It can be easy to assume that ongoing stress is the price we have to pay to keep our lives on track but it’s time to challenge that assumption. There is a fundamental difference between thriving and surviving but how often do we address the once-taboo subject of mental health to ensure we are flourishing in our own lives and our family, friends, and even colleagues and clients are doing the same?
Surviving means, “to continue to live or exist” whilst thriving can be defined as “to grown or develop well, to prosper or to flourish”. Good mental health is an asset that helps us thrive, which includes not just the absence of a mental health condition, but having the ability to think, feel and act in a way that allows us to enjoy life and deal with the challenges it presents.
Surviving versus thriving
So why are so many people feeling like they are simply just surviving? Perhaps it’s fear of the unknown or habits that puts us in the mindset of not being able to flourish. The start of anything new, including defined age-related landmarks, typically at the end of different decades, brings change and disruption. Many people may associate the typical age category of a ‘survivor’ mentality as mid to later life starting during the stage popularly described as a ‘midlife crisis’.
But…. change occurs at any age and managing these transitions can be challenging, raising stress responses which if not adequately addressed may create immediate and sometimes chronic physical and/or mental health problems. Research suggests that challenges to a person’s ability to thrive are occurring at increasingly younger ages, as discussed in a previous Nutrigold blog about Children’s Mental Health.
Mental Health Awareness week
Mental health Awareness week is coming up in May to increase discussion and support for people managing a mental health condition including depression and anxiety, which affects up to 10% of people in the UK during their lifetime. ,
But this year, in a significant move, the Time for Change mental health social movement has created awareness days and weeks across 2019 for specific age groups. We have just marked University Mental Health day on March 7th, designed to inspire conversations across the university student sector to take action and create change to improve student resilience and ability to thrive. The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness week builds on this by exploring the impact of “Body Image – how we see ourselves and how that makes us feel” on mental health, including the impact of sex, gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and diversity.
Quarter life crisis
In a UK-wide stress survey in 2018, the Mental Health Foundation found that three in ten people felt so stressed by their body image and appearance at some point in the past year that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. Nearly half (47%) of all 18-24 year olds felt this way about their body image, with almost one in five (18%) people aged 55 and over.
This staggering statistic of how people in their early to mid twenties are affected by modern day stresses such as body image, often perpetuated by social media, which can trigger mental health issues and in turn impact their ability to thrive, has now attracted the attention of many health care professionals: The label being applied to this specific age-related transitional crisis is ‘quarter life crisis’.
Clinical psychologists define this mid-twenties stage of life’s journey as a period of insecurity, doubt and disappointment surrounding career, relationships and financial situation. It may occur as a consequence of trying to hold onto passing youth whilst simultaneously wanting to experience the fabled stability of adulthood, which is increasingly unattainable due to major socioeconomic shifts in aspects of daily life over the last couple of decades, including increased living costs and property prices versus salary and job security.
Symptoms can manifest as a gut-wrenching feeling of fear, uncertainty, anxiety and an overwhelming desire for everything to just “be okay,” even if that status may be frustratingly difficult to define. Some of the signs of being in this survival mode include:
- Choosing the path of least resistance.
- Being reactive rather than proactive.
- Placing blame on others or circumstances, or using excuses when things go wrong.
- Feeling that there is never enough time to go around.
- Not speaking out for fear of disagreement.
- Failure is seen as the end result of things gone wrong.
- Any change viewed with fear.
Of course, stress is a part of life and by attributing what some might consider another unnecessary medicalised label to the twenty-something generation does not help them to move on. However, problems experienced in this formative age bracket should not be taken lightly and there are many practical steps that can be taken to manage such a transition period.
Developing emotional intelligence
One of the strategic suggestions extracted from a slew of advice for those in a quarter life crisis (and may be applicable for many struggling to thrive) suggests working on improving the way situations that create unresolved stress are handled. The benefits of this process, known as emotional intelligence (a shorthand that psychological researchers use to describe how well individuals can manage their own emotions and react to the emotions of others) are well known; it’s now recognised as a major and effective part of dealing with life whilst under duress.
According to two different published analyses , , emotional
intelligence is the best skill to spend time on refining while going
through a transition period, especially at younger ages to help with
managing current and future stresses. If properly applied, it allows a
reaction to feelings to emerge without loss of control and being
overwhelmed by emotion.
The ability to regulate emotions should evolve with age and experience and focussing on a few major components of this skill can speed up the process.
Here are some practical steps that can be applied to enhance emotional intelligence and help resolve the emotions and feelings around stressful situations:
1. Start by being self-aware of how you’re feeling, and how you react to the people and situations you face. If you struggle with it, why not record your experiences by writing them down. Writing about how you feel has helped many people tease out change with reduced existential crises.
2. Be aware of what you say. Listen to the words you use and or use repeatedly and reflect on them. How do you sound? How would you interpret what you said? Experience uncomfortable situations and be mindful of how you handle them. Aim to develop a healthy perspective on your life, stop self-pitying, and harness the reflective advantages of gratitude.
3. Understand that everyone experiences challenges and associated perceptions of loss of control, but if you can step back and appreciate the good around you, you’ll see that life probably isn’t so bad.
4. Remember you are not your emotions, even if at times it feels that way. Just because you feel lost right now doesn’t mean you are or that you’ll be stuck feeling that way.
There may be times when the act of making these changes can seem too hard; anxiety, lack of sleep and capacity to act may struggle under the weight of out of balance emotion. To help with changing the way you think or act (i.e. habits) then please read the following Nutrigold blogs about How to Hack Your Habits:
- How To Hack Your Habits Part 1 – Change The Way You Eat
- How To Hack Your Habits Part 2: Surviving The Stress Epidemic
- How To Hack Your Habits Part 3 – Get Moving!
- How to Hack Your Habits Part 4: Are You Sleep-Deprived?
Food supplements to manage anxiety and promote resilience
The additional use of proven natural agents, such as food supplements to support feelings of calm, promote sleep and manage anxiety may also help as times of transition, as well as during times of acute and chronic stress.
Ashwagandha is one of the flagship herbs of Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine from India, and has been used for centuries to reduce stress, increase resilience and resistance to “burn out” and promote a calmer and happier sense of being. Ashwagandha is an “adaptogen” meaning it can adapt to your body’s needs by balancing different systems, such as hormones and immune cells, to create stability in the body. It’s often the herbal adaptogen of choice when it comes to supporting a return to optimal function, especially in the adrenal and thyroid systems, whether those imbalances have been caused by external stresses or from internal changes such as inflammation or hormonal fluctuations.
L-theanine, chamomile, passionflower extract and 5-HTP, alongside organic magnesium citrate can all promote better quality of sleep and boost levels of calming neurotransmitters in the brain. Balancing the endocannabinoid system, through oils rich in phytocannabinoids, may also help balance mood, emotion and promote resilience through improving sleep quality.
Mental health can affect people of any age and providing practical, emotional and lifestyle support to help the younger generations transition and build resilience and skills for truly thriving in their future is a powerful message highlighted by Mental Health Awareness 2019. Discussions based on enhancing emotional intelligence supported by acquiring positive habits such as diet and stress management, as well as building interests and managing social media will help to reduce the impact of stress on long-term health and wellbeing and enable energy to be focussed on thriving and not simply surviving in the future.
- McManus S, Meltzer H, Brugha T, Bebbington P, Jenkins R (eds), 2009. Adult Psychiatric Morbidity in England 2007: results of a household survey. NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care.
- NICE (2011). Common mental health disorders | Guidance and guidelines | NICE. [online] Available at: http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg123
- Byock (2015) The inner world of the first half of life: Analytical psychology’s forgotten developmental stage. Psych Perspec 58:399-415
- Settersten et al (2015) Becoming adult: Meanings of markers to adulthood. Emerging Trends Soc Behav Sci