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Even professionals need a helping hand. From their mental health journeys to how they look after mind & mood when life gets tough, three experts share their stories & top tips with us

When psychotherapist Gemma Saggers told us in our piece about women who gave up alcohol during lockdown that “Therapists are not immune” to falling into bad habits as coping mechanisms to deal with stressors (especially those experienced in the past couple of years), it struck a chord.

There’s probably a lot of pressure to be the picture of perfect mental health if that’s your area of expertise. As Gemma highlighted though, those who work within the industry need to work on their own mental health just as much as others. 

Upping her self-care was imperative for Gemma’s sense of wellbeing and also so that she was able to help others to the best of her ability. Part of that entailed stopping drinking alcohol. This got us thinking about what tools others in similar professions use to help get them through the tough times.

We asked three mental health experts to share their journeys with us – the ups, the downs and the in-betweens – and what they do to help manage their mind and mood both off and online. 

Chloe Brotheridge

Chloe Brotheridge is a hypnotherapist, mentor and coach at www.calmer-you.com and the host of The Calmer You Podcast. She’s the author of The Anxiety Solution and The Confidence Solution.

My mental health journey

“I think mental health is definitely a journey. I started experiencing panic attacks and anxiety at the age of 15. I’d worry obsessively and found it hard to open up and be myself. I remember speaking to the school nurse who told me that I had nothing to panic about; this put me off seeking help for years. It wasn't until I was 25 and anxiety was affecting my first serious relationship that I knew that I had to get help. 

“I've had a lot of different types of therapy; everything from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to Reiki, but hypnotherapy really shifted things for me. When I first started my career as a hypnotherapist, public speaking terrified me. But through having therapy, I learnt to be kind to myself and tools such as meditation (I do Transcendental Meditation) helped me to calm my nervous system. These days, I happily speak to big groups of people. 

“There are still ups and downs but I try to live by the quote ‘Make peace of mind your priority.’ Good mental health is something I work hard to maintain; I've gone through several periods of not drinking alcohol and I try to stick to a healthy diet. I also work with a therapist and a coach because when you're supporting others, it's important to look after yourself too.”

What helps me to manage my mental health

1. “I have strict boundaries around social media. I delete the Instagram app when I'm not using it to avoid mindless scrolling and I block social media sites from my phone using the ScreenTime app on iPhone. This way, I use social media more intentionally for work, rather than being tempted to check it during my time off.”

2. “I use an alarm clock to wake up, instead of my phone. It means that I don't have to have the phone next to me first thing in the morning and last thing at night so I can't check my work emails! It's helped a lot.”

3. “I check in with my breathing several times a day. I notice where I'm holding tension in my body and I consciously relax that area. Then I relax my belly and take some deep belly breaths, extending the out-breath. This has a calming effect on the nervous system by activating the parasympathetic nervous system and rest and digest mode.”

4. “Twice a week I'll write a gratitude list. I'll write down about 10 specific things that I'm grateful for - the more specific the better. This trains our mind to look for the positives and is particularly good if your mind tends to notice the negatives or go to the worst-case scenario.”

5. “I use visualisation every day to imagine things going the way I want them to. It's a great way to mentally rehearse things like public speaking or social events. A lot of anxiety presents itself as us imagining things going badly, but top athletes use visualisation to imagine things going well. It's a helpful way to boost your confidence and feel calmer about the future.”

Dr Tina Mistry

Dr Tina Mistry (@brownpsychologist on Instagram) is a consulting psychologist, speaker, writer and therapist whose expertise on South Asian mental health encompasses everything from intergenerational trauma to issues of identity, belonging and acculturation.

My mental health journey

“I became aware of mental health struggles early on in my teenage years. My parents divorced and this had a big impact on me. I learned to push feelings inside because of the detriment they may cause others. Growing up, I often saw that young people’s emotional needs were rarely discussed in South Asian families and often emotional experiences were brushed off as ‘teenage hormones’.

"As I began to see how mental illness took form in my family and community, I wanted to make sense of how a person could go from being healthy to unwell. I studied psychology at A-level and I knew that it would feed my hunger for understanding people and the world around me. 

“My personal struggles were embedded in the pursuit of financial and status success and this drive came with its drawbacks; specifically, anxiety and low mood. During times of stress like exams or coursework deadlines, these symptoms would show up and wreak havoc in my world. They were reminders of the pressure I put on myself. I’ve now learnt that these pressures were not in my head, but were a product of my culture, upbringing and society.

“Connection and compassion help me during these times. It sounds very simple in theory but can be very difficult in practice when a storm’s around you. Luckily, I’ve created and embraced a network of friends that are not afraid to reach out when I’m struggling. However, there are things that I need to draw upon in order to help myself too. There’s a fine balance of support from others and knowing yourself and engaging in what works for you.”

What helps me to manage my mental health

1. “I prioritise sleep and rest. It’s so underrated, but the importance of doing nothing is so crucial. I’m a mum of two girls and they like to keep me busy. I’m grateful that I can rest when I need to.”

2. “Time out from social media. I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I’ve learnt to embrace it, but it’s important to unplug from the digital world and live moment to moment. You don’t have to share everything, and you can keep memories in your mind rather than on your feed.”

3. “I share my thoughts with close colleagues. Sometimes a cup of tea and a natter about what you watched on the television is normalising, especially when you’ve been working with traumatic issues.”

4. “Laughter is medicine. Having a chance to play with children or a good laugh with friends is so important. I love it when you belly laugh so hard that you end up in tears because of it.”

5. “I cry. It’s an expression of pain (or happiness) and helps to release tension or emotion built up inside. When times have been particularly tough, I either listen to a really sad song or watch something that upsets me, and it enables me to have a good old sob. Don’t be afraid of ugly crying too.”

Fiona Lamb

Fiona Lamb is a clinical hypnotherapist based on Harley Street and the founder of the highly-rated meditation app, Mind Detox.

My mental health journey

“I used to suffer from anxiety and insomnia in my late teens and twenties. It was at a time when no one spoke about mental health and my constant worrying, panic and fears just became a part of my life. I thought this was normal!

“Someone recommended hypnotherapy to me and after a few sessions I began to feel completely different. I gained a sense of calm and stability I hadn’t had previously and all areas of my life improved, including my sleep. This led me to train to become a hypnotherapist so that I could help others who were in the same situation.

“I still have good and bad days, just like anyone. Life is full of ups and downs and just like the seasons, it moves in cycles and is always changing. We gain a sense of calm from embracing change and being okay with the unknown and so I meditate every day to help teach my mind to feel safe and to stop me from overthinking as much.

"I’ve learnt over the years that the downs never last. The sun always comes back out, however bad the storm is! I also find it helpful to remember that bad experiences don’t define us; each of us has our own challenges to face which is why kindness and compassion are so important.”

What helps me to manage my mental health

1. “Meditation is my main go-to. I meditate every day. It helps train my mind to become more settled. Since our thoughts are so automatic, when we close our eyes and don’t allow our thoughts to influence us, even for a short while, this acts as a reset and activates our body's rest response. Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to meditate! I aim for 20 minutes a day, but you’ll feel a difference even after five minutes.”

2. “I make sure that I’m taking good care of myself. This includes eating well, exercising and doing the things that make me happy without feeling guilty. Getting out in nature and fresh air is also very important - think of yourself like a solar battery!”

3. “I seek out connection. Loneliness is the biggest cause of dissatisfaction in so many people’s lives. The relationships that we build with others are so important. I recommend to my clients to reach out to at least three to five people a day and to build a support system around them.”

4. “I get creative. I love painting and creating things. It’s a great way to express yourself. Having different outlets can help build a deeper level of self-awareness and strengthen cognitive function and, as a result, reduces stress and anxiety.”

5. “Journaling is a useful tool too. Writing down repetitive thoughts really helps me to rationalise them on a more logical level.”

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Photography: Samara Morris, Joseph Sinclair