Inoculating Yourself against a Breakdown
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow take steps to prevent ourselves having a breakdown? As we read in Could YOU Have a Breakdown? emotional collapse can happen to anyone given the right circumstances. So what can we do to maximize our mental health, just as we try to improve our physical health?
First of all, we need to understand that trying to inoculate ourselves against a breakdown is just that: inoculation. Procedures such as inoculation work in most cases but it doesn’t guarantee that you definitely won’t get sick from any given disease. However, it is definitely worth trying your best to organize your life in such a way that an emotional collapse of whatever form is minimized.
Although many researchers believe that our genetic makeup determines whether we are prone to suffer from depression or bipolar disorder, etc, there still remains a significant input from our environment that influences whether or not these conditions will actually manifest in an acute form. We may carry the potential to develop depression in our genetic makeup, but that does not necessarily mean that we will go on to develop the disorder.
In terms of mental health, that old saying “a stitch in time saves nine” is very apt. If we can organize our lives in such a way that we strive for mental health rather than inadvertently heading down the path to mental illness, we have a chance to limit the impact of life traumas when and if they do occur.
The best defense against a complete mental breakdown of any form is a sound, well-balanced and helpful extended family network. We discussed the importance of our childhood foundation in Could YOU Have a Breakdown? Having good family support right from birth onwards not only decreases our chances of falling prey to the rigors of life, but should an overwhelming trauma take place or a genetic-based illness such as schizophrenia occur, we are in a better position to experience rapid recovery or minimal disruption to our lives.
However, this is sadly not the case with many families. Our next line of defense is to have a strong network of friends to support us in times of need. The ability to help our friends in turn will also help us to develop our own coping skills when life’s more unfortunate incidences visit our doorstep. If we do not shy away from those needing help, we will be better able to face and overcome our own difficulties.
As discussed in Food and Mental Health, a healthy diet goes a long way to keeping us mentally balanced, especially at times of great stress. It is very easy to go off our food, or alternatively eat too much, when stressful events occur. Attempting to maintain a healthy eating regime will do much to even out moods, as large quantities of sugar and fat laden junk foods interfere with our brain’s ability to keep us on an even mental keel. Avoiding caffeine-rich products, cigarettes and particularly illegal drugs will also minimize the likelihood of developing psychiatric symptoms.
Regular exercise, even walking, every day will regulate brain chemicals that govern our mood, so that sport and outdoor recreation plays a large role in keeping us calm, relaxed and less likely to feel anxious and depressed. Developing a strong spiritual basis in our lives will also assist us in times of need. That spiritual foundation could be a traditional religion or simply a strong identification with nature and the universe and our place in the “bigger picture.” Practices such as yoga and tai chi also assist in promoting both relaxation and a sense of oneness with all living things.
The continued practice of developing friendship networks together with
working on our physical and spiritual health will help “inoculate”
us against the full force of life situations which may trigger bouts
of emotional illness.