Updated: Apr 15
Last week, we delved into the challenging aspects of mental health, addressing the often avoided or tiptoed around topics of self-harm and suicide. Our aim was to normalize talking about these issues. I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to have these conversations, as I have avoided asking questions and discussing my own thoughts on these topics. However, it's precisely this avoidance and tiptoeing that makes it so challenging for everyone to talk about them, whether you're unsure if you should ask someone who may be struggling or if you yourself are battling with these thoughts and need to talk. Normalizing the conversation, just as we are normalizing the notion that it's okay to not be okay, takes another step forward in the mental health movement, enabling more people to seek or offer genuine help without fear of judgment. So, let's continue to have these tough conversations, as shedding more light on these issues will benefit more people.
Moving forward, this week I wanted to discuss the role of groups, sports, arts, and other activities in helping us cope with our mental health. After speaking with Andys Man Club last week, it made me reflect on how effective these settings can be, and also made me question why. The answer is probably simple: it's a safety net. These weekly gatherings provide a space where people feel genuinely safe and free from judgment, allowing them to openly express the demons we all face at some point, because everyone in the room is there for the same reason. The fear dissipates because the setting is designed to promote openness. The issues discussed may not always be the same, but the shared emotions and fears upon walking in are. It's the connection to each other that allows masks to drop and facades to fade, creating a sense of safety that fosters genuine communication and healing. We lean on each other and learn together.
So, what is it about other settings that may not be designed for open communication but still help us so much? Engaging in sports, whether solo or team-based, joining an arts and crafts group or taking lessons, indulging in music, film, yoga, gym, etc. What is it about these settings that seem to be so helpful? I believe it's the breather they provide. The ability to pause, take a break from the mental battle, and focus on something entirely different, something that demands more attention, or sometimes all of your attention. You see, you can sit alone and watch Netflix, but give it 5 seconds before your brain starts bouncing between what you're binge-watching and what you're battling. Not something you can do when surfing, where the ocean slaps you and spits you out if you lose focus, or when playing a team sport. It's not for everyone, but focusing on that end goal, the win, in any sport requires strategy and even imagination, and it takes concentration not only to achieve that result but also to avoid getting hurt. Then there's the arts, in all its many forms. Again, your brain switches gears into imagination drive, transporting you to a different location where the end goal is now whatever you're trying to create. Some would argue that art can be the most therapeutic of all, allowing you to pour your emotions onto the canvas, helping you deal and heal, even without realizing it. Regardless, they all have something in common: they transport you, demand attention and imagination, and signal your brain to focus on a goal.
Music, obviously, falls in the same category as art, especially when you're creating it. It can be amazing for giving you something else to focus on. However, it's not just creating different forms of art that helps us escape and recenter ourselves to come back and deal with things in a more level-headed manner. I have often said that the power of music amazes me, putting it in the same context as love. You see, I think both music and love have the ability to enhance any experience or emotion we have, whether it's positive or negative. So, when using music as your release, be careful about the kind of music and the message the song is portraying. The same goes for paintings and other forms of art. Be conscious of the energy they convey!
I know I use music as my way of doing almost everything. It was an integral part of my upbringing. My father is also mad about music and even hosts a radio show back in our hometown in Australia. It's something he's super proud of, and his little walk to the mailbox every day to see who has sent him music is just the cutest thing, haha. It was my upbringing that molded my taste in music as well. You see, I grew up with rock music in the household, and then I started listening to nothing but R&B and rap before it was cool, haha, as I basically lived at my best friend's house who was from a Samoan family. Honestly, they were the best people you'll ever meet, and they were like family to me. But it was that vast mixture of music that allowed me to appreciate all kinds of genres, such as jazz, blues, rap, rock, indie, hardcore, and I could go on and on. I just love it! Music is a phenomenal instrument to use, just like all the other examples I've given. They transport you to a place free from your ailments, which can give you a new perspective or calm you enough to approach things in a more calculated manner. To be honest, I actually use them all very frequently - music, gym, surfing, and other sports, etc. They are absolutely my way of staying grounded.
On top of music, though, my favorite ways to let go would have to be snowboarding, surfing, and training. As I mentioned earlier, the ocean requires so much attention; it's dangerous to focus on anything else. But at the same time, it's so beautiful that you can be both in awe of it and cautiously respecting it simultaneously. Anything less can have nasty repercussions. But for me, the fear of falling, staking or crashing is outweighed by the joy of the experience. As an asthmatic, it's hard enough to breathe on land, yet I hooked. I guess its the fear and respect that takes my mind of literally everything else, thats where the break comes from! Just like surfing, snowboarding has its dangers and also requires imagination and flow, and it allows you to appreciate the beauty of nature. Looking down at the mountain and the surrounding peaks is simply stunning. The planet is absolutely amazing. However, the gym is my selfish time. It's when I get to be alone with music and push myself to get those endorphins flowing by striving to be better each day. This allows me to enjoy surfing and snowboarding even more. I understand that these activities may not be for everyone, but they are my way of letting go and finding joy.
It's not always going to allow you to heal, but the benefits of taking a breather can be immensely important. Maybe it will change your perspective, or maybe the break will allow you to see things in a new light, giving you a new angle to approach the challenges you face. Or simply, it will just be a breather that you needed, potentially leading you to find something like Andy's Man Club or countless other groups out there to help.
Then things can go even further, where these coping mechanisms give you the strength to seek more professional help from a therapist who can assist you in dealing with past trauma, or give you the courage to confide in family and friends. Maybe it even drives you to seek a life coach, someone who can help you clarify your goals and set you on the right course to continue your journey.
One thing is for sure, no matter what approach you take, everyone is going through something. However, none of us are alone in this either. So, if you find yourself unable to talk about how you feel or seek something like a group setting as a safety net, try giving yourself a breather in other ways, and then go back to attempting to start the conversation. Do it over and over again until it feels right. You have unlimited mulligans - don't give up.
I know how hard and lonely it can be to deal with issues internally. We often automatically isolate ourselves so that we don't feel like a burden. It's tough at the time, but hopefully, by normalizing conversations about mental health, it won't be that way one day. But until you're comfortable to talk, find your breather. Whether it's yoga and wellness classes, sports teams, crafts groups, or any other activity, there is soooooo much out there. It may sound simple, I know, and maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But by simply doing something, no matter how small, you'll start to get the ball rolling and move forward on your path to wherever you need to be. Nothing can be accomplished by sitting in the dark.