Someone recently told me that looking after our mental wellbeing is a bit like piecing together a jigsaw. No one thing, or ‘piece’ can solve the puzzle, but overtime, having a range of different pieces can all help add up to our overall wellbeing, and I guess in some cases prevent crisis.
I know that mental health can be such a difficult thing, having gone through complex PTSD, depression, and ongoing anxiety. So, know that I’m not trying to simplify the complex nature of being a human and the difficulties you might be facing in life.
However, what could some of these jigsaw puzzle pieces be? For me, at the moment, I’m recovering from some health issues that mean I’ve only been able recently to go out for short walks again – this was something I’d do regularly to help my mental health. I’ve spent much of the time being isolated, and this has been hard because our subconscious mind chatters away and is not always very helpful, especially as with anxiety the amygdala likes to throw up negatives, be they ‘memories’, feelings, impressions, images, words, all sorts of stuff. It’s not fun, as some of you might now. Let me reassure you, you’re not alone.
So, my jigsaw puzzle pieces might consist of connecting to people on the phone or by email, getting that bit of fresh air when I can (oh, how blessed I am to walk again), eating well, getting rest, watching something positive, being kind to myself, playing my violin when I have the strength, writing an encouraging blog post, maintaining my work and not overdoing tasks that might make me tired.
At the moment, that feels a bit limited – I’m not able to do all the things I used to and the lack of social connection affects me. However, for the past few years since the pandemic started, I’ve held to a verse in Scripture, in the Psalms – ‘This is the day that The LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it’. As humans, we find it very easy to live inside our heads, worrying about the future, ruminating about the past or getting confused by our subconscious minds. No matter what trauma we might have gone through, or are going through, there is still something in this day, in this moment that we can focus on and give thanks for, and that can help our brains focus on the good, which in turn helps with our mental health. We can realise that we still have breath, the gift of life. That we have bodies and minds, whatever they might be going through, they still ‘work’ to a degree. Today, I am grateful that I had a safe and warm place to sleep, food to eat, clothes to wear, the health to get up and do things for myself, the ability to walk again and go for a walk by the riverside even though it was a bit windy and rainy, the chance to watch my church online even though I can’t be in community with people at the moment, the chance to choose my thinking and retrain my mind, and work on focusing on the positives, clothes to wear, and being able to feel and look nice after having been unwell, people to reach out to to encourage, the Living Word to read. Knowing that in Jesus I am saved and secure and never alone.
I am aware that mental health is precarious, and that mine can be too. But this is just one little jigsaw puzzle piece that I share with you today, whatever your brain and mind might be doing or ‘telling’ you. Lift up your eyes, focus on something you can be thankful for, know that one puzzle piece won’t solve the whole puzzle but it can help alleviate your distress a little today. Today the sermon online was about the Peace that Jesus Christ gives to us, one that the world cannot give, and I am thankful that He has rescued me and lifted me from pain and darkness and self, and forgiven me and given me a future and hope in Him. Yes, I still struggle, but I can say that He Is my Peace, and He will hold me fast.
Perhaps that is our greatest need – to be known and loved and taken care of…eternally. I hope you find that you can have some comfort today, whatever puzzle pieces you are working with, and I hope you know that you are not alone. Many people are silently going through similar to what you are and ‘putting on a brave face’….but perhaps you need to reach out and tell someone, and that is a brave step in itself. I hope my ramblings might bring some comfort and help to someone out there. Peace. x
The past few years have been quite a big learning curve for many. We may have learned some deep lessons, but being human it can be easy for us to forget what we have learned.
As humans, we often worry so much about the future or think too much about the past that we miss the day that we are in right now. The only thing that we can presently work with. We often let fear come in the way of faith.
I’d like to explore a few thoughts as they come to me.
During the pandemic, I really missed interacting with people, going for walks in the park, worshipping in church and being with other believers who know personally that Jesus Christ Is The Way, The Truth and The Life, and being nurtured and fed together in Him. I missed seeing the cherry blossom trees, and ducks and squirrels and just going with my camera out on walks and having a bit of independence.
Today I enjoyed all of these things. And I enjoyed coming home to my flat. I must admit, however, after church and spending time with some new people and a friend I know quite well, I felt a bit lonely. In the park there were couples and families walking and I found myself wondering about my own life and being on my own.
We can so often miss what is right in front of us in the here and now either by the thoughts going on in our minds that could be to do with the past, or just longing for something or someone such as companionship.
During the pandemic many of us experienced a range of emotions and thoughts, including the more pressing realisation of the shortness of time. When living in day tight compartments, and in a situation when you are faced with your own mortality, you gain perspective that any day could be the last one. Therefore, in some ways we become more present, in the present.
The now and next
We are created to hope. To hope in the future, and for believers in Christ, to hope for the reality of His coming again, and for the very real place of perfection that He Is preparing for us. Being present with Christ today means being aware of His presence and purpose in today, and of making the most of every opportunity. Yet, sometimes on an earthly level we think about the ‘what next’ of our own lives, perhaps in terms of finding that someone special, especially if we’ve waited a long time. Yet there is also the realisation that people lose their spouses or friends for a number of reasons. The only constant and comfort is Christ.
Appreciating what is, not what we wish things were.
Life is very troubled in this world at present. For those of us who are in relatively good circumstances, perhaps in those moments when we are tempted to think about what we lack, whether we are feeling lonely and want a companion, or thinking about what we think would make our lives feel better or more secure, then we should take time to be more present and grounded and grateful. The things that I missed during the pandemic, I have now.
I appreciate being able to speak to my family on the phone ❤ I appreciate my flat, my food, my health, my clothes, my friends that I can speak with in person or online. I appreciate being able to go for walks and write blog posts. I am so thankful that in this day I know that God Is working out things for my eternal good and that I can pray and intercede for others.
In a world where people are in trauma and lacking so many things and have lost loved ones, I am choosing to be thankful for all the good things that I do have right here and now.
Day tight compartments.
This life is very short. We need to learn to focus on the day tight compartment that we are living in and give all our attention and heart to it, making the most of every opportunity as it comes to us, knowing what to say no to but also knowing what to embrace. Life comes in seasons and each season will pass, so what will we do with today?
Using our gifts and encouraging others
Each day will be filled with tasks to do, duties to fulfil, but also gifts that we can use and encouragement that we can share with others. These may be hidden things that the world does not see, but that are important nonetheless. We do not know what difference it might make.
So while there is so much we cannot be in control of, we can take a few moments to be thankful for what we do have. The time will pass anyway, let us, where we can, pass it gratefully. x
The pandemic hastens on. If you are feeling lonely, struggling, not sure what to do, for whatever circumstances you are feeling stuck at home or left behind while others around you go on living life or seem to be having all the good times, friend, don’t compare.
This advice is as much for me as it is for you. We can only ever live one day at a time. Your journey is completely different to that other person’s with whom you compare. Maybe things are going great for them and not for you, well, lift your focus. Change the direction of your thoughts away from comparison that might just hurt your heart and bring you down and think about what you can do with your life today….even if that thing is just to slow down and to rest.
You matter. I believe you matter to God. I believe that Jesus Christ Is able to help you, and me, and you just need to turn away from what is wrong, including what is wrong inside of you, and ask Him for help. He loves you. And even if you don’t believe, find comfort in knowing that the measure of your life is not a measure against anyone else’s. Take this day as it comes. Look for joy in the small things. Be happy for other people, be kind to yourself and don’t compare. Think that how you are feeling might just be similar to how someone else is feeling right now. Can you reach out to them? Let them know they’re not alone? Can you reach out to someone you don’t even know, someone suffering, some charity? Give as you live. Take things a moment at a time. Be thankful. Stay safe and call out for the Name of Love, the One Who will see you through. ❤ x
There is power in learning to stand alone, but there is also great encouragement in standing together. Sometimes life, and perhaps particularly life in a pandemic, is a fine balance between these two positions.
I have been learning a lot about this in 2020, and perhaps you have too. I have been learning some of these lessons before this year as well through various tests and trials in life.
This year, I spent the first four months of lockdown living alone, and not having any face to face contact with any living thing for almost all of that time (except perhaps from interacting with a delivery driver or passing strangers on the street). I have found this to be strengthening, challenging and enlightening in a number of ways. I have grown in my relationship with Christ, knowing Him more deeply as my True Source of Love, Encouragement, Strength and Provision. Yet as human beings we are also made for connection with each other, and although I used my time wisely and creatively, there were still times of loneliness, of missing out on the interactions that we otherwise tend to take for granted on a daily basis. As a single person, I have disciplined myself to learn to enjoy and thrive in my independence of living alone, travelling by myself, seeking to be creative and to inspire other people (which has been a discipline, choice and challenge to seek out adventure rather than retreat as I have had years of panic attacks and anxiety) as well as investing time in myself to heal from traumas, and to reach out to help other people. As a quieter, reflective and creative soul, I crave and need time by myself to replenish, to think, to process and to create. Too much noise, people and goings on can cause me a lot of stress, and panic attacks, anxiety and so forth. That being said, I also have quite a lot of deep friendships that have been cultivated one to one or in groups of twos or threes over the years, am a friendly and caring person, and I enjoy interacting with people in ways that suit my personality, nature and disposition, and where I have the choice to do so or not to do so, and perhaps you can relate to some of this?
Lockdown took away control from a lot of us, whether we live alone or with others. Perhaps we like staying indoors sometimes, but we tend as human beings to like to maintain the choice in the matter, and to do things or not to do things with the freedom of choice.
Being in lockdown alone for four months changed some of my relationships. While I have some very mutually giving friendships, I realised that friends who have families of their own just didn’t have single people on their radar. Some friends with families actually enjoyed lockdown as having more time together, were able to have fun and flourished in the situation. They did not think that someone living alone might be really struggling with the contrasts of that, and as such some of my friendships have changed in dynamics, I’ve had to reconsider my boundaries, and other friendships have grown closer.
I’m very blessed to have a family that I could phone everyday or whenever I needed to throughout those four months living alone with no other contact. Of course, I live alone in the city in general but as I usually work there too, even as a single person pre-pandemic I’d have interactions with work colleagues, I’d be able to meet up with friends and go out to dinner or to music events or go places by myself. Not having that changed the way I saw some of my friendships where I wasn’t on their radar so much, and I guess that’s ok. We all are going through different things and have to recalibrate our lives and boundaries from time to time. Some people kept in touch, but mainly to ‘vent’ because I am an empathetic and caring and loving person. Other friendships have been a source of encouragement, fun, and camaraderie through these times.
The point I am getting to, in the hope of edifying you, is that as we head towards the winter season of 2020, consider your crew and who the important people are in your life in this season. Perhaps you have a strong sense of who these people are, a network of friends and family that you have shared the ups and downs of life with. One thing I would suggest that you think about is even if you do feel you have such people in your life, consider whether you have a range of people to connect with and turn to and make sure that you are not overburdening (or being overburdened by) any one person. We are all going through something, and we all need encouragement, so make sure that you are giving as well as receiving that.
Perhaps you are not in such a place. Perhaps you are lonely and struggling, even if you live with other people or have many other interactions.
My advice or suggestions would be for you to consider whether you have the right connections in your life. Are there some people you need to move on from who are having a toxic influence on you? Do you feel like you don’t have anyone, and need to reach out for help? Even if you don’t have friends or family to turn to, perhaps you could connect with some online groups that are safe and have like minded people. Maybe you could reach out to community groups for help and support, or ask a volunteer group to connect you with a mentor or a ‘buddy’ such as they do with phone volunteers so that you can hear a friendly voice from time to time. There are plenty of phone lines and crisis support lines such as the Samaritans and Breathing Space here in the UK if you feel like you have nowhere to turn, and if you are in a different country, a simple ‘Google’ or other search could put you in touch with the details of similar groups or organisations. Maybe you enjoy the connections online that help keep you in touch with people, even as you learn to stand strong by yourself.
Yet having a lot of connections or a diversity of connections is not enough in itself. You need the depth and authenticity of feeling known and heard, and this may or may not be with your family, friends you already know, etc. You may have to take time to gather a new crew, form new connections, ones in which you are not simply just another face on a screen, or voice in a crowd, but real authentic connections.
Think about who your ‘team mates’ may be this season. If you are feeling strong in yourself then perhaps it is a good opportunity, if that is the right thing for you in your life just now, to be the one to reach out to someone else who is struggling and help and empower them, not to become dependent on you, but to know that they are seen, heard and help them to find an empowering way forwards step by step in their own life.
There is strength to be found in standing alone. But we also all need each other. Perhaps this is why in part we blog and write and share on platforms like this so that while we develop our own skills and gifts and talents and interests, we also are part of a community that can share with each other, learn from one another and grow together.
Who is your crew? Are there any wiser decisions you need to make in who you let close to you? Do you need to step up and be there for someone? Do you need to create space for yourself to step back and reconsider things or to ease out of things that are not meant for you in this season? Do you need to let go of toxic people, or do you need to invest in certain relationships, reconnect, or create a broader network of mutual support?
Now is a great time to be thinking about these things, of how we can get stronger and how we can help each other as communities.
Stay safe, well and I pray you will be blessed, friends. Thank you for stopping by and reading, I appreciate you. x
Words of Encouragement (10): *Get strong, and have vision*.
In the UK we are more than half way through week one (at the time of writing, last week) of a type of ‘lockdown’ although we still have certain limited freedoms outside of our homes. I personally hope that our time at home will be longer than three weeks (retrospectively the update since writing is that it is likely to be several months), because we are almost a third of the way through and this pandemic is not abating, at least not yet. I think it would be a risk to life to reintegrate into society or try to establish some kind of ‘normality’ before the medical and scientific communities really get on top of this virus.
I have a couple of points for us to think about today.
Firstly, our time at home isn’t the same as our time at home say during the Christmas holidays. While I encourage people to relax and enjoy what you can, I would discourage you from spending most of your time in escapism or binge watching box sets (although, I’m not saying don’t do that at all….you do need time to destress and sometimes that can help in moderation). This isn’t a holiday. Because if we all make it to the other side of this, there will be a lot of ‘picking up of pieces’ in our societies for those who don’t come through as unscathed as we might. So during this ‘down time’ we are making the choice whether we will become stronger and more resilient in ourselves so that either we can cope better on the other side, or so that we are able to help others in need…because without any doubt there *will* be a *lot* of need after this.
If you are in need of help yourself, that’s ok, don’t worry. I’ve been there, and we all oscillate between how well we are doing, so be kind to yourself. But as you have this time, be purposeful in growing in your resilience. Get strong.
Onto my second point, about having vision. Right now we are in the midst of a rescue mission. All around us groups and efforts are cropping up, and people are coming together to strategize and figure out practical ways of helping others through this collective crisis. However, I would urge you to lift your eyes and look a bit further than this. God willing, for all of us, there will be life on the other side of this in our societies and communities. And we will all have to get used to a new ‘afterwards’. There have been thousands of deaths, and there will continue to be casualties. Casualties of various kinds, for example the physically, emotionally, mentally and psychologically wounded. People will be traumatised. People will be out of pocket. People will have financial difficulties, and perhaps even family breakdowns, children may suffer. Please take care of yourself, help others, relax and enjoy during this hiatus, continue to work from home and volunteer where you can while keeping yourself and family safe, but remember that there will be an afterwards, and hopefully we will all still be here and all be part of that. Society will be deeply wounded. People will be grieving. NHS and other health care workers across the world, bin collectors, frontline staff of various types will be utterly exhausted. Some of these may be your colleagues, friends, family, neighbours. It might be you (and if you are one of these frontline workers, THANK YOU ❤ ❤ ❤ ).
Get strong and have vision. Get strong for yourself and family, but also think about what skills you have that we will collectively need in the aftermath of this. Don’t fritter away all of your time with useless things. People are making a great collective effort to help each other *through* this, but we also need to be thinking about how to build ourselves and each other up for the continued efforts that will need to be made *after* this time away from the world.
Get strong, and have vision, help others and build each other up….try not to be afraid, but remind yourself that this is far from over…think about how you will endure and how you will contribute, and how you will use your time, today.
Words of Encouragement (1):
We all find ourselves in a situation that we’ve never experienced before (a global pandemic! ), one that can feel frightening, nerve-wracking and filled with uncertainty and worry. A situation that none of us expected to be facing this year, or perhaps ever! Yet notice that *we* are facing this together, and it is affecting *us*. I’d like to try as much as possible to offer some snippets of regular encouragement to help us all through as a community.
To start with, I’d like to encourage you that you are not alone, we are all facing this together, and if you need help, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can reach out to bloggers, you can reach out to groups, or other friends or family, and even if we don’t have a direct solution, there are a lot of networks forming regularly, with advice, support and practical and emotional help, so someone should be able to point you in the right direction in your area. You’re not alone. We’re in this together. Feel free to open up discussion in the comments because someone might just be able to offer you the encouragement and mutual support that we all need, especially at a time like this. Stay safe and well.
“It’s beginning to look (a bit) like Christmas”: It may only be the beginning of November, but soon we will be made more aware of the festive and holiday season approaching. If you live in America there is ‘Thanksgiving’ in November, and among other Western countries you may be approaching Christmas, New Year and / […]
In this increasingly ‘connected’ world, loneliness can be an uncomfortable admission. When faced with images and stories of all the fun things other people are doing (or seem to be), particularly via online media, the ache that we are missing out can be all too acute especially as the winter season approaches.
For some who work in office based jobs, the end of the year may mean office closures over the festive season. Most of us welcome time off work to rest, relax, recuperate, and to spend time with family and friends, and maybe even to travel. However, for some people, this time of year is like a looming dark cloud, bringing with it a downpour of loneliness and isolation.
Maybe it is the case that you don’t have anyone to go home to, which is fine if at least you have other social contacts. But maybe you are far from home, or don’t even have friends or family, and the most social interaction you usually have is from colleagues at work. But when you’re not at work, you’re on your own. I live alone, and personally I find time alone very refreshing – I’m the type of person who thrives from a lot of solitude, but perhaps I am able to do so because I know that my family is just a phone call away, and I have a wide network of close friends. For others, a lack of relationships or an abundance of shallow and surface relationships can leave them feeling very empty, isolated and alone, even in a room full of people.
Loneliness can come to anyone at any stage of life, and for a variety of different reasons, as unique as each individual is. However, some people in society, such as the elderly, or young office workers far from home in a busy and unfriendly city environment, or people working overseas, or those who are bereaved, struggle to make social connections or feel like outsiders in some way might be more vulnerable to loneliness. Everyone feels lonely from time to time, but when it becomes debilitating and consuming, that’s when it can be dangerous, therefore we all need to look out for each other, even for those who on the surface seem ‘gregarious’ but who underneath don’t have any real deep connections or relationships to turn to. The season may also be particularly lonely for those who are perhaps single and longing for companionship while faced with lots of social invitations for couples, or for those facing family stresses, and maybe even separation or divorce.
There’s no easy or quick fix solution, but it’s important not to try to go through a period of loneliness alone, because when we are not in a good place, the isolation that would otherwise be a fruitful and enjoyable solitude can turn into a negative and unhealthy place to be.
Whether you are facing a deep loneliness that leaves you feeling vulnerable mentally and emotionally, or whether you are mostly fine but have the occasional ‘pang’ of loneliness during those dark wintery nights, you don’t have to face it alone.
What can you do?
Reach out to friends and family if you have them. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about how you feel, at least just reach out and talk – about anything – keep the lines of communication open, phone or meet up for a chat, and enjoy being in the company of people who know and love you, even if you are not yet ready or willing to share your deepest thoughts and feelings about what you are experiencing.
Perhaps you don’t feel that you have anyone to turn to. In that case, it can be a good idea to reach out to charitable organisations that exist to help people in such situations. During times of my deepest depression and post traumatic stress, even though I have family and friends who I can phone to talk to, I didn’t always feel that I could. I carried the burden of not wanting to be a constant source of worry to the people who cared about me, and also being mindful of the sheer impracticalities of phoning or reaching out to someone while I was in distress in the middle of the night when they would be sleeping. So I found solace in calling helplines like Samaritans in the UK, and it did help to have someone to talk to in that time of distress. Thankfully I don’t feel the need to do that now, but I would encourage anyone and everyone to reach out to the people who have been trained to help those in need, and find some solace there. It may not be ideal, I know first hand how it feels when you’re in that position, but it can be such a life line, and even if you don’t need a life line as such, it can still be a source of comfort, solace and just the right thing at the right time to help you on your way.
Find ways of being in situations that don’t make you feel socially anxious, but in which you can have even a small degree of social interaction. You might like to visit a library, join a group, or go to a coffee shop or a museum, or volunteer to help other people. All of these provide opportunities to engage with other people, even if just on an initial and surface level. It may not take your loneliness away, but it will remind you that you are connected to people, to society and even those simple interactions can have a positive effect, even if only in the short term, on our mental health.
If you really can’t face any of the above, maybe you might find it worthwhile talking to your doctor. And for those times when you are just on your own and struggling with loneliness, you could perhaps seek out positive articles, videos and blog posts from people who share what has helped them in similar situations and life experiences. Be careful not to go down the route, however, of indulging in emotionally burdensome, negative or draining content – seek out those with messages of courage, hope, inspiration, and positivity who can point you towards positive changes and ways of coping. And remember although the winter is here for the time being, things will change, and spring will soon be on its way.
Those long, cold, dark winter nights can be particularly challenging if we struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), depression and low mood. They also might just get us down generally, as with less opportunity to stay busy outside, we may find ourselves in a bit of a mental and emotional ‘slump’ or fugue, as we are sometimes forced to stay away from our regular activities, and as such the ‘winter blues’ might get a hold of us.
We all too easily can become passive consumers of information, spending hour upon hour in front of the TV for example, and our minds can suffer for it. Without positive distractions and mental stimulation where we are actively involved rather than passively consuming, we also may fall into a state of rumination which can negatively impact our mental health.
One thing we can do, especially if we find that we are spending those long, cold, dark winter nights on our own is to actively engage our minds, train our brains and keep mentally fit and active. You could read, study, engage in new or old hobbies, for example and I will come to these in turn later. However, a fun and relaxing way to keep mentally fit is to play ‘mind games’ – no, not the kind of negative mind games in relating to other people – but games that will challenge you mentally.
These could be, for example, card games on the computer, word challenges, puzzles, board games or chess if you have company, riddles and such like. Something which you actively need to think about and engage in. Never underestimate the importance of looking after your mental health, and remember that there are fun ways that you can do this too!
What about you? What would your ‘go to’ mental health activity be?
It may only be the beginning of November, but soon we will be made more aware of the festive and holiday season approaching. If you live in America there is ‘Thanksgiving’ in November, and among other Western countries you may be approaching Christmas, New Year and / or other faith-based or holiday celebrations.
The most wonderful time of the year?
It certainly can be ‘The most wonderful time of the year’. But if we’re all honest with ourselves, we know that it isn’t always the case. Sometimes the most wonderful time of the year can serve to highlight the pain and difficulties of life all the more starkly because of the sharp contrast with how we feel things ought to be.
Reflections and moving forwards:
This year I’m looking forward to and trusting God for a happy, Peaceful and healthy Christmas with family and friends and as a Christian, celebrating my Wonderful Saviour. However, Christmases haven’t always been bright for me. I won’t go into details but there has been light and shade over the years, and it hasn’t always been easy. A few years ago, I was at the point where I just had to open up to my family about how bad I was feeling – and I faced the guilt of telling them, on Christmas day that I was having suicidal feelings. I felt like I had spoilt things, but they were so loving towards me and to cut a long story short it was the beginning of some very difficult steps for me to get professional help with severe clinical depression, and to be diagnosed with complex PTSD, and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. The joureny over the next few years proved to be very tough, but with perseverance I got help, support and am here feeling much better and more purposeful today. Without God moving in my life to hold me and support me and move me forward one painful step at a time, I wouldn’t have got to where I am, so I am very much looking forward to a blessed festive season after some not so good times.
Where do you find yourself?
Perhaps you find yourself looking joyfully ahead. However, I know that many of you are probably having to just put on a brave face and you are feeling pretty low about things, or maybe you do have happy times ahead but you feel stressed about the effort and organisation that will fall to you in making them happen.
Take a moment to reflect upon how you feel and what your thoughts are knowing that this time of year is approaching once more. Give yourself time to feel and to think what you think and to ask yourself what changes you can make to make things better for yourself and for others.
Burdens come in many forms:
We can learn to look at our challenges as opportunities, however, for the most part hard times are just that – hard times, and we somehow have to struggle through them. You might be facing anxiety, family problems, depression, bereavement which may be particularly poignant at this time of year, separation, loneliness, ill-health, loss of some sort, poverty, homelessness, broken relationships and friendships, isolation or a whole host of other pressures and painful things.
Maybe you have more than one of these things weighing you down.
What can you do?
From what I have learned in my life, my encouragement to you would be to start getting into the mindset of preparing yourself to ‘cope’ if need be, right now. That way you will have some time before things get really ‘in your face’ about how happy you should be and before you are unable to avoid the constant stream of conversations, advertisements and shop window displays.
Have a plan:
Start now, in early November, with some set-aside times of self-reflection. While the month is still pretty quiet (in terms of societal pressures as I realise that you may have a lot going on in your own life right now), find a way to carve out some time for yourself to do some thinking. With the pressures in your life you may feel like you have ‘no time’, but you do – it’s all about finding something that will work for you. Perhaps if you only have five or ten minutes at a stretch you could get a notebook and over a few days or weeks whenever you get the chance begin to think and plan how you can look after yourself during these challenging and maybe painful holiday seasons.
Meditation, quiet time, journaling and knowing your triggers:
Ok, so now you have some time set aside, what do you do with it? Here are a few ideas to get you started. Silent reflection / meditation and listening to how you feel. Journaling to express your thoughts and feelings and to externalise what is going on with you and maybe even to figure it out. And very importantly, learn about what your ‘triggers’ may be (things that can ‘set you off’ on a negative emotional or cognitive decline).
As to meditation, quiet times and journaling I think you can find what if any of these works best for you so I won’t go into more detail on those. Knowing your triggers is crucial and I encourage you to take some focused time to really think about what these may be and plan ‘safeguards’ around them. Spend time observing your own moods, thoughts, behaviours and make a note of what kind of things make you feel bad, brainstorm, write them down and come up with a list of the most prominent triggers that you foresee yourself having to deal with.
A list of triggers, noting how you ‘cope’ and creating a wellbeing plan:
Now that you have established the things that could trigger you into falling into a bad place, it is important for you to take time to reflect upon some of your unhealthy ‘coping mechanisms’. Be really honest with yourself and write down what these might be. For example, maybe you turn to alcohol, comfort eating or something more harmful to ‘numb the pain’. Maybe you isolate yourself, ruminate, allow yourself to sink further into depression, sleep a lot or self-harm or push people away. There could be a whole host of damaging and unproductive ways that we find to deal with the most painful things in our lives and it is important to know what these are. It is also so important to commit to choosing a healthier way of dealing with things and making a plan and a strategy of getting through.
Where do I start?
This may all sound well and good in theory, but maybe you feel overwhelmed by these suggestions in and of themselves. Therefore, I am going to use some real and hypothetical scenarios to illustrate how you may go about coping with things and you can use this as a template for your own self-care and wellbeing plan.
An example of a wellbeing plan.
Ok, so imagine that you are facing a difficult situation this year of having health challenges, facing loneliness, anxiety, depression, change of circumstances, and the breakdown of a friendship or relationship.
You’ve given yourself the kindness of time to think about what’s really going on with you and to process some of it, as well as to think about what might be your ‘triggers’.
Some of the triggers you face include the following:
Crowds and busy places make you feel anxious and unwell.
You don’t have anyone to talk to about how you feel and you feel like you ‘ought’ to be happy or you’ll ruin the mood for other people, and so you try to cope with the depression on your own.
Things have got worse for you health-wise and you feel overwhelmed and alone.
You are struggling with the breakdown of a close friendship or relationship and don’t know how to deal with it, you know that you’ll soon be surrounded by all of the ‘picture perfect’ scenes in films, advertising, social media and among your friend or acquaintance circles who are in a happy place in their lives.
You are having to deal with stressful family situations and don’t know how you’ll cope with the enforced times together that you have to be a part of.
You know some of the things you turn to that aren’t helpful for you. You know that you’ll want to escape and so you isolate yourself, you indulge in negative coping mechanisms and isolate yourself all the while these things make you feel worse.
A better way forward:
You know that you don’t want to fall into the slippery slope of negative emotions, thoughts and reactions, and so you plan some ‘self-care’ and contingency plans to keep you safe and even enable you to enjoy some of this season despite what you’re facing.
These contingency measures will be very specific and personal to you, but to help as many people as I can in a general way, use this ‘Checklist’ that I’ve come up with as a guide:
Health: Give yourself time to get the healthcare and professional medical advice that you need. Listen to your doctors and those who have your best interests at heart, and ask them for their help and advice in what you should do and how you might be able to cope better.
Isolation / Loneliness / No one to talk to: You may feel like there is no one to talk to, but try making a ‘contact list’ of people you can turn to for general support and in case of an emergency. You might feel bad being at the stage of having to do this, but believe me I had to do this for a long time, I’ve been there and eventually you will get stronger so don’t feel bad if you need to lean on people from time to time.
Think of the people in your life who care about you. Do you have a trusted friend, or a few good friends, a family member, pastor, colleague, relative that you can turn to and confide in? You may find that they in fact care a lot about you, your well being and will be there for you in whatever capacity they are able, so please reach out to such kind people of noble character if you are blessed to have them in your life. If you don’t have this, then please know that you are never alone. I have also had to turn to ‘crisis helplines’, phoning the Samaritans and talking to doctors during tough times – they may not have been ‘friends’ as such but they were a lifeline for me, and sometimes you need someone to talk to and those in the caring professions are often a good and safe source of support. Make a list of contact numbers you can call and reach out to, and also be aware that nowadays with technology there are a wide variety of ways you can contact professionals such as by text, email and video conferencing.
If you are a bit stronger in yourself maybe you can reach out to others in similar situations or even those who are in greater need such as through volunteering, meeting groups of likeminded people and seeing what’s going on in your community.
Be sure to plan in some ‘happy times’ even if you don’t necessarily feel happy inside, create opportunities for positive experiences as far as you can manage. This may be planning a lunch, dinner, cinema outing with friends or a friend. It could be going for walks in the park or getting away somewhere refreshing by yourself. There are so many possibilities but you may have to plan ahead before things get busy to ensure you have something in place.
Diet and exercise: Plan in ways that you can stay well and healthy as much as possible as what we eat and how we use our bodies has a big effect on our mood and mental and emotional wellbeing.
Know when to say ‘no’: You may have certain social and familial obligations to deal with. There may be commitments you need to uphold. But there is likely also to be a lot of things going on that will simply drain you, so you need to know what these might be and how to keep yourself well – you don’t need to say yes to everything.
Practice gratitude: even in the hardest and most challenging of times you can find something to be thankful for, a lesson to be learned for the future, and a lesson that will someday help someone else if you choose to learn and grow from it. So try to find the silver linings rather than allowing yourself to be oppressed by the clouds.
Positive distractions: For when things begin to get on top of you, know what positive distractions you can turn to such as hobbies, a musical instrument, a favourite TV show, a walk in nature, painting, art, writing, blogging, journaling, exercise, chatting to a friend on the phone, model making, etc. Do something that will absorb your focus and help you move forward that one next step at a time.
Plan ahead: You may have a lot of practical things to consider, from organising festivities to managing finances, paperwork, and other ‘grown up stuff’. Plan for these so that they don’t get lost or forgotten when you are perhaps struggling emotionally and mentally. Break things down into smaller, clear, focused and manageable tasks and check them off as you go. Keep your list somewhere where you won’t lose or misplace it, and this will help you stay on track and not get into further challenging situations because of something you may have let slip or forgotten to do.
Next steps: Ok, so life isn’t quite how you hoped it to be. You’ve felt like giving up and giving in, but you’ve chosen the better way – you’ve chosen to keep on living and looking for a way to cope, to survive, to move forward and ultimately to get stronger, to thrive and to see good come out of these challenges. One of the positives about this time of year is the opportunity to embark upon a ‘New Year’. You may look upon this as a flimsy human-made demarcation of time, but you will be in amongst a lot of other people seeking to improve their lives, their wellbeing and their circumstances. Try to thrive from the positive vibes that are encouraging this forward thinking and goal setting and look at the bigger picture of your life. Ok, so you’re not where you want to be but faith tells you that you can be in a better place, so spend some time figuring out what you want moving forwards, what you need to do and to change and what the next practical steps might be and take this forward with you to a hopefully better and stronger year ahead.
Be blessed, and stay strong friends. You are loved and you are never alone. xx