Health: Life Hacks – A New Way Of Thinking
We are reaching tipping point with messages to mind our mental health. These are to be welcomed, but many people still imagine mental health to be an all or nothing state, in a kind of ‘some have it and others don’t’ way. We should instead think of our mental state as resting on a continuum. Your mental health fluctuates throughout your life, and some days can test and stretch it. There is no one-size-fits-all solution in mental health maintenance and care, so it is perhaps useful to think of it as something that requires balancing.
As we’ve mentioned in previous Life Hacks exercises, mindfulness, social outlets, and goals all factor when looking after your mental health, but remember that personal variables, life events and stressors act as the other side to that equation. Too much at one side and your mental health tips, no matter who you are.
If the zombie apocalypse kicked off and undead neighbours were kicking in your door hoping for a taste of your brains, your mental health would fluctuate, quite understandably! If you made it as far as a guns and ammo depository, your mental health status might be restored quite quickly.
When dealing with your own or another person’s mental health fluctuations, it’s important to remember that we all fluctuate, and incidents where the balance was poor do not inform future incidents. One of the most important things that you can practice is becoming aware of how you process information. Your style of cognitive processing may attenuate problems. While it would be foolish to merely ‘think happy thoughts’ in the event of a zombie attack, people may process the information quite differently. One person may think the zombies are targeting them in particular, quickly bringing to mind all the other times when they have had negative situations happen ‘to’ them, basically internalising the situation as being in some way their fault. Another person will note that the world is overrun with zombies, it’s nothing personal, they’re the undead, everyone is a meal on legs.
Learning not to catastrophise events is a skill, and it’s a skill we’re not taught enough. When that balance tips, some people start on a downward spiral of rumination; they blame themselves for the situation. In a more fitting example – finding yourself unemployed – it may be easy to start blaming yourself instead of reminding yourself there are 440,000 odd people in much the same situation or there are 5 people leaving the country every day because of it.
When life becomes overwhelming, it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees, and thinking badly of yourself becomes easier, more frequent, strengthened. So you’ve had a rough time, you’ve coped, but coming out the other side you’ve strengthened these patterns of thinking, making it more likely you’ll fall back into them in the future. All is not lost, though! Just as you learned this way of thinking, another can be used, practiced and, in time, come to replace those ineffective mechanisms.
How can one learn to change these ingrained patterns? Not necessarily alone. While there are many good books, I believe that talking through these thinking styles and developing new ones is a collaborative effort. Signing up for a short course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) with a suitably qualified professional is an effective long-term solution, and while it will not solve the situation it may help you to process the information better. I think it’s also worth mentioning here that learning this skill yourself will also help you catch your kids, your friends and colleagues if they fall.