By Juliet Mashiri
For a long time, I assumed that if I had any problems that I was dealing with I was supposed to, ‘take them on the chin’ and just tough it out. If it became too much I would just have a little cry and carry on. No one needed to be burdened with my problems. This is something that was unconsciously conditioned within us as we grew up, especially Africans, it just wasn’t the norm to make people aware of your problems. Unfortunately, some of the few instances I chose to confide in someone the information became common knowledge and I never want to believe that it was with malicious intent but sometimes as humans, we tend to find joy in the misfortunes of others.
I was fortunate enough to go to a school that encouraged open discussions about whatever we were dealing with within safe spaces and we also had teachers who were qualified to counsel us. Before that, I thought therapists only existed in movies, with their couch for you to recline on and the therapist speaking in a monotonous voice. Because of this preconceived idea in my mind of what a therapist was and also from past experience, I was apprehensive about seeking help but I realised bottling things up was not an effective coping strategy.
In hindsight, I can now say seeking professional counselling is one of the best decisions I have ever made. My counsellor helped me with strategies on how to cope with anxiety and how to be proactive in making my mental health a priority. One of the methods she introduced to me was the ABCD technique, which stands for :
A – Activating event(s)
This can be described as a trigger event. It primarily deals with the actual event or situation. For example, you were given a work assignment that you made a mistake on.
B – Beliefs
This asks an individual to analyse the thoughts or emotions they had as a result of the event. Sometimes these beliefs might be positive or negative. For example, after having made a mistake on your work assignment you start to think you are stupid.
It is therefore essential that after analysing your thoughts, you identify whether your beliefs were correct or incorrect.
C – Consequences
Consequences are the outcome of the activating event and beliefs. For example, as a result of the work situation, you become unmotivated to do any further work.
D – Distractions
Once you have identified your thought patterns. If you tend to have negative thought patterns you want to interrupt them by distracting yourself so you can break the cycle. For example, you can wear a wristband on your wrist. When you find your mind wandering into negative thoughts you can snap the rubber band against your wrist. The sting reminds you to stop thinking negatively.
Distractions can only help so much. You need an effective coping mechanism to help you with negative thoughts, emotions or behaviours and this is replacing the negative with a positive. For example, you make a mistake and you berate yourself by saying you are stupid, you now replace this thought pattern by saying, “ I am not stupid. People make mistakes every day but I choose to learn from my mistakes. This situation has now given me insight into my work ethic and how I can improve my work.”
These strategies helped me to identify my triggers, analyse why it was I felt that way, realise the consequences that came as a result of the event and beliefs and how I could take ownership of the outcome for the better. Over time, my counsellor and I established a deeper trust in our relationship. With my consent, she also contacted certain teachers whose subjects I had been struggling with as a result of performance anxiety. I was able to get remedial lessons and my teachers were more patient with me. I regained self-confidence in my abilities and excelled in the subjects I used to struggle with.
I have realised that when it comes to mental health if you do not make it a priority no one else will, the people around you can only do so much. Seeking professional help is not a weakness but a strength. Ways to take care of your mental health can also come in the form of :
-Reducing digital screen time
-Social media detoxing
-Spending time with those you love
-Taking up a new hobby
-Self-care days where you treat yourself
-Or sometimes just resting to restore your energy levels
As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, it is paramount that mental health issues be discussed openly in safe spaces. There are lots of people who stay silent because of fear of judgement and thinking they are alone. My message for you today is that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Your issues are valid and there is a way for you to start having control over your mental health, you just have to take the first step.
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