I have been thinking a lot about the idea of an independence day for mental health. In other posts, I have talked about pain, and hard things in life. Those posts were a direct reflection of my therapy work. Many of my patients are facing issues that they can’t walk away from, and that they didn’t cause. That might be true for you as well. There may be a whole stack of things going on in your life that you are stuck with.
From my perspective that makes it even more important to increase your awareness of what is actually under your control. Because, if you are anything like me, there are probably things in your life that are stressful, but that are not mandatory. If you have a serious illness, dealing with the daily challenges that come along with that is pretty mandatory. But if you also tend to get stressed out because you procrastinate small tasks and then end up with an huge pile of work–that might be something you can change. And finding those spaces where change is possible is one of the ways that we can increase our own freedom.
Where Can You Declare Independence?
So here’s your invitation (or challenge–whatever best describes it for you): As you move through your day, try to stay in touch with yourself. Notice the moments that you feel tired, anxious, frustrated, overwhelmed, distressed, angry, or sad. If you can, try to keep a list of when those moments happen and what they are about. Later–maybe this evening, maybe later in the week–sit down with your list. As you review the list, apply these questions to each incident:
- Were these feelings about something I can’t control (illness, a loss, etc)? If so, give yourself some compassion for the feeling and set it to one side?
- Were these feelings about something that I might be able to control? This is trickier, because many of your long-term habits, like procrastination, or piling up clutter, or impulsive eating may feel so well established that they don’t seem under your control. Another way to ask this question is: could an action on my part make a difference in this situation? If the answer is yes, than the feelings were about something you can control.
- Which thing that might be under my control feels the most approachable? You are looking for moments where you can create small change.
As anyone who has ever worked for personal or political independence could tell you, gaining freedom from something painful isn’t accomplished just by awareness and intention. Once you are more aware of things that can be under your control, then it is time to take an action. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I am a big fan of taking that first step, of doing one small thing. I think that, sometimes, big plans create more space for procrastination. So, on this day when my American readers are celebrating national independence, I’d love to hear from you. Where in your life can you give yourself some freedom? What first step will you take to do that?
Image Credit: Photo by bayasaa via Flickr