Some thoughts on anxiety, emotional health and the importance of gratitude

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?

Have a little stretch maybe, check to see how many people have liked that picture of some wisteria that you posted on Instagram just before bed, get up and make a cup of tea – all totally normal things to do, but all things we take for granted.

Generally I would say that I’m a very optimistic, motivated kind of person. You have to be I think to run your own business – you need to be on the ball and prepared to manage your time well, to keep yourself going no matter what. But there have also been periods in my life when I’ve not felt so great.

About three years ago I went through a particularly difficult time. I’d had a relationship break down, work was very busy and I had just moved house, to a new town. I started experiencing horrible anxiety, which I’d never had before. I’ve had short periods of being depressed, but the anxiety was new and I did NOT like it. For several months even doing the most basic of things felt really scary.

I would wake up every morning really early – at about 5am – and immediately feel terrified. I didn’t really know what OF, but I could feel the adrenaline pumping and over and over in my head I was saying ‘I don’t know what to do, how will I cope? I can’t cope.’ I’m sure this is more common for a lot of people than we like to believe, but I think the fact that it was so out of character for me made it worse – I had no coping mechanisms and no idea of what to do to make myself feel better, or even if I ever WOULD feel better.

I remember one morning lying in bed, crying, thinking I would go downstairs to make a cup of tea. That’s a simple enough thing to do isn’t it? Except it wasn’t. I managed to get to the kitchen and switch on the kettle, but I couldn’t stop crying and just couldn’t see how I would be able to make the cup of tea without something terrible happening. Because something terrible WAS going to happen, I was sure. Looking back I can’t even quite describe it – it seems such a simple thing not to be able to do – and yet I just couldn’t. I went back upstairs, still crying. I couldn’t even make a cup of tea. What was I going to do? How would I ever be able to work?

Just BEING felt overwhelming.

The thing about depression and anxiety is that the road to recovery takes effort, and perseverance, and often a lot of time. One of the things I found most helpful was talking to a therapist. They didn’t have a miracle cure, but they helped me to understand that that was okay – just because I couldn’t fix myself overnight didn’t mean that I would never feel better. They gave me practical techniques to to help manage feelings in the moment, which I found really useful.

All of this is why you simply cannot afford NOT to take care of your mental health.

Although it’s true that to some extent we can’t control when depression or anxiety might strike, there are things we can do to help keep ourselves as emotionally well as possible. We can establish healthy habits, like eating well and getting plenty of exercise. We can make the effort to nurture relationships with others, so that we feel grounded and connected with our communities. We can get outside and explore, taking time to look around us and appreciate the beauty of nature, (as cheesy as that may sound.)

For me, it’s also about gratitude, and in a way I’m grateful to have had experienced these difficult periods, as it makes me appreciate life even more. Now when I wake up in the morning and trot off downstairs to make a cup of tea, I do it at the same time as remembering that day when I couldn’t. Making a cup of tea is a small thing, but I will never take it for granted again.

We should also think about the link between physical and mental health, and tune in to the signs that might be our body trying to tell us that we need to take care of ourselves. Do you ever notice those warning signs but brush them off? Maybe you’re not sleeping as well as normal, or your skin is flaring up. Perhaps you’re experiencing tummy troubles or headaches. Everything is connected, and these little physical symptoms are often our body’s way of telling us we need to slow down.

Even something as simple as having a regular health check could make all the difference, helping to flag potential issues and identifying ways in which you could improve both your physical and emotional wellbeing. Bupa offer a range of pay as you go health assessments for example, where you don’t need to have Bupa health insurance, but can just book a one off session to help you get a snapshot of your current health.

In fact, Bupa has recently conducted a study to examine our attitudes to health and how it effects our day to day lives. The results are certainly thought provoking.

According to the survey, we simply don’t think about our health as a factor that determines our ability to enjoy everyday life. Two thirds of us admit that we take our everyday health for granted and although we cite socialising with friends and family, having a shower or bath comfortably and driving a car as the top three things we’d miss if we could no longer do them, only a minority of us make the link between good health and being able to enjoy these simple activities.

Instead we obsess over superficial stuff, driven by that ‘grass is greener’ culture. ‘I’ll be happy once I make more money, I’ll be happy once I’ve lost a stone…’ We live for the future, taking for granted the fact that we are healthy and well RIGHT NOW.

Being well isn’t just about not having a life threatening illness. Our general physical and emotional health is what helps us to achieve professional success, nurture happy relationships, and feel confident in our day to day lives. We need to take care of it and value it.

On the back of the study, Bupa has launched a campaign to help us appreciate these simple things – the stuff we can do and enjoy because we’re well. Bupa would like us to take time out to cherish these everyday moments, whether it’s enjoying a coffee in the park, going for a walk with a friend, or nailing a presentation at work.

My everyday moments are always simple things. I like pottering around the house watering my plants and watching them grow. I like taking a cup of coffee outside and feeling the breeze on my face and smelling all those outdoor smells. I enjoy being in my office and feeling confident and in control of my work. I like stroking my kittens. I like being able simply to get up and make a cup of tea and not feel scared.

What are your everyday moments? What are those little things that make you grateful for feeling well? Do leave a comment, or even better, share your thoughts and pictures online – just use #everydaymoments to tag your posts and to search other people’s too.

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2 Comments

  1. Alice
    Twitter:
    9 November, 2017 / 12:51 pm

    This is a really powerful post, Jo, and has definitely given me some food for thought.

    Ax

  2. 9 November, 2017 / 1:16 pm

    As a working mum of a two year old, sleep deprived and juggling more balls than anyone safely should, I know the importance of keeping stress to a minimum and being thankful for the small things. It’s important for my mental health, not least because I’m a typical A type which has caused me to go through a number of tricky patches in the past where I take too much on or focus on delivering “the stuff” and not the quality of life. Having a child changed a lot of that for me but it is also a unique type of pressure. You often don’t sleep properly (if at all), you have a small person with few language skills depending on you for everything practically and emotionally, and there are times when a meal constitutes a pack of Maltesers and a slice of toast. Increasingly I notice that when I’m physically at a low ebb, my patience and sense of perspective falter. Likewise, when I’m stressed I don’t sleep and become focussed on things which don’t really matter. Initiatives to help people get a balance in their life and prioritise their mental health is so important, particularly for parents who are under so much pressure to be all things to all men but not necessarily anything to themselves. Now I try to use my A type qualities for the greater good – plan meals in advance for example. – so I can have some time to go out for a walk or sit and read a book when little one is napping. Washing and overtime can wait.

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