2020 definitely had its challenges and with the announcement this week of another lockdown it seems 2021 hasn’t kicked off with the best start. January is always a difficult time of year, with the inevitable lull after the Christmas break, the cold weather, dark mornings and evenings and the extra-long wait to pay day! It’s quite well known that the winter period and January in particular has an impact on many peoples mental health. Alongside increased stress and anxiety there is a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), often also described as ‘Winter Depression’ or ‘Winter Blues’. SAD affects 1 in 3 in the UK, and the symptoms include irritability, tearfulness, low self-esteem, high stress, lethargy, and a loss of interest in things that we’d normally find enjoyable.
Monday the 4th would have been the first day back at work for many people and we were all eager to leave 2020 behind us and start 2021 with pace, passion and some form of “normality”.Sadly, with the new lockdown rules in place, that normal life still feels slightly out of reach but that doesn’t mean we can’t be implementing things to help promote mental wellness.
Mental health is a topic that should be on everyone’s agenda, especially now, considering the extensive impact of the virus including being isolated, away from friends and family and a lack of routine mixed in with the usual lull following the festive period, it can feel quite overwhelming.
"The pandemic has pushed us to our limit and even those whose mental health is normally quite stable have started to struggle and the challenges of January will only make this worse," says clinical psychologist Dr Laura Williams.
So, what can we do to encourage positive mental health?
Spend less time on social media
“We live in a society where we’re always putting out stuff on social media that looks like we’re constantly striving and thriving, but now’s the time to acknowledge the struggle,” says Dr Williams. If you’re anxious and demotivated about returning to home working, speak up – to colleagues, bosses, anyone.
Although social media can connect people from all over the world to provide a strong sense of community, rates of anxiety and depression in young people have increased by 70% over the last 25 years. So try and limit your social media time. With the pandemic it’s understandable that people use it to still feel connected to their friends and family, so you don’t need to give up social media all together but you may benefit by setting limits such as no social media time before 9am or after 6pm or only using the apps for 1 hour per day etc.
Support one another
“Make a commitment to be on each other’s side,” says relationship psychotherapist Heather Garbutt. “Relationships are destroyed by criticism, blame and shame. If you find yourself doing any of those things to your partner, stop as soon as you can.
Communication is key! We often blame others for not reading our minds but it’s advised that we are as open as possible with those around us and be clear about your thoughts and needs. Organise some alone time, time to exercise and spend time with people who encourage you, whether that be remotely or with those you live with. If you’re diligent in taking care of your own mental health, then you leave enough energy to help your partner too.
Create a work and schooling schedule
The prospect of an indefinite period of home learning while the schools ready themselves for testing can be stressful especially if you are in employment yourself as you will need to balance your job as well as your new role as a teacher!
Create a schedule and if your children are old enough explain how the situation is going to work moving forward, explain that you will need their understanding and patience. You will need to work together to create the best situation you can.
Other parents are in the same situation, try and create an online study group with other children and parents. Ask others in a similar position to you what they are doing that works and try and implement that in your routine.
Stay active, small steps will have a big impact
In January, pre-Covid, we would usually be racing to the gym or setting some crazy fitness challenges for the New Year. But physiotherapist Rebecca Sessions thinks in 2021 we should be less hard on ourselves and slow things down. “When you’ve had a tough year and are lacking in motivation it can be difficult to know where to start and the worst thing is to do too much too soon and end up overwhelmed or injured,” she says. Her best tip? “Stand up from your desk at different times throughout the day and march on the spot for 30 seconds, followed by a good stretch upwards. This can be enough to make you feel a little more invigorated and less sluggish.”
Exercise is a proven way to help with depression and stress so we encourage you, if you can, to get your body moving. That doesn’t mean you need to run miles and miles everyday (if you do that’s amazing for you!) but even increasing your steps, having a 10 minute walk and stretching can help with your mental health and physical health.
Play a little at work
This January we need to inject playfulness into our work Zooms to alleviate screen fatigue and build virtual community. “Using short, playful activities can break home-working fatigue, despondency and feeling generally fed up. Most importantly they’re fun and we definitely need some of that at the moment.”
Director of PACT Training, Jessica Shaw, suggests trying The Good News/Bad News game for starters: “The whole group tells a story, taking it in turns to alternate the good and bad news, hopefully ending up with a ridiculous, funny story. For example, Person 1 says: ‘The good news is that I’ve become a millionaire overnight.’ Then Person 2 responds: ‘The bad news is that I’ve already spent all the money!’ And so it continues. People who’ve done this report feeling so much more connected with their colleagues afterwards.”
Speak up and speak out
If you are feeling low, anxious or depressed it’s important you speak to someone whether that’s a loved one or a professional. Talking is vital – it will provide you with an outlet to put things into perspective, you will get support, advice and you will know that you don’t have to face this alone.
If you are worried about someone else and their mental wellness, please encourage them to speak up. Be honest and open minded, it’s important to use support techniques which you can find more details on here https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/seeking-help-for-a-mental-health-problem/helping-someone-else-seek-help/ This information will help you gain a deeper understanding of mental health as well as guiding you on the best advice to give to someone who is struggling.
Whilst January 2021 brings its own unique challenges, there are some things we can do to support each other to try and stop slipping into that wintery slump. Let us know what you or your company are doing to promote mental wellness this January.