April 2021
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Stressed or Mentally Ill

Most of us feel angry, stressed and depressed at times, and in today’s uncertain, pressured climate these can be normal reactions. But if you have uncharacteristic or prolonged mood changes, and struggle to cope with daily activities, you may be crossing the line to mental illness.

For instance, a degree of stress is normal and even motivating. But when your stress is not balanced by support, recovery and recognition, and comes from having too many demands and responsibilities, and too few resources, it can bring burnout – a collapse from nervous exhaustion. Ironically, stronger people may be more at risk. One of the more insidious dangers of a demanding lifestyle is that the energy you expend is not being replaced.

Strong-willed people may have a tendency to push themselves harder for longer, meaning they get deeper into energy debt so that the burnout – when it happens – is a bigger one.

The Dangers

Untreated mental problems can cost you relationships, your job and ultimately your freedom, if you burn out or withdraw with social anxiety and panic attacks, or grow violent or self-destructive. Stress also releases adrenaline and cortisol, and constantly raised levels can cause heart attacks and cancers. Anxiety and depression can bring impaired immunity, headaches, digestive problems and sexual ones (such as lowered libido).

The Warning Signs

You start to feel confused or ‘different’, battle to control intense fear or anger, lose interest in what you once enjoyed, believe others treat you differently or avoid you, feel compelled to perform certain rituals (avoiding pavement cracks, constantly washing your hands), or develop other behaviors or phobias. Don’t wait until you have a full-blown problem – hearing voices or seeing visions that usually supportive people dismiss as delusions or hallucinations, experiencing changes in eating and sleeping patterns, having suicidal or violent thoughts, withdrawing from society or hurting yourself.

What to Do

If you’re stressed and heading for burnout, practice being assertive (get coaching if necessary), putting limits on people’s demands and building positive relations with others. Simply smiling and greeting people can help significantly. Delegate where possible, take short breaks during the day and make time to relax and recharge with friends or a hobby. The biggest danger is not the negative elements in your life but an absence of positive elements. Put back the energy you expend or you will burn out.

It Worked for Me

‘I was too busy to see I was heading for burnout,’ says Zubeida, 34, who works in a bank. ‘I always enjoyed my job, but then there were staff cuts and pressure to improve results. I no longer add enough time to spend with clients, and I felt unsatisfied, tired and resentful. One day I nearly snapped over a small incident, and a colleague suggested a session with a coach.’

‘I learnt that if you don’t prioritize your own health, you are of no use to anyone. I’d stopped jogging because I didn’t have time, but I started again, and just that helped me cope better. I also started investing more in my home life, re-prioritizing friends, and getting support and satisfaction there. I feel more balanced and alive than in ages.’

Sandra Prior PhotoAbout Author
Sandra Prior runs her own bodybuilding website at

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