Published: 10th October 2022. Written by: Rich Goddard.
With Brits on the cusp of a ‘second pandemic’ of mental health issues, mental health coach Rich Goddard explains why it’s important to understand what we can and can’t control, and put you on the path to empowerment.
For World Mental Health Day 2022, the World Health Organisation has chosen the theme of ‘Making mental health a global priority for all’.
Even before the events of recent months, reports of mental ill-health had been steadily on the rise, in what many have referred to as a mental health ‘crisis’; said to be fuelled by anything from toxic working cultures, overreliance on technology and social media, or valuing things like fame or wealth over friends and family.
Add a global pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a cost of living crisis into the mix, and here we have a perfect storm of stress, helplessness and anxiety.
But within the ups and downs of society’s mental and emotional rollercoaster, we, as individuals, have our own challenges – from our day-to-day lives to our personality types and childhoods – all of which, combined with our environment, contribute to our mental health.
And, while it might, at times, feel like we’re powerless to the world’s troubles, the good news is that we can find empowerment within focusing more on what we can control, rather than the things we can’t.
So, as individuals, where should we focus our attention in order to prioritise our own mental health?
From helplessness to empowerment
If we can take anything from these crises, it may be that we’ve been forced to better understand ourselves: how we deal with difficult situations and feelings; bringing advocacy days, such as World Mental Health Day, to the fore, when it probably should have been a long time ago.
It’s forced us into being adaptable to change; to accept that the world isn’t always plain sailing and that there are some things we can control, and others we cannot.
In doing so, we may refer to Stephen Covey’s theory of the circles of concern, influence and control.
The model suggests that our world can be broken down into three different areas and within these the amount of control we have varies.
The ‘layer of concern’, which is the macro-environment, and the areas that most people have little or no control over. I’m talking geopolitics, lockdown rules and train strikes.
‘The layer of influence’ is the stuff we can have some level of control over, if we put some time and effort into it. This is how we spend our time, who we spend it with and what we do with it.
Then there’s ‘the layer of control’ – which, in my opinion, is where it gets interesting. This is how we think, behave and react to the situations, people and emotions that come and go throughout our lives.
Talking Therapies is available for Vitality Health members that are going through a rough time, or simply want to talk to someone about their mental wellbeing.
As a Vitality member you can get access to eight online of in-person session per plan year, which varies from counselling to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Breaking your life down into these areas can mean it is easier to address each one accordingly, and acknowledge how they might impact our mental health.
Doing so can help us to move from feeling helpless to feeling empowered.
What you least control: The circle of concern
It might not be worth spending too much time on what we can’t control, but it would be wrong to pretend it isn’t happening.
There are however many things beyond our control – so how can we take ownership of that?
These are some of the factors we can consider when it comes to addressing the world outside of our control:
- Accept – Wishing it wasn’t happening, when unfortunately, it is, will only add to the frustration and negative feelings that come with it. That doesn’t make it OK. But it does save unnecessary thoughts and energy, which might be put to better use. Life isn’t always easy – and that’s OK. It’s OK to feel down about it. But just remember, it’s not your responsibility – and there are other things which are. So, let’s focus on them.
- News and social media consumption – It can be good to know what’s going on in the world, but less so when it becomes all-consuming, which can easily happen with 24-hour news, Twitter feeds and angry comments sections. Consider how much time you spend immersed in apocalyptic headlines and put boundaries in place on the lines that you think it get in the way of your own life.
- Contribute – You don’t control what’s happening in the world, but you likely have a say. Choose one area you’re passionate about and do something about it – whether that be donating to a charity, volunteering or joining – even starting – a movement. But again, just be aware of when your contribution to greater causes takes your focus too far from your own.
What you can control: The circle of Influence
Once we acknowledge and accept that there are some things we don’t control, we can afford time to look around us and begin influencing the things we do; to not only improve them for ourselves and those around us, but to start moving away from those feelings of helplessness and towards those of empowerment.
Some areas to focus might include:
- Physical wellbeing – Our bodies and minds are connected in ways the vast majority of us were never taught. Ensuring we get a good night’s sleep, having some kind of regular exercise (or movement), doing our best to eat healthy and making time to get into nature, have all been shown to have a positive impact on the average person’s mental health.
- 5 scientific reasons why exercise is good for your mental health
- What are the mental health benefits of physical activity?
- Your own life – The above suggestion of contribution comes with a sizeable caveat, to ensure it doesn’t distract from our own responsibilities. While external factors will always influence our work, finances and relationships, how we manage them is down to us. That may be easier said than done and some will have it harder than others. We can only do our best. But, at minimum, we can make sure to prioritise them.
- Setting routines and structure – Whether it’s setting an alarm, putting breaks in between calendar meetings or scheduling time with loved ones, setting these boundaries with yourself and your time can not only make sure you prioritise what’s important, but can even provide a feeling of stability, when everything around you feels chaotic.
Where you control the most: The Circle of Control
Beneath the surface of all of this, what’s happening inside our minds will dictate how we deal with what comes.
Again, prioritising your own wellbeing means taking some time to think about what works for you and doing your best to factor it into your daily life.
- Maintain your mind – In a world full of noise, the thoughts in our heads can sound even louder. But different people have different ways of helping their mind to go quiet. So, what works for you? Meditation has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety; as has playing with a pet, walking in nature and playing a musical instrument. Find the time to quieten your mind.
- Process your feelings – The above suggestions are recommended as a routine practice; but particularly important when times get really challenging. Processing feelings can, again, come in many ways. But having someone you can trust to speak to, keeping a journal, or simply acknowledging challenging emotions as they come, can help to let them go.
- Find hope – and be aware of the stories you tell yourself – Half the battle in dealing with challenges comes from the pressure we put on ourselves. In particular, in the stories we tell ourselves. Humans are particularly resilient creatures and have a history of being able to adapt; while it might often seem like the world is crumbling around us, you will adapt – and maybe, just maybe, even something good may come of this.
The cost of living crisis is the latest challenge many will be facing over the coming months.
While the advice to “focus on what you control” may seem trivial when faced with such mounting pressure, there are resources available which can help, which we all have access to; as well as a range of mental health services for anybody who might need them.
Rich is an executive coach, working with leaders and teams who want to balance achievement and success, with wellbeing and quality of life. Find out more and get in touch at www.richgoddard.co
At Vitality, we aim to inspire and encourage members, enhance and protect your lives through the Vitality Programme, so you can implement small positive habits that make a big difference to your life.