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Learning to understand your mind
Learning to understand your mind with Anna Birchall of Moon Turtle
Moon Turtle is a book of guided daily journaling, designed to nurture mental wellness through learning about how the user works, and by encouraging wellness-creating actions and thoughts in a compassionate way.
Moon Turtle came out of a solution to a need in two areas of Anna’s life. Anna, the creator of Moon Turtle needed to design a book during her studies at University, and at the same time was looking after her mental health. Anna took charge of her own journaling in this time and found an approach that really worked for her, noting everything down that was happening in her life. Using the mind - body connection as a driver.
It was here that the spark was lit. Being a raging stationary enthusiast, Anna decided to turn her well loved, hand-stitched notebooks into a structured journal and so, Moon Turtle was born.
Moon Turtle is based around the idea that there’s no one single thing that will create mental wellness. How did you discover this, was this through your own journey?
Johann Hari’s work talks about humans having needs (social, physical, nutritional, purpose, connection, nature etc) and we feel ‘off’ (anxious/depressed/down) when more of those needs are unmet than met, we feel wobbly in our minds, and 'icky' in our bodies.
These were the exact words that made all of my experience with mental illness and health make sense. When I’m feeling off, I can ask myself, “what do I need right now?” Emotions are our bodies and minds communicating their needs.
In my experience, medication and fortnightly talk therapy was the prescribed therapy plan to manage mental illness. Which kept me alive… but that's about it. Through Moon Turtle, I started paying attention to the cycles, patterns and rhythms that made me feel good, and those that made me feel bad. Thoughts, feelings and actions don't happen in isolation, they all influence each other.
For example, if I didn't get enough sleep, I noticed that the next day, my mood would be worse, I would tend to eat less nourishing food, which would make me feel physically sluggish, and I wouldn't feel like moving or going outside, seeing friends, or studying, and my thoughts would be dark and affirm that I was in a dark place.
When I noticed this, I flipped the cycle as an experiment starting with just getting enough sleep. When I was well-rested, I felt more inclined.
It's like physical health—you can't just eat spinach and you feel good. You have to eat well more often than you don't, you have to get enough sleep, and do some exercise here and there.
It also takes doing the things that make you feel good consistently—you don't go to the gym once and become fit. You go consistently—not too often, not too seldom, and progressively, you build up your strength, endurance, and fitness.
Building your mental health isn't dissimilar.
When I added in things, I'd notice the cyclical nature, or domino effect. For example, I started doing yoga mid-last year, and it was the catalyst for so much positive change! After going consistently for about two months, I noticed that I slept better, I felt more grounded, productive and creative at work, my body felt inclined towards more nourishing foods. I felt more at home inside my body and mind. By focusing on doing just one single thing consistently, I had experienced a really natural jump in my baseline which made it easier to do the other things that supported my wellness.
Have you found Moon Turtle has helped you personally and others in your life?
The groovy thing about Moon Turtle is that it doesn't tell you what to do, but provides guidance and encourages introspection towards the things that can influence how you think and feel.
I found that when I used Moon Turtle to learn about how my mind and body work, the bad patches slowly became shorter and further apart. By understanding the self-destructive cycles I habitually engaged in, over time I was able to intercept them.
Moon Turtle isn't just for people who have mental illness either. Everyone has good days and bad days. In patches that are below baseline, I pick up a Moon Turtle as a grounding and nourishing ritual in my day that supports mental wellness and gets me back into the swing of things.
What are some quick tools for someone who is looking for better mental wellness?
There's a really strong link between the mind and the body through the vagus nerve, which runs up our spine to the base of our brain, and messages get sent along nerve between the two. There are things that we can do that will encourage more positive messages to the body from the brain, and from the brain to the body.
And everyone will have experienced this two way street—we've all felt hangry, when your physical hunger for food makes you feel grumpy, or if you feel anxious and your shoulders hunch up and your chest feels tight.
So some things you can do to send positive messages from the body to the brain —
Make space and time in your night for enough sleep.
Make space and time in your day for movement of some kind. It doesn't have to be F45 or you're wasting your time—done is entirely better than perfect. A walk around the block, some stretches, a yoga class, dancing, whatever you can do.
Eat nourishing foods
The neurotransmitters that we experience as 'feelin' good' require nutrients from the food we eat.
And to support positive messages being sent from the brain to the body—
Set an intention or purpose for the day
When you feel down it can be really easy to lose sight of what's even the point…and sometimes there is no point unless you make one. Pick a purpose in the morning—could even be to shower, or to laugh, to see a friend, to experience connection, or something bigger. Depends how you feel. It doesn't need to stretch you, pick something gentle and attainable.
Journaling creates space to connect with your thoughts and feelings. When it’s in your head, it can feel very soup-like. But just writing it down can have this incredible power of clarity.
But underpinning all of these, and what has allowed better access to these tools, is working on offering myself endless amounts of compassion and patience. It can be a really long and slow journey, and you'll mess up along the way—we all do—but we'll overcome these hurdles faster when we don't berate ourselves for running into them. Hearing ‘you’ll never bully yourself into a version of yourself you love,’ was a monumental perspective shift for me.
Note: I have to acknowledge that mental health, and mental illness is extremely personal and multifaceted. I’m just sharing what has been significant in my journey, and that exact formula won’t be the same for anyone else. But within our journeys, there is always some overlap, and sharing holds incredible power for hope, and for working towards what works for each unique person and their set of circumstances.
You can purchase a journal for yourself or a loved one HERE.
Words by Sustainability & Wellness Writer, Tennille Mia.