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The perfect listener when you need to talk?

February 8, 2023

As I write this, it’s Time to Talk day run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. The Time to Talk campaign was launched in 2014 to encourage more open and honest conversations between friends, family and colleagues about things they’re struggling with.

How easy do you find it to open up about your own troubles and doubts? For me it’s a fine balance: if I’m with someone I trust, we’re in an appropriate place and I’m feeling brave, maybe I’ll grab the moment to utter those hardest of words “can I talk to you about something?” but it only takes an interruption, a fleeting doubt (what will they think of me?) or the other person to launch into a new topic and that moment’s gone.

The perfect listener?

One thing I find helpful as an alternative is journaling. I’m not a regular diary-writer but I have discovered how useful it is to put your thoughts and feelings down in writing especially when they’re threatening to overwhelm you.

There’s none of the stuff that can get in the way of talking to someone who’s not such a great listener: the paper won’t judge you, it won’t try to ‘fix’ your problem or interrupt with it’s own version of your experience, and trust me, it doesn’t care less about your handwriting or grammar! (I find handwriting works better than typing).

A bit of distance to change your perspective

The process is truly cathartic. You dump the whole mix of events and emotions on the page then step back to see what’s going on. With that bit of distance, it’s easier to see what’s fact and what’s an assumption, what’s a fair assessment and what’s overly critical of yourself or others.

From there you can make a more considered decision about what action to take. That might bring you back to realising you actually do need to summon the courage to talk to someone, either to help you process things further or because they’re part of the issue. I find the prospect of that conversation much easier knowing I’ve worked through the emotions (so I’m not fearing losing control) and I’m clearer on what I want to say and the outcome I’m seeking.

That said, I don’t always look back and reflect on what I’ve written; sometimes the opportunity to express my thoughts and feelings without censorship is enough in itself to allow me to move on.

A tool in your mental fitness kitbag

Next week I’m going to be running a workshop about using reflective writing for an organisation who want to support their employee’s wellbeing. The prospect of putting pen to paper can be daunting for some people, especially if it brings back difficult memories of school, so I’m giving them a gentle introduction using question prompts and sharing tips to get started.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of journaling to boost your own mental fitness, download Journaling for Real my guide to journaling. It too has lots of tips, question prompts and a 7 day writing challenge to help you get going.

Finally, journaling reminds me that ‘this too shall pass’. When I re-read old journal entries, I’m surprised how deeply I was affected by something at the time. It makes me realise I got through that work crisis or parenting challenge and I’ll get through the next one too.

Life is light and shade; we experience a whole spectrum of feelings that pass and return and pass again. Writing helps me capture the light and process the shade. Maybe it could help you too?

About me

I’m Celia Clark. I’m a career development coach based in the dreaming spires of Oxford. I help you think clearly about your job, in all its ups and downs, so you can be happy and successful in your work.

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