Protecting our mental health in uncertain times.

With the current global crises which threatens our lifestyle, our careers and our physical health it is important to not allow it to also pose a threat to our mental health. Worry will never solve our problems or add anything to our lives but instead will rob us of our peace, our sleep and possibly our health. Many of the things we spend time worrying about never come to fruition. We can feel emotionally drained when we’ve expended our mental energies focused on the negative and if we habitually worry, then how will we ever be able to enjoy our life?

Heightened fears can increase the likelihood of suffering from a panic attack, increase our stress levels and blood pressure and overall place us in a worse situation. Fear is often the underlying cause for many psychological conditions. Severe cases of fear as seen in conditions of anxiety are debilitating and can lead to physical illness. Fear is an emotion and is directed by our thoughts. When we are fearful, we tend to be quick with excuses why we can’t do something, why we can’t step out of our comfort zone, why we can’t pursue our dreams and goals and why we can’t succeed and prosper. Fear can cause people to be indecisive, to doubt their abilities and to feel stressed. Stress, as we know, can have an adverse effect on our physical, emotional and mental well-being. Fear can affect the way we love others, it can limit our power and effectiveness and cloud our judgement. Fear can paralyse us and stop us from moving forward and embracing change. Fear can prevent us from excelling in life. Ultimately fear can cause mental illness, robbing us of a sound mind. Years ago when I suffered from an anxiety attack, I realised that it was my thoughts, more specifically my fears of the future, that were the cause. I had to make a deliberate effort to not let my thoughts dwell on what ‘might’ happen. Controlling what we allow our minds to dwell on is one of the biggest keys to overcoming fear and achieving success in every area of our life. Some fears need to be replaced with hope, a confident expectation of good, like in my situation, while other fears require us to take action steps to overcome them, tackling them head on, doing it afraid. For example, if you have a fear of public speaking then the only way to overcome that fear is to practise public speaking until you gain confidence. As in the current situation the world is facing, our fears may be taking on a new career or being able to adapt and change our current way of doing business. Often when children start out learning to swim, they are afraid of the water. The instructor needs to give them the confidence that everything will be alright and provide them with the belief that they can do it, but the child initially has to do it afraid. Nelson Mandela said, I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Let’s see our fear as an opportunity to be brave and courageous.

Depression can occur when we allow wrong thinking into our minds and when we are stuck in neutral, when we feel the monotony of life or we feel trapped in a situation with no foreseeable way out or when we have no control over outcomes. We need to have purposeful work, an assignment to accomplish, something that will give us forward propulsion, a change. Toxic thoughts such as fears can create the wrong perspectives. When our focus is on the problems in life and we no longer hold onto the hope for a better tomorrow, we can slip into depression. We must recognise and reject any lies that we tell ourselves such as nobody really cares about me, nobody notices me, nobody listens to me, my situation is hopeless and will only get worse. When this occurs we need to take the focus off ourselves and find someone else to help if possible.

Our mind is where the real battle ground is. This is where we formulate limiting beliefs and fears and destructive thought patterns. We can and do believe lies that we have told ourselves or that other people have articulated and our perceptions of our self, other people or events can be distorted. Sometimes we can be unaware of these lies that we believe to be true until we’ve done some digging. Toxic emotions reveal to us that we have wrong thoughts and wrong thoughts come from wrong beliefs. Anxiety, depression, worry and low self-esteem are rooted in fear and are just some of the issues we create for ourselves with the type of thoughts that we entertain.

There is a saying that says ‘you can’t stop birds from flying over your head but you can stop them from making a nest in your hair.’ We can’t stop wrong thoughts from coming but we can stop them from staying.

After many years of studying and researching the brain, Dr Caroline Leaf has discovered that negative thoughts can produce dead tree like structures within the brain. By recognising what these negative thoughts are and then deliberately replacing them with positive thoughts the brain is able to heal itself.

Even though the situation the world is facing today looks very bleak we don't need to buy into fear. We need to remind ourselves that the situation is only for a season, that it will not last forever, and we also need to get our entrepreneurial minds thinking about the advantages that this season brings. We've already seen some breweries seeing a need for hand sanitisers, re-purposing their factories to produce them. Look for the benefits and opportunities. If you're in lock down then see this as an opportunity to rest and replenish your body, soul and spirit, to study online, read a good book, work on your business, write a story, do a workout each day to improve your health, skype family and friends or perhaps spring clean the house. If you're in lock down with family then make the most of that time and enjoy it. Don't let fears and anxiety about the future rob you of your now moment.

Be mindful of the thoughts you're entertaining, the music and people you listen to and the news you watch or read as these factors can affect our mental and emotional well being. It is important to know the restrictions and rules the government is enforcing and recommending each day but don't watch so much news that it starts making you fearful, anxious or depressed. A lot of research has gone into the power of music on the human psych showing that it is capable of invoking strong emotions and therefore can form strong memories. Are the words to the songs you listen to beneficial, uplifting, encouraging and appropriate? Is the music making you feel sad and depressed or happy, calm or energetic? If you are feeling upset then it is not a good idea to keep feeding that emotion with music that makes you feel sad. Play happy, energetic tunes that make you want to dance or sing or both and you'll lift your spirits. We should guard our eyes and ears as they are the portals to our mind.

Choose to come out the other side of this crisis as a better person. If you have ever played a video game then you’ll know that the characters in most games earn experience points by completing missions, usually by battling enemies, or by finding items. These experience points and /or items can then help the characters to level-up. This means that the characters will usually increase in strength, endurance and power and they will gain stronger armour and weapons. In real life it is the same, except we get to choose whether we level-up or level-down. We go through battles so to speak, have challenges and face problems and experience pain. With our life experiences we can choose to level-up and gain inner strength and fortitude, patient endurance and resilience and power to influence others. Wisdom gained can be used for offence and strategies learned can be used for defence. Or if we choose to level-down then we are allowing toxic thoughts to take root which lead to toxic emotions and finally an undesirable outcome. We throw ourselves into a pit of darkness, the pit of self-pity. The choice is ours. Victory starts in our thinking.

Firstly, we need to stay at peace even when circumstances and situations around us seem fierce, don’t let the external environment dictate our internal environment and secondly, when we remain in peace the answer to our problems will come effortlessly. Either we will be able to think more clearly and see the solution or the right people at the right time will come into our situation. When you see a huge storm on the ocean with enormous waves crashing and the wind blowing it can seem terrifying but if you go down deeper into the water you realise that the water there is calm and unaffected by the storm on the surface. Like being in the eye of a cyclone or that deep water we need to hold our peace and remain calm.

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