Your mental health

It’s absolutely normal for all of us to have mood swings every day. We may be elated one minute and down in the dumps the next. Some of us are so good at managing these that we barely notice them. But sometimes external pressure from life events or circumstances become overwhelming and an unwanted mood sticks, becoming really hard to shake off.  Then we may be diagnosed with a mental health condition. 

Many people experiencing anxiety or depression are not that good at regulating their mood. This is frequently exacerbated by a belief that mood swings or emotional reactions are a sign of weakness. Or some people think they’re fortunate compared with others and have no right to feel negative.

Still more people see themselves as helpers, looking after others with no need of help for themselves, particularly if they fear ‘burdening’ or upsetting others that they see as more vulnerable. They often have perfectionist tendencies and aren’t satisfied unless they go to extreme lengths, thereby placing themselves under unnecessary pressure.

Ironically, it does not follow that being good at caring for others makes us good at caring for ourselves – often, the opposite is true.

So, knowing how much we do for others, some of us are even resentful of others who don’t seem to appreciate how hard we’re working or don’t offer us help, forgetting that we’ve been working hard to give the impression that no help is needed. 

Identifying needs

Whatever is going on, most people with lasting mental health issues feel unable to change what’s happening. What they need to do is recognise what’s happening and act to alleviate their distress. However, many of us have great difficulty in recognising what’s going on because we either manage feelings by ignoring them or else pay attention to thoughts that declare there is something wrong with us if we are having any issues.

However, if we were to admit that we’re only human and that the expression of emotion is actually a way of dealing with adversity, we might be able to identify what’s happening – the emotions, thoughts and beliefs we’re experiencing - and even work out what has triggered them. Only when you can work out what has happened, and what is missing, can you try to find what you need. 

Unfortunately, even when we do have an idea of what we’re feeling, we often still don’t manage it appropriately. Instead of asking others for help or being kind to ourselves, and curious about the process we’re going through, many of us berate ourselves for whatever we are experiencing and feel enormous shame about it. Far from prioritising our needs, we chastise ourselves for having them, which just makes everything much, much worse. 

Challenge critical voices

If this sounds like you, the first step is to challenge or override critical voices which make it harder for you to self-soothe. It can sometimes help to think of reasons (not excuses!) why you are so self-critical; for instance, many of us can recall critical adult voices in childhood. It’s so easy for these voices to stick, even when the people who were critical didn’t intend to be hurtful or damaging.

In fact, people who criticise often think they’re being helpful. In just this way, you may think that your self-criticism is the best way to overcome your mental health problems. But just ploughing on and ignoring what’s happening, or believing that you’re broken and can never fix whatever’s wrong, doesn’t deal with the problem. 

Until you identify your needs, you can never meet them.

Though you may suspect you need help to do so, many of us either feel ashamed to reach out or suspect we won’t be helped if we do. This can lead to trying to obtain help by employing subtle tactics to elicit what we need, anger at others that they’re not able to help or staying unwell if you think this is the only way your need will be acknowledged. This doesn’t deal with what’s happening to you and, even if you start to feel better, it doesn’t help to prevent further problems from developing in future.

Becoming more curious about what you’re experiencing, and working out what’s missing and what you need to change, is a huge first step towards managing your mental health, and therapy is always there if you need a helping hand.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Aylesbury HP19 & London W1G

Written by Cate Campbell

Aylesbury HP19 & London W1G

Cate Campbell is a psychotherapist specialising in trauma, sex and relationships.

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