In the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Volcanic Eruption and the impending hurricane season in SVG, it is prudent that we take a moment to commemorate Mental Health Awareness Month (May 1st- 31st) for yet another year. Our mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
Our mental health is important at every stage of our life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. Over the course of our life, if we experience mental health problems, our thinking, mood, and behavior could be affected, and there are many factors which contribute to mental health problems, these include:
- Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
- Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
- Family history of mental health problems
If you are uncertain whether you or a family member or friend may be experiencing mental health problems, you can look at the following feelings or behaviors as some early warning signs of a problem:
- Eating or sleeping too much or too little
- Pulling away from people and usual activities
- Having low or no energy
- Feeling numb or like nothing matters
- Having unexplained aches and pains
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
- Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
- Cursing or fighting with family and friends
- Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
- Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head
- Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
- Thinking of harming yourself or others
- Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school
If you have identified one or more of the above listed signs, then I will suggest speaking with a mental health practitioner. It is important to understand that speaking to a mental health practitioner does not mean that you have a mental illness or would be institutionalized; it can simply mean that there are things outside of your control at the moment that you may need a well trained professional to help you navigate.
During stressful situations such as what we are experiencing now, taking the time to really identify what you’re feeling can help you to better cope. The following are some Tools to Thrive during this challenging time:
- Allow yourself to feel. Sometimes there are societal pressures that encourage people to shut down their emotions, often expressed through statements like, “Big girls don’t cry,” or “Man up.” These outdated ideas are harmful, not helpful. Everyone has emotions–they are part of the human experience–and you have every right to feel them.
- Don’t ignore how you’re feeling. Most of us have heard the term “bottling up your feelings” before. When we try to push feelings aside without addressing them, they build strength and make us more likely to “explode” at some point in the future. It may not always be appropriate to process your emotions at the very moment you are feeling them, but try to do so as soon as you can.
- Talk it out. Find someone you trust that you can talk to about how you’re feeling. You may find that people are eager to share about similar experiences they’ve had or times that they have felt the way that you are feeling. This can be helpful, but if you’re really only interested in having someone listen, it’s okay to tell them that.
- Build your emotional vocabulary. When asked about our feelings, most people will usually use words like bad, sad, mad, good, or fine. But at the root of “good, bad, sad, mad, or fine” are many words that better describe how we feel.
Try building your emotional vocabulary by writing down as many “feeling” words as you can think of and think of a time that you felt that way.
- Try journaling. Each night, write down at least three feelings you had over the course of the day and what caused them. It doesn’t need to be a “Dear Diary” kind of thing. Just a few sentences or bullet points to help you practice being comfortable with identifying and expressing your emotions.
- Consider the strength of your feelings. By thinking about how intense your emotions are, you may realize that what you thought you were feeling at first could better be described by another word. For instance, sometimes a person might say they are stressed when what they are really experiencing is something less severe like annoyance, alternatively anger might really be a stronger, deeper feeling like betrayal.
It is also important for us to focus on what we have control over. We will never have total control over every situation throughout our lives; this is due to the fact that our lives are impacted by many variables such as people/relationships; death, financial challenges, divorce, betrayal etc; whatever the challenge is, in that moment, we hold on to the aspects we have control over and we leave the rest to be sorted by whom it may concern.
We therefore should adapt a tunnel vision approach which may be perceived as selfish but rather, it is setting boundaries and parameters that will preserve the safety of your emotional and psychological space. We incorporate a filter in our lives where we are deliberate in avoiding distractions and anything or anyone that does not serve the development of our lives and the promotion of our overall mental wellness.
The one thing I would like you to take away from this article is that your mental health is your responsibility, and it is important to invest the same amount of energy in your mental health as you do your physical health. Your mental health is your greatest ASSET.