Mental health issues can be isolating. It doesn’t matter if you are dealing with social anxiety, omnidirectional sorrow, or intense paranoia. You can always find a reason to keep it to yourself.
Which is a shame, since that is exactly the opposite of what is required to overcome those feelings. Despite what our individualistic, self-help-obsessed society says, people need people.
If you are worried about your mental health, you need to reach out to someone. Otherwise, you will just spin in place, spiraling downwards as your conviction that you cannot or should not solve your problems devolves into a self-imposed obligation, and finally into a pathology.
But it’s not as if connecting with other people is easy. If it were, dealing with mental health issues would be as simple as dealing with hunger. So, how does one open up? And perhaps more importantly, what are the risks involved with opening up, and how do you manage them?
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Let’s Talk About the Risks of Opening Up
We need to address this first, as no advice on communicating with people is realistic without acknowledging that it can be done wrong. And after all, your mind is probably preoccupied with thoughts of the risks. It might be so preoccupied that it’s a phobia at this point.
There are three core risks to opening up to someone: Opening up to the wrong person, oversharing, and getting too reliant on one person.
People constantly fear opening up to the wrong person, usually out of concern that the person in question doesn’t want to hear about their problems. There is a simple solution to this: Ask them. If a person is comfortable talking constructively about what’s going on with you, give them a chance to say that they are. If they are not comfortable with it, you know not to do it.
Another common problem is oversharing. This happens when you get too personal too fast. The problem in doing this is not necessarily that you reveal personal details about yourself, but that you inject high stakes into the conversation. Try to keep things matter of fact and low stakes.
And finally, you need to be sure you are not treating the person to whom you are opening up as a happy pill. While the other two risks are things you are probably already overthinking about, this one is easy to do without thinking. Objectifying someone into being your personal listener will turn a right person into a wrong person and inject stakes into every conversation.
Remember, thinking about the risks involved in opening up to a person is not about finding reasons to not do it. Treat these as the only three “real” reasons and everything else as fear. The goal is to conceptualize communication with alertness rather than anxiety.
First, Open up to Yourself
Before you talk to anyone else, talk to yourself. Literally. You don’t have to be meeting your own gaze in the mirror or anything. Simply talk out loud like you’re on the phone with yourself.
Obviously, you should be talking about your problems, but you can start by just chatting yourself up. Get used to the sound of your own voice, then start talking about these things you have been dealing with. The reason you start with yourself is because you probably want to know what you want to say before you start talking with anyone else about what you’re going through.
But it’s not just about making a plan of what to say (though having a plan helps). Most people don’t know what is wrong with them until they start talking. Maybe they don’t even know if there is anything wrong with themselves at all. Though usually it’s just a matter of finding the right words. Knowing how to express yourself will go a long way to making you more confident.
Then, Find a Friend or Family Member
It is tempting to try and talk to a stranger, either online or in person. The assumption is that talking with a stranger about your mental health concerns will be lower consequence since you do not know them. But bringing a stranger into your situation will only raise the stakes of the situation, as your presumption that they are objective and unbiased can easily turn against you.
Talk to your friends and family. Neither of them has to be that personally close to you. It can even be someone that you haven’t talked to in years. The reason why you should open up to a friend or family member, even a distant one, is because there is an unspoken obligation that they be patient with you. It gives you someone to talk to while letting you make mistakes.
This is the best place to start due to the lowered chance of them saying something hurtful. They don’t have to be helpful. All of this is really a build-up to the last step.
Finally, Talk to a Therapist
If you are suffering from mental health issues, then you probably need professional help to really solve those problems. But the whole time, you have been dealing with two problems: The first is the process of opening up to someone in general and talking with them about yourself.
The second is the specific thing you are trying to open up to someone about. You can solve the first problem on your own by turning phobias into rational risks, practicing on yourself, and then talking to a friend or family member. But the second problem requires a therapist who knows what they are talking about. It will, however, always be worth it to seek that help.
Don’t suffer in silence, and don’t suffer by yourself. Leaving your mental health unattended is like not getting your oil changed: It will cause a breakdown eventually. The best place to start looking for help is the New Water Recovery official site. There, you can find a professional.