'It's ok not to be ok' - it’s become a bit of a cliché hasn’t it, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant or true. It really is ok to not be ok – or, I think more accurately, to acknowledge that you don’t feel ok. But what does that actually mean?
We have a tendency to berate ourselves when we’re feeling anything other than happy or good. We worry about what other people will think of us if we tell them that we’re feeling down or we’re struggling. We expect ourselves to ‘get over it and get on with it’, we pull on our mask and project that we’re ‘fine’, we’re ‘all good’. We strive so hard to ‘be happy’ or appear to be happy... I mean, let’s face it, we all want to be happy and feel good don’t we? None of us want to feel sad or low, right?
Well, of course, but the thing is, very often what happens is that we kid ourselves on that we can make ourselves feel happy by ignoring or burying or distracting ourselves from those other not-so-happy emotions and feelings. We find ourselves playing out a false version of a happy self. And once we start doing that, it can be really difficult to stop – sometimes even making it hard to remember what true, genuine happiness felt like.
It’s like you’re putting on a show, a masquerade. And the longer you do it, the more those underlying feelings of such things as sadness, frustration, anger, loneliness, guilt and shame build up. They’re there, simmering underneath, until something comes along, often when we least expect it, to trigger their release – and that’s when you can feel completely overwhelmed. And really not ok. It’s been happening a lot during the past twelve months, with the covid crisis and the lockdowns challenging us in ways that none of us have ever experienced before.
One of the most compassionate and caring things we can do for ourselves (and others) is to give ourselves (and others) permission to let go of the notion that we’re weak, failing or doing something wrong when we’re feeling low, sad, hurt, fearful, stuck or generally ‘not happy’. When we do that, we actually ride the roller coaster of life’s ups and downs much more smoothly and our thoughts, feelings and emotions become much more transient.
It’s hard, bloody hard sometimes, sure, but it’s okay to acknowledge that you’re in pain. It’s okay to acknowledge that you feel scared. It’s okay to acknowledge that your grief is hitting you hard (no matter how much time has passed). It’s okay to acknowledge that you feel lonely. It’s ok to acknowledge that you feel lost. It’s ok to acknowledge that you feel low. It’s okay to not be okay, and it’s more than ok to acknowledge it.
So, how do we ‘be’ ok with not being ok? What does that actually look like? Well, the way I see it, it really all comes down to being kind, compassionate and caring towards yourself…
Practice feeling your emotions without judgement. That’s really the first, and most important step, to moving through them. Don’t judge yourself harshly and beat yourself up because you feel less than happy. Allow yourself the space to sit with the difficult emotions rather than constantly trying to side-step around them. Pause, breathe, experience, just be.
Keep up with as many of the things that you know are ‘good for you’ as you can (this will look different for everyone, but could be things like being outside as often as possible, being active, relaxing in a hot bath, nourishing yourself with wholesome food etc) but don’t ‘expect’ these things to make you feel ‘better’. They will again, but removing the expectation for the moment makes them easier to keep on doing – and the more you do them the sooner you’ll be feeling better…
Express how you’re feeling. Either write it down or reach out to someone you feel you can trust. You’re not being a burden – and you might just actually be helping someone else by telling them. It’s often a relief when someone entrusts us and tells us how they’re really feeling because we’ve been feeling something similar. We’re unique, but our emotions are universal.
Be mindful of the words you’re speaking to yourself. We supposedly have up to 60,000 thoughts per day. That’s up to 60,000 opportunities to build ourselves up or tear ourselves down. The words we speak to ourselves matter. You could put pen to paper, write about the language you’ve noticed you’re using. Write about how you could change that. Be your own best friend.
Take the temptation to compare yourself and your situation to everyone else away by putting your phone down more often. Spend less time scrolling social media. Of course, using your phone to connect in a positive way - with a supportive group, for your work or to reach out to friends and family members - is a positive thing, but be mindful of this leading you off down the mindless-scrolling-rabbit-hole. Comparison really is the thief of joy, so losing ourselves in the movie reel of other people’s lives when our ‘joy’ meter is already low isn’t helpful.
And, of course, you could work things through with a counsellor or a coach. You’d think nothing of using a keep fit class or a personal trainer when your physical health is at a low ebb (with the knock-on effect of improving your mental health too). Signing up for physical exercise sessions doesn’t make you feel like a failure, or that you’re weak. It makes you feel the opposite - you’re taking action to improve your health, taking control, and that in itself makes you feel good. Well, it’s exactly the same for your emotional or psychological health. Seeking support and help from a professional coach or counsellor is taking positive action, it’s a strength and something that we must stop being in any way ashamed of. And, working on and improving your mental health more often than not has a knock-on effect of improving your physical health too. If it helps, think of wellbeing coaching as going to a keep fit class for your mental muscles…
Lastly, remember that times of unhappiness and suffering can be sore, painful, hard - but if we allow ourselves to experience them fully, rather than trying to put a lid on them, they can stretch us. They can change us - not the essence of us, but how we respond and react to the circumstances of our lives in a much more positive way. The thing is, living a happier and more content life isn’t about avoiding the not-so-good feelings or admonishing ourselves when we're not ok. It’s about embracing everything we feel, shining a light on all of our emotions, acknowledging our vulnerabilities – and allowing ourselves to be human, rather than pushing ourselves too hard to always be super-happy superwomen…