By Jeremy Godwin
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health; I’m Jeremy Godwin and every week I look at one aspect of better mental health and I share practical and straightforward advice that you can apply immediately to improve your wellbeing.
Today I’m talking about calm and I’m looking at healthy ways to create peace of mind — so get comfortable, and Let’s Talk About Mental Health…
Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the full transcript.
Watch Episode 41 of Better Mental Health on YouTube — in this latest episode I’m exploring how (and why!) to use reflection as a tool for better mental health.
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This podcast episode was originally released on 31 October, 2021.
Hello and welcome to Episode 103, and thanks so much for joining me!
This week I’m talking about calm and I’ll be covering what calm is (and what it isn’t), why it matters, and how to cultivate a sense of calm for better mental health. So, let’s talk!
Over the last two episodes I’ve been talking about broader topics (anxiety last week and then the basics of good mental health the week before), and so this week I’m back to my usual approach of looking at one specific aspect of better mental health in more detail.
The choice to talk about ‘calm’ was a conscious decision that I made a few weeks ago, because I felt like this would be a natural flow-on from talking about anxiety… and funnily enough, I ended up having a bit of a stressful and challenging week in terms of workload so this topic is a timely one for me (just a side note here: I’ve said in some previous episodes about how very often my topic choices seem to line up with what’s going on in my life the week I record and write them, even though they’re planned out about two months in advance, so maybe I should write an episode about ‘abundance’ and see what the universe throws my way! Anyway, back to this episode about calm…)
I’m someone who can easily get distracted (which I just demonstrated) and that isn’t particularly helpful when you’re trying to juggle multiple jobs all at once; since I’m an independent content creator, I wear at least 15 different hats on a daily basis and that means it can be easy to become distracted by the hundreds of different to-do list items floating around in my head. Add to that this sort-of constant pressure that I put on myself to keep on creating fresh and original material here for the podcast as well as on my YouTube channel and Instagram account, and it’s no wonder my sense of calm went out the window for a bit this week!
However, as I’ve said many times in past episodes, my sense of calm and peace of mind have been really essential for me in terms of how I manage my anxiety and get through challenging times, and so it’s worth reminding myself — and yourself — of that every single day in order to focus on what actually matters. But I’m jumping ahead a bit; let’s get on the same page with some definitions, and let’s talk about…
What calm is (and what it isn’t)
And calm is about feeling tranquil, quiet, at peace and steady. It’s about being able to brush off concerns and challenges rather than letting them weigh you down, and it’s about finding and maintaining a consistent rhythm and sense of balance in your life.
In short, calm is a state of mind that allows you to be more thoughtful and considered in your words and actions (internally and externally) which can lead to greater serenity and peace of mind.
Now let me talk about what it isn’t, because I have to admit that even using the word ‘serenity’ a moment ago has set off thoughts of Frank Costanzo from Seinfeld shouting “Serenity Now!” when he was in the middle of losing it, and that’s the thing with calm and peace of mind: it’s not a magic cure for everything, and it’s definitely not about ignoring issues or problems and pretending that everything is fine when it’s really not (because that will, very likely, just make matters worse since problems rarely ever fix themselves). I think it’s why I have a bit of a hard time with the idea of people saying ‘positive vibes only’ — great in theory, and I understand the intention, but life is a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly so if that idea is taken too far, in terms of pretending that negative stuff just doesn’t exist, then it can cause a whole range of challenges in the future.
I practice realistic optimism (which I discussed back in Episode 47 which is linked in the transcript, and you can get that for free at www.letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes); realistic optimism means knowing that, in general, most things tend to turn out for the best in the long term, however also accepting that life is not just rainbows and unicorns, and so knowing that, even when negative stuff happens, you will be OK with time, effort, perseverance and support. And that goes hand-in-hand with calm, because that mindset allows you to find some peace amidst all the chaos of life.
Speaking of, let’s talk about…
Why calm matters
And it matters because the opposite of calm is nervousness, anxiousness and being upset. Those types of feelings can very often be signs of stress (which I covered in Episode 8), worry (which I talked about in Episode 95) and anxiety (which I discussed in Episode 102), and because of that those feelings are signs that something needs to shift or change in order to prevent the situation from becoming worse — and that’s where calm comes in.
Calm is a way of refocusing your energy and letting go of worries, so that you can better manage the stress response that can often kick in when there is a lot going on (either internally or externally — or both). According to Beyond Blue, the stress response can include hyperarousal (which is the fight/flight/freeze response), hypervigilance (where you feel extremely alert or overly cautious), excessive busyness (where you are caught up in the struggle of having a great deal to do), defensiveness, reactivity, excessive judgement and over-reaction. There’s also a paragraph from that same Beyond Blue article about calm that I’d like to share with you; it is:
“…it’s important to repeatedly take deliberate actions to help settle and soothe your nervous system by cultivating and connecting to a feeling of calm and safety within. Even short moments of connecting to an internal sense of calm and safety will be beneficial, helping you reset and find the middle ground between overwhelm and denial. It’s from this place that you’ll be able to make better choices to best support you and those around you.”Source: Beyond Blue https://coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au/Managing-my-daily-life/Coping-with-isolation-and-being-at-home/finding-a-place-inside-that-feels-calm-and-safe
And you’ll find the link for that article in the transcript.
You’ll notice that the word ‘safety’ was used a couple of times in that quote and I think it’s an important one to pick up on, because calm and safety are closely connected. Feeling safe and secure is thought to be one of our most basic needs (which I’ve mentioned in the past when quoting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs); calm is a means of releasing fear and uncertainty in order to find peace of mind, which in turn leads to better quality of life. And that means in terms of both how you treat yourself as well as how you manage your responses to challenging situations or other people (or both), since your interactions with others can have a direct effect on you (in other words, if you have negative or drama-filled interactions then it’s likely you’ll experience more negativity and drama, whereas if you have positive and mutually-supportive and respectful interactions then it’s likely you’ll experience more positivity… it’s like a circle of love!).
When you choose to proactively cultivate a sense of calm in your life, you’ll find that — over time — you are better equipped to make decisions about letting go of things that do not serve your peace of mind and long-term wellbeing.
So how do you do all of that? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of this week’s episode and let’s talk about…
How to cultivate a sense of calm for better mental health
OK, so I’m going to start with a few things that you can do to restore your sense of calm in the moment if you’re facing a challenge or feeling stressed, and then I’m going to spend the bulk of this section talking through more strategic and lifestyle-focused things you can do to find and maintain peace of mind.
So, if you’re in urgent need of some calm due to stress or a difficult situation, try these three techniques starting with…
Release negative energy if and when it arises — and I say this a lot but that energy has to go somewhere; if you keep it bottled up then it’s going to stay with you for a lot longer that it needs to! Do something to release it: walk, run, write, dance, sing, get up and do your thing… whatever feels right to you, do something and get it out! Once that energy is released, you’ll find your mind can settle a little bit and that helps you to return to a calmer place. Another way you can do that is with my next point…
Focused breathing — and this can be as simple as just closing your eyes and slowly inhaling then exhaling for at least 15-20 seconds, or it can be a more focused breathing practice; for example, square breathing involves inhaling for four counts, holding the breath for four counts, exhaling for four counts, pausing for four counts, then repeating the process for a minute or even several minutes. And as well as being mindful with your breathing, you might also find my next point helpful — which is…
Ground yourself — and this means actively turning your full attention to the present moment to connect yourself with the here and now (which can be especially helpful if you’re worried about the future or are struggling to process or let go of something that happened in the past). There are lots of easy ways to do this — I quite like going and sitting on the stairs that lead out into my backyard and just observing the birds going about their business as the clouds gently roll past above; whatever you choose to do, this is about taking a few minutes to be fully present (and I talked about being present in Episode 83 of the podcast).
Alright, so now I’m going to move on to some advice which is more long-term in focus in terms of cultivating a sense of calm and peace of mind each day (however I will say that many of these will also be helpful in the moment if you’re feeling less-than-calm!); let’s begin with…
Single-tasking — we live in a multitasking world and it’s rare to ever see anyone doing just one thing at a time… however do you know what you’re doing when you juggle multiple things at once? You’re distracting yourself! It’s pretty rare for people to be able to multitask while actually doing well at things, which is why single-tasking (or focusing solely on one task at a time) can seem to be less efficient but in fact it’s actually more efficient, because you’re more likely to get things done quicker with fewer mistakes. There are some exceptions here; for example, I find having background music can help me to focus and I will tell you now that I actually cannot drive unless I have music on (I don’t pay it full attention but I’m aware enough of it to be able to sing along, and somehow that helps me to have much better focus as a driver — I’m sure there’s a scientific reason for that!)… but for the most part you’ll find that trying to juggle multiple things at a time will just make it more challenging to get stuff done or to concentrate. Which leads to my next point…
Shut out distractions — and by this I mean anything that is going to take you away from whatever you need to or want to focus on. I have notifications turned off on all of my devices, which means I have to manually go in and check for new messages several times a day, and it actually makes me more efficient (and a lot calmer!) because I’m not having the ping! ping! ping! of notifications all day long. When I watch the TV, I usually wear noise cancelling headphones so I can focus fully on what I’m watching or listening to (I live in a small country town and you’d be surprised to learn just what noisy places they can be, so this way I don’t get distracted by all the noise that often goes on!). I even go so far as to do little things like minimising every window on my computer except the one I’m working on, and using the Do Not Disturb function when I have a meeting or I need to fully concentrate (like when I’m writing and recording episodes); all of these little actions actually help to prevent distractions (and to paraphrase what I usually say, prevention is better than distraction!). OK, so my next point is…
Be fair and realistic with the expectations you put on yourself — and this one is directly based off of my own terrible habit of putting unnecessary pressure on myself; for weeks (and months) I’ve been working longer and longer hours and it finally caught up with me this week, and I was so exhausted that I could barely function. I talked about it with my therapist and realised just how much I was putting on myself and how high my own expectations were (and let me tell you that being your own boss is great, but it’s also a double-edged sword in terms of workload!). So that’s why you’ll see me being more mindful about not reinventing the wheel so much or trying to produce more and more content each week; I’ve decided to start drawing from some of my old podcast episodes to create content for my YouTube channel, for example, because I was making life more difficult for myself than I needed it to be. There are only so many hours in the day, and you need to spend as many of them as possible giving yourself some breathing space so that you can just be. And speaking of, my next point is…
Make time every day for rest, relaxation and replenishing your energy — because if you don’t, who will?! This week it dawned on me (or, rather, my therapist pointed out) that I haven’t taken a lunch break for two months. Two months! Which just goes to show how easy it is to get caught up in things and forget to take your own advice! Rest is an essential part of creating calm, because you cannot run at full speed forever… so make rest and relaxation a priority every day. Continuing on from that, I also encourage you to…
Practice self compassion — and this means choosing to treat yourself with kindness, dignity and respect. And if you drop the ball one day then pick it up again, learn from it and keep going. You deserve your own compassion and kindness, and when you do that consciously each day it helps you to build a greater sense of peace of mind. Speaking of, my next point is…
Make your peace of mind a priority — because if the opposite of calm is stress, then which one of those two options is a priority for you? I’d be surprised to hear anybody say “oh I’d like more stress please!” (but hey, you never know!), and so if most of us would likely choose peace of mind over stress, then why are we not making that our number one priority?! Here’s the thing: less stress and less drama leads to less stress and less drama. Period. End of sentence. And it rarely just happens; if you want calm, you need to prioritise calm and focus on creating it every single day. Which leads to my next point…
Start your day with calm — I used to get out of bed and rush my way through breakfast then be frazzled by the time I got out the door, which led to feeling that way for the rest of the day. Now, I get up early and we spend an hour and a half just reading and having coffee together before we even start getting ready for work, and it’s a much calmer way to start the day. I’m not saying that my routine is the only way to do that, but think about ways that you can be less rushed in the morning so you can start your day in a calm way. And that leads to my next point…
Have calm-focused routines throughout the day — which could be things like taking a proper lunch break (away from your desk), focusing on batching similar tasks together to make it easier to concentrate, reducing meetings to the bare minimum (if you can), going for a walk in the morning or evening (or at lunch), having a set amount of time dedicated to reading for leisure, journalling, gratitude practice… there are lots of different routines that might be helpful, so find ones that work for you (and I talked about this topic in the daily routines video on my YouTube channel which is linked in the transcript https://youtu.be/xM-ZOHc4CQI). And that leads into my next point…
Reflect — and I quite like reflection as a tool (so much so that I covered it in Episode 12 plus this week’s video on YouTube is all about the art of reflection, and it’s linked in the transcript as well: https://youtu.be/xtrRUwuTjXQ). Even a few minutes at the end of each day to quietly reflect (in an objective and non-judgemental way) can help to ground you and enable you to find a sense of calm, so consider how that might work for you. Speaking of, my next point is…
Manage stress in healthy ways — and this is another one I’ve talked about a lot, because stress is a natural part of life and so we need to learn how to manage it proactively in order to ensure stressful situations and events don’t dent our sense of calm. I covered stress in Episode 8 as well as the basics of good mental health in Episode 101, plus I also covered tips for dealing with stress a few months back on my YouTube channel and that’s linked in the transcript https://youtu.be/J6HNk3IVL2Q). One way to do that is with my next point…
Embrace simplicity — and yes this is another one I’ve covered before (Episode 63 on the podcast and Episode 38 on the Better Mental Health channel on YouTube: https://youtu.be/eZYkalIC2z4) so I’ll be brief and say that actively finding ways to create greater simplicity in your life will help you to cultivate calm and peace of mind because the more complicated things are, the more complicated things tend to be. Simplicity for the win! And that leads to my next point…
Let go of worry — I talked about letting go back in Episode 32 and worry in Episode 95, and I was going to talk about it in more detail in this point however, in the interests of not reinventing the wheel (which I talked about a few minutes ago), instead I’m going to share a few paragraphs from that Beyond Blue article I mentioned earlier (which is linked in the transcript) about being in the present and learning to let go of worry. Let me say quickly before I do that I usually try to limit quotes to one or, at most, two paragraphs, so that I’m not borrowing someone else’s work, but this piece said everything I wanted to say — and more — and so I didn’t see the point in making life more difficult than it needed to be (see, I’m prioritising my own time and peace of mind here!). So, with that in mind, here is the quote about being present and letting go (and I encourage you to close your eyes and just gently breathe as I share this)…
“… in this very moment, right now, you are essentially OK. You have enough air to breathe; your heart is still beating; your body, while possibly a little fatigued or tense; is essentially OK. Do your best to connect to a felt sense that in this moment right now you are basically OK.
Even just for a moment see if you can let go of unnecessary worry and uneasiness. While there may have been times in the past when you’ve not been OK, and we don’t know what the future holds, see if you can acknowledge that in this moment right now you are essentially alright.
This is not about denying or pushing away your lived reality. It’s about finding ways to give your mind and body a break by connecting with what is actually happening in this moment, right now.
You can still be aware of what’s happening around you and inside you. You can still deal proactively and thoughtfully with the current challenges. In fact, doing so from a place of a felt sense of being OK will help you think more clearly, creatively and flexibly, as well as connect to and care for yourself and others more deeply.
By consciously and deliberately connecting to a place of calm and safety inside, even if only momentarily, multiple times a day, you can help settle and soothe your nervous system. This builds resilience making you more able to take sensible precautions without overreacting.”Source: Beyond Blue https://coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au/Managing-my-daily-life/Coping-with-isolation-and-being-at-home/finding-a-place-inside-that-feels-calm-and-safe
And the link for that is in the transcript.
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to calm and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: Your state of mind has a direct effect on your overall wellbeing, and so when you focus on letting go of worries and concerns, and instead choosing to bring your attention back to the present moment and creating a moment of calm for yourself, that choice helps you, with time and practice, to cultivate a sense of peace and mindfulness for yourself. And when you do that, you begin to feel calmer and more equipped to handle the inevitable challenges that we will all experience in life, safe with the knowledge that all storms eventually clear and even the darkest of skies will return to calm and tranquility.
The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by the Dalai Lama, and it is:
“The greater the level of calmness of our mind, the greater our peace of mind, the greater our ability to enjoy a happy and joyful life.”Dalai Lama
Alright… that’s nearly it for this week. Next week I’ll be talking about self doubt. Putting yourself out there in a world full of challenges and judgemental people can seem like a tough ask, and that’s not even taking into account our own internal dialogue and self-criticism, all of which can sometimes make it seem easier to keep ourselves small or avoid taking risks in life. But if we let self doubt hold us back from being the best we can be then we are stealing our own happiness and life satisfaction from ourselves — which is why something must be done to deal with self doubt head on! So next week I’ll be talking about what self doubt is, why understanding it matters and how to manage self doubt in a healthy way.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 7th of November, 2021. You’ll also find another brand-new episode of Better Mental Health landing on YouTube on Wednesday (so take a moment to subscribe to my channel using the link in the episode description) or head to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au where you can also join my free mailing list for my weekly newsletter (and my website is also linked in the episode description on whatever podcast service you’re currently listening to me on).
Plus, find me on Instagram at @ltamentalhealth where I post extra content daily.
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.
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