By Sanah Thakur
A few weeks ago I was invited to give a TEDx talk. You’re probably picturing me give this talk in the conventional ‘confident speaker’ stance. What you’re not picturing is the way I woke up the next day. I had a heavy feeling over my chest. I struggled to catch my breath though I hadn’t left my bed. As I slowed down my breathing, I noticed the discomfort in my head. Suddenly, I had nothing to do, nowhere to be, and zero inspiring things to continue. Yet, nothing had changed. I had woken up after speaking to a group of students on a platform that was internationally recognised as a space of inspiration. Whether I woke up and sipped on tea instead of coffee or decided to invest in stocks, I was an inspiration the previous day and I was still that inspiration, 24 hours later. So why did I wake up feeling anxious? How does somebody who has figured out school, passing examinations, getting through college and even writing a speech, wake up with difficulty breathing?
We’ve been told to exercise, to take care of our bodies, to eat and drink nourishing things. And while mental health has been increasing in its popularity with the mass media, there’s still plenty of confusion regarding its’ specific role in our lives. Prior to becoming a mental well-being facilitator, I was under the impression that taking care of your mind involved the same routine as the body. Diet and exercise have consistently been linked with better minds, so maintaining their existence could prevent mental illness. Yet even after studying about mental health, I woke up with a stress response that made me anxious. That day, I woke up with an imaginary pressure to continue being inspiring and I wasn’t mentally resilient to handle it.
To understand what taking care of your mental well-being requires, it’s important to outline the definition of the term itself. Mental health refers to our psychological, social and emotional well-being. This includes our emotions, our thoughts and feelings, our ability to solve problems and overcome difficulties, our social connections, and our understanding of the world around us (Canadian Mental Health Association). Mental health, just like physical health, exists on a continuum, and throughout our lives we move along this. We get fitter and healthier if we take care of ourselves or we get weaker when we neglect our health. However, mental health is explicitly different from mental illness, which affects the way individuals function in their day to day lives. Mental illnesses have specific symptoms that cause specific changes in the way one thinks, feels and acts.
Taking care of your mental well-being is important, because the more situations you learn to deal with the more mentally resilient you become. But this isn’t an easy task. In many cases, the stressful situations cause us enough emotional upheaval to drive us to quick fix strategies of avoidance, excuses and blame. While the situation is easily handled, there’s no effective strategy being put into place to ensure the next time is easy. And this is where the problem lies. We’ve been programmed to deal with our mental well-being issues once the situation arises and therefore, every situation is addressed with habitual reactionary tools. Much opposed to our preferences, our mental well-being doesn’t take breaks. And that’s why we need to practice remaining in a state of preparedness, ready for any surprises it throws our way.
It’s been a few weeks after my talk and I’m grateful for the experience for throwing light on an issue we often forget to talk about. Awareness about mental health is important, but also understanding the need to take care of it ALL the time, is essential in owning up to the responsibility of acting on it.
*The author can be contacted on Instagram @sincerelysanah
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