Did you know that October is Mental Health Month? Ordinarily such a vital aspect of our wellbeing, but particularly crucial right now as most Victorians are having our emotional capabilities tested under strict COVID lockdown. We’re missing friends and family, we’re out of routine, and we may be feeling sluggish without the usual elements of life that bring us joy under normal circumstances. There’s never been a more appropriate time to take stock of our mental health.
There are some good rules of thumb for maintaining your mental wellbeing under emotionally stressful conditions. Try to eat well, despite the obvious lure of the kitchen sweets drawer and those cakes that your friendly neighbours keep baking you. You should enjoy the odd treat, but try maintaining your usually balanced diet. Connect with friends, whether through regular Zoom or telephone catchups. Even if you can’t get together for your weekly lunch date, it’s important to continue sharing stories with friends, whether just your take on the news or your latest Netflix series binge. Whether you like to run, walk, or bike ride, try sticking to a rhythm of daily exercise. Despite significant lockdowns, there’s a good reason why Victorians were granted an hour outside for some daily fresh air and exercise.
Alongside good food, friendship, and movement, it’s equally important that we develop the emotional resilience to turn adversity into opportunity. Jonathan Rauch, author of 2018’s The Happiness Curve uncovered academic research offering increasing evidence that happiness through adulthood is “U-shaped”. After the carefree joys of childhood, life satisfaction falls in our 20s and 30s, hitting a low point in our 40s. The research goes on to explain that as we reach our 50s however, this life satisfaction begins to increase and continues to trend more positively, reaching a peak in our 80s. Rauch’s key insight is that it’s not the conditions of our lives that change in some significant way, but rather how you feel about your life that changes.
It may seem obvious to encourage people to simply be more positive, but science suggests that this is exactly what we should be doing. When something bad happens, our instinct is to ruminate on that painful memory, reliving it over and again in our heads. Unfortunately, this just hinders our healing. Instead, we must deal with the pain in order to move forward. One proven approach is to sit down and write about that event continuously for 20 minutes, exploring your thoughts and feelings as you go. When we’re forced to confront individual ideas within a negative event, we give them structure which may in turn lead to new perspectives on what actually occurred. We then have the opportunity to create an entirely new narrative. Why not write a brand new script for your own life today?