I wonder, what does mental wellness mean to you?
People have different ways of coping with things. We are all individual people which is what makes the world amazing. We all react to things in different ways.
“If I am doing something then it’s a distraction from what I’m feeling about something else”
So, what is mental wellbeing for you?
What does it represent and what does if encompass?
I think this a very good question because the words ‘mental health’ and thrown around quite a bit and it means different things to different people.
Many of us believe that happiness is the ultimate mental health goal. How often have you heard parents say that all they want for their children is health and happiness?
This has always jarred with me as an unrealistically high expectation for life. To me, happiness is a fleeting burst of joy that fills your heart with warmth and peace.
And without brain and mental health is happiness even possible?
Maybe I needed to look at happiness more from the perspective of connection, contentment, purpose and meaning? Maybe I would be better thinking in terms of mental wellness?
I like the idea of flourishing. It’s a combination of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual fitness. A rich concept that is closely related to happiness but extends far beyond it.
Flourishing is the result of feeling loved and understood, of being connected to life’s passions, relishing the triumphs of life’s peaks and having the resilience to work through its valleys.
Wellbeing is not the absence of sadness, suffering, discomfort or heartbreak. But it is having the resilience and tools to overcome adversity, relieve stress and be brave in taking on the more serious challenges.
So perhaps the way I’ll explain it is slightly different.
I think that everyone has a level of mental health. You could visualise it like on a Playstation game. If you can imagine you’re playing a game and you’ve got your life bar. You’ve got between 0% and 100%. In the game if you hit zero and you get burned out, you have to start your life again.
Most people playing aren’t at 100% all the time either. Most people fluctuate between zero and a hundred for different reasons.
Sometimes it might be the health of your brain. Sometimes it might be life events. Sometimes it might be genetics. And sometimes it might be the environment you find yourself in.
There’s so much complexity that goes into it. But we all go up and down in life in between zero and hundred.
I think the trick is to learn something each time we crash and burn. Each time you feel your percentage dropping, learn to check in and work out what would help your percentage start to rise again.
A big part in self-care, in connecting and taking care of your wellbeing is having a routine and consistently doing the things that keep you at the highest percentage as possible.
And when you’re 80% make sure you keep doing what helps you then. It’s just as important as when you’re at 40% because it’s about keeping yourself there. And when that percentage drops, knowing what to do and knowing how to react, where to go, who to speak to, to get that percentage back up towards 80 again.
So I think mental health is all encompassing - there’s good, bad and in-between.
As you go through life you get to know yourself better. You develop your own toolkit of the things that help you stay at a higher percentage. Self-care is using those tools deliberately, consciously.
Just to extend the playstation analogy a little further - as you play the game you acquire skills as you keep on playing, don’t you? You learn that certain things help you to get through to the next level. You learn what you can do differently the next time you come across a problem. You acquire resilience.
Throughout life we learn and we develop these skills. Partly these skills develop by learning from our mistakes. In life you learn far more from your failures than you do from your successes.
For me, I learned that when I feel flat and numb, when I’ve lost the joy in life, the one thing that turns me around is DLPA. An amino acid called DL-Phenylalanine. For whatever reason when my brain gets low in this I just don’t feel like myself anymore.
I’ve also learned that I can feel triggered, rejected and alone if I don’t have meaningful conversations. Real talk. Where people listen and can be vulnerable in turn. This is medicine for me and is an important part of my mental wellness.
Resilience is learning that if, for instance, something goes wrong in my life and I drink too much to numb it out, to cope, then I don’t sleep well, and I eat terribly, then actually I feel worse.
And therefore next time something challenging happens, you learn from your experience and think - maybe I’ll avoid having a drink, instead, I’ll take some DLPA, exercise a bit more and I’ll connect to someone close to me.
Resilience is learning that process and bringing those lessons together. Learning so that you do things differently next time.
It’s seeing the patterns that can be the tricky stage. Realising that your coping mechanisms, that may have served you well in the past, are now self-harming. Not intentionally, but the pattern leads to the same crash and burn.
Interrupting the pattern comes from noticing it in the first place. Then, with that self awareness, you can start to read the signs and predict your responses.
Next you can start to raise your percentage by using different coping skills. Self medicating rather than self harming.
But it’s hard to re-wire your former ways of thinking, of being, if you’ve spent most of your life shaping the same neural pathways of coping.
The first few times you try to change the way you see the world and try to respond differently your mind won’t be used to it. It may well kick back in opposition, wrongly believing that the familiar ways are the best.
But just because something is familiar, comfortable, doesn’t mean it is good for you. Often, it means quite the opposite.
Getting to know the tools that help you is the key to developing resilience. You can’t prevent bad things happening in life. Some things are just out of our control. But you can control how you respond when you’ve got some tools.
If you know about brain health, nutrition, about exercise, about communication, about support, and how to ask for help you can start to bounce back.
You’re not stuck with the brain you have.
In fact your brain can get better with time. It is constantly building new pathways and pruning unused ones. If you feed your brain with plenty of nutrients - especially good fats, plenty of rainbow coloured fruit and vegetables, good quality protein, omega oils, amino acids, probiotics, methylated B vitamins.
By understanding how your brain, mind and body work together you can heal and reverse symptoms of poor brain health.
Resilience isn’t about being stoic. It’s not about saying that “There’s nothing wrong, I’m fine. I’m invincible. I can cope on my own”.
A big part of resilience is an inward recognition of knowing actually I am under pressure, or something’s happened, or I’m not feeling good.
And then being able to have the self-awareness, to use your toolkit that you know helps you to flourish.
And then to actually use it.
So it’s not about being alone or stoic, it’s about having the self-awareness to know what you need to help you get back to feeling like yourself again.
It’s about taking responsibility for your wellbeing.
It’s about taking action.
It’s about making small daily changes.
How you feel tomorrow, starts today.
Let’s start together,