It’s all getting a bit too much!

This is how I know when I’m not okay.

Victoria Holbrook
4 min readApr 12, 2021


Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

I stop washing my hair. That’s the #1 sign that all is not well! I start using dry shampoo like it’s going out of fashion! A similar tell is either getting in the bath every day (I think I’m trying to simulate a nice, warm hug using the bath water) or not wanting to get into the bath or shower at all. When a shower starts to feel like a real chore, I know things are on the slide!

I’ll wear the same outfit for days and days and days…not the same clothes necessarily, but I almost start to exist in a uniform (usually jeans and a jumper) such that when I finally feel a bit cheerier and put on something else, it’s really noticeable.

I drink coffee all day, every day. I’m coffee obsessed at the best of times, but when I’m feeling blue the coffee becomes a thing of comfort. I like to wrap my hands around the nice, warm mug. Although there was a period a number of years ago where I lived almost exclusively on Diet Coke for many months when I had started a new, very stressful job while my (now ex) husband was serving in Afghanistan.

A decrease in my appetite or just no motivation to make a proper meal are also signs that I’m not a ‘happy bunny’. When there is food in the fridge to make a meal but I’m getting the Tesco ‘Meal Deal’ for dinner, I know something is up! I’ve known for many years that one of my stress responses is to lose my appetite and exist on…yep, you guessed it!…coffee.

My skin becomes itchy for no reason and I scratch it until the skin is very red, hot and angry looking. When whatever is stressing me goes away, so does the itching. It’s so bizarre! I first noticed this reaction when I was a teenager and my father was pressuring to me get a job to work when I was home from school (no rest for the wicked!). Another physical symptom, but much rarer for me, is dry heaving. It’s a pretty extreme response for me and on the few occasions that I have experienced it, I know the system is overwhelmed.

There are emotional signs too. I become quite tearful. I could cry at the ‘drop of a hat’. It feels like the tears are just sitting in my chest, right below my throat ready to spring forth from my eyes at a moment’s notice. When the inner voice says “we’ve just got to hold it together for a few hours to get through these meetings”, I know it’s time to take a moment and address whatever the hell is going on.

I watch YouTube or Netflix constantly…or it’s at least on in the background. When I can’t stand any quiet or silence and have to fill every waking moment with some kind of sound, I know it’s time to check in with myself. I think I use the music or the videos or TV shows to distract myself and make plenty of noise so that I can’t hear the sound of my own thoughts. This is probably the one that upsets me the most. What is so bad that I don’t want to listen to my own mind?!

Although when reading this back it all sounds a bit disturbing, I am really glad that I recognise these signs as an indication that I’m not one hundred percent. It’s taken years of observation and building up a knowledge or awareness of myself to realise that these are the warning signs that I need a break or there’s something that needs to be addressed and resolved.

Sometimes it’s just circumstances. Things that are out of my control and will inevitably pass sooner or later. More often than not, it’s all generated from within me…there’s nothing particularly stressful by way of external factors or pressures, but I am creating stress through my own self-perception or holding myself to standards that I think need to be met. Neither of which exist in reality! Where there is uncertainty about a given situation, my mind will ‘fill in the blanks’ with all sorts of horror stories, negative outcomes and inevitably blow it all out of proportion!

The fix is often very simple. Action. Take action. If it’s something I can resolve (or begin to resolve) by taking some kind of action, I take it. Even if it’s small, baby steps to start moving me in the right direction. That has an amazingly calming and relieving effect. If there is nothing I can do, it’s placing importance and emphasis on being nicer to myself and looking after myself…even in little ways. Getting in the shower, making something to eat, writing things down, talking to family or friends, getting a bit more sleep, reading a fiction book. And bit by bit the ‘blue skies’ return and I get back to myself.



Victoria Holbrook

30-something. Consultant. Coffee and cookie obsessed. In need of a creative outlet.