Tips for Looking After Your Own PsychologyPart 1. Keep it Simple

At the end of March last year in 2020 as we headed into our first period of lockdown I posted ‘Life’s never been so simple and yet so complicated’ and I wrote “I have grown up in a culture of acquisition but I am reminded now that it is people and experiences that really matter.”

The word simple comes from an old French word derived from the Latin , ‘simplex’, meaning plain. It may seem ironic in that adornment, elaboration, complexity and decoration have become increasingly synonymous with sophistication and civilisation but it seems as though the tide has turned and now all things simple and even in their raw state are seen as a virtue in their own right. For instance, try bringing to mind the best eating experience you have had in the last few months. Chances are that you will recall only one or very few single foods cooked and presented simply. Busy, packed plates with dozens of flavours, textures, smells of many food types are often just too complicated and over-done for most people’s palates and lead to feeling over-satiated and uncomfortable.

With the benefit of hindsight, after nearly a year of the pandemic, I am offering a few interlinked ideas, wrapped up in an acronym, SIMPLICITY:

S ettle for what is possible and attainable. The idea of one day, one hour, even one moment, at a time, is important when as individuals we have much less choice and autonomy than usual. This is fundamental to ‘mindfulness’, a way of calming, being present and at peace, drawn from eastern meditative practices.

I deal life is an abstract concept but our brilliant, very developed brains, particularly the frontal cortexes, are so busy imagining and dictating ideal relationships, lifestyles, families, children etc.etc., that we can lose perspective. Of course, social media doesn’t help as people, understandably, want to present their ‘best’ selves but the fact is, there is no such thing as perfect in any area of complex, human life. It is always flawed in relation to the imagined ideal and it is always ‘in process’ until the day we leave this life. The sooner we grasp the fact that we are here to learn, to develop and hopefully to improve, we will be happier and more at peace

M end only that which is broken. This relates to the last point about imagined ideal lives but there is no point in using our finite energy, emotions and resources on anything other than what is actually needed

P rioritise – Again, linking with the above, there is only so much one person can achieve at any one time and here it is worth mentioning values. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT),which I think is an extremely useful therapeutic approach, emphasises the importance of being true to what you hold dear and valuable. One way to drill down to your key values is to imagine you are being awarded a lifetime achievement award and the guest speaker is telling everybody about the qualities you, as a unique person, embody.

L et those whose jobs/training/situations are about the big picture deal with the big picture and focus on your own work and situation so that you contribute fully and authentically within your particular situation and circumstances

I dentify what makes you happy. The likelihood is that making others happy, being physically active or getting into nature will be on your list. There may also be other activities, experiences and choices that you know do you good and make you happy. If you find it hard to choose what to do with the odd half hour/hour of leisure time, make a numbered list of six things and choose through a roll of the dice. I have a ‘Dice Roll’ app that I use all the time for this purpose

C hallenges in life are often unfortunate and not sought but neither are they complete coincidence. Look with compassion at the evidence of your own life so far and you will recognise the fact that every challenge offers an opportunity to learn and develop. If we focus on the way in which the pandemic has affected each of us personally we will all have different responses and challenges. I have heard many people talk about what they realise they appreciated and miss most from their lives pre pandemic and that they will use this better understanding in the future when things are more ‘normal’

I n-the-moment existence has a lot to recommend it but it isn’t easy with our vast, much developed brain power and all the devices we have created from it and for it. One way to be here right now is to work your way methodically through your five senses and be aware of say, three things impacting on each now

T ime – it can be a hard master or mistress and the saying about watched kettles never boiling is true so try not to clock watch as far as you can and where time limits are required take control and make use of Siri and alarm facilities on your phone or get a mechanical timer if that suits you better. Control and choice are central to good mental health and well-being. If you can make active choices regarding your use of time you will benefit.

Y our happiness and well-being are your responsibility once you reach adulthood and for those young people in our care, if they grasp this principle through positive and healthy adult models of behaviour so much the better. Before becoming adults we were once subjected, as children, to examples of adult behaviour that may have been unhealthy and/or dysfunctional. This isn’t a reason for blame, just awareness. The most complex of life lessons are about our emotions and relationships and the teaching of these usually falls to our parents and carers who may well have not taught us well but they can be forgiven. As Louise Hay, American motivational and self-help author said: “we are all victims of victims” so forgiveness is called for and is the greatest healer of all.

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