Knowing how we really are and what we are actually feeling is a skill called self-awareness. Sadly, many of us actually work harder on developing the opposite skill of ignoring what we are feeling. We keep the cupboard door of our emotions firmly locked shut.
Ever lived in a place for a while and then, ‘suddenly’, everything seems to need a lot of maintenance? Ever been surprised that jeans that used to fit ‘suddenly’ have to be forced up and over a bulge? In the same way that we fail to notice small changes in our environment or body until they become quite marked, some people miss the signs that their mental well-being is taking a dip until they are really struggling. Perhaps they ignore the fact that their sleep patterns have become more and more erratic, or that the occasional drink they used to have has become a nightly habit; maybe the little anxieties and once-infrequent glum patches are starting to blend into a constant state of uncomfortable tension or dragging depression. Some people never notice – or, take seriously – the little signs that their mental health is declining until they are overwhelmed by burnout or some other crisis.
Good mental and emotional health requires vigilance. A good way to sharpen our self-awareness is to compare ourselves now with some point in the past. Compared with, say, this time a year ago, are you…
… having as much fun?
… mixing with family and friends as often?
… sleeping as well?
… as fit and well nourished?
… being as helpful to others?
… enjoying life with your partner as much?
… keeping on top of your work load?
… feeling as appreciated and respected?
… able to relax as well?
… keeping alcohol use under control?
… finding time for hobbies, sport and creativity?
When you look at your own Facebook posts from a year ago, do you think your life then looked a lot better than it is now? Has a friend or family member expressed concerns about changes in your lifestyle or mood or appearance or health? We all have stress, but do you find that stressful events rock you more now than they used to, and do you get the idea that stress is piling up in your life?
All these questions are just a warm up… now the big one: how are you feeling? What’s in your emotional cupboard? Is it mostly contentment and happiness? That’s really great. How about if you have a few anxieties, phobias, regrets and sadnesses? That can be little tough but it is also very normal – most of us have a bit of ‘untidiness’ in our mental health from time to time and most of us cope pretty well. The good news is that there are proven ways to really make our mental health better and better. The really good news is that a lot of those ‘therapies’ are simple and actually very enjoyable: eating well, relaxing, time with friends, being active, music, hobbies, getting into nature etc etc.
But what if our emotional cupboard is bursting with anxiety, troubling thoughts, guilt, thinking that runs around and around in circles or energy-draining depression? It would be desperately unkind to ask you to pry open that cupboard if there were not some real solutions to those issues. That’s the first thing you really need to hear is: help helps! You will feel better! It is often amazing the progress people make back towards health once they recognise there are issues that addressing. Help comes in all sorts of forms, and you will find out how to access it [on this page? In a box? ] ( If you need help urgently then jump straight to [on this page? In a box? ] )
For most of us, the takeaway from this is: know yourself. In the same way that good caring people will sometimes eyeball their friends and ask them how they are really doing, we can confront and check up on ourselves. Self-awareness and some simple ‘self-maintenance’ can help prevent a sag in mental health becoming a land-slide.