Take time today to be aware of how you ‘talk to yourself’ in your thoughts and self-talk, and whether you need to work on being kinder to yourself and forming healthier thought patterns.
Do you find that at certain times you worry more about what people think of you? I’m sure it is a general human condition that from time to time we all experience this, as social beings, but if you suffer from any kind of anxiety disorder, then this can at times become debilitating. Believe me, I speak from experience, so I extend compassion to anyone else who may be suffering from something similar. There aren’t necessarily any ‘quick fixes’, but sometimes it just helps to know that you are not alone – and I can assure you that you are not. At times, our own thoughts and feelings can be so acute, so overwhelming and so difficult to ignore or get on top of, and this impacts upon our neurological responses, and on our behaviour in any given situation. Sometimes we even tell ourselves that we are being ‘ridiculous’, paranoid even, but it doesn’t make the struggle any less real. I find that I resort to self-protective behaviours such as avoidance, isolation, just keeping myself to myself as much as possible. Because there’s enough going on inside of an anxious person than to have to deal with the external world as well. Yet, it is often the case that individuals like myself, and perhaps like you if you can relate to any of this, have so much going on inside of them that they find difficult to regulate, precisely because at some point or another, and most likely during childhood and adolescence while our coping mechanisms were still forming, the external world caused some sort of damage. And so our adult lives have that stressful edge to them, and the smallest of things can send our nervous system into overdrive as our bodies try to determine whether the best response would be to fight, take to flight, or flee the situation. And that’s not our faults if our developing brains have been damaged or are over or underactive in certain ways. People don’t realise how incredibly tough it can be to live in such a way. But that’s not to say there is no hope – there is plenty of hope, so if you are struggling please don’t feel too disheartened. This comes with the proviso, however that it is going to take hard work and practice, and getting ‘back to basics’ on a daily basis – something that I need to work on as well. The basics are calming our nervous system, investing our time in ‘breath work’, in relaxation, calming techniques, observing the world around us using our senses in an intentional way so as to ground ourselves, and working on redressing the negative and fearful thought patterns that our brains have become stuck in. This can be done – simply look up neuroplasticity for inspiration that your brain can change as we create and strengthen new neural connections. It is not easy, my friend, I know…anxiety sometimes feels like a monster we have to fight, but we can and will win if we keep on going; panic attacks are exhausting, and PTSD / C-PTSD can be frightening, confusing, disorienting and painful on so many levels – but we will overcome. If you are struggling today, know that there is hope, for a better, brighter, calmer future….and even a calmer today – maybe not free from stress, anxiety or worry, but as you take time to work on things you may just find that you cope better than you did yesterday. Whatever your situation, and however trapped you might feel, find a place to get away from it all, even if that means going for a walk by yourself before going home from work for example, and begin or continue your training of ‘rewiring’ your body, brain and nervous system. It will take effort and commitment but don’t we owe it to ourselves, regardless of what other people might think? What other people think or might be thinking about us isn’t nearly as important as our health and wellbeing – so let’s get training – like any muscle in the body, we need to keep exercising our minds in order to be mentally healthy, even if that means we start training as if we were an athlete in recovery from a major injury – it might feel that way to you just now but it can get better if you put in the work and build up your support mechanisms. One step at a time, we will get stronger, so take care, walk slowly, breathe a little more deeply, and fill your mind with kind thoughts towards yourself and others. x
It’s easy enough to talk about physical fitness. Even if people have issues around their health, weight, diet, conditions or lifestyle, there is such an open platform to talk about bettering ourselves physically. There is no shortage of diet plans, exercise programmes and encouragement to keep fit, physically. For people who have never exercised, there are initiatives such as ‘Couch to 5k’, there is a lot of talk about nutrition, vegan diets, making sure you get your 5 portions of fruit and veg a day, keeping active and training physically to look and feel your best. So, even if one isn’t particularly fit, there are plenty of resources available to help them to make changes and talking about fitness is seen as a positive thing in most cases.
But what about mental fitness? We train our bodies, but do we train our minds? Do we make sure we get enough mental rest and exercise, and linked to physical health, do we supply ourselves with the correct nutrition, fresh air and exercise to help us to stay mentally well? Mental health is often viewed negatively, or as a ‘problem’, and even with things being more open nowadays, there are still societal taboos around talking about mental health. However, just as everyone has physical health that can be either good or poor, so too does everyone have mental health – which can be generally good, bad or variable.
Do you think of your mind in this way? Just as you would exercise your muscles to keep in good condition, do you also explore what are the best ways for you to exercise your mind, to stay mentally fit and healthy or to recover from ‘injury’?
Chances are that most of us know that we need to pay attention to our mental health, but aside from seeking professional help, we don’t really know how. Staying mentally fit and looking after your mental health does not only apply to people with conditions, such as myself, like depression, anxiety and C-PTSD. Even if you have no diagnosable mental health conditions, you still have a mind, and you need to keep it healthy. What the mind is, is a more nebulous topic for discussion, but the way we think affects almost every aspect of our lives, including our physical health.
Of course, seek professional help and support for mental health conditions or ‘mental illness’. But even if you consider yourself to be ‘fine’ mentally, you still need to stay in training on a daily basis. This doesn’t simply mean ‘brain training’ or doing things to improve your cognitive abilities, it also means giving your mind what it needs.
So what are some of the things your mind needs to stay healthy?
- Rest – just as our physical bodies need rest, we also need to rest our minds in order to stay well and to help process the multitude of information that we encounter on a daily basis. As well as good sleep, nutrition, hydration and exercise, our minds also benefit when we take time just to be still, and if you like to ‘meditate’ and allow yourself to be quiet for a while, free from distraction, noise, busyness, technology and external input. You might like to meditate on a Truth, a verse from scripture, or simply try to rest and allow your thoughts to come and go and settle.
- Journaling – our thoughts and emotions are intricately linked. Expressing ourselves through writing can be very helpful to externalise difficult emotions in a healthy and productive way, and can also help us to identify what we are thinking, how we ‘talk to ourselves’ in our minds, and to see whether we have any particular negative thought patterns that we need to address.
- Talking – our minds process information received in a variety of ways, and this includes through narrative and through verbalising and sharing our thoughts with someone else. This is why Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and other ‘talk therapies’ can be so beneficial for addressing thoughts, and the consequent feelings, emotions, beliefs and behaviours that result. Talking helps us to process our thoughts, put them in some sort of order, as well as receiving input from someone else who might be able to provide a healthy perspective or to offer constructive advice.
- Close some ‘tabs’ – we live in an age of information, and just as technology can suffer from information overload, so too can our minds. We seem to have lost, as a society, the ability to ‘switch off’ and to concentrate on just one thing at a time, and apply all of our focus, energy and attention to that thing. Some of the most satisfying times spent whether at work, playing sport, or doing something creative, occur during ‘flow states’, when we are so absorbed in what we are doing, that time seems to pass effortlessly, we are fully engaged in what we are doing, are present and cease to worry as much about the past, or the future. If our minds are constantly having to flit from one ‘tab’ to the next, and if we have to filter and process several pieces of information at once, then we really aren’t allowing our minds the chance to get fit, strong and healthy. When you workout in the gym, you don’t hop from one machine to another and back again every few seconds. If you did, you probably wouldn’t stick at it very long, and wouldn’t be in great shape as you wouldn’t have allowed your muscles to train. Just as with physical training you require focus and planning, similarly with mental agility you need to exercise particular thought processes in order to form and strengthen healthy patterns of thinking, and behaviour. ‘Closing tabs’ doesn’t just mean on your computer, but also on your ‘to do’ lists, and minimising noise, distraction, and sensory input. Let your mind have the chance to rest and grow strong.
- Be grateful – our mental agility will increase as we intentionally practice looking at situations in a healthy way, and learning to problem solve and identify opportunities rather than just problems or barriers. Gratitude helps us emotionally, physically and mentally to stay well.
- Create and play – engage your mind positively through creativity, and allow yourself to participate in an activity rather than passively absorbing information. You could colour, draw, paint, do a puzzle, word-search or crossword, play chess, play an instrument, design something from scratch, write a story, make a puppet, invent something, and so the list of endless possibilities goes on. Exercise your mind to not only take in information but to assimilate information, create new ideas and to engage actively in what you are doing in the present.
- Read a book – reading stimulates the imagination, engages our thinking, provides a single point of focus for our ideas rather than the multitude of articles, clips, videos, images and posts that pop up on social media to vie for our attention.
There will be many more things you can do daily to strengthen your mental health and wellbeing, and if you have any ideas to share and inspire others please do comment. We cannot neglect the need to keep our minds fit and healthy. For without healthy minds, what good will healthy bodies do? xx
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, so please see this as a personal piece of writing, and follow up with your own research as required.
Living with chronic pain can be overwhelming. The sources of chronic pain are numerous, and can derive from neuropathic sources where there is nerve damage, from external injury, from psychosomatic pain and / or a combination of these as well as various other factors.
Psychosomatic pain can be wide ranging, but can include pain stemming from depression, post traumatic stress, complex (severe and repeated) trauma, grief, and so forth and can be just as intense and debilitating as pain from more physically identifiable sources. Neurological pathways in the brain can be triggered causing pain receptors to be stimulated with psychosomatic pain being as ‘real’ and intense as pain from nerve damage and / or external injury.
Living with ongoing pain can also have a massive impact upon a person’s mental health, outlook on life, general wellbeing, and relationships with others. However, just as pain can be triggered by non-physical factors, I believe, so too can it be alleviated similarly as well.
There is a light-hearted phrase that I find particularly helpful to bear in mind. That is: “neurons that fire together, wire together”. (Donald Hebb, 1949 – Canadian neuropsychologist). What this means is that our brain cells communicate with each other in a process that involves synaptic transmission where chemicals or neurotransmitters are released and absorbed by other brain cells, in a process that can be called ‘neuronal firing’. Whenever we have any experience, feeling, physical experience, or thought (yes, thought), this process occurs and over time ‘neural networks’ are formed, and such pathways can be strengthened, and can trigger the process of this ongoing ‘communication’ with other cells in the ‘network’.
Simply put, if pain sensations are triggered, then certain neural networks are activated, and pain is intensified.
As I italicised above, thoughts can trigger the firing of neurons and the wiring of neural connections. If you think about it, if you dwell on a negative thought or on a painful symptom, you are more likely to experience that pain with greater intensity, remember other times and experiences when you were in pain, and feel less resistant to overcoming it.
Similarly, if by thought you can activate the ‘pleasure sensors’ in the brain, you are more likely to remember other positive experiences, feel calmer and more able to manage your pain-related symptoms, and gain resistance and even the ability to withstand greater levels of pain.
I do believe that to some extent, what you focus on ‘expands’. From personal experience, focusing on pain tends to make it feel all the more overwhelming, whereas engaging in healthy distractions for the mind such as absorbing oneself in a creative pursuit, taking time to dwell on positive experiences, keeping a ‘gratitude journal’, practicing calming exercises such as controlled breathing and focusing on natural and beautiful things can overtime strengthen our ability to “activate” those neural pathways that trigger pleasurable sensations over painful ones, and overtime the exercise of this habit can greatly strengthen our fortitude to manage and overcome chronic pain, or at the least to alleviate it to some extent.
Please bear in mind that I am not advocating doing this to the exclusion of utilising medical help and prescribed pain relief. As mentioned previously the sources of chronic pain are numerous, therefore I would not venture to provide such foolhardy advice – there is a place for medical treatment of course. However, chronic pain can often leave people feeling overwhelmed, defeated and like victims of their conditions. Taking control of our thoughts and strengthening positive neural networks in our brain brings back an element of control into the process and can add to our feelings of fulfilment in life.
I wish you all well on your journeys and hope that you find relief and blessing, and look forward to hearing your thoughts.
God bless. x