This post is partly inspired by the ever increasing prescription of medications for depression and anxiety. It is also informed by clients who have been told, perhaps by friends or family, that they must be mentally unwell, given the symptoms they present with (fatigue, worry, low mood, tearfulness, etc.). This can be daunting for individuals who have perhaps watched relatives endure mental health problems, and naturally fear that they may be heading down a slippery slope.
I am not suggesting that changes in mood be dismissed; it is important to inform your GP if you are struggling with fluctuating mood that has gone on for some time with no obvious trigger. Anxiety and low mood often come to the fore when we find ourselves under pressure or faced with uncertainty. In some cases, we may be able to problem-solve issues resulting in an improvement in mood but this requires some detective work in the first instance to identify contributing factors.
Often, individuals are carrying enormous burdens that they have become accustomed to and therefore do not make the link between their responsibilities to others and their deteriorating mood. Exhaustion can have a profound effect on physical and emotional well-being and does not necessarily suggest an underlying mental health problem. In some cases medication can ease periods of extreme anxiety and low motivation but solving the cause of this exhaustion is the only real path to recovery.
I would advise people struggling with low mood to ask themselves if they are stretching themselves too thin, giving to the detriment of receiving, and asking of themselves what they would not ask of others. It can be tough to challenge our norms, especially if we have become accustomed to being the ‘strong’ one who never says no for fear of letting others down. However, the results could be surprising. When we reduce our desire to take on the world we may come to find that others have been dis-empowered by our input and can now start to develop their own coping mechanisms, freeing up more time to look after yourself.
Why is it that when we feel down we often take that one step further and blame ourselves for feeling like this in the first place? We know that this additional self-punishment doesn’t do anything to make us feel better, but it seems to be something innate to human beings. You certainly don’t see cats berating themselves!
So why the need to self-chastise? I fear there are many factors involved, some of which lie below;
- Unrelenting standards – where empathy for others does not extend to ourselves. It’s OK for others to fail from time to time, but it is not acceptable for this to happen to me.
- Comments from family and friends – if only the words ‘pull yourself together’ helped!
- Social and cultural factors – pressures to appear happy and content seem to be everywhere don’t they…
- Unhelpful comparisons to others – why should I feel so hard done by when there are people starving in the world?
- Personality factors – I should be able to manage without the help of others, I must be the best I can be…
There are no doubt countless other deeply ingrained human traits that lead us to ruminate and self-loathe but all seem pretty unhelpful from where I am sitting.
So how about we give ourselves a break. We all need time to feel sorry for ourselves and although we may not be good at it, there are ways treat ourselves with a little more kindness.
- Ask yourself; would I be so hard on a friend if they were standing in my shoes? No? Well why the double standard?
- If others close by don’t understand, could you reach out to someone who will? Often speaking to a stranger can be helpful. This might be a therapist / counselor or a Samaritan (tel. 08457 90 90 90). There is support available and it is surprising how much of a relief it can be to get things off your chest without judgment.
- Cut out the shoulds and musts. Not only are they unhelpful, but they are unrealistic. We don’t live in a perfect world so why expect perfection from yourself?
- Stop comparing yourself to others. It is not what happens to us in life that defines our happiness but the beliefs we have about these events. Some of the happiest people in the world do not strive for 10 out of 10. 8 or 9 is fine for them and good enough is good enough.