Late 2019 started the global pandemic crisis on COVID virus.  Since then, there has been drastic changes in our lifestyle, our diet and general hygiene too.  Needless to say, the abrupt change in our ways of life has taken a huge toll on our self-care, and especially our mental health.

What is mental health

While 2020 was the year of the worst days of the COVID outbreak, 2021 didn’t exactly turn out to be any better, especially for me.  Being an introvert might have saved my sanity in 2020, but getting into an accident in 2021 made self-care almost impossible for me.  All my good habits, exercise regimen and healthy eating went out the window.  The hard work was lost and I would have to rebuild myself again.

During those times, I was already suffering from the death of my best friend, and grief wasn’t exactly a nice thing to keep lingering while having to battle against economic difficulties during the pandemic, adding onto the burden of having to move jobs.  Mental breakdown was apparently happening to me.  

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. Over the course of your life, if you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood, and behavior could be affected. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:
  • Biological factors, such as genese or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
  • Family history of mental health problems

The origins of "Mental Health"

While mental health has been recognized for quite sometime now, I must have heard it more prominently in the news and on social media during the pandemic crisis.  With this, I did some digging and learned that "Mental Health" has been an idea since the early days of 1843!

At first it was coined as "mental hygiene" after the civil war, by the psychiatrist Dr. J.B. Gray.  His concern was to promote mental hygiene through education, culture and religion.  

In 1893, Isaac Ray, a founder of the American Psychiatric Association, provided a definition of the term mental hygiene as "the art of preserving the mind against all incidents and influences calculated to deteriorate its qualities, impair its energies, or derange its movements. The management of the bodily powers in regard to exercise, rest, food, clothing and climate, the laws of breeding, the government of the passions, the sympathy with current emotions and opinions, the discipline of the intellect—all these come within the province of mental hygiene." (Rossi, A., Some Pre-World War II Antecedents of Community Mental Health Theory and Practice. Mental Hygiene, 1962, 46, 78-98).

I strongly recommend reading this article.  It describes the evolution of mental hygiene into different institutions and people who promoted the importance of mental stability throughout history.

Why should we care?

Have you ever been through a heartbreak? A fight with your family or your closest friends? Didn't any of these affect the way you did your work or your day-to day functions?  These are simple examples of common stressors that affect our mental stability.

Good mental health is characterised by a person's ability to fulfil a number of key functions and activities, including: the ability to learn. the ability to feel, express and manage a range of positive and negative emotions. the ability to form and maintain good relationships with others.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a perfectly amazing day without anything bothering your thoughts and adding to your worries?  That's why we need to tend to our mental health.

On top of that, the lack of care for mental hygiene may possibly lead to worse illnesses and degeneration of memory and perception of happiness.

Here are some of the main groups of mental disorders that are known:

  • mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder)
  • anxiety disorders
  • personality disorders
  • psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia)
  • eating disorders
  • trauma-related disorders (such as post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • substance abuse disorders

While one might have a knee-jerk reaction and say they don't have a mental disorder in order to free themselves from stigma, I would like to call you out from doing that.

A mental disorder is nothing to be ashamed of.  I believe that, even anxiety and excessive worrying and/or ruminating from negative thoughts could be a form of mental instability.  A ruling on a disorder would surely come from a doctor's diagnosis of the patient; but only if the patient has been brave enough to consult a doctor.  Self-awareness and frequent reflection are important in gauging mental stability of oneself.

Is my mental health safe?

From experience and from research, I know that we may have all been through different forms of mental stress that took away stability and positivity in our lives.  Here are some causes of mental health illnesses:

  • Genetics (heredity): Mental illnesses sometimes run in families, suggesting that people who have a family member with a mental illness may be somewhat more likely to develop one themselves. Susceptibility is passed on in families through genes. Experts believe many mental illnesses are linked to abnormalities in many genes rather than just one or a few and that how these genes interact with the environment is unique for every person (even identical twins). That is why a person inherits a susceptibility to a mental illness and doesn't necessarily develop the illness. Mental illness itself occurs from the interaction of multiple genes and other factors -- such as stress, abuse, or a traumatic event -- which can influence, or trigger, an illness in a person who has an inherited susceptibility to it.
  • Infections: Certain infections have been linked to brain damage and the development of mental illness or the worsening of its symptoms. For example, a condition known as pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder (PANDAS) associated with the Streptococcus bacteria has been linked to the development of obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental illnesses in children.
  • Brain defects or injury: Defects in or injury to certain areas of the brain have also been linked to some mental illnesses.
  • Prenatal damage: Some evidence suggests that a disruption of early fetal brain development or trauma that occurs at the time of birth -- for example, loss of oxygen to the brain -- may be a factor in the development of certain conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder.
  • Substance abuse: Long-term substance abuse, in particular, has been linked to anxiety, depression, and paranoia.
  • Other factors: Poor nutrition and exposure to toxins, such as lead, may play a role in the development of mental illnesses.

While causes predispose you to become more susceptible to mental disorders, there's still a lot of factors to consider.  Here are factors that serve as triggers or stressors:

Psychological factors that may contribute to mental illness include:

  • Severe psychological trauma suffered as a child, such as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • An important early loss, such as the loss of a parent
  • Neglect
  • Poor ability to relate to others

Life events that can trigger are:

  • Death or divorce
  • A dysfunctional family life
  • Feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, anxiety, anger, or loneliness
  • Changing jobs or schools
  • Social or cultural expectations (For example, a society that associates beauty with thinness can be a factor in the development of eating disorders.)
  • Substance abuse by the person or the person's parents

As you can see, it might be more common to experience a little bit of mental instability.  While not every mental instability can lead to a disorder, it is still important to be vigilant and self-aware at all times.

My plight

The last three years have been extremely difficult for me. From the death of my dear best friend, my grief through me off course.  I lost days, weeks, months of my life.  I didn't celebrate anything because I was in pain.  Sadly, I let grief eat me away very slowly.  My memory started degrading.  I used to be able to tell dates and remember weeks of memories until I couldn't even remember this morning's meal, nor the day's date.  A year later, I was forced to move jobs and the difficult schedule took a big slice off of my health too.  I had a really tough time coping with juggling everything that's happening in my life and the things I had to attend to.

When I thought I was ready to move on, 2021 gave me another challenge.  I flew off my bike in an effort to swerve away from a motorist who had sped up instead of veering away from a cyclist merging into his lane.  My health has yet to suffer another setback.  It took me at least three months before I was able to start rehabilitation of my left shoulder.  

It was during these months that I considered getting two kittens.  I figured, looking after them would take my mind off my unchanging condition.  Within the year, I have repeated attempts to get back to my exercise routine and healthy habits.  Sadly, all of those attempts failed.  Not even a quarter into the year, one of my kittens fell ill with several diseases, and later on, he turned out to have feline leukemia.  Before the year ended, I had to deal with another death.  I couldn't figure out who to talk to.  

My partner dealt with the same losses I did, but he took it quite well.  Sadly, because of the lack of proper self-care, I couldn't come out of the series of unfortunate events in my life.  My new job was also putting a dent in my health and the difficulties of coping with work requirements; and the new environment is still very trying for me.

It felt very suffocating.  Being alone everyday (I'm a remote worker), was also not helping my condition.  I tried checking with several online clinics for a consultation with a mental health professional--but most clinics were either closed, not doing face-to-face consultations, or just unavailable.  I almost gave up, until..

Evolve Self PH

During these times, I found myself crying at work to my manager. My manager, she was my ray of sunshine as she listened to me and encouraged me to seek professional help. Thankfully, I found Evolve Self on Instagram.  

Evolve Self has different avenues to connect with you to offer their services.  I'm so glad they did.  I immediately scheduled a voice call with them, as I felt I would be a bit uncomfortable with a video call, and a chat would be too slow and impersonal for me.

Who is Evolve Self PH?

It is COGNITIVE-BEHAVIORAL POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY-BASED life coaching services, wellness coaching services, and venting out services. The main goal of Evolve Self PH is to help its clients EVOLVE - GAIN a RATIONAL, OPTIMISTIC, and WORTHWHILE Mindset about oneself, one's world, and one's future. The services can be availed anytime at the comfort place of the clients. Clients can choose what mode of communication they preferred. It could be via chat, voice call, and video call. Clients can also request webinars that are related to psychology and mental health.

In addition, Evolve Self PH also creates online podcasting via Facebook live. The topic are mostly about how to take good care of mental health. Everyone is welcome to listen. Aside from podcasting via facebook page, the public can also learn some content about mental health via Evolve Self PH Facebook page and Instagram page.

Evolve Self PH is founded by Bernadette P. Sabater. She is a licensed Psychometrician, certified life coach, certified wellness coach, and certified health coach. She graduated at University of Santo Tomas-Legazpi with the degree of Bachelor of Science major in Psychology in 2019. She is top 1 in professional audit in Abnormal Psychology, Industrial Psychology, Psychological Assessment, and Theories of Personality during her college days. She is also a top 1 in the mock board exam of Pathways International Review Center. With the same year, she passed the licensure psychometrician board exam with a good rating. She also went to Medicine school to pursue Psychiatry since she is passionate about understanding mental health concerns but later on she decided and find her way to study Master’s in Clinical Psychology at the University of Santo Tomas. Thus, she is currently studying her Master’s in Clinical Psychology at University of Santo Tomas to become a licensed psychologist soon. She believes that mental health is a vital aspect just like physical health. Everyone’s mental health should be a priority. Second, people should never judge and degrade what someone is going instead we validate and help what we can do. Remember “we all need guidance in our life, especially during our darkest moments”. Support our loved ones, friends, and the people around us. Depression can hit the strongest, smartest, most successful, and even the most religious. If their kindness and positive energy has ever saved you please let your empathy save them back during their darkest moments.

- from Evolve Self PH

About self care

Self-care is such a big yet vague buzzword these days.  On a personal level, it means looking after the self in terms of physical, emotional and mental health.  It means recognizing that our individual selves require time and attention, too, as much as our jobs and day-to day functions.

With our unique personalities, there are different ways we can come to enjoy self-care.  However, some general guidelines include:

  • Get regular exercise. Just 30 minutes of walking every day can help boost your mood and improve your health. Small amounts of exercise add up, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t do 30 minutes at one time.
  • Eat healthy, regular meals and stay hydrated. A balanced diet and plenty of water can improve your energy and focus throughout the day. Also, limit caffeinated beverages such as soft drinks or coffee.
  • Make sleep a priority. Stick to a schedule, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Blue light from devices and screens can make it harder to fall asleep, so reduce blue light exposure from your phone or computer before bedtime.
  • Try a relaxing activity. Explore relaxation or wellness programs or apps, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy activities you enjoy such as journaling.
  • Set goals and priorities. Decide what must get done now and what can wait. Learn to say “no” to new tasks if you start to feel like you’re taking on too much. Try to be mindful of what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
  • Practice gratitude. Remind yourself daily of things you are grateful for. Be specific. Write them down at night, or replay them in your mind.
  • Focus on positivity. Identify and challenge your negative and unhelpful thoughts.
  • Stay connected. Reach out to your friends or family members who can provide emotional support and practical help.

I know that some of the guidelines seem to use very big words.  If you find yourself wondering what activities you enjoy, I highly recommend picking up a journal. When a feeling strikes, write it down.  Soon, you will know what makes you happy, what makes you sad.  This will help you understand yourself; and also identify activities that uplift your mood when you are down.  These would come in handy when you are dry and out of creative ways to stay positive.  

When in need

When you understand yourself, you will be better equipped to fight against the early signs of mental instability.  Here are some early warning signs of trouble:

  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • Pulling away from people and usual activities
  • Having low or no energy
  • Feeling numb or like nothing matters
  • Having unexplained aches and pains
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • Yelling or fighting with family and friends
  • Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Having persistent thoughts and memories you can't get out of your head
  • Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
  • Thinking of harming yourself or others
  • Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school

When I spoke with Tin of Evolve Self, I admit I had a lot of these warning signs.  It almost felt like I was a stranger to myself.  During our call, at the start, I was reluctant to openly accept her words as I poured out my emotions onto her.  However, I was deeply grateful that I did soften my heart to a stranger who was willing to share her time with me.  She went above and beyond in making sure I felt safe and that I accepted how normal my current emotions were.  I didn't need to validate them. It was mine and it was okay.  I was grateful for her words that were like pieces of artifacts falling from heaven, making me realize how I could integrate them into my current situation.

Some might say, if you have family and friends, why look for some stranger to talk to? Good question. Read on..

For so many reasons, with familiarity being the top reason, pouring out your concerns to your family might be bringing a wounded self to the place of injury.  And, somehow, speaking to a friend might conjure up familiar words and phrases you've been hearing all your life.  It would be like arming yourself with the same weapons that you somehow already have in your arsenal.  You may also feel a bit awkward discussing your issues with someone you already know, or even feel afraid of being judged.

I know that a professional would always respect your privacy and values, and in the same way, they carefully address the root of your pain without injecting their own values onto you.  It is highly recommended to find a professional you can trust and with available avenues that make you feel comfortable.

Before you go..

If you should take one thing from this article, it is that mental instability is normal and nothing to shy away from.  Know where to seek help and support and always be in introspection with your individuality.

Don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or concerns.  Be safe and healthy always.