Although I’ve been practicing yoga and wellbeing techniques for seven years now, the extreme highs and lows of this wonderfully turbulent year have really got me reflecting on my mental health and all the things I am grateful for. It may seem inconsequential, but I feel like I’ve achieved SUCH a milestone this year and I’m sure those of you who struggle with anxiety will relate. I’ve finally stopped giving myself so much grief for the consistency and amount of time I spend practicing mindfulness (and by this I mean, meditation, journaling, completing checklist apps and all the things us anxious folk are supposed to do to make us feel better). I’ve always known there’s NO point in being your own worst enemy, but as they say it’s easier said than done. However, I now live and breath doing things your OWN way, and my gaaaaad it is such a relief. I’ve extended this thought pattern out into other aspects of my life too (gyming, yoga, blogging, eating, responding to messages and social media) and I highly recommend it peeps. What’s the bloody point in feeling guilty all the time?
Side note, I think I’m allergic to authority, even mindful notification reminders. Obviously following strict guidelines really helps for some people and I do believe there are necessary instances in life when you must try and do so, say if you are competing in Olympics or writing your thesis, but for the most part, if you ain’t hurtin nobody, just do what you goddamn please, it is so refreshing.
I’ve trialled and tested varying tools designed to make being mindful easier and monitoring mental well-being more consistent, and unfortunately most of them have failed for me. Though, that’s probably because I find things I HAVE to do/ or which bombards me with notifications all.the.time restrictive and I instantly and instinctively want to rebel. Maybe because it increases my anxiety and guilt, if for whatever reason I can’t do it that day? Or maybe I’m just a stubborn mule, and dontcha dare tell me how I should live my life? However, I have implemented certain techniques and aspects of those apps and tools daily, that really do help:
MEDITATION - INSIGHT TIMER I meditate every working morning for ~five minutes using the wonderful Insight Timer app. I LOVE this app because you can set your meditation time for as little or as long as you wish and it starts and ends with a lovely bell sound. You can also see how many other people have meditated with the app at the same time as you, across the world which makes me smile.
CALM APP I use the breathing tool on Calm, which you can set to a couple of breathing patterns which I thoroughly enjoy and I often combine this with my meditation in the morning. My favorite being the one where you don’t hold your breath (holding your breath during meditation/yoga should be saved for the VERY experienced, as for most people restricting your breath induces subconscious feelings of anxiety/anger). I also love the daily mindfulness reminder and while I often don’t meditate for a second time (mines set for 3pm) it does ensure I spend a fleeting moment reflecting on my day. Better than nothing, hey!
THE FIVE MINUTE JOURNAL I *occasionally* write in the five minute journal, which is awesome for those good and bad days when I need reminding of all the wonderful aspects of my life I should and do feel grateful for. However, as I mentioned before I can’t or WON’T do this everyday (lol) as it starts to feel like homework. And we all have enough of that right?
MY LIFE BOOK In relation to the above, I guess, I do have a life book or diary or whatever you want to call it, that I write in when I feel really low, or anxious, or happy or when something funny has happened. And I do highly recommend this, I’ve been doing it for a couple of years and it’s so interesting to look back and reflect on how you were feeling and compare it to the present moment. Often when I’m having a panic attack about something super irrational, and I’m reluctant to talk about it because it feels stupid, writing it down really helps. Sometimes it feels like the horrible thought has left my head and landed safely in my book and there it shall stay. It’s also really cool physically ticking stuff off your bucket list. But hey, this is probs just cuz I love stationary and pretty notebooks.
KINDLE I got a Kindle. I know, blasphemy. I was disappointed in myself too. BUT with an hours+ commute each day lugging round extra baggage is just not practical darling. Reading a good ol’ book on the train is WAY more therapeutic than mindlessly scrolling through my phone (although I do this too) and is my numero uno technique for mentally removing yourself from the stress of the day AND your oh so polite fellow commuters.
MINDFULNESS AS A WAY OF LIFE AND NOT A SOLUTION TO MY PROBLEMS I’ve come to the conclusion that mindfulness and well-being is, for me at least, a way of life, which certainly aids feeling content, grateful and in control. However, it is not always a solution for my panic attacks and depression. Not that I think there is one *eye roll*. After practising mindfulness for nearly seven years now, I’ve realised that sometimes I still need extra external help. And this year I finally decided to enrol in some counselling at my university (thank you Leeds University Counseling). The techniques I learnt were so simple and so much more practical than I would have ever considered, that at the time I assumed they wouldn’t be of much use, but in reality I was so wrong. I now have some extra tools in my tool box to use when the really bad anxiety hits. So, I guess my point here is, if you are struggling and thinking “what more could I possibly be doing to help myself?” maybe reaching out to some formal services could be really really beneficial.
In summary of all of the above, I started out 2017 assuming that if I wanted my mental health to improve and for my anxiety to dissipate, I would have to follow the strict guidelines set out by these varying tools and techniques. What I’ve learnt is that actually, for me, approaching it this way makes it worse. It’s about trial and error and selecting aspects that fit around your schedule and work for you. Although the 5 Minute Journal says you HAVE write in it every day, you don’t if that doesn’t work for you - and you can still get value out of doing it as and when you want. And although Calm’s ‘longest streak’ can make you feel guilty if god forbid you break the streak, you can instead meditate as and when you please and focus on the breathing techniques that come with the app and still feel calm. I’m sure following the rules works for some people, and then are obvious positives to doing this stuff daily, but I find it creates a similar result to a highly restrictive diet, where you end up binging on doing none of the mindful things. I’m not saying you shouldn’t dedicate and commit to these processes, but I think we should all be wary of putting too much pressure on ourselves.
Let me know what you think! Do you find you’re able to manage your mental wellbeing easier by being committed to a regular routine?