We’re almost two weeks into the new year. Gyms all over the world have been inundated with newcomers suddenly motivated to achieve their fitness goals that they started to neglect at the end of the year. I myself have been trying to get back into yoga and start bouldering again, with the help of Yoga with Adriene and (hopefully) my colleagues.
Still, regardless of whether people actually achieve their fitness goals — the joke is that people often don’t, of course — it’s seen as such a normal thing to create a plan for physical fitness and stick to it. Even people who can only manage one push up are aware on some level that regular exercise is necessary to keep our bodies working. Not quite so for mental health, where most of us believe we’re fine until we’re not, with little thought about how we got there.
Mental health is not seen as a skill that can build or deteriorate with time; it’s something you have or don’t. But since reading Mark Freeman’s book, The Mind Workout, I’ve often wondered — why aren’t there easy, accessible routines to follow for mental fitness?
During the month of November, I decided (alongside a friend, who did her own monthly challenge) to go without takeaway (or fastfood in general), for the whole month.
The ‘rules’ were fairly simple:
- Where possible, cook every meal. This meant that all lunches would have to be something I made or prepared the night before. I wouldn’t, for example, buy a sandwich from a shop as a meal.
- If I’d made plans in October to have lunch or dinner with someone, I kept the plans. But I didn’t make any new plans to eat out. So I went out for dinner twice: once with my parents and once with a group of friends. For all other plans I had to work around it somehow (usually just getting a drink, if anything), rather than just turning up somewhere and hoping I could eat there. If someone invited me out spontaneously I’d usually just get a drink but not eat with them.
- For simplicity’s sake, I decided to forego convenience food like oven pizzas etc, for the most part. I only bought one throughout the month, although I did have quite a few portions of oven chips…
Honestly, I thought I’d bail within the first day or two, so I was pretty surprised that I lasted the whole month. Yay 😉
Still, what surprised me most was how this challenge gave me something worthwhile that I hadn’t expected: an odd sense of clarity on what my brain was doing with regards to food. I’ve always just followed my anxieties about food wherever they led me, but here I practised being able to accept those thoughts, while I did something completely different.
Here’s some of the mental health skills I got to practise this month:
See last week’s post here.
I had a pretty bad start last week. Mostly hormonal: the pill is the devil and the break wreaks havoc on my mental state (less so my body thankfully). During that time I often find myself doing more compulsions, spiralling more easily, and doing things I avoid the rest of the month (e.g. giving a shit about people I don’t interact with anymore). This happens to a lot of people I think, and my dad’s suggestions of ‘herbal remedies’ are surprisingly not very helpful…(!)
Nonetheless my phone usage for the week WAS considerably lower, by about 13 hours. I’m happy that even though I’ve had a terrible time, I still made progress. As well, my time spent surfing at work isn’t as high as I’d imagined; about an hour or so, which isn’t terrible over a full work day. I am still very distracted though, and check often which doesn’t amount to much time but still disrupts my mental state.
In terms of cutting out specific activities I’ve not made any new progress; not using my phone while walking or on the toilet or something haven’t quite become automatic yet. As such, after next week I’ll probably change to biweekly and then monthly updates since it’ll take longer to make visible changes 🙂
I’m also going to work on my takeaway addiction next month as a semi challenge with Working Girl. In which I WILL be going cold turkey — and hopefully eating some turkey…
See last week’s post here.
Since the last week, things have … Improved. Not as much as I would like, perhaps, but any movement is movement right?
- I managed to get my phone time down to about 3-5h a day. Better. That’s a start.
- Weekends were down a fair bit. I’d been on about 12h both Saturday and Sunday the week previous. I got about 7h/5h this past weekend, and felt like I got a lot more done than I normally do.
- I only had one headache last week. Coincidentally it was on the day I fell apart a bit and used my phone a ton. Colour me surprised.
- Despite uninstalling reddit, I instead torture myself with the terrible mobile site now. This happens even though I fucking hate reddit and most of the posts there make me feel miserable. I probably need to explore my reddit addiction more deeply…
The good stuff:
In general, cutting down using the graded hierarchy method I outlined last time seems to be working well. Sometimes I start automatically using my phone while eating or walking because I’m used to that; however, usually I’m able to remember that I made a commitment to not doing that.
Since I’d already identified that these weren’t situations that led to more than a 1 or 2 on the discomfort scale, it was just a matter of putting it away. I think this method works well with current thought on how best to form habits, too — the situation is the trigger, and chains on to an existing activity I do already so it’s easy to remember.
Given a bit more time I reckon it’ll become more natural. I’ve seen this happen with my quick walk to the station in the morning, where I established that I wouldn’t use my phone for any reason (unless I see a car accident or something) during that time. I automatically put it away before I leave now.
Thoughts for ahead:
I’m sure I will encounter a bit more difficulty as I move up the hierarchy and it becomes more anxiety inducing to cut out phone time (especially with sleep time — you can see above I had a lot of trouble with nightmares last night). I’ll probably need to adjust my method slightly at that point, and introduce more supports. Still, hopefully in the lead up to that I’ll have learned to be more mindful in general and the urge to surf won’t be so strong 🙂
Something else to think about is that although I check my phone less, I am conscious that I may unconsciously shift to using my laptop more, especially at work when bored. I’ll need to think about that, and maybe set smaller amounts of time when in the office to stay off my phone/the internet in general.
See ya next week!
I recently installed an app, Quality Time, to track how much time I was spending on there and what I was doing. I had a vague idea that it was a lot but wasn’t sure exactly how much, and for the last few months I’ve not really wanted to know. But after finally getting diagnosed with having tension headaches that have been plaguing me at work — and finally realising my phone usage was one big compulsion I’d just decided was “fine” for some reason — I figured it might be time to bite the bullet.
12 hours. On both Saturday and Sunday. My work days weren’t much better, and were characterised by multiple unlocks just to check … Something that wasn’t even there?