It’s all in the mind – or is it? 

This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week where the spotlight is shone on our mental wellbeing. So, I thought it might be appropriate to share with you some of my top tips for dealing with stress and looking after our own wellbeing. When we speak about being mentally ill, we assume that it is all in the mind but in fact mental illness affects our whole being: body, mind, and spirit. Likewise, to maintain our mental health, we need to look after our physical bodies and our spiritual beings as well as our minds. My mantra is always, ‘It’s all about balance.’ Here are the things that work for me. I certainly don’t always get them right but when I do, I can feel the difference. I hope they are of some help to you too. 

  • Exercise: There is no getting away from it. Exercise must be the number one stress buster. Doing physical exercise of any kind bumps up the production endorphins in our brains, sometimes called the happy hormone. At my age, I have plenty of hormones that are not so happy so this one certainly needs fostering. You don’t have to be sporty to do physical exercise. A walk in the park or along the beach, a bike ride or some relaxing yoga does the trick. Due to my butterfly personality, I need a variety of different forms of exercise to keep me motivated. Walking Ianto, my 2 ½ year old cocker spaniel is my favourite form of exercise, particularly first thing in the morning and preferably when it’s not raining. I also do a 45-minute bootcamp 2-3 times a week, which I often have to force myself to do but always feel better for it. I hate exercising indoors and so these forms of exercise suit me really well. My only concession to indoor exercise is yoga, which I continue to do over Zoom and sometimes in the hot pod in Swansea (highly recommend this!). I was a late comer to yoga – only starting it in my late 40s and wish I’d discovered it years ago, particularly when my kids were younger.  

 

  • Morning is the best part of the day: Research suggests that whether someone is a morning lark, or a night owl is related to their circadian rhythms or their ‘internal clock’ and that around 47% of this is genetic. I am most definitely a morning person and know that I am far more productive before 12pm than after. If I have an important piece of work to complete, then I will schedule to do it as early as possible. I am currently completing an MA in Creative Writing and all my initial writing gets done before 8am. But perhaps you’re different to me and prefer a different time of day. All I know is that if I didn’t get up early then I would begin to feel sluggish, and my mental health would suffer. This also ensures I get my ‘me time’ as my husband is more of a night owl.  

 Small boat

  • Me time: I really wish I’d discovered the importance of ‘me time’ earlier in my life but I think it’s hard to do when you have children and are working full time. When I was a parish priest, I didn’t have a job with set hours but rather I had a way of life, a vocation, that demanded my time 24/7. Living in a vicarage means that you never switch off. This was one of the most stressful times of my life and I wish I knew then what I have learnt since. ‘Me time’ now is not negotiable and again is found in the early hours. 

 

  • Immersing myself in nature: All three of the above come together for me when I am outside in nature. I am truly fortunate to live in a lovely part of the world, in Llandeilo with the Towy River running by. It takes me only 5 minutes to walk into the beautiful Dinefwr estate where I walk every morning with Ianto. I’m just on my way now to do this. I feel at my most spiritual when I am in a forest, by the sea or up a mountain. It is here that I feel closest to God and closest to my authentic self. If you’ve read a previous blog of mine, Thin Places, you will know what I mean. 

 

  • Meditation: For those of you who know me, you will not be surprised that meditation is in my top tips for wellbeing. Finding space in the day to centre oneself and be still in the present moment is something that is vital for me. Prayer and meditation have been a large part of my life for an exceptionally long time, and now such an integral part of me, that I can’t imagine life without them. There is an increasing body of research on the effects of meditation, and it suggests that it alleviates stress, improves concentration, and induces sleep. I think some people are a little wary of meditation or concerned that they won’t be able to do it, but I encourage you to just give it a go. There is no right or wrong way and the more you practice it the more beneficial it will be. The sessions I run are only 20 minutes and run twice a week. (You can access them HERE) 

 

Little ianto asleep

(Ianto all tuckered out!)

 

These are my top tips for beating stress and maintaining good mental health but of course there are lots of other things I do too such as spending time with friends, listening to music, restricting usage of my phone, only drinking alcohol on weekends, eating well and of course writing. These area list of things I know help me mentally, physically, and spiritually but that’s not to say that I always do them. I often slip up but that’s ok too. Being kind to yourself is also important and sometimes nothing else will do but sitting down with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and binge watching a really good drama on TV! 

 

I am committed to looking after my own mental health but also involved within the University in helping others to do the same. If you want to find out more about staff wellbeing within the University, you might be interested in this podcast that Colette Leleu and I did for the series A Pinch of Salt (I love that title!) which you can access HERE. 

 

I’d love to hear your top tips so please share them with me.