As we come to the end of mental health awareness week I am so glad that more open, honest conversations about mental health are happening online. And that more conversations are taking place offline, where they need to to really #endthestigma.
I had a rant on twitter earlier this week about the mental health challenges that exist socially and professionally.
It seems that we are especially vulnerable in the start-up space with this pervasive (and ridiculous) 'I'll sleep when I die' culture. I don't know about you but I'm useless with less than 8 hours kip.
Pretending everything is fabulous all the time is also so easy to do on social media. Many entrepreneurs and leaders fall into this dangerous trap.
I for one am not playing that game. Life can be amazing, and it can suck! 1 in 4 of us are affected by mental health right now, and the NHS spends about £270 million on antidepressants annually.
Here's the thing, I have depression and anxiety. And I’m an entrepreneur building a business – IT IS possible to be both.But it makes it so much harder if we can’t talk about it or get looked down on when we do.
I will keep putting my head above the parapet until it becomes as normal to talk about our mental health as it is to discuss the head colds we’re still getting over.
Many people still don't know what mental health means. And as we know, people are afraid of what they don't know / understand. Fear can make people do / say some ridiculous things.
I had drinks with a lovely friend this week. She experienced a difficult breakup last year and then needed to take some time off work as she fell into depression. Her managers were supportive - she was able to cut down her hours and given extra support with her workload. She could work from home when she needed and dedicate one day a week to see her therapist and taking care of herself. Kudos to her employer.
The challenge she faced was with her colleagues. As she wasn’t visibly ‘ill’, people inferred that she was slacking and taking advantage of the system due to her time off. Peers questioned her commitment to her role and her career. She felt under attack and scrutiny when in the office.
This lack of understanding was all the more damaging when it came from alleged friends. They couldn’t reconcile the life-and-soul-of-the-party they knew with the woman who couldn’t bring herself to leave her house on weekends. Her loyalty was questioned. People called her out for flakiness and lack of commitment to friendships.
These emotional reactions, judgements and put downs exacerbated her depression. It was a dangerous downward spiral.
For her, during the week, she was just about managing to show up to work, get through her list of tasks, and make it through to 6PM. Weekends were for recuperation, restoring energy and resting. Socialising on the weekends was something she didn’t have the energy to face. She was just surviving.
I’ve had some of these difficult conversations over the years, with people challenging me on whether I cared about our friendship at times when I was just about managing to get out of bed. I’ve also had 'close' friends all of a sudden distance themselves from me when I was in the midst of a low point because I ‘became too needy’.
Yes, this has meant that my friendship group has shrunk, but the people still with me are my VIPs. They are incredible individuals who love me when I’m high and when I’m low, and we all deserve that. So if you have people in your life who are not supporting you in the way you need, tell them. And if they can’t recognise that you need to prioritise looking after yourself first, or they don't want to support you, do they deserve your time?
On the flip side, if you feel a friend is cancelling plans and struggling to socialise in the way they used to- they might need some help. Don’t let your lack of understanding become anger or judgement. It is hard to show compassion and empathy when you are busy feeling disappointed. And often people struggling with mental health are easy targets for others to take their issues out on. Don't do that.
Ask how they are, ask if you can help, ask what they need, recognise they might not know. Be there, listen, offer your time. But whatever you do, please, please, save your judgement.
Thankfully, my friend is in a much better place now. She's back to work full time but with a slightly smaller friendship circle who are giving her the compassion and support she needs and deserves.
I hope you’re doing more than surviving right now. Remember it is 100% normal to have up and down days, but if how you are feeling on a day-to-day basis is stopping you enjoying life, you might be in survival mode. I was here a few weeks ago as I shared on my Instagram page.
If you're in survival mode right now, know you are not alone (25% of the population are in this position too, even if many are pretending they are ‘fine’! )
Remember no one’s life is as perfect as their Instagram feed.
If you’re not feeling great in your mind, I recommend you talk to someone you know, love and trust. Telling someone you’re not feeling mentally well, or that you need help, does make it more real. But that is the first step to getting the help you need and moving forwards. Trust me, I ask for help all the time – there is no shame in getting the help you need.
We all need support sometimes. We are not islands. We are living, breathing, sensitive beings. When times feel tough, tell someone. Ask for help, even if you are not sure what help you need. Yes, that bit is very important -
You don’t need to know what help you need to ask for it.
You might need more than a shoulder to lean on, and that’s ok too. There is lots of professional help available to support you, whatever your facing. So if you need extra support, or are concerned about your mental health or that of a loved one, check out this shortlist of UK based mental health support services.
You can book a free call with Simone, our Head of Therapy at A Life Less Ordinary Wanted, to find out more about how Therapy might support you to get back into a better space. But therapy is only one form of support (and there are lots of different types of therapy too!)
Sometimes it can take some time to find the right support. There are so many different mental health conditions, and one can affect two individuals in completely different ways! There is also so much support available, but researching and trial and error is definitely worth it to alleviate pain and get yourself into a better headspace.
Good mental health is not only about being free of mental health conditions, it is about more than that, it’s about enjoying life to the point of thriving.
As someone who has been managing depression for the last 17 years, I can find myself slipping into survival mode when I lose focus of myself and my needs. This can happen when I get uber busy with work, when I don’t get enough sleep or sunshine, when there's unresolved conflict, or when I find myself slipping into negative old habits (like putting someone else’s needs above my own).
Do you know what your triggers are?
If I don’t spot the signs in time, it’s like an invisible dark stormy cloud arrives and sits right above my head. I now know this is caused by chemical imbalances in my brain, but nonetheless, the cloud analogy works best for me- a la Care Bears.
There are three key things that I remind myself of when this dark cloud pays me a visit (I write them out on post-its and stick them above my desk):
1. The sun is still shining somewhere even when you can’t see / feel it right now. Hold on, it will be back soon.
2. You do not have to suffer alone. It’s ok to ask for help. So ask.
3. There are things you can do to lessen the cloud’s power. Do them.
I also have created what I call a mental health surthrival kit. These are things that work for me and help me to thrive but when I’m in survival mode, they become crucial.
Here it is, I hope it inspires you to create your own:
Naomi’s Mental Health Surthrival Kit:
Meditation and mindfulness – Without fail I now take 15 mins out of my day, every day, to just breath, centre myself and still my hyperactive mind. I am still doing this more often that not first thing in the morning (when to be fair I’m still half asleep) but it’s working. I’m learning. I find this helps me to tackle whatever the world has to throw at me without feeling as affected.
Exercise and express yourself – I need to run and do yoga at least every other day. I need to go out dancing at least once I month – I can do this sober it’s the dancing not the drink that I need. I love to cook good food, try new recipes, bake cakes, write love letters and poetry and sing along to Tina, Whitney, Tracey and Gregory Porter.
Nature is the greatest healer – the older I get the more I realise I need nature in my life, on a daily basis. I crave the sound of the ocean, the smell of woodland, the view from the mountains, the feeling of sand between my toes. We are natural beings, we need natural environments, there is life energy in nature that we can tap into when we are immersed. Take a walk in your local park, talk to the trees, take a train to the coast, go to the nearest expanse of water and watch it’s surface, star gaze. Wherever you go, film mini videos so you can watch them later when you’re back in the concrete jungle if you don’t live nearby your favourite natural places. My phone is full of videos of the Portuguese coast. I watch them often and they take me there, it helps.
TLC: take care of yourself – I’m an adult and I’m single. No one else has to prioritise my wellbeing like I do. There is no blame in my game. I know what I need and it’s my responsibility to do the basics well, all the time. I have a crazy strict diet, I have sensitive skin and various allergies, tbh, I’m high maintenance AF. And I need to practice self care every single damn day, so do you. Maslow the hell outta your life.
Appreciate life's beauty - the practice of gratitude has changed my life. When I'm low, I can catastrophise and get tunnel vision - only focusing on the negative. To counteract this, I contact people I'm grateful for and tell them what they mean to me. I write down a list of things I'm grateful for that week, or what I'm looking forward to over the next month. I look up at the sky and appreciate the sun. I talk to the birds who wake me up in the morning (they can't hear me but that's not the point). I think about how beautifully magical it is to be alive, even when I don't feel like it, then all of a sudden, POW - I'm grateful.
Let yourself be loved – When I’m feeling low, I don’t feel like I want to be around my people because I don’t want to burden them with my negative vibes. But the truth is, I need them and their positive vibes to help lift me up and encourage me to keep going.
I’m blessed with a small group of close friends who are incredibly supportive and happy to be there whether I’m in floods of tears or in celebrate life mode. Surround yourself with people who lift you up and love you. All of you. Surviving you and thriving you. Fair weather friends show themselves in tough times and while I’m still in contact with some of them, they no longer get the best of me. You deserve a crew who are evergreen.
So, over to you - what is it that you do to support good mental health for yourself and others? Let me know with a comment! If you’re not sure, why not take some time to think about what helps you stay mentally healthy and write down your own Mental Health Surthrival Kit? I’d love to hear what’s in it.
“Your experiences can either define or refine you. The beauty of it is, that every single time, you get to choose.”
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PS: Tickets for our mid-year review workshop the 2017 Pitstop are selling fast and early bird tickets are now SOLD OUT. If you feel like you've lost track of your 2017 new year resolutions and would like to reset for the second half of the year, join us in Central London on Saturday 24th June 10AM - 4PM for a mid-year review. We'll help you to reflect on your progress so far this year, face your fears, build up your confidence and improve your goal setting skills. You'll leave with a clear action plan for the rest of the year so that you can make the changes you want. Final release tickets are now on sale and when they're gone, they're gone! We've got seven places left. SO BOOK YOUR PLACE HERE. You save the most £ when you book two tickets together - so which friend are you going to bring along? Need some inspiration on who to invite along? Watch my video on how to pick an accountability partner here.