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How to Know When You’re Not OK

As a health and wellbeing writer you’d think I had it all worked out, living a zen-like existence surrounded by calm and tranquillity. One day, maybe. The truth is that Im continuously learning, living through issues and trying to understand emotions. I hope I can help you in the processNavigating our way through this mad world isn’t easy (is it me, or is it getting more crazy?). But there’s always a way. Let’s do it together. 

I was due to write about managing worries this month. As I started typing, I felt like a fraud. How could I advise you when my head is currently spiralling from one worry to another? Right now, I’m fighting my way through a few mental health issues myself. I’ll figure it out, as I have done before, and come back to you. In the meantime, I thought it might be more helpful to write from the heart.  

Living with anxiety and depression

Almost four years ago, I started to experience anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from a life-threatening illness. I got help, took some time out and completely changed my lifestyle for the better. Since then, I’ve felt mentally strong. Until recently. 

As I’ve written about before, I’m pretty good at managing my emotions. Generally, I know what to do when things don’t feel right. But over the past few weeks, I’ve started to notice some familiar symptoms. My usual techniques (journalling, meditating, exercise and walking in nature) have been easing the pain temporarily, but like an old injury, the pain keeps coming back. Recent life challenges have caught up with me, and I’ve completely lost my confidence. So I’m delving deep into my survival toolkit to help me get it back. 

I know I’m far from alone in feeling this way. In any given week in England, 1 in 6 people experience a common mental health issue, such as anxiety or depression. That’s a lot of people suffering every day. If you’re living through either or both of these, there is always a way out. You might know the trigger. You may not be feeling right, and you don’t know why. That’s OK. Just don’t try to battle your way through it without help.  

The first step is recognising the issue. Anxiety and depression often come together but are completely contradictory in how they make you feel. Anxiety is so high-energy that your mind doesn’t know how to switch off. Depression is at the other end of the scale and causes it to shut down. The two together can create all sorts of confusion, but it is possible to work on both at the same time. You just need to put yourself first and find what works for you. 

Recognising and managing anxiety

We all experience a little anxiety at times. And this is a good thing. It’s a completely natural reaction to threat, preparing the body to run or stand up and fight. Think about the feeling you get before a job interview or work presentation – the anxiety causes you to up your game. But social media, daily work pressure and modern life all work against our natural instincts. We can feel under threat simply by switching on our phones in the morning. 

Anxiety is exhausting as the body is permanently on high alert. It wasn’t designed to have cortisol (the stress hormone) running through it 24-7. You can feel nervous when you don’t know why, through this imaginary danger your anxious mind has created. You feel as though you can’t face everyday situations, and your mind races down a rabbit hole of ‘what ifs’. Continuous rapid breathing can lead to hyperventilation and panic attacks. Panic attacks can be so severe that you feel as though you can’t breathe. An increased heart rate can cause sweating and trembling, and your body struggles to wind down for sleep. You can’t concentrate and your thoughts become irrational. 

The key to managing anxiety is to work on your mind and make a few lifestyle adjustments, so that you don’t feel as though you’re in permanent danger. This is what I’m doing at the moment – slowing everything right down and focusing on self-care more than ever. The journalling, meditating, exercise and walking in nature have gone up a gear. Breathing exercises are essential. I’m also looking at some specific techniques to help question my thoughts and rationalise my thinking. There are plenty of apps to help you do this. 

'The key to managing anxiety is to work on your mind and make a few lifestyle adjustments, so that you don’t feel as though you’re in permanent danger.'

Recognising and managing depression

Like anxiety, we all experience feelings of low mood. It’s been raining all day. Someone said something to upset us. It’s Monday. Again, these feelings are normal. But there are life events that can trigger deeper feelings, such as illness, money worries, the loss of a loved one, a relationship or a job. The dark feelings can build up in intensity over time.  

One of the biggest signs for me is that I become negative. I’m a really positive person. I try to see the good in people and the best in a situation. I then hear myself moaning. That’s when I know I’m not feeling right – it’s not me. I burst into tears for no reason, struggle to make plans and decisions, and become irritable and agitated. I can’t deal with noise, crowds or pressure. I find myself staring into space and struggle to stay in the present. It can also affect sleep, appetite, energy levels and self-esteem.  

Because the symptoms can be gradual, they may be hard to spot until you’re in the thick of it. The less you do, the less you want to do. It’s important to start doing things that make you feel good. I’m working on this right now. You won’t feel like challenging yourself, but that’s the best remedy. We’re not talking about running a marathon, although that could be a fantastic goal. It’s more about facing the everyday. Those things you’ve been avoiding. Think about the daily goals and small wins. The simple pleasures. Practise little grounding exercises every day. I open the window in the morning – despite the cold, dark air – and take a moment to listen to the birds. One of my favourite sounds. Look outside and whether it’s trees or city life, notice the world around you. A reminder that there’s a life out there waiting for you to explore. When you’re ready.  

I’m also looking at ways to reframe my thoughts – challenging the negativity in my mind and turning it into a positive. Again, there are plenty of apps to help with this. I know from experience that perseverance and patience are so important here.  

Be honest with yourself

I feel stronger for admitting that things aren’t right, and for sharing this with you. I hope this empowers you and encourages you to get help if you’re struggling. I’m taking things a day at a time and trying not to look too far ahead. I know these feelings will pass, and having been through it before, I know I can do it again. I just need to practice what I preach. There are good days, bad days and a roller-coaster of emotions in just one day. I’m looking forward to seeing the world as an adventure once again.  

Keep talking and ask for help

You might feel alone right now. You might feel as though no one understands. You want to shut off the world. Those thoughts go through my head. Only you know how you feel, but there are people around you who will want to help.   

It’s important to keep talking. There is always hope. There is always a choice. There is so much support out there – your family, trusted friends, mental health apps, charities, helplines, therapists and your doctor. They are all there to look after you. And me. We just need to ask.  

WRITTEN BY

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