Sunday, 13 May 2018

Mental Health Awareness Week 2018: Stress



“We’re going to have to postpone getting a dinner in the diary right now- work is so hectic at the moment”

“It’s 10pm on a Sunday evening but this gal has a million and one projects on rn so no sleep for me #GirlBoss”

“I always work through my lunch- don’t you? If I want to leave any time before 7pm in the week then I never take a break!”

Stress. In a society built upon a culture of success equating to being busy, modern life makes it increasingly challenging to stop and take note of when work/life/family/all of the above get too much- after all, who hasn’t heard at least one of the above IRL or seen a similar exchange on their Twitter feeds recently?

14th May 2018 marks the start of World Mental Health Awareness Week. This year’s theme? Stress. I’ve always been active in discussing aspects of my own mental health online, ranging from my struggles with social anxiety and depersonalisation, to feelings of isolation and my journey with anorexia nervosa. Stress has affected me, as it has almost everyone, to quite a considerable extent throughout my life, yet for some reason it’s not a topic I’ve ever explored on my blog- perhaps because until around a year ago I hadn’t yet realized the extent to which it was intertwined with my mental health. I suppose the nature of stress means it often appears in varying degrees over one’s life, and its erratic nature makes it difficult to pinpoint when it will next rear its head or impact existing (or even lead to) mental health struggles. My awareness of managing my mental health has always been very much focused upon the direct symptoms that come along with different MH illnesses, however in recent months I’ve realized how factors such as stress (or a lack of it!) can totally transform how I feel/manage my emotions and ultimately, how I can cope.

My own experiences of stress are hugely intertwined with my anxiety- when a situation that a mentally well person might be able to deal with comes along, my mental health can often throw me into feelings of panic, inadequacy and general meltdown mode. I’m a worrier through and through, there’s no doubt about that, but I don’t think my character traits and panic prone personality are all to blame here- a culture of being busy, always going above and beyond what is expected and working from dusk ‘till dawn has become gospel in the road to success for young people today. Whether that means unpaid internships, working 2 jobs whilst completing your degree, or battling mental health problems without the support you desperately need (Conservative government I’m looking @ you), modern life certainly has its way of getting under your skin.

When the summer season rolls around, I often wake in the morning from dreams of forgetting to revise, missing an exam or losing my coursework despite finishing my A level exams 3 years ago! There simply weren’t enough hours in the day or mind-maps I could painstakingly create that would leave me feeling prepared enough to tackle the exams that still haunt me to this day. Stress has become such a common part of many of our lives that it seems almost inevitable that we’ll need to take time away from work, battle through ongoing mental health crises, or simply internally suffer the burden that it can bring as if this is simply part of modern life!



Mental Health Awareness Week is so important, for the above reason. We shouldn’t suffer alone with our struggles, and I think stress in particular is an issue that isn’t widely recognized in the negative impact it can truly have. So in the same way that I can openly discuss my battles with other mental health issues, I’m sharing the ways that I personally manage stressful situations, both in the hope of providing some tactile tips for you to take away from reading this, but also to open up a conversation surrounding an issue that is rarely talked about.

(Disclaimer: Of course stress occurs from SO many different factors, and can often be related to life troubles as well as work, but for the purpose of this example, my own experiences are often related to work and/or educational stresses!)

BREATHE

The simplest of bodily functions that can appear trivial, yet something that can seem to go completely out of the window when you’re feeling in ultimate panic mode. I find when I’m battling a stressful situation, tension builds inside me as I feel my chest tighten and sometimes the start of a panic attack can begin if the circumstance is not easily solvable or affects others too e.g. making a mistake at work. Take 5 minutes for yourself out of the situation if possible- go to the toilet or even better, step outside into the fresh air and inhale and exhale more obviously and heavier than normal. Filling your air with lungs is a great way of grounding yourself and stopping panic from setting in when you’re feeling overwhelmed with stress, and there are lots of breathing techniques you could get into the habit of practicing to help when these situations do arise. There are also tons of videos on YouTube with calming soundtracks such as water or whale noises (sounds weird, works a treat) that again can be super beneficial for taking your mind to a different place and giving you chance to regain a sense of calm to tackle whatever the problem is.

This also applies really well to family stresses or stress in a situation like a driving test or impending uni deadline- focusing your body and mind and thinking only about your breathing can really help your thinking to become more rational! If you’re into exercise or have the time, yoga is a great way to practice this, and definitely something I want to give a go!


IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM

This might sound like the simplest of advice, but sometimes when stress is overwhelming you, it’s important to pinpoint exactly what it is that making you feel this way. You probably know the area of your life that’s causing you to worry (e.g. family disputes, problems at work etc.) but actually taking the time to identify the exact reason behind your struggles can be so valuable in helping you move forward. It may be a culmination of factors, or simply one thing that’s making you uneasy, but whatever it may be, focusing on one issue at a time and making a mental, or physical note of how you can aim to resolve the situation is a positive step in moving forwards to a more positive mental stance.


TAKE A BREAK / REMOVE YOURSELF FROM THE SITUATION IF POSSIBLE

This next tip is potentially easier said than done when it comes to certain situations, but if possible, removing yourself (momentarily or permanently) from a circumstance that is becoming detrimental to your mental health is one of simplest yet kindest acts of self-care you can practice. Whether that means dropping your uni work for the weekend to spend some time with your gal pals, taking the evening off to binge watch Netflix in the bath, or even just giving yourself a little breathing space throughout the day, it can make the biggest of differences to your general wellbeing. Treating yourself, adopting a kinder attitude and channeling more positive thoughts day-to-day are all such simple measures you can take to improve your mental health and tackle stress head on. It can be hard to see through the fog that stress creates, but simply focusing on kinds thoughts (I try to practice the notion of not thinking anything negative about myself if I wouldn’t dream of thinking it of someone else!) can make the world of difference.


TALK/CBT

Talking can seem like such an obvious place to start when battling stress, but I’m truly of the belief that SO often a problem shared really is a problem halved! When it came to my degree stresses, I had a super strong group of girls from my course that I could moan to and almost share the stress with to help myself feel less alone and manage my feelings more effectively. Even if it’s a friend in a completely different situation/workplace/family life to yours, speaking to someone you trust and value the opinion of can be so beneficial in lifting a weight from your shoulders. If you find that stress has become a common and constant aspect of your life, considering taking time for CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) either on the NHS (boo to long waitlists, unfortunately) or privately if you’re able to can provide a safe and positive space for you to share your problems and concerns with an impartial professional who will confidently be able to advise you! CBT isn’t for everyone, but if you find the right therapist who is really on your page, it can so relieving to get your thoughts out into the open.

If therapy isn’t an option, getting your worries out of your head in other ways such as keeping a thought journal, or even speaking out loud to yourself (something I’m not afraid to admit helps me rationalize my MH worries) could be a great step in the right direction!)

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Stress is one of those funny things that we all experience, yet often shy away from opening up about so I hope this post has provided some food for thought or even equipped you with some coping mechanisms that could help you in the future. Let me know how you battle stress as I know managing MH experiences totally differs from person to person! 
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