When I mention my husband and I go to therapy, I feel the need to quickly assure my listener that in fact, everything is going just fine. You see, I never hear someone question why we go for a bike ride, or attend our weekly yoga class. Shopping at Whole Foods or buying organic produce is not questioned but supported. And of course, if we are feeling under the weather, we must certainly go to the doctor.
Yet, what comes to mind when you think of “mental health”? Suddenly, the proactive ways we care for ourselves and our relationships are replaced with the dark images of mental illness. And even for those of us who may be suffering with the depths those images hold, The World Health Organization cites that only one-third end up seeking care. In times when we have daily practices that care for our body, or when we are quick to find reprieve when we are sick, why do we treat our brain (such a key piece of our body) any differently?
This little word “stigma” has made it so; I’m not only needing to clarify why proactive therapy is an essential part of our home, but defending why it should be. And if perhaps you are wondering quite the same question, I hope you keep reading.
In between my weekly loaves of bread and growing my culinary skills, I’ve spent the last several months of graduate school studying Positive Psychology. As I reflect on the definition mentioned above, I begin to understand why we might have shied away from mental health in the past. Traditional ideas of mental health have a reputation for pointing out and digging in on many of the things that appear to be “wrong” with us. While I don’t believe that is an entirely fair description, I do empathize with the weight of it. And I’d like to propose a new one.
Positive Psychology has a well, positive, way of using all of the things that are good in ourselves, in our life. With this awareness of the things we have going for us, we use them to propel us forward, be that to find a way out of bed on the darkest of days, or to soak in more joy on the good ones. And it works in all situations too. If we are dealing with a diagnosis, a life challenge weighing on our days, this positive tool is one way that we can deal with our challenge while using the pockets of light that exist to move through it.
Just like we don’t only think about our physical health when we go to the doctor, our mental health is the same. On days when things might be feeling just fine, positive psychology is a way for us to feel more in connection with ourselves, our head and heart, and the people around us, and continue growing. I don’t know about you, but in a world where we are dealing with an awful lot, and where we can prioritize putting on our nightly skin cream, feeling even a bit more joy on the inside sounds quite nice to me.
After reading Positive Psychotherapy from Dr. Tayyab Rashid and Dr. Martin Seligman, I noticed shifts in the way I handled mental health in my own life, how I slowed down and felt what it means to see joy, how I stopped to smell the summer air. Here are a few key points from the text that I believe can help you do the same:
One tool used in the text is savoring, and it is exactly as it sounds. Think for a moment of those late nights, gathered around the table, how sweet those sips of wine are. We live in a world where we move pretty fast. We are all too quick to fly by these moments of joy in our everyday, which means our brains don’t get much of a chance to benefit from them. Practicing intentional savoring helps us get in the pattern of slowing down and soaking in all of that light.
To practice savoring, I like to gather around the table and take in the feeling of the light, the smells, the taste. One of my favorite bottles to practice with is the most beautiful dance of flavor, Love You Bunches from Stolpman Vinyards.
Perhaps you’ve heard that giving a gift brings just as much joy to yourself as it does the recipient. Gratitude has a wonderful way of working much the same. By pausing to think about what is going well in our lives, it puts our brain in a positive space. When we take it a step further to share our gratitude with someone else, it amplifies the benefits for us, while bringing light into someone else’s day too.
I firmly believe in the art of writing letters, especially a “just because” note. Spread some love to someone who makes a positive impact in your life. Write down what you admire about them, some of their strengths, or how they’ve impacted you. I adore this set from Jaymes Paper with sweet prompts to get you started.
Taking care of our head and heart can be as simple as picking up pen and paper. And even if you don’t view yourself as a journaler, I hope you’ll stay with me. The act of writing, no need to put it in any certain form, can help in a number of ways. Whether it’s taking a moment to acknowledge something you’re proud of, or that went well, it requires us to stop and be with that good thing. If you’re navigating a challenge, a blank page is a space all your own to write whatever is on your heart (and filling up your mind.)
Think for a moment of what you most enjoy doing. Maybe you lose track of time, and it feels particularly seamless for you…creating, connecting, ideating. One way I use my creativity or expression of love is through cooking. The magic of using our strengths isn’t only that we feel happy doing it. No matter what is happening in our day, using our strengths can wash over us with a light wave, filling our brains with that positive feeling, and no longer leaving space for what might have been consuming our thoughts before.
Identifying our strengths is helpful so we can be more mindful of using them. Dr. Tayyab Rashid and Dr. Martin Seligman recommend the VIA Character Assessment. Take the free quiz and encourage your loved ones to do it too. Share your answers, and let one another know when you see those strengths.
Here’s to you, your happiness, and all of your light.
Tayler is a graduate student, soon-to-be therapist, and mental health advocate. She believes we can all take care of our head and heart everyday, and shares how in her writing and on her website www.tayduden.com and Instagram @tayduden. As a lover of people, food, and stories, she combines them all in her podcast, Baking Bread. Over food or drink, she connects with others, hears their stories, and talks about what it really means to connect with ourselves and others. You can often find her in the kitchen, dancing to 80’s music with her husband and their terrier mix, Mia.