How do you react when faced with those turbulent moments? Do you tend to use stress as a motivator, and lean into it? Or do you push it down and ignore it? How we handle difficult situations is a complicated issue- in the past being able to withstand high amounts of stress was considered a point of pride, especially here in Britain. The mentality of maintaining a stiff upper lip has served us extremely well in times past but is a little hard to let go of once the dangers go quiet. We naturally find pride in overcoming obstacles, and why not? When we achieve something it’s worthy of praise, the greater the obstacle the prouder we are of overcoming it.
What doesn’t kill us…
The issue here isn’t in facing problems head-on but lies in how we interpret struggling in difficult moments as weakness. If we speak the words they become real, and no one wants to be weak, right? More often than not, we will only seek help if it begins to hinder our ability to be productive, because then it becomes harder to ignore or hide. The new focus on mental health and being open about our troubles was a long time coming. With the world being as it is, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that we are doing ourselves more harm than good by keeping our feelings to ourselves. It brings to light how much we struggle under the surface- not talking about it just makes it feel like a far lonelier struggle, but doesn’t make it go away.
Loneliness has been coined by researchers to be a disease on its own because of the profound effect it has on our mental health. It has been found to change the structure of our brains and how it functions. Loneliness can come in many different forms and can happen to anyone- even if we are in stable relationships and social circles. The quality of our relationships can have just as much of an effect on us if we don’t feel that they fulfill our emotional needs. Usually, we can do something about this through communication and putting in the time with our friends and family. Lockdown means that even if we felt comfortable in our relationships prior, it had become increasingly difficult to maintain the usual rhythms we rely on. We receive less and less reassurance and are unable to give it to others. It may feel like we have managed to pass through the storm relatively unscathed, but the effects that this has had are simply under the surface.
In it for the long run
At this moment, we are in an entirely new state of affairs. The effects of the pandemic and its impact on mental health are still being questioned, but there are some factors that cannot be denied. Because of the uncertainty and lack of social contact, there has been an influx in reports of loneliness and depression. Research has also found that the changing of regulations has affected people’s routines, particularly for those working from home. Individuals who switched to working from home reported feeling an increase in lacking autonomy we feel less in control of our choices and more alone than ever. Because working from home is pretty big long term adjustment in our lives, the subtle ways this can affect our mental health may go unnoticed.
The reality for many people is that mental health is a lifelong battle- you are likely to hear the phrase breaking the silence because that’s exactly how it can feel. Because people don’t know what to say to others who are going through the process of recovery in their lives, the taboo around struggling with mental illness makes people experiencing these difficulties feel all the more isolated. Even once you’ve reached your limit, attempting to recover can be just as difficult because of the stigma that people face. This is where the importance of striking up this conversation becomes apparent. The more we open up about how we feel, the easier it will become.
The difference between physical and emotional wounds
When we put it into perspective the whole process is a bit ridiculous- when we are hurt physically, our instinct is to do what we can to heal it. We often ask others for help or look for ourselves in order to assist the process.
Yet when we receive bad news or receive emotional wounds, despite all of us wanting comfort deep down, the way we react can sometimes be quite the opposite. We let the feelings fester, and can even make the wounds deeper. We make ourselves feel worse and ruminate on what made us feel that way long afterward, replaying the scenario over and over in our heads. We may say that it’s our own fault, or even more dangerously, take this as a point of personal pride- this is particularly dangerous because it tells us that it was all worth it, and makes us better in some way. We have all heard the phrase what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and in many ways, this can be a fantastic motivator. The problem emerges when these little troubles become the only way we can identify our strengths. Suffering is suffering, and although it can help shape us, it can do more harm than good when we leave it unchecked.
The heart of the problem is that we were simply never taught how to take care of emotional wounds, or at least nowhere near close to the level that we deal with physical pain. We need to learn to take care of our own emotional wounds and be kinder to ourselves in difficult moments.
Ways we can help ourselves
The purpose of mindfulness is to help us be in the moment without the need to react, and to check with ourselves and feel in a more controlled fashion. This can be incredibly valuable when we find ourselves in emotionally difficult circumstances, as we are more likely to consider the whole picture and reach decisions calmly, rather than reacting instinctively.
We may get caught up in our feelings and point blame inwards, or not handle how we feel at all. Mindfulness lets us look at how we feel and really try to understand why we feel the way we do- so we can decide for ourselves what is good for us. This is also a method of avoiding self-judgment because over time you become increasingly able to identify internal comments that are based on emotion alone, and are hurtful to you. Once this becomes a habit, you will have a far easier time of catching these intrusive and harmful thoughts before you start to internalise them, and can instead focus on self-development from a far healthier angle.
Just checking in
One method is to write down our issues as they happen- what is the catalyst and how do you feel in that moment? Keeping a diary for the day to day, or specifically for when we feel a change in our mood can do us a world of good. If you prefer to keep tabs on the go, there are apps such as Daylio or My Wonderful Days that let you keep track of your mood on the go. By doing this we force ourselves to articulate our emotions instead of letting them lead us. This can also be a good way to track our moods and look out for patterns, there might be common themes that can be adjusted for an easier time. It can be hard not to get caught up in the moment and feel a rush of emotions all at once- all the little troubles building up quietly until it’s hard to tell them apart. We need to learn to be comfortable with how we feel, and to understand what it is that we feel in the moment.
Setting the stage
Learning to trust people with your troubles is an incredibly valuable skill because it opens up the conversation to those around you and makes these talks feel more normal. If you are already in the habit of this then good job! But if not then don’t worry, these things can take practice and don’t always come naturally. The important thing is you can learn together with your friends, so it doesn’t have to feel quite so isolating. Opening up the conversation to those around you gives you a chance to learn and listen, but also to be listened to in turn. It might be a chance to bring yourself closer at a time when we are all a little out of practice.
We are in unprecedented times, but we are headed in the right direction. Every one of us that manages to bite the bullet and face healing head-on makes it that little bit easier for the next person. We are beginning to see the shift towards seriously considering mental illness and all that comes with it, such as online resources to help with getting into the habit of looking after ourselves with empathy and care. As with anything worth doing, it will take time and patience, but long journeys are a little easier with others to keep us going.