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Every May during Mental Health Awareness Week you may notice that for one week your social media is suddenly overflowing with posts, emails, videos & articles encouraging you to take better care of your Mind. We’re reminded, from all angles, how important it is to pay closer attention to what’s going on upstairs. The streets are full of fundraisers collecting for Mental Health charities, celebrities bravely share their secret battles and everyone seems to open up just a little bit more and forget the stigma that still surrounds Mental Health. 
 
This is wonderful, for a week, until MHAW swiftly ends, the focus shifts and stigma tightens it’s rusty grip back around Mental Health’s gasping throat. Now don’t get me wrong, I know we have come a long way in de-stigmatising the negative connotations around mental health from the days when ignorant terms like ‘loonie bin’ were common place, forced institutionalisation was rife & mental health conditions were viewed as some sort of demonic force at play BUT there is a long way to go and focusing our awareness on Mental Health for one week every May is simply not good enough. I had a very enlightening conversation with an entrepreneur working in the Mental Health space who described MHAW as Christmas for their business, they are inundated with requests, partnership offers and work for that week because companies and individuals sit up and pay attention but this attitude needs to change, we need to make more space for support and self-care for more than 7 days a year! 
 
Research and awareness is on the rise but statistics are still shocking, with male suicide still the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK and approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK experiencing a mental health problem each year. In England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week. Even with this degree of concrete evidence that we need to manage our minds with far more importance so many of us are still suffering in silence, which can literally be a death sentence.
 
We need to start speaking more openly about our Mental Health and looking at our health more holistically rather than in separate parts. So how do we go about making more space for ‘Mental Health Hygiene’ & treating our minds with as much care as we pay to our dental hygiene, our personal hygiene or our physical health? You wouldn’t go a week without brushing your teeth or washing your face so why do we think it’s OK to neglect our Minds? 
 
I’ve battled with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and arriving at some terrifyingly dark places on my own journey with my Mind but I have learnt to see these experiences and this ongoing relationship with my mental health as my greatest teacher. I used to be so ashamed to admit to these struggles that I hid it from everyone, I was so scared by what people would think and judge me for not being able to ‘cope’ or ‘get on with things’ that I didn’t cope! As a Yoga Teacher working in the world of well-being I felt weak admitting I was fighting a losing battle but I now wear these experiences as a badge of honour and I hope what I learnt can help you to get the help you need. Here’s what I learnt from 3 years of doctors appointments, 6 months of therapy, quitting 4 jobs after losing count of the panic attacks I had at work and finally feeling like myself again after getting the support I needed (and doing copious amount of yoga)… 
 
1. Don’t let your pride get in the way of asking for help. Please let yourself be supported because trust me, it can be fatal to try to ‘handle things’ alone. I’ve been there, I’ve pushed people away, I’ve ignored the concerned questions, the worried looks of caring friends and I’ve gritted my teeth saying ‘I’m fine’ while choking back tears more times than I care to admit. I ended up calling the Samaritans and they were a life saver, sometimes speaking to someone anonymous can be exactly what you need but sometimes a friend, a colleague, a doctor can be your shoulder. Please start talking, tell someone what’s going on. It helps more than you can imagine to get all of those tormenting tornados twisting in your mind out. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved so let’s talk and tackle this taboo together. 
 
2. Understanding what’s happening in your mind can help you to act accordingly. I was always a worrier and highly sensitive growing up and it only became unmanageable in my twenties, my Anxiety suddenly took a steep incline into unbearable. I didn’t know what Anxiety even was then, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t catch my breath or calm my heartbeat to a normal pace when I became panicked about something completely minor or why my brain catastrophised insignificant conversations into the end of my world! My anxiety became overwhelming, I was signed off work and things went from bad to worse. I didn’t know how to control it and that terrified me, I didn’t know how to talk about it because I didn’t understand what it was at the time. Seeing a therapist helped me come to terms with what was happening and learn how to help myself to manage it with more compassion, more control and more self-care. Let’s imagine you have a terrible accident (touch wood) and you wake up with what you think is a broken leg, a cracked skull and you can’t feel your arm…would you take yourself home, self-diagnose these possibly fatal injuries and hope they will heal on their own? Probably not! So why would you treat your brain (the most complex organ in your body!) with such blatant neglect? 
 
3. Give yourself a break – please listen when I say it’s OK to not be OK! Despite what social media may imply, we are not perfect! And we aren’t robots, we are all human and expecting to be 100% one hundred percent of the time is a dangerous expectation to place on our own heads. If you are struggling please find the strength to find the support you need and connect to yourself and others to help you make the space to heal. Be patient with yourself and practise more compassion, integrate more self-care into your routine & listen to yourself rather than suppressing those feelings. Personally, I found Yoga and meditation to be powerful practises that gave me the space to connect back to myself, my feeling and my body. So much so that I became a teacher and now teaching is my therapy. Find your ‘Mental Health Hygiene’ and prioritise it. Ask yourself what your Armour is and how you can defend yourself when you step out on the battlefield, but please don’t go to war alone, we all need back up sometimes. 
 
At MoreYoga we believe in a holistic approach to health. We all have physical health, just as we all have mental health and I invite you to explore MoreMind, a dedicated space for our tribe to access information, help and support to keep your Mind Healthy. Mental health is not something to hide ~ lets tackle this taboo together.

About Liz Joy Oakley

Liz Joy Oakley is Head of Vibes at MoreYoga and teaches Yoga & Meditation specializing in Yoga for Anxiety. Liz came to Yoga after being diagnosed with Malignant Hypertension and Generalized Anxiety and left the Fashion Industry to work in Wellness and help others to lead healthier lives holistically.

Liz is passionate about helping people achieve a healthier, happier lifestyle and aims to cultivate joy through her work. She now works in London facilitating workshops and events based around yoga, meditation, improving mental health, happiness, nutrition and wellbeing.