It seems like when you ask folks how their summer is going, you tend to hear, “It’s so busy and flying by without time to enjoy it.”
It’s an all-too-familiar issue that many of us face with busy schedules and everyday stress. My friend Jude likes to say, “Mental health is like money in the bank, you don’t notice it until it is gone.” Many times when we focus on our mental health, we tend to put a great deal of effort into solving problems or reducing symptoms of depression or anxiety.
While those are important components of mental and overall well-being, it’s also important to remember the importance of creating and noticing happiness. Sometimes we inadvertently create barriers to noticing what we have to be grateful for, instead turning our attention to schedules, structures, ideals and things.
There is a type of therapy called dialectical behavior therapy, known as DBT, that promotes learning and practicing the skills needed to tolerate distress, regulate emotions and negotiate relationships effectively. The therapy was designed for people dealing with intensive behavior problems — people who were harming themselves, for example, or thinking about suicide. Turns out, it’s also effective for many mental health issues and provides effective and practical skills for anyone to use everyday.
DBT uses components of cognitive behavior therapy, which explores connections between thoughts, feelings and behavior to change unhelpful patterns of thinking to alter how you feel. The DBT model combines cognitive behavior therapy with mindfulness to build an awareness of problems while cultivating a focus on being present in the moment. While many of the skills taught are centered on problem solving, dialectical behavior therapy also emphasizes building a “life worth living.”
But what does that mean, exactly?
In the pursuit of happiness we sometimes are bogged down by a focus on what we want, placing emphasis on things or relationships to make us feel complete. Such thinking tends to lead to a belief that our problems will be gone if we can obtain that something, creating a scenario that may, in fact, leave true happiness just out of reach. It tends to put us in a mindset of focusing on what we don’t have rather than what we do. While we are chasing these things, we may miss the positives that are present in our lives.
Marsha Linehan, who created DBT, promotes the concept of “accumulating positives.” One way is using mindfulness, which encourages focusing on the present to notice the happiness already in our lives.
The model also works toward finding those experiences that bring us happiness and worth, and building on them. By doing that we can “fill our bank,” so to speak, to accumulate positives to draw on during struggles.
Like most things, being mentally healthy and happy involves balance. Life is full of ups and downs. It’s messy and stressful, even for people who are resilient and skilled. We can all do little things to improve our general mental health by building resilience and increasing the skills to deal with the problems that arise and by accumulating positives to fill the bank.
It also gives you a good reason to slow down a bit and enjoy summer in Jackson Hole!