Every year I like to coincide my May blog with Mental Health Awareness Week. The first MHA week took place in 2001, and since then, the initiative has raised awareness and encouraged conversation around a broad range of issues affecting our mental wellbeing. As a result, attitudes towards mental health have transformed and recognition of the importance of caring for our mental states is beginning to be seen as vital as caring for our physical health. Indeed the two are intrinsically linked.
Mental ill-health is often hidden. What we see from the outside is not an accurate reflection of what is going on in our mind and heart.
As a coach and mindfulness teacher, I help people become more aware of their emotional and mental well-being. And as we become more in tune with what is going on with our mental and emotional health, we learn to understand ourselves better, develop greater self-acceptance and a more caring attitude. This awareness helps us to make wiser choices for ourselves and as a result, live healthier, happier and more meaningful lives.
Mental ill-health issues such as anxiety, depression and sadness, feeling lost or low are as human and common as many physical health issues. And in the same way we learn to care for our body, we can learn how to look after our mind.
A model of our emotional lifestyle
To help clients better understand the relationship between our mind, body and heart, I turn to psychologist Paul Gilbert’s comprehensive book The Compassionate Mind. Based on evolutionary neuroscience, Gilbert has developed a practical tool to redress our inner balance (mind, body, heart). His model divides our emotions into three categories or emotion regulation systems which I’ve summarised below. For a detailed overview of how the systems work, click here. Which emotion system do you think you spend
The blue system – drive
The emotions in this system include desire (e.g. for praise, a fulfilling career, a home, holidays, a promotion), excitement (as we get closer to capturing what we want), joy and pleasure (when we get them). It is associated with the pleasure hormone, dopamine.
My work, running my own business and making a contribution to others takes me to the blue zone. I love what I do, it makes me feel buoyant, proud and alive. Indeed, it gives me a deep sense of satisfaction.
The red system – self-protection
The emotions in the red system include fear, anxiety, anger, disgust, withdrawal etc. Emotions designed to protect ourselves and those we care for. It is associated with the hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
I can find myself in the red system when I take on too much work. This happens when I find myself working at the weekend to prepare the following week. In such times, I wake early in the morning with a beating heart, feeling overwhelmed and thinking ‘It’s too much, I can’t do it all.’
The green system – contentment
The emotions in this system include feeling safe, content, relaxed, connected, peaceful, fulfilled as well as emotions that connect us to others: kindness, affection, appreciation, gratitude, love, compassion…For this reason, it’s called the calm and connect system. This system is activated when we feel safe and when we don’t want anything. Integral to the green system are endorphins and the love hormone oxytocin. When these hormones are released we experience a strong sense of well-being.
When my sleep suffers and I experience an undercurrent of stress, I know I need to spend more time in the green system: a rest at lunchtime with the cat by my side, a day out walking in nature, a swim, going to my cherished restorative yoga class. I also always need to remind myself that it is okay to do less and focus on our well-being, which can be hard to do when we have
Which emotion system do you spend most time in?
Our emotional life is intrinsically connected to our mental states.
Mindfulness and coaching can help us become more aware of our emotions and mental states so that we can notice when we are in red or blue emotional systems and when it’s time to spend some time in the green, in order to care for ourselves.
Many of us spend more time in blue and red than in green. Clients often say that they spend 90% of their time in blue and red, and just 10% in green.
Here are some tips to help you spend more time in green:
- Have regular lunch breaks
- Spend regular time in a natural environment even if it’s just a short walk through the park
- Make time to chat with a colleague
- Spend quality time with a close friend
- Take up exercise– keep it simple and manageable – cycling or walking to work
- Have a bath every now and then
- Prepare a nice meal
- Turn in early to bed
- Listen to music
- Allow yourself time to potter around the house
- Block out time at the weekend for down or me-time
- Have one or two evenings a week at home (I always have a note in my diary on two nights per week saying: ‘Me-time at home’)
- Take up or renew an old hobby (something you absolutely love doing and haven’t done for a while)
Enjoy a balanced life…
If you need some help redressing the balance of your emotional life, do get in touch for a free initial coaching conversation while walking in Victoria Park, via phone or video call.