Mental Health – More than an absence of illness

It’s Mental Health Week – and the fact that it’s not called “Mental Illness Week” is not insignificant.  We will hear a lot about mental ill-health this week, and so we should – but mental health, mental wellness is more than the absence of illness.

Me & Sig - we were both younger then!

Me & Sig – we were both younger then!

I’m considering this topic against a painful backdrop for our family.  On Sunday night our family dog died after a brief, severe, surprise illness.  He was 11 years old, and this is our children’s first real experience with grief and loss.  That they – and we – are taking the time to experience that grief is part of us taking care of our mental health; and no matter what we do, we are also shepherding our children as they learn life lessons about pain.  None of us want to walk through this week – the house is empty; the routines are wrong; a large part of our family is missing and we hurt so much.  But we hurt because we loved – two sides of the same coin, a package deal.

Life does this to us all the time.  This isn’t my first major loss, and of course it won’t be my last – and you, reading this, you will know my family’s pain this week, because you have been here too, and life will ask you and I to go there again and again.  There isn’t a pause button we can press while we regroup, there is only putting one foot in front of the other.

Some of life’s trials we can predict, and many others come from seemingly nowhere.  How important it is then that we look after our physical and our mental health to the extent we DO have control, to give us greater resiliency in those times we are most tested.  Again though, mental wellness is MORE THAN avoiding mental ill-health – in much the same way that people don’t strive to be physically fit purely to avoid physical illness.  Mental health is about thriving, more than surviving.

Here are some things I do to look after my mental wellness.  Some I do very well, while others I forget and need to regularly bring myself back to (hopefully with kindness and self-compassion).

Some I can do on my own:

  • Eating well
  • Getting a good night’s sleep every night (which means I have to limit screen time  before going to bed)
  • Keeping physically active
  • Limiting the time I spend internetting and facebooking

Some you would predict a psychologist (particularly an ACT therapist) would say:

  • Formal and informal mindfulness practice
  • Staying connected to my values and choosing actions that line up with them
  • Having a flexible relationship with my thoughts
  • Making room for my emotions to be as they are

Most involve being with others:

  • Playing and just being present with Hiccup and Toothless
  • Being intentional in the way I care for my relationship with Stoick
  • Hanging out with my family and in-laws
  • Making time to regularly catch up with my dear friends
  • Plenty of time to be playful
  • Singing and dancing
  • Risking being open, genuine and vulnerable with my loved ones when they ask me how I am
  • Accepting love, support and gestures of kindness

When these things fall out of balance, I fall out of balance too.

Let’s add to the list.  What helps you nourish your mental health?  What ideas can you share below?

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This entry was posted in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mental Health and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Mental Health – More than an absence of illness

  1. Nicci says:

    So sorry about Sig(mund?) Tiff. An dyes…we have all been there.

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  2. Luke says:

    I find physical activity is very nourishing to my soul (which is synonymous with my mental health) as it helps “reset” perspective. I’m sure others have different methods, but figuring out what works for you and prioritizing that activity can make a world of difference.

    Thanks for the article, always insightful.

    Luke

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  3. Katherine says:

    I was just catching up on my blogs and came across this.

    I’m so, so sorry to hear about Siggy. I still remember when you first got him. He certainly gave you some challenges(!) as puppies do, but he was instantly part of your family’s heart. Big hugs to you, Stoick, Hiccup and Toothless.

    With regards to your question about what keeps me in balance… It is accepting that I need frequent time alone to replenish my energy. Often that means saying no to an invitation even though I have a space in my calendar. It was a difficult lesson to learn, but I’m so much happier now that I apply it regularly.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Hi Tiff,
    I’m very sad for you and your family to hear about losing your dear doggy. I hope it is getting a little easier each day without him.

    Something I find very hard to do, but know that my mental health benefits from, is saying “no”. I try to help everyone who asks, but sometimes pleasing others is not as important as whatever else I could be doing instead.

    Another thing I have recently started doing for the first time is taking a bit of time each morning and evening to hand water my plants on my own. Watching them grow is so pleasing and experiencing all the sounds and smells of Spring outside is really rejuvenating!
    Love Chris Ang x

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