Expand Your Jar For Improved Mental Health

Today is World Mental Health Day and I wanted to share something with you that I recently learnt about.  This week I finally got around to watching Alistair Campbell’s Horizon programme called Depression and Me.  In it he shares his personal journey with depression and explores ways of managing it.

The last thing in the programme he learns about is a simple metaphor – the jam jar metaphor.  A specialist in Toronto explains it to him as the jam jar is your mental health, problems occur when the jar overflows – maybe depression or OCD etc.

We are all born with genetic factors – the sediment in the jar – the rest of the jar gets filled up with life experiences and environmental factors.  Sometimes the jar fills to overflowing.  Jehannine Austin goes on to explain that the legacy of Sigmund Freud is that we dig around in the stuff at the bottom of the jar thinking that it is the best way to find out what has gone wrong, and how to begin to fix it.  More commonly these days we might see therapists who help us unpick the experiences going in and out of the jam jar life. But both of these approaches presuppose that we can undo what has been done. WE CAN’T. We can’t empty the jam jar, she explained but we can make the jar taller so it can accommodate more environmental or experiential stuff without it getting full’.

Genetic & Environmental/Experiential Factors Filling Your Jar?

Ah ha!!! You can enlarge the jar to help manage your mental health!

In the documentary Alistair goes on to list the things that make his jam jar bigger including family, friends, paid and unpaid work, exercising etc and he thinks that focusing on enlarging his jar is better for him than the various scientific approaches he tries.

The jam jar metaphor clicked with me, not just because I walk this balance in my life, but because as a coach I am always helping people to be happier at work and in their personal lives.  I hadn’t realised it but I often help clients by helping them to enlarge their jars!

On World Mental Health Day why don’t you think about how full your jar is? And if you need to enlarge it, what’s the best way for you to do that?