Are you surviving or thriving?
‘Surviving or thriving?’ - that was the slogan of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, held in May. It’s a good question. But it isn’t just something to think about for a day or a week and then put on the back burner. In the stress of fast-paced daily life, it’s very easy to put looking after yourself at the bottom of your list of priorities. This is particularly true for those of us living in cities, spending our days rushing around. And for those who spend most of their time focused on looking after others, such as their families.
I know someone who has a habit of saying to herself ‘I’m just postponing looking after myself for the moment. It’s only a temporary thing. Right now, other things are obviously more urgent.’ Or other people’s needs. Or her wish to focus on her career. Or whatever.
The thing is, the more times you repeat that one-off action – deferring looking after yourself until some unspecified future time – the more that future time turns into ‘never’. Taking the time to talk with a counsellor had suddenly clarified this to a client. She had a flash of insight: if she carried on in the same way, there was never actually going to be a time when she could move up her own list of priorities.
I found it interesting, but worrying, to read that 7% of people surveyed by Counselling Directory said they never practised ‘self-care’. Self-care can mean different things to different people, but it often involves doing something just for yourself. Giving yourself time out, doing something you enjoy, instead of endlessly being preoccupied with the ‘should’ list. Spending time with friends or family. Or time alone. Or giving yourself the gift of seeing a therapist.
Seeing a therapist or counsellor can be about survival. Or about thriving. Or what initially seemed a desperate quest for survival – in the face of a marital breakdown, an obsession, panic attacks, on-going depression – might over time evolve into a journey into thriving and blossoming. The more you can understand the deep roots about how you ended up in that desperate place, the more you can give yourself permission to think about yourself. The more you are able to note, as they actually come up, the times when you are falling into unhelpful patterns of thinking or acting.
This process, where you look at yourself with attention, is often about survival, and is prompted by a crisis. But it is also the very same action that clears some space for thriving.
Clients can call it different things – love, joy, self-development. Being truly themselves.
Whatever you want to call it, I’d like to suggest that thriving is not an optional add-on. It’s what we are all striving for. The desire to thrive may come disguised as a wish to survive. It may feel more socially acceptable, or less self-indulgent, to say to ourselves that we have to have counselling in order to get through. But I suggest we also deserve counselling, in order to make meaning in our lives. To thrive.
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style” – Maya Angelou.
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