We need to move away from our illness-first approach to mental health and recognize that everybody has a brain, and that means everybody has mental health.
Mental health is no different than physical health–we all have it. And we all have varying levels of improvable physical and mental health. Just as each decision you make affects your physical health, so too does every decision affect your mental health.
Too often, we take mental health for granted and a person will often conflate mental health with his or her identity. We’ve come to recognize that our identity is separate from our physical health. We know that if you’ve never run before, and you try to run a mile today, you’ll quickly run out of breath, have to stop running, your heart will pound, and you might even collapse or vomit. But that doesn’t mean your identity isn’t inclined to run. If you practice everyday, starting with short distances and building up to longer distances and faster speeds, soon you’ll be not only running a mile with ease, but running two or three or ten miles with ease.
But when it comes to mental health, when we encounter a stressful situation, we often give up, and make excuses like: I’m just not that type of person, I prefer working on my own, school’s just not for me, etc. But that’s no different than saying: running’s just not for me.
Beating anxiety and having great mental health involves practice. Being yourself involves practice. Mental health is not static. It’s constantly changing and being affected by what you’re doing and what’s going on around you. And just like physical health, if you’re not taking consistent steps to improve your mental health, it’s very likely that it’s getting worse. And it may not fail you today, but in a stressful situation, when you’re asked to run the mental equivalent of a mile, your brain might not be ready for it.
As the new year approaches, perhaps it’s time to commit to having a better relationship with your brain and taking steps each day to make sure it’s in the best shape it can be.
This was an excerpt from The Acceptance Field Guide: Navigating anxiety and depression in an uncertain world, which explores how to practically apply the concepts of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy to overcome anxiety and compulsive behaviors in your daily life.
The Acceptance Field Guide is available for $2.99 on Amazon: www.amazon.com/Acceptance-Field-Guide-Navigating-ebook/dp/B006W950CG/