Tracey Jones

Normalising Mental Health

As we enter yet another lockdown here in Wales, I begin to wonder about the mental wellbeing of people. Long hours at home, not seeing others and not experiencing the human connection is difficult for many. 
What I would like to highlight in this article is the importance of normalising mental health and developing self-refection and personal responsibility.

When we look back to the 80’s and 90’s, we became highly educated around healthy eating and physical fitness. It took society time to imbed these new learning’s, being mindful about keeping our bodies fit and healthy. I believe normalising mental health is the same. Its educating people around how to develop a healthy mind.

Instead of treating it as an illness or a weakness, promote it as something to manage. Making ‘healthy mind’ habits a routine.  Working within a clearly defined framework that treats mental health the same as physical health.
We do need to also be mindful that severe mental health is complicated. It is not black and white and different levels of severity exist. We must try not to confuse normal regular low levels of being down and having a bad day to that of severe depression. Being able to recognise the difference in this area is also imperative.

I feel sometimes that we can blur the lines and use throw away comments around stress, depression and lately, PTSD. The NHS website describes PTSD as:
“Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt.
They may also have problems sleeping, such as insomnia, and find concentrating difficult.
These symptoms are often severe and persistent enough to have a significant impact on the person’s day-to-day life.”

I supported an ex veteran last year who was suffering with the above due to an extremely traumatic event which no one should ever have to encounter. It’s  being mindful as to how we label specific events and being respectful of people who have suffered with PTSD.
Let’s also take our Paramedic first responders that are often at the scenes of accidents day in day out, how mindful are we of these people? Our A&E departments? Our doctors and nurses? who are present and have to break that painstaking news to families. I spoke with a doctor last year who worked in A&E and had to do something that I cannot even bring myself to write as its heart-breaking, 10 minutes later, she had to go into the next cubicle to treat someone with a minor injury, at the end of her shift, going home to her family and being mum and a wife. Where is that time to digest what actually happens for them. These are real life events.

Stigma is one of the most significant factors that prevents people with mental health disorders from seeking help. As a result, there has been an increased effort to destigmatise and many public figures are coming out about their struggles with mental health, which is really helping us to break these barriers down, allowing society to become more empathetic and supportive toward those experiencing mental illness. Which creates a more positive, help-seeking environment throughout communities. We have also begun to experience a paradigm shift in how people view mental health.

Normalising mental health will enable more and more people to open up and learn about their minds. Learn about what makes them tick, learn about the mechanics of their own mind. Let’s begin to bring the Science into it, what happens to our bodies as a result of negative thoughts.

We have seen an increase in government-funded initiatives and a focus on mental health in schools, however the mental health of thousands of people is reaching a crisis point and unfortunately, a lot are unable to seek help, or face long waiting times. I agree that more needs to be done and more focus and government funds needs to be directed to this area. However, we can also take on personal responsibility to our own learning by redirecting our focus and taking control of this by educating ourselves.  

Let’s put our language into perspective here for a moment. Each and every one of us can take responsibility over the language we use. Being mindful of how we can self-sabotage and exaggerate a situation through our words and emotions. A little stress is normal in our lives, the real challenge with stress is when it becomes progressive. One of the important dynamics here is to break apart stressful moments or stressful days with a few minutes of recovery and reflection time. It has been proven that there is a common denominator with professional athletes, in that they have learnt to recover physically, you cannot continue at the same pace repeatedly without recovery time. Athletes will push themselves for a few hours and then spend time recovering. How can you build in small recovery periods throughout the day to re boost your energy pack? what are your stress signals? and what do you do about them?

Working with a leader last year, we just tweaked a language habit for her. She had found herself walking around repeating the words “I am so stressed, I have so much to do” so I kept repeating “your busy and that’s ok” and smiled, she then began to repeat that new language statement adding the smile.  Why the smile you may ask? When we feel happy, endorphins are produced and neuronal signals are transmitted to trigger the smile, these are then transmitted back to the brain, further increasing our happy hormones (endorphins).
That was one small area of her work, one small step. We believe sometimes that we have to change a big area for it to matter, but sometimes the smaller the change the more manageable it is. We went on to create an action plan around her strategic actions, and her habitual language patterns. When I returned two weeks later, she felt back in control again. Implementing not only her strategic business plan but her own PES plan (Personal Emotional Strategy).

Let’s go back to basics here, we now know that if we were to eat unhealthy food with a high fat content not only is it not good for our health but we don’t feel good, we become lethargic, our focus isn’t sharp and we become unsettled.
I believe it’s the same with our thoughts, they affect us in a similar way.

Unhealthy thoughts = unhealthy mind

With so much research and solid scientific evidence being presented about our brain and neuroscience, we are at a tipping point. Never before has emotional intelligence and learning about us, been more important.
The United Nations states:
Your degree of Emotional Intelligence may affect:

Your job performance – High EI helps you communicate better and forge stronger relationships with others.
Your physical health – Low EI can cause stress, which can lead to serious health problems.
Your mental health – Low EI may make you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and mood swings.
They state that it may affect, but in my opinion, it does affect all of the above. What can we do to educate ourselves on ourselves?
Personal growth will look differently for everyone, but wherever you are, there is always more to learn. Being taught the importance of listening to what we need, to what our bodies are telling us, to challenge ourselves mentally and any negative internal dialogue we have. We forget to take control of our own minds.

Ask yourself – Do I control my mind or does my mind control me?

It’s those with great emotional awareness, resilience and strength, who can recognise what their emotions are telling them. 
Let me ask you: when you are frustrated do you address the feeling and the thoughts in the moment? or do you carry on with the frustration and loop the thought pattern?
Learning about you is the biggest investment you will ever make.

I ask the questions:
What will this look like in your household?
What will this look like moving forward in your establishment?
What will this look like moving forward within your club?
What will this look like moving forward for YOU?

Each and every one of us has a personal responsibility towards ourselves, no one else can do it for us, we can seek support and guidance to teach us the tools but ultimately, it’s down to us as an individual to maintain that mental agility and mental fortitude. I am talking the lower level of normal negative thoughts here, because if we don’t catch these low level thoughts and we begin to loop them this is where we can see over long periods of time affecting our mental  and physical health.
There are many charities/businesses/coaches out there that support wellbeing. There are also hundreds of Personal Development books/podcasts and you tube videos out there to suit various people from all backgrounds that are very cost effective.
How about just dipping your feet into this arena and just listen to a couple of them and ask yourself?

What did I learn from this?
How can I bring that learning into my daily routine?
How will I build a new habit with it?

Keep a record of it, write it out. It doesn’t need to be long. And find a way to instil it in your routine. We rarely place time in our daily routines for reflection. How can we learn to be a better version of ourselves without that reflection time?
In Business I often recommend people to have a debrief with themselves at the end of the working day. This is a quick self-reflection about you as a person.

What went well? What could have gone better? What did I learn about me today? Take the learnings forward with you?
Modern neurology confirms that our brains alter as we learn new skills and gain expertise, the more we practice the more those neuropathways become stronger. It’s the same with anything new, I mentioned in a previous article about putting in hours of effort to learn a new skill for work, but how about taking new skills seriously now for yourself.

What would you like to get better at? Refrain from being work related or task related, keep it personal to you. It might be ‘being less judgmental of others’. If this is the case, take a close look at how and when you judge others. Write down what exactly happens internally with your thoughts and triggers. Find the habit loop: what triggers you to become judgmental? Once you have found that trigger. Ask yourself: what will I say or do instead of being judgmental? This might be the opposite and become kinder and complimentary of the other person, find something good about them. Even this one small tweak in your language will support your wellbeing.

Create a new habit with what you have learnt about yourself, spend time mastering that one small tweak, because that one small tweak will have a domino effect to other ways of thinking.
Once you have mastered it find something else about yourself that you would like to master regarding your thoughts. It might be, to be less nervous in crowded areas, less anxious when speaking to my boss, less self-critical. Whatever it is, start to create the awareness and then look at what you can replace it with. 

This global pandemic has given some people more time for themselves, let’s see if we can spend a proportion of that time learning key pieces of information about ourselves.

To make these changes we need to be motivated in doing so, for us to learn we need to build important structures to support us with our daily routines, we need to be observing our thoughts and understanding ourselves. Making sense of our actions and choices through reflection. These small changes will help with our Mental Health and best of all they are free.
Done properly It never really ends. We can look at it through the lens of Stephen Covey’s seventh habit: Sharpen the Saw. Covey describes Sharpening the Saw as:

“preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you”

It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.
Taking on Personal responsibility 🙂

Please get in touch if you’d like any support:
Love always

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