“Pull yourself together!”
“Go for a run!”
“Get some Fresh Air”
“Talk about it”
“Share your problems”
These are all things we’ve heard as part of the mental health conversation. One of them is obviously our message, but let’s rewind for a moment… just stop for a minute.
Notice what your feet feel like on the floor or how your bottom feels on your chair.
What’s your temperature like?
Now have a check on the inside, what are you feeling right now in this moment? Whatever you are feeling, don’t make it mean anything, just notice it. Do you have a judgement around the feeling?
It’s remarkably easy for us not to notice what is going on right here right now.
We can have our heads down working, or managing our caring responsibilities for children or elderly relatives, or any number of other things that could be creating stress in our lives.
We have perhaps got used to not sleeping that well, tiredness is just a normal part of life. Feelings of lethargy, a regular headache is nothing to worry about. We can be oblivious to the signs and symptoms of what is happening to us until we stop and notice. For some of us there might even be a fear that if we do stop, we might just fall apart.
While we are carrying on, we know we are carrying on, we are coping.
If we just carry on we will get through it. If we stop we have no idea what might happen. If we stop we might not be able to get up again. If we give ourselves time to think about what is going on we might just fall to pieces. It can feel safer to stay in this space rather than looking to change anything.
At Fresh Air Fridays we talk about three things – space, support and skills.
Each of these is necessary if we are to look after our mental and emotional wellbeing, whether we are feeling great today or feeling stressed or in crisis.
Give yourself some space.
We need space to stop. Space to notice what is going on for us. A space where we feel safe, a space where we feel heard, a space where we can hear ourselves.
At Fresh Air Fridays, we create that space outside because we experience the wonderful healing and nurturing that nature can bring. You may have some other concept of what a safe space is for you.
It’s worth the effort to find your tribe.
Not one of us is designed to function alone, even if that is the part we like to play.
We are social animals and we need connection with other people to be fully well in all aspects of ourselves. However, when we are in particular need of support, not just anyone will do. We need to find people who can hear us without judgement or opinion. Who allow us to be who we are and how we are.
There are lots of lovely well-meaning people out there who may want to make you better or help you fix yourself. We know that you don’t need fixing. Find someone who is prepared to simply listen. It may help to reassure them that you don’t need them to do anything, you just need to be able to speak aloud.
This is about creating strategies that work for you.
It might be that by learning to listen to yourself (a skill) you discover that you do need to take some action, whether that’s running or singing (a strategy).
It might be that by learning to meditate (a skill) you start to notice when you are getting stressed become aware of what you need to change to stop that happening (a strategy).
It might be that by learning to observe your conversations with other people differently (a skill), you talk to them in a different way or a different place (a strategy).
These three things, in our experience, provide a really helpful framework to help you manage stress. Of course, you may still be considering “pull yourself together” as an appropriate way forward in times of stress, we would encourage you to realise that it’s a very short term strategy.
It might get you through the task you have to do today, but when it’s done, try to give yourself some space to find the support and skills you need before that stress situation becomes a crisis!