Everyday after dinner, my mind likes to think of all the bad things happening in my life. So I take my mind to a nearby park and walk and, in no time, my mind is now thinking about how dirty the park is, and how people walk in their slippers and that I should tear off tulsi leaves on my way back for a cup of tea.
Then, when I am back, my mind is too tired to think of how terrible my life is, so it wants to hit the sack. And that’s how I calm my anxious mind and take care of my mental health.
To learn more about mental health, I had a conversation with Dr Nargis Asad, Associate Professor and Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Aga Khan University who tells us how we should approach mental health and what we should do to help ourselves …
When to seek medical help
We all go through stress in our daily life. There is no escape from it. We all get up in the morning thinking what this life is all about. There are problems in your personal life; work life is hectic and especially in times like these you always feel overloaded with daily hassles. But that doesn’t mean you should go and see a doctor. There is a clear difference between daily stress and something that is clinically significant. Daily stress is caused by general problems in your life. You feel stressed out for few days then things get sorted out and you begin to feel better. It’s pretty normal! But if you are struggling with something and your stress persists for a very long time and it has started affecting your functioning, such as your sleeping pattern, diet and mood, then you must see a health professional.
Learn to identify emotions
A lot of schools teach kids to express their emotions through displaying emojis. Knowing what you are feeling is very important for our mental well-being. Whether you are sad, worried or joyful, you should know it clearly! Being aware of your emotions helps you express yourself more appropriately, and deal with them in an effective way. Teachers, parents and caretakers should emphasize on teaching emotional intelligence to youngsters.
It’s okay to not be okay
If a teacher scolds you, you feel disappointed; if you have a disagreement with your buddy, you are obviously going to get upset; losing a job will make you feel devastated. These are all normal feelings. Bad things happening in life would bring all sorts of negative emotions. We need to normalize these negative emotions. Humans can feel all kinds of emotions. You can’t be happy all the time.
Don’t judge your emotions. Let yourself fully experience all sorts of feelings and eventually you will learn to be more comfortable with them.
Advice for caretakers
As a caretaker, you might get concerned when you see young people feeling low and depressed. So naturally, the first thing you would do is interrogate the depressed person to find out what the problem is. Most of the time, this kind of questioning feels like probing to the affected person. Stop doing that! Probing can make young people defensive. Just let them be with their feelings and appreciate their silence.
Another thing we see is young people fear being judged by their adults or they think their parents will worry for them. Plus, as families we don’t sit down and discuss matters from emotional perspective, so it feels weird when you do. Don’t distance yourself from young people. Be with them. And make them feel comfortable so they can express their thoughts and feelings freely.
Talk to kids about mental health when they feel ready. Then teach them what they can do to protect their mental health.
Pursue hobbies for a healthy mind
I have observed not many people have hobbies. And we make excuses like we don’t have space or time! For example, if you are interested in gardening, starting with a few pots would work to keep your mind engaged. You don’t need acres of land to plant something. Learn to work with what you have.
Look for alternatives
Adult life gets easier when you start looking for alternatives. Think of the next best option. Life is all about looking for alternatives and improvising. Don’t fixate on something that you are unable to get. Move on and see what else can be done.
This also brings us to hope. I always talk about hope with my patients. Whether you look at it from a psychological or a religious perspective, hopelessness is just not the solution. You have to keep hope alive in the worst of situations. And when you say, “Now, what other option do I have?”, you will feel hopeful. Hope keeps many bad emotions away.
Reach out to counselors and teachers at school. Talk freely to them about your problems. Kids provided with safe space don’t hesitate or fear judgement.
Academic performance is not everything
There is too much pressure on young people to perform well in academics. Due to our poor socio-economic conditions, education is considered as a way to get better employment. As a result, the young people’s mental health suffers.
But, we as parents and educators, should know not everyone can perform exceptionally in academics. The multiple intelligence theory says we all are intelligent in our own ways. Some of us are good at music, some are good at arts, some are good at sports. We must work on changing this mindset. Grades and academic report shouldn’t be the only yardstick to measure the worth of someone. We are all intelligent and capable human beings.
Help others by helping yourself
If our loved ones come home anxious or panicking, most probably we will treat them with more anxiety and panic. We see parents get extremely anxious when their kids get into trouble. Anxiety is contagious. Calm yourself first so that you can help others. If they see you worrying excessively, they will unconsciously learn that unhealthy behaviour. If you find it hard to control your anxiety, then talking to a health professional will help. The less stressful you are, the happier your loved ones will be.
Balancing is key
The pandemic has changed us in many ways. One thing our youth didn’t learn during this time is social skills. Youth learn these skills at their educational institutes. You learn to work in teams and collaborate; you learn to solve problems constructively; you learn to seek help and help others; simple things like sharing lunch with peers or sitting still on a desk can be powerful ways to teach kids important life skills.
But unfortunately, technology took over completely and we see the effects of what we missed out. As things are getting back to normal, we should start balancing between technology and our physical interaction. Too much technology is dangerous for our mental wellbeing.
The internet is full of information, so be very critical of what you read or watch. For mental health related content, don’t trust random groups on social media. Any advice coming from people who are not mental health experts will not help you in any way.
Read stuff published by credible educational institutions to educate yourself.
Add meaning to your life
You must have one purposeful activity to look forward to in the morning. It could be education or your job.
A lot of people hate their jobs! But it is not possible for everyone to change jobs or careers, right? So why not learn to enjoy whatever job you have. See what bothers you at work, then solve that problem.
Structure leads to a stress-free life
The more structured your day is, the more peaceful you will feel. Plan your day smartly. Make time for religion and hobbies.
There is no excuse not to exercise
Mental health improves when you exercise. So never skip that! Don’t say we don’t have a park or gym nearby. Whatever space you have at home or work, use that to exercise. Walk to work if possible. There is a lack of resources everywhere, so improvise and make use of what you have.
A comforting friend is all you need
Be in the company of people who help you calm down. People who look at life in a positive way and spread love and happiness will always pull you through your troubles.
Always talk to someone
Talking to someone during mental health crisis is another healthy way to feel better. As human beings, we want to relate to someone in some way or another. We call our sister or mother when something bad happens and it brings instant relief to our nerves. So if you can, always reach to someone you can trust and talk. Most importantly, people will always give you a fresher perspective on the matters that are hard to deal with.