Beware the quick cure-all

Beware the quick cure-all

Mental Matters
Jannah Walshe

Mindfulness, exercise, diet, reading, writing and listening to music. All are listed as good for our mental health – and yes they are. Their benefits for mental as well as physical health is by now well proven, and if you also enjoy doing them, bonus! I often encourage the use of these type of self-care practices, because they can enhance and support us in our lives.
But sometimes it’s easy to forget is that none of these things, on their own, are meant to be a cure for mental illness. Focusing on only one self-care practice to make everything better is unrealistic and dangerous. Yet this is often what we do or tell others to do. I bet you’ve said or heard it said, ‘You should go for a walk, it will make you feel better’, ‘Try meditation, it has worked wonders for others’ or ‘Write down your feelings to help them go away’. The danger is that a person then goes away and tries the latest idea, and when the mental health problem is still there, they give up and feel worse because yet another thing hasn’t worked for them.
Self-care tools are best placed as preventative measures. This means that when you feel good, do more things that make you feel good. The time to going for a walk, start a meditation practice, eat well or build your social network is when life is relatively stress-free and easy. This will ensure you have strong support structures in place for when things are not so easy.
Self-care practices will not prevent stressful situations from happening or mental health problems from developing, but they will mean that you are in a better position to manage any difficult times that come.
Self-care can involve so many different activities. It can include getting adequate sleep each night, maintaining a healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise, spending time with family and friends, participating in various forms of relaxation such as meditation or yoga, attending to your spiritual and/or religious side, playing with your pet, engaging in artistic expression, enjoying pleasure reading and so much more.
It also involves setting limits, saying ‘no’, maintaining healthy boundaries and knowing your own limits. Self-care also involves maintaining a healthy balance between various professional activities as well as between the professional and personal parts of our lives.
However, these practices are not designed to heal emotional injury. They’ll help some of the effects of emotional distress in the short term, build resilience and coping strategies and help with relaxation and calmness, but they will not ask you why you are feeling depressed. They will not examine your anxiety in greater depth. They will not work with you to develop your own internal resources. There is no sticking plaster for mental health – no instant, fix-it, never-look-back cure.
If you are in emotional crisis, have a mental illness or feel you can’t cope with life, yes, make the above self-care activities a part of your life. Do as many as you are able to do – they do work better in combination with each other. And also get professional help. Just as with a heart condition, diet, exercise and relaxation are essential, but so is going to a doctor or heart specialist. And most importantly, don’t give up. If one thing hasn’t helped, maybe it’s not right for you. Find another. Find a few. And find professional support when it’s needed.

Jannah Walshe is a counsellor and psychotherapist based in Castlebar and Westport. A fully accredited member of The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, she can be contacted via www.jannahwalshe.ie, or at info@jannahwalshe.ie or 085 1372528.

(Source: Mayo News)