As we are in the midst of Mental Health Awareness week this is a topic that's been occupying my mind for a while now. Ever since I trained in positive psychology I have been telling a story about our negativity bias (our natural inclination to focus on the bad stuff as opposed to the good stuff) being something that is somewhat outdated. A tendency that comes from a time when we lived in caves. I often quip that the majority of us live in safe environments - there are no tigers in the woods or bears at the door of the cave... ha ha ha etc etc. Obviously, I point out, it's really useful in certain situations but those are few and far between in this day & age...
And yet…. we are living in unprecedented times from a climate change point of view, where the global south actually is living with a bear at the cave door. They are living with the very real prospect of their homes being destroyed, their livelihoods being destroyed, their country being destroyed. Their whole population being wiped out. Even in the global north where we have more resources at our disposal we are seeing more and more catastrophic events happening. We are also living through times where war & the threat of a third world war is being talked about freely in the media & the disparity between rich & poor is ever widening.
Going back to our predisposition to focus on the negative, there is a very good reason for it and that is for the survival of our species, the survival of ourselves first and foremost, and then the survival of our species. All emotions - including anxiety - have their place. We can sweepingly put them into either a bucket called 'negative' or 'positive' but in doing so we risk being too binary & missing the point. Anger, sadness, pessimism, fear... are all valid emotional responses. In a best case scenario these emotions would spur us into ACTION. The current mental health crisis, I believe, is partly in response to the environment we, as a collective, have created, that is so far removed from the one that humans are naturally meant to be a part of. We have created systems that are literally killing the earth that we rely on. No wonder our alarm system is being triggered! And we are conditioned into a response of 'don't make a fuss'... 'don't rock the boat'... 'it's just the way it is'... 'I can't make a difference on my own'... This is where valid emotional responses can turn into pathological conditions.
By promoting mindfulness techniques, meditation, coaching, all of these wonderful interventions that do have a positive impact on people… I am questioning whether we maybe dialling down the responses that we as a species, as individuals, as communities NEED to be having. There IS a bear at the door of our cave and our response is a flight, fight, freeze one. It is a natural stress response trying to flag something to us. Pulling the strings of the bear at the door of the cave are structures and systems that do not work anymore. They create societal injustices. They are not fit for purpose.
My question is: Are we in danger of quietening down the rage that we all need to be feeling and expressing and ultimately doing something about? Freezing or fleeing is not an option... we need to FIGHT!
Maybe it's time for a new story.
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AUTHOR: ANNIE LEE
Annie is a coach, coach supervisor & coach adventurer! Warmth, depth & joy sum her approach up in a nutshell!