For Children’s Mental Health Week I have a book giveaway (see HERE) and this important message.
Please say this to every young person you know who is feeling anxious, upset, angry, sad, embarrassed, ashamed, disappointed, jealous, lonely, scared.
These are not signs of weakness or a personality fault. They are not signs of poor resilience. They are not signs of mental illness. They are not signs of a problem. They are not even warning signs of a future problem.
Feeling any of those emotions – and many more I didn’t mention – when something has triggered those emotions is completely normal, natural, usual, typical, whatever word you choose to describe how human brains are evolved to react. They are completely, in fact, OK.
There are only three things we need to do with these unpleasant feelings
1. Acknowledge that we feel them and that we don’t enjoy the feeling of them
Of course, they don’t feel OK. That’s kind of the point of feeling bad – it doesn’t feel good. But it’s human and inevitable that sometimes we will have these unpleasant emotions in reaction to unpleasant events or thoughts.
2. Think carefully about the thing we’re reacting to and work out if we could or should change or moderate our reaction
Although it’s always natural to feel a particular emotion, sometimes it’s not reasonable or proportionate. And sometimes it might be healthier and more helpful if we could alter the emotional response in some way. This might be difficult but it’s often worth working on. Even thinking about and discussing it helps – “Why do I feel like this? Does that feel appropriate to the situation? Am I doing some wrong-thinking here?”
For example, supposing someone is anxious about a presentation they’re about to give. This doesn’t feel nice but it’s very reasonable and probably proportionate. Very normal, very
understandable. There are lots of practical things we could do to reduce the anxiety, both now and the next time. Validating the feelings is actually a good start. And we can talk about how a bit of anxiety helps us perform well.
Or supposing someone is angry because someone else has cheated on them or lied to them. Again, completely reasonable and probably proportionate. But acting on anger can lead to trouble and regret for the person with the anger, so we can think about what would be a better outlet and resolution. Also, we can think about how anger (and other emotional reactions) usually fades from the initial rawness to something more manageable.
But supposing someone is anxious about something far in the future. This is a bit less reasonable (though still natural) if there’s nothing you can do about it right now and indeed it’slikely to cause problems (for example interfering with sleep) unnecessarily far ahead. So this is a response we’d want to try to moderate. It’s more OK to not feel OK about something that’s about to happen than it is to feel not OK about something a year or two away. Talking that through is a good start.
Or if a person is angry because someone they don’t like has beaten them in a competition or because someone accidentally hurt them, this is a bit less reasonable (though, again, still natural!) but it doesn’t warrant a very angry reaction. So we might think about how we could feel less angry.
Jealousy is an emotion that rarely helps the person who feels it. It’s natural in some circumstances but usually not helpful, so we’d want to think about how to feel less jealous. Think about why we feel jealousy and whether there’s a better reaction. For example, the act of saying well done to someone even if you don’t like them is rather empowering!
Feeling sad when something sad has happened to you or you’ve read a sad story, is completely OK. But feeling sad when nothing particular has happened is less reasonable. It’s also very natural (and OK) to feel like that sometimes but not OK to feel like that a lot and for it to be interfering with your life.
OFTEN feeling angry, scared, sad, even without a specific reason, is not OK. The point being that:
- Feeling an emotion appropriate to the thing that’s happened is OK
- Feeling emotions that have nothing to do with what’s happened or emotions that go on and on and can’t be shifted, is not OK
3. What if unpleasant emotions don’t go away? What if you never feel OK?
Life is a mixture of good and bad, happy times and unhappy times, scary things and exciting things. Feeling OK when good things happen, and not OK when bad things happen, is more than OK. But what’s not OK is:
- if you’re not feeling any good emotions at all or hardly at all
- if everything seems not OK and has been like that for a couple of weeks without a glimmer of light
- if things that ought to make you happy don’t – for example, even birthdays or presents or sunshine or doing well at school don’t raise your spirits
Then is the time to ask for help. Asking for help then is more than OK. Asking for help when you need it is completely and absolutely OK.
Because I’m noticing more and more that people – and not only young people – seem to think that feeling bad, low, sad, anxious, scared, angry, distressed, not OK, are signs of mental illness or a mental health problem. No.
Emotions are important and useful;: they keep us in tune with the world around us, helping us react appropriately. Then we can engage our rational brain, our human prefrontal cortex, to make sense of the world and act reasonably after we’ve first reacted emotionally. Both systems in our brain are equally important.
It’s more than OK to not feel OK. It makes you a healthy human being, reacting naturally to things that happen. it means your brain is doing what it’s supposed to do: feel and think; react and adapt; look after your body, your mind, your life, your future.
My best books for this message are Positively Teenage and Be Resilient – they will reassure, inform, empower.
Don’t forget to enter the book giveaway here. You can win Be Resilient AND The Teenage Guide to Friends.
But DO please leave a comment here, too. Sometimes I randomly give books away to friendly commenters!