“Mr Happy”. I bet many people make this assessment of me when they meet me. And I am generally a happy person. But I can also be anxious and this makes me grumpy and hard to handle around my closest and most precious ones. For me, being happy has, and continues, to take training. It takes investment in caring more about my mental health and in loving myself more.
So, as somebody who has needed to work on my mental health for some time now, I wanted to share the ways that I have learned to cope – the things that I keep telling myself not to forget, as they help me massively:
1. Speak to a professional. It is likely you would see a doctor if you had a physical problem affecting your daily life, and so you should do the same for your mental health. It took me a while to realise this and seek help. And when I did, it became clear that I could have halved the suffering I had experienced had I known how much support was available. First thing’s first: you should understand what is out there. There are so many options – from counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to mindfulness meditation and more. Take a look and see what’s right for you – these therapies, firstly, helped me massively to understand my problems and then provided me with the tools to start focusing on my mental health.
2. Speak to the people around you. Talk about your struggles and tell your story. I would never have imagined how many people around me were struggling with mental health issues in one way or another. But by sharing my problems with others, and them sharing with me, I no longer felt alone and isolated. There are so many of us who are struggling and I believe that we need to have each other’s backs. And not only that – I have also learned that I need to educate others around me about my mental health problems in order for them to support me – as well as educate myself about their problems to support them appropriately. This hugely changed the way I communicate my problems and therefore the support I receive back.
3. Love yourself and forgive yourself– just like you would do for someone else. I can easily forgive others for things that have upset me, but so often I struggle to forgive myself. So, because I aim to treat everyone equally, I have learned that I do deserve to be forgiven by myself and that’s something I need to always remind myself – and it takes practice too!
4. “Seeing is deceiving”. Believing my own negative views of the situations I faced was a critical aspect, which led to unnecessary worrying and unpleasant thinking. For example, I used to assume that somebody didn’t like me because they expressed themselves in a way that I was not used to. Instead of seeing that they were different from me, I would think I was unlikeable. This made me incredibly shy and anxious when I was around them. However, I have learned that it was just my own mind telling me they disliked me, rather than that being the reality. I now try to make fewer assumptions. By digging deeper and questioning my thoughts, as well as understanding that my initial responses can be misleading, I am able to see things differently and more positively.
My conclusion: it takes time… but we can help ourselves. My mental health is still a work in progress, but my anxiety is now far more limited and controlled than in the past. And now I know what to do to be on the top of it. You can’t jump straight from feeling 20% to feeling 100% right away. However, even achieving 70% of my goal and not giving up my work to improve it, makes me an even happier, less anxious person – and capable of sharing more of my beautiful smile!