It’s Mental Health Week again and we’re all being reminded to take care of our minds. But what does this really mean?
If I stopped the average person in the street and asked them what it means to be healthy, a typical response would involve the importance of regular exercise, maintaining a good diet, sleeping well and being within the healthy weight range. Rarely does the average person mention the importance of healthy thinking.
According to Beyond Blue, around one million Australian adults will experience depression and two million will experience anxiety within a year. These are staggering statistics! These disorders can then go on to have a significant impact on our family and loved ones, work place and health care system.
No one is immune. Depression or anxiety does not discriminate on age, gender or socioeconomic status. It has even impacted well known celebrities including Johnny Depp, Emma Stone and John Cleese. Closer to home, this year we have seen Troy Luff, a former Sydney Swans player, and Darius Boyed, an NRL player, both declare their battle with depression. Even those we may perceive as having it all can be affected.
How can we avoid becoming a statistic?
This is probably not as easy as it sounds as there are a variety of influential factors which may predispose us to these problems. Often at the core of these illnesses, is our thinking. We are frequently kind to others but have a tendency to be critical towards ourselves. Sometimes our thinking does not quite match what is actually going on and we can lose perspective. We can easily blow things out of proportion, jump to negative conclusions or beat ourselves up for not achieving the “perfect” result.
When we begin to rehearse this thinking style, it becomes a well learnt script and we begin to apply it to everything until our daily life appears bleak or fear provoking. We then begin to act as if these thoughts are true.
As a clinical psychologist, one of the number one rules I attempt to instil in people I see with depression or anxiety, is to not say anything to yourself that you are not prepared to say to a friend. When someone tells me the story about how they did a terrible job and they may as well give up as there is no point to trying and that they are an absolute loser, I will ask ‘will you say that to a friend?’ Of course they say no. When asked why the answer is no, they will reply, ‘because it will upset them and hurt their feelings’.
Well, different rules don’t apply to us. It’s not okay to say mean things to ourselves and expect to feel good. Here are some simple tips to mind our thinking…
- Speak to yourself as a friend. Be kind, forgiving and loving.
- Ask yourself, are your thoughts in proportion with what is actually going on? Can you think about this in a different way?
- Are you being too critical and expecting perfection when ‘good enough’ is okay?
- Are you jumping to conclusions and allowing these negative assumptions to impact on your decisions? Maybe you need to wait and see.
- Make a daily gratitude list. Name three things that you appreciated during your day.
If all else fails, it’s okay to ask for help. We are all human, after all…
Kathryn Smith is a clinical psychologist. For more information about her work, visit psychologyconsultants.com.au. If you’re feeling depressed or need help, call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.