Health & Wellbeing

The 10 biggest barriers to peace of mind in 2017

Call it what you will, peace of mind, inner peace, sanity, contentment – that feeling of freedom from when your brain just won’t shut up and in bad moments you feel only marginally less negative about the world and others than you do about yourself.

In a world full of fear about war, your job, paying the rent, the planet, relationships, walking home late at night, whether your kids are safe, the next interest rate rise or that secret we pray never sees the light of day, most of would rather spend time with a sustained, quiet satisfaction than on a speedboat with champagne and celebrities. It’s a different feeling from ‘happiness’ – though most of want that too.

Happiness is lovely but that feels like a passing state, although certainly one to be grateful for. Nobody is happy all the time and if they claim to be, personally I wouldn’t believe them. Contentment or peace of mind is true freedom. So how do we break the chains that hold us back from freedom of the mind in 2017? Here are some ideas.

Having any strong opinion about Donald Trump (or any politician)

Donald Trump was and remains a touchstone. For social progressives, he represents the sum of all the fears, with a side of offensiveness. But if you are working class and disengaged from politics he’s a protest vote against liberals who talk about the masses but show little practical care for them. If you really care about the way the world is run, start by treating yourself and your loved ones better, then helping in your local community. If you care deeply about politics, then get involved. Write to your MP, go on a march, hell you could even vote – in any election (there will be dozens in your lifetime). Be grateful that at least you live in a democracy where you won’t disappear for expressing a view about the way the world should work. But don’t stress yourself out by damning or defending Trump, his time will come. Until then – and when he’s a distant memory – make your own time count.

Too much screen time

If scrolling through Facebook a few times each day, or news websites, makes you feel connected, or if you have Netflix and just wanna chill, good for you, do it. But if you do it again, and again (and again), sorry to break it to you, but you are not living a healthy life. Period. And as for social media being sociable? Give me a break, Facebook is about as ‘social’ as a phone plan “cap” that somehow makes you spend more. When used for a specific task, with time limits, social media can be fun and creative but used unconsciously and habitually it is empty, pretend connection. Hit the X on that tab and go get somereal face-time with friends, or write someone a letter. If they are across oceans, ring them up to talk and if you can, start saving to go see them.

Putting up with financial stress

No, I am not about to suggest some wealth maximisation (aka get-rich quick) scheme. I’m suggesting that continuing to live with worries about money is going to make you sick and/or keep you that way. Financial stress is the biggest stressor for people in the United States, Australia, The UK, Canada and as yet, employers aren’t doing much about that – although that is sure to change as corporate wellbeing programs catch up. In the meantime, do something about your financial literacy, learn how to keep and stick to a budget, learn how to be mindful with money. Do something about your fears over money. Be grateful for what you already have rather than always wanting more. If you really need more money then take some action: study, look for a different job, maybe turn a passion into something that generates income.

Comparing yourself to others

When did this very human trait ever work out really well? Everybody has a bad day and sometimes everyone just looks, thinner, prettier, fitter, richer, like they have more friends or are just more ‘together’. They might be, but they may have very serious problems you cannot see on the surface. You might see someone worse off and feel grateful, but deep down you may also feel a bit empty from witnessing someone else’s suffering. And why were you comparing in the first place? Perhaps from a lingering sense ‘is this all there is’? Stop distracting yourself from your own life and try practicing gratitude every day. It’s not hard it just takes commitment. Write a gratitude list. World famous monk David Steindl-Rast suggests we can only be happy when we are grateful and we can do this by reflecting on the valuable things in life that we have been given – not things we paid for or earned. Watch his wonderful TED Talk on gratitude here.

Caring too much about others

Kindness is a really nice quality at face value, we need more of it in the world today. But if you secretly wish you didn’t have to do so much for others, or expect something in return for your good deeds you may be just be avoiding the difficult reality of your life and even co-dependent. Co-dependence is a word similar to the phrase ‘Global Warming’, in that it sounds much friendlier than what it actually is. Global warming is really dangerous climate instability, which is a bit more than feeling cosy in winter. Co-dependence is adjusting your behaviours to please others, no matter the cost to your wellbeing. People who think co-dependence is healthy are usually thinking of interdependence. “The healthiest way we can interact with those close to us,” according to Barton Goldsmith of Psychology Today, “is by being truly interdependent. This is where two people, both strong individuals, are involved with each other but without sacrificing themselves or compromising their values.”

Being busy, staying busy

If you need something done, as the old saying goes, ask a busy person. While you’re at it, stick a gold star on their forehead but whatever you do, just don’t ask them how their mental health is. If you are busy all the time, what is all that white noise doing inside your head? Do you feel calm, at peace? Never forget you are a human being not a human doing. Busy-ness can feed anxiety, that nagging chatter in your brain that undermines your self-esteem. You need to stop, at least once a day, take stock, and rest with your own thoughts. Try mindfulness meditation as a way of learning to still the mind and accept your thoughts without judgement. From that you may learn it’s ok to be still and that you are still valuable – perhaps even more valuable – if you don’t do quite so much. You’ll probably be easier to be around too.

Staying in a job where you don’t want to excel

Maybe it’s because you aren’t respected, the boss just cut staff numbers, or froze wages again but parks his new sports car in the basement. Maybe you are doing law or medicine or IT because you think it makes your parents happy. Whatever the reason, you feel resentful at work but you stay anyway, usually because you think financially you are trapped, or that a career change would disrupt your life too much. But getting stuck in a job you hate is a slow death of the soul, one that invariably impacts on your mood and can lead to outward anger or with impulse spending or worse. Plus you just may be holding yourself back from a bright new chapter in your life. How will you ever know if you don’t try? At least allow yourself to dream or brainstorm what might make you a happier person.

Treating your grudge like a tiny kitten

Who isn’t angry deep down about someone who harmed them in some way? I wish I wasn’t, but I know am. But if you get into a pattern of almost protecting that grudge every day, caring for it and even nurturing it, guess what – it’s going to grow. After a while you’ve held it so close that you begin showing it off, like an 8 year old with new roller skates. A resentment is not a pet, it’s a poison. Ever heard the saying ‘holding a resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to get sick?’ It kinda is. Take action to deal with your resentment, work out your part in it, talk to them with a will to build bridges. And remember honesty without compassion is cruelty, or at least an invitation to an argument.

Doing that secret thing you know is bad one more time because it feels good

Addictions – whether compulsive shopping, social media reliance, over-eating, gambling, alcoholism or other substances – are a chronic brain disease that people develop through their own behaviour via early experiences (according to Canadian physician Gabor Mate) and/or genetic predisposition (according to other theorists). Then the behaviour impacts on those around them at home and at work, through loss of productivity and difficult interpersonal relationships. Whatever the reason some people become addicts, they usually keep returning to the behaviour compulsively because it eases the pain of feelings of worthlessness, fear, grief or other difficult emotions and/or conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Last year the US Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy, called addiction: “one of the most pressing public health crises of our time”. He added: “We must help everyone see that addiction is not a character flaw – it is a chronic illness that we must approach with the same skill and compassion with which we approach heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.” But the buck will always stop with the addict to want change and to get help.

Doing nothing if you know you have a problem

You know what I’m talking about. Aren’t you getting tired of trying to cope on your own? Your anger, your unprocessed grief, your money problems, your pattern of bad relationships, your secret addiction. Just this week, Prince Harry has come out about the effect hiding his sadness about the effect of Princess Diana. “I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well,” London’s Telegraph reported Harry as saying. Nobody is perfect or strong enough to deal with life’s train wrecks on their own. Pretending to be fine is going to stop working at some point, perhaps disastrously. No matter what you think of yourself deep down, you deserve help.

If you are experiencing distress in your life and live in Australia call: Lifeline 131114, Mensline 1300789978 or Beyond Blue 1300224636; or in the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 8002738255, or go here for a list of hotline numbers relating to different crises. The UK call SupportLine Telephone Helpline: 01708 765200 or HopeLine UK 0800 068 4141. Canada call: the Distress Centre on 403.266.HELP (4357) or 1-800-SUICIDE, 1-800-784-2433.

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