Author: Dr John Sharry, Silver Cloud Health
Achieving good mental health is all about achieving a good balance in your life. When your work, relationships, and self are attended to, then your well-being and personal satisfaction is maintained.
In this podcast episode, John Sharry, Psychologist, Clinical Director and Co-Founder of SilverCloud Health, uses the metaphor of a three-legged stool to describe good mental health. The three legs represent the key life domains of work, relationships and self: If any of the legs is out of kilter, the stool falls over but if all are in balance then the stool and your mental health is rock solid.
1 - Relationships
Our mental health and personal well-being are tied up in the quality of our personal relationships. The more closely we are connected to the people we love, the happier we feel and the more personal satisfaction we have in our lives. However, creating and maintaining happy personal relationships and belonging to positive communities is not straightforward.
It is important to continuously attend to and nurture our relationships with the important people in lives as well as taking time to strengthen the communities to which we belong.
In the podcast, John provides seven simple habits that are the key to keeping your close relationships happy, supportive and personally satisfying.
2 - Work
Work is the second leg of our well-being stool that is key to maintaining balance in our lives. This may include your paid employment or how one contributes in life, such as volunteering in a charity, getting involved in community projects as well as creating music or art to entertain and inspire others.
John explains how work becomes more meaningful when it is aligned with our strengths, passions and values and how to find work we love.
3 - Self-care
The third important life domain crucial to our positive mental health is self-care. We won’t have good mental health unless we look after our physical health and well-being.
Often, modern life is characterized by busy and largely sedentary, unhealthy lifestyles. Many people suffer from increased levels of insomnia, stress, depression and anxiety which are often related to a simple neglect of our health and fitness.
In the podcast, John discusses the three pillars of physical health: eating well, being physically fit and getting enough relaxation and sleep.
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About John Sharry:
Prof. John Sharry is a Psychologist, Clinical Director and Co-Founder of SilverCloud Health. He is a founder of the Parents Plus Charity, an adjunct professor at the School of Psychology in University College Dublin and the best-selling author of fourteen positive psychology and self-help books for families.Read the Podcast Transcript
Welcome to Digital Mental Health Conversations, the podcast, by SilverCloud Health. Today, we are going to have Professor John Sharry talk about how creating good mental health is about creating balance in your life and looking at this through the lens of relationships, work, self-care, eating well, being physically active, as well as the importance of sleep and relaxation. But before I hand over to Professor Sharry, a little bit about our guest speaker. Professor John Sharry is a psychotherapist and clinical director and co-founder of SilverCloud Health. He is the founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the School of Psychology at the University College Dublin. And the bestselling author of 14 positive psychology and self-help books for families. Over to you, John.
Hi, I'm John Sharry, psychotherapist, clinical director and co-founder of SilverCloud Health. In this podcast, I look at how you can take care of your well-being by creating balance in your life. Achieving good mental health is all about achieving balance. People usually become stressed when the different part of their lives are out of balance. You might start over working and spending too much time at the office, which means you neglect your relationships with your family and friends. Or you might spend hours obsessed with a work or personal project that you just stop exercising or eating well. Once we neglect key areas of our lives our mental health and well-being can take a nosedive. If you continually bring stress home and neglect your close family relationships, you can find yourself heading for relationship breakdown and increased stress and trauma. If you stop sleeping well or exercising your ability to cope in work will be compromised and your stress levels will rocket.
In this podcast, I look at how you can take care of your well-being by creating balance in your life. In particular, I will look at the three most important domains of your life that need to be in balance, namely your work and contribution, your family and relationships and your personal self-care. When your work, relationships and self are attended to, then your mental health and well-being is maintained. A good metaphor for mental health is a three-legged stool. The three legs represent the key life domains of work, relationships and self and thus seizes your well-being and mental health. If any of the legs is out of kilter, the stool falls over but if all are in balance then the stool and your mental health is rock solid.
For the remainder of this podcast we are going to look at these key life domains in turn. Let’s first look at relationships. Our mental health and personal well-being is tied up in the quality of our personal relationships. The more closely we are connected to the people we love, the happier we feel and the more personal satisfaction we have in our lives. Most people rate moments of connection and shared enjoyment with their loved ones as their most important life experiences. These important relationships not only include family and personal friends but also the wider groups and communities we belong to. Forming connections and a sense of community with work colleagues, neighbours and the various groups that make up our identity (these are sports, hobbies, religious and community groups), all contribute to our well-being. Forming a sense of belonging with other people around a shared mission or identity is a major contributor to our sense of personal meaning in life. Our personal resilience is interwoven into the resilience of the communities to which we belong. It is from this web of relationships and connections with other people that we draw our strength. Such communities can lift us when we are down and give us the capacity to deal with whatever challenges come our way.
However, creating and maintaining happy personal relationships and belonging to positive communities is not straightforward. We might start out with a loving supportive relationship with a partner but then inattention, neglect and stressful life events can take their toll, and this leads to relationship conflicts and breakdown. At this point, the relationship far from being a source of well-being and happiness becomes a source of stress and dissatisfaction. As a result, it is very important to continuously attend to and to nurture our relationships with all the important people in our lives. It is also important to strengthen the communities to which we belong.
There are six simple habits that are the key to keeping your close relationships happy supportive and personally satisfying:
1 – Take time: Make sure to spend regular time with your partner, children, family and friends. One to one relaxed time, when you have plenty of space to chat and have fun together is best.
2 – Be present: In our busy lives a major challenge is simply not being present with the ones we love. Whether this is us being spaced out or checking email all the time when they are talking or being caught up in worries or stress that we are not there for them. Not being present does damage the relationships. The key is to take time to fully attend and to be fully present when we are with the ones we love.
3 – Express appreciation: Relationships are nurtured by frequent displays of appreciation. Whether these are simply kind words of thanks to an important colleague, a gift to an important friend, affection with your partner or a reassuring hug for a child, everyone needs to be appreciated and nurtured in close relationships.
4 – Listen: Listening is the most important communication skill of all. Taking time to understand the other person’s point of view is key to connecting with them. Listening is especially important as the first step to managing conflict.
5 – Learn to communicate: Relationships suffer when one person cuts off and does not communicate about their needs. Or when they do communicate, they do it in an aggressive, explosive or dis-respectful way. Learning to talk respectfully, warmly and assertively about what you want or need is crucial to happy relationships.
6 – Apologise and forgive: All close relationships will involve disappointment and getting hurt at times. Taking responsibility and apologising, when you have hurt someone and moving on and forgiving, when you have been hurt is the key to maintaining happy relationships through hard times.
Now let’s look at the second important life domain that is crucial to our mental health, namely our work and employment. Work is the second leg of our well-being stool that is key to maintaining balance in our lives. Work contributes to our well-being when it allows us to be productive in a meaningful way or when it expresses our talents and passions. Work also contributes to our well-being when it is aligned with our values and how we want to make a difference. While the goal is to seek out work you love to do, the key is to bring love to whatever work you’re actually doing. While it is important to seek out employment that matches your strengths, passions and values, in many situations it’s the case of bringing these strengths, passions and values to the employment you are already in.
I was watching a documentary a few years ago that explored what it meant to be happy in work and employment. The makers told a surprising story of a motorway toll booth operator, who in a survey had much higher work satisfaction than other people on average. When they spoke to her about this, she did not just see her job as just being a toll booth operator, instead she saw her job as sharing a bit of happiness with the drivers she met daily. She noticed that many of the drivers she encountered were often stressed, depressed and grumpy as they drove by her toll booth. And she made it her personal mission to chat to each of them and to try and put a smile on their faces as they passed through. She transformed her work by bringing her values, her strengths and passions to it.
In considering the importance of work I am not just talking about your career or your paid employment but rather how in the whole of your life you are making a contribution. Your work can include volunteering in a charity, getting involved in community projects as well as creating music or art to entertain and inspire others. While many people are engaged in meaningful work through their jobs, for others their main source of meaning comes from other projects and commitments in other areas of their lives. Many people get their greatest sense of satisfaction in their roles outside of the ‘day job’ whether this is being a coach in a children’s football team, or working in local politics, or exhibiting their art or performing theatre or whatever else expresses their passions, strengths and values.
Now let’s look at the third important life domain crucial to our positive mental health, namely self-care. We won’t have good mental health unless we look after our physical health and well-being. Eating well, physical exercise and getting enough sleep, rest and relaxation are crucial to positive well-being and mental health.
Unfortunately, modern life is characterised by busy but largely sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles. People are rushing around doing things but not physically moving enough, or they are eating quick meals but they are not eating healthily. Or they are working hard, but not relaxing and resting enough. The health statistics reveal a problematic picture. Despite greater wealth and easier access to sporting facilities, poor health and obesity are on the rise. A shocking statistic is that the average person is 20 pounds heavier than 20 years ago. Think about that. That means on average we are putting on an extra pound every year.
Aside from the serious physical illnesses that our unhealthy lifestyles lead to, our mental health is also taking a hammering. Increased levels of insomnia, stress, depression and anxiety are often related to a simple neglect of our health and fitness.
Our positive mental health and well-being are always rooted in the physical care of our bodies. A healthy mind is closely related to a healthy body. The three pillars of physical health are eating well, being physically fit and getting enough relaxation and sleep. Now let’s look at these of these in turn.
Eating well: In many ways we have never known as much as we do now about the importance of diet and eating well. Health and cooking books are best sellers, TV programmes on food and diets abound, and most people know about the food pyramid and the importance of eating vegetables. Yet despite this knowledge, on average, we continue to eat badly and struggle to sustain a good diet in our lives. The problem is largely environmental - we are surrounded by unhealthy foods in shops, convenience dinners on sale and are too time poor to prepare healthy dinners at home.
When moving to a healthy lifestyle, the key is to take charge of the environment and to make small changes that give you some control. This can include simple things like always bringing a water bottle with you to ensure you drink more water and thus avoid unhealthy drinks, do your breakfast at home as a filling healthy one so you avoid eating snacks later in the day or bringing your own healthy lunch to work so you avoid eating junk food in a restaurant.
Being physically active: According to the WHO, adults should do at least 150 minutes weekly of aerobic physical activity. This type of activity can be brisk walking, cycling or swimming or even vigorous housework! Even if you don’t reach the weekly WHO goal, increasing your level of activity has enormous benefits to your well-being, including helping you concentrate better, feel more energy and even to sleep better.
Just like making positive changes to your diet, making small steps is the key with physical activity. Look at easy ways you can integrate activity into your day, whether this is choosing to walk instead of driving, using the stairs rather than the lift in work or even trying the new business trend of conducting walking meetings instead of sit down ones!
Take steps to make exercise fun and enjoyable by committing to an activity you love, such as team sports, or hill walking or even dancing or aerobic classes. Also, join an activity with a friend or family member which make it all the more social and more likely that you continue.
Sleep and relaxation: In a recent best-selling book ‘Why We Sleep’, by neuroscientist Matthew Walker, he exploded the myth of the high performing person who gets by on 5 hours of sleep or less. He instead showed the many studies that show that people who get about 8 hours of restful sleep are the ones who perform the best. These are also the people who are more likely to be happier, slimmer, and even more able to ward off diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Taking time to create a good sleep routine is crucial your well-being and positive mental health. This is something I have always known as a psychotherapist working with families. Most of the stressed families I worked with, had poor sleep routines which were late and often fractious. The first important step with these families was building relaxed and early bedtime routines. This in turn would reduce stress and conflict and make family life more harmonious. Though it can take time making sure you’re getting a good sleep and building a good routine around your bedtime and including lots of rest or relaxation through the day. This is key to your well-being.
We are coming to the end of this podcast, so now let’s take a look at to where we have got to. We have proposed that looking after your mental health is about creating balance in your life. The goal is to look after the three key areas in your life all at once. This means taking time to nurture your close relationships, bringing your talents and passions to your work and making sure you prioritise your self-care. In particular, you want to ensure you eat well, are physically active and get plenty of rest and relaxation. Taking some time to create new healthy habits in your life can transform your mental health and sense of well-being.
Thank you for taking time to listen to my podcast. I’m John Sharry from Silver Cloud Health.
For more information please go to silvercloudhealth.com. Thank you very much.
Thank you John for your insights. There is plenty to think about there and lots of ways to create that all important balance in our lives.
And please join us for our next podcast which is on supporting mental health and well-being in the workplace after COVID-19 with the use of digital. Thank you.