We have all been through challenging times in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown restrictions, and more recently, the war and terror in Ukraine, may all have affected our mental wellbeing. We may have experienced prolonged isolation, uncertainty, anxiety, fears about safety, loss, changes to routine, financial instability and economic hardship. Everyday life can also be challenging or create difficulties which contribute to our emotional strain.
A survey conducted by Mind in 2021 found that around 33% of adults and young people report their mental health got worse during the pandemic, with 88% of young people saying loneliness contributed to the deterioration in their mental health.
Attending to our mental wellbeing and getting the support we need is so important.
How can we do this?
Talking about our emotions and mental health is one of the most powerful ways of looking after our mental wellbeing.
The power of conversations about mental health and connecting with others is becoming increasingly emphasised within the media and campaigns, such as ITV’s Britain Get Talking, promoting conversations about mental health. 3rd February 2022 marked Time to Talk Day, a yearly campaign created by the Time to Change campaign in 2014, and ran by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.
“Conversations about mental health have the power to change lives.”
- Time to Talk Day campaign
This aims to encourage everyone to start a conversation about their mental health. The hope is that these conversations will normalise talking about mental health, reduce stigma, and create more supportive, accepting communities, where we can openly talk about our feelings, experiences, and difficulties, and seek help when we need it.
Talking about our mental health and emotions can be a brilliant way to improve mental wellbeing.
· Help us to make sense of our emotions and experiences
- Saying things out loud can feel and sound very different to hearing the thoughts in our mind
· Offer new ways of thinking about our thoughts, feelings and problems
· Enable us to connect with others and share difficult thoughts or feelings
· Help us to manage difficult experiences
· Provide a way to seek help
· Give us a sense of doing something about a problem
· Help us to recognise and validate our feelings
· Provide relief from, and reduce the intensity of, emotions
· Be healing
· Reduce stress and emotional distress
· Provide an opportunity to feel listened to, supported, and therefore, less alone
· Prevent feelings getting stronger and more overwhelming
· Encourage others to open up
Talking about our mental health is not always easy, especially when we are struggling to cope.
We may tell ourselves we ‘don’t have time’ to attend to or talk about our emotions, we will ‘deal with them later’, or we might think our emotions are insignificant or not worth talking about. We might hold everything in and keep it to ourselves, and feel worried about being a burden to others, worrying our loved ones, or being judged or seen as weak. We might feel vulnerable, afraid, uncomfortable, or awkward, especially if it’s not something we are used to doing.
Ignoring or withholding our feelings can feel safer and easier. It’s not surprising, in a society which has promoted social expectations and stereotypes of men involving stoicism, and the idea that expressing emotions can be a sign of weakness. For women, emotions such as anger may not be ‘socially acceptable’.
It can be difficult to talk about emotions when hearing such messages about whether it is ‘right’ or ‘acceptable’ to express them. Despite there being greater acceptance and awareness surrounding mental health, challenging the stigma, some people may still feel influenced or inhibited by this. They may therefore worry about expressing negative thoughts or feelings, or seeking support when struggling to cope.
A Time to Change survey revealed 78% of respondents would tell family or friends they are fine, even if they are struggling with a mental health problem.
We all have emotions, and at times, we all need support.
Despite our best efforts, we can’t make feelings disappear. Bottling up or ignoring our negative emotions can have detrimental consequences for our mental wellbeing. We can begin to feel more anxious, depressed, isolated, hopeless, or worthless. We may also experience physical symptoms, such as an upset stomach, digestive problems, and disturbed sleep.
Bottling up our emotions can lead to them becoming more intense, leading to more distress and potentially, feelings of rage or resentment, and more chance of an emotional outburst. You might react in a strong way to something that from an outside view seems small. For example, have you ever completely exploded at your partner after a challenging day at work, or have you ever felt like something has ‘tipped you over the edge’? These can be signs that our emotional load is reaching its limit.
This is when talking can be essential in maintaining our emotional wellbeing.
How do I start a conversation?
It may feel daunting or awkward at first, but there are some things that can help:
· Find someone you feel safe with
· Find someone you trust
· Find somewhere you feel comfortable, like home, or a familiar place
· Consider timing - there isn’t necessarily a ‘right time’, but we advise trying to choose a time
when you have plenty of time to talk and won’t feel rushed or cut off
· Find a way that feels easy and comfortable for you
The idea of starting a conversation in person might feel scary, and that’s OK. Talking doesn’t have to be face-to-face. It might feel safer to send a text or WhatsApp message, or to speak to someone on the phone or by video call. You might also feel more comfortable doing something whilst talking, such as walking, or playing a game. Sometimes, it can also be helpful to speak to someone who has been through something similar.
The most important thing is finding what works for you.
As with every new skill, it can take time and practise before you feel confident. Sending a text message might become a stepping stone towards having a conversation in person. It’s okay to go at your pace and to say when you feel you’ve had enough and want to talk about something else.
What if I can’t find the words?
It can be challenging to find the right words to describe how we’re feeling. A feelings wheel can be a great tool for helping us to name our emotions, and can help us to increase our awareness of the range of emotions we might feel. In the centre are our core emotions, which can help us to navigate towards finding a word that best captures how we’re feeling. This can not only help us to label our emotions, but also to communicate these to others, helping them to better understand how we’re feeling and the struggles we’re experiencing.
Have a look at the feelings wheel – what words would you say best describe how you’re feeling?
If I’m worried about someone, how can I start a conversation?
Often, when asked how we are, we might automatically reply saying we are OK, even when we’re not. Time to Change encourage people to ‘Ask Twice’, helping to express genuine concern, interest, and willingness to listen and talk. If you’re concerned about someone, consider starting a conversation with them. You can try the following:
· Make sure you’re in a comfortable setting for both of you
· Talk or share something about yourself, showing you are comfortable talking about emotions,
or you may have had similar experiences
· Don’t be afraid to mention you feel concerned, as this can show you care and are ready to
· Listen - give the person space to talk without interrupting or making assumptions
· Assert you are not judging them
· Leave the door open for them to come to you when they’re ready, perhaps tell them how best
to contact you
What if I don’t feel able to talk to someone I’m close to?
It’s not easy to talk about our feelings. Sometimes, it can feel easier, or safer, talking to someone we don’t know.
Therapy can offer a safe, non-judgemental space for you to talk freely and openly about your feelings to someone who will listen and support you to find ways of coping or working through difficult problems.
This can be somewhere you feel able to be however you are, whether that be sad and needing to cry, or angry and needing to shout, where you can talk about what’s on your mind, and have time to process how you’re feeling with the support of your therapist. This can be particularly helpful if you’ve recently been through a difficult time, such as losing a loved one, or you are struggling with a mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety or PTSD.
Mind report that during the pandemic, 1 in 5 adults didn’t seek support for their mental health, as they didn’t think their difficulties were serious enough.
It is important to seek support if you feel like your mental wellbeing is deteriorating or you are finding it difficult to cope.
Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 is just around the corner, and the theme this year is loneliness. This will raise awareness of the rise in levels of loneliness during the pandemic, the impact on mental wellbeing, and ways of addressing and reducing loneliness. It seems like talking could offer a fantastic opportunity to begin to tackle this.
We encourage everyone to take some time to reach out to someone, to talk or listen, and harness the power of talking.
If you feel you need to talk to someone, Samaritans provide a free confidential listening service, providing support on the phone (116 123) and by email (email@example.com). Alternatively, Shout provide a free text support service (Text SHOUT to 85258).
If you would like to talk to a professional, we provide face-to-face, video and telephone counselling. You can self-refer by completing our self-referral form www.therapycentreservices.com/self-referral.
Written by Lauren Morgan, May 2022