Tuesday 16 October 2018

How to be happy: Decide

In her five-part series, the psychologist teaches us how to calm our minds and make positive choices

Dr Claire Hayes, a consultant psychologist and clinical director with mental health charity Aware. Photo: Damien Eagers
Dr Claire Hayes, a consultant psychologist and clinical director with mental health charity Aware. Photo: Damien Eagers

Dr Claire Hayes

The phrase, ‘I used to be indecisive, but now I am not sure’, might apply to many of us. We are bombarded with so many choices, it can be very difficult to know which one to finally decide on.

For anyone who experiences FOMO — the fear of missing out — making decisions can be even harder. Have you ever made your mind up to do something, only to change it soon afterwards? Some decisions are not really important. Few people agonise for hours about whether to wear the blue or the red socks! Other decisions might cause us some discomfort if we make the ‘wrong’ one. Think of someone deciding not to bring a raincoat to a football match on the basis there was not a cloud in the sky, only to regret that decision as the rain steadily pours down sometime later.

 Making what we consider to be the ‘right’ decision can cause extreme stress to us, as well as to the people who watch us agonise. What if we make a mistake? What if we make the wrong decision? What if we buy the wrong house, fall in love with the wrong person, end up in the wrong job? Susan Jeffer’s idea that there is no such thing as a wrong decision is an interesting one. In her book, Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway’, she describes people as having the ability to turn any decision into something that is right or something that is wrong.

The decision to prioritise our health is a key decision. We tend to know what is good for us and often it is not what we have learned to like. The temptation is to choose on the basis of what we like, rather than what is good for us. People who smoke are probably a good example, but non-smokers can choose to harm themselves by what they choose to eat or drink. We make so many decisions every day, they may seem automatic or as if we have no choice.

 We know instinctively if we eat only sausages and chips for a full week, we will feel stodgy. Our skin may well break out in spots and if we continue on that diet indefinitely, we are heading for health difficulties such as obesity, diabetes, heart attack and even premature death. 

Too many of us may not know instinctively that constantly berating ourselves for being stupid enough to have made the wrong decision can be even more damaging to our mental health.

The decision to prioritise our mental health is another key decision. It requires us to choose self-compassion over self-blame; self-understanding over self-accusations and self-respect over self-hatred. It also requires us to ask for and take support. Prioritising our mental health benefits ourselves, our families, our friends, our colleagues and our society.

 Could any decision be more important?

Dr Claire Hayes is a consultant psychologist and clinical director with mental health charity Aware, which provides nationwide support, education and information services around depression and bipolar disorder. Register online now at fitmagazine.ie for the 11th Annual Aware Christmas Run which takes place on Saturday, December 10 in the Phoenix Park, Dublin.

Irish Independent

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