We are led to believe happiness is the opposite to depression, but it isn’t, the true opposite is vitality. You proactively want to connect with your life and everything within it. Vitality is the state of being strong and active, having energy. For those, like me, who have experienced depression, you can easily make the connection to being strong, active, and energetic as the opposite to many of the symptoms we experience during periods of being unwell.
As Life Coach who specialises in mental health, one of the first activities I complete with a client is a Vitality Checklist. The Vitality Checklist is an opportunity for you to define what daily, weekly, or monthly activities you can complete to achieve optimum well-being. Overcoming your mental health challenges, whether that be stress, anxiety, or depression, can be a battle; so being at your strongest, most active and with increased energy is a prerequisite to a successful transition to long-term mental wellbeing.
While a completed Vitality Checklist will have some commonalities such as sleep, diet, exercise, etc. it will also have criteria unique to the individual. One useful technique I use to support a person to identify potential targets is to define in detail how they experience their mental health challenge.
In all cases, the terms stress, anxiety, and depression can be discarded as these are not as important as the individual way in which a person experiences them.
We will analyse an average day, an example of this I draw directly from how I used to experience depression. I would get up late, I wouldn’t shower or dress, I would grab quick, easy, and often unhealthy food from the kitchen, and eat it on the sofa watching morning television. My day would constitute of remaining on the sofa, in and out of sleep, in and out of the kitchen, often arriving at 6pm and feeling like I’d lost another day. I would then bathe, put on fresh pyjamas and prepare for another evening in front of the television until it was time for bed. All the while I will have been ignoring telephone calls and texts, and should anyone have knocked on the door, I wouldn’t have answered, mail would be put on the side but remain unopened.
I believe we can begin the process of building mental well-being by first confusing the mind’s connection to the illness by disrupting the patterns of behaviour to which we have become accustomed. I like to think of the mind questioning itself, ‘we believe we are depressed, we understand how we ‘do’ depression, but we are currently doing the opposite, are we depressed?’ This ‘breakthrough’ can be enough to get the unconscious mind to accept the alternative ways of thinking, feeling and behaving, included as part of our coaching and therapy work.
I believe this disruption of patterns of behaviour can also be useful in any area of life in which you are experiencing challenges.
Create a fracture in your usual way of thinking or behaving, and you can break through to a new approach on the other side.
This is also the way by which any addictive patterns of behaviour can begin to be broken. If we wake in the morning and go straight for a cigarette and as part of quitting we stop doing this; soon the brain will question whether it needs to support you going for a cigarette first thing in the morning or delete this pattern of behaviour.
Returning to my average depressive day and taking an average day like this, we can create a list of targets based on opposites of this behaviour. My Vitality Checklist, which is stored in the cloud in case a black dog day should arise, includes:
- sleeping for a minimum of 7 hours and no more than 9, as sleeping in is a symptom of my depression
- showering in the morning and brushing my teeth
- dressing in something other than pyjamas
- eating a healthy breakfast, I aim for something high fat and high protein as recent research suggests this prohibits the chemicals associated with anxiety and depression from forming
- leaving the house and walking for at least 30-minutes
And the list goes on… nothing too elaborate but dependant on my mood this could prove more challenging on some days. Not doing one or more of these tasks isn’t worth the risk, and similarly, I see this as creating a counter fracture in my way of living which could leave the unconscious mind asking if depression is returning. I find it amazing how if I take a day off and slob around, I can end up with low mood by the end of the day, my mind starts to crave a healthier, more vital way of living.
It’s worth noting this process, and the tool of the Vitality Checklist is not about setting aspirational goals or targets, it’s about setting a benchmark for the way you live to create the most vital version of yourself. The result is a list of daily, weekly, or monthly tasks or activities which create the opportunity for you to be active, build mental and physical strength, and increase your energy levels. I believe a Vitality Checklist is useful for everyone, regardless of your mental health.
This tool is the way by which my clients and I put the horse before the cart, being proactive in the management of our well-being, rather than treating any challenges when they arise.
If you think you would benefit from creating a Vitality Checklist you can download your free copy here. If you are a leader in an organisation that recognises the benefit of your colleagues having a checklist, you can contact me directly about the 2-hour workshop I deliver on Vitality.