Not a week goes by that a therapist doesn’t hear about a client or a client’s friend self-harming. This is particularly true Continue reading “What to do if someone you love self-harms.”
Susan* came to her first appointment terrified. I know this because she told me so. It wasn’t the traffic, the fear of getting lost, or worry about being late. It wasn’t even the actual ‘reason’ she felt she wanted to see a therapist in the first place (her fear of elevators). She was petrified, it seems, that I (her new therapist) would think she was “crazy.”
You might laugh at this – it does sound almost comical – except for the fact that there is nothing funny about a fear so intense that it prevents you from getting the help that you may want, or for some, desperately need.
Unfortunately, it is common for a client to fear this type of judgment from a therapist. As we know, anxiety and worries are usually not completely founded in reality. And it is this type of fear (anxious fear) that usually prevents a person from seeking help.
For Susan, she had wanted to see a therapist for the past 5 years – as long as she had been unable to use an elevator without experiencing severe anxiety. A way we would frame this is that her fear of what a therapist might think of her was bigger for her than her desire to seek help. Until the day her fear of elevators caused her to decline a job offer – for a job she believed she would have loved – because the office was on the 11th floor.
It was then that she decided her need to seek help outweighed her fear of doing so.
It is completely understandable – normal – to be anxious about speaking with a therapist for the first time. Just think about how difficult it is to talk to someone you know and trust (parent, spouse, partner, teacher) about something personal. And when you are feeling most lost, most vulnerable, here you are thinking about talking to a complete stranger.
Think about it: We have been taught about ‘stranger danger’ from a young age. “Don’t get in a stranger’s car.” “Don’t go look at the puppy they say they have in a box around the corner. ” It seems perfectly logical that we might assume: “DO NOT, for any reason and for the sake of all that is sane and good, tell them your deepest darkest fears!”.
So knowing that most (if not all) clients come to therapy feeling anxious for any number of reasons, we want to share our ‘insider secrets’ so you can put at least some of your fears to rest:
1. Therapy is a service.
Just the same as if you go get your car maintenanced, or your hair done: if you dislike the person on a personal level (for whatever reason) you will likely service you car or get your hair done elsewhere. We believe the same follows with a therapist: don’t continue to see a therapist that you don’t connect with! Without a good connection, it will be very difficult to form a trusting therapy relationship, and without that you will likely get little benefit. (If you don’t trust us on that – ahem – there’s plenty of research that supports the idea that a good relationship with your therapist is one of the key predictors of successful therapy).
The exception: sometimes it is important and useful to try to work through some of your feelings with your therapist before moving on (especially if you often have difficulty connecting with people – indeed, this can often be the focus of therapy!)
2. Therapists are human too.
We have personal lives that are not textbook, not perfect and sometimes not pretty. That is usually how we can connect with our clients – one person to another. Sometimes we share personal experiences if appropriate, relevant to our clients to help them heal. Usually we do not – our clients are there to talk and be listened to, to get help, to heal. It is the client’s space, the client’s agenda, and that takes precedence.
3. Therapists have codes of ethics they must adhere to.
Licensed or accredited therapists work within the guidelines of a code of ethics (not saying Aunt Betty isn’t a great listener – but you know that whatever you share with her may spread through the village faster than chickenpox). All are bound to confidentiality (with only certain limits such as reporting child abuse or significant current risk of self-harm or harm to others). We cannot and do not talk about our clients with friends or family. Rest assured that what you share with your therapist stays with your therapist (again, except for a few limited exceptions – and your new therapist will explain all these limitations usually at the first appointment).
4. Therapists love what they do.
We work with people and peoples’ ‘problems’ because we want to see them feel, do and be better. Therapists – at least the ones we know – have no interest in judging their clients, nor do they feel superior. They have a calling, an education, a desire, a gift – whatever you may want to call it – to help others. We realize that clients are anxious at the beginning – it’s our job to ease those fears. If we don’t do that in the first two sessions, see point 1.
So now you know some helpful things about therapy and therapists. If you’re feeling ‘stuck’ and think it might help to work through that stuck-ness then go make that call. There are amazing people ready, willing and able to help.
Why? Because you’re worth it!
P.S. In case you were wondering, Susan successfully overcame her fear of elevators 😊
*Not Susan’s real name, of course!
It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining as it has a habit of doing on most days in central Texas. Except for the lice-outbreak that we were dealing with (ugh!), life was pretty great. My girls were excited because we were planning to go see the new kittens at Auntie’s farm. There were five of them altogether, and – once the kittens were just a little older and stronger – we were planning to bring three home. One for each of my girls. The girls had bonded with their kittens, and had chosen names for them already: Katie Belle, Johnny JoJo and Carol.
And after operation lice-comb-out-number-two was complete, we were going to take the hour-long drive to see them again. And swim at Auntie’s pool, of course.
The phone rang. Thinking Auntie was calling to firm up visiting plans for later in the day, I answered with what I thought might be a ‘chirpy’ hello (considering I was covered with tea tree and coconut oil and swishing a lice-comb in a bowl of hot water).
Her voice was different.
I managed to hold it together until I hung up. And with all the best intentions of being super strong for my kids, managed the first two words without starting to cry: “Girls, I have something really sad to tell you”
“Is it about dad?” my youngest asked, eyes wide (their dad travels for work a lot). “No, No, honey, no not dad”. In a strange way, that question made it easier to tell them (because THAT kind of news would have been far, far worse).
In between my own tears, I managed to relay that Johnny JoJo had been killed by a dog sometime during the night. Along with one of Auntie’s other kittens.
It was the first major loss, the first unexpected death of something close to my children, and I could feel the wave of anguish as strongly as if I had just been hit by a wave standing in the ocean. Except this wave didn’t feel good. At all. We all sat on the floor that morning, sobbing at intervals. Rocking. All I could do was hold my little girl as she cried and sobbed. My other two girls were sobbing and crying too – feeling the loss almost equally. We alternated from talking, quiet thought and crying for probably about an hour. I got back to combing while we all talked. And cried.
About two hours later we were packed up and on the road. To see the other kitties and to have a little ‘service’ for Johnny JoJo and the other kitten. The girls were more quiet than usual in the car during hour-long drive there.
The second wave of anguish hit soon after reaching our destination. My eldest daughter quickly realized that there had been a mistake – the second kitty that was killed was, in fact, Katie Bell. This wave of sadness was even more intense than the first – possibly due to the shock of it all.
We worked through it as a family, auntie and uncle and me and dad (by phone) and the kids… We muddled through, as it were.
It took another two days, and some more intense emotional episodes, but we came out the other side. My girls have finished crying. On the third morning, after another emotional night, my eldest daughter simply said “I’m okay today, Mom. I’m okay about it today”. And I knew she was. And she is. My three girls are still sad, but they are okay. And those things can happen together – feeling sad, but okay.
While you don’t have to be a mental health professional to help your kids through a loss, I am very glad that there were a few tips I could summon up to help us through. Because believe me, when faced with kids who are distraught, every mom feels helpless. Especially when it’s a hurt that a Band-Aid and a little kiss and cuddle can’t fix.
So we decided to share some basic facts about grief and a few simple tips in the hope that they may help you and your kiddo(s) get through a loss as well.
Sometimes – often – there just are no words. Especially when the situation is intensely emotional. When it is difficult to talk about. When there is nothing you can say to take away the pain (even though you would chop off your right arm if that is what it took). Feeling the pain of loss is a natural, human reaction. Simply being there, sitting beside or holding your child is comforting, and conveys in a physical way that you are there, that they are not alone, that you support them.
Sometimes when there are no words, it’s because words just get in the way.
Celebrate and Remember
Doing something that helps a child to remember or celebrate their pet can be an important part of the healing process.
We had a little ceremony – the girls wrote on and decorated the “coffin” (cardboard box) that the kittens were laid to rest in. They could even look at the kittens and touch them if they wanted to. My oldest opted out of touching them, and also out of the ceremony. We respected her choice, as everyone grieves in different ways, and on a different schedule.
We buried the box as Auntie shared some beautiful words, thanking the kitties for being with us, and wishing them a safe journey wherever they were going (we like to think of them crossing a rainbow bridge). Your own family traditions and values will help you decide what is best, and how you create a way of honoring. If you do not have a tradition, you can create one. Write a letter and bury it with the pet. Paint a rock that your child can keep with the pets name on it. Create a little gravesite they can visit (if appropriate). Create a memory box and put photos or mementos into it and decorate it. Write messages on a balloon that your child can release. You can do one or more, one or more times.
Your child will know when they are ready to move on.
Allow all emotions
Grief does not take a straight line path. It is not a process of feeling sad for a while until that feeling vanishes. Don’t be surprised if your child has sudden bouts of sadness, anger or frustration. My oldest daughter, for example, experienced denial (“I don’t think it’s really her, I don’t think she’s really dead”) and bargaining (“If I could do magic, I would turn back time to just before it happened, and I would save her”) within the first 10 minutes of realizing her kitten was gone.
Possibly the most helpful thing to remember about any type of grieving process is that it is not linear – that we can revisit any state/emotion at any time. But as long as each emotion is allowed to express itself, and is accepted, then we can move through it. Each time we move through the emotion it becomes less intense, until the grief and loss is processed.
You’ve got this!
If you expect the unexpected in terms of emotions following the loss of a pet, and remember to be there to listen, allow and accept all emotions (and of course provide ample cuddles) – you are well on your way to supporting your child through a difficult loss.
P.S. : Don’t forget to look after yourself too! Talk to someone close to help you process the loss – what affects your child affects you too. Allow your own emotions. It has taken a few weeks to be able to finish this post because I would get tearful just remembering my childrens’ pain. I still do, but I know I’m okay now.
Sad, but okay.
Do you feel weighed down by their toxicity? Suffocated? Like you’re drowning?
Yes, it’s ok to cut them loose. It really is. Family members are simply people and we deserve to give ourselves the gift of surrounding ourselves with nurturing, fun people who respect us and treat us well. Just as with non-family 🙂
How do you feel when someone disagrees with you? Enraged? Devastated? Threatened? Do you do whatever it takes to “win” the argument? To prove to them and every else that you are right and they are wrong?
BUT – what if the other person isn’t wrong? What if they simply have a different opinion from yours, have had a different experience to yours, or have different, insufficient or better (!!) evidence than yours?
It’s true: we could avoid many arguments and much conflict as individuals, couples, organisations and countries if we could remember to get two simple things ‘right’:
- People differ – that’s normal and good.
- When someone has a different opinion to ours it does not mean they reject us, want to attack us or hate us. It is not personal, it’s about an idea or set of ideas. We can listen without being defensive. We can afford to attack less and be more interested.
When being ‘right’ is just so wrong
How many of the following statements have you heard, read, said, thought or typed? . How often have you seen (or been part of) a disagreement that turned aggressive and mean? These are sure-fire ways to get a persons defenses raging, and before you know it you’re no longer disagreeing and well into arguing.
1. “No, you’re SO wrong there. You just can’t see it”. With this one, you’ll most likely come across as arrogant.
2. “Jeez – I thought you were brighter/ cleverer/ more open minded”. This is an attack. And comes across as arrogant.
3. “That’s just stupid”. Arrogant.
4. “Well.. I’m always/ usually right”. Well now, with that type of belief system chances are people have stopped disagreeing with you because you’re not reasonable! So it might seem like you’re always right… And yes, you guessed it, you come across as arrogant.
5. Everyone else agrees with me so…
We say this to appeal to the (totally human) desire to want to be the same, included, accepted. Unfortunately this approach often works (especially in the world of advertising – just ask 8 out of 10 cats…).
It is interesting to be aware that when we say this we are also giving the message that we need other peoples’ back up – that our own ‘belief’ isn’t enough. Using this approach weakens your stance, the person you’re with may think (correctly) that they are being manipulated, and you’ll appear – you guessed it – arrogant!
Here are some things you can say instead of “You’re SO Wrong!”
We all have opinions and beliefs. Even in the closest of relationships we will disagree on things! If you’re interested in having good conversation, Communicating honestly, maintaining your relationships – and your dignity – try some of these simple approaches to disagreement.
1. “Hmmmmm..That’s an interesting point of view – I hadn’t thought of it that way!” This is a lovely way to show a willingness on your part to be flexible. This is how we show people we are mature enough to recognise an opportunity to learn when we see one!
2. “Oh – that’s a new way of seeing it for me – can you help me to understand how you got there? “ This again shows a willingness to put aside your ego and learn more from the other person even if their idea seems bizarre and difficult for you to grasp.
People love to share their knowledge so this will very likely lead to a longer and better conversation for both of you – you may even change your stance (it happens!). Even if you don’t you’ll have learned something you didn’t know before the conversation.
Maybe follow with:
3. “I see it differently – would you like to hear/ see/ can I show you the information I have?”
This is a respectful way of offering an alternative view and giving the person the choice about hearing it – you aren’t ‘shoving anything down their throat’. You’re showing that you are confident in your beliefs but not so invested in your own opinion that you’ll force them to hear it and agree with it. Of course, forcing your opinion about anything on anyone usually has the opposite-to-desired effect.
If you’re tempted to start forcing it, breathe, and try this:
4. “Ah OK – so we understand it differently. It’s cool to know where you stand on this”.
Use this one if you can sense the other person won’t budge and your belief systems differ so greatly that you’ll never agree on this particular topic. This one is normally followed by a change of topic or a logging out of that particular thread or online forum 😉
Disagreements provide opportunities for growth and new connections, even for partnership or collaboration! When we stop insisting that other people are ‘wrong’, that we know better, that everything is personal, we get to enjoy people in ways we might not have dreamt of before.
Letting go of the need to be right is extraordinarily liberating. Give curiosity a chance the next time you feel a disagreement brewing – and notice how differently you feel and how differently the discussion goes 🙂
Have you ever felt down and miserable, despite the fact that life in general is great? What about bursts of anxiety so intense they leave you gasping, but you’re not actually worried about anything (or at least nothing that you think would reasonably result in a panic attack)? If you can relate Continue reading “8 things that look like depression (but aren’t)”
May is Mental Health Awareness month. A perfect time to ponder and think about our journey – personally and professionally – towards mental health. Sally wrote a lovely piece with a great introduction that I will not try to duplicate here – but I encourage you to check it out here.
Why did I choose this path?
As a psychologist, clients have often asked me about my choice to work in the field of mental health. I’d love to say the answer to that question is easy, simple. But rarely is the truth about these things either easy or simple.
Without getting into too much detail here (I save that for my own therapist or supervisor!), my curiosity about relationships and communication started very young. As a young child I suffered from very low self-esteem and if I am to be honest I believe I spent a great deal of my childhood feeling depressed. I was always a deep thinker, and as a child would love to watch and listen as adults talked. I clearly remember overhearing a comment about me: “She’s wise beyond her years.” Even though I didn’t understand what that meant at the time, I took it as a great compliment. I still do.
I knew early on that there were things about our family and home life that didn’t feel right, or indeed felt really wrong. My parents separated officially when I was about 13 years old. It was a decision that I now realize brought my parents shame (we lived in a small town in the very Catholic West of Ireland, where, at the time, separation and divorce was uncommon and frowned upon).
To me though, it felt like a relief.
Fast forward several years and I had to choose something to study at university. I was lost. I knew I loved to learn but the only thing I could think of was wanting to help families communicate better. Little did I know at that time that a classic reason for people to get into the field of psychology is to heal themselves or someone close to them (also, apparently not a good reason!). I did a little research (no computers and Internet back then) and found out that psychology was the field I needed to pursue.
It took many years of study (seven years and three higher education degrees) – and healing – for me to come to a place where I realized I not only could ‘do this’ but loved it too. When I understood how I could merge my years of study and my own struggles with dysfunctional family dynamics, depression and anxiety to be helpful for others, I knew I had finally come to the place that felt right. No longer a square peg in a round hole.
This line of work is certainly not always easy. But it is always worth it.
I worked with adults, families and children as a psychologist for over fifteen years prior to moving to the United States. Many clients suggested that listening to their ‘problems’ would be a burden. Some jokingly suggested that I must get irritated or cranky listening to them “whine about their problems” all day.
It was most certainly never irritating or a burden. Instead, it was a privilege. Knowing that they trusted me with feelings and thoughts that sometimes they did not trust with anybody else (sometimes even themselves) is a special honor.
Is the job tiring?
Absolutely. Being emotionally fully ‘present’ with clients can be exhausting. But only if you do not practice self-care. As therapists we try to practice what we preach as it were: I would schedule no more than 4-5 clients a day, and work four days a week. That worked for me, my famiIy, and my mental health.
Is it depressing
…to work with clients that are suffering, depressed, and/or in emotional pain?
It was never depressing. Seeing others in pain is difficult but inspiring at the same time. I am always amazed at the strength of the human spirit. To be even a small part of helping a person heal, to walk even a short distance of someone’s journey with them – is inspiring and up-lifting. It is the opposite of depressing.
Is it lonely?
Working as a psychologist can be ‘lonely’ in the sense that you work alone. However, you have colleagues, peers and supervisors that you consult with. Sometimes you work with them in the same location, sometimes you meet or consult outside of the space where you work. And because you get to work directly with people , it is very hard to feel lonely at work!
Making time for family and friends, socializing and keeping balance outside of work keeps all the parts moving as they should. While we cannot talk about work with our friends the same as other people, that can sometimes be a blessing: we get to talk about all of the other stuff that makes life interesting.
Would you choose a different career if you could?
I don’t believe I would ever choose to do something that doesn’t involve advocating for and supporting mental health. In a conversation about careers with a friend just after moving to Texas, she innocently asked what I would do since “[I’m] not a psychologist anymore”. It was at that moment that it became profoundly clear: My identity is tied to helping others on a much deeper level than a job title. Call it what you will: psychologist, life coach, mental health advocate, counsellor, friend – using my knowledge and experience in the field of psychology is not just what I do, it is who I am. And that is why I chose to co-author this blog! It allows me to pursue my passion until such time as I choose to move back into private practice.
Thanks for reading!
May is mental health month and it’s been a most inspirational and uplifting one so far! Literally thousands of personal stories and wisdoms have been shared – we’ve all been spoilt for choice on Twitter and Facebook! There is a real sense that people are starting to ‘get it’ you know? Starting to understand that we are all vulnerable at times, we all need and deserve help and now, it’s easier than ever before to say that out loud.
We still have a long way to go though, we know that. That’s one reason we chicks keep doing what we’re doing.
It’s a question often asked of us by clients and friends – why exactly do we choose this career path? And is it not depressing? Tiring? Costly? Lonely?
Now is as good as time as any to answer everyone in one go we reckon! (This is a long one so make that coffee and settle down ;))
First the “WHY?” (and some “how”)
Well, personally speaking, I’ve been fascinated by psychology since my parents gave me my first book on the subject in 1986. It was the Psychology of Communication – George Miller. I was immediately hooked. People who know me have asked if my father’s sudden death when I was 14 spurred my interest – I’ve often been asked this actually. But no, that wasn’t the sole trigger.
There was a set of triggers and I remember some of them well.
My uncle was a psychiatrist and I met him for the first time when I was 9. I thought he was incredibly cool and interesting. That was a biggie, I wanted to be like him. Every kid has heros, and although I knew him only briefly, he was one of mine.
Next memory flash as I write this is my mother telling me that I would do well to understand why people behave the way they do rather than rush to judge. That intrigued me because before that, I, as all kids do, boxed behavior into ‘good person’ and ‘bad person’. So there might be a reason? Someone might be capable of doing both “good” and “bad” and might even change? Hmmmm… Seed firmly set.
Next up comes secondary school (highschool) where I started to understand the notion of transference and confirmation bias. I didn’t have that language at the time of course. What I was seeing was how easily people slip into treating someone one way or another based on something that has absolutely nothing to do with that person in reality.
On one level it interested me, on anther I found it deeply painful, and wasted many hours wondering how to make people change and how to make them like me. I now know that this is a common angst – just last week a student slipped me this note:
It took years to realise that people don’t change unless they want to – but then that change can be profound. This is a real hook for me: change.
It took years to cop on to the fact that people don’t change unless they want to – but then that change can be profound. This is a real hook for me: change.
My father’s death at 14 did of course have a profoundly negative effect on my development. At that age the ‘management’ of bereavement is vital for a child to continue to thrive and grow. So there was a period of pause. There was no formal support available at the time, and being the watcher I already was, I witnessed myself spiral into teenaged despair and chaos. This is a time that disappeared and resurfaced in my 20’s with more clarity and understanding. I now know this is normal. Now it’s vivid, and enormously helpful in my work with children and parents. That inspired me to work with a Bereavement and Trauma service for children and families in Barnardos for several years. It was a post in which I felt complete ease for a long time. I guess I knew what I was doing!
Next up came college decision time – I dragged this out for a whole year, hopping back and forth from music to psychology. I was accepted onto several good music degree courses, but at the last minute I backed out and decided on psychology – partly because I feared there might be too much emphasis on performance in music and my self-esteem wasn’t there yet!
I spent the happiest three and half years (thus far – it got even better!) of my life in Galway studying pure psychology. This is where I first met Tanya – fellow chick! And whilst I was not the most studious (fondly remembering the Prof raising an eyebrow and thanking me for joining him for an early morning lecture…) I in fact loved the course a lot more than it probably seemed to my peers and lecturers. I enjoyed research tremendously (apart from the nightmarish stats part), and was gripped by the notion of critical thinking, which was new to my 17 year old self. I spent hours after lectures chatting with a mentor about different experiments and the nature of humanity. We still meet to do that – as recently as two weeks ago when this pic was taken! Hearing the stories told by working psychologists and learning about how people work made the next step easy – for me it was a no-brainer, I wanted to be a therapist in private practice and I wanted to do a Master’s in Counselling Psychology. The seed had sprouted and was starting to flourish.
Is it depressing?
This one is easy – the answer for me is no. Of course there are things I hear that are awful, traumatic even. It can and does sadden me that humans experience such depths of pain that they might even feel that their death would be preferable. It irks me that some people choose to behave badly, to abuse others, to view them as ‘less than’. It still takes my breath away how random events can change a life forever, with no warning. But the people who seek my help want change – how can that be depressing? It’s a source of constant joy to me to be in the extremely privileged position of witnessing another human being’s growth and change.
When a client wrote this about his experience of therapy I was hugely moved. I think it beautifully captures the relationship that is therapy, and I am grateful that he is happy for me to share an extract of his writing here.
Isn’t that beautiful? It’s the opposite of depressing!
As I’m here, a common misconception of therapy is that it’s all about pain. For me it’s not, a lot of it is about celebration, fun, being happy. Because we are more than our pain, and each part of us deserves acknowledgement – the sad, the wrecked, the fun, the mischievous, the sexual – it’s all there and it’s all good.
Is it tiring?
Sometimes it is yes. So I watch that. Part of my job as a therapist is to teach people how to look after themselves, and part of that is modeling – teaching by example. If I don’t look after me and if I am not seen to place a value on me, then how can I be taken seriously as a role model? And so I work four days a week, I take a full month at summer, and I look after my own mental health by seeing a supervisor regularly, which is a requirement to retain registration in Ireland. Even us supervisors have supervisors!
Is it costly?
Yes it is. Therapists and psychologists in Ireland have to invest heavily in CPD training, professional body membership(s), insurance, supervision and so on. Sometimes I wish I could get sick pay, or be assured of a state pension. But honestly the bottom line for me is that it’s absolutely worth it. I go to work every day knowing that I will feel that buzz and be fulfilled during and after. That’s a good deal! 🙂
Is it lonely?
Private practice can be challenging in that we have no colleagues in the ‘normal’ every day sense of the word. Now some of you will read that and think – “OH! How I’d love that!” 😉 But we do need company, some of us more than others .
I make sure I meet my need for connection elsewhere, that balance is important for all of us.
I make sure I have a good social life and that I connect with colleagues when possible. I don’t get to talk about work with my friends like other people – that’s one thing that’s quite different from other jobs I guess, but that’s what supervision is for! And that’s OK.
Possibly the biggest difficulty I will ever encounter is the notion of retirement. It’s something I actually can’t visualize… sure we’ll see what I choose to do when the time comes!
So that’s me and thanks for reading! Tanya talks about her own personal path and career choice here, go have a look ! 🙂
ps: I changed the handwriting in the student’s note to protect confidentiality!
Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness month?
Statistics tell us that at least in the United States, approximately one in 17 people live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder, with approximately 20 percent of youth aged 13-18 experiencing severe mental disorders in a given year. Approximately 18 percent of American adults live with anxiety disorders (including panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and phobias).
Or you could view it another way – 18% of American adults experience difficulty, one way or another. While over-diagnosis appears to be a very real problem, with ‘normal’ negative feelings being more and more ‘medicalised’, the fact remains that many of us experience difficulties every day. The impact of mental ill-health is significant, ranging from lost earnings, hospitalization, chronic medical conditions to suicide.
Obviously, these statistics reflect individuals who have been diagnosed with disorders. But what about the millions of people who have not sought treatment? Who have not been diagnosed? Or who do not fit the medical model of ‘disordered’ but still need and deserve help? These are the people like you, like us, that are going through life. Coping with every day stressors. And sometimes it is just hard to get through the day without feeling stressed, overwhelmed, anxious or depressed.
Too many days like that, without adequate support, and we may find ourselves struggling to maintain good mental health.
What is ‘Mental Health’ anyway?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.
We like this definition, because of it’s use of the term ‘state of well-being’. Mental health is much more than ‘mental’ or ‘cognitive’ processes. And while mental health is certainly affected by how we think about ourselves and situations, it is not simply a ‘state of thinking.’ Mental health is by definition tied into our thoughts, feelings and actions.
How can we improve our mental health?
There are many ways to improve our mental health. Taking small steps can have amazing payoffs.
1. Take care of your body
A healthy body has a huge impact on our emotions, as well as gives us the strength to deal with the challenges of daily life. Take time each day to move: walk, run, swim, jump rope – anything that gets your body moving and your blood flowing. Make good food choices. Eat a balanced diet.
2. Sleep more
Research tells us that adults – and children, especially teens – do not get enough sleep. Poor sleep increases the risk of developing mental disorders, while a good nights sleep helps increase the ability to handle both mental and emotional stress.
Make and keep connections with people. Loneliness has a direct impact on our mood, and lessens our ability to deal with stress. If you are new to an area, struggle to make friends, or simply like the emotional benefits of being of service to others, volunteering is a wonderful way to connect with others of a like mind, while also giving back to your community.
4. Communicate your feelings
Talking about how you feel is part of the healing process. Don’t be afraid to share your feelings with trusted family and/or friends. If they are trustworthy, they will give you good honest feedback, or at the very least will just listen (which is sometimes all we need).
5. Keep a Diary
Much research tells us that simply writing down our thoughts and feelings helps us heal. Just writing down what we feel allows us to acknowledge our feelings, as well as allowing us to process them. Getting them down on paper (or onto a computer screen) also allows us to ‘see’ what we are feeling. Solutions sometimes just become clear. Or, we might find that we are truly ‘stuck’ and need to seek advice from someone else to resolve the issue. Either way it’s movement!
6. Seek Help!
If you are eating well, keeping active, resting well and keeping connected – or are struggling to do any or all of these – and are still feeling as though your anxiety or anxious thoughts, depression or other feelings or thoughts are making all the choices in your life, then it may be time to seek help. Mental health professionals (counsellors, social workers, psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists) are all advocates for self-care. They are able to accurately assess your situation, and offer recommendations that will have the most impact to get your life back on track.
You can – and deserve to – feel better!
If we translate the WHO definition of mental health that we mentioned earlier, it simply boils down to this: A person with good mental health is a person with a good sense of self-confidence/self-worth, is able to cope with normal daily stress while being a functioning, productive member of society.
If you or someone you love struggles with mental health issues, know you are not alone. Reach out – there are many hands willing to hold you up until you can stand on your own two feet again.