RU OK Day. Mental Health Month. World Mental Health Day - great to see the conversations and awareness around Mental Health growing but why is it still so hard for many of us to stop and look at our own health and wellbeing?
I look at myself for example. I have never been diagnosed with a mental illness and therefore have not suffered from one like many of my friends, family, colleagues and clients. Or have I? Can someone have poor mental health without a professional and qualified diagnosis? I think we all know the answer to that is yes. Absolutely we can.
I started my business on the back of a passion to support people through change and improve wellbeing but it was also on the back of burnout, uncertainty in my career, traumatic situations surrounding me and a general haze of what I now know was unhappiness. But it took me so long to stop and see that I needed to make a change and when you are running on that hamster wheel day in and day out, pushing yourself to the limits to be everything for everyone yet feeling like you are letting everyone down, you simply don't have the time or energy to stop and take check of how you are showing up. Anyone else agree with me?
Was I depressed? Not sure - I don't think so although I did cry more than usual. Was I unhappy? Yes but not all the time. Did I get angry over the smallest of things? Absolutely.Did my family notice a difference in me? Yes but of course they frustrated me in the first place. Did I put on a happy face at work and use all my positive energy in the workplace? Of course - I pride myself on being a hard worker and a great colleague. Did anyone ask me if I was ok? Perhaps a couple of friends. Did I feel like there was never enough time in the day so I worked longer hours to get through it? It was the only way even though I was tired ALL OF THE TIME.
In hindsight and only with the opportunity to reflect from a much clearer, positive headspace, I was clearly in a state of poor mental health. I was not clinically diagnosed with anxiety or depression but I was operating on the scale of emotions between -10 and 0 most of the time let alone getting into the 0 to +10 range. I thought I was the only one noticing and it was just something I had to push through and it was not impacting anyone else. I was the red chair in the picture above - a little different but still a chair at the end of the day.
So my point is on World Mental Health Day, sometimes we are in such a rush, a hole, a rut, a rat-race, a phase or whatever we want to call it that we simply think we are that red chair and no-one will notice because we will blend in. We don't have the level of self-awareness that we need to make a positive shift for the benefit of our wellbeing, and we just keep showing up. So by all means keep the conversation going about Mental Health and offer non-judgemental kindness, understanding and support but there are some other things I want you to be aware of and ask yourself:
1. How are you showing up? Are you going through the motions, doing what you have to do to get through the day pushing down and blocking how you feel so others don't notice?
If you are then you are running your fuel tank of energy dry and believe me - everyone notices and usually the people closest to you that you care about. If you don't know how you are showing up then ask a trusted friend, a partner or colleague but be ready for the realistic answer (and thank them for their honesty as opposed to biting their head off). Sometimes we think we are doing awesome and the fact is we aren't. Stop, pause, reflect and process the emotional data your brain is trying to process. Be mindful and in the moment, listening to what your body is telling you. Are you getting headaches? Are your shoulders tense and sore?
If you are tired - sleep. If you want to scream or cry - do it. Recognise that we need a range of positive and negative emotions to function and know when the negative ones are going on for too long and too often. Remember also that how you show up affects others and vice verser. Stop every once in a while and observe how others are showing up and ask them if they are OK.
2. What are your energy levels like & how is this impacting your wellbeing and others around you? You feel tired all the time and are riding the never-ending wave of fatigue but you are too scared to jump off in case you drown.
My daughter learnt about her "bucket" of emotions at pre-school and I used to smile when I would hear her say to her brother that he was emptying her bucket when he was not letting her play with him. I am so glad that our children our learning that it is ok to feel and express our emotions because us adults find it so hard to do. Is it because we don't know how to? Is it because we don't realise that our bucket is running dry or is it because if we recognise this reality we then have to make a choice to change it and that's the hard part.
There is so much around on social media today about self-care and looking after number one - the analogy of putting your oxygen mask on first before assisting others in the airplane. I know that this is my biggest weakness - I always look after everyone else before I do myself and I need to work hard to change this. But first its about knowing what fills your cup and what empties it. What's sucking all your energy and what or who are you giving all your energy to? What actions do you take when your fuel tank is running on empty or what do you let go of because of your lack of energy to see it through? Who is suffering because of your lack of energy?
3. Top up your fuel tank, fill up your cup and re-energise. There are toxic situations and people that consume your energy but you also don't know where to start and the thought of it scares the pants off you.
What would it feel like to be full of positive energy again? What could you achieve if you had more energy and fuel in your tank - what would your life look like? Firstly, know your Strengths - what you are good at and what brings you energy and try to do that as much as possible. Listen to your internal fuel gauge - your radar that tells you when it is time to top up. Take action to re-energise - stop at the fuel station to practice mindfulness, to read, listen to music, dance, socialise with friends, exercise, pat your dog, get out in nature, write in your gratitude journal, do some random acts of kindness. And if nothing else, do something to fill someone else's cup when you notice they are low on fuel - ironically this is also one of the easiest ways to top up your own energy levels.
Secondly, ask for help. It is a big scary leap of faith into the unknown but ask yourself what would happen if you don't? If you can't do it yourself, let someone help you ask or consider some other options. Professionals that operate in the Mental Health space absolutely have a place in contributing to a mentally healthy world and for some people no amount of exercise, supportive friendships, special diets and RU OK days will top their fuel tanks up to the desired level. Sometimes we need a little help, a little kickstart and a plan to get us back on track to a healthier mind.
So on this World Mental Health day, I truly believe that the recipe for a mentally healthier world is good dose of awareness, some self love and non-judgemental thought processing, throw in some strengths full of energy, topped off with some curiosity, kindness and acceptance. Regular mindfulness stops and refuelling is also required for ongoing flourishing.