Contentment and Mental Health are not often words that coexist very comfortably in the same conversation but through my own personal battles with my mental health and through my work, I’ve learnt that cultivating contentment can be a powerful coping tool. We all have mental health, just as we call have physical health so why is the conversation around mental wellbeing still so hard to open up?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines contentment as ‘happiness and satisfaction, often because you have everything you need’ and in Yogic Philosophy Patanjali teaches in the Yoga Sutras that we must practice ‘Santosha’, translating to contentment, to lead a good & meaningful yogic life. If you look up Contentment on Wikipedia it’s defined as ‘a mental or emotional state of satisfaction maybe drawn from being at ease in one’s situation, body and mind’. Nodding to Patanjali’s suggestion that we should look for contentment & satisfaction where we are rather than constantly striving & comparing our lives to those of others. This couldn’t be more relevant than in today’s world, where cultivating comparison is everywhere – Instagram, Facebook, endless ad campaigns telling us what new thing we need, what we need to change in order to be happy & what we need to buy rather than finding happiness in what we already have. In an economy built largely on comparison how can we cultivate more contentment in our own lives and find more peace with where we are right now?
With World Mental Health Day around the corner on 10th October & the focus this year being on suicide prevention it’s more imperative than ever that we tackle this taboo head on and open up an honest conversation about Mental Health. So, what can we do to create more contentment & a find little more peace when we’re struggling? These coping strategies may not apply directly to you but maybe a friend or family member could use a little support, why not open up the conversation this World Mental Health.
Mindfulness became extremely fashionable a few years ago, being present was all the rage but this practice is a far more useful tool than it is a trend! Mindfulness techniques help us to focus on the present moment and to connect back to how and what we are feeling. Professor Mark Williams and colleagues at Oxford University and other universities around the world teach mindfulness to combat anxiety, stress, exhaustion and depression. It’s been clinically proven to work, but more importantly it also works for those of us who aren’t depressed but who are struggling to keep up with the constant demands of the modern world.
“It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour,” he says. “An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment.”
I know this is easier said than done, it took a very good friend of mine to see through the cracks I was desperately trying to paint over to realise I really needed help. Sometimes speaking with a stranger can feel more comfortable but talking about where you’re at and what you are struggling with can be the first steps to getting help. Speak to someone you feel comfortable talking to, a friend, colleague or a family member. If you need to talk to someone and would prefer to speak with someone anonymously, you can contact the Samaritans 24/7.
Practice Compassion based therapy
I ended up seeing a therapist for 6 months and he taught me to practice using a compassionate voice. The way I was speaking to myself was so negative and pretty abusive now I look back and that small inner voice can have a monumental effect on your mental health. He asked me to think of someone who spoke to me lovingly and what they would say to me when I spoke to myself in a hurtful or unkind way, I still use this tool every day. It can also be a very comforting technique, it helps me to remember someone I lost and keep their memory alive.
Take every day as it comes
‘This too shall pass. It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass’… I know firsthand that some days can feel like an uphill battle & when you are in a dark patch it can feel like the sun might never shine again but finding comfort that it will pass and taking everything one day at a time can be a helpful shift in mindset. Even the most extreme of situations will change, raging storms will calm and fires eventually burn out. Nothing can last forever and sometimes sitting with these feelings and acknowledging them rather than pushing them away can be a brave step on the road to healing.
For me, Yoga was the thing that really helped me to feel better and opening up to a very close friend and a very helpful therapist. When I have tough days I remember to breathe, I practice mindfulness, gratitude, journalling and pretty much anything in my ‘mental health tool box’ that I can find! I’ve learnt to say no to things when I need to and to give myself a break when I have too. The important thing I have learnt is that only I have the power to practice more self-compassion, more self-care and cultivate more contentment with where I am and what I’m feeling rather than punishing myself for not being perfect, remember practice takes some practise too! #practicenotperfection
About Liz Joy Oakley
Liz Joy Oakley is Yoga Teacher, Holistic Wellbeing Coach and Head of Vibes at MoreYoga, co-running our MoreMind Project with Stephanie Minchin, coordinating events, content and workshops focused on better supporting our communities mental and physical wellbeing. After starting her career in the fast-paced world of luxury fashion Liz came to Yoga after being diagnosed with Malignant Hypertension and Generalized Anxiety and left with the goal of helping others to lead healthier lives holistically. Liz went on to spent a year working at the Safe Childhoods Foundation in Indonesia, an NGO committed to combatting organized crimes against children, she began to understand the true benefits of Yoga, Meditation and Psychology as therapeutic tools and describes this as a time of total transformation.
Now back in London, Liz is passionate about helping people achieve a healthier, happier lifestyle through her work. She loves bringing people together, encouraging authentic connection and is happiest when facilitating retreats, workshops and events based around Yoga, Positive Psychology and Holistic Wellbeing.
Liz teaches Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin & Restorative Yoga, specialising in teaching Yoga, Mindfulness & Meditation to improve stress & anxiety. She combines this with her work as a Holistic Wellbeing Coach & is dedicated to spreading Joy through her work.
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