What Mental Health Week Taught Us

What #MentalHealthWeek Taught Us About the Importance of Naming our Emotions

2021’s #MentalHealthWeek marked the 70th anniversary of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s week-long annual nationwide event. Each May, the cause is meant to unite Canadians together, in schools, communities, and workplaces, to celebrate, promote, and protect mental health.

This year’s theme was “Name It, Don’t Numb It!” and was about recognizing our emotions and how important it is to do so. At Strongest Families Institute, our mission is to remove barriers to care so families, children, youth, and adults can easily receive the mental health supports they need. One of the first steps in seeking support is to acknowledge how you’re truly feeling. That’s why this year’s theme is so impactful, and we’ve rounded up some of the main lessons we learned from this year’s week-long initiative.

Read on to learn why carrying the theme of “Name It, Don’t Numb It!” with us as a reminder is so important year-round, not just during the first week of May.

Good Mental Health Isn’t About Being Happy All of the Time

While it’s easy to assume that happiness=good mental health, that’s simply not always the case. Having a mentally healthy life means experiencing the full range of human emotions. Sometimes that means going through uncomfortable feelings like sadness, frustration, and even anger. Pushing these feelings down, even if they make you anxious, will not make them go away. Bottling up our emotions can cause them to build over time and emerge later in a more serious way than it may have, had the feelings been recognized in the earlier moment.

Recognizing, Labeling, and Accepting our Emotions are Key to Protecting & Promoting Good Mental Health

Regardless of whether or not we have a mental illness, our mental health is something to protect and nurture. ‘Understanding’, ‘recognizing’ and ‘naming’ our emotions is one of the first steps to doing just that. Scientists call this “affect labeling,” which is really just putting our feelings into words. It may feel tempting to bury our feelings, especially if we think that giving them a name will make the feelings more intense. But that’s simply not the case.
Studies show that labeling our feelings can diminish feelings of the negative emotion(s) we experience, much more so than burying the feeling and ignoring it. Why does this work? One theory is that putting our feelings into words reduces uncertainty. Emotions can be fluid, and sometimes strange to experience. By labeling them, we can reduce our uncertainty and begin the process of understanding them.

Small Behavioural Changes Make a Big Impact in Managing & Recognizing our Emotions

We’ve established that naming our emotions feels good, and helps us handle our uncomfortable feelings, but how can we get into the habit of consciously labeling them? Below, find a summary of some great tips from the CMHA about how to ‘name it to tame it’!

● Dedicate time to practicing this new habit. For example, you can watch a movie virtually with a friend, and afterward, spend some time examining how the main character might have felt in their journey. How did it make you feel? How did it make your friend feel?
● Try to look past “social niceties.” Usually, when someone asks how you feel, they really do want to know. Resist the urge to answer with “I’m fine,” if you aren’t really fine.
● Have fun growing your emotional vocabulary. The CMHA offers a great list of words to describe all sorts of emotions. Can you challenge yourself to try a new word to describe your current feelings?
● Write your feelings down. If it’s tough to say them out loud, start small and put pen to paper instead. Journaling can be a wonderful, private release and can be a starting point to taking care of our mental health.

We hope this year’s #MentalHealthWeek and this blog post has encouraged you to #GetReal about how you feel and to see the benefits of naming our emotions for what they are. Name It, Don’t Numb It!

Need Help?

Remember, if your emotions are overwhelming or are interfering with your daily life, it’s important to seek support. We’re here to help. To refer to a program near you, please visit our HOW TO REFER page and navigate to your home province.

1 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110323105202.htm
2 https://www.jstor.org/stable/40064633?seq=1 
3 https://www.scn.ucla.edu/pdf/Torre(2018)ER.pdf

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