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.

The importance of mental health.

WHY?

It can be such an annoying question, however, it is the question that we should always ask when presented with any type of information. When it comes to our understanding of mental health, we should critically reflect and think over the importance for us as individuals and for each other. Ask why, so we can continue to develop our knowledge and understanding of how vital this dimension of health is and the relationship it has to the holistic approach to our health and wellbeing.

Everyone always says how important looking after our mental health is, but how often do we look into that importance? The last post looked at developing an overall understanding of the term mental health. Now we will look into the interrelationship between our mental health, and the other four dimensions.

What are the dimensions of health?

When we explore health as a holistic concept, it means we don’t just look at being healthy as merely the “absence of disease”. To help with this concept, we view our overall health as having five dimensions:

Physical, mental, social, intellectual and spiritual.

dimensions of health

They each play their own important role in maintaining our health, but it is how they interrelate and work together that forms the basis of the holistic approach.

So what does this mean?

Put simply, if one of our dimensions is not functioning how we would like, it affects the rest. Our mental health has such a pivotal role in the impact it has on the other four dimensions. In some ways, it can be seen as the most important of the dimensions due to the affect it has on all of the others.

If we start to slide towards the “red zone” of the mental health continuum (talked about in this previous post), this can have a detrimental impact on our other dimensions and depending how long we are in that area, the larger the effects. We can start to withdraw, lose motivation, fatigue easily, which all can lead to not wanting to talk to people or attend social gatherings that may have been planned. It may also result in a change in nutritional or physical activity habits we already have. There may be a reluctance to focus on things that help stimulate our minds and with the withdrawal, we can start to lose our sense of belonging and connectedness (aspects of our spiritual health).

All of this can lead to a lack of energy which brings us back to lack of motivation. It’s a cycle that can, at times, be difficult to get out of, particularly if we don’t have the know how and the skills to help.

On the flip side, when we are thriving in a dimension, the others thrive as well.

Our mind is such an amazing and beautiful thing……but, it can also be such an asshole.

This is where the benefits of enhancing our mental health come into play.

There are so many different benefits to having a positive mental health and being in the healthy functioning section of the continuum. Below are just a few that relate directly to the other dimensions of health. It is why gaining the skills and knowledge to support and enhance our mental health is so important in today’s society.

Improved moods.

Clearer thinking.

A greater sense of calm or inner peace.

Increased self-esteem.

Improvements in relationships.

Sharper memory.

Better sleep.

Increased energy.

Stronger resilience.

a selection of the benefits of having positive mental health

Understanding mental health.

There are a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to the term “mental health”. When we hear and see this term, many in society start to associate it with “suffering” (which is not a good term to use around mental health anyway) or with illness. With a term that we use every day, we need to develop an understanding around what it actually means.

Why is developing this understanding so important? 

Just like with our physical health, there are times we will have mental ill-health (which is a term that encompasses both mental illness – a diagnosed disorder AND mental health problems – those that may not meet the criteria for an official diagnosis). This is the aspect of mental health that as a society, we tend to associate with whenever we discuss this topic.

This is also not something that is isolated to one section of the world.

Globally, it is estimated that just over 1 in 10 people live with a mental illness. 

(Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2020) – “Mental Health”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/mental-health’ [Online Resource])

If you’re interested to see the data around the global prevalence of mental health head to this webpage: https://ourworldindata.org/mental-health

The more that we, as individuals, develop our understanding around the concept of what mental health actually is, the more we are able to support ourselves and others in enhancing it. On top of this, we can educate others and start to remove the stigma that hovers around mental health problems and mental illnesses. 

So let’s get to it! What actually is mental health?

According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is: 

“a state of well-being in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.”

As with many definitions of health this one also looks at the positives around our mental health, not what is going wrong. It is about the way we think, feel and develop relationships – not just about developing an illness. Just because an individual doesn’t have a mental-illness, does not mean they are doing “well” mentally. On the flip side, you could also have a diagnosed mental illness and be functioning well in many aspects of your life.

When we look at our mental health, we can use a continuum like the one below.

The further into the green zone (our positive and healthy functioning zone), the “healthier” we are, and the longer we stay in the red zone, we increase our risk of developing a mental illness.

We are, however, constantly moving along the continuum. Our mental health is ever changing (dynamic), as well as dependent on what is happening in our lives at a particular point in time (relative). We are never going to be able to stay in the green zone all of the time, that in itself would be draining (and quite unrealistic). Also, being in the green zone, doesn’t mean that we are always happy and positive, it means that we are able to be functioning and dealing with aspects in an appropriate and healthy way. There are many factors that impact how we are coping throughout our days/weeks/years and influence where we sit on the continuum. These factors that can include; an argument with a friend or family member, the loss of a job, getting sick, and grief.

What we need to be able to do when something impacts our mental health, is move ourselves back towards the green zone, to have that positive and healthy functioning aspect return. Individuals who are more resilient, and have a higher self-esteem and self-worth find it easier to get back into the green. They are more readily able to “bounce back” and self manage coping strategies to help deal with the issues that life can throw at us. 

But all is not lost. There are many different strategies that can help develop our resiliency and build upon our self-esteem. Finding those strategies that best suit us as an individual is one step towards enhancing our own mental health.

In future blog posts, we will look at many different strategies and practices that can be put into place to not only support our mental health, but enhance our growth in this area.

Introducing You Matter Too

You Matter Too is an online space that has been developed to help enhance mental health and build resilience. There are many spaces that focus on what society know as mental health issues or illnesses (depression, anxiety, personality disorders etc) but I wanted to create a place where people could develop their knowledge and understanding around a holistic view of mental health, that it is something we can work on like we would do our physical health.

Each month there will be an update focusing on enhancing our mental health and building resilience. It will look at an educative, strength-based approach to this and will cover areas such as:

  • understanding mental health
  • gratitude
  • mindfulness
  • belonging
  • meaning & purpose
  • support networks
  • impact of social media

You Matter Too also has an Instagram account that will supplement the information within this blog and provide snippets around benefits and daily practices to help in enhancing our mental health.

https://www.instagram.com/u_mattertoo/