The Most Important Factor for Maintaining Mental Health

Darkness cannot drive away darkness, only light can do that.

If you enter a dark room, the darkness is driven away the moment you turn on a light.

When we are in the midst of a dark season, experiencing the loss of a loved one, separation, divorce, unemployment, or when we have repeatedly experienced darkness in the form of oppression, racism, sexism, classicism, xenophobia, or any form of otherism, it shapes our perceptions of the world.

Our sense of safety and connection is directly impacted through our experiences. Our neurobiology dictates this. Our nervous systems evolved as highly specialized survival machines. When we experience safety and connection, our bodies are relaxed and we are able to process information effectively and make well thought out decisions.

When we sense a threat, our nervous systems subconsciously become activated and attempt to mobilize. We may notice our physiology change before we are consciously aware that we are feeling threatened. Our hearts may start to pound, our thinking a bit foggier as blood moves to our extremities to mobilize us for action. This is what we refer to as sympathetic nervous system activation, also known as fight or flight.

In modern day, most of our perceived threats occur on the intellectual level. We do not have bears chasing us, but we do have difficult interactions with others and a myriad of other stressors, which lend themselves to perceived threats of abandonment or loss of security. These are very real dangers and our body responds accordingly.

When we experienced prolonged stress or stress that overwhelms us, we move into the oldest form of mamalian survival: freeze. Our thinking goes offline, it may be difficult to talk and respond, think critically, or take any kind of action. We may become very quiet or mentally checkout, leaving our bodies in a sense. This is a highly adaptive way of keeping us safe when we experience something that is too overwhelming for our bodies to process at the time.

Everyday we encounter pain and darkness. We see the evils of humanity, the pain purposefully inflicted on others for personal gain, greed, and fear. We are forced to reconcile the areas of our life where darkness exists.

As I reflect on my actions this year, I am forced to reconcile my own selfishness and judgmental thought processes. There are days and weeks where we feel ourselves coming up short. Stress and feelings of inequity may have impacted our words and actions, creating bitterness, resentments, blaming, or a sense of victimhood.

Many of us had seasons in 2020 (or all of 2020) where it felt like operating in survival mode. Our fight, flight, or freeze responses perpetually triggered. This may have manifested in burnout, illness, autoimmue flares due to increased coritsol levels, exhaustion, irritability, and mood lability (just to name a few). Perhaps you are operating in surivival mode as you are reading this. The normal ways of restoration such as working out a gym, going out to coffee with friends, or visiting family no longer an option.

To experience darkness is to be human. But we are not the darkness we experience.

Darkness cannot drive away darkness, only light can do that.

No matter how old we are and no matter what our position: clergy, therapist, doctor, mother...we all have times where we need the light of others to help drive out the darkness. We need to remember that we are not alone, that we are not meant to walk through this life alone, nor are we meant to have all the answers.

What we perceive as our darkness and greatest weakness are places from which we grow the most, connect the most, and give the most.

If you feel your light dimming, it’s okay to say, “Hey, I’m not in a good place and I need some help.”

We often don’t, especially those of us in the helping and healing professions because of the (false) narrative that we should “have it all together”.

Sometimes all we need is someone to share the light to help illuminate our path.

After all, darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.

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Disclaimer: The information shared on this website is intended for educational and marketing purposes. It is not a substitute for seeking help from a licensed mental health or medical professional. If you or someone you know is in need of immediate assistance dial  911.