With a global pandemic, a climate crisis and an increasingly polarised political landscape tainting every aspect of our lives with a degree of uncertainty, the comfort of control is now an elusive concept. If there’s one thing we can control though, it’s our own state of mind. The chaos of the world as it stands has been cited as the cause for the recent rise in meditation and mindfulness: with suggestions for improved mental wellbeing to combat externally induced anxiety appearing everywhere.
The advice on the subject of mental wellbeing is wide ranging and extensive, and the abundance of suggestions and strategies can sometimes feel overwhelming: leaving us feeling more anxious and stressed than when we started.
So rather than sharing our own, under-qualified input on the topic, we spoke with an expert: Mindfulness Teacher and Leadership Coach, Sarah Nguyen, founder of Talentary.
Sarah explained to us the perils of toxic positivity, the importance of honouring your emotions, mindfully, and the two steps you can take to start and end your day in a way that will optimise your mental wellbeing.
Being mindful, when it comes to our emotional headspace, involves being aware of everything that we’re experiencing, and surrendering to it. It’s about accepting and acknowledging how we’re feeling, with self-enquiry.
Adopting a curious mindset when it comes to our emotions involves exploring them so we can fully understand them. When we fully understand our emotions, we’re better equipped to process them, and our associated thoughts and feelings in a more mindful, intentional way.
Anxiety is an emotion that’s coming up a lot during these times: anxiety around when we’ll be able to travel, when our kids will go back to school, when we’ll feel safe enough to spend time with people outside of our homes. Having lived in a society in which the answers to these questions were certain, we’re still adjusting to the newly precarious nature of our existence. Mindful self enquiry involves acknowledging that the anxiety we’re feeling is valid. We’re never alone in our feelings, but we don’t tend to talk about the tough emotions as much as the good ones because we often don’t have the emotional vocabulary to express ourselves, or the willingness to sit with the discomfort. Vulnerability, in these moments, can be hard, but it can allow us to accept ourselves, and that acceptance is reflected back at us from others, creating a more compassionate space.
That kind of compassion and understanding is different from the culture of toxic positivity which has rooted itself in our society. Of course, focusing on the positives where possible is important,, but it’s important that we’re honest, and acknowledge when things are hard. Something that we can tend to do when we feel difficult emotions is shame ourselves for being “negative”, but acknowledging our challenging emotions, thoughts and experiences is healthy.
When things are particularly hard, we need to focus on the non-negotiable self-care techniques that we know help us to feel good both mentally and physically, because our mental health is our physical health and vice versa. When it comes to energy, it’s important tocheck in with ourselves more intentionally and more often than perhaps we would through less challenging times. Focusing on things that help you feel nourished, supported and healthy are important.
Starting and ending your day with simple self-care practices helps you achieve a sense of intentional structure that’s rooted in kindness. Self-compassion is a mindset, and when we tune into that mindset regularly, it becomes an easier lens to adopt throughout our day to day lives.
The first thing I’d recommend is to front-load your day with self-care. Start your day by taking some time to look after yourself, for yourself, by yourself. Doing this means you have prioritised your own mental and physical wellbeing, before caring for others and tackling your to-do list.
Allow yourself an hour of intentional activity before you step into your day. For me, I do a sunrise walk around the park and meditate. Self-care looks different for everyone, so tune into what makes you feel your best on a deeper level (think beyond surface-level self-care) and keep things sustainable.
The day itself may throw challenges your way, but take things moment to moment, one day at a time, and comfort yourself with the knowledge that, when tomorrow comes around, that morning hour is yours.
To end the day, I’m a big advocate of practicing gratitude. When you stop to notice what you’re grateful for, it has a positive impact on your life. Gratitude works best when you are specific, so think back through your day for the things that made you feel appreciative. I like to get specific by naming three things I’m grateful for focusing on the categories of: self, other and thing. On one day, I might be grateful for investing in my mental health by speaking to my psychologist, a smile I shared with someone else and having access to healthy, fresh food. For you, it might be feeling grateful that you produced a piece of work you’re really proud of, an interesting conversation you had with someone and the fact that you have legs that can walk. When you practice gratitude, you train your brain to get better at noticing the good more often.
Sarah helps people live and lead more mindfully. If you’re interested in working with Sarah directly, visit talentary.com.au . You can follow Sarah on Instagram @talentary_ , and you can connect with her on LinkedIn by searching for Talentary
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