Roger Blow of Cove Legal discusses how getting immersed in a charity event or not for profit cause can bring personal mental health benefits as a great side effect to the altruistic objectives.
February and March were big months in the Cove Legal calendar. The firm organised the 11th Corporate Battle of the Bands fundraiser at The Charles Hotel, raising over $10k for Youth Focus and Cystic Fibrosis WA. I then headed off to Albany last week to cycle back to Perth with one of the Hawaiian Ride for Youth pelotons, visiting schools in Gnowangerup, Kojonup, Narrogin, Wagin and Mandurah to speak to the kids about positive mental health issues.
I gave the school presentation in Narrogin on fitting in, being different and asking for help when you need it - appropriately given to the 100 or so kids who had not been allowed to attend the school’s sports carnival that day – very much Youth Focus’ target audience.
Immersion in something as intense, emotional, exhausting and inspirational as a Ride for Youth ride week is a great time for reflection - to recognise what, at a deep molecular level, is important to you. Riders in that event are known to suffer the ‘post ride week blues’ as for six whole days and nights their entire focus is upon something much bigger than them. Something so important to their own community and society at large, that they can become hooked on the emotional connections and really miss it when it comes time to wash all the kit and return to normal life again.
And that’s the point of this article: it’s good to have things that give you perspective. That make you feel part of a team that is achieving something special. That, even temporarily, extract you from the usual daily grind and the plethora of other foci such as client needs, demands from bosses, career progression, fitness regimes, social calendars, the next car (or bike…). The list is, inevitably, endless.
Preparing a presentation for a legal conference in Bali a few years back on practical self-help strategies for lawyers in the mental health space shone a light for me on some very basic principles that are by no means limited to the legal sector. The intention of that presentation was not just to highlight the reality that the professional legal sector had a bad track record in identifying and addressing poor mental health, but to also talk about how to actively do something about it. The equivalent of not just having the annual skin check to identify any damage, but also to promote the use of sunscreen and hats to avoid it.
The key messages gleaned from many hours spent with some highly qualified mental health specialists in preparing that talk was that a lot of positive mental health strategies come down to very core issues. Back to basics you might say, because as human beings we come with a fair amount of pre-programming.
The easiest self-help remedy was as simple as they come: get good sleep. We only produce serotonin (the body’s happy drug) whilst in deep REM sleep. So if you are regularly not getting the recommended eight hours, or at least a solid six or seven, then your body is going to underperform.
Good mental health can also be encouraged by recognising and staying in touch with your inner ‘pleasure centres’. We are constantly taught (indeed shouted at) by clever marketing teams that what will truly make us happy is that new watch. Or car. Or face cream. Better body parts. A bigger pay cheque. But in the vast majority of cases such things are transitory when you assess them for their inner pleasure score. A promotion feels amazing when achieved, but a few months later and the new position or title has lost its sparkle and we are again looking for the next ‘hit’.
Recognising your core pleasure centres means identifying what truly makes you happy. What centres you. Call it your inner peace. A contentment which goes deeper and is the opposite of a quick sugar hit. Examples? Meditation is recognised by many as a great positive mental health strategy. It promotes relaxation, reflection, balanced assessment of what is both right and wrong with your world. I have to say its not a strategy that I personally use, but there is a very long list of fans out there. Yoga is another tried and tested idea, but even going for a long walk on a lunchtime might have the same effect. For me, playing live music or working up some endorphins on a bike work wonders, If you find yourself struggling with perspective, anxiety or stress perhaps have a think about what might work for you.
Another strategy is actively looking to enjoy the simple things in life – the outdoors (sunlight is a biological good mood producer), exercise and good food. Taking the time to enjoy things, to savour them. It’s perhaps the opposite approach to the new world of social media where we need to be achieving the perfect selfie or panoramic shot before we can afford to actually enjoy the moment for ourselves. This is you time, so hook into what works for you, not what looks impressive on Insta.
And to come full circle, another strategy is to engage in something that makes you feel part of a team and inspires you. Something that makes you proud. That for me is part of my reason for riding each year for the Hawaiian Ride for Youth and why the ride weeks are so important – both for Youth Focus’ vital work helping our youth but also for the many people involved in making that event happen. I swear that often the riders are getting as much out of ride week as they are contributing in their time, fundraising efforts and sweat. It’s very much a positive and supportive family and that ticks so many of the boxes that I’ve talked about above.
So perhaps contemplate how your mental health could benefit from getting involved in some community cause or charitable event. It doesn’t have to be sports based – just something that makes you feel engaged and enriched on an emotional level. That makes you step outside your usual day-to-day and waters your roots. And in looking after yourself, you can also help look after others. It’s the perfect win:win.