Chartered psychologist Martyn Stewart examines the aspects of a healthy mind in a four-part series with Time Out Doha over the coming year.
With March now underway, how many people honestly feel as optimistic as they did on January 1st? As the world quickly settles back into its routines, gym attendance plummets and fast-food deliveries increase, reality kicks in. However, our new years’ malaise may not just place our toned physiques at risk but also the healthy mind-set we all covet as well.
It’s a travesty we don’t exercise our minds as much as our bodies; too often it’s taken for granted. We continually fail to extend its potential. People remain imprisoned within their own shells for months or years, immersed in toxic thinking and environments – even those created by their closest circles! Despite this, (in both personal and professional circumstances), we still demand from our mind clear thought and flawless decision-making in the most critical of situations. Would we make such expectations of our bodies? To attempt a marathon without training would obviously be ludicrous. However, we push our minds for much more. Some even expect perfection.
Psychologist Marie Jahoda identified six characteristics of ‘ideal’ mental health, including adapting to the environment and being resistant to stress. However, when improving our mind-set – as with our bodies – we must be realistic. Aiming for excellence, not perfection, is healthy.
The reality of a healthy mind
We all face difficult moments and having the occasional ‘crazy’ or unhealthy thought is not unusual. While navigating life’s inevitable peaks and troughs alone, we may not recognise ourselves as we impudently condemn those we feel criticise us. We may question our own ‘inferiority’ in comparison to others.
A room full of avid conversation and smiling faces is often perceived as a sign of psychologically healthy people. However, we’ve all hidden in the midst of such façades. This occurs so frequently; it is times like these when our minds become dull and blunted. You’re not the only one barricading your insecurities and personal issues. In fact, you’d be more ‘abnormal’ if you weren’t.
So why such fear of the unhealthy mind, if so many are potentially afflicted by its existence? Besides the social stigma attached to it, a lesser discussed but equally powerful contributor may be a fear of vulnerability – of being exposed. Vulnerability means you can be hurt or damaged somehow, so naturally we defend ourselves.
The aim is to safeguard our self-esteem. Unfortunately, many people invariably use dysfunctional mechanisms, such as elaborate self-lies or diversionary tactics. These often backfire and actually result in feelings of shame or embarrassment, driven by our vulnerability.
People need human connection for a healthy mind. Without it, we feel marginalised and alone. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University
of Houston, states that many people hide aspects of their character or experiences as they believe it makes them unworthy of connection with others. For example, those unhappy with their weight may conceal it with specific clothing.
‘This fear of being exposed can play unimaginable havoc with your mental state. As a result, many people believe they must be perfect or at least ‘fake it till they make it.’ The reality, however, is you’re never going to achieve perfection. So why give yourself a hard time attempting an impossible task? Hiding your disappointment afterwards isn’t worth the unnecessary stress. Nobody’s perfect. The hardest part is overcoming the mental lies we tell ourselves to fit in to avoid being exposed.
Start shaping your healthy mind
We know what we want. That mental place where we have control of our world; personal stress is minimal, self-acceptance is complete and our issues and insecurities don’t impact negatively on anyone. These are hallmarks of a healthy mind. However, opportunities to positively exercise our minds should not be missed. This doesn’t mean you won’t have the normal feelings of self-doubt or unproductive thoughts from time-to-time. However, maintaining a healthy mind is an everyday habit. Pay attention to it or your positive mental capabilities will be eroded quicker than a diet of cheeseburgers ruins your waistline.
Here’s a few tips. In ambiguous or challenging times, hard choices must be made. When things need to be done, we must learn to be decisive and act. Use productive thinking and be responsible for those actions. Start by developing the habit of successfully completing a few small challenges. This will help, then build up. Also, address the impact of those you have regular contact with. Knowingly surrounding yourself with people who aren’t conducive to your long-term healthy mind is destructive. Differentiate between the positive and negative. Make a list if you have to. Finally, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Just like personal trainers and nutritionists, expert psychological practitioners and support groups contribute daily to amazing personal change, working together to achieve your goals. Everybody needs support. Ask.
This is the bottom line. The difference between a healthy mind and an unhealthy one is that you’re either controlled by your thoughts, or you control them. Today’s a good day to take control of your healthy thinking.
Martyn Stewart is a chartered psychologist and relationship coach. He has over 15 successful years assisting individuals internationally via teaching, mentoring and coaching. He is currently Head of Psychology at Doha College. He is also a published author and public speaker. To discover more, visit his website www.relationship-solutions.co.uk; email: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @martynpsych /@passareuk.