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.

Gratitude

Gratitude and gratefulness. We hear these terms so often in our lives though finding a definition is not as easy as it may seem. It is more than just saying thank you.  

Gratitude can be seen as being one of many different things; an attitude, part of our morals and values, a habit, an emotion. It is also known to be like a feeling you get when you stop to appreciate the things you have in your life.

StopPING. It is such a key aspect. Focus on what is happening in the now. What we have. Not centering on things that have happened in the past, things that we don’t have, or what we want.

One thing about gratitude though, it can be an easy practice that we can work on which can help enhance our mental health. Practising gratitude not only makes us feel happy in the moment, but it provides us with many other benefits that link in with our mental health. Benefits such as:

  • Enhancing our relationships – friends, family, partners, colleagues etc.
  • Lowering our levels of depression and anxiety.
  • Boosting our focus, energy levels and sleep.
  • Improving our positive self-talk.

Positive self-talk is crucial when it comes to our mental health. We’ve heard the saying that it takes more muscles to smile, it’s the same with thoughts. It takes more effort (actually a conscious effort) to think positively. Our brains are wired to easily remember the negatives that occur in life – also known as a negativity bias – so any practice that can help the development of our positive self-talk is extremely important.

The good thing about bringing in a daily practice of gratitude is that there are so many different ways that it can be done. It can be easy to find something that best suits the individual. Everyone can do things that can increase how often we feel grateful. We just need to stop and pay attention to things that happen in our lives that we are grateful for and acknowledge them. It is the acknowledgement that is key to gratitude practice.

You can be grateful for the small things in life. A warm shower, food on the table, a bed to sleep in. It doesn’t always have to be something large.

How can we bring gratitude practice into our daily lives?

Gratitude journal – write down three things you are grateful for each day. This is something that you can do either at the end of the day, or the start. By starting the day with gratitude practice, it leads us to greet the day with a positive mindset. As you start to get better at the practice, you can start to bring in reasoning as to why you are grateful.

Tell someone you are grateful for them – sounds easy but do we do it enough? If someone does something for you that you are grateful for, tell them. Or even just tell someone that you are grateful for them being a part of your life. This doesn’t just have benefits for you, but also for the people you are able to express this to.

Take photos of things that make you smile and appreciate – they are good keepsakes and when times become a little tougher, they are something that you can look back on and sometimes see things that maybe you missed.

Keep a gratitude jar – this can be linked in with writing down things you are grateful for. Write down your daily gratitude on separate notes and put them in a jar. On those tough mornings or nights when you really feel those negative thoughts overtaking your mind, open the jar and pull out three things you have been grateful for.

Show your gratitude through creativity (drawing, poetry, music etc).

No matter how you choose to bring a daily practice of gratitude into your life, it needs to be something that you are comfortable with. If a daily practice is too much, try two/three times a week and slowly increase on that.

The benefits are there, and in this society we live in, where we are accustomed to wanting and feeling like we need more, stopping and being grateful for what we have is so important.

Further reading on negativity biashttps://www.verywellmind.com/negative-bias-4589618

Reflections #1

Emptiness……….

It’s a strange feeling and one that I know something about. I had it come over me today, just out of the blue. There were no warnings that it was coming, just all of the sudden I felt a wave of nothing. I like to call it the void. This place of apathy. I’ve had it happen on many occasions. Sometimes I can pinpoint the reasons and other times, like today, I have absolutely no idea. 

For me when this occurs, I then seem to have three emotions on a random rotation:

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Apathy

Then this continues in a cycle. Sometimes this cycle only lasts a little (up to an hour), sometimes it lasts a lot longer. I then become frustrated because these three emotions just keep randomly popping up. It is at this point that I start to recognise my need to accept what is happening. 

When I realise this emptiness has developed, I go back to what I know. This is the important part. By knowing how to enhance my mental health, I am able to deal with these situations when they arise. I use my knowledge and understanding of what works best for me to move through the void, the weirdness of my roller-coaster emotions. 

So how do I do it?

Acknowledge the feeling.

It’s ok to feel, even if you’re not quite sure why you feel the way you do. Let it be and try not to force yourself out of it. This is really important. Let yourself feel whatever it is that is happening. Try not to feel guilty (though this can be harder than you think) and if you do, acknowledge that feeling guilty is ok as well. Remove the notion from ourselves that we are not allowed to feel.

Use what you know that helps you.

Go back to your comforts (whatever they are – food, T.V. exercise, relaxation, meditation) and move from there. Most of the time, I need to have some alone time when this occurs. I know this (as that pesky anger emotion can rear its head at any time). It is something that I have understood about myself. For some, this doesn’t work, for me, it is a saviour.

Reflect.

Once you find yourself able to, look back. Reflect on your headspace. Maybe ask yourself some questions. For me, I know that my emptiness comes about when my spiritual health is not firing. There is such a strong link between our spiritual health and our mental health. I have been trying to work on my sense of belonging and feeling of connectedness for a while now. The older I get, the more I have questioned where I truly belong. This isn’t a bad thing, I pride myself on being a lifelong learner. I just know that I currently need to continue to question and develop my spirituality. However that may look in the future. Again, I am ok with feeling this way and it is important that we trust ourselves. Have trust in knowing that it will be ok, we will be ok. I have trust in myself and complete trust in the universe.

It is these acknowledgements and reflections that move me out of that emptiness when it occurs and that is why I know that continuing to work on your mental health (and your spiritual health) is so important.

What can we do?

A key aspect to help develop our mental health and wellbeing is to keep learning. Embrace ongoing education and become lifelong learners.

As with all dimensions of our health, we can put things into practice that support the growth and development of our mental health. There are so many daily practices that we may take for granted and already do, without realising the benefits they have towards our mental health. It is one of the main reasons I decided to develop this blog. To support the continued education around mental health and improve the knowledge and understanding of the actions we, as individuals, can do to enhance it.

Did you know that what we do to improve physical health also helps our mental health?

There are many many practical actions that we can take to help enhance our wellbeing and things we do that improve our physical health, are also important for our mental health. Such as:

  • Ensuring we get enough physical activity – preferably being physically active each day of the week. This might be as simple as going for a walk. It does not have to be labour intensive.
  • Maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet – this isn’t about weight loss diets or those times where you should seek out professional advice, just making sure you are eating well and drinking plenty of water.
  • Reducing our use of alcohol and drugs.
  • Managing screen time – making sure we take the time to switch off from technology, even if it’s for a small amount of the day. Start little and work your way up.
  • Getting enough sleep – this can be hard, but you want to try to get somewhere between 7-10 hours of sleep a night (depending on your age). It is the time when our body has the chance to rest and recuperate, helping us focus and become energised. If you are having trouble sleeping, there are many sources you can seek out for help. Headspace Australia has a good resource with some helpful information around sleep (it is focused for young people but can be a good guide for everyone).

There are also a range of other practices that can help build our self-esteem and resilience, and in turn, enhance our mental health, making it easier for us to deal with the challenging situations that occur throughout life. Over the next few months, we will look more deeply into some of the practices but for now, here is an overview of what we can do to help ourselves.

  • Develop connections and a sense of belonging
  • Embrace empathy and compassion
  • Practice gratitude, kindness and mindfulness 
  • Develop our strengths and acknowledge our weaknesses
  • Create meaning and purpose
  • Understand forgiveness
  • Balance selfishness and selflessness
  • Build upon our optimism
  • Develop a support network and know when to seek out help

It is different for everyone!

Whatever you do, it needs to suit you. Every individual is different. Each of the aspects that we will be looking at are beneficial, but only if it suits your needs. There is no point forcing yourself to do any of the practices above. Forcing it could make it feel like a chore, and may turn into a hindrance instead of a benefit. Improve your knowledge and understanding first, try different activities, then decide what is the best fit for you.

Remember, being mentally healthy doesn’t mean you are happy and positive all of the time. It means that when life throws you some tough challenges, you are able to respond to those in a healthy way.