It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK this week, and I’m lifting my head from the joys of the new data protection regulations that are coming in on May 25th (if you’re on my mailing list, stay tuned for the obligatory email from me to confirm you want to keep in touch!) to address something that’s been on my mind a bit lately.
I’ve really been noticing people all over the internet (truly with the best of intentions) trying to help others by offering “10 ways to cope with x”. It has me disappointed for the people who are being short-changed by a well-meant gesture that doesn’t address the cause of their distress, and who are being mistakenly directed to add to their mental load with a list of more things to do to try to feel better.
Here are a couple of examples I’ve seen lately:
“10 of the best techniques for dealing with work stress”
“5 ways to cope with Mothers’ Day when you’re childless (not by choice)”
“Here’s what not to say to someone who’s experiencing anxiety”
“7 of the best techniques for overcoming your fear of public speaking”
All of these pieces of advice share one thing in common: They all assume that we are dealing with ‘a thing’ that has the power to make us feel something. It’s Mothers’ Day and all its trappings upsetting me. It’s work stressing me. It’s that person who said the wrong thing to me. It’s public speaking that freaks me out.
It’s a Myth, in many versions, and it’s being perpetuated wherever we look.
When we don’t see how life really works, we think it’s a kindness to give people strategies to help them deal with the perceived reason for their unease, discomfort, downright unhappiness or panic. I get that response sometimes when I point out to someone the misunderstanding in their gesture. They tell me that until someone realises that they’re not at the mercy of their circumstances, it’s kinder to give them these strategies to cope in the meantime. For the record, I disagree.
The way I see it, when we see how it really works, we realise it’s not kind at all – it’s reinforcing the mistaken idea that we are at the mercy of our circumstances. It’s propping up the idea that our emotions are our enemies and to be managed. It’s putting us in the role of victim, even if it’s a valiant attempt to do the exact opposite – to get us to control our circumstances or our reactions to our circumstances in order to feel less ‘done to’ by life.
I don’t know about you, but I want a bit more from my life than just feeling ‘a bit less done-to’.
I want the freedom that comes with knowing what’s really going on. I want to understand more, and more deeply that life isn’t being ‘done’ to me. That my feelings aren’t telling me about how good I am at life, or how awful or fabulous my life is – they’re just telling me that it seems that way to me at the moment (and they’ll tell me it seems different the moment I get different thinking down the line). I want that for me, and I want that for anyone reading, watching or listening to what I put out in the world.
So you won’t find me giving you 5 of the best strategies for feeling better about your life.
That’s not where the light is.
That’s not where hope is.
That’s not where your mental health lies.
Let’s point people in that direction, shall we?