Why Are We Unhappy?

Since leaving work in March, I have learned a lot about myself. This is to be expected, since I spend most days reading, researching and writing. One of the most important things that I have learned is that I am no different to the majority of people. Lest I be accused of writing the world’s most obvious column, allow me to present some news stories to illustrate what I mean.

Last year, The University of Liverpool and University College London conducted a joint study that concluded that 24% of girls and 9% of boys suffered from depression at age 14.

“Soaring numbers of children, teenagers and young adults have been deliberately poisoning themselves with overdoses of drugs such as painkillers and antidepressants as a response to feelings of distress, according to a new study.”

The suicide rates for teenagers aged between 15-19 has been the highest on record in 2 of the last 3 years.

1 in 3 freshers show symptoms of mental health disorders.

Stories about people with dream jobs, such as YouTube stars, footballers and musicians suffering from mental health problems are becoming more common.

4.3 people under 35 commit suicide every day

The highest suicide rate in the UK is men between 45-49

Those stories present a broad cross-section of society, all of whom are suffering the same way that I did in the months before I left my job. But “people are suffering” is not a new story. The question is why? Is it because so many can’t afford to get on the property ladder without help? And many that do feel trapped in a job that they’re unhappy with to pay the mortgage. Maybe it’s because we equate extreme wealth with extreme happiness, aided and abetted by “reality” TV and social media (and the adverts that surround them, that tell us happiness is only ever a surgery away). Maybe it is because almost half of us come from broken homes, where one of the parents is absent.

Whatever the reason, conversations like this on my timeline are becoming too common:

Suicide screenshot

I sometimes feel like a broken record and worry that talking about mental health will turn some people off. The reason I ignore that feeling is because the statistics make it clear that mental health is the key issue of our time. I’m no therapist, but I want to share what has helped me when things have seemed hopeless.

  • Talking

I know it is basic advice and anathema to many, but talking to people is the best thing for me. All I want to do when I’m having a down day is lie under the duvet, but that rarely makes things better. I am blessed to have some great friends and they are good listeners. Talking helps me realise that I am not alone.

  • Getting active

Cycling down country roads, walking around the local park, taking up a new hobby (I’ve started boxing. My mum told me to never box, but I am 100% certain that she doesn’t read this, so don’t tell her please), yoga, Pilates or doing anything that gets you moving is a great way to feel better. That’s not just me, the science backs this up. I recently had to get into shape for a wedding. Not for photos, but because I had been told in no uncertain terms that I would have to deal with a very angry bride if I didn’t fit into the waistcoat that I had been bought for her special day. I worked out every day in the 4 weeks before the wedding and felt amazing. It did much to lift my mood and it had a physical benefit too. Win win.

  • Take up a hobby

When I’m having a bad day, I often make it worse by overthinking. Having hobbies is a great way to rest an overactive mind. I like to cook and, on bad days, I turn into a housewife from an Enid Blyton story and cook all day. If I don’t have the energy for that, I will play with my Rubik’s Cube, or read something. Again, this is not world shaking advice, but it helps me.

  • Have a drink

Not of alcohol, but water. There have been many times when I feel wretched and I compound it by being dehydrated. A glass of water often paves the way for a dramatic uptick in my mood.

  • Find a way to win

I went for a bike ride on Sunday morning. I couldn’t sleep and was overthinking. I rode to a hill that seems to relish kicking my backside. It is steep, horrible and I dislike it. Realising I needed a win, I decided that, no matter what happened, I was going to get to the top of it without coming off my bike. It was a small battle, but the rush of satisfaction that came when I achieved it did much to lift my mood and settle my mind. It was a tiny win, but when you feel down and your mind is telling you you’re a loser, any win will do.

Whatever works for you, do that. Just know that no man is an island. The most difficult step is the first one. If you can take that one, you can do anything. Have a great weekend.

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