Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Dealing with the January Blues

I was a little bit hesitant to write this because I don’t want to give the impression that feeling low only happens in January, or that doing certain things can suddenly cure depression, because unfortunately mental illness isn’t that simple. However, as someone that has depression (and other mental illnesses), I do find that January/February time can be even more difficult, and I know my friends who don’t have a mental illness also find this time of year a challenge. So I thought I would share with you some things that I have come across over the years that might help to lift your mood a bit. Some of these may help some people but not others, so it’s a case of giving things a try and seeing if any of these activities make a difference to you. Of course, there are also plenty of other things you could try as well, and I would love to hear if you’ve found anything that makes life a little brighter at this time of year.

Don’t beat yourself up!

It’s so incredibly easy to give yourself a hard time about feeling low, and I think the start of a new year can make it even worse. All of a sudden the warmth and joy of Christmas has gone, and we’re bombarded with adverts telling us we need to lose weight, get fit, become a ‘new and improved’ person etc. etc. It’s no wonder we feel so down on ourselves! But reassure yourself that it is perfectly normal to have a bit of a slump after Christmas – there are no pretty lights, the Christmas tunes are long gone and instead we are faced with cold, wet days and early dark nights. It’s enough to make anyone feel bad. So try not to beat yourself up if you’re finding life a bit more difficult – the last thing you need is to be horrible to yourself when you’re already feeling rubbish. Give yourself a break and nurture your body and mind instead. It sounds so cheesy, but be kind to yourself and do what makes you feel good.

Get outside

It’s amazing what a bit of sunlight and fresh air can do for your mental health, and you don’t need to spend that long outside to feel the benefits.

For someone with a chronic illness, getting outside can be a real struggle. But I’ve really noticed how my mood lifts a little if I can just get out into the garden for a few minutes. It’s pretty cold and windy at the moment, so make sure you wrap up warm, but I find letting the wind blow through my hair really helps to blow the cobwebs away and makes me feel a bit more refreshed. I know it’s not very appealing to venture outside when it’s tipping it down with rain, but even just sitting in your garden under an umbrella for five minutes can give you that inner peace you need to carry on with your day.

Daylight is important

A huge number of people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) at this time of year because it is so difficult to get enough daylight when it’s dark, rainy and cold. If you’ve noticed that your mood drops in the winter months, it might be worth looking into lamps that simulate daylight.

I received this Lumie light a couple of years ago, and although it hasn’t made a massive difference to my depression, I do think it makes getting up on a dark, cold morning that little bit easier. This particular light is said to complement a lightbox when treating SAD, but Lumie offer a whole range of different lights depending on your personal requirements. If you’re not sure whether a lightbox will work for you, it is also possible to hire one from Sad Shop, which I think is a great way to test out the idea before investing in a light of your own.

Borrow a pet!

I think animals have amazing qualities when it comes to helping people with mental health problems. I know from personal experience, if I’m ever feeling down, unwell or anxious, my dogs and cats will come and sit with me and help me relax a bit.

It’s not always possible to have a pet of your own, so why not ask to borrow one from a friend?! I don’t mean you necessarily have to take the pet on for a long amount of time, but you could ask a friend if you could walk their dog, look after their guinea-pigs for a day or go round for a cup of tea and cuddle their new kitten! As regular readers of my blog will know, we have two dogs and two cats. I would be more than happy if one of my friends wanted to come and spend some time with them, and it could also be an opportunity to have some social contact with a friend at the same time.

Don’t make unachievable resolutions

To be honest I’m not a fan of making New Year’s resolutions, as I feel like if there’s something I need to change I might as well set a goal there and then.

But if you’re setting yourself goals, then try and make them achievable, otherwise you end up spending all your time berating yourself for not reaching them. Simply saying you want to ‘get fitter’ or ‘eat healthily’ means it’s very difficult to know when you’ve actually achieved them. A technique I’ve found really helpful is to ensure I make S.M.A.R.T goals. This means they need to be:

·      Specific – what exactly do you want to achieve (e.g. to eat 5 portions of fruit/vegetables a day, to go swimming twice a week)
·      Measurable – how will you know when you’ve achieved the goal?
·      Achievable – it needs to challenge you, but at the same time it shouldn’t be impossible!
·      Relevant – does the goal you are setting actually matter to you? Will it help you progress to a place you value?
·      Time-based – give your goal a time frame; a target date to achieve it by

There are slightly different interpretations of the S.M.A.R.T criteria, but they’re much of the same. I think by breaking a goal down like this, you are able to really focus on what you want to achieve and can also have the satisfaction when you can see you’ve achieved it.

Book a holiday

Around this time I like to start making plans for the year ahead. Now, I don’t mean things like assignment deadlines, chores and all of that boring stuff – I mean nice things! A holiday is the first thing that springs to mind, but sometimes it’s not possible to get abroad or go to a luxury hotel (obviously if it is possible then go for it!) But I rather enjoy planning smaller things. A big holiday is great, but essentially that’s only one event to look forward to that will perhaps take up 14 days, if that. So what about the other 351 days of 2016? It really helps me to schedule lots of little things throughout the year – meeting up with a friend you don’t see often, going for a day trip to the zoo or the seaside. As the year goes on, I think it can really help to fill up your days with nice things to look forward to, so perhaps make a list of all the lovely things you would like to do (meet a friend for coffee, go for afternoon tea, take photos when the spring flowers start to bloom…) and then start making them a reality.

Get some sleep

Sleep is so important; I think we’ve all worked that one out by now, but over Christmas your sleeping pattern can go a bit out the window so it’s important to get back into a routine.

I feel a bit of a hypocrite writing about good sleep, because I really struggle with my sleep routine, but I do know how important quality sleep can be. It is widely advised to stick to the same sleep routine, whether it’s a work day or weekend, but I know it’s not always that easy when you’re dying for your Sunday lie-in! But trying to go to bed at the same time each night can help you to sleep better, and if you don’t get great sleep your mood will suffer. Sleep hygiene is really important (if you don’t know about sleep hygiene let me know, and I’ll do a blog post about it!) as it helps you wind down and get to sleep. Make your bedroom a sanctuary where you feel relaxed and calm so it’s as easy as possible to fall asleep there.

Eat well

Again, I feel a little bit guilty about talking about eating well, as my diet is far from ideal! Over Christmas we all tend to indulge a bit, and it can leave you feeling pretty rubbish come January. Eating a range of fresh fruits and vegetables, slow release carbohydrates and enough protein can make you feel good from the inside out. But I’m a big advocate for having a little bit of what you fancy – everything in moderation is my motto, so don’t deny yourself that chocolate bar or bag of crisps. As long as that’s not all you’re living on then I don’t think there’s anything wrong with allowing yourself the odd treat.

Pamper yourself

You know me, any excuse for a pamper! But January and February are the perfect time to really indulge in relaxation and spoiling yourself.

Whether you decide to have a Lush bubble bath with scented candles and a face mask, paint your nails, treat yourself to a massage or spend some time putting on your favourite make-up (or all of the above!) there’s no right or wrong when it comes to pampering.

Be sociable

When it’s cold, raining and dark, it can be very easy to snuggle under a blanket in your pyjamas and watch Eastenders, which is OK sometimes. But it’s also really important to see other people, to go out for a coffee or to the cinema. Being around people who make you feel good about yourself can be really helpful, whether you’re feeling down or not, and putting a date in the diary for a DVD night or Starbucks date gives you something to look forward to as well.

Fairy lights and candles

I think candles were made for this time of year! I can’t think of anything better than lighting a Yankee Candle that I received for Christmas, and then having a bath or reading a book while the scent fills the room.

The same goes for fairy lights – why should they be saved for just Christmas?! There are so many pretty fairy lights available these days, and I think they just help to bring a bit of light and warmth to these wintery days. I bought these white heart lights from Amazon a while back, and really love having them round my bed.

Start a Happy Jar

I’ve been using a Happy Jar/Good Things Jar for a few years now and really love filling it up throughout the year.

The idea is, you start with an empty jar, which you could decorate as I have done or just leave it blank. As the year goes by, you then fill it with things that have been good or have made you happy. I decided to get some rainbow paper and chose a different colour for each month. I then write my happy thing on a slip of paper, fold it up and pop it in the jar. But you could also put in things like cinema tickets, little notes from friends – basically whatever you want! At the end of the year you empty your jar and remember all those little (and big!) things that made you smile. It’s a really nice visual reminder when all you can see is the bad stuff. I often look at my jar filling up, and it reminds me that good things have happened, and therefore will continue to happen.

Find something to laugh at

One of the best things to do, but possibly what you least feel like doing when you’re down, is to laugh.

I remember when I was a lot younger, and had been in and out of hospital and was therefore feeling really low. My Dad sat down with my in front of the TV and put on a Billy Connelly stage show. At first I just wasn’t interested, but soon, for the first time in a long while, I was giggling. And it made me feel a bit better, even if only for the time I was watching it. I think films are a great way to escape and just laugh. My personal favourites are anything from Disney, Miranda Hart, Bride Wars, Russell Howard and Bridesmaids.

Do some spring-cleaning

This could be just me, but I love tidying, throwing things away and cleaning. I just find it really therapeutic, and the satisfaction you get when you’ve finished and everything looks neat and tidy is great! This is unlikely to be for everyone, but maybe give it a try. Just start with one draw and see if you can get rid of some stuff – we all hold on to so much more than we need to, and I find it refreshing clearing things out and sending lots of black bags to our local charity shop, knowing I’m also helping a good cause.

Be creative

I absolutely love to get creative, and feel really sad that I just don’t have enough time for it these days.

But I’m starting to realise you don’t need hours and hours – even if you just have ten minutes you can still do something creative. Adult colouring books are a massive craze at the moment, and are brilliant for being mindful, acting as a distraction and calming anxiety. There are so many other things to try, from knitting and crochet to scrapbooking and Project Life. It’s just a case of finding the things you enjoy and then making some time just for you because we all deserve a bit of ‘me’ time.

Fresh flowers

Fresh flowers never fail to brighten my day, especially if someone else gives them to me!

But that doesn’t happen particularly regularly, so I’ve started to buy myself flowers instead. A simple bunch of roses or tulips can brighten a room, and they really make me smile every time I see them. I’ve noticed recently that Tesco offer some amazing bargains when it comes to roses especially, but it’s worth looking around supermarkets and local florists when you’re out and about. I also like to send my friends flowers from a website called Bunches. They have such a great range of bouquets at really reasonable prices, and you even get some free chocolates with every bunch!

Get professional help

In a way this piece of advice doesn’t belong at the end of this post, because it is probably the most important. Like I said at the beginning of this post, it is normal to feel a bit down after Christmas, but it isn’t normal if it becomes anything more than that. If your mood is low all the time to the point it’s affecting your everyday life, you feel tearful, anxious or are consumed by negative thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself, then it’s really important to seek help as early as possible. Your first port of call is normally your GP, and I would recommend writing everything down about how you’ve been feeling and what you’ve been thinking, so that they get the best understanding possible.

I would also really recommend the charities Mind and Blurt, who both have a wealth of information about depression and other mental illnesses, as well as guidance on how to get help. Being depressed is not ‘normal’ so don’t just put up with it and hope it will go away. You deserve help and support, and although it can be difficult to find sometimes, it is out there. Whether it’s the NHS, a charity or a private therapist, there are people who care and who want to help. I really hope this post has offered some suggestions of things you can try to help lift your mood, but I can’t stress enough the importance of seeking professional help if you’re struggling.

What do you think of the ideas I’ve suggested? Is there anything that helps you get through the winter months or that improves your mood?

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  1. These are all such great ideas - I love cuddling up to my pets and putting a candle on when I'm feeling down! The idea of the Lumie light sounds fab too

    Steph - http://nourishmeclean.blogspot.com

    1. Thank you Steph - pets are amazing aren't they :) And lighting a candle can be so relaxing after a long day. I really love my Lumie light, so would definitely recommend them! xx