15 May 2018

MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK | STRESS



This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and, as always, there is a main subject upon which the campaign is focused which, for 2018, is'stress'.

What a huge topic stress is and it is certainly something that every single one of us has experienced in one form or another isn't it? From minor stresses within our every day lives to much more emotional stress; stress that piles up and up and up and, before you know it you are severely unwell, or at least heading that way. This years Mental Health Awareness Week campaign is focusing on the theory that, if we reduce stress within our lives we can reduce (and hopefully prevent) anxiety, depression and more severe mental health illnesses from developing; this is something I completely stand on board with.

Before I go on, and this is something I always like to point out because it is important: not all mental health is triggered by a life event (such as extreme stress), some of us our simply 'wired' a certain way and so it is important to acknowledge this or else the stigma will never end. Another important thing to think about is that we all cope very differently with things and must always try not to judge others who are more sensitive to things which we may find a breeze to deal with; we all have our thresholds and cope very differently with what we have thrown our way in life. Finally, and most significantly, if you or anyone you know is suffering with severe mental health issues and are in need of help please (please) contact the doctor or, if it is easier, call the Samaritains on: 116 123 (free call) or Mind on: 0300 123 3393 or click here to see other options. If you are worried about the safety of someone you love call '999' straight away.

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Today I thought I would discuss a few of my own thoughts around stress. The problem when trying to give an opinion on anything so subjective is that you run the risk of annoying someone who will be thinking '...it's easy for you to say...' etc, but we can only draw from our own experience can't we, so here we go:

(TRY TO) FIGURE OUT THE TRIGGERS
If you read my most recent Gratitude Post, then you will know that I am reading a book called 'We', by Gillian Anderson and Jennifer Nader, and this first piece of advice comes from that book, because I really liked the idea, and it is very similar to a CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) technique that I was once taught. In the book they talk about 'acceptance' of certain situations in our lives that hold us back from moving on; we all have these things, it could be somebody who, each time you see them, really makes you feel bad about yourself, or it could be something that you were told as a teenager that has always stuck with you and so you may often find yourself triggered in adult life, which stresses you out. Honestly, it could be anything. The advice from the book basically goes like this: write a list of all the things that come into your head that give you a pull of negative emotion (or stress), once you have emptied your mind onto paper read through the list again, asking yourself whether you can do anything to change it or not. If the answer is that, for example, you can meet with the person that is upsetting you and lay your feelings out with transparancy, then write that next to the issue as a way of resolving it (and make sure you do it!). If it is something you have no control over then simply write an 'A' for acceptance next to it and let it go (obviously this takes practice). It might be that, when you talk to the individual that you are having issues with that they lash out in anger; if that happens, and it appears that they are not going to talk rationally, then you have to add that to the list as something you cannot control and try to accept it.

I totally realise that this technique is not easy; I think human nature means we worry and over think many things, but time brings clarity and actually allowing yourself to think about a hurtful situation, rather than sweeping it under a metaphorical carpet, is so much healthier, even if it is uncomfortable initially. We need to understand the 'whys' involved in our difficulties and try and understand our own reactions. Once we can do this, we have done all we can; the other persons reactions and behaviour cannot be determined by us. I think this point is so significant when it comes to helping us reduce stress in our lives and, although I am still a bit of  'stress head', I am definitely getting better at not shouldering issues (for too long anyway!).

POSITIVE SELF-TALK
For me, this is still a major work-in-progress and, to be totally honest with you, I think it always will be the hardest thing for me to do BUT when I can practice this and actually start my day with positivity and 'lightness' (in my mind) I find that I set myself up for a better day all round. Compare that to getting out of bed, walking into the bathroom, looking at yourself in the mirror and immediately filling your head with negative self-talk; inevitably this leads to lots of negative things in our minds which just grow and grow as the day goes on (causing stress). I have become such a huge believer in what we put out there we get back: positive breeds positive and vice versa and it really really does work like that from my humble experience! I have started doing a ten minute meditation in the morning that is super uplifting and kind of resets my brain for the day ahead; whilst I don't always have the time to do it, when I do it makes a big difference.


JOURNALING
This is a big one for me. I have a Bullet Journal that I record daily gratitude in but I also like to quickly scribble down any thoughts that I have, post meditation, in a separate notebook. I combine this with pulling an oracle card for the day too (I have three decks of cards by Doreen Virtue and I love them all, but there are lots of others out there). For me, this little ritual starts the day right and means that I am setting intentions for the day and getting things out of my head and onto paper, which is really cleansing and helpful for me. On my bad days, days where my mental health is just not great at all, I find these practices both a blessing and a curse; in some respects I can find my brain going all over the shop and failing to focus and journaling can seem like an effort but, what I have learnt is to just 'go with the flow'. If I am having a bad day and I feel like I want to meditate to something less uplifting and more relaxing and then just pull an oracle card, then that is what I will do. I have learnt not to pressure myself into writing something positive or push things out of my head; if they are there to write then I let them flow, if not, then it's okay. Sometimes I might journal a little before bed too; this is mostly to help clear my mind of anything that may be niggling at me for the next day, such as tasks or errands, so I will usually ensure I have them written in my Bullet Journal so I relieve the stress and worry of forgetting them! I find journaling a useful tool for keeping stress at bay so give it a go and just go with what works for you. Not everyone will benefit from the same techniques so try a few way of journaling until you find the best for you!

SLEEP
Sleep is my biggest cure. For me, half an hour of shut eye brings so much calm, clarity and relief; it heals so many things for me that I often find myself having little naps because, overall, I'd rather pause for half an hour and sleep, only to wake up more productive and refreshed, rather than push on through and reach a bad head space through overwhelm and exhaustion. Sleep is so good for you and it is when the body heals and recovers; for anyone suffering from mental health issues it is a must. If you are not getting to sleep or having issues with sleep then please head to the doctors and seek some advice as it may shift so many other things for you.

I think one of the most important things about how we deal with stress is to not fall foul to the dreaded comparison syndrome. In my old working environment I would often be feeling really stressed about one thing or another, whilst a colleague would be chilled out about it; I'd then be wondering why I am so stressed and end up down the road of negative self-talk, e.g. 'I must be really useless if I can't cope', 'clearly they are better at the job because they are finding it so easy to handle' etc. On reflection it is all quite easy to understand: a) we all have different thresholds and different triggers with stress, b) mental health issues often bring with them way to much self criticism and self doubt; we become over sensitive and can berate ourselves unnecessarily c) different people have different expectations: maybe the reason your colleague just isn't appearing stressed is because they aren't a perfectionist, or maybe they have a more realistic view of things. Perhaps they understand that you can only do your best and stressing just isn't worth it! (A place we all need to aim for I think!)

I know that all of this is so much easier said than done, I really get it, but it is all food for thought. It has taken me years and years of horrible, dark days to understand what triggers me and what makes a difference to my stress levels, but with experience comes knowledge and, whilst I can have really stressy head days sometimes, I am learning to nail those days much faster than I would have done before!

Thank you for taking the time to read this; let me know your thoughts in the comments :-)
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