Me & My Mental Health - You Are Not Alone
Mental health struggle impacts everyone worldwide. No one is truly excluded from it. And though we are making progress with breaking the stigma, there is always room to improve, be more knowledgeable and create safe spaces.
My mental health struggle began long before I even recognized it for what it was. I've dealt with anxiety and depression, but a lot of us have. Maybe for just a brief time in your life or maybe it still lays heavy on you.
Mental illness is often invisible to the outside world and can show up as so many characters; dwelling on the past, blindly focused on achieving and being busy, crying multiple times a day, inability to concentrate, loss of appetite, and waking up in the middle of the night with a heavy sense or worry, dread and/or panic. And sometimes it appears as physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headaches, or other unexplained aches and pains.
Experiencing poor mental health comes with a series of stages. And it's important to remember that feeling better is not a destination but a continuous journey.
This doesn't mean you suffocate your emotions, on the contrary, unchecked negative emotions do not go away. You’re not fooling anybody by ignoring them, least of all yourself.
Fear, sadness, embarrassment, anger; negative emotions are painful and uncomfortable. It's no wonder we avoid them.
Our instinct is to chase pleasure and happiness. Naturally. The last thing we want is pain and discomfort.
Unfortunately, that’s part of being human and pretending that bad emotions don’t exist or don’t affect us can be detrimental to our mental health.
The good news is that there are ways to cope with all of this but it requires you to acknowledge the emotion and to observe it. That’s the problem. These emotions have been built up into scary monsters that we would rather avoid.
Think about your negative emotions as a tool or information. They actually have a purpose. They are trying to steer you in a purposeful direction. They are our mind’s way of telling us that we need to shift our behaviors, patterns or focus.
The way to good mental health isn't a one-way ticket to happiness, the path is never linear. And of course happiness is great. The problem, though, starts when it is the only emotion we will accept.
The pursuit of happiness can become a trap. When we feel it, we expect it to stay forever. When it doesn’t, it feels like a betrayal.
We look at negative emotions as an interruption to our happiness. And yes our our goal is to feel at least a little less negative emotion. But when we accept the negative emotions and even welcome them the same way we do positive emotions, they are easier to release.
It’s okay to feel bad. There is nothing wrong with you if you feel sadness. You are not broken if you feel shame or guilt. Feeling negative emotions is a necessary part of the human experience.
Both joy and suffering are inevitable. Putting suffering off is like handing it the keys to your life as you give it the power to control you.
Now let's put those keys back into your hands. Obviously there's no one way to do this and I'm far from being an expert but let's see if there's something that might help you going forward.
The term mindfulness refers to a way of thinking and being that allows you to become objectively aware of the feelings, thoughts, and sensations within your body.
When participating in mindfulness activities, you are able to step back from yourself and acknowledge what you are feeling and thinking, without investing further emotional or mental energy.
You are able to accept how you are in the moment, rather than worrying about the future or the past.
To start practicing mindfulness, you need tools and activities that you can practice at different times throughout your day.
I could obviously say yoga, journaling, meditation and other wonderful practices but not everyone feels comfortable doing that, so I want to list some other things that might be more suitable for you.
1. The Name Game.
First, look around you and name three things you can hear, then two things you can see, and finally one sensation that you feel.
This is called grounding yourself; increasing your awareness of your body and your environment.
2. Body Scan.
Close your eyes to focus. Bring awareness to your breathing, noticing touch and pressure where your body makes contact with your seat or floor.
Move your attention to whatever part of the body you want to investigate. You might choose to do a systematic body scan beginning at the head or feet. Or, you might choose to explore sensations randomly. There is no one correct way.
Your attention will wander. Gently bring it back and kindly direct your attention to exploring sensations in the body.
Over time you can train it to stay for longer periods. Rinse and repeat until you’ve finished your entire body exploration.
3. Walking meditation.
Walking meditation is exactly what it sounds like: a form of meditation you practice while walking. Observe, tune in and notice sounds.
A walking meditation is designed to bring body and mind in sync while we’re out and about. If you don’t like to sit and close your eyes to meditate, this is a great alternative that still trains the mind in awareness.
Single-tasking is the opposite of multitasking. All it requires is showing up fully to whatever task you’re working on.
5. Mindful eating
Mindful eating is a way to turn something you do every day into a mindfulness practice.
Make mealtimes more mindful with a few basic mindful eating practices, like listening to the sizzle of your pan and chewing slowly to savor every bite.
6. Dragon breathing
Take a deep breath in, filling your belly and chest. When you are ready, “breath out your fire” with a long, slow exhale.
Puzzles are a great way to sharpen the mind, but they’re also a mindfulness practice. They require focus, attention to detail, and presence of mind while also being fun and rewarding.
Mindfulness activities can involve almost anything you do in your day-to-day life. It’s not meant to be separate from reality, deny or hide your emotions but help you stay rooted in the present moment.
I hope that whatever you are feeling today, whether that is joy or despair, that you remind yourself it is okay, and I hope you never forget, that healing is possible and you are worthy of that healing process.
If you are struggling, I encourage you to contact a doctor, tell somebody you trust, and voice your struggle. Help is available and it makes all the difference.