I can’t believe a year has passed since I wrote my first blog discussing my challenges with anxiety – time flies. But Mental Health Awareness Week is here again, and again, I’m inspired to write on the topic. This blog isn’t going to provide 10 top tips on coping, and it won’t change your life. However, I hope it will help you realise that you’re not alone, and the more we talk about mental illness and mental health we remove the stigma associated with it.
To bring you up to speed… I suffer with anxiety, its sporadic, I can have good months and bad months. It can keep me up at night, distract me for hours, make me think I’m at deaths door and then… a few hours later… I’ll be fine.
Anxiety can be brought on by a variety of things, ranging from past or childhood experiences, current life situation, physical or mental health problems, drugs, and alcohol (to name just a few). I can’t speak to all of them, sure I experience pressure, I like to say yes to everything. However, I think mine stems from my concerns about getting older, and fundamentally, health or rather a feeling that I’m unhealthy.
We live in a world where we are constantly being told that we need to sleep more, exercise more, eat better, weigh less, drink less and that all of these things are vital to avoiding Alzheimer’s, Cancer, Heart Disease – so if you don’t do them… you only have yourself to blame. That increased awareness of what causes disease and how to spot the signs that you have a disease, is great, however, if you’re not ticking all the boxes, it can also be a problem.
What am I doing about it, I hear you ask… well that’s a good question! Probably not as much as I should, I’m definitely failing to be at my desk less and sleep more. However, I am trying to exercise more, which really does help (it’s the #1 thing that every top tip list you’ll ever read will suggest), I’m getting better at reframing my thoughts, ignoring my brain, and eating better. It’s easier now we don’t have the pandemic, but I know I can do better.
The ISTAART / UCL survey of Early Career Dementia Researchers asked about Mental Health – 57% of people who responded said they had experienced Mental Health problems, with Anxiety, Depression and Loneliness being the biggest challenge. Sadly, only 37% said their employers / institutions were helpful, which is terrible when you consider that the same people reported that it impacted their effectiveness at work, confidence, motivation and how they interacted with co-workers and supervisors.
The take-away message from all this… you are not alone… that might not be much comfort, but I do hope that it demonstrates that you can talk about your problems and talking is ALWAYS good. Don’t feel you have to suffer in silence.
It might feel scary to think about sharing with friend, loved one or co-worker and yes, stigma does still exist, conscious or unconscious – but I hope they’ll surprise you.
I’ll finish this blog with an anecdote. I bumped into a neighbour a few weeks ago, we don’t usually talk beyond saying good morning. They commented on seeing me running, and I replied “Sorry you have to see my knees, for the past year, I’ve struggled on and off with anxiety. I’ve found ways to manage it effectively, and right now it’s under control. But exercise helps” – this opened up a 30-minute discussion, and I found he has the same problem, in fact, we were probably both awake at night with the same problem – we’d never spoken for more than 5 minutes previously.
If you’re struggling, you can always message me, my DM’s are open.
Adam Smith was born in the north, a long time ago. He wanted to write books, but ended up working in the NHS, and at the Department of Health. He is now Programme Director at University College London (which probably sounds more important than it is – his words). He has led a number of initiatives to improve dementia research (including this website, Join Dementia Research & ENRICH), as well as pursuing his own research interests. In his spare time, he grows vegetables, builds Lego, likes rockets & spends most of his time drinking too much coffee and squeezing technology into his house.