Ironically, on the first day of Mental Health Awareness Week, I was struggling to keep it together. My energy levels had dropped but my goals had stayed the same and I was frustrated that I wasn’t where I thought I should be - with my to do list, with my workouts and with my mind. I’d tried to keep pushing forward, clinging on to grit and determination, upset that I wasn’t able to ‘will’ my way out of my toughest moments.
A week on, having taken stock and changed tack, here are five things I wish I’d told myself when I was at my lowest.
1. You Can “Know” A Lot About Resilience And Still Have Bad Days
We are lucky to be in an era where there is a wealth of information on how to build resilience. Whether it’s how to fuel your body with the right nutrition, the value of regular exercise and the endorphins this brings, or appreciating the importance of sleep, gratitude, mindfulness and connecting with those you love, these principles allow us to proactively manage our physical and mental health.
Having this knowledge is important because it’s an essential first step, but it’s not everything.
Knowing is not the same as doing - you need to put these principles into practice, consistently.
Even if you do, this isn’t a bullet proof guarantee that you will never feel bad or have low moments again.
I’d certainly slipped in a couple of areas lately. But one of the things I needed to realise was that even if you have a gratitude journal you write in every night before bed, even if you do a workout first thing every morning and even if you cook well balanced meals from scratch every time you eat - you are still going to have bad days. And that’s OK. You’re not ‘doing it wrong’. You haven’t failed.
2. “Mind Over Matter” Has Its Limits. Learn To Listen To Yours Before You Reach Breaking Point.
If you are someone who sets goals and pushes yourself hard to achieve them, ‘mind over matter’ can be a helpful mantra if it helps you go that little bit further and feel really proud of what you’ve achieved as a result.
When you’ve finished that challenging workout, crossed the finishing line of a marathon, or reached a goal despite your mind telling you ‘this is hard’ - it can build confidence and remind us what we are capable of when we believe in ourselves.
But if you find yourself pushing and it doesn’t feel good - when you use it as a stick to beat yourself with when you’re struggling and think you ‘should’ be able to do more than you currently can, it’s no longer valuable. Pay attention to when you are reaching your limit and need to rest.
3. Slowing Down Is Not The Same As Quitting
You’re not going to be able to give 100% every single day. Sometimes you need a break and that’s OK.
Taking your foot off the accelerator and not pushing yourself as hard to get to your goals fast doesn’t mean you won’t ever achieve them. You can’t go a hundred miles an hour all the time. Even professional athletes sprint and then recover.
Slowing down, resting and then picking yourself back up again still gets you to your goals. Burning out puts you much further back. You may not always move at the pace you want, but that doesn’t mean you’re letting yourself down. Be kind to yourself in the expectations that you set.
4. Managing Your Energy Is As Important As Managing Your Time
As I said earlier, I’d been feeling tired and not entirely sure why. It could be lockdown fatigue, bouts of hay fever or starting Joe Wick’s 90 Day Plan and doing more HIITs on fewer carbs, when I have a not-so-secret love affair with bread and chips.
Whatever the reason, feeling tired meant my head was fuzzy and I wasn’t able to do things in the same amount of time I could before. My solution? Expand the amount of time I spent on them to make sure they still get done. Great idea.
I found myself getting frustrated; feeling like I wasn't 'enough'. It took getting close to breaking point to realise that I needed to stop, rest and build my energy levels up again as my top priority.
Instead of working evenings and weekends to make up for the lost time and productivity, I needed to focus on what was essential to get done in that moment and then spend the rest of my time regenerating and recovering my energy. I am so much more effective when I am on form so finding ways to get back to that point is more useful than struggling on, feeling low.
5. Make Time For The Fun Stuff
It can be easy when you’re piling on more and more with your expectations and goals to put fun to one side. If you have a tendency to be quite serious and hard on yourself, it’s worth asking ‘What do I want to do?’ and ‘How can I treat myself?’
For me, last Tuesday, this meant making blueberry pancakes for breakfast. It could mean going for a picnic in a local park. Or finally picking up a book you’ve been wanting to read for ages instead of in a scrolling spiral on social media, wondering where the evening went.
Whatever it looks like to you, it's so important to allow time to recharge and enjoy yourself in the process. As a bonus, bringing back joy can also bring back that lost spark of energy.
Some of us can be a lot harder on ourselves than we would be on other people. Recognising this, and paying attention to when ‘stuff’ seems to be building up and the fun is going away can act as an early warning system to be kind to yourself when you need it.
So those are my reflections. What works for you when you’re finding life tough?
If you liked this, please share with others who might find it helpful. Sometimes the first step to being kind to yourself is recognising when you aren't.