Minding Mental Health
‘If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today.’
E. Joseph Cossman
We all know how it goes…. Someone tells you not to worry about something and while it may help marginally, the worrying does not just automatically stop. Someone else telling you not to worry about something can be good because it gives you the idea that for others the thing you are worrying about is not necessarily that worthy of worry, you may even feel that things won’t turn out so bad. But to take control of your mind, to actually train your mind to not get stuck in loops of worried thought, that can be a harder thing to achieve.
Research has emerged that is suggesting a possible link between chronic worrying and the likelihood of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the Epidemiology Department of Michigan State University, researchers have found while studying participants over a long number of years, that those who as children were prone to worrying a lot over everyday occurrences were much more likely to develop symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a traumatic event. The statistics indicated clearly that chronic worrying is an indicator of vulnerability to developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder rather than the chronic worrying being a feature that develops as a result of the trauma.
So how can this research help us to better mind our children’s mental health? Are there things we can do to try to steer our children away from developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder later in life if a traumatic event occurs for them? We can’t necessarily avoid the trauma that happens on the journey we all make through life but can we better prepare the next generation to meet trauma with resiliency? Tuning in to how much worrying children do is the first good step in helping them take control of minding their mental health. If the child has a natural propensity towards worrying, you can guide them to an alternative way of thinking, not by saying not to worry but by increasing their own awareness about what thinking is behind the worried feeling. To explore with them what the thoughts are that are causing the worry and then to look at the evidence to suggest that that particular thought is not essential. For example, a child who is worried about what may happen in the schoolyard may be feeling worried because something difficult happened in the yard the week before. By exploring the child’s thoughts around this, they may be able to come up with a strategy to deal with the particular situation and then will begin to develop a belief that is along the lines of ‘I am able to problem solve.’ If this belief becomes strong over time, by strategising when worried feelings arise, even a child who has a natural tendency to worry can gain control of their thoughts and learn to manage their mind. This is not only then a route to better mental health but as the researchers in Michigan have found, it may also be a part of the resiliency a person develops to the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sometimes life is really tough and there are traumas that happen that knock us right over. Sometimes developing Post Traumatic Stress disorder is unavoidable but we can try to build up the resources of the next generation to better deal with trauma just as we can build up our own resources too. Minding mental health. There are things we can do….. and it matters.