Stress can manifest and impact us in different ways both mentally and physically. Over the years we develop coping mechanisms for managing turbulent times and often, unknowingly, we resort to these as protection in the event of any adversity. Typical mechanisms display an imbalance; over-eating, over-sleeping, engaging in excessive strenuous activity, or lack of motivation for everyday tasks.
With hindsight, I can see a pattern of stress and anxiety in my life resulting in engaging in unhealthy behaviours in a bid to counteract my worries. I am guilty of spending countless hours in the gym, exerting myself to the point of exhaustion, consumed by focusing on my health and strength as a way of coping. Some may refer to this as avoidance, but for me this is a way of preparing for the challenges that the world has on hold for me, finding my inner strength and channelling any negative energy that I may feel. This has worked for me for a very long time. I genuinely believed I had the ideal toolkit in place for whenever I had an issue to face in my life. This also gave me the feeling that I felt ‘unbreakable’ to some extent, which created a cycle of reinforcing unhealthy behaviour.
As an avid fitness enthusiast, I tend to perform a lot better and enjoy work/studies or other social experiences if I exercise 3-4 times a week and follow a clean diet. However, one of the direct impacts of stress that I could not control despite my regime was insomnia. In the absence of a good night of sleep, I struggled to make it to the gym most evenings. When I did, it was unclear what I was trying to achieve, my workouts were messy and I ended up wasting my time on workouts with no direct goal in mind. I had always thought that the gym was the answer to it all. Despite the exhaustion, I would somehow end up in the gym multiple times a week. But gradually I recognised it was harder to maintain this lifestyle without addressing the root.
In January I accepted a new job offer. This meant a 3-month gardening period – the first professional break I had in years. My time away from the rush hour, the ongoing deadlines, the pressure, and adjusting to a new routine, made me realise just how much anxiety I had developed. I would often find myself rethinking scenarios, worrying about menial things or over analysing my decisions. It is that time alone that allowed me to step back from my routine, examine my emotions, and come to terms with the fact that it’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to feel weak sometimes and ask for help. And that was step 1 – identification of the problem. Taking stock of stressors in my life enabled me to review my lifestyle and create a sustainable and healthy lifestyle, including improving sleep hygiene, assessing my diet, and giving myself rest days.
I am sharing my experience to benefit others around me, in similar roles or within an industry that thrives on output at any expense. For those who feel the same as I felt, who may not be as comfortable speaking about feelings or who worry they will be considered “weak” in the eyes of others if they admit that they struggle. No action will pay off more than investing in both your physical and mental health.
Over the next few months, I will be volunteering through the various schemes available at EY to bring health and wellbeing to the forefront of our minds in the workplace. I am not a mental health expert, but I am keen to speak with people who have had similar experiences and share awareness of the support available.
If there is one thing that anyone takes away from this post, remember, it’s OK to not be OK, just speak to someone, make time for what truly matters and find your inner peace.