Mental Health Awareness: Stop Playing the Blame Game
May is mental health awareness month and this will be the third part of our series on mental health and how it can impact pain. With constant research aimed at understanding pain and its link to our mental and emotional state, we can learn a lot from what people are experiencing and what science is beginning to uncover. Questions we will explore in this post include: What kind of an effect can our mental states have on pain? Can pain cause depression, or can depression impact chronic pain? As well as addressing points on striving towards positive mental and physical health.
What is Mental Health
How do we even define mental health, or what characterizes good mental health from poor?
Well for starters: someone who is considered to be in good mental health should have the ability to do the following:
- Ability to learn
- To feel, express and manage a range of positive and negative emotions
- Form and maintain good relationships with others
- Cope with and manage change and uncertainty.
Nearly 58 million Americans suffer from depression or anxiety with 60% of them not seeking treatment for their own particular issues. Currently, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is a significant contributor to the global burden of disease.
Unlike Heart Disease or Cancer, Mental Health has a stigma associated with it. Those who are suffering from any form of mental illness may be very self-conscious of their issues and may only open up to certain people if at all. The problem occurs when individuals are brave enough to open up to their friends, family, or loved ones, they are often met by ignorance and confusion. You wouldn't tell someone suffering from a heart condition or cancer to try exercising more, would you? It is no different in terms of mental health. The problem is that science is only beginning to scratch the surface on understanding mental health, and even further from effectively treating it.
So what can we do?
As with anything, Knowledge is power. Improving your understanding of any topic allows for fear from uncertainty to decrease. Just like taking a test, you are less scared for that test if you know you did everything you could to prepare for it. The fear and uncertainty have been diminished through understanding. No different than with anxiety, depression and chronic pain. If you can begin to grasp an understanding of the basic principles of your ailment, you can start to apply them to your own life as confusion turns to understanding, and our ‘diagnosis' becomes less mysterious. We can identify stressors, triggers, and patterns that keep us from living our lives, we can learn how to deal with them when they occur but more importantly, learn how to avoid them altogether.
Mental Health and Chronic Pain
We have written repeatedly about the relationship between our mental health and attitude towards chronic pain and the impact it can have (LINK)
Think of chronic pain and its impact on our mental state as a cycle, we get hurt or pain arises, it subsides but never leaves us entirely. Chronic pain lingers long enough that it begins to weigh us down, slowly eating away at who we are and what we love to do, sometimes without us even realizing it. Chronic pain casts a long shadow as sometimes we can hardly even remember a time when we were not in pain.
As stated earlier, you must identify that you're stuck in a cycle in order to get out if.
We often focus on pain and give it far more attention than it deserves, sometimes even thinking of it in terms of an entity itself, one that is evil or cruel. We must learn not to make this mistake. You may be annoyed at the smoke alarm that goes off every time you cook, but we aren't afraid of it, because we understand it. Learning to understand the cause of our pain is when we can begin to take away the fear and mystery surrounding it.
WE MUST BREAK THE CYCLE.
The Mindset to Overcome Pain
Once we have gotten to a certain level of understanding about our pain can we change the way we think about it. We know that the smoke from cooking our dinner set off the alarm. We know as we frantically reach for an oven mitt or towel that we are not in danger. So let us apply this concept to pain in the same way, no more no less.
Pain is a signal; it's telling you something is wrong; it is not evil; pain is the only way your body knows how to get you to listen. This does not mean reaching for the Tylenol, or a stiff drink, or even making an appointment to figure out what you did this time. No, this is the time for learning, explore the pain, explore what you may have done to cause it, this will teach you a lasting lesson of how to move better and avoid injuring it in the future.
Finalizing our Mindset
Now that we have learned about our issue, and we have listened to it, it is time to finalize our mindset towards it. When you take the fear out of the equation and replace it with understanding, a positive mindset towards pain comes almost naturally. As we begin to feel our bodies heal, and the pain grows further and further away, the power it had over us begins to relinquish its hold. You begin to start having good day after good day. Even if you have a flare up and that alarm blares, you now have the skills to understand what caused it and get to work on silencing it again. This goes for anxiety and depression as well as a nagging pain in your back.
Learn, Apply, Improve.
There are no quick fixes, not one stretch, not one round of breathing exercise or a meditation app that will do this. Like anything in life, something worth having requires hard work. Whether you're dealing with depression or a herniated disc in your back, YOU are the only one who TRULY cares about YOU getting better.
Don't become your diagnosis.
It is essential to learn about your issues, but not to become them. Think of a diagnosis as an opinion of what could be wrong, not as a fact of what is wrong. Think of your diagnosis only as a pesky knot in the lace of your favorite shoe. You can ignore it; hope that it works itself out, go to experts who will tell you it might just be easier to get a new lace. You can pull and yank, and it will only get tighter, you can pay people to rub it, or stick needles in it, you can even put ice or heat on it and see if that helps. Only until you take the time to work on that knot, as painstakingly slow as it may be, will yield the best possible outcome for you.
Take Back Control
This is you and your body, You're an expert on the subject of you, and trust us when we say that nobody out there is going to devote the time and energy it will require to get you better. You have to take the first step. Otherwise, you'll remain stuck in the pain and depression cycle on the washing machine forever.
MoveU and its members stand by the process of empowering individuals, through education, application, and support. Please start the process of fixing your body, adjusting your mindset towards pain, and learn what the immense power of a community of thousands feels like cheering you on every step of the way.
Don't spend another minute in the same cycle of pain you've been stuck in! Get Muving Today!
Written By David Schroer