How can you tell if you’re suffering mentally?
Listen to your heart. If you intuitively feel that something isn’t right, then you should trust that.
Can you develop mental health issues or is it something you’re born with?
This is a good question. My experience is that our lives and all that we go through is what impacts and shapes our mental health.
How do I start healing alone without surrounding support?
There are so many resources available to you where you can draw on the advice and guidance of lots of different clinical minds and piece together your own treatment strategy.
It does not replace having a trained therapist to help you but you can make great strides and progress in doing this. I didn’t have a lot of resources when I went into recovery and I found that reading was an absolute crutch that I relied on to help me figure out who I was and to educate myself about the patterns and some of the negative dysfunctions that were in my life that I wanted to change. You can do the same.
No matter what area you live in, you are always going to find like-minded individuals and although that is really challenging if you are in a remote space, seek out support groups/communities of people who think and understand the way you feel. This could be online or in your local area.
People do look at social media as this really negative plague that can impact us in such destructive ways but also it can provide all of us with communities of support where we can engage with individuals in a positive way and we can draw on those relationships to help us so if you aren’t in a position where you can connect with people in the real world today then I certainly would guide you to some of those positive forums to engage with people who are also looking for some support on their recovery journey.
One of the reasons why Instagram and social media in general are so popular is because we all like to feel a connection with other people who are going through the same things and those people are out there. You are not alone, even though it feels like that sometimes.
I attended therapy and wasn’t taken seriously. Now I don’t know how to talk to people about this. Do you have any tips?
I’m so sorry to hear that. I think it’s so important to work with someone that you feel a connection to. Just trying to be a little more open is a good place to start. Try not to feel that you need to justify what you’re going through to anyone. A good therapist will accept your struggles and work to support you with them.
How do you move on from mistakes you have made?
Nobody is perfect and there is no room for reflection or growth when you develop this good or bad thinking about yourself.
We can reflect on our behaviour and how we respond to certain situations. We can consider how we might approach things differently in the future, but this isn’t then grounds for beating yourself up. We all get things wrong and we all make mistakes; these events are opportunities to grow and develop as human beings. Guilt shuts us down and we retreat into a place of darkness where we are not able to reflect or move forward.
When you feel plagued by guilt, try to ask yourself how you would coach a close friend who was going through the same thing. Focus your intention of developing self-compassion and kindness and try to anchor yourself to that. It takes time to foster a relationship of kindness toward yourself but it is possible.
How do you recognise and avoid triggers, and gain control of impulsive behaviour?
I find that journaling is an invaluable tool when it comes to recognising triggers and identifying unhelpful patterns. Once you’ve done this you will be able to create strategies to keep yourself safe.
Do you have any tips for lifting mood? I can't stop crying and my partner is fed up with me.
I’m sorry you’re feeling like that – that’s really hard. One of the things I give myself permission to do when I’m not feeling good is to not feel good. So much of what we do when we’re not feeling great is trying to resist that feeling and fight against it. Actually giving ourselves a safe space to be sad if we need to is really important. If we find that we are doing that around people who are not necessarily able to support us with that, then maybe we need to go and find a space where we can do that so that we can come back to those people having taken some space to get our needs met in a different way.
How do you deal with shame?
What I’ve learnt is that the less we talk about shame, the worse it gets.
Shame is a toxic and all-encompassing emotion but it’s very difficult for us to identify. We often react to the ‘triggers’ that our shame elicits, rather than the core problem of the ‘shame’ itself. We develop destructive tools for coping with our shame in order to manage it but these tools fuel our sense of feeling unworthy and tormented.
Before we explore how we can heal our own shame, it’s worth considering what some of these destructive tools might be. For me, the only way I’m ever able to work on anything is when I understand what it is I’m trying to change. There are a number of shame management strategies but I’ve honed in on the 4 that I feel are most common:
- Being defensive
Living in a defended state is a way of trying to protect ourselves from the shameful feelings that we store within. I am actually a naturally very shy person and in new social situations I used to feel so ashamed at my struggle to interact that I would behave in a cool and aloof way in an attempt to distract from the vulnerability that I felt was triggered by these situations. Of course when I left afterwards, the critical voice would shame me further for being unfriendly and inadequate.
- Silencing ourselves
Shame convinces us that we are unworthy and as such it denies us any right to feel seen or heard. Many sufferers will often feel guilty for simply existing and will often overcompensate by being apologetic and compliant as a way of trying to placate or avoid conflict with others.
Our attempt to achieve perfection is actually an attempt to find a solution to the feelings of self-loathing that we can feel immersed in. We cannot bear any sense of our own vulnerability and so making mistakes no longer becomes an option. We set unreasonable expectations for ourselves and are never satisfied with our own efforts or achievements. We find it almost impossible to receive compliments or love from others. We become consumed with how we are perceived by others in an attempt to protect ourselves from the toxic shame that lurks within.
When we feel unworthy, we have no confidence in ourselves to do or achieve anything. This leaves us with no motivation to commit to anything fully or to follow anything through. We are so paralysed by shame that the idea of ‘failing’ prevents us from ever trying or moving forward. We exist in this state of limbo where we find it impossible to become unstuck.
Shame is often the result of trauma that has occurred in childhood. We all want to believe that we have some sort of control over what happens to us but when we have been victimised as young people, we feel humiliated and take on a sense of responsibility; that we somehow should have been able to control or stop what happened to us.
We carry that shame and humiliation with us into adulthood and it becomes impossible for us to really explore who we are and to develop our special gifts. More than this, we become stuck at the age that the initial trauma occurred and we tend to repeat patterns and experiences, thus ensuring that the abuse occurs again and again throughout our lives. Recognising destructive patterns in my own life through self-exploration was the first step in taking positive action to change the course of my existence.
Once we’ve identified that we’re living with unresolved shame and we start to recognise how this is impacting our choices, we can start to move forward. Shame relies on a strong critical voice to survive and once we work on developing and exercising an internal voice of self-compassion and kindness, we can heal these wounds and move forward.
What are panic attacks and how do I deal with them?
“A panic attack is an experience of sudden and intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms.” – Mental Health Foundation
They can feel very frightening and distressing, often coming on without any warning. The symptoms are not dangerous although at the time they can make you feel as though you are having a heart attack, are going to collapse or even die. The most important thing to do is not to allow your fear of a panic attack to take over your life, which I know is easy to say but is possible.
Recognise that your fear of the panic attack can often make it worse. Trying to focus on staying calm is a good place to start.
- Use breathing techniques: Focus on your breath and try to keep it as slow and measured as possible. When we are having a panic attack, our heart rate and our breathing really increases. When you focus on your breath and slow it down, it can give you a sense of control and calmness even if everything else is still going on around you.
- Remind yourself that the panic attack is not going to physically harm you and that it will pass: Talk to yourself while the attack is happening. Let yourself know, “yes I am anxious, I am having a panic attack but I am going to be OK. I just need to focus on my breath and it will pass”. Try to nurture that compassionate voice – it will be a huge key in helping this pass and helping you feel less scared of it.
- Do some grounding exercises: If you are able to sit on the floor then that’s great! Bang your feet down and also put your hands down on the floor. If it’s not possible to sit, just stamping your feet a little bit and letting yourself connect with the earth will be helpful. You just want to give yourself a feeling of being grounded and any way you can do that is a good thing. Holding something and trying to focus on the touch and the texture of the item also helps with feeling grounded. (A lot of my clients use crystals).
- Identify your triggers/early indicators: When you feel a panic attack starting to come up, start to learn what your triggers/those early indicators are. When you feel that anxiety starting to rise, see if you can interrupt it. One of the tools I use with some of my clients is counting colours. Look around you and count 5 blue things, 4 red things, 3 green things and so on. This interrupts your brain from being scared of what’s happening to you and also of the anxiety – it gives you another job to do!
- Meditation: Another good tool is meditation but it does take time to develop and time to practice. If you can do it, it will reduce your anxiety and make you feel better. Building some sort of meditation into your day can really help to reduce the frequency of attacks and help you just generally feel a lot calmer.
Don’t be too scared of panic attacks. They are not going to hurt you – they are just not very nice!
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