Continuing the Conversation Around Mental Health (part 2)
Updated: Nov 2, 2022
"Mental health…is not a destination, but a process. It’s about how you drive, not where you’re going." — Noam Shpancer, PhD
In our last post, we discussed some of the things that've caused a strain on our mental health. It’s always important to rule out any brain chemistry or hormonal imbalance that might be causing ongoing symptoms of depression, anxiety or chronic stress. Once we’ve spoken with our doctor or specialist and made sure that we’re in a physically healthy space, it’s time to shift our focus. Let's discuss a few strategies to help us stay present to what's happening in and around our environment so we can react accordingly.
Rather than viewing our mental health as a problem needing a solution; it’s helpful to instead view it as simply another of our body's systems which need calibration to maintain balance. Life is dynamic; there’s always change happening and as a result our emotions can feel like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to another. So, taking a bit of time each day to figure out exactly what we’re feeling can help us decide which activities or tools might be best used on each day. By making it a regular habit to check-in with ourselves, we can build a toolkit to deal with the overwhelm of our mental health challenges.
We’re all different human beings with different preferences and tendencies so it’s important to remember there’s more than one way to do things. I’ll share a few options I’ve found helpful and maybe one of them will work for you. Or perhaps they’ll serve as a starting point for you to discover what might work best for you. Here’s a few options with links to explore further:
The act of journaling may look completely different from one person to another. Maybe you'll set a timer and free write for 10, 20, 30 minutes or even longer without censoring yourself or correcting any grammar or spelling mistakes to just notice what bubbles up through your subconscious. If this type of writing appeals to you, check out The Morning Pages by Julia Cameron.
If you’re more interested in a shorter process with pre-populated questions to guide your journey inward, see Kris Carr’s Results Journal. Click here to view a sample The Results Journal by Kris Carr
If you’d rather start simple and small, grab a notebook and date each page before writing a page of whatever comes to mind, or maybe a gratitude list or even a to-do list. Sometimes, just taking a few moments to write down our thoughts helps to organize them in our minds and can serve as a way to ground ourselves.
The emotional freedom technique, EFT, is often referred to as tapping since you're physically tapping on parts of your face and upper body while speaking statements to yourself either silently or aloud. This powerful practice combines elements of positive physiology with acupressure to help change the energy patterns in your body. A short tapping session can result in a profound improvement in your emotional and mental health.If you’d like to try tapping, here’s a link for lots of information, demonstrations and free tapping sessions: The Tapping Solution (EFT)
An interesting side note, there were several members of the USA Swim Team at the Rio Olympics tapping on the sidelines before their event. This technique has been used to effectively soothe and reset the nervous system and boost the immune system as well. The research is fascinating and it's very accessible with apps to help guide you through the process.
The process of breathing falls under the domain of our autonomic nervous system which means the constant flow of breath in and out of the body will continue to occur even without our conscious input. In the midst of our ever-changing, busy lives; however, one of the only constants is our breath. No matter how our thoughts, emotions and lives change over days, months or years - the breath will be there.
Taking the time to explore breath work can help center our minds and develop our ability to return the body to homeostasis, which is a set point of optimal balance. As author and educator Donna Farhi explains, the awareness of proper breathing helps her students find ease in challenging situations. “As their minds become clearer and their emotions become more balanced through calm and regular breathing, they are creating a life that is conducive to health, well-being, and a sense of inner peace.” (Farhi, 17). Check out this 12 minute video, inspired in part by Farhi’s work called “Finding Presence in the Breath” to see where you might be experiencing some impediments to calm, easy breathing:
Have you tried meditation in the past and found it nearly impossible to clear your mind and simply sit in silence? You’re definitely NOT alone and you haven’t failed at meditation. You’ve just not discovered the right type of meditation for you.
If you tend to need something to do with your hands, you could try a mudras based meditation or even japa meditation. With mudras, you’re positioning your hands and fingers in specific ways to direct the energy flowing through your body. Japa meditation is done while holding a mala or string of beads in your hands and counting the breaths or mantras by moving your fingers from one bead to the next.
Mantra is another element you could add to your meditation if your mind tends to wander once things get quiet. A mantra is a sequence of sounds or words, often spoken in Sanskrit or Gurmukhī. Pronouncing the words in these languages result in the tongue touching the roof of the mouth producing vibrations through the head and vagus nerves running along the back of the throat connecting to energy channels of within the body which soothe and balance the autonomic nervous system.
One of my favorite meditation practices is the Kirtan Kriya which combines the elements of mudra, mantra and breath work in 12 minutes. Follow along with the YouTube video below:
In addition to the relaxing and balancing qualities that you’ll experience, there’ve been numerous studies which measure the long term effects of consistent practice on the human brain. Learn more about the research being done at the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation.
The best time to start addressing our mental health and maintaining it on a daily basis is right NOW since it doesn’t seem life is ready to stop challenging us anytime soon. Most of these techniques will take you 15 minutes or less. Our bodies and minds are keeping us alive 24 hours a day so taking the time to gift ourselves with our full attention for a few minutes every day is a wonderful way to love yourself!
Farhi, Donna. (1996). The Breathing Book: Good Health and Vitality Through Essential Breath Work. Owl Books, Henry Hold and Company, LLC.