Recent I have heard of a lot of debates about moving out of parents’ place to get that emotional stability. Communication breakdown between generations is one thing, and the problem boils down to, perhaps, lack of education and awareness of health generally. Parents don’t understand what their kids are going through, and kids are not willing to share. The old concept that only people who are “problematic” go to therapy makes mental health even more taboo. The thing is, we all know that no matter what we eat or how many times we brush our teeth every day, we still need to see the dentist every year. Why are we not adopting the same mindset when it comes to our physical and mental health? How do we even know if we are doing the right things to maintain our health without seeking professional’s advice?
I have been reflecting on this a lot. And here are 4 things I wish I knew earlier about mental health.
1/ Understanding ourselves
Mental health is CRUCIAL. It is the foundation of everything. As you might have noticed, in most sitations we face, we don’t have much control apart from changing our perspectives. Through looking at things from different angles, we learn to see things as they are and we regulate our emotions through changing our thoughts. This is all part of the cognitive behavioural model commonly used in therapy. For example, when pandemic just started we might be overwhelmed and anxious when we read the news. But soon we realised there was nothing much we could do apart from staying home and trying to maintain good routines. So instead of blaming the world and feeling depressed, we learnt how to regulate our emotions and behaviours through changing our thoughts. We focused on what we could control. This kind of self-awareness and resilience form the basis of good mental health. However, we are not being educated enough to cultivate this mindset. Often times we tend to take control of the situation or others. It is like trying to hold sand with our hands.
Good mental health forms an anchor in our life. We are calm, we are present and we learn to make use of every situation. Since it is 100% within our control, it is worth spending time understanding ourselves and training our minds.
Human beings are tribal animals. Social interaction is crucial. We not only communicate with words, but we also convey emotions. I have only come to learn the importance of communication very later on. My family doesn’t discuss everything under the sunlight. They never attempt to make small talks with strangers either. I grew up thinking it was normal and it was better to keep distance from strangers – even my local barista. But soon I realised a problem. I couldn’t even muster the courage to ask about direction when I was in a foreign place. I also couldn’t communicate clearly about what I was thinking.
And communication didn’t end there.
There are other non-verbal forms of communication, like body languages, eye contact etc. I almost had a cultural shock when I first moved to Sydney. I never really hugged people. And I felt so awkward about cheek kissing. These are things I wish my parents told me about. As I went through different stages in life, I started realising how important communication is in mental health field – it is a form of self-expression. Hence it is a skill to conceptualise our thoughts and feelings. We have to understand, process and live with our emotions, and communication makes life better.
3/ Stay active
Have you been told to focus on just your studies when you were a kid? That was my childhood. All the extra-curricular activities I signed up for were to increase the chance of getting into the best high school – being all-rounded and all that. In my case, all my hobbies were art-related. Painting, playing piano and calligraphy. I did learn swimming but it was never serious. My point is, I never understood sports and I didn’t move a lot when I was young. But if you really think about it, human beings are meant to be constantly moving. Think about how our ancestors lived in jungles ages ago. They needed to fight and hunt to survive. Our bodies are made to be active. And now, modern day habits are slowly killing us. We spend way too much time sitting in front of our computers and on the couch. When we don’t move enough, we feel more tired, we start engaging in unhealthy behaviours, and our sleep quality drops. That leads to low energy and bad mood.
And yes, physical and mental health are related. This is the concept I wish I knew earlier. They compliment each other. They go hand in hand. You drop one of them, you enter a vicious cycle. For example, when you haven’t slept enough, you were in a bad mood and your performance dropped. You didn’t have energy to get through the day, let alone exercising. But if you slept enough, you got the momentum to smash all your goals for the day and you felt even more pumped after a good workout.
Exercising not only trains your body, but also your mindset – resilience, persistence and consistency. These are all important qualities for good mental health.
How aware are you of your thoughts, emotions and behaviours? If you had trouble recalling what happened last week, what you ate and who you met, there was a high chance that you were operating on auto-pilot, or living in your head.
“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” ― Lao Tzu
Cultivating the self-awareness of your thoughts and behaviours is underrated. But if you are suffering from any type of mental illness, it is worth spending the time observing your behaviours and interrogating your thoughts. You are, after all, the one who spend most of the time with. You know yourself the best. Find the triggers and patterns, then you can do something about it. Don’t get comfortable in the certain misery.
As a mental health advocate, I cannot stress enough the importance of taking care of yourself. Start from cultivating self-awareness. Then start changing your behaviours by incorporating more workouts and positive habits. Your parents might not have told you any of this, but maintaining strong physical and mental health is the key to happiness and success.