A person is considered to be mentally healthy when they are psychologically well adjusted and can deal with the normal stresses of life. In my opinion, it goes without saying that mental health is mainly achieved through self-awareness.
I recognize that being mentally healthy is not a constant state of mind. Many people issues such as depression and anxiety, personality disorders, dissociative disorders and phobias. I usually face severe bouts of depression and anxiety such that with time, I have been able to learn when I’m on the onset of depression and how to best go about restoring my healthy balanced mind. It is very easy for a person to be depressed and ignore the signs because contrary to popular belief, depression does not always present itself as sadness, loneliness and isolation; sometimes it looks like anger and lashing out over minor things, being overly cheerful- or more helpful than usual, and being carried away with taking care of others while knowingly ignoring one’s own needs.
Self-awareness helps me identify the signs of depression where I would have ordinarily missed them or distracted myself so well that I mistake the signs for normal behavior. The practice itself does not come naturally and I had to actively seek to know and accept myself. Self-awareness in itself is an indicator of good mental health practices. Others include knowing when to ask for help from loved ones and professionals and learning effective stress management practices.
For an individual to be self-aware, they have to be able to pay attention to their actions, feelings and the lies that they tell themselves. At times when one is mentally ill, some actions can be distractions from real pain. Some examples of such actions include self-harming, compulsive shopping, over eating or not eating at all. When one is aware of one’s own actions, they should and can stop, pause and take control. Moreover, those compulsive actions might be expressions of how the person really feels. However, these feelings may be self-induced. For instance, I may think that I am very happy and utterly obsessed with the person I am in a relationship with because I suddenly do not want to be away from them for too long. But if I stop smothering them with the love and attention and think about my actions, I could realize that I am simply trying to distract myself from the fact that the relationship has been over for a long time: I am postponing the heartbreak and disappointment.
The other side of the emotion spectrum could tell us that our feelings are not as that meaningful as we think they are; they are simply a distraction, that’s it. The moment one starts over thinking an emotion, the person starts to dig themselves into a hole of anxiety and judgment. Sometimes things are simply not that deep, there is no bigger picture and the emotion is just as shallow as a puddle.
As an individual I acknowledge that there are lies I also tell myself to ‘protect’ myself from reality. I usually catch myself spending so much time and mental energy having conversations in my head trying to explain, prove and justify my thoughts. In a situation where I have just met someone new, I would tell myself that the stranger my friend has introduced me to does not like me because they looked at me weirdly. From that moment my mind starts looking for other clues to prove my theory. Another instance is when a person develops a habit of saying ‘yes’ events they would rather not attend but they try to convince themselves that it is a good idea because of this and that. In both situations, wanting to feel accepted and approved by a stranger and not disappointing a friend represent desires; desires that are representations of our own expectations or unfulfilled potential.
It is important to be aware of when we are hurting ourselves through our thoughts and feelings; to show ourselves a little compassion and remember that neither will we meet all of our own expectations nor will our decisions make everyone happy. This level of self awareness greatly allows a person to reduce stress, improve interactions with others and mentally build internal contentment since one is able to adjust their behavior and emotional disposition to suit the environment.
Cynthia Alal Okech (22)