5 Fresh Ways to Protect Your Mental Health
We’re nearly half-way through 2019, already.
It’s that time where we look back on our resolutions, prepare for exams or work towards career changes and promotions. In short, our hopes, expectations and how we judge ourselves are at one of their peaks. And with these peaks sometimes come a peak in anxiety, stress and beyond.
So it makes sense that in May, Mental Health Awareness month, we lean in. It makes sense that we take extra special care to feed our souls and protect our minds in the process. Navigating our mental health can sometimes feel like a minefield. This year, I’ve juggled multiple responsibilities, being stretched beyond my mental and physical capacity. And while I’ve not won every battle, these five tips have helped me to thrive even when I thought that I had run out of options.
So embrace them, even if you’re a bit sceptical like I was. You might be pleasantly surprised!
Important: these are very personal insights from my own experiences with mental health, and do not constitute as medical advice. Nor am I minimising the long road to recovery that healing requires. I simply hope these tips may help you in some way.
Give fasting another chance, and flip it completely.
This has been MAJOR for me this week! At our recent small group gathering, an older couple came to share their life wisdom with us. And something in particular struck me — they said “humans are sensory beings” and therefore we are more likely to be ruled by what we feel or think, even if those feelings are fleeting and misleading.
Personally, I don’t want to be ruled by my human senses. On this journey of faith, I want to follow my spiritual senses, I want to go where God is calling me. And that takes work.
The flesh wants to do the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the flesh desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. — (Galatians 5:17).
With this new perspective and verse from Galatians in mind, I realised why fasting food was no longer working for me, and why I did not experience greater spiritual clarity. Because eating was no longer where my human feelings had the most dominance.
So, I started to ask myself — “what area of my life is ruled by my feelings, whims and what I think is a good idea the most?”.
For you, this could be how you conduct yourself at work, how you spend your money or how you prioritise and procrastinate. After I identified my area, I decided to spend a few days fasting from it, banning it completely. Within a few days I was sharper, and less influenced by the strong desire to ‘just do X’. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard. But every moment of difficulty propelled me to rely more on God’s Spirit living within me, instead of my wants and ‘good ideas’. I woke up in the morning with a clearer sense of my own spirituality, eagerly seeking God’s word through devotionals, journalling and the Bible.
It was a small change that has yielded significant results. Going forward, I’ll always think of fasting in this way. And I’ll recommit to doing it more frequently because my mind depends on it. (Romans 12:2)
2. For the love of ‘slow cooking’ (trust me on this)
For the purposes of this blog, I am defining ‘slow cooking’ as taking the time out to engage in the intentional, step-by-step process of cooking good food.
At one of my lowest points (I’m talking, can’t get out of bed type of low) — I found joy. I started to experiment with veganism (more examples here), and this transformed my mind. I had to change how I shopped for groceries and learn many new recipes. Cooking stopped being a boring ‘have to do’ experience, and became a process that enriched my mind, body and soul. Similar to the fasting example, there’s something spiritually significant about paying attention to things you normally do on auto-pilot.
Through the process of planning meals, buying food, chopping, baking, frying and beyond, I could almost feel the burned out and beaten parts of my brain come back to life. Mentally, things started to “click”, I spent less time in bed, and I am convinced this process accelerated my recovery from a bad bout of depression. Now, when work gets busy and I’m saddled with deadlines, I go back to my favourite meals and smoothies, intentionally engaging in that process again and again.
And I’m not crazy. This is something world-renowned food writer, Michael Pollan also shared with Oprah on her Super Soul Sunday podcast. If you’re rolling your eyes right now, I challenge you personally to try intentional, ‘slow cooking’ for a week. You won’t regret it.
The other thing I did was get into the habit of daily affirmations (identity statements). At first, I did it reluctantly, but as I spoke the Word of God out loud, it became activated and internalised within me. And that changed everything. Go to Tip Number 4 for some of my favourite Bible-based affirmations.
3. Let it all out
You can’t heal what you don’t acknowledge.
Admitting mistakes, struggles and places where we’ve been hurt is a difficult process. Fear of rejection and overexposure is real. But denial, avoidance and excessive secrecy is a cage that we create for ourselves. So sit down with a trusted friend and start to share your pain. Even if it’s just one sentence as a time.
Practicing how you will share can also help. This can be done through private vlogging and recording voice notes, as well as my favourite thing ever: journalling. That’s why I have included private journal pages in my latest book “Take What You Need” — for you to capture your own insights and reflections. Download a free sample of the book here.
4. Have a plan
Mental health, wellness and everything else in this arena can be difficult to pin down. But pretty much everything in life can be tackled with a good plan! From my years writing and speaking on these topics, I have learned that having a plan was the best way to keep your mind in check when life gets busy.
This plan includes deconstructing your pressure points, clearly defining your priorities and setting boundaries where it matters the most. All of this is beautifully wrapped up into my 5-step plan, CULTIVATE: How to Eliminate Stress and Restore Balance to your Busy Life. You can get it here — including the affirmations I talked about.
5. Be aware of your ‘gateways’
An essential but overlooked principle. A ‘gateway’ is something questionable that that you might be able to get away with… but that eventually leads to something more sinister. A perfect personal example of this is SLEEP. We all know it’s important to get our 7 or 8 hours a day, but sometimes it’s so tempting to just skip one hour or two. “I’ll survive” I echo to myself and suddenly I’m coasting on 4-5 hours for 4 days straight.
And the gateway opens. Then, between the tiredness and busyness of life, I lose perspective. I spend less time reminding myself of the verses that shape my life (those affirmations I mentioned earlier) and the prophetic words that encourage me and keep me mentally strong daily (my short video on prophecy is here). Everything begins to look bleak, and those all-familiar feelings of hopelessness, depression and anxiety gain a grip on my mind.
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