Happy World Mental Health Day!
On 10th October it’s World Mental Health Day, and in Australia it’s Mental Health Week.
Raising awareness of mental illness and mental health in the community is a fantastic idea and probably needs to be in the forefront of our minds more frequently.
How do you have good mental health?
The experts, and there are many across the globe, have produced tons of literature and research on mental health. What seems to have developed are general guidelines about what matters the most in maintaining good mental health.
The advice tends to fall into the following categories:
SOCIAL – A strong and sustaining connection with others including family, friends and work colleagues.
BALANCE – Have a balance between time put into work and other areas of life.
COMMUNITY – Experience a sense of belonging and participation in a community.
SELF CARE – Engaged in self-care activities and rituals, including a healthy diet and regular exercise.
REST – Get good sleep and enjoy plenty of relaxation routines.
HELP – Seeking help when needed.
This list depicts important areas of a lifestyle that are indeed essential for good mental health.
However, what emerges as a consistent theme in my consultations with people about their mental health is how the mind relates to negative feelings.
I would like to add ‘ACCEPTANCE OF NEGATIVE EMOTIONS’ to the lifestyle list!
Maybe it’s not a lifestyle per se, it’s a mindstyle (I think I just made up a new word!).
I meet many people who have become experts at avoiding, denying, rationalising, escaping or apologising for their negative feelings. How come?
There are many possibilities, too many to go through in one blog post. However, one area of real confusion around emotional acceptance is developed in our early family relationships.
In some families certain emotions were deemed okay to express, and some not. Indeed, it’s also common for people to grow up within families where no emotion is allowed, sadly not even the positive ones.
I believe it’s really tough to taken on board good mental health lifestyle choices if we haven’t learnt to accept negative emotions.
Our mental health is dependent on how we feel about our feelings.
There is no such thing as a bad emotion
Negative emotions are unpleasant or unhappy feelings triggered by a life event(s) or person/people. They could include, anger, fear, doubt, despair, helplessness, powerlessness and more.
Negative emotions get a bad rap. Possibly for good reason.
It’s how we handle our emotions that matter. Avoiding negative feelings or judging them as bad ends up with one huge struggle.
One of the most powerful ways of handling negative emotions is the practice of acceptance.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an approach to personal growth based on empirical research into how the mind works. This way of looking at our minds is as much a way of life as it is a therapeutic approach.
Acceptance is one of the core principles of ACT.
At various times of our lives we will be confronted with varying degrees of painful and challenging thoughts and emotions.
Acceptance is the practice of allowing all your thoughts or feelings to be as they are. This encompasses making room for all negative thoughts or feelings.
The ACT principles of acceptance have 3 core themes. They are:
- Becoming more aware of thoughts, emotions, and actions.
- Understanding how thoughts, emotions, and actions support or oppose your values, actions and goals.
- Recognising how trying to control, avoid, or eliminate difficult thoughts and feelings can sometimes make them worse.
Giving up the struggle
Emotional acceptance is simply allowing the feelings to be there with little or no struggle. Without any negative commentary or judgement.
Easier said than done? Yes! Acceptance takes practice and involves 5 steps
- Observe – being aware of your feelings in your body.
- Breathe – Taking some deep breaths into these feelings.
- Expand – Making room to notice the feelings, creating space for them.
- Allow – Allowing the feelings to be there with compassion and care.
- Repeat, often.
Acceptance reduces the power of self-judgement and therefore defuses the struggle in our minds.
Good mental health is certainly helped by lifestyle choices but it requires a skilful practice of the mind.
How accepting are you of all your emotions?
For more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy go to http://www.actmindfully.com.au/acceptance_&_commitment_therapy and http://www.thehappinesstrap.com/