Broken bones or breaking inside: belated Mental Health Awareness Week

Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week and whilst I blogged inside my company, I have definitely let the side down on my public blog. In all honesty, I’ve decided to slow down a bit. I love the idea of the 100 Day Project and I would love to give it another go next year, but with something other than blogging. I adore writing and someone very smart reminded me on Sunday that just like reading, its good for the soul, but it is also time-consuming and I hate just to write rubbish. I’ve also started writing something privately, which right now is for my own personal consumption (and no my filthy-minded followers, its not ‘adult fiction’).

But, whilst blogging inspiration didn’t strike last week, a few things have sprung to mind that I thought were fit for this blog, this week, kicking off today with a belated Mental Health Awareness Week post.

As you may have seen, the focus for this year’s week was all around stress and the impact on mental health.

Stress – quite rightly – gets a lot of bad press. But there is a fine line and important balance to be struck between good and bad stress. Stress is a natural part of life, and isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. A little bit of stress strengthens connections between neurons, improving memory and cognitive functions. It can give your immune function a little boost, and triggers the fight or flight response, which has been key to keeping mankind alive for all these years. Personally it can give me that much needed push to the finish line when I’ve been procrastinating!

But chronic and severe stress is a killer – literally in the most extreme cases. It is linked to increased risk of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and physical illness. A lot of stress commentary and study is focused on stress and the workplace. Think back to analysis on the economic crash, the reduction in job security, and the pressure to deliver more if you were in work. So much of it was writing about the increased and negative impacts of stress at work.

New research from the Mental Health Foundation published last week found that three in four UK Britons have been so stressed in the past year that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. One in three were so badly affected that they were left feeling suicidal, which I think is a damming indictment of the way we are living today.

Young adults are amongst the most vulnerable to stress. The Mental Health Foundation found 83% of 18 to 24 year olds had felt debilitating stress and the number who felt suicidal was 7 percentage points higher than adults overall. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m lucky enough to be a trustee of an incredible charity called Young Women’s Trust which campaigns for and provides support services to young women trapped in low or no pay, who often also suffer from a range of mental wellbeing issues. Our own research published last September found that 40% of young people were worried about their mental health and over half of young women worry about whether they are good enough to be successful at work.

Like many employers I’m sure, my company did a whole bunch of activity to mark Mental Health Awareness Week and more importantly ensure they are providing support to employees. But beyond the company initiatives I was just amazed at the number of incredibly powerful and very personal stories from my colleagues on their experiences of stress. From the new mum who felt she needed to be Wonder Woman and started to break under the pressure to the colleague who characterises themselves as highly strung, also suffering from deep anxiety, who has following a bad episode learnt various ways to cope.

A common theme was not suffering in silence, a sense that talking to people helps rather than creates problems. That’s one of the reasons why they shared. It’s clearly very individual as to what people are comfortable saying, especially publicly and at work, but it’s so clear we need more discussion and less stigma around mental health; I touched on some of this in a previous blog. We are comfortable talking about broken bones, but how do you explain you are breaking inside? Each event like this, each small share that starts to normalise challenges with mental health, starts to change the norm on offering and asking for support, starts to change how we think about what our life should be not what we need it to be. It’s another step, and if sharing their story helped even just one more person, it’s actually not at all small; it really is life-changing stuff.

Be sure of your aim and never miss your mark

Building on last night’s post, I can feel a whole flow of dharma related posts coming on. Consider yourself forewarned.

Today we went to the park at lunch, to sit on the grass and be in the sun. My meditation stroke web master employee was there and he shared a lovely Japanese story about not worrying about things we can’t control. I told this story that our yoga teacher shared last week, which struck a beautiful chord.

Krishna and Arjuna are talking before the battle. A bird flies over and tweets for mercy; her nest has fallen, baby birds and all, right into the middle of the battlefield, and would be crushed as soon as the fighting began. According to one telling Arjuna empathises but simply says she must accept her fate. I liked our telling where he waves her away, still young and a little foolish and focused on Krishna’s telling, ignorant to the bigger message she was chirping, whilst Krishna listens on in silence.

Continue reading

Dharma vidhya. Into action.

On Saturday evening I returned from a deeply magical and very special week on a yoga retreat in the Portuguese mountains. Many things emerged and started to settle. I learnt a lot, both about the history and meaning of the practice, and also as I continued to uncover and get to know more about myself. I won’t try to fit all of it into one post because it was so wide ranging and varied and I wouldn’t do it the justice it all deserves by rushing to write it down. And some of this is only just beginning.

One theme we touched on during the week, and returned to again and again on a number of the days, was indecision, which has been playing through my mind. Paula, our incredible teacher for the week, would open each day with a short talk and some storytelling on an aspect or teaching of yogic practice. She spoke a lot – and more beautifully and naturally than I likely will – about how yoga is a way for us to turn inwards to connect with ourselves, to know yourself, to awaken, find and connect with your ‘dharma’ – your work, truth, sacred duty – and then upon knowing this, to turn back outwards and connect with the universe, the wider world and give back.

Continue reading