This week is Mental Health Awareness week and the theme for this year is stress. Stress has probably been one of the biggest triggers that has caused issues with my own mental health. Stress is a necessary evil as part of our human makeup as it helps us survive but unfortunately in the modern world it seems to be getting the better of us. In the past it worked as our ‘fight or flight’ mechanism which instinctively told us what to do in times of high stress. This helped to keep us safe but we don’t encounter the same sort of issues now as being attacked by a sabre-toothed tiger, the issues come from less aggressive sources but still cause us stress.
In the modern world we have so much information at our finger tips and everyone wants everything immediately. Social media brings its own stresses, do people like what I’m posting, how do I get more followers? peer pressure to live up to the lives others portray. It’s not a healthy state to be in and can cause stress and anxiety. There are also family pressures, job pressures, money pressures and life pressures. It can be overwhelming sometimes the amount of things that we are trying to do and as life gets busier we seem to have less time to achieve it in which then makes us more down on ourselves. This is when you can get into the descending circle that takes you towards illness.
There are some tell-tale signs that can show the stress is getting too much for you and could be taking you down the path of mental illness:
- Constant tiredness and not sleeping well
- You feel anxious and ill at ease
- You’re not looking after yourself
- You struggle to focus on tasks and jump between them
- You are run down and feel ill
- You can’t relax or switch off
- You feel like you’re sinking
It can be the buildup of these feelings that can lead you to depression. Long before my actual diagnosis, I think I started suffering from depression during my A-Levels as I was putting myself under pressure to perform, I was trying to choose which uni to go to, I was feeling the pressure from my parents to do as well as I could and there was also the pressure from others at school and general life pressure. It was all these feelings that I didn’t know how to cope with and my general lack of maturity that took me down that road even though it was much later when I was actually diagnosed. The problems manifested themselves through some of the symptoms above but I got through it at the time through sport and self-medication with alcohol. That carried on through my time at university where I cracked under the pressure that I was putting myself under. It’s easy to look back now and see that the signs were there but it wasn’t as easy to spot at the time and I just put it down to exam stress. If I knew then what I know now things could have been very different.
Despite all of that I wouldn’t go back and change anything as for all the ups and downs I’ve had, it has just served to make me a stronger person and I wouldn’t want to change meeting Elaine and having the triplets. As I get better at dealing with my depression, I seem to have reduced my exposure to some of the stress factors and deal with them better as they start to build but there are still times I put myself under too much pressure. One of the areas where this applies is with the work for the Foundation as I put myself under pressure to make it as successful as it can be and to make a difference to as many people as possible but it does take a lot of time and effort on top of having a fulltime job, trying to be a good husband and father, trying to get fit and also trying to take some time out for myself. It can also be very frustrating when you don’t think that you are making any progress as it is an emotional tie as well.
So what can you do about it if you are starting to sink under the weight of stress? There are a number of things that have worked for me and other people I know so hopefully they can help you too.
- Talk about it. It can help just to get it off your chest and if you can find someone who has similar experiences it can help you get through it. There are also a number of good on-line groups which can help if you want to stay anonymous.
- Get some help. There is no shame in getting treated when you are ill. If you broke your leg you wouldn’t expect it to fix itself – you would go and see a doctor. Mental illness should be treated exactly the same so if you are struggling go see your GP, speak to a counsellor, take tablets if they help, meditate, get some you time. You just need to find out what works for you. One of the things that I always find helps is to try and get some exercise. It doesn’t always work but it does tend to raise my mood and get me some time to spend on me.
- Try not to beat yourself up. You’re only human and there are lots of other people going through exactly the same thing so don’t ever think you are alone.
- Things will get better. There is always light at the end of the darkness and it will be the same with your mental health if you keep on fighting it. Get some support, stop putting yourself down and you will get there in the end. Just keep going!
- Get some you time. Try to get some time to relax and recharge. It’s not selfish to look after yourself as you can’t serve anyone else from a broken vessel!
Try not to bury your head in the sand if you are struggling as I have done in the past. That way the stigma wins. It shouldn’t be brave or unusual to talk about how we feel or what is affecting our lives. It should be a natural thing to do but the stigma of mental illness and what other people will say and think prevents a lot of people from speaking out. Please help us spread the message as part of Mental Health Awareness Week. It is through campaigns like this and by people speaking out that we can have conversations about mental health with no fear of what others may think.
There are some links on the website to places that can help if you are struggling so please reach out if that is the case and if you can help us with spreading the word or fundraising, that would be really appreciated.
Onwards and upwards