What do you do when your mental health has always been fine, but then suddenly it isn't? That's something I've been struggling with recently. A whole combination of situations came together, resulting in anxiety - something I had never experienced before. It completely threw me.
Mental health issues can happen at any time of your life, for reasons that are obvious or perhaps not. And knowing what has caused them is often only part of the battle. So what can we do to try to stay afloat?
Talk to your family, your friends, your significant other. Talk to a professional. Don't keep your struggles to yourself. Not enough people talk about their mental health, which can make you think that others aren't struggling. Even if a friend hasn't been through what you are going through, they will want to understand. They may not be able to help you, but they might have some good advice. Even just being able to share your burden will help. Plus, you may encourage others to open up more about their own issues, in turn helping them.
Don't be afraid to let somebody at work know that you are having a hard time. Speak to HR or your manager, especially if you feel like you need to reduce your hours or take some time away from the office. The likelihood is that they will be more than accommodating.
Talking to a counsellor can help. Having an objective outsider to listen, without judgement, can be invaluable. If you need to take things further, don't be scared to talk to your GP and seek further treatment, whether that be something like CBT or medication. If you don't feel comfortable speaking to a doctor, you can refer yourself for mental health treatments via IAPT (see link at the bottom of the page).
As well as talking, try writing things down. It may help you process situations or feelings, and you may feel lighter getting things out of your head and down onto paper.
Finding time to relax and unwind
Doodling, colouring, baking, knitting, reading a good book...stepping away from the screen and doing something that occupies your mind or your hands can be a really good distraction. Instead of scrolling through Instagram before bed, wind down with some meditation to help you sleep. There are lots of short guided meditations online which can be useful if you find you are easily distracted. Try to focus on your breathing so that your mind has less chance to wander to other things.
Look after your physical health to help your mental health
The brain is a funny old thing. It blows my mind that your brain can make you feel physical pain which isn't really there, and that your physical state can have such an effect on your mental health. The two are very much interlinked, so it's important to look after them equally.
Something I've found that really marries mental and physical wellbeing is yoga. I've recently started going to yoga classes and am loving it. You definitely don't have to be really bendy. I like it because it's an hour where I don't think about anything else. I'm either concentrating on the pose that I'm trying to hold, or relaxing and listening to the soothing voice of the instructor during shavasana. There are some really good online yoga videos too - I like Yoga With Adrienne, Cat Meffan and Shona Vertue on YouTube.
Also, don't forget to keep moving and get out in the fresh air. Watch the sun rise or set. Go to the beach and see the waves. Look up at the stars and feel tiny. Sometimes looking at the bigger picture of nature is just what you need to put things into perspective.
Embrace being a hippy
Essential oils, crystals, herbal teas...if you find it helps, go with it. Even if there's no science behind it, sometimes just the practice is soothing. Holding a smooth crystal or stone while you meditate, taking ten minutes to yourself with a cup of tea, putting lavender oil on your pillow before bed. If it makes you feel better, that's all that matters.
Accept that it's a journey
As frustrating as it is, you won't suddenly be fine again. Some days can be better than others. Occasionally, you might hit a low again after a while of feeling better. Try to feel grateful for the good days, and when the bad days hit, remind yourself that they won't last forever. Use the tools that you learn to bring yourself back - concentrate on taking each day as it comes, and feeling calmer a day at a time.
And perhaps most importantly:
Be kind to yourself
Don't judge yourself harshly if you are struggling, and don't be ashamed to admit you need help. Take the time for yourself that you need to get through it, even if some days that's just getting an early night. Find gratitude in the small things, and trust that in time you are going to be ok.
Cruse Bereavement Care - https://www.cruse.org.uk/
Samaritans - https://www.samaritans.org/
IAPT - https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/find-a-psychological-therapies-service/
Notes on a Nervous Planet - Matt Haig [book]
Happy Place - Fearne Cotton [podcast]