Today, 10 October, is World Mental Health Day. A day to spread awareness about this crucial topic. Do read it, and spread the awareness.
Health is a very comprehensive term in itself. Health doesn’t just mean physical fitness or the absence of illness. There is much to understand. Let’s try our best to live a truly healthy life in every aspect of our life.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has defined health like this:
“A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity”.
This definition is quite comprehensive. Just for a minute, ponder over this definition. What is your understanding?
First of all, health is a state, and not only about the right diet. Then notice the three dimensions of health: physical, mental and social dimension. So, health is not just about our body; it’s actually much more about our mind. The environment also impacts our health. Normally, we think, to follow a specific diet, to do a little bit of exercise, to have 8 hours of sleep is all health is about. But, it’s only a tiny part of the big picture.
Most of us are not watchful to our body, leave alone the mind. We don’t conduct our bodies in a healthy way. And what to say about our mental catastrophes!
Stress, tension, loneliness, depression, anxiety, fear—have become normal attributes of our everyday life. You may have a disease-free and quite a strong body, but if you have these mental issues, you are not really ‘healthy’.
Deepening Our Understanding of Health:
The English ‘health’ comes from Old English (OE) ‘hælth’ and ‘hal’, which are related to ‘whole’, which according to Oxford Dictionary means ‘a thing that is complete in itself’. In fact the words ‘holy’ and ‘holistic’ also have this same origin. So, health essentially means a state of wholeness within us.
When there is a sense of complete harmony and easeness within us, it is health! What it means is that there is no disharmony of any kind, either physical or mental. We are a harmonious being.
The wholeness of life is health. A sense of ease. The absence of which is dis-ease!
Diseases are not only when some bacteria or virus has infected our system, or any illness has set in…when our system gets off-balanced, it is disease!
Awareness About Mental Health:
In recent times, the issue of mental health has poignantly come to the forefront of our concerns. Especially so because of this pandemic situation. This Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to remain isolated and disconnected all of a sudden. It has disrupted our livelihoods and made our lives struggling. All this has adversely affected our mental health. A significant number of the population have suddenly plunged into anxiety, uncertainty, fear, loneliness and depression. More than ever before, it has become imperative now to take care of our mental health. Mind and body are intricately connected—that’s why, we are psychosomatic beings. Stress, anxiety, depression etc. negatively impacts our body as well. It is well-researched now. Stress, for example, reduces our lifespan significantly.
So, we need to be mentally educated and aware. Mental healths is a real and serious matter. The more we understand the mind, the better we get at coping with mental problems that we face.
Understanding Mental Health:
So, what is mental health and how is it different from physical health?
The WHO definition of mental health is—it is
“A state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.
When the mind does not slip into negative states—such as fear, anxiety, loneliness, depression etc.—easily, and even if it gets into all those unhappy states, it quickly bounces back to stability and easeness, is a healthy mind. A healthy mind is generally peaceful, joyful, and has a cheery attitude to life—not a gloomy and depressed attitude. If you can regulate your emotions, and that of others, for good…if you can face the difficulties of your life with a steady mind, and if you are a joyful human being, you are a healthy soul!
But, you know life, what it is…small small things can throw us off balance. Our emotions are mostly not in our control. Almost every day, we experience more unpleasurable emotions than pleasurable ones. Negativity almost has an air-like presence in our life. Violence, anger, hatred, jealousy, frustration, despair are everyday visitors. There are financial, social, emotional and relationship issues that we all have. Despite all these, if we can live with ease and worry-free, only then can we say we have a healthy life. It’s difficult for sure. But definitely not impossible, and above all, a must, to live a full-fledged life.
How to be Mentally Healthy?
Life is full of ups and downs. So, it’s like surfing on the incessant waves of life…
A healthy mind doesn’t generate unnecessary tension, anxiety, fear or any negative states for that matter, and sink into it. A healthy mind maintains its balance through all these ups and downs, and is able to enjoy life.
Our mind is a complete world by itself, and a truly complex one indeed. To understand it and make it a joyful world, instead of a misery-manufacturing machine, we have to go deep into it, observe it with rapt attention, understand its movements, its motives…and with this observation, its intricacies will be revealed. Only then do we have a hope of experiencing long-lasting joy.
Although there are various medical interventions that can be sought for, and many psychological and psychiatric helps…but understanding the mind is paramount. And to understand it, we don’t need to go to any psychologist or expert. This is a process of self-knowing. But, yes, of course, if anybody feels that he or she is beyond self-help, he or she might visit any medical expert in the field. Sometimes, we feel so shattered and helpless that only experts can help us. In those situations, we should definitely consult one, without any hesitation.
But most of us are not ‘mental patients’ in the actual sense of the word. Most of us are not actually suffering from any serious mental health conditions, such as Schizophrenia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), or chronic negative states like depression, stress, insomnia etc. These issues need medical and psychiatric evaluation. But our day-to-day life is fraught with all kinds of problems, which constantly damages our mental health. And as a result, tension, stress, anger, frustration, dissatisfaction have become our natural states. But we can undo this, with proper understanding and the right way of living.
Right Way of Living:
The way we live is the biggest cause of all our problems—be it physical or mental. By ‘way of living’, I mean, the way we eat, the way we organize our day-to-day life, the way we use and misuse this body and this mind—all that.
There are three broad aspects in living rightly. They are:
I. Diet: What kind of food we eat, when, how much and how mindfully we eat—all this affects our mental health. It is well-established now that food influences our mood and overall functioning of the energy system. So, it’s extremely important to eat right.
II. Activity: How active we are determines many things about our life. A passive life will be prone to mental breakdowns. It’s not only about our jobs and works, our overall daily activity can either reduce or prolong our life. And an active body functions much more efficiently, and it can cope with mental pressures much more effectively.
III. Rest: Rest is equally important in maintaining a balanced state of the body and the mind. Rest doesn’t just mean sleep. It’s much more than that. Rest is not also indulging in entertainment. Entertainment may give us short periods of mental refreshment, but beyond that, it doesn’t help much.
In her book Sacred Rest, Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, M.D, discusses 7 types of rest, which are:
- Physical rest
- Mental rest
- Sensory rest
- Social rest
- Emotional rest
- Creative rest, and
- Spiritual rest.
Interestingly enough, Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith has incorporated spiritual rest in her list, which we are generally not aware of, and therefore we ignore. She describes spiritual rest as—
“The ability to connect beyond the physical and mental and feel a deep sense of belonging, love, acceptance and purpose”.
If all these three aspects—diet, activity and rest—are properly arranged, then living a healthy and joyful life becomes a reality.
But, despite our best efforts, we may often face mental issues; simply because life is unpredictable; anything can happen. So, the ultimate solution to all our mental problems might be really—understanding of the mind.
Understanding The Mind:
What is mind? How does it work? How can we harness the powers of the mind? These are some questions worth considering.
First of all, what is mind? Well, to say simply, the mind is the software for this body, which acts as the hardware. Any software runs on programming, which is executed by coded language. So is the case with the mind. It is built by language. A language is nothing but a system of arranging information according to some patterns. The mind also runs in patterns. In neurological terms, we can call them neural networks or circuitry. Software cannot run without information, which is memory. Memory is the basis of all mental processes. Memory is encoded in the brain through the different sense organs. Without memory, there is no mind (as we know it). Just like without the hard drive memory, the software cannot run. So, the mind is simply the software for this body.
Now, coming to the second question, the mind runs various higher order and lower order mental processes—like thinking, imagining, reasoning, creating, formulating hypotheses etc.
Now, to harness the mind’s powers, one needs the right understanding and training. A mind is a subtle machine, because any software is a machine after all, and to operate a machine, we need skill and the right understanding of the machine, isn’t it? So, how to harness?
As far as the mind is concerned, there is really no greater skill than Meditation. Mediation is a broad term in itself. To give a brief overview, here are some things to understand—
- Meditation, essentially, is the way to go into our pure natural state of consciousness.
- There are various types of meditation, like mindfulness meditation, mantra meditation, vipassana meditation etc.
- Meditation requires a holistic way of living.
- Although meditation has long-term health benefits, the actual purpose of meditation is to realize our true nature, or in other words, self-realisation.
- Meditation is a complete science in itself. You must understand the science.
If you are living rightly, you can lead a truly healthy life without even meditating. But meditation is needed to conquer this proverbial beast called ‘mind’; because it is only the mind that is trapping us and making us suffer. Meditation opens up the door from the tyranny of the mind and gives us undying peace and lasting happiness.
P.S: Sorry, if it has become lengthy! Anyway, I must Thank You for your patience. I hope, I didn’t waste your time🙏.
Oh, and another thing, I initially thought to elaborate on the ‘Understanding The Mind’ section. But, it requires a great deal of inquiry on its own. Here, I tried to give you the synopsis. If you, however, would like that I elaborate on it, please let me know. I will definitely go into it in detail.
With Love, Alok 🍁