Mental health. Squirm.
Why is it that we find it easier talking about our weight struggles, our fitness setbacks, that time we farted in yoga class, than sharing our mental health experiences?
Seriously. I could harp on to my friends and family all day about how I devoured a block of Lindt chocolate in one sitting. Or how I chose wine over a run on the weekend. But when they ask me how I am, how I truly am, it’s so tempting to say “Fine!” and shift the focus back to them.
It can be hard to share our true feelings. Our fears. The items whirring around in our washing machine mind.
That being said, our world has come a long way since I was a kid. It’s now much more acceptable to talk about mental health. And anxiety has a bigger platform than ever before.
So why do we sometimes still squirm?
Maybe it’s because no one ever told us how to talk about our mental health.
No one invited us to be vulnerable.
No one gifted us a safe space in which to sit with our feelings, and open them up to others.
But we must.
We must discover a way to speak about our worries without fear of rejection or misunderstanding.
We must empower ourselves to own this part of our being.
We must reframe mental health. For the sake of our own happiness, our own comfort, our own love and acceptance. And to encourage and inspire others to do the same.
But how do we get to that point?
1 Start simply, safely
We begin by confiding in someone we trust. Someone who loves and understands us. Your sister, mother, best friend, boyfriend, teacher…anyone who already knows about your anxiety and has shown an openness to support you.
When they next ask how we are, we don’t dismiss their question as mere small talk. No, we take a deep breath and say, “Actually, maybe you can help me with a few things that are on my mind…”
We start small. We start simply. We start safely. Exposing ourselves to a teeny tiny bit of fear, peeling back a little layer of vulnerability. Inviting someone in.
2 Practice, practice, practice
Next, we rinse and repeat.
Research has shown that gradually exposing ourselves to our anxieties helps us to shift the behaviours and thoughts that hold us back from living our best lives.
So, we peel and we keep peeling. Gradually sharing more of our worries with more people. That’s not to say we unload all of our anxieties, all of the time, on whoever happens to ask how we’re doing. We must choose carefully who we confide in – and when we do it. But when it comes up, we practice sharing a little of our story.
For example: I didn’t know I had anxiety my whole life, until very recently. So I used to be ashamed of my nervous energy and tendency to withdraw or feel ‘weird’ around other people. It held me back. Big time. But once I learned more about anxiety, and how and why it made me who I am, I started being a little more vulnerable around friends. If I cancelled on someone because I felt uneasy about going out to meet them, I told them why. I taught them about my anxiety. The people who truly ‘got me’ stuck around and stayed flexible…and best of all, they didn’t take it personally when I changed plans or ignored their calls. Not everyone stayed in my life. But the best ones did.
3 Be a teacher
Teaching someone something can be hugely rewarding. It gives us a boost, a buzz, a feeling of contribution.
And when we teach someone about anxiety? It’s pretty freaking empowering!
When you’re ready, have a go at explaining anxiety to someone who doesn’t understand it. Like:
- Anxiety is a chemical imbalance in the brain. It’s like the ‘flight or fight’ response is never switched off, and you anticipate fears that aren’t real.
- Anxiety is different to stress or ‘having a bad day’. It’s an illness that you haven’t chosen for yourself.
- I’ve had anxiety my whole life/for ___ years.
- Anxiety makes me feel nauseous/dizzy/frustrated/irritated/weird with people/unfocused/tired
I’ll soon have a free printable that you can use to explain your anxiety. Stay tuned!
What other empowering things have you tried to explain your anxiety? Pop a comment below.