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World over, 10th October is celebrated as world mental health day. It was encouraging to note, many forums in India also had several conversations about various mental health issues. As a practitioner of mental health, I also make a small contribution to the movement by addressing those grappling with normal life frustrations that leave them with anger, disappointments, anxieties, fears, and a gamut of negative emotional disturbances. However, one thing as a counselor that I am often confronted with is the use of denial as a coping mechanism in many young millennials. On inquiring why some of them used denial the most common responses were, “it’s easier this way”, “who is going to listen to us anyway”, “others won’t change so why bother” and the classic one “who cares”. Probably the last one applies to them, but who wants to be honest about themselves these days?
An article in the Sunday times by a prominent writer states how Indians are still living in denial about mental health issues; this triggered my thoughts about how denial as a personality trait was sweeping most of these youngsters. Ironically, they want to live in the present, want instant gratification of their needs, do not want to be corrected as they know it all and yet postpone their emotional expressions to the land of the unknown. Besides this, learning from experience of seniors is termed as old school and any feedback given on their lifestyle draws an instant shut down from these young guns.
It is possible that the use of denial as a coping mechanism could also have been learnt from observations of the older generation. But what surprises me is that the youth who are otherwise so articulate and savvy on twitter and other social media platforms, seem to have also fallen prey to living in denial about their own emotional needs and expressions. It does seem like their excessive preoccupation with their virtual identity, courtesy their over dependence on gadgets, have insulated them from facing disappointments, seen from their heavy usage of emoticons as expressions of love/anger, compelling these youngsters to sweep real expressions of their emotions literally under the carpet.
However, I do not want to be a cynic or critic of the youth. I work with them and learn many skills including the wonders of technology from their agile minds and youthful exuberance. But as a nation that is largely dominated by a young population, I do want to sound a red flag to them about the growing tendency of theirs of ignoring emotional issues within their personal space. Very often they are also guilty of neglecting the emotions of older age groups by merely dismissing them with shortened sentences like “chill please” thereby steering clear of troubled situations or losing opportunities of improving immediate relationships and promoting communities of happier, healthier people around them.
The parameters of success are changing very rapidly, and the future is largely for those who stop living in denial and start accepting their own vulnerabilities so that we have a generation of more empathetic people. This will also mean less cumbersome wastage of resources on debating about mental illness. Because the inevitable dangers in repeated use of unhealthy coping mechanisms like denial are that in the long run people are likely to develop more disintegration within themselves and that would eventually be a huge cost to bear for families and societies that they live in.
When was the last time you thanked God for a beautiful sunrise or rejoiced with nature over the setting sun? While we all are living through the pandemic, never has there been a more opportune time than today to pay our gratitude to everything that we had taken for granted in the past, as on this occasion of teacher’s day.
I must admit that as I started the morning, I was overjoyed to receive so many beautiful messages from past and present students and colleagues. Being in the teaching profession has many rewards. The adulation, the love, and the gratitude from all is overwhelming every year. However, I was aware that this year, the teacher’s day celebrations would not be the same in the absence of the energetic students or staff on the campus. So, not wanting to brood alone on the campus I did the next best thing that my students would think of doing. I decided to bunk college and take off with some of my friends who had been my teachers in the past decade of my life and especially during the last few months. I had meticulously planned to spend some time together by enjoying a picnic with them in my car. The perfect day. In a not so perfect setting. My Car.
So, two beautiful souls joined me today for my picnic. Keeping safety in mind, I decided to pick them from their gate in the western suburbs with both staying 15 kilometres apart. Then we found a luscious green spot in an open parking of a mall and with the backdrop of music we sat together to open our home cooked tiffin feeding each other some of the delicacies that we had missed out through the lock down. While we opened the packed food together in the car, we realised how adaptable we had become, how little we needed to be happy and how satisfying eating a meal after months had meant to us. We also talked about how we were aging, and it’s obvious inevitability, and yet how we all needed to have a youthful attitude of learning from our students, as well as be willing to drop dogmatic mindsets that ultimately would break shackles of mediocrity and provide us options of living life in the present. This adventurous afternoon and the banter over batta wadas and puri bajji turned out to be so rejuvenating and reminded us of never losing the child that lived in us despite our middle-aged knees or expanding waistlines. We relished our food and giggled like teenagers, and soon realised we had so much to appreciate, and valued our togetherness. These few hours helped us peel away the masks that people expected us to wear within our roles and gave us the opportunity of getting ourselves recharged. We reminded each other that we came from a generation where physical presence and social engagement were integral to our learning and healing. Meeting and greeting each other, sharing our happiness and pain gave us reinforcement like we would earlier derive from classroom teaching. In a nutshell, we were grateful that in the absence of our student’s we friends could make the most of the day.
As the sun set in the backdrop, we left with gratitude in our hearts strongly convinced that virtual platforms are merely temporary substitutes, they can never replace the simplicity that physical presence lends to us mortals.
Truly Happy teachers, do create happy students.
Vicktor Frankl in his Man’s search for meaning has said “ if you find the why to live, the how to live will appear on its own”.
Quite frankly COVID-19 has changed not only the way we live our lives but also made me question the why and how to live, especially going forward. But can it also drive us to change the way we deal with stress? Can it teach us to live in the present? Can it inspire us to value what we have in life today which in any case is more than what most of us need? Such questions can help us move away from the difficulties posed by the current situation and thereby help us dwell in the present. Provided we are ready to do so. And it is here that the present situation presents an opportunity to be living in the moment without distraction or judgment. This realization that is often overlooked helps build our resilience, manage our insecurities, lower our stressors and anxiety, and give us better sleep patterns.
So, my friends I am clearly hinting at living with mindfulness. This term has been around for several decades, however, is most relevant in today's time and can have a profound impact on the human psyche. Mindfulness is a state of being fully present and giving attention to the task at hand without being distracted or judging the outcomes. This state makes one aware of one’s thoughts and feelings without being caught up in them. However, most people say that this is easier said than done!
The question uppermost in our mind is how does one practice and incorporate mindfulness in our daily lives? The simplest is to learn to meditate and focus on ones breathing. Again, easier said than done. This is because most people see the spiritual gurus talk and practice being in a meditative state, something they may have achieved after years of deliberate practice. My suggestion is start simple. Just focus on the breath. And let the series of thoughts that are bound to emerge come at a slower pace. Its more about the discipline than the correct technique, which will anyways happen with time. The other and the most important is my all-time favourite, respond, do not react. We always have time between the stimulus and the response, most important in high pressure conflict situations. Here being mindful comes in good stead as it saves many personal and business relationships from the brink of disaster. Thirdly a useful tip to be mindful is to eat, drink, walk and sleep in the most conscious manner such that one learns the art of doing all the basics for the body to thrive and nourish itself. All these simple routines enhance the metabolism and feed the mind body connect to its fullest. For instance, learning to walk away from an incorrect situation or walk towards the correct stimulation is also an act of mindfulness that helps a human being progressively charter their own growth path.
So finally, I would like to remind my readers about the oft repeated prayer we learnt at school that never lets me down in times of adversity and so correctly captures the feel of Mindfulness. It stated, “God teach me to accept the things that you can’t change from the things that you can, and the wisdom for me to know the difference.”
Pain sometimes becomes a huge eye opener. And offers an opportunity to learn about people and most importantly oneself. I mean unless you are a narcissistic personality who sees your relationship as an opportunity to exploit, to get what you want rather than to show reciprocity, who would want to consciously inflict pain on a loved one? Well you may say a sadist, but I am particularly referring to emotional or psychological pain, assuming that physical pain is a given in sadistic behaviour and hence a different realm of discussion. In fact in my recent associations with people, I find only narcissistic people who cannot handle arguments in any logical way and find ways to use a variety of weapons like anger, shamming, guilt tripping, emotional manipulation, sulking and drama, actually cause inevitable pain in their personal relationships. Remember narcissistic people are never wrong. They do not have a problem, everyone else does and so does everyone else who disagrees with them. If they do find themselves cornered, they create some drama to get their own way anyways.
You will find that most learning comes to you when the heart and mind go through sorrows and turmoil. Both emotional and psychological pain makes you gentler and more humane to the tears of others and it allows you to appreciate the good in other people. Well, at least it did so for me. And so, when in pain you have two choices to make. Either wallow in pain. Or rise above it. The risk of making the first choice is that there could be bitterness, anger and a huge chance of inflicting pain on the other; such states could cause negative reactions such as being mean or vindictive to the other person that one wrongly perceived as the pain giver. But if one chooses to rise above it and allows the pain to manifest the good in oneself, then you begin to have strengthened your soul. You serve your soul by not harming others, or by not gossiping or plotting to create a sad environment of hate and pain for others. You also end up not causing other families to break but plough yourself in acts of social work, generosity, and anchoring on qualities of gratitude for the millions of blessings you had failed to notice before.
The reality of life is living it in full glory. Giving it our best and leaving the rest to the almighty. The paragraphs written in the “Fakir” by Ruzbeh N. Bharucha never fail to inspire me. He says no good deed ever goes unnoticed and no wrong thought or action goes unseen or unaccounted for. The balance sheet is in Our own soul, automatically updating everything like a computer so advanced that mankind will take eternity and longer to even come remotely close to it.
Pain is the greatest opportunity that is handed to us, maybe in the form of disaster but often the only way that compassion will find its way into our heart. Hence my friends we always have a choice, either you make the right one or the wrong one. The choice to choose what is good for the soul and what is good for the body, is both in our own hands. Just like the body reacts when the wrong kind of food becomes toxic, so does the soul dread carrying guilt, hate, anger, lust, greed and all such negative pain that leads to frustration. Be cautious and choose wisely.
-- Dr A. Kapoor
The pandemic has brought us to a new way of working WFH, (work from home). While we still need to adapt to this change in India, I do wonder if this will result in newer working models or patterns? I do agree that the crisis has forced people to multi-task, manage the home front with domestic chores along with professional commitments all packed into a single day, sometimes endlessly without a respite. The crisis has also forced us out of our comfort zones like a bolt of lightning unprepared as we were reluctant to use digital technologies as efficiently as we are now being compelled to use.
Although, senior management may continue to use virtual mediums to transact business and still carry on routine functions of team building and motivating subordinates, on the other end of the spectrum they may continue to have expectations from their employees to adapt and be receptive to learning. Many employee's may also feel stressed to re- enter their work environment after having worked from home for several months. Undoubtedly, the people management function and able leadership will play an important role in the wake of the crisis and accompanying uncertainty. This is where focusing on human sentiments and managing energies need to come into focus. Hence institutional counselling mechanisms need to be drafted.
A crisis such as the pandemic has forced the managers to be more caring about the needs and welfare of their team. It is now being reported that many bosses are in fact beginning to place their employees’ physical and mental health as their top priority. A recent survey in the Los Angeles Times has revealed that 58% of workers were comfortable discussing personal problems and mental health concerns with their bosses. The HR departments can pave the way by drafting more employee friendly policies and showing their humane side that gives the employees a renewed enthusiasm to deal with the technological changes expected from them as well as the stress that may arise from digital advancements that will unfold.
Good bosses need to talk less and listen more. Hence in the post lock down days, organizations can move forward by displaying empathy, which is rated as an essential skill and help build teams. This can result in a positive impact and ensure success in the post covid times for organisations.
- Dr Anju Kapoor
“Toxic people make you think you’re holding a grudge when you’re really holding a boundary”. Warren Buffett
While lock down kept getting extended in the COVID days in Mumbai, my understanding of client issues made me realise that when it came to interpersonal relationships, people were having a hard time drawing up boundaries. The simpler term sometimes used by layman in this context is “missing my space”. The ones in a young marriage should have used this opportunity to work on their marital bond, instead they felt they were in an over stressed, over exposed, relationship that got aggravated with the work from home demands on them. Strangely, while the more mature marriages enjoyed the daily chores that left them physically exhausted but brought out greater realisation as well that living life in its sheer simplicity with attention to basics was perhaps the road to bliss!.
And then I chanced to see an Instagram post by a motivational speaker called Jay Shetty who wrote about the importance of setting 3 types of boundaries if we needed to improve our mental health. Boundaries with time, boundaries with our energy and boundaries with people. He goes ahead to explain that boundaries need not be negative as most people may interpret them to be so. Nor are boundaries like grudges; boundaries instead make us feel what we are when we are at our best and healthy. Protecting and maintaining our boundaries in relationships with people, with time, and most importantly with our energies could perhaps hold the key to a more balanced life. Inadvertently, this thought process and practice could lead to more control on one’s mental health and reduce personal discomforts and misery?
People often give me the feedback that when it comes to my personal relationships, I lose focus and do extend my boundaries. I am guilty of trying to even extend myself by causing myself discomfort and making others feel good. Since empathy comes easily to me, I have to retrain my mind now to draw my boundaries that are better and clearer so that I do not lose myself in trying to empathise with others and end up compromising my own self- worth. Afterall, setting healthy boundaries for oneself is a sign that we value ourselves.
A word of caution to the married couples at any stage in their marriage, well since loving someone has really no boundaries and marriage as an institution needs to be continually worked at from both ends, do give it your best shot, but do not consume yourself loving the other. More on that on the question and answer segment on the website, so good luck in the post COVID days as well.
- Dr A. Kapoor
While the country deliberates on the economic impact in the post Covid times, as a Counselor I lament on its impact on the human spirit. The mental deterioration of every age group cuts across every socio- economic strata of society. While being an optimist at the start of Lockdown 1.0 where keeping our selves engaged over the newly discovered Zoom meeting space was as exciting as discovering new recipes on the internet, my own challenges only intensified as the euphoria of all the free time we were confronted with increased.
I discovered creative ways of engagement with my clients and started to take up online counseling, an unexplored field in my pre- covid world. It was exciting to make skype calls to clients that would possibly deliver some of the same benefits to the client that a face to face session would have done in the past.
The problems experienced by the clients were varied with every incremental rise in the lockdown series. But a common thread that kept reappearing was that the individuals were in stressful situations, with the lack of domestic support staff (a big dependence in Indian homes) stretching the family’s level of tolerance and patience to its limit!
Simplistic suggestions that came to my mind was to appeal to clients to “develop tolerance or patience” but that would be merely adding salt to their already raw wounds. So instead I choose to ask them to use their logical mind and to look at the opposite persons intentions before judging their actions.
Knowledge includes humility, simplicity, self- control besides several other things.
Anything contrasting this is sheer Ignorance. And hence results in impatient and intolerant reactions. Maybe Lock down rage is hear to replace road rage.
So, look before you leap. And keep a safe distance to avoid head on collisions.