By Toli Papadopoulos
NOTE: I am not a psychologist and don’t have any formal training in mental health. However, I am motivated by improving the lives of young people through better well-being and mental health practices. I am a journalist by trade (currently I work in communications in the public sector) and so my natural inclination is one of curiosity: i.e how do we build a better self? I believe mental health is like a muscle, we can exercise it and build strength. While our genes or experiences can make us prone to chronic issues, we have the power to build our mental muscles through healthy lifestyle practices. These practices are adjuncts and not an alternative to talking to a mental health professional and/or considering medications supervised by a medical professional when required.
As I write this article, Melbourne is in the depths of a sixth lockdown – the impacts of which perforate through our society. While the necessity of locking down has proven to save lives and reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 (which can have severe long-term health impacts), there is undoubtedly a significant impact on mental health.
Unemployment, feelings of isolation and loneliness, loss of hope and despair for the future are all real and not insignificant impacts on our society.
In this vein, many of us have become tired and fatigued with checking the daily coronavirus (COVID-19) numbers and hoping for that elusive elimination (or doughnut day – 0 cases) until sufficient vaccine coverage is achieved.
But how do we cope with broader uncertainties and how can we make the best of a difficult situation? It’s important to note that we all experience suffering to varying degrees and our individual situation will vary. Some of you might not know when your next pay check is coming – you might own a business and operating under lockdown conditions isn’t feasible. Others suffer more complex inequalities of which I cannot even begin to understand.
The following tips may be of assistance to you in dealing with the next few months.
Ask yourself – how do I want to remember how I dealt with this experience?
If I look at my own experience – I have always prided myself on the notion of resilience. However, when things are going well, it’s easy for us to look our circumstances and say ‘if things ever get rough’ I am sure that I could deal with them or the old adage ‘life is full of ups and downs’. But when those downs actually come, it’s certainly easier said than done.
Remind yourself of a better time when you made those assurances, ask yourself: how do I want to remember myself during this experience? You may find the idea of being resilient or living up to your true sense of self has a self-motivating factor.
What resources do I have right now and how can I use them?
What is something you can do right now that would help position you for a better future. Maybe it’s establishing healthier habits or a more regular exercise routine. Is there a professional development course you can enrol in (Coursera or FutureLearn have a variety of free courses) to help develop your skills or support a better you?
Look to better your mental health
Regardless of whether we identify as ‘stressed’, ‘anxious’ or ‘depressed’, talking to a clinical psychologist regularly can provide space and perspective from your thoughts. As mentioned above, it can be beneficial to think of your mental health like muscles that can be built.
Talking to a professional may help you unlock a self-awareness you weren’t fully conscious of and you might find there are unhelpful patterns of thinking and feeling that are hindering aspects of your life. Staying ahead of the curve can also mitigate the risk of worsening mental health down the track and also help build patterns of resilience.
Likewise, you might want to consider mindfulness meditation, which has a variety of benefits in reducing stress and may reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression to the same degree as anti-depressants for some people.
A regular exercise routine can also have similar benefits. Find some exercise or activity that suits you, whether it be tennis, running, boxing or Zumba.
Explore philosophy and/or spirituality
Socrates the Greek philosopher said ‘An unexamined life is not worth living’.
Introspections helps us in our pursuit of wisdom and can provide perspective and space from our situation.
For me, as a child, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and was born of Greek background. The meaning I experienced in my life was often with my family enjoying the little things. I distinctly remember sitting with my grandparents in their front yard in the Melbourne suburb of Prahran just watching people pass on the street. Together, it was as if we were watching the world go by and feeling a sense of calm and serenity.
When I think of this situation, it reminds me of a simple time and I remember life as a series of experiences and the various phases we move through in and out of.
My grandparents have now passed away but these experiences and their memory lives on in my being.
Likewise, exploring some of the many literary works on philosophy or spirituality can provide you with perspective or meaning to your experience.
Stoicism for example focuses on the dichotomy of influence and control and remembering through our mortality that everything is ephemeral. Realising how little control we have over things in the universe can re-orientate us and make some of our routine desires (whether it be a higher salary, new relationship or otherwise) feel insignificant.
Remember a time when you were hiking or walking through spectacular scenery and you saw those sprawling mountains or greenery. How did you feel in that moment? This is the exact same feeling – one of insignificance, yet a feeling of solace.
Here’s a list of books you might find useful (and in my top four):
- Meditations – Marcus Aurelias
- The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
- Flourish – Martin Seligman
- Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl
Nobody knows what tomorrow brings and lockdowns will have different impacts on everyone. While we might not have control over our circumstances, we might find that when we truly reflect and look around – there are many things we can control.
Have you got any feedback on this blog? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or add me on LinkedIn – Toli Papadopoulos