We all have a breaking point. You know, when you feel like you just can’t handle any more crap? This has been me for the past month. I tend to get overwhelmed easily and when things pile up, I let stress get to me. This isn’t a new thing, but it’s something I’m overly aware of and try to manage before it sparks a bigger problem – one I’ve dealt with before.
I’m not going to harp about the things weighing me down right now, but what I am going to talk about is mental health, a topic I feel very strongly about and am personally invested in. There’s so much stigma around mental health, and I realized that I’m not doing anything to stop it by never telling my story. So, here it goes…
I’m a constant worrier, always stressed and thinking of the worst case scenario. A Type A person to the extreme, I’m competitive, impatient, achievement-oriented, and always fear letting people down which usually leads to taking on too many responsibilities at once. This can quickly result in feeling overwhelmed and stressed by deadlines and thoughts of failing. When I was in high school, all these things came crashing down on me.
When I was in grade 12, the team I was skating on re-qualified to represent Canada at an international competition – an unbelievable opportunity, and a lot of stress as we’d won an international gold the year prior. We trained a lot, usually about 14 hours a week. This was also the year I decided to change high schools, and was starting to think about my future after high school – what universities and programs to apply to. My final year of high school was stressful. My team was assigned to compete in France, school applications were due, and obviously my marks had to be maintained even while traveling with my team. I missed a lot of school in my last semester for competitions, which wasn’t appreciated by my principal, and I found myself having to fight to graduate (regardless of the fact that I had great marks and was accepted by all the schools I applied to). Talk about extra stress!
Somewhere in that time, I started to experience panic attacks. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were stemming from a generalized panic disorder. They happened fairly frequently that year, but decreased throughout my undergrad. By the time I was finishing up my masters, they rarely ever happened, and I’m happy to say I haven’t experienced one in about six years.
Even though they’ve been gone for so long, I’m always a little concerned that they’ll start back up again – especially when my stress levels peak. When I start to feel any similar symptoms, I automatically start scanning for other signs, expecting the worst.
The truth is that very few people know this about me. For the longest time, I saw this as a weakness in myself. Obviously it was a failure that I couldn’t cope with my own life, right? In the last couple of years, mental health has been such a big focus at work and I’ve learned a lot more. One of the biggest lessons is that being open and honest about it can help – either someone else or the topic of mental health as a whole.
One of the benefits of this disorder is that I learned a lot about myself, anxiety, and stress in general. These are things I’ve used or discovered – maybe they’ll help you in some way
- Find an outlet that works for you – fitness was mine. Going to the gym and doing fitness classes gave me something fun and relaxing to focus on. Plus, the added bonuses of being physically active for mental health are good for everyone.
- Find a balance between work and fun. I get overwhelmed easily, but I don’t do myself any favours by taking on countless tasks. While it’s great to be busy, you also have to escape the deadlines and give yourself a mental break. Know your limits and what you can commit yourself to, honestly.
- Acknowledge your problem and find a solution. This was the most difficult thing for me; it took me years to admit my issue to anyone. When I was in university I looked into student services, and they suggested that I write my exams in a private room as an accommodation. This allowed me to avoid the masses of students waiting to get into the exam room and helped me stay calm before writing. For a few years I avoided bars and night clubs because the crowds made me anxious.
- Learn how to relax! Imagery and controlled breathing were key to me, and things I still practice on a daily basis – for a variety of benefits, not just anxiety. Focusing on your breathing is the easiest way to slow it down and regain your composure. Plus, forcing yourself to focus on this will stop your brain from thinking about the anxiety.
- Learn your triggers. I know that really crowded spaces are not ideal for me as they make me claustrophobic and start to panic.
- Talk about it with someone. From a close friend, your spouse, or a professional, getting it out in the open is incredibly helpful. The very fact of not having to hide it is a stress relief!
Mental health affects everyone – either personally or through someone close to you. Everyone has their own story, whether or not they’re willing to share it openly is up to them.
Am I recovered? I don’t think so. While I’ve been free from attacks for a long time, I have no doubt they could reoccur if triggered again. With that thought in mind, there’s no point hiding it – I’m starting my conversation in the hopes that the stigma disappears.