For too long self-care and meditation have been plagued by ~cringe~ connotations. From Bondi hipsters lecturing you on their Vipassanā retreats (and how it enabled them to subsist on a diet of air and water, unlike you food eating peasants) to Instagram shamans selling enlightenment (and detox tea), it’s no wonder the wellness industry has given many of us the ick.
Then when you look to Hollywood, often the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. Though the activities may be, in the most cliche terms possible, cooler, sex, drugs and rock and roll are not conducive, in the long term to the healthiest of lifestyles.
Which brings us to Australian poster boy, gentle giant and Norse God Chris Hemsworth. Hemsworth has long been a global source of fitness inspiration for workout newbies all the way through to full-blown gym junkies. Forever on a quest to improve his body and overall health, Chris leads a life which many would benefit to live by. But for all his impressive feats when it comes to lifting weights and pushing serious loads, Chris is also someone to look up to if you want to improve your mental health.
Unlikely source? Maybe. Even we admit a Hollywood megastar isn’t the first person we’d turn to if we want to work on our mental health, but a series of posts Chris uploaded to his Instagram account in October 2020 (which we recently stumbled across during a fitness inspiration binge) beg to differ.
Offering some timely advice with regards to how to navigate the raging pandemic, Chris reminds us that affirmations – which, broadly speaking, are statements or ways of thinking we write down and repeat to ourself frequently – and positive thinking are key to achieving a healthier mind and soul, not just when there’s a pandemic forcing us to temporarily change the way we live, but for our everyday lives.
He also escapes the classic ‘spiritual’ trope of taking yourself too seriously (thus, hopefully, broadening the audience who might benefit from his words of wisdom) by integrating humour into his approach.
View this post on Instagram
Part of his Centr program, which along with workout and nutrition advice, also has over 200 meditations and sleep visualisations included, Chris’ posts are especially approachable is their use of smile-sparking (“inhale possibilities, not bugs”) to help soften the subject of mental health, something which many people can be freaked out by and unwilling to deal with. Is there anything the man can’t do?
Posting 5 videos in all, the main message Chris puts across is to take some time to yourself, away from your phone, away from others and away from distractions. Meditating, essentially, but more so a way to challenge yourself, to take yourself away from your daily routine and simply take a break to reflect on what you’ve achieved in the previous 12 months in the face of unprecedented times.
The pandemic has certainly seen mental health become more and more prominent in daily conversation, with many of us succumbing to the fact either 2020 has caused us much grief, or enabled us the time to actually focus on ourselves and to process any thoughts that pass through our minds.
We’ve already heard from several experts here at DMARGE the ways we can actively improve our mental health, such as exercising, even if it’s just for a short period each day. But to closer examine Chris’ message of affirmations, we reached out to Soul Alive Meditation founder Luke McLeod and Briony Leo, Psychologist and Head of Coaching at Relish, to find out more.
Briony begins by telling us “positive affirmations are useful for a number of reasons, firstly, they help us to shift our mindset and have some say over our thoughts and feelings – and this affects our behaviour.”
“By intentionally being compassionate and gentle with ourselves, and choosing to look at things in a productive and compassionate way, we’re setting the scene for a productive and calm day.”
View this post on Instagram
Luke agrees they can be beneficial but says we should make sure we understand exactly what they are first.
“I think the term ‘affirmations’ gets thrown around quite loosely. To many people, affirmations have a ‘woo-woo’ connotation, as in, if I repeat to myself what I want, then it will come true and that’s just not the case. You have to do a lot more than just wish something into existence.”
“Where I think affirmations can become powerful is using them to affirm what you already have. Partnering it up with gratitude.”
“When you do this it shifts the affirmation from hope to reality and therefore doesn’t leave you waiting wishing for something to happen. It affirms and reminds you of what you already have.”
You can easily search online for examples of affirmations if you’re interested in the idea of them but aren’t sure where to begin, but Luke also provided us with some good examples to get you on your way.
“I am thankful to be alive today.”
“I am thankful to be able to see, breathe, walk and experience life.”
“I am a wonderful unique human with special talents.”
“I choose to share positive energy with those around me today.”
Briony mirrors Luke’s words, adding “keeping the idea that our words and internal monologues impact our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, helpful self talk could be something like ‘I’m strong enough to get through this’ and ‘I’ve achieved so much already.”
“It helps to be accurate and realistic, see if you can choose affirmations that reflect your strengths and remind you of what you’ve accomplished so far in life.”
For some, 2020 would have hit them harder than a table leg and an unsuspecting little toe, and so would have slipped into a negative state of mind. Depending on who you listen to, turning the frown upside down can either be a lengthy, or a pretty quick, process. It all comes down to you.
Luke tells us “it’s absolutely possible to change how you feel within a second if you’re ready. The hard part is constantly reminding yourself.”
“For most of us the pain isn’t big enough for the decision to have a lasting effect. The greater the pain, the longer the relief will tend to last when you decide to make that change.”
“If you really want to try and make it all about one decision, then force yourself to experience a greater level fo pain. The people that tend to stick with meditation are the ones that have gone through the most pain.”
Briony is equally positive in her ways of thinking: “One of the great things about being human is that every day is a new day, and we are endlessly faced with new choices and decisions.”
“It takes a while to form a habit and break old habits (e.g. negative self talk) but you can start making changes today, even with something as simple as going to bed earlier, drinking more water, going for a walk or putting your phone in the other room to reduce distractions.”
“Rewiring our brain does take a while, behaviour change happens over time, but the more we look after ourselves, the more likely we are to create a ‘virtuous cycle’ whereby our new behaviour helps us to feel so good that we’re motivated to keep doing it.”
“Exercise is a good example of this, often it can be a struggle ton start, and then at some point we just do it automatically because we know that it is worth it.”
Of course, we have the luxury of multiple tools and outlets to help us achieve a more positive mind other than affirmations, so if you find repeating statements back to yourself isn’t having quite the effect you want, what else can you try?
For Luke, naturally, the answer is meditation. “It’s been proven to be one of most beneficial exercises anyone can do to improve their mindset,” he relates.
“Then there’s eating as healthy as possible, exercise, getting enough sleep and drinking water. Sounds simple but we really do take these actions for granted and they are by far the most beneficial.”
Briony agrees, claiming “self care is a great practice to incorporate into your routine, from the moment you get up, to the moment you go to sleep at night.”
Luke adds, “The other key suggestion is to try to remind yourself throughout the day to be a positive person and share positivity with others. It doesn’t have to be forced, just a genuine type of happiness to be here.”
“This not only makes yourself feel good, but it could also have a positive impact on someone else’s mindset.”