Having a neurological disorder can present many welcome abilities. However, they can also present many challenges. Many neurological disorders increase the likelihood that a person will suffer from a mental health disorders. Some of these disorders can lead to intense feelings of anxiety and depression.
Stress and Mental Health
Stress (good or bad) can exacerbate symptoms and lead to “overload”. Because some people who have neurological disorders are poorly equipped to self regulate themselves, they can unknowingly exhaust themselves physically as well as mentally. In such a case, poor mental health may come upon them slowly, without detection. Or, a sudden stressful situation may occur, and it may “tip” a person into a state of poor mental health very quickly. Regardless of the cause, judgement will be impaired and a sufferer may feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. In extreme cases, a sufferer may make harmful decisions (to themselves or others) in a failed attempt to cope with their situation, symptoms or fears. As someone with neurological disorders, I know I must be aware that my neurological disorders can pose challenges to my mental health and have the potential to lead to a state of mental ill-health. It’s a reality that I must be aware of and vigilance is required in order to reduce the risks. I know that the times of greatest risk to me often occur when I am subjected to external pressure. Pressure is perceived differently by each person, based on their personal strengths and weaknesses. Stress can come from work, family or stressful events such as having an ill friend or family member. To preserve my healthy mental health state, it is vital that I know what my weaknesses and my “triggers” are. Knowing what “stresses you out” will allow you to plan to avoid (if possible) the trigger or minimize its affect on your mental well-being.
Reactions to Stress
Contemplate how you naturally react to stressors. Do you “shut down” and become reclusive? Do you lash out in anger? Everyone reacts differently to stress. You must first identify and accept these reactions before you can make healthy changes. Knowing your reaction to stress makes situations more predictable and thus more manageable through self awareness.
After identifying your weaknesses, triggers and natural responses, you must then determine appropriate responses that will counteract or eliminate those triggers or have strategies to deal with their repercussions and your natural responses. Consider the things that help you cope with stress. Create a list of these strategies and keep it handy for times of stress. They could include outlets such as jogging, knitting, reading or whatever you truly enjoy and from which you obtain relief. In my case, I discovered at an early age that running and weight training helped my get rid of ADHD and Tourette Syndrome energy. As a result, I was more calm. When I knew I was approaching a stressful time (university exams or giving a presentation), I would ensure I proactively went for a run to reduce my stress levels, in anticipation of the stress that I was about to experience. In effect, I was increasing my capacity to take on more stress than the regular daily amount.
I often share this analogy:
I think of myself as a clear glass bottle. As stressful events occur, the bottle fills. Highly stressful situations and events cause it to fill quickly. Daily work and family stress fill it more slowly, over days and weeks. Left unchecked the bottle will keep filling and eventually it eventually overflow. By participating in stress reducing activities, I empty the bottle of some of the accumulated stress and I create more empty space in my bottle (body). When I know I am heading into a stressful time or event, I make sure to first reduce my internal stress so I have more room for adding stress to the bottle, so it doesn’t overflow. I can predict stressful triggers and my responses and also prepare myself to manage the pressures that follow.
In times when you are caught “off-guard” by a stressful situation and are unable to initiate your safe responses to counter a stressor, being aware of how your body reacts is critical. Being aware allows you to self-monitor and regulate your behaviour in challenging situations. With self-awareness and practice, you can become better able to control how stress affects you and reduce its impact on you (and your mental health). It is critical that you are aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Understand and anticipate situations that can “mess you up”, and prepare a plan to deal with challenges in a healthy way.
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