Tag Archives: anxiety

Are you your own worst enemy?

Looking back over your life, what do you see? Do you find yourself in similar positions over and over? Do you find yourself thinking “oh, here we go again!”? Do you wonder why people seem to treat you badly? Do you repeat the same behaviours time and again?

I like to work hard, I’m not one to ask for praise or seek promotion, I’m a grafter, I take on jobs other people don’t like, I just put my head down and get on with it – I think these are fairly acceptable characteristics. Unfortunately, on multiple occasions in the past, I’ve found myself in a difficult position where I’m not respected, my need are disregarded and I’m not able to stand up for myself and say that I feel my good nature is being taken advantage of. I struggle to be assertive, this is my responsibility and something I need to continue working on.

Common “self-sabotaging” life-styles include people who frequently end up with abusive partners. This blog is not about self blame. Self-blame is also a common way we can be our own worst enemy, are you someone who doesn’t even listen to what went wrong, you’re very quick to jump in with “yes, yes, it’s always my fault…”? Self deprecating habitual language crushes your self esteem in a self perpetuating cycle. What happened might have nothing to do with you but you’re so caught up in blaming yourself you don’t learn! (No, that’s not another thing to blame yourself for!)

Disclaimer: Since I am a counselling student blog writer with life experience, not a psychologist, this is purely a short reflection that might help people see some unhelpful behaviours in themselves that they could think about changing for the better, nothing more, nothing less.

Maladaptive schemas are core behaviours or patterns of behaviour that we use repeatedly throughout our lives. Schema modes are emotional states that are triggered by bad memories or disturbing, offensive or upsetting life situations. More detail on schema modes can be found here.

When something bad happens is your immediate reaction to feel angry/annoyed, scared/anxious or empowered? Of course, it will depend on the situation, each of us will have different “triggers”.

Something I really struggle with is having responsibility for something that, I perceive, could go wrong. This triggers anxiety in me that’s off the chart because it reminds me of times when I had people’s lives in my hands. As a doctor, managing a crash response (just because you happened to turn up first) means thinking quickly, making life saving decisions and being assertive while reacting to a changing situation. As a junior doctor, you’re doing this with very limited knowledge or experience.

How do you cope with change? Not many people say “oh, I love it!” Some do, but not many! Some people are able to embrace it and see the positives while others will fight to the death to keep things as they were. The latter will claim “why fix what ait broke?” Or “it’s always been done this way” or “it’s fine as it is”, without realising that there are good reasons to upgrade or modernise an old system.

Most of us can accept that some changes are necessary but we’ll all struggle. Do you manage the change by keeping quiet and just doing your best even though you’re struggling? Do you seek approval for how well you’re coping? Or do you take your struggles out on people? Do you feel out of control and seek control in other forms (food, alcohol, exercise, keeping busy)? How do you ask for support? What do you do if that support isn’t forthcoming? Do you blame others or blame yourself?

How do you cope with conflict? Do you prefer to brush it under the carpet? If you can’t see its not really there, right?! Or do you like a blazing row where you say all sorts of things you wouldn’t normally say and stuff the consequences? Best to get it all out even if you say things you don’t mean, right?!

Are you someone who tolerates bad treatment without expressing what you need? Or do you prefer to dominate a conversation so that you always get what you need, no matter what? Do you criticise the other person? Do you prefer to disconnect when over-whelmed?

If the managing change or conflict makes you feel particularly emotionally (one way or another), this is what’s called a “trigger”. We’re all coping with a lot of change at the moment (understatement) so it’s a good time to try something new! Remember that you’ve got a scared/vulnerable, angry/frustrated and/or impulsive child inside you that needs nurturing.

We will all have different things that trigger repeated behaviours so think back over your life, what it is that locks you into similar patterns? Do you seek validation? Are you fearful of responsibility? Do you need control? All sorts of things can trigger bad memories – working it out is step one of being able to stop yourself running down the same path over and over.

A health adult will nurture and validate their inner vulnerable child but set limits for an impulsive or angry child. If you’re insightful and you catch yourself saying “here we go again”, you don’t have to continue down the same street; you can slow down, pause, take a slight look left or right to see if you could do things differently. Sometimes it’s just a case of taking a deep breath and saying to ourselves, “I’m going to try and handle this differently…” before you act.

Covid-19 sweeping the globe has far reaching impacts much greater than the virus itself. Spending more time with some people and less time with others may have brought about deeper connections or volatile clashes. None of us survive in isolation; are you managing to connect using technology? What coping mechanisms are you using, be honest with yourself – are they working?

It’s not always easy to see how our behaviour is affecting ourselves and those around us – we might not even be able to see that we’re making repeated mistakes! Of course, I’m going to advocate counselling or therapy – as Plato put it “A life unexamined is not worth living.” A therapist is not there to fix things for you but they provide the space and may help you see things from a different perspective.

My various health conditions are meaning I’m feeling incredibly vulnerable at the moment. I panicked yesterday because I missed a phone call and I catastrophised (yes, that’s a word!) that all sorts of terrible things were going to happen. 25 minutes of anxiety ensued as I tried to sort things out. If (at the point I realised I’d missed the phone call) I’d taken a couple of deep breaths, grounded myself, taken 2-3 minutes to write down my course of action and realise the worst was not going to happen (and if it did, I would cope with it), I wouldn’t have had to manage 25 minutes of raging anxiety.

An important message:

I’ll just pop back to an opening comment regarding self-blame and guilt. I’m aware this blog is read by a lot of people coping with mental health conditions and (as a rash generalisation) self-blame and guilt are familiar feelings for the likes of us!

“Oh, I always do this, why am I such a(n) *****?” (Insert your preferred derogatory term.) It feeds the belief that we are useless/terrible/hopeless and will perpetuate the cycle and we will continue behaving in the same way. If, however, we halt this thought with “I made a mistake, I can do better” we’re giving ourselves a way out of the cycle. If it was just a mistake then I am not a failure, maybe I could do better next time – leads to you doing better next time.

Be kind to yourself!

Woman looking out the window calmly

Should we be normalising mental illness?

Awareness around mental illness is certainly getting better, reducing stigma and discrimination is important but are we doing the general population a disservice?

1 in 4 mental health awareness. 4 silhouettes, 3 are blue and 1 is has words such as “there’s too much to do” and “why does it always happen to me?”

The figure is 1 in 4 people will suffer with a mental illness at some point in their lives. There are also statistics out there about how many anti-depressants are prescribed each year or the number of sick days mental illness costs companies. Some say “mental illness is on the rise”, perhaps due to the state of our economy, social media or life stresses from other sources.

But, perhaps we need to stop and think. Not coping is different from mental illness.

Talking recently to someone working in Child and Adolscent Mental Health, she said she is seeing a rise in children being referred to her service but this is not due to a rise in mental illness, she is seeing a rise in children not coping and a decrease in resilience.

This seems to be the same across all sector of the population.

The phrase “panic attack” has become synonymous with feeling anxious. Now, I do not want to diminish anyone’s anxiety but if you’re stood in a queue in the supermarket “having a panic attack” but you “kept it in” – you did not have a panic attack. You may have experienced extreme anxiety, and I’m not saying that is ok, you may need to learn some techniques to manage feeling anxious but please do not use a medical phrase for a normal emotion.

An outline head and shoulders with thought bubbles saying, “worry”, “anxiety”, “fear”, “tension” and “panic”.

The language around mental illness is diffciult because they’re standard English words. You can feel depressed without being diagnosed with depression, you can feel paranoid without suffering panaroia (a symptom of mental illness), you can feel anxious without having a diagnosis of anxiety. By raising awareness, we’re making all these words more accessible and they’re falling into common use. But bandying medical words around in common parlance diminishes their meaning in the context of illness.

If you suffer severe fluctuations in emotions that feel uncomfortable, please do talk to someone, you are allowed support, I do not want to take that away from you. After all, apparently Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living”. You do not have to be ill to access support, explore yourself and your life and to develop better coping strategies. Nor do you need to justify your struggles by using medical terminology.

I started training to be a counsellor because I want to help people diagnosed with mental illness but the more I learn, the more I see how incredibly helpful it can be for people who’re struggling with life’s ups and downs. It’s ok to seek counselling or other support when things just don’t feel right.

Words on a rainy back ground, “it is perfectly okay to admit you’re not okay”

It’s great that people are getting more comfortable in talking about their emotions but we need to be able to differentiate between people who’re struggling and people who’re ill. It’s ok to say “I’m having a bit of a tough time” or “I’m not feeling so great today” – the #hashtag #itsoknottobeok is falling into common use and this is helpful for everyone’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

If you’d sprained your ankle, you wouldn’t say you’d fractured it, put it in a cast and use crutches would you? A sprained ankle needs appropriate support. If I had a sprained ankle but I acted as though it was broken and treated it as such, i.e. immobilised it etc, it would get worse, not better.

By normalising mental illness and by normalising the language, we risk normal struggles being treated as illness. Since recovering from mental illness, I’m not immune from normal life struggles but I’m acutely aware they are just that.

By raising awareness of mental illness, we need to be careful we don’t label all emotional struggles as “illness”. We need to make sure we’re also raising awareness of the differences between illness and not coping.

Quote “The unexamined life is not worth living” accredited to Socrates. On a black and White Sea scape background

World Mental Health Day: Young people in a changing world

Young people today face very different pressures to the ones I experienced. I cannot say whether it is better or worse to be a teen these days without experiencing them both first hand. I think the biggest difference is technology and it’s having a great impact on everyone, not just our young people.
It’s social media in particular that has revolutionised the way we interact with each other and the world at large. I can barely keep up with the number of platforms from Facebook and Twitter to LinkedIn and Aloqa to various online dating sites! My grandmother, bless her, even tried to “Facemail” me the other day, I’m assuming that was a mistake, not another networking platform!

YouTube wasn’t even a thing as I grew up, now we have someone whose identity is as a ‘YouTuber’ appearing as a ‘celebrity’ on Strictly Come Dancing (I think he’s amazing and might actually win!)

Anyone in the public eye and how the media portray them, influence young people as they grapple with issues such as identity, morals, ethics and personal boundaries. If you want to be successful and ‘liked’ there is a certain body shape we should have, a certain way to dress and a specific way to talk and behave – most of this for the average Jo is unobtainable. While these ‘ideals’ have always been there, perhaps with a different emphasis, they are now more accessible and almost invade our lives in a way never experienced before.

The speed of technological change is such that instead of us designing technology to meet a particular need, technological advances are now telling us what we need! As a young person, growing up, never did I think “I wish I had a device in my pocket that alerted me the minute a [insert reality TV star] goes up or down a dress size”!

Questioning the amount of screen time a young person should or shouldn’t have is just the tip of the iceberg. How their real relationships are impacted by their virtual relationships is complicated.

Technology has advanced before we’ve decided what we want and, as with any change, it’s open to abuse. Social media is great at enabling us to make positive connections, it’s also there if people want to make negative connection such as cyber-bullying and trolling.

Cyber-bullying has been named as a key factor in young people dying by suicide. Being bullied at school is bad enough, but when it flows beyond the school gates and into the private space of the individual, being told “you’re different and that’s a problem” would take its toll on anyone, there is no escape. People are trying to develop tech to tackle this problem, to support young people when they’re targeted but as one solution is found, a different problem will occur, we’re running to keep up!

Rates of self harm, depression, anxiety and eating disorders in young people are all on the rise – this is very worrying and mental health services are not able to keep up with demand. The government target is for any young person presenting with mental health symptoms to be seen within 4 weeks, this target just isn’t being met. Listen to BBC Radio Berkshire on Monday at 7am for more on this!

I did, however, have a very positive experience with social media while on the road to recovery. Berkshire Eating Disorders Service piloted a Support, Hope and Recovery Online Network (SHaRON) – an internet based forum for people suffering with eating disorders and their affected family members. Anonymous online support could never replace the important face-to-face therapy necessary to re-build a life destroyed by illness. However, the forum was very well designed and I would not have managed the multiple challenges I faced during recovery, if I hadn’t had the incredible support I received from fellow sufferers and professionals day and night at the touch of a button.

Young people these days do not have an easy job navigating changes as they happen. We all have a responsibility to support each other.