What’s the state of your mental health right now? Could you do with a bit of a mental health check up?
Until a few years ago, I’d never really thought much about my mental health. Then I went through a rather messy relationship break up that damaged my confidence. Overnight I began having panic attacks, started to struggle with insecurity, constantly felt like I wasn’t good enough and had all these feelings of unease whirling about that tried to pull me down.
I was lucky to have a great community and friends surrounding me who helped me through that period. And most valuably, pointed me in the direction of a fantastic psychologist who helped me work through the pain, feelings, thoughts and whirlwind of emotions going on during that time.
Thanks to their help I’ve worked through what originally triggered my anxiety, but it’s never gone away entirely. Anxiety, self doubt and issues with confidence is something that still affects me regularly today.
There is no shame in needing help sometimes.
If there is one thing I could recommend to anyone struggling with anxiety, it’s to get professional help.
While chatting with friends can be helpful, their reassurance or comfort won’t always be the best solution for whatever challenge you are facing. Find a professional psychologist or counsellor who you trust and connect with to help you work through everything in a positive way.
Not just any one either.
I mean it when I say a psychologist you trust and connect with. If you’re going to open up and be vulnerable with this person, you need to feel safe and able to do so. Even if it takes you weeks, months or even years to fully open up to them, it’s worth the investment for your health.
Sometimes people feel ashamed or like there is something wrong with them if they need help or work with a counsellor. Not so.
I love how my friend Lyndi Cohen (The Nude Nutritionist) explains it. She says it’s just like seeing a doctor for a health check up or a dentist to check your teeth. Seeing a psychologist or counsellor is just a check up for the brain.
And what is more important for your health than your brain? Mental health is overlooked all too often and can influence other aspects of your physical health when not looked after well.
I’ve been working with my psychologist for a few years now. Sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly, sometimes it might be quarterly. It’s not all talking about relationships either!
For a while there, I was getting business confidence advice from our sessions. I knew what I WANTED to do. But I was scared to admit it. I wanted to go freelance, but the advice of those around me was to remain where I was. She gave me the confidence to take the leap to go freelance when I was unsure and afraid of failing. Best decision ever!
Know it won’t always be smooth sailing
Just when you think you’ve got it all sorted, the smallest thing can sometimes trip you up and make it seem like you hadn’t actually progressed at all. Don’t despair.
Late last year I got attacked in a pub in London, which triggered the return of ALL sorts of anxiety this year and had a big impact on my confidence. Especially in loud, noisy places with a lot of people.
There will be ups and downs. Things might upset you unexpectedly. It’s all part of the process. And that’s okay.
Figure out your triggers
If you struggle with anxiety, chances are there are certain things that in particular trigger you.
This could be certain people or places. It could be smells, certain environments, weather or situations.
For me, not enough sleep, not enough decent food, not enough outside time, not enough exercise, not enough sunshine, too much travel and not enough stability can all trigger my anxiety.
Therefore, I work on getting more sleep, minimise unnecessary travel, work on having better routine amongst the chaos, have started taking naps, use Headspace a couple times a week and make sure that I’m outside every day.
Once you know what your triggers are, you can then start to manage them to minimise any negative impact they might have on your mental health.
Build positive productive elements into your life
Having things to look forward to is very important when you are working with anxiety and are easily knocked down by negativity.
I’d been commuting 10-20km a day on my bike for a couple of years before I started struggling with anxiety. Not long after I bought a road bike, with the intention of trying a triathlon.
At the encouragement of my psychologist who was also a keen triathlete, I signed up for Slateman sprint triathlon. Which led me to an Olympic, a couple of half-ironman events and ultimately Ironman Wales the next year. Having something specific to focus on, train for and look forward was a key part in my recovery during that period.
Cycling has since become an essential part of my life that helps to support me in managing my anxiety. It gets me outdoors, moving, in the sunshine (weather dependent) and most of all I LOVE it. I love the challenge, I love proving to myself that I am stronger than I believe and ultimately I just love how good it makes me feel inside and out.
Exercise endorphins are too under-rated.
Finally, remember you aren’t alone.
If you’re struggling, don’t forget that you’re not alone. Others are feeling the same fears that you are. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Find someone to talk to. Someone you trust and feel safe around.