Mental health and well-being is a big subject these days, and I think that it’s a good thing that we are all much more aware or self-aware than we used to be.
While I’m no life coach, nor am I trained in this, I had a little encounter over the past week and on the weekend that got me thinking. So, I just wanted to put out a little reminder to you. A reminder to be present for yourself and for your family and friends.
Sometimes, you just never know what people are going through, because they choose not to tell you, or they’re not ready to talk. But yet, they are stressed and feel like it’s hard to cope with life at that moment. Being present for them goes a long way towards helping them, if not solve their problems, to be able to face them or know that someone else is there for them.
I was thinking about this over the past week, and over the weekend, and just felt like talking about this 🙂
Be present for yourself
The world today is quite different from the world before this. I feel like there are so many distractions in today’s world, simply because we are all so connected and plugged in.
We are all so attached to our mobile phones, and to the internet. A ping or a ding, and information is instantly pushed to us. Or we browse our favourite social media apps (Mine is Twitter for news and Instagram for fun) and are barraged with opinions and articles (sometimes informative, sometimes peddling false information) and we are constantly reading, filtering, thinking, and reacting.
Often, I feel that we barely leave ourselves time to stop and think about what we just read. You feel the need to react, to like, to leave a comment on a Tweet or a photo, without thinking too hard. Sometimes, a laughing emoji suffices.
Here’s something I have put into practice for a little while now. I try to hit the pause button.
While I am very present online, I make a conscious effort to withdraw for certain times in a day. This is more so at night. I give myself a cut off time to 10pm or so, when my phone goes silent on its “Do Not Disturb” mode till the next morning.
When I’m with people in a social setting, I try not to focus on my phone. The odd message or phone call needing my attention may come in, which I excuse myself and attend to. But everything else can wait.
When I read something online and feel the need to respond or share, I pause. I fact check if I can. If I feel like I’ll be saying something strong, I step back and think, before reacting or writing.
It helps me slow down, especially my brain, and it helps me be a little more present and in tune with what’s going on around me. I was on a holiday recently, and I have not shared anything from there. I did not take many pictures (except on my camera), I did not use my mobile phone camera very much, and I chose not to share anything at all, even though I could. All I wanted was to be there, in the present.
I also think this is important for our mental health and well-being, because often, reactions to what we say or do impulsively can react and rebound very quickly. Being more present with yourself helps you slow down and think a little.
RELATED READING: I started consciously implementing this “Slow down” concept last year. It has been helpful for me – READ HERE
Be present for your family and friends who matter
Being present is more than just being physically present. It is actively being present for someone, listening and talking to them. It is not about sitting there, each of you fiddling with your phones, then taking a selfie to post online, thinking you’re both fulfilling some sort of social obligation.
You are not there to be a problem solver. You are there, to offer support, to show them someone cares about them, and to listen should they wish to share. If you can help solve the problem, then well and good. If they don’t wish to share, just the human, familiar contact sometimes offers sufficient comfort.
I can vouch for this.
I am the sort to keep things private and close to my chest. I am what people would consider “strong” because I make things look easy when they aren’t. Even as I traverse bumpy pothole-laden roads, I make it look like I’m gliding on angel’s wings. It’s just me.
I’m not the sort to wear my heart on my sleeve or to pour my heart out to anyone. Is that a good thing? I don’t know. Is it bad? Who knows.
But a while ago, I hit a rough patch and nothing seemed to go right. Things were all wonky, life felt like it had turned upside down, and I felt rudderless. I’m not the sort to talk to anyone about the problems I was facing.
But almost as if my friends sensed it, I’d receive the odd word of encouragement out of the blue. Or I’d be invited to have lunch, or just to have coffee. A little word here, a little gesture there just to get me out of myself.
It did not solve my problems, it did not make them go away. I had to work at it, and resolve that myself. But what it did was to soothe my ruffled feathers, and inject some calm. The little time I spent talking and laughing over nothing in particular helped unknot some of the tension I was feeling.
On the other side, I also took it upon myself to ask people out. To meet friends, to make time and just find that space for myself. An hour or two where I could just forget about the problems and nonsense that I was facing. It didn’t help me solve my problem. My friends weren’t there to consciously listen to me. But it helped me feel better.
The road traveled became a little smoother, my mood improved, and it helped me find some clarity and strength to deal with whatever I had to deal with.
Ask “Are you OK?” and mean it
We all know many people, some of whom wear their hearts on their sleeve. They share their emotions and thoughts and feelings openly so you know what’s going on with them. It can be exhausting being around them, but you know where they stand.
But there are others, who don’t. There are those who have a more stoic approach, who are seemingly “strong” and capable and fiercely independent. People who, like an icebreaker ship, sail and plow into the frozen Arctic seas, slicing through like a warm knife through butter, seemingly without any problems at all.
It’s this second category of people who often need the help, but who don’t ask for it. And sometimes it is only there in the flicker of emotion on their face, or a note in their voice that poses any hint.
It was this that prompted my thoughts about this issue last week.
A little story
A friend had reached out early last week about something work-related. I had a look, and told her what I thought, and that was that.
But something niggled at me for a day or two after. There was something in her voice that didn’t sound right. A little catch? A little break?
This was someone I knew to be independent, strong and capable. Someone who would face problems head on and has a strong religious beliefs. Someone who doesn’t really talk about issues she might face whether at work or otherwise. Not the sort to buckle under pressure.
After a few days, I decided to reach out. So I asked if she might want to have lunch with me on the weekend, as I felt she was out of sorts when I spoke to her.
So we had lunch, and had a chat, and soon, bit by bit, she shared some of the problems that had plagued her. I was in no position to solve them, but what I could offer was a listening ear.
Sometimes, that’s enough.
I could see that she was less tense at the end of it all, and along the way, we worked out some knotty issues she had, and if nothing fell into place perfectly, there was some clarity in the situation.
Sometimes, that’s all that’s needed. A talk, a listening ear, a presence.
I’m not blowing my own trumpet. It was a situation that triggered something in me, because I had gone down the same road. Just as my friends had helped me, so did I feel the need to just take my friend out of herself.
Have some empathy
A trait I’ve noticed in decline today is empathy. I’m not sure if it’s because we’re all more selfish now, or if we have lost the ability to connect to others except over the digital divide.
Having empathy and being sensitive to another person’s thoughts or deeds makes you human. But in the world today, when people are content to be faceless trolls spewing hatred and being cruel from behind the safety of their gadget screens, empathy seems almost a foreign concept.
I think it’s important for us to raise our heads from our gadgets once in a while and take a look around the people around us. Are they feeling OK? Are they stressed? Do they need a listening ear?
Can you be there for them, if only just to talk or listen?
I think this goes a long way towards helping all of us with our own mental health, and makes us better people, better family and better friends. You never know if you might need to be on that receiving end tomorrow.
Do you know of a friend who might be feeling a little down?
If you are in a stable and good place yourself, perhaps now would be a good time to drop them a note and ask if everything is OK? Or if you are feeling down yourself, but don’t really want to talk about your problems just yet, call your friend, have lunch or tea or dinner and just be present for a few hours. Perhaps it will help you find some clarity too 🙂