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Fighting fit for World Mental Health Day – top tips by Dr Victoria Mattison

To mark this year’s World Mental Health Day and hot on the heels of our masterclass at the Wellcome Trust, Dr Victoria Mattison, Clinical Psychologist at Islington CAMHS, gives us some top tips for taking care of ourselves and each other in the workplace…

We all have mental health, and our emotional or mental well-being can fluctuate every day. This means that we can all try to take small steps in our everyday lives to look after our well-being. However, there are certain times in our life when we face transitions and changes, which can mean that our mental well-being may be slipping, and we might need to take actions to boost it. For young adults, the start of working life, financial independence and often lots of uncertainty about which path to take, can be incredibly stressful. Add on possible relationship stresses, a difficult boss, and the onset of winter and it’s not surprising that approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.

In fact, in any given week in England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression).

Our narrative about mental health is influenced by our culture, religion, gender and politics. Unfortunately, negative thoughts and judgements about mental health or mental illness can be found across our all communities, cultures and generations. Thoughts and logic are often prioritised over feelings and emotions.

These judgemental messages exist in both our thoughts about others (either consciously or unconsciously) and about ourselves ( ‘I should be strong enough to take care of myself). Thanks to the Royals and other campaigns, there has been some improvement, but there continues to be lots of stigma associated with mental health diagnoses. This stigma can make reaching out for help scary and sometimes feel unsafe.

Young people face an enormous amount of pressure to be successful, to be perfect, to excel. When this pressure builds, we need a reliable outlet and a way to cope. If we haven’t yet learned coping skills, the pressure can become overwhelming. Everyday tasks can become difficult because they become linked to that pressure and this can lead to a cycle of negative thoughts and behaviour patterns.

Research shows that we are more ‘connected’ than ever and at the same time, more isolated. Digital technology, including social media and text messaging, increase dopamine, a chemical in the brain linked to pleasure. On social media, it can be easy to project a happy version of ourselves. This can lead others to think we are fine, as well as increase pressure to feel inauthentic happiness. In essence, the technology that gives us a false sense of connection, gives our brains a pleasure boost, making it hard to turn off phones and connect in person. How do we navigate feeling isolated and negotiate better ways to feel support?

Life is full of potentially stressful events and it is normal to feel anxious about everyday things.

There can be a single trigger or event that raises anxiety levels, but generally it‘ll be a number of things that increase anxiety levels e.g. exams, work deadlines, how we think we look, going on a first date or whether we feel safe travelling home late at night.

Anxiety is one of our natural survival responses. It causes our mind and body to speed up to prepare us to respond to an emergency. But it can lead to physical responses like a rapid and/or irregular heartbeat, fast breathing, weakened or tense muscles, sweating, churning stomach or loose bowels, dizziness and dry mouth. It can also lead to psychological impacts including trouble sleeping, lack of concentration, feeling irritable or depressed and a loss of self-confidence.

Feelings of anxiety can be caused by lots of things and vary according to what you’re worried about and how you act when you feel apprehensive. They depend on lots of things including your genes, how you were brought up, your life experiences and the way you learn and cope with things.

Just knowing what makes you anxious and why can be the first steps to managing anxiety.

Different strategies work for different individuals, but one, some or all of the following may help:

  • Facing your fear
  • Know yourself
  • Relaxation
  • Exercise
  • Healthy eating
  • Avoid alcohol or drink in moderation
  • Faith / spirituality
  • Talking to someone
  • Support groups
  • Mindfulness or guided self-help
  • Medication
  • Deep breathing – which can help to calm us when we are triggered or activated.

If you need help in an emergency there are lots of resources available to you:

  • Anxiety UK run a helpline staffed by volunteers with personal experience of anxiety so you will be speaking with someone who has been there. Call them on 08444 775 774 (Monday – Friday 9.30am – 5.30pm).
  • The NHS 111 service is staffed by a team of fully trained advisers, supported by experienced nurses and paramedics. They will ask you questions to assess your symptoms, then give you the healthcare advice you need or direct you straightaway to the local service that can help you best. That could be A&E, an out-of-hours doctor, an urgent care centre or a walk-in centre, a community nurse, an emergency dentist or a late-opening chemist.
  • The Samaritans have trained volunteers able to listen to you any time of the day or night. They can help you talk through whatever is troubling you, find the answers that are right for you, and offer support. You don’t have to give your real name or any personal information if you don’t want to. Call them on 08457 909090 or email jo@samaritans.org

There are also lots of other great resources on the web:

Your mental health and your physical health go hand in hand and it’s just as important to look after both elements. And don’t forget, you’re not alone.