It’s a new year readers, and that means that many people are looking forward to a new start and lots more opportunities coming their way. However, today has been dubbed ‘Blue Monday’ by the press. Apparently the third Monday of January is considered to be the worst day of the new year, as the joy of Christmas is long gone and the drudgery of real life and work really kicks in.
If that sounds ridiculous to you, that’s because it is. If you’re suffering with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health problem, you probably don’t appreciate the trivialisation of mental health issues. Even if you don’t, you can see it for the pseudoscience it is. Wikipedia says that the term ‘Blue Monday’ was coined in 2005 as part of an advertising campaign by Sky Travel, so it’s wise not to pay attention to what the media says today.
The Samaritans today have decided to turn the term on its head. They’re dubbing today Brew Monday instead, and encouraging people to make a cup of tea and sit down with somebody who needs a chat. Volunteers will be Chester Station today, handing out specially branded Samaritans tea bags with their contact number, 116 123, written on them.
This is an excellent idea. All too often, we bottle our feelings up and don’t tell people what we’re really feeling. That could be because we think they’ll laugh or judge us, even maybe think they’ll tell us our problems are silly and that we should get over them.
Nothing could be further from the truth. No matter what your problems are, if they’re upsetting you, they’re valid problems. Whether you’ve just been dumped, your job’s getting you down, or you’re suffering with mental illness, everyone deserves a shoulder to cry on.
Want to join in? It’s super easy. If you can think of a friend who needs a chat, ring them up and offer to get together. If you can’t, maybe offer your services as a friend for hire. Your goal is to sit and really listen to someone, and let them explore their feelings and options.
Really listening to someone is an art, but it’s quite easy to pick up. When you’re chatting with your friend, your goal is to let them unpack how they’re feeling. In the nicest possible way, what you have to say doesn’t matter. Resist the urge to offer advice, or say things like ‘If I was in your shoes, I would…’ At this moment in time, that’s not helpful.
Instead, practice empathy. It’s not quite the same as sympathy. Imagine you see someone stuck in a deep hole. If you were being sympathetic, your response would be ‘Oh, you poor thing. It must be awful, being stuck in that hole.’ If you’re being empathetic, you’d grab a ladder and get down there with them. ‘I can see how horrible it is down here. It looks like it would really get you down.’
While you’re chatting, use phrases like ‘that sounds like…’ or ‘It seems as though…’ These phrases avoid presumptions about how the other person is feeling, and lets them make corrections if needed. You’re trying to understand why that person feels the way they’re feeling.
Remember, you’re giving that person the space to really explore their feelings and sort them out in their mind. It’s like clothes in a tumble dryer. Their thoughts are spinning round and round. By chatting, you’re helping them take the clothes out and fold them neatly.
If you want to do your good deed for the day, have a brew and a chat in honour of Brew Monday. It’s amazing what the effects of someone really listening to you are.
If you’re struggling with your emotions, get in touch with the Samaritans. You don’t have to be suicidal, and everything you say is confidential. Their number is 116 123, and it’s a free number to call. Instead, you can drop them a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can even drop in and chat face to face at your local branch. Check out their website to find the nearest one to you.
Siobhan Harper is a freelance writer living in Birmingham UK. She strongly believes in figuring things out as you go along, but only because she's pathalogically disorganised. You can follow her adventures in writing at http://wingingitsiobhanharper.blogspot.co.uk/, or her thoughts on early mornings and dogs on Twitter at @Beatrix_Plotter.