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Relationships and Mental Health
The intersection of mental health and relationships - the work I do, day in and day out.
I’m Michelle and I’m the Chief Executive of TLC: Talk, Listen, Change, a Northwest relationships charity. I answered a call to write a blog about the intersection of mental health and relationships because this is the work I do, day in and day out.
I’ve actually found it one of the most difficult things to write about in ages. I started draft after draft, tried different approaches, and yet not one felt right.
I think it’s partly because this week I’ve suffered with a case of imposter syndrome. I’m not a qualified mental health practitioner. I’m not a relationships expert. Why would a blog from me be worth reading? What have I got to say on the subject?
Bupa states that the key to addressing imposter syndrome is to recognise your self-doubt and then talk about it. So, that’s why I am starting this blog by telling you about mine.
I’m a massive believer in authentic leadership, bringing one’s whole self to work, and being vulnerable and honest. So, this is the first time I’ve got to 150+ words and not deleted anything. This feels authentic and honest… but also a little bit scary! I hope what you read is helpful and of interest.
At TLC: Talk, Listen, Change we believe that every person, adult or child, needs to be surrounded by a circle of safe, healthy and happy relationships. That includes the relationships we have with ourselves, partners or ex-partners, family and friends, school or work colleagues, and our local geographical community and other communities of interest. When these relationships are safe, healthy and happy, everyone benefits from better emotional wellbeing.
The opposite is true, too; when our relationships are not safe, are unhealthy or make us unhappy, then the likelihood of us experiencing poor mental health is higher.
We know that everyone has lived experience of relationships. Relationships are around us all the time, and often, we use their status as a way of defining who we are.
I’m Michelle. I’m a wife. Mum to two girls. A daughter. A sister. An auntie. A friend. A colleague. A leader of an organisation. A trustee. A non-executive director. All of these indicate a relationship status and give you a glimpse into who I am and what makes up the different parts of me.
When my relationships are strong, I am happier and healthier. When any of my relationships are tested or under threat, I struggle. When more than one relationship is challenging at the same time, I struggle more.
But this isn’t just true for me. It’s true for all of us.
If we all have safe, healthy, happy relationships, our mutual circles of support can effortlessly intersect and bring us mutual benefits. We can handle conflict better, we are calmer, less stressed, more forgiving, and better listeners.
But when we come across clashing circles of support, with links that are loose or broken, that intersection and interconnection becomes weak or lost. So, what can we do about it?
The Mental Health Foundation argues that
“Protecting our mental health is easier than you might think. We can all do it every day, and with simple activities that help us feel OK, we’re better able to cope with life. It’s like brushing your teeth daily – important in preventing problems. It’s the same for our mental health. It can also be fun!”
The Mental Health Foundation has a booklet full of tips about how you can manage your mental health and I’ve picked out some of the ones I use on a regular basis:
Get closer to nature
Anyone who knows me will know I am a massive camping fan. I’ll camp in all weathers and all conditions. It’s the getting back to basics that I love, the waking up to the sound of the rain on the tent, the time it takes to do the simplest thing and the ability to switch off from the wider world.
Learn to understand and manage your feelings
I’ve been journaling now for the last 18 months. Starting each day with 10 minutes or so reflecting on the day before, what I learnt, what I struggled with, what I enjoyed. Reading back last year’s journal was so enlightening. I am learning so much about myself daily.
Talk to someone you trust for support
I’m a talker. I like to talk things out before I come to the right solution for me. I am lucky to have some fantastic people in my life who indulge me and give me the space and time I need to talk through my thoughts and feelings on a regular basis.
I’ve always got a challenge on the go: a new step challenge to beat, a work week hustle with my friend, a fitness programme I’m following, a ridiculously hard dance class that I can’t do. I’m motivated by pushing myself and the accountability of a challenge means I’m committed to moving more and being active.
Plan things to look forward to
I’m a planner. I have a spreadsheet full of things I want to do, a list of places I want to visit and activities I want to try. I love the thrill and excitement of researching what I’m going to do next, the anticipation of waiting, the planning for all eventualities and the reflection afterwards. I am practicing the discipline of enjoying each moment of the experience and making sure I’m not rushing on in my head to the next thing. I love the process of planning itself but only because the time spent doing the activity (whatever it is) gives me joy.
The Mental Health Foundation’s full plan of top tips, backed by research can be seen here: mhf-our-best-ever-mental-health-tips-backed-by-research_0.pdf (mentalhealth.org.uk)
Over time, I’ve come to realise that relationships and mental health aren’t self-regulating; they need constant maintenance to run smoothly and effectively. I want to be surrounded by a circle of safe, healthy and happy relationships and I want to benefit from good emotional wellbeing, so I commit to working hard at both. I’m not always getting it right, but I try to be quick to reflect, apologise and move on when I make mistakes. Both with myself and others.
If you are struggling with your mental health, or your relationships, and need someone to talk to, there are so many wonderful Greater Manchester organisations who can help. Please feel free to pick up the phone and ask for help; it’s never too soon and never too late to access the support that you need.
Read the article on the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership website: https://hub.gmintegratedcare.org.uk/mental-health/whats-new/relationships-and-mental-health/
Check out our other blogs and news pieces written by our CEO
Is a relationship under pressure? Do you need support to get back on track?