It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? Perhaps one you’ve never asked yourself before. Maybe you’ve never felt you’ve needed to. After all, you might not be displaying any obvious sign that your emotional wellbeing is at risk and perhaps your lifestyle is a predictable drumbeat punctuated with an occasional burst of high octane.
In other words, you’re just … normal. Right? Okay. Maybe you are. Maybe you’re not. Only you know for sure. Or maybe, just maybe … you don’t.
Now I’ve put the question out there, indulge me and take a few minutes to really think about your answer.
And while you’re doing that, let me explain why for a great many people – maybe even for you – their lifestyle is anything but normal and why it’s creating an unnecessary risk.
I see people from all walks of life in all sorts of turmoil for all sorts of reasons. No surprise there, right? After all, I’m a hypnotherapist and it’s my job to see people who have sadly been damaged by life or by the choices they’ve made and then help them to heal and put themselves back together.
So far, so what.
But increasingly my work has led me away from dealing purely with the subconscious issues my clients present and into also coaching people on their lifestyles and self-care.
Let me give you an example.
Quite recently a City worker came to see me in an attempt to deal with an alarming and sudden escalation in their anxiety levels. As we talked and the layers began to peel away, I began to get an insight into this person’s life. And it had a distinctly familiar flavour.
High pressure job, in early in the morning, typically working until 8 / 9pm. From work, straight to a 24-hour gym before going home and collapsing into bed. And then, at 5am, the alarm would go off and the pattern would start all over again. This went on relentlessly for five days solid and led into a weekend of full-on partying for some ‘release’.
And they wondered why they were suffering with anxiety.
The truth is we are living in an increasingly adrenalised society. To go back to the beginning of this blog, that has become the new ‘normal’ for modern life. But the problem with adrenalin is that it’s an amazing drug in that, like all drugs, can make us feel great at first. We get an adrenalin punch from social media, from tearing through the to-do list with a feeling of satisfaction, from working hard, playing hard and all round ‘living hard’.
But in truth, our need for adrenalin is often no less a cliché than is the need for any drug. Hitting life hard and fast through your lifestyle and living off the buzz of adrenalin is arguably just as dangerous to your health as hoovering up Colombian marching powder with a £50 note. The only difference is that one can lead to a thousand-yard stare, prison and a missing septum and the other can lead to burn out and serious mental health problems that start with stress and anxiety but can, if left unchecked, develop into full-blown depression.
And in the end, both can kill you.
A lot of people, especially in a city, suffer from stress and when stress is left unchecked it can lead to anxiety and depression and we start skimming the bottom of our emotional and mental resources. And sometimes we skim the bottom of our physical resources, too.
There is a mountain of research to show that physical illness can result from chronic stress and the fact we’re living increasingly unnatural adrenalin-driven life styles, often fuelled by relentless digital addiction, is only adding to the problem.
For many people, alcohol is a perceived as an antidote to stress, anxiety and depression – but the reality is that alcohol simply exacerbates those conditions.
Adrenalin and alcohol aren’t the only enemies at the gate, either. Addiction to work and the drive to succeed are often prioritised over our own wellbeing
I call this the domino effect:
You overwork and over-give; you drink to relax or get to sleep because you got in at 10pm and your mind is in overdrive; you sleep terribly because you drank too much or are full of cortisol and adrenalin; you can’t get moving at 5am, so you fill yourself with coffee or chow down on sugary food; then you crash and so you work later to make up the time; then you can’t sleep again.
And so it goes on. And on. And on. The eternal vortex of a downward spiral that was only intended as a way of getting you through but now feels like ’normal’. You feel like c**p, but you push on through because that’s what’s expected – not by anyone else, but by you.
And then something else happens that tips you over the edge: a bereavement, a break-up, an unexpected financial strain, a job loss … and suddenly you’re tumbling over the ‘negative threshold’ and are plunged into anxiety or depression or panic.
Before you know it, you end up in front of someone like myself and I point out that this has in fact been going on for longer than you ever imagined; that the foundations of your mental wellbeing have been weakened and made more fragile by the excesses of your lifestyle and your mental health is starting to fray.
We don’t know how to self-care because we’ve been conditioned to indulge our needs and to constantly seek satisfaction. When I ask people what they do for themselves that brings them joy and isn’t reliant on indulgence, money or validation I’m often met with a blank stare. We have unfortunately forgotten how to be ‘gentle’ with ourselves.
Their homework from me is often to go away and find five things that make them feel good without giving them any kind of guilt hangover the next day. Personally, I think this should include the obvious (but necessary) ‘How To’s’: how to quieten down, how to create more time for themselves and for nature, how to relax, how to say ‘no’, how to cope with switching their phone off.
In fact, how to do anything that helps bring down that adrenalin and reduces their dependency on living life fully adrenalised.
So, before you diagnose yourself with a mental health issue, ask yourself: do I have a mental health problem, or is it my lifestyle?