Mental Health Awareness Week
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. We reached out to Dr Ula Heywood, Emergency Medicine Specialist and Co-Founder of Edison Health to share her tips on how best to manage the challenges and adversities that life throws at us every day.
Have you ever wondered why the same situation can trigger such variable emotional responses in different people?
Why is it that in the face of adversity, some people seem to be ultra-resilient and sail through difficult situations unscathed, while others get upset and take a long time to recover?
For example, being passed over for that job promotion that you put so much effort into applying for. This would make anyone feel bad, right? Happy people living the good life are just lucky, aren’t they?
Wrong. It’s actually our thoughts about an experience that shape our emotional state and sensory experience, and thus our reality. We each live in our own unique world of thought and this creates the ‘lens’ through which we view life in a particular way.
One candidate may take the rejection very personally and sink into a depression, with poor self-esteem. Another rejected candidate may shrug, accept it and think “Oh well, it clearly wasn’t the right job for me!” - allowing the experience to pass through them without lingering.
We each apply a personal interpretation of the situation based on our own past experiences, current mental state, thoughts and emotions. That’s why one scenario can be deeply triggering or upsetting to one individual but seem trivial to another. It’s the same situation, but each person’s thoughts mean they view the world through a different lens.
What is your lens like? Do you view life through rose-tinted glasses, always looking for the positive, or is your lens dark and cloudy, always looking for what’s wrong?
I’d like to present a different perspective, by suggesting that the ‘outside - in’ theory of life happening to us is actually the opposite of what’s true. There’s a common misconception that what we experience in life is as a result of external circumstances, and there is nothing we can do about it. The truth is that we experience life from the inside - out; i.e. life happens for us.
I can hear you asking what on earth this means! It’s like this:
We have more than 60 000 thoughts each day. They arrive lightning-fast and are so utterly compelling that they act like an invisible force in creating your experience of life.
Gravity is another example of an invisible force. Sir Isaac Newton couldn’t see gravity as a visible force, only the result of it i.e. the apple falling from the tree prompted his discovery of universal gravitation.
When we are ‘un-conscious’, we are off-guard and our thoughts can absorb us completely. This is called ‘fusion’; we believe that they are real, so they take us on a ride into a constructed reality. We’ve all had that experience of catching ourselves transported into a daydream and losing all sense of time and current surroundings. As a passenger, this ride can be pleasant or distressing, and we might conclude that we have no control over it.
So how do we stop being the passenger and decide on our own destination?
This is where self-awareness comes in. Self-awareness is the ability to directly perceive an event, such as a thought, memory, emotion, sensation or change in environment.
Conscious awareness is a place of observation above and beyond thought, feelings and experiences, like a bird's eye view.
Here we see things clearly as they are, without the prejudice of thought clouding the lens that we look at life through.
It takes a lot of effort to try and analyse and forcibly change your thinking. Then you end up thinking about your thinking! You can feel like you are stuck in the trenches, blindly going around and hitting dead ends.
What can you do about this? An easier way is to use the power of focusing your attention on something that is always available to you: your breath. Create some space from the endless mind chatter by learning to focus all of your attention on this.
With practice, you will start to feel more space around your thinking and more clarity and peace of mind.
For more information on how to do this, check out these links:
Man’s Search for Meaning
The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique for Stress/Anger/Anxiety/Cravings/Sleep/Relaxation
Russ Harris ‘Hands As Thoughts’ exercise
Follow me/Connect with me on LinkedIn if you would like to learn more.