Sometimes, issues of mental health don’t just “go away” completely. For some of us, they can be the beast within for a whole lifetime — sometimes active, sometimes dormant — but always there as a potential experience.
There are so many possible reasons for this. It could be DNA. Inherited predispositions. Childhood trauma. The influence of geographic, political and cultural environments even. It may just be habitual thinking patterns so deeply engrained that we feel it’s impossible to completely eradicate the roots and regrowth if ignored and not constantly “managed”.
But what happens to a weed or a seed with no water and sunlight?
A seed may lie dormant for a lifetime, yet not germinate if the conditions are not favourable. The root of the problem may always be there, but that doesn’t mean you have to experience it’s growing vines choking the life out of you.
The same is seen with the study of Epigenetics; it is the external stimuli that ultimately determines the expression of our genes — they’re not on complete autopilot like the scientists once thought.
So again, we see that whilst we might have an in-bred predisposition to disruptive mental health issues of one sort or another — the beast may indeed be reduced to a coma-like state forever if not fed what it needs to thrive.
Are we stuck with the threat of the beast forever?
Don’t get me wrong, I have seen and experienced small miracles of permanent inner transformation in myself and others, but I’ve also seen that sometimes mental health issues are like Hydra: cut off one head and another appears somewhere else.
So, these days I think it’s more realistic for most people suffering mental health issues to think of it as “management” rather than looking for an ultimate cure.
In saying that, it absolutely feels like a “cure” when you come from a very dark, debilitating forest of mental weeds and then are able to live consistently in a beautiful flowering mindscape of peace once the practice of inner gardening has become habitual.
The key is to stop feeding the beast.
I was going to say “simply stop” … but well, it’s just not always that simple.
The beast feeds on the “weeds” in our inner garden. The more weeds there are, the more challenging our life and mental health becomes.
Unfortunately, some of us have more aggressively growing weeds due to past trauma and/or other factors that are outside of our control — our “soil” is just more primed for them to thrive. However it’s still absolutely possible to manage, and even change the quality of the soil gradually over time to be more supportive of wellbeing and less supportive of that beastly habitat.
So what feeds the beast that IS within our control?
There are actually many things that are problematic to some degree or other, but almost all of them are completely within our control. Here are a few important things we can “weed out”:
- Poor diet and gut health
- Lack of exercise
- Lack of love and support
- Lack of purpose and passion
- Negative mental attitudes
OK, the gloves are on! How do we get started?
Whether you’re lucky enough to have a less traumatic past, or not, the process is basically the same…
1. Clear the path.
Sometimes you can’t even get to the garden because the path is so overgrown. It just feels all too overwhelming to even start. You take one look at it, throw your hands up and head back inside to pour yourself a stiff drink and try to forget about it. But eventually the jungle of weeds engulfs your whole house and the beast makes your life a living hell — as I’ve found out.
So start small. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Take it one step at a time, but just do a little each day. Don’t expect anything to look like it’s changing on the outside for quite some time… but just keep at it!
The goal at this point isn’t to kick any major goals, but just to win some ground back so you’re in a position to move forward.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
In practical terms:
- Get help. Both chronic and acute mental health issues benefit from someone trained in CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy or “positive psychology”). I’m not going to make direct recommendations here, but just make sure you ask if they have a focus on CBT or positive psychology before booking any sessions. Some people do benefit from getting regular, ongoing help from trained professionals, but sometimes financial restraints make that difficult, so for me, I’ve just booked in sporadic sessions in acute times when things were too big for me to deal with alone.
- Drink more water. I know this sounds ridiculously simplistic, however, if you’re drinking more water, [a] you’ll be drinking a little less of other sorts of possibly detrimental liquids (like sugary drinks or alcohol or too much caffeine), [b] your body will start to cleanse and reduce your toxic load, [c] hydration helps with brain function, [d] less toxicity means better gut function, which typically leads to a more balanced production of feel-good neuro-chemicals (produced mainly in the gut by the friendly bacteria in our microbiome), and numerous other benefits.
- Find a physical activity that clears your mind. It doesn’t have to be meditation, as that’s often too difficult to start practicing at this stage of the game. Try regular walks/time in nature (switch your phone off!), or any sort of cardio exercise, or painting or playing an instrument, or gardening, etc. Set aside a time where you avoid technology and other stimulation and just really get “grounded” in your body and your physical surroundings.
2. Plant a new garden that supports your wellbeing.
This is about exploring what you might like to see in your garden and what you might need (sometimes a little different — flowers look lovely, but a garden full of flowers won’t feed us very well!), and then methodically preparing the soil and planting new seeds — removing weeds, adding seeds one by one and giving them space to grow.
It’s good to start with the end in mind. Just like some plants, you may wish to bring new, supportive activities into your life that need quite a bit of time and space, so you’ll need to consider what the priorities are at the start — otherwise you can just end up creating a cluttered, crowded mental environment that quickly becomes overwhelming again, and you may end up ignoring the whole thing for that reason.
In practical terms:
- Actively avoid toxicity. This means processed sugars, artificial colours and flavourings, many processed foods (particularly processed meats) and deep-fried foods, excessive stimulants (e.g. caffeine), depressants (e.g. alcohol), chemical drugs,
- Make changes to your diet. This is something many people write off as unnecessary or unimportant, but the absolute opposite is true. This is CRUCIAL to your wellbeing. Don’t just drink more water, but also reduce stimulants and sugary drinks. Replace processed foods with fresh, whole foods as much as you can. Try eating probiotic foods like sauerkraut and yoghurt, or just supplement your diet with a good quality daily probiotic capsule. (Click here to find out more).
- Schedule in your preferred physical activity so you don’t miss a day. Even 5 minutes is better than nothing. If you can, ensure there’s time spent actually building your cardio fitness levels, as this can help dramatically with your overall wellbeing.
- Find an uplifting hobby, passion or purpose. This is pretty straight forward and I think most people know that a life without purpose or passion is like a garden without water, yet many of us let the general busy-ness take over and dictate our schedule, and we then numb ourselves in our downtime with pointless activities like social media and endless Netflix binges, never once considering that we could be better shaping our schedule and using that time to inject inspirational moments into the mix.
- Connect with positive, loving people. I know it’s really hard for many of us to find new friends. But use your hobby/passion as an excuse — join a club or just start by connecting with similar people online. At worst, if you can’t meet new people, try to find the most loving, positive people within your own existing group of friends and family and invest more time in those relationships.
- Find/create helpful mantras. It’s not enough to just “do the right things” if you’re spending the rest of the time hating on yourself and your life. Mantras are simply things we feel comfortable telling ourself regularly which make us feel more positive and pro-active.
3. Nurture that garden daily.
We can just clear out the weeds once, throw in a few seeds and hope for the best. Our inner gardens respond best to regular management — just a few small things and a few minutes every day can avoid ever falling back into that overwhelming place where the beast is raging once more.
In practical terms:
- Be patient! It’s okay to swap out activities occasionally, but stay focussed long enough to really get a sense of whether it’s helping or not. Just trying something a few times does will not give you a definite sense about anything.
- Be consistent. Schedule things in. Just because you ate veggies 3 days in a row, doesn’t mean that KFC and a dozen beers is an okay option on day 4. It’s up to you ultimately, but if you’re serious about starving the beast and enjoying the peace that results, then be as consistent as you can.
- Remember it takes a while for activities to become habits. Keep at it! But also, if something starts to become overwhelming (like exercising for an hour every day) then you’re better off cutting it back to much smaller chunks so you can keep building the habit, rather than throwing it in the too-hard basket or just doing it sporadically and never building the habits which make everything easier long-term.
So, in summary…
To starve the beast and feed your own wellbeing, here are a few important areas to focus on:
- Improve your gut health (eat more fresh veggies, drink more water and consider taking a daily probiotic).
- Get regular exercise (daily is best) — often great to combine this with getting out into nature (weather permitting!).
- Seek out people and environments that love and support you, then invest time and energy into those relationships.
- Find purpose and passions, and find a way to incorporate it into your weekly (or daily!) schedule.
- Find or create good mantras and seek to gradually improve your mental attitudes and self-love. I would even recommend studying the basics of CBT for yourself to learn how to reframe your world with ways of thinking that support your wellbeing.
- Be kind and patient with yourself. It takes time and effort to turn your beast-feeding field of noxious weeds into a beautiful garden of peace…. but it’s definitely well worth it!