It is Mental Health Awareness Week. I have already said that mental health is about your psychological and emotional wellbeing.
But, have you ever come across someone who seems to be at the top of their game and laid back too? Sometimes, this hides a world of worry, fear and anxiety. What you see is not always (for that I mean rarely) the whole truth.
Even the most successful struggle
A recent Netflix documentary about the incredibly talented Lewis Capaldi is an excellent example. He comes across as very funny and laid back as well as supremely talented. He writes songs that connect to human emotions yet he displays very little breadth of emotion but an ocean of fun and humour.
Since a child he has had various forms of Tourettes (only recently diagnosed). It started as blinking. Now manifests as shoulder shrugging, or twitching – a trait he can’t control. And the more stressed he is the worse the twitch becomes. Early in the documentary he just said it was what he did and he was on top of it. He was very defensive about it. He was in denial and annoyed with his father when he suggested he get some help. We can get to a point where something is so bad we have no choice but to take time out. Or we can notice there is a problem and get help sooner.
Imposter syndrome, anxiety, panic attacks and Tourettes
But towards the end of the documentary he admitted that it was getting worse as his fame grew and it was exhausting him. He was suffering from Imposter Syndrome and, despite being so well respected all over the world, he felt his work wasn’t good enough. As well as the Tourettes, he experienced anxiety and panic attacks and it became so debilitating it affected his usual flawless performance and he had to take time off to take care of his mental health.
He used his humour as a defense. But it wasn’t enough to guard against life’s stresses. The phrase “pull yourself together” is not helpful and only increases feelings of helplessness.
Even when, or perhaps especially when, you are a renowned and celebrated in what you do, the pressure to keep up the standards, to keep pleasing people to the same level, can be enormous. The addiction to approval-seeking can be very strong. It is not sustainable.
I remember Donny Osmond was interviewed about his stage fright. He was playing the lead in a stage show at the time and had performed since he was 5 years old. Yet, here he was with stage fright. His wife told him “do yourself a favour and go out there and be average”. It was enough. He didn’t get the stage fright once he gave himself permission not to be perfect. It is amazing the negative affect performance pressure, or perfectinism, can have whether you are famous or not, have the lead in a stage show, or are a barrista in the local coffee shop. The effect can be the same.
Recognige and act sooner rather than later
Recognising problems sooner rather than later is key. Getting professional help is also key (Lewis went to see a therapist and saw a nutritionist to support his recovery). He said he does therapy even when he feels good. This is excellent as too often people stop as soon as there is a glimmer of light. But that’s just a glimmer. That can happen when everything is going well and you are working your program. You know you are really OK when you are good even when life isn’t. The aim is to get through difficulties stronger and wiser for them (not brittle and bruised or hiding from the world). Then, you know you are truly OK.
Tips to support your mental health
- Free help: The Samaritans offer free help 24×7. Sometimes what you need is a listening ear and they are excellent at this and completely non-judgemental. Mind is another useful resource.
- Frazzled Cafe is a free online community where you can offload. It works on the principle that a problem shared is a problem halved: being heard is important. It isn’t therapy but it can help. Ruby Wax who also suffers from mental health issues is a founder.
- Visit your GP who can signpost you to free help and perhaps offer medication which may soothe your symptoms. Though this can help many, many people, it doesn’t deal with the root cause so it is still helpful to get more help.
- Practice emotional hygiene: this is where you mindfully address the needs expressed through your emotions, rather than distracting from them with humour, alcohol, comfort eating, scrolling down your social media feed, and so on. I am running a Self-Hypnosis workshop that is designed to help you with your emotional baggage and build internal resources to help you in your life. To find out more, visit here. It is not for someone with a deep-seated issues or a personality disorder but with everyday problems that they are struggling with. I am running it over one day. Or it is available more in depth in retreat form. The retreat gives you time out to work on you.
- Read my article on emotional hygeine.
- Get some professional help. The NHS offer this. I know, though, that waiting times can be very long. These are free.
- Get some professional help privately. Working with a professional, like myself, who can provide you the support you need on a consistent basis, someone who is skilled and someone you trust, is a way to work your way through difficult emotions and situations. You will gain perspective, coping mechanisms and confidence, so you become more resilient and empowered, even in times of challenge.
If you aren’t sure what’s right for you, you may want a no obligation chat to discuss your needs. I can be reached on 0345 130 0854.
(c) Tricia Woolfrey