Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 08-25-2020
What is it that erodes our mental health over a lifetime? What can we avoid? And what must we face? There are quite a few mental disorders and no doubt our brain chemistry and biology play a role in our psyche. However, it is also that nurture factor: the things that happen to us. The theme of the environment surrounding us, that we are trapped in. This could include: Community violence, war, domestic violence, toxic work environments, poverty, chronic homelessness etc. Unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances as well as traumatic grievances that can build up over a lifetime. It is NOT always our fault and we must come to terms with the fact that life slowly erodes our mental/ emotional wellbeing. First, let us identify the four major contributors to mental erosion. I present to you an acronym I have created/ coined as TIGS! Be mindful of TIGS and the role it plays in our mental/ emotional health.
Trauma- Facing or witnessing life or death situations, as well as chronic exposure to repeated situations of helplessness/ hopelessness and/ or loss of control over time.
Injury- (physical and/ or moral)- damage to the body or damage to the moral compass either through a physical blow/ accident/ medical complications or a situation in which someone is forced into doing something that goes against their values/ belief system.
Grief- Loss to include loves ones, job, money, time, identity, sense of purpose, belongings.
Stress- Accumulation of adverse situations and release of cortisol hormone leading to physical and mental tensions.
When faced with TIGS, there are several things that can help mitigate some of the risk of mental erosion. It gets tricky, because it is extremely hard to remember what is important when we are in a time of crisis. First and foremost, we must establish safety before healing can even begin. Also, to heal, we must first admit that there is something to heal from. So, what are the barriers that can often make our TIGS more chronic and exacerbated? What are the helping agents that can get us through with the least amount of mental damage possible?
The Barriers to healing during or post TIGS
- Denial/ deflection
- Avoidance of issue’s through excessive work or substance abuse
- Lying about how we feel to ourselves and others
- Avoiding healthcare and mental health care at all costs
- Isolation & agoraphobic tendencies (staying indoors and hiding when in pain)
- Repeatedly going back to what harms us (often due to guilt, low self-esteem and/ or obligation)
- Lack of a support system
- Never asking for help
What helps when dealing with TIGS?
- Established support network (community/ family/ friends/ social clubs.. etc)
- A variety of healthy coping tools
- Prioritizing self-care (Sometimes this means saying no to others)
- Medical check ups and mental health hygiene
- Saying yes to helpful resources when in a time of need (gifts/ social welfare etc.)
- Keeping our momentum (slowing down is always okay, but stopping/ isolating is what is harmful)
- Grounding ourselves in the moment and allowing our emotional processing through
- Practicing patience with ourselves as well as positive affirmations
Many people have reported that when dealing with TIGS, they often come face to face with societal pressure’s, judgements, criticism, and a lack of support. I always stress when we choose our support systems, we must choose them wisely. When picking our healthcare and mental health care teams, we must find a fit that we are comfortable with. When going to friends or family members for an emotional outlet, we must remember which ones are actually helpful to talk to. When engaging in any type of self-medicating, we must remember the importance of harm reduction and balance. We must also remember to keep some momentum, but also not push ourselves. These balances are excruciatingly difficult to keep up, and sometimes the TIGS just keep on coming. We are faced with enormously difficult tasks. Keeping up with the constant demands of life (work/ family/ bills etc), dealing with TIGS and being required to appear ‘normal’ and happy the entire time.
What was your last TIGS situation? How did it go? How did you handle it? Did you reach out for support? What was helpful and what did not work for you? What were the barriers and how can you counter them next time? It is true that TIGS are a part of life, but it is also true that humans are emotional beings and require time to process, address their issue’s, tend to the wounds, and heal. Some people address all their TIGS with phrases such as: “I’m okay”, “I can do it on my own”, I’ve been through worse” etc. Be mindful that these phrases fit many of the barriers of healing in the top list: denial, deflection, avoidance, and never asking for help. Functionally Mental blog is here to remind you again, it is okay to not always be okay.
One thought on “T.I.G.S”
I love this article. My last TIGS thru me for a loop because I wasn’t expecting it. However if being honest, I’m still going thru the tools that you mentioned to deal with it. I’m much better than I was when it happened and I’m much better than I was a few months ago and I’m much better than a few weeks ago. I love the way you ended the article with “ it’s okay to not always be okay”. So I’m going to try not to hate myself on the few time I may fall backwards. As long as I know I’m going to pick myself back up and keep going forward. Thank you for sharing.
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