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Thu, 6 Sep, 2018Over60

Spence bravely opens up about depression battle on The Block: "It all builds up"

Spence bravely opens up about depression battle on The Block: "It all builds up"

It was a week of reality television that mimicked reality far more accurately than the shiny production usually does.

The Block – usually a showcase for design talk and deadline drama – was punctuated by conversations around mental health as contestant Spence spoke freely of his battle with depression and anxiety while on the show.

“We’ve found it extremely hard dealing with this,” he said on Wednesday’s episode. “It’s an experience on it’s own, being a contestant on The Block. There’s nothing you can ever imagine that is going to compare to this.”

Later, Spence admitted he underestimated the taxing nature of the show and, in turn, underestimated how that would affect his emotional wellbeing.

“I’ve had a lot of depression over the years and get a lot of anxiety, and I have been shown coping mechanisms to deal with it. But I never expected what happened to happen; I never expected that complete shutdown. The thoughts that go through your head are super-dark thoughts. It all builds up and builds up and builds up and then it’s just, snap, I need to get out of here.”

While The Block contestant experience isn’t a common one, the renovation experience is. Likewise, while the pressure-cooker environment the show breeds is an anomaly, the stress of an everyday renovation isn’t.

According to Melbourne Clinical Psychologist and commentator Dr Melissa Keogh, renovating can have a hugely harmful impact on our mental health.

“Renovating can be harmful to our mental health because of the stress associated with such a life event and in my clinical experience, stress can have a detrimental effect on our emotional wellbeing.

“Renovators can have overly high expectations about what they can achieve, how smoothly the project will run and can underestimate the cost.”

Dr Keogh says for those, like Spence, with existing mental health conditions, the danger of not looking after yourself intensifies during a renovation.

“When we are stressed, from a psychological perspective, the body can go into flight-or-fight mode because we perceive we are being threatened or are in danger. The heart starts thumping, hands are clammy, muscles tighten and its easy to lose perspective. Over time, sleep, mood and appetite can be affected and any underlying mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can be exacerbated.”

However, Dr Keogh emphasises it’s not only those with existing conditions who need to care of their minds while undertaking such a task.

“People also have a myriad decisions to make on a daily basis and can often disagree with their partner about preferences. A lot of the time, things are out of the control of the renovator and poor planning can see tempers flare and relationships tested.”

Dr Keogh suggests there are three things to consider when renovating to prioritise your mental and emotional wellbeing:

Don’t take on too much at once

“The mistake I often see people making is taking on too many different things at the same time,” Dr Keogh says. “We can have unrealistic expectations about, for example, being able to plan a wedding and renovate a kitchen all at once. I would advise taking things more slowly instead and pacing yourself, as stress can be overwhelming.”

Get enough sleep

One thing The Block’s Spence noted on the show was how lack of sleep exacerbated what was already a highly stressful experience.

“You don’t even have time to think about your own mental health in there, because it’s just so physical,” he said on Wednesday’s episode. “You’re so exhausted, you’ve got a goal and you’ve got people you can’t let down – people are relying on you. So you just keep pushing through. But the more tired you get from no sleep and the physical work, the worse it gets.”

Dr Keogh says we shouldn’t be looking to the renovation shows on our screens for realistic and reasonable expectations of renovating.

“While pulling an all-nighter might be the norm in reality TV renovations, sleep deprivation can make it difficult to think clearly and can affect emotional wellbeing. It can also lead to accidents. It is my professional opinion that renovators, particularly those with underlying mental health conditions, need to maintain adequate sleep while renovating.”

Practice gratefulness

“Being able to renovate means we are in a fortunate position to begin with: It means we have an apartment/house/property and the resources to renovate it. It’s good to keep this in mind and focus on the positives as much as possible,” Dr Keogh says, adding if anyone is sensing their mental health is being comprised while renovating, they should seek help immediately.

“Don’t wait too long to get help. Speak to your GP about seeing a psychologist or search the Australian Psychological Society’s Find a Psychologist database for a practitioner.”

Written by Zara McDonald. Republished with permission of Domain.com.au.

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