Mental Health is such a broad and varied topic, I found it difficult to sit down and actually pin point what I wanted this blog post to be about. I knew I wanted to honour Mental Health week (Monday 8th May to Friday 14th May) because it’s important to be transparent when it comes to our own mental health and to show support to those who are suffering, but I was unsure of how to approach it.
I suffer with my nerves, always have done. As a teacher I’m observed on a regular basis as part of performance reviews, but the mere mention of this bring cold sweats and sleepless nights for days on end in the run-up to it. And family events take weeks of preparation to work up the courage to even show my face. But I’ve never actually considered this a mental health issue; I always put it down to me being more introverted, or a lack of self-confidence related to my own issues with my body. It was only when someone else told me that it is a form of anxiety which relates to social disorders, that I actually considered the triggers to my behaviour and how I deal with them to help with my own well being.
Side note: I am not a medical professional, nor am I an expert when it comes to dealing with mental health. And I do not profess to be. If you are seriously struggling with any issues, please please please seek proper medical advice. I’ve put a few contacts that you might like to visit at the bottom of the page. You are not alone. And you don’t have to feel like you are. Seeking help is the first step to recovery, not failure.
These are just a few things that I find helps me to calm down and clear my head.
Talking about it
This sounds stupid, but it’s one of the first things I do to try to overcome any issues I have about events. I talk to my Husband about my body anxieties and performance issues, I discuss my life concerns with my Mom, and work related issues I talk to a mentor about. I try not to view this as a sign of weakness; seeking help and advice isn’t a stigma with which to beat ourselves with, but a step in the right direction towards overcoming any issues. Talking to someone about the stresses you’ve been carrying around with you can help you feel supported, and realise that you aren’t alone with your issues: there are plenty of people in the same boat who can help you. It isn’t the easiest thing to do, but it’s one that I find most effective.
Exercise is the best way to clear your mind. Go for a run, do some yoga, join a dance class. I like to swim, as I find it not as strenuous as hitting the gym full throttle but effective at allowing me to process things at my own speed. Exercise is a great energy burner as it releases feel-good endorphins which boost your self-esteem, which in turn helps you concentrate, sleep, look and feel better. It keeps the brain and organs healthy, which is a significant step towards improving your mental health.
And I don’t just mean staying active in the physical sense; staying mentally active can put you in a different frame of mind and give you a new perspective on things. Sometimes, I find that just keeping my mind active is enough to stop me worrying about something. I type blog posts, short stories, do a crossword puzzle, read. Housework – although a complete pain in the ass most of the time – keeps me busy enough so I can’t dwell on anything. Just find something you enjoy doing, so you can just get on with it without having to put too much thought into anything else. When you’re ready, you can revisit any problems with a calmer state of mind.
Eating and drinking well
I find that this has such a big impact on the way I view things. If I’ve had a bad week and have eaten loads of takeaways and junk food, I always look and feel sluggish, and this obviously affects the way I view things around me. I feel crap about myself, my job, my life, and this isn’t the way you want to be thinking. By eating healthy I don’t mean cutting all these things out completely; once in a while as a treat is never a bad thing. But I try to limit how much junk I eat during the week ; I limit caffeine and sugar because it gives me headaches if I have too much, I try and eat fruit and vegetables in the week, and maybe have a treat on the weekends. I drink a ton of water to keep myself hydrated and awake, and my brain (and body!) thanks me for it!
Keeping in touch
Even though you may not want to, talking to friends and family is a great help when it comes to dealing with the stresses we face in life. They are a shoulder to cry on, a reassuring hug and a swift vote of confidence when you need it the most. They can offer you a different perspective to the one inside your head, and can keep you grounded and focused on trying to deal with the problem at hand, rather than running away and letting it get the better of you.
So pick up the phone, drop them a text, arrange to go for a coffee somewhere quiet so you can talk openly with what is bothering you. Or if you want something a little more confidential, Doctors and counsellors are there specifically to help you explore your feelings.
There are also plenty of support groups you can join for various issues, where other people in the same situation will be understanding and supportive of your struggles. Find local groups in your area, or speak to your GP about what is available.
Time for a break
Sometimes, things are too much. And it doesn’t matter how much I try, I feel like I can’t cope and need to escape. Just a change of scenery can make you feel better. By going for a walk on your lunch break, or getting out the house for an hour for an exercise class can be enough to ‘de-stress’.
Personally, I like to go and take a hot bath and read a book on my own in the peace and quiet. That way, I can catch my breath and take some ‘me time’ to relax and re-think things.
Learning to love yourself
This one is easier said than done, granted. We all have something that we are good at, or that people like about us. Sometimes it’s easier to dwell on the negatives rather than focus on the positive. Some people have a great sense of humour and can make others laugh. Others are a dab hand in the kitchen. As cheesy as it sounds, make a list of all the things you like and enjoy about yourself – no matter how small and unimportant you think they may be. It’s far healthier to focus on what makes you special, and feeling good about yourself is a bigger confidence boost to overcoming your problems. By recognising what you are good at, you learn to accept the not so good, and can take steps to improving things you aren’t happy with.
With this, though, don’t set unrealistic expectations, or you’re bound to come crashing back down when you can’t meet your targets. Start with small steps towards a smaller goal; this way, you’ll feel proud of your achievements, and can look to challenge yourself once you feel more capable.
And finally, know yourself.
Try to learn more about your fear and anxieties. Record events that make you feel nervous, or make a note of small details that you recognise as the onset of your anxiety. Try and set small, achievable goals in order to face your fears, so that you can learn to handle them, with the idea of eventually overcoming them in mind. This is the hardest part, but shutting yourself away isn’t going to help you with progression. If you learn more about what ‘triggers’ these fears, you can understand how to overcome them, and can take active steps forward into treating the underlying causes.