all have our own experiences with grief and the difficulties of life, and I have found talking to someone to be such a positive step in beginning to feel better. It’s no secret that we have wanted to have a second child for a long time now, and talking about this with my counsellor is making such a difference to how I view things, and ultimately feel.

Perhaps, if we can all start to encourage self compassion and try to be kind to ourselves when we are not feeling our best we will begin to alter how we view ourselves and our mental well-being . If we can stop putting pressure on ourselves to be coping better or doing more, if we can ignore the “should haves” that we all tell ourselves, we are more likely to be able to give ourselves and our bodies what we need.

Here are seven simple everyday things I do that help my mental health and well-being.

7 everyday activities that help improve mental health:

  1. Go for a walk: Walking is an easy way to get our bodies moving and of course the action impacts how we breathe. I also find walking to be cathartic when I am feeling anxious and stressed. The rhythm of my feet pounding on the pavement seems to release some of the tension as I am able to work through the problem in my mind, letting my thoughts settle into a calm space.

  2. Get out into nature: Nature can have a really positive impact on our mental well-being. From being outdoors I notice myself breathing differently, I find that my thoughts slow down and I gain some perspective on whatever is troubling me. Spending time in nature helps to bring me into the present through the sounds, textures, sensations and colours that are right in front of me; Nature grabs hold of me, pulls me away from my worries and helps me see all the beauty and good that there is in the world. If I am struggling to feel that things are okay, nature helps me see (and most importantly feel in my body) that they are.

  3. Eat a really good meal: I always find my anxiety and low mood is much worse if I am hungry. I literally have no energy to fight of any negative and worrisome thoughts. Eating helps me stay grounded and provides my body with the necessary nourishment and fuel.

  4. Practice yoga and breath work: Just 10 minutes moving and stretching my body make a big difference to my mood. The simple act of rolling out my mat alters my breath pattern. Through the movement, yoga helps me breathe breath into parts of my body that need it, it encourages me to become aware of any tension I am holding, and allows me to begin to release that tension.

  5. Enjoy an everyday self care ritual: When we’re feeling low, simple things like having a bath or a shower can feel like hard work, but making these activities a priority instead of other life admin can really make a difference to how we feel. Taking a bath or a long shower, or massaging a lovely body oil or moisturiser, are really simple acts of pampering that can really fill us up.

  6. Practice meditation: Any sort of meditation or mindfulness work helps me become more present and gives me space to let go of any worries or stress, even if only for a short while. It helps with perspective and can encourage self compassion and kindness. Guided meditations can be wonderful at times of extreme anxiety.

  7. Listen to music: Simply, listening to music makes me feel good. It allows me the space to let off steam and daydream. It also helps me quiet my thoughts and provides some respite from any worries or stress.

I hope some of these things, in a small way, help you feel better. Would love to hear your experiences… What have you found works for you?

Melanie BarnesComment