Zoe Foster – Counsellor, Psychotherapist & Hypnotherapist
Modern society with its benefits and comfort also brings with it challenges; expectations, excess and our treatment of one another. These can result in maladaptive coping strategies. Stresses from these strategies can lead to ill health or even mental illness such as depression.
Take social avoidance as an example. Low self-esteem or personal experience may lead to a maladaptive coping strategy of avoidance and isolation. This may carry with it any number of secondary issues around lack of exercise, eating habits and increasingly negative thought processes. In the worst cases this may lead to the use of self-medication such as alchohol or even more seriously to self-harm.
A GP may meet with a patient and see symptomatic issues such as stress, coughs, colds, insomnia, digestive or respiratory problems. With their 10-minute slot they might find it difficult to see the core problem. Are we aware that our behaviours may be contributing to our ill health?
Mental health professionals often talk of the benefit of becoming more ‘self-aware’. We may already be aware of some negative strategies. For example, undermining our own efforts when praised. This starts as a coping strategy maybe to avoid attention; this could become self-defeating if we lead peers and leaders to believe we are not up to the job. Perhaps we over emphasise a believed outcome. For example, we might say ‘Don’t share that information with them, they will use it against you.’ This might have come from a negative experience of sharing information. In the future, holding information back may result in being seen as secretive and not ‘teaming’. So ultimately, we sabotage ourselves.
This all sounds quite negative, does it not? There is a silver lining – building on your self-awareness allows you to check your mental performance and address issues as they come up. Using trusted others to reflect on your experience and give honest feedback supports this process. We hear of sports professionals looking for incremental gains to improve performance. Its equally possible to do this for ourselves. This check and balance on our strategies can have a positive knock on effect to physical health as well as work-life health.