It was World Mental Health Day on the 10th October, so I wanted to take this opportunity to open up about what has been going on in my life in the past few months (and which have kept me from writing as much as I wanted to). I also wanted to share some important lessons that have helped keep my sanity intact.
It is important that we talk about mental health and how we can find ways to combat issues: according to the mental health charity, Mind, “approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. In England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week”. This shows that this is a very common problem.
I am trying to keep things real, so I will say this upfront: even ‘wellbeing warriors’ like me can struggle with mental health issues sometimes! I don’t want anyone to think that I am immune, just because I love banging on about health and wellbeing strategies as a fitness blogger.
To cut a long story short, I secured a new internal role at my firm, wanting a refreshing change, in the hope that I can finally sink my teeth into dealing with some more positive things. Needless to say, I was over the moon when I got a new job, but how I wish I could turn back time! The past few months have turned into one of the most stressful and anxiety-filled times in my life. Without my Hubby’s incredible support, I don’t know where I would be.
So I am at a stage now where I am faced with three choices:-
Option #1: I could run, never look back, and reinvent myself;
Option #2: I could choose suffering and fall into the abyss called ‘long term sick leave due to workplace stress and anxiety’.
Option #3: I could accept the new status quo and find a way to thrive.
My twenty year old self would have certainly gone with option #1 without much hesitation, keen to pursue a path of ‘compelling vision, burning desire and courageous action’ which so many life coaches and self-actualisation gurus preach about. However, things suddenly do not look that simple any more when you have a mortgage to pay, thinking about starting a family, or your other half does not have the security of having a permanent job. In these circumstances, it might even feel outright selfish to leave a well-paid and secure job behind (no matter how unhappy you are) to chase whimsical visions about your next job becoming your ultimate dream job. The truth is that life gets really complicated and things are harder to change the more established and more successful you are; when you have more to lose; and what would have seemed like the only rational choice in those ‘happy go lucky’ years, becomes a redundant option now.
On the other hand, I ask myself: would it not be equally selfish to stay in this job and allow myself to burn out to the extent that I can no longer be there for my loved ones, because I am disillusioned, sick and tired all the time? Don’t my loved ones deserve to have the best of me? Surely, I can’t just do nothing about this situation.
Option #2 is what most people would likely go with, but this feels like I am giving up on myself. And yet, I am feeling tempted by this more and more often. The only thing that keeps me from succumbing to this solution is my dogged determination and wanting to fight my way through this dark tunnel until I can see the light at the end of it.
This leaves me with option #3… I have always managed to come out on the brighter side during challenging times in my life before, so there is no reason to believe that I can’t do this again.
Again, I am choosing to learn to dance in the rain, whilst I am trying to work out my next move. During these testing times, I have discovered three unusual solutions that I have started applying and which might help me hang onto my sanity a while longer, until I am ready to make my next move – whatever that may be.
One of the symptoms I have developed because of the mounting pressures at work is emotional eating. When I am feeling stressed and anxious, deep down all I want is to be comforted and for these unpleasant feelings to go away, to be numbed. Emotional eating provides a release from discomfort, treats and comfort food provide us with sense of pleasure and satisfaction (albeit momentarily) when we are feeling something we do not want to feel. Overeating has a soothing effect on us and helps us escape from the unwanted feelings and provide a distraction – for a while, at least.
Research at the University of Cincinatti has shown that pleasurable activities actually reduce stress via brain pathways by inhibiting anxiety responses in the brain. Many times emotional eating is just our brain’s attempt at experiencing pleasure – so, if it is true that something delicious can reduce stress, than it would follow that other pleasurable activities have the potential to reduce stress as well. There certainly is a link between stress reduction and pleasure – and the key thing is to find alternatives that can help us beat stress in a better and healthier way.
In light of this, I have decided to make pleasure a priority in my life especially during hard times.
There are many different ways to experience pleasure, aside from stuffing our faces with junk. A few things that have worked for me and I can personally recommend are:-
- Get a pampering massage.
- Have a spa day.
- Get yourself some nice clothes that make you feel good wearing them.
- Go on a date/spend quality time with your other half.
- Have a cuddle with your pet.
- Spice up your beauty regime – try a new make-up, put on a face mask, get your nails done.
- Treat your tastebuds to a healthy treat – put the apron on. Bake or cook something delicious for yourself – make your favourite recipe or even try a new one! The key focus is on preparing food mindfully, using all your senses – take your time to enjoy the different scents, textures, get creative with the presentation. Slow down, and mindfully savour every bite – even better, if you share it with someone! Chances are that you will feel satisfied only after a couple of bites.
Embark on an adventure!
Have you ever thought about why extreme adventure sports and obstacle racing have become so popular in the past decade or so?
Well, there is nothing new under the sun – there are certain healing and even happiness boosting qualities of immersing ourselves in nature and physically challenging ourselves. We are just catching up to this old age solution to the stress epidemic we all face.
I would like to invite you to become an adventurer. Don’t panic though – I am not suggesting that everyone should sign up for Tough Mudder or the next ultramarathon to test their physical and mental limits. Far from it. Even a micro-adventure such as plotting out a new running route, or changing up your every day routine can have similar effects.
How can adventure help relieve stress?
- It can give you an outlet for pent up energy that you are not able to express anywhere else.
- It can help take your mind off of whatever is stressing or worrying you at work and give your brain something else to occupy itself with.
- It can make you feel excited – the right kind of adventure can get you into a great mood, because it will make you feel alive, and accomplished when you are finished with it.
My favourite ways of finding adventure are for example:-
- Re-awaken your inner child – At a recent walk in Cliveden, I followed some different paths and came across a swing and monkey bars in the forest, inviting me to try them. As I abandoned myself to play, giggling, I completely forgot about all my ‘adult worries’ and felt re-energised.
- Solve a mystery – For example, I have recently participated in a Murder Mystery activity with my Hubby and friends, roaming the streets of Reading which was a lot of fun!
- Go for a run or walk somewhere beautiful you have not been before (make sure it is safe, though!), who knows what you might discover?
- Try something you would have not considered doing before – challenge your perceptions, opinions, even your fears. Burlesque class, anyone?!
My days are often filled with rigid schedules and strict deadlines at work; I am controlled by rules and processes, so it can be really liberating to break away from that, at least for a little while, and just go about my day without any plans.
Improvisation is actually a tool that is used in therapy, for example, to help trauma survivors and carers of Alzheimer’s sufferers.
What mental health improving properties does improvisation have? Improvisation can help you to:-
- Be more present in the moment, expand your awareness and observation
- Let go of the need to control – or even know – what happens next
- Be open to noticing and receiving what a situation is offering
- Open yourself up to previously unimagined possibilities
- Experience, embrace, and express joy
I for one would like to be more of a ‘yes-sayer’ – just being able to accept what IS and be more comfortable not knowing what WILL BE later; in a way, improvising is just another way of experiencing more adventure.
Here are a couple of ideas to bring more improvisation (and hopefully a bit more fun) into your life, for starters:-
- Head out to town – and let the sights draw you in and guide you. Talk to a stranger, try on a silly outfit (don’t forget to take selfies), visit an ice-cream parlour and pick the funkiest flavour, buy yourself some flowers, smell some perfume, take photos of interesting things, randomly pick a book from the library to read later, visit a pop up exhibition, listen to the street singer instead of walking past as swiftly as possible. The options are endless!
- Say ‘yes’ when your first reaction would be to say ‘no’, and go with the flow.
- Raid your kitchen and cook something from scratch using the ingredients you have, without buying more stuff. I love developing my own recipes!
I hope this has given some good food for thought for those of you who are also experiencing work related mental health issues and may have tried all the traditional stress management methods, but with not much success. I hope that you will give some of these methods a go!
Finally, I thought this is a good opportunity to mention that my Hubby has recently completed a gruelling one day challenge to support the mental health charity, Mind. This involved canoeing 9.5 kms, cycling 45 kms and walking 16 kms from Henley on Thames to Portman Square in central London. He would be extremely grateful for any donations to support his fundraising efforts – please check out his Virgin Money Giving page.
What has helped you cope during very stressful times at work?