This week feels like it has been one of my worst mental health weeks for some time. After a really great weekend with friends, it came as a nasty surprise to wake up on Monday morning feeling, what I tend to call, “cloudy”.
During these cloudy times, everything can feel like “too much”. Reflecting back on this week, I realise I inadvertently implemented a pretty good coping strategy, based on my understanding of non-negotiable and negotiable stressors:
Non-negotiable stressors are things that may be causing you stress and anxiety, but are essential to your day – like going to work, commuting, talking to clients, or cooking dinner and taking care of your home.
Negotiable stressors are things that cause your body stress, but that can be limited, or eliminated from your day when times get tough. Things like the gym, social plans, non-urgent life admin, or taking on extra responsibilities at work to help out a colleague (harsh, but true).
These will be different for everyone. My list of negotiable stressors won’t be exactly the same as yours, and that’s okay – we’ve all got different things going on. What is a negotiable and non-negotiable stressor may also be different with each bad mental health spell that we experience. Something that was negotiable may have become non-negotiable, or vice versa, and so with each spell of personal cloudiness we’ll look again and re-examine how to re-categorise the stressors on our plate this time around.
My hope, in sharing how I muddled through this week, is that you may recognise some of the negotiable stressors in your own life, and when you need to, take action to help yourself feel like sunshine again.
My job is a biggie (as I assume it will be for most of us) when it comes to non-negotiables. That said, there are steps I tried to take this week to reduce the toll it takes during weeks when my resilience is at it’s lowest. For example:
- Writing a (realistic) to-do list every morning – and even if I didn’t tick everything off, writing everything down went a long way to clearing it from my head.
- Blocking out time during which I would take myself away from our open-plan office, working instead from a free meeting room – honouring my need for quiet, focused working away from the buzz of other people.
- Being open with my Line Manager about the fact that I’m struggling a bit more that usual this week. I acknowledge this simply isn’t an option for everyone, but if there’s someone at work you trust, it can make a huge difference.
- Taking the bus to work some days – my usual 45 minute walk is great when it’s blue-skies, but it’s a long way and usually gets me to work feeling energised but also quite tired and flustered. The bus is never my first choice, but it gets me there with less physical and mental energy spent.
Sounds like an obvious non-negotiable – but a stressor? However, I would argue that for some of us, allowing time to rest throughout our day when we’re feeling overwhelmed is actually quite difficult. “I don’t have enough time to stop for lunch” or “I’ll just check my emails again once more this evening” etc. This week I made sure to allow myself; my full lunch break every day, uninterrupted time to eat my morning and evening meals, and allowing time before bed to do something that wasn’t looking at my phone, or writing, or creating and stimulating my brain too much. Plus, getting enough sleep – 7-8 hours enough! It can feel stressful to not being ‘doing‘ if you’re an over-achiever like me – but it’s important to give your thinking muscles a rest.
For a long time I would have, incorrectly, chalked up Gym-time (and all other forms of exercise) into the ‘non-negotiable’ column. Really, unless you are a professional athlete, or Gym Trainer – so the gym is your actual job – then, honey, it can wait a few days. The Gym is nice and all but so is rest, and after getting up twice this week at 6am to snatch a pre-work workout, and bailing on both occasions – once before I even left the flat, and once having made it all the way to the bus-stop before turning around and going home again – I came to realise that the gym just wasn’t on the cards.
I lift weights because I am someone who derives a lot of mental strength and resilience from the feeling of physical strength that comes with lifting heavy things up and putting them back down again. This week, I realised that mental strength can also come in the form of acute self-awareness, and acknowledging and accepting when the gym is too much for my body to handle.
Sounds counter-intuitive to limit the amount of time spent around other people, right? Most especially if it’s people you don’t really want to be hanging out with anyway, but also with those people who you know and love, social time can be really exhausting when you’re not mentally performing at your best. Strategically limiting my social plans makes the time I do spend with the ‘carefully chosen few’ much more enjoyable and I can give more of my positive energy and self to them. (So if I did see you this week, know you’re a good egg with whom I trust my cloudy self, you’re welcome) !!
You all knew it was coming. And I won’t be the first person to say it by any means, but NEWSFLASH – social media isn’t great for our mental health. Shocker.
I love social media. I’ve met some amazing friends through Instagram since moving to Bristol and overall my experience with the online world has been largely positive. But I’m immune to the mindless scrolling, imposter syndrome and comparison that comes hand-in-hand with having a platform online. So in weeks like this, I do need to be more mindful of the way I use social media. Being conscious of my scrolling, engaging less with other people’s content, posting less – instead being more present in my real world.
As you can see, the things that cause us stress aren’t always negative – social media, social time and exercise all seem to be largely positive things for mind and body. But, even these positive outputs can be draining to our available energy and make it harder to cope with the energy output required for bigger tasks, like going to work and being productive when you get there.
Maybe you’ll realise that something you thought was essential, isn’t really that essential. I haven’t been to the gym for 10 days now, and whilst I’m looking forward to going back soon, I haven’t really missed it. I let go of the stress associated with ‘not going’ ( especially when it looks like everyone else in the world is smashing their gym-based goals without you) and just enjoyed the rest instead.
We cannot do all of the things, all of the time.
Until next time,
Drop me a comment if you have any thoughts on this, or how you’ve identified and managed the negotiable and non-negotiable stressors in your life! You can find me on Instagram @moll_eatsandlifts.