Mind over matters

Tackling mental obstacles to a healthy mind and body

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 1/5/2012

Life can be an overwhelming process that produces more questions than answers. People feel a wide range of emotions during their lifetimes — from ecstasy to misery — that result from different circumstances experienced daily.  
Times have been particularly difficult lately for many, if not most, people. What should anyone do when things become too much to bear?
Different circumstances require different approaches. Many are suffering financially due to the ongoing recession, which appears to have no end in sight. People are losing jobs and homes and everything they’ve worked for, which can easily trap them in difficult to break cycles of depression, anxiety, boredom, lack of motivation and other obstacles that make existence that much more challenging.
Others are dealing with relationship woes or family issues or grief related to any number of calamities, both personal and global. A lot of people approach these issues with temporary solutions, such as prescription medication or other metaphorical Band-Aids, which in many cases can make the situation worse over time.
“All humans have patterns of thinking that are automatic, and that we are largely unaware of, that shift us into negative and positive mood states,” said Dr. Jessica Sanchez-Brown, a clinical psychologist based in Pasadena. “The key is to identify the negative ones and replace them with more positive, rational and helpful ones in order to improve mood, emotions and behaviors as well as how others respond to us.”
As minister, author and motivational speaker Norman Vincent Peale once put it, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”
The next step toward fixing these problems, as opposed to merely coping with them, is to not only recognize that a problem exists, but summon the courage to try to change the things that are causing the problem, according to Dr. Joseph Ho, a clinical psychologist from Pacific Clinics who specializes in working with children but works with adults as well.
“Consulting a professional, such as a mental health counselor or a psychologist, would be an important step,” said Ho. “One of the main positive intervention and protective factors is to have very strong social support.”
Most of these issues are interconnected. For instance, if someone is depressed and is experiencing a lack of motivation, more than likely they will feel disconnected from friends and family. Ho suggested that since people who feel depressed also experience loneliness, finding a strong social support network is critical to addressing those issues.
“Sometimes they overlap, but almost everybody experiences anxiety throughout their everyday life,” said Ho. “But sometimes it can be overwhelming, and that’s when you want to seek help.”
There are also a number of things one can do on his or her own to improve mental health, according to Sanchez-Brown. These include taking care of your body as well as your mind. Exercising, hygiene and eating nutritious, protein-rich foods on a daily basis are all relatively small tasks that can go a long way toward improving mental health.
Ultimately, however, if someone has problems that are affecting their mental health and everyday life, it’s entirely up to them to take those first difficult steps toward positive change.
“In many cases a person can only get help if they want help,” said Ho. “If you don’t want someone to talk to you and consult with you then those problems will persist. There’s also a social stigma. Some people tend to see mental illness as a source of weakness, which discourages who tend to feel alone and are affected more by depression and suicidal thoughts.”