Those long, cold, dark winter nights can be particularly challenging if we struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), depression and low mood. They also might just get us down generally, as with less opportunity to stay busy outside, we may find ourselves in a bit of a mental and emotional ‘slump’ or fugue, as we are sometimes forced to stay away from our regular activities, and as such the ‘winter blues’ might get a hold of us.
We all too easily can become passive consumers of information, spending hour upon hour in front of the TV for example, and our minds can suffer for it. Without positive distractions and mental stimulation where we are actively involved rather than passively consuming, we also may fall into a state of rumination which can negatively impact our mental health.
One thing we can do, especially if we find that we are spending those long, cold, dark winter nights on our own is to actively engage our minds, train our brains and keep mentally fit and active. You could read, study, engage in new or old hobbies, for example and I will come to these in turn later. However, a fun and relaxing way to keep mentally fit is to play ‘mind games’ – no, not the kind of negative mind games in relating to other people – but games that will challenge you mentally.
These could be, for example, card games on the computer, word challenges, puzzles, board games or chess if you have company, riddles and such like. Something which you actively need to think about and engage in. Never underestimate the importance of looking after your mental health, and remember that there are fun ways that you can do this too!
What about you? What would your ‘go to’ mental health activity be?
Take a moment to consider whether the thing you are allowing yourself to get stressed about will be significant to you in five years time, and whether it is worth so much of your mental energy right now.
Most of us in society nowadays, live pretty ‘busy’ lives. Even when we are sedentary for hours at a time, we are still ‘wired up’, connected to our tech, and our minds are solving problems, figuring things out, and absorbing information. Busyness isn’t therefore simply in the form of rushing about, doing things, making appointments, getting to places by a certain time, meeting people, attending functions, and the endless list goes on and on. Busyness, nowadays also represents our state of mind.
The racing doesn’t stop, even when you do. Maybe you spend a significant amount of work time at a computer. By the time you get home, your mind most likely needs some time to process your thoughts, experiences and to assimilate these and make sense of the day. However, how many of us give ourselves the chance to do just that? I wonder if we overwork our minds by the amount of stimulus we allow into our experiences, in an unhealthy way similar to that of an overworked muscle that eventually loses some of its agility and function and ultimately its health?
I think because of the society we live in, we need to really be intentional about this aspect of our wellbeing. In years gone by, before instant photography, people used to have to develop their pictures from negatives, in a dark room….and it took time for the picture to form and appear. Now that we are so used to things being ‘at the touch of a button’, or at the sound of a voice, we have grown less patient, and have come to expect things to happen instantly. We no longer make much time to sit in stillness, and to replenish ourselves, to process and develop, and allow the pictures and the meanings to form; and this isn’t healthy, and I know I’m guilty of such bad habits too.
When we come home from work, what do we do? Do we really connect with ourselves and the people around us, or do we continue to absorb ourselves in an online world? Don’t get me wrong, as a blogger and a writer and a creative person, I think it is a wonderful outlet, but I also realise that there is a fine balance to be had between the digital and analogue worlds. How many of us, having been at the computer for several hours, continue to go online, or to sit in front of the TV, and take in more mental stimulus than our brains can handle? Is our relaxation, really relaxing? Do we actually give our minds a break?
I tend to feel it when things get out of balance for me. I need a lot of time on my own, and solitude, time to think and to be creative, but sometimes I do just get absorbed in the next drama or box set or article online, and I am almost compelled to keep watching, listening, reading. When what would be really good for me would actually be to sit in silence for a while, to observe nature, to read a book, to think, to process, to write and journal, and to create, draw, play my violin, pray, colour, paint, cook, experience. Yes, really experience. Our minds can’t be in a continuous state of rush, absorbing information, and never having a break or a chance to process these experiences and the multitude of data we feed ourselves with. Like ‘junk food’ we are drawn to the instant gratification of what is quick, easy, with a short term ‘feel good’ factor, but is in the long term detrimental to our health.
I find blogging a healthy way to engage with life online – it gives the chance to step away from the constant streams of information to actually begin to process my own thoughts and make sense of life as it happens to be. Yet, it is not enough. I know I for one need to be more intentional in stepping away from technology and spending real quiet time being present, being creative in an analogue way, and just allowing my mind the chance to slow down, take in one thing at a time, consider it, dwell upon it, and process.
The racing of our minds doesn’t stop just because we do, especially when we don’t give our minds the chance to be still, constantly bombarding ourselves with information until we are full, overloaded, and at the brink of malfunctioning. However, we can give ourselves the chance, to ‘hibernate’, sleep, reboot, restart. Surely if our computers need to, we do too!
If like me, you’ve suffered with trauma, you’ll be familiar with the distressing battle with intrusive thoughts, memories and flashbacks. It’s important if you have C-PTSD, PTSD, or any related conditions that you seek professional help. I’ve tried to get through things on my own in the past, but I couldn’t get a handle on the ‘explosions’ in my mind and the related physical pain from trying to cope without really knowing or understanding what was happening to me. It was scary, but getting help has been a game-changer for me.
I’m not a professional, a trauma psychologist, or a medical practitioner. But I am someone living with and overcoming complex post traumatic stress and the daily challenges that a maladaptive brain presents. Getting help has given me understanding and hope, but now I’m no longer getting this input, I still have to invest in ways of discovering how to help my brain heal.
If I can help anyone else out there in a similar position to find relief and mental strength, that would mean so much to me. So I’ll just share with you some of the things that I am continuing to learn on this journey.
One of the most overwhelming and difficult things for me has been how adverse childhood experiences impacted and crushed my sense of a positive identity. This has been a long road, but I’ve worked hard and am finding strength and would like to help others also. Yes, we can work on positive self talk (which is so important), we can exercise our minds to think on positive attributes about ourselves and go over and over these again and again until new ‘tracks’ are formed in our mental processing. We can work hard at retraining our thought processes and reactions. However, we all, who are on this journey, know the crippling pain and distress caused by those intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and experiences that are laden with powerful emotions. We become scared of these thoughts, and sometimes we become lost in them. Our minds become frightening places to dwell. We might try to pretend that certain things didn’t happen, we might try to minimise their significance in how they affected us by comparing our experiences to others who went through far worse, we might try to block things out, or find harmful ‘coping mechanisms’. We need someone to help us work through these things a little at a time, and it may take years, or even decades depending on how we were initially affected by the trauma. But one thing we can do for ourselves is to create a context in which these difficult thoughts, memories and emotions can sit, and in doing so, defuse their power, and take back control of our own minds and lives.
Let me share with you what I do. I seek ways in which to put the painful and difficult experiences into a context of being part of a bigger plan of becoming the strong and positive and amazing individual I am meant to be. I know that I am made new in Christ, but I also think of myself as a Princess Warrior, and so when the negative comes to mind, I remind myself, that I can see it in a different context – rather than seeing myself as a victim, I can choose to think of it as a painful and difficult part of my life’s journey, and in fact reclaim control of my mind by seeing it as a training process to make me strong, an overcomer, a warrior of light. How can I be a princess warrior if I haven’t been through any battles?
Our minds seek narrative, context, meaning and explanation. Sometimes our experiences are just too painful to be able to get there in any easy way. We have to let things take their course, but if we can regain control over our narratives, we can begin to shape a more positive future for ourselves. Creating context and meaning is something our minds crave, so we can find ways to do this. I am far less afraid of those formerly extremely troubling thoughts. I have a narrative and when they intrude, rather than try to push them away, fear them, or block them out, I embrace them in a new way of thinking – I think to myself, oh yes, that was a lie, I break it, or that helped shape me into becoming the overcomer that I am meant to be, and I think of what I can take from those experiences to use positively today and in the future.
Once we know we are not helpless, that we have choice, we are not victims, we can rewrite that narrative, give it new meaning and context, and look upon it productively so that we don’t have to spend all of our days in mental suffering, but we can transform our minds, little by little, bit by bit, even when it is painful, and we can become strong enough to help others. What do you want your identity and story to be? Today is a good day to start figuring it out. Be blessed, and may your future be filled with Love and Light and purpose. x
Hi everyone, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK, and I have written quite a few posts on the topic of mental health since starting my blog a couple of years ago (which covers a whole variety of things, not just mental health).