I recently posted some tips for managing the festive season with a chronic illness, focusing more on physical illness. However as I am a big advocate for supporting mental health issues and making sure it's talked about I wanted to offer some advice for anyone who is suffering with their mental health. Because it really is a time that people can feel an increase in their symptoms.
All you see and hear is 'tis the season to be jolly' when you feel far from it. And unfortunately no matter how many times some people will tell you, you cannot just snap out of it.
Feeling depressed or anxious but not been formally diagnosed- you've finished work for Christmas and it's been stressful trying to get all your deadlines met on time as well as organizing everything that comes along with Christmas and all of a sudden it all catches up with you. Feeling overwhelmed, stressed and stretched out can lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. Listen to what your body is telling you and your head. Will these feelings pass? Have you actually been masking feelings of sadness for a long time? Or do you feel totally overwhelmed and want to cry all day long? Take a step back evaluate and if you feel you need to, make that decision to get help. That step is the first and most important one.
Know where to get help- if you are all ready recieving care or counselling etc then Christmas can mean a break in the continuity of progress. Ask your gp or counsellor what is available if you need that extra support during out of hours times. Just having that information as a back up can be reassuring. They will be able to advise you of any local services or helplines available to you. Or you should be able to pick up a leaflet at your doctors surgery. MIND have a infoline 0300 123 3393 or text 86463 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. And there is the Samaritans too, contact them on 08457 90 90 90 or email email@example.com
I have also left links at the end of this post to websites where you can get more information if you think you may be suffering from depression. You can find lots of advice and support on there.
Untangle your thoughts- if you are struggling to find a reason as to why you feel so down or even if you have a clear idea why, all these thoughts can become tangled and overwhelming. Leaving you feeling numb. I find a good way to unlock some of the issues that are troubling me is to write down whatever is going through my head at that time. It doesn't have to be ordered or linear. But writing can allow your thoughts to become clearer. Outpouring all your thoughts and feelings onto paper so that they become something you can physically see. It can often feel like a big release too.
Talk- It's really hard to want to talk when you feel so bad. Or even just finding the words to describe all that's going on in your head. But find someone you trust and love to talk to. Someone who will just LISTEN even if what you're saying doesn't make sense.
Do not belittle those feelings or thoughts- you may feel like what you are feeling is not worthy or you don't feel you have the right to feel sad. But depression is not necessarily logical in that way. A story that always resonates with me is that of Olympic gold medal winning cyclist Victoria Pemberton and how she self harmed after winning her gold medal. So even people at their peak can be in a whole world of pain inside their heads.
Try not to beat yourself up- okay this is particularly hard when you feel so awful but putting extra pressure on yourself is only going to cause more anxiety. Accept that you will do what you can and go at your own pace. Chances are you are the one putting the most pressure on yourself.
Cry- it's okay not to be okay. Cry when you need to. It's the best release. And again DON'T BEAT YOURSELF UP OVER IT!
Know you're not alone- Although you feel totally alone and in a world of your own. One in four people suffer with their mental health. And that is people of all ages. But just know that regardless of your situation, even if you are a social butterfly you can feel lonely. It's not about being alone it's that feeling of emptyness. I know that doesn't help much but knowing that there is a reason behind what you're feeling and it's not just you. Physically be in the company of people you know as much as you feel you can. People that will understand. The more you can be in some company the easier it will get.
Get help where possible- cooking, shopping etc. The more you can share the load the less pressure is on your shoulders.
Shop online- Christmas means busy shops. If you are struggling with social anxiety shopping can be particularly difficult. I remember how hard it was to set foot in supermarkets as I used to feel so trapped. So take away those stresses with internet shopping. You're in an environment where you feel safe and because you're not thinking as much about what your head is saying you have more concentration.
Keep your plans simple- feeling stressed and as though you need to be everywhere and everything all at once, will only overwhelm you even more. Keep your plans simple and manageable. You need to be a little selfish and prioritize your own needs and give yourself time to heel. Just because your condition is not visible does not mean it's any less real. If you don't feel up to cooking a complete Christmas dinner nor can you handle being around extended family, consider going out for your Christmas dinner. Treat yourself as well as getting rid of some of the pressure. Evaluate what Christmas means to you and identify simple ways to achieve this. If you are seeing a counsellor or your doctor talk through ways to cut out stressful situations surrounding Christmas.
Stay away from social media- seeing what everyone else is up to (bragging about) while you feel so bad will only make you feel worse. So edit how much you go onto social media. If you want to talk to friends/ family do so via phone/text.
Write lists- when your mind is all jumbled and yet you still have so much to organize write it all down. Also ticking it off as you do them will also make you feel like you have achieved something.
If at anytime you feel overwhelmed or things get too stressful, whether that be anxiety or others having a Christmas squabble, take yourself off somewhere quiet and regain your composure. Do some breathing excercises. Listen to guided meditation or soothing music. Or put in your headphones and switch off the world for a little while; until you feel okay enough to rejoin.
Watch comedies/ lighthearted programmes- and avoid the sop if you are feeling broken hearted- avoid soaps and the news with their tear jerker headlines. These things can also be hard to follow if your head is feeling over the place. Put on your favourite comedian or funny film and even if you can't laugh just know that you have made a good effort to make yourself feel better.
Craft/ Make handmade gifts- Or decorations. Doing craft activities in general can be a good distraction technique and focuses your thoughts rather than have then wander and run amock. For people you want to thank for helping you to cope a handmade gift can mean a lot to both of you. One, because you have made something unique and personal to that personal and two because it will make you feel as though you have done something worthwhile. Sometimes spreading a bit of happiness will bring you some happiness too.
Get yourself a gift- go on! You really do deserve it!
Pamper yourself- Sometimes just making an effort with our appearance can have a positive effect on our emotions. And again it's about making an effort. So run yourself a bath. Put on a face mask. Experiment with some make up.
Wear a nice outfif- for the same reason as above.
For everything you do achieve give yourself a pat on the back- don't focus on what you haven't done but what you have.
To friends and family
Patience is a virtue- they are not going to snap themselves out of it and at times they may snap or get angry. All you can do is be there. I know it will be frustrating. At any stage they will need you but they will only come to you or say they need your help in their own time.
Know that it's not personal
Just be there- you will feel at a loss for what to do or what to say but the best thing you can do is be there when they need you. LISTEN. Don't judge or dismiss their feelings. Know that it will have taken a lot for them to open up.
Do some research- If you think (or know) that a friend or family member is struggling and you want to help them there is plenty of information available online. I have included some links at the end of this post. Or again you should be able to pick up information from your doctors surgery.
Throughout January I am going to be posting about mental health issues regularly. If there is any issues or areas of mental health you would like to see a post about then please leave a comment.
Please visit the following links for additional information and help.
infoline 0300 123 3393
or text 86463
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For their Christmas opening times visit www.mind.org.uk/information-support/helplines/
contact them on 08457 90 90 90
or email email@example.com