We’ve hit a time of year that – even without the events of the past 19 months – can often present challenges for the strongest amongst us.
Shorter, darker days; winter months beckoning; the looming stresses of the festive season can all affect our mood and mental wellbeing. And that’s before dealing with any major life events the past year has thrown our way.
David Leck talked to our Chief Executive, Simon Dolby, (pictured below) about coping mechanisms, practical tips, and asking for help.
DL: Outside of wars, we’ve lived through a time of seismic disruption and change not seen in a generation. That change is on-going – and many more people will have experienced anxiety and stress. Those feelings are completely normal, and we shouldn’t be tough on ourselves, should we?
SD: This period has impacted even the strongest and it’s important we all recognise that. For whatever – and for various – reasons, we’ve all been affected, some more so than others. If I have one message it would be “it’s okay not to be okay”. Equally, it’s vital to ask for help.
DL: It’s important though to distinguish between the “winter blues” and feelings that might be the sign of something more serious, isn’t it?
SD: That’s very true. It’s completely normal, at times in life, to feel below par, a little flat and unmotivated. However, there are things to look out for both in yourself and those around you. Extreme fatigue, lack of appetite, low libido, loss of interest in things one might normally enjoy are all indications it may be worth talking to someone.
‘Christmas, especially, can heighten our emotions and feelings of loneliness, isolation and sadness. Firstly, these feelings are not only okay, they’re also perfectly normal.’
DL: Given the current situation in getting a GP appointment and the waiting list for talking therapies, what advice have you for someone who is struggling?
SD: Well, you can start with organisations like ours (and other Mind branches) and The Samaritans. In addition, places such as Citizens Advice and the National Debtline are good for those with financial worries, something which can be a major contributor to anxiety, stress and – possibly – depression. And, if you have the funds, there are many excellent counsellors working privately and who are highly trained to deal with specific life situations.
DL: Assuming it is merely adjusting to seasonal changes, there are many practical things we can do aren’t there?
SD: Absolutely! Keeping active and getting out into nature can be hugely beneficial to our mental wellbeing. You’d be surprised how much an hour’s walk, or an exercise class, can get those happy hormones kicking. And book things in the diary to look forward to. Also, with many more of us working from home, this winter will be a challenge, so get out during the day – it only needs to be a coffee with a friend, but you need something that breaks-up the routine.
DL: It’s a time of year that can also be incredibly difficult for those who’ve been through a major life event, whether that’s bereavement, divorce, redundancy.
SD: This is perhaps the biggest challenge and, again, is something we need to acknowledge. Christmas, especially, can heighten our emotions and feelings of loneliness, isolation and sadness. Firstly, these feelings are not only okay, they’re also perfectly normal. Secondly, please ask for help, whether that’s professional or just talking to a friend – it’s amazing how sharing our feelings can really help.
‘We have a terrible, superficial trait of saying “I’m good…all’s well” when asked “how are you?” If you suspect things may not be right, just say – and you can do it quite casually – “but how are you really?”’
DL: We have a particular issue with mental illness in – and tragically suicide amongst – young men.
SD: Sadly, yes – and it is tragic. We’ve created a culture over many generations in which it simply wasn’t acceptable for men to be weak or show vulnerability. And we’re paying the price. I do think attitudes are changing but we still have a way to go. Again, look out for others and – if it’s you who is suffering – please, please reach-out for help.
DL: Finally, do you have one bit of advice as we go into winter?
SD: I do. Properly check-in with loved ones. We have a terrible, superficial trait of saying “I’m good…all’s well” when asked “how are you?” If you suspect things may not be right, just say – and you can do it quite casually – “but how are you really?”