Book Review: Sane by Emma Young

Emma Young embarked on a well being journey for her book Sane. She explored what we can do to be less stressed and more mentally strong, whatever that means. Throughout the book many different stances are proposed as to what it means to be mentally strong. Throughout her journey, Young interviews ex-military personnel, professors of various disciplines in medicine, psychiatry and psychology as well as yogi’s, friends, and anyone who may have an inkling to the answer of how to achieve elusive holy grail of a clear mind, patience of a saint and an even temper in the most outraging of situations.

In the introductory chapter, Young outlines very clearly that she doesn’t suffer from any diagnosed mental illness, and that this journey has been embarked upon by someone more worn down by every day stresses, rather than someone facing a mental health condition. The list is very long about what Young is not, and what she is: an every day woman, mother and wife trying to feel less frayed, less snappy, less stressed and  more able to juggle all of life’s challenges more efficiently is a powerful place from which to start. From the offset Young is very relatable, and her daily difficulties very common amongst the average British household.

Many of the tools explored are also used and advised to those with mental illness too, although in less of a magical cure sort of fashion and more in a helpful maintenance or coping tool. The areas covered and explored throughout the book include: mindfulness, exercise, nutrition, sleep, stoicism, spirituality and faith, mental toughness methods addressing self-talk, and mindset in the face of adversity, using your senses and essentially, how to utilise each skill.

Many of these areas have been researched on healthy individuals as well as individuals with mental illness, so reading the book was a bit of an information digging sort of read on my behalf. There seemed to be some areas in here that I hadn’t addressed or come across in my journey to constantly  get better from my mental illness difficulties. Stoicism for example, is a stance I hadn’t heard of. To be copletely honest I wasn’t even sure what was meant by stoicism. I thought it was a blast to the past of the keep calm and carry on mantra, which in an essence it is, but it is slightly different.

One method that I thought I could really take home for myself was dosage exposure to the outside of my comfort zone. In doing so,, it is explained, that you learnt to adapt and therefore wind up expanding your comfort zone and tools for dealing with challenges that may arise. Thinking back to the progress I’ve made in the last 5-6 years and looking over what made me get a bit better than I was before, a key feature is the consistent and gradual pushing of the edges of my comfort zone.

Initially this occurred with eating whilst recovering from my ED, then with dealing with everything the ED numbed me to, then going out and interacting with people then, well, the list just goes on. On particular area of interest that is highly relatable is learning how to manage your relationship with food and diet.

Although there was no clinical eating disorder in Young, however, a constant and chaotic relationship with food and yo-yo dieting was hinted at throughout the book as a constant factor of anguish in Young’s life. It is very true when Young suggests that with practice, utilising techniques in order to avoid sugary treats and all the temptations we are bombarded with to gorge our faces on unhealthy foods in every direction does get easier with time. From my experience as well, at first dietary changes are very difficult, because you are breaking a habit that occurs multiple times on a daily basis but with practice and repetitive behaviour of new habits, it does get easier- Young reports a similar experience.

I think this is true for any habit you are trying to develop, change or stop. However, with eating the ease of change can be seen quicker because it is a habit with which we must engage with multiple times a day. This makes it both harder and easier in different ways.

There are many valuable insights revealed throughout Young’s journey on her quest to be less frazzled, less stressed and more able to deal with life head on, whilst being switched on and if possible, attain some level of zen in the process. At the end of the book Young summarises the areas of exploration in a rank of importance measured by perceived positive effect.

I won’t spoil the last chapter, but I found it a very valuable read for pointing out and suggesting new areas to think about in regards to building psychological strength and resistance within myself. My one criticism would be the amount of side tracked waffle of unnecessary information throughout the book. I found that quite irritating throughout the book because it generally disrupted the flow of information throughout the book. However, for the quality of the content over that of style, I would reccomend this is a worthwhile read if you fancy exploring developing your mental strength.

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The Puzzle of Movement: Find Your Mind

Work On Your Mind

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It is your biggest barrier and your biggest tool to self realisation and achieving fitness goals is your mind. I’ve said it a few times and I’ll say it again, physical activity and incorporating it into your life can be just as much an emotional and mental challenge as it is physical. Sometimes, you may find yourself stopping mid activity because you think you can’t push any further.

Practice pushing your own self limitations and step a little out of your comfort zone. I challenge you, and see what happens. You may shock yourself. I have certainly shocked myself a number of times.

Find Something You Enjoy

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Don’t vow to run 4 times a week if the magic of running hasn’t struck you. I would encourage persevering for a month or two with any activity to see if it grows on  you, but if you’re really not feeling it, try something else. Try getting on your bike, or swimming a few lengths, or an exercise class – of which the variety just keeps on expanding.

Who knows what classes we’ll be attending in 5 years time like we’ve been needing it all our life. I don’t particularly like group exercise classes, so don’t really go or seek to go to them – but for others, they’re a staple to their weekly schedule. Dip your toes in many ponds before diving in completely, getting all the kit and making a plan that you won’t stick with because you’re not enjoying it.

Enjoy Yourself

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I’ll tell you a secret – you’re allowed to have a bloody good time whilst working out. You’re allowed to laugh, smile and make friends. All of which help in keeping activity as part of your routine and daily life. Have fun – some of the best times I’ve had, and the best people I have met has been via exercising, and not getting wasted in a club or pub a few times a week: conversely to popular belief.

Do It For a Reason You Believe In

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Sometimes we need a bit of external motivation. Getting up in the morning to run can be a challenge. Dragging your arse to your 6am gym class before a full work day can seem like the last thing you want to do when the alarm goes off at 5.30am, but people do it. Hundreds and thousands of people do it, and they do it regularly.

Maybe they have something that we snooze button pushers don’t have – and I think it is a purpose and belief in what they’re doing. It becomes a passion and something you couldn’t imagine not doing. Passing up a few more drinks past tipsy to get up in the morning and feel alive whilst doing sun salutations may seem a bit alien to you right now, but after a few months of reaping the benefit you may not be able to imagine starting your Monday mornings any other way.

Know Your Goals

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Know what you want from you activity, and reflect on whether you’re getting it – and how to adapt your schedule and habits until you’re getting exactly what you want out of it. When you do this, you’re more likely to stick with it because it becomes important to you, as important as eating every day and sleeping every night.

In my journey I found focusing my why and purpose of exercising beyond achieving a certain body aesthetic, or fitting into a certain clothes size. With these goals, if you achieve them it can feel a bit like “what next?” or you stop once your goal has been achieved and it’s not really become a part of your lifestyle and if you don’t achieve these set goals within a time frame, it can be very disheartening.

Instead, or as well, have a goal that is immeasurable. Are you seeing your friends through your activity? Are you de-stressing from the day and your worries? Are you trying to replace less healthy coping mechanisms? Are you training for an event to raise money for a cause you care for? Take time to notice the benefit you’re gaining. This seems to cement the “I will feel much better after a run” as a solid memory to recall during times of stress or moments of lacking motivation when running feels like that last thing you want to do – or tennis, or gymnastics, or swimming: whatever your activity of choice is.