Welcome to One Good Thing, Stylist’s Sunday series that asks experts in mental health for the one good thing we can all do to boost our wellbeing.
For the launch of One Good Thing, we asked psychotherapist and author Anna Mathur for the one good thing she’d recommend doing for the sake of our mental health. Here’s what she said.
Hey, Anna. What’s your one good thing?
Think of your energy and resource levels like a phone battery.
… like a phone battery? Why?
So many people I work with are depleted, overwhelmed and burnt out. They are repeatedly pushing through the limits of their resources, be it time or energy. We often hear our body express needs such as tiredness, thirst, hunger and rest, yet many of us choose to ignore or deprioritise those whispers in pursuit of productivity and ‘getting stuff done’. When we chronically overlook our need for replenishment and rest, we find ourselves sick or burnt out.
We need energy for so much in life – to rationalise anxious thoughts, to think clearly, to enjoy being present (have you ever noticed how when you’re exhausted you lose your sense of humour a bit?) and to coach ourselves through challenges. When we are depleted, it becomes so much harder to experience enjoyment, thrive and benefit from the good things in our lives.
Yep, we relate. So how do we start doing your one good thing?
Draw a parallel between your energy levels and your phone battery. When you rest, imagine plugging yourself into the wall as you do your phone. This time spent resting and listening to your body isn’t wasteful, but massively productive. Rest is an activity in itself!
If your phone battery was almost on empty and you were heading out of the house, you wouldn’t pass up the choice to give it a quick 10-minute charge. So, if you’re depleted and tired, don’t dismiss the opportunity to quickly sit down and do a round of breathing or close your eyes for a moment for some sensory deprivation.
Furthermore, we charge our phones up ahead of the day in preparation for what we may need it for. So often, we fall into a state of collapse at the end of the day, when in truth, we will function far better if we start the day, or dive into action, from a place of rest.
Finally, if your phone has a low charge and is in the red, you will give thought as to how you use that final bit of battery. You might not play a game or make a long call, but you’ll keep it for emergencies. It’s the same with us – if you’re low on energy, think about how you can preserve and reserve what you have left.
Sounds good. How can this make our lives better?
In becoming more aware of the limits of our energy levels and resources, we can better manage them. Through respecting that we are not limitless, and that our day needs to be a dance of rest and action as much as possible, we are valuing ourselves, making statements of our worth that counteract any low self-esteem (which in my therapeutic experience is highly common).
The more we tend to our ‘phone battery’ of energy, the more we find ourselves to be better able to navigate challenges and find an increasing ability to be present in our own lives.
OK, we’re in. Are there any ways that this can go wrong? How can we avoid that?
Saying yes too quickly is a common pitfall. So many opportunities and invitations come our way in life, whether it’s via work or in our social lives. I encourage my clients to adopt a ‘pause’. Even if you know you could take on that project or go to that event next week, give yourself some time to think instead of just responding with a resounding ‘yes’. Say, ‘Let me check my diary.’ Glance at the wider picture of your week. You might be free that day, but what is happening before and after? Will you have resources to spare? Or will you turn up at the event not feeling like your best self and even harbouring a little resentment, perhaps?
Saying ‘yes’ when we still have something in the battery to expend means we will be more present and involved. This pause gives you a chance to do a quick inventory of your energy, and answer from an authentic place that respects both your body and mind, and honours the person asking you.
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How do you personally do your one good thing?
I have become so much more aware of what happens when I push through the limits of my energy repeatedly. It’s not pretty. I end up irritable, resentful and stressed, and far less able to enjoy the good things in my life. I monitor my energy levels. I love moving every day, and this used to be a sweaty HIIT session regardless of how well I’d slept or felt.
These days I take a moment to think of what type of movement would feed or deplete my energy. What do I have in the tank? I might opt for a sweaty weights session one day and a rainy walk the next. I have become more responsive and respectful of my resources, recognising that this is actually a way to respect those around me too. Instead of jumping at every opportunity, I ask myself whether I would be able to do it well or whether I’d be spreading myself thinly and more likely to rush and make mistakes.
And has it helped you?
Absolutely. I am less resentful and far more confident. I was a people-pleaser, and believed I existed to make others happy regardless of the cost to myself. I’d give away wedges of my energy and be left with the dregs. After experiencing numerous burnouts over the years, I’d challenge this narrative a little more each time. I used to think that if I held healthy boundaries, I wouldn’t have done enough to earn the love and friendship I have in my life. Now I know that it’s an act of love to myself and those around me to maintain healthy boundaries around my energy. Sometimes I have to push through, due to circumstances, but then I do my best to recharge.
Sure, sometimes people don’t like hearing a ‘no’ or an ‘I can’t’, but whether they accept it or not, I know that it’s an act of respect to them; I value them asking enough to give an honest reply. With healthier boundaries, I experience less irritability and resentment towards others, and I have more energy and time to enjoy my children and my work. As the saying goes, ‘Those who struggle with your healthy boundaries tend to be the ones who benefited most from your lack of them.’
Really, this is just a journey of accepting humanness. Imight have encouraged you to liken yourself to a machine for this tool, but in doing so, you realise that you are no machine at all. You are a wonderful, limited, complex human, and you don’t just deserve to rest and recharge; you need to.
Anna Mathur is a psychotherapist, bestselling author and mum of three. She’s passionate about taking therapy out of the therapy room and sharing her personal and professional experiences to support mums through motherhood. She shares supportive insights on Instagram (@annamathur) and runs regular ‘Mental Health’ lives. Her podcast, The Therapy Edit, has had a quarter of a million downloads and counting.
Anna’s latest book, The Little Book Of Calm For New Mums, is available now (Penguin Life, £12.99).
Images: Getty, Stylist
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