Yesterday I posted to Instagram and a lot of people connected and related with what I had to say, so I wanted to speak a little more about my personal experience with mental health in the hope to help just one person feel less alone.
"I am learning to breathe through the moments in life when I feel overwhelmed and lost rather than letting it consume me.
A lot of people assume I am always happy and bouncy and positive, which granted, I am most of the time but you have to remember we all have our own battles and one of mine is my mind.
I often have moments where I start to overthink and question everything.
“Is it worth it?”
“what’s the point?”
“what am I doing?”
So many questions of self-doubt and not being good enough run through my brain like I’ve got 7000 tabs open in google. It can be super overwhelming and very quickly spiral to me feeling very low, anxious and even depressed. Sometimes these feelings/thoughts will only last for a few moments or hours but other times I can feel this way for days or weeks on end. The times where it lasts for longer is when I need to really look inside myself and figure out what is going on. It can make me feel very vulnerable and sometimes scared to dig deep and find the root of this feeling but it is necessary for my mental health.
Whenever I get like this I have learnt some tools to help calm me and bring me back to my centre. I’m about to run out of characters here so I am going to write a blog post about this so I can share the tools I use and more of my personal experience on the subject. (I also find writing about it really helps me and is a form of therapy I guess).
Sorry this isn’t my usual uplifting or inspiring post but I think it’s important for people to know it’s okay to not be okay, it’s good to talk about mental health and it’s important for people to know they are not alone."
So here, as promised, is the blog post to share a little more about my personal experience and the tools I use to cope, and hopefully I can help at least one person to manage these feelings. Before I start I would like to remind you that everyone's experience is totally personal to them and I hope you can respect that my experience may not seem 'as bad' as your own or perhaps people you know but I hope you appreciate that it is still difficult for me to share. I also want to take this opportunity to encourage you to avoid falling into the trap of comparison/competition when it comes to 'who has it worse'. Everyone has their own struggles relative to their own life, no matter how big or small they may seem to others.
I would say I started to have these feelings during my first year of dance school. I had moved back from New Zealand to train professionally in dance and after 2 years of college I moved to a new city, by myself, to pursue my dream and it was exciting but seriously overwhelming to say the least. All I had ever wanted to do was dance but once I was actually there I didn't enjoy it and I couldn't understand why I hated being there so much. I didn't feel good enough, I didn't feel happy and I felt completely lost. I had friends but I liked being alone in my room and honestly to this day think my 'Friends' boxset got me through that year (thanks Jake, best gift ever). I would come home from class to a house I hated and lock myself in my room and just watch Friends. Although, this seemed to calm me I realised it was only temporary and just distracted me from how I was really feeling so eventually I went to speak to a counsellor. After seeing this guy and pouring my heart out (as well as feeling a little silly) I came to the conclusion that I needed to leave for my mental health. I had numerous meetings with tutors and after lots of talks with friends, family and my boyfriend, I decided I wanted to drop out. This was a really difficult decision for me because I felt that I had failed myself, let everyone else down and wasted years of my life. This exaggerated my feelings of anxiety, feeling confused, depressed and alone.
NOTE: Although I also suffered with severe back pain that got worse through training, (this is the reason I first got into the fitness industry as I wanted to help people avoid injuries like this) I have to admit the main reason for leaving was simply because I was not my normal happy self and I knew I couldn't stay.
After moving home, I got a job in admin (not my jam but it was funding my personal training course so you gotta do what you gotta do) and things started to look up again. I lived with my boyfriend and his family and was making money from a job that seemed okay. But soon the novelty of that 9-5 life wore off and I began to get these feelings again of “Is it worth it?” “what’s the point?”“what am I doing?” And this was hard because I couldn't understand why I was feeling like this when I had removed myself from the situation I thought was causing these feelings. I suffered badly with these thoughts and feelings on and off for about 6 months and struggled with fatigue, sleep anxiety, constant illness and migraines. I dreaded going to work and hated Sunday evenings because it meant I had to endure another week of feeling this way. I thought the problem here was the job so once I became qualified as a level 2 fitness instructor I got a job at a local gym. I loved it. This is what I was meant to be doing, I could feel it. I was teaching classes, moving my body, helping people, making new friends and basically getting paid to do something I loved. But again soon this novelty wore off and I was back to those feelings, except this time worse. I don't want to go into too much detail about my time at that job because it really wasn't a good time for me towards the end and those that know me know it wasn't good for my mental health. I would wake up exhausted and anxious to even leave the house because I hated that toxic environment so much. I tried to stay professional and positive during work for the sake of the members but it was becoming obvious I wasn't happy. I would come home crying because I felt so rubbish about myself and I felt trapped. I was nervous to stand up for myself but even more nervous to leave because what if every job I ever have feels like this and I'm just going from bad to worse?
Long story short!
Eventually, I handed my notice in and it was honesty the biggest weight off my shoulders and to this day although I am so grateful for everything I learned during that job (good and bad) it was the best decision I could have made for myself and my mental health. On a side note I would urge anyone that is feeling utterly depressed because of the job they are in to actively do something about it now. Don't wait like I did. No job is worth sacrificing your mental health for, no matter what.
Starting my business
Anyway, fast forward a few months I started my own business. I knew helping people build a healthy lifestyle was still my passion but I also knew I wanted to help people (women especially) never feel the way I felt or at least help them cope with these feelings, which is when GLJ Fitness was born. I copped some mean jokes and negativity surrounding starting my own business because I was able to train clients in the gym my Dad recent bought at that time. And yes, whilst I admit I am seriously lucky to be in the situation I was, I worked my ass off to build my business myself, so comments like 'oh her Daddy bought her a gym' were totally unhelpful and just plain mean. However, after numerous conversations with friends and my husband I came to the realisation that as long as I am doing something of interest someone will have something to say about it. So I brushed those comments off and put my heart and soul into my business.
As I write this blog today, it has been just over a year since my business really kicked off and I have to say I adore it. Of course there are elements that are hard and a stressful but hey that's just business. Overall, I am so grateful I have created freedom in my life to work with amazing women and reach so many people through social media and I truly believe this is what I am meant to be doing. However...I have to admit that I do still have those moments where I question myself and get those horrible feelings again. I have mornings where I don't want to talk to anyone or see anyone. I have days where I feel completely uninspired and unmotivated and end up just sitting on my sofa watching YouTube videos as a distraction. I have evenings where it's a struggle just to have a shower because for some stupid reason I just can't bring myself to do it. But what I have to keep reminding myself is, it's not stupid and I am not stupid. It's just part of me and although I don't like this part of me I have to accept it and learn to deal with it and to not let it spiral. So if anyone ever feels any of the things I have written about (I have just brushed the surface as I don't want to make anyone feel too depressed!) then I hope some of the tools below will help you.
6 tools to deal with feeling overwhelmed/anxious/depressed (in no particular order!)
This is something I do daily regardless of how I am feeling as I find it the most effective and useful way for me to be more self-aware. Each day (usually in the evening) I sit down with my journal and reflect on the day. I write about what has occupied my mind most that day, how I have been feeling and note down anything that has upset/provoked me. I also try to write 3 things I am grateful for each day which helps me focus on the positives rather than the negatives (gratitude is a really good tip for when you're feeling low). Through journaling I have become more aware of my conscious thoughts and feelings which means I can then address them, process them properly and look for a solution.
I know breathing doesn’t solve everything but it is always a really good place to start especially if you are having an 'episode'. By taking a moment to come back to your centre and reconnecting with your breath you can become more self-aware. Mindful breathing is something I have found extremely useful and is something I would recommend to anyone who is feeling overwhelmed with emotions and finds it hard to process how they’re feeling in any given moment. Here is the technique I use:
- Inhale for 6 seconds.
- Hold the breath for 2 seconds.
- Exhale over 7 seconds.
- Repeat for as long as you need.
Breathing is amazing because it physically calms down your nervous system and helps to quiet the mind. I use this breathing technique all the time, several times a day whether I am feeling anxious or in the middle of a meltdown. This is where breathing seriously helps me because it allows me to take a moment to step back and process what is happening around me.
3). Practicing yoga
This is something I have only recently started but I absolutely love it and it helps me massively with calming my nervous system and recharging my body. It's not always the first thing I would do when I'm feeling very low because I struggle to bring myself to do even the simple things like shower but by building yoga into my routine it helps with my overall mindfulness and wellness which means less 'episodes' in the long run. So I thought it was worth mentioning.
Talking (or blogging as I'm doing) is a great way to get things off your chest. Just by writing down/talking about what I'm feeling helps me to put things into perspective. When things are in my head I get seriously overwhelmed but once it's out in the open it all seems more manageable. Open up to people that make you feel safe and are understanding if you don't really know what is wrong yourself. (My husband is awesome at this. Even when I don't know what is wrong he is happy to just sit with me and comfort me whilst I try to get through it).
Last night I was in a bad place and couldn't calm myself down so I sat and tried to read my book. It took me a while to focus in on what I was reading but once I was able to concentrate I was able to get lost in my book which took the focus away from what I was feeling. It's almost an escape which at times can be really helpful. So get yourself a good book!
6). Digital detoxing
Stay off social media. I have found when I am feeling anxious/low/depressed then the worst thing I can do is jump on social media and start scrolling. I am already in a vulnerable state which makes me more prone to start comparing myself and my life to other. This 9 out of 10 times makes me feel even worse, so as someone that is pretty addicted to their phone I sometimes need to remove my phone from the room entirely. Trust me comparison kills even on the good days, so please just take a little digital detox from the social media vortex when you are feeling particularly vulnerable on the bad days.
It has taken me all morning to write this so I hope at least one person who reads this takes something useful from it. If you know someone who you think could benefit from any of these tips then please share this blog with them.
Thank you for taking the time to read this - I'm sorry it's super long - I tried to make it as concise as possible but with something so personal it's harder than I thought!