Be Aware of Your Mental Health
In order to maintain both your mental and emotional health, it is important to stay in touch with your own needs and feelings. When counseling clients with depression and anxiety, one common thing I see is that symptoms come after letting stress and emotions build up over time. These are some simple ways to stay cognizant of what is going on internally, both emotionally and mentally, to help prevent large explosions or meltdowns later.
Mindfulness is essentially intentional focus on a single situation or object. An example of this is to pick an object (like a painting or an object in nature) and intently see it. You can be mindful using all senses by asking yourself "what do I see, what do I hear, what do I smell, what do I taste, and what do I feel." This is like meditation and it helps to bring our focus inward and on the here and now. While doing this you might notice different thoughts or feelings pop up. Don't try to suppress or judge these thoughts and feelings, just notice that they are there and then bring your focus back to what you are being mindful of. Many clients report feeling more relaxed, grounded, and calm after doing this activity.
Doing a body scan means to turn your focus inward and scan from head to toe. Notice what sensations you are feeling. Are your eyes feeling strained or heavy, are your shoulders tightened, is your stomach feeling sick, are your hands shaking, are your legs feeling fatigued? Just notice whatever comes up without self-judgement. All you are doing is noticing "what is" in the moment. Many times simply bringing awareness to something helps to alleviate it, but if we start to judge it and ourselves then it can perpetuate the problem. For instance, if you bring awareness to your tight shoulders you might notice them start to relax; however, if, when you notice your tight shoulders, you start to think about how anxious you are, then blame that one someone or something that caused it, then start to ruminate about that situations, you will probably just cause the anxiety to increase and your shoulders to tighten more.
What is this telling me?
In both of these activities I discussed noticing without judgement. Emotions and thoughts aren't good or bad, they just are, but we tend to place judgment labels on them. So, you might ask, what are we supposed to do with what we notice. The answer is to ask yourself, "what is this telling me." If, while practicing mindfulness, you notice feelings of anger come up, ask what those feelings are telling you. Is it that someone wronged you or someone else? Is it that you were hurt by what a loved one said but that hurt quickly hardened into anger? If you noticed your chest felt heavy and you were taking short breaths, what might be causing that tension? Is this telling you that you need to stand up and step away from your desk for a few minutes, or step away from toxic conversations? If these are telling your to do something that is within your control and aligned with your values then take action! This could be to speak to someone, to apologize or verbalize a hurt you experienced, it could be to help someone, to volunteer, it could be to simply get up and move. The key is to notice the feeling or thought, see what this might be saying to you, and finally see if the action is within or outside of your control.
Lastly, feelings and thoughts are just a reflection of the moment in time, something that can't be changed or controlled. Just as you can't get mad at a mirror for reflecting back what it sees, you can't get mad or wish away thoughts or feelings that are doing the same. However, many of us try to block and judge these thoughts or emotions, leading to residual pain later. So in these situations, allow yourself your emotion or thought and accept it simply as a reflection of time, which will itself pass. You can choose to not hold onto these thoughts and feelings by simply acknowledging and accepting them, then mindfully and purposefully bringing your attention to something else.
James McMillian, LCPC
Resolve - Counseling & Wellness
Prairie Village, KS