By Otibho Edeke-Agbareh, Humanitarian Services Manger at Kenyon International
During Stress Awareness Month, I’ve been reflecting on how, despite the fact we are coming out of a pandemic, new global challenges that are affecting our mental health are ever present. So, with this in mind, I’m hoping this article is a reminder to all of us on the importance of the protection and care of our own mental health.
“There is no health without mental health,” were the words famously used by Dr Brook Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO). As the world grapples with war, civil unrest, the effects of global warming and our immergence of a new normal as we slowly come out of a global pandemic, the topic of mental health, stress and its impact on the citizens of planet earth has never been more critical.
Mental health is the invisible aspect of our health; it’s not something we can touch or see, yet it plays a vital role in our ability to complete our activities of daily life. Mental health is not merely a mental health disorder or symptoms, it is a state of overall wellbeing and productivity.
However, in a world that is every changing, how do you attain this state of overall wellbeing and productivity? Especially when fear and anxiety seem to be spreading just as quickly, due to our shared access to the internet and social media. Early evidence released by the WHO on 2nd March 2002 showed there has been an 27% increase in cases of major depressive disorders globally. So, the predictions made by the United Nations in 2020 regarding an increase globally in the number of people experiencing mental vulnerability was not wrong.
Tackling mental vulnerabilities
Mental vulnerabilities have manifested themselves through elevated rates of stress and anxiety, which are normal reactions to an ever-changing and uncertain world. These feelings continue to be exacerbated as we bear witness to jurisdictions dealing with war, famine, natural disasters and life in an emerging post COVID world. Additionally, for many of us we are now taking steps back into society, returning to work in person, engaging more in social gathering and activities. Although the latter examples are positive steps, they can also hold anxiety and stress as we find our feet again as professional and social beings. So, it is fair to say that acquiring psychological resilience is not so much a nice to have skill but more of a life skill that we should all possess for a meaningful and balanced life.
Acknowledging this, how do we insulate ourselves from an unfolding stressful situation? The good news is that as humans, we have a remarkable fortitude and resilience in the face of adversity and crisis. So, what is resilience, and how do we acquire it? In an article by Christy Belle Geha on psychological resilience, Ghida Husseini, a counselling psychologist, defines resilience by stating - “Resilience isn’t a synonym of coping. Resilience is the ability to bend with the wind, to flow with the current, to bounce back from a shock, whereas coping is the ability to manage difficult and challenging conditions. Our resilience increases as we learn to cope.”
How to build coping mechanisms into our daily routine
For us to attain psychological resilience, we must build coping strategies into our daily routine. This will make it easier for us to cope consistently with not only this pandemic, but also the daily stresses that occur in everyday life.
My hope for every reader is that you use Stress Awareness Month to continue to build your resilience tool kit.
Below are our top 5 tips to add to your physiological resilience tool kit.
1. Avoid excessive exposure to the news & social media
Constantly viewing and listening to media coverage can increase feelings of anxiety and worry.
- You could try limiting your access to the news/media
- Try turning off mobile device notifications for news/social media outlets
- Access information from legitimate sources such as the WHO and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Try to look for the original sources for facts quoted in small snippets in news, e.g. social media posts. Acquiring the facts for yourself will often help you to make informed decisions and reduce anxiety regarding that topic.
Setting limits will allow you to focus on your life and the aspects within it you can control.
2. Look after yourself
This may seem like an obvious one, but self-care is vitally important, as neglect of yourself can cause the deterioration of not only your mental, but physical health.
- Write down your daily routine/goals. Research by the Dominican University in California found that you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals and dreams by writing them down regularly. The skill of bringing an element of routine back into your life, as well as the review of daily achievements, has a twofold effect. It will not only help you to accept the things you cannot change but also provide you with the courage to change the things that are in your control.
- Acknowledge how you are feeling. It is normal to feel stressed, anxious or even overwhelmed by a situation. So, permit yourself to feel this way but also give yourself an outlet for these emotions. Talking to others, writing down your feelings, exercising, and meditation are all excellent methods in managing these feelings.
- Take time to cook healthy meals and exercise at least once a day, which could be the simple task of taking a walk.
Mindfulness. Take time to meditate or allow your mind to be still. Relaxing your minds can help with the promotion of positive thoughts and feelings.
Taking a holistic approach to your wellbeing will only help you to have overall resilience to the challenges of this world. Implementing good self-care will also mean you are better prepared to look after yourself and others.
3. Seek professional support
Everyone in life from time to time will need support that goes beyond friends and family, and this is where professional care can help. Leaving physical or mental issues undiagnosed or untreated could have severe consequences to your long-term health. Seeking support or care is never a sign of weakness or defeat, but rather a sign of you taking control and working towards a solution.
If you are concerned about your health in any way, access medical care. Health care providers are working hard in the community to provide health care to all who need it. Book an appointment with your local health care provider as a starting point.
Seeking medical help for your physical or mental health will put your mind at ease and will often go a long way in helping you feel better quicker. It will also help in stopping the further deterioration of your physical or mental health.
4. Positive thinking
As the world grapples with war, shortages in resources and increases in living cost, a lot of the words we hear carry the theme of uncertainty. It can increase the frequency of intrusive/negative thoughts and feelings of hopelessness.
- Write down all the positive things you have in your life, as this often gives you perspective.
- Take time to find the positive stories and experiences related to a negative event, such as the pandemic. As for every story related to something negative, there are just as many positive ones. For example, stories of people sending resources to other countries that need it. These all show the very best of humanity and its ability to rise to the occasion.
- Think of your brain as a roulette wheel or a generator of thoughts. On occasions, the thoughts generated are not positive. When your mind lands on a negative thought, reflect in that moment and move your thoughts on. Remember that a thought is just a thought and not an action. Speak about your thoughts to others and seek professional help if you feel your intrusive thoughts are overwhelming you.
Seeking opportunities to be hopeful is not being unrealistic, in fact you’re taking an active step to being a realistic optimist. This means you acknowledge the current situation for what it is, and you realise that no situation lasts forever.
Lastly, a realistic optimist leans on history to inform your optimism. For instance, history has taught us that when humanity bands together with one common goal, we can often come up with solutions.
5. The power of human connectivity
Create the time to meet with friends and family, though you may find at times you are less motivated to do so.
- Pre-planning events in your diary can give you something to motivate and look forward to.
- Keep in touch with people through telephone calls and virtual platforms, like Zoom.
- Take the time to write a letter. This form of communication has in recent times reduced, however, receiving such a letter may enrich someone’s day.
- Use the opportunity we have to socialise, to pick up the hobby or new skill you have always wanted to.
- Check-in on vulnerable people you may know, such as neighbours and friends. As well as those who may be living on their own. This can be done through a telephone call or a door step chat.
By connecting with others we raise morale and the feeling that we are all in this together, and together we can prevail.
The world we are living in is constantly changing and as we seem to solve one issue, another arises. This presents new challenges in terms of protecting our mental health. However, by integrating positive coping strategies into our daily routines, building psychological resilience is achievable. Lastly, one of the greatest coping strategies we can demonstrate is extending care, compassion and empathy to one another. As people in the haze of everyday life may forget when events occur. But they will not forget how others made them feel and the support that was extended to them when needed. Never forget that one of the greatest commodities we have to give in life is not a physical asset, but the simple extension of our time to one another.