How are you? Take a minute to really think about that. How many times do you think you’ve been asked that question by someone who genuinely cares what your answer is? We ask how people are all the time in modern society but nowadays, it seems to have become more of a way of greeting someone rather than a genuine question. The default answer tends to be ‘I’m Okay’ or ‘not too bad’ But is that how you are genuinely feeling? The likely answer some of the time is probably not. So why do we bottle up our true feelings? Is it in an attempt to save people the hassle of listening to us, the easy option? The answer you can give and not be judged for?
The week just gone was Mental Health Awareness Week. In recent years I have had times where I’ve struggled with my own mental health. Panic attacks, anxiety and perhaps even a smidge of the dark cloud we all know as depression have been things that I’ve suffered with in the past and even still cope with some of them today. I’ve always been quite open about it as I feel the more we talk about these things, the easier it will become to understand and the less of a taboo it will be.
My Experiences With Mental Health
I started having Panic attacks a couple of years ago after I reached a difficult point in my life, they consisted of suddenly feeling very breathless like I couldn’t get enough air, which then led to feeling quite dizzy, spaced out and generally upset/confused. At first, I had absolutely no idea what was happening or why it was happening, but then after a very bad episode and a call to NHS 111, they confirmed it sounded a lot like I was having a Panic Attack. I’ll be honest, I didn’t believe them at first, I genuinely thought it was something much more life-threatening, sometimes it felt so scary and surreal that I thought something really really bad was going to happen like I would pass out or, dramatic as it sounds, die. After hearing the initial diagnosis from a professional I started to think, maybe that is what this is. I went to my doctor to see how they could help and they gave me information about self-referral service called DAS (Depression and Anxiety Service) Basically, you can have weekly ‘counselling’ sessions to work on overcoming or coping with your anxiety etc and then when you feel you are ready to stop having the sessions, you can make that decision for yourself and in a sense ‘self-discharge’ yourself from them. It’s a really great way to feel comfortable with the idea of counselling. I feel like there is quite a stigma around the idea of therapy, lots of people think that you must be crazy if you need counselling but that’s just really not the case. If you have a problem with your teeth you go do a dentist, in the same way, that a psychologist/therapist is there if you have a problem with your mental health. We go to the doctors for all sorts of physical health issues, so why don’t more people take care of their mental health problems the same way? It’s a perfectly normal and common thing. So common in fact, that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, and 1 in 6 people report having experienced a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) each week. There really is no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed about your mental health.
I had counselling using the CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) approach once a week for about 7 months and I found it was really useful for me. There weren’t any scary tests or questions involved, I would literally just sit and chat with my therapist Tom about how I’d been feeling lately and it was actually really nice to just say everything that’s on your mind to someone who will just sit and listen to you without fear of judgement. I can happily say that this method really helped me understand why my anxiety and panic attacks were occurring and how to cope with them effectively. They very rarely happen nowadays but I do have the odd day where the stresses of everyday life can take their toll and I just don’t feel overly positive. But these feelings don’t last very long!
Our personal well-being is something we should all take very seriously, and there are so many ways to do this. There are plenty of useful apps you can download such as ‘Stop, Breathe & Think‘ and ‘Headspace‘ (these are the ones I use if I need a moment of mindfulness or just a little bit of calm) They provide useful tips, exercises and meditation techniques to help with your mental wellbeing. There is also a subscription box you can get called the Buddy Box which was created by the Blurt Foundation. Blurt are a really great organisation that supports and raises awareness for Depression. The Blurt Foundation work to try and erase the stigma around Depression and make it easier for people to understand and have the confidence to speak out about it. I’ve never had a Buddy Box myself but I just think they are a wonderful idea. It’s a cute little box that is filled with things to make you smile and you can buy one for yourself or gift one to a friend who needs a little pick me up. They are available as a monthly subscription or as a one-off purchase if you just want to try it out or don’t want to commit to buying them every month.
My Ways Of Keeping My Mind Healthy
Whenever I have a ‘down day’ as I call them, there are a few things I do to relax or take my mind off things, here are my tips and suggestions that might work for you too…
- Go for a walk and unplug from your social media, phone etc. I sometimes find that some of the things I see on Facebook for example, really affect my mood. There’s a lot of negativity on social media so I really tend to focus on only posting positive things on my personal social media platforms. So turn off your phone and get outside. Take in the world around you, breathe in fresh air and clear your mind for a while. You’ll feel relaxed and possibly even more motivated to do things after a nice walk.
- Plug in your headphones and get lost in some music for a while. Music is well known to have an effect on peoples moods, so put on some of your favourite songs that make you happy, motivated or relaxed. (My personal favourite at the moment is the entire ‘Greatest Showman’ soundtrack)
- Write down what you are feeling. It sounds odd but even just writing everything down can make you feel so much better. In a way, it kind of makes you feel like you’re telling someone if/when you don’t know how or who to tell. Just getting it off your chest in some way really lifts the weight.
- Treat yo’ self. No seriously, treat yourself to something nice. Be that a shopping trip or your favourite food, It might just cheer you up a little.
- If you need to vent, vent. Don’t bottle things up, If you need to yell or scream, shove your face into a pillow and have at it! Or if you need to cry, have a little cry! Sometimes just getting the emotions out is the best way forward, and you’re likely to feel so much better afterwards!
- Pamper yourself – Run yourself a bath, light some candles, whack on a face mask and get that Spotify playlist on the go. Take some time for yourself.
- Read a good book. Lose yourself in someone else’s story for a while, get caught up in another life and enjoy the magic and escapism that a good book can provide.
- Take a nap. Sometimes it can all just get a bit much, you’ve got a million and one different things to do and not enough energy to start the first one. Just recharge your energy levels and have a 20-minute snooze. Guilt-free.
- Watch your favourite film. my choice would be something Disney or Musical, preferably both.
- Head to the beach. Personally, just sitting by the sand and looking out to the Sea really calms me. I love listening to the sound of the waves crashing and watching the sunset over the horizon. Perfection.
- Eat healthily and exercise. I know it sounds cliche but if you eat crappy foods and barely exercise, you will feel crap. In the same way where if you are good to your body and fill it with nice healthy food, you will feel good! You are what you eat after all…
So, those are some of my favourite things to do to relax and keep my mind healthy. Ironically, I really can’t stress enough how important it is to keep your mind just as healthy as the rest of your body. Find the things that work best for you and don’t feel guilty for needing to take some time for yourself, give yourself a break.
Support Do’s and Dont’s
I really think the term that you can never fully understand a mental illness until you have experienced one yourself, is in most ways true. If you know someone who is struggling with a mental health problem, though it can be difficult to understand what they’re going through, it is important to help them by giving them the best support you possibly can. I am no expert on the subject, but I have put together this little list of Do’s and Dont’s of the things that I find helpful/really unhelpful when I am experiencing a panic attack/having a ‘down day’…
- Do ask them if/how you can help. It might just be as simple as making them a cup of tea or even just being there to talk to, Just let them know that you’re there and willing if they need someone.
- Try to be sympathetic (but not patronising) towards them if they confide in you. It can be difficult for someone to open up about their feelings and may even be a huge step towards overcoming their mental illness.
- Be patient with us! We know you most likely don’t understand why we feel the way we sometimes do (we ourselves don’t even know half of the time!) but we are still people. We just might need a little more encouragement or reassurance that we’re doing okay!
- Don’t get frustrated with us or act as if we are a burden to you for having days where we feel low. We understand that it is our issue but we don’t want to be made to feel even worse about it than we already do.
- Don’t tell us to just ‘cheer up’ – nice one, thanks. Hadn’t thought of that… 🙄 in the same way, you shouldn’t tell someone to ‘Smile!’ (I really hate this one) Seriously, if mental illness were that simple, we wouldn’t be struggling in the first place.
- Don’t give up on someone with mental health problems. Yes, it may be difficult to understand at times, but if you stick by someone and support them through their bad times, they will be forever grateful for you.