What to do When Your Mental Health is Drifting Away
Positive Mental Health Requires an Investment
The practices of mindfulness, self-compassion, and emotional regulation promote positive mental health. They represent skillful responses to environmental triggers. Here is how it works:
When something happens in the environment that is uncomfortable for us (consciously or subconsciously), we get physically triggered. 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.
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.
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are hijacked by the intensity of emotion and may act out by becoming defensive, aggressive, hypervigilant, shutdown, or withdrawn.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.
Proactive Mental Health
To interrupt this process, we must learn to take the stance of the inner witness by observing ourselves when we react (physically, mentally, and behaviorally), allowing ourselves to feel our emotions, and then detaching from our reactions so that we can gain perspective. When we can step back and impartially observe our physical symptoms, mental fixations, and habitual behaviors, then we have a choice on how to proceed. Disturbing events become opportunities to live out our 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 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. 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.
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 the Love within you (your values and integrity) over and over again. When you are connected to that Source, skillful action happens naturally. Disconnection from that Source 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.
Take the first step today.