On Connecting To Strangers
The Sidewalk Talk Blog
On May 7, 2015 twenty-eight listeners took to the streets of San Francisco to listen. Now, over 7000 people listen on sidewalks to create the kind of change towards human connection that our culture so desperately needs. We want to build a MENTAL HEALTH CREATING culture!
Together, we are! Join Us!
Mental Health Awareness Month Activities
Friday Facebook LIVE
Each Friday in May we will have AMAZING guests on the SWT FB page.
LIVE on Facebook @ 4pm ET, Friday, May 1
We are kicking off Mental Health Awareness Month This Friday With Brad Montague!
LIVE on Facebook @ 4:30pm ET, Friday, May 8
Thomas Knox from Date While You Wait Fame.
LIVE on Facebook @ 4:30pm eT, Friday May 15
Dr. Kelsey Crowe, Best Selling Author of, There Is No Good Card For This
LIVE on Facebook @ 4:30pm ET, Friday, May 22
Dr. Elliot Gann, aka DJ Philthy Drummond Playing a LIVE DJ Set from Today's Future Sound
LIVE on Facebook @ 4:30pm ET, Friday, May 29
Random Acts of Connection
We'll be sharing ideas on all our social channels and would love for you to follow along and share your #RandomActsOfConnection
#GivingTuesday has been moved up. Funds raised in May will be matched by our friends at SimplePractice. And throughout the month, some of our members have given us “daily matching challenges”. Up to $3400 is available for matching. Let's make sure we maximize these donations! We cannot do this without you. Donate Here.
Learning Sidewalk-Tested Listening Together
We’re also using this month to rekindle excitement for our mission by running a live version of our Listener Training in the Listener’s Facebook group and our leaders from around the world will host live Q&A!
The last seven days, anxiety crept up on me, by surprise. I was quite haughty, feeling pretty grounded and grateful for the first two weeks of this quarantine. I have space to move and our family life has settled into a collaborative routine/ non routine that seems to be working. And I was working from home long before this thing started.
Our family routine consists of the following:
We all agree to being dressed by 10am.
My boys must exercise for 30 minutes, contribute to the house for 30 minutes, and (while my sons are on Spring Break) read for 30 minutes. Then the rest of the day, while my husband and I work, the boys organize their time in a way that suits them. Yes, even if that means video games or tech devices.
But as time has carried on, I am checking the news more, and my sense of gratitude slips here and there into grief, despair and powerlessness. And the more I pretend I am not having those feelings, anxiety takes their place, whispering to me “Traci pay attention. Listen to me.”
Especially when I see the news in other parts of the world that are not faring as well as I am in Germany. The racial bias in treatment and death rates of non-white communities, folks locked in their homes with little kids and little healthcare, and the long term impacts to people’s livelihood create an existential grief hard to sit still with. When this takes over all of my grand “well what are the opportunities and great lessons from this?” fall by the wayside.
We know survivor guilt and stress of varying kinds is a thing in disasters like the one we are in. What is key is to focus on early intervention to cultivate resilience and to develop the tools for fostering recovery for those more adversely affected.
Here are two resources I highly recommend from the Institute for Disaster Mental Health.
Disaster Mental Health For Healthcare Workers
Disaster Mental Health Support For Personal Use
I am going to pull out a few salient points that I have seen popping up on people’s social media feeds in hopes it helps us support each other as a community.
Best to practice now – not after you already feel awful. Do all the things that work for you. We have varying degrees of stress depending on what we are dealing with. Listen to our podcast interview with Dr. Rick Hanson on how to cultivate resilience here.
The IDMH recommends the following suggestions to cope with COVID19:
Be Non-Judgmental With Yourself and Each Other:
Have you ever wanted to take up a practice of non-judgment? Well, now is your time to practice. Early when this epidemic started, I was curious about my own reactions to people’s strong fear. Good news, I didn’t judge myself nor act out my judgement. Instead I widened my embrace to the different ways we cope.
Some become hypervigilant about germs or germ rules. Others look for connection and community. Others look for someone to blame. And still others are the compassion and kindness police – policing everyone to be nice.
The kindest thing we can do is listen non-judgmentally to others (when we can), even when they are worked up and acting in ways we never would.
If we can hear with whole hearts we can be healing agents during this tough time. And don’t forget to include yourself in that listening.
Bottom line, some of us heeded warnings about Covid19 and others did not. And some of those who did not heed the early warnings are incurring incredible consequences and even death. Negative bystanders are those who finger-wag to seek punishing retribution. “You should have done x, y, z but you didn’t so you don’t deserve my empathy and kindness.”
I had a colleague share she was shamed by a doctor for showing up at the hospital with intense COVID19 symptoms because she was putting other patients at risk. This is someone who did a lot of research of where to go and had severe symptoms that needed medical attention. I know the doctor was scared too. Both were. So let this remind us all, soften, stretch as best you can.
To truly come together in community, we must be willing to support those who are grieving, no matter what choices they did or did not make when this whole thing started.
Cultural differences create very different views of this whole crisis and how to respond. You might believe this is karma, God’s will, mother nature sending a sign, a nice break, or just another natural occurrence we will have to get over. All responses will also differ and we will come out of this better if we can do our best to hear and make room for those differences. Some may feel it important to seek financial restitution. Others may find it important to get active and engage to support the local community. Others may want to go inward into a quiet prayerfulness. Still others may choose to call leaders into account.
To contribute to one another’s wellbeing, we will need to develop the sensitivity to the very personal norms that shape how different people and communities respond to this crisis.
For me, I have made a plan for myself on how to remain resilient and I have made a plan for my SOS moments. Here is an invite for you and your family – make your own plan for cultivating resilience and your SOS moments.
For cultivating resilience, I have kept it simple. I keep one promise to myself every day. I pick one: to meditate for twenty minutes, to run in the trees, or to cry. I have also built in regular connection every day. I just need it. For SOS moments I ask myself “in what ways is my thinking distorted?” and “What are 5 things I have control over in this present moment?”
I know myself and so many others would be so helped by your own sharing below. How do you maintain your resilience and handle your own SOS moments? Put them in the comments. And if you need connection, we have lots of online listening available to you here at Sidewalk Talk. Sign Up Here. And if you are a health worker in the front lines, there is low fee and no fee mental health support available to you here.
Healthline Media has a new series called "How Are You?" and Sidewalk Talk was lucky enough to be covered. Check out the beautiful documentary short and the wonderful host of "How Are You?", Omar Davis.
What an honor and a privilege. Sidewalk Talk is creating a mental health producing culture by making the connections that make us well a priority, all over the world.
On this particular day, we had, at one time, 22 listeners and 44 chairs on the sidewalk. It was also my last day listening in San Francisco before I moved to Heidelberg, Germany.
Watching this lit up my connection to Omar but more importantly, my love for my little family who I have listened with so many times. I miss you all. A LOT!
40 seconds…every forty seconds someone dies by suicide around the world. They did not commit a crime. They were escaping what felt like inescapable pain. They were desperate for relief.
For this World Mental Health Day let’s do something together.
In a world where we increasingly value wealth accumulation, attention rather than connection, talking over listening, the need to be extraordinary over the beauty in our ordinariness we are creating the ingredients for mental illness. Add to this reality all the historical traumas, injustices, and degradation to our planet that live on in our world systems and in our hearts and minds the question we can ask is “What can I do today and every day to contribute to creating a mental health promoting community?”
Can we stop blaming people?
A few years ago, my youngest son was depressed. I didn’t know a second grader could talk about harming themselves. I approached the school counselor several times over the year about a bullying issue that terrified my kid. But he was a good looking, smart, privileged kid who liked to talk smack. Her exact words “Your son is fine.” Another mother implied he was struggling because my son was intense like me and I should ignore it. But he wasn’t fine. We intervened on our own and got the support we needed elsewhere. Meanwhile, my kid felt blamed, I felt blamed, I still blame the therapist (working on that one in my own heart still) but there wasn’t much investigation into the community causes of what was happening in our community.
Is mental illness someone’s fault? We don’t think so. We think we all have a part to play.
Since this incident, I have had parent after parent after parent share similar experiences they had in our school community but they left to find a better situation than try to change the system from the inside. But what if you don’t have the resources to get that support or change schools? Then what? We will have an upcoming podcast episode with a Middle School Teacher that is sure to have a lot of insights for us about kids and mental health and we welcome more experts to contact us. We want to hear you.
Connection creates mental health.
Sidewalk Talk is not a mental health project in the way some of our friends who do significant crisis intervention are doing. A deep bow for their work. But any project that creates more connection, be it a book club, a regular bowling night, or a hiking club is contributing to the kinds of mental health giving connections that we aim to provide at Sidewalk Talk.
Sidewalk Talk is hoping to create a global connection culture.
Sidewalk Talk is hoping to create a culture shift where we prioritize listening and connection and learn to develop brains that are more flexible to hear all different kinds of people and their feelings. By sitting on sidewalks we disrupt the busy, wealth-chasing, hyper-individualism that makes us sick and invite a wake up call that connection feels good and makes us healthy too.
What is even cooler, is that sidewalks are a place of equality so maybe, just maybe, we create spaces where power is removed from our connecting. Sidewalk Talk listeners don’t dictate what you share about or how you share. And all listeners come ready to do deep reflecting on the ways their bias might interrupt connection. Remember from my article last week I said we easily make assumptions about seniors? Those are biases in action and they get in the way of connection. We do this based on someone’s length of hair or what brand they are wearing, what they smell like, what color their skin is, or really anything.
What Freud had wrong.
In an upcoming podcast interview that will be released next week, I spoke with Drs. Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt and they said something very interesting. They said “You know Freud had it wrong. He focused on analyzing what was happening inside his patients that caused their symptoms. We think that the problem of mental health is not an internal problem, it is a relational one. “
Harville went on to say “If we put relationships first in our lives we have the potential to create a mental health promoting culture. And that is what makes what you are doing at Sidewalk Talk so revolutionary.”
But guess what?
We aren’t putting relationships first.
Depression and anxiety for young people is on the rise. According to the World Happiness Report (read a synopsis here in UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science coverage), we are less happy and more angry than ever.
The definition of mental health and what we can do to create more of it.
The World Health Organization has my favorite definition of mental health because it takes into account the outside, not just the inside.
“Mental Health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” WHO Website
What can I do today, for Mental Health Awareness Day?
So today, October 10th, for World Mental Health Day, pick one of the above. Even a simple hello and a smile when you might otherwise walk past someone makes a difference in your mental health and the mental health of those around you. Consider joining Sidewalk Talk to develop your listening skills in community. Whatever you do, thank you. You matter. Your effort matters. We can change the mental health of our world together.
I am a woman, therapist, wife, mom, friend, listener, and founder/leader of Sidewalk Talk. You can subscribe to my couples therapy list here.