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It’s Us not Them Part 4

The Importance of Talking and Listening to Others Another way to grow the “health” part of mental mental health is engaging in small talk with people. Sounds simple, but research finds it has particular benefits for your essential cognitive and mental capacities as you age. The study, from the University of Chicago, was published in the ‘Journal of Personality and Social Psychology’. It goes on to say that, “connecting with others in a meaningful way tends to make people happier”, and connecting with others in deep and meaningful ways increases well-being. That, in turn, contributes to the realm of your whole-person mental health. So therefore, engaging with people who you can count on to talk or simply listen to when you need is associated with greater cognitive resilience. Meaning it acts as a buffer against the effects of brain ageing and disease. These findings underscore the overall mental health implications of engaging fully with life and staying mindful of how transitory and impermanent everything is.

I truly believe, immensely, that ‘talking therapy’ or even basic interaction on a regular basis with someone has huge benefits towards our mental well being. As humans we are naturally social beings. We live in groups, pair off with partners and share our world side by side, on a general scale. We have all seen or experienced loneliness. It is not something that we naturally adhere to and not something we strive to achieve. For mental health sufferers, and myself included, being alone with your own thoughts can be trying, and often leads to unhappiness and negative thought processes that brings about depression or stress. A fantastic book, that I highly recommend called, “The Body Keeps Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk is an inspiring read taking research by therapists and scientists who have struggled to integrate recent advances in brain science, attachment research and body awareness into treatments that can free people from the trauma of present and past experiences. He explains in the book that the benefits of talking therapies, through over 30 years of research and practice on patients, massively outweighs the use of drugs in treating people with trauma or mental health issues. Some of the research results are astounding. However he also explains that the powers that be often ignore these findings as ‘talking therapy’ doesn’t produce monetary profits anywhere near as much as ‘drugs’ do. Therefore the case is still being ignored.

Our brains have three causes of action when afflicted to trauma. Flight, fight or freeze. Trauma interferes with the brain circuits that involve focusing, flexibility, and being able to stay in emotional control. A constant sense of danger and helplessness promotes the continuous secretion of stress hormones, which wreaks havoc with the immune system and the functioning of the body's organs. Only making it safe for trauma victims to inhabit their bodies, and to tolerate feeling what they feel, and knowing what they know, can lead to lasting healing. The book inspires human resilience and the power of our relationships, whether at home or in our wider communities to both hurt and heal. So in a nutshell, talking and listening to others can help to break the cycle of our depression, sadness and anxiety by instilling positive neurons to our brains and letting us know ‘we’re not alone’.

Secondly, it’s not always about talking to someone and unloading all your problems onto them, this can make you feel you are being a burden, I know. It can be as simple as having a chat. Ask what they’ve been up to, how their week is going etc. Starting or just having a simple conversation like this is important to distracting your brain from events that tie you down inside. Taking your mind off things, a term we’ve all heard. But it’s true. As I mentioned in part 3, breaking the negative cycle is paramount to easing yourself out of a negative thought process or spiral. Someone who is depressed may lock themselves away, and see nobody for a while, they will slowly digress, stop taking care of themselves, and degenerate into a very poor state. This is an example of the negative process of the mind taking over and, without help, will continue to decrease that person's well being. It’s a theme I think we are all aware of. Breaking this cycle is tough, and tougher the longer it goes on, but not impossible. Having a simple conversation or just listening to someone breaks the mould, no matter how small. It’s like lighting a candle, the flame is lit but there’s a lot of wax to get through, but you can’t burn the wax unless you start with a simple flame. You can light it yourself, or have someone light it for you, but the effect is the same, the flame starts to burn the wax.

Mental health adverts are starting to promote this ‘reach out to someone’ way of dealing with a problem. It’s the one simple thing that actually can have a good positive impact. Just send that text, make that call. It really does make a difference, and it is something we can all do at no cost to ourselves apart from making minimal effort. Is that too much to ask? I implore you all to think about this. It will be a feel good factor to yourself and to the person you are thinking of. We all do it at Christmas or for a birthday, so why not do it at an unexpected time as well? It’s sharing and caring that really will make us feel better and generate a better place for us to co-exist in. So why not start today, when you’ve finished reading this, text or call someone you know who you think may benefit from it and see and feel the results for yourself. We are in control of our own destiny and we make choices everyday that move and change the paths of our lives. We all want to feel good about ourselves and have a positive outlook on things, so make sure you do it in a way that benefits not only you, but others too. The importance of talking and listening to others should never be underestimated and is something we all have the capacity to do. As one long gone American talk show used to say at the end of his show…. “Take care of yourself, and each other”.

I sincerely hope this series has been of benefit, even if it makes a difference to just one person, it’s hopefully a catalyst and a widening of perspective that ultimately will blossom and spread some much needed care and love into what is already a testing and trying world. Take care everyone, it’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.

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