Written by Ms Shivani Manchanda (shivanimanchanda[at]iitb.ac.in)
Counsellor Positive Mental Health & Arts Based Therapy Practitioner
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ICareIITB/
Stormy skies deprived of rain
A single drop rolls down a hill
Bringing a promise of spring
Flowers bloom on those prickly stems
Seasons of life changes colour again
The above poem “Seasons of Life” which I recently wrote alludes to our life
stories which define who we become every day. My life, like all others, has been transformed by diverse experiences which have brought me here today. When I was in college, like some of you, I had a vague or nebulous idea of what I wanted to do and who I wanted to become. My career had some false starts and by the time I did my 1st Masters I instantly knew it was a mistake as there were no jobs awaiting me. So while I figured things out I did my B.Ed. and applied abroad for my second Master’s degree in Counselling.
Luckily I got a full scholarship to do the same. Needless to say, my parents did not approve of my constant desire to study and kept reminding me that I was getting well past my “expiry date” of settling down. Somehow I convinced them (it helped that no member of my family had been abroad before) and took that flight and landed in San Francisco eager to take on life in all its glory and be a counsellor for the life I hoped. As I pen the above words I am reminded of many instances in life where I felt I had finally hit rock bottom. But each time life tripped me and dunked me in a hole I somehow found the courage to climb back again and dance that dance. I sometimes look at my fingertips and wonder what stories they will tell of persistence, hard work and sometimes just clinging to that last vestige of hope.
Life, for most of us, is like a thorny bush of roses or a game of snakes and ladders with change being the only constant. When the snake bites we wonder “why me?”
How interesting would it be to ask “why me” when you get that job/admission you have been aiming for? So how do we manage our sanity and mental health through all these ups and downs of life?
Before I proceed let’s pause and think what is mental health? Historically mental health was considered the absence of disease. Thus traditional mental health professionals focused primarily on diagnosis and treatment in the form of therapy or medication. Therapy, of course, continues to be important in mental health but in recent times the definition of mental health has been expanded and redefined.
World Health Organisation, for instance, now defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. The focus in mental health is increasingly on preventive and positive mental health which focuses on empowering individuals such that they can flourish with positive mental health.
Positive Mental Health A Way Of Life: There is no one specific way to build positive mental health as it is a constant process in life. For instance, if my goal is to build muscles in all parts of my body I will need to do different sets of exercises regularly to develop that perfectly toned body. Similarly to maintain overall positive mental health I will need to:
● check-in with my emotions regularly
● learn to positively express my negative and positive emotions
● learn how to manage stress when seasons change and problems strike
● identify my strengths and challenge areas so I can leverage them
● think beyond my needs and give back to the world at large
Here are 9 habits that I am consciously trying to develop in order to increase my own resilience and make every day a positive mental health day:
- Rather than get paralysed by hopelessness and go down the negative energy spiral of “why me”. Face challenges squarely and get into the problem-solving mode.
- We all can learn from our mistakes and grow from them. Treat mistakes as a necessary part of the growth and learning path you have set for yourself. The thing that makes each one of us interesting is that we are unique individuals. We all can’t succeed at everything. Each one of us will have our own journey toward success. By letting go of our disappointment and forgiving ourselves our mistakes we can create the space for new thoughts and ideas that can empower us.
- Visualise your goals and constantly keep reminding yourself of what it is that you hope to achieve. Stay flexible with your goals but stay true to your values. Your goals may change with time but the desire to achieve and the desire to make a difference can keep you focused.
- Each of us has a limited scope of impact. By focusing on things that we can control we can be more productive. Repeating the serenity prayer is really wonderful for this exercise.
- We cannot control other people and their actions but one thing that we can control is our response, our feelings and our emotions to their behaviour. Once we accept this then we can stop trying to control others but focus on our own growth.
- Accept that nothing in life is permanent – neither the good nor the bad times. So whichever phase you are going through now don’t think it will be forever. Seasons of life will change and once you expect to change you can accept it more easily.
- Instead of focusing on what you could not do this week try and pay attention to one activity that you accomplished successfully. Instead of getting into the self-critical loop remind yourself of your own successes and firmly establish your own weekly benchmark for success.
- Before sleeping every night think of at least one good thing that happened to you today. It could be a pretty bird you saw, or a smile from a stranger or a lick from a friendly dog. Just make a habit of counting your blessings and see how your perspective can change. The duality of life means that negative and positive will always go together. If we focus on our troubles the negative energy will grow and if we focus on the blessings they will increase our sense of well being.
- The ability to do something for others is an experience that fills us with a sense of abundance. Words like pay it forward or random acts of kindness are words that get thrown around in social campaigns but if you sincerely live those words you will regularly reap the benefit of positive mental health.
Studies have shown that resilience is just like a muscle that we all can work upon and build. So as we celebrate the World Mental Health Day this week, pick what you like from the above habits and make everyday count as a mental health day. Think of resilience as building blocks that you gradually put one on top of the other to build that tower of positive mental health which enables you to face challenges and overcome them with grace and fortitude (courage).