'We need to take care of our minds just like we do our bodies' – Limerick monk

Glenstal Abbey'sk Fr Simon Sleeman shares his thoughts on mental health

Fr Simon Sleeman, of Glenstal Abbey


Fr Simon Sleeman, of Glenstal Abbey

Fr Simon Sleeman, of Glenstal Abbey

Fr Simon Sleeman, of Glenstal Abbey

MOVING into the New Year can provide many challenges for me. 

After the excitement of Christmas, it is easy for my mood to dip. Still more shopping offered as the only solution - those hypnotic sales….. 

One thing that startles me is my lack of understanding of mental hygiene, especially what to do in these down moments. I am not bad at looking after my physical health. I exercise, eat reasonably healthy foods, I go for a check up every six months but I rarely check on my mental health or indeed my spiritual health. I accept the dips as inevitable. “Oh you are feeling depressed”, “pull yourself together”, ‘”t’s all in your head”, may still be the best advice I offer myself. 

But just as our physical health is not one hundred per cent at all times - we get colds, stomach bugs - so our mental health is not one hundred per cent all the time. We experience psychological ups and downs, cuts and colds and we need to take care of our minds just like our bodies. 

But then no one ever taught me about maintaining mental hygiene. All attention was focused on my physical hygiene - I was taught to brush my teeth (not very well says my dentist) wash my hands and cover a cut so it didn’t become infected.   

How is it we spend more time taking care of our teeth then we do our minds I ask myself? Why is our physical health is so much more important to us than our mental health? 

If my doctor tells me to go to the gym for half an hour a day, I have little hesitation doing it but if someone suggests I take thirty minutes quiet time every day - to ensure my mind and spirit are healthy - I hesitate and do nothing. I find it hard to get time to sit still or go for a walk or unplug from technology and yet this is probably more fundamental to my overall health than walking that treadmill. 

In the old days, copy books had margins at the side of the page -  a space, kept blank -  reserved for the teacher’s comments or marks. 

These were dreaded spaces as my teachers comments were not always complimentary. Today I view margins differently - I know I need them in my day, in my week - times and spaces preserved, kept free of busyness, spaces and times where I can rest a while and regain my balance - let my spirit catch up with me.  

There is a story about an American, who went to explore Africa in the 1800s. He was in a hurry and hired three African porters  to carry his belongings. For three days they raced ahead and at the end of the third day, the Africans sat down and refused to go on. The American urged them to get up explaining the pressure he was under to reach his destination. They still refused to move. He eventually offered them cash but still no good. He was perplexed. Finally he got one of the Africans to tell him what was going on. The African porter pulled him aside and said: “We have moved too quickly to reach here; now we need to sit and wait and give our spirits time to catch up with us.”  

This New Year let us give our spirits a chance to catch up with us, look after our mental and spiritual health as well as our physical health - create margins in our days and weeks just for ourselves and we can make comments too. But please - encouraging ones only!