Our mental health is an integral part of how we show up each day. In western cultures we are not taught about the inter connection of body, mind and spirit. With our current digital culture and a severe lack of downtime (i.e. connecting with nature etc. NOT TV) with little or no chance of anyone genuinely experiencing boredom, we are experiencing an explosion of mental health issues.
So, we present to the doctor and continue to be treated in a disconnected way. Root cause or investigation rarely comes into it and medication is usually the chosen path in an effort to fix it. We are a culture obsessed with fixing ourselves from the outside in and because we are deeply uncomfortable in our own skin, we long for a magic pill or cure to help us feel better.
Having been medicated for a lot of my life for depression, anxiety and generally just feeling anything at all I see the benefit mindfulness has to offer. As mindfulness encourages us to accept where and who we are in the moment, it’s a key part of helping people struggling with their mental health. Depression can be referred to as ‘a lack of expression’ where we push things down unable to deal with them or not even sure how. We can often look back when we are in depressed states and feel mournful for the past.
Anxiety on the other hand can be when we are worried about the future all the time and this if often about things that we cannot control. Mindfulness helps to bring us into the present moment understanding that’s all there is. For me this is the fundamental and most important aspect for people who are struggling. A lot of people have little or no value for the present moment as they think nothing happens there, but the truth is everything happens there. Your thoughts, intentions and actions in the present moment shape your future.
However, as with anything in this life we must be willing to work with mindfulness and not expect it to fix us. The primary relationship that mindfulness has to our mental health is creating an awareness of how we feel and understanding that those feelings are connected to thoughts and sensations in the body.
It’s essential to reconnect to ourselves and understand the power we have each day to make choices which can lead us on a path to better mental health. Often we take our mental health for granted and expect to feel good naturally. Very few of us are taught that we need to work on ourselves and integrate body, mind and spirit to have true homeostasis, peace and freedom within. This then creates the life you want without.
Mindfulness is just one of many tools we need for good mental health. Good food, movement, great sleep, good relationships and your environment are also key factors in maintaining and achieving good mental health.
Mindfulness can help us reduce suffering by teaching us that all our emotions are normal. At some stage we decided that only good feeling emotions were valid in society and if you have negative emotions you need to get rid of them. If you can’t well then we have to medicate them away. We have instilled deep fear about uncomfortable emotions in people, leading them to find normal human responses like grief and heartache almost impossible to face without pills and potions. We praise people who are happy all the time and we place unrealistic expectations on our kids. We tell our kids to stop crying and buck up. Put on a brave face and don’t let anyone see that you are hurt or in pain. Very often our response is because we are so uncomfortable with these emotions within ourselves that we have an inability to soothe this aspect of our children’s emotional health. We compare our lives with those on social media not really thinking that behind that lens the colour you see could very well be grey or black and white.
When we feel sad or low we feel guilty. I remember as a young girl if I ever mentioned that I was struggling I was called ungrateful, so I soon learnt to bottle my emotions and push them down. What mindfulness teaches us is that emotions are visitors simply passing through and that every single emotion is valid. Emotions are messengers telling us something about the situation we are in or how we are feeling about ourselves. With time, practice and a good teacher we can learn to meet these uncomfortable and even difficult emotions with compassion and kindness helping us to navigate this difficult world just a little bit easier.
We can accept where we are with grace through mindfulness and begin to understand that the only place to start from is where you are and not where you want to be.
Using tools like a body scan we can become knowledgeable about our body and tune in with ourselves. Only then we can start to recognize when our body is trying to tell us something. Using the various different techniques that mindfulness offers we can learn to catch our thoughts before they catch us. For example, with anxiety if you learn to read the signals through mindfulness you can become aware when you feel your triggers for anxiety in your everyday life and use mindful interventions to help like grounding yourself and using your breath.
It’s important to remember that years ago we had many natural mindful moments in our lives when we were out walking and waiting for friends in town. Most of these precious moments have been taken away by our phone so in essence mindfulness today is really just a conscious modern way of putting back what we naturally had and need. Seen this way we can begin to see mindfulness differently and not just as a modern buzzword. It’s a part of us we have forgotten and through the rise in mental health issues we can really begin to see the devastation having no gaps or space in our lives is causing.
For depression understanding the mind can be a powerful tool in helping us deconstruct the stories we tell ourselves. Before we know it, we have created a drama in our head that we believe and through mindfulness we learn to challenge our thoughts understanding that they are not us which can help with depressive episodes.
Through mindfulness we can learn to accept ourselves and even move on to like and then love ourselves. Once we get reconnected with our self, we can see the vulnerability we all have and as our hearts open we soften, understanding that everyone is simply trying to do their best and no one is perfect.
Through mindfulness meditation we can observe our thoughts as they come and go helping us to create space and notice how our thought patterns create our reality. This also helps to calm our CNS and in turn reduce stress and anxiety. With depression we tend to get caught up in negative thought patterns, which can become a deeply ingrained habit unless changed. We can help cultivate positive emotions through ‘metta’ or loving kindness practice.
Living more mindfully to help cultivate good mental health needs to be a lifestyle change and not an eight week programme. Just like exercising your body, your mind needs to be worked on daily. If you don’t use it you lose it. Negative behaviours and thought patterns creep back in and they are always waiting on the side line looking for any opportunity to move in. So it’s important that each individual becomes the gatekeeper of their own mind.