By Pavelka team member Nick Withycombe
We’ve all been through something. Or are going through something. In my case, or rather in my life, I went through a struggle that I can now look back on.
The struggle was mental and, as I stressed to myself then and to you now, it was relatively ‘OK’. What I mean by that is that my family and I were healthy and safe. General life was actually pretty good. That was something that I stayed grateful for – which is a practical tip that we’ll come to later. But even so, I lived under something of a cloud for a long time.
To keep this at less than the volume of a novel, I’ll look back on the struggle and then explain what I put in place to deal with it. Doing so will hopefully allow some relative comparison to completely different issues as, after all, the solutions for finding good mental health are similar for a variety of struggles.
I was living as an expat in a different country, a different continent, a different culture. This is good fun for a few years, but, put simply, I was homesick. In the expat world being homesick is a forbidden state! We all had to brand ourselves as adventurous, high-achievers, high-flyers living the rich and glamorous world of the international nay inter-galactic high-life. We don’t get homesick, we can adapt to any culture and simply thrive wherever we may be. That was the party line.
In reality, people get homesick, and after over a decade there, I needed to go back to the place where I grew up. The place where, despite my interest in seeing the world, my own cultural notions, preferences and perspective of logic had been hard-wired into my brain.
But it was far from as simple as just booking a plane ticket and ‘going home’. My wife was from that country, and we had children. Moving away could only happen with the right circumstances, the right finances and so on – there were many times where I couldn’t see this happening for many years more.
So yes, we had what people would call a decent lifestyle there. But from my experience it was life in a big, polluted city. I literally felt like I couldn’t step out of the door, going from A to B was hell on Earth – and I stayed committed to taking my daughter to school and picking her up every day. Another long story short, I had been divorced, and re-married. We were as one ‘blended’ family and that was not a problem – but I made it down to me to do the school pick-up and drop off, be a hands-on Dad (and to my son who was born some years after my daughter), while staying in full time work. I achieved my commitment and in all of my daughter’s primary school life I did every drop-off and pick-up!
There were other low points that included being suddenly kicked out of our rental accommodation as the landlord sold it, so we ended up living in a two-room apartment, four of us sleeping in the same room for some time.
But it wasn’t even about the low moments, it was about the fear that I wouldn’t get to live in my own country for another decade more, and that in turn, I wouldn’t be able to give my children an experience of growing up in my country, which was very important to me. This was the big dark cloud on top of just general parenting of two young kids, which as anyone who has done it knows, has near-crippingly difficult moments as it is.
So from the outside, all was fine. But inside was a nagging anxiety that began when I woke up and didn’t even stop at the end of the day, as I used to lose huge amounts of sleep in periods.
In the end, I made it happen, and my wife was eventually willing to go into this new experience with me, uproot our life and move continents. I celebrate being in the English countryside every day (as pictured). All is well now. But how did I deal with it back then?
I maintained sanity and essentially staved off actual depression by fixating on:
- A long term goal
- Making a particular commitment
- Focusing on a fitness plan
- Remained grateful for health
- Listening to Linkin Park
- Getting away from the city and into nature whenever possible (although this did mean returning to the city after the weekend so was not much overall help, but more a short breather!)
Here’s how I found solutions to the situation:
The First Level
After identifying what it really is that is making you feel anxious, there are ways to deal with it.
Firstly, it’s crucial to realise that you are human. You are not the smartest human that ever lived.
You are a combination of chemicals and upbringing. Your feelings are, in part, relevant to your hormones.
This means that the first set of solutions to deal with moods and emotions are healthy living and exercise.
There’s no getting around it. The issues and stresses you have in your life are affecting your mood, but this can be alleviated by exercise. Exercise is not some ‘optional part of life’ that ‘some people do’.
It is something that produces good hormones and removes bad ones.
As well as the life-changing alteration it makes to your body’s chemical make-up, it gives you routines and goals.
Again, you aren’t the most clever person on Earth. Routines and goals are not for stupid people. They are good for everyone.
And exercise gives you something to busy your mind with, to plan for, to look forward to – as well as giving your body ‘free’ happy chemicals.
The Second Level
Goals and punctuations. Everyone – everyone – needs something to look forward to. Again, the easiest way to relieve a level of stress is to get out of the city if that’s where you lived.
Of course cities are depressing!!!
Humans with brains are not supposed to live like rats in concrete. It’s stupid, but it’s happened.
Trees and rolling hills and water and air and space will make you feel better.
Of course, it is true that this is a bit simple – people who are depressed are also demotivated. This is where the initial self-analysis comes in.
Analysing yourself and basically ‘talking to yourself’ can help you to see that (1) there is a problem and (2) you want to fix it.
Making the physical effort to escape to trees and hills is a major step in going on the right track to coping with and even drastically lessening your stress or depression.
How to alter your daily life to deal with your stress trigger points.
‘Identify’ what stresses you sounds easy. But the point is that you need to spend a lot of time thinking in order to see ‘precisely’. At what precise moments does your stress or emotion flare up?
If it’s in the morning commute – what part of the commute gets to you?
If you feel your mood is up and down – at what precise moments do you notice change?
Does it happen relevant to other factors? Is the weather or the food you eat having some relation?
Here are some shorter points that can help in tackling depression.
Have a mantra
A mantra can help with all sorts of things, from life, work, playing sport, or succeeding in any way. Never assume that you won’t make mistakes, or forget what you ‘should do’.
Mantras are absolutely helpful in moments of difficulty or franticness.
Whatever your mantra is, it is simply a one-sentence saying that you tell yourself in your head.
That very simple act of having a ‘go to’ saying to say in your head can be a very big help in not feeling in despair or helpless, anxious and so on in that moment.
Remember your hobbies
You get so busy working and then socialising after work (either more work networking, or events, or just enjoying food, nightlife etc.) that you might forget that your hobbies were not mere hobbies that you did on a whim.
They were crucial parts of your personality and identity. They actually gave a tangible expression to your internal moods.
Those things gave a physical expression and without that expression you may be unknowingly bottling up thoughts and feelings instead of having any form of subconscious outlet.
This also comes back to admitting that you might be taking some things too seriously. That might sound too simple or even flippant but don’t assume you have everything 100% accurate and correct. In well-being we talk about the idea of not dismissing your feelings. But this isn’t about dismissing them, it’s a question: am I caring about this more than I really want to?
Maybe you have concentrated so much on one thing that you need to zoom out and see things in a bigger perspective. Maybe you even need to think about time and the universe and realise that you are having a one-person experience on Earth and as that is quite abstract, you can also have the choice of not being defined by issues that are outside of your control, but focus on what you do enjoy and where you do find happiness.
Listen to Linkin Park
This is the most personal of my pieces of ‘advice’ for mental health – but I believe in it for anyone who isn’t feeling great. If you listen to Linkin Park, then you’ll know this already. If you don’t, then dismiss the idea that it’s guitar or ‘rock’ music. The music itself is of real genius level but it’s the lyrics that have a mood and mentality-affecting impact.
Through difficult times, listening to Linkin Park effectively steered me away from actual depression. The power of some of the tracks can allow you to exorcise anger and release rage.
They can also allow you to feel capable of telling the world to essentially go f*** itself. This doesn’t go along with most advice related to mental health – it’s usually about opening, sharing, de-stressing, finding nature and so on. All good advice, but sometimes it’s more empowering as a catalyst to say to yourself that you are angry and have the will to conquer all.
I would make a playlist but it’s really a journey of discovery that you’ll have to go on, listening to all of their albums which vary wildly in type of genre and emotion. Mike Shinoda even wrote about the difficulties of parenting, particularly with two tracks, Invisible and Sorry for now. But please listen to each of their albums – and especially live concerts on YouTube. I promise they will help!