"The conversation you have with yourself is just as important as what you say to family and friends"
Digital team's blog
This year's Time to Talk Day was a huge success, with over 80,000 conversations about mental health logged across the country. But for many of us, speaking to others may be easier than talking kindly to yourself. Rachel Kelly explains more...
Last week was about speaking out: thousands of people around the country were inspired by Time to Talk Day to reach out to their family, friends and colleagues to talk about mental health.
Yet for many of those who suffer from mental illness, there is an on-going conversation that is just as important as the one with friends and family: the one you have with yourself.
As someone who has had a long battle with depression, I know just how important this ‘self-talk’ is. Many of us have an inner monologue going through our minds that says we are not good enough - the one that speaks of despair and asks: who are you to dream? This is where the harsh shoulds and oughts, the could do betters take hold.
I've been very lucky to be able to benefit from talking therapy and the loving kindness of others, and through that I have begun to have a different conversation, encouraging a gentler relationship with myself.
I first came across this approach through the work of Kristen Neff, an associate professor in human development at the University of Texas. For the last decade, Ms Neff has been finding evidence that the best way to foster calmness and serenity is to develop the practice of self-compassion.
Self-compassion has three main components: we must develop a kindly inner voice of encouragement and understanding rather than harsh judgment; we need to recognise our common humanity and how alike we are in our imperfection. Thirdly, we need to use mindfulness to acknowledge our suffering in the present moment with acceptance and empathy.
There are two tips that have helped me personally to nurture a more forgiving inner voice.
The first is to try and identify my own voice. When my self-talk becomes negative, I may be internalising the thoughts of others, those punishing internal drumbeats many of us know, which often turn out to be the noisy opinions of those around us. So the next time those voices in my head start to pass judgment I try to give myself the space and time to identify who’s really speaking.
The second strategy I use is to try not to berate myself when things do go wrong, as they inevitably do from time to time. Instead, I try to imagine talking to myself as if I were a child. I would talk to a child in a loving and sympathetic way.
While we are making huge strides in reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness and encouraging dialogue, let’s not forget to cultivate a healthy conversation with ourselves.
Rachel has written a book in which she shares the strategies which have helped her recover from depression. It's called Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness, you can find out more about it here.