When someone around you is struggling, your natural instinct is to help however you can: A friend sprains their wrist, you carry their coffee; your partner has a cold, you make hot lemon drinks; your colleague has a heavy workload, you do some photocopying for them. But if a loved one is suffering with their mental health, it can be hard to know what to do. You just want to fix them, help them to feel better, and that can seem incredibly hard when the way to be useful is neither road mapped nor obvious.
However, rest assured, it is true that Small Things Do Matter. Small things can make the big things seem smaller. You might not see the visible results immediately, but you should know they are there. From a mixture of personal experience and lots of lots of conversations about mental health (#timetotalk #timetochange), I’d like to list a couple of ideas that I’ve found make all the difference and explain why these small things truly help the big things:
- Physical contact - A hug, a light pat on the back, a squeeze of the hand… these are gestures that have a grounding effect. Anxiety can make you feel like you’re living in a bubble, floating way up above the world but stuck in your own head. A gentle touch from a friend reminds me that I am here in the present moment, with other people and, most importantly, not alone.
- Reaching out - The first person I met with to discuss my anxiety sent me a letter with some reading and extra information after my first appointment. The information was great, but it meant so much more to know someone had gone out of their way to try and help. Had they sent me a post-it with a smiley face on it, the effect would have been the same. It’s the act of reaching out that counts. A reminder that you’re not in isolation.
- Not trying to fix it - Some of my nearest and dearest have said to me, Helen, I don’t really understand what you’re going through, but I am more than happy to listen. That sense of acceptance may just be all the help someone needs.
- Patience - Sometimes it takes me a long time to get out of the house. Knowing I’m keeping someone waiting adds to the stress. Added stress makes it harder to get out of the house. Vicious circle. Having people around me who are patient and tolerant, who know when to give a gentle nudge to force me out of comfort zone and when to hold back, who don’t get annoyed at me because they know I’d rather not be like this, well that halves the battle.
Small things will always matter because small things add up. We do small things all the time to help people in a variety of situations, from holding the door for the colleague who tries to carry books, papers, their laptop and cup of coffee at the same time, to sending your sister silly photos of your latest cooking success to say hi. Small things matter in all situations. Mental health is definitely no different.