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Mental Health: Stepping up, with a pivot

Temperament is determined by what we pay attention to and what we are able to ignore. It’s how each of us responds emotionally and physiologically to our environment.

A key component to good mental health, regardless of temperament, is the ability to endure difficult conditions. The professional mental health community calls the ability to withstand or overcome adverse conditions or rigorous testing HARDINESS.

Parents and teachers best help children develop hardiness by modeling resourcefulness and control when they themselves are faced with their own stressful events.

Attitude is how a situation is viewed. For instance, say you’re stuck in traffic and late for work, if your natural reaction is to lay on the horn and breakout into a litany of words that leave others to question if you kiss your mother with that mouth, you’re definitely what we call Type A. On the other hand if your approach is to inform your boss that you're caught in a situation beyond your control then immediately turn up the radio and engage in some full vocal car karaoke, you’re what’s known as Type B. Type B personalities are noted to live at lower stress levels. And while Type A personalities may lack that je ne sais quoi, cool- as- le cucumber quality, they may not be locked into a life of pulsating temples and full body sweats anytime they are faced with external stress.

Our response to stressful situations is often learned or conditioned behavior. Given the definitions, I would say my mother was Type A. My sisters were Type A, and my brothers were WRONG -Type B, but that really didn’t have an effect on me because I was like my female role models; a dyed -in- the- wool Type A. Or so I thought. When I was nineteen I was introduced to the concept of the mental pivot. I remember getting really upset, about what? I can't remember. But in that moment it was transforming my life to the point that I was throwing what boiled down to be a full blown temper tantrum. I was not in control of my emotions. Again, so I thought. Witnessing this, a close friend asked me, “Do you think this is an appropriate response to_”… What was it? Cold fries at the drive-thru? Couldn’t find the right shoes for my outfit? Certainly minutia. Anyway, I shouted back, “I can’t help it! This is just how I am!”

Fortunately for me this was not the end of the conversation.

For the record, my best friends have always been just a little bit older and waaaaaayyy cooler than me. This lady was one of the coolest. She asked me to indulge her in a creative visualization exercise. She had me close my eyes and visualize myself lying on the beach, eyes closed, relaxed and happy. To imagine that I was there on a perfect day; the temperature was perfect. The sun shining, warming my face as a slight breeze caressed me. She asked me to imagine that my life was carefree, in perfect order, that any struggles were behind me. The image immediately melted me into a puddle of nirvana. I became perfectly relaxed.

Then she asked me to imagine being splashed by freezing cold water. She asked how would I feel now. I imagined becoming furious in a second! Then she said for me to imagine I opened my eyes to find the person responsible for splashing me was a child happily playing in the sand with a pail of water and shovel. How would I feel? I imagined my anger subsiding in less than a second. The sight of a child happily playing would fill me with amusement. She said, "See Toni, you can chose your response.You always get to choose how you will respond. When you chose one response over another, this is called mental pivoting.” I learned something very valuable that day. If I want something to go one way and it goes another for the sake of my mental health, pivot. Dream job turns into a nightmare, pivot. Goal hit a road block, pivot. In other words the situation doesn't control how you're effected. Your response to the situation does. I won’t claim to have been transformed into a Type B personality, but I think I have taken enough steps away from that old modeling to re-qualify as a solid A/B hybrid. I still strive for perfection when I take on a task, but I have learned to appreciate my effort as much as the outcome. By no means do I remember to pivot to the positive a hundred percent of the time in the face of stress. And a stress relieving technique that may have worked in the past may lose it's effectiveness over time. Less we forget mental health is a lifelong process of acquiring tools to help successfully adapt to change.

The best result of stress is that it can be the catalyst to positive change. The not- so- best result of stress can be an inability to maintain intimate relationships, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels and other medical conditions. The mind and body were once thought to be independent of one another, but now it's known that what the mind experiences, the body experiences as well which is why stress management is a vital part of living a quality life. Using relaxation techniques such as flex and release to let go of stress in the body, exercising at least thirty minutes a day a minimum of three days a week, practicing positive affirmations and deep breathing all aid in lowering the stress levels. Twenty minutes of meditation is equivalent to a two-hour nap. (*Milliken, 1998) I've heard it said that life is change, so change or suffer. Learning the art of the pivot is pivotal to mental health.

You absolutely cannot give what you don’t have. Being self-nurturing is in no way a selfish act, it the first step to nurturing others. Controlling stress is essential to your well-being and helps you become a better caregiver to yourself and the young learners around you.

Until next time, remember child development is human development.

-Miss Toni

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