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It’s Mental Health Week and today is Time To Talk Day. So we asked Rushonrock photo journalist John Burrows to talk about a subject close to his heart:

There’s no better time than to face the facts surrounding anxiety and depression. The world of rock and metal is far from immune to mental illness and yet even as the subject becomes less of a taboo it seems our community still struggles to have the conversations that could ease stress and, ultimately, save lives. So let’s put that right, right now.

The latest figures from the mental health charity MIND are as follows :

Approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. In England, one in six people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week. On average, 13 men each day take their life through suicide in the UK. 70% of men say their friends can rely on them for support but only 48% say that they rely on their friends.

The results tell it like it is. You are not alone.

Read that again. You are not alone.

If you are reading this article and you don’t know why you are the way you are then good news is on the way. Everything is ok. You are normal. There are MANY of us out there and a lot of us didn’t know anything about it until we spoke to a fellow sufferer or started reading up on things. If you are anything like me, at this point you might be getting a lightbulb moment or maybe even getting excited that you can learn more about yourself. If you already know all about anxiety, then there’s something here for you too – so read on. 

My own story

In my teens and early 20s I had no problems with anxiety that I’m aware of. I was a firm believer at the time that depression didn’t exist and that people who claimed they had it were either lazy or work shy. There was nothing wrong with them and if I could get on and do, then so should everybody else.

In my late 20s I had my first and only bout of depression. I slept on my parents’ floor for two weeks and couldn’t function. I learned the hard way that depression is very real. A friend’s wife was a counsellor and upon his recommendation I began a few sessions with her. She worked her magic and I started the process of talking about things. It wasn’t invasive or intense – in fact, looking back now I just used her as an outlet to talk about my day to day life at the time. Talking is key as it turns out. 

As a result of this bout of depression, I was left to deal with its evil twin, anxiety. I suffer from it regularly, often when I’m run down or under stress but sometimes it just comes from nowhere when I’m on top of the world. It doesn’t give me any warning signs, it just comes from nowhere. It feels like a heart attack, but it’s not in my chest, it’s in the bottom of my throat. I feel like I can’t breathe, I hunch over, the world around me narrows down so I feel like I’m sat in a confined box and my thoughts go to doomsday scenarios. 

Let’s get into the basics:

Common symptoms of mental illness:

•          Low self-esteem/confidence

•          Lack of energy/motivation

•          Difficulty concentrating

•          Lack of sex drive

•          Thinking you constantly make mistakes/are a burden

•          Light headedness

•          Sleep Deprivation

•          Irritability

•          Anger

Caveat: If you fit into any of the above, it is critical that you seek medical advice and do not attempt to diagnose it yourself.

So, you ask. What can we do about it?

Coping strategies

Over time I’ve learned what works for me and what doesn’t. It’s really important to accept the fact that what works for you may not work for other people. 

It’s important we don’t preach to others that there are right and wrong ways, there are just different ways. As an example, medication doesn’t work for me but it might for somebody else. Exercise works for me but it might not for you. The only way you’ll know, is to try. A lot of the things I’m going to list below are things that I’ve picked up over the years, and I hope a few of them might help you too.

Talk

It doesn’t matter who you talk to, it could be a helpline, your significant other, your parents, your neighbour – hell, it could even be your barber.

It might be hard. You might tell yourself they don’t care but there’s a very good chance you’ll be surprised by their reaction. Half the time, I’ll bet they’ve felt the same way you do and then you can trade stories. You’ll realise first hand that the way you feel is normal.

Personally, when I share, I feel the burden that I’m carrying lift from my shoulders. I no longer have to push that snowball around by myself whilst It gets bigger and bigger, it starts to melt away.

Plan ahead to take time for yourself

I recently completed a Mental Health First Aider course and on the first night we were given homework. The homework was to take an hour to yourself that evening, no excuses. It put us on the spot because the majority of us had plans that we had to adjust, but it was done to prove a point. If you don’t care for yourself and put yourself first then nobody else will. 

Make some time for yourself in a week, even if it’s just an hour, so that you know you have some dedicated time to look forward to. Do this every week. Forever.

NB: Guess what? I know what you’re going to say when you’re reading this. I can’t possibly do that. ‘The world won’t function if I don’t do this. ‘I can’t take an hour! An hour? But I’ve got the washing to do. I’ve got the kids to pick up. I’ve got…’. The list goes on. But that leads me onto ….

Take back control (it’s ok to say no)

I used to be a ‘yes man’. 

I didn’t want to upset others. I had enough time in the day to get it all done. Work, home, it didn’t matter. I worried that people would be annoyed at me if I said no. They would judge me. They wouldn’t want to hang out with me, or my job would be at risk, depending on the situation. 

There was also the crushing pressure that I would apply to myself. A good friend of mine gave me some unexpected news last year which explained a lot. Recent studies have shown that people with Generalised Anxiety Disorder also show regular symptoms of OCD and perfectionism. Yep. Let that one sink in for a while. It’s silly things with me, like having to do the dishes before I go to bed on a night time. If I don’t that starts off a chain of events in my head and I can’t settle.

Well – it’s ok to say ‘no’. If you want to do the dishes, then do them. If not, they’ll be there in the morning. If you don’t fancy going out tonight with your friends, it’s ok to sit on the settee and have a Netflix binge. If you’re loaded at work, it’s ok to say ‘no’ when the boss asks if you’ve got time to do that extra report. 

People won’t hate you or judge you, I’ve experienced quite the opposite in fact. People respect you more for it and, more importantly, you’ll respect yourself more for it.

Do not underestimate how important control is. In the midst of an anxiety attack, when you feel like you’re being pulled underwater by your ankles, find the smallest thing that you can to take control over. Find a few things to look at and talk yourself through them. Find a few smells to identify, talk yourself through them. Touch a few things. Talk yourself through them. Piece by piece you will regain more self-esteem and realise that you can control situations. You are at the wheel.

Be realistic

I love lists and if I don’t write them then I have a ‘muddy’ head with things swimming round. They swirl and gather into one big black mass and it feels overwhelming. 

Try writing a list. With a pen and paper (step away from the computer). Lists hit the spot in a couple of different ways for me as I like tangible things, I’m a methodical person and I like the satisfaction of being organised. 

Aim to tick off a couple of things in a day. If you plan on building a pizza oven in your back garden in a day, that isn’t going to work. Be realistic. If the tasks are big, break them down into smaller chunks.

Trust me. Physically ticking boxes feels great.

Exercise

I know, I know. But it helps. It helps a lot. 

Try and be diverse with your exercise and, if possible, pick something that’s you can do as an individual (swim, yoga, relax, walk, run) and something you can do as part of a team (mine are squash and martial arts).

Exercise releases endorphins and endorphins make you feel good about yourself. It gets addictive in a really nice way, but I know that taking that first step can be hard. Try not to sweat and just leap in. Two years ago I couldn’t run from lamppost to lamppost, I was horrendously overweight but I gave it a shot. Three months ago I ran my first 10k. You can do it too!

Sleep

A minimum of seven hours a night. Nine if you can. Honestly.

Eat (well)

A balanced diet can aid with anxiety as it keeps blood sugar stable and provides more energy. More importantly for me, if I’m eating healthily then I don’t have to worry about the guilt that naturally occurs when I’m eating badly.

Get creative

I like to cook, I like to craft, I like woodwork, I like to make things that I can actually touch and hold. My day job doesn’t allow this, so I find this cathartic in my own time. As it turns out, I also enjoy writing. I’m not the best at it, but I enjoy it. 

Educate yourself

I love reading articles on mental health. I love talking to people about it, I love to write about it and I love sharing my story. Why? Every time I do I learn more about myself, what makes me tick, why I am the way I am, and what I can do to help myself.

Resources

M.I.N.D –did you know that MIND offer free courses on Mental Health?

https://www.mind.org.uk/

Time to Change – An extremely resourceful site, packed with stories, strategies and support.

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk

Regional support hubs – I’m based in Middlesbrough, so for me it’s the Livewell Centre.

http://www.livewellcentre.co.uk/

Finally, a shout out to Neil Carter of NDC Training. Neil delivered my Mental Health First Aider training in December and it was the best two days of training I’ve ever had. He has his own company at http://ndctrain.co.uk/ and I can’t recommend him enough. Thinking of getting trained yourself or have a business need for it? He’s your guy.

You

So. did you find this useful or a load of junk? What are your best coping strategies when it comes to dealing with mental health? Sound off in the comments below!