“I feel stressed all the time. I’m wound up, anxious. My mind is churning. I haven’t got the energy for anything. I’ve got to stop feeling like this. How can I change the way I feel.”
People often come to me saying things like this. They think there’s something wrong with them if this is the way they feel. They want tools and techniques they can use to stop it. Instead of stressed and wound-up, they want to feel chilled and relaxed. But what if the way they are feeling is a healthy response to the situation they are in.
As I start to ask about what’s going on in their world they tell me about exams, moving house, a demanding new boss, redundancies at work, fighting with their partner, or the loss of someone close. Feeling stressed and wound-up is a normal and pretty healthy response to situations like these and others like them. It’s natural to feel low or worried. I would be much more concerned if they had no response or said they were fine while increasingly adopting potentially problematic behaviours designed to numb or avoid the stress
People are much more open about their mental wellbeing than before. Celebrities, politicians, and all sorts of people talk about their struggles. It’s powerful. It helps remove the stigma associated with mental health and, valuably, deepens people’s knowledge and understanding. But I believe the view still exists that someone who is mentally well is happy, contented. They never get low or worried, everything is manageable. Real life, though, is challenging. It has plenty of ups and downs. Just as it’s healthy to experience joy in the ups, so it’s normal to experience sadness, anger or fear in the downs. Once people understand this, they often start to feel settled and accepting.
Feeling stressed, wound-up or flat does not, by definition, mean the person is unwell. It doesn’t mean they’re suffering from depression or anxiety. It could simply be that they are responding healthily to a challenging situation and that the key to feeling more upbeat is to change or step away from the situation.