The previous article explored what helps sustain and support healthy social, emotional and psychological wellbeing, pointing to the key to enduring mental health lying in the capacity for self-awareness. Self-awareness involves creating the space to connect to an underpinning, authentic inner voice that can share with you the TRUTH of where you are holding physically, psychologically and socially. This article will suggest two core strategies of how you can help your mental health by nurturing the capacity for self-awareness.
Develop a mindfulness practice: A useful tool for helping develop self-awareness in all spheres is reflected in the capacity to notice both internal and external experiences in the here and now. Mindfulness practices or the cultivation of an awareness of moment by moment events without judgment, have strong associations with improved mental health. Practices like yoga and meditation help to cultivate a “still” inner place from which true self-awareness can emerge. A good place to start is with the skill of deep breathing – the cornerstone of many mindfulness practices. Breathing is simple to learn, can be applied anywhere at any time, and is a speedy and effective method for developing mindfulness. You can start by just focusing on full, thorough and focused deep breathing for just five minutes daily and gradually extend the time you spend on this practice. Deep breathing involves taking a breath in through your nose and out through your mouth, feeling the rise and fall of your abdomen. Initially you can develop an awareness of your breath and then gradually extend to an awareness of thoughts, feelings and behaviors, just noticing these thoughts and feelings without any value judgement. Becoming more “tuned in” to yourself through breathing and other mindfulness practices is a foundational skill for improved self-awareness and will help your mental health.
Connect to your emotional world: A core aspect of developing self-awareness requires tuning in to your true feelings. Being able to connect to your emotions — having a moment-to-moment awareness of your emotions and how they influence your thoughts and actions—is the key to understanding yourself and others. A great strategy for developing this capacity is to keep a feelings journal. Take a few minutes each day to write about how you feel and why. An emotions journal can help you identify the emotions in your life and the way you deal with them.
Start tracking your emotional responses in your journal. As you keep a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes. In your diary describe situations that made you feel emotional; describe the emotion itself, your thoughts in relation to the emotion, your physical response, the behavior the emotion generated and how you attempted to manage the emotion. Even if you start by doing this with one emotion inducing event a day or even once weekly, the impact on your self-awareness can be very significant. There are a range of other possible ways of connecting to your emotional world (e.g. identifying the emotions an artist is trying to convey as you read poetry or listen to music, then recognizing how you feel in response; noticing and naming different emotions as you feel them). So find the strategy that works for you as developing greater awareness of your emotional world can really help your mental health.
So try these strategies out and don’t be afraid to fine-tune them. Alternatively there is so much to explore in this area, so take the time to find the mindfulness and emotion-based practice that feels right for you. Perhaps taking up a yoga class and listening to music that really gets you in touch with your emotions might be a fit for you. Whatever the approach, take an active step to help your mental health through fostering mindfulness and emotional awareness. Gain a deeper sense of how you think, feel and act and feel the impact on your mental health.