“Happiness can be overrated: I don’t think that’s something we can have all the time. I’m not sure people want to feel happy so much as resilient and equipped. People enjoy watching sad movies for a reason.”
Alanis Morissette, The Guardian Newspaper, 9.1.16
For someone who has often overanalysed situations and struggled with rumination, I have found self-help reading a powerful and empowering coping strategy. Often this comes in the form of The Guardian’s progressive reporting on the area of mental health and it was the above quote by Alanis Morrissette within the paper which helped tie everything together. Replacing the word happiness, with resilience, has led to a difference way of approaching worrying thoughts.
The idea of focusing on resilience has worked two fold, firstly it has inspired a sense of control over one’s wellbeing and secondly it has encouraged a notion of acceptance, being at peace with how things are rather than focusing on how I think they should be based on the high expectations of how I think happiness should look as is presented on our devices.
Being resilient and proactively equipped for the challenges modern life imposes on our wellbeing allows for us be there for others, achieve goals, experience basic sensations and be present for the moment.
Feeling happy happens in these moments, moments that come and go and happen because we are resilient and experiencing things as they are instead of what we think they should be. As a community mental health nurse, this lesson was not something you necessarily learn in training but it’s the theme which flows through my writing on my blog nowandafterwards.com.
I strive to be a better practitioner every day and enjoy reading progressive writing from individuals liberal and willing to share their stories. Such as Rachel Kelly, who I am privileged has asked me to write this blog for her page. As well as inspiring my practise, I am also inspired to write.
Whilst acknowledges different strategies work for different people, this post is not an attempt to be an all-encompassing approach to treating ones struggle with mental health but hopefully it will work to inspire debate and the sharing of ideas. Its contents is an accumulation of advice received as a past service user of the NHS and private therapy through to the acquired knowledge from training and practising as a mental health nurse.
Let me start by pointing out that we are all imperfect, capable of making good & bad decisions in fast paced, demanding and distracting modern lives. We all need to appreciate this, ease up, and start cutting ourselves some slack. This can be difficult when a society fuelled by the growth of social media is constantly comparing their self-critical insides to others outsides.
We are living with raised expectations and creating a judgemental approach to people and experience which simply acts to locate happiness in the future dependant on meeting a certain criteria. We should recognise this, keep things simple, disciplined and outward looking. We must be more proactive in developing resilience through equipping ourselves with controlled approaches for managing worry & rumination, developing self awareness and organising and implementing a positive lifestyle.
As the stigma surrounding mental health reduces we are starting to acknowledge that everyone has their own issues and a struggle with mental wellbeing is not only common but normal. A normal and understandable reaction to past experiences and current situations made worse by unhelpful coping methods and habits. We can look at making sense of our experiences by developing insight about ourselves as individuals. Is the way of thinking about self and others affected by early life experience? Are we being overly reactive? Negative? Narrow minded? We need to look for alternative ways of thinking, share with friends and family and don’t let it fuel further worries.
Our negative thoughts play a key role with regards to our mental wellbeing. Resilience relies on our ability to control it. We therefore need to recognise troubling thoughts and stress becoming a rumination. Ruminating and fixating on unwelcome thoughts and feelings about oneself, others and experiences creates tunnel vision, looking for evidence to fit in with these beliefs.
Unhelpful behaviours of avoidance, escape, hyper-vigilance and worry can offer short term relief and are easy and often instinctive ways of handling areas of life we struggle with. But it also explains the very reason problems persist, get worse and make people feel as if they are stuck. These behaviours are not progressive in nature and work to maintain the problem. Recognise this, and approach things in a more positive and rounded way by putting energy into generating positive solutions to issues or alternatives to identified thinking errors. Decide what to do next, is it a worry you can action plan and do something about positively and in a controlled manner? If not, let it be, label the thought as just a thought, focus on your breath and then do something absorbing that makes you feel better.
Focusing your energy on a hobby can help you forget and change your mood in the process. From immersing ourselves in activity to the quality of our sleep, diet and ability to relax, it is our daily habits that have the most effect on wellbeing