If you think about it, every one is vulnerable to mental illness. If you experience a car accident, you might develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you lose a best friend to suicide, you might find yourself grieving over her loss and slump into a depression. If you have a tendency to worry and feel stress, you might have what many adults experience – anxiety – and could be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Although everyone has a unique psychological and emotional makeup, we are all susceptible to psychological illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately, 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. That’s about 57.7 million people or about one in four adults.
However, anyone can cultivate certain skills can facilitate staying psychologically and emotionally healthy. As you read about the three healthy habits below, you’ll notice that they all have one thing in common: developing awareness. It is clear that the more aware of thoughts, emotions, and beliefs that an individual is, the more capacity they have to change, to make different choices, and to create a fulfilling life.
Emotional awareness is the skill of knowing what you are feeling, why you’re feeling it, and what physical sensations you are having as a result. This is a skill that can be cultivated over time, which allows you to identify and express what you are feeling moment by moment. Cultivating emotional awareness can support the ability to respond versus react. In other words, becoming more aware of your feelings can help put some distance between the stimulus and your response.
Emotional awareness involves the ability to:
- Recognize your moment-to-moment emotional experience
- Handle all of your emotions without becoming overwhelmed
By developing a relationship with your emotions, that is, become more aware of them, you can better understand what you are feeling and how to respond to them. The inability to manage emotions can lead to dysfunctional coping mechanisms such as drug use, drinking, cutting, aggression, and other forms of risky behavior. It can be challenging to manage feelings when they seem frightening or overwhelming. They might be accompanied by fear, helplessness, and powerlessness. These emotions might also lead to shutting down. Therefore, having tools that allow you to manage emotions and/or stress quickly can support your well-being.
As you develop the ability to be aware of your emotions, don’t stop there. Become aware of all that is going on in your inner and outer experience is a practice called mindfulness. Although not yet recognized officially as a treatment method for various mental illnesses, it is used widely among mental health professionals.
Mindfulness is the practice of becoming conscious of your internal and external environment. It is a mental state achieved by focusing on the present moment, while acknowledging and accepting the existing feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, and surrounding activity. It can be used as a therapeutic practice among therapists and psychologist, and it has been used as a spiritual practice for decades.
Mindfulness is a practice that can support you, regardless of your age. It can benefit many levels of your being – the body, mind, and heart – even if only practiced from time to time. Although there are specific changes that you will notice immediately, mindfulness can have long-term, positive effects on your life that bring satisfaction, joy, fulfilling relationships, love, and more.
Mindfulness can help you regulate your emotions, connect more deeply with others, eliminate fear, learn to respond versus react, reduce stress, and develop intuition.
In addition to the above benefits to awareness, there is another critical one yet to be mentioned: the ability to make different choices, whereas previously you were unconsciously making choices that were harmful or unhealthy.
When we make the same choice again and again, we strengthen the neurons in the brain. Neurons are involved in these mental and behavioral patterns and continue to strengthen each time the same choice is made. In other words, each time you go down that same path along a hilly snow, you begin to create an embedded path. As you continue to sleigh down the hill, you’ll likely continue to take the same path in the snow. But, thanks to the brain’s wondrous capacity for learning and rewiring itself – neuroplasticity – it’s not impossible to change your patterns regardless of how worn out those paths down the hill become.
The way you begin to find and create new neural connections in the brain – and new experiences in your life – is through the choices you make. Each choice you make is priceless. Choose each moment with as much as awareness as possible to create a life that is filled with success, happiness and fulfillment.
Awareness of your thoughts, beliefs, and choice patterns gives you an incredible freedom. You suddenly have the power to make different choices, believe in different thoughts, and choose different coping mechanisms. Although awareness is something you create overnight, little by little you can cultivate enough awareness to prevent mental illness and create the life you want.
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