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  • Writer's pictureRev. Ani

What to do When Your Mental Health is Drifting Away

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

Positive Mental Health

Do you ever feel like you need a tangible something to help you when you are caught up in a whirlwind of reactivity? The good news is that there are practices that are immediately at your disposal when you feel upset or completely lost, stressed, and at your breaking point. Before we explore these practices, let's take a look at the process of reactivity.

Physiological Response

When something happens in the environment that is uncomfortable for us (consciously or subconsciously), we get physically triggered or activated. Being triggered is first experienced as sensations in the body, such as teeth-clinching, becoming flushed, stomach discomfort, holding the breath, rapid heartbeat, panic, etc., which are the physical manifestations of anger (frustration), fear (anxiety), shame (embarrassment), or a combination of emotions.

Mental Response

When something happens in the environment that is uncomfortable for us (consciously or subconsciously), we get mentally triggered. A cascade of automatic thoughts occurs that is our natural “go-to” mindset when we feel stressed. This may take the form of dwelling on the worst-case scenario, trying to right a perceived injustice, figuring out how to save face, attempting to manage a situation, speculating how we can avoid more stress/conflict, or another mental process.

Behavioral Response

When something happens in the environment that is uncomfortable for us (consciously or subconsciously), we get behaviorally triggered. When triggered, we are hijacked by the intensity of emotion and may act out by becoming defensive, aggressive, hypervigilant, shutdown, or withdrawn. In an effort not to feel our disturbing emotions, we may also use numbing or distraction, in one form or another, such as scrolling through the phone, surfing the internet, binge watching shows, drinking alcohol, using recreational drugs, gambling, engaging in excessive sex, mindless eating, engaging in self-destructive or self-sabotaging behavior, etc.

Take Heart! Help is available right here, right now.

The practices of mindfulness, self-compassion, and emotional regulation are the keys to skillfully navigating your environment when you get triggered. Interrupting the process of reactivity, begins with taking the stance of the inner witness by observing yourself when you react (physically, mentally, and behaviorally), allowing yourself to feel your emotions, and then detaching from your reactions so that you can gain perspective. When you can step back and impartially observe your physical symptoms, mental fixations, and habitual behaviors, then you have a choice in how to proceed. Disturbing events become opportunities to live out your values.

This is where mindfulness, self-compassion, and emotional regulation come in.

· Being mindful means paying attention in the moment, non-judgmentally, to your own process and that of others.

· Self-compassion is the practice of acknowledging that you have been triggered/activated and are doing the best you can in the moment. It is not the same as excusing unskillful behavior (yours or others). Rather, it is the process of recognizing what is true and treating yourself with gentleness and kindness.

· Emotional regulation involves naming how you are feeling, allowing yourself to feel your feelings, taking responsibility for your own emotions, and asking yourself what you need in the moment. Perhaps you need to set a boundary. Maybe you need to give yourself a time out by taking a walk. What nurturing thing can you do for yourself right now?

Mindfulness, self-compassion, and emotional regulation are cultivated through practice, just like any new skill. As you invest in observing yourself and detaching from your reactions, these skills become habits. These positive mental health behaviors are also facilitated by engaging in healthy rituals, such as meditation, journaling, and deep breathing. Any activity that increases your awareness of yourself and your reactions is beneficial in creating the spaciousness you need to make life-giving choices. Remember, you are always reacting to your own thoughts or interpretations of life, not to the actual events. Events are value-neutral, and the behavior of others is not personal.

Building a Resilient Lifestyle: Consider Investing in Counseling

Counseling is a process of introspection which leads to responding to life in a new way. This new way involves quieting the ego and consciously connecting to your values and integrity over and over again. When you are connected to your values, integrity, compassion, and trust, skillful action happens naturally. Disconnection from your values, integrity, compassion, and trust is the cause of anxiety, depression, and all unskillful action.

When you are triggered, you go into fight, flight, or freeze. This is the hyper- or hypo-arousal of the nervous system. This can lead to a chronic stress response in the body/mind, such as anxiety or depression. In an effort not to feel your disturbing emotions, you may use numbing or distraction, in one form or another.

To address the fight, flight, or freeze response in a healthy manner means talking about how you feel and what you think, inducing the relaxation response to bring the body/mind back into balance, engaging in mindful behavior, and connecting to the love within you. Positive mental health requires an investment.

Take the first step today.

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