This is quite a scary post to write. No matter how much mental health is talked about, everyone has their own experiences.
Things haven’t changed too much. I’m still the quiet one and I’m still quiet happy to sometimes blend into the background, and I don’t enjoy speaking in front of a large group of people (unless I’ve had a script and a bit of preparation beforehand).
It took a long time for me to admit to myself that I have anxiety, as well as other issues with my mental state. It took even longer to share this with those closest to me.
Managing this is a long and continuous process. It’s never perfect, and sometimes it’s bloody hard, but I’ve found few things which are helping me along the way. I can’t say they’re flawless but they do help for the most part. So I wanted to write this, and if anyone who happens upon this is going through something similar then maybe there’s something here for you too.
Talk to People
Ok, you might be thinking “Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first”. But as obvious as you might think it is, this is continuously overlooked. I know this because I have overlooked this myself, and occasionally continue to do so.
I twist myself in knots mentally. Don’t want to mention anything because I feel like it’s my problem and therefore I should deal with it. But whoever came up with the phrase “a problem shared is a problem halved’ is a genius. They don’t necessarily have to offer a solution either, just speaking the problem aloud to another person is like a literal weight lifting from your chest.
Make sure whoever you speak to is someone you trust. For two reasons. One, the most obvious is that depending on who you trust with the information, they may react poorly. If this happens that is not on you, that is on them. Secondly, sharing this part of yourself or whatever may be bothering you is personal, and so if you don’t completely trust them then it will only serve to worry you more in the long run.
Having said that talking to someone is one of the bravest things you can do and it will do you a world of good. If you keep it bottled inside then the problem will only grow in your mind.
Depending on the issue, if you really don’t feel like you can speak about it right now, perhaps try writing about it? Again, the aim is to get all the thoughts from your mind and out into the open. Writing it down may help you figure out what the core of the issue is and then hopefully your mind can focus on something else.
When I was advised by a friend to see someone about how I was feeling, because, make no mistake, I didn’t figure it out for myself, I was then advised by a doctor to speak to someone at ‘Health in Mind’.
“Health in Mind is an NHS organisation providing courses and other types of therapies that help with stress, anxiety and low mood. Whatever the reasons are for feeling down, relationships, money or work, we offer a service that may help you feel positive again.”
Something they advised was breathing exercises.
Don’t get me wrong, we spoke a lot about various different things including ‘The Cycle of Depression’ and ‘Flight, Fight Freeze’ however, one of the coping mechanisms they taught me was to simply breathe.
There is a certain technique to this rather than your regular breathing. We all breathe without thinking about it however, when we panic, or are stressed, our breathing increases – also without us being completely aware of this. When this happens it produces excess oxygen in the blood.
There are a couple of things you can do. One, is something a friend at work taught me. She said that if things become too overwhelming then it might be good to ‘re-set’ the day. Now, of course we can’t turn back time. However, she said to take a walk downstairs. Walk back up, clear your mind and grab some water – take your time – and then sit back at your desk. This isn’t a literal re-set however, it almost tricks your mind into thinking it’s a do-over.
This also helps to use that excess oxygen in the blood.
As mentioned previously, breathing exercises help immensely. Try to consciously adapt your breathing from short and shallow from the chest, to deep breaths from the abdomen. I know I should just write it here however, I want to make sure I’m getting this right so I’ve linked the NHS breathing exercises for stress article online. I would only add to try and clear your mind whilst your doing this and only focus on your breathing.
If you’re struggling to focus on your breathing alone you can always try the above method and add in some meditation music.
I had a point last week where I felt myself slipping. It had been a bad week and thoughts ran through my head of mediocrity and unworthiness. I started to feel lost again, like I wasn’t good enough.
That in itself was scary. It came to a head at the end of the week where I almost broke down. Almost. Somehow, and something which I’m proud of myself for, is I managed to pull myself out of it. Out of that downward spiral. It was like a jolt, I know where that path leads and I don’t want to go there again.
I ended up putting on some meditation music, and focussed solely on my breathing. I did my best to not allow any thoughts of any kind into my mind. By the time the track was done, it was cleared completely. Only silence filled the room. Peace.
This may not sound like a massive accomplishment, and perhaps it isn’t, but it sure damn felt like it. I’m aware it may not work every time, but even some of the time is fine with me.
I’ve often had sleepless nights. Or maybe I have slept, but who can tell because my thoughts have picked up exactly where they’ve left off.
I have spent many a night where I’m awake thinking until gone 2am – about life, about myself, about my job and my friends and family. Let’s just say, none of it good. The best thing I did was to download an app which plays rain music.
I have always adored falling asleep to the sound of rain. I love nights where it rains and you can feel the crisp cold air in the room as you snuggle into your duvet. The sound lashing against the window and the occasional rumble of thunder in the distance. A friend at work was talking about a rain app she used to listen to whilst working. I knew I loved to listen to the sound of rain whilst falling asleep and, lets be real, I was pretty exhausted crying myself to sleep every night, so I decided to try and listen to the app.
I won’t say it’s a perfect substitute for the real thing, but it’s one of the best things I ever did. There have been occasions where I’ve been so focussed on my thoughts that I forget to listen to the rain however, those nights are now very few and very far between. Most of the time I can easily focus on the sound of the rain and the thunder which takes me away from the thoughts swirling in my head.
I’m happy to say it’s been a while since I’ve felt the need to rely on this however, if I’m ever struggling during the nights this is my saviour.
Conscious countdown, is how I think of it. When your mind is pulling you in all different directions, it’s good to have a focus and, no matter where you are in the world or what you’re doing, this is something you can do to help.
Count five things in the room. It doesn’t matter what you touch. A wall, a desk, a bed, a bookcase, a bottle, your head and, in the words of a mental health advisor at work, you can ‘grab your own arse’ if you need to – literally anything is up for grabs (with the obvious exclusion of other people – no groping!).
The thing is you have to do this slowly. There are other things you can do alongside this however, I know this has helped me in the past. To be in the moment and just focus your thoughts on the countdown, the touching helps to slow your breathing and re-focus your mind.
The aim is to help ground you, bring you back from the depths of your thoughts. I would also like to add that I’m not a mental health professional, or health professional in any way so I would advise you to do more research into this. However, it’s a brief introduction if you haven’t heard of it.
Believing in Yourself
We all have insecurities. I think anxiety, depression, panic – they all tend to amplify those insecurities.
It’s so frustrating yet so natural to go into that back and forth when making decisions, questioning did I do the right thing, what if this happens now as a result, I should have said is or I shouldn’t have said that, what am I doing with my life.. etc. etc.
Believing in yourself doesn’t mean you can do anything or say anything you want and get away with it because you think you’re in the right.
It does mean however, that if you are confident in yourself, your morals and who you are as a person, it’s almost like a security blanket. We all mess up, but while others think “I’ll remember that for next time” and move on, we don’t move on. We continue to berate ourselves.
It isn’t bullet proof, and it takes a long time to gain that belief in yourself and your abilities. But if you can answer the ‘why’, wholly and completely without any ifs, ands or buts – then you’re pretty much half way there.
Sometimes there is no cause, or no obvious cause for how you’re feeling or what you’re dealing with in that moment. So sometimes it means knowing yourself. Knowing that we’re not perfect but that’s OK. We might crumble again, or get near to that point. But you know you can come back from it. I know you can come back from it.
We all put so much pressure on ourselves that we put ourselves under a microscope that no-one else bothers to investigate. In actual fact, if you’re under someone else’s microscope then, while that may be their decision, that doesn’t automatically make it your problem.
So, in summary these are 6 things which I have found that have helped me at one point or another overtime. It’s a work in progress so who knows, maybe I’ll find others over the next few years.
I hope they work for you. If they don’t then I hope you find your own coping mechanisms, mantras and go-to methods which help you re-focus, feel happier and more secure within yourself.
And remember, there’s no such thing as ‘normal’ – no matter who tries to convince you otherwise. Even if that person is yourself.