Mental immunity is the foundation of emotional resilience.
The same way in which a cold or flu can derail the health of someone who is already ill, a small setback or troubling thought can do the same to someone who is not “mentally immune.” Mental immunity is what happens when we condition our minds to not only expect fearful thoughts or external challenges, but to tolerate them when they arise. It is shifting one’s objective in life from avoiding pain to building meaning, recognizing that pain will be some part of the journey regardless.
When we have mental immunity, we are able to become a third party observer to our thoughts and feelings. We can identify what we need, what we don’t want, and what really matters to us. Through the process of reintegration – or nonresistance – we become more capable of tolerating thoughts that scare us. The less reactive we are to them, the more we can learn. Frequently, there is an unhealed root association with recurring thoughts we have, or feelings that keep coming up. Being able to process these uncomfortable sensations will not only help us overcome singular issues but progress our lives forward in other ways, too.
So, we know that mental immunity is good, but when we are in the thick of our suffering, how do we begin to build it?
1. Adopt an attitude of progress, not perfection.
Aiming for even a 1% improvement in your behavior or coping mechanisms each day is more effective than trying to radically revolutionize your life for one reason only: the former is actually attainable.
2. Be careful not to identify with that which you struggle.
A lot of people who have spent their lives struggling with anxiety begin to assume that it is just part of their personality. “I am an anxious person,” or similar phrases, are common but not necessarily true. Adopting an idea about yourself into your identity means that you believe it is who you fundamentally are, which makes it significantly more difficult to change.
3. Stop trying to eradicate fear.
Expect the fearful thought, but recognize that it is not always reflective of reality.
4. Interpret “weird” or upsetting thoughts as symbols, not realities.
If you are afraid of driving in the car by yourself, or losing a job, or being stuck in some kind of natural disaster, consider what that could represent in your life (perhaps you feel as though you are disconnected from loved ones, or that you are “unsafe” in some way). Most of these are trying to direct you to make a change, so honor them.
5. Be willing to see change.
When people struggle with something for long periods of time, there can be a resistance to seeing anything change, simply because of the length of time it has been going on. The willingness to see something change actually begins to change it. If you can do nothing else in a day, say out loud: I am willing to see this change.
6. Imagine what you would do with your life if fear were no object.
That is what you should be doing now. Focusing too much on trying to “get over” something actually reinforces it. It keeps us in the space of being broken. Learning to refocus on what matter is what actually gets us to move on.
7. Be present.
Everything in your life that is sabotaging you is the product of being unwilling to be present. We shop, spend, eat, drink, dream and plan our way out of the present moment constantly, which means that we never confront the feelings that we are carrying around. Being present is essential for developing mental strength and emotional health, because it allows us to actually respond to our thoughts and feelings in real time, and to confront that which unnerves us before we adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms to eradicate it.
The subconscious mind believes whatever it feels to be true. Therefore, it is easy for us to program ourselves to be subconsciously convinced that we are inadequate, in danger, or unloved. Mental immunity is what happens when we bring those ideas to the forefront of our consciousness and debunk them by marrying our feelings with reason.
Consistently reminding ourselves that a spectrum of feeling is healthy and helpful and letting go of the idea that overcoming something means eradicating it, rather than learning to act in spite of it, will help us to inch toward the lives we aspire to, rather than succumb to being victims of our own minds.