Maintaining Good Mental Heath
Lessons from the film Groundhog Day
It's not what happens to us but how we react that is important
I doubt the creators of the 1993 film Groundhog Day had any idea of the cult status that their little creation would become, the phrase can even be found in the dictionary.
“a situation in which events that have happened before happen again, in what seems to be exactly the same way”
It is a wonderful comedy, one of my absolute favourites. Bill Murray plays the part of Phil Connor a rather grumpy, self-indulgent man who becomes stuck in a moment in time. He is forced to repeat the same day over and over again. At exactly 6am in the morning he is woken by his radio alarm playing Cher’s “I got you babe.” The events are always the same. Everyone says and does the same thing and only he can do things differently, but the outcome never changes. He remains trapped, he repeats the day over and over until he gets the message, until he changes.
We are all experiencing our own personal Groundhog Days. We continue to be at the beck and call of an enemy that we cannot see and are still learning the rules on how to fight it. If you take nothing else from this little article, then just enjoy the movie but there are 3 ideas from Phil being trapped in a time loop that I would like to share, that have helped me through this time. They all lead to the same intent.
“It’s not what happens to us that is important but what we do next”
2. Getting out of yourself
3. Discover a new passion
This idea of acceptance is not hard to get, but it can be difficult to carry out particularly now as we have lost so much control. This is how I understand acceptance.
If you had a broken arm you wouldn’t carry on trying to use it as normal, you couldn’t because its broken and you can’t change that. You would accept “my arm is broken.” You might have the thought “I really don’t like this and it’s a major pain coming at this time and will stop me doing so much but I can adapt, I can use my other arm to help me do things that I normally do.” This is acceptance, you are accepting conditions are in place that stop you doing things. You don’t much like it, but they are there, and they cannot be changed, and so you adapt and change to their inevitability.
In the movie when Phil is first trapped in the time loop, he fights it, he goes down the road of excess drinking, overeating, partying exploiting his position. Maybe he does this to hide the anxiety he has about being in this crazy surreal situation. But when he accepts what has happened to him and goes with it, he softens, he changes, he finds ways to enjoy the situation. He even learns new skills and befriends the people he previously couldn’t stand.
Getting out of ourselves
I find at the moment that it’s easy to be caught up in the cosiness and safety of my own bubble. This stabbed at me recently when I heard that my children’s nanny had died. I hadn’t been in touch with her much for a few years. She had sent me a lovely thoughtful text last spring after I was ill myself. I was busy and I replied with a quick thank you and said I will get back to you, but I didn’t. The reality she was already very sick, but yet she was able to write to me and wish me well after my illness. No mention of her own struggles. It was a selfless text bathed in love and care for me and my family. So perhaps the message is to deliberately think about those friends and family members who we think are okay? Are they? How do you know? If they pop into your head maybe call or text them just to check-in. Just because they say they are fine doesn’t mean they are. But it’s easy to send a text or organise a call.
The current situation is out of our control. We can’t change what is happening to us we can only change how we react to it to and how we react to our friends and families.
It’s the same when we are feeling anxious or depressed, we get caught up in a loop where the spotlight of attention is internally focussed. We are immersed in our own thoughts and feelings. If we can find ways to turn this attention away from ourselves to others this can break this cycle. Doing things for other people is a simple way of achieving this. It can take our minds off own problems. It can also put your own circumstances into perspective by realising that there is a lot of good stuff going on compared to others.
In the film Phil had looked down on everyone in the town. Gradually he becomes interested in the town’s people. He becomes obsessed with helping a homeless man. By the end of the movie, he is loved by everyone.
What’s your passion?
Like Phil in Groundhog Day, lockdown has provided us with time to kill and a great opportunity to learn to do something new. We don’t know how long Phil was is stuck in his parallel universe but in the time that he was there he managed to acquire some serious skills; to ice sculpt great blocks of ice, play jazz piano rather proficiently and speak French!
I haven’t done anything like Phil has done, I haven’t learnt a language or learned to play an instrument, but I have, thanks to a great friend re-discovered a love for reading. For my work as a coach/therapist I naturally read a lot as ideas and theories change and evolve. I enjoy doing this, but reading non psychological books has just been a holiday fill-in. Thanks to my lovely friend including me in a book club, and cherry-picking book recommendations for me, I’m devouring books. I am averaging 1-2 a week. What have I sacrificed? Maybe a few TV programmes on Netflix. I now read first thing in the morning and last thing at night. There is light at the end of this horrendous dark tunnel, so in the time left maybe find a new passion or use the time to cultivate a new habit?
- Watch the movie Groundhog Day;
- When we are able accept a difficult situation, it’s easier to move forward;
- Getting out of ourselves and doing things for other people can improve our mood;
- Discover a new passion;
- It’s not what happens to us but what we do next that’s important.
Holli Rubin - Psychotherapy
Directory Member and Psychotherapist Holli Rubin provides individual, couples and family counselling.
If you're homeschooling little ones, have teenagers or adolescents the 2nd session of Consequentially Speaking is one to watch HERE
loveparentlove - Parenting Support
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- 1st/2nd/3rd/4th time parenting
- Sleep (parents and kids!)
- Eating issues
- Transition (returning to work, moving)
- Enuresis (bed wetting)
- Flexible frameworks
- Relational and co-parenting
- Sibling rivalry
- SEN frameworks
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Children's Mental Health Week
Monday 1st February - Sunday 7th February 2021
To mark the start of Children’s Mental Health Week, The Duchess of Cambridge, Patron of Charity Place2Be, has sent a message of support encouraging children and parents to find ways to share their thoughts and feelings, particularly during such a challenging time.
Watch The Duchess of Cambridge's Video Message
During her message, The Duchess highlights the crucial need for parents and carers to look after their own mental wellbeing, and the impact that this has on the children in their care.
With this in mind we asked our friend and colleague Fiona Worthington (DHP, DCH, CBT Coaching Dip) to suggest a coping mechanism for adults during lockdown...
Grounding Exercise 5-4-3-2-1
A resource that uses your own senses for “self-rescue”
Not that I am meeting many people these days, but I have had a few chats on dog walks and zoom with lots of friends and acquaintances. Everyone seems to agree this lockdown is much harder than previous ones. Some of us will be managing okay but for some it will be really hard going, and emotions will be on a roller coaster.
Pre COVID, studies indicate that 70 percent of the global population will have had exposure to one traumatic event, (Benjet.et al 2016). Given the year we have just had this figure is going to skyrocket.
It is perfectly understandable to have feelings of anxiety, depression and anger These are normal and natural reactions to extraordinary events.
The following is a simple approach designed to help us in those moments when we are overwhelmed by thoughts and emotions. It’s a useful resource to cultivate.
Sensory Grounding Exercise
The “54321” is a wonderfully simple but effective grounding tool that can help through difficult moments. With practice it can develop our ability to “self-rescue” or “self-soothe.” It’s not a magical elixir that will solve everything, but it may reduce uncomfortable symptoms and restore some power. Very easy to understand and use. It needs though to be practiced, so that when it’s needed it’s second nature. Anyone can learn this, and it’s great for children as well. It can be used for lots of different situations:
- Panic attacks
I came across this technique whilst assisting on a course. One of the participants had an anxiety attack and quickly left the event to get some air. I asked if I could help? She replied, “do you know the ‘54321 technique.” I had no idea what she was talking about, but she guided me whilst she worked through it. I watched as her symptoms eased, and a sense of calm was restored. I was hooked.
She explained that when we are over-whelmed, we can be consumed by thoughts and feelings that carry us off into either the past or the future. We are stuck in a loop of past or future thoughts that upset us. Either trawling previous hurts or looking to the future and asking “What if’s” over and over again. All of which ramps up our distress levels. When we are present though, we aren’t thinking about the past or future. Our attention is on what is happening right now. The 54321 works by using the senses to lead us back into the present to where we are more grounded.
Begin by checking in with yourself; rate the emotional upset you are experiencing using a scale. Rate the upset out of 10 where 10 is bad and zero is good.
Now move through your 5 senses as follows:
See: Name 5 things you can see
Look around you now for 5 things that you can see, and, if you can, say them out loud. For instance, I see my laptop. I see my dog playing on the rug. I see flowers in the vase. I see a brown cushion on the chair. I see the newspapers folded on the sofa. This is exactly what you see not whether you like it or not.
Touch: Name 4 things you can feel
This time bring your awareness to how things feel to touch. Think of 4 things that you can touch, and notice their sensations, and again if possible, say them out loud. Here are some ideas. I can feel the coolness of the keyboard as I type. I feel my feet touching the cold tiles in my kitchen. I feel the smoothness of an apple in the fruit bowl. If you are somewhere and you can’t say things out loud, then explore items on you. I feel the smoothness of my wedding ring. I feel the warmth of my skin. I feel the denim material of my jeans.
Listen: Name and describe 3 things you can hear
I can hear the keys clicking as I type. I can hear the sound of a plane overhead. I can hear my family moving around upstairs.
Smell: Name and describe 2 things you can smell
This is actually easier than may first appear. I can smell soap or sanitiser on my hands (they are washed enough!) I can smell my own perfume on my clothes. If you are struggling to find something, then move about and go and look for something to smell.
Taste: Name and describe 1 thing that you can taste
Here are some ideas. I can taste the soup that I had for lunch or I can taste my coffee, or it could be the toothpaste from brushing my teeth.
Having completed a round, it’s helpful to check in and rank the emotion again. See what the level is — even if it’s only come down from 9 to a 7, it’s still come down, that’s a 20% progress. This can give you a boost, providing some hope and a sense that you have got some power back. It shows that you can rescue yourself.
I recommend repeating this several times. This can be used for many different situations, but like any exercise it needs to be practiced, so that when you need it its second nature.
Find out more at Fiona Worthington.com - Coach and therapist specialising in anxiety and trauma
Place2Be - Charity
Place2Be is a children’s mental health charity with over 25 years’ experience working with pupils, families and staff in UK schools.
The Charity provides mental health support in schools through one-to-one and group counselling using tried and tested methods backed by research. It also offers expert training and professional qualifications.
Make a donation and find out more about Place2Be and Children's Mental Health Week