Here are five pieces of advice you definitely shouldn’t be taking to manage your mental health:
1.Just try not to think about it
Thoughts are determined little buggers. If you try to ignore them, they will keep popping up, eager to get your attention. If you continue to push them back down, it will inevitably end up like you are playing an exhausting, never-ending game of whack-a-mole. Telling someone “try not to think about it” is completely terrible advice. Each thought is just a thought – it’s not necessarily wise, useful or who you are. You don’t have to rush to get rid of any thought. Instead you can observe it and you can determine whether or not it’s useful.
2. Don’t get all emotional
When someone says “don’t get all emotional” what they are really saying is “I’m terrible at dealing with emotions. Please just pretend everything is okay, so I can feel less awkward.” Emotions are very useful things, but from a young age we are taught that certain emotions are bad. We become scared of them, ashamed of them and we certainly don’t want to be seen with them. After all, “boys don’t cry” and “you mustn’t cause a scene.” Emotions serve a really useful purpose – they help us make sense of the world and make decisions in line with our values. It helps if we can understand emotions and view them as messengers, rather than attempt to shut them off.
3. Just try to be happy
If you just try to be happy all the time, you are completely doomed for failure. Happiness is after all an ephemeral state – it comes and it goes. No one gets to pick and choose emotions. You can’t block some out and feel the others. It just doesn’t work like that. To interact with emotions more successfully you first need to accept that you will experience a full range of emotions and be able to honour them all. The pursuit of happiness is a rather misguided one. You can’t simply track happiness down, devour it and be satisfied. A far more successful approach is to pursue your values. Do that and you will lead a richer, more meaningful life… and you may actually end up spending more time being happy.
4. Take a spoonful of concrete and harden up
For men in particular there is this idea we can deal with anything by being tough, stoic and coldly detached… but when we take this approach we are really not dealing with anything. It just basically eats away inside of us. It is not however just men who can be bullied in to “hardening up”. In many workplaces women also feel enormous pressure to tough it out and keep emotions at bay.
Being tough is not the same thing as being resilient. If you want to become resilient, you don’t need to “take a spoonful of concrete and harden up”… but you may need to find real bravery in other ways. Often the bravest act is simply reaching out for support. It’s only the truly brave who will take off all that heavy protective armour and allow themselves to be a bit vulnerable whilst really dealing with something that is causing pain.
5. Just have a beer and forget about it
Humans come up with all sorts of ingenious ways to avoid dealing with the difficult stuff that goes on in our minds. Alcohol is one of the most common. The only problem is it doesn’t actually solve any problems. Use this avoidance strategy regularly and the consequences can be even more damaging. Other common avoidance strategies include overeating, undereating, popping pills, gambling, online shopping and obsessive computer gaming. When we become reliant on these avoidance strategies, our problems don’t go away – they multiply. It all becomes a vicious circle that could be avoided… if only we learned to stop avoiding things.
5 bits of advice to take yourself and pass on to others in need.
- It’s just a thought. While it may feel real – It’s not wise, important or who you are.
- Listen to your emotions. They are probably telling you something important.
- Happiness isn’t everything. Honour your values and do what matters most.
- Trying to be tough won’t make you resilient. Be brave and reach out.
- Beer won’t help. Avoidance just multiplies problems, it doesn’t solve them.