Deeply Rooted in Mental Health and Wellness

By: Collette Dawson-Loveless, LCSW

Many articles are written on and much time spent on defining Mental Illness. Have you ever wondered about the definition of Mental Health and Wellness? Our Podcast for February discusses this topic and we want you to have the resources that we used to help us understand more about Mental Health and Wellness and to increase awareness of self and loved ones.

Dan Siegel points out in his trainings that our profession, as Mental Health Therapists, is unique in that we do not take classes in graduate school that teach us about mental health. Rather our graduate work included subjects that focused on Mental Illness and Treatment Modalities. His definition of Mental Health is laid out using the acronym: COHERENCE. (adapted from The Neurobiology of We) Our answers to the questions below can help us gauge how mentally healthy we are.

Connected – How connected do we feel to those in our social circles?

Open – How easy is it for us to be open and share our personal story with others?

Harmonious – Are we connected, but also different in a way that feels comfortable?

Engaged – How engaged in life and with others are we?

Receptive – Can we be open and receive information and feedback from both others and from our bodies?

Emergent – Can we be aware of what is happening in the present?

Noetic – How well do we know ourselves?

Compassionate – Can we extend compassion to self and others?

Empathetic – Can we feel with others what they are feeling?

Dan Siegel also discusses healthy systems of all kinds, from clouds to couples to families to internal systems and describes their traits with the acronym: FACES

Systems are healthiest when they are: Flexible, Adaptive, Coherent, Energized and, Stable

Brene’ Brown wrote 10 Guideposts to becoming Whole-hearted and we can practice applying these skills in our lives to become healthier:

AUTHENTICITY – When we use others’ opinions of us as our measuring stick for our value we tend toward more inauthentic behavior, from following fashion trends to going along with the crowd even when their views go against our values. The wholehearted are authentic and true to themselves.

SELF-COMPASSION – Perfectionism (holding ourselves to an impossible standard) can lead to automatic negative thoughts, anxiety and depression.  The wholehearted have self-compassion and can hold onto the beliefs that we are all flawed and also lovable at the same time.

RESILIENT SPIRIT – Some ways that we numb difficult or unwanted emotions are: shopping, television, alcohol, social media, gambling, pornography, anti-depressants and hard drugs. But we cannot numb selectively: when we numb shame and anger we also numb joy and love. We cultivate a resilient spirit by facing hard events and sitting with and feeling our emotions instead of numbing out.

GRATITUDE AND JOY – Our culture tends to see the glass half-empty, regardless of how abundantly we live. Scarcity thinking creates fear-based behavior and leads to us wanting more and fearing there will not be enough. The wholehearted spend more time being grateful, and feeling the joy that comes from being content with what we have.

INTUITION AND FAITH – Fear-based thinking also leads to us wanting be sure, or make things certain. This can lead to black and white thinking. The irony is that the more we try to force feelings of safety and security through making certain, the more damaging and self-destructive our behavior becomes. You can make certain you won’t make any mistakes in relationships if you push others away and keep things close to the surface with others, but you won’t feel the richness of a deep, connected relationship if you don’t take the risk to be vulnerable and dig deeper. The wholehearted folks have faith that things will work out. They follow their gut and trust their intuition to guide them. They understand life may be messy sometimes and accept that risk.

CREATIVITY – There are many ways to express our creativity: some play music, or tell stories, or create art; some bake, or garden, or create beautiful homes. When we compare what we create to the creations of others, we stop being creative and start to be competitive. The wholehearted let go of comparisons to enjoy their creativity.

REST AND PLAY – Our culture values work, productivity and good outcomes. We often make being super busy and exhaustion into a status symbol. We can get mixed up and use our level of busyness and exhaustion as an inappropriate measure of self-worth. The wholehearted know that health is improved when we find balance and take time to rest and play.

CALMNESS AND STILLNESS – Making time and space to sit and meditate can be very difficult, particularly if we are feeling anxious. The wholehearted put time aside for activities like meditation, relaxation exercises, stress reduction and/or mindfulness practice that increase a sense of calm.

MEANINGFUL WORK – Who doesn’t want meaningful work? We sometimes give up what we want most for what we want right now. We sacrifice doing what we find meaning in because we want more money. Or we feel judgment about doing what we want and choose something others find more acceptable instead. The wholehearted find meaningful work and/or create meaning in what they are doing.

LAUGHTER, SONG AND DANCE – You can use this guidepost as a measure of how comfortable you are in your own skin. Can you dance, sing and have fun without fear of judgment of others?  If so, you are well on your way to being Wholehearted and letting go of shame and emotional numbness!

Internal Family Systems Model

The 8 C’s (from the IFS Model by Julia Sullivan and The Center for Self-Leadership)

The following qualities are exhibited and internally felt by a person who is in their higher sense of Self rather than acting as a part of self.

Calmness – n. 1. a physiological and mental serenity regardless of the circumstances

2. the ability to react to triggers in your environment in less automatic and extreme ways 3. to be less vulnerable to adopting the common fight-flight-freeze response when threatened

Clarity – n. 1. the ability to perceive situations accurately without distortion from extreme beliefs and emotions

2. the ability to maintain one’s objectivity about a situation in which one has a vested interest

3. the absence of preconception and objection

4. the ability to maintain a “beginner’s mind” in which many possibilities exist

Curiosity – n. 1. a strong desire to know or learn something new about a topic, situation or person

2. to have a sense of wonder about the world and how things work

3. genuinely interested in non-judgmentally understanding something or someone

Compassion – n. 1. to be open heartedly present and appreciative of others without feeling the urge to fix, change or distance from them

2. an intuitive understanding that the suffering of others affects you because of your connectedness to them

3. to simultaneously have empathy for others and a belief that the other has a Self that once released can relieve his or her own suffering

Confidence – n. 1. to maintain a strong belief in one’s ability to stay fully present in a situation and handle or repair anything that happens with the belief that “no matter what, it’s all okay and will all work out the way it should”

2. to have healed from previous traumas and learned from previous failures to such a degree that their effect does not spill into the present

3. to understand that mistakes are only lessons to be learned

Courage – n. 1. strength in the face of threat, challenge or danger

2. the willingness to be take action toward a goal that others would find overwhelming

3. the ability to recognize the damage we do to others then take action to make amends 4. the willingness to reflect and “go inside” toward our own pain and shame, carefully examine it and act on what we see

Creativity – n. 1. the use of the imagination to produce original ideas

2. the ability to enter the “flow state” in which expression spontaneously flows out of us and we are immersed in the pleasure of the activity

3. the ability to create generative learning and solutions to problems

Connectedness – n. 1. the state of feeling a part of a larger entity such as a partnership, team, community, or organization

2. a spiritual connection to a meaningful purpose or a higher calling

3. to be in a relationship with someone who truly knows and accepts you for who you really are

4. to be able to relax your defenses with others as you know that you won’t be judged or controlled and are not afraid of getting hurt because you have confidence that you can repair any damage or misunderstandings that may occur

When we can identify that we are feeling the 8 C’s then we know we are in a healthier mental state.

If you have questions or want to know more about any of the above, contact our offices. We not only work with those struggling with mental illness but we also can help people live life more fully and experience a greater degree of mental health and fitness.