My Self Care Activities

When you suffer from a mental illness, it’s important that you regularly engage in self-care to give your mental health the same attention as your physical health. It’s easy to forget to look after ourselves from time to time, especially when life gets tough and stressful. This is where self-care comes in. Self-care is simply the act of caring for yourself and doing things that you enjoy and benefit from. Whether it’s exercise, relaxing, indulging, introverting, whatever helps you is good!

The first act of self-care is to arguably get to know yourself and learn to spot the signs of when you are struggling to cope. Once you become aware of these signs, it means you can sense them coming, and even plan to combat them. You might find that different activities help with individual situations, and there is not one kind of self-care that fits all for you. Therefore, it’s useful to build yourself a self-care plan, something you can go to. These can be individual plans for specific events, times, and places; you can know what the issues are, and from that know the steps you can take to help make yourself feel better.

Here are some of my self-care activities that may resonate with you:

Keeping myself busy/projects
I am someone who always needs the next project to work on, the next blog post to write, and without that it’s quite easy for me to feel lost. Projects, essays, and lectures at University, loathed by most, was used as a form of self-care for me. Ploughing myself into work was a distraction, albeit not always a healthy one. Even now I like to keep myself as busy as I can whether it be at work or at home.

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The Perfect Image Problem

A significant part of the past 5-6 years of my life have revolved around struggles with body image, and initially my weight. When I was younger I had previously attempted to lose weight a few times without any success, but after seeing some pictures of myself at a Sixth Form event when I was 16, I decided that enough was enough. Over the next few months I lost a lot of weight, and by the time I was 19, I had lost just under 4 stone – around 50 pounds.

Surely that would be enough right? Problem is it’s never really been enough for me. And I feel that’s also a problem for a lot of other people too. Although there were other factors much more significant to the onset of my depression and other mental health issues, I do think that my weight loss and body image issues have considerably contributed towards it. I always feel that I just need to lose a couple more pounds, or lose just a little more body fat, but will it ever be enough?

There’s no doubt that body image issues in guys are becoming more prevalent, and the frequency of these leading into other mental health issues is alarming. There is a whole host of reasons for this, but one of the biggest, as it is for women, is certainly the media, especially social media. As Raymond Lemberg states, “the media has become more of an equal opportunity discriminator, men’s bodies are not good enough anymore either.” There’s the pressure to look as good as the actor that all the girls fawn over or the models on social media; to have the perfect abs, the muscles, the flowing hair, and be six feet plus all with good taste in fashion.

As someone who’s 5’10, has a quickly receding hairline, is fairly toned but without abs, and lacks muscles, it’s very easy to just not feel good enough. I know I’m in good shape, in good health, and I know I’ve made incredible progress over the last few years (see the picture below), but it never feels like enough. Another problem for men is that the “perfect” male image seems to combine being lean and slim but with bulk too, and that’s just ridiculously impossible.

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Spotting the Signs

Depression can turn days, weeks, and even months into a blur as it races by. It can meddle with thoughts, increase anxiety, and trivialise the most complex of feelings. When this is the case, how are we to tell when things have got worse? How am I meant to clearly sense a drop in mood and an increase in depression? After a while, there are some individual signs you can learn to look out for, but at times even these can be hard to sense and pick up on.

One key sign can be times or places, or even particular events that can be catalysts for a drop in mood. Once you become aware of these, it means you can sense them coming, and even plan to combat them. Around these times you can implement more of your personal self-care activities and make sure you are taking care of yourself. More common now are self-care plans, and it can be a very good idea to set up individual plans for these events, times, and places. Know what the issues are, and then know the steps you can take to help to lessen the effects.

These events and times can also change as you get older and life moves on. Throughout University, I actually felt that summer was an incredibly tough time for me, as I used to struggle with suddenly not having too much to do. As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m someone that likes to be incredibly productive and work on various projects, so in those summers where I had nothing to do, it was quite common for me to feel quite lost; I needed something to work on. In the winter when things got tough, projects and University was a great way for me to keep busy and self-care.

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Generation Anxiety

Everything’s our fault, right? Whether it’s the fact we’re too lazy, too liberal, too promiscuous, or like one article I saw, not all of us youths have seen a cow, we’re constantly at fault it seems. I don’t like the idea of such distinct groups e.g. Millennials, Y, Z – so I’ll band us together for this one piece. Those between let’s say, 16 and 35, seem to bear the brunt of the bad news, and it’s no surprise that cases of mental health illnesses, including anxiety, are on the rise.

Is Anxiety new? Of course not. So why does it feel new? Why is it that anxiety is only now being recognised as a serious illness and divided into the subsets that it deserves? Like other mental health problems such as depression and eating disorders, anxiety is simply now more talked about, more open, and in times of such turmoil and stress, it’s arguably more severe. 21% of people rate their levels of anxiety at 6 or above, and the consensus is that anywhere between 10-30% of adults suffer, or are likely to suffer from anxiety at some point.

I’m not as open with anxiety in the same way as I am with my depression, and I suppose that’s because of the anxiety itself in a way. Many of us experience anxious feelings in some way, whether it’s simply difficulty concentrating or a full-blown panic attack, and it’s most definitely on the rise amongst young people. Rachael Dove highlights this, saying that 57% of female university students experienced episodes of overwhelming anxiety, and it reflects the issues many young people have in what is essentially the most important periods of their lives.

We know what older people will say, “Oh it’s technology, social media, they need to get off their phones”. Is it really that simple? There’s evidence for and against that statement. As highlighted here, four of the five most popular forms of social media harm young people’s mental health, with Instagram the most damaging. Of all the main social media websites, only YouTube was judged to have a positive effect on young people. Why is that?

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Throwing Myself Out There

I’ve written before, many times, about my depression and anxiety, and how it affects all aspects of my day-to-day life. One of the biggest challenges for me is its effect on the simple tasks, the things most take for granted, like socialising. I’ve always typically found it hard to socialise and meet new people anyway, but my poor mental health over the past few years has made it even tougher.

Depression and anxiety hugely affect both relationships and friendships. Months pass by in a blur, and suddenly you find yourself having lived in a new city for almost a year and not really taken advantage of your new surroundings. Living alone is great, but it can be lonely at times, but it’s not easy to change that. There’s also the fear of rejection, of not being good enough, of things somehow just getting worse. People often think they have all the answers for you; the most frustrating being “you just need to put yourself out there”, but let’s face it if you have a job, family, and friends, you are already “out there”.

At University, the challenges were different. I was on a course with people who had similar interests, living with people in similar situations to myself, but this is a different story. I’m practically the youngest at work and those around are in different stages of their lives, I live alone (which I do love), and working full time leaves very little time for other activities anyway. I see so many people making it look so easy, both online and offline, balancing hectic lives with being able to socialise, meet new people, and put themselves out there. I can’t seem to do that.

Being an introvert means it takes up stacks of energy to put myself out there and to be social. But living with depression and anxiety zaps that all away. It’s hard to make plans not knowing how you’re going to feel that day, worried you’re going to let someone down by cancelling those plans. As I’ve written before, I do worry about the huge effect these problems have on my life, not only right now, but going forward too. I worry it might hinder my ability to progress up the ladder at work, to meet new people, stop me finding someone, stop me having the future I desperately want.

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Finding My Way

Last November I moved to a new city, Southampton, for work, and moved into a new flat, living on my own for the first time. I love living in Southampton, and I absolutely love having my own place. No one to make messes, no one to be noisy, and no one to constantly annoy me. But it has brought about some whole new challenges for me to encounter.

Moving into a new city for University was extremely different. I was moving into a flat with people my age, and starting a new course with people my age, who also shared similar interests. This time the situation has changed. At work, I’m pretty much the youngest, and most people are 5, 10, 15 years older. So, socialising, already a tricky concept for me, has become more complex. Colleagues already have their own lives; marriages, kids etc, and a small percentage are in similar situations to me.

As I said, I enjoy living on my own, but the lack of company can sometimes become unsettling, lonely. Add to all that the other troubles I have to deal with in other areas of my life: the depression, the anxiety, and it’s quite common for it all to merge together into one whole mess.

I’ve always found it difficult to socialise, get out there, meet people, and my situation now has only amplified that. Living with depression and anxiety has only made all that tougher. When some days getting out of bed is the hardest thing to do, socialising isn’t high on the agenda. I’ve also never understood how people can make it look so damn easy. Everywhere I look, everywhere I turn, people seem to socialise and meet others with absolute ease, and I’ve never been able to do that.

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Depression and Me

Depression first snuck up on me roughly 5 years ago, and it’s something I’ve had to deal with every day since, and likely will for the rest of my life. It’s odd, I do struggle to remember myself and how I predominantly felt before it hit. But that’s what this illness does, it removes the positive feelings, and everything just becomes a blur.

For many, depression is a slow build. It slowly chips away at most, until one day it’s fully enveloped you, and you can’t see a way out. For me, it was instant. It was a high-speed crash into a brick wall. In the space of a few weeks I went from the old bubbly me, to an absolute mess. I couldn’t function properly, and I hadn’t yet learnt to hide it. My change was rather obvious at the beginning, the smiles had vanished, my head was often in my hands, and people picked up on this quickly. It wasn’t long before people were worrying about me.

I’ve often talked, in most cases ranted, about what depression is, and how it’s misunderstood. Too many times I’ve seen people use the term “depressed” when their favourite show isn’t on, or if they’re spending the evening indoors rather than out drinking, and it annoys me. It’s not depression, and it’s insulting to those who actually do suffer with it. When many think of depression, they subconsciously envision sadness and tears, and while that’s partly the case, it’s mostly a nothingness. It’s the feeling of days, weeks, months passing by in a blur, but not in a ‘wow that flew by’ way. It’s slow, it’s dreary, and it feels like I’ve been battling this illness for a lot longer than 5 years.

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