I was very interested to read that the Mental Health Foundation has chosen Nature as the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2021. As a dual-registered health professional, whose main concern centres around health of the whole person, I can well see why. We are increasingly reminded of the positive impact that nature can have on our mental health; reminders that have been particularly helpful during this time of pandemic.
This year has been a hard one for all of us, but for some more than others. We have lived through a period of enforced isolation in our communities that has been unprecedented in modern times and it seems that the impact of this continues to unfold on a daily basis. I see higher levels of anxiety, stress and depression in my nurse clinics and in my therapy room: from health professionals across the various disciplines, young adults working in isolation at home, those who have struggled to recover from Covid-19 and those who are simply unable to spend time with loved ones. I have heard many stories from people who have struggled to cope emotionally or physically or both. What many of these people share is a strong desire to retreat from the world, confining themselves to the home, withdrawing from others and from those things that keep us feeling good about life.
I believe that as human beings we were never meant to exist in a state of isolation. We are wired to respond to stimulus, whether that is the voice of another human being, the crashing of waves, a beautiful sunset, or the dawn chorus; if we listen carefully, we have the potential to be consumed by the beauty of it all. The problem is that when we are reduced in our capacity to respond from a position of strength, we find it difficult to motivate ourselves to engage with the simplest of things and we get caught up in a viscous cycle of isolation that is difficult to break.
So then what? Well, I think that the first step toward healing and wholeness is to acknowledge that there is a problem. So many people I speak to tell me that they struggle to acknowledge a problem, because a problem is a weakness, weakness leads to vulnerability and vulnerability results in a lack of control. But what about if we turn that on its head? I acknowledge that I have a problem, I feel powerless to address it, I feel vulnerable and in order to address it I need to reach out and draw some support to enable me to regain some sense of power and control. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But, of course, it’s often not as easy as that.
If you know someone who is struggling to the point where they are unable to function and are at risk of serious harm, then I would encourage you, with their permission where possible, to seek immediate and appropriate professional help on their behalf. For those not at risk, gentle encouragement to seek some support may be all that is needed to stimulate the person into action. But what about the rest of us? I don’t know many people who haven’t been impacted to some degree by what has happened over this past year. It’s been a time for reflection for many; a time to consider how we live in the world, a time to consider how we function as individuals, how we relate to others and how we might grow and develop through the remainder of this year and beyond.
In order to do this, it may well be helpful to consider how we care for our mind, our bodies and that deeper emotional side of self, sometimes referred to as our “spiritual self”. Let’s call it a full MOT and let’s face it, if it is essential to have a full MOT in order for our car to function well, shouldn’t we apply the same principle to ourselves? How you address your health and wellbeing is for you to decide, but it may be worth considering the following: How is my physical health, including my diet and my lifestyle choices including smoking, drinking and level of physical activity? How are my relationships; are they healthy, equal, life-giving? How is my home-life; is it secure, physically and financially? How is my work; does it sustain me, am I able to contribute well, do I feel valued and supported?
If you find yourself questioning any of these things and if you are struggling in any way, then you may want to consider drawing some objective support in an attempt to restore some balance. The internet is a great starting point, although I urge caution around where you draw information from. Whilst NHS services might be particularly stretched at the moment, their website is a reputable source of support and can be accessed at: www.nhs.uk If you are looking to access some counselling support independently, then do ensure that you search via a professional organisation and you might wish to explore: www.bacp.co.uk for therapists in your area.
I wish you well on your journey. Jan
Children live what they learn
Photo by Madison Inouye
This week is Mental Health Week; a week when we are reminded to give a thought to the part of our being that, for too long, may have lived in the shadowlands of our existence. We might not hesitate in seeing a doctor if we have a physical concern, but when I ask someone if they have spoken to their GP about an emotional difficulty, more often than not, the answer is: "no". Why is this, I wonder, especially now, at a time when support services are advertised widely and when there is so much publicity around mental health matters.
My experience of working with adults has taught me that taking the first step in acknowledging a problem is often an almighty leap and one that exposes our vulnerability at the most fundamental of levels. Whether we have the courage to admit to someone else that we have a problem can prove very tricky indeed and may be a step too far. So, then what? For many, it will mean a lifetime of living with internalised feelings and emotions that may well impact on the individual's capacity to function well, both personally and within relationships.
It seems that the ability to reach out and draw support, either from a personal network or from a health professional, may well depend on our deeply rooted beliefs and values. As I was reflecting around our British culture, I was mindful of the phrase "keeping a stiff upper lip", which has become synonymous within our culture over the centuries. A trembling upper lip might often be interpreted as a weakness, so keeping a stiff upper lip demonstrates a level of courage and stoicism, which is to be commended. We often see these attitudes reflected in the art and literature of Victorian society and they appear to have served us well during two world wars and beyond. For men, particularly, courage and stoicism were important attributes as they sought to reassure their women-folk and keep family and community-life together. Historically, women were often considered the "weaker sex" and, despite the best efforts of the first women's suffrage movement in the nineteenth century, the perceived wisdom was that the role of the man was to provide, protect and remain strong.
Thankfully, attitudes appear to have shifted somewhat over the years since but, based on my work with men, I can't help but think that often, and unwittingly, our boys grow up to believe that they still need to demonstrate that same level of courage and stoicism that our forebears did. However, as highlighted earlier, it could be argued that the way in which we respond is typically a reflection of our various religious, community and familial beliefs and values. It appears that the extent to which we are able to acknowledge the frailty of our human condition will very much depend on our cultural norms.
Interestingly, it is not unusual for me to hear parents say that they will avoid becoming emotional in front of their children, simply because they don't want to upset them. Whilst I understand the sentiment, I do wonder what we are teaching our children about emotional expression. Despite our best efforts, it seems to me that we cannot protect our children from a lifetime of potential difficult or distressing events. As the saying goes, children live what they learn, but if they perceive from an early age that it is not acceptable to express feelings or emotions, how will they develop the resilience to cope with those difficulties later on? At the very least, there may well be an element of shame around admitting to a problem, which in turn may prevent the individual from accessing support.
If you are reading this and can identify with what I have said, I encourage you to reach out if you are struggling. If you find it difficult to talk to those around you, professional support may well enable you to make sense of the complex nature of being human. It is an opportunity to understand what motivates you to behave in the way that you do and an opportunity to find a more balanced way of living. If Mental Health Week is to teach us anything, I hope that it teaches us not to suffer in silence, but to seek appropriate support.
Stay safe and be kind to yourself, Jan
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán
I wonder how you are bearing up in these difficult times? At this time last year who would have thought that we, along with our fellow citizens around the world, would now be confined to our immediate environment and perhaps isolated from those who mean the most to us. On a daily basis we are exposed to news coverage that frightens us, overwhelms us and brings us face to face with our own mortality. Seldom before have we experienced such a threat, with no immediate viable solution. With good reason, this might feel like a terrifying world to exist in right now.
The world continues to turn and the general order of things continues as it always has but, for us as human beings, the way in which we live our lives has changed beyond recognition. Enforced confinement is bound to have a huge physical and psychological impact and, at this stage, whilst I can only imagine the outcome, I live with a sense of foreboding about the potential for immense trauma when this crisis is resolved. But, imagination is a very dangerous thing, and imagining what might happen in the future not only consumes our energy, but also gives rise to the potential for an escalation of anxiety, stress and depression.
For many living with these, or other mental or physical health conditions, it may well be a time of great suffering. If you find yourself in this situation, I would encourage you to maintain close contact with your GP and/or your therapist or other healthcare professional. I am mindful that some people are reluctant to "bother" their GP at this difficult time, but it is essential that any escalation of symptoms is carefully monitored and treated to minimise the potential for crisis.
As traumatic as this confinement is, it seems to me that one of the most effective ways of overcoming the difficulties associated with it is to accept the conditions that have been imposed on us by our government and to find a way of living as well and as safely as possible. As I write, I am mindful that there are some who are living in difficult domestic situations and where there is real hardship. Many may be struggling with domestic violence of one form or another, others may be experiencing the trauma of losing their job. Some may be relying on food banks, or on the generosity of others to put a meal on the table. Some may be living with the grief of losing a loved one unexpectedly. Others may be alone or lonely. If this is your reality, then I encourage you to seek out the support that you need, be it professional support, or the support of family, friends or neighbours. Even if this is not something that you would normally do, as human beings we are all vulnerable and there are times in our lives when we all need the support of others. Rather than exposing a weakness, it takes great strength to reach out and I would encourage you to do so. These are exceptional times and it calls for an exceptional response from all of us.
In this time of hardship and uncertainty, the only thing that any of us can be reasonably sure about is what is happening to us now. Worry about what may or may not happen in the future is futile; what happens now will inform our future and, to that end, this time in isolation may well prove to be useful. We may, at least, have the opportunity to improve the quality of our relationships, after all, we were never meant to live in a state of isolation. It is encouraging to see the many ways in which communities, families and friends are coming together to make things better for all of us. It is amazing and heart-warming and may it last long after life returns to normal.
But what is "normal"? It seems to me that now is as good a time as any to ponder this question. What has been your normality? Has it been a life lived well; a life of balance in all things? Or has it been a life in which you have struggled to achieve your personal and/or professional goals? Now is as good a time as any to ask ourselves how we use our personal resources and the abundant resources our world offers us. What is it that we need to do in order to live well and to preserve not only our own lives and those whom we care about, but also in order to preserve the planet on which we live?
I wish you well in your deliberations and whatever happens in your world, I hope that you have the support and resilience you need to overcome these difficulties.
JR Corporate Health blogs cover topics such as management support, supervision, psychological support, critical incident support and wellbeing in the workplace.