One of the things that often stops us seeking counselling is that we feel that our problems are insignificant compared to the suffering of those we feel have bigger problems than us. We tell ourselves that we should be grateful for what we have, that others are much worse off than us, that we are being self-centred and / or over-reacting. Surely our anxiety / sleeplessness / weight / constant low mood / persistent unhappiness pale into insignificance against those with ‘real’ worries like illness, homelessness or not enough food or money to survive? Ours are just ‘first world’ problems that we should just ‘suck up’.
But, let me ask you to picture a scene ….
Imagine on the corner of your road there is a large, beautiful home with two brand new luxury cars sitting on the drive. You don’t know the neighbours who live there apart from to nod a hello to them occasionally. Their kids go to private school and look athletic, handsome and healthy. You know they have lots of close family and friends from the regularly parked up expensive cars there most weekends. You sometimes feel a bit envious – it looks like they have everything anyone could ask for. One day there’s a knock at the door and the neighbour from the big house is there on your door step looking distraught and on the edge of tears, like they haven’t had a wink’s sleep in a week.
What would you do?
Would you turn them away? Surely they have everything and they should just ‘suck it up’ and get on with their life – don’t they know your life is much harder and, for heaven’s sake, there are people starving in the world who would give everything to trade places with them?
Or would you express sympathy and concern and perhaps invite them in to share their problem over a cup of tea?
You’ll no doubt see that the point of this imaginary scene is to demonstrate that, however privileged we may be, each one of us can experience stress, anxiety, depression, fear, loneliness and emptiness which is real and needs attention.
Material comfort keeps us happy to a certain point… but endless studies have shown material wealth is just one part of our happiness.
Modern life is complicated and the challenges it brings are serious. Reports attest to the fact that in our ‘first world’ our stress levels are soaring and that life is so busy and fast paced that many of us don’t have time to cook, read, socialise or exercise; that half of us don’t feel we get enough sleep; that increasing numbers of us are turning to distractions such as alcohol, drugs, binge eating, porn or online gambling. Divorce, self-harm, suicide and domestic violence are all on the rise. Which only goes to show that our material wealth comes at a huge cost to our physical and mental wellbeing.
Yes, of course we need to work and have enough money otherwise that creates unquestionable stress and worry. Of course we need to fulfil our basic requirements of housing, food and utilities in order to feel secure and safe in our lives. But we also need healthy relationships: to feel loved and capable of giving love to others. We need to feel a sense of belonging and connection. And we need to feel that we are fulfilling our potential in life. If we don’t have some combination of all of these we will feel unhappy, anxious and / or depressed.
Being satisfied and fulfilled and feeling like you have the opportunity to lead a good life where you feel able to cope with life’s challenges with confidence is not asking too much – it is the right of each and every one of us and is within our grasp.
Yes, other people may have ‘bigger’ problems than you. That doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to feel sadness, anxiety or unhappiness and that you aren’t entitled to seek help with this. Every human is entitled to that.