Mental health is at the forefront of everyone’s minds lately not just because it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, but because it’s something that has broken all our hearts at some point in our lives. Whether we encounter mental health issues personally or within our relationships, family and friends, this is an issue that affects us all on a very deep level. I’ve come to believe that if our mental health isn’t right, our entire health system is compromised and nothing can be right.
That’s why I like to do a regular check in to see how my loved ones are really feeling. However, when someone asks me how I’m feeling, I usually default to replying that I’m “fine” no matter what is happening in my life.
There was a time when an overseas friend once asked me why Americans always respond with “fine” no matter what was going on in our lives. We could be battling significant health problems, we could be breaking up with our significant other, be depressed at our job, or our kids could be on drugs.. but the answer is always “fine.”
That “fine” characterization haunted me for years and I didn’t know how to respond to her until I started my own journey with therapy for the very first time.
I’ve learned that it is very important to try to put words to our emotions in order to care for our mental health.
If we don’t take the time to identify how we are really feeling in response to our life events, we begin repressing and silencing our inner voices. This can have extensive consequences if we choose to overlook or numb our feelings over a prolonged period of time.
This is when we begin slipping.
We might choose to stop taking care of ourselves in the ways we used to.
It might start with skipping the gym for a day or three. Forgetting to eat a vegetable all week. Choosing the drive-through over a balanced meal. Staying up all night to doom scroll instead of resting. Overreacting with our loved ones and saying something nasty that we regret later. Beginning a toxic negative self-talk cycle.
When we continually numb ourselves or give into anxiety, it’s much more likely that we will end up choosing an unhealthy behavior.
This is the time to choose self-care and ask yourself, how are you really feeling?
A great way to begin exploring our emotions is using a tool I like to call the Feelings Wheel. I personally have never seen anything like this before so it was a bit overwhelming to see all these words for emotions that seemed foreign to me. The concept that I followed was to begin to acknowledge how I was really feeling in the heat of a moment.
If I am feeling triggered or dysregulated, I try to take the time to identify how I am really feeling, and to possibly trace it back to a time back in my life where a prior incident made me feel the same way.
Just taking the time to acknowledge that I was feeling insignificant, provoked, powerless, or disappointed was a huge step in beginning to acknowledge that I am worth the effort it will take to care for myself.
We all have a variety of triggers that are specific to our unique experiences, but we can all benefit from self soothing practices.
Instead of giving into feelings when overwhelmed, remind yourself how strong you are. Tell yourself, “I am strong, I can cope with this.” You’ve gone through other difficult situations. We can do hard things.
Mental health is a critical part of our overall health. When we don’t feel right, nothing can be right in our lives. I hope these tips can help remind you of how capable you are and how much you can cope with. Being in touch with our feelings and learning how to self-soothe is one of the very first steps to our mental well-being. Taking care of yourself means watching for our mental health as well as our physical health. We care about both.