Focusing on Emotional and Mental Health
There’s a lot of doom and gloom in the world, right?
It can be hard to stay positive and in the “correct” mindset at times.
This is why I’ve been focusing so much on being mindful of mental and emotional health. For many, finding balance with all that is going on in our world is a lot more involved than applying various techniques for thinking positive. That’s not to say that these tools can’t be helpful, but they have the potential to backfire if someone has a psychiatric illness.
In fact, if one has a mental health issue, being positive and trying to cover up the emotions and brain imbalances may be counterproductive. This is because the brain of someone with a psychiatric diagnosis functions differently than those who are not struggling. If one has depression or anxiety, they could end up feeling demoralized if a technique doesn’t work.
Achieving optimal brain health is much more comprehensive than controlling thought patterns. Addressing the root cause of the issue is important. Using a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), conventional therapy, and naturopathic, integrative, and holistic modalities can help to address all aspects of the mind-body including one’s physiology, psychology, cognition, neurobiology, and spirituality. In fact, acknowledging that mental health is the sum of many different brain health factors and cognitive processing differences, (source, source, source, source, source, source) may even lead to less bias and break down barriers to receiving treatment.
Along with balancing brain, mental, and cognitive processing with integrative mental health methods, such as essential oils, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) (source, source) and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), utilizing the power of mindset as medicine can also be of benefit for everyone. Furthermore, catching overwhelm in its tracks by using various self-care techniques is imperative during tumultuous times. This is because unrelenting stress can lead to anxiety and/or other psychiatric disorders through its consistent rewiring of brain pathways and the resulting biochemical effects.
By soothing emotions using various methods our brain can better focus, learn, pay attention, and more easily transition. When the brain and body are in a calmer state, it is much easier to respond with the rational brain rather than react from the emotional center of our mind.
Lately, with society opening up and fear levels decreasing, there is evidence that many people are feeling more at ease and more hopeful. Some may in fact be experiencing posttraumatic growth (PTG).
In this article I will explore what PTG is and what qualities may influence it. I will highlight how those with mental health issues must be very careful to take care of themselves at this point in time to avoid the rise in aggravating symptoms that we have been seeing with the current crisis.
By the time you are done reading, you will be able to take some tips on what builds PTG to enhance your resiliency. It could also shed light on the fact that you may need to seek out additional support to get out of suffering.
The Aftermath of Trauma
Depending on various factors, there are several effects people can experience after a life-changing event. These include:
- being resilient and bouncing back to where they were prior to the incident
- experiencing growth from the event and ending up in a better spot from where they began, posttraumatic growth (PTG)
- finding themselves struggling more and seeing a decrease in their ability to function, posttraumatic depreciation (PTD)
Let’s focus a bit more on PTG and PTD.
Posttraumatic Growth- How Trauma Leads to Making Meaning
Along with trauma causing negative mental health implications, it can also cause posttraumatic growth. According to a 2019 meta-analysis and review article in the Journal of Affective Disorders, “Posttraumatic growth (PTG) is positive psychological changes after encountering challenging events.”
A 2016 article in Scientific Reports described PTG as something that surpasses resiliency and brings someone to a higher state than prior to the event. They suggest that there are five aspects that contribute to how someone can perceive a crisis as beneficial. These include:
- The ability to relate to others
- Seeking out new possibilities
- Personal strength
- Spiritual changes
- An appreciation for life
In PTG, the traumatic experience serves as a catalyst for meaning-making. Several psychological factors impact PTG including:
- Rumination (intentional)
- Social support
- Social interaction
- Positive emotions
- Coping strategies
The article states:
PTG arises from a cognitive restructuring and as such, a number of factors affect the development of PTG. Rumination is a necessary cognitive process in changing one’s worldview after suffering from a traumatic event and is therefore considered as a key factor in the development of PTG (13). Along with rumination, resilience, which can decrease pathogenic reactions after trauma, is an important factor in the development of PTG (14). Social support and the ability to share traumatic experiences and feelings with family and intimate friends have a positive effect on PTG (15). Social interaction can promote the development of new schemas as well as providing a modified and meaningful narrative about the traumatic experience (16). In addition, positive emotions are closely associated with PTG (17). Under a positive emotional state, individuals are more likely to broaden their attention and cognitive competence, which in turn facilitates PTG (18). Lastly, positive coping strategies, both problem-focused coping strategies and emotion-focused coping strategies, can facilitate the management of emotions and adversity, which ultimately affects PTG (19,20).
A more recent 2021 study with 1069 individuals published in Current Psychology found additional support for coping abilities and “happiness increasing strategies” on psychological hardiness and PTG:
…it was concluded that the relationship between psychological hardiness and posttraumatic growth is mediated by happiness-increasing strategies and problem-focused coping. It was further observed that problem-focused coping has a mediating effect on the relationship between happiness-increasing strategies and posttraumatic growth and those happiness-increasing strategies have a mediating effect on the relationship between psychological hardiness and problem-focused coping. Thus, problem-solving and emotion-regulating skills may have an effect on the relationship between psychological hardiness and posttraumatic growth.
The Downside of Trauma – Posttraumatic Depreciation
By applying positive coping skills and building character strengths, one may actually have the ability to come out of a trauma in a better state then which they entered. Here’s the clincher though, PTG may be less likely to occur in those with mental health issues. This could be due to the various interacting factors that impact mood, cognitive processing, and functioning in those with a psychiatric diagnosis. In other words, people who are depressed, anxious, or have other brain health imbalances may not have access to the factors and aspects that can cumulate into PTG, such as social connections and positive ruminations.
Interestingly, one small study found that PTG and posttraumatic depreciation (PTD) can occur simultaneously. The authors concluded:
PTG and PTD can coexist and they can be regarded as outcomes of two separate processes. The study results also suggest that although PTG and PTD can coexist, they may be considered different domains of psychological functioning…
Research show that PTG and PTD should be considered as independent constructs. They are not or slightly correlated, and they have different predictors and outcomes (Baker et al., 2008; Cann et al., 2010; Barrington and Shakespeare-Finch, 2013; Kroemeke et al., 2017).
For example, both deliberative and intrusive ruminations predict PTD, but only deliberative ruminations predict PTG (Allbaugh et al., 2016);
PTD, but not PTG, relates to distress, depression, anxiety and satisfaction with life (Barrington and Shakespeare-Finch, 2013); problem-focused and positive emotion-focused coping predict PTG, but negative emotion and avoidance-focused coping predict PTD (Kroemeke et al., 2017).
It is likely that those with a mental illness will experience intrusive ruminations, negative emotions, and avoidance-focused coping behavior. This is a possible reason why those with current mental health issues are struggling more at this time and at risk for PTD.
Curiously, there was one study that reported that those with PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) who experienced additional traumas may have an increased probability of PTG, not PTD. This is if the subjects did not also have depression. As with various mental health diagnoses, those with PTSD may have different “brain wiring” than someone with depression or anxiety. (source)
These results may relate to the ability of one who doesn’t struggle with depression to focus on finding meaning in reoccurring, unfortunate circumstances.
Summary & Conclusion:
Finding Meaning from Messes
Two things that are linked to PTG, social connections and social support, were what was missing in the past two years. As a collective sigh of relief expands through the world and people reconnect, we may find that emotional balance and mental health aggravations also relax.
In fact, there is some evidence that those with mental health issues are viewing the impact of the current events in a positive spin. Some see it as something that has brought attention to mental health stigma and the lack of access to effective treatments. This is more proof that PTD and PTG can coexist, and with the proper treatment and coping skills, those with brain health issues have hope in finding meaning and relief.
I will discuss more about the hope that is emerging, healing from trauma, and how to support PTG in my next article.
For now, please make sure you are taking good care of yourself.
If you are struggling with a mental illness, please get the support you need.
If you are feeling resilient, why not enhance it with incorporating some of the aspects that favor PTG? Skim through the lists above and let me know how you make out!
Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
According to experts and the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no approved standard of care treatment, cure, or preventative for COVID-19. Supportive measures and containment are in full force as a result. Please see the CDC website and your state’s website for more information and updates. They also state when to contact your physician related to symptoms and travel history, exposures. Please read my more detailed article on this subject here.
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.