Normalising mental health

Posted by Christina Zipperlen on

Post-pandemic, the ongoing energy crisis, civil wars, economical crisis, inflation, abortion rights and so much more – the world we live in is undoubtedly not an easy place. Maybe it never has been. Yet, our realities are informed differently than many decades ago.

We are living in times where a shaken up nervous system has become more of the norm than a regulated, calm one. We live from these places without ever really questioning them anymore. We have grown so accustomed to reactiveness, nervousness, emotional charges.

Negative feelings are to be expected with all that is happening in the world, however, it is important to distinguish between ‘the usual average’ mental strain and conditions that potentially need professional treatment.

Everyone has some level of anxiety. We constantly find ourselves dealing with fear, anxiety, anger and restlessness that grounds in the not knowing of what could be potentially next that life will be throwing at us. And that is only the external agenda. Within the context of our current world we also get to meet our personal battles, our wins and our losses – and most of it happens in the shortest amount of time or even simultaneously.

The question is: How can we know when to seek help?

What is mental health?

October 10 is Mental Health Awareness Day – a day that is dedicated to clearing the stigma and taboos around mental health.

Mental health encompasses our emotions, thoughts and mental well-being. When someone has a mental health disorder, it can have an effect on their thoughts and behaviour.

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) “mental health and mental illness are not the same,”

“A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, someone with a mental health disorder can experience “physical, mental and social well-being". Mental health disorders include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and more."

Normalising mental health issues

Every year on October 10th the conversation around mental health is being lifted onto a public agenda to fight stigma and expectations around mental health, to sensitize and inform how to deal with loved ones that are struggeling, or if one struggles him/herself.

In one way or another, we all are exposed to the fact that we need our own nervous systems or the one of loved ones surrounding us to be in a more regulated state.

While certain techniques and practices, such as a range of spiritual practices, yoga and meditation are wonderful self-help tools that can be performed and executed at home, alone or together, the question when to seek professional health always remains.

Mental health support comes in many layers and shapes. Some problems don’t even occur as such. It can be tricky to tell whether your feelings are simply a response to the ups and downs of life or grounded in a more serious issue.

Signs to seek professional help

1. Stress is too much too handle and feels overbearing

Stress is a relatively normal biological response to what your brain perceives as a threatening or difficult situation. That is per se not necessarily dangerous, for we need to drink when we are thirsty or rest when we lack in sleep. It is a part of life.

However, a prolonged state of stress can lead to the occurrence of physical health problems and weaken our immune systems. Our bodies are usually the first to tell us that something is off and that it is time to slow down. If stress overtakes your life, it’s time to slow down.

2. Anxiety feels debilitating

Anxiety can express itself through an increased heart-rate, feelings of nervousness and pacing, breathing difficulties and is an experience that can occur as a result of a tense or stressful incident.

When anxiety has manifested itself as constant worry, to a degree that it doesn’t allow one to function anymore, it is time to seek professional help.

3. A depressed state feels normal

Depression is a state that weighs us down in such way that it impacts our ability to function. Depression may look like insomnia, fatigue, social withdrawal, weight changes, pain, feelings of sadness, guilt and loss of joy & pleasure. It is advised to seek professional health to determine whether these are signs of a clinical depression.

4. Disproportionate amount of rage or anger

Everyone feels anger at times. Or rage. There is nothing wrong with that. However, seeking support if these feelings don't ease and maybe cause potential violent or harmful action is recommended. 

5. Panic attacks

If there are signs that you are unable to leave the house, because anxiety and/or a panic attack may come up, it might be a good idea to seek help and look behind what is potentially causing this. 

*These signs are not concluded, nor are we mental health practitioners that can make final recommendations and judgements on any personal situation.


Layers of support

Overcoming mental health is not a linear path. There are many layers to it, tools, ways, techniques that might work one time and won’t work another time.

However, it is always helpful to begin with a few little things:

    • Spiritual practices, such as meditation, pranayama or yoga asana have proven to increase resilience, sensitivity and to remove judgement and harshness from your being
  • Get closer to nature: Nature has a calming effect on our entire systems. Going to nature is in parts a return to self, since we are inherently nature.
  • Keep moving: looking after ourselves with the help of movement (that can be sport, gardening, dancing, cycling, walking the dog, cleaning or going to the gym) helps us to improve our mental health. It allows for energy to move through, to improve sleep, it is team building, increases self-awareness. Physical movement releases “feel good” hormones that increase our overall wellbeing.
  • Talking kindly to yourself can change the entire narrative. Try repeating something positive about yourself every day. Make these words an affirmation or a mantra to live by.
  • Cultivate a healthy sleep routine: sleep makes a great difference in our bodies, minds and ability to cope with life. We need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. You can develop a good routine by minimising screen time, creating a wind down routine with teas, music and maybe a bath, and by going to bed around the same time every day.
  • Be curious and open-minded towards new experiences: we can easily get stuck in a rut or autopilot or familiar thinking patterns that are detrimental to our overall well-being. Life can feel a lot more interesting, lively and rewarding when we are open to trying new experiences. It can be as simple as changing up what you are having for breakfast or where you walk your dog.
  • Look to the future and plan something for yourself: if life throws lemons at us it is sometimes hard to see the part on how to make lemonade. Making plans for things we enjoy can increase our sense of hope which is crucial for our mental health. Whether it is small or big, the important thing is to plan!

These tools can work as supportive measurements in times of trial and hardship. However, if you are dealing with stronger symptoms of depression and anxiety it can help to go one layer deeper and seek professional health including or excluding medication. There is particularly a stigma around antidepressants ('taking a pill to fix things', 'they are addictive') – however, without taking it to the extreme medication has proven to support that one who struggles a lot can at least find their way back onto their feet in order to take on the world one step at a time to get better. 

Check in with your friends

Mental health is a big topic in today's world and we are never alone or isolated with this. Depression and anxiety have many faces. Some of them invisible to the human eye.

So this is a call to care a little more, a little louder and with a lot more sincerity. If you know someone is struggling check in regularly. Check in to see how you can be of better support. Call them. Write them encouraging notes. Send flowers. Cook a home cooked meal. Take them on a walk to nature. Show them how to love themselves better.

After all, we are never an isolated island, we all need each other to survive and thrive.

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