We often assume that mental well-being simply means being happy, while mental stress means being sad. However, the range of mental health we can experience is significantly more complex. Suffering from mental stress can manifest in a wide variety of emotions and physical states. We may feel numb, fatigued, short-tempered or snappy. We may become impatient with the people we love or lose excitement in activities that we used to like. We may constantly feel tired: Too tired to exercise, too tired to meet with friends, too tired to be inspired. Mental stress often takes us to a state of auto-pilot: getting through the day while rushing from task to task, then eat, sleep and repeat.
Many of these symptoms are enabled by our tendency to ruminate over past and future events: we repeatedly go over what has happened or what might happen, filling ourselves with feelings of worry, regret or anxiety. These unpleasant emotions then colour the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us. Crucially, they direct our attention toward similar negative cues in our environment, increasingly confirming and shaping our negative beliefs and expectations. Stuck in such a cycle, we may feel frustrated, unhappy or even undeserving, un-loveable; and we adapt our behaviour accordingly.
Counselling and psychotherapy provide us with concrete tools to break such unwanted thought and behaviour cycles. These guide us in retraining our brain pathways away from unconstructive beliefs and harsh self-criticism that make us feel small and inadequate. Instead, we learn to establish healthy thoughts and habits that represent more accurate and balanced reflections of reality. In line with this, we can make corresponding adjustments to our behaviours, practising to be compassionate toward others while also assertively making our own needs heard.
In this process, we dig deeper to explore who we are at our core. Knowing our strengths and weaknesses, gives us the confidence to act in line with our values and nurtures kindness and patience toward ourselves in the face of challenges. Understanding why certain situations trigger us into emotional turmoil takes away their power over us and allows us to become increasingly adept at managing our responses. By applying therapeutical techniques, we create a surfboard with which we learn to ride the waves life throws at us.
The resulting positive shift in attitude and emotional regulation helps to clear our mind and frees us to delight in the present moment. We have more time and commitment for achieving satisfying, rewarding relationships with the people who matter most to us. We also become happier, more productive and more resilient. As a result of lower stress hormones, reduced blood pressure and enhanced immuno-functioning, we have fewer sick days, less fatigue and more energy to get tasks done. Encouraging our mental well-being brings us to a state of balance from which we can use our knowledge and tools to weather turbulent time, break bad habits that no longer serve us and move toward our goals with courage.
So while investing time and resources into our mental health may seem like an additional burden on our already over-packed schedules, it is truly time well-spent. Our enhanced well-being gives us back our enjoyment and quality time to spend on the things we find most fulfilling.
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