#StressDownDayUK - is anxiety just your brain on fire?

Anxiety, like depression, is an illness.

It is a myth, however, that like depression, it is definitively caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. (And, even then, many psychologists even debate the latter statement.)

Often chemical imbalances are the result of - rather than the precursor to - anxiety; take for example hormone imbalances, psoriasis, weight gain/loss, acne, difficulty breathing, lowered immune system, and many more. And, then you have the genetic issue at play here - some people just tend to store lower levels of serotonin anyway, leading to greater likelihood of suffering from stress and anxiety - which is where the 'chicken or the egg' question came from relating to the issue  - is it caused by something else, or is it caused by our very own thoughts? Although the issue is highly complex - and I am by no means an expert, so always take my written word with a huge handful of salt - I do believe that anxiety stems from overthinking, not being able to manage the avalanche of negative narratives running through our minds, and having a lack of support/access to coping mechanisms.

The conclusion? Studies show that although there is no conclusive evidence ruling out a chemical imbalance causation (or vice versa), we can take away from the fact that anxiety and stress aren't things to be taken likely - and can escalate, if given the chance and negligence.

So it comes as no surprise that as of today mental health issues are at an all time high. Women are more likely to suffer from stress or anxiety, whilst men's suicides rates are at a terrifying all time high. (I think the takeaway here is that women tend to get offered more emotional support, whereas men are often left to their own devices, assumed, foolishly, to be the more 'privileged' sex and abandoned on a mental health level.) Although it is a vastly complex and sensitive subject, there are a few things we can tackle when it comes to mental health and calming the f*ck down in a world that seems as if everything's on speed.


1. Never feel guilty for confiding in somebody

Maybe it's just the Londoner in me, but I have noticed a massive disconnect in today's society where 'busy' is seen as the new 'beautiful', and 'emotionally unavailable' now the hottest trend to grace our timelines since the miniskirt. To be vulnerable, honest and caring is interpreted as clingy and crazy; and to confess feelings of stress or upset triggers a fear within you that nobody will take that sort of talk seriously. But the truth is we are not numbers on a spreadsheet; we are humans, who think, feel, express, and communicate in ways to achieve our needs of self-actualisation and happiness. In order to reach this, we have to connect to how we're really feeling and be ready to have courage in admitting what needs to be done in order for us to truly thrive. It's never OK for people to make you feel as though you're pathetic or 'too much' if you're being honest, clear and decent in your intentions. There are plenty of hotlines at your disposal to ring - loved ones aside - and remember, if you're confessing a huge gaping hole of vulnerability to a friend and they dismiss it - ditch them. They're certainly not worth having in your life.

2. Build your self-esteem, sense of validation and confidence outside self-destructive habits

Somewhat connected to the last one, in an era of mass consumerism, superficiality and instantaneous gratification, people often believe that the solution to mental, emotional and spiritual problems are external - upset after a break up? Grab the Ben & Jerry's. Terrified of intimacy and abandonment? Sleep with as many people as you can to fill the void. Want to feel a sense of being alive and numb the internal pain? Cut yourself. (Guilty of this one, in the past, I'm afraid!) The truth is, building self-worth can be painful because after a while you realise none of these transient actions can ever begin to heal the wounds you have within. It is up to you to replace your self-destructive habits with life-affirming ones in order to reduce your levels of stress, anxiety, and low self-worth - and begin to take charge of your life. This is also the reason why sedentarism is often linked with mental health issues - exercise and movement is the biggest confidence builder out there.

3. Explore mindfulness and alternative ways of seeing the world to instil calm and stability

There's a reason why this works - Stoic and Eastern philosophy tends to eschew all things materialistic, and focus on your inner game rather than external woes. These thinkers weren't the greats for nothing! Again, modern life shames us into thinking we're 'woo-woo hippies' or dingbats for seeking the not-so-well-trodden path in search of a better, happier, more fulfilling life. I can tell you now, I have never been as happy as I have when I reached within myself and studied these schools of philosophy - things like meditation, self-introspection, being present, acceptance and gentle inner strength are just a few examples which are rarely - if ever - approached in daily modern London living. Grab yourself a book - I would recommend grabbing some Marcus Aurelius or Thich Nhat Hanh to get you started.

4. When in doubt...get the hell off your phone.

Arguably the source of all relationship, mental health, and concentration issues, this shining rectangle of all-encompassing, all-consuming information has the power to transform any well-versed academic into a zombie within mere moments of being in its presence. Studies show, quite clearly, a direct correlation (if not causation) with frequent social media/phone usage and mental health issues. As somebody who uses Instagram to build her brand, I understand the responsibility I have when using it - and the consequences which come with being too laissez-faire with my content, not just for my audience's perceptions and mindfulness, but also my own! We live in a world where business and work is done almost exclusively on this magical black brick, but that doesn't mean you can't schedule at least 30-60 minutes a day of pure no phone contact to keep your sanity and remind you that, yes, a real world does exist out there. Try this for a week - you'll feel amazing after.

So today I hope you all make the extra effort to love and be kind to yourself - no matter how that looks - and check in to see how you're truly feeling. Remember, if you don't feel good and happy within yourself, there's not a chance in hell that you will ever be able to spread that good energy onto somebody else. We're all in this together.


#StressDownDayUK was started by First Light Trust - http://www.firstlighttrust.co.uk