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The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts

The modern workplace requires you to have the ability to 'switch off' from whatever it is that is going on in your personal life and shine your way through the darkness you might be feeling within

Photo Credit : Shutterstock

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Mental health is increasingly becoming a matter of concern across all walks of life. From companies revising policies and offering leave on account of psychological stressors, to schools offering awareness workshops, the progress seems to be rather reassuring. However, there is a question that has bewildered me often:  how did we get to a point where we managed to neglect such an important part of our being that it became revolutionary to attend to our mental health?

The answer lies in the obnoxious desire of the human being to comprehend everything with their limited apparatus. In this effort, whatever seems to be immediately incomprehensible is dismissed as gibberish or unnecessary. The irony is that the very people who laid the foundation of modern psychology themselves endorsed this reductionist approach. Wilhelm Wundt, the father of modern psychology was the first to attempt and establish psychology as a science separate from philosophy and biology; study the mind in a structured way, with the emphasis being on objective measurement and control. Further, psychologists subscribing to the behaviorist paradigm deemed the consciousness itself as outside the purview of study. Psychology has suffered from what is called "physics envy". In an effort to attain the coveted status of being 'objective' and 'quantifiable', psychologists tried to avoid the discussion of concepts that could get 'messy'. It was natural then, that what followed was a major negligence, on part of people of the 'modern' world, of values that make the human being human-for example, love,  choice, autonomy, self-awareness, growth, humor, affection, transcendental experience, psychological health and related concepts.

The world became increasingly obsessed with economic growth while spiritual growth suffered. If anything was more alien than the human concepts mentioned above, it was that of God and Spirituality. We managed to create enough distractions to keep us from the debilitating questions surrounding existence. Questions about death, purpose, isolation, meaninglessness inevitably arise in one's mind through the course of life. The pressure of reaching the top of the metaphorical ladder of 'success' first, however, does not allow one the time, or space, to acknowledge these questions, let alone finding answers.

Today we are not allowed to give any mental space to ideas and feelings that press us. Having a disturbed mind is seen to be an unnecessary burden, one which we are already too burdened to bear. The fact that suffering exists is undeniable. The very fact of existence is reason enough for stress to occur. However, every person experiences the stress of the human condition in a highly individualized fashion. The universality of stress is one of the major reasons that scholars encounter such difficulty when attempting to define and describe normality: the difference between normality and pathology is quantitative, not qualitative. To explain this further, an analogous model in physical medicine suggests that disease is not simply a result of a bacterial or a viral agent infecting an undefended body. Rather, it is a result of disequilibrium between the noxious agent and host resistance. Thus pathological agents always exist within the body - just as stressors, inseparable from living, confront all individuals. Whether the clinical disease actually develops depends on the body's resistance. Similarly, the human being is always exposed to stressors that can lead to mental illness, it is one's mental resilience in the face of these adversities that determines its impact.

In light of the omnipresence of psychologically harmful stimuli, humans have been rather self-deprecating in their ignorance of these. Just as the human body requires continual maintenance of immunity to be protected from physical diseases, the mind requires continual protection against agents of mental disturbance. Therefore, it is important to understand when you have loaded your mind beyond its capacity and when it needs to attend to and limit the turmoil within. It is even more important to be able to identify that the turmoil exists.

The modern workplace requires you to have the ability to 'switch off' from whatever it is that is going on in your personal life and shine your way through the darkness you might be feeling within. It is important, they say, to keep your personal life and professional life separate. They forget, however, that the key word here is 'LIFE'. An individual comes as a whole physical entity when they arrive at work, so is it really possible for them to bring only a part of their mind? We talk about work-life balance, as if work isn't a part of life and life remains untouched by work. Gestalt psychologists subscribe to the belief that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts". Human beings, too, are not merely the sum of qualifications on their CV or the roles they play in society. We form a coherent whole which comprises, and goes beyond, all of these put together thus making us further fill in the ultimate universal design.

Seeking help, crying, sharing our emotions with someone, or just being with oneself, are not signs of weakness and a person wanting to take life slowly with just the amount that they can digest is not lazy. Religious people are not irrational. Love is as important a virtue as career, and growth does not entail only one's monthly salary. There are struggles that we are not meant to fight alone and it's okay to seek a higher hand for guidance. The day humans give up their narcissistic ideals of omnipotence is the day we will learn to accept our own imperfections and embrace all that is messy, chaotic, and ambiguous, yet beautiful in life.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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world mental health day World Health Day 2017 stress

Raveena Singh

The author is MA Psychology, University of Delhi; Dancer; Fitness Instructor

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