Whenever we have any ailments, it’s quite human for us to want to fix them or make them go away. With our mental health, if we recognise we’re having difficulties such as with low mood, anxiety or anger, the first most common desire (before seeking to reduce symptoms) is to know why. This is often a much easier question to answer than ‘What do I do to reduce my symptoms?’
With physical health issues, we’re much more accepting of their presence. For example, if we get a headache or stomach pain or sickness bug, we recognise it and feel confident to take control by treating the ailment in some way. This can be taking time to rest and keep hydrated and warm or maybe taking some medication. With most physical ailments, we know there’s a defined recovery process that gives us comfort.
When this doesn’t happen; when there’s no clear diagnosis as to why we’re suffering and then no treatment plan or prognosis, we get very distressed. This is due to no longer feeling the reassurance of a sense of control we’d normally have to believe that the pain or discomfort will go away and roughly when and how. Lack of control causes anxiety and distress. Control can give us a sense of security and confidence.
With our mental health, we do not have the same feeling of control and firstly seek to know why to be able to understand it and then fix it. Often, we do not need to look too far to see how our ailments have materialised. For example, we maybe feeling anxious and in enquiring as to why we’re feeling this way, we may notice recent triggers that have been affecting us to cause a sense of threat. For example, maybe we’ve reached a stage of not wanting to do our job role anymore, maybe a loved one has been diagnosed with a horrible disease, maybe our child has reached the age where we had traumas at that same age…..
Once identified, the key elements of therapy are about reducing symptoms and developing resilience. This treatment plan is much more difficult than most physical treatment plans as it’s complex and individual. Treatment for a broken bone or of flu is much the same across the population. When we’re dealing with our mental health problems, we may become aware that they are influenced by our life experiences that are individual to us such as past difficulties and traumas that can create distorted views, defence mechanisms and over-compensations. We may have mistaken and distorted beliefs about our competencies or self-worth or how we would expect others to treat us and all of these can increase or decrease the severity or our symptoms in varying ways.
For example, if we’re burnt out and very stressed, we may look to notice how much our work is demanding of us. It’s not just a simple as work demanding more though, it’s our responses to a change in our world and that’s influenced by the deeper drives within. We may feel a sense of not being good enough, so as added demands are placed on us, we’ve started to work longer and harder to compensate for this. As we’ve felt more stressed, we may spend less time or energy on our well-being activities which creates a sense of unease. If our primary coping mechanism is to avoid, we ignore the symptoms and may drink more at the weekend. We will just keep going and doing more and more as work asks us to, on the basis of having trust in the organisation (which is like a trusted parental figure), it feeds the belief that if they’re asking me to do it, I must be able to do it and it’s expected that I will do it.
This is 1 example of how 1 person may respond to 1 issue in their life. There’s deeper complexities within this example such as why does this person feel not good enough and compensates by doing more and what are the individual influences for this and what can they do to alleviate this, but this post could easily become a book.
It’s important to recognise that we’re beautifully unique and complex beings and recovery from mental difficulties often needs an individualised approach. It’s important to uphold a great sense of belief that you’re capable of self-care, recovery and developing resilience from experiencing your life difficulties. Looking into how you’ve coped with difficulties in the past will provide evidence that you’re fundamentally going to be ok.
As always, feel free to comment or share you experiences – I’d love to hear what you think.