October 10th is World Mental Health Day.

October 10th is World Mental Health Day.

Perhaps more vital this year than ever is any and all efforts to raise awareness of mental health challenges everywhere.  To mobilize efforts to destigmatize conditions including anxiety and depression and make strides to offer compassion and support to those around us who are suffering.

We thought it might be helpful to explore how important it is to protect your own mental health as you seek to support those you care about.

Do you ever wake up feeling incredible without even knowing why?  As you brush your teeth, brush that feeling so it shines even brighter than your pearly whites.  And then place that beautiful, positive feeling at the top of your chest, right beside your heart.  It’s the perfect place to ensure you can both share it and protect it. 

You walk down the stairs and your partner, your parent your child is in a FOUL mood.  Stressed, anxious and irritable beyond belief.  Can you feel that?!?!?  That downward pull?!?!  They’ve got hold of your glorious mood and are pulling it down!!! Don’t let them.  Protect your happy, shiny mood.  Take a deep breath.  Pull your wonderful mood a little closer to your chest and shield it.  I mean it.  Remember: positive moods are more fragile and must be protected. 

Once you’ve protected yourself, you are in a better position to try and help the one you care about.  How bad is the mood?  Will a small sprinkle of light help?  Move carefully.  1.  You need to protect yourself.  2.  Moods typically live on a continuum with despair at the bottom (1) and utter bliss at the top (100).  And they don’t move UP too readily.  If your partner is a 7 and you are an 83, it will be tough for you to relate to each other effectively.  And while they can pull you down, it’s near impossible for you to try and lift them anywhere close to where you are.  If you did try you’d have to drop everything and barge in arms, legs and all and…  yep.  You’d drop your precious mood.  It would shatter everywhere.

But can you move them from a 7 to a 15?  15 is still low…  but it’s better than a 7.

Try simple steps:  Ask if there is anything you can do.  Listen to a story or two of woe.  Administer a hug or a kiss on the head if it’s appropriate.  Or a small act of kindness.  Pour them a fresh cup of coffee or make them a hot chocolate.  Then pour yourself a cup.  And walk away.  Keep your mood in tact.  And don’t annoy them with it.

Check back in later.  Your patience and kindness might have created a small change in inertia.  Who knows:  Maybe they’ve managed to crawl all the way up to a 23.  All by themselves.  And you?  Still an 83?  Way to go!  And keep reading…

Inspiration of the Day #1:

“An entire sea of water can’t sink a ship unless it gets inside of the ship. Similarly, the negativity of the world can’t put you down unless you allow it to get inside you.”  Goi Nasu

So you’ve poured yourself a coffee and slipped into another room with your happy shiny mood.  Are you still hiding in there?  Sooner or later we need to figure out how to coexist with someone whose mood is not the same as our own.  This is especially tricky and important to figure out how to do right now when so many of us are living in close quarters with the people we are emotionally connected to and invested in.

Let’s recap what we know:

  • Emotions are contagious.
  • Negative ones are more powerful.  It’s easier to pull someone down than pull them up.
  • We are hard wired to “catch” other people’s emotions as emotions including fear, anxiety and threat may be vital for survival. 
  • Mirror neurons play a huge role in emotional contagion, and mirroring itself is a powerful survival mechanism.

In other words, it’s really really really tough to completely avoid negative emotions when the person you are living with and care about is carrying them around.

So what do we do?  We let it slide.  Whether you’re on the high or low end of the seesaw, it’s the same advice:  Head on over to the slide.

Remember what mirroring does?  It bonds people.  It creates a sense of intimacy.  It increases trust.  Misery loves company.  And silly people gravitate towards each other.  So slide a little in the direction of your mate, your friend, your child.  Nudge, claw, pull yourself along the continuum of emotions so you are a little closer to where they are sitting.  Hang with them there for a bit and try to understand what they’re experiencing.  Provide them with a little comfort, a non-judgemental sounding board, or give them space to just sit in your company and take comfort in your presence.  Let them tell you a story or two.  An annoyingly blaming one or a depressing self-deprecating one.  Don’t try to change the story.  It’s not yours to change.  Just listen.  Find it in yourself to ask questions, avoid judging and find some compassion or empathy. 

Sliding towards their bad mood will take their temperature down a little and may encourage them to let it go a bit.  And your good mood?  You can pick it back up. 

If you’re the one on the happy or positive end of the spectrum, be grateful.  And know that as you get better at protecting your positive mood, it gets easier to put it off to the side for a few minutes, or even a few hours, and then pick that happiness back up. 

You gain a sort of quiet confidence that allows you to slide (as we explored above) a little to the left or the right so you can empathize and be with, really listen to your child, friend, parent, partner.  Help and support them.  Without harming yourself.

You can set your happiness off to the side.  And authentically share your loved one’s space.  Be completely present with them.  It matters.  Yes – you need to protect yourself, but your happiness will still be there, completely unscathed, ready for you when you are ready for it.  When you need it.  When you want to and choose to pick it back up.

And pick it back up you must.  For yourself.  And for others!  Happiness IS contagious after all.