Advice. Such a funny thing. Most of us are brilliant at giving advice (I certainly am) but awful at taking it. One of the first things to realise is that you are not an expert on your life. Everyone else is. It is also important to understand that everyone lies. And not all advice is good advice. Even good advice given or received for the wrong reasons can be bad advice.
Before we begin, I want you to know why I believe I give good advice. I have been through a lot, seen a lot, and experienced more than I ever thought was possible. Because of this, not only have I been through a lot of what you may have done, but if I haven’t I am extremely good at empathising and putting myself in your shoes. I have also been through years of therapy, which has given me some brilliant coping tools that I can pass on. And perhaps most importantly, I have spent a lot of time talking with other people who have problems, listening to their advice and trying to understand things I may not have been through myself. This has made me sympathetic. Lastly, I genuinely care. It doesn’t matter to me that we may not have met. I want to help any way I can, because it makes me feel good.
This is my guide to advice. It is nearly 3am, so I might be talking out of my ass, you will have to make your own mind up. We give and receive advice for a multitude of different reasons. Whether it is a light hearted debate with your grandma about the best way to make trifle, or listening to a consultant about a serious medical condition, these little connections can have a huge impact in our lives. We have a say in whether it is a positive effect or a negative one. And we can also improve the way we give advice for others.
Receiving and accepting/ discarding advice
You are the most important person in your life. I know you may want to disagree and insert your partner, children, parents, best friends or other important people in your life before yourself. That is certainly something I have struggled with over the years. But you are the centre of your universe. The one absolutely constant thing in your life. The one thing you can’t change, escape from, take a break from or leave just for a second. Without you, you cannot be strong for the important people in your life. So you MUST put yourself first and look after yourself the best you can. You must love yourself. That bit, however hard, is not optional.
So, when receiving advice, you have to try and think of yourself first. Is the advice you are getting going to benefit you. If not, how can you change it so it does?
I know I am emphasising you, At least for now. And here is why. If you can get yourself on top form, healthy, happy, stable, confident, then you are not only going to be a better role model for those you love, but mentally and physically you are going to be in a better position to help them. You can be a positive influence on those you love, and when they need help, you will be coming from a secure and solid platform, rather than an unstable place.
When receiving advice, is it vital to consider the person giving it carefully, and adjust your response accordingly. Do you trust the person you are talking to? Do they have personal experience, or are they guessing. Are they giving you advice to help you or drag you down? And when seeking advice, it is important to consider carefully where you go to get it.
- You have spent the last two months struggling to sleep.
Friend A recommended counting sheep. Because she always sleeps well, she can’t understand why you aren’t.
Dr. Google told you it is probably cancer and you will die tomorrow.
Family member D has told you that you need to be on heavy sleeping tablets as nothing else will work. He has suffered with insomnia for years and the doctors prescribe him the heavy stuff, and he thinks you should skip the waiting time and go straight on medication.
Friend F gives you a list of 20 different minerals and vitamins you are definitely lacking, and gives you homoeopathic remedies because they are the best thing to have.
Then you speak to me (or Family member Z if you want lol). I (They) have had a similar problem. I suggest trying to find out why you feel like this. If you are sleeping badly because you have a lot racing through your mind then I might suggest keeping a notepad by your bed so you can quickly jot things down before bed, that way you can address them the next day without going to bed worrying you might forget. It might be an idea to use a lavender diffuser to help you sleep, relaxing music to help you relax your mind. If you can’t figure out why you can’t sleep, then sleep hygiene is the first thing recommended by doctors, I would recommend it to everyone, and google can actually be a good source of information here. As a last resort, and ONLY under the guidance of your Doctor or Pharmacist, you can explore medications. You can start with herbal remedies (very important this is under medical advice as it can interact with other medications, including over the counter medicines) and then move on to perhaps antihistamines for short term use or sleeping tablets for even shorter term use. A sleep programme would be put in place to get to the root cause.
Which one would you go for? Each have benefits, each have a personal recommendation. So where would you turn? The simple answer? Do as much research as you like, but do not make any medical decisions without medical advice. Over here, we are very fortunate in that medical advice is available in respected formats 24/7. Whether you phone NHS Direct for advice, speak to your pharmacists (they are great) or visit your doctor, impartial advice with no judgement or pressure to do anything is the best way forward. No matter how great people make their solutions sound. Everyone is different.
Giving advice to others
This is a tricky one. There is a lot to think about. Why are you giving the advice? Are you trying to force someone to think the same way you do? Are you telling them this to build them up or tear them down? How would you feel if you were given this advice? Do you really know what you are talking about?
When doing the milk before/ after boiling water when making tea debate, it doesn’t really matter.
- You saw your friends husband holding hands with another woman. What do you do?
First of all, think about the situation. What exactly did you see. Was it a romantic hand holding, or was it comforting? Do you know the woman? What are your options?
1) You could blaze in standing up for your friend, telling her straight away whilst holding that bitches arm behind her back.
2) You could see your friend the next day and tell her what you saw, and leave her to decide the next course of action.
3) You can have a quiet word with the husband letting him know what you what you saw and give him a chance to explain before you tell your friend
4) You can keep it to yourself, and hope for the best.
Only you would know the best course of action. Each situation will be different. But in this sort of situation you have to think of not only how it will impact on you, but how it will impact your friend.
We give advice because we believe it is the right thing to do. But there are ways you can make advice more palatable and easier to swallow by following some simple steps:
- Do not be judgemental. Remember this is someone’s life. Saying ‘I am a little worried that you letting your baby chew on your keys, as they can be quite unclean’ comes across better than ‘You are an awful parent for letting your child chew such dirty things’. Judgemental advice will loose you friends quickly.
- Think about why you are giving the advice. If you are doing it because you are angry and want to vent, you may well say things you regret,.
- Don’t force your opinion on anyone. They wont like it. Let them know what you would do, without telling them they should do the same. Unless you are me. I am so cute I get away with it. You wont 😛
- Speak from experience, with empathy and sympathy, and be tactful about what you say.
- Consider timing. Telling someone their partner is cheating on them, or that you think they need special help, when they are feeding the kids is not appropriate.
- Ask what you can do to help. Allow them time to respond and express their feelings. Don’t bark at them, have an adult conversation.
Can I help?
Since starting this blog, I have had a huge response from people wanting to know more about mental health issues and how they can help themselves, friends, and family. I will be posting (completely anonymously of course) examples of these questions and my responses. I hope they will help other people overcome issues including helping family members that self harm, helping people understand why people self harm, what my mental health problems mean to me and how they affect me, my opinions on situations others are going to including recommendations of how to improve your care. Of course, I am not a medical professional and none of my advice should be substituted for professional advice. But sometimes I can explain things in a way that helps people understand an impossible situation. I will also be talking candidly about my life experiences and how they affect me now.
If you think you would like some advice, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, I will respond individually and may post the gist of your emails on the blog (removing all identifying information) to help others. If you want private advice, let me know in the email and I wont post any of it. I can help with advice on everything from health problems to mental health problems to medication issues, to getting help for family members to reporting the hard stuff to the police.
Again, I must emphasis that advice given is opinion and personal experience only, and should not replace help from the correct professionals.
Sometimes advice from someone who has been through, and is going through the system can be invaluable, even if I do say so myself.
Back to advice
And sorry for the very long post (I love writing!) here are my top tips:
1) Be friendly. Nobody likes a prick. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Manners are free, and a simple please and thank you can have a bigger affect on people than you think.
2) If you see someone ‘different’, instead of staring, why not give them a little wink or a smile. It will take less than a second and can make a huge positive impact on someone’s life. And don’t just smile at people different to you, for example in a wheelchair or with a facial disfigurement. Smile at everyone. Bring a little piece of sunshine to people you meet.
3) Put the milk in before the boiling water for a more flavoursome cup of tea. If you want a quick weak cup of tea put the milk in last.
4) Treat yourself! Have the odd fairy cake or that bit of make-up you really want but is a little more expensive than you would normally buy. Take some time out.
5) Enjoy real time with friends and family. Go out to eat, or eat at the table instead of in front of the TV. Have a conversation!
6) Enjoy the little things. Life is so full of stress, you don’t need to add to it yourself by winding yourself up when things annoy you. Laugh at yourself. Go wild. Sing along with a hairbrush when your favourite song comes on.
7) Love yourself. No-one else will ever be able to love you enough unless you learn to love yourself.
8) Listen to me. I really am awesome. Modest too!
- Sleep Hygiene (plushbeds.com)