A pocket full of raisins
Eight easy ways to sharpen your saw this World Mental Health Day

Eight easy ways to sharpen your saw this World Mental Health Day

What is World Mental Health Day?

Today (October 10th) is World Mental Health Day, an annual event aimed at raising awareness of mental health while also fighting the stigma associated with mental health problems. Despite the fact that mental health problems are incredibly common – a commonly quoted figure is that one in four people will be affected by a mental or neurological disorder at some point in their life, and around 450 million people will be suffering at any one time[1] – they are still widely misunderstood.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I am one of the many people who has experienced mental health problems. In many ways I’ve been lucky that it has always been manageable, if deeply unpleasant, and I’ve had the support both of those around me and of professionals. A great many others are not so fortunate.

What do you mean by ‘sharpen your saw’?

Many years ago I was at work, and someone told a story of a man who had to cut a number of trees. He keeps working and as he does, the blade of his saw gradually dulls, so he has to keep working harder and harder. Another man sees how the woodcutter is putting in more and more effort but getting less productive and says to him, ‘why don’t you stop for a few minutes to sharpen the saw?’ ‘I don’t have time to stop’, the first man replies; ‘I’ve got far too much work to do’.

I’ve since found out that this story was borrowed from Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. The idea, of course, is that sometimes by taking a break and giving yourself a bit of time to get things in order you can be far more productive. But when you are under pressure it can feel like taking that time will only get you further behind.

If you are prone to stress or anxiety the idea of stopping for even a moment can be terrifying, but one thing I’ve learned from personal experience is the importance of sharpening my saw. It certainly doesn’t solve all my problems but without it, things get much worse, much more quickly.

So today, I thought I’d share eight ways that you can take some time out for yourself. These are the ones I use most so they may not all appeal to you, but I’ve tried to list things that are easy to do and to fit into a busy day. Whether your mental health is good or bad, give yourself a few moments to get that blade ready for whatever the rest of your day has in store – especially if you think you don’t have time.

1. Go for a coffee.

It’s a classic, but fifteen minutes to yourself in a nice café is a great way to take a break, and there’s the added bonus of a bit of caffeine to push you on into the rest of the day. If you go alone try not to spend all the time on your phone; do a bit of people-watching, read a book or just look out of the window.

2. Take a lunch break.

I’m a bit of an evangelist for the humble but neglected lunch break – it’s incredibly important to get away from your work, if only for a few minutes. Don’t forget that in many places you are legally entitled to a meal break so don’t feel guilty about taking it, especially as it will probably make you more productive for the rest of the day. And no, eating lunch at your desk doesn’t count; if you can it’s much better to physically move away so you aren’t drawn back in by questions, colleagues’ conversations etc.

3. Go for a walk.

While you’re taking that lunch break, why not go for a walk? It’s well known that a bit of fresh air is great for clearing your head, and staying sitting at a desk all day is extremely bad for you. While you may not be lucky enough to have pleasant country lanes to stroll along, even a quick walk along a city street can be enough to recharge you.

4. Read a book.

A good book is a great way to take your mind off other things. Reading can also be easily combined with other things on this list; for example, if you’re a bit anxious about going to a café alone, having a book with you can make it much easier and means you don’t have to sit and pretend you’re waiting for somebody. If you don’t have a book, a magazine or newspaper (depending on the news, of course) will do just as well.

5. Get some exercise.

Exercise has all kinds of benefits, both mental and physical, so unless a doctor has advised otherwise a bit of physical activity is probably the single best thing you can do to sharpen that saw. Even if you only have a few minutes there are loads of quick exercise routines on YouTube that don’t require any equipment. If you’ve got a bit longer then great, but don’t think that because you only have ten minutes you can’t do anything worthwhile.

6. Meditate.

I know, I know. If you’re like me and have no desire to have your chakras realigned, and if the thought of chanting and whale music makes you feel slightly nauseous, you may be tempted to skip this one. But if you’ve never tried meditation I highly recommend you do. Mindfulness meditation (another term that probably makes your skin crawl a bit, but bear with it) has been shown to be extremely effective for reducing stress and there’s a good body of scientific and medical literature to back it up. When you think about what it actually is – sitting down, taking some deep breaths and deliberately putting aside your thoughts for a few minutes – it makes sense that you’d feel a bit calmer afterwards. There are plenty of apps and videos on YouTube, so put your reservations to one side, find one that suits you and give it a go.

7. Have a meal.

If anything is going to make you feel rubbish, it’s hunger. Often when we don’t eat properly we get run down, grumpy and miserable, so taking a bit of time to enjoy a meal is a perfect way to take a break and will make you feel better in more ways than one.

At this point you might be expecting me to say ‘cook yourself something healthy’, but I’m not. If you have time, and if you enjoy healthy food, then great. But just this once, let yourself have whatever you want. If you don’t have time to cook, get a ready meal or a takeaway. The important thing is to enjoy it. Whether you’re alone or with family or friends, put your phone away, sit somewhere comfortable and take your time.

8. Listen to music.

Music has incredibly powerful effects on our emotions. Dig out a song you love and either sit back and listen or if the mood takes you (and I will say here that it never takes me), you could even have a dance. Some of the best songs around are less than two minutes long so this is definitely one that can be fitted in to even the busiest day.

So there you are, eight easy ways to make yourself feel a little better. Try a few, try something that’s not on this list, but just aim to give yourself a little time every day. Get that saw sharpened and see how much more productive you can be.

Is there anything else that you think should be on this list? How do you like to take some time for yourself? Let me know using the comments box below

[1] http://www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/

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