Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, an event which has prompted a flurry of articles, blogs and posts on our emotional health and wellbeing. One which I particularly enjoyed was by Dr. Jay Watts in The Independent (link here) entitled 'Why it's impossible for lifestyle tips to cure the mounting stress young people face today'. In the article, he exposes just how toxic certain parts of our contemporary lifestyle have become and draws attention to the short-sightedness of believing that we can fix or combat this with tips or 'hacks'. Instead, he calls for real change in how we address our problems and indeed how we live our lives.
This article stood out to me for three reasons. Firstly, I loved that Watts dared to question whether mindfulness is all it's cracked up to be. Touted as a cure-all, mindfulness is incredibly popular in both main-stream culture and mental health circles. Many people have found it helpful as a structured way of stopping for a few minutes and stepping outside of the busyness of their lives. But once they stop being mindful, the demands of the day are still waiting for them. Just as a plaster is ideal for a papercut, so five minutes peace is good for a change in pace - but you wouldn't put a plaster on a broken leg as it needs more long-term care. The same goes for mental health.
Secondly, Watts recognises that there's a lot going on in society that isn't ok. Feeling stressed by life is one thing, but it's another matter entirely to feel stressed about feeling stressed because you think you should be coping with the 'normal' demands of life. Watts calls our lifestyles out for what they are and makes it clear that it's human not to cope with something so unreasonable.
Thirdly, at the end of the piece Watts identifies three needs that we all have: to feel 'connected, valued and safe'. All three are important but I think the key is in the first of these. When we focus on tips such as healthy eating and mindfulness as solutions for our problems, the inherent message is that you can fix yourself by yourself and then continue to live in a bubble, self-reliant and separate from others. But that's not true. We need others and we need connection. That's one of the keys reasons I started Green Shoots Counselling - to offer some connection and companionship in a world that tells you that you have to go it alone. You don't. Whether it's reaching out to a friend for help or contacting a support service, find someone who's willing to travel with you on the journey of real sustainable change.