We tend to think of health in narrow terms. The World Health Organisations definition of health is “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This is in my opinion a robust, complete definition. This article will focus of mental health issues, as we tend to have a discomfort in addressing them, either because we don’t know how to deal with them adequately or we may decide quietly suffer them. It is still a bit of a societal taboo as it may infer weakness in the individual. Mental health issues abound here in the UK. It is estimated that 1 in 4 suffers from issues such as depression, low self-esteem, mood disorders, stress, anxiety, panic attacks, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and low confidence (McManus, Meltzer, Brugha, Bebbington, & Jenkins, 2007). The symptoms are displayed in the inability to concentrate, lack of energy, feelings of inadequacy.
So how can this be overcome? Firstly we need to become mindful and aware of having an issue. This is easier said than done. In many respects it is the hardest step to take as the issue may have gradually crept up on you over time. It may be that a feeling of normalcy is that you are expected to be in that state, as it has become a common occurrence. It can be extremely difficult to recognise, or more importantly to accept this. You need to have the courage to be truthful to yourself. Ask yourself: Have you become disengaged from pleasurable activities? Are you caught up in the monotony of life? Do you feel you have lost control? Is life getting on top of you? Have external pressures resulted in you being downbeat? Have you added to these pressures by your own wants and desires? Are you eating adequate foods? Are you resorting to drugs and vices as an escape? Are you getting restful sleep? Is your thinking negative, or critical? Are you avoiding or overtly engaging in confrontation? Do you feel anger often? In help in answering these questions cues may be taken from family and friends.
Once the recognition is there we can seek solutions to addressing the problems. It can feel complex in attempting to unravel our thoughts and feelings, however help is readily available. I would encourage yourself to take charge, and learn to heal yourself first, and in the first instance try not to go down the route of medication as that may well lead to another set of complications. These feelings can be very powerful, and it may take a number of slow steady steps to be on your way to recovery. By all means speak to your GP. At the time of writing this article mental health help is readily available, however with the incoming Conservative majority there may well be a reduction in the budget allocated to mental health issues from the NHS. However, these things take some time to change, and in any case help will still be at hand, it may just take longer to address it if budget cuts are the unfortunate future outcome.
Our holistic and interactive capabilities are denoted by the concept of physical literacy (Whitehead, 2001). In other words, physical literacy rejects the dualist view of the separation of mind and body, and instead embraces the existence of the individual as an integrated whole. A person who moves with physical literacy, moves with poise, economy and confidence in a wide variety of settings, and this will also be translated to their mental wellbeing. These views support that the individual is the product of their interactions with and within the world. These interactions awaken capacities in the individual. When performing physical activity, we need to consider not just the physical aspect, but that we need to be connected with what we are doing in our mind, with our feelings and thought processes.
In practical terms, I would suggest becoming active. Seek physical activity that is relatively difficult and requires undivided attention. Remember that you will probably have a level of cortisol running through your body so it is imperative that you do not overdo it. Please seek the advice of a professional or drop me a line. I would suggest mindful, repetitive exercises which does not require a high level of skill to start with. The objective is not to injure yourself, but to actually feel that you are gaining prowess in your activity. Look towards a periodised program. At the point of performing your activity you must be fully engaged and committed to it, so the activity needs to be suitably challenging. Don’t listen to music or look to other distractions. Become aware of yourself, your body, the movement, your environment. If possible perform it outdoors, in the day time. A walk may be sufficient.
Simple protocols can also be helpful in addressing this issue. Firstly, keep to routines and try to keep a normality in your life. Ensure that you are eating nutrient rich, unprocessed foods to sustain your body, and find a night time routine to aid restful sleep. This can be extremely difficult at first, and the key is in sticking to a routine as much as possible. Meditation, breathing and relaxing exercises may help. Seek them out. Pausing, and taking time to clear the mind will still and clear the mind. This may be the respite that you seek. Be open and willing to accept that, and most likely the effect will be tremendous. Try to find yourself in the moment and not worry about the past or future, as you have no immediate control of that. By letting go you may be able to focus with clarity to take action from your troubling thoughts and feelings.
If you have hobbies, or social meetings try to keep to them even though you may not feel the desire or have a lack of energy. It will help rather than taking time to ruminate in a vicious cycle of negative thoughts and practices. Try to talk to close family and friends. If that feels too uncomfortable, pick up the phone and speak to someone at the end of a help line such as the Samaritans. This can be a very powerful intervention as the person on the end of the line will have training and are able to help many people in a similar predisposition. It may feel like you are the only one suffering this and have a feeling of shame, and talking to someone impartially may help you to mitigate these feelings.
An effective counselling protocol may help. Research suggests that group based therapy sessions are more effective in maintaining progress than those in individual therapy. The collective can share experiences and has been the model followed by many successful group based protocols adopted by organisations such as alcoholics anonymous. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has shown to be effective and is recommended by NICE in the treatment of common mental health problems (Clark, 2011). CBT has proven to be highly effective in addressing these issues and is a protocol whereby maladaptive thinking patterns are reframed (Hofmann, Asnaani, Vonk, Sawyer & Gang, 2012).
The solution may not be one course of action and is most likely to be multifactorial, as each of them will aid your road to recovery. Some of these pressures are likely to be caused by external societal pressures and there are a number of things we can do to stay on the correct path to mitigate any future occurrences. Physically we can eat well, perform physical activity of a variety of movements and intensities, ensure a natural sleeping pattern, refrain from excessive living, be mindful of your actions and act with compassion. If you do these things then you will little time to ponder on the negatives. It will take time, be persistent and take small steady steps. It is an opportunity to heal and grow from the experience and look to positively affect your outcomes and lifestyle.
Clark, D. M. (2011). Implementing NICE guidelines for the psychological treatment of depression and anxiety disorders: the IAPT experience.International Review of Psychiatry, 23(4), 318-327.
Hofmann, S.G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I.J.J., Sawyer, A.T., & Gang, A. (2012). The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 36(5): 427-440.
McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T. S., Bebbington, P. E., & Jenkins, R. (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: Results of a household survey.
Whitehead, M. (2001). The concept of physical literacy. European Journal of Physical Education, 6(2): 127-138.