Mental health can be a difficult topic to handle with your friends. Too often we try to be too careful about not sharing too much information so we don’t step on anyone’s toes or become too much of a burden. But that type of approach to talking about mental health feeds the feelings of loneliness, isolation, and discomfort that comes with mental health problems. I’d like to share with you a few points to better help you maintain friendships while dealing with mental health problems.
“Too often we try to be too careful about not sharing too much information so we don’t step on anyone’s toes or become too much of a burden.”
Let your friends know what’s going on
It’s hard to feel in control when you’re not feeling 100% there. Especially with things like social anxiety and panic attacks, one of the best things you can do is communicate what is happening:
1. It gives you a sense of control when you have unwanted feelings and emotions. It also helps you process what is going on; Your friends might not be able to directly help you, but they can help you help yourself
2. Letting your friends know what’s up makes you feel less alone during an isolating experience and gives you an immediate support system
3. Your friends truly want to know what is going on, what is wrong, and how they can best accommodate you. This openness with friends actually fosters better, deeper relationships
And remember, they do not think of you as a burden! I can’t emphasize that enough. If someone came up to you and said they were feeling anxious and like an anxiety attack might happen, would you push them off and think of them as burdensome? Of course not! So why lie to yourself and think that you are a burden?
“Your friends truly want to know what is going on, what is wrong, and how they can best accommodate you.”
Speak truth to yourself
When you sense feelings of depression, anxiety, obsessions, or even mania starting to creep up inside of you, the first thing you naturally want to do is confirm these negative uninvited feelings by lying to yourself, saying things like, “Nobody cares,” “No one could ever love me,” “I’m alone,” “Nobody else has to deal with this,” “Why can’t I be normal”. These are all examples of lies we tell ourselves when we go down negative thought spirals. You need to put an end to these lies that you naturally want to tell yourself when you’re nearing mental entropy.
It’s not enough to merely focus on stopping depressive and negative thoughts; You need to fight those negative thoughts with positive truths. Think of it this way: When I tell you to stop thinking about red houses, what does your mind think about?… Red houses. But if I tell you to start thinking about blue houses instead of red houses, you can better replace the mental image of red houses with a picture of blue houses. This is what you need to do in your mind.
Instead of using negative self-talk, which is essentially verbally abusing yourself, you need to remind yourself what is good and the true. Address the thoughts of “nobody cares” with “what am I thinking of course there are people who care” and think of those friends and family and the positive things they have done for you in the past. Friends don’t stick around if they don’t care about you, no matter how much you question that in your head. These positive thoughts usually help transition your downward mental health spiral into thoughts of gratitude and thankfulness for the things and people you have in your life. It can be difficult at first because you can quite literally become addicted to thinking negatively about yourself. It takes work to undo self-hatred and address your problems with truth. It’s a whole lot easier to hate yourself, but you’re worth more than that.
“Instead of using negative self-talk, which is essentially verbally abusing yourself, you need to remind yourself what is good and the true.”
Push yourself & give yourself a break
One of the hardest things to determine for many, especially those with mental health problems, is when to push yourself to be more social and when to give yourself a break. A good rule of thumb (one that I sometimes hate) is “if you don’t want to do it, probably do it.” Some might disagree, but I think it is really mentally healthy to push yourself to go out and grow old and new friendships (maintain that neuroplactisty, yo!).
After a long day, I’m usually not in the mood to go hangout. But 90% of the time when I push through that social fatigue, I’ll come out with great friendship growing experiences. Keep in mind that you typically know your limits, and when it is definitely time to call it quits. Sometimes when you’re in loud, dynamic social situations, you just take a break and walk away. But the harsh reality is that we sometimes can use struggles with mental health as an excuse to not do things. And that can be dangerous because staying by yourself and not pushing yourself to do things is what makes you feel even more alone. Trust your gut and try your best to experience new things with new people as difficult as it may be.
“Some might disagree, but I think it is really mentally healthy to push yourself to go out and grow old and new friendships (maintain that neuroplactisty, yo!).”
You are not alone
Yes, I know you hear this phrase all the time and everyone agrees with that statement. But take a second to consider the implications and imperatives of “you are not alone.” If you believe that to be true, which you should, then you should reach out to other people so you don’t feel alone. The sooner you reach out to people the better off you’ll be.
Even when you don’t think things are that bad because you’ve “felt worse,” it’s always good practice to contact friends when you aren’t doing so well. This can both help you process what you are going through and prevent you from getting any worse. Plus, honest interactions where you make yourself vulnerable to your friends grows relationships better than almost any other circumstance. The more you open up, the more people open up to you and you discover that you’re not so alone after all.
I hope this helps. If you’re interested in hearing more conversations about mental health and relationships, check out Mr. Feels, a podcast about mental health that shares unique perspectives. There’s a few episodes dedicated specifically to handling relationships while undergoing mental health problems. I think you’d enjoy it.
Tyler May is a co-host of The Mr. Feels Podcast. Mr. Feels is dedicated to opening up a conversation about mental health and erasing the stigma surrounding it. For more information, visit Tyler’s website.