“Mental Health doesn’t wait for an appointment,” Peerhear’s founder Pete Burge always says. It’s the realisation that drove him to set up the online peer support service in the first place. And the inspiration behind the Peerhear Principles.
Getting back life’s guide rails
You could think of the 10 Principles of Peerhear as a framework for a productive and purposeful life. They’re influenced by Pete’s observation that spiritual emptiness is a common factor in feelings of anxiety, chaos and loss by many these days. “Years ago spirituality of one kind or another was a strong factor in kids’ upbringing, serving as guide rails and a moral compass. It was easy to move around in that framework because you knew the rules. You knew what was expected of you. When those guide rails are removed like bumpers in a bowling alley - as they often are in today’s dual-income families - it’s confusing and much harder to stay on course.”
You could also think of The Principles as wellness controls that you can adjust to improve your mental health as you journey through life. While the concept of peer support is having someone there to help you through your darkest days, there are several actions you can take to help yourself in between.
“The path back to mental health isn’t a straight one,” says Pete. “There are times when you feel you’re getting nowhere or going backwards. That’s when you go back to The Principles - your true north - to find out what you can adjust to get back on track."
Principle 1. Routine
Win the morning, win the day. That’s what they say, isn’t it? And, not without good reason. This principle is the most important in some ways, as missing your morning routine can throw your whole day into a completely different vibe. Some like to run at 6 am or go to the gym before making a healthy breakfast. Whatever your routine, make sure it leaves you prepared to show up well for the day.
“Routine is a big one for me,” says Pete. “Just recently I was getting terrible sleep and I stopped doing my morning exercise. Day after day went by and not following my routine became my new routine. Six weeks on and my healthy diet had fallen by the wayside. I was starting to disconnect in other areas of my life. I went from thriving to surviving. I needed to press reset on my daily routine. I called on a friend to help me be accountable for leaving the house to exercise every morning and quickly regained control.”
Principle 2. Prioritise Life
How many times have you had that thought that things would be better if only you had time to exercise/see people/focus on getting mentally well? Guess what? When you don’t have time, that’s the right time to make time! Stepping outside of the things that weigh you down to do the things that lift you up is critical. Think of the things that make you happy as pebbles. Everything else is sand and your life is the jar. If you fill your jar with sand, you are not getting any pebbles in there. All you have at the end of the day is a jar full of sand. Put the pebbles in first though and the sand fits right around it! That’s why scheduling the things that make you happy first is the right way to plan your day.
Principle 3. Meditate
Meditation is about learning how to calm yourself and gain more control in your day today. 10 minutes, first thing or before you go to bed, is all it takes to feel the power of this principle. Practiced over time, meditation teaches you to face life’s obstacles with calm and resilience. Studies of people who have practiced meditation over years show physical changes in their brain in the areas controlling stress and anxiety (Afonso et al. 2020). You can’t argue with science! Another huge thumbs up for meditation is that it helps you sleep well. Which brings us nicely onto our next principle.
Principle 4. Healthy Sleep Habits
How hard is it not to fall asleep with a phone in your hand and check social media the minute your eyes open! You wouldn’t think screen time would be among your big addiction battles, right? It can be! Getting serious about shutting down your access to screens at least 30 minutes before you sleep will help you sleep better. If you are going to use your phone for anything, use it to play calming sounds for your last 30 minutes before going to sleep. “I like the Calm app. I fall asleep to anything from music to thunderstorms,” says Pete.
Principle 5. Be of Service
Wait a minute. That sounds like responsibility. How can it take pressure away? Turning to science again, there’s proof it does exactly that. The dopamine effect of selflessly helping someone is known as a ‘helper’s high’ according to this article on research by The Rotman Research Institute. We get off on making other people happy, literally! Dopamine aside, we are hardwired to connect with others. And, when we build strong relationships by asking ourselves what value we can bring to every interaction with another person, our soul is satisfied.
Principle 6. Nourish Yourself
I could have written ‘eat well’. It’s not the same. Nourishing yourself is not only about eating enough, but eating the food that helps your body thrive. It’s like choosing premium fuel in a regularly serviced car. It’s going to run better and last longer. Put the wrong fuel in the tank? You could break down. Need I say more? Junk food really is just that. Junk. Sometimes it’s nice though right? As long as it doesn’t become a habit though!
Principle 7. Read
Read what? Books. The sports pages. Anything! Well almost anything, maybe not social media. Ever notice that successful, happy people are always talking about something they just read? It’s because they’re constantly reading. Reading calms your mind. It increases empathy from experiencing others’ viewpoints. It helps you relate to more people… by experiencing others’ viewpoints. And, it staves off dementia. This article: “Keep Reading to Keep Alzheimer’s at Bay” brings forward research from Rush University Medical Center showing the incredible powers of preservation of staying mentally active.
Principle 8. Exercise
Admit it, you knew this one was coming. There’s no doubt that exercise comes easy to people who feel great. For those who feel average, or below, pulling on some running shoes feels like climbing a mountain. But it’s worth it. For a million reasons. OK, for at least three. First, one of the enemies of poor mental health is inertia. We stay in. Move less. Maybe stay in bed. And, for every day we do that, it’s harder to get started again. On the other hand, when we move, even just for ten minutes every day, we jumpstart our metabolism and those much-needed endorphins kick in. If we go outside, we get all the vitality benefits of breathing in nature. I like to say, “you never regret a run!”
Principle 9. Check in on Someone
No person is an island. (Not one of our sayings, but mindfully adopted from seventeenth-century author John Donne). It’s true. Connections are so important. At Peerhear we believe it with all our hearts, which is why we dedicate ourselves to matching you with peers just like you. But here’s the thing. Growing self esteem comes from doing esteemable things. And that means checking on others as well as looking after yourself.
Principle 10. Journal
Last but not least, the tenth principle of Peerhear is to journal. Writing down all your thoughts, negative and positive, untangles them in your head. It makes sense of them. Journaling makes you self aware and reflective. You can only improve if you know what you’re dealing with. Developing the habit of writing down things that have made you smile or feel grateful during the day can give you a welcome shift of perspective. Journaling last thing at night can even help with insomnia. Those thoughts that hunt you down when you’re trying to rest? Write them down and rip out the page, if you want to. Just free them from your head instead of taking them to bed.
Tools not rules.
We hope you’ve found reading these principles useful. The thing to remember is these are tools for helping you power up in tough times. Not rules that you have to live by. Don’t persecute yourself for forgetting to do them. If you are doing one or two, that’s good. Five or six is excellent! Our hope is that these will give you the means to take action and get back on the road to mental health the next time you can feel yourself coming apart.