Unfortunately our western view of health has led us to the misconception that we can separate our physical from our emotional wellbeing – and even divide our body into distinct parts, as if they have no bearing on each other, and as if they can be seen in isolation from the environment in which we live. This is not the case. So our wellbeing is about all of who we are and, since we are Mind, Body and Soul, how we feel comes from the wellbeing of all of these parts.
For me, the mental aspect of this is about how we relate to our mind – our thoughts, beliefs and the feelings that these bring up for us. Everything we experience gets filtered through something called our reticular activating system. This acts like a filter, deciding what information we pay attention to and what we ignore. It therefore plays a huge role in our how we perceive the world around us.
Some information, however, always gets through, such as our name being called and anything that we feel might be a threat to our safety. Our thoughts and beliefs have a huge impact on this as they literally wire our brain for what we pay attention to, and for our level of threat sensitivity.
Obviously we need a certain amount of awareness in order to keep ourselves safe, but it’s also important to know that our brain generally has a ‘negative bias’, meaning that it focuses on looking for dangers, rather than looking for opportunities. The degree to which it does this will depend on a variety of factors, including our past experiences.
When we experience trauma – big or small – if we are unable to process it and let go of the emotional intensity around what happened, it will be held in our body and will cause our general anxiety level to rise. Over time, we might become desensitised to this background anxiety to a degree. We push it down in order to carry on with our day to day lives, but it’s still there in our ‘stress bucket’, meaning that we have a reduced capacity for coping with further trauma. For me, then, mental wellbeing is being able to recognise when we’re holding stress and trauma, being able to take steps to address it and so to begin to lower the level in our stress bucket allowing us to get back to feeling balanced, centred, grounded, resilient, safe and able to enjoy life once again.