How to thrive through life’s challenges
In this blog I’m sharing my recent experience of facing an illness which threatened my wellbeing, both physically and mentally. Gratitude and other tools have supported me in having a positive mindset and getting through what has been an extremely challenging situation. I want you to know this because it’s very likely that you will experience challenges in your life – whether that’s with illness, relationships, work or any number of other things. When that happens using these tools will help you understand what you need to help you through, to support yourself.
For all of us, mental health exists on a continuum – sometimes we feel good and are flourishing, yet at other times things become too much and we start to struggle and feel unwell. Like our physical health, it is good to be proactive and invest in our mental health when we feel good. This puts a strong foundation in place that will support us during difficult times. I will be eternally grateful that I have invested in my wellbeing over the years.
Feeling out of control
The past year or so has been challenging for many of us with lots of uncertainty about our health and jobs. In October 2020, my world changed drastically when I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. As someone who values their health, I found this completely devastating and immediately felt totally out of control of my life. I had to make decisions about my treatment plan for the next six months whilst my head was full of whirling emotions.
I found feeling out of control a horrible place to be. It was also the first time in my life that I couldn’t find anything to look forward to; all feelings of optimism drained from me overnight. At this point I took some time to go outside and walk in my local forest. With the comfort of nature around me I was able to stop my whirling thoughts by noticing the wonder of nature surrounding me. I soon realised that I could take control of how I approached my situation by looking after things such as my diet and exercise, plus I talked through how I was feeling with close family and friends. It was not long before my thoughts turned to gratitude, I was thankful to have such amazing friends and family and to the doctors who through years of training and research had the skills to treat me.
Small things making a difference
I spent a lot of time journaling and found myself writing everyday about things in my life that I was grateful for. I had started a gratitude practice when I first became part of the Fresh Air Fridays community in 2016. At that point I set the intention to make gratitude part of my life – so I created a structure to remind me every morning and evening to stop and consider something I was thankful for or appreciated that day. Now, when facing such a challenging time, I noticed that feelings of gratitude came to me naturally. Sometimes I noticed small things, yet these still made a difference to my mindset. Gradually I started to have thoughts about how I would get through the treatment – even though it terrified me, I began to have hope for the future.
The treatments for cancer can be very debilitating at times and it was a real emotional rollercoaster. I often went for a walk somewhere that I loved, sometimes alone and sometimes with my partner. I felt safe in this environment to let the emotions come that I needed to experience and by walking I was giving my body what it needed in the form of some gentle exercise. A few minutes outside, even on the toughest days, always helped me feel stronger and more able to handle my situation.
What got me through
As I write this I am coming to the final stages of my treatment. As I reflect on the last six months, I can honestly say that a combination of gratitude and spending time out in nature are what has got me through this. Whilst going through my treatment I was delighted that I was still able to run one of our Pathways to Happiness programmes alongside one of my Fresh Air Fridays’ colleagues. We were honoured to be joined by a wonderful group of people and witness them transforming their lives through learning tools to support their wellbeing.
I want everyone to have what I had – the tools and support to deal with whatever life throws up. Our ‘Pathways to Happiness Supported’ programme is the simplest way I know to get the tools and skills to cope with the ups and downs of daily life as well as deal with life’s major challenges.