Covid-19, lockdowns, quarantine, now more than ever, people are struggling with their mental health. Healthista spoke to Kelsey Darragh who has written a book from her own personal experiences, in order to help people manage their mental health
Kelsey Darragh is a comedian, actor, video producer, podcaster, and now: author of Don’t F*cking Panic: the sh*t they don’t tell you in therapy about anxiety disorder, panic attacks, and depression.
You probably best know Kelsey for her numerous videos on BuzzFeed, where she became a video producer and fan favourite with her popular segment Married vs. Single.
Her videos for BuzzFeed have received over 160 million views, averaging over 14 million views per video! So she’s kind of a big deal.
While building up a significant following and fan base, YouTuber Kelsey was also dealing with depressive disorder and panic attacks.
It was after opening up about her mental health struggles and finding support from her followers and fans that Kelsey transitioned into becoming what she calls an ‘accidental mental health advocate’.
30-year-old Kelsey went viral back in May 2018, after sharing a picture on Twitter of a list she made for her boyfriend that helps him understand how to help her when she’s experiencing a panic attack.
Kelsey is a strong voice, that is well known for tackling taboo subjects, from sex, beauty to mental health as is a global champion for women and for comedy.
Kelsey spoke to Healthista about how she has dealt with mental illness throughout her life and why she decided to write her book. She also reveals a few tips and tricks from her new book on how people can manage their mental health.
Here’s what she had to say…
‘I have dealt with mental health struggles my entire life and I have done everything that medicine has told me to do – psychiatry, wellness, hypnotherapy, acupuncture – and I found that everything I learned about the treatment of mental health was not relatable to or acceptable for someone like me.
‘Understanding mental health treatment is extremely difficult because it’s super ‘sciency’, medical and clean sounding, but that isn’t the truth about mental health. Mental health is messy with constant ups and downs and a roller coaster of emotions.
‘That’s why I wanted to write a book that people could understand, relate to and use as a resource for when they are struggling. No sciency, medical sounding words just straightforward, relatable material that people can use as a bible or workbook with proven practices that will help people feel better’.
‘Don’t F*cking Panic isn’t only a mental health memoir but it’s also filled with tips, tricks and exercises that the reader can do themselves when struggling with their mental health.
‘But for now here are some of my top tips on how to manage your mental health’.
Recognise your symptoms of anxiety
‘When I started experiencing debilitating anxiety – the high functioning anxiety that not everyone has – my biggest problem was with rumination. That’s the ongoing conversation in your own head, that is usually negative and just never shuts up.
‘When these negative thoughts start to cloud your mind, recognise and notice that this is your anxiety. Don’t judge your own thoughts, just notice that they are there.
Don’t judge your own thoughts, just notice that they are there
‘Another of my worst symptoms of anxiety was the feeling of not being real or the world around me not feeling real or stable.
‘Again if this is you, recognise this as a symptom of your anxiety, don’t let your mind take over how you feel. Instead regain some control by accepting your anxious thoughts for what they are – thoughts’.
Find a healthy balance on social media
‘Social media is a catch 22 – it’s good and it’s bad. But no matter what social media is, it’s not like we can stop it, the same way we can’t stop the constant news cycle about Covid-19 and the election…
‘Social media is here and it’s not going away, so we have to adapt. For me, I recognised that while social media has its negative sides (such as making me compare myself to other people and taking my attention away from work), there is also a beautiful side, that has meant I have been able to connect with people internationally that I never would have if it wasn’t for Twitter or YouTube.
‘Social media is evolving, and our generation especially is going to have to learn to come to terms with how they can balance their social media use. Recognise when it is helping you and when it isn’t servicing you at all.
Social media is here and it’s not going away, so we have to adapt
‘If you notice your anxiety gets worse when scrolling through the ‘gram, stop looking, go outside and take a walk, focus on something else.
‘Social media isn’t real. Take the self-help gurus as an example, let me tell you it’s these self help gurus who are normally the messiest. They are the ones pretending they have their sh*t together when in fact they’re actually pretty unstable.
‘I would prefer if someone was real and admitted to being unstable and offering their advice that way, rather than the person who has the perfect aesthetic on Instagram and is trying to sell you green juice all in the name of self help – it isn’t real’.
Do a social media detox
‘Social media is society inflicting its standards on us – that doesn’t mean that has to be us. Social media has been designed to make you feel like everyone has it together except you, and it tries to offer and sell you all the things you need in order to make yourself better aka to be like the people of Instagram.
‘If you start to look at these seemingly perfect people and start to feel down about yourself, not liking the clothes you wear or want to go on a trendy new diet it’s time for a social media detox.
‘That means unfollowing all of the accounts that don’t make you feel good about yourself, if that includes an influencer that posts too many booty photos (like me) then goddam it, unfollow them!
That means unfollowing all of the accounts that don’t make you feel good about yourself
‘People instead need to fill their social feed with normal bodies and with people who live normal lifestyles.
‘It’s up to us to influence our own feeds and recognise that we have the power to say no to societal standards that are put to us through the use of social media.
‘Unfollow their agenda and instead follow accounts that will make you feel good about yourself and your life’.
It’s OK to panic sometimes, don’t ignore your feelings
‘I know my book is called Don’t Fucking Panic – but actually you do have to allow yourself to panic sometimes.
‘What you don’t want to do is ignore any feelings you have. I was taught to stuff all my feelings deep down and deal with them, well never which is so not a good thing.
‘By recognising your feelings and therefore panicking, you are then able to create your own treatment of these panicked feelings.
not everybody responds to treatment in the same way and what works for one person may not work for another
‘Traditional treatments such as medication and therapy are known to work for many, but it’s also important to look outside of traditional mental health treatments.
‘But not everybody responds to treatment in the same way and what works for one person may not work for another. Everybody’s mental health is different, my brain chemicals don’t look like my friends brain chemicals, which doesn’t look like my cats brain chemicals and so on.
‘In America especially, we often throw pills at a problem or tell people they need therapy. While medication may work, it isn’t the only option, and while therapy may work, it can be very expensive and again is not the only option.
‘I tried crystal healing once upon a time, colouring, music therapy, hypnotherapy and more. I have been there and tried it all, and I suggest others do the same in their quest to find what treatments work for them. It really is all about finding your treatment and applying what works to your anxiety tool-belt to see what works for you’.
Learn breathing techniques
‘One of the main things I avoided and neglected for most of my mental health journey was actually one of the simplest things you can do to help anxiety – breathing techniques.
‘I was always someone who would roll my eyes every time someone mentioned breathing techniques. I was like first of all, when panicking and going through an anxiety attack you’re pretty terrified of your own breath, you barely understand how your lungs are working, let alone thinking about being in control of your breathing.
I was always someone who would roll my eyes every time someone mentioned breathing techniques
‘But the thing is, when we feel most of out control, the one thing we can have the most control over is our breath.
‘Diaphragmatic breathing, square breathing, bumblebee breathing – there are many types of breathing techniques you can learn, and it may be a good idea to find which one works best for you – just ask Google.
‘Beyond breathing exercises, I recommend yoga and meditation as these also require a focus on the breath and breathing techniques.
‘There are other simple methods to help calm anxiety such as journalling, breaking down an intrusive thought and then there’s stuff I made up like connecting the dots that create a picture of Ryan Gosling holding a bunny – who wouldn’t find that relaxing?’
Wake up earlier
‘For 29 years of my life I could never get up before 9am. I just couldn’t understand morning people, in fact I hated them and thought they were pretentious and snooty because they thought they were better than everyone else just because they could wake up early.
‘But it turns out these people actually do have their sh*t together. Learning to manage my sleep is one of the best things I have done in helping mental health. In fact, I didn’t know I was sleeping badly until I started sleeping well. Oh, and I became a nicer person and a better human being since waking up at 6:15 every morning.
there is something so beautiful about the morning that I can’t even put into words
‘I’ll be honest though, for a while I even hated myself and refused to post on Instagram that I was awake early because I SO didn’t want to be that person, but there is something so beautiful about the morning that I can’t even put into words.
‘The quiet calm of the sun coming through the window, making your morning smoothie, drinking your morning coffee while you watch the sun come up, putting on a feel good playlist or a positive podcast and stretching for 20 minutes every morning can take you from feeling down to feeling on top of things and in control.
‘For me stretching in the morning is so valuable, but if you don’t have time in the morning, find time during your lunch break or before bed.
‘The point I am trying to make is it’s important to have that time of day for your own self reflection window. It’s so important just to check in and notice how you’re feeling that day, did you wake up feeling sad? Was it a dream? Have you got something coming up that’s bothering you? It’s good to take the time to self analyse how you may be feeling, whether that’s the morning, lunchtime or before bed’.
Just keep moving
‘Right now with the pandemic I feel like all of us are more like coach potatoes than ever before. We’re so comfortable in our homes, we stay in our sweatpants all day, we work from the couch. But as comfotable as we are, it can actually make you feel like sh*t.
‘When I say keep moving I don’t mean join a gym, become a pro athlete or adopt a whole new diet and lifestyle, you just have to do something a little differently to what you would normally do when relaxing at home.
‘For example, I decided to get rid of my office chair and replaced it with a yoga ball, I also bought a standing desk.
I decided to get rid of my office chair and replaced it with a yoga ball
‘I tell people if you want to play video games all day then fine, but try standing up while you do it, get some movement. Walk around when you’re on the phone, you may even get 5,000 steps in by the end of a work call.
‘While I understand that exercise is important and can be beneficial in helping anxiety, I also know that it isn’t realistic for everyone and it can be a bit ableist of our society to expect that everyone can and should exercise, but you must at least try to move as much as you can.
‘In my book I talk about how it’s OK to have a ‘depression day’, I call it a ‘depreshy’ day and I say let’s make the most of that depreshy day, how can we be in bed all day but still get the most out of it?
‘Think movement not exercise. If you find yourself static, go for a walk, stand up for a bit, walk around the house or call a friend’.
Learn to live in the moment
‘It took me a long time to get my head around what mindfulness actually is – being present. Anxiety is the opposite of that. Anxiety is thinking too far into the future or too much into the past.
‘Instead of ruminating about something that was said in a work meeting or worrying about the future, learn to be more mindful and simply live in the moment.
mindfulness and meditation can even be going to see a movie
‘If you were to be able to constantly check in with the here and now, you wouldn’t experciene anxiety – so try it, it won’t get rid of your anxiety, but it may help you to understand when you are being irrational.
‘My therapist pointed out that for some people, mindfulness and meditation can even be going to see a movie. When watching a movie you are fully in the present moment thinking about the film. You aren’t thinking about the future or the past, your just thinking about the movie – see it’s meditation!’
Your problems are just as valid as others
‘People who are struggling often question whether they have something valid to be anxious about or whether they are just being ‘silly’. But the truth is you need to be a bit kinder to yourself and realise that your problems are just as valid as the person in this world who is having the most sh*tty hand dealt to them.
‘We all experience struggles, and just because someone is perhaps more privileged than another person, that doesn’t invalidate our struggles.
‘Recognise that your anxiety is valid no matter how great your life may seem in comparison to others’.
Remind yourself it won’t last forever
‘People suffering from mental health struggles often feel like they are going to feel this way forever but the truth is, that is not how life works. Instead, we swing back and forth between good times and bad times, there is no thing that is so bad in this world that good cannot overcome.
‘So even if your having a sh*tty month, that does not mean you have a sh*tty year or life that has been cursed to you by the gods forever.
‘You can see life in two ways, as an adventure or destination. When we look at life as a destination, we worry about external factors such as do people like me, am I doing a good job, am I living to my highest potential, and we spend so much time trying to reach an end goal that frankly doesn’t exist.
You can see life in two ways, as an adventure or destination
‘But when you see life as an adventure, it’s a bit like watching a good movie but sh*t still happens – people die, people laugh, babies are born – it’s a roller coaster ride.
‘If times are tough and you’re struggling, although it may feel like it now, it won’t last forever, that’s just a scientific fact of life’.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting attention
‘My whole life I was called dramatic, an attention seeker, over emotional and I don’t know anyone who has anxiety who doesn’t feel like they are broken or weak or that something is wrong with them and how they are feeling.
‘Why do we label reaching out for help and showing our vulnerable side as something to be ashamed of? Luckily, I think our generation are shifting that narrative to show that knowing yourself and becoming knowledgeable of your own feelings and being vulnerable enough to share that with people, is actually the strongest thing you can do.
‘A therapist said something to me once that stuck with me; ‘if you’re hurting, why wouldn’t you want attention?’
It’s OK to ask for help
‘It’s not cool to pretend like you have it all together, is there anyone who is actually enjoying life that way?
‘Reach out to your inner circle, tell them about your struggles so they know how to help you. My A team are the people who I know will pick up the phone no matter what.
‘Find your own a team and tell them that they don’t need to help fix or control the problem, they just need to be there, to listen and ask you what you need and how they can be there for you.
‘There are some moments, like when I am having a panic attack that I can’t even speak, so I am not able to express to my partner what I need in that moment.
‘So discuss those events with them and say ‘hey if I am going through this, these are the top three things you can do for me to help me feel better’.
‘For friends, family and partners of the people who are struggling with their mental health it can be just as challenging for them.
‘My Dad has never suffered from mental health issues, but that doesn’t mean he can’t empathise with me by understanding what I go through’.
Do something for someone else
‘Try and practice altruism – there’s a place for it. When you’re experiencing such debilitating mental health issues, it can feel like your thoughts and feelings are all about yourself, ‘me me me’ thoughts 24/7, but the truth is nobody is thinking about us, as much as we are thinking about ourselves.
whether that’s buying someone coffee or complimenting a friend
‘To try and distract yourself from overwhelming ‘me me me’ thoughts, do something for someone else, whether that’s buying someone coffee or complimenting a friend or hyping them up on a FaceTime call, or setting aside five minutes to play with your dog or cat.
‘It’s just about giving back and getting your mind off yourself. It may seem selfish as you’re doing it to benefit yourself, but it really isn’t’.
Put one foot in front of the other
‘You can’t be fine all the time and that’s OK. Just put one foot in front of the other and if that means you only end up moving from your bed to the sofa, and least you’ve done something other than stay in bed.
‘You may end up putting one foot in front of the other and be brushing your teeth or making some food or walking to the park, but just think of it one step at a time.
‘No matter where you’re going you’re still going somewhere’.
If you’re feeling anxious talk to your GP.
Kelsey Darragh is a comedian, filmmaker, and mental health advocate living in Los Angeles.
Don’t F*cking Panic: the sh*t they don’t tell you in therapy about anxiety disorder, panic attacks, and depression is available to Pre-Order NOW.