Declutter your mind and clear the cobwebs

As stress and Covid-induced negativity engulf our routine, it is critical we get rid of the baggage that has been accumulating in our minds — and making us live on the edge

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By Simran Sodhi

Published: Sat 7 May 2022, 10:17 PM

Last updated: Sat 7 May 2022, 10:46 PM

Every spring break, I get into this routine where I collect old clothes, old shoes, and gadgets that I am no longer using and send them off to a place which salvages what it can — and then the recycled stuff gets donated. It makes me happy that I am contributing my two-bit to the larger good.

With the pandemic and various stress points of life creeping in more often than one would want, a friend suggested I repeat the routine mentally. Initially, I was a bit sceptical, but, nevertheless, gave it a shot. I processed feelings, emotions, regrets and expectations. Many of them, I realised, had lived longer in my head than needed and deserved a quiet burial. Some emotions were harder to pack away but, with time, it’s a routine I have created.

Thoughts — bitter ones sometimes — that would buzz in my head needed to be chopped off and sent away packing. Expectations were toned down and I reminded myself of what Louisa May Alcott once wrote: “Into each life some rain must fall, some days must be dark and sad and dreary.”

But I was also curious how others dealt with these mental dragons. Mj Maria Uy Lami-in, a Filipina expat, has been living in the UAE for 15 years now; she works as a socio-civic HR consultant, among other jobs. When asked about how she usually de-stresses, she says, “Stress is usually any outside factor that we let in to affect and get to us — that is if we let it in, and to what degree. I might not have the

conventional answer most would want to hear but I keep busy outside of what’s ‘affecting’ me. I keep my mind and body active with something more pressing, preferably not my current issues.”

Some will say it’s avoidance, but, for her, it’s a temporary rerouting and regrouping of her mental and physical energies until she gets the strength and mental capacity to face and deal with her actual stressor. “It might not be very practical as per some professionals, but it works for me. A good blow dry helps.

Look good, feel good still stands true. It’s not being fake. It’s a step towards self-care. You already feel horrible inside, why wallow in it on the outside?”

A changing social mindset

An upside of current times is that we are discussing mental health issues more often — and more candidly — these days. Mj Maria points out that the issue of mental health and ‘being’ in that place has always been present. “What has changed is the shift of what is now openly acceptable in our social mindset. It is now more accepted and acceptable, we are even expected to talk about mental health and one’s own mental wellbeing, much like all the other currently ‘socially relevant issues’ of the last decade or so.”

On how to keep regrets and expectations in check, she points out, “Hope for the best, expect the worst. I know that sounds fatalistic but with recent global events, we’ve come to a point wherein our priorities and mindsets have shifted. And mine certainly has. I have come to that age and maturity where I am more appreciative and immensely grateful everyday of what I have been given in life and survived and manifesting graces.

Yes, it’s great to expect and dream of great things but we also need to have that practical and realistic balance of life realities so we don’t get dismayed and disappointed over false expectations.”

When asked that one size never fits all so how is an individual expected to deal with these pressures on their own, Mj Maria says, “There is no right or wrong answer I guess, even though some would push more for what they believe in. Depending on who is vocal, more visible and gets it out there. There was a time in my life I was easily rattled; on career, relationships, finances and people’s opinions. I felt so alone and very scared. But I kept it all inside because of generational social expectations and pressure. I guess I might be of one of the last generation wherein we were conditioned to keep ‘our mess, our perceived weaknesses in’. To keep a brave and strong face for everyone else except ourselves because that is how it was done. I was even afraid to ask for help or open up. We were conditioned to be that way.”

Leonardo DiCaprio, one of the biggest success stories to have come out of Hollywood, while speaking to Rolling Stone, said that his anxiety comes from the small things, the “really stupid stuff, things that shouldn’t make you anxious whatsoever. It’s crazy how your mind will become this database to make you worry about things that are so arbitrary. I have a well-organized life, and I’ve put a lot of thought into the things that I do, and then, you know, my stomach will be... I’ll just be sitting there, totally anxious about something ridiculous. You have to stop yourself during the day and say, ‘It’s just not worth it’.”

A self-care kit to beat stress

In London, Priya Chandan has developed her own way of dealing with dark thoughts and seeking a bright, safe place in the sun. Born and brought up in Mumbai, India, today she calls London — where she has now lived for 16 years with her husband, three kids and their pet dog — her home

After Priya had her third child, she decided to take up something that would allow her to find a purpose in her life. “I came across a foundation course in counselling and here I am, four years later, doing my Level 4 diploma in integrative counselling.” She calls herself a self-love and self-care advocate, and truly believes in taking care of herself first because “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. “My first priority in life is my family and if I struggle and burn myself out, I will not be able to give my family the love and the affection that I so very much would love to shower them with.”

Mental health has recently become the hot topic perhaps because of the realisation now that mental health is not just about mental wellbeing but it also includes physical wellbeing, emotional well-being, social wellbeing — basically, your overall wellbeing. “Ever since the pandemic struck, with lockdowns and isolations, losing our loved ones to the virus and so much more, everyone was forced to slow down the pace of their lives, to reflect and take that reality check which was long overdue,” she feels.

“People were forced to re-evaluate their pre-pandemic life,” Priya adds. “Somewhere, I believe it eventually dawned on people that it was actually a burnout from the hustle and bustle of life. It gave us a fresh perspective of how we can ‘live’ the gift of life rather than just existing. In my opinion, it has given people a fresh lease to build a life of conscious choices. Choices that add value to this new life and for this very reason, it’s important that one nurtures and replenishes their own cup of self-care.”

In order to walk the talk, Priya has built her own customised, go-to self-care tool kit whenever she feels overwhelmed. “I am aware one size never fits all. Everyone has their own way of dealing with things but you can make your own kit with anything that you truly enjoy doing when you are feeling stressed or burnt out.”

So, what’s in her self-care tool kit? “Long walks that help me regulate my emotions. Nature is therapeutic, it is soul healing. Sometimes driving helps me too. Music and podcasts distract me from over-thinking. Speaking to family and friends helps me calm my mind. Journaling is one of the best tools of my survival kit: pouring out my thoughts and feelings on a note pad has been a game changer. You do not need to save these if you are worried someone might read them: you can write your thoughts on paper, and then shred it or even burn it. Anything that’s bothering you — let it out of your system, on to the paper and let it go. Crying is one of the best self-soothing mechanisms that helps uplift my mood. Crying is not a sign that you are too sensitive or weak. Crying releases toxins and stress hormones which help restore our emotional balance and soothe the soul.”

Priya also suggests keeping one hour of the day — or even just 20 minutes — to spend time with just yourself, sit with your feelings and reacquaint yourself with the new you.

Unleashing the power of positivity

Ahmed Mohammed Younis, a quality engineer in the UAE, has his own unique way of coping with stress. “Stress can cause severe mental pressure in many ways. When it comes to me, I try my best to address and overcome this by identifying what stressed me out exactly and find answers as to why this is affecting me. This helps me in finding positive actions of what to do next to de-stress. Moreover, I do things that help me: getting busy with my friends and talking about positive things that can motivate me, going to the gym and working out… also, [looking for] food online plays a big role in overcoming stress for me!” Ahmed says.

Stress cannot be avoided completely, so we must try and find coping mechanisms, and zero in on proper solutions on how to deal with them in a healthy and productive way. “We need to be easier on ourselves too. Fortunately, now there are many professionals who can help us seek positive life changes with tools suited to us. Sometimes we are our own worst critic. We have to learn to be kinder to ourselves and accept challenges in life as a learning process,” is how he sums up his life lessons.

Stress is here to stay, and as we manage our careers and relationships — with their attendant good, bad and ugly sides — our main survival tool has to be accepting that stress and demons do live in our mind spaces. But it’s more important to talk about them and, at times, seek a helping hand so we can declutter our minds and hearts of negativity.

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