There are only six things we are able to experience inside our heads: To visualise pictures, hear sounds, feel feelings, smell smells, taste tastes and to have conversations with ourselves. Five of these are our senses, the sixth is our internal self-talk, or better known as ‘our thoughts’.
Our mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing and is directly affected by how we think, feel and behave as we cope with life.
As a human being we are designed to experience all sorts of emotions each and every day, good and bad, and these ‘feelings’ are a funny thing. When we feel ‘love’ and ‘hate’, the physical experience of each is very different, ‘joy’ and ‘grief’ are the same. Conversely, the physical response to feelings of ‘excitement’ and ‘fear’ are almost identical.
You may be wondering why I’m linking mental health and physiology responses together, so let me explain.
We have thousands of different memories stored in our brain that we can recount at any given moment. However, whilst over time the sharpness of these memories will naturally begin to fade from our brain, they continue to live on through our bodies in the form of subconscious physical sensations, reactions and behaviour patterns.
The extent that any of these events may impact us very much depends on how resilient we are as an individual, we are all very different and will respond as such.
For the purpose of survival, our bodies are designed to fight, flee or freeze in a stressful or traumatic situation in order for us to cope. Animals shake when they experience trauma or anxiety, as they try to calm their nervous system down and quieten the fight, flee or freeze response, thus allowing them to move on without physical memory of the situation.
However, we as humans don’t naturally adopt this approach.
As a result, we carry our stresses, anxieties and trauma around with us every day and may use food and other addictive behaviours to soothe ourselves and quieten the emotional discomfort. Most of the time, we may not even be aware of these behavioural patterns or that we are doing them, but these behaviours can get us stuck in a cycle of negativity with a bleak outlook on what life is about. The consequence being that we are not experiencing and instead blocking the natural sensations and highs-and-lows of life that we should be. I call this ‘non-experiential’.
Our mental health and how our brains are functioning is a response to the information our physical body and brain is storing. It is giving us feedback each and every moment as to what is required for us to be physically and emotionally healed and released.
I believe that often we ignore the signs we are given or simply are unaware that they are there. As a result we can end up bottling up our feelings and emotions and accumulating stress and ailments that could have been released.
Society has certainly had a role to play in how we perceive mental health issues as socially unacceptable, hence we often prefer to disguise and ignore the signs and behaviour’s associated with them.
The social and self-perceived stigma around mental health is in my opinion devaluing and preventing us from understanding and utilising both the inner resources we have built in within us, and being brave enough to make use of the external resources available. Both would help enormously to improve our own mental health, and that of others around us.
Admittedly, it is not an easy thing to do. it is incredibly difficult to move away from the stigma of mental health and find the resources and strength within, and hold onto that glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. To step out of this means changing how we think, to how we feel and behave, which is a big ask but with the right tools and support it can be done.
We rightly spend a lot of time keeping track of our own physical health, as this is what is more visible to both ourselves and society. If we put the same amount of effort, care and concern into what is going on ‘upstairs’ in our minds, both our mental and physical health would benefit hugely and our quality of life would be infinitely more fulfilling.
If you would like to know what you can do to help improve your mental health, I have 6 tips to get you started:
1. Taking care of your body, inside out. The food you eat directly impacts how your body works and how your brain fires. There are a number of ‘feel-good-foods’ that naturally induce endorphins and clarity of mind, as well as balancing the gut flora, which directly links back to the brain. Some of these include, salmon, blueberries and spinach.
2. Every movement whether that be a thought, word, action or choice, is a movement of energy, and understanding that the quality of this energy will have a direct impact on your body and how you feel. I don’t mean go and exert self at the gym. Doing gentle energy balancing movements like yoga and qi-gong or activities such as running, and fitness classes will improve your heart rate variability and your physical resilience to stress, as well as boosting positive endorphins that encourage and optimistic mindset.
3. Sleep! A bed-time routine that implements healthy sleep habits is imperative for restoring our health and well-being, and there are many practices such as meditation, mindfulness and massage, which can all improve our sleep quality by releasing stress and tension.
4. Setting boundaries. By always putting others and their needs before yourself, it leaves us little time to do what makes you happy and well. It’s important to identify the boundaries needed for self-rediscovery, how to set these and more importantly, which ones are non-negotiable.
5. Building resilience. I am always surprised how resilient my clients have been during times of immense pressure from work, family commitments and social engagements, however this is usually to the detriment of their physical and mental well-being. It is so important to manage stress and put together some emotional tools to deal with difficult and testing times, but importantly without falling into self-destructive patterns that compromise the important elements for a healthy body and mind, such as nutrition, exercise and sleep.
6. Reflective practice and journaling. Our internal dialogue can be our worst enemy or best friend. Reflective practice has huge benefit in increasing our self-awareness, which is key to our emotional intelligence. By combining both reflective practice and journaling together, you will have a unique system to improve your mood and to give you a great sense of emotional wellbeing. It allows you to clearly understand the thoughts you are having and the process in which you have got to them.
With the different levels and complexities of mental health issues, it’s important to seek independent professional medical advice in addition to the advice provided in this article.
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