Understanding Our Thoughts
By: Alessia Cecatini
The way we carry ourselves does not always represent the way we feel inside. It
may look like we are happy through our smiles, but internally we may feel overwhelmed,
anxious, frustrated, or even stressed. Despite mental health being important, about 70% of individuals with a mental illness are not receiving treatment for their diagnosis (Henderson et al, 2013). Regardless of one’s age and background, research suggests that mental health has the capacity to alter our thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Consider the analogy of a body of water, streaming seamlessly day and night. If one finds themself in the water and unable to swim, they may experience anxiety and fear while struggling to reach the surface. Attaining that breath of air may seem impossible, but with adequate support and reassurance, this becomes achievable. When finally reaching the surface, all of the daunting emotions disappear and are replaced with a sensation of relief. Individuals suffering from mental health challenges often claim that their thoughts are consistently streaming through their minds. Whether it’s waking up and thinking -Am I late? What if there’s traffic? Or in the middle of the day frantically thinking- How will I complete all my work on time? This may even take place at night when reflecting on our busy schedules. It becomes very easy to be consumed in our thoughts and struggle to focus on what is happening before us- whether it is at school, work, or home. One may wonder- is it normal to feel this way? The answer to that question is yes. It is completely normal to become distracted by the anxieties and stress associated with everyday life. Finding healthy outlets to cope with this stress is crucial to help support our mental health.
Here are some helpful ways to respond to our thoughts:
1. Be Optimistic: Alison Ledgerwood is a social psychologist who studies how individuals
think. She notes that we focus on negative aspects of life to try and find solutions to challenges that may arise in hopes of preparing ourselves for the future. If this is the case, then how do we navigate emphasizing the positive aspects of life? The best way to think about this concept refers to the well-known analogy of the half-filled glass. So, what does the glass look like to you-is it half empty, or is it half full? (Pangambam, 2020). Practicing optimistic behaviours is not always easy, but with practice, it becomes second nature. For instance, say you took a test and received a score of 80%. Are you satisfied to find out that 80 % of your answers were correct? Or are you
discouraged to note that 20% of your answers were incorrect? Taking a moment to reflect
on the positive side of situations eases associated stress.
2. Find someone to talk to: Although at times it may seem daunting, finding a trustworthy person to talk to is a healthy way to release bottled-up emotions. Those around us have the ability to sympathize and relate to our lived experiences, furthering the benefits associated with talking about our feelings. By doing so, our emotional state becomes validated and we are provided with the necessary support.
3. Understanding your thoughts: It is common to notice that our thoughts are often focused on one intimidating theme which encourages the mind to repeat these negative notions. If we can detect the origin of our thoughts, we can come to understand what sparks these emotions. As a result, we can tackle our struggles to properly move forward. To execute this in everyday life, reaching out to an individual that may be experiencing the same challenges as you can be helpful. For example, if you are a student and find yourself struggling with the course material, discussing with a peer is an effective way to gain assistance and determine how those around you are experiencing the same situation. This can also be applied in a work setting as reaching out to a fellow colleague is a great way to overcome challenges and build relationships.
4. Find activities that you enjoy: When times get tough, completing everyday tasks becomes a challenge. They may take longer to complete or ultimately feel impossible. If this is the case, take a step back, take a deep breath, and do something for yourself. Put on comfortable pyjamas and curl up with a good book, bake your favourite treat, watch a movie or exercise. Regardless of what it is, do something for yourself- change your mindset and surround yourself with a comfortable and uplifting environment. This can boost your confidence and provide a sense of motivation. Mental health is crucial and finding a balanced lifestyle is essential to better your thoughts, behaviours, and emotions.
Henderson, C., Evans-Lacko, S., & Thornicroft, G. (2013). Mental illness stigma, help-seeking, and public health programs. American journal of public health, 103(5), 777–780.
Pangambam, S. (2020, April 20). Getting stuck in the negatives (and how to Get UNSTUCK) by Alison Ledgerwood (transcript). https://singjupost.com/getting-stuck-in-the-negatives-and-how-to-get-unstuck-by-alison-ledgerwood-transcript-2/.