When you think about depression or anxiety, what kind of image do you have about them? You may think that they are problematic or bad emotions that you would like to get rid of.
In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Month, I would like to challenge that idea! I believe feelings of sadness, worries, and anger are all normal human emotions. What we may want to try is accepting them to manage them, rather than rejecting them.
To begin the journey of acceptance, we may want to start with understanding where this negative image of emotions and mental illness is coming from.
Some studies stated that healthcare providers painted a negative image of people with mental illness for a long time. Many health system or medical field focuses on pathologizing people based on symptoms, which lead us to believe those symptoms as “problems.”
I also believe that culture or Precisionism and ablism play a role in us rejecting any feelings that have negative connotations.
For people experiencing emotions that are overwhelming or impacting their daily functioning, it is understandable that they want to get rid of them. However, rejecting those emotions does not usually help alleviate pain. Rejection of emotions often becomes an avoidance or causes people to ignore their needs. I think self-validating the pain can often help start the process of healing and acceptance.
Then how do we accept our emotions? What does it even look like?
Here is an example story that I love to share. In the Netflix Explained series (Mind Explained: Season 1, Episode 4): while a Buddhist monk explained how he practices mindfulness and medication, he described how he “befriended” his anxiety. During meditation practice, he watched the anxiety coming into his mind, then he said “Hello anxiety” instead of pushing it out. As he practices more, he learned how to keep the anxiety at the bay, and managing it, so that it does not take over his life.
This story personally resonated with me. Instead of rejecting his feelings, he welcomed them in and created a space in his mind for them, where he can observe and understand them.
Sadness, worries, or anger are part of human emotional expressions, which means that they have purposes. They are maybe trying to tell you that “you are doing more than enough” or “stay safe! This is not healthy for you” by bubbling up on the surface of your mind.
This month, I hope we all can befriend our emotions with some compassion. Maybe it will open up the door to the journey of acceptance.
A strength-based approach to mental health recovery: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939995/
NetFlix Explained Series: Mind Explain Season 1 Episode 4 “Mindfulness Explained”