Maintaining mental health is a lot like looking after your physical health. In the same way that you can’t go to the gym once and come out looking like a Greek God/Goddess in terms of physique, you can’t do one lot of meditation and suddenly be cured of depression or anxiety. It seems quite obvious when you compare it to physicality, but the problem with mental health is that you don’t always realise it’s becoming a bigger problem until you’re stuck in a cycle. At least with physical health, you can see changes or you can measure it somehow.
Lots of people decide that they want to lose weight for their wedding or a special event and complete a burst of gym training or crash dieting to get there. Sometimes it works and they get the results they want for their event, sometimes it doesn’t and they get halfway and other times they can’t maintain it at all. A lot of the time, people who crash diet or focus purely on the event in mind don’t maintain their physical health afterwards. It’s great to have a goal or a target to work towards, but it’s healthier to incorporate it into your daily life than to do it in fits and bursts when there’s an event on the horizon. Why? Because if you work so hard to get the weight off or to be able to run a marathon, when you try to start up again after a break it feels doubly as hard. And you’re thinking ‘I could do this a year ago, why can’t I now?’. Rather than improving on what you had before, you have to start again and it’s demoralising, which means you’re more likely to give up than you were the first time around.
Mental health is the same. If you only practise self care or meditation or compassionate thoughts when you’re mentally struggling, it doesn’t work very well. It needs to be embedded into your routine so that you’re not fighting with your low mood and trying to adopt a new way of thinking at the same time, because it’s overwhelming. And you’ll probably end up thinking ‘this is stupid, it’s not working, I don’t feel better, so I’m not doing it anymore’. However, the problem with mental health is that it’s difficult to do a lot of the practices like CBT or reframing when you’re feeling ‘alright’, because you don’t feel the need to do them. You also feel a bit like you’re wasting your time dedicating it to some ‘stupid’ therapy which you don’t need at that second.
For me, I knew that I needed to set things up for when I was having bad days because of the amount of time I spent working with pupils who had mental health problems. Hence my star jar and happy photos in my phone. My problem was that when I got really stuck in a cycle is that I would forget that I had these things set up and not do them. Or I found CBT made me more anxious partly because my brain fog meant I couldn’t remember the process and I beat myself up about it, but also because I don’t necessarily have the physiological chemical response to it that makes you feel better for having done it- rationally I could tell you if I was looking for catastrophes that didn’t exist or fortune telling or projecting negative emotions, but I wouldn’t feel any better. Plus I’d promptly forget everything I’d rationalised out.
Someone who read this post recommended an app called Pacifica which has been really useful. It suggests activities to do depending on your mood, it takes you through it step by step, you can go back and look at things you’ve already gone over and it reminds you to check-in with yourself. This is exactly what I needed because my problem was never not being able to see my cycles, it was not having a clue how to get out of them and feeling overwhelmed by all the inner noise. I’ve not been using it long, but it means that hopefully I won’t be expecting myself to lose 10 stone of mental weight in a matter of minutes because I’ll have already established some kind of routine.