As part of our Mental Health 101 series we discuss depression. We briefly look what feeds its development and maintenance and we touch on approaches to treatment.
We’ve just released a new Series, Coping in Hard Times, which is designed to help people adapt and adjust to stressful life events. Its creator, our Head of Psychology Dr Heather Bolton, shares some thoughts on this Series and explains the rationale behind it.
We wrote this Series for a number of reasons. Above all, nobody is exempt from stressful life events and their effects. As human beings, we all face the prospect of challenges and hardships in life and these can be impossible to pre-empt. Until something happens, we don’t really know how it will impact us or how we’ll cope.
Everything we do at Unmind is underpinned by our belief in the value of a proactive, preventative approach to mental health.
This Series really aligns with that commitment. We know that stressful life events can sometimes trigger problems like depression and anxiety and we wanted to have a Series that people can use to help navigate their way through difficult circumstances, and reduce the chances of them turning into a bigger problem.
When we talk about stressful life events, they could be anything really: maybe a relationship breakdown, the loss of someone close, or a new medical diagnosis. But it's also important to remember that so-called “positive” events like getting married or taking a promotion can also act as stressors.
When challenging things happen in our lives, we need to go through a period of adjustment and often that requires us to step back and challenge our beliefs.
When something happens we’ll naturally ask ourselves questions to try and make sense of it but sometimes we can answer them in quite a biased way: Why did that relationship break down? Because I’m not worthy as a person. Why did that accident happen? Because the world is unsafe, or because I’m unlucky. Why was my house burgled? Because other people are malicious. It’s easy to see how thoughts like these could trigger an episode of low mood or anxiety if they go unchallenged.
The CBT approach to coping and adjusting helps people unpack their thoughts and, if there are any biases there, will gently challenge them. It also helps someone work out the best approach to coping, for them as an individual - when we’re under stress, we often fall into old ways of coping and these aren’t always helpful. When we’re adjusting, we need a good balance of processing our feelings, taking practical steps to problem-solve, but also continuing to align with our personal values. It really can be a delicate balance, which is why it’s common to need a helping hand.
People often don't seek help, or if they do, they might wait a while to access it, so being armed with extra resources can only be a good thing.
The Coping in Hard Times Series has several take-home messages. First of all, there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to cope with something. It’s absolutely okay and entirely normal to feel upset if it seems like things are going wrong in your life - it makes you human.
Second, a big part of adjusting is about accepting your feelings and then finding your own way to deal with them. It’s important not to ignore your feelings - in the face of a life challenge you need to process your emotional reaction before you can start to move on.
We often need to balance the task of managing feelings with keeping up with life’s day-to-day responsibilities, and much of this will depend on what’s going on for you. It’s also helpful to look out for any beliefs you have that might stop you moving forward - for instance, if you're holding yourself to high standards then you’re probably being unfair on yourself.
It can also be helpful to remember that we often come out of an adverse life event feeling stronger and more connected to our sense of inner strength and resilience, and find that certain relationships with those around us have also become stronger. Overcoming a life adversity can reconnect us with our values and help us realign with the life path we want to be on.
Ultimately, we all have mental health and we’re all likely to be affected by difficult life events.
But by knowing ourselves and recognising the ways that stresses can impact us, or the coping traps we fall into, we can build our resilience and continue to live our lives the way we want to, even when we face hardships.
If, a couple of months after facing a life adversity, you can’t stop thinking about what’s happened, or if it’s impacting your ability to live your life, that’s a sign that you need extra support. We’d recommend consulting your doctor, as they’ll be able to discuss possible avenues of help. As always, I’d say that talking is often the best thing you can do, so do seek support from your network.
Coping in Hard Times is now live on the Unmind platform.