The more we learn about racism, colonialism and poverty, the more we are prone to see the world in a negative light. The more we search, the bigger the web of oppression. But whilst it’s of great importance that we have a better understanding of reality, we must be continually aware of how this information is affecting us.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the harsh facts and forget about our own mental health. If we are very politically involved, we may completely negate our own desires in favour of a dream of world peace. We might align ourselves to the political struggle so much that we cannot see ourselves as individuals. In this way, the world’s issues can become intricately attached to our own. And since these problems only seem to increase, so too may ours.
As a result, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues can start to eat away at us without us realising. One may think, ‘but it’s my obligation to take part in political dialogue, to read about the atrocities and to protest’. This may be true, but we don’t have to become unhappy people in the process.
There has been a recent rise in discussions about both social problems and mental health. This is an important step in the right direction. This is because under all the political terms, we can often lose sight of the fact that we are discussing the health and wellbeing of human beings. At root, this is the main issue. From poverty and economic disparities to racism and sexism, it is all about the consequential effects on people’s health, bodies and minds. Therefore, if the overall aim is to create better wellbeing, we should always remember to apply the message to ourselves.
As we navigate around such sensitive and complicated topics, we must be continually aware that we are psychological beings. We are not tools for the revolutionary struggle, but human beings who take on the feelings of others. And although it’s easier said than done, it’s important that we monitor what we are internalising. There are situations when it’s necessary to turn away and come back to the subject another time. To come back to it when we are better able to process the information.
Allow me to give an example. At the start of my five month trip in Jamaica, I would spend my days reading about Jamaican history. At first it intrigued me. I was fascinated by the resilience of my ancestors and how they had created their own hybrid culture. But as I delved further into the subject, I realised many harsh truths about the history. Jamaica suddenly seemed less beautiful. As the days went by I would start to see the lingering traces of slavery everywhere I turned.
It twisted me up. It was one thing to read about slavery and colonialism from the comfort of a library in Britain. It was another thing to lift my head up from the books and see slavery’s effects around me. It became difficult to stop my negative thoughts. I continually connected the historical dots, unable to conceive of a positive interpretation of the facts. At some point I realised that for the sake of my wellbeing, I would have to stop this kind of analysis. I decided I would take up the study again at another point in time.
For anyone who has ever had anxiety, they will know the feeling of grasping for positivity whilst looking through a negative lens. Through this lens, history seems only to be about greed and selfishness. The bad things come in very tangible terms like ‘exploitation’ and ‘enchained’ but the good things seem hard to conceive. The weight of it presses down on the mind. What I didn’t realise in the moment was that my anxiety was being triggered. As my anxiety got worse, the worse the history appeared.
The best way to treat anxiety is to remind oneself that everything will be alright. It is to take one’s mind off the things that are making one anxious. The art of being mindful is to be aware of how certain thoughts are affecting our feelings. If a negative thought arises, it’s important to simply brush it away and make a conscious effort to think about something else.
If we have anxiety we should leave what is making us unhappy and apply our minds to the things that make us smile. If we are creative, we can find comfort in artistic expression. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. It can be as simple as calling a friend who makes us laugh or watching a television show that we enjoy. It’s important to become grounded in what is in front of us and realise the immediate comforts. The trick in overcoming anxiety is understanding that we are in control of ours thoughts. It is not the other way around.
Healthy mental habits are not about neglecting the issues. They about refreshing the brain. We can better tackle the hurdles when we are of clear mind. There is no race to understanding history and politics. We need to allow ourselves room to take it all in. Besides, the most important journey is that of self-understanding. Sometimes it’s ok to say ‘I’ve done enough’.
We are all taking a noble step by even contemplating the philosophical and political issues. Therefore it’s important that we congratulate and treat ourselves for taking this leap into the unknown. It is a difficult road but we can take consolation in the fact that we are putting in the effort to broaden our understanding. Many people would rather take an easier option. The least we can ask for is our own personal happiness.
Now it could be argued that the process I have just explained is a privileged luxury. Many people in the world are going through traumatic experiences that they are unable to turn away from. This is true. But we will be of more help to a positive cause if we are in the right state of mind. Mental health problems will only stand in the way.
It must also be remembered that my solution is what works for me. There are a range of different treatments for other mental health issues. The important thing is to be open to talk about them and to seek help when needed. We don’t need to feel like the world is on our shoulders. There is beauty in front of us but its appearance just depends on our perspective.