The ABC of Mental Health for busy people


 By Paul Clifford

It’s no secret that for many of us life is faster and more complex than it’s ever been. This puts extra stress on us which means we have to be in good shape mentally as well as physically.  Here are my five tips for staying in shape mentally when the pressure is on.



Learn your ABC

A is Antecedent (Situation), B is Belief (Our interpretation of the situation) and C is Consequence (our emotional response). As Greek philosopher Epictetus said ‘Man is not troubled by what happens but by his response’. We can choose to interpret a situation in any number of ways and that determines how we feel (our emotions). As an example, if we lose our job we have a choice – we can interpret that as a disaster or an opportunity. The former leads to depressive or anxious feelings, the latter to feelings of hope and potentially excitement.  In my view the most important skill you need to secure mental health is learning the discipline of interpreting events positively rather than negatively.  This takes a commitment to thinking about how we think and consistent practice of reframing our interpretation of events to positive assessments.

Build your resilience resources

Resilience is our ability to bounce back from adversity quickly.  How well we do that is a function of the resources we have at our disposal to help us through any situation.  Utilising the ABC model above is one resource.  Others include developing our assertiveness, cultivating quality relationships, learning how to manage conflict and practicing gratitude, amongst many others. Developing your resilience is like building a wall that can withstand life’s pressures.  They are a set of tools that we use to minimise the negative impacts of stressful situations.

Solve underlying issues

Many of us get anxious or stressed on any given day.  Sometimes the things that stress us aren’t really that important.  In the cold light of day with some perspective we often look back on our response and wonder why we got so worked up over a seemingly trivial issue.  Sometimes what is actually going on is called displacement.  Instead of worrying about something important we focus on something trivial as a way of avoiding the bigger issue.  Could this be what you are doing on occasion?  If there is a big issue you are not facing, as long as you continue to avoid it you are likely to find that your brain will keep finding things to worry about as a substitute.  Sometimes the only way to find peace is to bite the bullet and face the big issue.  It might seem scary at first but what you’ll learn about yourself is likely to be very rewarding, and you’ll free yourself from  repeated worry about the trivial.

Stay in the moment

Mindfulness is all the rage for a reason.  It helps to reduce anxiety and concentrate on solving our most important problems.  The ability to calm our mind and stay in the moment is a discipline similar to the ABC model I mentioned earlier.  It’s not necessarily easy to do though. Our minds often wander and we often feel as if we have little control over it.  Mindfulness is a skill that needs practice but the rewards can be substantial.

Take time out

These days we’re expected to work longer hours and it’s seemingly harder to find quality downtime.  Having the space to re-charge and reflect is seen by many as a luxury but it’s actually a necessity for good mental health and to help us make sense of what has gone on in our lives and to help us make good decisions for the future.   To stay in shape mentally we need a good space of time to separate ourselves from all the chores and the to-do lists and focus in on ourselves, to reflect and to unwind.  Often that means we need to get far away from our ‘normal’ life and get into a new environment where we can truly physically and mentally separate.


As an ad of recent years said ‘Life is like a marathon’ and if we take this analogy we need to be mentally fit to stay the course.  Thankfully these days many of us are taking more of an active interest in our mental health as well as our physical health.  Many of the things we need to do to be mentally healthy we already know about.  But we have to make the commitment to putting them into practice.  Sometimes it’s about having the courage and discipline to put our mental health at the top of our priority list even when things are ok.  When the pressure is on you’ll thank yourself for being ready.



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