Life: Surviving or Thriving? | Mental Health Awareness Week 2017

It’s Mental Health Awareness month and we are nearing the end of Mental Health Awareness Week 2017:
Surviving or Thriving?
This year, the Mental Health Foundation took a different stance and focused on good mental health vs. mental ill-health. According to Mark Rowland, the Director of Fundraising and Communications for the Mental Health Foundation – with 18% more cases of depression, mental health problems have been on the rise globally since 2005. As a society, the awareness and focus on the health of our physical bodies continually makes great progress, but what about our mental health? Mental health affects all of us and in the like how we have good physical health or poor physical health – the same goes for our mental state and wellbeing. With that being said, rather fittingly the theme for this year is ‘Surviving or Thriving’.
Hopefully you’ve had the chance to have a listen to Mark Rowland’s podcast on this year’s theme here. This article sums up the key parts of Mark’s podcast and provides my own personal take on what the theme means for me and how to thrive and not just survive – not just during MHA Week but daily:
1 To continue to live or exist, especially in spite of danger or hardship.
Mark suggests that, when it comes to survival, there are two groups of people or types of experiences:
  1. Experiencing completely disorienting traumatic events that create a volcanic eruption of emotions.     (e.g. death, divorce, abuse, physical pain/injury, psychological trauma etc.) – These are the things we have to find a way to get through.
  2. The everyday struggle of feeling trapped and fighting to find a way through life. Mark described this as struggling in a sea of high demands and having low resources – experiencing panic, anxiety, low mood etc. and the amount of energy it takes to stay above water level.
Surviving is a universal experience: Everybody has to survive and being resilient and bouncing back is a universal skill we should all have. It may be helpful to think of survival as a town that is an inevitable part of your journey through life. Whilst enduring hardships and going/growing through these things is a part of what makes life what it is, survival isn’t meant to be our destination.
1 To prosper, flourish, group or develop well or vigorously.
For Mark, thriving means many different things. Thriving is having the ability to reach your potential, enjoy life, face challenges and not be beaten and destroyed by those challenges. But even more so, it’s the ability to find a place of your own to stand in this world – a place where you experience a sense of purpose, agency and meaning and where you can make a contribution to the world, form meaningful relationships, develop useful tools and knowledge and use these gifts you’ve learnt and have been given as you walk through your daily life. To thrive is that shift from auto-pilot towards an intentional way of living by walking through your daily life, controlling what you can control, accepting what you can’t and knowing the pieces of your life that are bringing you energy and working for you and being aware of those that aren’t.
Surviving vs. Thriving…
For me, to survive or to thrive is the difference between ‘existing and living’, ‘coping or recovering’, ‘reaching your peak or plateauing’. I think we are always doing a bit of both. Sometimes we experience the highs of life and sometimes survival mode is all that we can do with the energy we have. Getting through each day is all we are capable of doing sometimes and that’s OK as it’s better than stopping but unfortunately, for many reasons, thriving is not something all of us experience often. Too many of us are feeling stuck and non-equipped and whilst we as a society are becoming more aware of mental health and its importance, more can be done to educate ourselves on how to actively improve and sustain our mental wellbeing.
Are you currently in Survival Mode?
I guess a major indication that you may be in or heading towards survival mode is that you’re not quite sure where you’re at right now. If you can answer yes to one or a few of the following, it may be time for you to start thinking about how you can progress towards a more prosperous and fulfilling life:
  • Does the thought of change or being put out of your comfort zone scare you and/or exhaust you?
  • Does facing a moment of failure seem like the end rather than a lesson learnt?
  • Do you feel as though you’re living in the shadows and/or not being yourself to please others?
  • Do you find excuses outside yourself or blame the world/others when things don’t go to plan?
  • Do you prefer to sit back and allow things to happen rather than getting up and going for what you want?
  • Do you have no idea what it is you want?
  • Do you have no idea what your purpose in life is?
Perhaps none of the above really apply to you right now but you have a feeling that you’re not steering towards where you want to be and certain things in your life are misaligned with who you are and who you want to be.
Time To Thrive
I personally think that ‘to thrive’ doesn’t mean that you have to be at where you think you want/wanted to be at. Thriving isn’t just to do with material stuff like earning a certain amount, having a certain type of relationship, driving a specific car, having a certain job title. Success and the ability to thrive is an ongoing process, a journey to be working towards – not a final destination. It’s important to have your eyes on the prize,  whatever that may be, but we also have to appreciate the little, everyday achievements we took along the way because the prize always changes. We always want the next best thing and can easily forget what it was like to want or work hard for what we previously had or wanted. In order to get to our ‘higher goals and ambitions’ it requires us to make those small steps and appreciate those small pieces that form our greater purpose.
Improve Your Mental Wellbeing…
It’s important to know who you are and know where you are in life. It’s time to make the time to get to know yourself. What makes you happy? What makes you sad? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your values? What brings you energy? What drains energy from you? Just how well is your mental wellbeing? Do you know much about your mental health problem and how it affects you? Do you know what you want from life? And if you don’t know what you want right now, do you know what you don’t want? Are you surviving or are you thriving? It’s important to ask yourself these questions.
The Mental Health Foundation suggest regularly checking in on your mental health and how its fairing by doing this survey here, which enables you to find your ‘good mental score’ in comparison to the national average. I have to be honest and say that I don’t agree with this because I think the experience of your own mental wellbeing is subjective. I don’t think that mental health is as black and white as physical health can be, hence why it’s harder to detect, explain, etc. and probably why society has a hard time accepting it as a legitimate concern in comparison to physical health problems.
We are all different and the same goes for our mental wellbeing. What works for us, may not work for our peers and vice versa. So I have a few suggestions below:
  • Learn more about how to care for your mental wellbeing here!
  • Try the VIA Survey here to identify your strengths and values!
  • Find out what personality type you are and why you do the things you do here!
…Sustain Your Mental Wellbeing…
Mark Rowland suggested his Top 3 Tips towards improving your mental wellbeing: Health, Humour + Habit.
The most interesting to me is ‘habit’: What are you doing routinely to become the best version of yourself? So, how can you make prioritising your mental health become a habit?
  1. Talk about it! When you’re feeling low, anxious, depressed – even when you’re feeling good – share it. Not only does it help you to help yourself, it helps others to help themselves also. Mental health needn’t be a secret and it should be OK to not feel OK. Find out what works for you and do it – whether it be writing it down in a diary or blog, talking to friends, family or support groups, or seeking help from professionals.
  2. Plan your activities! The things we do day-by-day and week-by-week all contribute towards our future. Think about what you do daily and evaluate that. Are you doing enough of the right things? Could you be doing less of the things that are not in line with our values?  Now think about what you could be doing. What do you love to do, or would like to start doing? Use a diary or planner and think about it more proactively daily.
  3. Incorporate balance in your life and make sure you’re paying enough attention to your mind, body and soul. Find and stick to a good sleep routine, have balance in your diet, engage in regular physical activity, make time to relax!
So…What Are You Waiting For?
There’s no time like the present! Here are some things you could try now to start making steps towards a happier, more purposeful you:
  • Meditate! Download the Headspace app. 10 mins a day can improve your stress, sleep and exercise.
  • Sign up for a new exercise class like Yoga or Pilates.
  • Read an inspiring novel or autobiography.
  • Listen to interesting podcasts or influential videos from Ted Talks.
  • Buy a Happiness Planner or download the app to help you cultivate happiness by embracing the power of positive thinking, mindfulness, gratitude and self-development.
  • Each day, don’t just focus on your tasks and errands but also pay attention to how you feel.
  • Visualise what happiness and thriving means to you by saving inspirational quotes, ideas and photos that give you inspiration and motivation when you need it and continually remind you of how you want to feel and what you want to do each day to work towards a fulfilling life.
  • Change your habits – swap the bad for the good by using Kikki K’s ‘Habits Journal‘.
  • Have a digital detox! Find out how by reading my article here!
Finally, remember that the journey towards a more prosperous life is not supposed to be easy. Sometimes thriving can feel just as difficult than surviving because it requires us to develop the resilience to turn calamities into opportunities and shift our perspectives to see the good in the bad. It can sometimes feel like an upward struggle but remember that good things take time. Surround yourself with like-minded people who will uplift you and encourage you to thrive in every avenue of your life and be that same kind, supportive and encouraging friend to yourself.
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive: and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour and some style.”
– Maya Angelou

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