by Nicole Urdang, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, MS, NCC, DHM in Buffalo, NY
Mental Health Awareness Month 2021: What *Is* Good Mental Health?
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but what does having good mental health actually mean? Throughout my practice as a holistic psychotherapist for over 45 years, my views have changed. I want to share my perspective with you.
A Note About the Effects of Trauma
Now, I recognize that most people have experienced some trauma. There are many possible sources of trauma — physical abuse, emotional abuse or constant shaming, sexual abuse, neglect, health issues, financial hardship, war, addiction, bullying, discrimination, job loss, or anything else that left you wanting to avoid life. Trauma can result in intrusive conditions such as flashbacks, hyperarousal of your nervous system, physical health issues (as this ACEs study and others like it show), or emotional difficulties. As someone who has spent decades listening to people from all walks of life, I know soothing our pain, both individually and collectively, requires compassion — for ourselves and compassion for every other being. Thankfully, there are numerous practices that support rewiring our brains so kindness can become more of a default; and, if not a default, then at least an option.
What Mental Health Is and Isn’t
To me, good mental health isn’t feeling happy 24/7. It’s feeling everything, even the unpleasant or scary emotions that we think might derail us, and keeping on. Great therapy helps you create a haven inside yourself and gives you the inner resources and tools to support you through rough patches so you can bounce back faster. Good mental health does not mean that you never get triggered, react hastily or harshly, or feel grief, anxiety, or anger. It’s resilience. If you’re reading this, you have survived everything that ever happened to you, no matter how hard it might have been. The fact that you’re still here means you’re resilient.
Psychotherapy Can Help You Get There
Of course, I think psychotherapy can be an amazing experience. Yes, it can sometimes feel scary, intimidating, overwhelming, and gut-wrenching; but, it can also be incredibly joyful. And whom would you rather discover and befriend than your own sweet self?
There is nothing quite like unburdening oneself to another person within a completely confidential, safe space. It allows you to work through painful emotions that might seem overwhelming without fear.
9 Ways Therapy Facilitates Good Mental Health
Here are some ways therapy can catalyze self-acceptance, greater resilience, and growth:
1. Begins, or enhances, a journey of self-discovery.
2. Teaches you techniques to manage your moods, emotions, and thoughts.
3. Provides a different perspective.
4. Allows you to see the humor in situations that can also feel depressing, guilt-inducing, or anxiety-provoking.
5. Encourages more self-compassion and less self-criticism, leading to greater patience and gentleness with yourself.
6. Increases flexibility in thoughts and actions by providing options you may not have considered.
8. Aids in discovering how self-inquiry leads to self-knowledge, and ultimately, more self-expression and self-appreciation.
9. Allows you to feel truly heard, seen, accepted, and known for who you really are.
Transformation Is a Long Game
Over time, the new ways of thinking, feeling, and dealing with life that you learn in the therapeutic process will help you feel safer within yourself and with others. The stronger your self-compassion default becomes, the more likely you are to have compassion for every other struggling human. This is hard, slow work. A deep part of the practice, whether working with a therapist or alone, is cultivating patience for yourself and tolerance for the way growth typically occurs: two steps forward, one-and-a-half steps back. I believe the support, interest, validation, listening skills, and guidance a good therapist offers makes it an easier, even joyful, process.
Ready to enlist the help of a therapist in your mental health journey? Check out the profiles of therapists near you to find a great fit.
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