The New Year has started. The January sale is on. You can find a whole new wardrobe, get a new discount haircut, and see new places for a few pounds. January always seems to be a good time to spend money and invest in things that might cost more throughout the rest of the year. But how about investing in something else this year? Invest in something unusual and really special in 2022... Like yourself!
An easy way to understand behaviour better is to educate ourselves on the mind and its workings. This is called psychoeduction. Psychoeduction used to be neglected by professionals and the facts and explanations of the minds and mental health were used only by the therapist and often kept to themselves. It was considered to be an ineffective approach to educate someone on their mental health problem.
However, several recent overviews of research have proven that even brief psychoeducational interventions alone can reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and psychological distress.
Psychoeducation is an easy, cheap and fairly quick way to help someone. It can be used on its own or as a first step in a longer intervention. Getting to know a disorder or finding an explanation to our behaviour can come with relief, a reassuring feeling like we are not alone, and even a feeling of finally losing all the guilt around a behaviour we thought was our fault.
Getting educated by as much as a well-written leaflet can reassure us and direct us to the next steps or to important resources. It’s important to remember to stick to referenced research on these topics as there are many books and articles that take advantage of people trying to educate themselves, and tend to scare them with numbers and figures that grow their consumer base.
Psychoeducation helps us understand behaviours, disorders, and wellbeing in general. But other than getting our information on these topics from outside, we can also turn inwards to find out new things about ourselves.
Research shows that high level of self-reflection and insight is strongly connected to psychological well-being. This means the better we get at reflecting on our behaviour, the better we understand ourselves which can eliminate guessing, guilt-tripping and insecurities about why we are the way we are.
Self-reflection is a powerful and positive tool, but it can also turn into a distractive activity when overdone. Rumination is the pitfall of healthy self-reflection. Rumination means going over negative thoughts repeatedly and it is a proven significant negative predictor of mental health.
Often as we try to self-reflect to make sure we do everything right, and we are self-aware people, we can slip to the other side and think about negative thoughts or hurts of the past over and over again, until we internalise these thoughts to a dangerous level, and stop ourselves from moving forward.
This is where reality-check comes in. It is important to discover our thoughts and behaviours, but when attempting alone, we have got to make sure that we don’t ruminate and we stick to reality. It’s important to catch ourselves slipping into negative thinking traps and get back to reality. A good way of doing this is looking for evidence supporting our thoughts. It’s important to remember when reflecting that feelings are not facts, and thoughts that have no evidence are not supporting healthy reflection, but damage it. Using mindfulness as a tool in your routine of self-reflection is also helpful to stay present, and not slip away from reality.
If you are able to invest not only time and effort in your wellbeing but also money, think carefully of the direction you are going into.
Self-reflection alone is useful, but also risky for people that tend to get stuck in thinking traps. There are many benefits to having a professional’s helping hand when attempting this.
Having a therapist present may help you dig deeper, and approach yourself in a professionally guided session. Your therapist can help you lead the conversation to topics you may want to discover, and validate your feelings, while also making sure you don’t see yourself through falsely negative lenses.
Family therapy might also be a good idea if we would like to learn about ourselves. Our behaviours and minds are shaped by nature and nurture simultaneously.
Nature represents our genetics and inherited tendencies towards certain mental health problems, while nurture is our environmental factors, upbringing and everything we learned while growing up.
To understand ourselves better, it is useful to discover both aspects, and maybe involve parents or relatives in our sessions to get an outside perspective of our experiences growing up, and solve long overdue issues in our family relationships.
Family tree research might also be a fun thing to invest in when discovering ourselves. You can find fascinating facts, stories and past traumas that can explain the motives and behaviour of our ancestors which have left a mark on us. It’s surprising how much you can learn about your family dynamics after listening to stories of older family members, or even spending money on finding out how our great-great grandparents lived and died.
Mental health workshops can also be a good investment. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) based workshops are the most commonly suggested interventions.
CBT-based workshops can teach you everyday ways to deal with stress, goals, organisation, thinking patterns or other ways to improve your general mental health.
They often come with tools, journals and other useful materials and resources that will be worth your time and money, if you’re looking for a one step less intense intervention than therapy. Some workshops can be found via free self-referrals, or paid ones you can look for online. It is important to mention that guided self-help based CBT workshops are more effective for people with less severe depression or anxiety symptoms.
Investing in understanding ourselves is a fascinating journey, and whether you can spend money to pay for therapy and a workshop, or just invest time and effort in interviewing your family members, or in building a self-reflection routine you can stick to, it will pay off. Self-awareness benefits us just as well as our environment, and its positive relationship to mental well-being is something that will make you happier than any other investment you would try this year.
Coull, G., & Morris, P. G. (2011). The clinical effectiveness of CBT-based guided self-help interventions for anxiety and depressive disorders: a systematic review. Psychological medicine, 41(11), 2239-2252.
Donker, T., Griffiths, K. M., Cuijpers, P., & Christensen, H. (2009). Psychoeducation for depression, anxiety and psychological distress: a meta-analysis. BMC medicine, 7(1), 1-9.
Harrington, R., & Loffredo, D. A. (2010). Insight, rumination, and self-reflection as predictors of well-being. The Journal of psychology, 145(1), 39-57.