One of the key facts they shared was "1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their life". I disagree. I would say that it's more like 5 in 5. Yip... that means you. This post discusses a way to challenge and change your own assumptions.
Think about it... I bet you can name one time today you let fear, paranoia, or general frustration with the world get the better of you? It doesn't matter if you acted on it, what matters is thought something about the world that made you feel worse. Perhaps something along the lines of "it's so and so's fault", "I'll never get this right", or "I'm always so [insert undesirable quality]"? Heck I've thought all of those things at least once in the last hour...
The self-help industry is about a 10 BILLION dollar industry in the US alone - in fact, it is one of the sole industries keeping actual physical book publishers in business. So why is self-help so sexy? It's because they are selling a shift in thinking, and the promise that there is a way out of whatever problem is burning you right now. They are selling hope.
So why is it that we can't seem to help ourselves? 10 Billion dollars a year later, I don't think it's that we have lack of hope or a lack of suggestions for new ways to think about things. I think it's that we view and hold onto our beliefs as these immutable decisions we made somewhere along the line that make us who we are. How would it change your world if your beliefs (good and bad) were actually nothing more than just simple thoughts you had so many times, you bought into them as true?
Those are habitual thought patterns at play - they dictate all sorts of beliefs about safe driving, good employees, and who you think you are.
To the extent that what you think and believe about something triggers how you feel, it creates an attitude trap - either positive or negative. Let's bring this point home ladies:
You are in the dressing room at your favourite clothing shop. You try on a skirt and you turn to look in the mirror you decide immediately that the cut of the garment is just not flattering. What do you think next?
a. Well now I know that high waist styles are a no-go for this bodacious bod... next item!
b. The latest fashions never look good on me... I wish I was skinnier/prettier/fitter....
Those side with camp A simply have an underlying habit of thinking that their body is uniquely beautiful and deserves to be dressed in a way that recognizes and accentuates that. So what if one piece of clothing doesn't flatter, there are always more styles to play with. This is a positive attitude trap.
Those side with camp B simply have an underlying habit of thinking that their body is not good enough because it doesn't fit into this garment perfectly. Worse, since latest fashion dictates what is beautiful, I must not be that. This is a negative attitude trap.
I'm sure the zen masters out there would, unhelpfully, point out that they are both traps. But little old me, well, I would be happy enough if we made it to camp A even 80% of the time. I think the key is that you have to first recognize the power of your mind to dictate how you feel.
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The mechanism typically follows a pattern:
Triggering event --> thought (conscious or unconscious) about the meaning of the event --> buy-in to the truth of the thought --> formation of belief --> emotional response
Now, re-read that pattern replacing the word "thought" with "story you told yourself".
If you have to tell yourself a story - you might as well choose one that makes you feel better. Many times, the stories on auto-pilot actually come from someone or somewhere else - friends, culture, media... Helping you discover and choose better stories is what good counselling and coaching does.
It is true that for the 1 in 5 Canadians that experience a diagnosable mental illness and that there certainly is a very real physical and neuro-chemical piece to it. I am in no way saying that it is "all in their heads". I do, however, think it is fair to argue in these cases that it actually is at least partially in their heads, and even perhaps that it started there, without also saying it is their fault or they are making it up.
I wonder if the reason there is so much stigma around admitting to mental illness is that it's a struggle we all know to some degree. The struggle creates this fear of being seen as weak, needy, negative, or that we can't "handle it". Seen as a fear we hold for ourselves, it explains our lack of tolerance and sometimes outright disregard for those that do reach out. Especially when they don't get better within what we have determined is an "acceptable" time frame. I make these remarks to also open up the space in your mind and heart to view mental health and illness as a spectrum on which we all find ourselves swinging.
The challenge for you, is to have more compassion and patience for yourself when you are struggling and to show you that it is certainly possible to feel better by changing your thinking.
The next time you are feeling triggered mentally/emotionally try this exercise:
Have you ever successfully changed your thinking and beliefs and noticed you felt better? How did you do it?
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