wellness

"I was feeling lonely and disconnected. So I tried a week of 'fresh starts'."

Mentally Healthy WA
Thanks to our brand partner, Mentally Healthy WA

Ever since I was in primary school, I can remember going through periods where everything went dark.

A world that was once in colour switches, slowly, to black and white and I feel like I’m watching myself from above, unable to connect with the person I no longer recognise as myself.

During these times, I can feel like I’m stuck in what Sylvia Plath referred to as ‘the bell jar’. It’s as though I’m an insect trapped, able to see the outside world, but incapable of interacting with it. 

Over the years, I’ve learned a few strategies to deal with these periods. I know I’m not alone, and that it runs in my family. But sometimes – still – I get stuck. Bad feelings manifest bad habits, and before long, I’m in the middle of a debilitating cycle that feels like it won’t ever end.

Someone told me once that the ‘trick’ – if there is one – is to do the thing you least feel like doing. If you desperately want to lay on your lounge and cry yourself to sleep, have dinner with a friend. If you don’t want to emerge from the covers on a Sunday morning, force yourself to meet your mum for brunch. Things, so the theory goes, will begin to change. 

Recently, I came across Mentally Healthy WA’s Active August campaign

Here’s what it looks like. On every single day in August, there’s a new activity that to motivate you to focus on your mental health, wellbeing and sense of connectedness with the world around you.

Active August calendar. Image supplied by Mentally Healthy WA.

From exercise to joining a group and trying a new activity in your local areato reconnecting with someone you’ve been thinking about, the tasks are specific and simple (you can take a closer look at all of Active August's calendar ideas right here). 

So, given how I was feeling, I decided to trial a few ideas.

Monday: “At the end of the day reflect on three things you are grateful for.”

As someone with a predisposition towards pessimism, gratitude has never come easily to me. The idea of a gratitude journal would’ve, not long ago, inspired an eye roll. However, given I was cranky, lonely, and horrendously negative, I thought that perhaps it was worth a try.

On Monday night when I crawled into bed, I took out a notebook and wrote down three things I was grateful for. I was surprised by how easy it was, and for a moment, I didn’t feel so overwhelmed or fixated on the tiny annoyances of my day. There was a bigger picture I realised I was missing.

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Tuesday: “Watch a documentary or TED Talk from around the world.”

This was an activity I’d love to do anyway, so it felt like when your teacher says your homework is to HAVE SOME FUN.

I decided to focus on self-improvement, and found a TED Talk I’d never watched before. I’d been getting anxious lately about my ability to perform under pressure. I do a lot of presentations with work, and I often find myself worrying that I’ll freeze, so I found a talk titled ‘Why we choke under pressure and how to avoid it’. It was really interesting, and I found myself with tangible steps to ensure that doesn’t happen.

But the most important discovery was that it's not just me. Everyone has that fear. It’s normal, it’s human and it doesn’t mean you’re fundamentally inadequate.

Wednesday: “Take regular breaks today. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes.”

This was a hard one. Work is fast paced so regular breaks aren’t something I’ve ever afforded myself. For the first time, perhaps ever, I decided to walk around the block. Not to get a coffee or lunch, but just because.

I left my phone in the office on purpose, and just concentrated on my breathing. It was a ridiculously beautiful day, unseasonably warm for winter, and I found myself smiling at dogs and toddlers. Who was I becoming?

Thursday: “Unplug two hours before bedtime to get a good night’s sleep.”

Well. The tasks were clearly getting harder. 

Most psychologists would be horrified to hear this, but I virtually go to sleep with my phone in my hand. I read the news and scroll through Twitter on my phone in bed, and usually go to sleep with a podcast playing, because otherwise I find my thoughts can spiral. 

Lately, however, I’ve been having a lot of trouble sleeping, which is probably quite unsurprising. 

On Thursday night, I showered, got into my pyjamas and laid in bed with a book two hours before my bedtime. I found myself grabbing for my phone probably half a dozen times, but eventually I got so into my book I forgot about scrolling. I read until my eyelids felt heavy, and although I didn’t fall asleep right away, my thoughts did feel slower and less scrambled. 

Friday: “Get creative.”

My relationship with creativity is complicated. I love it and am terrified of it in equal parts. I struggle to create for the sake of creating, rather than focusing on the finished product. 

On Friday night, I sat down with my laptop and just wrote for 10 minutes with no brief. It was magical. I didn’t know I was capable of doing that. What came out was better than I expected, but that also wasn’t the point. It wasn’t for anyone else. Just me. I weirdly felt like I’d accomplished something that wasn’t work related. 

Reflecting on my week of prioritising my mental health and wellbeing, I realised how simple all the little tasks had been. At first, I’d wondered if they would just exacerbate my stress, just another thing to add to my list of things to do.

However, it was incredible the difference a walk around the block can make, or thinking about the things that make life wonderful.

These little strategies are now tucked away in my arsenal, ready for whenever I feel the need to take a deep, long breath.

In fact, I might try new things a little more often.

Active August is all about trying new things to improve your mental health and wellbeing, whether it be physical, social, mental or spiritual. For more ideas and activities around your local area, visit Mentally Healthy WA's Act-Belong-Commit Activity Finder.

Mentally Healthy WA

Get Active for Your Mental Health and Wellbeing!

Active August is the new campaign from Mentally Healthy WA, encouraging people across WA to get active for their mental health and wellbeing. And not just physically active, but socially, spiritually and mentally active.

Active August aims to motivate and inspire people to take simple yet significant actions to improve their mental health, helping them form habits that can keep them mentally healthy in the long term.

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