WRITTEN BY JEN – ECOWANNABE (GUEST WRITER)
Mindfulness, mental health, gratitude, contentment are all linked to sustainability. You may ask why these terms are in the same sentence so let me start by briefly telling you my journey.
I have suffered from anxiety and depression and the ongoing battle is with anxiety – always overthinking, worrying about what is happening next, what could happen, what’s on the “to do” list and struggling with just being present. After seeking professional help in 2017, engaging in some talking therapies, being on medication and with the support from family and friends, I started my journey to recovery and trying to become a more evolved version of myself.
The pandemic has been a challenging time for most of us – juggling work, children, and relationships with the absence of our usual support systems and outlets. There have been moments that I have wished for things to go “back to normal” but was the normal life that I was used to something I wanted to return to? The pressure to be at places for a certain time, the pressure of making sure the kids are socialising, learning, the pressure of ferrying children to and from after school clubs, tidying, cleaning etc. There was always something on the to-do list and it felt incessant and non-stop.
Without minimising how difficult lockdown has been, I have to admit it forced me to slow down and get off the hamster wheel of life. The chance to be introspective was staring at me in the face – with nowhere to go, and nothing to do, I had to sit and just be. In between the moments of apparent chaos with siblings squabbling, home schooling and worrying news about people affected by Covid, for some reason, I re-evaluated what was important; more and more I began to appreciate the simpler things in life and made a conscious decision to live more mindfully and sustainably, and just be grateful for what I had. Due to my ongoing struggles with anxiety, I believe that my brain is wired to think the worst of any situation. Therefore, I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy transition and needed daily practice and reinforcement.
A mindful life meant taking time for reflection and meditation and just allowing space to be aware of our mind – our thoughts, beliefs and emotions. For me, this meant making time in between the busyness of the day, whether it was 15 minutes in the morning to enjoy a hot drink, or taking an impromptu walk alone by the canal and taking in all of my surroundings. I found that this routine was just as important for my attempt to live more sustainably as much as buying plastic free shampoo bars. The more connected I was with myself, how I was feeling and my surroundings, the more connected I became with my children, my partner, and conscious of the choices I was making as a consumer.
It sounds like a cliché but since becoming a parent, I have learnt a lot from my children. I had never realised it until recently that my kids are in fact masters of mindfulness. They are the ones who stop me to look a butterfly that had landed on a flower, they are the ones who notice the colours and shapes that a cloud make, and the sounds of birds chirping. They don’t worry or care about the things that adults do – whilst I’m making a mental checklist of what has to be done in the house, I realised that I was missing the important moments, in just being present with them. Although admittedly this can be a struggle when we are rushing to take children to school and you have asked said child to put their shoes on for the 100th time!
Practising mindfulness does not mean that I have suddenly converted to being a patient parent. I’m human and my children have seen the uglier side of when I have lost my patience, shouted or simply felt at boiling point when things have gotten too much. Most often this happens when I haven’t taken the time to reconnect with how I’m feeling, and what I’m missing in that moment to ensure my “emotional cup” is filled. The ways I’ve tried to do this is basically do more that feeds the soul and connecting with myself or others – whether this is phoning a family member, going for a walk with a friend, going for a walk, or taking up a new hobby rather than clicking “buy now” to have that instant but short lived gratification. As I said, living a busy life and trying to live mindfully is something that I need to actively practice, and this is reinforced by living in a more sustainable way, and in turn leads to an improvement in my overall wellbeing.
Sustainability seems to be a buzz word around social media, but for me, it’s a choice to live more contently and being mindful of how you are living, and the impact of your actions on not just yourself, but on others and the environment. This is coming from an ex-fast fashion addict, ex skincare addict, someone who frequently sought instant gratification from receiving new goods within 12 hours, buying needless items from a certain convenience shopping outlet (ahem Amazon), and simply always looking for more – the problem was that more was never enough. Gratitude and mindful practice meant that I was constantly refocusing on what I did have, and in turn contentment naturally followed.
Starting a sustainable living Instagram page was at first a way of journaling all the small changes I have made. It has since evolved into a way for me to stay accountable for the conscious and mindful life I am choosing to live. I follow people that I can relate to that can inspire, motivate and reinforce the messages that I need to practice on a daily basis. I chose to purge myself of any accounts or email subscriptions that always made me feel something lacked in my life. I chose to rid myself of toxicity whether it be what I drank, ate, watched, bought, or indeed people who were less than positive.
It has meant an entire shift in my consciousness – an empathy towards my wellbeing, but also an understanding that my actions and choices have an impact. An impact on the worker who is being paid pennies just so that I can have a cheap deal on an outfit I’ll never wear, an impact on the carbon emissions to the environment simply because I made a choice to buy something that was made in Kenya, as opposed to locally farmed produce. I hope anyone who is reading this, does not think I am suggesting that the connection between mental health and sustainability is linear and one supersedes the other. Instead, I am saying that all the factors are interlinked and your journey will look different from everyone else’s.
Trying to live sustainably is that very thing – it is trying and is imperfect in every way. Juggling sustainability with parenting, work, relationships, and self care is a challenge so I’m not going to kick myself due to the takeaway plastic ridden meal I bought, nor am I going to focus on what I’m not doing right. Instead, I’m going to continue to be kinder to my mind and body, turn any anger or resentment into understanding, and if I can make an eco conscious choice along the way, then that is a bonus.