Will van der Hart, a vicar and a director of The Mind and Soul Foundation, is one of the contributors to the Emotional Wellbeing session in the Wellbeing Journey. Here are his tips on building strength and staying strong and well mentally when times get tough.
1. Swap the ‘soup of despair’ for gratitude
‘There’s a great danger, with contemporary media especially, that they create an amazing “soup of despair”,’ says Will. ‘Gratitude training is really good for our psychological health and wellbeing, but contemporary news-feeds steal our vision from the things we’re called to be grateful for, towards things that will propagate anxiety and fear. And the human psyche is actually tuned to identify fear as a priority over everything else.’
Will highlights three human systems: security, productivity and recovery.
When we’re under threat, all we do is crave security, he explains. For months, we’ve been focusing on the issues of threat, and the result is our vision is distorted towards the soup of despair and despondency. What we need to do right now, is identify locally and immediately, those things which we can be grateful for.
The relentless input of global news makes us feel like everything in the world is going wrong. While there is trouble in our own contexts, there are usually also things that we can be grateful for to enable us to retain a level of resilience.
Practical action: only watch the news for a limited time each morning to prevent it affecting our mood and sleep patterns.
2. Be productive
‘When we go back to those three life systems – security, productivity and recovery – productivity is very good for your wellbeing,’ says Will.
Practical action: Buy a 1000 piece puzzle and, rather than watch the news, do some puzzling or start painting or drawing. These things sound small, but creativity is at the heart of God, and when we do things that are in the heart of God, they’re good for us.
3. Be still and focus on the moment
When we ‘catastrophise’ …that is, predicting disaster before it’s happened… we propagate cortisol and noradrenaline, which are hormones that impact our body physically. These raise our blood pressure, damage our heart, increase our cholesterol levels and make us feel stressed and discordant.
Jesus said ‘Never worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’ But it’s hard to stop a habit of worrying without replacing the habit with something more positive.
‘We tend to relax when the body is busy and the mind is still. Often the best thing we can do is busy the body so the mind can be still,’ says Will.
Practical action: Take a walk. The physical exercise itself is good and, as we engage our bodies, our minds can begin to grow still.
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