There are many suffering from anxiety, depression, stress, panic attacks and other mental illness. We often think of a variety of factors that can cause these mental issues, but we rarely think about the power of our thoughts. What are the steps to mental healing?
How do we define a person as having good mental health? First of all, there is no one who has 100% mental health; in other words, there is no human being who does not have some kind of sadness, some moments of anguish, some anxiety. We all have some kind of struggle. Some have it more, some have it less, and some have it for a period of their life, then it passes and they are fine. It is important to think that mental health has to do with the ability to be able to work, study and be useful to society, and to love people in a mature way.
Many people are dependent on psychiatric medications, like tranquilizers, antidepressants, mood stabilizers or sleep-inducing drugs. There are people who are very dependent on psychiatric drugs, and of course drugs have their place, they have their moment in the treatment of mental illness. But we need to know that drugs don’t cure the cause of suffering.
Psychiatric drugs act on the symptoms. The tranquilizer can lower the anxiety of a person who has a major mental conflict that generates excessive anxiety, but it is necessary to understand that this anxiety is being produced by something, a behavior, a tension in some relationship, or some trauma from the past. People who are dependent on psychiatric medications can improve and acquire mental health if they practice some steps in their own consciousness and attitudes towards themselves and others.
Someone said that depression is an excess of the past, anxiety is an excess of the future, and stress is an excess of the present. I think there’s some truth in that! Some depressed people focus their conscious and unconscious thoughts too much on past losses, becoming too attached to that past. On the other hand, very anxious people focus too much on fears about the future in general, with thoughts that very anxious people commonly have. They use the phrases a lot: “Oh, what if that and that happens? Oh, what if I’m there, lost? What if this bus driver falls asleep? What if my son doesn’t call me?” They are very worried about what might happen up front.
Stressed people, on the other hand, may have a load of activities and responsibilities in the present that need to be relieved. It is important for those who suffer mentally to fight thoughts of sadness, discontent, distrust, anxiety, and to cultivate thoughts of hope, sympathy, balanced love for oneself and for others.
The important thing is that the person who is suffering emotionally, whether it’s a panic attack, depression, a sadness or excessive shyness, does not allow himself to become dependent on another person for his mental healing. No human being can heal another human being. It’s important not to submit to any technique – even considered scientific – if that technique makes you submit to someone else’s domain, like a passive instrument in their hands. The source of deep healing is not a human being. I’m not saying that we’re not going to see a psychiatrist or psychologist; I’m saying that, even if I need to look for a mental health professional, I still need to work on my mind, knowing that that a professional doesn’t have the entire solution to my problem.
Many times when attending a patient, I usually told him something like this: “Look, you can see that door over there, (and I would show the door to my office). What’s most important to your mental health is what you’re going to do from that door out; it’s what you’re going to think, it’s how you’re going to deal with your emotions; it is not the drug; It’s not me. It is what you’re going to do with what we work here in the psychotherapy office”.
Sure, medication can give you a little boost, but for Christians, I usually say medication is number three in that treatment. The number one is you and God. Number two is psychotherapy, and number three is medication.
It is important to remember that God has given us a conscience, given us freedom of choice. We have intelligence, we can think, we can learn to deal with difficult emotions. It is possible to learn. There is work to be done by every person who suffers emotionally, and that work cannot be replaced by the doctor, psychologist or counselor, nor by medication, even if they are natural medicines.
This work is what everyone has to do: it is to evaluate their thoughts, analyze their feelings and see if they are based in reality, if they are coherent, and decide to fight those thoughts and feelings that are unreasonable, that don’t make sense and that drown you in excessive anxiety and depression. Don’t let those negative, bad thoughts take over your mind all the time. Beneficial freedom in mental health is not thinking, feeling and doing what you want; it is thinking, feeling and doing what produces well-being, what produces serenity, what leads to a victory over the depressive state, the confrontation of compulsions, a reduction of high or exaggerated anxiety.
This depends a lot on where the person focuses. Mental health largely depends on what a person thinks most. It depends on the choices that he makes. There are people who have a lot of tragic thoughts, who suffer from panic attacks. Usually their thoughts are: Oh my heart is going to stop; Ah, I’m going to have a heart attack; Oh, I can’t breathe. At any little symptom in their body, at any normal sign, they already despair. If your heart accelerated a little because you took a run, or there was a little pain in your belly, you already think: Oh my, is it cancer? Am I going to have a heart attack?
This is a tendency to think tragically; and this has to be worked on, it has to be eliminated, it has to be corrected, because the drug will not change that. Often, people who feel mentally invalid, thinking they can’t do anything, can’t work, can’t get better, can resist the disease by refusing to surrender to this unhealthy state, and also avoiding doing nothing, believing that the medication will fix everything.
Everyone needs to face their pain and have an occupation suited to their strengths: Practicing physical activity outdoors, breathing deeply, exposing themselves to sunlight, drinking pure water throughout the day, avoiding alcoholic beverages, using a diet as close to vegetarianism as possible, all this helps the body and brain to function better. If the person is suffering emotionally, and if it’s not something serious like schizophrenia or a manic bout of bipolar disorder, it’s important that they take the step of doing something in their life that helps alleviate someone else’s suffering rather than staying idle, working selfishly like some, for the accumulation of material goods.
Not wasting precious time on frivolous entertainment also helps with mental health. You can have a fun time, but let it be something more productive and positive. When a very difficult ordeal happens in your life, instead of whining and cursing and feeling bitter, ask yourself: what can I learn from this? What is this painful situation trying to teach me? Open your mind to think about these things.
It takes a great deal of effort to change the current of thoughts of sadness, anxiety and excessive worry. But change is possible. Evaluate your thoughts. Are they negative? What are the thoughts that occupy your mind the most? You need to do this exercise. It can be tiring, it can be annoying, sometimes unpleasant, but it is necessary.
Of course, it’s much easier to go to the doctor, start taking the prescribed medication and then think: How good, I’m in Zen, I took a Rivotril, now I’m great, everything is fine. But wait a minute: your thoughts remain negative, so that medicine is not going to change those thoughts. No medicine can do for a person what he has to do for himself to be able to assess the type of thoughts he has the most, and the emotions he most allows to happen in his life, to see what is positive , what is not, what should be changed and what should not be changed.
Much of a person’s happiness, emotional recovery, treatment, healing, and mental well-being depends on fixing the mind on encouraging things, resisting the tragic and pessimistic thoughts that lead to sadness and anxiety.
You can think about the good things that have happened in your life. Be grateful for it. Talk about gratitude. Of course, during a psychotherapeutic treatment, there are moments for the person to vent, to cry, to express their anger – anger at life, anger at God, anger at those who are hurting them. Of course, this person needs acceptance and we will let them talk and vent, but at some point they will have to interrupt this, as they have had enough time to vent everything, and from there they need to change the way they deal with this pain.
It may take a few months of training the mind to stop anxious, pessimistic or depressive thoughts, and cultivate hope, gratitude, kindness, which help in the recovery of mental health, when developed. It can be a lengthy process, but for more determined people it can happen faster.
Sometimes you will treat two patients with depression. The first depressive patient says: “Oh, I can’t do anything, I won’t be able to improve, God has abandoned me, life doesn’t make sense”. He’s not yet ready to get out of that frame of mind. Another, also experiencing the same condition, says: “Look, I am suffering, I am sad, everything is very bad, I suffered a loss, but I know that God will help me, and I am willing to do whatever I can to receive help and get out of this suffering. The same disease, but with two different mindsets.
We don’t erase in a few weeks, in a few months, the consequences of years of negative tendency to think and feel. Often the person who comes to the office has been living for 15 years with a very tragic or anxious tendency to think and to live, and they want to solve this in one month, in three consultations, or with two drugs; but things do not work that way. Also, depression is a type of mental suffering that can have relapse, but a person can pick themselves up and start over with what they’ve already learned, that they know helps.
It is important to believe in the change that can take place in a person’s mind when he is willing to work properly to overcome his mental suffering. If a person really wants to get better, he will get better by practicing these changes in their thought patterns.
Stay Always Up to Date
Sign up to our newsletter and stay always informed with news and tips around your health.
Dr. Cesar Vasconcellos de Souza is working as a psychiatrist and international speaker. He is author of 3 books, columnist of the health magazine “Vida e Saúde” for 25 years, and has a regular program on the “Novo Tempo” TV channel.