Wellbeing & Mental Health Matters: Circuit Breaker

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In our weekly spot on the Film Stories site where we chat about mental health and wellbeing, a few words about a different type of circuit breaker.

Hello and welcome to Wellbeing Matters, pull up a chair, and please help yourself to a virtual hug. This week, we’re pondering circuit breaking.

A circuit breaker is a device used to prevent electronics from going haywire. It’s designed to stop activity when a fault is detected, preventing overload. In short, it puts an actual break on bad stuff happening by creating a gap through which the problem falls.

The term is being bandied about a lot right now, by politicians, the media and health professionals. Without getting into the politics of it all, let’s perhaps think about how the concept of a circuit break may be helpful, not just in relation to current events, but in application to ourselves as individuals.

Take harmful behaviours. There are campaigns run at various points of the year, such as Dry January that aim to inject a break in our harmful habits. Dry months target alcohol consumption, where people are invited to step back and look at their intake and perhaps take a conscious decision to have a break or lower how much they consume.

There is no judgement here about anyone who has a drink to help them through dark times. To help them relax, unwind. There’s something magical about that first glug of wine from the bottle, the sharpness of the fruit hitting your throat as you take your first sip. That feeling of relaxation seeping into your tired bones and muscles as you finish the first glass. I get it.

It’s when it becomes more than an infrequent break and more of  a regular crutch that you might want to consider breaking that chain. It doesn’t need to be for a themed month or a defined period of time. It can just be a quiet pledge to yourself, to have a break, to try to wake a couple of days a week with a clear head.

You can apply this concept to any bad habit. I’m guilty of having my tablet on my knee from dawn to dusk, and sometimes beyond. Constantly doom scrolling or playing mindless games that I started doing a while ago because it calmed the white noise in my head when I lay down to sleep. Now the solution has become a problem in itself.

I’m anxious, twitchy in bed. Fighting sleep to play just one more game. The white noise has gone from a whisper to a roar, and my eyes are popping like onions from my skull. Playing exacerbates the pain, and yet I go back to it obsessively. It has gotten so bad that this weekend I shoved the tablet in a drawer, shut it and went out for a walk in the rain. Got soaked to the skin. It was amazing. Each raindrop felt like energy bouncing into me, a soggy circuit booster. Helped me to reconnect with what my body needs, as opposed to what my brain craves. The tablet is staying in the drawer for a bit.

A rain-soaked circuit boost won’t work for everyone. But instead of looking only at behaviours we might want to stop or reduce, we could also look at more positive behaviours we could start or amplify. Like getting out and walking (while observing local restrictions where appropriate).

Have you stopped doing something that gave you pleasure or an emotional boost over the past year? Is there something that would give you pleasure and that you could safely restart, moving towards winter? I realise there is much we may not be able to do, such as regular cinema visits or visiting our loved ones. What is there we can do to insulate our circuits, prevent the sparks from turning into explosions?

Example. I twigged the other day that since the original lockdown began, I’ve stopped wearing jewellery. Just a little thing, on the surface. Deeper down it’s a symptom of not seeing the days as being worth dressing up for. I’m not talking Mr T level bling here, just a bracelet and pendent, but it’s stuff that makes me feel ready for facing the world. Time to start again.

Whether we need a circuit break or a circuit boost, I hope that you find something to carry you through the dark nights ahead. Take care, everyone.

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