The 8-Laws of Mental Wellbeing
Stay mentally healthy during lock-down
The Government’s recent lock-down measures have evidently been effective in flattening the curve and slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Australia. However, there have been concurrent challenges that it has brought to the psychological well being of our communities. For many, their outlets for joy, mindfulness, peace, connection, achievement and even provision for their families have been affected by the lock-down regulations.
When our bodies are under stress, we need to take extra care of it, ensuring to provide them with a good dose of each of the 8-laws of health. If you've never heard of these, please check out this article During this challenging period in time, we should give same consideration to care for our internal world.
The 8-laws of psychological and mental well-being:
1 – MENTAL NUTRITION – Feed your mind what is good
Information has never been more abundant and accessible as it is right now. At your fingertips you have access to endless sources of input to your mind be it news, articles, media, videos, youtube, do-it-yourself videos, entertainment, movies, photos and the list goes on. Being selective with the things our mind is exposed to is important, we are what we think. The Bible describes this principle eloquently:
- Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.
So as you go about your day, take notice of what your mind is ingesting and ask yourself – “will this work towards or away from giving me a sense of peace, contentment and gratitude today”
2 – MENTAL WATER – An attitude of gratitude
We know that that water comprises a lot of our body and that we need to have regular doses of water each day to keep our bodies functioning at optimum levels. Just like plants, having too much water in one go doesn’t do us as much good as having frequent sips of water throughout the day. In the same way adopting an attitude of gratitude is a practice we need to invest in regularly throughout the day. The mind’s default setting is to naturally find the ‘gaps’ in our lives – the things that are not going quite right or things that we wish were different, take regular sips of gratitude by pausing and recognising something you are grateful for and giving thanks or appreciation to those around you who have had a role in contributing to your life.
3 – MENTAL FRESH AIR – Mindfulness; Be Present
The busyness of our schedules and having endless to-do lists can create a mental smog that makes it difficult to breathe. Incorporating mindful breaks in your life can be the breath of fresh air you need to step back from the cascade of thoughts that may be going on (even right now as you read!) to return to the only time frame you actually exist – the present. While your mind can travel through time and beat you up over things you’ve done in the past, or worry about things yet to come, your 5 senses (sight/hearing/taste/ touch/smell) are stuck in the here and now they are your perfect anchor to the present moment. Take a moment to just push your feet into the floor from time to time while you notice the colour, texture, smells, tastes, or sounds around you – just notice them as they are without judgement. Our bodies cannot function at optimum level when the air is toxic and our lives cannot function well when we are enmeshed with all sorts of thoughts from the past and future, so take a mindful breath now and again (works really well with a sip of gratitude)!
4 – MENTAL SUNLIGHT; Bask in the light of your values
The sun is consistent, day after day it rises each morning providing us with an essential ingredient we cannot manufacture on its own– Vitamin D. Clouds come and go as does the rain, hail, snow or frost, but the sun remains. In a similar fashion, our thoughts and feelings change like the weather, some days we may feel happy, others we may feel sad, some days angry, other days calm and content. One thing remains consistent within us despite these changes – our values.
"Our values are the essence of the person we want to be, the qualities and characteristics that matter to us and the direction we want our lives to follow."
If you take a moment to think about some of the most important values you have (e.g. Kindness, Respect, Contributing, Connecting, or Determination) it’s not uncommon for these values to have been present far into the past, and likely far into the future. Values remain, and like the sun, unless we come in contact with them from time to time, we don’t experience the benefit of them influencing our lives. So take time today to remember what your core values are as a person, bask in their light because they have a lot to offer to you if you would only open the door to them.
5 – MENTAL EXERCISE – Taking Committed Action towards our Values.
Importantly, the Sun does not produce Vitamin D for us itself –it is a product made by our bodies when our skin contacts the Sun. In a similar way, simply knowing what our values are is not sufficient and we have an active role to play in response. Emotions and Thoughts can sometimes lead us away from our values. Fear, Pride or Doubt often lead us in the exact opposite direction to our values. During these times when our emotions are no longer a useful driver for behaviour, we must find another fuel source, that is – commitment and willingness. Our values may point us in the right direction as a compass would, however we must exercise commitment to take action towards them in practice. How do we do this, the same way you would eat a chocolate elephant – One Bite At A Time! Small steps towards our values each day is the type of exercise that creates a fulfilling life in the long term.
6 – MENTAL TEMPERANCE – Knowing when to use the mind, and when to defuse from it.
Temperance can already be thought of as a psychological component of the 8-Laws of Physical Health. Yet we do not often think of it in terms of our very own thoughts. Our mind is a powerful tool with an amazing ability to plan, create, and remember. One of its most useful abilities its problem solving ability. It can solve problems that we have encountered in the past or present, as well as potential problems in the future. It is usually so good at this because it’s had a lot of practice doing so, from solving how to reach the jar of lollies on the high table when we were kids, to solving how to drive a car when we got our license. Problem solving is a well rehearsed skill however the side effect of this is that our minds have become very good at finding problems. It is not uncommon for us to be more aware of the things that are not as we want them to be than the things that are just as we want them to be. Our natural response to our mind bringing a problem to our awareness is to ‘fuse’ or attach to the thought – which means, bringing that thought front and centre of our attention. Sometimes this can be helpful, but a lot of the time it can magnify our difficult emotions and pull us into self defeating behaviours. Mental temperance is a practice we can adopt throughout the day through a simple exercise called defusion. For example, if you are thinking “I’m never going to get through everything I have to do today” – adopt a defused perspective by saying to yourself “I notice that my mind is telling me that I’m never going to get through everything I need to do today”. From this slightly distanced position of observing your thoughts, you can better decide how you handle the day rather than letting your mind dictate to you it’s perspective.
7 – MENTAL TRUST– A commitment to choose Faith in the presence of adversity
We may not think of it this way, however we are always placing our trust in something to navigate through the problems we face, and often the trust is placed in ourselves and our mind’s ability to find a way through, or we trust in our circumstance’s ability to overwhelm us. Trust in God has unfortunately become a cliché term that has often been confused with mere lip-service, that is, “I say I trust in God, yet I continue to worry about what could go wrong and despair about how I will cope if that happens”. Trusting in God has also often been confused with behavioural paralysis, that is, “I will put my trust in divine power to get me through this difficult time, and I will wait sitting on my hands until it passes”. The original Greek translation of the word trust is the noun pistis which is translated to faith and trust. A similar verb, pistevo, means to act in faith, that is, the decision to choose to trust. Trust does not mean that we stop taking action to address the problems we face, on the contrary, it means that we persevere with value-directed action alongside an overarching resolve of Trust in God regardless of the fears and despairs our mind may present. It is a choice of the will and an attitude towards reality that we fix our eyes on. When our mind presents us with the storms of Fear, Doubt, Despair, Failure, or Judgement, real Trust is not a feeling but rather a behavioural determination and choice to hold on to a perspective that is beyond what our mind can see.
8 – MENTAL REST – Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System
There is a critical link between the body and mind and much of this link is centred in something called the vagus nerve, which operates between our Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems. What is the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems (PNS), they are the two parts of your Autonomous Nervous System that basically control everything your mind is actually controlling without your conscious awareness (e.g. digestion, heart rate, sweating, and blood pressure). The SNS and PNS have contrasting objectives – the SNS is often called our ‘fight or flight’ system, it is a response to stress and fear that results in bodily changes like increased heart and breathing rate, reduced blood flow to the digestive system, and muscle tension. The PNS, is often called the ‘Rest, Digest & Reproduce’ system – when active, it encourages more blood flow to the digestive system, reduced heart and breathing rate, and lower blood pressure. The SNS gets our body ready to respond to danger, while the PNS gets our body ready to relax. Ideally a balance should be maintained between the SNS and PNS, however our mind’s ability to bring up problems in our lives (see Health Law #6) leads to a dominant SNS for many of us. It is therefore important to incorporate Parasympathetic-Inducing activities in our daily life. These may include: taking a warm bath, laughing with a friend, being still and breathing in for 3 seconds and out for 6 seconds, doing things mindfully (e.g. eating), and being in nature. Our thoughts directly impact whether we are in Sympathetic or Parasympathetic activation and since our mind is in the habit of finding issues that need fixing, we need to take action to activate our Parasympathetic system every day!
This now concludes the 8 laws of mental well-being. Implementing these 8 laws into your life is quite simple, yet incredibly difficult at the same time. We all have well worn paths, patterns of behaviour and thinking that make this challenging, in the same way we all have patterns of behaviour that keep us from implementing the 8-laws of Physical health. With this challenge in mind, I suggest the following –
implement these 8 laws in the same way that you would eat a chocolate elephant.
How do you eat a chocolate elephant? – one bite at a time. These 8-laws are not something to be achieved and they can therefore never be failed. It is a process of moving closer towards each of them in our daily lives. So begin somewhere with one of the 8, plant the seed and take action towards it today and as you continue to exercise it in your life, I pray that it will bear good fruit in your life for the years to come.