The Magic Inside Your Vagus Nerve

When you are busy caring for others, whether at work, at home or both, it can be easy to overlook things that boost your mental health and wellbeing. This might be because of a perceived lack of time, or conflicting priorities, or due to thoughts or worries that it might be selfish to focus on your own needs. However, we all have a limited capacity to handle difficult situations and care for others. Our internal resources to handle stress are not bottomless, so just like a bank account, we need to make additions as well as withdrawals. Here are three strategies to help you:

  1. Ask yourself whether you are living according to your values.

At busy times it can be easy for our lives to become unbalanced. We may find that our focus has shifted, and the things that usually help us to cope with busy times have slipped away. 

If you find yourself feeling like your life has become unbalanced, take some time to sit down and think about what’s important to you. What sort of person do you want to be, what do you want your life to be about? Which are the areas that are most important to you? Now thing about how you spend your time. Are you spending time on all the things that matter to you, or are some being neglected? If you are neglecting some areas, can you think of some small steps to help you get a more healthy balance?

  1. Add in one pleasant experience or meaningful activity each day.

When we engage in pleasant experiences and meaningful activities it is like making a deposit into our emotional bank account. These activities help our well-being and create a buffer against life’s up and downs. You will recognise that it is much less upsetting if you stub your toe at the end of a day when you did great things, than if you stub your toe after a stressful and upsetting day at work. If you are feeling like your internal resources are depleted, try planning in a pleasant activity each day for week and then notice how this feels. It doesn’t need to be a big thing; it could involve sitting in the garden with a cup of tea, reading a book before bed, going for a walk or a run, or watching your favourite TV programme. Doing things that matter to you will reduce your vulnerability to being overwhelmed by emotions.

  1. Identify and work towards your long terms goals.  

Another way to reduce our vulnerability to being overwhelmed by emotions, is to accumulate positive experiences over the longer term, by taking regular steps towards longer-term goals. Think about your values and then think about something you would like to achieve in the next 6-12 months. Identify a specific goal. Now spend some time working out the small steps that will take you towards this goal. Keep breaking things down until you have some small manageable steps that you can plan into your diary. Then make an action plan. Setting a written intention to act can be really helpful when you start to have doubts or struggle with low motivation. Imagine yourself completing the goal. How will it feel? Use this to motivate you at times when you are tired or get side-tracked by other areas of your life.