Honoring "Mental" Health: A Holistic Approach to Well-being
The word Mental Health gets thrown around a lot these days.
It's become an umbrella term, encompassing all aspects of health that are not associated with the actual physical body. Society tells us that physical = eating right and exercising; mental health = feeling good and not have a breakdown. I see this view as limiting, spreading Mental Health over far too large of an area.
I wrote this blogpost with the idea that Mental Health is just one of the many pieces of our holistic health. I view holistic health in terms of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, energetic, and self-expressive. I've already discussed taking care of self-expressive health and energetic health in previous blogposts. Today, we're focusing on the Mental aspect of holistic health.
So, if we are focusing on the Mental but not viewing it as an umbrella term that refers to everything from spirituality to emotions--- then how do we conceptualize this? What exactly is Mental Health?
In reference to holistic health approach, I view Mental Health as relating to our thoughts, our mental stressors/challenges, our intellectual activities/pursuits, and our processes of learning. We are a thinking species. We are learning beings. We store significant memories. As a result, we require healthy, appropriate mental input for our well-being. When our thoughts run wild, our learning processes get ignored, and our desire for contemplative challenges goes unmet, we do not function at our bests.
In the medicine wheel, Mental is one of the four corners of processing, growth, and change. In the world of the medicine wheel, the South is associated with emotion; the West is associated with physical; the North is associated with the spiritual. Then we have mental. It is associated with the area of the East, which it shares with the rising of the sun: a time of new beginning. This is interesting, because with my own personal work and the work that I've seen clients do with the medicine wheel, oftentimes our processing and personal work starts in the mental realm. Our journeys into self and enlightenment, into empowerment and understanding, often begin with a spark of thought or occurrence of a memory.
We start with that mental spark, which leads us to a deeper emotion. This requires sitting and experiencing that thought and emotion, allowing the thought and emotion to have a place. Only through this processing do we move on towards empowerment; completing our medicine wheel cycle and moving on in life to other wheels. If we refuse to explore and process the thoughts/emotions, we get stuck on repeat.
This brings up another aspect of medicine wheel work that requires mentioning: repetition is significant. Are you stuck in a loop---in a pattern that is not completing---or in a process that is infinitely repeating? It is my understanding that, if so, there is work to be done. There's a reason that we get stuck on repeat: so we can know what needs to be healed. Repetition is a flag that your inner self is waving, yelling out "work on this!"
Here's a real- life metaphor to tie it together. Let's say you are washing dishes, and you reach under your sink with your hand wet, grabbing another rag. A bit later, you open up your cabinet and look under the sink, only to find some water sitting there. You question if this could be a leak. But then you also acknowledge that it could just be water that dripped from your hand.
How do you know if there's a problem or not? Repetition. If you see water under the sink multiple times, you know there is an issue that needs to be fixed. But if it's a singular event---or an event that only happens periodically with a logical explanation---then there is no work to be done. There is no issue to be fixed. Why? Because there is no leak.
Similarly, experiencing a thought that you have failed at something is just a part of life; however, being stuck on repeat with the thought "I am a failure" signifies work to be done. Experiencing an event that sets off fear is just a part of life; however, being stuck on repeat with the memory of the event signifies work to be done. Experiencing a moment where you let time get away from you is just a part of life; however, being stuck on repeat and permanently procrastinating signifies work to be done.
Many of times, repetition of a problem signifies work to be done.
How exactly does this tie in with mental health? Because repetition of thought is significant. Are you constantly stressing over the same thing? Do you struggle with a constant idea that you are unlikeable? Does your mind always go back to the same memory, resulting in nightmares, fears, worries, or general discomfort? Repetition of thoughts signifies work to be done!
So how do you take care of your mental health? You can uphold this aspect of your health by:
---Continuing to learn. Take a class, read a book, explore a topic that interests and challenges you.
---Pondering life questions. Allow yourself to explore and think on existential questions. Think on questions of self and self-identify. This also, many times, leads to honoring self-expression.
---Bringing in intellectual hurdles. Figure something out. Solve a mystery. Do a sudoku. Use your beautiful mind!
---Observing your thoughts. What are you choosing to focus on? What thoughts are you choosing for entertainment? Are they drama-based or empowerment-based? Are there are any thoughts that are stuck on repeat?
Pay special attention to the repetition. If there is a thought stuck on repeat, do some work around it. Journal about it. Let that thought be a rising sun, leading you in a path across the sky---guiding you through emotion---towards light/life and completion of a cycle.
Think on it, allowing the deeper emotion to come up. Engage it.
And if you can't get that thought off of repeat, reach out to a therapist. Sometimes we need that external perspective to help us move through processing and to help us figure out where we are stuck.
There is no time like the present to grow and honor your health. Make the choice to explore your mind to uphold you mental health.