Throw back to my final year of uni. As luck would have it, this was also the year that my parents decided to split and I ‘broke up’ with a girl friend. Now, as a disclaimer, I do know that people have to deal with much worse things, but for me – it was a pretty big year of change.
Note the space between the words girl and friend, because I am talking about a friendship break up and not a romantic one… but still. For girls especially, I think losing a close friend, one who you have lived with etc, can be pretty upsetting. More so when you have to live with them until your rental contract runs out (all of the awkward kitchen silences).
Even though those things made for a pretty shitty year, they made me turn my focus elsewhere. On something that didn’t have emotions and couldn’t flake. For probably the first time ever, I took my education seriously and put it high on my priorities list. I began to turn in assignments early to get feedback and improve before submitting for real, I offered to take extra shifts at work to hang out with different people, and I was starting to understand that if I really wanted to achieve my goals I needed to get my head down.
Though it was a challenge, with the help of my favourite people (and Nando’s seeing me through some long stints in the library), I graduated with a first and had secured a great graduate role.
That year was when I first acknowledged that change is important for growth, and growth is uncomfortable.
Fast forward a few years, and you'd find me in an even bigger period of change, in all aspects of my life… but this time there was nothing to focus on that wasn’t in a state of complete transformation. And even though all that change was going on behind the scenes, as with many other people and their challenges, life still plods on (shout out to the word plod, by the way).
Looking after my mental health/wellbeing is something I had never really considered until this year, for that very reason. Life still has to plod on, even when it’s all a scatty mess.
Not because I had dismissed the importance of wellbeing in general, but because it hadn’t been important to me personally before. I now appreciate things like making time for myself (ie face masks and chill), exercising, NOT worrying about things which are impossible to change, NOT fighting against every change, and letting what is meant to happen, happen.
I guess you don’t notice these habits unless you have nothing else to distract you from their presence or absence. Until you are forced to acknowledge that the way you instinctively ‘fight or flight’ is simply not working.
I am also realising that nobody can truly have their shit together all of the time. No matter the persona they give off. Not one person. Find me someone who can. It’s impossible.
And once you come to terms with that, you realise that everyone is going through some period of change or growth in their lives. Most people are probably uncomfortable with it, and trying to carry on the best way they know how (which is why you should ALWAYS be kind fyi).
With that in mind, here are some things that life to date has taught me about maintaining mental health, especially during times of change:
1: TALKING IS KEY - I’m not saying who this should be to, friend, husband, therapist… it’s up to you. But honestly, no one can deal with everything themselves. It will, at the very least, leave you confused and tired
2: COMPARISON IS A KILLER – watching other people live their lives, especially through rose tinted social media glasses is not helpful.. and will likely only leave you more frustrated about your own situation
3: ANY EXERCISE HELPS – if you are having 'a day', there really is something to be said for getting out in the fresh air and focusing on pushing your body (and not passing out on the treadmill)
4: WORKING IS A HELP AND A HINDRANCE – especially if you work in an industry that is notorious for over time and eating into your evenings and/or weekends. While it can definitely help you to take your mind off of things, be careful not to pour every bit of time you have into it. Otherwise, you will eventually become burnt out, meaning you are not giving 100% to the work anyway
5: DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY – whatever it is. Listen to your gut, it knows best