5 Meaningful tips to take your Mental Health to the Next Level

The Australian mental health budget for 2021 has nearly doubled that of last year at $2.3 Billion, yet there is no end to the mental health crisis in sight.

It is not that science is incorrect, it is more to do with how it is applied.

In this post, I’ll breakdown some of the healthcare constructs to make sense of why. It is important to understand that healthcare system operates efficiently by design. But this comes at the cost of overemphasis on procedures. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are highly effective when it comes to workflow but it is extremely short sighted when it comes to patient care.

Let’s briefly look at an example not related to mental health, such as cortisone injection for tendonitis in the ankle which is typically covered by healthcare insurance. Early interventions with a shoe insert can naturally align the foot and reaches the same outcome, but requires a lot more effort. This same quick fix procedure is applied when it comes to mental health and the result is a conveyor belt that is enormously costly to maintain.

It blows my mind that nearly 50% of all “recurring” ambulant calls in Australia are mental health or substance abuse related. This recurring influx means that healthcare professionals are trained to treat symptoms and don’t have time to provide awareness, let alone education.

In this  post I provide the desperately needed education, without the bandaid shortcuts.

Let’s look at  5 preventative measures that you can take so you don’t enter the healthcare system on the back-foot when the damage is already done.

#1 Withdrawal: the early signs

When your life starts falling apart, one of the first things that happens is self-induced isolation. This is a coping mechanism for the false belief that no-one will understand you.

This is the first sign of the dangers to come and if left unchecked, can lead to a vicious, downward spiral.

When someone enters this state, they become a danger to themselves not because they can’t be helped but because they reject all attempts of receiving help. Of course, this is not what they want but the neurochemical balance in the brain has shifted to a oxytocin-deprived state.

With the lack of oxytocin, it is very easy to lose trust, connection with yourself and others and the ability to receive affection. 

The best thing that you can do when you enter this state is go against your will and ask for help. It may hurt your pride, it may feel like it the last thing you want to do, you may feel embarrassed about people seeing you when you are “not yourself“. It is exactly in this moment that you need the support the  most.

There is no shame in asking for help!

Go through your phone contacts, email or friends list and look up someone who will not feed off your pain. Someone who will refrain from providing unsolicited advice. Someone who will ask: What can I do to support you?

#2 ADHD

Two thirds (64%) of all children diagnosed with ADHD are on medication. But why is brain activity altered in first place?

We all have background brain activity. These spontaneous intrinsic fluctuations are not happening at random but are part of an intricate network of brain structures know as the Default Mode Network (DMN). In ADHD, this network integrity is compromised (ref).

Our current treatment for ADHD includes Adderall, Concerta and Ritalin. These are all amphetamine stimulants that increase dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain which are short latency neurotransmitters. These drugs alter the neurochemistry of your brain without addressing what changes your neurochemistry in the first place.

Your brain chemistry is at the mercy of your heart. 

Your neurotransmitters are meant to fluctuate moment to moment and this is the response of the heart! Without being able to modulate neurotransmitters as a natural function of their heart rate, kids often feel jittery, out of place and even have mood swings. Appetite suppression may happen as the nervous system interprets this a fight or flight.

These are not side effects but a compensating mechanism of the brain to recover some form of balance!!!

When your heart rate changes so to does the neurochemical composition in your brain. Pumping chemicals into a developing brain is one of the worst things that you can do. What is required is Heart Rate Variability (HRV) training. I deep dive into how your heart rate alters your neurochemical composition in my HRV Masterclass.

#3 Depression

When the Central Nervous System (CNS) experiences something traumatic, we naturally go into a state of depression that prevents us from taking further action and allows the nervous system to recover. This process is called grieving and is perhaps the most essential step in recovery. I speak at length about the process of grieve in this post.

When we allow grief to run it’s natural course, the nervous system naturally recovers and we spring back in action. The danger is when the mind interferes with the process and fabricates negative thoughts. This is a trap!

When we become attached to negative thoughts, we struggle to break-free because this would go against what we believe in and suddenly we are held hostage by our own will!!!

It is not the thoughts that we need to change but the state from which they are coming from. Perhaps the easiest way to change your state is by doing physical activity. When you are paying attention to your body, it naturally takes your mind off the problem.

The psychological effects of physical activity has a second advantage which is to reduce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Movement also stimulates the release of endorphins which have an opiate-like analgesic effect and acts like a natural painkiller.

Movement may be the last thing that you wish to do – make a habit of doing it anyway.

#4 Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Having a bad day can turn into a horror story in your mind when your brain is wired towards catastrophe. Psychiatrist’s call this the negativity bias. In these moments, it is easy to feel restless resulting in shortness of breath, feel tightness across the chest and even a panic attack which in an instant: can immobilise someone.

Anxiety is essentially an overreactive fear network. Fear is relayed to the brain by a structure at the base of your brain called the Locus Coeruleus (LC). This immediately sends a shockwave like signal, alerting us to threat. Fear to perceived threats is suppressed by the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) by down-regulating the basolateral amygdala (BLA). These two brain regions are structurally connected by a white matter pathway called the uncinate fasiculus.

When someone has anxiety, the threat takes centre stage and remains at the forefront of their mind even though the shockwave has passed. 

It does not matter what we tell ourselves, the mind will find a way to make it into a problem because it perceives it as a threat. Positive psychology will only provide temporary comfort because, your thoughts don’t reflect your internal state. Learning cannot happen when there is a conflict of interest.

It is futile to talk yourself out of anxiety. What is required is for you to feel safe. Breathe.

Every time we inhale the heart rate rises, every time we exhale the heart rate slows down. By prolonging the exhale we can induces relaxation through this natural biological reflex. When you focus on breathing, it momentarily breaks the cycle of corrosive thoughts. The body recovers to a parasympathetic state and in this moment: you feel safe.

Kaushik Ram Vagal Breathing

Breathe by itself is not enough. Learn to meditate. Meditation is simply the observation of the mind. At first, it may seem that there is an avalanche of thoughts, yet we simply observe. By not interrupting or participating in thought, the momentum of thought starts to subside. We prolong this gap in our thought by focusing on breath

This rewires the PFC-BLA pathway to safety rather than catastrophe. The more you interrupt this self-destructive thought cascade, the stronger this pathway becomes. You can learn more about the vagal breathing meditation in my Train your Nervous System Online Course.

#5 Suicide

When it comes to suicide, we are all “at risk” and need a helping hand from time to time. People are very good at hiding their feelings and putting on a brave face. Internalising emotion will only create hate, resentment and pain. This suffering is self-inflicted and will only lead to self-destruction. Hurt people hurt people.

When Nelson Mandela was released after serving 27 years of a life sentence for fighting for the freedom of his people, he said:

No one is born hating another. We learn to hate. We can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart ~ Nelson Mandela

Love cannot be operationalised and therefore is not part of the healthcare standard operating procedures. But we can all learn to be more open and honest about our story. You will find that through vulnerability people will love you for who you are and also for who you are not.

We all know heartbreak and we all know what it feels like to be held tight. But the world doesn’t have time for this. As we struggle to keep up, we fail to realise how beautiful life really is.

We cannot love in a hurry. 

Turn your breakdown into a Breakthrough

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The Latest HRV Research. Learn to balance your nervous system for a full neurochemical recomposition without medication, meditation, positive psychology or complicated belief systems!

Feeling empty, uninspired and anxious? There is no need to worry yourself sick. Find the natural rhythm of your heart to feel strong, secure and confident in yourself!

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