Mental health, whilst a subject more frequently written and talked about, is still shrouded in its own elements of taboo and stigma.
The reality is, all of us have mental health. In its simplest form, mental health is a pendulum, swinging back and forth throughout our lives between good mental health and ill mental health. Different life circumstances, situations and experiences may influence the pendulum in the short, medium or longer term.
So, what dictates our responses to this?
For the majority, core factors that affect our reactions and the impact and duration of the impact on our mental health include (but not exhaustive):
- Previous life experiences
- Our state of mental health at the time of the event
- Our resilience
- Our learnt coping strategies (positive or negative)
- Current stress levels and stress management strategies
- Our confidence in our ability to manage difficult circumstance
What indicates our mental health may need some TLC?
Mental health doesn’t often just get up and smack us round the face, it often creeps in slowly and gives us warning signs (red flags) that it is feeling overwhelmed. For instance, you may experience:
- Feelings of being low or sad
- Feeling agitated or irritable
- Being easily distracted
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty making decisions
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Catastrophising or continual negative thoughts
- Snapping or getting cross at people
- Zoning out or feeling disconnected
- Finding it hard to manage emotions
- Getting no joy from things you previously enjoyed
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Eating more or less than usual
- No motivation or desire to do things
- Feeling ‘off’ or ‘out of it’
- Lying or finding it difficult to tell the truth
- Getting increasingly angry or aggressive
- Getting upset or tearful at things you would normally be fine with
Anyone can have any combinations or symptoms, but if these last for more than a few days, or are not manageable then it is an indicator that further support is needed. It should also be recognised that the sooner you intercept, the easier these can be to manage.
Do your coping strategies indicate you need a hand?
The greatest difficulty that many adults experience is that they have developed negative coping mechanisms in the past to manage stress. The school curriculum rarely teaches us how to manage stress and as such, we navigate mental health and learn coping strategies from our own experiences. Whilst some people may have experienced coaching, therapy or support to learn how to manage their emotions this is not something that everyone has experienced.
Some things that we can become aware of, which may indicate we need to spend some time investing in our mental health include:
- Identify if you find it hard to be in your own company – for many, sitting in their own company is extremely uncomfortable and they need to be ‘occupied’ ‘entertained’ or ‘in company’ most of the time. This is often a strategy adopted to allow us to avoid our feelings and may indicate that there is something that needs some work on.
- Are you keeping busy – all – the – time? – If you find that keeping busy has become your default, and you avoid sitting down, spending time quietly or ‘just being’ it can be an indicator that things are out of sync. Whilst for some, personality types can mean that their high drives to ‘achieve’ lead them to get caught in projects, keeping busy is often a coping mechanism adopted so that other things can be kept at bay.
- Do you avoid things? – whether it is a phone call, booking an appointment, sorting out things, finishing things off, a difficult conversation or apologising for something, avoidance is a key indicator that we have something that we need to address that makes us feel uncomfortable. The issue with avoidance, is eventually everything catches up with us, and therefore the longer we delay, the bigger the situation has often become. So something that may have been small at the start begins to feel mammoth and brings with it new stress and overwhelm.
- Have you developed negative coping mechanisms? Whether it is drinking every evening ‘to help you relax’, smoking to manage ‘your stress’ or eating to ‘avoid feelings’, we often learn our negative coping strategies early on in life and over time we need more of our fix to cope. Negative coping mechanisms are a great indicator that we may need some support to cope with things, if the frequency of your reliance on those strategies has increased then it is a measure that you may have feelings that need some help.
- Trying to distract people – for some, if they feel that their mental health may be ‘noticed’ or ‘found out’ they can try and distract to something else, whether it is planning events so people cannot talk, cancelling at the last minute, bombarding others with questions so that they do not ask how you are, or by distracting with gifts or days out or changing plans last minute, if you find it hard to be around people or avoid those who know you well (and there is not a circumstance or social reason why) it can indicate that you are avoiding contact.
- Do you hate the quiet? – whether it’s sitting at home alone, lying in bed at night or navigating the day, struggling with sitting in the peace or being in the quiet can indicate that your mind is not at peace and there are things you cannot switch off from.
If any of these things are resonating with you, then it may be a time where you want to address these, or develop some positive habits.
Where can I start?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and mental health is something we need to work on for a lifetime, not just five minutes. But, if you realise that things have gotten out of sync, starting with small steps is a great way to learn to manage things.
#1 – Reach out – picking up the phone and asking for help can feel like an overwhelming step, but if you pick up the phone and start the process, you will have support throughout the time to help you. This can be a confidential health line such as the Samaritans, your GP, referring yourself to TimeToTalk or a private therapist. Engaging with professional support can help you make sense of how you feel, have someone to listen to and also allow you learn new coping strategies and take back a sense of control and peace.
#2 – Start with one small thing – if the world feels overwhelming, then take the pressure off yourself to be performing miracles. Choosing one small thing to achieve, whether it’s taking a shower, making the bed, doing the hoovering or taking a walk to the post office or supermarket. Creating small loops of achievement, where you have a sense of having done something allow us to focus on a small task and keep ourselves focussed for short periods.
#3 – access resources to help – there is a wealth of resource available, whether it’s audios in the website shop, free eBooks, apps such as Headspace or meditation audios, utilising resources to calm your thoughts down and develop moments of peace in a day can be vital to developing positive coping strategies and feeling more in control. Not everything helps everyone, but experimenting with different resources can help you find the right strategies for you.
#4 – notice your patterns – sitting with a large sheet of paper and writing down all the things bothering you (feelings, thoughts, emotions, responses, situations or events) can help you identify any core patterns that affect you or have been affecting you for a period of time which may be contributing to your mental health. For instance, you may identify negative coping mechanisms, core triggers that impact you or situations that are not resolved and need a helping hand to heal.
#5 – journal – keeping a journal can be a lifeline to a busy brain. Using a journal, and just taking time to sit and write everything on your mind (don’t worry about punctuation, grammar and spelling, just write) can be both calming and allow us to process things. Write without thinking, then re-read and look for – one small actions you could take, one resource or professional who could help you, one thing to be grateful for.
Who can I call? Contact?
There are times in life, when we simply need professional help to manage our feelings and thoughts and support our mental health. In these times, you can reach out to:
- Your GP
- The Samaritans (phone 116 123)
- Local charities who support the issue you have
- A private therapist – please ensure that they are qualified, insured and regulated
- Refer yourself to Time to Talk
- If your employer has a mental health first aider, they will be able to guide you and help you to access support
If you, or someone you care for is in mental health crisis, please contact
- Your local hospital and ask to speak to the mental health crisis team
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