2020 Mental Health Toolkit, Part 1: Awareness & Acceptance
As those of us in the mental health field know all too well, the human brain is a funny – and powerful – thing. It’s not really programmed for calm awareness & acceptance. On one hand, we are wired to look for negative experiences more than positive ones. It’s a fabulous survival mechanism that has served us well through past generations. Our amygdalas do a stellar job of scanning for danger to keep us safe.
On the other hand, we don’t like discomfort and will go to extreme lengths to escape suffering. We will ignore painful facts and avoid reality to escape pain. As fickle, funny humans, we’re both seeking out disruption & drama… and, at the same time, implementing elaborate strategies to avoid it. Our systems both crave regularity & stability; and, especially once there’s been trauma, are programmed to seek out danger & disruption.
“Accept what is; create only good…”
One tool that might serve us especially well in 2020 (and probably 2021, which shows no sign of calming down!) is to practice awareness and acceptance. This is a middle place in between the duality of both avoiding pain and seeking it out. Awareness asks us to look at what really is: not what we want to happen in the future, or run away from past pain, but rather sit with what is happening right here, right now.
No sugar coating, no demonizing, just the facts, including whatever emotions are coming up for us in this moment.
As you’ve probably seen in your clients, we have a tendency to either numb our feelings: dismiss, avoid, or invalidate them… or to get carried away by them: caught up in the drama of the story. By starting with awareness – and tuning into our bodies – we see, hear, feel, and acknowledge our experience, even if our emotions are scary or we think they might overtake us.
We face what is and give it the respect it deserves. When we can sit with reality, we develop the strength to not let it overwhelm us. Can we accept what is without needing to immediately do something about it?
In many ways, it’s about getting out of our heads and into the full experience, giving the brain a break from what it does best and letting our bodies inform us too. Using our breath to calm the nervous system and help us acknowledge & accept what is.
“It is what it is…”
Can we move towards the pain, fear, suffering, and uncertainty of these intense times without shrinking away from the vulnerability it taps inside of us? Can we face the fire without needing to explain it away with easy answers or conspiracy theories? Clarity provides a road map for our next step; but without awareness & acceptance, we may continue to stumble forward with cloudy vision.
In order to change or shift anything, we must first be able to stay in the hot seat of awareness & acceptance. Without running away or getting carried away; without trying to fix, heal, or destroy. Although it’s hard work and can feel very scary & uncomfortable, it’s the first step towards inner freedom and empowerment. Try practicing this skill of awareness & acceptance, and see how it might open you up to the world around you…
Tools for a New World
Check out our COVID-19 Mental Health Checklist for more practical ways to tackle the intensity of 2020 – and beyond!