Horrid brain, always trying to put a downer your day, throwing up troubling feelings, flashbacks, and fears. From depression to anxiety to PTSD symptoms, is there nothing the brain won’t do to make you feel bad?
Don’t get mad at your brain for the pain it causes. It isn’t deliberately being a nuisance; it’s doing something very intelligent. If you understand the purpose of mental health symptoms, you can befriend your grey matter rather than treating it as an enemy. And you should value your brain, because it is part of you, and you are not the problem.
Trust Your Brain
When you suffer from poor mental health, it can be overwhelming. You may feel like you can’t survive what you’re going through. You may tell yourself that you can’t cope — even when you are coping.
A vital thing I have realized as a therapist, and from overcoming years of my own mental health issues, it is that the brain doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.
It sometimes feels like you can’t carry on, but that’s because you don’t understand or trust your brain. I say that as someone who tried to commit suicide seven times. In those dark days, I thought my mind was an instrument of torture rather than a clever device for healing. If I’d realized my symptoms were allies, not enemies, I wouldn’t have been so despairing.
Get The Message
It can be hard to trust an organ that seems intent on putting you through hell, but the brain produces symptoms to give you an important message. You probably know that dreams are a symbolic way of processing your daily difficulties. Mental health symptoms also contain messages and symbols, but they point to the past rather than the present.
This is not just the case for people with PTSD, which is obviously due to past trauma; it’s also true of most mental health disorders, from Borderline to bulimia. Many psychologists consider eating disorders as a way to control the present; but past events must have taught sufferers that harming themselves is the safest way to gain perceived control. So, an eating disorder is still a result of the past, in my personal and professional opinion.
Your brain creates painful symptoms in order to get your attention. It wants to help you solve your problems. It wants you to look closely at the past. Your brain is not punishing you; it’s trying to protect you and show you where you need to heal from past wounds.
How Mental Health Symptoms Form
The brain is the center of the nervous system and records–either consciously or unconsciously– every experience you have ever undergone. Unconscious recordings are simply things you don’t remember; this can be because you were too young, the memory was very traumatic, or even that the event didn’t seem to warrant much attention.
But your brain knows that everything you experience is part of who you learn to become. It also knows that who you become is not necessarily who you really are. When difficult things happen to humans, they often become unable to fulfill their potential because they are wounded by the past.
When I developed an anxiety disorder, it was extremely difficult to function even on a basic level. I thought my unrelenting fear had no real foundation and that I was just screwed up. But when I looked at my past, I realized that my anxiety was a completely logical symptom. My brain created my fear in order to help me become free to fulfill my true potential.
Pain Points To The Solution
When I broke down what my anxieties involved, every single one of them was based on a fear of being judged. The idea that people were judging me, and that their judgment would break me, was rooted in the past. So, my brain sent me a loud message, in the form of paralyzing fear, any time I encountered a situation where judgment might occur.
It became an increasingly loud message, which spread to mundane things like shopping, eating, and speaking. If I had paid attention to the pain — and sought the real source of it — my mental health needn’t have deteriorated as much. But back then, I didn’t understand how symptoms worked. Most mental health sufferers don’t understand at first. They just think they are screwed up for no valid reason.
Later, I realized my brain was showing me that I needed to unlearn the wrongly-learned idea that what people think of me is deadly important. By letting go of that unhelpful belief, I could become who I truly was, not a watered-down version of me which I’d created to suit other people.
Working With The Brain
Break down all the symptoms your brain produces to see what lies at the root of them. If you can’t pinpoint an exact cause, it is usually enough to acknowledge what you have wrongly learned. How does what you have come to believe limit you? How do your beliefs stop you from being yourself and fulfilling your unique potential?
When you’ve recognized which beliefs are no longer serving you, it’s time to let them go. Unlearning beliefs can be scary because you’ll have to put yourself into new situations with an unfamiliar mindset. When you’ve believed something for a long time, it’s hard to let it go.
You can use your brain’s multi-talented interface to overcome the challenges that unlearning beliefs can raise. Your brain doesn’t just store bad things; it also imprints amazing resources on your nervous system, which you can use for healing.
Using The Brain’s Resources
You know how a certain piece of music can put you into a happy mood? That’s because your brain has stored that track as a powerful positive memory. The brain tells your whole body to fill with happiness when you listen. Use the brain’s nifty emotional recorder to your benefit.
Blast your favorite feel-good track through your earphones in scary situations. Picture the whole band behind you cheering you on. I credit heavy metal for getting me through my worst panic attacks. Having my own rock band backing me up helped me face my fears.
Music is just one emotionally-charged way of dealing with difficult tasks. What other brain resources could help you approach life from a useful mental state? What positive memories can you use to defeat negativity? What images, sounds, or scents make you feel safe or happy? Team up with your brain — it wants you to heal.