In the wake of Mental Health Awareness Week, it is so fantastic to see just how many people are talking openly about mental health. We still have a way to go, but it is reassuring that it isn’t as much of a taboo subject as it used to be. A lot of people are saying that it needs more than a week, and just swapping stories isn’t going to do anything, but I disagree. We need to talk about it. We need to discuss it.
We need to tell each other that we’re not fighting our battles alone.
This year, the Mental Health Foundation has chosen to focus on stress. Stress affects all of us, and we all deal with it in different ways. On a personal level, my ability to deal with varies, and I am by no means an expert! But I’m hoping that by sharing my thoughts on how to deal with stress, I’ll be able to help in some small way to help cope with something that we all go through.
Get to the source
Let’s start with something that sounds obvious but actually isn’t. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and frazzled, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the last thing that happened is what is causing you to stress out.
For example, it’s 5pm at work and you just want to go home. You’re tired and kind of irritable. You then get an email saying that someone who had promised to do something can no longer do it. And you feel like your head is going to explode. In this kind of situation, it’s easy to blame that person for everything. To go home fuming, thinking that everything would be so much better if only they could do what is expected of them. This is your mind tricking you into giving yourself a scapegoat. Don’t get me wrong – it definitely contributed to your stress. But it is not the source.
We’re all so busy, and often stress just builds up. It can be confusing and overwhelming, which is why my advice is to figure out what the underlying reason is. Is it the fact that you’ve got too much going on and you need to cut down? Or is it that you’re dealing with something under the surface that you thought you’d gotten over ages ago? This is going to be personal to you, so take some time to figure it out. Yes it’s going to take some thinking and it’s not a “quick fix” but dealing with stress rarely is. And wouldn’t you rather treat the wound than just slap a plaster on top?
Don’t compare yourself
I wrote about this briefly from a blog point of view a few months ago. Comparison is only healthy in very small amounts, but I think we’re all guilty of overdoing it. I’m constantly comparing myself to both people I know, and people I will never meet. This is such a toxic game, but I’ve spoken to enough people to know that it is one we all play. When you’re already stressed, comparing yourself to others is just about the worst thing you can do for your mental health. It kills any positive feelings you have left and makes you feel inadequate and insignificant. But it’s a hard habit to break, so every time I find myself doing it, I ask myself a few questions to keep things real.
Why am I comparing myself to this person and what is it about them that I’m envious of? The fact that they’re on holiday while I’m at home? Their huge house? Their endless handbag collection? When I start actually answering these questions, it takes the shine off. Yes they’re on holiday, but I’m at home with my husband and my cat. We’re on the sofa with a blanket and a big bowl of popcorn while we watch TV. I’d rather be here. Yes they have a huge house, but think of the cleaning bills! Yes they have three dozen handbags, but I have no idea what I would do if I had that many. I’d probably end up using the same two that I do now anyway. And don’t forget the fact that that photo or video or Instagram story never gives you the full picture.
You don’t have any idea of what is going on behind the scenes because you’re watching someone else’s highlight reel.
I find that when I start delving into the details, it makes me realise that I’ve got so much to be grateful for. And when it comes right down to it, I’d rather have my life than anyone else’s.
As children, we’re constantly told that we need to be kind to everyone else but rarely that we should do the same for ourselves. Somehow self care is either seen as being narcissistic or indulgent, and it is neither of those things. It also often gets bundled in with the whole “Treat yourself” mentality, which is a whole other story. But what I’m talking about here is about making sure the way you talk to yourself remains kind.
I’m extremely self-critical, and it took a long time for me to see that as harmful. Even when I’m looking at myself in the mirror, it doesn’t take too long for me to find five things I’d like to change. If I make a mistake at work, I spend way too long analysing it. These are just a couple of examples, but you get the idea.
If you’re a generally good person, then there is no way you would ever speak to a friend like this. So why do we find it so easy to constantly say this to ourselves?
The best way to combat this is to be self-aware and know when you’re going down the rabbit hole of negativity. If I catch myself being too hard on myself, I make it a point to think “Would I say this to someone else?” And if the answer is no, then I try to stop. It doesn’t always work, but it’s enough to break the train of thought. At least I’ve recognised it as harmful, and that way, it loses some of its power.
Thank you for reading. These are not magic bullets or quick fixes, and they will require some thinking and introspection. I can’t guarantee they’re going to work for you. You’ve probably even heard them all before. But if nothing else, I hope that they will provide you with some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. If you have any advice or ideas of your own, I’d love to hear them. 🙂