“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.” — August Wilson
Robin Williams, a celebrity described as “kind” and “funny” and one of the nicest people you’d ever meet, took his life recently, at 63. How does someone so devoted to creating joy and laughter for others get to such a point where he feels his life is no longer worth living?
In a recent Facebook post, Author Anne Lamott, indicates she and Robin Williams were raised within close proximity, in a troubled environment filled with pain and insecurity, in addition to suggesting they both had a genetic predisposition to mental health problems.
However, whether you have a genetic predisposition or a painful past—there’s always hope.
Contrary to what many people believe, experts indicate that a genetic disposition to any illness is a vulnerability—not a life sentence. It’s a good indicator of the necessity to have preventative measures in place, in support of a productive and healthy life.
Painful past experiences don’t have to be a precursor to a dark future either, or all-encompassing of who we are. Instead, it can be an incentive to inspire personal growth—signaling the importance of seeking opportunities that can help support greater emotional development and coping skills.
Instead of becoming victims of life’s challenges and running from one extreme to the next—be it abusing alcohol, drugs or each other—we can create a middle ground where things are neither hopeless or perfect, but rather okay and manageable.
In spite of how we feel in any given situation, it’s important to remember that we always have choices. Understanding our options ahead of time is a significant way to manage life’s challenges, so we can feel in control and have a sense of hope—regardless of what our ailments are.
The following some tips for coping with distressing situations:
The following some tips for coping with distressing situations:
- Know your triggers—situations that cause you to
feel the most distress. Pay attention to your thinking, feeling and what
happens in your body. When you know what your stressors are, you can
reduce or eliminate them, or create a plan for managing them.
- Draw from strengths that got you through difficult experiences in the past, and realign what’s out of balance or dragging you down.
- Be willing to reach out and ask for help. People
don’t know your situation until you communicate to them. And having supportive
connections—loved ones or professionals you can talk to—can be a great way
to get your feelings and frustrations out, and can be helpful with
solutions or resources. (And regular medical checkups can be a helpful
tool for monitoring and having support for your state of well-being.)
Studies have demonstrated an association between increased levels of social support and reduced risk for physical disease, mental illness, and mortality.
- Get physical. Exercise reduces tension, and
burns off adrenaline, hormones, sugars, and fats that are released into
your system when you’re stressed. It increases energy, endorphins,
strengthens your heart, and improves sleep quality. When we feel better, we do better.
- Be realistic about your expectations. Consider
your limits, what’s most important, and how much you can comfortably take
on. Don't pressure yourself for not being able to do something, for saying
"no" or when things don’t always turn out the way you’d like
- Challenge your perception. Pay attention to your
thoughts about a situation, and whether it’s based on truth or fear.
Instead of viewing it as a threat, think of it as a challenge - getting
your creative juices flowing and propelling you forward, toward a
your focus. We have a choice about what we want to ruminate about, and
research suggests that focusing on things that are meaningful to us, such
as our goals, is empowering and has a positive impact on our emotional
- Determine your needs. What requires attention in
your life right now? Make a list of what’s being met and what’s not. This
can include physical and emotional aspects, such as sleep, support or fun.
- Be assertive. Expressing your needs and concerns
can help you feel more in control of your circumstances. It’s the middle
ground between being passive and aggressive—extreme ends of the
communicative spectrum—which contribute to stress. Determine what you
want, communicate it (without blame—“I feel or want…”), and create an
action plan, clearly defining your solution. Be specific. Telling someone
you want more time with them is clearer than requesting them to be more
- Add more meaning to your life. Dr. Doug Saunders
of the University of Toronto links the additional stress we face as a
society to a loss of things that are meaningful to us, in addition to
increasing demands. Joyful experiences create more balance to the distressing
Ways you can help others:
- Support acceptance and inclusion (versus exclusion) - especially to those that may seem on the sidelines or isolated.
- Encourage social networks between loved ones, neighbors, co-workers, communities and other groups.
- Participate in neighborhood outreach programs.
- Learn more about warning signs to watch out for with loved ones and friends.
We all have strengths and resources we can utilize to successfully deal with our situations. And together, we need to draw upon our strengths to help each other and to contribute to the health of our society.
“As we evolve as individuals, so do we cause society to evolve. The culture that nurtures us in childhood is nurtured by our leadership in adulthood. Those who achieve growth not only enjoy the fruits of growth but give the same fruits to the world. Evolving as individuals, we carry humanity on our backs. And so humanity evolves” (M. Scott Peck, M.D., The Road Less Travelled, 1993).
Resources for needing or lending support:
Canadian Mental Health Association – A resource for needing and lending support, for those dealing with various aspects of mental health. It provides a large variety of helpful information and supportive network services.
Mayo Clinic, Adult Health – provides a detailed list of websites for specific needs.
World Health Organization (WHO), Mental Health Gap Action program (mhGAP) – provides resources for mental health intervention.
Community Health Centres – Works with other agencies to contribute to the development of individuals, families, and healthy communities through outreach initiatives, such as providing resources and linking support, to encourage people to take responsibility for their health and well being.
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Resources for family/relationship support.