So, firstly, this blog is not aimed to be used as a diagnostic aid in mental health treatment, nor is it going to go into details about mental health “conditions”. My intent of writing this piece is to offer my opinion on how I view mental health and why I believe that experiencing highs and lows on the spectrum of mental health is important for self-growth.
**Barry Scott From Cillit Bang Advert’s Voice**
“On top of this fantastic blog, you will also receive 7 tips/exercises for seasonnaires or regular folk to try at home to boost your (not so) mental health! Stay tuned!”
**Back To Serious Voice**
Starting this blog was difficult as mental health is a topic of infinite capacity in which there are a lot of indefinites and grey areas and everyone is different.
I could have spewed statistics, however I feel that all statistics are under-represented due to the lack of people who speak to professionals about this topic, thus not being “diagnosed” (the reason I have put the word diagnosed in inverted commas will become clear later).
I then thought about definitions of some common mental health terminology, but then this (in my opinion) is the wrong way of viewing mental health. Giving a name to a group of characteristics is just isolating a community of society. People are the way they are based on a combination of biological and environmental factors and once branded with a “diagnosis” the way people are interacted with and treated (from everyone from professionals to friends/family) changes.
I think that the over-medicalisation of mental health has been one of the largest contributors to the sharp increase of these “conditions” in recent years. This combined with the fact that a lot of people have made a lot of money at the expense of the human being’s natural and subconscious trait of suggestibility and belief that medication “cures” “conditions” just proves, in my eyes, why this is the wrong way to view it.
I finally came to the conclusion that I wanted to write a relatable piece that provides a toolbox for the creation and maintenance of good mental health rather than focussing on the extreme ends of the mental health spectrum, where people may need professional help or medical intervention.
***Big Question Alert***
What is mental health?
I personally view mental health as coping power. How well you are able to cope with the barrage of events and experiences that life will throw at you, almost inevitably at the exact worst time.
Mental health should not be categorised but rather viewed as a spectrum. Everybody will experience both extreme highs and extreme lows at some point in their lives due to circumstances that are out of their control. Extreme events calibrate your emotional radar and can define the type of person you are if handled in the right or wrong way.
Now I hope that most of you reading this will say: “But Alex, I feel that I could cope with pretty much any of life’s curveballs” and so GREAT!!! That is the attitude to have and I commend you for that.
If I was a betting man I would bet my bottom dollar that it is because you understand the correct process for you to be able to upkeep your ability to maintain self-discipline and positive decision making! (but betting is bad for mental health so I won’t…)
So here we go.
LIFE HITS YOU WITH A HOME RUN OF A STINKER.
Let’s begin with common reactions.
When these events happen reason often falls out of the window and people’s actions or response will be based on instinct or convenience. Below are some ways that people may respond to a big event. See if you can pick yourself out of the line-up…
1 - Logic
Some people can sit there by themselves, and have strong enough will-power, not to react to the situation, but reason with the issues or problems they have. These people often recognise that what has happened in the past can’t be changed and try to base their future decisions on either the mistakes or good decisions made by themselves or others.
(Jealous of these people)
2 – Offloading (my coping mechanism…)
Others will want to talk to people. This can be anybody from family to friends or cherry-picking people in an authoritative/knowledgeable position. Some people even choose to get drunk and talk to randomers in the pub (spot which one of these wouldn’t be described as “positive decision making”).
It’s not that these people want or enjoy the attention from moaning about their problems but they often value pooled experience and recognise that discussion can often lead to a well-reasoned decision being made.
3 - Crying
Some people cry. For hours, days or sometimes weeks. Crying is essentially working out your emotional system. It’s natural. Everyone cries. It’s good to cry.
Without crying we wouldn’t be able to demonstrate an emotional extreme. People cry out of frustration, out of happiness, out of anger, out of pain even out of laughter.
Never feel that it is wrong or weak to cry.
4 - Make A Decision
Other people do something.
Now sometimes this decision is bulls-eye and problem = solved.
But other times this wasn’t a decision that was thought through and planned. This is often a door that happens to open at a certain a time. A unique situation where the time for diligent pontification is taken away from you. This decision can take a variety of forms and whilst in some cases is a one off/short term analgesia in others may become a coping mechanism or turn into an addiction (notice again that positive decision making).
So if someone reacted in any of these ways would you say that they have a mental health condition? Well the problem with categorising conditions is that if argued in the right way you could fit any of these coping mechanisms into a mental health category when actually they are all completely normal and rational.
When does mental health turn from a situation into an issue?
In my eyes this is THE question. I believe the answer to this question is the true definition of a mental health “condition”, but again, there is no true answer to this (are you starting to sense a theme here?).
Problems are based on priorities. If someone’s no.1 priority is to be able to play X-Box then an eating disorder isn’t a “problem” as long as they are still killing zombies.
Others, however, may only want to be able to walk outside however their mental state is such that they are unable to do so. This is detrimental to a person’s emotional health and energy levels as humans need to be outdoors. A work colleague once said to me “humans are just plants that happened to be lucky enough to evolve to walk and communicate, and plants don’t grow inside” and we will discuss why this is important later.
In my opinion a person’s mental health becomes a problem when it is putting someone’s physical health at risk or it is limiting someone from doing something that they want or need to do.
Impatient Avid Seasonnaire: “But I still don’t see how this relates to me
Good Looking Narrator: “Hold your horses! We are getting to that bit”
Mental health is 50% inside, 50% outside.
Now when both 50’s are smooth sailing, life is a breeze, kick back and relax; but when one starts to worsen, it makes it much harder for the other one to be maintained.
Being in a comfortable, healthy and well known environment, where a lot of decisions are made for you by the pillow of routine provides you with a stable foundation to build a temple of good mental health.
What happens if that pillow is taken from you?
When you’re thrown into a completely new environment (errrrrrr I don’t know, maybe the mountains…?) with no friends, no understanding or knowledge about your environment and doing a job that you have never done before and have no experience in?
Well it’s a challenge, but one that you should willingly accept.
I see moving to a new place as a new opportunity to find the perfect balance for me to benefit the most from being there. Now the perfect balance isn’t as simple as “work & play” (although that is generally the gist of it) but more finding the right amount of physical and emotional energy you need to expel into the things you want and need to do.
This will be different for each person and again it all comes down to your priorities.
Some people will want to focus on their work and are less consumed in social relations. For these people the biggest issue will be maintaining physical health and mentally making sure their work doesn’t become a bigger priority in their life than it should. They should also make sure they factor in enough time to go and shred fresh pow!
Some may care more about the social scene. When you move somewhere and start to piece together the social puzzle you begin finding out what a place is really about. You learn the do’s and dont’s, the good, the bad and the ugly.
For some, being seen a few steps up the social ladder is a big deal, but sometimes it can be hard to even get a foot on. If this situation makes you feel uncertain, anxious or maybe even depressed then this environment is making it harder for you to maintain your internal mental health capacity.
You see where I am going with this. Essentially I believe everybody has the opportunity to be mentally healthy, but it may take an initial positive decision to be made to trigger the beginning of the reaction.
Tips & Exercises To Boost Mental Health Status
So below I have listed 7 things that you can have a go at, not only if you are feeling down, but also to get to know yourself better. It’s a big world out there and in order to know what you want/need on the outside, you need to know what’s going on in the inside and these may help.
1 – Take A Trip To Stroll Town
Going for a walk. Having a mooch. Getting some fresh air.
The most underestimated and underused mind-cleanser. Utilisation of headphones and music advisory for ultimate disconnection from world (if unsure of what to listen to, see link at bottom).
When feeling low in mood the temptation to avoid leaving home is much more enticing. It can create the experience of being outdoors as a chore; getting from “A” to “B”; something to be done as and when needed, but not more.
For generations before us, staying at home would have been seen as boring, but now with a world of information and experiences available on a handheld device, people will spend more time staring at a screen than bothering with face to face interaction (don’t get me started on phones as I feel that technology and social media are a huge reason that the incidence of mental health difficulties has increased…).
Use this walk to learn about your environment, familiarise yourself with your bearings and even make it a game, striving to know as much as possible giving you a little project to work on. Try and spot something that you think is unique on each street or look on Google Maps to see if there’s anything you have missed.
Going for a walk is categorised as “moderate exercise” of which the recommended amount each week is 150 minutes. It raises your heart and respiratory rate, meaning bigger and deeper breaths of fresh oxygenated air (unless you live in London/Bangkok) into the lungs and goodbye more icky carbon dioxide. This improves your brains alertness and boosts its processing power as well as causing the body to release endorphins (our happy hormones) thus boosting our mood.
MMMMM BRAIN JUICE!!
2 – Mindfullness/Meditation
Mindfulness is all about centring one’s thoughts and focussing concentration to one single moment in time. It teaches breathing exercises through guided meditations that are available on YouTube or with apps such as Headspace (I would highly recommend).
The guided meditations tend to be around 30 minutes long but can be more or less. They provide techniques that you can use in everyday life when feeling stressed or mentally fatigued and the more you do it the easier it becomes to settle the mind into certain states.
3 – Yoga
Yes, I know that everyone goes on and on about yoga nowadays but there is a reason behind it. Yoga when practiced correctly is a full body workout that practices stability and flexibility exercises, whilst using breathing techniques similar to those of mindfulness to optimise its benefit to the body and brain.
The aim of yoga is to concentrate completely on what you are feeling, therefore teaching you about your body as you practice. You find your “barriers”, digging into where you are strong or weak, or tight or stiff, with your findings determining the way you need to practice.
For some, yoga classes are intimidating and I can see why. You go to your first session; the instructor has to give you extra attention and keeps correcting you. You keep looking round to see if you’re doing it right but everyone else is in a position that you couldn’t even dream of getting in... (it’s still fun honestly)
For those who don’t fancy going to a class there are a lot of great people on YouTube you can watch and for those first timers who have always said “oh I have thought about trying yoga actually” I would recommend the video that I have linked at the bottom. It explains some of the basic principles of yoga nicely as well as well as offering a simple and gentle session.
4 – Play A Game of “So What?”
So what on earth is “So What?” (see what I did there…?).
This is a game a psychologist taught me (a work colleague not “my psychologist”) that you can either write down or play in your head.
You start with a statement about something that is important in your life or that you are concerned about (it can be either good or bad); you then continue to ask and answer the question “so what?”
The aim of the game is to dig deeper into things that are important to you to analyse what is making you happy or sad. The game can be short or long however usually finishes with either recognising a relevant action that you could try to do to make a change or resolve your issue, or acknowledging that in the grand scheme of things, your issue is sapping a lot more of your emotional energy than it needs to be.
When a big life event happens, this tool can be useful to help put the incident into perspective.
5 – Write Some Lists
When there are a lot of thoughts clattering around in your head, perceptions can easily become distorted. Perspective is based on what you would define as “important”, however often, negatives shout louder than positives.
Writing a list makes you look at your life from an objective outsider’s perspective. Psychologists refer to this process as “framing”, as in looking at your life in this instant like a picture in a frame.
“But what should I write a list about?!” I hear you naive hooligans asking…
The thing about playing this game is that you look more into yourself. Usually the things you feel you expel most emotional energy over are a good start.
In my opinion writing lists about positives is more beneficial than writing lists about negatives, however, when done in the right way writing negative lists can be useful too. The difference between positive and negative lists is that the aim of a positive list is to boost self-worth whereas negative lists are to identify potential barriers to happiness or good mental health.
Some examples of positive lists you can try writing are “what things make me feel happy”, “what I feel my best attributes/traits are”, “short/long-term goals of things you would like to achieve” but they can be on anything. If you are a keen snowboarder you could write a list about the best aspects of your riding and what you feel you need to improve.
When it comes to writing a list of negatives, you must approach this with the correct attitude. Notice the phrase “what you need to improve” from the previous paragraph. Identifying negatives is useless unless you are able to implement an action plan on how you feel you are going to make a change (have I mentioned positive decision making?).
Examples of negative lists may be things like “what things are lowering my mood”, “what don’t I feel that I can do that I want to be able to do” or even something like “what makes me different to other people”.
Whilst for some people writing these negative lists may be enough for them to see the light of why they are having difficulty, some people may need to partake in a little game of “So What?” to really get to the root cause of why they are feeling as they are.
6 – Build A Routine
What’s the easiest thing to do when you’re feeling down or lonely?
If someone feels down and aren’t in an environment where they have coping mechanisms or things to take their mind off their feeling of lonely or down. The easiest thing to do is hibernate, bury your head where no one will come to find you and stew, thinking about your situation and often catastrophising, throwing more petrol on the fire.
Routine provides your life with purpose and often provides opportunity for variety and reward if done well.
Now routines don’t need to account for every 30 minutes of your life, neither do they have to account for all your actions, but what they do need to do is factor in time for you to do the things that make you happy and healthy.
Primary things = Shopping, cooking, exercise & you time (hobbies et al.)
7 – Try A New Hobby
As mentioned previously, stewing time often causes a difficult mental health predicament. Therefore, provision of time-rich activity results in decrease in thinking time and more fun time.
You take that pottery class that you’ve always wanted to do. You’ve always said you wanted to be able to knit a jumper. Motorcross riding?! You go girl!
Try something that screams “YOU” where your mind isn’t focussing on the negative things in your life.
So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed.
This is a blog that I really enjoyed writing as I feel everybody has mental health problems (I think you’re crazy if you think otherwise). However, a mental health problem is only a problem if the way you react to it is disruptive to your individual health.
Everyone is different and I feel that everyone nowadays cares so much about what other people think about them that they forget to put themselves and their happiness as top priority. Always be yourself, never care about other people’s opinions about you and as I said, we are only a creature of our environment so if your environment is wrong then step up and change it to one that is right.
To finish I wanted to leave you with my favourite phrase. Anyone reading this who I have worked with will have heard me say “it’s only a mistake if you make it twice”, and yes, I do absolutely agree with this saying, but only because making mistakes is good. We have to make mistakes to learn. If we aren’t making mistakes we aren’t pushing our comfort zone and sometimes people’s comfort zone isn’t healthy for them from a mental side of the spectrum.
If you are concerned about your mental health here are a few websites to have a look at for charities that may be able to help you:
Yoga Intro Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBeLH27cAmA&t=300s
Music to walk to suggestion: https://soundcloud.com/tom_shanks/sunday-supplement-020918
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