Active listening: crucial for our mental wellbeing

April 20, 2023

Imaged created with photo by cottonbro studio at Pexels

Hannah Hutchings discovers the power of deeper listening, and what it takes to fully hear, observe body language and speak less

It is so important, especially in these challenging and rapidly changing times, to show our loved ones we are listening. But how good are we at it?

We learn how to speak as children, and we learn how to read and write at school, but we seldom get taught how to listen.

Rather than just hearing what we want to hear, and quickly talking about solutions, we need to be aware of how others’ words are being said. We need to be mindful of body language; to truly hear the detail and depth of what is being told.

Throughout my life I’ve had friends who have experienced mental health problems. I’ve had my own difficulties to work through as well. Mental health issues are hard to talk about, and to listen to.

We never know exactly what’s going on inside someone else’s head, even with the people we are very close to.

Recently I took part in a Mental Health First Aid course. The most valuable skill I learnt was called ‘active listening’.

Our ability to listen has a direct effect on our ability to understand and empathise with others

So what does ‘active listening’ actually mean?

Active listening is more than just paying attention. It is a technique that’s used in counselling, training, and solving disputes or conflicts.

It’s an important interpersonal skill that requires that the listener fully concentrates, understands, responds and then remembers what is being said to them.

Here are some tips:

  • Use eye contact and facial expressions like smiling to show you’re listening
  • Use open body language to connect with the speaker
  • Repeat back the message that is being expressed

These techniques will help the speaker feel they have been heard, and may encourage them to talk more openly. You can read more about hearing versus listening here.

Our ability to listen has a direct effect on our ability to understand and empathise with others. A mistake we often make when trying to listen, is to talk from our perspective rather than to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes.

Using eye contact and facial expressions like smiling can help to show you’re listening

People don’t always need answers or solutions to fix their problems; they often just need you to fully listen.

It honestly shocked me when I started to pay attention to how poorly I listened. I’m in no way perfect at listening now, but I have definitely improved, since becoming aware of what to do.

Mental health is such a complex issue. It affects everyone differently. Even a well-known condition like anxiety can differ amongst people; it will be experienced at varying levels and can be triggered by different stimuli.

Active listening was first developed by psychologists Carl R. Rogers and Richard Evans Farson, involving giving free and undivided attention to the speaker. It is the most effective technique for individual change and group development.

Having good listening skills isn’t only important in deep, meaningful conversations about our wellbeing. Active listening can be used in day-to-day chats to show we care about what our friends and family are talking about.

There is nothing worse than confiding in someone who isn’t listening

Feeling as though someone is interested in what you have to say is a good feeling, no matter what you are communicating.

There is nothing worse than confiding in someone who really isn’t listening. In fact, it can make us feel more isolated than we were feeling in the first place.

Active listening is a vital part of mental wellbeing. I personally feel that we would have far happier, harmonious and successful relationships in all areas of our lives if we listened better.

We can’t always be there for everyone around us. Sometimes, trying to be a support for others can have an impact on our own mental health. You aren’t a bad person if you can’t always help, if you don’t know what to say or just need a break.

But we can try our best. If nothing else – put down your phone and listen!

Mental Health First Aid courses are a perfect start to understanding and accepting mental health issues. Check here for more details.

Hannah grew up in Barnet and went to East Barnet School. She travelled to Asia and South America in her gap year. Over the past few years she has taken part in various projects with Exposure which has improved her communication skills. Hannah is currently at Sussex university studying Law with Criminology.

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