Managing negative feelings was the topic of a radio interview I had with 2SER-FM (Stephan, The Daily, April 7, 2022). The interviewer thought his audience might want to hear the basics on handling negative feelings, given the difficult times we’ve been living in. He was also interested in how to tell whether someone is suffering on the inside and how to help them.
It’s no surprise that people are struggling with negative feelings as the pandemic endures, followed by floods, local and world crises. Mental health issues and particularly anxiety disorders are on the rise.
According to the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing 2020-21 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, July 22, 2022), 4.2 million Australians (21.4%) experienced a mental health disorder in the previous 12-months to being surveyed. Of those, 3.3 million (16.8%) Australians had an Anxiety disorder. This affected more females than males, more young people (16-24 years old) and more people who identified as LBTQIA+. People living in one-parent family households with dependent children were also affected.
Mood disorders (7.5%) were the next most common experience during this period, with more females than males represented in the data. Substance Use disorders affected 3.3% of people, with almost twice as many males than females affected.
AS A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
As a counsellor and life coach, I have seen more people with anxiety during the COVID pandemic than before. This makes sense given the uncertainty of the situation, the perceived threat and an unclear view of the future. Life as people knew it changed and coping mechanisms were not as effective.
People lost their routines, which were an important part of managing their health and wellbeing. However, the news isn’t all bad. Many people were still able to be proactive about managing their mental health. The national survey findings showed that almost 61 per cent of people were proactive in managing their own mental health during 2020-21.
People managed their mental health and wellbeing through exercise, physical activity, practising positive thinking, and doing more of the things they enjoyed in life. It was also important to feel part of a community or group, and to have enough support to cope in these tough times.
A record number of people (2.2 million) who were struggling did not seek help from a health professional even though 20.3 per cent said they needed. This saddens me as there is so much help out there, available in many forms, and hopefully in a form that suits you.
HOW TO MANAGE NEGATIVE FEELINGS
In the interview with 2SER-FM, I was asked what factors exacerbate negative feelings. Firstly, let’s clarify what ‘negative’ feelings are. All feelings are physical sensations that are pleasurable, uncomfortable or neutral. We may call it a negative feeling if it makes us uncomfortable, unhappy or less positive about ourselves, others or the world.
Feelings that most people consider to be negative are feeling sad, upset, afraid, lonely, irritated, anxious, frustrated, angry, helpless or hopeless. If we try to avoid negative this can make the feeling stronger as it may keep on coming back, wanting you to pay attention. Numbing negative feelings only them makes them come back stronger. But so does investing in them too heavily or making them mean something about us. Learning that the feeling is just a feeling, neither good nor bad, may help.
So, the advice is to pay attention to your feelings – they are there to let you know something needs your attention. Sit with the feeling for a few minutes only. Observe and describe them. I can feel my stomach is tense. My shoulders are tight. My head is heavy. Then get up and move. Notice the shift in energy can change the way you feel.
Thoughts, feelings and actions are all connected. If you can manage one of these areas then the others may come in line.
WHAT ACTIONS CAN YOU TAKE TO MANAGE YOUR OWN MENTAL HEALTH?
You’ve probably heard it before, but lifestyle choices are key to improving your mental health. Namely, you can:
- Exercise regularly (find a form of exercise you enjoy and do it often, preferably at the start of the day so you feel good for the day)
- Practice positive thinking (that doesn’t mean glossing over things, but putting a positive focus on the things you think, feel or do)
- Make connections with people in your community (when you’re out walking, having coffee, be helpful, kind or interested in others)
- Create a healthy diet (fruit and vegetables are known to increase optimism, happiness and resilience)
- Get enough sleep (cut out blue light and turn off your devices 30 minutes before going to bed)
- Spend time with people you like and love (and avoid the toxic relationships)
- Make a routine and break it once a week (this important for optimism)
- Reduce stress (try yoga, mindfulness or meditation – there are some great Apps you can try)
- Relax and take a break for part of each day
- Quit smoking and cut down on other substances
- See your GP and a health professional if you are struggling with your mental health. A psychologist, counsellor, other accredited health provider can help.
- Seek help from a Support service (see list below)
Check out 2SER radio’s interview in ‘The Daily’ by Stephan with Linda Magson on issues that matter (7 April, 9.15am): Handling negative feelings.
National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing, Australian Bureau of Statistics (latest release 22 July, 2022)
(EXTRACTS FROM ABS NATIONAL STUDY OF MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING, 2022)
Lifeline: 13 11 14 (24 hours, 7 days)
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636 (24 hours, 7 days)
QLife (LGBTIQ+): 1800 184 527 (3pm – midnight, 7 days)
1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732 (24 hours, 7 days)
Family Drug Support: 1300 368 186 (24 hours, 7 days)
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978 (24 hours, 7 days)
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467