Mental health is a topic that we are hearing more and more about in recent times. From a less than ideal perspective the prevalence of mental health issues in the western world is on an upward trend. Why why why….?! It’s a brilliantly loaded question. We have more than we ever had, quite literally at our finger tips, which poses the question is it all a bit too much for us? The way we push ourselves to go go go, constant state of pressure, urgency and expectations. Research says that yes, it is a bit too much!
For some mental health issues can creep up on us. And in talking to people quite often it’s not recognised until we pull through the other side. The warning signs might have been there but we may not have had the awareness or support around us to be able to pull ourselves up and seek help. That was the case for me.
When people talk about mental health I believe majority of our minds automatically go straight to the extreme – to those who have reached the lowest of lows and feel there is absolutely no way out and they would rather not continue. With life. And it’s natural for us to do that as all we hear about in media are the extreme cases. There are many brilliant high profile people who have unfortunately reached the point of no return; Amy Winehouse, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, Robin Williams, Heath Ledger….the list is too long. In only having the extreme at the top of our minds I think it is all to common for us not to be able to relate to general mental health issues – however that is where I believe we are going wrong.
Take a look at this chart and internalise for a moment to reflect on times throughout your life where you may have ventured into the dark orange and red:
Throughout our lives it is expected that we will slide along the scale, think about losing loved ones, changing jobs, illness within the family etc. And normally when those things pass you would typically venture back into the green.
In reflecting, I can think about a time in life where I can identify being in the orange and yellow just in general life. I thought those feelings were ‘normal’. I didn’t recognise the signs at the time and have the ability to connect the dots to the root cause and contributing factors.
Symptoms that I was experiencing were; anxiety, poor sleep, moody, didn’t want to socialise etc. At the time I guess I was so stuck in the moment of ‘doing’ that each day I didn’t really know how to check in and/or take a step back to see what was really going on. I attribute a lot of what I felt to a stressful work environment partly self-inflicted by the fact I am definitely an ‘all in’ type of person. However with management ill equipped to recognise and/or offer assistance, I was really on my own.
A toxic work environment can wreak havoc on your mental health – think about it, we spend half our lives at work! If you’re in an environment that is making you physically ill it’s time to have a look in the mirror and ask yourself if this is really worth it and if this is how you want to spend your life. Now that is a big call I know, and I would like to add here that it takes two to tango. I am not for 1 second laying all the blame on employers because in some cases there are individuals that will be susceptible to mental health issues wherever they go as it’s how they are programmed to deal with situations. I do believe however that there needs to be a certain level of recognition and awareness by the employer as part of their due diligence.
Another reason upon reflection that I didn’t realise is that I had some unconscious bias telling me that to be successful I needed to work hard, give 1 million percent everyday and all weekend in order to be successful in my career. Its an awful trap which can lead to feelings of resentment and never feeling like you have done enough. My ambition was so big that I literally couldn’t fill it and in that respect, I can acknowledge how I contributed to my burnout and subsequent affect on my body and life.
The message and take out here is simple. Take time to check in with yourself and those around you. Regularly.
I personally wish someone had tapped me on the shoulder at the time to ask if I was OK? I also wish I had of seen something as simple as this mental health continuum to be able to help me recognise what was going on to improve my situation. It’s normal to slide along the scale. It’s not normal to live in a continuous state of the traits outlined in the yellow and orange. Being self-aware through mindfulness is one way that we can all start to help ourselves. Checking in with ourselves, creating stillness and space for thoughts and feelings to come up (as opposed to running a million miles a day and filling every moment like I used to), developing a self-care ritual and finally understanding your values and ensuring the life you have created is in line with those values. It’s a topic I could talk for days on. If you have any questions or would like some help my ears are ALWAYS open.