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Mental health: On the trail of lightness or dancing, singing, letting go
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Mental health: On the trail of lightness or dancing, singing, letting go

Nora Hille
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Are you also longing for more lightness in your life right now? Because work, private appointments, pressure to perform and stress have taken over? Then I understand you sooooo well and would like to invite you to join me on the trail of lightness in this column.

That’s what it’s all about:

Annual wish and motto lightness

At the end of each year, I ask myself what motto or wish I would like to choose for the next year. For 2023, it was “mental growth”. I already knew at the beginning of last year that my book of encouragement “Wenn Licht die Finsternis besiegt” (“When Light Conquers Darkness“) about dealing with my bipolar disorder would be published in the fall and that I would then start showing my mental illness to the public. After a good 20 years of keeping the disease secret, it was a huge challenge, but one that I was able to grow into more and more. But precisely because of the book publication, last year was also incredibly exhausting for me, so that I slipped into a pronounced state of exhaustion from October onwards.

Perhaps you know what it’s like: just the sight of the computer and the knowledge that I had to boot it up and work on it triggered a deep aversion in me. And when I finally sat at my desk, I was not at all effective, but felt increasingly paralyzed inside. As a result, from October 2023 onwards, hardly anything came easily to me, and I even felt on the verge of a burn-out…

Thoughts heavy as lead  
at night in my dreams
Rocks

(N. Hille)

Recognition of exhaustion

Nevertheless, it took over another month before I was ready to accept my state of exhaustion and allow myself the necessary rest: One day, after I had visited my grandparents for coffee and told them about my state of exhaustion, which had been going on for weeks, I suddenly had this very thought as I was driving home:

It’s okay to be exhausted.

… and I felt a radical acceptance and immediate relief!

Yes, it’s okay if we feel exhausted. And I believe that precisely this “okay”, when we finally give it to ourselves internally, can be the turning point:

  • No more struggling with all the things that don’t work right now.
  • No longer putting yourself under pressure and forcing yourself to perform as you would in normal times.

Look instead:

  • What is good for us right now.
  • What works and what doesn’t.
  • Take a deep breath.
  • Allow us to take breaks.
  • Trust that the strength will return if we accept our exhaustion.

As achievement and self-discipline were always “THE recipe” for me, even in the most difficult times of my life, especially for surviving trauma, and I had always forced myself to persevere for decades, this new acceptance made me very happy.

So once again: yes, it’s okay to be exhausted. It’s okay if you feel exhausted at the moment.

Have possible physical causes checked

If the fatigue lasts longer, a visit to the family doctor’s practice is necessary to rule out physical causes. This is because mental exhaustion may be caused or exacerbated by physical causes.

For example, a blood count can provide information about a possible iron or vitamin D or B12 deficiency, both of which can lead to states of exhaustion. Unhealed infections, incorrect thyroid values or hidden inflammations can also be detected with medical help and treated appropriately. The GP practice is also the first port of call for the diagnosis of possible depression, which can manifest itself as a state of exhaustion.

Allow yourself to retreat and take breaks…

Mental health: Lightness
Photo: fizkes – shutterstock

Now is the time to make a conscious decision to take more breaks in everyday life. If you don’t (yet) need to take sick leave, you can reduce your workload by reducing overtime, working flexible hours, setting up working time accounts and – if you’re not self-employed – having a confidential discussion with your line manager. In addition to the normal lunch break, it is a good idea to interrupt work more often for short breaks, which can be supported with physical exercises. (For example, a regular reminder from your cell phone alarm clock/app or screensaver can be helpful in establishing a new habit).

For family and other social contacts, now is also a good time to take a close look at what supports you and does you good. Temporary withdrawal from stressful or very demanding relationships can provide relief, as can a reduced leisure program.

But beware: as important as it is to take breaks and socialize when necessary, if you are very exhausted, you have to be careful not to slip into a downward spiral and depression. The downward spiral here means that listlessness and a depressed mood reinforce each other. The homepage of the German Depression Aid Foundation states: “… Withdrawal, however, leads to a loss of activity. The lack of social contact, stimulation and impulses from outside then further intensifies the depressive mood. The result is an even greater withdrawal with an even greater loss of contact, which can end in total isolation and passivity.”1

… but also use the upward spiral

Instead, it is advisable to use the so-called upward spiral in addition to withdrawal and breaks, even in cases of pronounced exhaustion, and thus try to gradually achieve a new form of balance. After all, action and thought are always closely linked: if, for example, you activate yourself to go for walks in nature, meet up with loved ones in a pleasant atmosphere or take care of your body and perhaps enjoy a bit of wellness, these actions can have a positive effect on your thoughts and mood and thus also gradually reduce your state of exhaustion or possible depression.

This can be very challenging, especially at the beginning:

  • Getting up even though you’d rather stay in bed.
  • Meeting up with friends even though you’d rather be alone.
  • Doing sport, even if you don’t really have the energy for it.

Such changes take time and patience. But it’s worth sticking with it – it often gets easier with time. And that almost brings us back to the word and attitude to life “lightness”.

Ideas and examples for more lightness

There are activities that involve the whole body, can have a particularly positive effect on our mood and help us to recharge empty batteries and find our way back to lightness. What suits us best is individual. But right now I’m thinking particularly of:

  • Dancing or sport and exercise
  • Singing

… and carried out a small self-test as part of the NATURALLY column.

Dancing: Discofox dance course

Draughtswoman Anja Schröder conjures up a smile on the face of the viewer with her quick and light sketchnotes, often crooked and lopsided. More: https://www.sketchiesbyanja.de (Drawing: Anja Schröder)

Because I had so much fun dancing disco fox with my husband again after a long time at a friend’s birthday party at the end of 2023, I came up with the idea that we could give each other a dance class for Christmas to brush up on our rusty skills. No sooner said than done: from the beginning of the year, we hit the dance floor every Sunday and realized that we were being challenged both physically and in terms of concentration.

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The music, the nice company and the great atmosphere meant I had a permanent honey cake horse grin on my face while dancing. And although I didn’t associate it with the dance class at first, I regained more and more of my energy over the course of January. When I realized the connection, I thought to myself that I could try other activities for more lightness.

The influence of music on our mood

Music can strengthen our mental health wonderfully, because it can give us joy, comfort, relax, activate or make us dream. Even the slightly off-key warbling in the shower in the morning sweetens our start to the day.

Even cows feel more comfortable and give more milk when they are exposed to their favorite music: Psychologists at the University of Leicester played music of various genres to over 1,000 cows for nine weeks as part of a representative study in 2001. The result was fascinating: with slow music (less than 100 beats per minute), the cows produced three percent more milk per day than on music-free days. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge over troubled water” and Lou Reed’s “A perfect day” proved to be absolute chart toppers. Fast music with more than 120 beats per minute, on the other hand, significantly reduced the amount of milk. 2

Music (listening to it or playing it yourself) also significantly improves mental health in humans. Well-being and quality of life increase, which is used in music therapy, for example, and has also been proven by studies: In 2022, J. Matt McCrary, Eckart Altenmüller, Clara Kretschmer and others investigated this in their meta-analysis “Association of Music Interventions With Health-Related Quality of Life. A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis” 26 studies from various countries including Australia, the UK and the USA. Among other things, it states “… music interventions are associated with clinically significant changes in mental health-related quality of life (HRQOL).” 3

Singing: Early Bird Choir

Years ago, I used to sing in the choir in the evenings and always had a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it became impossible for me at some point due to my chronic mental illness, as I could no longer sleep at night afterwards. I had known for some time that we had a morning choir at the Kulturtreff. Since I’m retired for health reasons and can freely organize my work as an author, I really wanted to try it out now.

I went there “for a taster” before Easter and was warmly welcomed. The mostly easy-to-learn, cheerful songs made it possible for me to sing along from the very beginning. I’ve now been there five times and I’m a permanent member. And yes: I really enjoy singing together every time!

Letting go of performance thinking

Drawing: Anja Schröder

However, on my journey “on the trail of lightness”, I realized that there is a huge inner obstacle that wants to nudge me back in at any time, and that is my pronounced performance orientation. So today I had the thought that I wasn’t allowed to go to choir because I urgently needed to write this column and an article. In the spirit of the saying “First the work, then the pleasure.” And if the work isn’t done, the pleasure will probably have to be canceled… I used to think like that almost all the time and then acted self-defeatingly.

But this time the spontaneous thought popped into my head: “But I enjoy the choir so much. And it’s precisely this aspect that gives me the strength and lightness to tackle my tasks afterwards!” And *trumpet toot*: I went to choir this morning and am now sitting at my PC in the afternoon working on this column.

But more than that: when I realized that my performance mindset can quickly get in the way of my desire for more lightness, I decided to simply leave out various other aspects I had planned for this edition of the column and possibly take them up as separate topics in the future.

Because this column is called “On the trail of lightness ” – a title that describes a journey that I have only just begun and for which I still have plenty of time in 2024 as part of my annual motto “Lightness”. And if I want, even longer… But I can already feel it, this wonderful new lightness, and I can let it flow into another haiku, a three-line poem in the Japanese tradition, for you at the end:

Fly with the wind
upward beloved soul
so light and liberated

(N. Hille)

About the author

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Nora Hille was born in 1975, is happily married and has two children. She studied history, literature and media studies, worked in communications/public relations for 12 years and has now retired for health reasons. Today she writes articles on the topics of mental health and mental illness as a sufferer and experience expert. She also writes literary essays, poems (preferably haikus) and short prose. She regularly publishes her mental health column here at FemalExperts Magazine and is Editor of eXperimenta - the magazine for literature, art and society. Anti-stigma work is close to her heart: she is an encourager at Mutmachleute e.V. and is committed to Anti-Stigma-Texts against the stigmatization (exclusion) of the mentally ill in our society for more togetherness, tolerance and equality. In autumn 2023 her book "When Light Defeats Darkness" will be published by Palomaa Publishing. A book of encouragement about how to live a good and rich life despite bipolar illness - and the enormous challenge that this means every day for the inner balance of those affected.

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