THE MENTAL HEALTH CONNECTIONS
How our relationships, body and mind work together
All of us are instinctively drawn towards seeking growth in our lives. Not only are we invested in seeking growth for ourselves, we would also like our loved ones to grow and do as well as possible in life. Some of us seek growth in the form of a good job, good income, a higher education, good grades, an understanding and supportive life partner, opportunities to innovate and design, have a family, raise good children, have a creative outlet and many more not listed here.
When we achieve our milestones of growth, we expect to feel happy and joyful. For most if not all of us this process of growth and feeling a sense of happiness is hardly a straight forward one. Some of us might find it difficult to achieve the things we want for reasons we do not understand. And there are amongst us who might be able to achieve most of what we want and yet experience a sense of dissatisfaction with our life quality and our general sense of happiness in spite of it. What is also a common part of life is experiencing losses that are incredibly difficult to live with. We find it difficult to resume life in the face of these difficult losses and we may even blame ourselves for not being able to continue with life. The list of losses we go through can include loss of a loved one through death or separation, loss of job, a meaningful opportunity, finances, physical health and much more.
Regardless of the experiences we have been through; all of these situations can lead us to experience incredible level of distress that begin to affect all areas of our lives. The distress can show up in many ways including low mood, irritability, racing thoughts, sleeplessness, grief, sadness, excessive guilt, rage, anger, excessive drinking or smoking, preference for long periods of isolation, lacking in appetite, a need to minimize or increase food consumption or a combination of symptoms that are unique in the way you experience them.
When we are experiencing this phase, the one thing we need the most is to be with people who can provide us with an adequate understanding of our disappointment and symptoms. Some of us are fortunate because we have this group of people I call “safe connections” who continue to engage us and support us in a way that helps us grow beyond the difficulties. For many of us, we struggle to find these “safe connections” and we end up feeling very isolated in our stressful phase. What is also interesting, but not at all unusual, is that we might know we are loved but we don’t feel sufficiently understood by people around us.
The research on Family & Systems therapy and in modern brain science helps us understand this phenomenon of needing “safe connections” to feel enough support to begin the process of feeling better.
Having “safe connections” simply means feeling a sense of emotional safety with someone. What that feels like is a sense of being listened to carefully, a sense of someone making every effort to capture our experiences and feeling a general sense of ease in the body (you will find that you are less tensed in your body, you are breathing more evenly and you are able to think more clearly).
This happens because when we feel emotionally safe with someone, our limbic brain system is in optimum functioning, our mid brain (responsible for relating to others) are engaged appropriately and our autonomic nervous system is in a state of homeostasis. All these systems work together to inform us that everything is “OK”. In such a state, we are much better able to come up with creative solutions to our existing situations.
When our brain receives the message that we are isolated and in some sense of danger, our sympathetic nervous systems becomes activated, our mid-brain shuts down and our limbic system is activated thus sending our body into some form of high emotional state like anger, rage, worry, or extreme sadness. Alternatively, our body may also choose to shut down to protect us from a further sense of being out of control of what is going on. This may well cause us to feel numb, experience chronic pain and a sense of not caring anymore.
The good news is that the research on brain science and the neuroplasticity of our brain tells us that our brains are highly adaptable regardless of our age, gender or life experiences. What that means is with the presence of “safe connections”, our brains can learn to begin creating a sense of safety in our body that will lead us to better emotional management which is the key to leading a life we like and enjoy.
After reading the previous section, if you feel like you have these “safe connections” but are still experiencing some form of distress, then it is highly likely that you need to look into the connection you have with your own body. Most of us live very busy lives that doesn’t give us the space and time for us to sense the sensations in our body. Most of us have also may be so used to taking medications and other form of chemicals to manage our distress. While this may bring you a temporary feel good experience, this can also take away from your sense of wellness in the long run. I believe that our body, when given the right support and space to heal, will cooperate with our wishes to function at an optimum level of physical health. Taking up activities that enhances your ability to connect with your body is the way to connect to the needs of your body (read the four steps below).
Now that you have read how our mind, body and relationships work together to help keep you in balance, here are my suggestions on the steps you can take to begin to feel better:
1.Talking through your difficulties and stress within a safe environment is essential to your well-being. When you feel “emotionally safe” and supported, you will feel a general sense of ease. In this state, you will give yourself the space to find new ways to problem-solve and move past your difficulties. This is where counselling can be extremely beneficial.
2.Mindfulness-based meditation practices are also very useful. This helps you become much more aware when the emotional distress begins to flow through your body. Those who practice regularly become much more able to be calmer in the face of stress.
3.Find a teacher or therapist who can help you develop your sensitivity to the needs of your own body. Ensure that this person has the necessary training and skills involved to help you. I strongly recommend practices like Yoga, Tai-Chi, Rhythmic dancing and movement and Dance and Movement Therapy (DMT) to help you begin to notice the sensations in your body on top of other fitness routines.
4.Pay attention to your diet. The food we eat plays a large role in determining the balance of hormones in our body. Our mood, focus and concentration are dependent on our hormones working in tandem and in good order. Consulting a nutritionist and dietitian can help you manage your lethargy and improve your energy flow.
If what you have read resonates with you, then please contact me and let me journey with you and help you begin your own story of wellness.
Deepika Mulchandani (MSocSc)