My mental health journey: 1 year in

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Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

A year ago this month, I decided to start taking my mental health seriously. I’ve always paid close attention to how my body is feeling, I can’t say the same for my mind.

‘Mental health’ is a hot topic at the moment with people more aware than ever about the importance of talking about their feelings. The last 12 months have been about discovery, understanding and acceptance. A lot of which has been really uncomfortable but necessary to move forward and get to a healthier point.

Why?

I began to recognise a growing frustration with certain parts of my life a couple of years ago. This mainly stemmed from work and never feeling settled with what I was doing. This soon spiralled from ‘is this it?’ to feelings of anger and resentment.

I reached a point where destructive and negative feelings had consumed me. They left me a frustrated and angry person. I was caught in a never-ending cycle of overthinking, anxiety and fault-finding, berating myself for things that I had said and done (or not).

I started to look at my feelings in a new light but didn’t have any answers for how to deal with them. My go-to was to suppress, tell myself that I shouldn’t be angry. Partly because I was trying to get myself emotionally back on track but I’d also worry about how people would view me if I expressed these feelings.

I’d use various techniques to calm myself down like breathing slowly and counting to 10. None of it worked long term.

Where to begin?

Internalising things wasn’t getting me anywhere so I decided to do the exact opposite. I started talking. To friends, family, strangers and a professional. This didn’t come naturally and I still cringe a little at the thought of it.

What’s ‘wrong’ with me?

Through a lot of talking, I came to the realisation that I’m carrying this huge sense of self-burden on my shoulders. I have this incessant need to justify my worth, prove to people that I’m good enough. When things are out of my control, I try to fight it.

I’d go into new jobs (and I’ve had a few) with a negative mindset, convincing myself that the only way to prove my worth was to work long hours. No matter what I did, I could always do better. I’d push and push myself and 12 months in, I was burnt out. I had nothing more to give. It was easier to quit than to take a step back and admit weakness.

I wasn’t accepting what was going on around me and how that made me feel. If there was one word in my vocabulary that was most frequently used it was ‘should’. I should work late to catch up, I should be out training, I should not get annoyed when things don’t go my way. This was how I had conditioned myself to demonstrate worth. I wasn’t seeing things for what they were, what I had done and achieved. Instead, I was pushing to reach a level I believed I needed to be at for people to give me recognition.

This isn’t a healthy mindset. I was always going to end up feeling disappointed, frustrated and bitter.

Accepting & Understanding

The main thing I take forward every day is that feelings are totally natural. I had to stop beating myself about how I felt. It was time to take back control (but not like Brexit). I make a conscious effort to accept intense feelings but remind myself that I have the choice of what I do next. Dwelling on situations is sometimes useful but now I know it’s more important to realise that events and emotions have a place….in the past. I try to understand where my thoughts come from and work through them (journalling is a great way to detail how you feel).

Consider the good things

It was also time to appreciate the good things I’ve achieved. It’s so easy to just focus on what’s next in life. Taking time to stop and reflect was an important step. I’d always focus on the ‘bad’ but never the ‘good’. It was time to give myself a break. It didn’t come naturally but I’ve stuck at it and can take some satisfaction from things I’ve achieved.

This is a process

I’m proud of the progress I’ve made over the last year but this is just the beginning, I’m not even 1% there. I feel calmer and more content yet I still have many moments of worry and anxiety. The difference now is that I’m better equipped to identify and accept them and decide what to do next.

Feelings and emotions are a temporary state, you’re always in a state of flux as they come and go. We all crave certainty in our lives but the truth is that we can’t always be in a constant state.

It takes daily work. I set aside time for personal development and it’s often the best time of the week.

I would encourage you to do the same. The first thing you can do is start talking. That’s where it began and I’m amazed most weeks about how I can work through situations that used to seem totally hopeless. If you’re experiencing this, you can do the same, just don’t do it alone.

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**There are some fantastic charities and organisations that can help you take these first few steps:

Mind, Mental Health Charity

Time to Change

Heads Together

NHS — Counselling

Our unhealthy obsession with work

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Photo by Bethany Legg on Unsplash

Mental health is a topic I have started to pay a lot closer attention to.

With work, comes pressure and expectation. Thankfully, these days it’s less about being ‘seen’ to work hard, and more about what you can achieve and how you go about doing that.

In my spare time, I play a small part in helping to run a community for recruiters, called DBR. I was talking to one of my friends in the community recently about the pressures of work and trying to achieve a good work-life balance. Something they said really stuck with me:

I got back from holiday and was like “omg I need to work late every night to make up for going away”

It stuck with me for a couple of reasons 1) I’ve been there myself 2) That level of worry and stress is not good.

So how do we stop work from becoming an unhealthy obsession, even an addiction?

Physical and Mental Health

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Me and my bro shortly after completing the 2014 London Marathon

At the moment, I’m training for the London Marathon. It will be my third London Marathon and my sixth overall. I’ve learnt a heck of a lot about how my body works and my limits, both physically and mentally. When you train too much, you’re tired and injuries soon follow. You’re forced to rest up and recover. You literally don’t have a choice.

 

When it comes to work, it’s not always that easy (or obvious). I’ve been seriously guilty of letting it run my life. Mondays to Fridays were off limits for social events as I’d be totally consumed by wanting to solve every work nag that was on my mind. Whilst 10pm is bedtime for some, I’d still be sat there working myself into a frenzy about what I hadn’t yet done ahead of the next day. It was unhealthy and, frankly, made me really unhappy. I didn’t recognise myself, was short-tempered and generally not a great person to be around.

Then last year, I heard some shocking news about a former colleague. It stopped me in my tracks. I was compelled me to take a closer look at my own mental health. More specifically where I draw the line between work and pleasure. Whilst I’m still quite an obsessive person, I’ve learnt both by myself and through the help of others that taking care of yourself is more important (and leads to better results anyway). It’s taught me that rest and recovery from intensive spells of work are just as important as when training.

How can you strike a balance?

The majority of things you do at work are important but not everything is urgent. When you’re there work hard, really hard but ruthlessly prioritise what actually needs to be now and what can actually wait for the next 12+ hours until you’re back the next day.

Here are a few practical tips to help switch off from work:

  • Snooze Slack notifications
  • Android users — separate ‘Work’ and ‘Personal’ profiles on your phone. (Or if you’re like me, just turn your work phone off when you get home)
  • Set office hours on your calendar so that colleagues know when scheduling meetings

We all have a responsibility to not only talk about our mental health but also to live by what we say, both for ourselves, our colleagues & friends. There will always be occasions when we need to work longer hours or get stressed out — we’re human after all. These, however, should be the exception rather than the norm and I challenge you all to think about how you can make that a reality.

First and foremost, look after yourself and look after each other. If you don’t look after yourself before and during a marathon, you’ll hit what is known as ‘The Wall’. From experience, it’s not a great place to be in.

Why wouldn’t you take work-life balance as seriously?

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I’m running the London Marathon in support of Mind, the mental health charity. If you would like to support this great charity please follow this link to my fundraising page — https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/kristian-bright