It’s very clear to everyone that knows me that I’m passionate about mental health. While strong physical health keeps us alive, prosperous mental health makes a life worth living. I just recently completed my Challenge Detroit Impact Project in collaboration with City Year Detroit, where I partnered with co-fellow Montinique Lynch to create sustainable, effective mental health programming for the local education-focused nonprofit. We built our program around a trauma-informed lens with a heavy focus on self care strategies. What this project reinforced for me was that mental health is for everyone. For children, young adults, and throughout adulthood, cultivating a holistic wellness in life is key to happiness, confidence, and thriving relationships. There’s a broad consensus that everyone wants to be happy, but I think sometimes there’s a notion that only people struggling with a mental illness need therapy or to engage in mental health supports. This could be far from the truth. I believe that everyone can work on self discovery and working towards a higher self at any point in life. One key component of this process is keen self awareness.
Most of us think of ourselves as self aware. And to a certain extent, we are. But many of us, including myself, aren’t as deeply self aware as we’d like to think. It’s normal. There’s often so much going on day to day from our job, interacting with numerous people, and other life responsibilities, it can be hard to know exactly where your mind is at every given moment. Being in tune with our emotional and behavioral tendencies can help us see how we affect the world around us and vice versa. We may discover that the thoughts and emotions that we experience often follow a similar pattern of cause and effect of how we react to our emotions and situations. We could call these mental habits – and everyone’s are different. Think of it as the analogy that everyone is seeing the world through different colored glasses. Learning our own mental habits and recognizing that everyone experiences the world in a different lens can help broaden our view of how the world operates and engage in more empathy and inclusivity. Being deeply aware of our own experiences and trauma can in turn help us in our ability to sit with others in their pain and have more understanding for ourselves and others. We can elevate ourselves and our ability to reach a higher potential by being able to identify what triggers us emotionally and be able to relax that emotional response when the triggers arise. Know what emotion or self-serving thought is driving the emotional response and don’t let it dictate every action and behavior.
So what practices help a person become more self aware? There are a lot of mindfulness practices that can help with this. The key is to search for the root of the thoughts and find a deeper understanding of the cause and effect of emotions and daily experiences. A few strategies that I have found helpful include some of the following:
- Reflection. Daily reflection is great because anyone can do it anywhere and at any time. It allows us to set self goals and monitor progress, as well as look back on our experiences and notice our actions, emotions, and patterns. I have a daily planner that incorporates reflection, gratitude, goal setting, and self care that has been very useful to remaining steadfast in my reflection practice. (get a copy at www.empoweredlifeplanner.com)
- Meditate. Our society places a heavy emphasis on productivity and “doing”, but sitting in silence and meditation have proven effects on wellness. I use silent meditation as a way to restore, but also as a way to gain deep insights about myself by noticing the thoughts that come up for me when I don’t have any external distractions.
- Read. Many psychologists, philosophers, and wellness leaders have written on the topic of self understanding. It has been helpful for me to gain a larger understanding of personality frameworks and how to utilize them for personal growth as well as tuning into my emotional and thought patterns. The book I’m currently working from is called “The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life” by Helen Palmer (find a copy here).
- Therapy. A stigma is often associated with therapy as a sign of weakness, or only for people that need help in their day to day functioning. On the contrary, therapy can be used as a tool for self awareness and discovery by utilizing a professional to guide us and pose questions that can facilitate further learning.
I frequently encourage myself to become increasingly self aware. It improves my life in multiple ways including my interactions with the world, a sense of walking through life more grounded, not being dominated by my emotional tendencies, and breaking free of my mental habits. My relationships both with myself and the people in my life have improved. It has been exponentially helpful to me, as someone that has struggled to deal with my trauma in the past, but also I have seen it be powerful for individuals that have not had a history of mental health problems. Just a reminder, mental health support is for everyone. Especially for those who swear they don’t need it. Remember to fuel mental health and thriving wellness will follow.