Updated: Oct 9, 2019
“Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” Brené Brown
The term ‘mental health’ is one that is tip-toed around on eggshells. In the last year or so, I’ve done a fair amount of research into learning more about mental health, depression, and anxiety. I’ve talked to professionals and non-professionals about the same too. It’s a fascinating subject for me, and I’m eager to be writing about the topic of mental health, especially given the fairly long break that I’ve been on.
We are heading into an era where there is a large amount of discussion surrounding the topic of mental health. Eating disorders are looked into. Parenting styles are discussed. The idea of shame, versus guilt. Three key practices – self-priority, self-care, and self-awareness, and how they go hand in hand. How the importance of physical health goes in tandem with mental health. To be honest, these are possibly just a mere 25% of the actual topics that are encompassed under the umbrella of ‘mental health’.
Back in the day, the term ‘mental health’ was so taboo that people attributed it to being ‘mad’, and who doesn’t think of the cliche scene of getting a ‘shock treatment’ in a ‘mental hospital’?
Nowadays, there’s more conversation about the idea of mental health, within the media, social platforms, and it’s also become a more open topic to discuss amongst your peers. Admittedly, I’m well aware that there is still a very large taboo in certain parts of the world; in admitting to having mental health problems, or seeing a therapist. A friend I know who sees a therapist once told me, that they believed that everyone at some point in time may need to see a licensed professional, and that there wasn’t anything wrong in it. Life isn’t that perfect; and talking to someone with experience in the field can go a long way.
First though, let’s define this term. I’ve used it frequently enough in the above paragraphs, that I feel that this is important. As per my dictionary, mental health is defined as: “A person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.” Medical News Today takes it a step further and adds on the line – “It is all about how we think, feel and behave” (2017).
“A person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being – it is all about how we think, feel and behave.”
Put across like that, it doesn’t sound as daunting, does it? It’s simply taking a look at us. Taking a look inside ourselves, to see how we think about certain things, how we feel about our surrounding environment – be it our peers, or families, or jobs – and how we behave based on that.
If there’s anything I’ve seen, mental health talks about the importance of emotions. We live in such a rational world, don’t we? Think about it, even whilst growing up, our parents tell us to not cry, because strong men and big girls don’t cry. The idea is instilled upon us from a very young age that being emotional is a weakness – it’s a label that we can’t get rid of, and you have to keep the poker face on. Shut down the emotions, and deal with the pain by yourself.
Let me ask you this though; how do you connect with people if you can’t connect with your emotions? I’ve seen people who don’t know how to deal with conflict, because they don’t know how to deal with the emotions and the struggles that come from it, leaving it to become one sticky mess.
I remember a line in the Bollywood movie ‘Dear Zindagi’. Dr. Khan looks at his client, Kaira and tells her very simply, that if she can’t express or feel her pain by crying, how can she feel true happiness?
It’s true though, when you think about it. I think many of us reach a point in our life when we look back, and we don’t feel happy. Then we start looking for this concept of happiness, in our jobs, in the materialistic items, in our relationships; when quite simply, happiness should come from within. Yet unfortunately in this journey of our ours, as we distract ourselves from how we’re feeling, or not being able to deal with the cards that life plays us, it affects our physical health. Some of us stress-eat. Some of us don’t eat. Some of us turn to drinks and drugs.
Which in turn, brings us back to mental health.
Numb the dark, and you numb the light – Brené Brown.
Without dabbling on this philosophical rant of mine for much longer, I’m going to give you three simple reasons that you can reflect on in terms of your mental health. By no means I’m suggesting that everyone pack their bags off to see a psychologist or therapist; that decision is up to you depending on a variety of factors. Unfortunately though, I’ve seen a fair number of people in my close circle not take care of themselves; physically, emotionally or mentally, and this is one attempt of mine for them to consider seeking help.
#1 – Do you think about how you feel?
I’ve noticed this happen quite often amongst my inner circle. It’s a very sticky and vulnerable thought though, to think about how you truly feel. I personally believe that the one reason we get angry is because we aren’t able to express what we feel. Therefore our body reacts in anger because we don’t know how else to react. We can’t cry out of pain or hurt, because we don’t know how to. We can’t let go of the shame, which builds up the defences and leads to being on the offense, often blaming the other person – because blame is a way of exerting your pain (As Brené Brown has noted in her book ‘Daring Greatly’.
For these reasons, I feel like anger can be a very miscommunicated emotion. In fact, I think that anger covers up for the emotion that we are truly feeling. Whether it’s guilt, shame, disappointment, or anything else really. The list of emotions are endless.
#2 – Do you sleep and eat well?
It’s such a taken for granted scenario, don’t you think? Research suggests that we need about 8 hours of sleep a day. I’ve heard people brag about how they can function with less than that amount, and I wonder, truly, is there anything to brag about with the lack of sleep you get? Everyone’s heard about the 42-year old businessman who exercised, ate right, but didn’t get enough sleep and died of a heart attack.
An influencer I follow talks about food in a very simple manner. Why is it recommended to eat 5-6 meals a day? Why do we get hungry? The former is so that we fuel our body to keep working; to keep our heart pumping and to stay alive! A sign of hunger, is that our body needs that fuel in order to keep supporting itself in a sustainable manner. Put in these terms, this makes sense, doesn’t it?
I’m not saying with this point of mine that there’s anything wrong with you if you don’t eat and sleep well. There absolutely isn’t. Just look deeper into yourself for what the reason could be. Is it a lack of time? Is it a lack of motivation? Is it a lack of hunger overall? What do these things mean?
#3 – Are you burning out?
When I left my job last year, I was in a pretty stressed out period towards the end of my contract. I had been talking to my cousin about this, and the first question that came up was, “Are you burning out?” I laughed and told him that I was pretty sure I wasn’t. Why? Because I didn’t believe that I, the overachiever, could burn out.
Nonetheless, it’s a real thing. It’s a difficult thing too. I’ll get more into the topic of burnout and self-care in another article, but I believe its worthwhile mentioning this concept of ‘burnout’. Overachieving is considered to be a great thing, but honestly, it can lead to some unfortunate consequences.
To end this note, consider watching this beautiful and short TED Talk, that I’ve watched a fair number of times for inspiration.