Sunday, February 2, 2014

The 7 Habits of Mental Wellness: Habit 1 - Be Proactive

This is the second in the series: The 7 Habits of Mental Health Recovery - based on the late Stephen R. Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. See "The 7 Habits of Mental Wellness"  for the introduction to this series.

Habit 1 is Be Proactive. It is the habit of personal responsibility. Before I go into how it relates to mental health, let me give you a little background on proactivity from the late Stephen R. Covey.


Habit 1 basically says that ultimately we are in control of our own individual destinies by the choices we make and the actions we take. The results we experience in life stem from our responses to the various stimuli in our lives. Covey said that each time we experience a stimulus, no matter how quickly we respond there is a space between the stimulus and our response. No matter how small the space, it is in that space that our freedom to choose our response lies - and our freedom to choose is our power. It is by choosing to respond “responsibly” to the stimuli in our lives that we become proactive and thus more effective as people.


The other way we exercise (or don’t exercise) our proactivity is in what we choose to focus on. All our thoughts and actions are oriented around two areas: our circle of influence, which includes those things about which we can do something (e.g., the quality of our work, what we wear, what we say); and our circle of concern, which includes those things about which we can do nothing (e.g., the weather, the family into which we were born, world crises). Covey taught that our power lies in letting go of the latter, and focusing on the former - those things over which we have control. When we do so, gradually we gain more control over our lives and our circle of influence expands.


Now, what does one do when one is mentally ill - when one's space between stimulus and response is molecular in size or one is consumed with the things over which one has no control?

For many of us who are mentally ill, there is something we can do. If, for example, the stimulus is our cycling negative thoughts and amorphous fears, and our response is normally to dive head first into the Vortex, one can instead use that tiny space between stimulus and response to ask for help or accept an offer for help. If the stimulus is a chemical substance to which one is addicted, and the desire to use is so strong that it seems impossible to ignore, one can instead use the space to decide to seek treatment. Even if that is all we can do in the present moment, sometimes that's all it takes to expand our influence and change the course of our future.

For example, when I was at the end of my rope a year ago, and thoughts of death were comforting, not frightening, I didn't have it within me to help myself. The distance between stimulus and my response was really small, and my response was one-tracked, negative, and repetitive. But somewhere inside, my conscience tugged at me and I told on myself. I shared my thoughts with my husband; and he was able to get the help for me.

Here are some simple suggestions to help expand your circle of influence and widen that space between stimulus and response: 
  • ask for or accept an offer for help
  • take a walk
  • get out into nature
  • blog or journal about what you are going through and what you are feeling
  • do something creative (e.g., color, collage, scrapbook, cook a nice meal, dance, write a poem)
  • call a good friend
  • set a small goal and work to achieve it; then set a bigger one, etc.
  • go to a support group (e.g., AA, NA, depression/anxiety, ALANON...)
In addition, doing the following will chemically alter that distance between stimulus and response:
  • take your prescribed meds
  • get 8 hours of sleep
  • eat a protein-carb balanced diet (my idea, not necessarily that of your physician - check this out with her first)
Both lists represent simple things that will help connect you back into yourself, begin to respond proactively to your mental illness, and expand your control over your mind and your life. Give them a try and see what happens!

NOTE: Just a reminder again that I am not a doctor, nurse, psychiatrist, psychologist (yet!), mental health worker, etc. I am just a student and patient trying to find my own path to mental health. ;)

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