Wellbeing

How to recognise your mental health symptoms before you hit crisis point

- May 11, 2022 5 MIN READ

Chelsea Pottenger is a motivational speaker, author and founder of EQ Minds, working with businesses of all sizes to reduce stress, increase mental wellbeing and enhance productivity. She joined editor Cec Busby on the Flying Solo podcast to introduce her new book, The Mindful High Performer, and share some helpful tips on putting your mental health first.

With such impressive credentials, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Chelsea Pottenger has it ‘all together’, but her mental health battles with perinatal depression and recurring anxiety set her on the path to helping others learn to put their wellbeing first.

“I think it’s really important as human beings that we show a bit more of our authentic self,” says Chelsea. “There’s been a big stigma for years regarding mental illness. And I find it fascinating because we don’t stigmatise much else. We don’t shame people if they’re taking medication for asthma or insulin for diabetes, but for some reason, with a mental illness, there’s a big stigma around taking medication.”

Chelsea Pottenger, founder of EQ Minds

Chelsea Pottenger, founder of EQ Minds

“When you own the stigma, it no longer owns you,” Chelsea explains. “If sharing my story helps one person open up, feel brave enough to go on, ask for help from their doctor or psychologist, or get themselves to safety, that would be amazing. I really hope to break that stigma and own the conversation around mental illness. And also to help people realise that you’re not alone on this journey – there are many people out there that have anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.”

Recognising mental health struggles in yourself

Chelsea says she’s alarmed at the lack of knowledge of the general signs and symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression.

“Research shows that 70 per cent of people still don’t know what to look out for when it comes to the signs of their mental health declining, and that’s alarming,” says Chelsea. “We need to get a lot more empowered and educated on what to look out for because the quicker you can spot the symptoms, the quicker you can recover.”

While the signs can present differently for everyone, Chelsea says considering your thought patterns, actions, and outside factors may help you recognise a decline in mental health.

Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Thought patterns: What are you saying, or what are people saying to you? Are you feeling confused or having mood swings? Are you concerned that you’re a burden to others, or do you lack self-esteem? Are you feeling a sense of loneliness?
  • Actions: Are you unable to switch off or stuck in hyper-productivity mode? Are you withdrawing from people or cancelling plans? Are you becoming less interested in your appearance? Is there a change in your sleep patterns?
  • Outside factors: What’s going on in your life? Have there been significant life changes, such as a relationship breakdown? Are you, or someone in your life, suffering a significant health issue? Have you lost someone that you love? Are you going through financial difficulty or just had a baby? Have you got constant stress going on?

Listen to Chelsea Pottenger on the Flying Solo podcast:

Double down on self-care

If you’ve identified stressors, negative thought patterns or behaviours that let you know your mental health is suffering, Chelsea explains how to take action to steer your mental health ship back to calmer waters.

“Be very aware of your signs and symptoms,” Chelsea urges. “As soon as you see a decline, you need to double down immediately on self-care. This is a warning sign that you’re pushing yourself too hard.

“One of the essential things is putting in good boundaries. If I notice that I’m starting to slip, I’ll take at least three days off just to do the basics – only the simple things that we know we need to do. I cut out the triggers that I know could upset my anxiety – I like to have a coffee, and I definitely drink a glass of Shiraz, but if I start to notice anxiety flaring up, those things are out for a few days while I get myself back on track. I’ll then do something that I know really nourishes me – a bike ride with my family, going for a surf, or I’ll meditate or book in for a massage. I don’t have late nights – I honour my sleep.

“If it’s deeper than that – if you’re noticing for a few weeks that you are not functioning well, or your worry or anxiety is severe – it is so important to go and speak to an expert. Speak to your doctor or psychologist and get some deeper tools for yourself.

“I want this conversation to be as normal as getting yourself a personal trainer. It’s okay to have experts in the space; you need them around to help you navigate through this life.

“The truth is, sometimes we get derailed. Life is like that. I liken a mental illness episode or relapse to an injury to your body. If you hurt your knee and it’s swollen, you can’t run the next day. You need to let it rest and maybe go to the physio. It’s the same thing when you tear a muscle in your brain; you don’t have as much bandwidth.

“It’s okay to have a crap day. In fact, it’s inevitable in a balanced life – negative emotions are very normal and healthy, and they often have benefits for us. But when we approach a setback, challenge or adversity with a wider emotional vocabulary, that’s what breeds resilience. And every time someone does that, their capacity for resilience gets stronger and stronger, just like a muscle.”

It’s not just for you

“If you fall down, it doesn’t just impact you,” Chelsea explains. “It directly impacts the people you love, and it will also impact your business.

“The best advice would be to take care of yourself. If you feel like it’s a selfish act to put yourself first, one of the best things my psychiatrist ever did was to remind me about my daughter. She said, ‘She doesn’t deserve a burnt-out, anxious, stressed mum at the end of the day’.

“So self-care is number one. That’s why I say to people that if you’re struggling with motivating yourself to seek help, think of someone you love more than yourself in this life, and do it for them.”

Book cover: The Mindful High Performer by Chelsea Pottenger

The Mindful High Performer is packed with science-based techniques to help us identify and overcome mental health challenges, put our wellbeing first, and be our best selves in life and business. Available on May 31 from all good bookstores and online, pre-order your copy now. Follow EQ Minds on Instagram for daily mental health tips and tools.


Listen to the latest episode of the Flying Solo podcast now:

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