This post will be about mental health, but I want to start out by talking about migraines. I promise I’ll get to the point in a bit if you stick with me. 🙂
So back when I was researching potential cures for my chronic and all-too-frequent headaches, I stumbled upon something known as the migraine threshold theory. It’s based on the following ideas:
- Each migraine sufferer has a unique set of triggers that cause migraines (e.g. poor sleep, stress, certain foods, exposure to chemical smells…).
- The triggers are additive. In other words, one or two triggers being present at any one time may not be enough to cause a migraine, but when you add enough of them on top of each other, they will eventually cross the threshold where the combined triggers are strong enough to cause a migraine.
- People suffering from frequent migraines have a lower migraine threshold than others. They are genetically predisposed to be more sensitive to various migraine triggers.
Learning about this theory was totally life-changing for me! Once I started identifying and keeping track of my triggers, I was able to start avoiding many of them altogether and making sure that I was rarely exposed to several triggers at any one time. As a result, I went from enduring two or three headache days per week to now having maybe one or two per month. Sometimes I’ll even manage a whole month without a single headache.
Awesome sauce, right?
But what has been equally life-changing for me has been the realization that my mental health works pretty much the same way:
- I have a unique set of triggers that stress me out and tax my overall well-being.
- The triggers are additive. In other words, one or two triggers being present at any one time may not be enough to cause “a low”, but when you add enough of them on top of each other, they will eventually cross the threshold where the combined triggers are strong enough that life as a whole starts feeling intolerable to me.
- As a highly sensitive person with trauma in my past, I have a lower stress threshold than the average person. This means that due to both genetic and environmental factors, I’m predisposed to be more sensitive to various triggers that tax my overall well-being.
So my mental health – or “feeling well” as I like to call it – is not the result of any one action.
And when it falters – as it has in the past – it does so, not because of any one thing, but because enough triggers have accumulated to take me over the threshold of what I’m capable of tolerating.
In simple terms, shit keeps piling up and piling up until all of a sudden just a tiny teaspoonful of more shit makes the whole load too heavy to bear and I break under the weight of it.
How Knowing That You Have A Mental Health Threshold Can Help You Stay Well
This realization that I have a mental health threshold and understanding how it works has been crucial in preventing major breakdowns from happening.
The giant mistake I used to make was fixating on the tiny teaspoonful. I would think about the last little thing that took me over the edge and then I would berate myself for being too sensitive and weak. How could I not handle such a tiny thing!
Or I would do something about that one little thing and then be surprised when some other little thing would take me over the edge the next time.
It was only when I started recognizing and addressing all the little things that I was able to make a big difference in my mental health. I was a highly sensitive introvert leading a non-sensitive extravert’s lifestyle. That meant there were A LOT of little things that were constantly piling up to add to the mental load I was carrying – noise, smells, crowds, tension, conflict, interruptions, deadlines, rushing around. Fast. Everything happening way too fast.
With all these triggers always being present, it’s not terribly surprising that I had zero tolerance left for any little extra hardship. Getting a cold, kid throwing a tantrum, boss being unreasonable. Those molehills would grow into mountains in two seconds flat!
So how did I minify my shit mountain? 😀
Well, what I needed to do was to align the big picture of my lifestyle with my personality. One at a time, I removed or minimized a bunch of those “little” things that were constantly taxing me.
It started with easy things like starting to say no to social invites that I didn’t really have the time or energy for and setting aside two hours on a Sunday afternoon for recharging in solitude.
It eventually progressed into bigger things like changing my career and now we’re even gearing up for a long distance move in search of a quieter lifestyle.
After making all these changes over the past few years, my baseline mental load now stays at a level where there’s almost always some room to add another tiny teaspoonful. I’m not constantly wiped out, always on edge, in survival mode. I have the bandwidth to overcome obstacles when they appear. And my mental threshold is rarely crossed anymore.
Those molehills are staying molehills.
P.S. Wanna Learn More About Creating A Life That Doesn’t Slowly Drag You Down?
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