Considering the environment that we’re in at the moment with the pandemic, as well as the insurmountable amount of stress that many of us are feeling, I thought it would be helpful to share some insights around mental health, particularly my experiences and some ideas, insights, and learnings that I’ve been fortunate to gain over the years.
I want to preface this by saying that I’m in no way, shape, or form a health professional. I’m not qualified in anything to do with psychology or medicine, in any of those fields, whatsoever. So, any advice that I share today is purely based on my own personal experiences and does not represent that of any health professionals of the organisation that I’ve volunteered for. It purely is based on my personal experiences.
Mental Health Journey
For those who don’t know, I personally have been involved with Australia’s biggest not-for-profit Mental Health Organization Beyond Blue. I have been a volunteer with them for just over six years now. The reason why I joined Beyond Blue is that I wanted to provide some hope, insights, and learnings to help those that may be struggling, and most importantly, to help reduce the stigma associated with mental health. It was important for me to do that because of my own experiences and that of my friends and family.
When I decided to become a volunteer at Beyond Blue, I was traveling alone in my personal mental health journey. I decided it was the right time for me to be able to speak, share and discuss mental health with others. That doesn’t mean you have to have to also, there are different points in our journeys, and each has its own path to take. Nevertheless, having a mental health disorder, whether it be Anxiety or Depression is indeed a journey, different for every one of us.
What is Anxiety and what is Depression?
The answer is largely misunderstood by many, I know as it was something, I didn’t understand either. A lot of the time when I speak to schools or corporate workplaces or universities or social groups or businesses, I often ask the question, what is Anxiety? What is Depression? A lot of the time only a third of the audience knows so let’s start by refreshing ourselves starting with Anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is more than just a feeling of being stressed or worried. While stress itself and anxious feelings are a normal part of life, and a common response to a situation where a person feels they’re under pressure. It usually passes once the situation the current stress, shock, stress, or other has been removed. Whereas Anxiety as a disorder is when those anxious feelings don’t subside. It’s, it’s about those feelings that exist with the anxiety don’t subside and they follow you around and make it really difficult to calm down. You may find it difficult to sleep, you may find it difficult to concentrate. People who experience anxiety disorder often feel overwhelmed and frightened by the sudden feeling of intense panic and anxiety.
They also experience recurring thoughts which contribute to the anxiety, making it larger and worse. Often those thoughts many people will think are quite silly. I know personally having some anxious thoughts in the past, where those thoughts were made fun of.
For many people that I’ve spoken to over the years, they often may assume that anxiety is just those nerves that you get when you get up to public speak. And yes, that’s a form of anxiety but it’s not a disorder. Anxiousness is something that follows us around. It’s something that rears its ugly head when you’re least expecting it. It can make you feel scared, it can make you feel overwhelmed and it can make you feel very unwell.
Physiological Symptoms of Anxiety
I often tell people when speaking in groups to close their eyes and imagine having dizziness and then you start to sweat, your cheeks might be blushing. You might have a lump in your throat, your shoulders might be tense, you probably experience some irritable bowels. While your heart might be racing, your legs might be shaky and you might be feeling nauseous and have a dry mouth. Now, these are some, not all the physiological symptoms of anxiety. The scary part of anxiety is the fact that those symptoms can approach at any time, and sometimes all at once. It certainly was a feeling that I experienced when I first went through my own introduction to anxiety when I had my first panic attack over 13 years ago.
What is Depression?
Depression is more than just a low mood. It’s a serious illness that has an impact on both physical and mental health. You might find that you lose interesting work, hobbies, or doing things that you would normally enjoy. You may lack energy, you may have difficulty sleeping, well, you might sleep more than usual. These are things that might be occurring with people that you know around you that may be new. By rule of thumb, a person may be depressed if he or she is felt sad, down or miserable most of the time for more than two consecutive weeks, and or has lost interest or pleasure in most of their usual activities.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression
These signs and symptoms can be everything from behaviors that people will do, feelings that they will have and thoughts that they will think as well as physical symptoms that they will experience. So, what are some of those depression signs and symptoms?
- A big change in your regular routine
- For students who might be not getting the work done at school
- It might be relying on alcohol sedatives
- Feelings of being irritable or lacking confidence, indecisive or overwhelmed, disappointed, miserable, sad, frustrated, or guilty
- Thought you may have like ‘I’m a failure, it’s my fault’, ‘nothing good ever happens to me’ or ‘I’m worthless’ or ‘people would be better off without me’
- Physically, you might be tired all the time, drain your energy, exhausted, sleeping problems, irritable bowel problems, you might lose your appetite, change your appetite, gain weight, lose weight, feel sick or run down all the time
Common Misconceptions about Anxiety & Depression
- You can just snap out of it
- Depression or Anxiety is a weakness of character
- It won’t happen to me
It’s nothing to be ashamed of, as Anxiety and Depression don’t discriminate by race, age, wealth, or status. It doesn’t care if you’re successful or unsuccessful. It can affect anyone at any point in time. For example, people close to me have experienced mental health issues very early on in their teenage years, then also very much later on in life in their 60s. I’ve seen firsthand how the experience of mental health can affect you in so many different ways at all different ages in life.
Mentally Healthy Workplaces
Often when I speak to workplaces and I talked to them about mental health, I remind executives and employers that based on a PwC study a few years ago, that every dollar invested in creating mentally healthy workplace results in a $2 30 return on investment. It’s important to pay attention and think about things that you can do to help others.
- Increasing awareness of mental health conditions
- Reducing stigma
- Increased awareness of people’s roles and responsibilities in the workplace relating to mental health
- Support employees in their return to work
- Create a discrimination-free workplace where diversity is respected
- Monitor workload and work hours
- Issue zero tolerance to bullying
I want to caveat this at this point with the fact that just because you have a mental health disorder, you’ve suffered anxiety or depression, or maybe you still do, it does not make you less successful or less effective, or it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not going to commit 100% to your role. You may have some ups and downs and that’s okay.
My Personal Tips
I wanted to share some specific and hopefully actionable ideas and insights for you to consider if you’re going through your own challenge with mental health.
- Monitoring your thoughts, monitoring your thinking
This one is important because mental health is all about thoughts, and the thoughts that we have that then correspond to behaviors and actions, and feelings. So, we need to identify the cognitions that make us feel bad and then challenge them. And the only way to identify your thoughts is if you monitor your thinking. And one way of doing that is by writing it down. So I remember when I was going through my early days of anxiety, I used to monitor the feelings I had, I would sit down and write it in the notebook once a day at the end of the day, and I would write myself out of 10 for how I was feeling that day. I then I started to see behaviors and recurring themes and patterns, and they were things that I was able to choose to talk to professional and get some clarity on. So monitoring your thinking is a big one that can help you understand why with what those are, and then you can go into the next stage of defining why they happening and that’s what the professionals can help you with.
- Logical Disputing
Logical disputing is reversing irrational and unrealistic thinking. This is where, you might have an irrational thought, and you take the initiative to challenge that tradition or think about it in an alternative way. Rather than thinking about things in one way, by logically disputing it and thinking is this rational. For example, you might think that you must be liked by everyone, or you might feel that you are worthless, or you might feel that you know, everything that you’ve gone through, it feels like the end of the world. Logic disputing that can help you to think about things more rationally. It really does help because it would help you realize day by day would pass and as those days passed the irrational thoughts you were having that you were thinking about didn’t happen.
This is where you think about whatever it is that you’re catastrophizing about doesn’t really matter. What I’m catastrophizing now matter in five years? What else can I be grateful for right now? What can I learn from this experience because often we might think that a study It may lead us to believe that it’s the end of the world? You know, it may sound silly to some, but you may genuinely feel that your life is on a tightrope. Trying to diffuse the catastrophe that you’ve made in your mind, particularly if you know there is no imminent threat is a natural, good way to overcome those thoughts.
- Goal Directed Thinking
The other one to think about is goal-directed thinking. For example, if you are frustrated with something that maybe is not really helpful, for example, maybe you’re angry with your partner about something or maybe you tell yourself that you’re not a good person or that you’re not good at your job or whatever it might be. Instead of having those types of thoughts, change the perspective and think about whether telling yourself those things is helpful or a hindrance to you. Think about things using different processes such as thought monitoring, to identify and dispute those thoughts that you’re having. Focus on incremental goals and celebrate your successes.
Will I recover?
Recovery can mean different things to different people. Don’t assume your recovery will be like that of your neighbors or your friends or your partners. You need to trust in yourself that you can get there. Because if you are willing to try and be persistent, and patient, then you will get there wherever there is for you. You will have ups and downs; you will have the roller coaster ride where sometimes you feel that things are going really well and then you come straight back down. That’s a normal part of recovery.
Taking the first step
There are a number of different places that you can seek help if anything in this article has triggered you, please go to www.beyondblue.org.au or you can call them in Australia on one 1300 22 46 36, they are available 24 hours seven days a week. Alternatively, you can get in touch with lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/ or via phone on 13 11 14.
I hope that this has helped you in some way, shape, or form. I hope that you are willing to seek help as soon as possible because the sooner you ask for help, the sooner you can recover. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression or anything of that sort, please do seek professional advice. Speak to your doctor. Speak to your psychologists, psychiatrists, a counselor if you are a student, talk to a teacher. There is so much opportunity for help, you just need to be willing to ask.