October 10 is World Mental Health Day. Traditionally, #WMHD has been the day when I give thanks for my mental health, this year I am especially thankful that I have weathered a trying year relatively uneventfully in the Mental Health department. As with many other aspects of my life, I believe that my Lighter Life practices have been hugely helpful in this area; and I wanted to take this opportunity to share a few of them here on my blog.
First, let’s be very clear; I am not a professional therapist, if you have acute or prolonged Mental Health challenges that impact your daily life, seek professional help. While some of my life hacks and habits may form part of a coping strategy, they are no match for the assistance of someone with training, education and expertise.
I believe that #WMHD has opened up the conversation around Mental Health in a way that has been directly beneficial to my life; the first time I had a panic attack someone else had to tell me what was happening. All I knew was that visceral response I was having was very clearly triggered by the reappearance of a Bully co-worker, who I had learned to cope with, and then unlearned how to cope with when she was no longer working right next to me on a daily basis. Now when I feel that familiar flutter of my heart, I can call it by its name, and know to re-find my centre.
My Mental Health suffers when a cluster of factors align, when my pursuit of perfection drives me to pile too much onto my plate, and the cumulative stressors trigger feelings of overwhelm and panic; generally speaking the pile-on takes the form of professional and personal commitments, internalizing criticisms, and taking on the burdens of my friends, family and coworkers. And, this is the current story of my life, which I freely admit, and which I freely own as the result of my own choices.
So how am I using my lighter life principles to cope?
Identify Your Priorities: I’ve written before about the profound impact my friend Mike has had on my understanding of my Priorities; I often return to this when I start to feel the rising tide of tasks, to-dos, and the imposition of other Peoples’ priorities. From Mike’s February 2017 Workshop on Productivity and Life Purpose I have a tangible list of my Top 5 Priorities:
- Being Generous
- Art and Creativity
- Leading People
On February 28, 2019 I wrote – “My purpose in life is to creatively lead and inspire myself and others through writing, art, and food.”
What I’m Doing about this today: For World Mental Health Day, I am leading my team through a challenging time, with generosity of spirit, and will be taking the time today to embrace what my Mentor Cathy calls the Bouquet Project: by letting my team know they are seen and appreciated. And for myself, I am focusing on my “Something to Look Forward to” as I will be jetting off next week to the West Coast to visit with Family and to participate in the CSAE Conference, which is sure to provide new inspiration.
Declutter Toxic Relationships: The Lighter Life was built on unburdening myself of the physical weight and stuff that was dragging down my life; I lost 50lbs (let’s not talk about how much of it stayed off) and tossed about 50% of my possessions.
I’ve said often in the last year, that my Father’s Injury, Health Challenges and subsequent Death, provided a lot of truly toxic people with the right conditions to reveal the extent of their depravity. So, I did exactly what I did with my physical stuff – I’ve decluttered them! Bye, bye Felicia, don’t let the door smack you in the butt on the way out.
I already feel lighter and cutting these people from my life means they no longer have access to me, and thus cannot impose their criticisms for me to internalize, it’s a big win all around. Except of course if you are one of the unlucky folks caught in the middle who has to listen to these people complain about the lack of returned phone calls, or really any acknowledgement from me of their continue existence.
What I’m Doing about this today: Well for starters, I’m reminding myself that no one has the right to impose their toxicity on me, and I’m owning my space. But I’m also using my words, and my creativity (here in this blog) to inspire you my dear readers to do the same. Let the purge begin, there is light at the end of a tunnel of complex emotions. Give those folks the old heave-ho.
Allow Yourself to Be and Do Less: Once you’ve set your priorities, and you’ve detoxed the “stuff” from your life, you are left – if you are anything like me – with more to do that hours in the day. This is where you have to manage your own expectations. Or, at the very least STOP piling on the tasks, learn to say NO!
Recently, I’ve had to say No a couple of times, to Family no less: A relative is supporting an Anybody But Conservative social media push, and while this aligns with my values, I have zero time, much less 15 minutes a day to commit to amplifying the message; and, when my Aunt asked me to make a complex family recipe for Thanksgiving, I owned my lack of time, and admitted that I am too exhausted to spend an hour kneed and perfecting the dough required to pull it off.
What I’m Doing about this today: OK, this is something I technically decided a few weeks ago, but I’m recommitting to it today. I’m not doing any continuing Education or signing up for any College or University Courses for the next little while. I’ve made some significant professional commitments lately, and the something that has got to give is not taking on homework, and assignments, and more to-dos. Since I graduated from University I have, attended Seneca College and earned a Recognition in French Language Proficiency, obtained my CAE, and taken a Summer Course from UofT in Creative Non-Fiction Writing; I love learning, but now is simply not the time.
Don’t Allow Perfection to Be the Enemy of Done: I say this all the time to my staff and then I just plug away at the never-ending pile, committed to ensuring that everything that leaves my desk is excellent. And, because I am a true Perfectionist, I will at times procrastinate on a task leaving it until I “have time” to do it perfectly. It is a bad habit that just amplifies the stress of everything I’ve always got going on.
As a leader I am acutely challenged, I spend a lot of time managing myself, so that I don’t micromanage others; so that they have a sense of autonomy, ownership and accomplishment for their work. As a “boss” and manager, I spend my time coaching and encouraging my staff to let some things be “good enough” so that we can move on, and so that they can still feel a sense of accomplishment for a job well done. As an individual – I am a work in progress, and some days the best you can be is “woke” to your own shortcomings.
My Mother recently noted that she can tell when my stress levels are rising because I fixate on the things within my control; I reorganize and clean the fridge instead of just meal prepping and moving on with my day (as a recent example).
What I’m Doing about this today: I am carving out some time to take stock of what is “done enough” and I’m getting it out the door; I’m clearing my to-do list of the “half-done” tasks that really are done well just not perfectly. And, I’m focusing on giving myself and my team a break, see also Priorities ^^.
Lean on Your Habits: I’ve written before about my “keystone habits”, the ones that keep me organized, eating relatively healthy meals, and moving forward with my goals. Ironically, sometimes my habits can drive a fixation on perfection ^^ that isn’t super healthy, but generally they keep me grounded and give me a sense of consistency when everything thing else are just balls being juggled in the air.
One of the keys to leaning on my habits, is also knowing when and how to adapt them. This weekend I worked on Saturday, and on Sunday found myself a bit burned out. So, I ditched my weekly shopping and meal prep, and instead instituted a “shop the pantry” week. With an added bonus of reducing food waste.
What I’m Doing about this today: I am using #WMHD as a bit of a kick-in-the-pants to ensure that all of the planning tools I use to support my habits are up to date. I am strengthening the foundations of my habits so that they will hold the weight of the factors in life that are beyond my control.