Stress Awareness Month

If you are reading this, it means that you are a human being. Obvious fact you might say? It is an obvious fact but there lies the end of the similarity between us all. As human beings, we are each so different from one another (unless of course, you’re an indentical twin and even then you will have different characteristic traits to your twin and patterns of thought). Remembering that fact more often, I think, would help us all. How we each respond to daily challenges, how resilient we are and the different ways that we are each affected by adversity is so variable. It’s that level of diversity amongst us that’s constant.

Human behaviour and how we respond to the highs and lows of life is a topic that fascinates me. What makes us who we are, do what we do, say what we say, and think what we think, is something I’m intrigued by. I must have asked my clinical psychologist: “Why?”, “What?”, “How?”, hundreds of times over the last ten years. I’m still asking her lots of questions about human behaviour and mental wellbeing but now I understand much more clearly the answers. As a clinical neuropsychologist, her professional life has been dedicated to supporting patients in their psychological wellbeing, helping them to understand their behaviour and actions.

With a particular interest and specialism in the mind-body connection and the role that stress plays in physical symptoms, her support has been invaluable in helping me to understand my mind and what affects its healthy functioning. And importantly, she has given me the tools to recognise patterns of behaviour and thought processes that are detrimental to my wellbeing. These tools are what help me to manage, much more effectively, my anxiety and stress levels so that for the majority of the time, I feel mentally well, something which is crucial to us all in order to have a sense of purpose and focus in life.

When I was first referred to her, I used to look over my shoulder to see if anybody was watching me walk through the hospital doors that led to her department. It wasn’t something that I wanted anybody other than my husband and closest family members to know: that I was under the care of a clinical psychologist. Back then, I went to great lengths to keep private, the fact I was struggling with my mental wellbeing and I never thought I would ever publicly share this information with the world.

Now, I’m a different person and ten years on the world is a different place as, thankfully, is the workplace. The subject of mental health has had its cloak of shame well and truly lifted so that more people like me feel encouraged and supported to talk openly about it. Employers now have a legal responsibility to address the mental wellbeing of their employees meaning that mental health is a much more widely discussed topic than it was a decade ago. An understanding of the impact that negative stress has on a human being is now acknowledged worldwide, along with a much greater awareness that mental health problems can affect all of us at some point in our lives. None of us are immune.

Talking publicly about the mental health challenges I’ve faced might help somebody else feel strong enough to talk amongst their family and friends about the mental health challenges they’re facing. During Stress Awareness Month make mental health a conversation. Ask how somebody is feeling. Check in with somebody that you haven’t heard from in a while. Silence can be deafening, especially if it’s you that needs to talk.

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