Mental health and illness in the modern era
Today, more than ever, our mental health, well-being and resilience has been put to the ultimate test. With the ongoing economic impact of the current global pandemic; individuals, families, governments, businesses and the wider community have faced some very tough decisions along the road. We have yet to fully understand the long-term impact of this situation on our health, well-being and consciousness as a collective.
Any significant change can elicit feelings of anticipation, concern and worries about the future, and attending to our own psychological well-being has never been more important.
Mental health concerns affect just about all of us at one point in time or another in our lives, however, studies indicate that 1 in 5 Aussies aged 16-85 will experience mental illness in any given year. The most common illnesses are depressive, anxiety and substance abuse disorder.
Access to treatment is essential, and primary mental health care services are central in addressing signs of mental illness. With appropriate treatment, approximately 75% of people improve notably, and experience both immediate and long-term positive outcomes.
Illness prevention and managing the day-to-day stressors
Research and clinical practice show us that one of the most effective tools we have at our disposal for managing everyday stressors and preventative care, is the regular application of breathing exercises and the practice of mindfulness and meditation.
Whilst these practices have been around for centuries, scientific discoveries have brought them to the forefront of our attention with studies indicating the effectiveness of mindfulness-based practices for attenuating the nervous system, reducing stress, and building resilience.
Many individuals, health professionals, organisations, and corporate leaders, have jumped on the ‘mindfulness bandwagon’, and are advocating its effectiveness.
Managing your emotional health
The whole point of engaging in any kind of ‘mindfulness’ exercise, is to pay close attention to your emotional health and how the mind works.
Most of the drama in our lives is caused by the stress of mismanaged and repressed emotions. If not managed effectively, we often tend to project our repressed emotions and beliefs onto others, which can often elicit defensiveness, blame, hurt and disappointment (for both parties involved).
What’s going to have the single most important impact in your life and health is to learn to manage your emotions appropriately; to not judge or suppress them, but to allow them to come into healthy expression…..and NO, this does not mean blurting out the first irrational thought that pops into your head to communicate to your partner / child / friend / colleague or boss, how much they’re bothering you!
The healthy expression of emotions is really about witnessing and acknowledging their presence in the first place - getting out of the habit of ignoring or avoiding what is naturally arising, and instead ATTENDING to yourself with the utmost compassion and kindness.
I like to call this shining the light towards your ‘internal landscape’ and witnessing these emotions as “guests” that need and deserve a say in your life.
Perhaps as you begin to practice paying attention in this way, you will gain some insight as to why you might have been ‘triggered’ in the first place.
Any strong emotional response is often linked to a historical experience ie. an event that elicited a high degree of ‘emotional charge’ at the time; which informed a STORY (the meaning you attributed to that event), and a set of beliefs (about yourself or others) that reinforced your learning to deal with situations in this way.
It is THE STORY (ie. the stuff your mind tells you) that reinforces the ‘emotional hang-ups’.
However, what's equally important to recognise, is that beneath THE STORY that’s perpetuating the stress, is an underlying UNMET NEED.
The key to your health is to pay attention to your emotions and attend to the unmet need. Some examples of fundamental or basic needs are safety, worthiness, love, security, belonging, respect, and connection.
When you learn to hold the space for yourself (and the ego) you will understand what to give yourself to fulfil this need FOR YOURSELF. It’s about learning to form a compassionate relationship with yourself, accepting yourself as you are. Recognise that other’s negative reactions towards you are not indicative of your own personal worth - but more so an indication of how they’re doing within themselves (and visa-versa).
Building this kind of relationship with yourself, is a quite different to having the expectation that everything and everyone “should” and “must” validate and fulfill these needs for you (as an adult that is).
Learning to attend to your own emotions and fundamental needs (ie. hold the space for yourself), is how you build self-respect, authenticity, self-love and liberate yourself.
The total acceptance of WHO YOU ARE, is the key to moving beyond the story that you THINK is you, and opening your heart to give and receive LOVE, and emotional freedom.
You are not your disease. You are not your thoughts. You are not your grief, or whatever other label the ego wants to give it.
So, the next time you feel stressed, overwhelmed, or ‘dirty on the world’ try the following:
1) Check in with your emotions and practice acknowledging them without judgement.
2) Pay attention to ‘the story’ you’re telling yourself and how it influences your feelings.
3) Try to identify your underlying unmet need that deserves your care and attention.
4) Fulfil your need by holding the space for yourself and doing the things that make your life meaningful and fulfilling.
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