Reflections #5

Finding your worth

Self-worth.  It is how we value ourselves, whether we feel that we are deserving of respect and love.  It is one of the most vital aspects of us as individuals.  Our self-worth links closely with the other “self” words; self-esteem, self-concept and self-confidence.  Though in my opinion, our self-worth plays such a key role in our mental health.  Our behaviours, feelings and overall thoughts are linked to how worthy we feel, and if we place value in ourselves.

When we don’t see value in ourselves, we start to get those feelings that we are not good enough, suffer from “impostor syndrome”, and think that we cannot achieve what we want to.  The negative self talk appears and it becomes harder to move ourselves out of feelings of inadequacy. 

A lot of times, we look at how worthy we are by external factors.  This can be anywhere from our appearance, how much money we earn, academic performance, acceptance from others (and many many more factors).  We are continuously comparing ourselves to other people and linking our value to that.  Doing this can really impact negatively on our mental health.  When we solely see our worth based on how others see us, it becomes a struggle to redirect when things don’t seem to be going our way.  

The key to how we value ourselves, however, is internal.  It is that inner voice we have, and the unique qualities that make us who we are.  Sometimes it is difficult to reign in our inner critic and that is an area which is easily amplified when we don’t value who we are.  

For me, losing my feelings of worthiness led to a state of depression.  My inner critic was very loud and hard to ignore.  This was something that snuck up on me, and even though how you value yourself is linked to internal factors, it was external forces that led me to undervaluing myself.  It wasn’t an easy thing to pinpoint and be able to stop.  It was only when I started to do a lot of work on myself that I started to understand I had lost my feeling of worthiness.

Reminding ourselves of who we are and practising kindness, compassion and empathy are all areas that can support increasing our self-worth.  Though just like all aspects of enhancing your mental health, how you develop your self-worth is different for everyone and you need to find things that suit your own uniqueness.  For me, I had to step back and really work on my inner self.  Remove the critical voice and re-frame my thinking (ensuring I work on my positive self-talk).  Focusing on myself also included the practices of gratitude, mindfulness and self-care.  I found that participating in breathwork group sessions and finding things that are important to me also really helped (thanks so much to Christina Niven who runs programs and offerings focusing on ourselves – you can find her work at the following website https://www.youarethemedicine.ca/ and on Instagram: @youarethemedicine.ca).  I worked on opening up more to my support network and being open to exploring my vulnerability.  It wasn’t easy, nor did it happen overnight.  For me, it has been a journey of more than two years and is still going. 

Being prepared to work on ourselves and spend the time necessary to find our worth and seek out our value is something that I truly believe needs to be a priority in life.  It’s time to prioritise you!

Sense of Belonging

The last two posts here on You Matter Too were about strengthening connections and having a strong support network.  These all enhance our ability to feel like we belong.  A sense of belonging is another key component of our overall health and well-being.  

A sense of belonging is a feeling that you are accepted, supported and have a strong notion of connection, as well as providing that in return.  This can be with a multitude of aspects such as:

  • people
  • groups
  • communities
  • places
  • events
  • within nature

Usually you have a sense of belonging with something or somewhere you are most comfortable.  

Developing a sense of belonging is important and it can build up your self-worth (which is how we value ourselves), leading to an enhancement of our well-being.  It helps our happiness and motivation, gives a sense of purpose and meaning and has strong links to our spiritual health (a dimension of health that has a strong correlation with our mental health).

Just like with other aspects to do with our mental health and well-being, a sense of belonging is unique to each individual.  Finding the place or places that you belong is a journey and as we grow into life, our sense of belonging also grows with us.  It is dynamic, and as our needs and situations in life change, so will finding our true sense of belonging.  Where we felt we belonged as a child or in school, is not the same as where we may feel we belong years down the track as an adult.

Issues if we feel we don’t belong

When we have difficulties in finding our sense of belonging, it can be detrimental to our mental health, especially if it is in conjunction with a lack of connectedness and support networks.  This lack of belonging can lead to:

  • increased stress
  • feelings of isolation and disconnection 
  • increase in depression and anxiety
Developing your sense of belonging

Since it is another critical aspect of enhancing our mental health and overall well-being, it is also important to know that you can increase your sense of belonging.  This isn’t always easy however, as it can mean that you have to do a lot of work on yourself.  In particular, focusing on your sense of self (understanding who you are and the characteristics or traits that define you).  If we are struggling with this, it makes it difficult to know exactly what you want and can then lead to the difficulties in finding our sense of belonging. 

Some of the ways that we can develop our sense of belonging are through:

Authenticity/self acceptance – being true to yourself and your values and morals can help you find that sense of belonging.  If we are consistently trying to change ourselves to fit in and mold ourselves to the norms of a group that is not aligned with who we truly are, we will find it difficult to feel accepted both by ourselves and the people we are with. 

Inner work – prioritising ourselves and our healing journey is necessary to be in a place where we can achieve a sense of belonging.  If we are truly struggling with who we are and not looking after ourselves, we won’t be in a space where we can do the work needed to have that feeling of belonging.

Acceptance of others – understanding that we are all unique and that others may have a different way of being or seeing things.  This does not mean that we have to change, but we can focus on what might be similar between us and not the differences.  If we can do this, we can then appreciate the different strengths that others may have.

Communication – deep listening is key in many aspects of our lives and when we want to enhance our sense of belonging, we need to be able to do this well.  It enables us to listen attentively and avoid misunderstandings.  This also leads to strengthening the connections between each other.

Being open to new opportunities – make an effort to include yourself in activities and engage with others.  Seek out groups, people, places etc. that can share your interests and do not be afraid to try new things.  This can also lead back to our authenticity and having a strong sense of self as this will lead to being more confident in making an effort.

You don’t have to have the answers to where you belong right away.  Part of life is the journey we take, and as we are ever changing, so are the places we are meant to be.  It’s okay to be finding your way.

Support Networks

Previously, I have talked about the connections we develop with each other and how that can enhance and support our mental health (Strengthening Connections). From strengthening these connections, we can develop a strong support network.

A support network can simply be defined as people in your life that can help you.  These are people that you have developed a trusting relationship with. Those that you are able to go to for advice, or even just have a simple conversation with to make your day better.  When it comes to our mental health and overall wellbeing, having a network of people you can count on is vital. 

Support networks can improve our ability to cope with stressful situations and help increase our self-esteem.

Everyone has different people that they would classify as a part of their support network.  There are no hard and fast rules around who you should have in your network and you also don’t have to make it formal (no membership cards required).  The key is that you are comfortable and have an overarching feeling of safety and trust within your support system.  

Your support network can consist of anyone including:

  • Friends, family, peers, colleagues – probably the most common places where we find our support.
  • Groups within the community – some of us feel a strong connection within these types of groups and when you are a part of these groups (can be anything from fitness/sporting groups through to volunteering), you join with people who have shared interests and hobbies, increasing that connection.
  • Online communities – these communities have become more prevalent in today’s society with the improvement in technology (and dare I say the pandemic).  A lot of people are now finding fantastic support within a variety of online groups where you can feel like you can be your authentic self and safe.

It is important to have a variety of different people that make up your support network so that you can look at things from different points of view and not just rely on one person as this may become overwhelming and exhausting for them (and you).

As we grow and our lives start to change, our support networks can as well.  Just because you had people in your life 10 years ago, it doesn’t mean that they can be the only people that are there for you.  There may be situations that occur across your life where your current support network doesn’t meet your needs, and this is okay.  We need to do what is best for ourselves and find people that can be there when we need it most.

Support goes both ways!

It is important to remember that being a part of a strong support network requires active participation.  Making sure you are available when needed and you are not just “taking”

  • Be a good listener – actually listen.  A lot of times people don’t need you to advise them all the time, they just want you to be there while they talk through things. 
  • Make time for people – answer phone calls, respond to messages, reach out to each other to let them know you are there. 
  • Show your gratitude – take the time to thank others and let them know how much you appreciate them.
  • Talk about positive things – make sure you’re not always talking about the negatives or the really deep conversations that can be draining.  Have fun with each other.

The importance of boundaries.

One thing that can occur (especially if you’re someone’s only support), is that it can become overwhelming.  It can get to a point where you are no longer able to provide the support that is needed and it can start to impact negatively on your own mental health. 

It is why it is so important to know what your boundaries are, and to be able to communicate these to people.  This is definitely not an easy thing to do.  There can be an onset of guilt if you have to remove yourself from situations.  You may feel that you are letting people down.  The key thing to remember though, is if your stress is starting to increase and your energy is starting to drain, then this will have an adverse effect on you and your wellbeing. 

At times, you need to put yourself first and know when to say no.  

If this is something that is occurring (or it has in the past), think of ways that you can communicate your boundaries.  

  • Being respectful is important – even though you might not be able to provide the support at that time, you may be able to in the future and you may also need to go to them for support. This is why it is important to be respectful in your communication around your boundaries. You don’t want to damage the relationship or connection you have.  
  • Acknowledge their feelings – this can go hand in hand with being respectful.  Try not to be dismissive of what they are saying but let them know that you are unable to help at this time.
  • Write down/practice what you want to say – as communicating these boundaries can be extremely difficult, have something written that you could say if the need arises.  Even bring it up in conversation at times when you are not providing the support so everyone understands that there may be times you can’t help.

When to seek professional help.

Again, just like everything else, there is not one clear answer as to when this should occur.  When we are a part of a support network, we also need to remember that we are not professionals.  We can not solve everyone’s problems and nor should we.  There may come a time when we need to encourage someone to seek out professional help.  When this occurs, make it clear that seeking out this help is normal and healthy.  The same way that we would seek out help from a doctor for a physical ailment, we should seek out help from a professional when we are struggling mentally.  The more we talk about it, the more we can reduce the stigma around therapy.  

In the end, relationships and connections that we form with people are a basic need for us all.  There is an immense power in being able to share thoughts and feelings with people who care.

So ask yourself, who are my people?

Empowering Ourselves – through finding our strengths


To empower someone is to give them the means to achieve something

Collins Dictionary

This month, we turn our focus towards aspects and actions that we can take to empower ourselves on our mental health journey.  This can be done in so many different ways and, just like with the practices we can put in place to enhance our mental health, we need to find the ways that best suit ourselves. 

One of the ways that we can empower ourselves when it comes towards our mental health is through understanding and developing our strengths, or more specifically, our character strengths.

What are character strengths?

Each of us have 24 character strengths that we possess (Park, Peterson and Seligman, 2006).  These strengths are the characteristics of a person that allow them to perform well or at their personal best (Wood et al., 2011). The 24 strengths that we can possess, fall into the six categories outlined below: 

CategoryStrengths
Wisdom and knowledge: cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge creativity, curiosity,  judgment, love of learning, perspective
Courage: emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internalhonesty, bravery,
persistence, zest
Humanity: interpersonal strengths that involve ‘‘tending and befriending’’ otherskindness, love,
social intelligence
Justice: civic strengths that underlie healthy community lifefairness, leadership,
teamwork
Temperance: strengths that protect against excessforgiveness, modesty,
prudence, self-regulation
Transcendence: strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaningappreciation of beauty & excellence, gratitude, hope,
humor, religiousness
Park, N., Peterson, C. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2006). Character strengths in 54 nations and the 50 US states. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 118–129

Though, as with anything, some of these strengths are more prominent in individuals than others.  It is important to remember that we are all unique and so is our strength profile.

So what is the link between using our strengths and our ability to enhance our mental health?

We know from previous posts (Understanding Mental Health) that those who have a higher self-esteem, self-confidence and are more resilient, have a greater ability to apply coping strategies when faced with things that can negatively impact our mental health.

Greater use of our strengths has been shown to lead to greater self-esteem and vitality (Wood et al., 2011).  By being able to focus on our top character strengths, we can positively influence each of our dimensions of health (physical, social, cognitive, spiritual and of course mental).  When we know what our strengths are, and we are able to understand how to use these strengths, then we start to feel good about ourselves and are able to achieve things and fulfill our potential (Govindji and Linley, 2007).  They can make us feel more authentic.

By understanding and using our strengths, the following benefits that link to mental health can occur:

  • Increase in confidence and happiness
  • Reduction in stress levels
  • Strengthen our relationships
  • Increases our sense of purpose and meaning

One thing that should never be discounted though, is looking at each of our character strengths and what we can do to improve the ones that aren’t at the top.  The benefits do come from a focus on our strongest, but we should never forget the other aspects of our character, because being able to work on those areas can also enhance our overall wellbeing. 

There are some key character strengths that link to practices that enhance our mental health directly that maybe we can improve on – such as gratitude, forgiveness and kindness.  Acknowledging areas we may need to improve on in life, and then working on those areas can also lead to a boost in positivity and self-confidence.

So what are your strengths?

You can find your strength profile through the free VIA Character Survey


  • Govindji, R. and Linley, P., 2007. Strengths use, self-concordance and well-being: Implications for Strengths Coaching and Coaching Psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2(2), pp.143-153.
  • Park, N., Peterson, C. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2006). Character strengths in 54 nations and the 50 US states. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 118–129
  • Wood, A., Linley, P., Maltby, J., Kashdan, T. and Hurling, R., 2011. Using personal and psychological strengths leads to increases in well-being over time: A longitudinal study and the development of the strengths use questionnaire. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(1), pp.15-19.

Reflections #4

Forgiveness

My recent post on how a practice of forgiveness can help enhance our mental health brought up many different feelings for me.  I am an educator. I teach about the benefits and the true meaning of forgiveness, yet it is still something I tend to have a love/hate relationship with. 

A reminder……Forgiveness is something that we do for ourselves and ourselves only.

It is really difficult at times, to get your head around that forgiveness is for yourself when someone has really broken your trust and treated you in a way that you never thought possible. 

Trust for me has always been key in life.  It can be hard to give, and when it has been broken, trust is one of the hardest things to ever be able to rebuild.  For me, a broken trust became nearly unforgivable.

My struggle with forgiveness has been a battle within myself for just over two years.  Someone broke my trust and did a few things that I never believed that those close to you could do. 

Through this time, I dealt with many emotions.  Sadness, remorse, guilt and anger.  It was the last two (guilt and anger) that seemed to be the largest barriers to my ability to forgive and if I was ever going to get there and feel that inner peace, I was going to have to understand these core feelings. 

Guilt led me down a path of not actually forgiving myself.  Self-forgiveness is something that I strongly believe you need to be able to do before you move into forgiveness as a whole.  I felt guilty over what I perceived at the time was me giving up on someone.  Not being there when they needed support. What I later came to realise, was that I was there through all the times and had given as much as I could before it came to a point that it was negatively affecting me.  Being the only support person for someone is too much of a weight to carry (and where boundaries have to be set so it doesn’t impact you – and this will be a topic for another day).

It was through many conversations with those close to me, when I finally accepted that I needed to talk about my feelings and truly open up (something I am still learning how to do). I accepted that it wasn’t necessary for me to feel guilty.  I had done more than enough to support.  I was finally able to forgive myself.

This self-forgiveness then gave me the opportunity to look into the other main emotion that would arise which was anger.  It gave me the opportunity to reflect and start to look at the situation itself.  I was able to look through a different lens and start to put in place a practice which had me using empathy to try and see the situation from a different perspective.  This, coupled with my ongoing journey around mindfulness moved me to being able to have conversations about the person and situation without feeling any anger. 

This two and a bit year journey finally came to an end just last week.  I haven’t explicitly said that I forgive them or their behaviour (because it’s not about that), nor have I reconciled with them.  Being able to work through those heavy feelings, acknowledge and understand them, led to my forgiveness.  

My forgiveness journey wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t have the underlying understanding of how to get there.  It was never about how long it took.  It’s always been about when I was ready.  I have let go of the negative thoughts and emotions, and as cheesy as it sounds, the weight that has left my shoulders has been an unbelievable feeling.

Today I decided to forgive you.

Not because you apologised, or acknowledged the pain that you caused me, but because my soul deserves peace.

Najwa Zebian

Understanding Forgiveness

A daffodil is a symbol of resilience and hope. They are also seen as symbols of positivity. All aspects that can form from fostering forgiveness.

A little known practice, when we look at how to support and enhance our mental health, is forgiveness.  There is, at times, a lack of understanding of what forgiveness actually is.  This lack of understanding can impact our ability to support ourselves and others, and unfortunately lead to us holding onto the negative thoughts and emotions that can inhibit our enhancement of our mental health.

One of the key misunderstandings when it comes to forgiveness is that you are doing it for the sake of someone else.  That when you forgive, you are to forget the behaviour or actions that have wronged you. That you must reconcile with that person or group, and that you excuse their actions and/or behaviour. 

When we believe that this is what forgiveness is, we can find it near impossible to do what we need to help ourselves.  Forgiveness is none of that. 

Forgiveness is something that we do for ourselves and ourselves only.

What is forgiveness?

There are a range of definitions around what forgiveness is but when it comes down to it, forgiveness looks at the intentional decision to let go of the negative feelings or retribution towards a person or group that has harmed you.  This is regardless of whether or not they deserve your forgiveness.

Just like any other way we enhance our mental health, forgiveness is an individual journey.  It is something that you do for yourself. A choice you make. 

Some are more readily available to find it within themselves to forgive whilst others have great difficulty.  There are things that we mightn’t be able to forgive and someone else can. Forgiveness can also take a long time. This is all fine. It is always about the individual.

With all of this in mind though, there are some things that may be so abhorrent that we cannot forgive and that is ok.  Just because we are reading here that forgiveness can help our mental health, if we find ourselves in a position where we can not forgive, we need to find alternate ways to make sure we do not harbour the negativity and that it doesn’t consume us.  This might be a time where you seek out support from a professional as one of many strategies to help.  Any way that we can seek support is so important and again, completely up to the individual.

How do you forgive? 

Even though it may come more naturally to some people, forgiveness is something that we can practice and it is not just for those who foster an inner happiness.  Some of the ways to help us when we want to forgive can include:

  • Embracing and understanding all the feelings associated with what needs to be forgiven.  This may not be easy.  Write them down or talk to someone you trust.
  • Fostering empathy.  Sometimes being able to be sensitive to another’s thoughts and feelings can help make it easier to see a different perspective and lead to forgiveness.
  • Broadening your perspective – look for the “bright side”.  Holding a grudge can narrow our perspective and have us just focus on the bad.  It might be a little controversial, but try to open your mind to actually reflecting on any personal benefits you may have gained from the hurt. 
  • The practice of mindfulness.  As mentioned in a previous post, the benefits of mindfulness are so important for our mental health.  Being in the moment and aware of what is happening at the time and the feelings that are being evoked, can benefit our ability to forgive.
  • Forgiving yourself.  Self-forgiveness is key.  If we are holding onto guilt or shame about aspects in our lives or within the situation where we need to practice forgiveness, it becomes extremely difficult to forgive.  Put practices in place where you can forgive yourself so that you are not harbouring the negativity that can inhibit moving forward.
  • Only forgiving if and when you are ready.  It is a personal journey.  If you are not ready to forgive, that is your choice and your choice alone.  No one can force you and even if it takes a long time, that is ok.

Benefits of forgiveness.

When we put in place a practice of forgiveness, it benefits our mental health in a variety of ways.  Forgiveness brings about peace of mind and helps us let go of the deep negative feelings that can inhibit our ability to move on in life.  Below are just a few of the ways that a practice of forgiveness can benefit our mental health:

  • Helps us build self-esteem
  • Increases our happiness
  • Can increase our kindness and strengthen our spirituality
  • Supports relationships and connectedness
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Increases our ability to cope with stress

Forgiveness isn’t always the answer, however, it empowers you.  It enables you to heal and not let the negative feelings and emotions define you.

Reflections #3

Authenticity

It is a word that is thrown around so often and it is also one that I have been reflecting on quite frequently over the last month or so.  As with any reflection, I find myself asking many questions that swirl around my mind……..

How do we show our authenticity?  What does it look like to others?  What happens if we say we are authentic when maybe we are not?  How can we deal with any fear that may arise from being truly vulnerable and stepping into our authenticity?

So how do we define authenticity? There are many different variations but the following is my favourite.

Representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or to the person identified.

dictionary.com

There is a clear correlation between being true to our beliefs and values and our mental health. The more we are true to ourselves, our values and beliefs, the better we feel about ourselves.  By being authentic, it can increase our self-esteem and help put those around you at ease, enhancing those strong connections we have with others.

Authenticity can show people that there are others out there that share the same values and beliefs and that aren’t afraid of being who they truly are.  At times it may be difficult to move into your authentic self, especially if you feel pressure to act otherwise. There may be conflict if some of your values don’t match those of other people and a fear of what others may think if your authenticity takes you away from our “social norms”.  This fear can create barriers and if we let it take centre stage, it can start to impact our sense of self, self worth and in turn, our mental health.

I’ve always felt that I have been authentic. I have been true to myself and have never apologised for who I am. Though recently, I know that there is one area that I need to deal with so that I could truly be my authentic self. That area is at work.  A few months ago I did a podcast and used the she/her pronouns, mainly because I didn’t want anyone from work to know that I actually use they/them.  I wasn’t ashamed, I was scared. 

As a teacher, I’ve always believed that I needed to keep my professional and personal life separate.  No one needed to know about who I was outside of the school gates as it wasn’t something that would determine how well I could teach, or how well I could do all of the other aspects of my job.  Though, on the back of that, there has been an underlying fear that if it was ever explicitly known about my sexuality and gender identity, it would impact on what the school community would think of me.  Although I have never completely hidden who I am, it has never been explicitly mentioned.  My close colleagues and friends all know, and I’m sure assumptions are made by the student body, however, that little pocket of fear has stopped me being “out” and in turn, not being true to myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong advocate and ally to the LGBTQ2IA+ community within the school. I am outspoken and passionate when it comes to ensuring we create a safe learning environment for all, though I know that this is no longer enough.  Our school isn’t seen as a safe space.  Our students are not confident in being their authentic selves.  Even though the younger generations are more accepting, and there have been more celebrities and public figures embracing their authenticity, where I teach, there is still fear.  For me, I can no longer just sit back and be an ally, I need to let these students know that I am part of their community.  It is time to be vulnerable and step into my authenticity.  I may not be a celebrity or a public figure but I am someone that they see nearly every day.  I am hoping that if they can see that their teacher is living in authenticity, being out as genderqueer and using they/them pronouns, that maybe, just maybe, they can feel a little safer.  

I am willing to take the hits if they arise.  I know that I have the resilience, the support network and the strong connections that will be there for me if my fears come to fruition.  I am willing to stand up and be their voice and even though they might not be ready to be “seen” themselves, they may see that it will be ok. 

I am ready to truly be me.

“To be authentic, we must cultivate the courage to be imperfect — and vulnerable. We have to believe that we are fundamentally worthy of love and acceptance, just as we are. I’ve learned that there is no better way to invite more grace, gratitude and joy into our lives than by mindfully practicing authenticity.”

Brené Brown

Strengthening Connections

One thing that is really important when it comes to enhancing our mental health is often overlooked.  It is the connections (or relationships) that we have with others. 

Strong connections give us the feeling of being supported……..safe.  They can form the foundation of our overall well being.  When we go through tough times, knowing that there are people that will be there for you no matter what can make a huge difference, even if you don’t reach out to them.  Developing good connections can help us:

  • reduce stress
  • improve our self-esteem
  • increase our positivity

The relationships we have with others can be seen as one of the most important things in our lives.  It is much easier to be your authentic self when you have supportive people in your life.  To know you have someone to fall back on if times get tough and on the flip side, for others to know that you are there for them too, is what creates the support system that we all need.

Connections, however, are not about how many “friends or followers” you have on social media platforms.  It is the strong and deep relationships you have with a handful of people.  We can have these connections with many different people across our lifetime, be it our family, friends, found family, teachers, colleagues and also, connections you have with people that you have never met face to face (so much more so in the past year). 

At times, your connections with others can change.  I know that as my life has progressed, those who I feel a strong connection to have changed from my earlier years and I can now identify four fabulous human beings that are my “people”.  

Having just three “real” connections can form a foundation towards positivity and an overall enhancement of our mental health.  

Remember, when I talk about enhancing mental health, I don’t mean that we are “happy” all the time.  It is the ability to readily move ourselves along the mental health continuum and recognising then acknowledging when things aren’t so great, putting things in action that can support ourselves. Below are the links to the previous posts that can explain this in more detail.

How do you know if you have strong connections?

Ask yourself the following questions……….

  • Are you close to anyone (can be family, friends etc)?
  • Do you have people you can talk to about the “tough” things in your life?
  • Are you there for your friends/family etc? – connections go both ways.
  • Do your friends/people in your life treat you well? – if the answer to this is no, then you need to look elsewhere for your connections.

So what are the benefits of strong connections?

Well the simple explanation is, by developing these strong connections, it enhances our mental health and well being.  These connections can create meaning in your life and help when dealing with depression and anxiety.  There are also other aspects in our lives that these connections can help us with:

They can make you feel good.  When you have people around you that are supportive, trustworthy and positive, this bleeds into our own lives.  If you feel supported and trust people, it increases your comfort and ability to share with them around what has been happening in your life.  Feeling that you have a safe space to share and being comfortable in showing your authentic self, can make you feel good and also create stronger bonds with those around you.

Increase our happiness.  Having really good friendships and connections with your family (or found family) has been shown to increase overall happiness and when you are happy, you’re more inclined to attract more quality connections.  Your happiness will increase others happiness, which will in turn, increase your happiness.  It is a delightful cycle. 

Provides a support network.  These are so important when it comes to enhancing our mental health.  Strong connections with others help develop a really good support network.  The type of support that is beneficial if we are heading into tougher times.  With the trust and safety that comes from these connections, our support networks become stronger and we are more ready to act on advice that they are inclined to give.  We should also always be aware that support networks don’t take the place of trusted therapists or psychologists.  There may come a time when we need to make sure we are truly looking out for ourselves and those that are a part of our connections, by ensuring clear boundaries are in place.  The best support might end up being encouraging to seek out professional help.

So how can we build on these connections?

When you have strengthened your connections, you also need to continue to work on them.  If you don’t work on them, they can fade away.  Some key pointers to help are:

Express your positive thoughts.  Positivity attracts positivity.  We all know what it’s like if we are surrounded by negativity.  It begins to eat away at you until it is difficult to remove yourself from the thoughts.  When building on our connections, tell people you appreciate them.  If they have done something nice, thank them.  Shower them with gratitude.  Think about how good it makes you feel to be thankful for someone and how it would make you feel if someone showed you gratitude.  It won’t take long to give you that “buzz”. 

Make time.  We don’t stay connected if we don’t give each other time.  Make sure you are communicating regularly and if it is someone local to you, create an activity that you can do together.  If your connections are further away, make sure you are taking the time to contact and have meaningful conversations.  Connect often!

Listen and acknowledge differences.  You will never agree all the time and that is okay.  Take the time to listen to each other and stay calm.  Acknowledging differences and being able to calmly communicate through them is a sign of a truly healthy connection.  Showing empathy goes a long way to creating trust and a safe space for everyone.

Who are your connections?

Reflections #2

I was recently interviewed for a podcast called “Mind Matters Perspectives” (which can be found on all podcast sites and also on Instagram @mindmatters_thepodcast) and in one section I talked about trying to look at selfishness in a positive way. I have had questions recently about this and wanted to write about why I think this is important.

Selfish v Selfless

Two words. Opposite in meaning. One seen as negative and the other positive. But why is one treated so negatively when it can be so beneficial for us? 

Selfish – concerned chiefly with your own personal pleasure. 

Selfless – concerned more with the needs of others. 

To be called selfish can be seen as an insult. We don’t want to be seen as someone who is “only” concerned with themselves. We want to be seen as selfless. That person who is compassionate and looking after the wishes of other people. 

But why is it so bad to want to look out for yourself? Plenty of people are able to be compassionate whilst also taking the time to look after themselves.

Just like everything else in our lives, we need to have a balance between selfishness and selflessness. As long as one doesn’t take over the other, there is nothing wrong with either of these terms. If the scales tip too far one way or the other, then this can impact on our mental health and overall wellbeing.


As part of my healing journey, I have had to become more selfish. There were times that I was so focused on the needs of others, I lost sight of my own needs and looking after myself. It became quite an issue when this focus led me down a path that was impacting negatively on my mental health. The balance was not there and even though the “selflessness”, which is seen to be such a good attribute, was the aspect that tilted the scales, this was no good for me. 

To help, I needed to start to think about doing things for myself, saying no to others and becoming “selfish”. The issue then however, was the negative connotations around being selfish and the guilt that became associated with choosing yourself. Feeling guilty because I needed to make a decision that had me taking time away from people and/or activities so that I could support myself.

For something that was helping me, it was difficult to understand why choosing yourself could be seen as such a negative thing. Why do we feel guilty when we choose ourselves?

For those who are predominantly selfless, to take that time to do something just for yourself can be very hard. We may feel that we are letting others down if we say no, or choose to do something just for us. But this is why it is so important to ensure we are looking out for ourselves. When we become overwhelmed, stressed or tired, the first thing to go is usually our ability to take time for ourselves, when this is the most important thing that can help. 

There are times in our lives that we must choose ourselves. Put ourselves first. Be truly selfish and not feel guilty about this. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to fully commit to being able to take care of others. We would never be able to be selfless. 

So does that mean to be selfless we must also be selfish? A question for you all to reflect on……….

Mindfulness

Mindfulness…….

We all have it……..

That ability to be consciously aware of something. It is something that we all naturally possess. Though did you know that it is another one of those aspects that when we practise it daily, it becomes more readily available to us?

In the fast paced world we live in today, it is sometimes difficult to slow down and notice what is happening around you. The increased feeling that we need to be “on the go” all of the time. That we are available to respond to any type of requests immediately and the rush to complete any type of task can lead us down a road where we can lose connections with the moment. 

Mindfulness is intentional and is all about paying attention to the moment. Being completely aware of what is happening not just in our thoughts, but within our bodies, the environment around us, and our feelings. Being fully present and not being caught up with what has happened in the past, or the “what-ifs” of the future. This complete awareness is also done without judgement, without analysis and without questioning. It is just about accepting what is in that present moment.

Mindfulness can bring us back to the expression “stop and smell the roses”. Take time to appreciate the now.

Just like in the last post where the focus was on the daily practice of gratitude, the daily practice of mindfulness also has many benefits when it comes to enhancing our mental health. As with many of the practices that we can put in place, mindfulness has a range of not only mental health benefits, but physical, social, spiritual and cognitive benefits as well. Each and every one of the dimensions of health.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Practising mindfulness trains your brain to slow down. By doing this, it has been shown at times to help in the following areas:

  • Clearing your mind
  • Improving sleep
  • Relieving stress 
  • Boosting your positive emotions
  • Reducing negative emotions
  • Improving concentration, memory and attention
  • Enhancing your relationships with others
  • Relaxing your body 
  • Increasing your ability to remain calm
  • Strengthening your sense of self

A 2003 study found that after 8 weeks of practising mindfulness, the following was found:

  • Greater activation in the areas of their brain associated with feeling good.
  • Reduced activation in the areas associated with stress and worrying.
  • Stronger immune systems.

Davidson, kabat-Zinn, Schumacher, Rosenkranz, Muller, Santorelli, Urbanowski, Harrington, Bonus, Sheridan (2003) Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychomatic Medicine, 65: 564- 70

How can we build mindfulness?

As it is all about being in the moment and paying attention to both the internal (your thoughts and feelings) and external (sights, sounds, smells) we can actually practise mindfulness in any of our everyday activities (washing dishes, brushing your teeth, listening to music, working on a project and even a conversation). Below are just a few ideas to get you started:

Going for a walk – leave your devices at home (or turn them off) and take in the sights, sounds and smells that are all around you in nature.

Mindful eating – take your time to savour the tastes, smells and textures of the food you are eating. Slow down and appreciate what is on your plate.

Body Scanning – take the time to notice the feelings in your body. Bring attention to every aspect of your body from head to toe and then back again.

Mindfulness Meditation – sitting quietly and focusing on your natural breathing (if this is something you find difficult, there are many good and free apps that can guide you through this practice).

One thing to note is that it can be difficult when starting out. Mindfulness is something that you get better at over time. If your mind starts to wander, that’s ok, just redirect without judgement. Be kind to yourself, don’t be harsh because you’ve had thoughts pop up, this is common. By practising as often as you can, the better you get.