I know that if I had a choice whether to lose my mind, say by getting dementia, or become ill physically (I know, it’s a shitty choice but I am trying to make a point…), I would rather keep my mind. That’s why it frustrates me that mental health is still so far behind physical health in terms of government funding, awareness and education. Our whole identity is formed within our chaotic, complex minds and we are pretty much a mere physical ‘shell’ without our minds.
So how much do you actually know about your mind?
Yep, we all get them. From a thought that we could stab out own infant (it is common) to the idea that we might suddenly start laughing hysterically in a board room meeting. These thoughts enter our minds but most of us don’t act on them. Just because we have a thought does not mean we need to pay it any attention or believe it is real or will become real.
People with obsessive compulsive disorder have intrusive thoughts and often believe that because they have had the thought, it will happen. This of course can cause serious anxiety for someone.
I once had a client who had convinced herself that she might be a paedophile. Again, just because she had had the thought she began to doubt herself. She felt the thought might control her and make her do something she didn’t want to. In reality, there was no evidence of her ever molesting a child nor did she find children sexually stimulating. Sometimes, when we become overloaded with stress, our minds begin to play tricks on us. This is one of them.
Another client had dealt with severe stress for years on end without really dealing with it and one day, she had a psychotic episode. Thankfully it didn’t last too long but her mind went haywire and she began to have delusions that her husband was trying to kill her. She would lock herself in the bathroom and call the police. He husband was not trying to kill her at all but the stress had created a huge chaotic pile up in her brain. She was admitted to hospital and kept asking for their dog to be brought to her as she felt he would fix the problem and stop her husband trying to kill her. Her logic was the dog was all powerful because “dog” is “god” spelled backwards.
So it pays to treat our minds with respect. It also works well when we understand that 100% of what we perceive in reality is not experienced directly. Everything we perceive has been put through our ‘personal filter’, a filter that consists of our core beliefs about the world. This is why two people having the exact same experience might have two completely different stories to tell. We all perceive reality through our minds and the filter we each have makes each individual perception different.
Say I was bitten by a dog when I was younger. I am in a park with a friend of mine and a dog bounds over to us. That experience may leave me fearful but my friend may be excited to pet the dog. If we experienced reality directly there would be no difference between the two experiences. We ‘colour’ our experiences according to our past experiences and our beliefs. The beauty of this is that we are also then 100% responsible for how we interpret the world around us.
Learn to be aware of your thoughts – they are chemical impulses in your brain. You can choose to accept them or ignore them. They are just thoughts.
The old brain versus the new brain
The old brain consists of the hypothalamus and the amygdala. This is the part of the brain sometimes referred to as the ‘lizard brain’. This is because it is quite primitive. It is the reflex part of the brain that reacts to danger. For example – when we were cave men many many years ago, the old brain would activate of a lion or other predator appeared. It would increase our adrenalin and pump our heart faster in order for us to fight, flight or freeze.
In modern society, the nature of threat has changed. We suffer from stress and the old brain still sees it as threat and activates the old system. It cannot tell the difference. That is why it is important for us to be able to make the distinction. The frontal cortex is the newer part of the brain that has evolved over time. It is the part of the brain that allows us to think ahead, to reason and to have empathy for others. This is what sets us apart from animals.
So in order to manage our chaotic, complex minds we need to stop and think, let the lizard brain do it’s thing and realize that even though we may feel in danger, we aren’t (there’s no lion – well, 99% of the time). After practising this and being more aware, you will be able to recognise the old familiar physical signs but ride them through.
This is what we teach our clients who have panic disorder and this psycho-education is also very useful for people with various anxiety disorders.
It is possible to achieve increased clarity by not always taking our thoughts seriously, by knowing the difference between the old and the new brain and by treating our minds with respect when we do tend to be over stressed.
Learn to take time out, sleep and play. Employ strategies to quieten your mind. One that I use is known as mindfulness. It is about being in the present moment as much as possible -what can I see, hear, touch, taste and smell? The more we keep our minds busy with that, the less time it has to wander off and start the downward spiral of “what if” thinking.
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