Leon de Leeuw
Mental turmoil and the state of allowing
Sadly, mental health is very rarely discussed in everyday conversation. Even though most, if not all people, have their issues sometimes. Just like the human body, the mind can have its dysfunctions. It’s very normal to not always feel happy or optimistic. You’d be surprised how many people go through their own mental episodes. The mind is a beautiful instrument. Even though the human body decays and eventually will seize to exist, our brain can, in its current state, use its vast imagination. You can think any thought imaginable. You can place yourself in any situation, in any place in the universe. You can literally play any scenario like a movie. It’s a framework of your previous experiences, mostly from childhood, and your current view of the world. Your mind can project a seemingly real imagination and it will feel very real for you. Therefore, our mind often goes on and on imagining situations that might or might not happen. These thoughts are not always positive.
In some cases, the mind can turn itself against you. It doesn’t necessarily become an enemy inside your own body. It can, however, replay thoughts that you become attached to. In such case, you might grow to feel like a prisoner of your own brain. This is frightening, as an inexperienced person will likely not know what to do in such case. Depression or anxiety can take over a perfectly fine day and turn it into turmoil, leaving you feeling exhausted and tense.
Many stones are unturned. People don’t talk about what bothers them mentally, even though good friends and family will most certainly be open to listening to what’s on your mind. Another possible issue is that people don’t know how to deal with a friend going through mental turmoil. If it’s especially bad, a friend might even be overwhelmed by a sudden outburst. Often, people keep their feelings for themselves until they all come out. Then, a friend will be surprised and wonders where it all suddenly came from. Yet, they will do their best to help you. That’s what friends are for. It helps to just tell them you want them to listen to you. When you tell people what bothers you, unconsciously they’ll be thinking of a way to solve your problem. People are practical and like to provide advise. Sometimes unasked, yet always well-meant.
Your friend will in any case feel more at ease if you say you just want to be listened to. If people don’t feel like having to come up with a solution, they’ll hopefully be more focused on the conversation and listen carefully. Then, once you found someone whom will listen, don’t water down your thoughts. Get it off your mind and tell exactly what needs to be told. Air your mind, it will help give some clarity. You might feel a lot better once someone has heard your story. Perhaps, the friend already picked up some cues from your behaviour. Perhaps, you’ve been staying in more lately or you seem a bit concerned about some things going on in life. You’d be surprised how easily people pick up on these cues. Over the years, people tune into you. Sudden changes in behaviour will not go unnoticed. This is not a bad thing; we all feel a bit off sometimes so people will not directly see sudden behaviour changes as something to be concerned about. Life is hard sometimes and each and everyone will understand if you can’t bear it at some points. Your mind can, above all, make life seem much harder than it is. At other times, there’s things that happen in life that have a severe mental impact. We’ve all gone through such periods so there’s no need for any examples; let’s focus on how they feel.
It can sometimes seem like you’re alone in the world with your thoughts and troubled mind. People seem to walk along the streets doing their daily business. They seem turned into themselves, not having many problems. It’s like only your mind is running unnecessary errands. You’re overthinking something silly you said, or maybe it’s worse and you think a minor pain is a fatal disease. There’s countless tricks your mind can play on you to get you in its grip. It can be downright scary. You might have caught yourself off-guard a couple of times. After a while, you notice you’ve cast adrift. Lost in thought, you walk the streets or ride the bus and suddenly notice how unaware of your surroundings you were. You missed your bus stop or lost track of time completely. Your cheeks might be tense, a physical reaction to stress. You feel the shoulders are completely tense. You feel like you’re wandering an empty path through a dark forest. And even though people around you are bubbly and having fun, you might not be able to join this when you are worried or stressed. Whether this is actually depression or an anxiety disorder, I’m not the person to tell you. Yet, I can tell you there’s a way out. There’s not an easy way. There’s no quick way. Yet, you have to deal with it. There’s nobody to deal with it but yourself. People can listen and provide professional help. By all means, consider these if you find it necessary. You can’t run away from your own mind. Distractions such as fast entertainment, drinking or unproductive distractions only last that long. At the end of the day, you’ll find yourself in bed still anxious or stressed. Therefore, it’s good to start confronting your fears or (ungrounded) worries.
Some of the best ‘natural healers’ are friendship, for we lose ourselves when we share an experience with someone. You’ll get energized from being with a good friend, especially once you’ve managed to tell the person that you’re not always feeling well lately. You’ll get to a new level of trust with this friend, which can only grow your friendship. You talk about what bothers you, and perhaps your friend has something to disclose to you as well. You’ll then notice that you’d also like to offer a solution.
Strangely, thinking of a solution for others seems to be easier than for ourselves. I’m unaware of the exact reason but I noticed it myself. Perhaps, it might have something to do with that we’re our own biggest critics. Sometimes, negative self-talk, extreme judgement on one’s own status, performance or appearance, are downright hostile. Just a thought: would you talk to a good friend in the same way you talk to yourself? Unless you’ve gone through some phases of awareness and grew to become a self-confident person, most likely not. Yet, you tolerate your self-criticism. Why instead of being one’s own critic, not become a supportive friend to yourself? Cut yourself some slack. Realize that everyone is putting their best foot forward; you do not see what’s behind someone’s pretty face or what the person who seems to have it all together is battling with. You see the worst of yourself. And, you see the best of others. This is what they show you. It is, for that reason, not a good idea to continuously compare yourselves to others. Healthy competition, sure, but keep it in reasonable measures. If your mind seems to turn against you, you’re anxious or crippled by stress, just remember that many people go through it on a daily bases. You’re never alone in this. Billions of people have walked the earth with the same problems you face. They’ve kept it for themselves, they’ve disclosed it to loved ones, they’ve gotten through it. There’s no reason why you would not be able to.
One thing anyone can apply when thoughts seem to take over, is conscious breathing. If you tense up, you’ll realize you’re breathing with your chest only. This is shallow breathing. Your breathing has a direct relationship with how you feel. If you breath more slowly, from your belly this time, you can’t help but relax a bit. Stay conscious of the deep breathing you’re doing. Don’t exaggerate it, just remember to inhale deeply instead of just into your chest. It will be a whole improvement. Keep a straight posture. “The mind follows the body and the body follows the mind”. If you crawl up into a ball, breathe hastily and spend days indoors, you will grow to be more anxious. Especially if you’re already going through an episode. Compare this to when you’re on a mountain, standing straight, inhaling deeply. You can’t help but feel better, no matter how much the mind may bug you. The body and mind are connected. If you feel anxious, your whole physicality will live up to that feeling. Also, if you’re cocooned in a blanket on your couch, your mind will follow what the body is doing. The mind is directly influenced by what you do in this very moment. If you’re in an environment triggering anxiety, if you start breathing very shallowly, your mind will turn into its anxious state which you dislike so much.
Apart from the deep breathing, walking always helps. Any physical activity. If you’re in bed, exhausted and afraid, you shouldn’t stay there. Don’t sleep for twelve hours. Get out and take that walk. You will feel some relief. We’re made to move, do it at least every day. Take a walk around the block. Focus on the breathing. Each three steps you inhale, the next three you slowly exhale.
Now that you’ve changed your physical environment, moved a bit and improved your breathing, you’re halfway there. This will not dissolve your thoughts. You can still be raging on inside your head whilst taking a quiet walk. It doesn’t matter. Continue. There’s more you can do. Once home from your walk, take a hot shower. It can be nice and long. Use your favourite scrub, put some candles, maybe some music. Treat yourself. Be a friend to yourself. You would prepare a nice bath for your loved one, why would you not take the utmost care of yourself? Entirely personally, I think that it’s unhealthy that we tend to forget ourselves so much yet put others on a pedestal. Many people do themselves short just because they are programmed to please others. We should love ourselves just as much. In fact, we should love ourselves in the first place. Always. See yourself, your physicality, as a large bucket. It’s filled with all that you are as a person. A part of it is self-love. This part should be so large that, in fact, your bucket is overflowing. The remains of your self-love, you share with other people. Only if you love yourself, take care of yourself, you can take care of other people. You can take care of people when downright hating yourself, but it’s what I see as unhealthy.
Yes, it’s great to take care of other people. Even more so; it helps relieve anxiety. Taking care of others releases the hormone oxytocin, the so-called “cuddle hormone”. It’s a fascinating hormone you might want to look into. Or, just hug your best friend and have it released into your body instantly. I stick with my point: love yourself and then love others. You’re the only person you share your whole life with. There’s nobody who can and nobody who will be able to love you more than yourself. Then, share your love with others. It’s an emotion you generate. Once it’s inside you, only then it can ooze out into other areas of your life.
Now you’ve enjoyed your hot shower, pour a glass of wine and put on a good series. Practice your awareness, or do some meditation. A subject I’ve been studying for years with great fascination is the state of allowing. It’s a path that you turn into and, from that point on, you will not look back. It starts with you having to become more aware of your thoughts and surroundings. It helps to sit comfortably. Then, you can start the phase of allowing. It’s only observing your thoughts, see them pass by like clouds in the sky. You don’t engage with the thoughts, yet you also don’t try to get rid of them. Just observe them. Watch them come and go. Don’t become attached to any of them. You’ll get into a natural state of flow. A path of no resistance. Because, once you resist a thought, you will only strengthen it. If you look at a small mountain creek, you see the water rushing down. It has one and the same direction. There’s nothing moving up against the current. Everything moves downstream, nothing is struggling to make its way back up. You see that nature has no place for objects fighting the current. The flow is followed. If a fish were to swim against the current, it would only experience more resistance. It’s not doing the fish any good. Whereas if the fish just let go, it would follow the flow of life. The water will lead the fish. The fish lets go and trusts where it’s being taken to. In a state of allowing, you do the same. You stop trying to answer your anxious thoughts or worries. Don’t address them, don’t pretend they don’t exist. Don’t tell yourself they are just thoughts. Don’t tell yourself anything. Just look at them like a scientist observes a subject. Quietly. Let the thoughts pass by, imagine yourself looking at clouds. Even better, look at them on a cloudy day.
Once you practice this state of allowing, you’ll get more settled into it. It will become more natural. It’s not a technique. Don’t see it as such. Because, if you start using it as a technique, the mind will still find a way to influence you and keep you in its grip. The thing is that you don’t need to do anything at all but observing. And, this can be one of the hardest things to do for the mind. It might seem impossible at first. You must surrender to each thought. Let it have the best of you. Let it pass through. There’s nothing that a thought can do by itself. See your mind as a computer sorting out some updates. Remember the rattling noise old computers made? Your mind does the same. It has momentum and the momentum needs to run out. Your state of worry must lose its fuel. See the mind as a speeding car. As long as you keep fueling it, you keep the car speeding up. Now, just let it run freely. The car will eventually stop if you take no interventions at all. Each time you engage with a worry, you strengthen it. When you try to ignore it, you strengthen it as well. Let them sit where they are. They will pass by. Becoming comfortable in the state of allowing takes a lot of time. It might be a year. Start it. You will go through a phase of ‘release’. It depends on how much resistance you built up inside yourself how much the ‘release’ will bother you. It’s energy being released as you’re finally allowing it to pass through. It can be very uncomfortable. Yet, you can allow it. Nothing bad will happen in a state of allowing. Your resistance, built up through your life, is being released. It might take months to years for it to be completely released. You won’t reach a state of bliss. You’ll reach balance. One thing is for sure, each mind has its worries. Only if you can balance these with the positive things in life, will you live healthily and happily. A state of bliss is not natural either. If you released your resistance and have had many thoughts pass by, your state of allowing will become natural to you. You’ll be more grounded in your being. And, once you started, there’s no way back to the unaware, unconscious state the mind once found itself in.
The article I wrote is just a pointer for dealing with bothersome thoughts. For allowing them. It helps to seek help from friends and family, and, where needed, from counsellors. The only thing I want to share is what you can do yourself. It’s meant to make you think. Or, actually no, it helps to stop thinking some times. To look outside at the clouds, and give yourself a break.
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