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How full is your tank? Seven ways to invest in mental wellbeing

Oct 1, 2021 | Wellbeing, Whānau

Rose managed to pay off $40,000 worth of debt in less than three and a half years. It took strength and determination – but it was her internal battles that were sometimes the hardest. Thankfully, she dug deep and learnt how to build capacity. There’s value for all of us in prioritising mental health, so below Rose shares seven tips for topping up your tank.

Rose with CAP CEO Sam Garaway
“Although I was going through the financial journey, I had to go through personal stuff as well. Mental health was definitely a tough journey, because I was doing this all on my own… Now, honestly, my life has changed for the better. Everything is so much better now.” Rose, debt free

The lower your tank is the harder it is to do ordinary things – let alone difficult things. Counsellor Aaron Ironside defines ‘coping energy’ as that store of energy to do the right thing, even when you don’t feel like it – that ability to override your impulse.

“Our coping energy is a finite (limited) resource. It dwindles… You’ve got to prioritise filling the tank as living with an empty tank is an unsustainable way of being.”

– Aaron Ironside, Counsellor

How are you doing right now?

How full is your tank? Are you just scraping by on nearly empty, or have you built up some reserves that will get you through the tough times?

Seven tips for filling your tank

1. Do things you love

“Just going back to things that you enjoy in life that you know that make you smile… I’m back to cooking.”

– Rose

When Rose was at her lowest, she remembers losing interest for things she was normally passionate about:

“…baking, sports – I turned many opportunities down. In the end I had to help myself – and I did! I took steps and worked towards things that could help me get better.”

Everyone needs something to look forward to. Find (or remember) what brings you joy and try and carve out a little space for it every week. For Rose, it’s cooking and catering, for you it might be painting, or playing or listening to music.

The great thing is, doing things you love doesn’t need to cost the earth! Check out some creative ideas and tips to find joy with activities that are cheap or free.

2. Make time for extended family and close friends

“I… reached out to people who I thought could help me…I have amazing friends who have been my guidance and support through the darkest times.”

The concept of Te Whare Tapa Whā, developed by Sir Mason Durie, teaches us that it takes four strong walls to hold up a house. The first wall – taha whānau – is social and family health.

Staying connected to our whānau and people who are special to us gives us a sense of belonging and an all-important sense of identity. Spending time together in person, or even over the telephone, is a simple and effective way of lifting your wairua (spirit). If you can’t get back to your roots, friendships, and fellowship (socialising with a local church or community gathering) can help fill that gap.

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3. Eat properly

“It obviously affects your moods.”

Sometimes we need reminding that we really are what we eat. Nourishing food is not only vital to energise our bodies, but essential for our mental health and wellbeing. You can read more about how to eat well at the Ministry of Health’s website.

A great place to start is to follow the guideline of ‘5 plus a day’ – meaning aim to eat five or more servings of fruit/vegetables every day. 

4. Exercise

“Just going out for walks and things that you enjoy in your life that make you smile.”

Exercise is also essential for both physical and mental wellbeing, and it’s arguably the best and most natural way to beat stress. We’re designed for it. Not only does it release toxins, it also stimulates endorphins – meaning the more you do the better you feel! It’s a healthy habit that keeps on giving.

Even going for a walk in a local park can work wonders. Being in nature helps your mind rest and repair, and your body to relax and slow down.

5. Practice gratitude

“Putting myself last was always the thing, but during the CAP journey I noticed things were getting better… through all aspects of my life – family, love, work and sports… hanging out with my friends, and it’s really good! I’ve been changed…”

A passage in the Bible reminds us of the wisdom in finding gratitude for the good things around us day-to-day. Gratitude helps us tune into peace – God’s peace – which is under the surface of all things. The writer, Paul, encourages us to be intentional about what we focus on:

“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

Many New Zealanders have found that recent changes in COVID-19 alert levels have resulted in them feeling less freedom and control – and this understandably places added pressure on people’s mental health. Rose has found that focussing on what she is thankful for has been a real key to living well in lockdown.

“For some, lockdown is a holiday. For others, it means no food on the table… isolation from loved ones, closing the family business, or battling sickness – make sure you check on your whānau, mates, the elderly and those living alone. I always try to think of positive things – each day I wake up, I’m grateful.”

Try this daily practice of writing down – or drawing – three things you’re particularly grateful for. This is known as a gratitude journal. It’s a great habit to get into to help you keep your tank full.

6. Tautoko and support yourself

Rose gifted herself a studio makeover to remind herself of her value and renewed self-esteem.

“I’m one of those people that would always take care of family first and I would always be the last one to take care of myself…”

Rose had always been prone to people-pleasing (sometimes known as fawning), which is common for people operating in survival mode. What’s great is that as she reached out for help and made progress on her journey out of debt, she started valuing her own needs as well. Now, Rose is able to say:

“I am a strong wāhine who has a lot more love to give for those in my life.”

Rose and Aaron Ironside have also shared some brilliant tips to escape fight, flight or freeze, which can be really destructive when you’re operating in survival mode. Rose managed to reach out for help and make a plan to move forward.

When we find ways to look after ourselves, we can then start to activate another life-giving principle: “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Loving our neighbours is wonderful for our hauora (wellbeing), but only when it first comes from a place of sustainably loving (looking after) yourself. It’s a bit like applying an oxygen mask to yourself when you’re in a plane, before fitting a mask onto somebody else.

Once you learnt to have compassion, and can breathe for yourself, this aroha can then flow to your family, friends – even strangers. Where can we find that love?
“Let us love one another, for love comes from God.” – 1 John 4:7

7. Book yourself into counselling

“I know I’m an independent person but sometimes I’ve had to put my pride aside and ask for help… I just want to encourage people to do the same, to reach out and ask for help. Yes, it can be a long journey, but if you stick to it, honestly, you will feel the way I do today, and your life will be so much better – so much.”

There are so many benefits in talking to a trained professional. They can apply their skills and experience to help you get a more balanced perspective on the struggles you’re facing. And then together you can go about identifying the root of your struggle(s). Counsellors are also able to help you heal from past hurts, find ways to forgive, and then plot out your path forward.

“Accepting and leaving all of the things that made me depressed in the past helped. I’ve let go of the past, and I will continue to be fearless in the days ahead.”

The fact that a counsellor is impartial and keeps everything confidential can be reassuring. At the end of this blog post you can find free-phone numbers for various help lines, as well as an opportunity to book in counselling at a rate you can afford.

Decluttering your life

Filling your tank is not something you do once, it’s a daily and weekly challenge. One timeless way of keeping it topped up is to keep a Sabbath day. What is a Sabbath? Well, it’s a day set apart solely for rest and recouperation!

Taking time for Sabbath allows you to experience some unforced rhythms of grace. It’s a pattern we’re all designed for. This restful pattern first arose in creation, when God rested on the seventh day. Another way to think of Sabbath is a ‘Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’. You can read about this in John Mark Comer’s book.

 ‘Shabbat’ comes from Hebrew, and literally means to stop. “The Sabbath is simply a day to stop: stop working, stop wanting, stop worrying, just stop.”

A Sabbath doesn’t need to be limited to 24 hours. “It’s a spirit of restfulness that goes with you throughout your week. A way of living with ‘ease, gratitude, appreciation, peace and prayer.’ A way of working from rest, not for rest, with nothing to prove.”

As John Mark Comer shares, living this way allows you to be fully present – to the moment: to God, other people, work in the world, and your own soul – and, ultimately, to arrive at that all-important state of contentment. It’s true that we will always live with unfulfilled desires, however

“Contentment is living in such a way that your unfulfilled desires no longer curb your happiness.”

I’m okay today. Today, I’m fine.

Much of Rose’s stress originated from the pressures of unmanageable debt. She worked 70-to-80-hour weeks, just to make sure her children had food on the table and bills were getting paid.

“I was being hassled every day… I was pawning in things to get cash to always try to make ends meet, and I never had any savings whatsoever.”

For Rose, calling CAP made all the difference. CAP’s Debt Help service set her up with a budget to meet life’s needs, negotiated with her creditors and provided wrap-around support.

If you’re not struggling with unmanageable debt, but still want to learn ways of managing your money well, check out CAP Money, a free three-session course running near you (or online).

“I can say that I’ve come out on the other side a better person, a better mum. I’m better for my partner as well, but mainly for myself. Self-healing has been the number one thing for me the last year or so, and I’ve come out on the other side.”

Whether your tank is nearly empty or almost full, investing in your mental wealth or wellbeing is always worthwhile. Doing one thing each day to lift your coping energy will pay dividends when the going gets tough.

CAP’s services are free to all New Zealanders. Are you in a position to donate to help more New Zealanders like Rose go from surviving to thriving?

If you’d like to ensure that more New Zealanders in hardship receive the FREE holistic help they need, you can donate here.

Where to get help