Creating Mental Health and Well–Being Culture
Health encompasses mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, and social health. Different branches of the same tree. So, why do we focus too much on one branch than the whole tree? Abhilasha Purushothaman discusses more.
Mental health is sometimes seen in an exclusive light. Very important and highly important. Yes, it is! And so is health! Health encompasses mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, and social health. Different branches of the same tree. So, why do we focus too much on one branch than the whole tree? That’s where we are not seeing the whole picture but the part of an elephant* and struggle to understand it. To understand and discuss mental health it is essential to understand what’s happening at the individual level, what’s happening at the societal level what’s happening at the national/international level, and over the ages.
- Mental disorders are growing fast because of the comfortable lifestyle and consumerist society that we are living in.
- Instead of two or three times a day we are eating any time of the day or night.
Our sleep cycle has gone for a toss. It’s a common pattern for children to stay up till late as 3 am or more.
- Children are less exposed to sunlight.
- We have constant access to digital life at our fingertips. We can switch to any app, site, or channel in under a second. So basically we are training our attention not to stay in one place and keep wandering.
- We don’t chew food properly. Our food has high sugar, fat, and salt.
- We are sitting continuously, whether we are commuting, studying, or discussing. Lesser and lesser physical activity and more and more overthinking.
- We are living in a time of instant gratification and over-pampering parenting.
The list can go on.
When it comes to the intrapersonal/individual level we are going far from our own culture which already has best practices. We do not teach children ‘sanyam’, ‘balance’, ‘asteya’, or ‘tolerance’ anymore. We are continuously bombarded by too many options, choices, easy distractions, and multi-focus attention. Mental tension, frustrations, insecurity, and aimlessness are among the most powerful stressors. We blame others before realizing our own mistakes.
Eknath Easwaran puts it aptly and proposed a solution to reduce this. He says, “A great deal of psychological stress comes from the rush and hurry of a turbulent mind, which jumps recklessly to unwarranted conclusions, rushed to judgments, and often is going too fast to see events and people as they truly are. Such a mind keeps the body under continual tension. It is constantly on the move – desiring, worrying, hoping, fearing, planning, defending, rehearsing, and criticizing. It cannot stop or rest except in deep sleep, when the whole body, particularly the nervous system, heaves a sigh of relief and tries to repair the damage of the day.
Simply by slowing the mind, much of this tension can be removed. Then we are free to respond to life’s difficulties not as sources of stress but as challenges, which will draw out of us deeper resources than we ever suspected we ever had. A one-pointed mind is slow and sound, which gives it immense resilience under stress. With a mind like this, we always have a choice in how we respond to life around us.”
So how can we create a culture that promotes mental well-being? Following are a few tips:
- Engage in physical activity every day for at least 40 minutes. It could be dancing, mopping, walking, running, yoga, exercise, aerobics, etc. When the body is active, the mind can be directed effectively. Pay attention to the sitting habit and take a break/move every hour to break the long-time sitting. Do stretching for 5 minutes every hour. Place the computer in a position that allows working by standing up for a few minutes. In an organization, technology can be used to track and create a reward/privilege system to motivate employees to get into a daily fitness routine.
- Developing single-pointed attention by slowing the mind. The gift? The best example is M.S.Dhoni, who shows calm and composed behavior when pressed with challenges. Mindfulness practices, 2-minute focused breathing, and short meditations are some strategies that may develop single-pointed attention. Organizations can promote these techniques and encourage their members to do these often.
- Becoming more self-aware, acknowledging one’s needs, and communicating to self and others effectively. For this, a journal/diary can be maintained with some basic questions about the day or it could be simply expressing in writing what you think inside your mind. The more honest one expression about self the better insight one may get. With continuous practice, we would start accessing the wisdom that we already possess within us. Organizations can show research done in this field to motivate people.
- Learning a new language or instrument or skill to challenge the mind. Organizations can provide resources for the same. Organizations can promote creative thinking by challenging employees to connect their ‘curiosities/skills/interests with their work.
- A mental well-being culture can be fostered in organizations by starting a practice of effective communication. Listening skills, nonviolent communication, assertiveness training, understanding passive-aggressive communication, etc. can be discussed and practiced.
- Understand that a consumerist culture would keep on flourishing when people do not like themselves, are dissatisfied, wants more, and compare themselves with others. Organizations can develop practices where sharing and discussion on such topics happen frequently. The aim is to understand the impact of changing times, acknowledge one’s needs, and make conscious/ balanced decisions.
- Creating a place/time for employees to de-stress. They can play, have fun together, read, stay silent and rejuvenate.
- Connecting the people to a bigger goal than themselves. This could include volunteering, social work, chasing an ideal, taking actions that promote a healthy environment, etc.
- Peer support network: in our school, we have an initiative run by a student named ‘Unboxed’ that creates a safe space for school students to have mental health-related dialogue.
- Another practice that our school has started is the development of therapy-based worksheets to use as separate content or can be integrated into the curriculum.
- Mental health events/sessions/workshops/seminars/quizzes/fests can be organized from time to time to promote the culture of mental health well-being.
The picture is from the story Blind Men and Elephant. Perhaps if you put the parts together, you will see the truth.
About the Author – Abhilasha Purushothaman is a Counsellor and Psychology teacher at Choithram School, Indore, M.P.