“How’s the serenity?” … Darryl Kerrigan, you’ve done it again!

Everyone has a favourite line out of the Australian classic comedy “The Castle”. One of mine (at the top is Denis Denuto and his classic rant about the F Tray) is when the chief protagonist takes his gamily away for the weekend to the family “estate” at Bonnydoon and exclaims “How’s the serenity?” as he sits on the balcony listening to the mosquitos getting zapped.

I love this quote and have repeated it many times in many contexts. Equally, I never really gave much thought to the underlying message in the scene and the quote. That is until now, as I sit here on the balcony of the holiday unit I have rented for the weekend and have been thinking the same thing.

You see Darryl is in the midst of the fight of his life in the movie; a fight to keep his house (the Castle) and whilst he keeps up a good “front” of positivity for his family he is obviously stressed about what is going to happen. Going away and resting his body and mind despite the stress of this battle is what Darryl does when he takes his family to Bonnydoon and he comes back refreshed and ready to fight.

The question “how’s the serenity?” is, to me, the embodiment of why taking time to rest, reflect and re-energise is so important in everyones life. Everyone has stress (show me a person who says they have no stress in their life and I will call him / her a liar) but few of us deal with our stress in a positive or honest way. Hiding one stress or not releasing it only begats more stress in my experience so not giving oneself a moment of serenity now and then can not be a positive.

I firmly believe we all need to have a “how’s the serenity?”, or multiples of them, regularly to help reduce our stress and re-energise our minds and bodies so that we can have more positive experiences both at home and at work. I, for one, desperately needed my “how’s the serenity?” moment this weekend and have committed to myself that I will do this more to improve my stress and my sanity.

Next time you are particularly stressed or under the pump, think about the places you feel the most serene or relaxed and then don’t hesitate: just make plans to go there ASAFP. Trust me: you will feel better, both in mind and in body, for it.

News Reporting: Negativity is conditioning us to only be negative!

I had an interesting conversation over the weekend about the way news is reported in Australia, and more broadly, and the conclusion that was reached around the dinner table was that news reporting has become so negative on the free to air TV in Australia that we have become so conditioned to the negative things reported that:

a) Nothing really surprises us anymore; and
b) We expect negativity and thus, by extension, are becoming more and more negative.

It is difficult to believe, for example, that the Columbine High School massacre was only 15 years ago and that our reaction, in Australia, to that massacre was, as I recall it, nothing short of hysteria (and rightly so). Now, in the shadows of similar events seemingly occurring on an, if not monthly, then bi-annual basis we seem to react in a way that it almost dismissive. What I mean is that we, as a body of individuals, seem to simply accept what has happened without demur and get on with life rather than react with a level of sorry that is appropriate to the horror of the news we are hearing.

Another news story of late goes to the question of negativity: the recent kidnapping of a 3 year old girl in Childers was a horrific story. Did anyone who heard that story not immediately think the worst: that the young girl had been murdered? And then when the young girl was found did anyone who heard that story not immediately think that something “fishy” was going on? Rather than be overjoyed for the family of the young girl, our thoughts immediately went to the negative.

If all one hears and sees is the negative then of course one starts to become conditioned to the negativity and not respond to it. Now I concede that there are some horrid things that go on in the world from time to time AND we need to know about them. However, there are a significant number of positive and local stories that we do not hear about or see simply because there is so much negativity to report that it gets lost in the rush to be negative.

I am a vociferous reader of news: there is no newspaper, online paper or blog that I will not read assuming it is within the ares that interest me. I do not watch news broadcasts on TV nor do I read, bizarrely, much of the locally produced newspapers. The balance of those programs lost me some time ago. I have found that as I have picked what I read and focused on reading what I enjoy, that I am reading much less negative news.

The focus on negative news is detrimental to not only the adults in our community but also the children. I have a number of friends with children who comment when asked that they do not listen to the news much nor watch the news with their children any more because it is so negative and, in some cases, so graphic that they will not put them through it. This is a travesty: how does a child learn about the world around them without seeing what is going on in said world.

I think we would all be much better off if the focus of our news services and free to air tabloids was on the positives in the world rather than the negatives. Positivity does not sell papers nor attract more viewers so the said news services / tabloids will never change their focus. That is saddening but reality. I hope a day never comes when we are so disassociated from what is horrific that we are no longer empathetic to those suffering. Then again, I am left to wonder if we are not already there.

Mental Health and Holidays: When Inactivity is not a Positive

We have just finished another Easter long weekend and have an ANZAC Day weekend looming next weekend. This weekend just gone I had some time to reflect on the time spent on holidays or long weekends and consider what correlation there is between those times of rest and impacts on mental health.

It struck me that often my most negative or down of times occurred when I had nothing to do. Put a different way: having pushed myself hard for weeks and sometimes months on end, down time that came from holidays or long weekend left me anxious that I was not doing anything or that there was something that I had not done that I should have been doing.

Despite having family that loved me and wanted to spend time with me I often eschewed their attentions and spent time either alone in my home worrying or I would go into my office and sit there and procrastinate.

Inactivity at times of rest used to cripple me. I could not be positive about that times, rather I saw them as an imposition on my work. Part of my problem, of course, was that my whole identity was focused on my work and I did not identify anything positive with doing things other than working.

Over time, I have come to embrace times of rest like those given to us by virtue of long weekends and holidays. It has not been without significant effort (I know this all sounds bizarre but you have to remember where I used to be mentally) and making sure I do these things when I have downtime:

1. Organising as many “events” as I can during the down times to ensure that I am still busy but not tempted to fall back into bad habits. Seeing family, hitting golf balls and doing work in the yard are all things I put on my agenda.
2. Doing things that I enjoy always distract me: during periods of downtime I read as much as I can because I enjoy reading.
3. If I can not organise to see them then at least I make time to talk to my family.
4. I sleep as much as possible: working in a high pressure environment often means sleep deprivation can arise so I use down time from holidays to sleep as much as I can possibly do.

Downtime can be difficult and can lead to the return to old and bad habits. Ensuring that I do things that lead to my down time actually being busy helps me avoid those habits and, by extension, negativity and anxiety that comes from those bad habits.

Now I can not wait for the next public holiday / long weekend / holiday I have: these are times to refresh and enjoy rather than procrastinate and regret. I am sad it took me so long to realise that but I intend to make the most of any downtime in the future.