Advice and tips, My Experiences

Your mental wellbeing – When should you seek help?

First of all, I hope you are all keeping well in these weird times. I rarely read and watch the news these days but whenever I do catch it I never see them addressing or talking about the mental health aspects of the coronavirus situation (although do feel free to correct me on this if I’m wrong). Mental wellbeing is something that needs to be talked about more, especially at this current time. It’s totally understandable to feel like you’re struggling with your wellbeing given the current situation.

Something that I have personally found difficult in the past is understanding when to seek help with your mental wellbeing. And sadly I can’t provide you with any concrete guidelines of when to do so in this post. Everybody is different; different environments, different minds and different characteristics. Your mental wellbeing is personal to you and knowing when you should seek help is something that is also a personal decision you have to make, based on your own views and beliefs. When I was younger and struggling with my own mental well-being, I thought I wasn’t suffering enough to warrant seeking help and support. I thought only those people who were acting strange or being manic should get help, how naïve was I.

I thought for those who need it, I would provide a list of factors I feel could be indicators that you may need a bit of support for your mental wellbeing. I am be no means a professional; the indicators below are purely based on my own previous experiences.

  1. You notice changes in your own behaviour – these changes may not always be ones you find good or healthy. You may be more snappy towards others or lethargic and finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. You may also become dependant on something such as alcohol to get through the day.
  2. A person you trust has expressed concern – An example may be a friend or family member asking you if you’re okay because you seem a bit down. Notice I use the word ‘trust’ here. A lot of people can fling around insults like ‘you’re crazy’ without thinking about the consequences.
  3. You avoid doing things you normally would do – for me, I started to avoid going out to see friends or going to busy places because I knew this would trigger my anxiety. Although avoidance feels good in the short term, it may not be the best solution long term.
  4. Basic functioning becomes difficult – For example, you may find eating a meal or going to sleep challenging.
  5. You can’t see a way out – When you are struggling, it can be difficult or impossible to see that light at the end of the tunnel.

I think that ultimately, I just got ‘a feeling’ in my gut that I was struggling and that prompted me to seek support for my own mental wellbeing. If you find yourself struggling I would always recommend seeking help from a professional as a first port of call. But counselling may not be feasible for everyone for a variety of reasons so here’s a few other techniques I’ve used to help support my own mental wellbeing over the past few years:

  1. If you feel comfortable in doing so, try talking with a person you trust (maybe a friend or family member). Sometimes talking can help ease your worries and you will have an extra person to help you tackle the issues and discuss your options with.
  2. Try Mindfullness. I know this may not be for everyone, even I was a bit skeptical at first. But I have practised guided meditations on a free mobile app called Headspace and I have found them to be beneficial for me.
  3. Be active and try to exercise every day, no matter how little (just do what you feel up to). If you don’t feel able to leave your home there are loads of workouts on youtube that you can take part in without going outside. There is also an app I’ve used previously called down dog which is offering free home yoga classes for beginners until the beginning of June.
  4. Listen to a podcasts, there are some great mental health ones out there. I find it can help to hear others talking about their struggles and discussing how they have overcome them.
  5. Check out cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This therapy can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave about certain situations. Although it’s typically done in a talking environment with a counsellor, I have recently started working through this book and I have found it interesting challenging myself and my own beliefs. Hopefully it will be beneficial to me in the longterm!

I hope that some of the things I’ve discussed in this post are helpful to you or someone you know. I regard mental wellbeing as something that needs continuous support and work, like working your muscles at the gym. I was surprised by just how beneficial indulging in a little ‘mind-time’ each day was for my mental wellbeing.

What techniques do you use to support your mental wellbeing? I’d love to know below 🙂

Stay safe x

Advice and tips, My Experiences, The PhD process

Dear PhD Student – Why the doctoral research process may be hurting your mental well-being

This post is aimed at any PhD students; perspective, current or graduated. I was reading an article the other day which states that 1 in 2 students will experience some kind of psychological distress during the PhD process (although from my own observations I’m surprised this isn’t higher).

But feeling mentally drained and unwell isn’t your own fault. In my opinion, the current PhD process is full of different factors that can contribute towards poor mental well-being. Below I outline the reasons I believe the PhD process to have such a negative impact on mental well-being, based upon my own experiences and observations.

Under pressure

First of all there’s pressure, lots of pressure. Throughout the PhD journey you are expected to cope with pressures that would be overwhelming for anyone. When you aren’t working on that conference paper, you are running yourself into the ground to meet the internal stage deadlines set by your supervisor. The pressure of having to deliver results can dominate your life, leading to a loss of sleep and self care time. When I was completing my research it was just accepted that PhD students are put under significant pressure and this is simply the way it is. The current ‘accepted norm’ of a constant three years of pressure can definitely contribute to bad mental well-being, especially when paired with any of the other factors mentioned below. 

Imposter syndrome and social comparison

I spent most of my PhD journey feeling like an imposter. I felt like I didn’t fit in and I just wasn’t good enough to get a PhD (spoiler: I was good enough and I did get one in the end). Feelings of imposter syndrome seem to be common and I talked to many other students who felt the same way that I did. Talking to others actually made me start to question if anyone ever truly ‘fits in’. Whilst struggling at times during my PhD, I would look around at others who appear to be breezing through the process. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, comparison is the thief of happiness. Social comparison is a completely natural and sometimes unavoidable thing to do but it can lead to negative effects on your mental well-being. 

Looking back after completing my PhD, there are a couple of reasons why comparing myself to others was never going to be beneficial. Firstly, I was comparing myself to my own perceptions of my fellow research students. To me they appeared to be doing fine, but I would find out later on that they weren’t doing as well as I thought they were. They struggled too at times the same way I did. From my own observations, I feel that there’s a stigma around admitting you are struggling as a PhD student. Some feel that to talk about struggling is like admitting weakness and this stops research students sharing these worries with each other. Secondly, each PhD journey is a deeply personal thing to each student and it can vary depending on their research area, supervisor and environment. Because of this, it was never useful to compare myself to others. It would be like comparing the process of training to be a teacher and training to be a vet; similar in some aspects, but so very different in others. 

Loneliness

Getting a PhD can feel like a lonely process, and for me it did most of the time. These feelings of loneliness can definitely affect your mental well-being. Although I worked in an office some days with about eight other people, at times I couldn’t have felt more lonely. Alongside this loneliness, some students may feel a lack of support available to them, which can have a further negative impact on their mental well-being. Some may feel that talking to their supervisor about mental well-being is a no go area; I myself only talked to my supervisor when I absolutely had to. I think this circles back around to feelings of not wanting to appear weak. Your supervisors are amazing at conducting research and analysing results, but they may not be trained in how to support you with the mental aspects of the process. Because of this it may appear tough to find support within the academic environment when you are struggling.

Fear of failure

Finally, during a PhD you are highly likely to experience some type of failure and rejection (unless you are super super lucky). For some it can happen on a daily basis, maybe you had a conference paper rejected or you didn’t get the study results you were expecting. This failure and rejection can definitely have a negative effect on your mental well-being, especially in the cases where multiple rejections happen at the same time (believe me, I had a few days of this throughout my PhD journey).

I hope that this post isn’t disheartening, there’s no doubt that the PhD process is a tough one. I guess in a way I’m writing what I wish I had heard a few years ago. I just wanted to highlight some of the issues I found with the process to ensure any PhD researchers out there that you are doing a great job, and if your mental well-being is struggling at times then it is totally understandable given the circumstances.

If you are struggling, I would suggest talking to someone you can trust about how you are feeling and working through things together; whether this be a personal friend or a trained professional. As a follow up to this post I will be sharing some tips and advice based on my own PhD experience which I hope may help some of you out there.

Are there any other elements of the PhD process which you feel can impact mental well-being? Feel free to share below

My Experiences

Supporting my mental wellbeing – What I did for 30 minutes each day this week instead of watching the news

Hi everyone, I hope that you are all doing as well as you can given the circumstances. These are strange times, nobody really knows what to do with themselves. For those of you that are unaware, here in the UK we have been on lockdown since Monday. The prime minister made an address to the nation where he outlined that we should stay at home, only leaving to shop for food or to conduct daily exercise once a day. From Monday I have vowed not to watch the news each evening as I normally did pre-coronavirus. Instead, I planned to spend this time on myself, conducting activities that I felt would benefit my own mental health.

On Monday I spent 30 minutes colouring a picture of a unicorn. I realised that I actually haven’t actively coloured anything for about four years and it was strange to pick up a pencil and ‘get back on that horse’, so to speak. I really appreciated this time because when I was colouring, my mind wasn’t thinking of anything else and it was a much needed form of release for me. More recently I have discovered this colouring book and honestly, I need it in my life right now.

On Tuesday I played with my dog. My dog has been constantly confused this week (even more than usual). She has no idea why everyone is at home all the time but she’s definitely not complaining. I spend time each night actively playing with her. Her favourite game is catch the rolling donut toy and she could literally play it for hours (I sometimes wish I could apply the same level of commitment to something in my life).

On Wednesday I listened to some truly terrible music. I’m sure we have all done this at some point in our lives? Think Backstreet boys, Britney spears or One direction. I may have even taken this further and had a little sing and a boogie (although my leg muscles definitely regretted that the day after). It was very liberating and once again it helped to keep my mind busy on something other than worrying about the state of the world at the moment.

On Thursday I taught myself to knit. Some people have the desire to learn a new language or to dance like a pro. Myself, at the humble age of 30 all I wanted to learn was how to knit. It’s just something I’ve always wished I could do as I always thought it looks really cool when people just do it naturally without thought (like completing a Rubix cube, maybe I can learn that next week?). A couple of youtube videos later, I had created something that could be considered a scarf for a mouse and I felt great in doing so. I always find it refreshing to learn new skills and it’s something I definitely want to continue doing.

On Friday I cleaned out my bedroom cabinets and drawers. Never underestimate the power of clean drawers! It was strangely therapeutic to clear out old junk I’d found stuck at the back of cabinets including chewing gum with a disgustingly old best before date (I know, I’m a terrible person).

So thats basically my first week on lockdown. What have you been up to this week? have you done anything to support your mental wellbeing. I’m looking for ideas of more things I can do next week so any suggestions would be great 🙂

Stay safe x

Advice and tips, My Experiences

Coping with the coronavirus when you have an anxiety disorder

I’m sure you are all aware of the current news surrounding the coronavirus. There has been a lot of information about the physical effects of the virus and how to tackle these but I’ve found little about the mental health aspects associated with the pandemic. For those who already suffer from mental health issues like anxiety, the current climate makes for unsettling viewing. As some of you know, I have been diagnosed with GAD in the past and I admit that I find it difficult not to get overly worried with the current given situation. There have been studies to show a relationship between our mental health and our immune system; when we are feeling stressed and anxious, this can have a bad impact and even weaken our immune system.

In times like these we need to look after our minds and our bodies so I thought I would make a list of the things I aim to do over the next few weeks. I hope that maybe they will be of help to others:

Accepting how I feel – Something I’ve learnt from previous experience is that fighting how you feel is an endless battle. Feeling anxious is a totally normal reaction and it’s easier to accept and feel these emotions then try and block them out. I’ve blocked them in the past and they build up and usually result in a panic attack. I aim to accept and even embrace my feelings of anxiety, allow it to come and pass as smoothly as possible.

Taking all media with a pinch of salt – When I talk about media here, I’m referring to both traditional and social. I’ve seen so much news about the coronavirus over the past few weeks. I’ve got no idea what is the truth and what is exaggerated anymore. I’ve decided to stop watching the news and only get my information about the coronavirus from credible sources. I’ve realised that in some cases it’s impossible to avoid all media but I’m going to definitely limit what I am exposed to. Social media is just a no-go for me at the moment, I won’t benefit from seeing pictures of empty shelves and people speculating about every aspect of their lives with no information to back themselves up.

Staying healthy – It’s difficult when I start to worry but I’m aiming to stick to my health routines that I know help ease my anxiety. These include exercise and my diet, restricting my caffeine intake and things like that. Ditching these is only the start of a slippery slope for my personal mental wellbeing.

Keeping myself distracted – I’m one of these people that if I’m left to my own devices, my mind will start to go into overdrive. I plan to try and ease this by taking more time to do the things I enjoy to stop my mind taking a detour. I really enjoy reading and this is a great form of escapism for me. I think it’s important to carry on doing the things that you love where possible and keep your mind focussed on things that make you feel happy.

Taking reasonable precautions – I find that having a plan can help ease some of my own anxiety. I’ve already took reasonable steps to try and stay safe, following the guidelines provided by the government. It can be easy to feel the need to panic and take action but it’s important to ensure that these actions are proportionate to the proposed threat, which can be tough for people with anxiety. For example, I know that shutting myself away for weeks in fear of catching the virus will do my mental health no favours, I just need to ensure I stay safe when I’m in public spaces. If I catch it, I’ve made a plan in my mind so I know how I would cope with it and ensure I don’t pass it onto my loved ones. Making these plans has really helped.

If you are finding yourself resinating with some of the feelings I describe above, I hope some of the steps above are able to help you also. If you are finding it particularly difficult to cope with the current situation then please do talk to somebody. This could be a friend, family member or professional. If venturing outside is an issue then Skype can be a great tool and many councillors offer sessions over it these days. I think the main take away from this post is that we will all feel overwhelmed and worried at points in our lives, it’s totally fine and natural to feel this way. But given time, these feelings will pass, you just need to ride out the waves.

Take care x

My Experiences

More than a label? – Reflecting on diagnosis in mental health

At first I was a little reserved about writing this post, but I think by sharing my own experiences it may help others who may be struggling with their mental health at the moment. I have recently being reading a book entitled ‘This book will change your mind on mental health‘ by Nathan Filer. The author is a mental health nurse and in this book they discuss some of the greatest assumptions and myths with regards to psychiatry. It’s a great read and it definitely got my brain thinking about the current diagnosis process when it comes to mental illness.

Nathan talks about the labels that individuals are given to explain their current mental wellbeing, for example depression or schizophrenia. When being diagnosed, an individual will be given one or more of these labels, which are obtained by clinicians from books such as ‘The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)’. Now in its fifth edition, this book serves as a manual, providing a resource for the diagnosis and classification of mental disorders. The manual includes concise and specific criteria used to facilitate an objective assessment of symptom presentations. If an individual presents a number of the listed criteria, they are classified and labelled as having the associated mental health condition.

But this method of diagnosis has been criticised, with researchers suggesting that the manual’s rules are inconsistent and subjective, leaving a huge amount of overlap in symptoms between diagnoses. A recent study found that through using the DSM,  two people could receive the same diagnosis without sharing any common symptoms in the majority of cases (link to this study can be found here). There is also discussion around the scientific basis for the criteria and just how accurate a diagnosis they can obtain. An interesting and more in depth post outlining all the issues with the current methods of mental illness diagnosis can be found here.

I have tried thinking back to the time where I was labelled with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). It was a few years back now. I remember the feeling of constant worry and panic, not knowing why I felt the way I did or what I could do about it. I felt that what I was thinking wasn’t normal, so I approached a therapist who suggested I talked to my doctor. After completing an online test, the doctor informed me that I had GAD. At the time this label gave me some relief; it made me feel better to know that there was actually something ‘wrong’ with me because then I thought that I could be cured (I was a bit naive back then). But this initial relief only lasted for a short period. After a few weeks, the label I had been given started to wear me down. I stopped seeing myself as a person and allowed the label to become me; I was GAD. I felt that when I talked to people, all they would see was the GAD. These thoughts made me so self-conscious, to the point where I would avoid any situation in which I felt vulnerable; where I thought my GAD would radiate out of my pores like rays of the sun, leading to people judging me solely upon it.

But I have come to realise that I am more than the GAD label I was given. It has taken me a lot of time and a lot of reading and learning to distance myself from GAD. Overall, would I say I’m grateful for the label? Definitely, because it allowed me to get access to the resources I needed to help myself and improve my mental wellbeing. But do I think I have GAD? I’m not so sure. I have times when my anxiety can go into overdrive but I’ve come to realise that anxiety is a totally normal human feeling and personally I don’t class an abundance of it as a disorder. I think it can be dangerous in some cases to quickly label individuals with certain mental conditions based on a 10 question internet survey conducted in a doctors office. Each individual’s mental wellbeing is unique and we each need to be assessed and treated on an individual basis, avoiding labels and being put into different boxes.

I’m really interested to hear your opinions on labels and how you think they effect individuals, whether for better or for worse. I end this post with a quote that I feel is quite fitting:

Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people

– Martina Navratilova
My Experiences

What exactly is meant by the term ‘mental wellbeing knowledge’ ?

This post a little bit different to my normal stuff, but there is something that has captured my curiosity recently. I’m currently in the job searching process, looking to be a researcher in mental wellbeing. In a lot of adverts I come across, I notice that one criteria provided in the person specification is a knowledge of mental wellbeing. This has got me thinking, what does it exactly mean to have knowledge in this area?

Traditionally, knowledge is associated with qualifications; someone who has knowledge in mental wellbeing may have gone to university and gained a degree in psychology or mental health. A lot of the time, employers see qualifications as knowledge, but I feel that in the world of mental health, having and gaining knowledge can take more forms than just formal qualifications.

Some individuals may have no formal education in mental health. But what they do have is life experience from their own journey. Their knowledge is gained in the form of lessons that they have learnt along the way. These people may have suffered from or may still be struggling with their mental wellbeing. Although they have never been to university, they have learnt techniques that aid them with their own mental wellbeing. I think that online mediums such as Youtube are so valuable in the acquisition of knowledge and allow individuals to learn about mental health and wellbeing regardless of their background or financial. Myself, I have learnt so much about mental health from watching others talk about their mental health online and reading books on the subject. In some cases, individuals may have a mixture of formally credited knowledge and knowledge acquired elsewhere.

After thinking about this, I’ve come to the conclusion that all of the people mentioned in this post have mental wellbeing knowledge, and in both cases this knowledge is credible and has the power to benefit others. Theory and studies are great sources of knowledge, but there’s also a lot of knowledge to gain from those that has been through experiences relating to mental health. In my case, it’s very unlikely that I will get a formal qualification, but I’m grateful for the knowledge that is provided by others through online mediums. Online blogs, Youtube and Instagram all have a credible part to play in the distribution of knowledge and shouldn’t be underrated.

I hope I have been able to express myself clearly in this post, as there is a bit of an emotional influence behind this post. But I feel it highlights a key issue; in a world where more mental health research is needed, I worry that those who want to help but don’t have the formal qualifications to do so are locked out (although I totally understand that in some cases qualifications are needed to ensure vulnerable people are kept safe).

What do you feel it means to have mental wellbeing knowledge? I’d love to have a discussion below.

Advice and tips, My Experiences

30 mental health lessons I learned during my twenties

So today marks my 30th full orbit around the sun. In the past 30 years I’ve learned a fair amount about myself and my mental health (some of it I wish I’d learnt a lot earlier). I thought in this post I would write about something a little more personal. Below are 30 lessons I’ve learned regarding my own mental health within the last ten years or so:

  1. There are some people in the world that will just never understand mental illness and the effect it can have on individuals that suffer from it.
  2. But some people do understand, you should hold onto these people for they are gold dust.
  3. Even though it’s hard, opening up to others can make the world of difference.
  4. Try not to be so hard yourself all of the time.
  5. Staying up at night stressing about that stupid thing you did when you were 24 won’t change the present and only causes unneeded anxiety.
  6. Finding a therapist isn’t easy. It’s like finding a relationship, some will work for you, others won’t. Keep looking until you find the one that’s right for you.
  7. There’s no shame in the way you feel.
  8. Don’t live your life to please others, this causes unnecessary stress.
  9. You’ll meet a variety of people throughout your life, some will be good for your mental health, others not so much, try to stay away from these people where possible.
  10. Treat yourself with the same respect you would have for others. 
  11. 99 percent of the bad things you spent hours worrying about happening never actually happened.
  12. If you don’t do anything to change your mental wellbeing, don’t expect anything to change.
  13. Hold onto the small things that make you smile (even if it is just dancing around and miming to the Spice Girls’ greatest hits)
  14. Stop worrying about what you’re meant to be doing to be considered ‘normal’. In this world there is no such thing as ‘normal’. ‘Normal’ is nothing more than a setting on a washing machine.
  15. Looking after your mental wellbeing is a lifelong process, there’s unlikely to be a quick fix.
  16. Don’t feel ashamed of taking medication for your mental health, you’d take a couple of painkillers if you needed to so what’s the difference?
  17. Your mental struggles do not define you – you are not your anxiety.
  18. Listen to what your mind is telling you. If you need a break, take one.
  19. You are not alone in your mental health struggles, even when you feel like the loneliest person on the planet. 1 in 4 people suffer with a mental illness at some point in their lives.
  20. Exercise provides effective relief for anxiety. 
  21. Anxiety is just a natural feeling, it won’t last forever so allow yourself to feel it and trust that it will eventually pass.
  22. Stop kicking yourself for the things you could’ve done differently.
  23. Strangers are not able to instantly see and judge you upon your mental health struggles.
  24. Take the time to look after yourself and your mind may follow.
  25. Your mental health struggles have no effect on your self-worth, you are as worthy as the next person and you deserve just as much happiness.
  26. It’s okay not to feel okay sometimes.
  27. Like my physical health, my mental health should be my main priority in life.
  28. Experiencing panic attacks and anxiety does not make you a failure.
  29. Coping with your mental struggles makes you a stronger person than you’ll ever give yourself credit for.
  30. Whatever happens, just keep moving forward at whatever pace you are able to (as Dory says, just keep swimming…)

My life so far has had its ups and downs with regards to my mental wellbeing, but overall I feel more prepared than ever for the future. Here’s to another 30 years of discovery and mental self care! 🙂

Have you learnt any lessons about your mental health over the past few years? Feel free to share below.

My Experiences

Are we all bus drivers?- a mental wellbeing metaphor

This week I was travelling on a bus. Whilst travelling I observed something which I felt was such a fitting metaphor for mental wellbeing that I feel I should share it. In a way I love bus journeys. I live in a fairly rural place, so when I’m on the bus I’m usually looking out the window to be greeted with serene scenes of fields, livestock and wildflowers. I find that travelling down country lanes is so often suitably calming.

On this particular morning, I was sat at the back of the bus, watching the world pass by on the outside. There was a variety of passengers on the bus, all varying in their appearances and ages; there was a small child in a pram talking to its mother about big dogs, next to an elderly gentlemen reading the days news in the Guardian. Although full of different people, there was a peaceful equilibrium as the bus drove peacefully through the lanes. As the bus progressed, it picked up and dropped off people, still maintaining its peaceful environment.

But at one stage of the journey a young couple got on. They sat down and started a heated discussion, apparently the guy had been seeing someone else and hadn’t told his partner. This argument got louder and more aggressive between the two as the journey went on, and the environment began to feel hostile. Although things in the back of the bus were beginning to become nasty between the couple, the bus driver still had to drive on. They couldn’t pull over because it wasn’t safe to do so. Also the driver had to keep to the set timetable, so they just carried on driving, transporting this negative energy with them. While all this was happening, a bus passed on the opposite side of the road. The bus drivers shared a friendly hello gesture and a smile as they passed each other, irrespective of the events happening in the back of their vehicles that they were transporting around.

At this point I found myself reflecting upon this, comparing the bus to an individuals mind. The chaos that ensues inside an individuals mind is not totally visible to those outside, similar to that of the events on the bus. Irresponsive to the events on the bus, the driver presents a positive face to other drivers as they pass. I feel this to be representative of the face that an individual presents to others. For some who are living with mental distress, they may feel the need to cover this up, often appearing smiley and cheery to others, regardless of their actual feelings. We are all bus drivers in a sense; travelling with our own passengers and events going on. I just found this metaphor to be so fitting I felt I had to share.

So be kind to your fellow bus drivers, even if you can’t see inside their vehicle very well. You just never know what chaos they may be having to handle inside.

Advice and tips, My Experiences

Social anxiety and coping with job interviews

Earlier this week I had a job interview, the first one that I’d actually had in a little while. For me, interviews send my anxiety into complete overdrive. I become hyper aware of myself and the fact that in this situation I am actively being judged. Being this aware can lead me to being extra cautious of what I’m saying for fear of coming across badly. This was the exact case during this job interview, I found myself struggling to speak and at times my mind completely blanked out (another common behaviour I’ve experienced with my anxiety).

Safe to say, I didn’t get the job. One of the interviewers stated the reason being because I didn’t explain myself thoroughly when I was talking, and I actually agree with them. My anxiety was really prominent during the interview but I’m proud that I came through it in one piece and this is the positive I take away from the experience.

Reflecting on this experience, I thought I would benefit from looking up some advice about coping with job interviews when you suffer from anxiety. I thought I could share the advice I find in the hope it can help others who also struggle with similar issues to myself.

How you feel is completely normal

Being confronted by an interview panel, anyone is bound to be nervous. For me, my anxiety can make me feel so isolated and alone at times. But in this situation, accepting that anxiety is a completely natural feeling is the first step towards working with it. Some of the sources I read even suggest that you shouldn’t be afraid of anxiety and that it could even be harnessed to your advantage. The adrenaline caused by anxiety may actually be beneficial when you’re in a job interview situation. For me personally, I think adopting this viewpoint may be of benefit.

Seeing Success

There’s a technique suggested which draws upon theory surrounding positive thinking. It states that those who are prone to anxiety should take some time out in a quiet spot to visualise themselves being successful before the interview. It is claimed that if done properly, this visualising technique may actually be preparing your mind to behave in a certain way during the interview. I think this technique is quite interesting and it’s used by elite athletes before competitions to improve performance, so I might give it a try myself.

Slow and steady wins the race

During job interviews, my anxiety results in a tendency to want to answer questions as quickly as possible. But on reflection, one of the websites I found stressed that there’s no need to rush with responses. If you pause before giving your answer, it gives you a chance to collect your thoughts and this could stop your mind going completely blank while you’re talking. If your mind does go blank, ask for a moment to collect your thoughts. Or you could even ask the interviewer a question to buy yourself a little more time to think (like “as a matter of fact, I was thinking…”). I think with anxiety, the fear of blanking out can almost be enough to cause it to actually happen. I find this advice reassuring and will definitely try it in the future.

Get outside yourself

Anxiety can make an individual become very self-conscious, I myself am particularly susceptible to this. One way of getting around this is to move your focus onto others. Some sources have explained how you can do this by asking others questions (like asking the receptionist or interviewer how they are) and being empathic to their answer. Actively engaging with others, although this can be difficult, may actually help an individual with anxiety to feel calmer.

Another way of shifting the focus comes back to the practise of interviewing the interviewer. This mindset involves you realising that job interviews are also a chance for you to evaluate your employer. You are as much deciding if the job is suitable for you as the employer is deciding if you are suitable for the job. Asking them questions shows curiosity and shifts the focus from yourself.

Although I found lots of advice that I personally feel will be helpful, there was also a lot of advice on the internet which I felt to be quite patronising. Some advice was the standard ‘just be calmer and breathe’ (like that’s an easy thing to do when you’re on the edge of a panic attack). I even found advice that suggested you ensure to wash your hands before each interview to reduce anxiety (I have no idea either).

I think reflecting on my experience this week it just comes down to practise makes perfect. Sometimes I really hate anxiety, but I feel the only way for me to personally address mine is to expose myself to it as often as possible to give me a chance to accept it and work with it. I aim to learn from my job interview experience and keep challenging myself to do more. I hope this article is useful to some of you who may be struggling with similar issues to me.

Here’s a list of websites I found useful and drew upon:
https://www.verywellmind.com/tips-cope-with-job-interview-anxiety-3024324
http://overcomingsocialanxiety.com/why-you-can-still-face-job-interviews-even-with-social-anxiety/
https://introvertdear.com/news/interview-socially-anxiety-introvert/
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/career-transitions/201503/10-ways-calm-your-interview-anxiety

My Experiences

Meet Rosie – How getting a dog helped my mental health

Hey everyone, I hope you are all doing well and having a lovely week.

I thought for this post I could introduce you to my best four-legged friend called Rosie. Here she is:

Rosie’s a cockapoo and she loves nothing more than eating, chasing squirrels and having a nap. My family decided to get her a couple of years ago and she’s a rescue dog. At this point in my life my mental health was really suffering, I was generally very anxious and would experience panic attacks on a regular basis. I didn’t know it at this point, but having a dog in my life was to change my mental wellbeing for the better. I feel so lucky to have met Rosie and I thought in this post I could discuss some of the reasons why I think getting a dog had a benefit on my mental wellbeing.

Her love is unconditional

Rosie shows me love and affection, no matter what I look like. She loves me as much first thing in the morning as when I am fully dressed up. I’m someone who has a lot of personal hang ups and anxieties about my appearance, so I find this so comforting. It’s definitely helped me to accept how I look without my make-up on and I even feel more confident in showing others my bare face now too.

She provides a distraction

When I start to feel anxious, I make some time to spend time with her. Just playing with or walking her is a great distraction for me and helps me to remove my focus from whats making me anxious. She is very good at bringing me back to the present moment. I can enjoy my time with her, which stops me worrying about the future and the anxiety that surrounds this.

She unintentionally makes me smile everyday

When I’m struggling with my mental health, it can feel really desperate at times and it feels like nothing will make me feel happy ever again. Since getting Rosie, I’ve noticed that I smile more often and that these are genuine smiles of joy. Everyday she never fails to bring a little bit of happiness to my life, whether that be from her funny ‘wobbling’ walk or her determination to carry as many of her toys as possible in her mouth all at once.

She’s a great companion

As they say, a dog is a mans best friend. I work from home a lot and this comes with its own sense of loneliness. I’m okay with the concept of solitude, but my anxiety is not. When I’m alone I find my mind can go into overdrive and I’m more likely to start thinking irrationally. Rosie spends most days at home with me and I find her company relaxing. She has a laid-back approach to life and spends a lot of the day asleep, but just knowing that she’s here with me is so reassuring.

She’s one tough cookie

Rosie hasn’t had the best start in life, but she’s still here and loving life. Seeing her thirst for life and all that it brings is such an inspiration to me. It might sound a bit silly to say I’m inspired by a dog, but it’s the way she attacks her fears and faces them head on. Granted that a lot of the time she doesn’t have a choice in what she does (for example, each month she goes to the groomers, a situation of which causes her great anxiety), the fact is that she gets through these experiences. This has encouraged me to face a few more situations that would normally cause my anxiety to kick in. I just try to think of all the experiences and situations that Rosie has overcome in her life and this gives me a strong feeling of strength to carry on.

Overall, I’m so grateful to have met Rosie and I hope that I bring as much joy into her life as she does into mine.

Do any of you have pets? and if so what effect have they had on your wellbeing? I’d love to know.