It’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Whenever there’s an “awareness” week afoot, you know that you are being asked to be more “aware” of other people’s struggles. And sometimes, depending on the week, you will be asking them to be aware of yours. Yet there is another side to this: being self aware. Where mental health is concerned this is both difficult and important.
The last week and a bit has been hard going. People who are passionate about politics have all been left feeling bruised, both by actual events and by the tone of the debate in person and online. As a result, a lot of people’s resilience is low. In those circumstances, it doesn’t take much to spark off disaster. If like me you spend a lot of time discussing issues on social media you will have found that there is a little less empathy. A little less holding back. A little more “sod it, I’m just going to say it”. A few more heated exchanges. One or two blazing rows.
Self awareness is undoubtedly important when you are dealing with other people, as you need to be mindful of how your language can come across to those who don’t share your passions, or who don’t understand your enthusiasm. It is always worth remembering
When it comes to mental health, awareness of your own feelings is vital when you are heading into debates. Especially if those debates involve issues about which you have knowledge and a genuine desire for change. In those circumstances it is easy to feel got at, battered, attacked, demonised and worst of all misunderstood. To be spoken to as though you are uncaring or lacking in awareness when discussing a subject to which you are deeply committed is heartbreaking. And if you have a tendency towards anxiety, it can send that through the roof.
So be aware of how you are feeling. I know that some people prefer to simply stay out of arguments, but anyone who knows me will know that’s not be style! Get stuck in, stand up for your views, try to change things if you feel they need to be changed. But be aware. Watch out for those warning signs that your enthusiasm for the discussion is tipping over into defensiveness and lashing out. Do you feel backed into a corner, as though everyone is getting at you, as though nobody understands your point of view? It’s time to step away for a moment. Take a step back. However important the issue, you are certainly not going to change anyone’s mind, or effect meaningful change, if you are on the defensive. Chances are they have reached that stage too. That is a debate that has gone awry. Regroup. Try again another day.
It has taken me a long time to recognise the signs that I need to take a step back, and even longer to work out what to do about it. I now have two favourite tactics: Number one – call my best friend. There is no one like a best friend for agreeing with whatever crazy rubbish is important to you, pretending that it matters and bringing you a large cake. A good friend is worth so much.
Number two – a walk in the fresh air, preferably in the sunshine.
Now, unfortunately I cannot share my best friend with you. She has a big heart but she can’t take on everybody. But what I can do is take you on a virtual tour of my town, the places I walk when I need to get some perspective, when I need to clear my head. Sale is absolutely beautiful in the springtime, and it’s my pleasure to share it with you now. Take a step back. Take a breath. Come for a walk.
Then go back in there and kick ass.