World Mental Health Day is a chance for everyone to foster a conversation that promotes positive change, in both attitudes and support, for those who suffer from mental health issues as well as bring the issue to the forefront of society’s mind. Everyone has been or will be affected by mental health issues in some way during their life. Whether it affects a friend or family member, is an emotionally turbulent period or a chronic issue that has become a permanent part of your everyday life, mental health is a universal part of society. However, the dialogue around mental health is rarely commonplace and is often ushered, given little spotlight or kept to the more niche areas of the internet. Today, I want to talk about some pieces of advice that have helped me through difficult times when it has come to my own mental health and that of the people I love. You are not alone in this fight and everyone needs to get involved in the discussion.
1. Do Not Allow Anyone to Shame You – Especially Yourself
Shame is a feeling that is prevalent in modern society and equally one that can be incredibly damaging to peoples’ mental health. It’s an emotion that tells us we shouldn’t feel the way we do, that we value ourselves too highly. Brené Brown, one of most authoritative voices on the impact of shame on mental health, says:
“Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough”
This “master emotion” manages to work its way into our psyche and gnaw away at our self perception. You’ll find it in phrases like “Oh I’m just feeling a little down, a bit silly really” or “I shouldn’t be so upset by this”. I was first introduced to it by a person I love very much who already followed Brown’s work closely (someone I’ll refer to quite a bit throughout this post), she said that this sort of “shame spiral” forces us to believe that our own emotions are not good enough, that we shouldn’t trust them or value how we feel. Instead, it makes us beat ourselves up and demeans our perceptions of self-worth resulting in us never feeling worthy of other people’s praise, friendship or even love.
It’s important to recognise shame when you see it, when you tell yourself you shouldn’t be feeling the way you feel or punish yourself for feeling happy about something. Identify it and then take a step back because…
2. …You Are Allowed to Feel The Way You Feel
Seriously. However you feel right now, happy, sad, anxious or angry, you are allowed to feel that way. It’s not good to feel happy and bad to feel sad, and vice versa. You shouldn’t try and be happy all the time because no one is. We have our peaks and troughs and that is life. It’s how you interpret these emotions and how you act on them that matters.
For example, if you can feel yourself getting angry, ask yourself why you feel angry. Don’t get violent or abusive, don’t tell yourself to cheer up but instead take a moment and consider what is making you angry? Is it something someone said, is it someone’s actions or is it a reaction to set of events? Whatever the case, it’s ok to be angry or upset about it, it’s ok to feel those emotions and it’s ok to accept the way you feel and move forward without carrying the weight of it with you. Each emotion is part of you and a part of what makes you loved, don’t bury those emotions and don’t lash out because of them. Take your time to understand and accept them because they are a part of all of us.
3. You Are Not Alone
It may not seem like it, it may not even feel like this helps right now, but it’s true. You are not alone in how you feel and it’s important to know that, not because you are not special, but because you should know that people struggle with their feelings on a daily basis. It may not look like it, particularly in the Instagram filtered world of digital life, but everyone is made of a spectrum of emotions and understanding that those feelings are often shared is what brings us closer together.
Your emotions, their emotions, anyone’s emotions are completely valid and it is understanding and sharing them that allows us to support each other. So, take a deep breath because the next part is the hardest.
4. Have The Courage To Reach Out
“As a shame researcher, I know that the very best thing to do in the midst of a shame attack is totally counter-intuitive: Practice courage and reach out!” – Brené Brown
It is so tough to be vulnerable and open up to someone, to tell someone you’re not feeling ok and to ask for a little support. For both women and men, society asks us to be “proper” and hide our emotions from others, not to burden them with our issues. I completely disagree. The people who love you want what’s best for you and that includes supporting you when you feel you are struggling and if someone comes to you looking for that same support, you will know how important you are to them.
Many people have felt the same way as you do now at some point during their life. They can offer to help, to support or to listen to you if you need to vocalise your feelings. Those closest to you want to support you, so make sure not to shame yourself into saying everything’s “ok” because you feel like your feelings are not worth their time. You are worthwhile and you are loved. Sharing your feelings with loved ones, and vice versa, is one of the purest ways of showing that love.
5. Take Time For Yourself
Life has a funny way of snowballing into a constant game of catch-up. With work pressures, friendships, relationships, family and everyday life filling up every day it’s no surprise you don’t get a lot of time to just be with yourself. It’s easy to deem this as “being selfish” as if you are not worthy of your own time (remember those “shame phrases” from before?) but you’re mind needs time to be calm, unwind and get itself back to a healthy place.
Here are some things I find help calm my thoughts and refresh myself mentally when the strain sets in:
- Take a weekend to yourself – go for a walk, a run, get out of town – maybe somewhere quiet. It’s ok to have a few days for yourself, away from friends and work.
- Try Headspace – I recommend this app to everyone I know. It’s a simple mindfulness course that takes 10 minutes per session and can be done during lunch. It teaches you to observe and understand how you feel, rather than try to control and manipulate your own emotions.
- Develop a morning or evening routine – take time when you’re cleaning your teeth, washing your face or shaving. Take into account what happened that day and how you felt. Be deliberate with your movements and enjoy the sensations.
- Call/meet up with a close friend – don’t text. Make sure you take the time to talk to them without distractions and without other things going on. It’s a time to talk things out and get some support on something you’re worried about. Make time for yourself and each other, just to talk about how you feel.
Thanks for checking out the post on #WorldMentalHealthDay and, as always feel free to share it or like it if you enjoyed the read. If you want, you can comment (anonymously) about your own experiences of mental health issues, support and what you have learnt. Maybe you’re still working through them. Maybe you don’t want to confront them. No matter what the situation, know that there is support out there and it starts with talking to someone.