Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mental Health: Priority 1

If this helps one person, even just one, it'll be worth it.

The human brain is extraordinary in it's ability to feel emotion. What are actually little electric pulses and signals inside our head can trick us into experiencing feelings such as love, jealousy or sadness. Of course, it doesn't feel that way when you are experiencing these emotions, because often the circumstances in which the particularly strong ones occur are so overwhelming, so in your face, that you can't focus on anything other than that feeling, be it of happiness, fear, depression or otherwise.

Mental health, particularly in young people, certainly isn't taboo in today's society. In fact, it shows how we have progressed in that it is almost a hot topic in education and in the media, an example of which can be seen in the recent 'repost your first profile picture and donate' online campaign. Personally, however, all this talk just seems like white noise to me. Yes, we have established that mental health issues are a growing problem, steadily increasing as a result of factors like cyber bullying, but aside from discussing the fact that there is a problem, there is a notable shortage of practical and pragmatic advice on what you can do to protect yourself when such issues affect you. You get the usual spiel of 'go to someone you trust,' and 'don't listen to them,' but look beyond that and what is there? A void.

Let's face it, we've all been in that position at least once. Nowadays, we live our lives on social media, and hurtful words pass easier through people's fingertips than through their mouths. It's usually unexpected: you're scrolling through Twitter or Facebook, and boom, something horrid about you jumps out from the page and punches you in the gut. I'm fortunate enough to say that I haven't experienced this too often, but recently an article about our Google Science Fair winning project was posted online, and many of the comments gave me a sharp reminder of the feeling. Plot twist- I'm actually not going to talk about those comments, I'm going to talk about how I dealt with them. When I recounted a few particularly bad ones to a friend, she asked how I was able to discuss them with a smile, and when I explained, she suggested I share the details on here. So here goes:

Touch Base
First of all, take the voice inside your head (the voice you think with) and conjure it into a person, a mini version of you. Now walk that person into an imaginary room and lock the door. Leave all the negativity, leave the world in general outside: yes they won't go away but we'll deal with them later. Whilst you're in there, in the metaphorical quiet of your private room, ask yourself a few questions: 'Am I perfect?' 'No.' 'Does it matter?' 'No.' 'Am I breathing, do I have a heartbeat?' If yes, then you are a miracle.

It sounds a little goofy I know, but sometimes it helps to remind yourself that you still have the fundamentals of life inside you, and that's always something to go on. Next, try and think of something that makes you happy. It might take a while to find it, but trust me, you will. For me it's my friends, I say their names, I think of the last time they made me laugh. Now focus on that little ball of positivity, and imagine it's like a fire that was just lit in that virtual room which is warming that little person from the inside out.

Anchor Down
Okay, now when you're ready, you're going to unlock the door and leave the room. You've been refreshed, and you're strong enough to make sure the negativity waiting outside doesn't rush in like flood water and extinguish that fire you've lit inside. With your mind feeling a little more composed, it's time to check in with the rest of your body. Do you have any aches or pains, a bruise which won't go away? Find them and focus your attention on them, on that physical feeling.

If you're standing, feel the contact your feet are making with the ground, feel how strong it is, how you are being kept anchored to the earth by that force called gravity, but also by the fact that you are a living, breathing, human being, you exist, you take up space, you have mass, you matter (sneaky pun there for any physics geeks). If you're sitting, do the same, maybe grab the arm of a chair and squeeze it tight, just to remind yourself that you are a physical being, and those wifi signals that sent you your Twitter/Facebook feed? Yeah, they most certainly aren't.

Let it Go
So to recap, you've filled yourself with positivity and reminded yourself about the physical world around you, and anchored yourself to the ground. Now with that anchor in mind (it helps if you have something to hold onto), you can face that negativity again. But this time, you're the big person in this situation, steadily fixed to the ground, and that negativity is light, like a helium balloon. So light in fact, that it might just fly away, and you'll willingly let it go.

It doesn't even have to leave completely: the point is, it isn't weighing you down anymore. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that every time someone wrongs you or hurts you that you should just forget about it- you can simply use the above to help lessen, or even completely rid yourself of, the feelings surrounding it, because those feelings won't affect anybody but you, and they won't help your situation. Realistically, whilst hurtful comments do have the ability to get inside your head, that's your space, and it is within your capabilities to push them back about again. You control your headspace, nobody else. Keep yourself anchored to the ground and that's all you need. These feelings will come and go, but in your life, you are the one thing that, will without end, be constant.

This has helped me in the past, not to forget, but simply to rid myself of that indescribable feeling when you see something hurtful written about you. If it helps anybody out there who reads this, it'll be worth my sharing it. This doesn't just apply to online comments, it applies to mental stress and bullying in general. Everyone controls their own mind - you may not be able to stop people trying to hurt you, but you can control how you deal with it. It's okay to be upset, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Your mental health is your first priority: broken bones are more noticeable, but scars inside sometimes take longer to heal.

We are often invited to think of negativity and negative feelings as a weight on our shoulders. But use the above to control it yourself: make yourself the big person in this picture, the one that gravity is keeping fixed to the earth, and make these feelings be like wisps of smoke, that will float away when a gust of wind in the form of something new, bright and positive comes along. Although it may not always feel like it, the power is in your hands.

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