These days, it is becoming much more common to talk about mental health out in the open, without shame or fear of reprisal. This is exactly as it should be, and it is something that we should all try to make the most of in a number of ways. One of the ways we can do this is by making a point of helping others whenever they might need it. We might discover that the people around us are struggling with their mental health, and that there is something we can do to help, even if that is just being a shoulder to cry on. We might also want to think about turning inwards a little more, looking at our own minds, and discovering whether there is anything that we might do in order to improve our own mental health as well as possible.
If we are to go down that route, it will help if we actually have a clear sense of what it really means to care for our own minds. That is a tricky subject, because a lot of people are still in the dark as to what mental self-care looks like and consists of. In this article, we are going to try and redress that balance by looking at what it really means to be able to care for your own mind.
The most important thing that you can probably do for your own mental health is to spend some time paying attention to what goes on in your own mind. Now, you might feel that you already know perfectly well what it is that your mind does all day – but is that necessarily true? Most people, once they really start to pay attention, will uncover a whole range of things that they didn’t know was going on in their own minds, and this can be both an important and a stark uncovering which can be hard to deal with. It is, however, necessary if you are to make sure that you are doing what you need to do for your own mental health. So how can you ensure that you are actually paying attention to your mind?
You will have heard of mindfulness, and that is essentially the process that you need to use here if you are to watch what happens in your own mind day in,day out. Mindfulness is simply this: the act of quietly accepting whatever arises in consciousness without judgement or trying to alter anything. At first, it is that second half of the process which you will find the hardest, trying not to change what appears or wishing it was different. But over time you will come to see that it is possible to watch your thoughts come and go in perfect equanimity without, as the Zen saying goes, ‘serving them tea’. In this is an important realization: that you are above your thoughts, and so don’t have to be swayed by them, and that each thought and feeling you have comes up, stays around for a while, and then swiftly passes away. Seeing this impermanence is important in allowing yourself the freedom to, quite literally, change your mind.
Changing Your Mind
As well as being able to watch our minds as they are, an important part of mental health too is being able to know when we need to change something or when we might want to make some kind of an alteration which could hopefully improve how we go about doing things. There are many reasons this might prove to be important. It might be that we have discovered that we have an unhealthy or unhelpful series of thoughts which tend to recur around a particular subject, for instance, and which we need to be able to try and alter for the better. Or it might be that we need to try and allow ourselves to be happier, which very often is a matter of nothing more than deciding to change our point of view on an issue or a situation. Whatever it is, it is powerful to know how to do this, and the good news there is that it is something that almost all of us should be able to do.
In order to change your mind for the better, you need to identify those traits and trains of thoughts you have, and then know what you want to change them out for. It is then a simple case of slowly and surely altering how you respond to specific situation over time. The more that you do this, the more that you will find it works, and that is thanks in large part to something known as neuroplasticity, namely the ability of the brain to change pathways depending on habit. The more you make what you want a habit, the truer it becomes – in actual, real terms.
Being Careful With Substances
Many people will go through periods of trying to self-medicate, and there might even be occasions when you find that you can effectively do this. It could even be, in some parts of the world, that you are prescribed drugs which are illegal in other parts, and find yourself going to an online dispensary on doctor’s orders. Whatever works is what works, but you should also remember that you need to be careful with any substances which you take in order to try and help your mind along, as too much of anything is unlikely to be a good thing.
The golden rule here is if something starts making you feel worse, you should cut it off if it is something illicit, or talk to your doctor if it is prescribed. In many cases, completely cutting out a substance at once is not advisable either, so be sure that you seek the appropriate medical advice first. All in all, it’s just about being careful with substances, so that you medicate in the right way without going too far with it in any one direction. If you can do that, you will be in a much better position on the whole.