The power of positive

THE POWER OF POSITIVE

“We know that everybody will experience grief, sadness, devastation at some point. No one escapes it. It's how quickly you can recover that's so important.”

Katrina Myers is happy to talk candidly about her experiences with loss, anxiety and the importance of taking care of her wellbeing.

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Katrina and her husband Tim operate their avocado farm just outside Barham, a small community in southwest NSW, on her family’s property Horseshoe Bend. It’s quite an idyllic lifestyle, somewhat protected from the current drought.

“For us here, I always feel like we're pretty lucky. It's really nice with the avocados. They're always green and when you see a beautiful green orchard, it sort of shields the drought from you a little bit.

“Drought is something that you just have to cope with as a farmer, but it doesn't mean it's any less challenging when it strikes. I’ve really noticed it this year in our bottom line because we've had to buy water, but also because we run some sheep. It gave me a real sense of how it feels for a lot of other farmers because you're looking out at bare paddocks and you're having to feed them all the time.

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“Because of the work I do on my own mental health and our wellbeing as a family, I feel like we were able to stay hopeful and positive about the future. Our resilience is quite good. We accept that it's a drought. We'll get through it. It will rain again, and we'll be okay.”

Having lost her father to suicide when she was just 15 and having her own mental health issues, Katrina is unapologetic in her commitment to her wellbeing. Her routine includes regular exercise, twice daily meditation sessions and practicing gratitude.

“It's like the whole fitting the oxygen mask on the airplane analogy – you have to look after yourself first.

 “I went through a stage after I had our third child where my mental health started to deteriorate. I was experiencing anxiety and things were affecting me way more than they should have. I was really in a down patch, so I decided that I needed to do something about it, especially with the history of my family. I started seeing a therapist. I started meditating and I did a course on how to change your thought patterns daily.

“I started to open up this whole world of things you could do to look after your mental health and wellbeing. It was so empowering to realise there's so much that you can do. Part of that was learning about gratitude. The research shows that just practicing gratitude daily is so good for our wellbeing and mental health because it puts you in that place where you're in control and thinking about what you have rather than what you haven't got.”

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Katrina’s wellbeing practices have expanded to encompass her family and elements of her community.

Along with teaching her four children about mindfulness and meditation, Katrina introduced her local primary school to the Smiling Mind app.

“Smiling Mind is a really nice way of introducing young people to the idea of meditation in a lovely, contemporary way. It’s so accessible for young kids, so I approached the local school and offered to pay for the program to be implemented.

“The feedback from the teachers is that the kids are more settled after they’ve done the meditation, and the idea is that hopefully they’ll then be in a better place to learn.

“In my opinion, the younger we can get people involved in a conversation around mental health and to start thinking about their own wellbeing and how they might be able to take control of that, the better.

“The hope is that the earlier you do this with kids, it becomes normalised and it's not something that they have to learn as an adult when they have a problem – they have the tool already in their kit.”

This is something Katrina has thought about when reflecting on her own childhood.

 “I feel like wellbeing and mental health was a discovery for me at the age of 33. I was able to cope with Dad’s death but I kind of just soldiered on, and it came crashing down later in life.

“I don't think that people have to hit rock bottom to be able to come out of that. If you've got this toolkit, you will have bad times but it’s a matter of how quickly you can recover from those things. It really makes a difference. You can waste years being sad and miserable or you can choose to get over it a lot quicker.

“It definitely would've helped me if I'd learned those things younger.”

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Sharing positive stories

Part of Katrina’s approach is to share her own story in an attempt to help others.

“I think this drought has been particularly hard on people because it’s come quite quickly after the Millennium Drought. People were still in a little bit of post-traumatic stress, I think.

“The way I’m seeing it play out is that there’s a lot of anger and fear. People want to blame someone. There’s a tension and instability in the community that makes it hard to stay positive. I’ve found that really challenging, because it’s a balancing act to be empathetic to where people are at, but also stay positive.

“We know that human beings have a negative bias, so I want to just flip that around and share as much positivity as I can. Sharing positiveness and having hope are really important to people’s wellbeing.

“That’s why I share my story, because it opens up a conversation. When you hear someone share their story, then maybe you’re more likely to seek help of think about where you’re at in your life.

“For the past year, I’ve worked with Christy O’Brien and Leonie Canham on the Spreading the Good Stuff podcast, where we share our stories and our tips for living a positive life. We interview experts and get their advice. 

“We wanted to start a podcast for regional women about wellbeing and sharing the stories of people who are doing well. It really seems to be resonating with people.

“At the end of the day, I just want to help people. It’s about making sure no one else ends up like Dad.

“I mean, just look around the world. Some of the people in the depths of poverty are happy. So, it’s not really to do with your circumstances. It’s how you view the world.”

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Katrina’s tips for wellbeing:

Look after yourself first. Take responsibility for your own mental health. Make sure your wellbeing is really good so you can support the rest of your family better. Really pay attention to your mental health and work on it continually.

Normalise wellbeing for your kids. Sow the seeds and give them age appropriate tools. Lead by example by showing them how you look after your own mental health. Introduce them to practicing gratitude. Each night at the dinner table we do Best, Worst, Thankful so they think about what they’re grateful for.

Talk in the good times. We should talk about drought and water policy when times are good, and people’s resilience is higher instead of leaving those difficult conversations to when we’re in the depths of drought.

The Australian Government resource Head to Health has digital mental health and wellbeing resources, for yourself or for someone you care about – visit headtohealth.gov.au.

 Anyone who is experiencing a mental health emergency (themselves or others) should call Mental Health Line 1800 011 511, Lifeline 13 11 14 or call 000.

Monica McInnes