Mental Health in a Busy Life

Juggling work, projects, education, a social life, and finding time for yourself is incredibly tough. When you add into the mix poor mental health, the problems are only heightened, and it’s easy for everything to get on top of you. You find yourself overwhelmed, stressed, your mental health flares, but you don’t have the time to look after yourself. I work full time, have my own place to keep on top of, personal projects I work on, and this really doesn’t leave too much time for much else.

As I’ve written about before here, I am someone who needs to keep myself busy – whether it’s at work or at home. All in all, this is usually a big positive for me and my mental health. The problem is that when I am stuck in a rut and my mental health is a mess, it can be extremely difficult for me to escape terrible thoughts. This then brings other issues including a lack of productivity, and a lack of want to focus on other areas including my social life.

I do struggle with socialising and putting myself out there, and a busy life only adds to that problem. We all have those days where we wake up and say “Right! Today’s the day, a new me”. You imagine yourself becoming this ultra-version of yourself. You’re going to excel at work, take on new projects, pamper yourself, make new friends, and have this incredible social life. Now, usually, by the next day, this has disbanded, and your mental health takes the hit.

Is it even possible to become that person? The one you imagine? No of course not, nothing could compare to that. But here are a few tips to find a better mix and manage your busy life alongside your mental health at the same time.

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A Year in Review

What a year it’s been – both for me, and this blog. When asked to describe 2017, people will think Brexit and the election, and despite watching the news in horror for most of the year, this has at least been good for my blog. I definitely haven’t had a shortage of items to write about. At the start of the year, I set myself the challenge of posting a piece a week, and I’ve kept to that without it (in my opinion) being detrimental to the quality.

So, what’s happened this year in my personal life? Not much to be honest. After the host of changes in 2016 which included graduating, new job, moving into my own flat, 2017 has been quiet. I’ve had a good year at work where I’ve had a raise, took on some side projects, and feel I’m getting closer to a promotion. Outside of work I’ve been involved in a lot of my own projects which I’m excited for, but currently I, unfortunately, do not have the time to knuckle down on them as much as I’d like.

2017 is also a year where my mental health has been relatively kind to me. Bar some low points in the autumn I’ve been fairly in control throughout the year, and I hope that can continue into the new year. One disappointment personally is that I am still very single. I obviously do not want to rush into a relationship for the sake of it, but I have been single for a long time now and am extremely sick of it. So, what are some of my highlights of the year…

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The Loneliness Epidemic – and My Experiences

For a long time, loneliness has been the hidden demon plaguing so many people and only recently has it finally started to become a hot topic. We are living in a more disconnected society than ever, and loneliness has escalated into an epidemic. More and more people are living alone, and people are spending more time alone as well. In fact, we are the ‘loneliest’ country in Europe. The knock-on effects of this are plentiful, and a big issue to be solved because of the close relationship between loneliness and mental health.

Loneliness has been proved to be linked to increased stress, depression, anxiety, addictions, suicides, and even onto physical health issues such as dementia, high-blood pressure, and self-harm. Loneliness among those in work costs employers around £2.5bn a year and is shown to be twice as bad for older people’s health as obesity and almost as great a cause of death as poverty. This increased the burden on an already strained NHS, so it’s vital that the issues are addressed now.

Generally, when the topic of loneliness is raised it is regarding elderly who live on their own, typically after losing their partner. But often those that are forgotten are young people, who tend to feel lonely more often than those over 55. “Loneliness is a recognised problem among the elderly – there are day centres and charities to help them,” says Sam Challis who works for Mind, but for young people, there aren’t the same services to assist them.

So why is this? Is it simply we’re becoming less social? A poll from YouGov earlier this week would suggest so. Millennials are notably less likely to want to engage with others compared to their elders, with 18-34-year olds more likely to avoid talking to others across all scenarios put forward. Of course, this isn’t the issue, as let’s face it not many people like talking to strangers.

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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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