It was through my own struggles with anxiety that my mental health also started to decline. As time progressed, I began to feel very down. I was constantly irritable, unable to think clearly, had little mental energy and struggled to find any interest or motivation in anything. Even simple tasks like tidying the house or cooking a meal seemed like an enormous effort.
Initially, I thought anxiety was to blame for all these new symptoms I was encountering, and so again, I set out to defeat them. It took me a long time to realise that anxiety wasn’t to blame here at all and these were just the symptoms of my failing mental health. The reason my mental health was failing had nothing to do with anxiety; it was all to do with my ongoing battle with anxiety. It was all the fighting, overthinking, worrying and attempts to figure it all out that was to blame for my current state.
Because of all these new symptoms, I then worried, ruminated and fought even harder, which resulted in my mental health declining even further. Is it any wonder my brain struggled to cope when it was given so many tasks to do?
I was once again in a vicious cycle of my own making, due to my lack of understanding.
The effects that worry and overthinking have on your mental health
I had no idea that the brain was just like a limb and that if you overdid things mentally, then you would suffer. I had educated myself enough at the time to look after myself in other areas by eating well and had taking up exercise, but I had done nothing at all to look after my mental health. My brain was still being used to worry, fight and figure things out on a daily basis, and this is why nothing was changing.
Even when I had figured all this out, I did not know how poor my mental health had become and because it had crept up on me slowly, I don’t think I realised how bad things had become. Eventually, I think it just hit a threshold and instead of feeling a little bit off and irritable, I was now feeling quite a lot of psychological pain and my brain would no longer function properly.
Not only did it affect me emotionally and psychologically, but it also began to affect my social life too. I no longer found joy in anything I did and barely had enough energy for myself, never mind anyone else. I would constantly cancel on people and make excuses not to go out and socialise, which only gave me something else to worry about as I now feared I would lose those around me.
Learning to open up about your anxiety and how you feel
It was at this point I knew I needed to open up more as keeping quiet about how I felt was just creating more problems. For a man, opening up was not easy as there was a lot of ignorance around mental health at the time, but I thought if people want to judge me, then that is their problem, not mine. My priority now has to be to myself, and if opening up helps me, then this is what I need to do.
I then started to explain how I felt to those closest to me and said: “The reason I have cancelled a lot recently has nothing to do with me not wanting to attend, I did. It is just that my brain sometimes found it difficult and the reason I was quiet at times is that I didn’t always have enough mental energy for a conversation”.
I also said, “I don’t want or need you to treat me any differently. All I need is your understanding and non-judgement”.
Overall people were very understanding and a couple of people explained to me how they had struggled in the past also, and so I found that talking about how I felt allowed others to do so too.
Once I became more open to others about my feelings, it took an immense burden off me. I could now finally be how I wanted to instead of trying to put on an act and pretend that everything was OK. Before this, I was always trying to portray how I thought I should be and not how I was currently feeling, and trust me, trying to keep up any kind of act takes tremendous mental energy to execute and why I felt even worse in social situations.
I guess I also didn’t want to admit to myself how I felt and keeping up an act was a sense of denial. A big turning point for me was eventually accepting myself as I was and having other people accept me too.
The biggest thing I learnt was that it wasn’t socialising that was so exhausting, it was trying to keep up a pretence that was. I am not saying I always wanted to socialise, but since I dropped all the acts, I found it so much easier. I no longer dreaded social events like I once did as there was no longer any pressure to play a role; I could just be how I wanted to be and only give what I had.
Learning to look after yourself mentally and physically
Apart from the social aspect of things and opening up, I also learnt to be much kinder to myself. Instead of reacting with fear and frustration, I learned to accept how I was feeling with loving acceptance. It made no sense to fight, worry or figure out anymore, as all this just required more mental effort and the very reason for me not only getting to this point in the first place but also staying in the cycle.
I finally had to accept that I wasn’t the happy, confident person I was before, not just to myself but to others. It did not mean I couldn’t be again, but I wasn’t that person in the present moment and instead of fighting and getting frustrated with this fact, I needed to learn to be patient and allow my brain to repair itself at its own pace.
I now concluded that there were four significant points to recovery, and these were to look after myself, fully accept myself as I was, live my life and more than anything, be patient. This also had to be a lifetime commitment as, initially, I began to look after myself but then as soon as I started to feel better, I fell back into old habits of worry, stress and over-thinking, and found myself struggling again.
Once again, I had fallen back into the habit of pushing my brain beyond what it was designed to do, and anything you overuse will result in the same outcome. You can’t push anything beyond its limits and expect it not to break down.
This is why it saddens me when I hear people say “I have been battling with my mental health” and why I always advise them not to. I encourage them to seek help, educate themselves, talk with someone and make changes to improve their overall well-being. I advise them to do all of these things but then explain to them that the last thing you want to do is start battling with your mental health, as battling requires more effort and more thinking. All this does is use up immense brainpower and results in more suffering.
This is why trying to worry and think your way better has the complete opposite effect; it wears out that weak and weary brain further. You wouldn’t go for a run on a broken leg, so why keep pounding the brain when the pain is telling you how broken it is feeling at the moment? In its current state, it needs looking after, not thrashing; it doesn’t want any more tasks or worries put on it.
Don’t be afraid to seek help for how you are feeling
For me, talking about how you feel is one of the most important aspects when it comes to improving your mental well-being. Apart from opening up to those around me, I saw a lovely lady who helped me progress just by listening to me. I had kept so much to myself and hadn’t spoken to anyone about how I felt for years, and once I opened up, I didn’t want to stop. I wasn’t really looking for advice from this woman as I was happy with what I had seen and the improvements I was making, but it was just so nice to have someone who would listen to me without judgement and allowed me to offload.
Learning to listen to my mind and body
Although I started opening up and socialising more, there were times when my brain just didn’t have the energy to be around others and I needed to be alone. During these times, I knew that it just wanted rest. I learnt to listen to the message my suffering was trying to communicate to me instead of fighting with it. When I needed rest, I needed rest, but this was not an excuse to shun the outside world. I knew the importance of living my life and socialising and that it was all about getting the balance right. Even if I felt too drained for company, I could always go out on my bike or take a walk on my own.
Tips that helped with my anxiety and mental health
- Being in the outdoors
- Cutting down on stress and worry
- Simplifying my life
- No longer battling with myself
- Reading up on Buddhist teachings and meditation
- Talking about how I felt
- Resting when I needed to
- Socialising again
- Looking after myself mentally and physically
- Being kind to myself
- Cutting down on alcohol
- Making positive changes to my life and surrounding myself with the right people
- Allowing myself to feel how I did without judgment
- Being very patient and giving myself the time and space I needed
- Dropping all fake personas and masks
It took me a long time to realise that my mental health was even more important than my physical health. It also made sense to me how I got to the point I did and what was keeping me in the cycle. Again I was the cause of my own suffering; I just didn’t see it at the time.
I can’t even explain the difference it made to my mental health when I just fully allowed myself to feel how I did. It cut out 90% of the mental battles I was having at the time and gave my brain the mental break it so craved while giving it the valuable time and space it needed to heal.
As I followed this path and made the changes I did, my mental health improved dramatically. I had to be patient and there were some tough days along the way, but I finally found the mental peace I was looking for. To this day, my physical and mental health is my number one priority and all the lessons I learnt along the way have allowed me never to put myself in that place again.
This article talks about my experience with mental health and what helped me and is not meant to be a cure-all for other mental health problems.
If you would like to read my personal story of how I overcame anxiety then you will find this and much more in my best selling book ‘At last a life’. The book has sold over 100,000 copies and is recommended by many therapists and is now on prescription at many doctors surgeries.