What age are we living in? The age of the mind

“You see, loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern age, so full of freedom, independence, and our own egotistical selves.” ― Sōseki Natsume, Kokoro

I was talking to a friend the other evening about what age we were living in. Our parents experienced the mass production industrial age and for most of us younger people, we have experienced the age of computers and automation which have brought so much change to our daily lives. We then reflected on the level of change we were experiencing as human beings now. At nearly all levels there have been fantastic and far-reaching changes, bar one, that of mental health.So what are the are the areas of change?

Social and political change: Social changes in terms of civil and same sex partnerships; the reduction in issues around age, sex, and race discrimination (though we have a long way to go); and the gradual acceptance of people’s differences. Political change including many countries across Europe closing their borders – often with barriers and barbed wire to the influx of mass migration; the UK Brexit result; the recent US presidential election outcome or even the prospect of the USA and Russia in a major conflict.

Technology change: The level of technology change over the past 5 years has been amazing on so many levels. Since we both liked tech, we shared the list below. If you have better ideas, do share:

  • Android (2008) – Google’s open-source mobile operating system started showing up in smartphones until 2008, it rapidly became the only serious challenger to Apple’s mobile hegemony, and eventually it became the dominant mobile platform.
  • Apps (2008) – first launched by Apple as the App Store. There are now many different App stores.
  • Motion-sensing control systems (2010) such as Microsoft Kinect which launched in  2010.
  • Tablets replacing PC’s (2010) – it wasn’t until Apple launched the iPad in 2010 that the computer-buying public began to catch on.

However, one area that we then talked about was health. The past few years has seen a massive change in the perception of physical health. Be it exercise; recommending you eat a minimum of 5 portions of fruit / vegetables per day, called “5 per Day”; and the drive to reduce smoking, especially amongst teenagers. However, mental health has not had the same set of priorities awarded to it as has physical health.

Well being and Mental Wellbeing: With regard to mental health improvements, I get the feeling we are still in the mass production industrial age. The most common form of mental support is Cognitive Therapy (CT), or Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) which was pioneered by Dr. Aaron T. Beck in the 1960s. This seems to be the defacto method for treating mental issues.

So why focus on Mental Well-Being?

Here are some facts….. If you want to read more, please check out the independent Mental Health Taskforce to the NHS article at: https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Mental-Health-Taskforce-FYFV-final.pdf

  • Half of all mental health problems have been established by the age of 14, rising to 75 per cent by age 24.
  • One in ten children aged 5 – 16 has a diagnosable problem such as conduct disorder (6 per cent), anxiety disorder (3 per cent), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (2 per cent) or depression (2 per cent).
  • Children from low income families are at highest risk, three times that of those from the highest.
  • Those with conduct disorder are twice as likely to leave school without any qualifications, three times more likely to become a teenage parent, four times more likely to become dependent on drugs and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.
  • Yet most children and young people get no support. Even for those that do, the average wait for routine appointments for psychological therapy was 32 weeks, or nearly 8 months in 2015/16.
  • People with severe and prolonged mental illness are at risk of dying on average 15 to 20 years earlier than other people. Just think of the impact of mild mental health issues and its impact.
  • One in five older people living in the community and 40 per cent of older people living in care homes are affected by depression.

In the past few years, the picture has started to change. Public attitudes towards mental health are improving, and there is a growing commitment among communities, workplaces, schools and within government to change the way we think about it.

There have been big advances in understanding some of the core reasons that impact mental wellbeing. New treatments and approaches are being developed and a much more clinical and scientific approach is being taken. One of the most recent to be added to the NHS is Mindfulness, both Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and also Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. I really do believe that over the course of the next few years, the impact of really understanding how the mind works, and how you can influence it; through programs like Mindfulness; will drive the biggest improvement in mental health.

I leave you with the following quote.

“You’d be surprised how many people in the modern age no longer fear zombies as much as teletubies.” Sherrilyn Kenyon, Dream Warrior

Ruminating and how to change how you think?

“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.” ― Terry Pratchett, Diggers

We all self-reflect on situations and life’s events. Constantly. Every moment of every day. I do it. You do it. We all do it. It is one of the most powerful, and yet potentially destructive features of our makeup.

We ruminate.

When people ruminate, they over-think about situations or life events, including; work challenges; relationships issues; problems with friendships; money worries; and even health issues. Research has shown that rumination is associated with a variety of negative consequences, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, binge-drinking, and binge-eating.

Ruminating is like a record that’s stuck and keeps repeating the same lyrics.

Sorry, that is an ageist analogy. I used that with my children, they looked at me blankly. I just asked my teenage daughter and her comment was that sounds like when you watch something on playback on the internet and you have to keep restarting the playback session.

What causes rumination episodes?

It is not clear exactly why we ruminate, although there are strong reasons to believe that it may be an unsuitable mental coping strategy adopted to try and cope with strong emotions; such as the fear of loss, impending significant change or a major life / relationship challenge.

What is the impact of rumination?

Rumination paralyzes your problem-solving skills. You become so preoccupied with the problem that you’re unable to push past the cycle of negative thoughts. You cycle round and round not able to break out of the self-talk. You start to feel helpless and if left unchecked potentially into depression.  It takes time to cycle out of a rumination event. For some, it can be hours, for others, it can be days. For some, unfortunately, they are unable to cycle out of the rumination event and cycle down into a depressive episode. We all have experienced a rumination episodes. For me, my most recent one took about twenty-four hours to cycle out of the event. A number of the techniques below helped me.

How do you begin to change your mind and reduce rumination episodes?
There are a number of ways to help reduce the impact of a rumination episode and even shorten the duration.

Positive problem-solve the situation: People who ruminate not only replay the negative and helpless situation in their head, they also focus on abstract questions, such as, “Why does this happen to me?”; “What’s wrong with me?”, “Why do I keep making the same mistake?” or the ultimate one “Why am I a failure?”.

Positive thought activities: Engage in activities that foster positive thoughts. These could be anything from a favorite physical activity such as swimming, walking, running or cycling; to a hobby; or even to meditation, which is the technique that I use to help deal with the episode. The main thing is to get your mind distracted away from the rumination for a time so that the thoughts begin to subside and hopefully die out.

Instead, when you can think positively and clearly you can try to change the “self talk tape”. Identify at least one positive, constructive and concrete thing you could do to overcome the problem you are ruminating about.

For instance, if you’re worried about a situation at work, commit to sitting down with a close colleague to discuss the situation and how to deal with it.

If you have a relationship challenge, commit to sitting and talking through the positive aspects of the relationship; the things that you both appreciate in each other.

There are many different ways to help change your self-talk. If you have techniques that work for you, it would be wonderful if you could share.

I leave you with the following quote.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

Mahatma Gandhi