Continuing the series on mental health, from last week’s issue, it is imperative to turn our minds to active steps those living with various mental health disorders can take, by themselves, in ways of healthily coping with the often unbearable struggle of living with a condition that sometimes feels like nobody understands.
It is important that a distinction be drawn between coping and healthily coping, because often, it is easy to believe that just staying alive, is coping. Sometimes it is. And sometimes, one feels like as long as those around them are happy, that is enough. This is not always healthy.
Coping is defined as managing, or surviving or subsisting or dealing with a challenge. Blogger, Wanda D. Savage says there are mechanisms employed in so dealing, which are activities that help us work through hard times. It is important that those living with mental health disorders have coping mechanisms to help move beyond the problem, gain control and process certain situations. Healthy coping mechanisms are those that not only make you feel good, but help you move towards a space of emotional processing, physical wellness and even a state of self-care.
They work to remove stress, as well as establish wellness. An unhealthy coping mechanism is one that becomes a crutch or something one must complete in order to feel better. Effectively, the unhealthy mechanism numbs one’s senses and helps them avoid the problem instead of processing it. This distinction is vital. Unhealthy coping worsens the symptoms of the problem, and works to increase stress and anxiety. It also largely leads to problematic behaviour and difficulties in creating and sustaining relationships. Lorato Modongo, social psychologist and avid Motswana feminist, who’s interests and area of specialty lies in the social interactions of individuals and the origins thereof, provides us with some few practical steps of healthily coping. It is reiterated here that the list is not at all exhaustive, and the sky is the limit when speaking of self-care. However here are few:
Reach out to people
Many people living with mental health disorders feel that the suffering is theirs alone, and that nobody else understands. Sometimes, some of the people one would have tried to reach out to, have backed away, because we are a society that Dr. Didi Biorn, a psychologist in Maun, says are unequipped with psychological first aid, making us unable to be helpful to others in times of need. This said, trying to deal with a mental health disorder on your own can be the toughest thing one can attempt to do. There is real and conceived stigma to deal with, as well as isolation. This makes the condition even more overwhelming. It is said that the first and most difficult step is admitting that there is a problem. Often, the approach one has in letting their loved ones know of their condition matters. Our friends and family want to help. Lack of knowledge is what often renders them helpless and compassionate. You may not even have to
Many of us don’t even realise we are self-medicating! Imagine this: You get out of work, it’s been a long day, and your work is piling up. You have so many tasks to conclude and it doesn’t seem like anyone will give you credit for all the hours you put in. You arrive home; it’s time for a stiff one!
Or things have just not been going well in your relationship. You’ve just had another fight with your partner. So you light up a joint. Or you can’t seem to sleep well lately. Your mind is running on overdrive, you’re rethinking that thing that happened over and over and over again, trying to fix it. So you take something to help you sleep.
Many of the above seem completely normal in dealing with everyday troubles. As natural as it may seem to make oneself feel better, even if it’s for a short stint of time, it is not healthy. Self-medicating is essentially using prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol to deal with situations we find painful, stressful or emotional. It sometimes leads to addiction, and makes the initial problem even more overwhelming, and larger than it originally was. It is usually easier to deal with addiction through treatment. Local public clinics offer referrals to specialised government institutions, which can adequately treat these symptoms and problems. It’s worth a consultation.
Give yourself time to reflect and self-care
Self-care is an important part of stress management, for the reason that when one is depleted, it is even harder to address the stresses that everyday mundane life offers. It is so easy, in the stressful times we live in, with the many responsibilities we have, to forget to take care of our personal needs. It allows you time to reflect and process. We find ourselves thinking we can’t afford self-care because of the way it has been packaged and commercialized. But honestly, self-care can be something as simple as taking a long bath. Or sitting in bed and journaling for an hour. It can be working out, or taking a long walk. Or even getting enough sleep. Self-care helps with physical health, including relaxation. It’s also helpful to one’s emotional health and makes it easier to give care to those we love.