Our son inherited my upturned nose, light skin and fine brown hair. At nine years of age, he’s a happy-go-lucky child – always telling jokes and laughing, loves riding his bike and playing with his friends. We’re in the golden-age of childhood right now, well beyond diapers and colic and well before the angst of adolescence.
As the teenage years approach, however, my biggest concern is his mental health. The panic disorder which derailed my life for a year most likely began in high school. Disorders of that nature were not recognized and, thus, went untreated.
Should his sunny outlook start deteriorating, I want him to know that he can talk to us. There is far less stigma attached to mental health treatment and – trust me – we know how to navigate the system to get help, and quickly. There is no need to be in physical or emotional pain.
I want him to know that his brain is like a muscle – the more he exercises it, the stronger it becomes. Practicing these exercises at every opportunity will increase his emotional resilience:
- Eliminate all expectations. Go in to every situation and every relationship expecting nothing. Bring all you can – your best work, your most loving self – but stop all thoughts pertaining to outcome.
- Do not anticipate or catastrophize. It’s so easy to jump to the worst case scenario, or get caught up in “what if” thinking. Bring yourself to the present moment by repeating “I am here, now” in your head.
- Disengage with negative people. You cannot avoid these energy vampires – some are at work, some are in our families, some are in line in the grocery store. Interacting is much easier if, when you first see them, say (in your head) “disengage”. This sounds very Star-Trek-y, which will hopefully make you laugh, but it also has the benefit of erecting an invisible barrier. No matter what they say or do, they will have no power over you. Disengage.
- Stop taking anything personally and check to see if you are basing your actions on feelings or facts. Gathering all the facts in the hardships you face is the starting point for putting together a plan of action. Be aware that your feelings can cloud the facts.
- Occasionally you will make bad choices. Accept responsibility for your actions and do what you can to make amends. Don’t blame, don’t be a victim, and when you’ve done all you can to right the wrong, move on.
- Biological factors have a huge impact on how we see ourselves and the world. Before getting upset, ask yourself: have I eaten regularly today? Did I get a good night’s rest? Am I coming down with a bug?
- Watch your friends for signs of distress. Be there for them with gentleness and humour. Give them help and hope.
Finally, remember that being kind to yourself is as important as being kind to those around you. You cannot give of yourself if your emotional tank is empty. Engage with nature, friends, family. Do what brings you joy, and you will be better equipped to spread kindness and love wherever you go.