Surely it makes common sense that we would all want to be the best versions of ourselves? Fueling our bodies with the best nutrients, physically strong at any age and maintaining a healthy mindset that will support navigating life’s challenges.
When we are under stress or an aspect of our life is having a negative impact, we can easily talk about what we ‘should’ do but then resign ourselves to a habit or situation that may not be serving our health. Often, because the difficulty or pain involved in making a change seems too hard or not worth the pay off so, we don’t.
I subscribe to the philosophy, that while there is portion of the population that are genetically predisposed or currently have a diagnosable mental health issue, the majority of us, as Johann Hari refers, are at increasing risk of mental health issues due to having broken lives and not broken brains.
Mental health is often the symptom of long term stress or distress. That stress can be due to a myriad of causes which affect individuals differently. For some, working from home and feeling isolated can have a detrimental effect but for others it creates calm and focus.
Other aspects of constant work stress involve, little down time, poor relationships, financial stress, ill health and low self esteem. These can impact individuals in different ways, but essentially prolonged negative stress will eventually show up in our mental or physical health.
The rise in mental health issues can be attributed in many ways to our modern life. Everything is at pace through technology and expectation to always be available and on.
Everything we do throughout our day serves us in some way, whether we are conscious of these decisions or not, may be certainty, efficiency, comfort, pursuit of pleasure or avoidance of pain. The choice to stay in a job that causes stress and anxiety, because the fear of not being employable is far greater than the stress of sticking with what you know.
Typically we know what is good for us, so why do we choose something else?
Pleasure & Pain
There are two emotional states that will motivate us to take action, pursuit of pleasure or avoidance of pain. If our emotional reaction relating to an aspect of our life, falls somewhere in between, there is limited chance that we will be motivated to invest our time and energy. We can analyse a decision and its cost/benefits but only tend to take action when we have an emotional reaction to the benefit or the cost.
The third element in the choice of what’s good for us is time. Whether there is enough time available to change habits, get expert advice, learn a new skill. When our lives are busy we work on shorter timeframes, day to day, week to week and in those shorter timeframes, space to consciously choose what to eat, who to spend time with, plan for the future can seem indulgent and not a priority.
The other aspect of time is delayed gratification, how long until I’ll see results? With the constant promise of instant results, we can easily get distracted or bored during the period of discomfort or conscious learning. We need to be realistic about how long changing a habit, personal growth or developing a skill can take. Being able to tick off milestones or knowing what success might look and feel like is important to stick with it.
Focus on what’s important
How life impacts us can differ widely for different people and we’re fed external messaging through marketing and social media of what we ‘should’ be doing and what we ‘should’ aspire to. Some of it is good advice and some is trying to sell something. When we don’t act on what we ‘should’ be doing, feelings of shame and guilt can build as we feel we’ve failed in some way. As mentioned, we tend to take action when we have an emotional reaction. If the reaction to any aspect of life is neutral but external influence says you ‘should’, then this underlying sense of shame and guilt can impact on our mental health.
As Mark Manson explains in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, understanding what is most important to us and then letting go of the rest can be liberating for our mental wellbeing.