I think a lot about instincts. Whether it’s the instinct to think something or feel something, I’m pretty fascinated by the concept of instantly having a thought or feeling throughout my body because of something I’ve experienced. Unfortunately, people who experience mental illness can often have natural instincts that create negative thoughts or feeling, which can be very frustrating. It’s difficult to live in a world where every instinctual thought about yourself is negative, but that’s the reality for many people who experience depression.
We all have instincts to take actions, to think and to feel. Most of the time, those things are happening as we experience what’s going on in the world around us (this is similar to the ‘gut feeling’ that I’ve written about before on My Brain’s Not Broken). It’s an instinct, a gut reaction to what we feel we need in the moment. In fact, some researchers and studies have claimed that part of these instincts happened over many generations as our ancestors learned to cope with the changing world around them. This could be something that people have been dealing with farther back than we think!
When it comes to my own instincts, I clearly understand where my struggles are. If a mistake is made, my instinct is to blame myself and load up on negative thoughts without even realizing it. It happens so fast that at this point, I don’t even think I’m creating these thoughts on my own – they’ve been present in my subconscious so long that having these thoughts is like breathing.
There’s also a familiar feeling that fills my body when I feel this way – physical symptoms that exacerbate the thoughts of shame or guilt. It’s not the healthiest way to fix a mistake or solve a problem, but over the years I’ve developed these things to cope with the issues I’m dealing with so I can focus on solving them.
Like other mental health challenges, I had to be aware of this issue before trying to solve it, which is when I learned just how often my instincts were self-critical. But overcoming this challenge sounds much easier on paper than it is in real life. Fighting my instincts against negative thoughts is a constant challenge because I always have to be on my toes – I’m constantly surprised by how easily negative thoughts and feelings creep in. And unlike some of the other solutions and techniques I’ve talked about on this blog, fighting these instincts is often a long-term challenge toward improvement.
Mental health and wellness can be defined in many different ways, but one of the ways that we see it in its simplest form is that mental wellness is trying to overcome the instinct to put ourselves. There’s obviously so much more to it than this, but it’s helpful to simplify mental health whenever possible so we can see the challenge in front of us. Whether that takes weeks, months or years is a different story – but knowing that we have to fight these instincts is a good first step to overcome mental health challenges.