Four steps to take care of your mental health
A guest blog by Dr. Adrienne Green
Emotions are hardly ever simple. Most often we experience mixed emotions, and this can lead us to feel confused and out of control. This is because our emotions play an important part in our decision-making process, and if we don’t know how we feel we don’t know what to do.
The point is that there is no ‘right’ or ‘good’ thing to be doing now that will ensure unalloyed positive emotions. To a large extent, whether or not you maintain mental wellness is not about what you are doing. It is about what you think about what you are doing, and how you communicate your position to yourself and to others.
I would like to propose four steps that you can begin to take right now to help yourself maintain your mental wellbeing:
- Be self-aware
- Be congruent
- Nurture your self-confidence
- Be non-judgemental
So, the first step towards protecting your mental health is to be self-aware. This means you need to open yourself to being conscious of all the different emotions that you are experiencing. Recognise that it is natural to experience potentially conflicting emotions, none of which are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. They are all understandable reactions to a challenging and complicated situation, and they all let you know something about yourself.
The second step is to be congruent. This means that you need to be honest with yourself about what you feel, what you enjoy and what you fear, and communicate with others openly, honestly and assertively. Now is not the time to be concerned with what other people think of you. Now is the time to take care of yourself and, by doing so, take care of others. You will suffer from stress if you agree to, or do, something that runs contrary to your values or to what you know to be in your best interests or those of people dearest to you. If you become stressed you will become ill, and that is in no-one’s interest.
The third step is to nurture your self-confidence. Be careful not to underestimate your ability to deal with difficulty. When people believe that they are unable to cope with the challenges of life it is often because they confuse ‘coping’ with ‘keeping calm’, or with ‘finding it easy’. So, for example, if you became distressed or angry during a difficult time, and were perhaps emotional and wept or shouted, you might well interpret this as having ‘not coped’ or ‘coped badly’. Another very common reason for people’s belief that they are unable to cope with life’s challenges is that they confuse ‘coping’ with ‘managing alone’. So, if you ever had to get help to overcome a difficulty, you could think this means you ‘couldn’t cope’. But coping is not about finding things easy or being calm, nor is it about managing everything on your own. It is about feeling all of the emotions that are appropriate and natural for the circumstance that you are in and using all of your personal resources to get through. Think about a time in the past when you experienced some difficulty or other and ask yourself what personal skills, qualities, experience and expertise you used to deal with it and come out the other side. Now ask yourself how you will get through the current situation. Gold star if your answer is: using the same skills, qualities, experience and expertise that you used before! And remember, it is a sign of flexibility and resilience to recognise when you are truly out of your depth and to ask for help, support or even just a compromise from someone else.
The final step is to be non-judgemental. This means avoiding self-criticism. You feel what you feel. A basic principle of emotional intelligence is that there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘good’ or ‘bad’ emotions (there are mental states which can be debilitating and potentially damaging, such as depression or stress, but these are not emotions). Being judgemental towards yourself, beating yourself up, feeling guilty – these are exhausting and draining wastes of energy. If you believe that what you are doing is not the best or most useful or helpful thing you can do, then do something else. If it is the most useful or helpful thing you can do, then don’t feel guilty about it! Be compassionate towards yourself. Accept how you feel and allow your emotions to play a part in your thinking and decision-making. At the same time, allow the same for others. We can never see all that lies behind another individual’s actions or behaviour. We can only be sure that there is more going on than we know, and be empathic and compassionate towards them. This is not only a gift to them but also to yourself. It can be a huge relief, and preserve so much energy, if you can let go of all that judging and just get on with the work that means so much to you.
Dr Adrienne Green is our mental health expert. She practised for many years as a psychotherapist and psychotherapy supervisor within both private and NHS mental health care services. In particular, she worked with people suffering with severe stress, anxiety and depression, and in 2005 published her first book, Out of the Blue: A Practical Guide to Overcoming and Preventing Depression. As an independent consultant/coach/trainer Adrienne specialises in workplace psychology and employee well-being, with a focus on mental health issues, stress management, resilience, communication skills and conflict management.
If you feel that Adrienne might be able to help you or your organisation, drop us a line or give us a call on 01582 463460 and we’ll put you in touch. We’re here to help!