One of the common elements of mental illness is the inability to flow through events. Instead, we stop, and our flow of action is interrupted. We are like a river: we need to keep flowing. If we reach an obstacle that holds us up, then immense pressures can build, with tricky results.
ATTRACTION TO PROBLEMS
What stops our flow? When we are anxious, it is usually an over-focus on points of concern, so that we can’t move freely from person to person, from place to place. We become magnetically attracted to one or two problems, and obsess about them. For example, on a separation, we may find ourselves unable to stop dwelling on our ex-partner. Equally, we might obsess about any imperfection in our life – a potential illness, a potential financial loss, a work difficulty.
WHY ARE WE SO DISTRACTED BY POTENTIAL LOSS?
There are good evolutionary reasons for being so diverted by potential loss. We are programmed to be alarmed by impending loss, but not to be so concerned by potential future gain. In our evolutionary development, this stopped our forbears jumping over cliffs, or walking into the path of a predator.
LOSS OF FUNCTION
Constantly stopping to contemplate potential loss is extremely draining. It can take up all of our cognitive faculties. Hence the friend who cannot raise their eyes to join their social group, because they are so obsessed about their own problems.
If we are fortunate enough to have work, or to have people to care for, then this helps to distract us from our own problems. This is why it is usually so functional to have a job, and to have others to look after – although it is draining, it stops us from wallowing in our own mud.
During our evolution, flow was also a part of our daily lives. Herd animals flow with the herd. Nomadic animals flow with the weather or the landscape. Unfortunately, modern civilisation often traps us into individual living spaces, without a flow that keeps us moving. Loneliness and stagnation result.
We can relearn flow by welcoming activities that being our mind and body into something greater than ourselves. Good candidates are;
- Like-minded groups and gatherings – common interest, religious, or political
- Exercise, either group or individual
- Courses of learning, including languages, arts and crafts, and other skills
- Jobs, either paid or voluntary
- Social events, including parties and celebrations
- Social venues, including museums, theatres, pubs, cafes, gardens and restaurants
So that it’s not too much of a shock, we can diarise items in the list above. This means that our mind and body, during the anticipation period, acclimatise themselves to the upcoming event. When anxious or depressed, it’s common to experience fear and the wish to cancel. To avoid too many cancellations, we can plan ahead to make sure that trusted friends are present, and that conditions are suitable for us.
WHY EVENTS HELP US REGAIN FLOW
The reason that diarising events helps us to regain flow, is that it makes us part of something bigger than our immediate concerns. We can meet people with different lives, do activities for purposes other than our own survival, see things outside our normal experience.
The stagnation of anxiety and depression often entails avoiding other people, becoming inactive, resigning from jobs, staying at home, and being unadventurous. While this may be necessary for a while (e.g. in bereavement or serious depression), if it goes on too long it can become too much of a pattern.
COGNITIVE AND HEALTH BENEFITS
Exercise, courses of learning, work, and social activity are generally good for both our cognitive thinking, and our health. We are social beings, full of curiosity, and our environment needs to be rich enough to feed all the inner functions that feed from that curious, social nature.
Cognitively, our minds and bodies need to be stimulated enough to think well. When left alone, we often become less creative, more ‘samey’ in our thinking. Health-wise, our minds and bodies need to be moving in order to flow well, and our biological, chemical and physical beings thrive on movement. Movement increases our use of nutrition, and quickens our homeostatic systems (the mind and body systems concerned with keeping us in balance).
As organisms, we thrive on sufficient flow. Anxiety and depression often make us stagnant and inward-looking, obsessed with a small range of personal problems.
When anxious and depressed, we need to push outwards a little, to make sure we are remembering to involve ourselves in our universe. Our minds and bodies will thank us.
Exercise, learning, work, and social activity are good for our mental and physical health. We can use our diaries to plan and anticipate such events.