AN UNHEALTHY MIND
This morning I awoke with a sensation I haven’t felt in a while.
My brain didn’t feel right.
I had neglected to keep my mental health in check.
My central nervous system was out of whack.
While my body was strong, my mind was not.
I recognized the symptoms right away, for I have been battling them off and on for years.
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My mind was not happy, and it was about to show me how unhealthy it was with an onslaught of undesirable symptoms:
- Flashing lights
- Uncontrollable twitching
- A feeling of hopelessness
MAKING MENTAL HEALTH CARE A PRIORITY
Our society focuses on physical health, but what I’ve learned over time is that the health of the mind is just as important as the health of the body.
Fortunately, there are things we can do on a daily basis to help keep our mental health in check.
Several months ago I began a routine of exercising daily, eating more nutritious foods, getting more sleep, spending time in nature, and connecting with others in more meaningful ways.
Looking back, those months were the best I’ve had in a long time.
I felt happy, healthy, and connected because I was caring for both my mind and my body.
Because I was feeling so amazing, it became easy for me to let my good habits slide.
Suddenly, I found myself sitting for long hours in front of the computer due to some projects I was working on.
I was no longer exercising.
Eating was no longer a priority.
And I spent zero time outdoors, and too little time with others.
GETTING BACK ON TRACK
Fast forward to today.
My brain was giving me warning signals.
And, this time, I was listening loud and clear.
I needed to tend to my mental health–beginning today!
Rather than beginning my day in the typical rushed way, I got out of bed, turned on some soothing music, made some chamomile tea, and did some stretches, followed by some deep breathing exercises.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)
Before church, I pulled out a notebook and made a list of mental health care ideas that I can incorporate into my daily schedule:
- soothing music
- plenty of sleep
- chamomile tea
- time spent in nature
- deep breathing techniques
- bubble bath
- forgive those that have hurt me
- connect with others face to face
- nutritious food
- cardiovascular exercise
- build resilience by learning about my ancestors and the challenges they overcame
- spend time in places of worship
- scriptures, prayer, and meditation
- herbal supplements
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- doing things that relax my mind, such as reading, writing, crocheting
Some ideas I can incorporate daily, others only a few times a week or a month, but I’ve learned from experience that doing them on a regular basis makes all the difference when it comes to the state of my health—both physical and mental.
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)
THE RECOVERY PERIOD
Today, with my mind feeling overstimulated, I wasn’t sure I would be able to attend church.
When my mind is not healthy, it is difficult for me to be around other people, to listen to talks and chatter and miscellaneous noises coming from all directions.
Perhaps you can relate.
Taking a few minutes for self-care this morning, however, seemed to make a big difference, so I thought I might be able to make it through two hours of church meetings if I could just take my crochet project with me.
You see, my crochet project was my cow.
Let me explain.
Have you ever heard the story of the Cambodian antidepressant?
As the 21st century was beginning, a South African psychiatrist named Derek Summerfield happened to be in Cambodia conducting some research on the psychological effects of unexploded land mines — at a time when chemical antidepressants were first being marketed in the country.
The local doctors didn’t know much about these drugs, so they asked Summerfield to explain them. When he finished, they explained that they didn’t need these new chemicals — because they already had antidepressants. Puzzled, Summerfield asked them to explain, expecting that they were going to tell him about some local herbal remedy. Instead, they told him about something quite different.
The doctors told Summerfield a story about a farmer they had treated. He worked in the water-logged rice fields, and one day he stepped on a land mine and his leg was blasted off. He was fitted with an artificial limb, and in time he went back to work. But it’s very painful to work when your artificial limb is underwater, and returning to the scene of his trauma must have made him highly anxious. The farmer became deeply depressed.
So the doctors and his neighbors sat with this man and talked through his life and his troubles. They realized that even with his new artificial limb, his old job — working in the paddies — was just too difficult, that he was constantly stressed and in physical pain, and that these things combined to make him want to just stop living. His interlocutors had an idea.
They suggested that he work as a dairy farmer, a job that would place less painful stress on his false leg and produce fewer disturbing memories. They believed he was perfectly capable of making the switch. So they bought him a cow. In the months and years that followed, his life changed. His depression, once profound, lifted. The Cambodian doctors told Summerfield: “You see, doctor, the cow was an analgesic, and antidepressant.” 1
WHAT IS YOUR “COW”?
At certain times in our lives, we each have a “cow”—something that will fill an unmet need in our life, resulting in a decrease of mental health issues.
Sometimes we need people to band around us, to listen to us, support us, and try to determine what our “cow” is, like the man in this story.
Other times, we already know what our “cow” is—i.e. what we need to resolve the pain (the unmet need) inside.
While sometimes the “cow” includes chemical antidepressants, in addition to lifestyle changes, sometimes the “cow” is simply a change in lifestyle (i.e. habits and attitudes).
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Today my mind needed to rest and heal.
My crochet project was my “cow” because crocheting has a way of calming my mind.
So there I was, at church with yarn and hook in hand, listening to the incredible talks and presentations—grateful that I had had the courage to tend to my mental health and bring my crochet project with me to church, rather than to stay home and miss the wonderful spirit of the meetings.
Sometimes my crocheting in public embarrasses my children.
Today, I was so moved by the fact that my daughter, rather than acting embarrassed, carefully unraveled the yarn for me each time I needed more.
She seemed to understand that this was my “cow”, and was there to give me any support she could.
We need more people like that in our lives.
I need to be that for more people in my life.
Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
IT’S TIME TO KEEP YOUR MENTAL HEALTH IN CHECK
This week, my children and I will be discussing what we can do on a daily basis to care for our minds.
Then, I will be visiting with a friend, playing more games with my kids, spending time outdoors, reading a good book, soaking in a bubble bath, and eating more fruits and vegetables.
Why? So I can lead by example.
Because if parents don’t teach these lifesaving skills to their children in the home, who will?
Cognitive Behavior Therapy is my go-to for dealing with mental health and behavioral issues in our family. I highly recommend it!
There is no shame in discussing the health of the mind, so let’s do it more often, and more openly, shall we?!
Perhaps the first step is to ask yourself, “What’s my ‘cow’?”
JOIN THE DISCUSSION: How do you keep your mental health in check? How are you teaching your children to do the same?
Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a proven way to retrain your brain. Try it today!
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