HEALING IS A CHOICE
“When we do the work to heal and make sense of our unresolved past to improve our mental health, it doesn’t just benefit ourselves; it benefits each other, our children, our future children, and our children’s children. This is how we change the world.”|Rachel Samson, M.Pysch.
When recently asked to model for a friend’s business, I was hesitant. Challenges included pandemic weight, having a child, being diagnosed with a new auto-immune disorder, trauma, dealing with so many failures, and laughing at not even knowing the last time I wore heels. I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to add to my already full plate or be that vulnerable. I had modeled from the age of seventeen when I was my “ideal” weight, spending numerous hours at the gym, but quit after seven years because it wasn’t a healthy environment. I couldn’t tolerate agencies telling me what measurements to be, the toxic competition, and the pressure of an unrealistic mold.
I’m so grateful I went ahead with this latest shoot with a photographer who loves her body and reminded me beauty comes in all sizes. I wanted to feel confident again and send a message to others that nothing will keep me from living my best life. I also think it’s important to be kind to our bodies for all they’ve carried us through. To remind our daughters and friends to focus on having a healthy body image and get rid of the guilt. I’m proud of the work I’ve done to stay active, challenge myself physically, but most of all, stop criticizing my imperfections, as society does way too much. You are enough, and remember, physical and mental health is equally important. Our bodies allow us to accomplish so much, so be gentle to them and thank them daily for helping you survive.
Lean Into Truth
There is a lot of talk about mental health these days. What’s tricky about this subject is that no two people are exactly the same, and no two situations are ever the same. For some, it’s a physical imbalance, others have endured trauma, and many are affected by circumstances around them. Each person’s journey is their own, and there is no exact formula or cure. But, the vital thing to acknowledge is it’s alright to admit you are not fine for yourself, a family member, or a friend; there has to be an honest conversation about it. Judgment, stigma, opinions, and criticism, whether against yourself or others, never accomplishes anything.
We all have things happen to us in our lives that are not fair, hurt us, and can cause us to be stuck. But, whether you suffer from a mental illness, have endured trauma, or are dealing with significant changes in your life, it’s good to remember it’s not your fault. At the same time, it is your responsibility to seek help and take care of yourself. Many try to self-medicate the pain away with alcohol, drugs, sex, spending, or anything that gets their mind off the pain. The problem is that the issues not only still there, but in time even more damage happens to their lives and those they love. If someone in your family struggles with mental illness, it’s appropriate to set boundaries and hold them accountable. Mental illness still holds responsibility and everyone has the choice to seek help and put in the work. No one is beyond repair, but it takes being vulnerable and acknowledging you need help.
Grow Your Mind
A great quote by Carlos Castaneda states powerfully, “We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” Meaning, while it might seem easier to not get help or keep doing things the same way, in the long run, you are causing damage to yourself and those you care about. The Greater Good Magazine truthfully notes why therapy helps, “Therapists makes use of our basic human need for connection, understanding, and belonging—needs that are hardwired in us. By creating a relationship where clients can feel safe enough to let go of misperceptions of themselves and others and to try out new behaviors, therapists open the door for clients to discover and accept a more nuanced view of themselves and their situation; which aids them in healing.”
While self-help material abounds, professional therapy is a very critical factor. This is because it’s personally tailored to your issues, can help make you aware of unhealthy patterns, and is coming from a non-emotional standpoint, unlike other relationships in your life. While it can seem overwhelming and uncomfortable, dealing with emotions, trauma, grief, and unresolved childhood problems, talking about them is very healing. Even more important, it humanizes scary feelings and gives you tools to cope. I firmly believe everyone can benefit from seeing a therapist, no matter what age or stage in their lives.
Many mistakenly think venting their feelings to their partner or friend is enough. Science proves in reality, effective change will only happen with a treatment plan guided by a trained psychologist. Having a professional therapist is truly the first step in your healing journey. They can help identify patterns, understand the mind, provide honesty, and advise a treatment plan for your individual struggles. Thoughts, emotions, and behaviors can be controlled and don’t have to take over your life. Medication is beneficial for many, but needs to be monitored regularly and considered only part of the solution. While it can be hard to take that first step, investing in yourself will provide relief, and in the long run, make your life so much happier. Therapy has come a long way, especially with the pandemic, in having virtual options and many services covered by insurance or employers. Every community offers free guidance and has so many services available to help.
The Power Of The Brain
Meditation and mindfulness are also very useful tools in dealing with anxiety and depression. Dr. Thema notes, “Many trauma survivors hold their breath and their bodies tightly, bracing themselves for the whatever is coming next. Staying alert for years takes a toll. Create spaces where you can take your armor off.” The mindfulness practice over time has dramatically helped to calm my mind at night and forces me to breathe. There are great apps like Headspace, as well as many other free resources that provide meditation techniques. Our minds are kept so busy all day; it’s important to give your mind space to reflect and refocus on the big picture.
Journaling is also proven to be very useful in reflecting on deeper feelings and emotions. It should be noted to balance writing as a place to express frustration, concerns, but also a place to practice gratitude. I recently started using “The Anti-Anxiety Notebook,” published by lead therapist Hod Tamir, Ph.D. It’s a guided notebook based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, designed by therapists to help you learn practical tools for managing anxiety. We often need to reflect deeper on why we act the way we do, process where emotions stem from, and reflect on how to handle situations differently.
The Gift Of Self-Care
Exercise is essential for both the body and mind. Whether it be a walk outside, yoga, online workout, or trip to the gym, make sure to move your body every day. The Mayo Clinic notes exercise elevates our mood, releases feel-good endorphins, lowers stress hormones, improves blood pressure, helps us gain confidence, and boosts our immune system. Even changing up your routine, like taking the stairs, washing your own car, walking to do errands, or borrowing a neighbors dog for a walk, all are a great place to start. Remember, physical health isn’t about meeting certain weights or sizes; it’s about helping your body and mind feel better. Find an activity or sport that doesn’t feel like work, but that you can get lost in and look forward to.
Remember, self-care isn’t optional. You don’t need an excuse to rest. Many over-function and try to stay so busy they think that helps manage uncomfortable feelings. This leaves many struggling with persistent worry and fear that does long-term damage. If you don’t take time to reboot, recharge and refocus, you’ll eventually run on empty. Proper self-care isn’t necessarily bath salts, chocolate cake, or wine; it’s making choices to build a life you don’t need to escape from. Each person must find what calms themselves, but it must be a deliberate choice and scheduled into each day.
Be Your Own Advocate
There are no quick fixes or one-size-fits-all with healing and mental health. It takes daily awareness, effort, time, but the good news is there is hope. Managing our mental health means finding balance and not allowing anyone or anything to take that away from us. Remember, you are not your thoughts and feelings. Find a trusted friend who will support you. Seek out a therapist who feels right. Don’t be afraid to try techniques or medications. Experiment with coping techniques that work for you and your schedule. As the saying goes, check in on your mental health as much as you check your phone. One of my favorite authors Brené Brown reminds us, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” Your willingness to explore emotions needs to be priority in your life and the essence of what it means to seek balance takes courage. Your body and mind are powerful tools that can carry you through anything.
All advice in this article is based on opinion. Always consult a medical professional for help.