Emotional Strength 1. Is the cult of busyness – always rushing from one thing to the next – very damaging to our mental health? (What is busyness about? Is it to achieve the status of the high achieving perfectionist which distracts us from painful emotional states or is it done unconsciously in a manner that copies the family model?) Being constantly busy ensures that psychologically we are always under pressure in terms of thinking and planning. This constant activation of our stress response can have a detrimental effect on our mental and physical health. The stress response becomes active when we prepare to deal with danger or a threat. Being continually stressed over a period of time has the same physiological consequences as being under attack or threatened. If we are in ‘go’ mode all the time our bodies don’t get time to refuel and rejuvenate and important functions that are vital to keeping the body healthy start to shut down. In the stress response our adrenal glands secrete adrenaline or epinephrine and norepinephrine which inhibit bodily processes such as digestion, tissue repair, immune and inflammatory system responses and reproduction. Some people seem to thrive on being busy but over time it is not sustainable. Burnout or exhaustion can become an issue and the ways in which they show up will vary: fatigue, irritability, lack of interest in activities, memory loss, weight loss or gain, insomnia, muscular tensions, depression, headaches, anxiety and high blood pressure. The cult of busyness demands that we be more productive, more of the time: we must do more, be more, compete more. When that feeds into our personal lives, we feel we must be seen to have more, achieve more, prove we are ‘more than’ and this is mentally exhausting in the long term. 2. Is taking time to relax, think and even daydream an overlooked part of what it is to be emotionally healthy? When we’re extremely busy, the last thing that we feel we can do is take time for relaxation. For relaxation I put emphasis on silent or guided meditation and yoga. Many of us turn to recreation in our spare time. Recreation includes exercising, sex, creative hobbies and any activity that is seen to be fun. All of these are ‘doing’ whereas relaxation suggests ‘being’. Being in the moment, this moment, which is all we have, can bring us back to a serene experiencing of this moment, and life is made up of moments. When we take the time to ‘be’ in the moment through relaxation, our heart rate drops and our entire system can return to homeostasis. In turn, this leads to improvements in brain function, sleep and digestion and allows for a more measured response to life instead of a reaction. Mindfulness as a means of relaxation encourages us to let thoughts just move on through and not get caught up with them. This allows space to just breathe and become calmer and more familiar with what our internal experience is. When we choose to stop and think or daydream, the content of our thoughts and day dreams will influence our stress response. If it is possible to choose soothing and calm thoughts or daydreams, it can have a positive effect on our mind and body. However, for many, the intrusion of negativity can disrupt the flow of calming thoughts and the body will respond as though it is under attack. 3. Are diet, exercise and sleep underestimated in their role re mental health? A good diet, exercise and good sleep are vital components that we need to incorporate into our lives in order to facilitate optimum psychological and physiological functioning. This is overlooked by many and not deemed important. However a healthy body will respond to stress better than an unhealthy one. High blood pressure, indigestion, constipation and diabetes can be addressed in part by a good diet as can heart disease and obesity. Studies have shown that moving our bodies has a positive effect on our mind. And when we are mindful of ourselves and are operating out of an awareness of what is good for us, we are more likely to choose a healthier diet and get out for some form of exercise. Insomnia affects our waking hours by reducing our ability to concentrate and focus on our work or our own needs. Over time our systems become compromised and unfortunately the use of medication to alleviate this is seen as the answer. However there is an alternative way – meditation, or the focusing on the relaxation response. This is the use of the mind to improve and change your physiology. 4. What are the main steps to boosting emotional health and your ability to cope – to have a strong mind? Emotionally strong individuals will have access to a range of emotions and, with self- awareness, they will continue to learn about how they process those emotions. The hardships of life show up in areas such as loss, bereavement, financial worries, ill health, employment issues, divorce, buying or selling property and moving house. The ability of emotionally strong individuals to identify and process their emotions will have developed in childhood, where emotional outbursts were heeded by parents and soothed often enough to enable the child to embed those experiences. This promotes the child’s belief that emotional expression is important and normal and therein lies the groundwork for the child to grow into the emotionally resilient adult. For adults who suffer from overwhelming emotional distress this modelling may have been missing in childhood. In many cases, working through this with a psychotherapist can address this deficit in emotional regulation and help a person to gain an understanding and acceptance of their inner world and experiences. This brings me back to meditation, as often when we learn to ‘sit’ in silence we can begin to identify fears and anxieties that show up for us. Many of our systems can be damaged by stress and there is evidence that through the relaxation response this can be addressed and improved upon. Through the use of meditative practices we can identify tensions in our bodies and work to release them. This union of mind and body will promote self-awareness which in turn will let us identify what is getting in the way of feeling better. From that position we can begin to address our psychological and physical needs and promote well-being. 5. Do you have and advice for people on how they can 1. Embrace or adapt to change and 2. Learn from their mistakes/progress in their lives. When an individual is suffering from the ‘cult of busyness’ they have become caught up in, there may be signs that on a deeper level they need to change something. Reading the signs our body (which includes our mind) gives us is vital for the introduction of self-saving techniques. If, through continuing meditative practice they can identify where stress is showing up, there is a good chance that it can be addressed. This of course infers that we are on some level open to self-observation and self-reflection. On a practical daily level, deciding to take time for ourselves, even if it is a 30 minute walk, will remind us of how important this body of ours is. It is home to our mind, our heart, our very being. Using a mindfulness app to get even 15 minutes of focused me-time will contribute to a calmer body, which affects our psychological processing, which contributes to better sleep and all of this can change the overall experience of living. Everybody makes mistakes – Albert Einstein said “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”. However, can we really allow ourselves to get things wrong from time to time? After all, the first time we attempt something it is unlikely we will be excellent at it. Yet many strive for perfection and in so doing find themselves falling short of some ideal that they have internalised. This is a painful way of living, yet this pattern will have been internalised from their childhood environment. Unfortunately, the perceived payoff for perfection in the child’s eyes is parental love and acceptance which causes the child to constantly strive and attempt to achieve that perfection. This can be the trigger for some of us to be caught up in the cult of busyness. This unconscious demand that the child be the ‘best’ or ‘perfect’ has a limiting effect on the child’s life, which then carries on into adulthood. If we can identify this as our pattern, then we have a chance to change it. Change may be difficult and take time, but the value of addressing our triggers, patterns and the choices made can’t be overstated. A deeper sense of self and greater self confidence in a calmer inner world could be the outcome. This difficult pattern, when it presents itself in everyday life, can be explored and worked through with a psychotherapist if required. Sometimes a witness to our pain and a validation of our experiences can assist in the shifting of patterns and old beliefs. For those who make progress in life, either in personal relationships, academia, the sport or entertainment fields or in their work, being able to own it, see it and celebrate it is a great idea and quite important. It is important for themselves and for those around them. Children learn to navigate their world through the experiences they have with parents and guardians and learning to celebrate positivity is good. Hopefully if they are seeing the celebration of progress and positivity, they are observing it in an emotionally mature or resilient adult who can soothe them in times of distress and can allow the child to express their range of emotions safely. If this modelling is successful then the times when success eludes us will not trigger a self damning and damaging reaction.This engenders confidence in the child to self-regulate in times of upset and challenge. ——————————————————————————————————————– Extra notes…. Anger, fear, happiness and sadness and their many derivatives – do we recognise these and know how to respond when we are in their grip. What models did we have as children to show us how to self-regulate when overwhelmed? What negative conditioning did we undergo to ensure our emotions were kept in check and not expressed? An emotionally strong or resilient individual will have access to a range of emotions and will continue to learn about how they process those emotions. Are we aware of how we express our emotions? What about sadness and loss? Expressing joy and laughter is seen as acceptable and is almost demanded at times but many of us fear the witnessing of another’s pain. We also are uncomfortable expressing our own pain in front of others. Tears are a wonderful thing – they can be a release and relief from worry. They can be the voice of our childhood trauma, when actual language was not available to us. They can be a signal to others that we need help. They can come at joyful times and tears of laughter are a greatly uplifting experience. Being able to tolerate or experience a range of emotions and moving through them is a sign of emotional strength. We gain a better understanding of how we internalise the outcomes of events and situations and lay the map for future emotional responses. Being stuck in our emotional stuff and unable to express it can cause extreme anxiety and depression and can lead to self- destructive actions. The consequences of this are enormous but, unfortunately, for many the risk of emotional unburdening far outweighs the consequences of silence and keeping it all inside.