I’m not talking about mental illness which is a serious medical diagnosis and I’m not entitled to do so. I want to talk about the mental discomfort we can experience in life sometimes.
Apparently, happiness depends on several components among which, socioeconomic environment, the people who surround us, and a large part of genetics. Some people seem to be able to be happy while some others give the impression that their life is Always a battle. Hard times, accidents, bad news, they are Always for them. On the first glance, we have the feeling that there is Nothing we can do, that we are determined to be a certain way or the other. Is that sure ?
I invite you to go through a few ideas that I’ve gathered here and there in my readings, my experience of life (mine and that of those around me).
Wanting to change what cannot be changed.
I’m not saying we should settle for what is, on the contrary. A lot of things get into our minds, among them there are things we can act upon and other things for which there is Nothing we can do. It’s a fact, not resignation. There is a « prayer » which says : « God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference. » This mantra is well known among the people whose relatives suffer from alcoolism to help them not become codependant. We want to take care of everything, to have an impact on everything. We spend a lot of time and money to change our looks, if we have Brown hair, we want them to be blond, and vice versa, if we are short, we want to be tall, we Don’t have a lot of money but we want to buy everything that we see, we are old and we want to be Young, the list is endless. All thoses efforts to change what is, cost a lot of Energy and cause mental suffering because our brain is on the lacking mode or the absence mode, and that is painfull and unpleasing. In a previous article, I was encouraging you to simplify your life on diferents aspects. But the whole idea is to separate the things that we can change from the rest. We spend our time trying to change the people around us, at work, in the family, our Partner, parents, children. They are as they are, there’s Nothing we can do about that. What we can do, is to learn how to cope with who we are, and who the others are, and if a situation doesn’t suit us, we must find ways to get out of it. It doesn’t prevent us from trying to become a better person if we want to have a better life. I’ve observed that those who live a happier and more fulfilled life accept their defaults and their qualities, look for ways to adapt to life as it is and Don’t fight against the things they cannot change. In my life, what is within my circle of influence (I can act upon), what is in my circle of concerns (I can’t act upon even if I’m concerned) ? Asking ourselves that question helps, I think, to reduce the suffering.
Dwelling upon the past and being nostalgic.
We love memories and souvenirs, we take pictures, keep objects which remind us of our travels, of the people we love. All of that contributes to build strong bonds with our friends and families, to have signs of our experience and it’s good. The problem is that some of these things might be obsolete, might belong to a time when we needed them but Don’t Apply in our present life. It’s precisely the case for negative feelings, regrets, remorse, nostalgia, that many of us carry with themselves and which prevent them from being free and from fully enjoying the present and those who are here. Maybe we haven’t gotten over the death of a beloved one, we have trouble forgetting about a period of our life when we were happier, we can’t forget about our ex, etc., all those things which leave us bitter and deprive life of all taste. What things in my past do I want to keep ? Do my old defense mechanisms still serve me today ? The past is our ally only if it is a springboard and not a burden.
Oftentimes, we make plans and get ready for the way things will turn out. When the events Don’t occur the way we expected them, most of us dig our heels in and loose all capacity to go back to normal. We persist in wanting things to be how we planed and if they aren’t, the day is « spoiled« , « it starts badly« . Depending on how resilient we are, we remain frozen and Don’t know how to rebound. You can see it when we want things to be done a certain way and not differently, we eat when it’s time, no sooner, no later, such food and no other, etc., all the things about which we are intrensigent with ourselves and with the others. It causes frustration when Something changes. By remaining flexible we are more able to think of adequate ways to start freshly from where we were stuck, to accept that events can happen differently from what we expected, accepting to be surprised and embrace the unpredictable, which is not Always bad.
Using a pessimistic vocabulary.
In direct link with the previous point, is the way we refer to what happened to us, the way we talk about the situation influences how we react to it. The specialists call it self-fulfilling prophecies. Have you never heard someone say « you will see, that one is for me« , and guess what happens, it is for them ! Coincidence ? The person has created their own reality. Same thing for the one who says « I Always find a parking spot in front on my office« , and that’s what happens, as if by magic. When we talk about a tough time we are going through, the language we use is impotrtant, words such as « it’s awful, it’s terrible, I can’t take it anymore, etc. » make the situation « awful, terrible« . According to the neurosciences, our brain doesn’t make the distinction between reality and imagination. When we say « it’s awful« , the brain produces the corresponding hormones, here adrenaline and cortisol, so that our body is prepared to either escape or attack, which stresses the body. Suffering is close by. When we go through hard times, we must pay attention to the language we use, the same with our physical position. Staying slumped, with crossed arms, a wrinkled forehead, we encourage sadness and pain to stay. On the contrary, having an open position, and even giving a faint smile, can help us to feel better. It’s a good Opportunity to keep our backs straight and open our arms regularly in order to welcome the good in life.
Comparing ourselves to other people.
Our society is full of ways allowing us to access other people’s life, we have numerous Tools which allow us to edit pictures, expose our daily life, or to be precise, what we choose to show of it. The new social media are perfect for that. Recent studies show that the teenagers who regularly use social media have a low self-esteem because their life doesn’t look like what they see, and that hurts them. That phenomenon doesn’t only affect the teenagers. Being constantly exposed to images of photoshopped bodies when you Don’t like your own body, seeing other people’s vacation pictures when you can’t afford going on holidays can really be depressing. We compare ourselves and find their lives much more fun than ours. It’s easy to see where the suffering and insatisfaction can come from. Taking a step back from these Tools and not comparing oneself to the others relieves the soul and helps going towards acceptation.
Taking everything personally.
Some people are more sensitive than others. When we take what other people say too personally, it can be a sign that we need to strengthen our self-esteem. There are people who easily feel judged, criticized, they constantly analyse what the other is saying, trying to read between the lines, to interpretate, find proofs that the other person didn’t mean what they said. I bet you see how this can create tension for the psyche. In order to alleviate the negative consequences of this process, it can be interesting to first aknowledge that we are particularly more sensitive. We should listen to ourselves and see what circumstances might affect us more, the people with whom we are more likely to be more vulnerable and about what subjects. Then we can take each subject separately and put them in perspective, within their context. If we tend to interpretate the words of someone, we can ask them to clarify with us before reacting to what we think they meant « if I understand, what you mean is …« . Taking the habit of seeing that everything is relative allows to take a step back and calm down, we realise that life is short, we are just passing.
I’m convinced that we have the power to reduce our mental suffering on our own with a bit of training and thanks to a few techniques. Nevertheless, if your condition becomes severe or overwhelming, you should seek help from a mental health professionnal. We deserve to take care of ourselves. I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject, what other things cause mental suffering ?
Let’s take care of ourselves.
See you around !