RESET your mental health
How to reset your mental health by dealing with festering wounds.
WITH DR ALICE BOYES
Throughout life, we accumulate psychological wounds. Some are the equivalent of cuts and scrapes, and others are deeper traumas. When these blows don’t affect our functioning enough to cause a mental health crisis, we often ignore them and soldier on. But one way to bolster your mental health is to deal with festering wounds you’ve ignored. Here’s how. Recognise shame. Shame is a tricky emotion that’s often hidden underneath anxiety, anger, sadness or loneliness. Ask yourself if shame is underlying any emotions you feel more obviously. If a memory bothers you, is shame part of that? Try to detect shame you haven’t acknowledged and talk to yourself compassionately about it. Is your shame unwarranted? When did you do the best you could, but that felt not good enough? When did you wish your personality were di erent? Tell someone about it. Our experiences a ect our selfperceptions, often in unjustified ways. When you tell someone about an event you’re carrying di icult emotions about, that person can help you see what happened and your reaction in a new light. If you try telling one person and don’t get the support you need, try someone else. Target common wounds. Recognising a wound you’ve long ignored is half the work in healing it. To detect these hidden wounds, think about what experiences commonly cause lingering psychological e ects. People often have enduring sadness (and other emotions) about ventures that didn’t work out, or relationships that faded, like friends who ghosted us without explanation. Sometimes we need to work through having been deceived or lacking knowledge or skills. For women, being Mum-shamed is common, and mothers often experience pregnancy or birth trauma that goes unacknowledged. Consider a professional debrief. Sometimes debriefing with a relevant professional is what you need to move on from an experience or see it more clearly. For example, you might want to debrief with a midwife about your birth experience, or with a mentor about a work experience. Ask for an appointment specifically to address what happened that’s still bothering you. Understand how the past a ects you now. I’ve had some medical experiences that were scary but turned out to be nothing. For example, during my recent pregnancy, there were multiple times when scans needed to be repeated, only to show that nothing was wrong. Now, whenever I see a doctor, I’m fearful of that experience recurring. Of course, I’m scared of an actual problem, but also of the anxiety of investigations into potential issues that turn out to be non-problems. I told my newborn’s pediatrician about these experiences and her response was brief but very healing. She simply said I’d been the victim of misdiagnosis numerous times. I’d never thought of it that way. Whatever memories are lingering for you, how do they a ect how you see yourself and how you relate to others now? Have your experiences made you extra fearful? Have they made you avoid certain things? Have they made you distrust authority, institutions or people in general? Do they make you live for the moment, or make you never live in the moment? Once you’ve figured out how you’ve been changed by your experiences, do you want to allow those e ects? Do they serve you, or would a more flexible or nuanced approach suit you better? Minor and major traumas we haven’t acknowledged can a ect our emotions, self-perceptions, decision-making and relationships. It’s never too late to address them and gain new understanding, and it’s not always an arduous process to do so.