My method of recovery as you can see from the photo was cheffing up a gorgeous home-cooked grilled English breakfast, whacking an old Reggae Sunday playlist on Spotify and having a laugh listening to Eva singing along to Big Mountain.
However, I had to override a few internal gremlins to allow me to do that.
The perfectionism gremlins would have had me trying to do All The Things. Catching up on emails missed from 2 days away from work, tidying the house, doing next week’s food planning, attacking some decluttering I’ve been wanting to do, replying to all the WhatsApp/Facebook messages I’ve ignored or missed etc.etc.
They were whispering that I was behind on work from last week and should be doing that now instead of relaxing and being present with Eva.
I’ve learned over the years to allow that voice to be there, but to totally know when I have to override it to protect my emotional wellbeing, happiness and effectiveness.
That means slowing down. It means lowering my expectations a bit and not try to be the perfect wife/parent/mother/homemaker/business owner.
It means giving myself permission to just ‘be’ for a few hours instead of attacking the never-ending to-do list.
It’s a very conscious decision and something I still have to work hard at and it doesn’t mean that the voices aren’t there.
I was reminded of this at BSAVA. I attended the Mind Matters live #AndMe sessions where two vets and a medic talked openly and frankly about their own challenges with mental health, how it had occurred, what it felt like and what they experienced, how they recovered and how they practice self-care now.
The stories were honest, raw, occasionally hard to listen to as at two of the three speakers had experienced suicidal thoughts. You could have heard a pin drop in the room and their stories resonated with all of us.
One of the speakers said they felt that with depression and anxiety you are never cured, you just go into remission and that challenged me somewhat.
It challenged me because having experienced both from my teens through most of my twenties and then coming out the other side, I DO feel cured.
But then mindfully observing my own behaviour over the 48hrs after returning from BSAVA I’ve realised that maybe they are right. Those triggers that once would have caused anxiety are definitely still very much there but I now have such an extensive toolkit of techniques for stopping it in its tracks and much better knowledge of the operating software of my brain and how to influence it.
I use these techniques to keep anxiety firmly in the backseat of the car of my life, not in the front seat and never with its hands on my steering wheel.
But it’s still in the car and that’s ok!
Techniques I used over the weekend:
- Watching the stories I was telling myself. When we feel emotions, we create a narrative in our heads to make sense of how we are feeling. These narratives are not truths, and are based on our previous experiences mostly. I watch the narratives my brain makes up and then critically analyse them to see if they are helpful or if I could re-frame them to something more empowering, positive and useful.
- I practice micro-mindfulness when I need to reset myself. On Saturday we went for a family walk on Sidmouth beach and I could feel my ‘chimp’ brain experiencing anxious thoughts and feelings about various things so while Kyle and Eva climbed around all over the big rocks, I picked a big flat rock, sat still on it and did 10 mins of breathwork while watching the waves. I breathed in for a count of 4, held for 4, exhaled for 4 and paused again for 4. This oxygenates the brain and gets your neo-cortex back online again and can be done sneakily wherever you happen to be. Worked a treat and no-one on the beach knew I was doing mindfulness practice.
- Consciously over-rode my impulses to crack on with all the to-do stuff on Sunday morning to give myself permission to just ‘be’ for a few hours, accepting that all that stuff would still need to be done later at some point and letting go. It that easy? No! But gets easier the more you practice.
Interestingly, although all three of the #AndMe speakers experienced their mental health issues from a different perspective and in a different way, much of their self-care was identical.
They all made things – one made wooden objects, one taught herself to crochet and the other did photography. This is creativity not necessarily to share with others or to do it ‘brilliantly’ or for income-generation but just as an enjoyable expressive calming outlet.
All three said they now prioritise self-care where they wouldn’t have done before.
Interestingly of my clients, it’s often the ones who have been brought to their knees by mental or physical health challenges who then realise the power and benefit of self-care, because they’ve HAD to, but then they decide to hang on to those practices even when they are well again. Seeing them as essential as sleeping and eating – which of course they are!
It strikes me that the techniques I and others use to stay ‘in remission’ are just as applicable to use as weekly preventative activities to stay healthy in the first place for those who do not have mental health issues but are being visited by anxiety from time to time.
Given that anxiety/chimp management was the topic most respondents were interested in learning about from my November research study, this is something I will be doing more posts and videos about in the coming months.
NB: It’s important to stress that the tools mentioned above and others like them are NOT enough if you are overtly struggling with serious anxiety problems right now – there are a couple of deeper pieces of work/therapy needed before you can then use these maintenance techniques so please see your GP or phone Vetlife if needed.
However for those who are experiencing mild anxiety due to being unsure of their career or life pathway ahead, or struggling with a particular challenge at work right now, this is something I work on with clients on a daily basis!
You may have seen I’m repeating my November research study again, full details in this short video so for anyone who didn’t participate in the last one, you can grab yourself a free 45 min coaching session in return for completing my questionnaire.
I’m asking for 30 volunteers; the first 15 April places have gone already so there are 15 spaces remaining in May – snap one up now if I can help you!
Right, off to get ready for one of two children’s parties this weekend. I’ll be the one in the corner of soft-play, sneakily attempting some micro-mindfulness whilst hoping that the child screeching, “Mummy, I need a pooooooo!” isn’t mine. 😉
Have a great week,