Written by Ashley Dier | Academy of Lions Media Team | Toronto
Photo: Nathan Blackmun Illustration: Smolik
New year, new me, right? Probably not. Look, I’m sure you have totally honest intentions of sticking to the “New Year (insert trend here)” workout program you tore out of that magazine but chances are most of us will not. I don’t mean to sound like a negative ass, but there are legit studies showing the likelihood of people sticking with a New Year’s resolution... the numbers are grim. There are, after all, reasons why every publication under the sun run workout stories - they sell. Rather than regurgitating what I wrote last year in New Year’s Resolutions are Bullshit, I thought I’d go a different route and talk about: How to Stay Sane.
I'm generally not one for any book labelled as "self help", but after the disastrous US election results 'How to Stay Sane' by Philippa Perry was on the top of every 'you gotta read this' list. Despite its high-ranking credibility, it wasn't until a friend - whose opinion I regard as gospel - recommended it to me that I picked up the book. 'How to Stay Sane' had made me look at relationships and my role in them differently - I say that in a good way.
The author, Philippa Perry, a psychotherapist, describes how our minds work, guides us through exercises designed to increase creativity and bolster our sense of perspective and generally help us successfully face the challenges life throws our way. Rather than setting a New Year's resolution that I most likely will abandon after a few weeks I that decided this year, I will stay sane.
Tips on how to stay sane from 'How to Stay Sane'
Self Observation: We need to be able to use our feelings but not be used by them. If we are our emotions, rather than an observer of them; we will veer into a chaotic state. If, on the other hand we repress our feelings altogether, we can swing the other way into rigidity. There is a difference between saying 'I am angry' and 'I feel angry'. The first statement is a description that appears closed. The second is an acknowledgement of a feeling, and does not define the whole self. In the same way that it is useful to be able to separate ourselves from our feelings, it is also necessary to be able to observe our thoughts. Then we can notice the different kinds of thoughts we have, and can examine them, rather than be them.
Relating to Others: We understand that the quality of the formative relationships we had as infants determines our initial place in the spectrum of mental health. However, it is also known that other people can continue to be our best resource for staying sane. Any mutually impactful, mutually open relationship can reactivity neuroplastic processes and actually change the structure of of the brain at any stage of our lives. (How to Stay Sane - Page 31)
Stress: High levels of stress result in panic or in the brain, dissociating. Dissociation is a disconnection among our thoughts, sensations, feelings and actions - experienced as a type of blanking out. Therefore high levels of stress are to be avoided. However, no stress at all means that the brain does not get any exercise. A brain is not unlike a muscle, in that the cliché 'use it or lose it' applies. Moderate levels of stress keep our minds in condition and, help us to stay sane. This good stress, unlike the type that causes dissociation, can be experienced as pleasurable; it can motivate us and make us curious. (How to Stay Sane - Page 57)
There is far more to How to Stay Sane than these three excerpts, and I highly recommend picking up the book, giving it a read and doing the exercises. You, like I was, might be surprised to learn how much of your daily experiences, feeling and relationships are defined by emotions and are filled with self-justifications. A healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body, and you can't have the body without the mind.
My 2017 resolution scratch that, goal is to stay sane. This year I will not be defined by experiences - I will better understanding and learn from them.
Perry, Philippa. How to Stay Sane. New York: Picador, 2013. Print.