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.

Advice and tips

The most wonderful time of the year? – Looking after your mental wellbeing at Christmas

The twinkling of Christmas lights, the sound of Bublé in the air and the sight of some truly terrible jumpers, Christmas can really be the most delightful time of the year. But despite this, it can still be a difficult time for those who suffer from anxiety disorders.

My anxiety wasn’t present during the first 15 or so years of my life. I guess Christmas was just exciting to me back then. Nowadays I find myself needing to look after my mental wellbeing more at this time of year. Things like gift buying, seeing people I haven’t seen in a long time and just other general stress at this time can have a knock on effect on my anxiety and mental well-being in general.

I thought in this post I could offer some tips on how to cope with the festive period if your mental wellbeing tends to suffer. These tips are by no means proven, they are based on my own previous experiences and having to learn to cope with my own anxieties at this time of year:

You are what you eat

For some this may not be the case, but I find that my anxiety tends to behave a little better the healthier I eat. This time of the year is associated with lots of delicious, but somewhat unhealthy food. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t eat all the exciting festive offerings (I’m not a total Scrooge), but I’ve found it to be beneficial to try and tame general indulgences. I’ve found this to be really helpful when it comes to things like caffeine and alcohol. It’s about getting that perfect balance between having fun but also considering the effects on consuming certain things on your mental well-being. Understanding your limits can really help, for example I’m happy to have a traditional glass of champagne, but I’ll always stop at one.

Have a break (Kit Kat is optional)

It’s totally normal for Christmas to be overwhelming at times, even for those that don’t struggle with their mental wellbeing. It’s important to take regular time out for yourself, this is definitely not a selfish thing to do. I will often take time out to do something I enjoy for a little while (for me it’s reading). Doing something that you personally enjoy can be a great way of eradicating or easing any negative feelings that you may be having at the time.

Be a lover not a fighter

Accept how you feel and stop working against yourself. No two people think and feel the same, what a boring place the world would be if that was the case. It’s okay to feel how you do. If you don’t feel festive, totally fine. Not in the mood to have in-depth conversations with relatives you see once a year? Then don’t. I fought against my own feelings for years and felt terrible because of the way I’ve behaved and felt in certain situations. Give yourself a break (it’s Christmas after all). Just accept that you feel how you do. If you become anxious, don’t fight it, I’ve found this to actually make the feelings worse. Instead, accept the anxiety and understand that the feelings will subside, like a storm in the ocean. Don’t let others tell you how you should be feeling, they aren’t in your body.

Keep active

It’s pretty common knowledge that exercise has positive effects on mental well-being. But as the nights draw in and the temperature drops, it can be difficult to keep active. Ensure that you do a little something each day, even if this is a short walk outside. Your mental well-being may thank you for it.

Keep your fire burning

I think this is my most important advice. It’s so easy to work your mental health into the ground these days, but this burnout can be detrimental and difficult to come back from. If you can sense that you are struggling the do something to help. This could be talking to someone, or delegating things in order to reduce stress. Don’t worry about being a burden by putting things on your friends and family, if they love you, they honestly won’t mind. It personally took me a while to realise this and be comfortable in asking others for help.

So remember, check in with yourself and your mental wellbeing on a regular basis and don’t be afraid to avoid anything which will have a negative impact on this. It’s not being selfish, it’s called self care.

To all my blog readers, I wish you all good health and a pleasant Christmas! 🙂

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