My approach to therapy includes the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of the whole person. I think it is great to see the topics of emotional and mental health in the mainstream media now as well as information about physical health. When information and personal experiences of struggle and healing are shared, the topics of emotional wellbeing and holistic health become normalised.
One example of an information and opinion piece on mental and emotional health is last year’s piece from Lauren Laverne in The Pool (https://www.the-pool.com/news-views/lauren-s-blog/20/lauren-s-cheering-up-list) about the idea of a Cheer-You-Up list. The concept of a Cheer-You-Up list corresponds nicely, I thought, to the concept in mental health of a ‘tool-kit’ of resources to draw upon. It is a simple idea, and one which I use in my therapy practice, but also one which can be difficult at first to engage with if you are feeling depleted.
The first step of this exercise is committing – to yourself – that you will deliberately raise your awareness regarding what feels good for you as you go about your daily life. This in itself can be a challenge if you are struggling with prolonged low mood. Your first thought on being asked to do this may be that nothing feels good, and this is why you are in therapy, and if your daily life felt good then you wouldn’t be in the therapist’s office in the first place.
However, this challenge can help to identify tiny moments when you feel less bad, or a little satisfaction, or pleasure. It can help you to practice directing your attention to what is good, and so help you increase even a tiny bit by bit your joy, gratitude and motivation to continue. It can help you to commit to deliberately including in your daily or weekly routine more of these actions/people/things which help you feel positive. You are also asked to try to remember actions or things or people that helped you feel good in the past (if you are stressed/depressed you may have stopped engaging in activities or with people who are good for you).
While this therapy intervention recognises that a more satisfying life can be created in small daily steps, it is vital to avoid any sense of blame for the person who is experiencing difficulty. When we are in a state of inertia or hopelessness it is almost impossible to imagine that making small changes in our daily habits can positively affect our emotional and mental state. It is much easier to introduce more health and discipline to our lives when we are already feeling somewhat well.
I also recently read Karen Ward’s book ‘Change a Little to Change a Lot’ (see http://www.amazon.com/Change-Little-Lot-Balance-Lifestyle/dp/1903582911) which gave really helpful and easy to achieve examples of how to bring positive healthy action and attitude into your life, step by step.
Sometimes you may be unable or unwilling to start noting what feels good until one day as an act of faith in your therapist or an act of desperation, you give this approach a chance. Noting that something in your day does feel good, is not a disrespect to the pain you are feeling. It is a step towards wellness when we can acknowledge what does feel good as well as acknowledging what is painful and honouring that we have experienced such pain.
Why not give it a try - see what would be in your 'tool-kit' for mental and emotional health.