In response to recent research by the Junior Lawyers Division that 1 in 15 young solicitors had experienced suicidal thoughts in the past month, I thought now would be a good time to write about my own struggles with stress and depression (for me the two are often linked) and, hopefully, some insight into this topic for people who may find it helpful.
The Dangers of the Mind
Stress can be really horrible. It can bring depression, loneliness, and the inability to be productive. For some, it's like being caught in headlights; all you can do is sit and stare while your brain whizzes non-stop.
For others, it's like an oppressive weight dragging you down.
"The Chimp Paradox" by Professor Steve Peters describes the feeling and effect of negative thought as similar to a chimp in your brain that acts out, disrupts you and causes general chaos in your mind, and around you, through your actions in that precise moment.
For me, the build up of stress and depression is more like the swelling of an ocean, and when it peaks and holds me under water, the effect can sometimes be catastrophic. It's paralysing, a torrent of thoughts and confusion and panic that is not dissimilar to somebody screaming incessantly and violently into my brain.
When it passes, it's as though my head is breaching the crest of a wave and I can breathe deeply again, sucking in air while my head clears and exhaustion threatens to sink in from the force of the journey my mind has just been through. The clarity of that precise moment, when the blanket of darkness lifts and you can see light again, is beautiful; it's a pure moment of relief.
Life can be stressful. Things go wrong. Life can be really tough.
Exams can be stressful. Your job can be stressful. Training Contract applications can be stressful.
The Clearing of the Mind
For anybody who does suffer badly from stress and or depression, there are ways to overcome it.
I find reading extremely helpful. A good fantasy book is my favourite, to escape into another world and clear your mind from the troubles of the day.
Listen to music. I personally find classical music extremely relaxing. Ludovico Einaudi, Vivaldi, Mozart, basically anything you wouldn't listen to in a club!
Go for a walk, a run or go to the gym. Being physical can be EXTREMELY good for your mental health. Whilst doing these, try to wipe your mind clean. It may help you to visualise this, such as taming your "inner chimp", imagining a clear blue, silent lake, or lifting your stress in your mind like a dumbbell and placing it softly to one side, away from you. Simple and illustrative catharsis.
Eat fruit and drink fruit smoothies or juice. My personal favourite is coconut water, I find it soothing.
This is a golden one: talk to someone. This is tricky; when I am struggling, it feels like the world is against me. It's easy to get defensive, to snap at those who are close to you, and to wonder what the point is. You might want to push your friends away, you might not have the energy to see people, to go outside, or even to laugh. The effort of the mundane can be monumental. You need to force yourself to talk to people. You need to make the effort. Because it really can help. It can help to relieve the pressure and pain that your mind is inflicting on itself by verbalising it and having someone just to sit there and listen.
Don't ever feel like it's too trivial or you don't want to annoy people, you are worth the minimal effort it takes for someone else to hear what you have to say.
Remember, though, it is trial and error. The main point is to try different and new things, this is imperative. Otherwise, you won't learn how to deal with it and control it. My mental health has improved dramatically but there are still moments where stress can get on top of me, and in that moment it feels like hands are dragging me down. But it's easier to shake them off than it was. It's easier to crest that wave within a few minutes, rather than a few hours or even days, and to stand bathed in sunlight again.
It will get better. And if it doesn't, tell someone.
And remember; you are not alone.