May is National Mental Health Month, and my first thought was to focus on positive ways we can relate to others, because this impacts our mental health. However, our society encourages a "me first" way of thinking, and I want to avoid contributing to that. I don't want to suggest that we help others so we can feel better about ourselves; however, choices in the way we relate to others certainly affect our mental wellness.
Our Needs vs. Their Needs
Are you known for your generous attitude, or do you tend to complain when others make demands on you? Of course, some requests are unreasonable, and saying no to them is necessary. But often our friends and family members have needs that arise at inconvenient times for us. Parents and others who work with children can certainly relate to this. Thinking of the needs of others as being as important as our own is a tremendous challenge, but isn't that what we expect from others?
Responding to Slights and Offenses
Do you tend to remember when others slight you, or are you able to overlook an insult? I am not suggesting that you become a pushover or let others take advantage of you. But often we spend a lot of energy defending ourselves against real or imagined offenses. Will you stew all morning about the guy who pulled out right in front of you, or will you let it go and spend your energy on other matters?
How We Spend Time
Is most of your time spent pursuing your own goals, or are you able to stop what you are doing in order to help others? This is hard. We tend to guard our free time quite fiercely, and I am not suggesting that we never pursue hobbies and interests. But are there ways you can both do what you enjoy and help others?
How We Talk
How would those closest to you describe your speech? Do you tend to encourage and build others up, or do you focus on faults and criticize? Our words have tremendous power. A careless or angry word is like a tiny spark that starts a blazing fire. Many of us have ongoing conflict with others, in part, because we keep adding the fuel of angry words. On the other hand, a gentle response during a conflict is like taking wood off the fire. I understand that some people are impossible to get along with. Don't be one of them.
Managing our time and energy resources is important to our health. As I stated above, I am not offering a recipe for how to be nice to others so that we can feel better. Sacrificing one's time and talents in order to serve others is a very difficult task, and it will cause us some short-term discomfort and inconvenience. However, when we can put the legitimate needs of others before our wants, will there be any long-term benefit for us? Try it and see.
Editor's note: Mike Bach, M.A., LLP, is outpatient program director at Copper Country Community Mental Health Services.