May is Mental Health Awareness Month – what do most people think of when they think of mental health? Most often it is celebrities such as Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, or Kurt Cobain. This often becomes the most visceral and public face of mental health awareness. The truth, however, is that the true face of mental health awareness is your neighbor who has trouble attending social events since his wife passed away. It is your cousin who has a great deal of difficulty getting out of bed each day. It is your brother who avoids family situations because of debilitating anxiety. The real faces of mental health awareness are the everyday folks who are having a tough time.
Part of the challenge of Mental Health Awareness Month is removing the stigma that is still too often associated with seeking help. The truth of mental health awareness is that we all encounter difficult times in our lives. There are times when we are functioning really well…and times when we are functioning less well. That’s just human nature! The good news is that a well-trained mental health professional can help just when we need it most.
There are a number of misconceptions that can get in the way of us taking advantage of this kind of help. Let’s talk about a few of those:
Misconception #1: “If I go into “therapy”, it means I am really, deeply flawed.”
Reality: Have you ever needed a medical professional’s help recovering from the flu? Have you ever needed Physical Therapy for a shoulder or a knee that wasn’t working quite the right way? No difference here! We all have times when we aren’t functioning at our best and good therapy can often get that fixed much more efficiently and quickly than trying to do it on our own!
Misconception #2: “Therapy takes years.”
Reality: Most people engage in the therapeutic process for a short time, often a few months at most. Some choose to continue for a longer time to work on new and different things, or because they enjoy the process, but the majority of “problems” can be worked through fairly quickly.
Misconception #3: “My therapist will think I’m “crazy” and I’ll look bad.”
Reality: You would be shocked at how “not alone” you are in facing life challenges. In fact, many of the folks that you know are likely facing issues of their own, but are afraid to get help with those issues. The reality is that your therapist is likely admiring you for taking proactive steps to help yourself. Many therapists have spent time in therapy themselves, so they’re very likely to have a real sense of what you are dealing with. They may even have been through something similar. The good news is that you now have an expert to help you to navigate this situation.
Misconception #4: “Therapy is expensive and I can do this on my own.”
Reality: The odds are that maybe you can do this on your own, but why should you have to? In therapy, you have an expert helping you to consider the most relevant factors in the situation, your own feelings and values, and your own solutions. Not only do you have an expert on board, you also leverage that expert’s considerable experience. Most people who work through an issue in therapy report that the issue is more fully resolved and less likely to recur than when they try to go it alone. They also report that issues tend to be resolved more quickly when in a therapeutic environment. Additionally, the therapist is an unbiased person, and can help see things that often we can’t see ourselves when we’re “in it”, so to speak. In short, therapy can be the most efficient way to work through issues. You invest in things every day, a few dollars invested in your emotional and cognitive well-being is money well spent. Who better to invest in than yourself?
So, the next time you wonder whether you are alone in having challenges, look around you. There are very likely others wondering the same thing. The next time you wonder whether a mental health professional can help, think back on the realities outlined above. You may just find that having a highly trained, neutral person in your corner may be the ticket to living your best life. We all deserve that.
It sounds easy, doesn’t it? As the song says, “let it go “. However, it’s usually not as simple as that. Why is it often so hard to forgive people and let go of grudges, real or perceived? Often, it is because someone we love and trust has hurt us in a way that has left us feeling angry and resentful. We may choose not to forgive initially because we may equate it with minimizing the issue and excusing the behavior. Deciding to forgive and let go doesn’t mean that the original act is forgotten about, but it can release a hold it has on us, and take away its power.
Naturally, being hurt by someone we care about can make us angry, sad, and cause us to be less trusting. But by not being open to forgiveness, it can color the way we experience new relationships, limit our enjoyment of the present, and possibly lead to feeling depressed or anxious. By letting go we can free ourselves up to enjoy healthier future relationships while taking lessons we’ve learned with us. Forgiveness can be viewed as a process of change, allowing acknowledgment of emotions regarding the harm done, as well as transitioning away from the role of a victim by releasing the power the situation held in your life.
There are many positive benefits to learning to forgive others and move on. Some of those include less stress and hostility, lowered blood pressure, improved self-esteem, and healthier relationships. What if you’re trying to forgive, but having a hard time moving forward? Perhaps try to see the situation from the other person’s point of view, and ask yourself why they might have behaved that way. Think about if there were any issues in the past where others may have forgiven you and how that felt. Try writing your thought and feelings in a journal as a way of releasing them. Also, keep in mind that forgiving someone doesn’t necessarily have to mean reconciliation with the other person. It can be viewed us simply a way for you to move on from the control the situation had over you.
We cannot control other people’s words or actions, but we can let go of how they made us feel and take back the control over how we respond to others. It can also provide us renewed feelings of empathy and compassion.
So something to think about the next time you’re feeling hurt and angry: forgiveness might just be the healing
Full disclosure – I’m new here. Not here to Bluffton, but here to this practice. It’s been almost two months now, and I’m starting to settle in. As someone who has previously been on their own as a counselor, joining an established practice was a big change. Would I fit in? Would the clients relate to me? Would the other counselors accept me?
While these thoughts may be typical of anyone starting a new job, it got me thinking of how people manage changes in their lives, and how we can help them. Some people thrive on constant change, and others find it anxiety producing. I have seen friends, family members and clients alternately paralyzed with anxiety by changes, or embracing it as a new phase in their lives.
Most people can agree that too many changes at once can be overwhelming. We’ve all heard about the Big Three – a move, a job change and a marriage all at once. For some people however, any one of those changes can be enough to cause anxiety. So how can we manage life changes, particularly for those who don’t embrace it?
We can start by asking ourselves if the change is necessary, and will it be good for us down the road? If so, we can focus on the positivity of that change and all it will bring.
Very often, it is the unknown factor of changes that are anxiety producing, and we wonder and worry about how they will affect our lives. Some changes bring us out of our comfort zone. Sometimes we can reframe the situation to focus on the positive aspects of the change, such as uncovering hidden strengths, the potential for new experiences, and the like.
For example, last year I took a trip to Costa Rica, where I had never been, for a yoga retreat which I had never done, with five days of vegan food, which I had never solely eaten, as I am not a vegan. Until a friend finally agreed to go with me, I also would not have known anyone else on the trip. I took a chance, and it paid off. I learned that I enjoyed yoga even more than I thought I did, I explored a new place, made new friends, and learned that I could eat as a vegan if necessary! The point is that I tried to make a change by trying something new and discovered all sorts of things about myself I wouldn’t have otherwise known.
We can remind ourselves that it is OK to have an adjustment period, that it is OK to need time to finish one change before moving on to another. We also may need to be reminded that taking time for some good old self care is OK as well. Perhaps taking an extra yoga or exercise class, sitting down for an hour to watch a favorite show, taking a walk with the dog, sitting down and reading a book, or whatever works for each of us.
Of course many changes are necessary, not all can wait, and not all are our own choices, but it is how we handle them that is important. Taking time to reflect on them, and accept how we feel about them, is an often overlooked aspect of managing life changes.