OPINION: How you can get some Purpose, Structure and Balance in your life
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Last week was Mental Health Awareness week but the whole of May has been designated as a time to focus on psychological wellbeing.
Now, it used to be that mental health really meant mental ill health. Such services as there were, only tended to kick into action when someone was already and obviously sick.
Heavy duty tranquillisers were dished out like sweets. Early anti-depressants had horrible side-effects and often just numbed people rather than making them happier.
Adults who were not seriously ill, but sometimes hard to handle or categorise, were locked away for years. And there was an operation called a leucotomy, which was still being performed in the 60s, where a surgeon would sever connections in the brain’s prefrontal cortex in the hope of curing OCD or other conditions. This sounds grim. And it was.
So, we’ve come a long way in a few decades and there is much more emphasis now on being proactive about mental health issues rather than merely reacting when everything goes pear-shaped.
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But we all need to do our bit to be aware of our own mental well-being, and what we can do to keep it in as good a shape as possible.
So, I’d like to give you an acronym to remember.
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Don’t worry! I’m not going all Line of Duty on you; this is just a simple way of focusing on three crucial components of psychological health. It’s PSB – which stands for Purpose, Structure and Balance.
After my dad retired, he’d often ask if he could help me in some way. "I’d like to be useful," he’d say. At the time I didn’t realise how important this was. But I do now.
As we age, and we lose people close to us, and maybe stop working too, we can feel our sense of purpose draining away. This can be really painful and it’s therefore worth giving the situation some thought. Masses of individuals and organisations are desperate for support. Could you offer one of them some of your skills and your time? This could help you feel needed again.
Structure is important too. If you drift aimlessly through every day, and the weeks merge into a blur – and that has been the case for many individuals during the various lockdowns – it’s easy to become miserable.
So, if this is happening to you, work at getting more structure into your life. Timetable a phone call to your sister, a brisk walk, a Zoom chat with colleagues or friends. Or redecorate a room or clear out a cupboard. Punctuating your day with tasks and challenges will increase your sense of well-being.
Most importantly, we need to get real balance into our lives. Of course, there are times when we have to focus on a big project at work, or looking after an ageing parent, and have no space left for all the activities that normally keep us sane and happy. But if we live in a state of imbalance over a long period, our mental health will suffer.
I once had a client – a good looking, educated man – who worked in finance. I know he was successful because one day he told me that he’d bought a Ferrari with his bonus! Yet, he was unhappy and unfulfilled, had zero sex drive and no social life.
Before long, I realised why. His life was totally unbalanced. He got up at 5am, he drove to work, he didn’t eat breakfast or lunch but overdosed on espressos, he never left the office before 8pm and then drove home, stopping only to pick up a takeaway and a bottle of wine.
What remained of his evening was spent on the sofa, eating, drinking and falling asleep in front of the TV. Every day was the same. This was a bright man, but he was completely clueless about looking after his own well-being.
Now I’m sure you’re not like him but you may, even so, know that you don’t have a healthily balanced life. Could you use this awareness month to find ways of remedying that?
If your job isn’t mentally challenging, how about making sure your hobbies stimulate your little grey cells? If you’re sedentary and indoors a lot, balance that with getting out of the house to exercise or socialise or just breathe some fresh air in the evenings or at weekends. If you feel you’re at everyone’s beck and call, carve out some sections of the day or evening when you can chill on your own.
Finally, if your normal routine isn’t creative in any way, try doing something with your hands like woodwork, or pottery, or painting, or dressmaking, or knitting your mum a jumper. Making things is good for the soul and the mind.
So, remember, PSB (Purpose, Structure and Balance), and try to ensure you have elements of all three in your life. This is something valuable you can do for yourself. Good mental health!