World Mental Health Day is October 10.
The problem right now is that normally on World Mental Health Day we’re all thinking about how we can flourish a little bit more, but I think this has become even more challenging, especially in the Veterinary Industry, during the year that is 2023.
This is not a great time…. and when times are tough many of us want to do things to make ourselves feel better but we pick the wrong stuff to do, like eat something that’s unhealthy, go down Facebook or Tick Toc rabbit holes or pop down and watch television.
There are better more evidence-based best ways to cope and that’s what I’m here to share today.
Here are my Five Favorite tips for coping when times are really challenging and tough.
First Coping tip is “Exercise”.
We forget that exercise is the way to bump up our wellbeing in ways often we don’t expect.
One study actually showed that half hour of cardio every morning is in some cases as effective as prescription of Zoloft.
The problem is that we often don’t think of exercise as a coping skill. Again, we know it’s kind of good at improving our bodies and improving our fitness but we forget that it’s the kind of thing we should immediately turn to when we are having a crappy day.
My forms of exercise are actually walking outside I live in some beautiful countryside so I often out hiking there or alternatively horse-riding there. Then there is the gym twice a week and some Yoga which is something I can do even if it’s really raining outside, I can always pull out my mat.
Second favourite strategy for coping when times are tough –“Taking some time for Gratitude”.
Happy people tend to spontaneously focus on the good things in life.
You might say “That’s because they’re happy and when I’m in a challenging situation, I don’t necessarily do that.”
But the research suggests that you can retrain your mind to focus on happier things simply by paying attention to the kinds of things your grateful for. And maybe just through the act of just stripling them down.
In fact, the data suggests that the act of just writing down three to five things you are grateful for every day can significantly improve your wellbeing in as little as two weeks.
I started writing down three simple things every morning, just a few words here and there, some years ago and this really changed my outlook and my life!
I have a really beat-up old notebook that I use and I really try to force myself to think about a few things that I’m grateful for.
Sometimes I super struggle and they’re just the basics; “I’m alive today”, “I’m above the ground”.
Sometimes, they’re really tiny things like; “the taste of my coffee is good this morning”.
But oftentimes they’re the people that I really care about, my partner, my clients, the pets I look after for other people, and my friends. Those things quite add up in the list too.
Now we jump to evidence-based strategy number Three and that is “Sleep”.
This was a HUGE one for me and I’ve very proactively doubled down on positive sleep habits.
The first thing I’ve tried to do is to get rid of my technology right before bed. This is incredibly hard for me because I’m addicted to my phone but my phone now actually has a spot where it goes to bed, I actually made it a little tiny bed that I can lock the phone on when I goes to sleep.
Uhm, that means my phone is out of the way right before I go to bed. I’m not seeing or hearing anxiety provoking stuff or attention grabbing stuff on the internet.
Evidence-based strategy number Four – “Get Social”.
Every available survey of happy people suggests that happy people are more social.
Happy people prioritize time with their friends and family members and they really try to schedule it in when times get really busy.
Now, this is something that doesn’t come easy to me when I’m having a challenging time, my instinct just is to go anywhere else. Be away from all of the people I care about and just kind of be myself.
But the data suggests that is not a great strategy.
The simple act of being with other people and chatting with other folks can make us feel better.
One thing I did was to set up some zoom meetings. I do some zoom ‘squash’ nights with my former squash club team-mates and also have a monthly standing zoom meeting with my Dutch family members who are far away and I can’t see very often.
But my favourite way to get social is to combine with other tips like double down on those coping strategies and so often times my exercise also involves other people.
Now we get to my Fifth evidence-based tip for coping. And that is that to sometimes to “Be with our emotions”.
I know when times are tough for me, I really want to run away from my anxiety, run away from my sadness just not feel any of that stuff.
But the sad thing is, emotions just don’t work that way.
Scientifically, you can’t just avoid them and as even worse just kind of suppress them – like I used to do so much. I’m getting better and have a long way to go here!!
I used a meditation technique called RAIN – it’s an acronym that was popularize by the meditation teacher Tara Brach and it stands for Recognize, Accept, Investigate, and Nurture.
Let’s say I’m feeling just frustrated in the morning; I look at the news and I can see some yucky stuff! I can notice my chest getting tighter, that’s the point where I want to do the R “Recognize” Ah!.
This is the negative emotion, it doesn’t feel super awesome. Let me stay with this for a second, this is the time when I am going to take five minutes to just process.
That’s when you do the A “Accept” which is just invite the emotion in. This doesn’t feel super-hot, but I can kind of sit with it for a short while. I will actually use the phrase “you’re good,” when I can accept that emotion and move on.
Next the I, which is “Investigate” – which is to try to notice how the emotion feels inside your body.
Is it making your chest tight? Are my neck muscles kind of constricting in? What does this emotion really feel like?
This part is important because you can just get curious about what the feeling feels like. And this most times will take a little bit or even a lot of its weight away.
Finally, you can engage in N which is the most important, which is “ Nurture.”
Often, we don’t have that much self-compassion when we’re feeling kind of yucky.
Often times we certainly go after ourselves and beat ourselves up!
The nurture instinct is actually just the opposite.
- Take time to really think about how you would consult a friend if they were going through something like this
- How you would talk to young child who’s going through the same emotion like you did.
- What would it look like to really nutritiously nurture yourself?
If you can engage in this process, in RAIN, you may also find it to be really, really helpful.
Personally, I found it incredibly useful especially with all the negative emotion we’re experiencing in 2023.
I hope hearing these evidence-based tips have given you some sense that we are all in this together.
I hope you will come with me on the journey to promoting better mental health and more flourishing in our lives.