Keeping it Real

Everyone suffers. In fact, the “first noble truth” of Buddhism is just this, that we all experience pain. According to one commentator, “Some people who encounter this teaching may find it pessimistic. Buddhists find it neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but realistic.”

When I was in my teens, I experienced my first bout of severe depression. I saw no point to life and was sad all the time. This was in the mid 1980’s, before Prozac, and awareness regarding mental health issues was limited. My Dad’s response to my depression was to tell me to snap out of it, stop navel gazing and to focus on getting stuff done. Of course, this only made me feel worse about myself, because I felt completely incapable of being productive. I blamed myself for being depressed, and for not being able to shake it.

When we suffer, we have a choice; acknowledge the suffering, or deny it. Often we are told that if we don’t ignore our suffering, we are weak and lack character. “No pain, no gain,” as the saying goes. “Quit being a baby!” “Man up already!” There’s no shortage of ways to tell people to disregard their pain. There are many reasons for this, psychological as well as cultural. But I’d like to focus on the result of denying suffering, both on an individual and societal level.

As individuals, if we’re taught that our suffering is shameful, we feel like there is something inherently wrong with us. How often do we seek sympathy or compassion and are told “Just get over it”? If this is our normal experience, we no longer expect compassion and we stop sharing when we’re feeling bad. And if we hold the pain inside, it diminishes our ability to feel anything. So in order to tamp down the pain, or feel something close to joy, we will do anything we can. We drink or take drugs, we engage in affairs and compulsively seek sex, we watch TV all day, we work to excess, etc etc – there is no shortage of ways to deny or assuage our pain. 

If our approach is to deny, we are also more likely to tell other people to “just get over” their own pain, and to similarly shame them. Most of us do this with our children, but even if we don’t have kids we can ignore the suffering of our partners, spouses, parents and friends. 

At a societal level, when we disregard the suffering of our fellow citizens we become a callous and cruel nation. We look with disdain on our neighbors who are down on their luck, we deny basic rights to others which we ourselves enjoy, and we do things like putting migrant children in cages. Meanwhile, we sit engrossed in the never-ending stream of entertainment on our phones, and we work, or we work out, and turn our attention elsewhere. Suffering is hard to tolerate. But if we don’t learn to do it, we sacrifice our ability to treat each other with kindness and compassion.

Acknowledging our pain is the better route, for many reasons. When we allow ourselves to feel, it can be painful but it also allows us to feel intense joy as well. We open up a wellspring of suppressed emotions, many of them positive. And if we are conscious of our own pain and sadness, it’s a small step towards being compassionate not only to ourselves, but to others as well. Kind people make up a kind society.

It isn’t pessimistic to admit that we suffer – it’s realistic. And as Buddha would no doubt say (if he lived in 21st century America), “Let’s keep it real, y’all.” 

From “How to Be Unsuccessful” – Beto G.

How Taking Care of Yourself is the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Mental Health

While it seems logical that taking care of yourself will lead to an improved mental state, in reality, it’s a bit more complicated than that. There are actually five types of self-care that affect mental health: physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and professional. If one or more of these areas isn’t being properly tended to on a regular basis, then everything else gets thrown off, too. Here’s how to implement self-care across the board so you can live a happier lifestyle. (Hint: It’s about going back to the basics!)

Eat Healthfully and Exercise Regularly

Copious research indicates that what we eat can affect our mental health, for better or for worse.Fruits and veggies promote feelings of optimism and happiness while boosting self-esteem from a nutritional standpoint, as well as the fact that they help promote a healthy weight. Highly caloric and fattening foods, however, can promote poor mental health, because they change the bacteria that live in our gut, thus increasing anxiety and brain inflammation. By eating nutritious, gut-healthy foods, not only will you have more energy, but you’ll naturally increase your body’s serotonin levels, a “happy hormone” that helps boost and stabilize your mood. 

There’s also been significant research indicating the link between exercise and an improved mental state due to the production of mood-boosting endorphins. It’s been proven that even low levels of activity, such as gardening or walking for 30 minutes a day, can help ward off current and future depression. 

Get Enough Sleep

Studies suggest that lack of sleep is linked to certain forms of mental illness, so it’s clear what an important role it has in terms of keeping us mentally sound on a daily basis. Sleep deprivation causes you to become so grumpy, depressed, and frustrated that you can’t finish daily tasks, thus increasing feelings of worthlessness. Fatigue also prompts poor eating habits and lack of exercise. It’s important to make lifestyle changes to support quality sleep, so that means setting a consistent sleep schedule; exercising earlier in the day; avoiding heavy meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime; unplugging an hour before sleeping; and implementing a sleep ritual, such as sipping herbal tea

Manage Your Stress Levels

Stress feeds mental illness and vice versa, so take time to slow down and focus on taking deep breaths. Practice mindful meditation  — an easy way to tap into your spiritual self-care — and yoga. Getting down with your downward dog has been proven to help those with mood and anxiety disorders. Take it a step further and get a massage or make an appointment with an acupuncturist as acupuncture is a known stress reliever.  

Tend to Personal Grooming

Personal grooming is not about vanity, but there certainly isn’t anything wrong with trying out a new hairdo, lipstick color, eyelash extension, or cologne, either. In fact, studies suggest that the simple application of deodorant and perfume can improve self-image. Even if you work from home, take daily showers, comb your hair, and put on your street clothes. Make an effort to dress up when you’re going out — and not just to the office. Just as important is staying on top of your personal-care habits that directly affect your health, because neglecting to do so can result in a vicious cycle. For instance, people who suffer from depression often don’t make their oral health a priority, leading to teeth- and gum-related health issues that can be frustrating, thereby exacerbating the depression even further. Finally, learn to accept a compliment; a simple “thank you” will do. 

Surround Yourself with Positive People

Take an inventory of the people in your life, and cut ties with anyone who is toxic or not serving you well, as these individuals can have a short- and long-term impact on your mental state. Surrounding yourself with positive people will help you achieve your goals, boost your spirits, make you feel attractive, and support you through thick and thin without judgment. 

Adopt a Work-Life Balance 

A work-life balance is the key to living a healthy lifestyle — both physically and mentally. Let go of the fear that you’re failing your company by not working after hours. Schedule important activities so you’re forced to take a break, whether that’s dinner with a spouse or a prepaid workout class. Turn off technology so you’re not tempted to answer the phone or check emails into the wee hours. And yes, do schedule that vacation. 

Part of managing your mental health is not biting off more than you can chew. With that in mind, learn to feel comfortable with saying “no.” Prioritize your responsibilities, and don’t feel guilty about not taking on everything that comes your way. 

Photo Credit: Pixabay

After spending years in a corporate setting and far too long neglecting his own self-care, Brad Krause followed his calling and became a full-time life coach. He spends just about every waking hour helping people find ways to put their wellness above all else.