Originally wrote on 26th May 2017, to mark the end of Mental Health Month.
For quite a while not too long ago, I found feelings of unhappiness and uneasiness starting to seep in on me far too frequently for my liking. I had had a relatively lax few weeks (as far as relaxed goes for me) and these unsettling feelings and thoughts were both my brain and body’s way of shouting at me “you’re not doing enough”, “you should be doing XYZ”, “do more of *insert something here*”…. nothing new there so. I’m a busy person by nature, I like to keep busy, I have always been in busy environments, be it college or work and I feel I work best when busy as that’s when my motivation and energy levels are at their optimum. All of a sudden I found I had a quiet few weeks, allowing a lot of time for my brain to think… and think… and think (you can probably tell where this is going to go). This is when the anxiety kicked in (surprise surprise) and within seconds I had craftily convinced my entire being that I wasn’t doing enough in life and that I was “letting myself down”. Apart from the fact that feelings and thoughts like this are frustrating and annoying, they can also really get in on you and weigh you down if you let them. I realise now a large influencing factor to the above conclusion I had warped up in my head, was that I was subconsciously comparing myself with anyone and everyone around me – where they were and where I wasn’t.
Comparison is almost a subconscious habit embedded into the masses today. A quick flick onto Instagram, you see one person who looks ‘unreal’, appears to be killing it at everything and within 2 seconds you’re questioning your every life choice. Too many people do this (mostly subconsciously) and it’s completely and utterly underrated as to how detrimental these behaviours are for an individual’s self development and mental health. A recent study by the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health was conducted on 1,500 British young people from the ages 14 – 24 with the aim of examining the positive and negative effects of social media on young people’s health. As part of their #STATUSOFMIND campaign, results showed that Instagram and Snapchat are the top online social media proven to contribute to mental health issues, notably anxiety. Don’t get me wrong I love Instagram and Snapchat as much as the next millennial, but with some further thought I realised two things. I like Instagram when I see content that’s beneficial / inspiring / provokes positive thoughts in me. I do not like Instagram when I find myself instantaneously bombarded with over filtered selfies and copius amounts of perfectly toned arses. Perfectly toned arses that are more often than not airbrushed or posed in a certain way, to the extent that the owner of this ‘perfect arse’ doesn’t even look like that in person because they have spent a scandalous amount of time perfecting a certain stance and getting the lighting just right, in order to effectively emphasise the results of their regimented squat regime. Or, (not to discredit any fitness bloggers / fitspo fanatics out there who are killing it) you do come across people who you know look as spectacular in person, there is one serious difference you need to make yourself aware of. These individuals train hard and intensively on average 5 or more days out of 7, and their image, muscle definition etc etc is their main priority. It’s their job, their passion and more often than not it’s usually income generating. For the average individual, fitness and body image is important, but it’s a side hobby, or something they do to relax. It’s not a priority as they also work a full time job or have many other interests/commitments. That all being said, from a logical perspective, how or why would you even think of comparing yourself to someone who devotes themselves to their body image when your passions/ priorities lie elsewhere? They are pursuing their own type of race, an entirely different one to you, so it makes no sense to try and place yourself in that race too. I used the example of body image comparisons because I feel it’s probably the most relatable one for anyone reading this, but the concept also stretches far beyond body image comparisons. Anyone that has different passions / interests / resources to you in anything in life is not a member of your race and therefore you shouldn’t try to run against them at the expense of your own true dreams. Do your own thing, focus on your own goals. Stay in your own lane.
Meanwhile the feelings of “you’ve let yourself down”, “you’re not doing enough” etc swam aimlessly around my head, all the while gathering energy and power until I did two things. Firstly, I questioned the thoughts. (Anxiety has a funny way of tricking the brain into thinking every single thought it generates is a fact. This is simply not true.) I challenged myself – How have you let yourself down? Yes, you’ve had a quiet few weeks in life (rare) compared to the usual hectic routine and yes you haven’t reached your goals yet in terms of where you want to be, but are you are doing everything in your power to help get you there? Yes you fucking are, (excuse the French) so please brain, shut the f*** up. Stay in your own lane.
The second thing I did was attempt to erect a defence against my harmful comparison habit. This was purely focus and perspective related. I altered my focus from a race with multiple lanes and multiple people (all irrelevant to my day-to-day life) to a one lane race. I honed in on that one lane with all my power, a one lane race, with one runner – me. A race against myself. Your only competition is the person you look back at in the mirror every morning. Not the person who appears to be killing it in their job, not the one who seems to have every single latest designer handbag, not the person who has a “perfect” life and no worries (this is bullshit). Your sole competition is the person who has the best chance of doing their own thing and rocking their own world, the person who has the potential to blow their own mind. And the person you owe it to the most – YOU. Stay in your own lane.
Alot of the time we are our biggest enemy by the walls our brains build and the harmful learnings we teach ourselves, developed through years of bad habits or negative feelings we’ve carried with us, feelings we have buried deep inside, ones we never want to see the light of day. Life can feel like a race at times but something I’m trying to come to terms with is that it’s purely a race against yourself – go at your own pace. Just because you’re not where you want to be yet does not make you a failure, and it certainly doesn’t mean you won’t get there. If anything, it’s generally an indicator that you’ll push yourself harder and learn more in the process, as you make your way towards your goal(s), in your own lane. Also worth keeping in mind – that person/ people you see and would like to be where they are, ask yourself; how do you know they’re genuinely happy? And “because they look it on Instagram” won’t cut it. Stay in your own lane.
This altering your focus to a one lane race thing, it’s my opinion on what may work. I have under no circumstances mastered this and don’t know if I ever fully will, but what I have done is made a conscious decision to try and work on it in my life. If it’s going to improve my ability to give less fucks about what other people think then why wouldn’t I. Mental health issues are nasty and are an unneccessary waste of good brainpower. They unfortunately are very much on the rise in today’s society (soon to be on par with the rise in popularity of avocado on toast) and span across countless unchartered waters in their depth and complexity. Whether it was a toxic relationship you found yourself in, a shitty comment that has always stayed with you, or a failure in something, you name it we have all dealt with some sort of pain we would never want to disclose to anyone, let alone even face it ourselves.
As we come to the end of mental health awareness month, please share your stories, talk to someone, or do yourself a huge favour and seek some help, you deserve it. (I can confirm that counsellors are in fact human and do not bite). Addressing underlying issues and investing in yourself may not seem like it will bring any significant results short term (if anything it may bring on some short term additional stress due to actually confronting the issue/s), but long term this will be the best investment you could ever make and your future self, when looking back on all this from the mountain you have climbed, will be forever grateful.
STAY IN YOUR OWN LANE.