12 ‘Always treat others as you would like them to treat you.’
Matthew 7:12 – The Revised English Bible
23 Rouse yourself, Lord; why do you sleep? Awake! Do not reject us for ever. 24Why do you hide your face, heedless of our misery and our sufferings? 25For we sink down to the dust and lie prone on the ground. 26Arise and come to our aid; for your love’s sake deliver us.
Psalm 44: 23-26 – The Revised English Bible
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People are, I think, beginning to return, albeit slowly, to their lives as they were before March 2020. But, and I think it’s a big ‘but’, many people have been left with a serious legacy of mental health issues. It’s become a new epidemic, and I think it can be argued that much of the responsibility for this goes back to us being actively encouraged to view our neighbours as nothing more than vectors of disease, and to stay in our homes for months with no human contact, cowering from fear piled high, by a government that at best was unaware, and at worst was quite deliberately cruel.
This is going to take some time to resolve; my life has taught me that it’s always easier to tear things down than it is to build them up.
I have no psychological training, so I must start by apologising to those who I know are qualified and experienced in this subject, who read this blog (there are several of you!) But through age, personal experience of trying to cope with depression, sharing experience with others, plus thought and prayer, I think I’ve gained some insights into the sorts of things that make our mental health either easier, or harder to maintain. What follows is offered in that spirit, and I welcome any of you who would wish to offer comment or to disagree, whether you’re qualified or not.
Physical Health & Diet
- There’s plenty of evidence that physical exercise is good for our mental health. You don’t need to become a fanatic (in fact there’s some evidence that can be bad for you), but we all need to build some kind of exercise into our daily routines.
- Much has been written over the last five decades about diet. Much of it has been complete nonsense. There’s growing evidence that reducing carbohydrates in our diet and increasing high quality meat, fish, eggs, dairy and vegetables is good for our physical and hence mental health. A couple of years ago, I adopted a ‘Keto’ diet (I don’t really like calling it a diet; it’s more a way of life). The massively positive thing about it, is that it doesn’t require huge willpower. Most people who try it find it a revelation. I can recommend the book Eat Rich, Live Long by Ivor Cummins and Dr Jeffry Gerber. In addition to cutting out bread, flour, potatoes, pasta, rice and sugar, we’re also encouraged to avoid highly refined oils in general, and rape oil in particular. Since starting this ‘diet’, I’ve enjoyed higher energy levels than before and coincidentally have lost quite a lot of weight.
- Take responsibility for your own health. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that having one cold after another is depressing. Take Vitamin D, Zinc and Vitamin C daily. I may be benefiting from not having had the Covid vaccine, but it’s been noticeable that since I started this regime, I’ve had far fewer colds than previously, whilst others seem to be experiencing the exact opposite.
Peace, silence and the time to think
- We lead almost impossibly busy and noisy lives. I’m amazed when I see people jogging along wearing headsets. We need to make a conscious attempt to turn off the radio and music, and create a space to think, to contemplate, to reflect. If you feel you lurch from one crisis to another in your life, creating space is even more important. Peace is good for the soul. Yes, it’s difficult, so are most worthwhile things! Silence is invaluable to our mental health. How are you going to achieve that if you have a demanding job and family and live in a City? Look at your life and analyse how you fill your time. Use your headset to keep out noise and provide peace! Deliberately plan for a period of quiet each day, even if it’s only 2 minutes. Some find that gazing at a burning candle helps. Use the 2 minutes to ask yourself why you’re so busy; is it a sign that something is wrong in your life?
- Reduce or eliminate your use of social platforms. They absorb a huge amount of time and stop us thinking for ourselves. Do they really add anything to our lives? I think there’s a good case that they act instead to build up anger and frustration, so in fact they have a strong negative effect on our mental health.
- Try to find some contact with nature. If you live in a City, you’ll be amazed at how much you can see. I once spent 10 minutes watching the antics of a cormorant, just feet from the Houses of Parliament. Be aware of the passing of the seasons by watching the hedges and trees. Watch the clouds, on the days when you can see them rolling past. Watch the night skies. Anything that makes us think about our place in the Universe is good for getting things into perspective.
Use your emotions positively
- Humour is invaluable and can be found even in the darkest situations, which might be why Firefighters and others in similar bleak situations share such lively black humour. Seek out whatever makes you laugh; it’s very good for your mental health. If you find, like me, that there’s precious little real humour on our televisions and radios, turn to the old favourites; they can still make us laugh.
- Try to develop the ability not to get wound up about small things that you can’t control. I know, it’s difficult!
- Try to believe that you’re loved. Whether we feel we are or not, there are always people who care about us. And for Christians, we’re taught that God loves us, whatever we may have done, or not done. It’s very easy to get into a spiral, where we doubt our self-worth and in consequence feel worse about ourselves.
- Try to live in the present; not much good comes from regretting what’s gone before, or trying to double guess what’s going to happen in the future. It’s been said that God lives in the present, whereas the Devil lives in the past and the future; it’s a useful maxim.
- Cleave to the truth and trust your instincts. If you override your instincts, and they turn out to have been right all along, it can be very distressing and lead to a loss of self-confidence. We’re all challenged to tread the fine line between enough self-confidence to be able to function, and yet not so much that we tip into arrogance.
- Anger isn’t always bad, particularly if it can be channelled in a way that doesn’t harm others. Shout at the skies if you can, and above all, avoid turning anger in on yourself. And if you’re a Christian, you’ll find in the book of Psalms plenty of passages where the Psalmist rages at God. You’ll find that God has broad shoulders and can take it! Psalm 44 is one very good example.
Try to control your worries
- My own experience has been that uncertainty is the real killer; most of us can develop resilience to disappointment and setback, but putting off decisions that we know we must make can be very bad for our mental health.
- Cut down on your intake of news, particularly the news that encourages despair. There is a lot of it. Maybe it would be easier to keep up with events by reading about them – do you really need to have the depressing news on 24 hours a day? Perhaps try a ‘newsfast’; deprive yourself of news for a couple of days and ask yourself if you feel better at the end of it.
- Avoid anything that your instincts tell you is trying to play on your fears; if others are trying to frighten you in cold blood, then their motives are almost certainly questionable. This is surely a lesson we’ve learned since March 2020?
- Try to learn not to beat yourself up. God doesn’t want you to beat yourself up! We all make mistakes. Actually, we all make serious mistakes. Again this is an area where any Christian beliefs you hold will help. Pray for forgiveness for your errors as soon as you make them, believe that God forgives you (because He does!) and move on. Control the temptation to mull over past errors; if God has forgiven you, why haven’t you forgiven yourself?
Possessions and money
- Try to teach yourself not to lead a life that is defined by things. Learn that relationships should be the valuable core of our lives, not possessions. Relationships help us through the good times and the bad; we have people to share our joys and disappointments with. Try sharing your disappointments with your car, to see what that means.
- We all need money, but money does not of itself bring happiness. We’ve all met people for whom ‘enough’ is like the horizon, always receding. Too much can be corrupting to the soul. Pray for enough to survive and teach yourself to budget for everything. Stick to your budget and finally (most importantly) try to keep to the Charles Dickens ‘Micawber’ principle:
‘Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 19 pounds 19 shillings and six pence, result: happiness. Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 20 pounds and six pence, result: misery.’
- I’ve found over the years that it helps if I keep something nice to look forward to. It’s important to learn to put one foot in front of another through life’s challenges; in fact life is harder if we can’t do this, as it tends to make us wallow in our own misery. But maybe having some small thing that we can look forward to, helps us not to block out everything except, in the words of the hymn the ‘daily round, the common task’.
Faith and Beliefs
- This is a Christian blog and therefore inevitably I will tend to put the case that those with a faith are happier and more resilient; in fact there is research to show that this is indeed the case. But I know that not everyone who reads this blog can bring themselves to buy into all the precepts of Christianity, or any faith for that matter. If you’re in this category, I would say, try to believe in something. Without belief, life looks bleaker. We don’t have to accept every small bit of religious teaching; it’s far better than having nothing but nihilism in our lives. And again, we need to try to believe that God wants us to be content.
- I’ve found that being able to give thanks is invaluable; even those of us with massive challenges have surely something in our lives for which to be grateful?
- Teach yourself to reject any form of ‘wokeness.’ I firmly believe that mostly those ‘beliefs’ are about rejecting other people or ‘othering them.’ The much-despised Christian virtue of humility means that anything we do which amounts to ‘virtue-signalling’, is nothing more than self-deception, frankly. Try to be honest with yourself. Some psychologists believe that trying to conceal your real views can be psychologically damaging.
- Try to learn how to reflect theologically. At it’s simplest, this is no more than trying to think through what God would have to say about this; how does this situation/thing/thought/value/ behaviour fit with what we know about Christ’s teaching? And above all, how does it fit with the ‘Golden Rule’ in Matthew 7:12:
‘Always treat others as you would like them to treat you.’
Dealing with Others
- The very definition of ‘compassion’ is to see the world as others see it; through the eyes of others. It’s the precise opposite of ‘othering’. Christianity encourages us to treat others as God’s beloved creatures: weak, capable of cruelty but also fragile and capable of great good. If we look upon others as evil and ourselves as good, it can be just as damaging as seeing ourselves as evil and others as good. We’re all just trying to make our own way in a world that’s full of trickery and immense difficulties.
- We all need to accept that relationships change; it’s the natural way of the world; experiences shape us and our experiences are not necessarily the same as those of others. We need to learn to accept the differences, work at improving them, but if it’s impossible, move on and try to create new relationships.
- One of the reasons why I was (and still am) vehemently opposed to face masks is not just because they definitely don’t work, but because they obscure our features. Our smiles are crucially important to the mental health of others that we meet, and they cost absolutely nothing.
- Try to learn not to blame others for things that go wrong in your own life; the problems may have been created by you.
- Pray for others. Praying for others improves our own sense of wellbeing; it’s one of the lovely paradoxes of Christianity!
- Try not to envy what others have. If we could get into their heads, we’d probably be amazed to find that we have things that they envy! No-one, and I mean no-one, has the kind of ‘perfect’ life that some people try to reflect on their social media sites!
- We need to try to do something to help others who are less fortunate than ourselves. Again, it’s a paradox of Christianity that what we do to help others, also helps us.
- We need to challenge ourselves about our ambitions, whether these be work or leisure ambitions, and accept that ambitions that have at their root a desire to dominate others, may not be as innocent as they seem to be.
Heavenly Father, you know that if we’re unhappy or depressed, it can make us more difficult to relate to. Help us to work at thinking things through and above all, we pray that you’ll grant us the ability to lean on you in our adversity Amen
3 thoughts on “How can we look after our mental health in tough times?”
James, I’m meeting Stephen Holmes
James what a brilliant article God bless you
Thanks for your most generous comment, Tom