When it all gets a bit too much…

After having attended my fair share of industry talks, I must admit that I’ve become a bit cynical. Unfortunately, I’ve often found it to be the case that many speakers attend these events to be in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, using the stage for their own publicity. But the event I attended last night was different. It was genuine, and eye opening. The people on the panel were there because they wanted to help others. Which is the same reason why I’m writing this article.

Hosted by DAWN London, the panel consisted of 4 inspiring and successful women; Claire Sanderson, Editor of Women’s Health Magazine, Lorraine Jennings, Director Services & Talent for NABS & VP 2016/17 of Bloom, Turku Zorlutuna, a Freelance Strategist who works in Hospitality, and Michelle Morgan, Co-Founder of Livity & Founder of mental health awareness pyjamas startup, PJOYS.

Each woman on the panel has their own experience of living with, or being close to someone with a mental health condition. And even though they were sat in front of their ‘perfect’ looking LinkedIn profile photos that showed them looking strong, successful and happy, in reality, half of them said they felt the complete opposite.

After having battled with some horrible episodes of depression and anxiety myself, I know all too well what it’s like to fake a smile whilst trying to keep it together, when in reality it feels like everything around you is falling apart. You can feel like the most confident person in the world, then lose it all in an instant. The smallest task can feel like the greatest struggle, and when you’re feeling like this, it often seems like it’s impossible to feel happy again.

But the truth is, you can, and you will.

After filling out a survey that night, it was revealed that the majority of people who attended the DAWN mental health event didn’t know who to turn to in their company to get support. Which got me thinking, how many other people in our industry must be feeling the same way?

If you think you may be struggling, there’s a few things you should bare in mind:

You’re not alone.

1 in 3 people in the UK suffer with a mental health condition in their lifetime, and this number is on the increase. Some of the most successful people in our industry have had to battle with their own mental health conditions. I know of Founders, CEO’s, CSO’s, CCO’s, CD’s and Managers with with anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.

When you open up to more people about your own struggles, you’ll often find that others are going through the same challenges that you are. It may seem daunting at first, but speaking to friends and family about what you’re going through can make the world seem a lot less lonely.

Don’t ignore the signs.

If you’d broken your arm you’d go to the doctors to get it fixed, if you don’t, the injury worsens. The same applies when it comes to your mental state of mind. By ignoring how we’re feeling, we can’t expect things to just get better.

We’re living in progressive times, and to continue progressing, we can’t keep sweeping things under the rug. Instead, let’s pick up that rug, give it a good shake, and deal with the stuff that lies beneath it. We’ll look back and be glad we did.

Put some time aside to rest.

We work in a high pressure industry, and I’m sure that many of us know what it’s like to push ourselves and work through the night on pitches and deadlines. When I was on placement, my creative partner and I worked 66 days in a row! The adrenaline and excitement fuelled us, but the long hours inevitably took their toll, and we both burnt out. This isn’t fun, nor is it healthy for your mind or body. Take care of yourself. Your health and wellbeing is more important than any script or banner ad, and you can still be a hard working employee without running yourself into the ground.

When we’re stressed, our IQ can drop by up to 10%, so when you think you’re being productive by working those long hours, the truth is, you’re not.

Healthy body, healthy mind.

When we’re under pressure, we produce a substance called cortisol which helps us deal with stress. This is helpful in the short term, but if you don’t rest, this cortisol can build up in your body and become toxic. If this happens, you’ll most likely find yourself getting lethargic, run down, anxious or sad.

Thankfully, there are many ways of getting rid of the extra cortisol in your body. Exercise, meditation, and even masturbating have all been proven to help! Find what works for you. Perhaps look into practicing mindfulness, it isn’t for everyone, but there are some great apps out there like Headspace and Calm which can help you to worry less and relax more. Yoga, and breathing exercises are also great ways of bringing those stress levels down. When I find myself getting anxious, I go for a run or do some sit-ups. This helps me, find out what helps you.

Alcohol is not your friend.

I’m sorry to break it to you. Going out on the lash to forget about that bad day or let off some steam may seem like a good idea at the time, but is it really worth it the morning after? I know that most work events or social occasions feature some sort of booze, but do remember that alcohol is a depressant, so when you’re feeling low, it’s only going to make you feel even lower. If you drink, try to do so in moderation. You’ll feel better for it.

Seek support.

If you’re feeling anxious or sad, go and talk to your GP. Whatever you tell them is completely confidential, and there are many options and treatments available to you through the NHS.

I get it, it’s nerve racking to tell a complete stranger how you’re feeling, when I did it I broke down in tears. Ten minutes later though I felt relieved, and proud of myself that I’d built up the courage to do so. As someone who has benefited greatly from a combination of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Talking Psychotherapy, and anti anxiety / antidepressants, I can honestly say that choosing to get help was the best decision I ever made.  

You can find out more about drugs and treatment options here.

In addition to NHS support, you can also find support through NABS, they’re a charity that exists solely to support people in the advertising and media industry. Whether you’re trying to get your foot in the door, or you’re a full time employee, NABS are always on hand to offer you support and advice. They’re also able to offer free CBT sessions which you can enquire about by contacting their advice line.

If you feel like your current state of mind is affecting your productivity at work, make sure you speak to your line manager, or someone in HR, to make them aware of how you’re feeling. It isn’t uncommon to think that you might get treated differently for discussing your mental health with your employer, but there really is no need to worry. The Equality Act 2010 is a law that exists to protect you from discrimination, it also gives you the right to challenge it. If you feel that for whatever reason your employer isn’t equipped with the right tools to help you, many businesses can benefit from investing in Mental Health First Aid training. 

Be kind to yourself.

This is something I’m guilty of not doing in the past, and I’ve often put my own needs to the side to focus on my work and the needs of others. We work in a competitive industry, one where we have to be resilient and strong, but what happens when we’re not? Does it mean that we’re not cut out for the industry? Of course it doesn’t!

We’re so used to telling ourselves that we must be quicker, stronger, or better, and we all have that critical voice in our head. What’s yours saying?

‘Pull yourself together!’ ‘Get on with it.’ ‘Why are you acting like this?’ ‘Why can’t you just be happy?’ ‘You’re too fat.’ ‘You’re ugly.’ ‘You’re a bad copywriter.’ ‘You’re a bad art director.’ ‘Stop being a baby.’ ‘You’re not good enough.’ ‘You’re not important.’ ‘You won’t make it.’

Would you ever say that to a friend or colleague? If not, why would you say it to yourself? Whatever that voice is saying, tell it to shut the hell up. It isn’t useful, and you don’t need to listen to it.

Don’t kick yourself when you’re down, instead, give yourself a pat on the back.
You’re doing great.  

It’s perfectly normal to doubt yourself, and if you do, be kind and encouraging.
Tell yourself you can do it, and you will get through it. Because you will.

Life can be tough, and it really is OK not to be OK.

Helpful contacts:

Samaritans free number: 116 123
Mind Website: //www.mind.org.uk/
NABS Website: //nabs.org.uk
NABS advice line: 0800 707 6607
NABS advice email: support@nabs.org.uk