Mental Wellness. According to the World Health Organization, mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” To me, there are two aspects to be considered when exploring mental wellness: the brain and the mind. The brain is the organ that is protected by our cranium. The brain is the hub of our central nervous system, and research continues to show how the brain also has a strong influence over every system in our body. Correlations showing the impact of the brain can be found in every system, however the cardiovascular system and the digestive system have recently had most studies done linking them to the brain. Though I am not writing on brain health this month, here are a few articles I find fascinating on brain health:
I am choosing to stick to topic this month and turn our attention to Taking Care of the Mind. I have always thought of the mind as the representation of our mental health. I visualize the mind as the space that surrounds the brain and the body. This includes the thoughts we have, the emotions we identify, the energy we take in and put out. The mind is the inner workings of the fabulous brain that represents our spirit, thoughts, body and soul. The mind is an awareness of all: our metacognition or our awareness of thought, our awareness of what is happening in our physical body (Is my heart beating quickly?! What is that about?), an awareness of our emotions (Could it be excitement? Or fear? Or love?) and an awareness of our soul (Oh, does it feel good to kick back in the Fall sunshine, listen to music and enjoy the fire!!). The mind acts as an attentive nurturer to all of our being, watching, anticipating and meeting the needs of the body, brain and soul. The mind works to create peace and harmony in all of our systems, but how do you put intention into caring for your mind?
The first step in attending to your mind is identifying and making a plan to honor what your mind needs. This question is fluid and ever-changing. Take a moment right now to assess how you are feeling. How does your body feel? What emotions can you identify with? How is your heart/soul/spirit in this moment? (Stop reading to pause and reflect here!) Now drop the question into your reflection: “What does my mind need in this moment?” Here are a few suggestions for attending to the needs of the mind:
Perhaps your mind needs quiet space and a calming atmosphere. Turn off the phone, light a candle, turn down the lights and settle into your favorite meditation or a silent meditation.
Your mind may be asking to connect to your body. Therapeutic yoga allows you to understand the workings of the mind and express them and care for the mind with your body through poses (asanas) and through controlling breath (pranayama). Integrative therapeutic massage invites you to be open to energy healing as well as physical healing of the body in order to reconnect to the body.
Perhaps your mind is yearning for intellectual stimulation. Grab that engaging book off your nightstand and dig in, make your intention for dinnertime tonight to engage in stimulating conversation and plan a few topics, pick up the phone and call a friend who challenges your thoughts, spend time with people who think differently and those who are like-minded but challenge you.
Your mind may be circling back to a common theme or ‘stuck’ on a current life stressor. Give your mind time to process this stressor. Mentally processing something means we examine our perception, our thoughts, our reasonings, our beliefs and values around it, the emotions it is bringing up, and work toward a resolution. Sometimes I need to call a trusted friend for this, sometimes it’s work for me and my therapist.
Your mind may be screaming a call to action. Sometimes we get stuck in contemplation and intellectualizing (both can be defense mechanisms to avoid action). If you’ve thought about it, processed it with someone you respect and trust, and sat with it (especially if you’ve done this a few times), it may be time to practice your courage and take a step toward action (“make up your mind”). In particular, if your sleep is impaired or you are struggling with focus and concentration because you are stuck on the hamster wheel of thought, look where in your life you may need to take action. Acupuncture is a great tool to use when our minds are stuck in the “fight, flight or flee” response that overthinking can cause.
I believe every single mind is beautiful. Recently someone proposed to me that therapy is examining what is “wrong” with the mind. I respectfully disagree. I profess (and practice!) therapy that is examining the uniqueness and inner workings of the mind to understand and sometimes refine patterns of the mind to help others to build their healthiest and most authentic life.