Mental Health is for life .. not just an awareness week

61024946-4FC0-4A6A-8330-9A8955EE2AF4.jpegLast week was mental health awareness week, a great opportunity to raise the profile of mental health and mental illness. After a difficult week this week, it struck me this morning that mental health isn’t just for mental health awareness week. I was drawn here to share how I am taking care of my own mental health, I hope this will encourage whoever is reading this to consider their own actions to promote their wellbeing.

Step 1 is acknowledging that it’s been a tough week; and allowing myself to “sit with” and reflect on some of the challenges and my feelings and emotions. For me, I work best by journaling this or by drawing images that reflect my thoughts and feelings. I’ve always been a writer and a scribbler. Mindfulness always sounds so powerful but I am not sure I manage it very well; although I think it’s a bit like yoga – it’s not a competitive sport, you find your own level (and the more you practise the better you get). Allowing yourself this reflective space, exploring your feelings and understanding, as best you can, what those feelings are telling you, deepens your understanding. If you have a good friend, coach or therapist it is a step further to have them ask you about things and listen to your reply – they can often notice something that is just outside of your awareness; and this can be helpful to deepening your understanding. And the power of being listened to is often enough to help you heal.

Step 2 is being grateful, acknowledging all the positive aspects of life or even just one – as the amazing author Matt Haig says “look for the beauty”. This can also help to bring perspective, for many years after my cancer diagnosis I would look at all issues from the perspective “am I dying?”; sadly it’s not a perspective that sticks but occasionally life is kind enough to kick me in the rear and remind me that living to face another day is a privilege. I remember, many years ago, seeing the great Maya Angelou in an interview where she was asked how she maintains her positivity and she said that her mother would say “no matter how miserable you feel, whatever you are going through, you need to remember that everyone who died last night would give anything for five minutes of what you are going through”. I have always remembered that.

Step 3 taking care of me – rest, exercise, good food and for me a beautiful bunch of flowers, finishing the presentation I am delivering on 6th June, tidying up and doing my physio exercises for my impinged shoulder. I think self-care is a very personal thing, I’m aware the tidying wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Our personal tastes, preferences and abilities dictate our rest, exercise, food and treat choices. Sometimes the pressure for 15 minutes vigorous exercise, 5 a day of fruit and veg and 8 hours sleep can lead to inertia through our perception of “not good enough”. My philosophy is that 1 portion of fruit and veg, getting my backside out of the chair and allowing myself the opportunity for sleep is better than nothing. We are all climbing our own mountain.

So, I encourage you to consider your mental health today and do what you can to nurture it. I wish you success and peace.

Pause, Breathe, Connect

One of my hobbies is photography; thinking about why I enjoy it always brings me to the same thing – that opportunity to slow down and do something “different” from my day to day. As a general rule I am busy, rushing around – if not in physical terms at least mentally. My thoughts race and I am always thinking about what’s next. Any photographer, at any level, will tell you that such frenetic energy is not generally conducive to good photography! The digital era has made it easier to be “snap happy” but the best photographs and the greatest enjoyment (to me at least) is in `stopping and taking notice’. So that’s my step one – pause, stop rushing, just “be”. Take notice of what’s around you, as Matt Haig says “Look for the beauty”. I believe this step incorporates several of the cornerstones of good mental health – mindfulness, taking notice and practising gratitude.

Step two, breathe, always a good idea, but actually a top tip for taking good photographs. The key to a sharp image is the steadiness of the photographer’s hand (unless you resort, as is necessary sometimes, to a tripod and remote shutter release); and the best way to get a steady hand is to steady the breath. Taking your shot at the point that you finish releasing a deep breath is usually the steadiest you can achieve (although it also depends on your stance – feet flat on the floor with a good centre of gravity is pretty important too).

image1Step three, the one that has achieved the most appreciation for my photography, connection. You might think this is just in people shots but it is possible to find a story and connection in any shot. This breathes passion into your art. My favourite photograph, of my own, is a shot of a fallen tree at the Johnston Observatory in Mount St Helens. I knew as soon as I saw the scene that, for me, there was an emotional connection to the blast of 1980, I could imagine the tree being blasted into its current position which connected me to the force of the blast and the emotion of the event. I have entered the print into competitions and no-one makes the same connection but they “get” the shot as a powerful image.

 

As a photographer and artist, I have much to learn but the joy is in the learning and the experience. I hope you have a hobby that brings you peace and happiness, even if it’s accompanied by a certain level of frustration!