Mental Armour – Dealing With Unhelpful Thoughts

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Mental Armour – Dealing With Unhelpful Thoughts

Mental Armour – Dealing With Unhelpful Thoughts

March 13, 2024 Victoria Ross

Life is hard. That’s a real ‘feel good’ statement to start off a mental health blog, isn’t it? Life is hard. If you’ve just sat up on the sofa for a quiet read in front of the fire, that’s the kind of opening line that could throw a dampener on your enthusiasm. Half the people who started this article have likely binned me off after that one. Jokes aside though, if you’re old enough to have an interest in this topic, you’re probably old enough to know its true – life is hard. I’m not of course saying that life is bad, or life is terrible, just that life is seldom easy.

I have a 5 year old son and a 3 year old daughter. Becoming a father has been the biggest blessing in my life. It’s been a new chapter for me, and has totally changed my perspective on everything. Like most parents, I would do absolutely anything for those two children. They give me so much, and bring such joy to me and my wife. But it’s hard. Being a parent is hard. My kids have got really different personalities; my son is shy and sensitive. He likes his routines and his own spaces. He isn’t easy round people he isn’t familiar with. My daughter, in contrast is a ball of energy that can bounce off in any direction that takes her fancy. You could catch her berating the postman if he didn’t leave the letters on the doormat in a manner that she found acceptable. And so when it comes to parenting you have to try and manage those different personalities to give them both what they need. And it’s hard. At times they can take the breath from you and leave you wondering what to do! At times I struggle with it and I make mistakes. Parenting dominates most of the discussion between me and my wife. And we are both in agreement of how difficult it can be. Though with some of the looks she gives me at times, I can tell she thinks being married to me isn’t exactly a basket of fruit either.

I guess what I’m saying is there are things, and I include relationships in this, in all our lives that require high levels of commitment. And if it requires commitment, it’s usually demanding. It’s usually time consuming. It’s usually hard. These things generally become the main cornerstones of our lives. For me, it’s being a dad, being a husband and being a farmer. Those three things are pretty much the ‘foundation blocks’ of my life. When these things in our lives are going well, they can bring us such satisfaction. They can make us so happy, tough though they may be. When they are not going well however, their demanding nature can start to take more than we have to give. It’s at these times, these ‘blocks’ can start to take their tole on our mental health.

Rural support are running a campaign this week on dealing with unhelpful thoughts. How important it is to build our own barriers against these things which attack our mental well being. ‘Mental Armour’ I’m going to call it. The reason I’ve talked about these foundation ‘blocks’ is that I would guess that most of our negative thoughts stem from issues within those parts of our lives that are important to us and in turn demand so much of us. What those ‘blocks’ are for each of us, will probably depend on what stage of life we are at. It’s inevitable though, at some point in our lives that something will go wrong with in at least one of these areas. We’re all realistic enough to know that. For example, at some point we will encounter a difficult moment with at least one of the significant people in our lives. Whether it be illness, grief, a relationship breakdown or something else. Professionally too we all will ride through different peaks and troughs too. Young people will have their own unique challenges to deal with as well. I think as we get older we look back and think how simple our life was when we were young. Realistically though, it didn’t seem that simple at the time.

In my first blog series in 2019 (link below), I wrote about the different things that contributed to my depression back in 2016. One of those was the way I handled the now infamous, global milk price crisis. Looking back I can see how personally I took something that wasn’t that only personal to me – it was actually a worldwide problem. The longer our dairy herd went on losing money the more convinced I was that it was my fault and I should’ve been able to do something to stop it. That was a good example of an unhelpful train of thought gathering momentum until it felt like an out of control juggernaut in my life. We are of course, in the midst of another challenging time in the dairy industry with costs in the last year not close to being covered. I’ve been frustrated, I’ve been scunnered, I’ve been fed up. There were days last summer when between the weather and the milk price, I would’ve given our farm to a stranger in the street if they’d have asked me for it. Every dairy farmer reading this, at some point felt the same – it’s has been a really tough year for the industry. Very sore on farmers, with morale being kicked down to a pretty low point. We’ve felt undervalued and unappreciated by the government, the supermarkets and quite a few others. It affected my mood considerably last summer, running on in to the winter. At no point though, did I ever go down the rabbit hole of self blaming like I did in 2016. The reason for this? I’ve spent the last eight years building up my mental armour. It’s satisfying to know that when I needed it, it held firm. That’s what this campaign by Rural Support is all about. Building that armour up, so that when we face upheaval or difficulty, we have a structured plan in our minds to see out the storm.

Developing this mental armour is a very personal thing. It’s not one size fits all. That’s what makes mental health management such a challenge. If you break a leg, you go to theatre, get it set, wear a cast and hopefully it will heal. I appreciate that’s a very simplistic example, but I suppose what I’m trying to say, unlike a physical injury, each one of us will respond differently to a mental trauma and recovery could take any number of forms. In my last blog in 2019, I wrote an article called ‘repair and maintenance’ and I talked about how important diet, exercise, sleep and socialising were in keeping me mentally fit. Six years on I can add counselling to that list. I’ll probably talk more on the importance of speaking to a counsellor to me in the future, but it has probably become the most important mental defence I have. The ‘breastplate’ of my armour, I guess you could call it. What works for me though, is not guaranteed to work for everyone. That’s the challenge for us all – to find out what we need to do to keep in good mental shape. The guys at Rural Support have been encouraging us to use the ‘Catch It. Check It. Change It’ technique this week (link below) when it comes to dealing with those unhelpful thoughts. To be honest it’s a concept that is new to me, and my experience of CBT techniques, of which this is one, is pretty limited. I’ve found it interesting to read though, and I can see many similarities with this approach and my own recovery. The initial breakthrough ‘catching’ of the problem, followed by the difficult period of acceptance, and then the ongoing challenge of management. Each part of that process has a story and timescale of its own. It’s something that applies not just to negative thinking, but to nearly every mental health challenge that we know. Each part of that process is hard too. Acknowledging a mental health problem is hard. Accepting it is hard. Building ‘mental armour’ is hard. As I found out in 2016 though, doing nothing leads somewhere worse. Doing nothing ran me in to some serious problems. So the sooner we start this process, the easier it will be to fix. I urge you all to think about those unhelpful thoughts. We all get them to some degree, but just follow the process of ‘catch it. Check it. Change it’ and then make a judgement call if it’s something that you need to take further. If you don’t great and if you do, know that there is help. Know there’s a way to make things better. You just have to find what it is

Remember though, building mental armour is hard work, but generally hard work pays off. It did for me last summer

Thanks for reading. I know it was ‘hard’

Adam

If you have been affected by any of the topics in this article or would like to talk to someone about your mental health, please make use of the following links:

Reframing unhelpful thoughts – Every Mind Matters – NHS (www.nhs.uk).

Adams first blog from 2018 can be accessed below:

www.adams2016.home.blog

Rural Support:

Support Line – 0800 138 1678

General Enquiries –  028 86760040

Samaritans:

Call 116 123

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