Dr. Caroline Leaf – Anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress are all ways of describing natural human responses to adversity. As I discuss in this podcast and blog, we all face adversity in many different ways; challenging events and circumstances are as much a part of modern existence as they were a part of human history.
Simply calling these mental and emotional responses neuropsychiatric brain diseases can create a lot of confusion and suffering. Anxiety, depression, burnout, frustration, angst, anger and grief are emotional and physical warning signals, telling us we need to face and deal with something that’s happened or is happening in our lives. They are not a sign of a broken or defective brain.
The mental pain, which is very real, is a sign that something is wrong: you are in a state of disequilibrium. It’s not a sign of a defective brain. The brain is going through a process of reordering and reorganizing in response to your experience(s), which are processed through the mind (your thinking, feeling and choosing). The brain and mind are separate. The brain does not produce the mind; the brain responds to the mind.
Emotional pain doesn’t need to be validated by a medical label. Mental health struggles are not your identity. These struggles are normal and need to be addressed, not suppressed, or things will get worse.
Indeed, how you view your negative feelings (such as sadness, nervousness or hopelessness) will either protect you against some of the harmful health consequences of these emotions, or make you feel worse. Research, including my most recent clinical trials, demonstrates that viewing negative emotions as fluctuating, momentary parts of a natural cycle of life increases our mental and physical resilience. On the other hand, when you ruminate on the negative and see your feelings as stressful and harmful, they can dramatically impact your mental and physical health.
In our research, we demonstrated that embracing negative emotions as warning signals, finding the underlying cause(s), AND then managing this by processing and reconceptualizing our thinking results in a significant improvement in bodily inflammation, cellular health and biological aging. It also empowers us to feel in control of our minds, which can increase our feelings of control over our mental health struggles by up to 81%! Feeling bad is not unhealthy if you learn how to manage your thinking!
However, in today’s world, many of us are taught from youth that negative emotions are undesirable and even dangerous. To manage these undesirable emotions, modern psychological and psychiatric approaches to mental health mainly focus on the use of drugs like antidepressants and antipsychotics and treatments that numb the pain, rather than addressing the complexity of the human mind. It is thus unsurprising that this biomedical approach hasn’t reduced the prevalence of mental health issues. In fact, things seem to have gotten worse! For example, major depression, which has remained at around 4 percent between 1990–2010, is now on the rise, while population studies indicate that people between the ages twenty-four to sixty-five are dying eight to fifteen years younger than previous generations from preventable lifestyle diseases.
Clearly, what we are doing is not working. The system needs to change. We must shift our focus from a symptom-centered biological approach to one that focuses on each person’s complex story and unique experiences IN CONTEXT. You are uniquely, wonderfully you—your quest for optimal health and well-being should be just as singular as you are!
This is the approach I’ve taken in my newest book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. After many years of clinical practice and research, I developed my Switch On Your Brain 5-Step Learning Process©. In the years since, I have continued to research and refine these steps, helping people harness the power of mind-management to find healing and fulfillment:
- Gathering awareness of your physical and emotional warning signals.
- Reflecting on why you are feeling these things in your body and mind.
- Writing down your reflections to organize your thinking.
- Rechecking what you have written and how your thoughts and feelings have changed.
- Active Reach: taking action to reconceptualize your thinking and find sustainable healing.
In my latest book, I teach you how to apply these simple, scientifically-researched and clinically-applied mind management steps to issues such as anxiety, stress and toxic thinking. This 5-Step process will help you define and refine your unique needs and mental self-care regimen. As you go through this process, you’ll find that these steps are sustainable because they are customized to your unique way of thinking, feeling, and choosing—your brilliant mind-in-action!
I truly believe that mental mess is something we all experience. It isn’t something we should be ashamed of. This is my profession, and I still have to clean up my mind daily! We need to realize that the events and circumstances of life aren’t going anywhere; people make a lot of decisions every day that affect us all, and suffering on some level is inevitable. That being said, I wholeheartedly believe that although many events and circumstances cannot be controlled, we can control our reactions to these events and circumstances. This is mind-management in action!
Managing the mind is more than a lifestyle—it’s a necessity. We can spend lots of money and time on self-help books and seminars, wellness fads, great teachings, and podcasts, but all of this will simply become nice-to-know information if we can’t apply it—more notches on our belt, more knowledge gathering dust.
Mind-management, on the other hand, can transform all this great information into applied information. When we learn how to manage our thinking, we’ll learn how to actually use the advice and information we gather as we go through life. When we learn how to manage our mind, we can go from posting inspiring quotes on social media to inspiring others through the way we live.
Part 1 of Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess discusses what mind-management is, what happens when we don’t use our minds properly, and how the results of my recent clinical trials show why mind-management is the solution to cleaning up your mental mess.
Part 2 of Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess provides my clinically applied and scientifically researched 5-Step mind-management plan.
To make this process as easy to apply as possible, I have grouped important lifestyle choices into nine main areas, and given you a 5-Step mind-management strategy for each of these areas. These lifestyle choices include dealing with sudden acute stressors, overcoming toxic habits and trauma, dealing with identity issues, developing deeper connections, the power of brain-building, and how to sleep, eat and exercise mindfully.