We hear a lot of messages about the need to remove the stigma attached to mental health.
We all have it, it’s a pretty crucial part of having a brain.
I would argue that the vast majority of us experience some form of adverse mental health at some point in our lives.
Stress, anxiety, overwhelm and depression are all states of being that we relate to – many of us will have experienced at least one, if not all, of these. So you could say it’s pretty normal.
But it’s definitely not considered “ok”, despite all of the well-meaning messages we get and hashtags like #itsoknottobeok
The problem with that is that I think a lot of adverse mental health is caused more about how we feel about how we feel, rather than being about the initial feelings themselves. This means that the continuing existence of the stigma is actually making mental health issues worse.
There is a guilt and shame attached to feeling anxious for example – we don’t want to let people see that side of us, because we see it as a sign of failure, of weakness, of not being ok. But in worrying about what others will think – we feed the anxiety and make it bigger.
I know this first hand. I tried to hide how I was feeling when my stress and anxiety became unmanageable last year. Without doubt, the stuff that caused the most anxiety was worrying about being judged by others and by being seen as a failure. Today, I have many clients experiencing the same. Feeling bad about feeling bad is almost worst than the original thoughts were.
From my own experience and from working through this messy stuff with clients too, I have seen that when we open about how we feel, take the time to process what really sits behind the anxiety rather than trying to bury it, to feel curious instead of guilty and shamed, to explore the possibility that perhaps our body is trying to give us a vital message (if only we would take the time to listen to it) – we might actually be able grow, to understand, to change and to feel better.
So my challenge this week is to invite you to allow yourself to feel however you are feeling. Try not to attribute a good or bad to it – just notice it, tune in, listen and see what comes up.
Maybe test yourself – can you share your thoughts with another?
My own experience is that sharing how I really feel rarely has the consequences our brains are scared will occur. When I share myself, I empower others to do the same. To let them see that they too are normal – that it’s ok – that there does not need to be a shame or sense of failure attached to feelings we have been conditioned to wanting to hide.
When we take the mask off and allow ourselves to be seen, we take a step closer to being free, to coming back to who we truly are and to accepting that who we are is pretty awesome.