Who do you think you are? Having greater awareness of yourself may improve emotional wellbeing, advises expert

One in four experience a mental health problem each year with financial uncertainties set to exacerbate depression and anxiety.

10 October 2022

A quarter of people in England reportedly experience a mental health problem each year, and faced with rising energy prices, unstable markets, political instability and the looming threat of recession, a leading expert is concerned the problem will only worsen over the coming months.

The warning comes from Shazna Khanom, an accredited CBT therapist, EMDR Therapist, Positive Psychology Coach and Director of Mental Health Services at Connect Health – a community healthcare services provider that has worked with the NHS and UK businesses for over 30 years.

As part of World Mental Health Day (Monday 10th October), Shazna shares her advice for effectively addressing and responding to concerns relating to anxiety and depression.


Start with self-awareness

It may sound simple but taking the time to really get to know yourself and question who you are and who you aren’t, is an essential first step in finding contentment and happiness. Write these questions down and answer each one. What do you like and dislike? What are your values? What are your boundaries? What makes you happy?

We are all busy and we take on different personas – the parent, the carer, the worker, the student – and so these roles may unwittingly shape us into the person we become. But that person is not necessarily who we want to be. That’s where this disconnect can occur.

Taking the time to answer these questions will provide you with a good foundation to build the kind of life you want and to engage in activities that resonate with who you are.


Banish loneliness

When someone is feeling low in mood or depressed, their first reaction may be to isolate themselves from others. However, studies have shown that disconnecting from friends and loved ones can intensify the symptoms of depression, causing a negative spiralling effect where the worse you feel, the less you want to speak to people. But the less you connect with others, the worse you feel.

My advice here is to try to overcome that barrier – no matter how much you want to shut yourself away, reach out to just one person. Maintaining interpersonal relationships is proven to be hugely beneficial for negating depression and anxiety.


Do the things you love

After learning who you are and what makes you tick, it’s important to leave enough time and space in your schedule to participate in the activities you’re passionate about and which give you a sense of contentment. That doesn’t mean ditching your responsibilities but carving precious time into your daily life to do those things that are inherent to your happiness – whether it be dancing, singing, walking, baking, reading a book or open water swimming!

This can be quite hard as we live in a busy society and we wear multiple hats, often looking after the needs of others. People can also feel guilty about spending time on themselves. I feel there is too much emphasis today on ‘productivity’ and often individuals feel enjoyment is a waste of time. This type of thinking is extremely detrimental to our wellbeing and can lead to burnout. It’s why my motto is ‘time enjoyed is not time wasted’


Look after the basics

We are at our best when we sleep well, eat well and are physically active. This may seem obvious because it’s such a simple philosophy, but when your mood is low it is easy to ignore those facts and look for more complex reasons why we might be feeling depressed.

In all of my years treating patients, I always encourage them to look after the ‘basics’ – when our mind and bodies are properly nourished, rested and cared for we can quite quickly see improvements to our wellbeing – giving us back our appetite to engage in meaningful activities which further fuels improved wellbeing.


Seek help

Although attitudes to mental health have improved over the past few years, thanks in part to the pandemic, there is still a lot of stigma attached to seeking help for depression or anxiety. As I always say to my patients, if you broke your leg, you wouldn’t expect it to heal itself and mental health concerns are no different.

For those battling persistently with low mood or feelings of helplessness, please seek professional support. In the UK we have access to free psychological therapies via the NHS Talking Therapies (formerly known as IAPT) programme. Needing help is not a sign of weakness, it might be a sign that you have been coping with too much for too long.