Good mental health is not a given, just like our physical health, we have to work at it. Apart from the usual of our top tips for Mental Maintenance.
Drop the brave face
We are all fragile, suffering, vulnerable humans trying to hold it together. We are all full of self-doubt, full of shame and confusion – but the brave face has been widely adopted. It has made it so easy to assume that everyone is doing better than us. We think we are weird because we meet such filtered versions of each other. We should spare ourselves the burden of feeling alone in our suffering and make space to share how very difficult things can be sometimes. Allow others to see a part of the reality of your life. When it comes to really connecting with others, it is in our suffering that we feel most intimate. I don’t know about you, but when a friend calls me up to say just how difficult their day has been or how tough they are finding life, I feel much closer to them than I do when they call me and tell me how perfect and brilliant everything is.
Dissolve the need to be perfect:
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. When we strive for perfection, we end up missing out on life. One way to curb our perfectionism was pioneered by Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. Winnicott specialised the parent-child relationship and stressed that children did not need the perfect parent to flourish. He noticed that he would meet mother after mother who felt like failures and that their agony was coming from having excessively high expectations of themselves and a counterproductive perfectionism. Instead, he introduced the idea of the “good enough” parent, the parent who allows space for imperfection and for failure and does not hate themselves for it. We can take this idea into our relationships and our work. The good enough employee, the good enough partner.
Make space for all of your emotions:
Much of what we come into contact with in our culture tells us if we are not happy, there is something wrong with us. Many self-help books promote the benefits of positive attitudes, positive thinking, and positive behaviours, labelling sadness, anger, boredom, loneliness and even grief as a “problem emotions” that need to be kept at bay and “fixed”.
Normal, natural emotions are too often seen as negative or positive. When challenging emotions leave us feeling heavy or hurt, we tend to race to our emotional exits in pursuit of happiness or relief. A natural response to painful experiences is to avoid thinking about them, but research tells us that when feelings and emotions are ignored, they amplify. They get stronger. The only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves. In this, allow yourself to feel (both heavy and light) without judgement and without rushing to your emotional exits. Sadness, anger, boredom, loneliness and grief: do not need to be treated with the urgency of a shark attack. Let them teach you what you need to know.
All of us know how to be a great friend to other people, but very often don’t speak as friends to ourselves. If most of us saw how we treat ourselves, we would recognise how very cruel we are. When you find yourself in situations of distress or suffering, think: “if I wasn’t me, how would I advise me?” and you will have a good answer. Show yourself the care, compassion, acceptance and understanding that you know that others deserve.