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mental health

Should I take antidepressants?

The decision to go on to antidepressants is often an overwhelming one. And, worse, it’s a decision you have to make during what’s already a tough time! If you’ve never been on medication before, the idea can be scary. But some people benefit a lot from antidepressants. Let’s talk it through a bit.

Antidepressants are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs. Between 2017 and 2018, 17% of the adult UK population were prescribed antidepressants. In the UK, over 65s are more likely to be on antidepressants than any other age group. Whilst people may keep it private, the chances are that some of the people around you take antidepressants. Even people you think are quite normal!

Table of Contents

What are antidepressants effective against?

Doctors prescribe antidepressants not just for depression, but also for managing anxiety disorders and the likes of PTSD and OCD. There’s nothing wrong with taking an antidepressant to treat one of these, even if you don’t think you are depressed.

What are the side effects of antidepressants?

The side effects of antidepressants tend to be worse in the first few days and weeks, then gradually tail off. It’s common to experience nausea and to generally feel a bit unwell. Don’t be too worried by the thought of side effects. Usually, the side effects aren’t so bad and most people just feel a bit unwell for a few days. For people who do suffer too much with side effects, your doctor will be able to prescribe you a different antidepressant., which you may find suits you better. Unfortunately, there can be some trial and error in finding one that that works for you.

How will antidepressants make me feel?

Antidepressants aren’t happy pills. You don’t take them and suddenly feel happy. They also don’t change who you are. That’s not how it works. Actually, they shouldn’t interfere with your emotions much at all, except by taking the edge off the more harsher feelings.

Hopefully, you will find that things don’t upset you as much as they used to and that your mood is more stable. You should feel a bit calmer and a bit less irritable and overall a bit more content!

Antidepressants shouldn’t numb your emotions. For example, while you might find that you experience a lot less life stress in general, you’ll still feel stressed in a job interview. Equally, you absolutely should still be able to feel happiness and joy.

Antidepressants should make you feel more able to cope with your life, but they won’t drastically change it. If they work, you will find you have more energy and motivation to make positive changes to your life, though. For example, maybe you feel stuck in a job you dislike because you don’t have the mental energy to search for something else. Or perhaps you are trapped in a bad relationship because you don’t feel confident enough to take a step into the unknown. Medication might just help with that.

But none of this is instant. Most antidepressants can take up to 6 weeks to be fully effective, though they will usually yield improvement before that.

Antidepressants aren’t working for me, what should I do?

If you find that antidepressants aren’t working for you or are making you feel worse, you should discuss this with your doctor.

There are options your doctor should present to you. There is always the possibility of coming off them, but you may wish to try a different kind of antidepressant. The most frequently prescribed belong to a family called SSRIs, though there is another family called SNRIs which some people prefer. In fact there are a lot of different types!

What about withdrawal effects when coming off antidepressants?

Some people struggle to come off antidepressants as sudden withdrawal tends to cause anxiety and depression symptoms, and just feeling irritable.

Often, doctors will advise you to reduce your dose over the course of a few weeks, going from a full dose to zero. But too fast a withdrawal will make problems more likely. If you start to experience withdrawal symptoms, you are probably coming off them too quickly. Don’t be too concerned if this is the case, just slow it down a bit and consider pausing on a lower does for a while until you feel more stable.

Categories
mental health

Calming breathing exercises to help you relax

Breathing for calm

Slow, controlled breathing is a super effective way to calm yourself in the moment. And, it can be done almost anywhere, without other people noticing! Calming breathing exercises are something you can do immediately if you feel anxious, but often we aren’t aware of our body enough to respond to these feelings in time. But deep, calming breaths done periodically throughout the day can get you into the habit, and reduce your overall background level of stress.

The latest version of Wellburrito has two different guided breathing exercises built in, which you can use to help calm you down or just generally relax. Breathing exercises in Wellburrito are 100% free to all users.

Square breathing

Square breathing is a very simple practice where you move through four stages:

  1. Breathe in (4 seconds)
  2. Hold (4 seconds)
  3. Breathe out (4 seconds)
  4. Hold (4 seconds)

Each stage lasts for the same amount of time.

The advantage of square breathing is that it’s a very simple count which you can easily repeat over and over in your head. It’s famous for being used by US Navy Seals to keep them calm in high pressure situations, so it must be effective!

7/11 breathing

The name 7/11 breathing refers to the rhythm of the breaths. In 7/11 breathing, the idea is to breathe in for a count of 7, then breathe out for a count of 11. So the defining feature of 7/11 is that the exhale is longer than the inhale. Don’t get too caught up on the exact timings, though. You can use other counts, like 5/8 or even 5/7, if you find it easier to begin with. After all, a count to 11 is quite a long time!

7/11 breathing is more complicated than square breathing, but may be more effective. The focus is on lengthening the exhale. Studies show that the exhale is what calms the body by stimulating the vagus nerve.

Wellburrito supports both 7/11 and 5/8 timings.

Summary

A few minutes practise of either of the calming breathing techniques above should result in your body and mind relaxing. You can continue with them for as long as you like, but you should aim for at least three minutes.

As you can see above, calming breathing practices are both similar and varied! The slow exhale of 7/11 breathing might be more effective for you, but you might prefer the cadence of square breathing.

Categories
mental health

Anxiety calming and coping techniques

Anxiety affects everyone from time to time. Experiencing a little bit of stress when in a tense situation like, for example, a job interview, is perfectly normal. But anxiety can also kick in when it’s neither appropriate nor helpful. This is a common problem that negatively impacts millions of people’s quality of life.

Anxiety is a physical response to danger. When your mind perceives danger, it puts your body onto high alert. Although anxiety is a mental health concern, it has very real effects in your physical world.

How can you calm an anxious mind?

Anxiety has two components. The here and now of when it becomes unbearable, and the long term aspect of being slightly on edge all the time. If you have problems with anxiety, you probably experience both of these. And both should be addressed. If you can get yourself feeling more relaxed in general, you’ll be less prone to anxious thoughts. And, if you can better deal with anxious experiences as they happen, you’ll probably feel more relaxed in general. Great!

Let’s talk about sudden anxiety attacks first. We’ll use the phrase anxiety attack quite loosely. It might be that you are just entering a stressful situation, or it may be that you’re having a looping thought that’s upsetting you. There are things you can do in either situation.

Be mindful and recognise your thoughts

The most important thing to do in this situation is to recognise that you are experiencing stress. Consciously identify it. Say to yourself “I am experiencing anxiety right now”. Make yourself aware of what’s happening. Thoughts tend to just run around on their own, so it’s important to involve your conscious mind in this process.

Recognising your thoughts is both very easy and very hard. It’s easy to do in the sense that once your attention is on your thoughts you can recognise them easily. However, it’s hard in the sense that remembering to do this is, well, hard! That’s OK. Don’t be discouraged when a thought builds unconsciously. It’s a skill you improve over time.

Once you have identified your thought, you’re in a pretty good place because now you can do something about it. Recognising the thought means you are now able to challenge it. Ask yourself if your fears are valid, if they are likely to come to pass, etc. Try to find more likely outcomes, or say “OK, supposing this does happen, is it really a problem? Are there ways I can work around it?”.

Recognising and challenging unhelpful thoughts is the basis of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and has ties to Mindfulness.

Breathe calmness into your body

Just as anxiety has an effect on your body, your body can affect your anxiety. As the purpose of a stress response is to prepare your body for physical danger, you can limit the response by showing your body that you are not in danger.

The big example is breath. Anxiety can lead to short, shallow breaths, as well as the feeling that you can’t breathe deeply enough. But the breath is often the focus in meditation practices, for good reason. Not only is the breath a constant whose presence you can rely on, it’s also a powerful tool to limit stress response.

The key is to perform slow, controlled exhales. Exhalation a little slower than the inhalation is perfect, but for simplicity, a technique called Square Breathing also works well.

Square breathing is a method where you take your breath through four stages: Inhale, hold, exhale, hold. Repeat. Spend around 4-5 seconds on each stage. You should find that after a few loops your heart rate slows down and you feel calmer. This method is famously used by US Navy Seals to remain calm in high stress situations.

Square breathing is an easy and safe way to relieve anxiety anywhere, almost immediately. The difficult part is just remembering to do it!

Be aware of stress and tension in your body

Breathing is a powerful way to reduce anxiety, but often people will continue to hold on to physical tension in their muscles. This can lead to annoying, nagging aches, as well as making it harder to relax.

When you are next feeling stressed, try to pay attention to your body. Perform a slow scan all the way through your body. Start at the top of your head and work downwards. You’ll probably find some areas that you’re holding rigidly. The jaw, neck and shoulders are prime spots and can lead to headaches and other aches.

Try to learn how your body reacts under stress and identify the areas that tend to seize up. Then, when you’re next feeling stressed, run through a mental checklist of those muscles and make a conscious effort to relax them. If you’re not used to being physically aware, this may be a challenge, but with practice you’ll get there!

Anxiety in the long term

Managing anxiety in the long term is a combination of managing it effectively in the moment, which we’ve just covered, and trying to be more resilient to it overall.

That kind of resilience comes only with generally being happier. Which is easier said than done! But there are things you can do.

Try to spend more time on things that you enjoy doing. Have things to look forward to. Reward yourself. Spend time outside (even in winter!). These are all things that will make you feel better in general.

If there are particular things in your life that cause you stress, you can try to reduce the importance of them. For example, if your work causes you a lot of stress, is it possible that having a more fulfilling life outside of work would make it seem less important? We have a special article if you are affected by Workplace Bullying.

The specifics of how you might make yourself happier are difficult to generalise. This article has focused on inner reflection and managing anxiety by changes within oneself. But sometimes life circumstances can cause anxiety and the healthiest thing to do is to change those circumstances. In these cases, if you feel you need more help, you may benefit from counselling.

Categories
mental health

Workplace bullying: The effects and how to manage them

Workplace bullying can be a real problem and can have incredibly destructive effects on your mental health.

What is Workplace Bullying?

When people think of bullying, they often think of outwardly aggressive behaviour like verbal and physical abuse. While those things fit the definition of workplace bullying, workplace bullying as a whole also includes much more insidious behaviour. Mental health professionals recognise workers being marginalised, ignored and excluded in the workplace as bullying. The victim feels undermined and belittled, often publicly, through these actions.

Workplace bullying is often quite subtle. As such, it can be difficult to pinpoint until it’s been ongoing for a significant amount of time. Trying to make sense of the subtleties can lead the victim to start doubting their own perceptions.

What to do if you are the victim of Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying can be upsetting. The first thing is to accept that it’s OK to be upset by it.

Sometimes individual acts seem quite minor. However, when done repeatedly as part of an ongoing pattern, they build up and make the workplace an unhealthy environment. It’s OK to be upset and it doesn’t make you a weaker person.

Write everything down

If you believe you are the victim of workplace bullying, the first thing to do is to write everything down. Write down dates and times as well as details of events and actions, and, crucially, how they made you feel. As workplace bullying can be subtle and hard to understand, having a solid record of events can help a lot to keep your feelings in reality.

If it’s upsetting you enough to leave, make that decision sooner rather than later

Bullying causes a lot of stress, and stress impacts mental and physical health. Plus, long term exposure to bullying can lead to effects similar to PTSD. If the bullying is upsetting you, then chances are that getting out of there is the best thing you can do for yourself.

However, finding another job when feeling worn down by the stress of one’s current job can feel like a big hurdle. Thus, it’s important to do everything possible to get yourself feeling well and confident enough to handle a job search. Counselling and other talk therapies can help with this, and so can anti-depressants. Not everyone benefits from anti-depressants, but don’t discount them without consideration. They can take the edge of the negative feelings away enough for you to make positive changes to your life.

Should I go to HR?

The answer is absolutely yes, you should. Whether or not it is a good idea, however, is not so easy to answer. It’s possible that HR will be professional and take your complaints seriously. It’s also possible they won’t care, or are not competent and all you’ll have to show for talking to them is the stress of talking to them!

The results of going to HR going to vary widely between different workplaces. If your workplace has policies on bullying and seems to recognise the importance of a psychologically safe workplace, then that’s a positive sign. But not all HR managers have any experience with or training in HR, especially in small companies. If your HR manager appears is not inspiring and people regularly leave because of disputes, then you might want to think twice.

If you do choose to involve HR, make sure to document what you discuss, especially including anything they agree to do.

Whilst going to HR may help you, it’s probably something you should hold off doing until you think you’re close to having an offer elsewhere. As with any employment negotiation, it’s best to initiate it only when you have the ability to walk away.

Let’s say you complained, but you don’t feel you were taken seriously. If you feel strongly (and strong) enough, there is always the possibility of legal action against your employer. People can and do win significant amounts of money after being forced to leave jobs due to bullying. This is best discussed with a lawyer.