Doing Mental Health - To Balance by Emily Gilmartin

Mental Health Week begins on October 7th, 2018. To celebrate, we are sharing a series of articles by seven different writers each of whom have chosen a verb that for them, relates to mental health. We’re calling this series ‘Doing Mental Health’ and you can look forward to reading ‘to Talk’ ‘to Be’ ‘to Self-Care’ ‘to Change’ ‘to Permit’ ’to Speak’ and ‘to Balance’. You’ll find one new article every day of Mental Health Week. Here we have Emily Gilmartin's article on balance.

I’m writing this article as I head off with my family on a 2 week road trip up the coast of NSW. 2 weeks, I know I’m very lucky. It’s been a mad lead up trying to get everything done before going on leave plus for the last 2 months I’ve worked full time for the first time in about 15 years. I had forgotten what Wednesday ‘hump day’ felt like! First world problem right, although relative in my context so it totally made it easy to choose a verb to write about for this article.

Balancing, creating balance or work/life balance.

How do we do it? I’ve been reflecting upon the last 2 months trying to work out why even though I’ve worked crazy hours, why do I feel so content? What I’ve realised is that when the intensity of my days build I am more conscious of self-care. It’s a balancing act. We potentially have 50 years where we could be in the workforce so we might as well look after ourselves. Initially, I’ll run through some of my balancing act self-care strategies, integrate images of wisdom from young people I’ve met along the way and share some insight from another colleague’s balancing act.

Physical exercise, the natural environment, living mindfully and observing Toni* moments are a few of the ways I attempt to implement balance into my day.

The benefits of physical exercise are widely documented although strangely it’s the ‘Life Be In It’ campaign from the 80’s and 90’s that plays loudly in mind. The TV network flogged it all the time! Despite this, physical exercise wasn’t a huge part of my adulthood until 7 years ago. Cardio has been my thing and I have added strength training over the last 18 months. Behavioral change is a tough one especially with everything that life can throw at us.

The feeling that I get when my alarm goes off at 5:45am is never enjoyable although the feeling I have when I walk out of the gym or go for a run is satisfying. All a part of the balancing act, better mind body connection and ability to focus for the day.

Being in the bush, near the river or ocean can interject instant balance into my day. It’s one of the benefits of working and living in regional Victoria. Still, most of my consultation takes place indoors. Knowing what the natural environment creates for me means the ambiance in my consulting space, plays a vital roll of creating balance using natural timbers, textures and plants where possible. Insert picture here. 2 weeks ago my 8 year old drew (and provided consent to share) this picture which was a reminder of where to take my lunch break. Please note the cup of tea and book is a staple for lunch! I thought it was very cute. Our little humans have some pearler’s if we stop and listen. Pretty sure it was my new special scented texta’s that bought about this creation, but wisdom is wisdom and I’ll take it where ever it comes from.

Living life mindfully is intertwined into my professional and personal life. I consider myself one of the lucky people whose values and profession align. The Australian Association of Social Work Code of Ethics is an amazing collaboration of values including respect for persons, social justice and professional integrity which is something that I’m happy to align with. Living in line with your values despite the thoughts and feelings that show up is something I get to talk about daily during consultation. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (or ACT for short) is a therapy I’m trained in which encapsulates this concept. It’s is a Focused Psychological Strategy that utilises a blend of Cognitive and Behavioral Intervention alongside Mindfulness. I use the premise of this therapy every day in my life. It doesn’t mean I’m prefect it means I notice when I start to fuse with unhelpful thoughts and feelings and refocus through my sensors and breath to come back into the present. This enables me to be true to me. This approach of attending to life mindfully and practicing mindful meditation is another way of balancing my health and wellbeing.

Utilising this concept in therapy, an 11 year old drew the next picture representing what she felt like before and after being mindful or completing mindful meditation. Client and Parental consent obtained to share this image.

before and after mindfullness image

Lunch break image

What I love about this picture is that it encapsulates what some people miss about being mindful and utilising mindful meditation. It shows that thoughts and feelings will still come and go. Even through continual practice you can’t stop thoughts. You can become practiced at not being consumed by them or holding onto them so tightly through being present via your breath or connecting through your sensors.

Another important part of my balancing act occurs through observing Toni* moments. Toni can be a person, animal, place, expression or thing. I observe many Toni moments daily and the more often I take stock, the more balanced I feel. For example, Toni can be the stranger you smile at when you pass them in the street, Toni can be a friend who you can sit next to and not talk but feel completely content. Toni can be a group of friends who come around in their UGG boots and share a cheese platter. Toni can be the work colleague who talks about everything but the problem at hand and it’s exactly the space you need. Toni can be the friend who texts you when your favorite bottle of wine is on sale! Toni can be your family friend’s daughter who sits next to you by the camp fire and offers to cook you a marshmallow. Toni can be the look on your dog’s face when you get home from work. Toni can be the feeling you get when you take your first sip off coffee in the morning. I was blessed in my early 20’s in actually meeting a real-life Toni! To this day she still plays a big part in my balancing act. If you don’t have one, get one! They are priceless.

Appreciating Toni moments and being mindful are similar to the premise of noticing. Something a colleague of mine equates to the word balancing. She suggests that “listening to my body, observing when it is telling me to rest, recognizing tired aching legs and a growing sense of anxiety. All of these being signs alerting me, it is time to be still”.

To move aside from the busyness

Find a place interruption free

To remain in the stillness

Surrendered to its call

Forming no words of meaning

Just being

For given time.

Focusing of the immediate

To form, restore and define

Mountains can become moments

When faced with inner peace

Found in the stillness of time

Spent in rest and release (thanks for your words Paul’s)

Balancing is a beautiful noun which aligns with my values and a way to continually check in to look after my health and wellbeing.


*Name changed for confidentiality reasons


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Emily Gillmartin

Emily Gillmartin is a Social Worker and founder of Gillmartin Health. Gillmartin Health offers Focused Psychological Strategies, Supervision (clinical and wellbeing) and Group Work. Areas of clinical interest include Stress Management: Biological, Psychological or Social Determinants, Gender Dysphoria, Relationship Separation, Grief and Loss, Suicide Bereavement and Non Suicidal Self Injury.


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