Challenging times call for more support: Practise Sanity this autumn with Kelly Hearn. Kelly shares in this article why sanity is a practice and how to empower ourselves.
As a psychotherapist, I obviously believe in the merits of talk therapy. It can be a powerful tool to facilitate self-awareness, healing and growth. And yet I also know it has its limits. We wouldn’t assume one weekly session with a trainer at the gym would be our physical health needs sorted, and the same logic applies to our mental health. I found this especially true during the pandemic, a time when clients were frequently asking for ways to support themselves on a more regular basis between sessions. I’ve seen this trend only increase since. There are podcasts, Instagram lives and more, all trying to meet the very real demand for information about how to promote mental wellness. A sign of the times, perhaps, and a welcome one.
‘Chronic illness – mental or physical – is to a large extent a function or a feature of the way things are and not a glitch; a consequence of how we live, not a mysterious aberration.’DR. Gabor Mate – The Myth of Normal
Our collective health is deteriorating. It is estimated that at any given point 1 in 5 people are experiencing what could be categorized as mental illness. The figures for chronic pain are similar. As Dr. Gabor Mate writes in The Myth of Normal, ‘Chronic illness – mental or physical – is to a large extent a function or a feature of the way things are and not a glitch; a consequence of how we live, not a mysterious aberration.’
This means all of us are affected to a greater or lesser degree. While the health challenges we’re experiencing aren’t our fault – there are myriad societal pressures that undermine our wellbeing, and some of us experienced earlier wounding in our family of origin – it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves in these conditions.
Sanity is a Practice
‘Sanity … is not an achievement; rather it is a practice.’Bruce Tift
Wisdom traditions and philosophers have been talking about the effort needed to tame our unruly minds for thousands of years. It turns out our psychology hasn’t changed much since the times of Patanjali, the Buddha, the Stoics. Nor has the counsel: Health is attained not by luck or accident but by attending to it regularly. In the words of therapist and author Bruce Tift, ‘Sanity … is not an achievement; rather it is a practice.’
Much as we’d like to, we can’t sidestep or eradicate all of challenges of 21st century living that provoke dis-ease. Often our attempts to deny or control these only increase our distress. Instead, we can focus our efforts on taking care of ourselves whatever the stressor. There is a Buddhist saying that it is easier to put on a pair of shoes than to wrap the world in leather.
This is the goal: to equip ourselves for all terrain. By resourcing ourselves this way, we aim to meet life’s inevitable provocations with wise action rather than emotional reaction.
We can all populate a tool kit of practices that support our health on an ongoing basis. Those I curate for myself and clients incorporate movement, creativity, mindfulness, psycho-education and thematic reflection. ‘Sanity Practise’ takes the work I do in the consulting room into a wider group setting.
My goal is to equip people with tools they can utilise individually in their daily lives. Having said this, there is also something powerful about coming together as a group on a regular basis. We are wired for human connection and yet increasingly isolated in our living and working situations. Sharing space with others, even or especially when times are difficult, can be an important aspect of practising sanity.
An embodied approach
Mental suffering frequently involves one of two things
- Difficulty regulating arousal in the body
- Challenge in relationships
Often, it’s a combination of both. If our nervous systems aren’t regulated, it makes it difficult to have healthy relatedness with others. We see so much of this on both a micro and macro level. Which is why it’s so important to address whole-body health. There is nothing new about a holistic approach, again it dates back to the Eastern wisdom traditions. However, more recently modern Western science has also validated the importance of attending to our physiology in order to take care of our psychology.
The necessity of an embodied approach became increasingly clear to me during Covid lockdowns. Clients would often arrive at Zoom sessions so anxious we needed five to ten minutes of grounding exercises in order to move on to the work of talk therapy. This was true for me, personally, as well. Taking the time to move my body, open my heart, quiet my mind on a daily basis is what enabled me to be there for clients and family in those surreal lockdown circumstances. I doubled down on my own practices that had long been helpful but became indispensable:
I found the combination of these with my own personal therapy (Yes, therapists do go to therapy at times!) to be profound. So much so that it shifted the way I work as a psychotherapist and inspired me to share my broader toolkit with others.
Come join us this autumn:
Starting from the 12th September, Movement for Modern Life and I will be hosting a weekly 60-minute group ‘Sanity Practise.’
Together, we will put psychological theory into practical application and work within a framework of embodied wellbeing in order to help us live with a bit more ease and joy. The sessions are an opportunity to cultivate a grounded body, open heart, and clear mind. We will also explore any topics that come up for all of us whilst trying to stay sane in what can feel like an age of insanity.
A link to sign up can be found here. See you in September!
Kelly is a psychotherapist and co-founder of Examined Life, a collective of therapists. She is accredited by the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and is a registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). Kelly has wide experience working with individuals, couples and corporates in private practice, the NHS and at The School of Life. She is also a yogi and avid ‘sanity walker.’