Mama R is posting again for me today. She wears another hat other than that of her Mama Hat. Currently its hanging on the hat stand with mine =)
Mama R is also a psychologist and I am grateful she shares her knowledge and techniques with us today.
Mental illness. We all think, or hope, that it will never happen to us. But mental health operates on a continuum of health. This means that we are all vulnerable to becoming unwell or developing a mental illness and because of this, it is imperative that we work hard to maintain good mental health. How many of us focus on getting physically fit, go to the doctor’s for a physical concern or allow a sleep in because our bodies feel tired? Probably quite a lot of us do or have done. But how many of us take time in our busy lives to sit in silence, to meditate, to check in with our minds and emotions? I would guess not as many (although hope, with blogs such as this, that the numbers are on the increase!).
It is important to recognise that we need to maintain our mental health in order to prevent mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and psychosis, but to acknowledge that these major mental illnesses are on a continuum. Whilst you may not have a diagnosis of a mental illness, you may find at times you feel down, worried, stressed. These are signs that your mental health is not quite where it should be and you need to start making a conscious effort to look after it.
When working with clients, I like to talk about mental health in an analogy of a bucket. Perfect mental health equals an empty bucket (something that I believe is rare if not impossible). Everyone has a bucket and everyone’s buckets are filled with aspects of their history that impact who they are and how they cope with stress. Some people live with a low level of stress in their bucket on a day to day basis and others have a much higher level. Some people have big buckets, others have smaller ones. Things that you find in someone’s bucket on a daily basis include history of mental illness, financial issues, employment / unemployment, carer roles, ongoing family conflict, unresolved grief, physical health problems, social problems etc. Then there is issues that come into the bucket usually for shorter periods of time and can be both positive or negative stressors. For example, marriage, divorce, moving house, new job, death of loved one, birth of baby. If these are dealt with effectively and the appropriate coping strategies are in place, then they leave the bucket once the person has adjusted. This does not, however, always occur. There is also much bigger events such as traumatic experiences or loses that can enter the bucket and would obviously take longer to leave.
Imagine your bucket. What’s in it on a daily basis? What potentially will be in it in coming weeks or months? You can see that the amount of stress in your bucket slowly builds and how that, if you do not deal with the stress and look after yourself, it could easily overflow. I consider that when it overflows is when you are most vulnerable to experiencing a mental illness.
So, you may now be asking, how do I look after this thing called “mental health?” In the previous post titled “What can I do? Strategies for maintaining mental health and well being” focused on many physiological and psychological aspects to maintaining good mental health. I am going to reiterate some basic psychological strategies that are useful. They may seem almost too basic or easy but we forget to do it and we don’t realise the positive impact it can really have on our well being.
* plan things to look forward to (both on a short term (eg: weekly/fortnightly) basis, mid term (few months ahead) and long term (a year or so)
* solve problems early to avoid them building up
* do something once or twice a week just for yourself
* relaxation or meditation
* talk to someone who you trust and who makes you feel good
* watch a funny movie
* switch off (is what I am worrying about something I can solve now? If so, solve it. If not, let it go)
* distraction activities (counting backwards by 7s, going through the alphabet and finding a movie, song or country for each letter in it, crosswords, reading backwards if anxious)
* listening to music that helps you unwind
* use positive self talk (when you notice yourself having negative thoughts, challenge them – why aren’t they true? What is an alternative explanation)
Doing some of these psychological strategies, along with some of the physiological strategies in the previous “What can I do?” piece is like putting holes in the sides of your bucket. While you are doing them regularly, the stress seeps out of the holes and your bucket never overflows. As soon as you stop looking after yourself and doing these things, the holes clog up and the stress builds in the bucket and possibly overflows which can potential cause mental illness but definitely causes an overload of stress.
So take care of yourself. Don’t let your bucket overflow.
What do you do to keep your bucket from overflowing? Are there any analogies you use to keep your mental/emotional and psychological health in check?
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