Level 6, 11 – 31 York Street
Sydney NSW 2000 Australia
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, have been stressed-out for a long time, feel constantly tired, or find it hard to get out of bed, your mental health could be suffering.
The good news is – you’re not alone.
Mental health issues (or mental illness) can make you feel isolated, as though you’re broken, or like no one else could understand how you’re feeling. But you’re far from the only person who feels this way.
It’s also nothing to be ashamed of. You wouldn’t look down on someone for having a broken bone – your mental health is just as important to take care of.
Mental illness is very common in Australia. One in five Australians between the ages of 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year – that’s 20% of the population. And 45% of the population will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. According to the Black Dog Institute, the most common mental illnesses are anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
It’s never been easier to talk about mental illness or to seek help, but most sufferers don’t access treatment – a staggering 54% of people. When someone delays seeking help it takes longer to treat their mental illness once they come forward, and it can be more difficult to overcome or manage it.
Signs you might be experiencing mental illness include feeling anxious or worried, depressed or unhappy, experiencing emotional outbursts, having problems with sleep, weight or appetite changes, being quiet or withdrawn, substance abuse, feeling guilty or worthless, or other significant changes in behaviour or feelings.
When you’re struggling, it’s important to have a support network around you, regardless of whether you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness or not. Support networks often involve close friends and family that you can feel comfortable talking to, as well as your doctor. You might even find a support group or online forum to join where you can share your feelings and be heard by people who empathise with what you’re going through. Seeing a psychologist can help you navigate how you’re feeling, giving you the opportunity to develop strategies and tools to get through the tough times.
For a lot of people, anxiety and depression is something that needs to be managed over time. Treatment for mental illness is a unique and individual process to go through, so it’s important to speak to medical professionals about your circumstances and to determine the best path to wellness. Going to a doctor (General Practitioner) to begin with is a great start.
Mental health conditions are unique to each individual. Management strategies that work for one person might not work for someone else.
The following list contains some helpful tools that you can try to incorporate into your life, but by no means is it complete. The important thing to do is try – the more things you try, and the longer you try those things for, the easier it will be for you to identify what works and what healthy habits are worth keeping up.
Even if it’s just going for a walk around the block, stretching, or doing some yoga. Some people find boxing great for releasing their anger, and others like to exhaust their mind and body with HIIT workouts.
Eating nutritious food, including plenty of vegetables and fruit, helps your brain function at its best. Make sure you’re drinking enough water, even if it’s the middle of winter, and make sure you’re getting enough sunshine (and if you’re not, check with your doctor to see if you’ve got Vitamin D deficiency, which can impact on your mood).
Meditation and mindfulness.
Take time to sit and focus on your breath. Meditation and mindfulness practice gives your brain some space to process and calm itself.
Make sure to slow down your breathing, or try Pranayama/yogic breathing techniques designed to promote wellness. There’s scientific evidence that shows the benefit of yogic breathing on the body and mind.
Go outside and get close to nature. If you can, take off your shoes and feel your feet on the ground. There’s proven benefit to getting outdoors when you’re not feeling great.
Be kinder to yourself, and reduce the amount of criticism or harsh language you think/say towards yourself. A good rule of thumb is: would you say this thought or statement to your best friend? If you think it would hurt them, make them feel bad or self-conscious, then it’s not a thought you should direct at yourself.
Write down the things you’re thinking and feeling. Get it all out on paper and see if you notice a pattern emerging, if there are specific situations that make you feel worse than others. Just the act of writing can help you to process the feelings you’re experiencing. This is a great thing to do before bed if you are finding it hard to go to sleep and your brain is over-active.
Reduce screen time
Downgrade the amount of time you spend online, especially on social media. When you’re not feeling great, the last thing you need is to watch someone else’s “highlight reel” on Instagram. Speaking of…
Comparison is the thief of joy. Everyone’s journey is different. Don’t compare what you have to what other people have. If you catch yourself comparing, pause and take a deep breath. Try to let it go.
Instead of searching for happiness or positivity (which might feel too hard to achieve when you’re unwell), try and find three things you can be grateful for in your life every day. Even if those things aren’t giving you active happiness, these are still things you can focus on that help you to keep moving forward. It could be your family or friends, it could be the roof over your head, it could be the feeling of sunshine on your face, your favourite chocolate, or maybe a pet you get to cuddle. There are no ‘right’ answers, what you’re grateful for is special to you. And there’s plenty of scientific research that backs the benefits of having a daily gratitude practice.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1
This grounding exercise is helpful for when you’re feeling overwhelmed, or in the middle of a panic attack. Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
There are plenty of resources you can access in Australia if you’re struggling. You can contact any of the national or state-based services listed on our Student Support page.
*please note that this article is not meant to replace medical help or treatment, or diagnose medical conditions. You should always talk to a medical professional about any concerns or issues you have with your health. If your life is in danger, please call emergency services on 000 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
By Jessica Hutchinson