how stress can affect your mental health - my journey.
Updated: Mar 9, 2019
Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 (14-20 May)
By Suki, Founder of I AM WOMAN
This week it is Mental Health Awareness Week: the focus being stress. Stress can lead to physical problems, chronic illness, anxiety, depression and in some cases death by suicide.
Studies reported by the Mental Health Foundation show that In the past year, 74% of people have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope (https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/stress).
As someone who has suffered at the hands of stress I know first hand of the repercussions. Many people suffer in silence and I’m hoping that by opening up and sharing my story it may help others. Gulp, here goes…
After nearly 15 years of long-term stress in a top sales career, I opted out. With a dream of living a life that didn’t impact my mental, emotional and physical health, I am slowly getting there but it was not without a harsh wake-up call that resulted in my first episode of severe depression.
There are so many factors outside of work that also contributed to my stress. I guess you could blame my background for one. I come from a culture that does not believe in failure, this had stayed with me for most of my 20s and early 30s, resulting in a very lucrative career but also constant pressure on myself. The pressure I put on myself was damning, constant tough talk of having to do better, whatever I achieved was never good enough, I was always looking for the next bounty and taking a break gave me the biggest fear of missing out.
There was always something that I had to achieve, a social event I had to go to, a gym class I had to slay. But I never slowed down and took time out for ME. Weirdly, whilst my life was going so well, the positive events in my life were also creating long-term stress for me as I was in a constant fight or flight mode. When you are constantly challenging yourself and looking for the next big thing to achieve you put your emotional and physical body under so much strain... if you don’t take a break from it. Over a long period of time it eventually it starts breaking down.
So shit got a bit real, I had been through some big life changes and had never taken a break. My career had always been my safety blanket so if anything ever went wrong in my personal life I would put even more work into my career. I ignored all the signs of fatigue, stress, anxiety and physical illness and put it down to living what I thought was this super successful and thriving life. But over time, my behaviour started changing, I was getting dehabilitating headaches and my emotional health was deteriorating. I hid it well from colleagues and family and blamed it on my career but I knew deep down there was something else that was contributing to my ill health.
I made a tough decision to leave my successful career after two years of turmoil to go travelling and it was then that all the feelings I had kept in started to unravel - and my depression took full form. Unable to speak to anyone for fear of being judged I kept it in for a further six months until my sister intervened.
And now I’m trying to make changes to make sure I don’t end up in that place again. Don’t get me wrong, I work best under pressure which is when I do feel stressed, short bursts though, you know the ones where you have a deadline and once completed you feel like you’ve achieved something great and a job well done, until the next time that is.
I mean I have put the biggest stress on myself recently by launching my own company but the difference this time round is I can spot the warning signs and take a break when it is getting too much. I don’t feel guilty if I take a few days off for self care, we all need recovery and in fact it makes us more productive. Let’s face it, without your mental health there is nothing, as I discovered.
The biggest lesson I have learned is that we owe it to ourselves to slow down, take a moment and self care. It will make us more productive too and we will be better people all-round.
In hindsight, I wished I had slowed down earlier over the last 15 years, decided to have a break, maybe I wouldn’t have crashed and burned like I did. My depression was the cause of years and years of putting myself under pressure, but I also understand that it was something quite dramatic that needed to happen in order for me to wake up and realise I couldn’t live like this any longer. I am a better person for it and I hope sharing my journey will help others too.
If you’re an employer, I would ask you to think about the wellbeing of your employees as a priority. We live in a digital world where work is available 24/7, encourage your employees to take a break, if employees need a day off to focus on their mental health make it readily available. In turn, your workforce will be more creative, productive and thrive.
Take a minute to ask someone if they are ok, I was lucky that after six months of suffering on my own, my sister helped me find my voice. And for anyone reading this that is suffering please reach out to someone, anyone. You are not alone and you can get through this, I did.
If you need to speak to someone there is a list of organisations her https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/what-are-mental-health-problems/mental-health-help-you/other-useful-organisations or you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Big Love, Suki xx