When we care and feel cared for we feel safe, supported, secure.
The problem is, despite living at a time of increased technological connectivity, more and more people say they are feeling more socially disconnected than ever before and this is having a negative impact on our mental wellbeing.
It’s spring time here in Australia, a time associated with renewal, spring flowers and warmer days. September is also the time we celebrate RU OK? Day, a day to raise awareness of why it’s so important to look out for each other, to start a conversation and ask.
R U OK?
Suicide remains the leading cause of death in Australians aged 15 to 44. What’s going on in “our Lucky Country” and what can we be doing better to manage our mental wellbeing more effectively?
Some of the reasons we’re struggling include:
We’re spending less time together.
We’re spending more time on-line and less time in face-to-face interactions. We have a strong need to “belong” and be part of a tribe. We don’t get that same depth of connection online.
Technology while a boon and blessing connecting us to loved ones far away doesn’t provide us the full context of that interaction. It’s like listening to a conversation where… only… half… what’s… said.
Because our brain likes to predict what’s happening, it helps out here, filling in the gaps with our own narrative and making a number of assumptions that may be completely wrong. This is an especially dangerous occupation if you’re already in a bad space, skewing your thinking even further into more negativity.
Spending time with others face-to-face builds trust and social connection, helps us interpret the emotional and non-verbal cues being shared and facilitates understanding.
It is only through practice, that we can get better at having those difficult conversations or manage a potentially volatile situation. This is how we get better at developing our emotional intelligence and resilience.
We’re experiencing higher levels of job stress.
If you’re always feeling you’ve always got too much to do and too little time, that growing pressure leads to higher levels of stress, which if not managed, can quickly become toxic affecting your ability to think straight, focus on the task at hand or make the better decision.
Over time, this impacts the immune system making us more susceptible not only to catching the prevailing cold or ‘flu, but also increasing the risk of those unpleasant psychosomatic symptoms including headaches, joint pains, muscle tension, digestive upset, appetite disturbance and disrupted sleep. This can result in more days off for sick leave or stress management.
We’re too caught up in our busy thought bubbles.
This busyness blinds us to what’s happening elsewhere. It’s not that we don’t care – we simply don’t see.
There are a number of ways to help tackle this to help ourselves and others. As the airline safety videos remind us, we can help more if we remember to put on our own oxygen mask first.
a) Start with self-awareness.
Look out for those warning indicators you’re not your usual self. Subtle or not so subtle changes include lower mood and increased irritability, loss of interest in usual activities, social withdrawal, or excessive worry.
b) Make time out, time off and relaxation a regular feature, preferably a daily activity, in your weekly schedule. This could include exercise, music, creative pursuits or meditation.
c) Plan time for friends and family. Work is important. Our relationships more so. Which is why scheduling in those social events for a catch up helps top up our dopamine levels, so we feel happier, in a better state of mind and more confident in our ability to handle our stress.
d) Get good at listening. This isn’t about providing the answer to another person’s problem with your world-view. Empathy shows you recognise the struggle a person is going through and a willingness to guide them to obtaining the help they need. Encouragement takes many forms, use what feels right for you.
e) Be mindful of what’s happening around you to boost a positive vibe. At work it’s as easy as starting by saying hello with eye contact, a cheery smile and using the person’s name. Broaden your perspective of how others are – and look for ways to call out the good. Being acknowledged or recognised as an individual provides far greater meaning than being awarded “Employee of the Month” because it’s your turn.
It’s all about finding the simple, staying human and starting a conversation RU OK? – because you might just save a life.
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