This is part one of a two part series. To read part two click here.
I interviewed the CEO of beyondblue last year who told me there are two million Australians currently suffering from an anxiety disorder. That’s twice as many as are going through depression. This confirmed for me that my experience is not an isolated one. In my case it was Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which manifested itself in large part through a problem I had that went unattended for too long.
Around about the time my mental woes began at the age of 18 I was working a full time job and attending university at nights and studying on weekends. I remember operating at a frantic pace and feeling frustrated at the lack of time I had for many things I wanted to do such as meeting up with friends and exercising.
I didn’t realise at the time how vulnerable I was leaving myself to mental deterioration and before long I began experiencing panic attacks and episodes of depression.
Three years later I was convalescing at home after spending two months in psychiatric hospital where I received treatment for significant anxiety and mood problems. By that time I had no employment or study requirements to fulfill, and no obligations to be volunteering my time anywhere. Yet inexplicably my sense of anxiety over not having enough time was just as acute as three years prior.
This experience taught me a valuable lesson I try these days not to forget: Feeling as if you don’t have the time to do what you need to do promotes anxiety. Additionally, it goes against good mental health to be constantly kept from at least some of the things you would like to do.
The first important step in addressing a time shortage problem is to acknowledge it exists.
It is entirely possible to be overworked and unavailable for fun without consciously realising it is a danger to your mental health. You may have even been complaining about how run off your feet you are to your friends, family and work colleagues for months or even years without realising inwardly what you have been telling them.
If your situation is further downstream (e.g. my state of mind post-hospital), it might be a vital step to realise the problem lies not in a lack of available time, but rather problematic thought processes and the accompanying discomforting feelings that have become a vicious cycle.
Getting on top of things
The solution to the problem will look different depending on your work/life situation and mental state, but the first thing I would recommend is sitting down with a trusted friend or family member and talking about it. It doesn’t need to be a super serious conversation - it’s just a starting point.
If your problems are at an early or intermediate stage the good news is there are plenty of online resources readily available to help you work through things. The best website I know is mindhealthconnect which is a one-stop information hub and directory for online mental health services (including self help resources).
Working through anxiety that is more pervasive has in my experience needed face to face clinical help. If you have not sought this before I recommend seeing your general practitioner as a starting point to talk things through.
Sometimes it takes a major incident to cause us to stop and think about how sustainably we are living. I advocate not waiting for one of these.