Mental Health Week (14th – 20th May)
With Mental Health Awareness Week fast approaching (14th – 20th May 2018), I felt compelled to continue my train of thought surrounding my story and struggle to overcome PTSD and anxiety.
Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, each year they focus on a different theme surrounding mental health. This year they have decided to focus on STRESS.
Research has shown that two thirds of us experience a mental health problem over the course of our lifetimes, and stress is a key factor to this. Stress is a leading cause of anxiety and depression, which is something that I know all too well.
In some highly unfortunate cases, some people dealing with stress cannot find solutions to their problems and can ultimately lead to self-harm or even suicide. This is why it is so important for us to raise awareness for this issue. If we can start to tackle stress, we may be able to help more people from reaching rock bottom.
So why am I talking about this when I write about travel?
Be Happy Not Perfect whilst travelling
Over the weekend I started to think about the ways in which backpacking and specifically instagram influencers who focus on travel have a negative affect at times on not only my own but many young women’s mental health.
The stress, pressure and potent bombardment of consumerism that we are viewing on Instagram via influencers really does effect how we view ourselves and what we have. It’s this constant need to have the perfect life or seem to have it all, rather than concentrate on being happy.
Although it may seem that there is little stress involved in travelling the world, there’s definitely times when you can feel overwhelmed, especially as you’re out of your comfort zone.
Not only can you be dealing with the dangers of the world around you but the stress you’re putting on yourself through social media pressure.
Although this is hard to admit, I am massively guilty of this. I’m so hard on myself for not getting the perfect photo while I was in a destination, feel bad about myself when I see all these other young women, who seem to have it all! I don’t feel adequate or able to reach the success that they have achieved…
but why does this matter? When I actually reflect on these thoughts, I realise how ridiculous it is.
I have to knowingly question my thoughts and look at the bigger picture. When I am thinking ‘poor me’ I look at the world around me and realise how there is actually so much pain and suffering for others. It is so important to put your problems into perspective.
However that being said, everyone has their own s**t. Everyone has their own problems and each one is still important. Even the most successful people struggle with anxiety and depression. People who we perceive to have the life that we want, are sometimes behind closed doors battling extreme mental health issues.
Where’s the love?
I recently went through a break up and as you can imagine had a particularly upsetting period of time having left Thailand to come home alone. Break ups are never easy and leaving a country to come home is also never easy. Put that with no job lined up and debt, it was to say the least a little overwhelming.
However, the thing that upset me and got me thinking was the conversations I had with some of my oldest friends, both when I was away and upon returning home.
Some of my ‘closest’ friends had no clue what was happening in my world over there, that I wasn’t happy. However, this wasn’t their fault, how would they know that I was going through a hard time? I was posting pictures on Instagram and Facebook of the wonderful and beautiful places I was visiting and looked perfectly happy in my relationship.
Of course no one is going to post on Facebook or Instagram a picture of themselves crying, sad or having an argument with the person they love…and on the other hand, I felt guilty for not actually knowing the stress that they have been going through in their day to day lives back home.
Communicate with friends at home
I feel this is why it’s imperative to communicate often and honestly with people back home whilst your’re away. Let them know if things haven’t gone to plan and share that heavy emotional journey. It will definitely help, they will be more prepared to step in and help when you may not even realise it’s needed.
I remember when I first went travelling one the key reasons to go was to get away from social media and cut yourself off from the world. In order to do this now, you really do have to go deep into tiny communities in the middle of nowhere or sign yourself up for a retreat and promise yourself not to look at your phone.
It is this constant need to get reassurance and portray yourself to being happy rather than actually being happy. Instagram and Facebook will not boost your confidence and self-esteem…it is only you that can do that.
When something goes wrong in your life, no one knows as you have portrayed a postcard perfect life abroad.
Travel 4 Mental Health
One of the best reasons for travel is the positive effect it has had on my mental health and everything I have overcome. “I will not let social media pressure and irrelevant stress bring me down” (As I repeat to myself as if it’s my mantra). I do still believe that backpacking has wonderful benefits for the mind. Here’s some evidence for you with a study about how hiking changes our brains. I’ll let you read more about that here.
Just don’t let the pressure to take ‘happy’ photos take over your adventure. Remember why you went away in the first place. I have no wish to become an Instagram model. However I do want to be happy.
So how do we get there?
The happiest people have been found to think about others the most.
Over the past week I have read this quote twice! That has got to be a sign, right? I then looked it up and found a list of equally insightful quotes from some of our greatest thinkers.
After my visit to the local library last week I started reading Richard Branson’s book ‘The Virgin Way’ (which I highly recommend). He discusses this quote and goes on to talk about examples of how some start up companies are extremely socially responsible. Leaders and companies should be thinking beyond the bottom line and thinking more about the people and community in which it’s established. He even states “If you aren’t making a positive difference to other people’s lives then you shouldn’t be in business”. Ultimately he argues companies should be making a difference in the world, for everyone. By doing this it has an amazing affect on the world and the business itself.
Then I picked up The Sunday Times and read Style magazine and there it was again.
It’s so easy for us to become narcissistic, when you’re feeling down and anxious. It is ever important for us to consciously shift our focus onto helping others.
A new app is due to launch tomorrow called ‘Happy Not Perfect’, that is designed to curb our constant need for perfection. As Style magazine states, (former TV presenter) Poppy Jamie claims she has designed the app as a way of combating a “confidence and self-esteem epidemic” and I couldn’t agree more. It apparently has features such as a “compassion” step where you have to give yourself a compliment and access to more than 200 meditation podcasts.
One of the key features of the app is to send a “vibe” to either a friend or an anonymous user with a positive message.
My challenge to you is to do one kind thing for someone else this week.
If you’re currently travelling why not look at the poverty that you see around you and do something kind in that community…or perhaps you’re at home and you know someone going through a hard time with mental health issues. Why not just spend time really listening to their problems. Even if you are unable to help them in a tangible way, simply by being there and listening to what makes them stressed, it will make a the world of difference.
It’s safe to say Clara Stunck writer of The Sunday Times article has me sold on this app, I can’t wait to download it tomorrow.
Want more information?
If you suffer from mental health issues and want help, before you travel and advice for returning home. The foreign office provide detailed advice on travelling with mental health issues.