My struggles with mental illness are no secret. I am very open about my mental illness status and the things I go through while dealing with my diagnosis. It is part therapy and part advocacy. I find much help in talking about my struggles. I feel like if I talk about it, it releases it out of my mind and body. I was horrible at bottling it all up in the past, and it didn’t end up well for me for quite a while.
One major area where I struggle is balancing my mental health symptoms and work. I have gone through several bouts of depression, frustration, and anger where I have come very close to leaving my jobs and a few times where I have. Amazingly, I am still in a position I love, even though I have struggled at times with it, and continue to try my best to balance it as well as I know how.
Because of this, I have received quite a few emails and messages lately with people asking how I make it through those dark places and come out the other side still holding onto what I love. By far the most humbling and encouraging compliment I could receive. Me using my life to help others, and people asking for help in return.
One of the first things I relay is that I’m not a shining example of a perfect world scenario of success. I go through ups and downs and inner struggles. But that’s what’s so important about it all. I’m far from perfect. In fact, that’s my first tip.
1. We are not perfect
We are beautifully imperfect. We all have things going on inside our heads, even more so if you live with mental illness. Having an idea of perfection is one of the first things I had to overcome. I set up these “perfect” ideas, scenarios, and circumstances that I just couldn’t actually live up to. I quickly realized something when I was setting those unrealistic goals, I began to see how it affected my mental health.
When I couldn’t reach those goals in the timeframe that I felt was appropriate, I was met with disappointment. Not just that I didn’t meet the goal, but also with how I let my brain lie to me. This often ended up triggering a depressive episode. This cycle set me up to have reoccurring episodes of depression in very close times to each other.
Once I stopped setting myself up for failure, I realized that I wasn’t perfect and shouldn’t strive to attain “perfect.” I set goals that had short-term payoffs that I could actually achieve. Be realistic with yourself and your goals. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for things bigger and better, but it’s important to make sure you can actually achieve the end goal. Have a plan of action laid out so you know before you start.
2. Find "your person"
Que up “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol! Just kidding, it’s a Greys Anatomy joke. In all seriousness though, you need someone who you can lean on when needed. Not just to be your friend when you are struggling, but to also become an accountability partner. Having someone in your life that you trust and can tell them about your mental illness can be a huge asset in managing your symptoms.
As for the accountability, you can reach them when you need guidance, some positivity, and/or be a person you can just vent to. Having a “person” can also help you to stop thinking you are alone in this. Many others have mental illness, and even the ones that don’t may still be able to help you through your struggles. Think of it as kind of like a sponsor in AA.
3. Find a portable method of therapy
So this one is an easy one for me. I think it will be the same for you. It may sound super cliche but find a hobby. But, make sure it’s one you can take with you on the go so you can utilize it no matter when an episode kicks in.
Having a task and something to focus on helps me zone out and reset. I have used games, books, journals and more to give me something to focus all of my mental energy into. Focusing on one single thing, no matter how minuscule, I have found to help balance me out and help me calm down.
4. Know your limits
I work with dogs, so understanding thresholds, triggers, and limits is a big part of my daily routine. Although it is considerably different than a dog, knowing my limits was a huge step in the right direction. I work constantly to try and figure out the things that lead up to an episode. From things as small as a certain appetite craving to the amount of sleep, I was able to get.
By logging and learning what my symptoms were and what they usually resulted in allowed me to get an early warning so I could adjust my routine well enough in advance. This helped me prepare for the moment my mood shifted. I was able to utilize things from my mental health resources to hopefully stop the mood swing from happening altogether, or at the very least handle them better if they were unavoidable.
Knowing these triggers and limits, I was able to adjust my lifestyle to either eliminate them completely or at least prep myself for what was to come. Triggers can change constantly though, so I am always on the lookout for anything different that might have happened before the latest episode.
5. Take a break
I know this one is easier said than done, especially when I must work to maintain any kind of life, but taking a break from everything is a huge help in my mental health. I have to be able to let my mind and body rest from time to time, especially when things get overwhelming. Not taking a break from things can lead to burnout, and that can be one of the worst symptoms and issues to deal with.
Allowing my brain and mind to detach from the outside world, I allow it to start rewiring and healing itself. I have gone as far as turning off all my phones and electronics so I could make the break as minimal as possible to avoid any triggers.
Not all of these tips work for me every single time, but these ones have been more helpful than anything else I have tried more frequently.
Of course, not all of my tips will help everyone since we all have things that work differently for our lifestyles, but they may still be worth the try. It’s important to find things that work for you. You can’t keep doing the same thing expecting results but never change it up when things don’t work out. Your mind evolves, just like the resources.
I hope these tips help you better manage your mental illness symptoms while at work. If you have ones that work particularly well for you at work, please share them in the comments.