One word that can change our relationship to mental health

As a clinical hypnotherapist and mindfulness coach people often come to me with a range of mental health issues. Fears/phobias, anxiety and depression are always top of the list. Often my clients believe that the problem has been there so long that it is unlikely to go away. From my experience this is not the case and the irony is that the greatest problem is not the problem itself but the clients' relationship to the problem.

Let me explain. Andrew came to see me the other day with a fear of public speaking. He blushed and felt his heart beating fast whenever he spoke. It became so bad that he started avoiding any situations that involved him speaking to more than one other person. Over time he started to avoid more and more situations and he felt ashamed and inadequate at his inability to overcome the fear.

Andrew was worried that the fear would inhibit his career and hold him back in other aspects of his life. As a result he became fearful of the fear. He didn’t want it (who would?!). BUT (and this is key) the fact that Andrew was so keen to not have the fear meant he actually became more and more aware of its existence.

If right now I said to you I don’t want you under any circumstances to imagine an elephant floating through the sky from a hot air baloon .. what’s the first image comes into your mind? The mind doesn’t understand the negative - it will go where we tell it not to, whether we like it or not. If we fight the mind it will always win! It’s the same with fear. The more we don’t want fear to be there, the more we notice it. The saying “what resists persists” couldn’t be more true when it comes to mental health.

Acceptance and mental health

So what’s the answer? Acceptance is a word that always brings up a mixed response, but let me explain. Accepting a problem is not resigning yourself to it. If we find ourselves in quicksand and we resist and fight it, we will sink deeper. Equally if we give up and resign ourselves to the fact that we are there forever we wouldn’t bother to call for help or find a way out. If however we can accept where we are in that moment we are able to remain calm and composed and find a way to exit the sand to safety (word has it that this is lying down and rolling out of the sand BTW!).

So when it comes to mental health, step number one is always acceptance. Without this we are stuck, trapped and in a state of perpetual resistance. Acceptance is not saying it is OK. It’s not. But right now in this moment the problem is here whether we like it or not. Accepting what is here right now is actually the opposite of resignation or giving up. We are not losing hope but making peace with whatever is already here today. We are freeing ourselves from the fight. When we do this we can approach the problem from a calm clear place. We are back in control and it is from this place we can find a way forward.