I’m a little late to the party here. I had planned on writing something for World Suicide Prevention Day but alas, life got busy and I blinked, and it passed me by like the turning my passenger was too slow to indicate.
I wanted to start off by talking about toxic positivity. What is that, I hear you ask? It is when you deny negative feelings and instead, try to counteract them with forced positive thinking. Now, don’t get me wrong, this works for some people. At least, it seems to for the most part. If you want to smile until your soul feels it then go for it!
For me personally, I have to embrace the bad days with the good days. I am still learning though. For example, I still feel an element of guilt when I am having a good day. As if I don’t deserve to have a good day. And guaranteed I will sometimes ruin my own good mood because of this. However, I have learned that, if I need to welcome the good days then I need to accept the bad. Some days, I wake up and I don’t feel like myself, I feel a bit off… This. Is. Normal! Perhaps there is something niggling away deep down that has caused my mood but trying to find an answer for everything is exhausting and can often put me into a deeper depression or increase my anxiety. What I am trying to say is, if something has upset you, be upset. You are perfectly entitled to feel annoyed or upset. How you channel that emotion is what we need to watch. Taking it out on others is NOT the ideal way to deal with it. You might end up starting a never ending cycle of pettiness/passive aggressive behaviour, if you’re not careful. Road-rage is a great example of this, and one I am guilty of from time to time! When you are having an off day and someone is going 50mph in a 60mph, this can set your entire day on a negative route. It can be infuriating so we internalise our frustration until it becomes anger.
So how do we neutralise this? We could a) take a deep breath and remember you’re not feeling at your best. b) lose the rag and start beeping and swearing at the other person. Or c) Decide to ignore your frustration and instead, blast your music and concentrate on the happy tunes.
Now, maybe it’s just me, but my immediate answer was C. It sounds ideal right? But the truth is, there’s only so many times that will work. Some days, you’d rather go for B in order to get it out your system and move on. But is it fair to take it out on that person, when you don’t know their reason for going slow? Nope! So I bet you’re thinking.. ahh the answer must be A. Well, yes and no. It is hard to do that first of all. You might not deal with it right away and it could fester until you get angry at something totally unrelated (a colleague at work using your mug for example). Accepting you’re in a bad mood and that maybe you are a little more sensitive today is totally fine. But my personal preference would be a combo of all these to some extent. I would mutter to myself that they’re being a D**khead, take a deep breath and remind myself that I’m having an off day then I would blast my music. I bet you weren’t expecting an “all of the above” answer, eh? Or maybe you are more in tune with yourself than you thought?
I’ve often heard people liken our bodies to a car. In order to get to where we need to go, we need fuel. This is usually said in an exercise/fitness context, i.e. if you want to get stronger/fitter then you need to give your body the nourishment it desires to do so. Just like a car needs fuel if you expect it to get to where you’re going. But I would like to extend this analogy to talk about burn out, or engine failure.
When we are working so hard and keeping so busy all the time, how often do we check in on ourselves and our wellbeing? I’m not just talking about physical burn out here… I’m talking mental, emotional, and social burn out too. If we physically injure ourselves while exercising we know right away that we must have overdone it. We will then rest up (sometimes begrudgingly) in order to get back to a point where we can build up again. But how do we avoid getting to the point of injury in the first place? Surely, we shouldn’t wait until we have injured ourselves before we check in. Usually, during exercise, you know if you’re not feeling quite right so when something goes wrong we think, “ah! I knew I shouldn’t have added that extra weight.” You sensed something didn’t feel right yet, you did it anyway. Now, who can relate to this? No? Well let me give you another few examples.
You have a friend or family member who you find is hard work to be around at times. You are going to visit them today but you know you don’t quite feel like yourself. But you said you would go so you better go, right? If that person already drains you emotionally on your best days then why would you put yourself in a position to allow that person to take the last of your precious positivity? Guilt. Guilt is often the reason we will ignore our own wellbeing in order to be there for that person. But here’s the thing, if you ever feel guilty for choosing your own mental wellbeing over seeing that person then perhaps you should consider some boundaries. If that person makes you feel guilty for rescheduling until you feel better and more equipped to support them, then you need to tread carefully. They might not realise that you feel drained by them so please do not go about telling them this so bluntly. Perhaps arranging a day once a week, a month, or every 2 months will help you both get what you need. For example, seeing them every 2nd Wednesday for a visit/catch up. That way, they know when you will be coming over and you can mentally prepare yourself if you need to. Establishing a routine with that person may help to input boundaries.
So what about social burn out? Well, in my experience, this is usually when you are around a lot of people all the time that you get to the point where you are desperately seeking alone time. I love to be sociable and catch up with friends (pandemic restrictions applied). Sometimes I might be too tired though. And when I don’t feel like my usual self, the idea of socialising makes my anxiety hit the roof. But you know what? It’s okay to say no thanks. I think the lockdown restrictions have added this excess pressure to go and make the most of every occasion while we can. And while I do agree with that to an extent, I personally feel pressured to do everything. Then I end up feeling like I’m running on empty and it massively affects my overall mood. I try and remind myself, especially now, that it is absolutely fine to say no if you are too tired. There is nothing wrong with sitting at home, in your comfy clothes and watching the latest season of whatever.
Lastly, lets talk about mental burn out. Now I’m sure many of us experience all of the above, which in itself is mentally exhausting. But I want to take a moment and talk about a specific example of mental burn out. As you may or may not know, I am currently in my final year of uni. I am a mature student so was out of full time education for some time. It has been somewhat challenging when it comes to the workload. 12 weeks per semester isn’t very long but it rushes past quicker than that inpatient Audi driver who has been up your A**e for the past 6 miles! It is intense, especially for a perfectionist like me. The mental burn out I have experienced throughout uni has been so bad that I’ve felt it bleed into other aspects of my life. My creativity and free spirited brain shuts down while my academic and stressy brain takes over. It feels like doing simple tasks in life becomes harder than wading through mud. I cannot process simple things and get stuff done that normally take me no time at all. This has been my biggest struggle of all. I have simple-ish solutions for the other things but mental burn out is a major issue for me. I start to panic and over-think everything when I get to this point. I end up going and speaking to someone then end up surprised at what else has been going on that I hadn’t been processing fully. I stop recognising my signs for social and emotional burn out.
Now all of these written down seem very straight forward and simple to solve, right? But I’ve come to realise that we need to stop ignoring our warning signs, our “check-engine lights”. The hardest part of this is recognising YOUR “check-engine lights” to avoid social, emotional, physical and mental burn out. Above is just a few examples I could think of in my own life, but it is not “one size fits all” unfortunately. We need to think how we can personalise it to our own needs. If a car needs an MOT then maybe we should be doing that too so we don’t get our warning lights flashing.
As usual, this has been some vent on my part! I just hope that someone can read this and take a moment to check in with themselves. Are you burning out in any aspect? If so, are you able to do anything to help you get back to your baseline in order to build back up again? If you take anything from this blog post today, I hope it is to check in with yourself more regularly when you’re not feeling 100%. Don’t force away the negativity instead of dealing with it. Learn to manage it and you should hopefully start to see more of the good days and deal with the bad days too.