The Art of Silence

How often are you able to sit comfortably in silence with other people? Do you find that you struggle to sit in silence with yourself? Do you constantly need to have some kind of noise to keep you distracted?

We live in an era where there is more noise than ever before. The appropriate term to use would be pollution. It’s excessive, it’s everywhere and it’s addicting. But what exactly do I mean by noise? I mean constantly being occupied with something to do. Whether it be social media, watching YouTube, constantly talking or even just reading the news. We struggle to sit in silence.

Lao Tzu Quote: “Those who know do not speak. Those who ...

In today’s post, I’d like to talk about why silence is so important, why it’s so difficult to do, and how we can learn to become more comfortable sitting in silence. This will not only be valuable for ourselves, but it also allows us to bond more intimately with other people in our life.

Why is silence important?

Some of the immediate benefits that come to my mind include:

  • Silence can create mental space
  • It allows you to develop self-awareness and reflect
  • It can foster creativity and problem-solving
  • It aids in relaxation

But how come there are so many benefits that we just don’t seem to acknowledge? It’s probably because we don’t sit in silence enough. Silence can create mental space because when we’re sitting by ourselves (or potentially with someone else) and not speaking, we free up some mental bandwidth that can be used for other purposes.

This links directly to the next point on reflection and inducing self-awareness. Naturally, when we have free time and just stare out the window, for example, our minds tend to reflect on where we are currently. This is incredibly useful when we nudge it in the right direction, as it can help us look back at certain experiences and gain wisdom, or look forward at tasks ahead and find effective ways to tackle them.

Strategies to stop overthinking

The next benefit of silence involves creativity and problem-solving. We often do a lot of subconscious processing when we’re not engaged in an activity, which gives our brain the capacity to think freely and outside of the box. This then allows us to develop certain solutions and innovate beyond what we typically can amidst chatter and noise.

The last point I want to make is a little obvious. Silence aids in relaxation. When we sit in a quiet environment and remain quiet ourselves, it often has a calming effect. This might not necessarily be the case when you’re overthinking or are feeling uncomfortable in the first place. But it definitely does help you stay level-headed and make better sense of what’s going on, which can then relax you.

Why is it so difficult to stay quiet?

As I’ve mentioned already, being quiet is actually a lot harder in this day and age. Firstly, when it comes to personality types, we’ve romanticized the concept of being an extrovert. We consider people who are introverted or shy as being less competent or capable for some reason. I’ll dive into that another day, but a great book recommendation is ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cane.

Secondly, we now have more access than ever before to actually raise our voices (especially digitally). We can constantly gossip, chat, share information, tweet, write blogs, make videos, and create short stories. Social media has essentially created a world of constant ‘noise’.

Lastly, it’s because we’re uncomfortable sitting with our own thoughts. We’re not necessarily conscious of it, but we always find a way to get out of our minds. There are many reasons for that, but it’s definitely something we need to get acquainted with. After all, the quality of our thoughts determines the quality of our life. We’re naturally anxious beings and tend to overthink all the time.

A. R. Bernard Quote: “The quality of your thinking ...

So how do we move forward knowing that it’s quite difficult to stay quiet or sit in silence?

How can we become more comfortable with silence?

We first need to re-frame our thinking around silence, quiet and solitude. It’s not a ‘waste of time’ to let your mind occasionally wander, or to sit down in meditation. It all has real implications on your mental health and your ability to think deeply about problems. So we need to really understand the benefits that come about when we do spend time alone or in silence.

The next thing would be to start small and try it out. When you have a free moment or you’re waiting in a queue, don’t just reach out for your phone and numb your brain. Be mindful of the thoughts that pop in and notice what you start thinking about. You can also allocate specific time (maybe in the morning before you start the day or in the evening before bed) to just sit in quiet.

It can also be helpful to try this with another person that you spend a lot of time with (like a roommate, sibling, or spouse). Sit together without unnecessarily trying to fill in the quiet gaps and notice how you both respond. You might find it to be a strange bonding experience.

Lastly, keep track of the thoughts and ideas that come about in a journal. When you start taking note of your thought process, you get an idea of whether or not you’re in a healthy mental space. Obviously, this will depend on what you write down and your mood at that given point, but if you’re honest with yourself and practise consistently, it will allow you to make sense of your mind and could help you be more comfortable with yourself.

The point I’m trying to make in this post is that there’s a lot of benefit to just being quiet. We all have some form of resistance to sitting in silence, which is not necessarily healthy. It keeps us on our toes and itching to find a distraction or ‘noise’. When we practice sitting in solitude and get more comfortable with our thoughts, we’ll ultimately help ourselves get to a healthier mental space. It’s definitely not going to be easy, but you got this.

“All of humanity’s problems come from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Blaise Pascal

Thinking about mental health

There’s been a rapid increase in talking about mental health these days. It’s always been such an important topic to me, especially to try and remove the stigma around mental health problems and assisting those who experience them.

The personal aspect about this is that I’ve never really struggled with severe mental health issues myself. It’s something that I’m incredibly grateful for. The issue with that is because I had no real awareness of the topic, I found it difficult to empathize with people who did struggle with mental health in my early adolescence.

Since then, I’ve had several friends and family members who battled with it on a regular basis, and who were kind enough to educate me on the topic. That’s not to say that it wasn’t my responsibility to go out there and learn about it for myself; it was just an advantage that I received.

In today’s post, I’d like to look at ways to understand mental health from an emotional intelligence lens, how to try and look after your own mental health, how we can support those in our life who do struggle with mental health (by removing stigma), and why to stop spitting out solutions (a problem I struggle quite a lot with as an engineer/consultant).

Understanding mental health

The difficult thing about understanding mental health is that we each have our own version of ‘normal’. What we’ve experienced internally from the time we were kids up until now forms the basis of our reality. A lot of the time, it takes quite a lot of experience or reflection to start noticing/understanding your own mental health.

A great place to start is by being a little more conscious of your thoughts and moods. Are they sometimes erratic? Uncomfortable? Inconsistent? Unbearable? Bizarre? Wild? Scary?

One of the best ways to structure your thoughts and understand yourself better is by journalling. A lot of people tell me that what they write down can sometimes feel uncomfortable. This is already an indicator of your mental processes and overall mental health (you obviously develop the skill of writing down your thoughts, I’m talking more about the nature of the thoughts themselves).

Once you have better awareness of what goes on in the processor, you can start working towards maintaining a healthy performance. Find habits and routines that allow you to feel challenged and fulfilled.

If you really struggle here to identify and act on what you can do to improve your mental health, it might be a good option to seek out therapy. It’s just a great way for you to make sense of the chaos and find a comfortable space to unravel your mysteries (speaking from experience).

Looking after our own mental health

This is the tough part. This is the part that requires effort, discipline and consistency. If we don’t look after our own mental health and keep in check on a regular basis, we could then start struggling to perform optimally.

I just want to make it clear that I’m not saying we should do this purely for performance. I’m just using that word to help us understand how it inevitably affects our performance, which affects our overall ambitions, mood and aspirations.

When it comes to looking after our own mental health, we need to start with awareness as I’ve discussed in the previous section. That awareness and acceptance then allows us to formulate an action plan to keep ourselves in check.

A few habits that tend to work well (for me personally) include staying active (even if it’s just a 15 min walk), getting sunlight on a regular basis (kill 2 birds with 1 stone by going on that walk), spending time in nature (now the walk is proving to be remarkable), eating fruits and veggies as often as possible, taking time off from work/studies to recover, socializing with people who genuinely care about me, reading an entertaining book and writing in a journal.

It sounds obvious and possibly boring, but don’t underestimate the cumulative effect of consistently doing these little habits on a daily basis. You’ll be astonished at the impact it’ll have on your life. Find what works best for you and keep at it. Once you’ve managed to keep yourself in check, you’ll be able to support those around you.

Supporting those who suffer with mental disorders

The main thing about awareness campaigns is that it aims to educate people as well as ensure that stigma is dealt with. We’ve seen incredible progress over the past decade in terms of a global acceptance of mental health disorders. This is important because it allows for diversity, equity and inclusion.

When it comes to supporting people who may suffer from certain mental health issues, it’s important that we come from a nonjudgemental standpoint. Additionally, we need to avoid having a superiority complex if we considered ourselves to be mentally healthy.

What I’ve noticed from my own limited experience is that people appreciate being heard and acknowledged. It can oftentimes be difficult to emphasize, especially if you’re not entirely sure what it feels like. But just being there, showing that you care, putting in the effort to comfort them and accepting that they’re more than just their struggle, can go a long way.

Artist Creates Heartwarming Comics To Raise Mental Health ...

What I’ve also learned is that you don’t want to jump into finding solutions (which can sometimes go against my instincts, so I have to be very conscious of this).

Stop looking for solutions

This applies to helping people deal with their mental health issues as much as it does to helping people with their problems in general. Giving unsolicited advice and pointing out solutions to other people’s problems is something many of us struggle with. The reason why we do this is obviously subconscious. It’s easier than sitting in the discomfort of empathy or listening attentively.

As much as we think we’re helping other people by throwing out suggestions to their seemingly simple problems, it can actually distance them and make them less comfortable opening up to us. It makes the them feel unworthy of being able to solve it themselves.

Author & Illustrator of Mental Health Comics Holly ...

People love autonomy. We love to feel like we’re in control. Like we’re capable. Like we got this. The minute someone else comes and tells you how to do it (even if it’s a perfectly viable solution that can make your life a 100x better), you’re likely to resist it and try to ignore it.

The same logic applies when you’re trying to help someone who is feeling anxious or depressed. Instead of jumping to a solution and telling them to go drink water/ meditate / sleep / exercise, try and engage more meaningfully in discussion and allow them to do more of the talking.

I’m still trying to find the right balance here myself, but what I’ve noticed about giving advice is that you should either wait for it to be asked, or prompt them first and check whether they’re in a receptive space to hear you out.

It’s always going to be complicated to try and understand mental health, even your own. The point is to try your best each and every day, whatever that means to you. Your best may differ from time to time and that’s okay. You’re going to get through this. You’re strong and capable enough. Don’t ever give up. You got this.

#LiftAsYouRise

Why Exercise Is Important

I’ve started going to the gym again after taking a pretty long break. Over the past few months, I was still keeping a little active – surfing, jogging and playing soccer – but it wasn’t enough. Due to the prolonged period of inactivity, I became a lot more prone to injuries. Today, I want to speak to you about the benefits that I’ve personally experienced from working out.

As with all habits, always remember to start with why. Keep your intentions clear and aligned with your values. The more the benefits of what you’re trying to do are clear, the more likely you are to stay consistent.

I’ll dive into the mental health benefits, the physical health benefits, developing consistency, a growth mindset and mental sharpness.

Mental Health and Self-esteem

You’ve probably heard this before but I’m here to reiterate the point, your physical health and mental health are interlinked. The better you take care of your physical needs (i.e. Exercise regularly, sleep well, eat healthy), the better your mental health will be.

The interesting thing about exercise is that it’s an incredible distraction. All you focus on when you’re working out is the next rep, the next mile or the next stretch. You narrow down your concentration and form some kind of tunnel vision, allowing you to de-stress.

When you feel good about your body, your self-esteem naturally boosts. This has tremendous benefits to your psyche, because your inner self-talk plays a critical role in your day-to-day activities.

Next time you’re feeling lazy to work out or go for a jog, think of how much better you’ll feel when those muscles are burning. Not only will you have more mental clarity, but you’ll also have more confidence in yourself.

Physical Health and Longevity

This is a bit more obvious. Exercising improves your physical health (Duh). To ensure that your body functions effectively, you need to constantly keep it active. A simple way to think about it is like a car. If you keep it static and stagnant for a long period of time, things can go in many different ways.

The circulation in your body also helps deliver blood more efficiently to the different organs, as well as your brain. This relationship helps cells recover faster and keeps you healthier, for longer. In essence, keeping fit helps you survive for longer (keeping in mind that the time you pass on has already been written and is inevitable).

Consistency

An invaluable skillset. I talk about this quite a lot, but this habit emphasizes it perfectly. You only get better, fitter and stronger when you exercise consistently. It’s also quite incredible how you can transfer this mindset into other areas of your life.

How you are in one part of your life is how you are in all parts of your life. You can’t separate who you are. The way you carry yourself at work, at home, at the gym, on the field, whilst studying, inevitably leaks into all other areas. Focus on giving everything your best shot.

“What you do everyday matters more than what you do once in a while.”

Keep at it. Don’t stop after a week or 2. Don’t even stop after a month or 2. Just keep at it for a few months and make improvements on your weak spots. This brings me to my next point, having a growth mindset.

Growth Mindset

I absolutely love talking about this concept because it’s such an important part of life. You have to believe in overcoming the discomfort. You have to believe that the struggle is making you stronger. You have to believe that pushing yourself past your limits will lead to growth.

This is easily proven when you’re doing any kind of exercise. Whether it’s lifting weights, running a half marathon, working on difficult yoga poses or just stretching. You need to continuously exert yourself and see how that allows you to reach your goals.

You’ve got to learn to love the burn. This will then allow you to build on your resilience; which as you should know, works exactly like a muscle.

Energy and Mental Sharpness

I’ve already mentioned how the blood circulates to your brain better when you exercise. This in turn gives you energy and an ability to focus. You’re training yourself mentally as much as you are physically, and the benefits are holistic.

The point of this blog post was to motivate you to get up and get going. There’s always a million and one excuses why we can’t exercise. I’ve hopefully given you a million and one reasons to make it a priority. Start small and keep consistent, even if it’s just a 15 minute walk everyday.

If you say ‘I don’t have the time’, you need to carefully re-arrange your priorities. Taking out the time to exercise will not only help you stay fit, but it will also give you more energy, help with your mental health, and allows you to develop consistency, resilience and a growth mindset.

A Toolbox For Studying Online

How does working from home make you feel? Perhaps you thought it would be over by now. Maybe you were trying to form some kind of schedule but thought you wouldn’t be spending the entire year studying virtually.

For those of us at UCT, we’ve recently received the news that the second semester will be completed virtually. This is not really a surprise, given that we’re in the peak of the pandemic and that RSA has secured a top 5 spot for Covid cases. How can we move forward with this, given how overwhelming it truly is?

Today I’d like to share some of my life lessons and what has been working for me through this turbulent period. I’ll talk a little about scheduling and time management, how to make stress your friend, being supportive to others, understanding mental health, keeping your goals in check and remaining mindful.

Since I’ve spoken in depth about most of these topics before, I’ll provide links to the full posts under each heading.

Time Management

In order to successfully manage our time, we need to keep 3 things in check:

  • Structure
  • Consistency
  • Balance

This is forming a skeleton of your ideal day. Think of it as the foundation of your empire. How do we form structure? By setting out goals and objectives, each and every day.

When you’re consistent with the structure you’ve formed, it opens up time for you to do more. You gain confidence from consistency because you know what to expect from yourself.

Your structure should include time for you to rest, recover and reload. Make sure that you’re getting the right amount of sleep every night. Make sure that you’re putting in exercise at least 2-3 times a week. Make sure that you’re spending some time in nature too. Important here is to also monitor your social media usage and the amount of time you spend online.

Time management

I’ve been requested to talk a little about time management, so let’s give it a go. I’d like to first try and define time, or at least come to an understanding of what it is. Then we can dive into how to maneuver through the time we have. I aim to make you feel more … Continue reading Time management

Make Stress Your Friend #2

Flight or Fight!? How often do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or relentlessly chasing deadlines as if your life depended on it? Let’s talk about why stress has low-key been the reason we’re achieving our goals and why we need to form a healthier relationship with it. I’ve talked about this before in the first … Continue reading Make Stress Your Friend #2

Make stress your friend

Far too often we get trapped in our own little cycle of thoughts. Some are true, some are exaggerated, some are just unnecessary and some are completely wrong.

“Stress is your body’s reaction to any change that requires a response.”

Keep in mind that stress is a beneficial part of your nature, it’s meant to help you adapt and react swiftly to changes in your environment. Manage stress by focusing on your breath and finding cues to the present moment.

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Support structures and mental health

This is especially important now that we’re unable to physically meet each other on a regular basis. It’s really helpful to try and form a support structure with your peers, even if it’s just on group chat. Knowing that there are others who are going through a similar experience will make you feel a lot better.

This adds to the issue of taking care of your mental health. Your mental health is something that you need to take care of regularly. You can’t wait for things to go south and feel overwhelmed before you put in any effort.

Regularly taking care of your mental health can be as simple as journalling, meditating, praying, going for a walk or speaking to a friend. When it gets a little more hectic, speaking to a therapist or seeking professional help may be a better option.

Many universities offer virtual therapy sessions to their students for free. Be sure to utilize those resources if you need to.

Mental health

How are you currently feeling about your mental health? We all struggle or have struggled with our mental health at some point. We probably also know someone who currently struggles with their mental health. The reason I’m writing about mental health is for awareness. We often don’t realize how delicate our states of mind are. … Continue reading Mental health

Mindful Monday #1

Have you stopped to admire the sky today? Did you take a moment to notice how the colours on the leaves are changing? Why do we always find a way to escape the present moment? I’m starting a little series called ‘Mindful Monday‘. I’ve been part of a similar course before, so I just thought … Continue reading Mindful Monday #1

Mindfulness

This has been a recurring topic in my blog since I started. I’ve done a presentation on mindfulness a few weeks ago on 20 Life Learners that I’d like to share here.

It’s essentially about finding cues to stay in the present moment. Using grounding techniques such as focusing on your breath, you can control your physiology to condition your mind. There’s quite a bit of neuroscience behind it, you can read more in my Mindful Monday posts.

Goals

I’m not sure about you, but this year has forced me to reevaluate many of my goals. This is not necessarily a bad thing at all, it means that we need to be realistic and adapt.

Goal-setting is a powerful tool to help you move forward in life and to reach peaks you never could’ve imagined climbing. Find a place to write down some of your objectives for the rest of the year and review them constantly. It will make a difference in how motivated you feel.

Don’t give up when things don’t go according to plan. Find ways to improvise and keep looking at the bigger picture. You’re worthy. You’re capable. You will achieve greatness.

Make Stress Your Friend #2

Flight or Fight!? How often do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or relentlessly chasing deadlines as if your life depended on it? Let’s talk about why stress has low-key been the reason we’re achieving our goals and why we need to form a healthier relationship with it. I’ve talked about this before in the first post on make stress your friend.

Today, I’ll dive a little deeper and refresh our memory on this. I’ll speak about what stress is, how it’s released, why we need to manage it and how we can acquaint ourselves to it. Nature has a remarkable way of pushing evolution forward, it’s our responsibility to learn how these innate responses affect us.

What is the stress response?

The flight or fight response is part of the sympathetic nervous system’s reaction to emergencies that you experience. This is what happens when you’re being chased by a lion, have an approaching assignment deadline or feeling sickly. The subconscious response is both physical and emotional, to optimize your reaction to the given situation.

This can work for you or against you, depending on how often you’re confronted with situations that trigger this response. The neural connections formed over the past several millennia don’t adapt quickly enough to our modern-day problems. We now experience the same stress response for much simpler issues; like not getting enough likes/followers on IG, being subtweeted or even worrying about your feed, which could start getting unhealthy.

Chronic stress is when you’re repeatedly exposed to situations that trigger the release of stress hormones in your body. This can be detrimental to your health for several reasons. Let’s discuss how the body releases those hormones and why we need to manage them adequately.

How is stress released?

Once you start thinking about all those deadlines (or when you’re faced with highly stressful encounters), how does the body react?

There’s quite a complicated process that goes on in your brain, specifically within the hypothalamus. Here’s a brief overview of what happens:

  • Epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol are released.
  • Heart rate increases.
  • Breathing intensifies.
  • Blood sugar is released, increasing energy.
  • You become much more alert and vigilant.

This process is programmed into our subconscious mind and has proven to be an invaluable evolutionary asset. But what happens when the response becomes chronic?

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Why we need to manage our levels of stress

Understanding the physiological response is critical in being able to make better decisions for your own mental well-being. The constant surge of epinephrine can become very damaging after a prolonged period of time. It damages your blood vessels and arteries, which increases your blood pressure and chances of having a heart attack/stroke.

The constant release of cortisol also increases your appetite and decreases the activity in your digestive system, since your body is using up the energy reserves. This is probably the reason why people often ‘stress-eat’ and indulge in junk food when they’re feeling overly stressed.

Thankfully, there are ways for us to combat these issues and maintain a healthy outlook on the stress response.

How can we become allies with stress?

  • Acceptance
  • Perspective
  • Breathe
  • Journal
  • Exercise or go for a walk
  • Speak to someone

Acceptance is always the first key when tackling a problem. Acknowledge and be honest with yourself about it. If you’re someone who tends to get stressed more than is necessary, notice the changes that happen in your body and don’t judge yourself for it. It’s part of your evolution.

The perspective you should embrace is that of kindness. Look at stress through a positive lens and that will change your outlook on it. It’s there to help you adapt, to effectively deal with changes, to energize you, to boost your body and to get you to focus. It’s also what motivates you to get off the couch and get some work done.

Breathe. This is honestly one of the best ways to calm your body down. Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious, focus on taking in deep conscious breaths to the bottom of your abdomen. Don’t underestimate how effective this simple technique is. It will help ground you.

Here I am speaking about journalling yet again, what a surprise… It serves as an incredible outlet for you to let out emotions and clear your mind. This will help you assess the problem much more realistically and will reduce the chances of you lashing it out on others.

Exercise or go for a walk – preferably in nature. Sometimes a healthy distraction is all you need to get a grip on your thought patterns. Releasing the energy through physical exertion will certainly help calm your mind and body. Going for a walk in nature is particularly useful to gain a more philosophical outlook on the problem(s) at hand.

The last recommendation is to simply speak to someone. If you have someone that you can confide in and discuss your issues with, raise it up with them. Be wary of the energy you bring to the table, you don’t want to make them feel overwhelmed either. A great approach is to ask:

“Are you in the right emotional state to listen to what’s been stressing me out?”

Don’t bottle things up, just be considerate to others. If you’re struggling with chronic stress and feel like it might burden those you care about, consider therapy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. You’re just speaking to someone who can guide your thought patterns into something a little healthier.

I know stress is not easy to manage and it can become very overwhelming when you have several responsibilities. Keep in mind that this is all part of your journey and that it’s all contributing to your growth. Focus on having a growth mindset, find tactics to keep you grounded and always remember to breathe. Stay present, you got this.

Mental health

How are you currently feeling about your mental health?

We all struggle or have struggled with our mental health at some point. We probably also know someone who currently struggles with their mental health. The reason I’m writing about mental health is for awareness. We often don’t realize how delicate our states of mind are.

We prioritize our diets and fitness regimes for our physical goals, without realizing how interconnected they are to our mental health. So I want to dive into how mental health is just as important as physical health. By discussing ways to accept our thoughts, overcoming the stigma of seeking help (therapy), forming a routine to stay mentally fit, an Islamic perspective and as always: gratitude.

Acceptance

A very difficult aspect to deal with when it comes to mental health is acceptance. Accepting the fact that there’s something wrong. We often don’t realize it, but our idea of ‘normal’ is purely based off our experiences and exposure to the world.

When it comes to mental habits & thought patterns, we have absolutely no idea what ‘normal’ could mean. That’s where it gets a little tricky. Feeling stressed, overwhelmed, anxious or depressed all the time may start feeling normal. We think it’s just who we are.

But there’s a limit to that. We need to become more aware of these unhealthy thought patterns and learn to accept them. That’s the first step towards making progress; clearly identifying the problem. With acceptance, we can find solutions and ultimately move forward.

Better awareness -> Better choices -> Better results

We need to be more compassionate towards other people too. Accepting ourselves for who we are comes first, but accepting other people for who they are is just as important. There’s always been this huge stigma with regards to seeking help for mental health.

Let’s try and break that barrier down and make it easier for people to seek the necessary help they need. To live healthier and more functional lives.

Stigma

Would it make sense to judge someone for visiting the doctor because they broke a leg? Or someone who has had a heart attack? Or any other ‘physical illness’?

Why then do we make it difficult for people who have anxiety disorders, panic attacks or are feeling clinically depressed?

These aren’t issues that people can just ‘get over’ or ‘pray’ away. They’re deeply neurological and affect the body’s entire chemistry. It’s imperative that we start learning more about these issues and their causes. To help those we can to the best of our ability.

Support & seeking help

This is the reason I chose this topic. To encourage support among each other. Recovery and growth occur so much faster with a solid support structure.

Pay more attention to your friends and family members. Ask them how they’re doing more regularly. Watch out for red flags or consistent negative thought patterns.

Be nonjudgemental! We’re stronger together. I was absolutely inspired when I spent some time in nature the other day. I saw a school of fish moving together at a reservoir, and the synchronization was impeccable. They were truly stronger and more resilient together.

So I felt the need to share that because we’re part of nature too. It’s in our advantage to work together and help each other become better versions of ourselves. How exactly can we help though?

By encouraging people to seek help.

Psychotherapy

Here’s another aspect of mental health that we need to work on. Removing the stigma associated with seeing a therapist. Apart from seeing a therapist because of a mental illness, seeing a therapist would be beneficial to almost anyone.

Like going to the gym to take care of our body, we need to take find ways to take care of our minds. And exactly like we use personal trainers to find what works for our physical goals, we can use therapists to help us reach our mental goals.

I know a lot of you are probably thinking: I speak to my friends / family members about my issues, I don’t need therapy. But it’s much deeper than that. It’s about unraveling the issues that you didn’t even realize were issues. Professional help will almost always be a better option.

It allows for a deeper understanding of patterns in your life that you’ve been subconsciously ignoring. And most importantly, figuring out what messed you up when you were much younger.

Apart from seeking help, there are certain habits that we can instill to ensure we’re on the right track towards a healthy mental state.

Routine- Consistency

What are the key habits that promote a healthy state of mind?

  • Reading
  • Solving puzzles
  • Meditating / Praying
  • Exercise
  • Diet

The first and most obvious one is reading! The second would be solving puzzles, playing chess, or doing any activity that requires critical thinking. Meditating definitely helps here as well as exercise. But an underrated aspect to mental health that we often don’t realize, is our diet.

The food we ingest has a direct effect on our mental health. It makes sense if you think about it. We’re just a bunch of cells that need constant servicing. So the way we choose to service our bodies has an impact on our day to day activities.

Keep the food you eat as natural as possible. I’m not using the word ‘healthy’ here because that’s just vague. But eating food that comes directly or as close to nature as possible, will yield the best results.

We’re all part of nature at the end of the day. It’s important to understand that these are just habits that can be used to keep your brain ‘healthy’. They’re not solutions to any illness.

Prevention is better than cure; especially as you grow older.

The most important part of the entire process is consistency. We need to take care of ourselves Every. Single. Day. We need to stay mentally fit for us to contribute as best as we can and to serve those around us diligently.

Islamic perspective

First and foremost, put your trust in God. Have faith that you will recover and get through this. It’s all part of the journey. Seek help with the conviction that everything happens for a reason.

“What’s meant for you will never miss you. What misses you was never meant for you.”

“There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment.”

We’re here temporarily. Don’t ever forget that. Spend time in nature if you need a reminder of that. The only constant is change. Nothing is meant to remain the same. Let’s see how incorporating gratitude can also assist this process.

Gratitude

Increasing gratitude increases your presence. The more grateful you are for what you have, the better you deal with setbacks. It’s one of the most important values to have (in my opinion), as it allows for grit and perseverance.

You get to choose your reaction, not the circumstances you’re in. Being thankful is like armour for your soul. Regardless of the trials and tribulations, there’s always something you can be grateful for. Keep that in mind and you’ll find yourself making exponential progress.

I just want this to serve as a reminder to all of us, that mental health is an everyday struggle that we need to take care of. I also want to emphasize how important it is to be supportive to your peers and family members who are battling with mental illnesses.

It’s not just a choice or change in attitude. Having a positive attitude certainly helps, but it’s not a cure. Theses are issues which require constant treatment and medication. So it’s time we start treating them more seriously and compassionately.

Make stress your friend!

Far too often we get trapped in our own little cycle of thoughts. Some are true, some are exaggerated, some are just unnecessary and some are completely wrong.

By now, I’ve explained how critical perspectives are. I’d like to help change your mindset towards a very common foe; stress. I shouldn’t be using the term foe at all, in fact it’s our ally more than anything.

Let’s unravel how building a relationship with stress, can boost our performance in pretty much every aspect of our life. And how our relationships can also help us better deal with it.

I’ll start start with a few negative aspects regarding stress.

The statistics are quite staggering. Stress is absolutely detrimental to your health. Here are a few of the risks associated with chronic stress:

  • Mental health issues
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Intense headaches
  • Weakened immunity

This isn’t meant to scare you (or maybe it is idk). I’m just trying to shed some light on a very common subject. The negative effects are associated only when you believe that being stressed is bad for you. So the aim is to try and optimize that belief.

But can a simple change in perspective really minimize the negative effects? -Absolutely.

Here’s a TED talk I highly recommend if you have the time:

You should also know by now that I’ve started to fall in love with questions. So what is stress?

“Stress is your body’s reaction to any change that requires a response.”

I quite like how brief that description is. We pretty much feel stressed all the time. It comes in various forms & at multiple stages, but it’s always somewhere there. It’s what forces us out of bed every morning. It’s what pushes us to study for our exams and get done with our tasks.

The key to problem solving, lies in having great awareness of the issue. This would also include having a good understanding of what you’re capable of doing. Largely, what we know about stress is that feeling when we have a substantial amount of work to do, and not a lot of time to do it. We get a little panicky, impatient, slightly (or highly) irritable.

So the first step would be to become aware of those feelings. Accept them as part of your body’s natural response. Don’t think about it as being bad for you.

The next question is: How much of stress do we need?

The mind works in marvelous ways. I’ve always been fascinated by how quickly we adapt to uncomfortable situations. There’s a very narrow gap between having just enough stress to be motivated, and that overflowing into stress that damages our health.

Each person works effectively under different circumstances. Therefore, there can’t really be a definitive answer to how much stress we need.

Identify it for yourself, through building some form of self-awareness. Determine how much stress pushes you to work, and how much stress pushes you overboard.

Think of stress as your back-up response. Your personal SOS. Your subconscious dial for 911. It’s your ally! It’s there to help you, as long as you keep it in check.

I love talking to people about perspective changing, because it’s honestly what has helped me change so much in my own life. Now, I’m going to ask another very important question: How do we learn to deal with stress?

The minute you start ignoring the signals your body sends you, that’s when stress starts getting out of control. A few key important steps:

  • Notice how your breathing changes (breathe in more deeply)
  • Be aware of your thought patterns (stay present)
  • Focus on the task at hand (back yourself)
  • Imagine the feeling of relaxation once it’s over (you will survive!)
  • Socialize 🙂

Apart from the aforementioned points, immerse yourself in the present moment by practicing something you really enjoy. Clear your mind with exercise, watching a sunset, reading an interesting book, watching your favourite movie or just going for a stroll in nature.

The key philosophy I’m trying to get to is this:

Better awareness leads to better choices, which ultimately leads to better results.

Do you know what else works really well to relieve stress?

Oxytocin!

For those of you who don’t know what oxytocin is; it’s not a drug. Well sort of. It’s a hormone released in your body that’s associated with socializing. Also known as the cuddle hormone. Oxytocin is released as part of the stress response, to help you get along with other people.

Lucerne, Switzerland [Contiki 2018]

Why would that help? Because we’ve evolved that way. The most effective way to deal with daily stressors is through seeking assistance. When you confide in others and find a helpful social structure, you mentally deal with the stress a lot better.

I really just want you all to realize that there are certain aspects of our biology that we can and cannot control. The most efficient way to live therefore, is to use what we can control, to help us deal with what we cannot control.

Stress is your friend. And your friends help you with stress. Life is a vicious cycle of paradoxes that don’t always make sense. That’s okay. We just have to follow our nature. Try our best. And ultimately realize that we’re going to die some day. None of this will really matter then.

“Live for the present like you’ll die tomorrow, plan for the future like you’ll live forever.”

One of the most profound quotes I’ve come across. I hope this message was beneficial. Please share it with those who could make use of it. The aim is to help as many people as possible live out their full potential.