Prevention is better than cure
How often we hear that if we look after our physical health through good nutrition, exercise, hobbies and interests and a reasonable work-life balance, we can maintain reasonable health and prevent the onset of many diseases. This is especially relevant these days as progress in medical science has meant we are likely to live a lot longer than previous generations.
But what does prevention mean in mental health terms? Unfortunately, we tend to view physical and mental health as separate but they are deeply interlinked. You need to only notice the impact of stress on the development of various diseases and the effect of chronic illness on one’s moods and actions.
As in physical health, prevention in the mental health arena needs to start early. But at the same time, it is never too late to make a start.
The basis for prevention lies in our thought processes.
Why? We spend an enormous part of our day thinking, planning, organising, memorising, recalling and remembering.
Now spend a few minutes just closing your eyes and letting the thoughts flood into your mind. What do you notice? What do they relate to? How helpful are they?
Are the thoughts about events that have already occurred? If so, is there any way that the past can be undone? If not, how does ruminating over these events help you? If these were unhappy or unpleasant events, then after dwelling on them for a short time, you may notice a dip in your mood.
Or, are they about future events? If they are happy anticipated events, then you probably have a big smile on your face. If not, your mind is already filling with undue worries as your fertile mind keeps thinking about all the possible ramifications and how you would manage them. Did you ever reflect how much time – hours/days/weeks, you have spent thinking and preparing yourself for such outcomes? Now ask yourself, how often have my worst fears come true?
The facts: It is normal to have thoughts. We are surrounded by numerous stimuli, and our senses respond to them. Most of them we are able to notice momentarily and we move onto other ones. But we have a bias too. Recall the time you had to buy a car. Before this time had come, you may have seen many cars and not paid more than a fleeting attention to them. But how much that focus intensified as soon as you had to make a purchase, and then wane once the purchase has been made.
So, once the mind focuses on something of importance, the first thought is very quickly accompanied by many related thoughts. This can easily lead to overwhelm. If these relate to unhelpful events, judgements of self or one’s circumstances, very quickly you can find yourself overcome by low mood, worry, anxiety etc.
To start on your path to prevention of mental health issues, I would like you to try two things:
- Ask yourself, are these thoughts related to things that are in my control? If so, great, do something about it.
If not, then practice letting them go, metaphorically. Be as creative as you can.
- Ask yourself, is there any evidence to support my thought?
If so, and the thoughts are negative, think of the advice you would give your best friend and be as compassionate towards yourself as you would be towards your friend.
If not, then it is a feeling, arising out of anxiety. A feeling is not the same as a fact and as above, practice letting them go.
I wish you good mental health; until next time…
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